Landschaftsverband Rheinland - Qualität für Menschen

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The Rhineland under the French (1794 - 1813)


Peace Treaty of Lunéville:
The Holy Roman Empire ceded its regions left of the Rhine to France. In the autumn of 1794 revolutionary troops had already marched into the free city of Cologne and the kurkölnisch Residency of Bonn, soon afterwards also moving into Koblenz and Kleve - for the countries on the left side of the Rhine this was the beginning of twenty years' foreign rule under the French. (9th Feb.)

Main Conclusion of the Imperial Deputation: By means of new divisions, secularization and annexation, the multiple small states in Germany were largely eliminated. Most of the regions previously accountable to the Kaiser alone were then subject to the provincial authorities. Nearly all of the ecclesiastical territories and church-owned estates became secularly owned, whereby those imperial states were compensated who had had to cede their territories on the left bank of the Rhine to France. (25th Feb.)

The annexation of the ecclesiastical electorates of Cologne and Trier and the secularization of the monasteries seriously weakened the Catholic Church in the Rhineland. None the less, the strictly anti-clerical measures of Napoleon also brought about the chance for people to renew their denominational identity by recollection, in competition with other faith and value systems. The loss of political power and the revocation of their authority in civil law liberated the Church from the conflict between its claims to be the "one and only true" institution of salvation and worldly power. The discontinuance of all privileges in the formerly Catholic territories, the freedom to worship of all Christian denominations and criticism of Christianity by the Enlightenment forced people to decide their own position. For this purpose the Catholic Church in the Rhineland was better prepared than elsewhere in Germany. Since the 1760's the Arch-bishops of Cologne and Trier had been influenced by ideas of the Enlightenment, insisting on more legal autonomy for the Episcopate in relation to the Roman Curia, while in the education of the people and university training they supported more freedom in the spirit of the Enlightenment, science and tolerance. With regard to demonstrative declarations of faith, such as pilgrimages and processions, they fostered a spiritualized devoutness. This receptiveness to new developments made the Catholic Church in the Rhineland less open to attack by their opponents in politics and cultural life and at the same time preserving its traditional great influence on the majority of lay Catholics.

Code Napoléon:
France's new statute book reformed German laws on the left side of the Rhine, in the Grand Duchy of Berg and in other parts of what later became the Rhine Confederation. The existing states were abolished and laws on freedom and property of citizens were strengthened. (21st Mar.)

Extracts from the Code Napoléon, according to the only official publication for Berg, Grand Duchy since 1806, where French law came into force at the beginning of 1810:

 „1. Freedom

The citizen of the state, from the age of majority, has the freedom to be in charge of his own person.

Therefore he can choose his place of residence where he sees fit. [. . .] We describe as a natural law that humans act as moral beings, which means that we treat them as free and rational beings who are determined to live together with other free and rational beings.

2. Equality before the Law

After our constitution introduced equality before the law, everyone who renounces it again and wants to reintroduce the abolished privileges of birth must count as a sinner against our societal contract and cannot remain a Frenchman.

3. The Authority of the Paterfamilias as a Model Example

The husband owes his wife every protection, the wife owes her husband obedience. The wife can only appear in court with the authorization of her husband, even if she practises a profession herself. In matters affecting her business she is independent.

Children at any age are obliged to show respect and honour to their father and mother. The child remains under the authority of its parents until it reaches the age of majority, or until marriage.

4. On Property

Property is the right to use a thing in an unrestricted way, to have it at one's disposal, on condition that one does not use it in a way forbidden by law or regulations. Nobody can be forced to forfeit his property unless it is for the public benefit and is in exchange for precursory and appropriate compensation."

Rheinbund-Akte: After dissociation from the Holy Roman Empire, Berg, now a Grand Duchy, entered into a separate federation of states, with fifteen other former estates of the Empire under the protection of the Emperor Napoleon I. (16th Jul.)

End of the Holy Roman Empire: The abdication of Kaiser Franz II sealed the dissolution of the Roman-German Empire, which had been founded in the year 962. (6th Aug.)

The publicist and historian Joseph Görres (1776-1848) from Koblenz, articulated the mixed feelings which many of his fellow compatriots in the Rhineland harboured towards not only France, but also the old German Empire. Until the 1790's he had been a Jacobin,  but under the impression of Napoleon's expansionist politics, he changed into the advocate of a romantically tinted rediscovery of the national identity, of German history and culture, which found an impressive backdrop in the Rhenish landscape, with its sagas, castles and ruins.

In 1800 Görres held the opinion that differences in language, national spirit, customs and laws were contrary to any kind of long-term union of the areas left of the Rhine with France. Admittedly, three years previously he had dedicated a satirical obituary to the sinking Empire, after all the territories on the left of the Rhine were ceded in the Peace Treaty of Campo Formio: "at 3 o'clock deceased in Regensburg, at the ripe old age of 955 years, 5 months and 21 days, the blessed Holy Roman Empire passed away peacefully as a result of terminal enfeeblement, aided by a merciful final kick to its ponderous remembrance. The deceased names the Franconian Republic as its only rightful heir on the left bank of the Rhine. The executor of this last will and testament shall be his Excellency, General Bonaparte." However, Görres' date for the foundation of the Empire is not really historically comprehensible.

Continental Blockade: Napoleon boycotted trade with Great Britain. (21st Nov.)

The economic consequences of the Napoleonic wars were felt very differently in the individual regions of the Rhineland. As part of the French economic empire, the areas left of the Rhine enjoyed the advantages of commercial freedom and protective duties.

Numerous industries, such as the textile mills around Aachen and Krefeld, or the coalmines and iron foundries on the river Saar, experienced a brisk upturn, even though the economy also over-heated.

Napoleon's troops required large quantities of cloth for uniforms, but needed robust linen much less. Therefore the wool producers of France found sufficient demand to make up for missing exports, in contrast to the linen manufacturers in Germany. As a result, several textile entrepreneurs from Berg relocated parts of their production to the left bank of the Rhine. At the end of the eighteenth century, the Grand Duchy of Berg also witnessed the rapid development of trade and industry. Early in 1807 that region was able to liberate itself from the economic restrictions of the continental blockade. Meanwhile, those businesses suffered which did not enjoy the preference for French competitors shown by Napoleon. The lucrative markets in France and, above all Italy, were closed to Bergisch industries. Berg was equally isolated from other states, from maritime trade and finally also from Holland.

Tilsiter Edict for the Liberation of Peasants: On 11th November 1810 Prussia abolished hereditary subservience and guaranteed personal freedom, ownership of property, choice of profession and equality before the law;

In 1815 this also applied to the Rhine Province. Henceforward aristocrats were allowed to practice bourgeois professions and citizens were allowed to acquire their lords' estates. Legally speaking, this set the conditions for the fall of class barriers in Prussia. (9th Oct.)

Regulation of Towns: The Prussian towns became independent communities, with their own responsibility for schools, finance and social matters. The state still retained control of the police and justice system, as well as overall supervision.

In an equal, secret ballot based on the census, those entitled to vote elected the members of the town council, who in turn elected the Magistrate. The guilds and corporations lost their special privileges in elections. (19th Nov.)

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