Monday, September 7, 2009

Study Questions #3: Politics & National Culture

To accompany the post, Being German in the Early 1800s.


Germany as a nation did not exist in 1800. A series of small principalities since the days of the Holy Roman Empire in the Middle Ages – going back to Charlemagne around 800 AD – it consisted of around 300 more or less independent countries held together by the German language and its culture.


These next questions are entirely conjectural and is based only on the model of the German states and confederations that existed during the 18th and 19th Centuries:

What might have happened if the United States had never become the “United” States but had remained a loose confederation of independent states as had originally been outlined in the “Articles of Confederation” (which has nothing to do with the Confederacy of the Civil War era)? This was drawn up following the Declaration of Independence and ratified by the 2nd Continental Congress which met in York PA in 1777. Its weaknesses led to the Constitution of the United States and George Washington's becoming President in 1789.

If some of the states had broken down into smaller units – for instance, if Philadelphia had become a “city-state” and Dauphin, York and Lancaster Counties were each independent from the rest of what is now Pennsylvania; and if each new settlement in the interior like Pittsburgh or cities along the Ohio River, had become independent countries instead of part of a growing single nation – how would this affect life in these former British colonies? After all, we spoke a common language but what if each sub-state had its own government, its own currency and stamps and road systems – how would this have affected commerce and the development of canals, railroads and eventually highways? How would it affect traveling?

Would it be the same nation it is today?

How did the Constitution of the United States overcome the weaknesses of this idea of a Confederation and set about maintaining the balance between individual states and the nation as a whole?

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Assuming the concept of action & reaction between one era or generation and the next, if the “Biedermeier” Age of the 1820s-1840s tried to find stability after the chaos of the Napoleonic Era, how might some eras in American history be comparable to this cycle?

Talk with family members from your parents' and grandparents' generations about what they remember – either experiencing it themselves or remembering what their parents and grandparents told them – what it was like during World War II and the Eisenhower Years in the 1950s; about the Civil Rights issues and Viet-Nam in the '60s and '70s followed by the Reagan Years of the '80s?

How do various aspects of our lives today – whether experienced or perceived (in life, in the news, in television and movies) – compare to the social attitudes of the “Biedermeier” Age? Is there any comparison?