When Napoleon Bonaparte seized power in France trough a coup d’état during the French revolution 1799, he declared the revolution terminated and expanded his new position of power gradually. Due to his former role as a leading general in the French army Napoleon had gained considerable prestige and crowned himself emperor in 1804. Furthermore Napoleon’s reign was aimed at establishing a hegemonial position within Europe. Therefore France eventually gained supremacy in certain parts of Europe in the 19th century. Solely England and Russia remained save from French interventions1.
The French revolution was especially welcomed by the sophisticated bourgeoisie in Germany, who had taken a stand for the modernisation of society for a longer period of time already, wishing for reformations concerning separation of powers and increased civil liberties to be enacted. The so called “code civil”, enacted in France in 1804, initiated the transition from a feudal corporative state to a civil-liberal state. In addition to that the French reformation policy, including the Principal Decree of Imperial Deputation, marked the merging of several small states to so called middle powersA middle power is a sovereign state that is not a superpower or a great power, but still has large or moderate influence and international recognition and the abolition of clericalClergy are some of the formal leaders within certain religions principalities. It was Napoleon’s goal to bind those new middle powers to France and to thereby establish an increased counterpoise to Austria.
The defeat of Prussia in the battles in Jena and AuerstedtThe battles of Jena and Auerstedt (1806) were foughts between the forces of Napoleon I and Prussia in 1806 marked the end of the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation. It was followed by a territorial upheaval of the German middle powers that France annexed and that were meant to support France militarily. In addition to that Franz the second, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire that had been founded in 962, abandoned his crown. By establishing the Rhenish confederationThe Confederation of the Rhine was formed initially from 16 German states by Napoleon after he defeated Austria and Russia in the Battle of Austerlitz. Napoleon sought to consolidate the modernizing achievements of the revolution, but he wanted the soldiers and supplies these subject states could provide for his wars in 1806 Napoleon aimed to prohibit Germany uniting as a nation. Many small states in southern Germany put themselves under the shelter of France, assuring Napoleon military support. The liberal ideas presented by the French revolution strengthened the divergences between the feudal and the bourgeois system in Germany2.
After the defeat in the battle against France in Jena Prussia had to acknowledge that its political system was no longer contemporary. The modernised military of France prompted Prussia to renew their own political circumstances, leading to the Prussian reformationsThe Prussian reforms were a reaction to the Prussian defeat by Napoleon I at Jena-Auerstedt in 1806. It needed to rationalize its administration, that were aimed to lead Prussia to the same power France held in Europe. This modernisation induced the separation of powers, the equality of Jews within society, reformations of the educational system, compulsory military service, economic freedom and the abolition of serfdom. This paved the way for a reformed Prussia with liberal laws.
Battle of nations in Leipzig
The French’s ransacking ensured that an anti-French attitude towards the soldiers that occupied Germany rose. Between 1813 and 1815 citizens and labourers had supported the wars of liberation against the Napoleonic foreign rule, affecting a hitherto unknown German patriotism. The victory against the French troops in the battle of nations in Leipzig in 1813 therefore had its origin in the rising nationalistic movement. The German small states gradually united into a cultural nation. The coalition of Austria, Prussia and Russia subdued the French and finally ended Napoleon’s supremacy in Europe in the battle of Waterloo in 1815, thus marking the end of the French reign and the beginning of the Restoration Period3.