Wednesday, November 7, 2012

In today’s world, democratic institutions are fairly common around the world.  So common that one might forget that not too long ago, the world labored mostly under the will of totalitarian systems and despotic rulers.  I find that reading documents contemporary to some historic period adds an interesting edge to one’s understanding of a period.  So a few days ago I found myself perusing a worn book titled “ The People’s Atlas of the World” published in 1885.  Maybe I’m dating myself but 1885 was not that long ago in the measure of human history.  Here are some interesting tidbits for the reader of 1885 and 2012.

Average Age for All Living in 1870
France 32 years
Sweden and Holland 29 years
Italy 28 years
England 27.5 years
Germany 27 years
United States 24.5 years
(US wasn't doing so well.)

Classification of Existing Sovereignties (as spelled in Atlas): Showing their Degrees of Absolutism or Constitutional Limitation.

Absolute Despotisms

China, Russia, Persia Turkey, Morocco, Tunis, Siam and Japan together with some of the governments of India and Africa, are absolute despotisms.  Here the people have no voice in the conduct of public affairs, and are simply the slaves of the throne without any rights to be respected or claims to advance, contrary to the will of the sovereign.  As may be supposed, the thralldom and suffering of the masses in these countries are to some extent ameliorated where their rulers are naturally humane; but the right to oppress remains intact, and can at any moment be brought into fearful requisition, and without question.  In Japan there is some slight approach to constitutional government; but, notwithstanding, in all issues the power of the Mikado is unlimited and that of the daimios most galling.   

Limited Monarchies

Just about every other country has a monarchy with some power in the people, for all intent and purposes as allowed by the monarchy in place.

The Atlas has sections on emancipation of slaves discusses US freeing of all slaves in 1863.  Many other nations outlawed slavers through to the 1880s.  Other European nations freed (emancipated) their serfs, Russia in 1861, Germany in 1848, Brazil still used slaves, and Great Britain freed its slaves in 1834.   

France and the United States are the only noticeable nations excluded from the list of monarchies.  
(For all those people who say they'd love to live in the past, I say, I prefer my age of freedom and health because chances are I would have been born a butler, a slave an indentured servant or someone's vassal and then also suffer some cruel disfiguring or fatal disease early in life.)  
The Western Continent includes the United States, Mexico, the many South American countries and the Dominion of Canada.  (Ah, the days of monarchy.)

Curious entries for the United States:

West Virginia: Since the war the State has made good progress in population and wealth.  (Hm, twenty years ago from today Seinfeld was growing as a popular comedy with Friends soon to follow.  And the war had been the quickly won Persian Gulf War.)

Florida: Key West (the largest city in Florida), the principal of the Keys, is now a thriving place, and an important naval station. (Still thriving but maybe not quite the naval powerhouse it once was.)

Indian Territory: This Territory has been reserved by the United States for a permanent home for numerous Indian tribes. … The five tribes named here made considerable advances toward civilization.  They all wear the ordinary dress and live in houses.  They are engaged almost entirely in farming and stock-raising.  (What can I say to this.)  Fort Gibson is a military post in the Cherokee country.  It has three churches.  Fort Sill is a military post in the Kiowa Nation.

Dakota Territory: Indians to the number of 27, 500 still occupy reservations in the territory, most of them belonging to the Sioux.  (It’s just depressing to read that as recent history at the time of publication.  I can almost feel the sadness of the populations of those tribes.)

Arizona Territory: The growth and prosperity of the Territory were materially hindered by lawless tribes of Indians, all of whom are now considered peaceable, except the Apaches. (The Apaches...just didn't know when to quit I guess.)

Utah Territory: …and in 1856 all of the United States officials were driven out of the territory (by Mormons no less!)  Brigham Young died in 1877, but Mormonism, as founded by him, remains unchanged….

Montana Territory (best entry in my opinion):  Montana is notable as having been the battle-field of some of the most sanguinary battles of recent date with the Indians.  The most important of them was fought on the banks of the Little Big Horn River on June 25, 1876; in it there was almost a total annihilation of the Seventh United States Cavalry; General Custer was slain, with 261 of his officers and men.  (The thing about this entry is that military history is merely an aside in the many entries.  After mention of the battle, the Atlas discusses how great the state is for agriculture, resources, and that they are making strides in education.  The battle occurred nine years ago and is merely of interest but has no influence on the growth of the state.  Civilization presses forward undaunted.)

To finish of the United States, population tables are provided breaking up the population by White, Colored, Indian, Chinese and Japanese.  A different age definitely but again not so very long ago really.  At the time, Oregon had 9,348 male Chinese/Japanese and 164 females.  Ouch.
United States’ largest exports were cotton and breadstuffs (wheat and such) and largest import was sugar.  Our largest trade partner by far was England.

Countries of Europe included the German Empire and the Russian Empire.  Great Britain had a monarch with some power to her.

France: By treaty, France asserted her right to the whole of the Annamite Kingdom in 1882-1883.  (This later led to problems which the US had to get involved with about 80 years later. Should I mention the African territories France took as protectorates in the 1880s listed in the Atlas?)

Sweden and Norway: The Atlas notes that in 1814 Norway broke from Sweden and…elected the Danish Prince, Christian Frederik, King of Norway.  The Swedish troops, however, entered Norway without serious resistance, and the foreign powers refusing to recognize the newly-elected king, the Norwegians were obliged to conclude…(Union with Sweden.  Wow, Norway looks pretty wimpy in that description.)

Austria-Hungary: Since the year 1867 the Austro-Hungarian monarchy forms a bi-partite State consisting of a German monarchy and a Magyar kingdom.  (A match made in heaven.)

Countries of Asia: Chinese Empire, Kingdom of Korea, Empire of Japan, Kingdom of Persia, Kingdom of Burma, Kingdom of Siam, Kingdom of Cambodia, Independent Turkistan (Watch out! What was going on there?) and Empire of India.  (I don’t sense a lot of freedom here.  I suppose there’s been some improvement over the last 127 years. Anyone?  Look at a map of all that and from the Arctic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean is a two layer cake made up of the Russian Empire and the Chinese Empire.  Hm.  Much of a change in 2012?)

Afghanistan: Thought the whole country within the limits we have been describing is called Afghanistan, it is very far from being a united state, and the allegiance owed to the frequently deposed ameers of Kabul is of the lightest and most fluctuating kind. It’s limits include many tribes which are more or less independent of one another,  and often at war, uniting or allying themselves, it may be, against a foreign enemy. (Ahhhahahahaaa.  Do I need to even address this?  Wait, is this the 2012 Atlas of the World,,,,)

The section on the “Colored Populations” of Africa is so racist I don’t even want to transcribe it.  But the attitudes presented are probably well within normal feeling of the time among Europeans and Americans.  The odd thing is it seemed that Europeans appeared to simply be playing the same kingdom game everyone across the world was playing.  Though the Europeans suffered from extreme racism in their attitudes towards others, everyone, regardless of race, creed, religion, etc.  seemed happy enough to settle differences by force of arms and if someone got conquered, there you have it.  They're in charge.

The Kingdom of Egypt is ruled by a despot who took over by force of arms and the Atlas lists several European colonies developing around Africa.  It really is fascinating to see the past in the frame of mind of a writer who wonders what the future will be in these events.  

Perhaps my essay does little justice to the point I am making.  If you don’t have the same sense of what life must have been like in 1885, grab an old Atlas from the nineteenth century and read it for yourself. It's eye opening.

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