The 19th century is arguably the most important century in human history. While previous centuries had set up the momentous push of the industrial revolution, philosophical and political thought, the 19th century had put it into action. At the same time, while the following century invited engine propelled flight, the 19th century had already begun on work with balloons and parachutes, along with future engines at automobiles had begun being refined.
The age of expansion began with Napoleon, turning Europe into a military playground. A strongman who was recognized to rebuild the folly of the French revolution, he had, if momentarily, established some stability back into France. However, the results of the French revolution had shattered other empires. The true sick man of Europe, Spain, began falling apart almost immediately with a multitude of her colonies in the New World shedding away. And due to their exposure to Europe and its ideas, a multitude of Russian soldiers and officers brought back new “Enlightened” ideas into the Russian Empire which would lead to extreme ideas that Catherine the Great had tried to suppress toward the end of her life.
This Napoleonic expansionist also allowed the expansion of the United States in the form of the Louisiana Purchase. While even Jefferson had recognized that he didn’t have the power to expand the United States in such a way, he hypocritically went against his own belief system and decided to open the western front of the American nation. Meanwhile, Napoleon would fail in his efforts famously at Waterloo against a coalition of nations. But the stunting of the French expansion typically was showcased on the seas at Trafalgar.
In the early years, slavery had also been abolished, even if just on imports, throughout much of the Western world while Africa and other regions continued to participate in it even through the 20th century and still in different parts and ways, through the 21st century.
Even while Napoleon was waging across Europe, the United States was suffering a dilemma. Britain still hadn’t given much if any respect to the former colonies. She would often act as an elite pirate, kidnapping sailors, Americans and others aboard American ships. This disrupted the merchant fleets of New England and there was a threat of a separation from these United States. Using this as a reason for war, the United States went to war against Britain in the War of 1812, even though it would last roughly three years.
The War of 1812 was important in that it could’ve resulted in the potential reconquering of the American colonies. The White House had been set alight but was saved by a ravaging storm which scattered the opposing troops. Likewise it gave Americans a secure victory within the Great Lakes and it completely shattered Indian resistance upon the death of Tecumseh; this last blow was the only one which allowed the Americans to ease through the American midwest and west to eventually connect the American nation.
Famously, the Battle of New Orleans had been fought and is often recognized as the noteworthy battle of the war even though it had been fought days after peace had officially been signed but it wasn’t heard of until after the battle had been fought. It was in this battle that General Jackson, later President Jackson, made a real name for himself.
The 1820s weren’t entirely calm as they had been in the following century. Rather, the Decembrist revolution had been put down in Russia. This would result in a series of Tsars which would act liberally and would trade off against Tsars who would become very reactionary. The swift shifts back and forth would have a great effect on the Eastern Russian peoples as Russia fought with itself, yet again, on whether to modernize, how much and when to exactly make it happen. Russia had rarely known peace, and it would not know it internally for over a century.
As mentioned General Jackson soon became President Jackson. His noteworthy remarks were against a national bank, which were important mainly for Americans in the moment, but also the Trail of Tears. This forceful evacuation caused the Cherokee tribe out of their native region further west without much aid. In turn, many Cherokee were killed in the long walk west to a supposed deserted region out of the way of immediate American expansion.
While the Americans and Europeans were busy in their sphere, the Europeans would work their way deeper into Asia beyond their previous inroads. The domination of China had already been conducted for decades in this century as opium and other trade seeped in through Asia. Wars and the working destruction were wearing apart at the Chinese monarchy until the Qing dynasty eventually came tumbling down. By the turn of the century, China had been marginalized and effectively cut up into regions, periodically losing against the European powers and even a later rising Japan.
On another front, anesthesia was used for the first time in the early 1840s. The advancement of
medicine was finally beginning to take off. While it would be much longer before efficient and widespread medicine could be used, it was in the 1800s where it began to shoot off much like flight had accomplished for space travel. By the end of the century even headache medicine was produced. However, medicine would fall under numerous pitfalls and people would be hoodwinked into buying snake oil which often held ridiculous claims from traveling fraudsmen. This would still occur in the modern world but under the banner of sanctioned pharmaceutical companies.
Suitably, a few years later the Mexican American War broke out after American antagonizing and Mexican troubles which had continued since before the breakup of the Spanish empire. Under President Polk the United States was able to solidify its northern border with the British, thus averting war, while expanding over the fractious Mexican Empire and finalizing the southern border and connecting the United States as much as we see today. Final land exchanges were conducted after the war with the Gadsden Purchase. The Mexican American War was also important because it provided a lot of experience to future American generals in the oncoming American Civil War.
But Europe wasn’t meant to be left out as they had their own tumultuous year in the revolutionary year of 1848. The revolutions rose against most European governments and the established order of things yet as widespread as the revolutions had become, they hadn’t succeeded anywhere. Disillusionment spread and the revolutionary activities were shut down in just over a year and a half.
In Asia, Japan began to open up to the world in 1854. This altered the way Japan had operated. No more was it going to be the insulated nation. Nor could it be. The technological growth was incredible and there were barriers to the Japanese options. The great debate of what to do would rage within Japan and would result in war to decide the fate of the nation. Ultimately the Meiji period would be installed and technological progress, along with thought of supremacy and Empire reigned. The speed at which Japan had transformed was incredible and rarely mirrored in history. Some of this speed can be observed through the Imperial Japanese Navy.
Trouble continued to stew. Efforts had been made to pacify the American states on either side for decades. In fact, Civil War had nearly come to a head a few decades prior but there wasn’t enough fanfare for it in the South. But there was a time when newly-elected Republican had turned the nose of many southerners who believed in states rights and the right to own slaves. They saw the election of Lincoln not only as an end to this, as it would be in both slavery and would grow the size of a central government, but an end to their way of life and everything they knew.
The Civil War was massively destructive on a human and an economic scale. There were threats on both sides nearly succumbing but the war had largely been fought on the southern half. And in spite of what the Europeans claimed, they aided and supported the Confederate cause. Even Britain had to pay indemnities to the United States after the war. But the war had managed to free the American slaves in the American rebellious southern with the Emancipation Proclamation. The War would cost many hundreds of thousands of American lives. France would also take advantage of these difficult moments by attempted to break in through Mexico which would fail within a few years.
The Civil War effects also saw the death of the first US president while in office. There were uncertainties around this and because of the close election between Lincoln and McClellan, Lincoln had a weak vice president in Johnson who would take over and would be the first president to be impeached. At the time impeachment was a great threat whereas in the modern era, it is tossed around as a political tool by other political tools. The actions of the United States government would suppress the growth of the United States in the South for decades, leaving it impoverished well into the 20th century. Out of the ashes would rise Captains of Industry who saw the benefits of capitalism and expansion while those same people would be called Robber Barons who saw their advancement through different eyes.
Markedly, there were incredible advances and alterations. The Suez Canal had been completed in the 1860s which dramatically shortened the amount of time it took for ships to reach Asia. No more would they have to trawl around Africa and the Cape of Good Hope, instead, they could climb through the Suez Canal, taking a shortcut and reap the economic and timely benefits the canal provided.
Mirroring 1848, Karl Marx began making a name for himself in the same decade. While it would take decades and a new century before a proper country had adopted his ideas, it was seen by many as a disaster before it had even taken place. In a historical context, however, Marx also preached that historians also ought to look from the ground up rather than from an elitist view. This is a remarkable difference compared to the observations coming from the eyes of popular or famous figures of the time. And looking at movements or ideas from the serf, peasant, slave or the like view has presented different perspectives primarily as we look back over history with this view and has redefined history in a number of ways.
Dancing continued throughout Europe as the concert played on. While there was relative peace, there were questions of what to do with the Ottoman Empire. The Russian Empire had committed to a great war in the Crimean War against France, Britain and the Ottoman Empire principally but this didn’t end the Ottoman Wars. Russia would make repeated efforts but peace was largely present on the European continent especially when compared against preceding centuries. But the main question lied with what to do with the Ottoman Empire when it would collapse as it was believed it would collapse before any of the other major power. Naturally, the major powers at the time ignored the sicker men of Europe in Spain and Russia.
One of the major breaks of the peace was the unification of Germany which was hurried after the French loss in the Franco-Prussian War. While German states had been relatively successful before official unification through the Holy Roman Empire, the French were the dominant force. It was beneficial to Europe, primarily Russia and France, to keep German from officially unifying much as its in America’s and Russia’s interest in the modern era to keep Europe from unifying. However, once Germany unified and played with socialist ideas while badgering the religious ones, Europe became even more of a danger to itself and would explode in the early 20th century.
Outside of Europe the peace had shattered. Colonialism boomed with the expansion of technology combined with the ability to fight specific diseases. The scramble for Africa became more of a scramble for raw materials but moreso for prestige of land occupation and how well one painted a map. This expanded further within Asia, notably in previously untouched areas such as French Indochina and the depths of the middle of Africa. While there were disasters such as Belgium’s occupation of the Congo, there were great things which were handed to previously “uncivliized” territories which lit them, provided them with transportation and future opportunity, of which many nations refuse to reap the benefits even today.
The world was radically changing like the runaway steam train. There were advancing technologies and gains. For the first time, there was a world wide power rather than one which was regionally powerful. The great empires from China, Mongolia, Rome or the like were nowhere near close to what Britain had become in the 19th century or what the United States had become in the 20th century. And this would show as the British power began to decline just after the beginning of the new century and the American’s power began to rise with the advancement of military power and empire and the taking of select Spanish colonies.
Undoubtedly there are numerous famous people and other great events that haven’t been mentioned in this brief survey. It is even moreso difficult since this era has so much print and historical discussion that it is impossible to mention everything of important detail which happened in this century. Therefore, I have attempted to bridge some ideas with others so they could be cross connected and be researched further if you decide to delve deeper into these particular subjects.