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[Pasquale Paoli, Corsican Independence]

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Pasquale Paoli
& Corsican Independence
from Genoa

  The Island of Corsica has had a long and turbulent history where the numerous clans that traditionally constituted its population were often exploitatively ruled by outsiders. The outsiders in question, in the earlier part of the eighteenth century, being the Republic of Genoa. The Corsicans themselves had a predilection for becoming involved in bloody inter-clan vendettas and the Genoese had often found it convenient, over the several centuries of their rule in Corsica, to exploit, and indeed foment, inter-clan conflicts to better allow their own position of sovereignty over Corsica to be maintained.

  Most Corsicans found the Genoese administration in Corsica to be most exploitative, many churchmen on Corsica tended to join their lay brethren in being opposed to Corsican rule. The degree to which Genoese authority was rejected by many Corsicans was intensified into a more open rebellion after 1729 after the imposition of a burdensome hearth tax and by the execution, as a disciplinary measure, of a number of Corsicans who had been serving in the Genoese armies.

  Pasquale Paoli was born, as the younger son of one of Corsica's clan chiefs, in Morosaglia in April 1725. He shared the exile (1739-55) of his father, Giacinto Paoli, who had been a leader in a struggle against the Genoese rulers of the island. This period of exile was spent in the Kingdom of Naples where Paoli, from February 1741, entered the Corsican Regiment that was part or the army of the King of Naples as a cadet.

  In 1734 Don Carlos of Spain had taken up the throne as Charles III of the Two Sicilies (i.e. Sicily and Naples) and thereafter followed policies of encouraging a relatively enlightened administration. Paoli was influenced by a tendency towards liberalism and was even a founder member of a Masonic Lodge at a time when Freemasonry in the Italian pensula was notable for its support for rationalistic and irreligious ideas such as those of Voltaire and Montesquieu.

  In April 1755 Paoli (who had not risen above the rank of second lieutenant in the service of the King of Naples) returned to Corsica. He did so by invitation, a brother, Clemente, had long been notable as a leader of their family clan's defiance of Genoa, Paoli had recently spent some two years in a posting in the Neapolitan service at Longone near Leghorn. The seaport of Leghorn was then a natural landfall for Corsicans, and Corsican news, in movements to the mainland of "Italia". Paoli's presence at Longone had allowed him to make contact with influential members of the Corsican resistance to Genoa and to make a favourable impression in relation to his personality and to his political and strategic skills.

  In early July Paoli was entrusted with an overall generalship in the Corsican revolt and subsequently orchestrated a successful campaign against the Genoese that confined their influence to a few fortified coastal towns. He maintained a capital at Corte in the mountainous interior of the island. Paoli remained as president between 1757 and 1768 governing with wide powers and within the framework of a fairly liberal formal constitution after May 1762. This constitution was of an immense influence on the progressive thinking of the day and was often regarded with envy by those of liberal inclination who lived in those European states that were more completely ruled under the sway of monarchies. Many persons among the increasingly well educated and prosperous middle classes in several European states profoundly hoped for, (but did not seriously expect), the adoption of a Constitution by their own sovereign as this would tend to place legal limitations on the powers of that ruler to impose negatively on the lives and aspirations of the middle classes.

  Material prosperity was greatly furthered in Paoli's Corsica through an encouragement of agricultural production that could, with Paoli's intended construction of a new seaport at Isola Rossa, hope to avoid Genoese taxations. Public order was much enhanced by efforts to supress the practice of vendettas. Paoli arranged the establishment of a printing press that was utilised in the production of publications in support of the revolution in Corsica. These publications were intended for widespread distribution across Europe. Paoli arranged for the establishment of a Corsican navy that could engage in the defence of Corsican trade. A university was established at Corte that had amongst its objectives the education of priests.

  The Romantic movement that was becoming increasingly prominent in European arts and letters in the eighteenth century came to accept that, in a state of nature, human beings were inclined to live as "Noble Savages". There was a tendency, in circles influenced by the Romantic movement to see the Corsicans as "Noble Savages" who were being oppressed by the Genoese (who were themselves depicted as an example of the sorts of tainted decadence that was inevitable in educated and sophisticated societies). Paoli was presented to Europe as a potential enlightened ruler who could guide the Corsicans in an appropriate application of science and reason towards a brilliant future.

  Rousseau singled out Corsica for special mention in relation to " the valour and persistence with which that brave people have regained and defended its liberty" in his influential work "The Social Contract". Voltaire joined in this chrous of praise. Frederick the Great of Prussia lionized Paoli and his "little handful of brave men" who were fighting for liberty and sent Paoli a sword of honour with the words "Patria, libertas" inscribed on the blade.

  James Boswell, the most famous biographer in the English language, visited Corsica and Paoli in 1765. When Boswell's "An Account of Corsica" was published in 1768, with the help of David Hume, it caused a sensation and greatly added to the already considerable celebrity and support that Paoli's Corsica enjoyed in Britain.

  From 1756 (with the outbreak of the Seven Years War) and from 1764 (by Treaty) arrangements between Genoa and France established that substantial French armies would help in the defence of the Genoese fortresses on Corsica. The incoming French commander of 1756 approached Paoli with reassurances that he meant to observe neutrality in relation to the disputes between Paoli's interest and that of Genoa.

  In 1767 the Republic of Genoa was greatly discomfited by Corsican forces being sent by Paoli to assist the inhabitants of the Island of Capraja (which lay about halfway between Corsica and the Italian mainland) to secure an independence (that the Caprajan's had not really been looking for) from Genoa.
  When the Corsicans landed their leader addressed the Caprajans, (who had been encouraged by the Genoese commander to co-operate in the defence of the island), with the result that the Caprajans joined with the Corsicans in efforts to secure the overthrow of the Genoese authority. For all her long and proud traditions as a seafaring city state the Republic of Genoa was unable to reverse the independence won for Capraja. Somewhat "Nationalistic" passions of the sort that would become fairly commonplace decades later in mainland Europe were evidenced by Genoese, Corsicans, and Caprajans during these dramatic events and their aftermath.

  In May 1768, Genoa, despairing of reducing the island to submission, effectively "sold" Corsica to France. Part of the price being the French return of Capraja to Genoese authority as its present state of friendship-in-arms with Corsica involved an intolerable threat to Genoese trading voyages destined for the Levant. The French Foreign Minister Choiseul subsequently ordered French forces to overthrow the Corsican administrative arrangements as led by Paoli. Paoli's Corsicans fought brilliantly against the superior forces of the French, but in May 1769 were decisively defeated at Ponte-Nuovo. Paoli and some three hundred of his most distinguished supporters were conveyed on a ship (made available by an English Admiral) to Leghorn.

  On the 15th of August, 1769, Carlo Buonaparte (who had been Paoli's secretary), and his attractive wife Laetitia became the parents of a son they named Napoleon. This child was born on Corsica, just three months after the island had been militarily won by the French, and spent at least some of his childhood hating France, the nation he would one day rule.

  "I was born when [Corsica] was perishing. Thirty thousand Frenchmen spewed on to our shores, drowning the throne of liberty in waves of blood... The cries of the dying, the groans of the oppressed and tears of despair surrounded my cradle from the hour of my birth."

  Paoli subsequently travelled to England where the Corsica he, and his Corsican followers, had tried to create had had a remarkable level of public support.

  As Paoli proceeded to England via Milan, Mantua, Vienna and Holland he was generally received with a notable degree of enthusiasm by the several populaces and their rulers.

  Paoli arrived in England in September 1769 and shortly thereafter was allowed an audience with the King. Paoli was awarded an annual pension of £1,200 per year - then a fairly significant amount - by the British government (that being said Paoli had many dependents in the wake of the failure of Corsican independence). He was also invited to take up refuge in Russia by the "Enlightened Despot" Catherine the Great who was prepared to settle a pension of 6,000 roubles if her offer was taken up.

  It eventually proved that active British aid in restoring Corsican independence was not forthcoming. That is to say that there was insufficient motivation for any British intervention. British political life was distressed by the populism of John Wilkes and by the early phase of American colonial resitance to British imposed taxations. Britain did not, meanwhile, become embroiled in any conflict against France that might have made Corsica seem relevant as an additional front through which such a conflict could be pursued.
  In the event Paoli continued to base himself in London where he lived for the next twenty years enjoying a wide popularity and the acquantaince of many celebrities including, through an introduction by James Boswell, Samuel Johnson. In March 1774 Pasquale Paoli was elected to Membership of the Royal Society this being a learned association which promoted intellectual endeavours and scientific knowledge which enjoyed royal patronage and had a good deal of social prominence.

  The French assumption of authority in Corsica brought with it efforts to encourage a French administrative model with which it was hoped that Corsicans could be brought to co-operate. Those anti-Paolists who had helped the French were rewarded but other Corsicans who had struggled against them were not particularly punished. The French hoped for a reconciliation whilst subtly incorporating Corsica into the orbit of the French kingdom.
  As part of this process the French established an educational system in Corsica that would, so they hoped, tend over time, to draw Corsica culturally towards France. It happened, however, that in many cases Corsicans quietly declined to gradually become provincial Frenchmen and Frenchwomen preferring to regard themselves as Corsicans who had suffered a reverse in the face of overwhelming military force.

  Due to a lack of positive response from the majority of the islands inhabitants the French abandoned their initial policy of conciliation and over the subsequent two decades the French (who considered that they were prepared to make concessions to Corsican sentiment and to avoid onerous taxation) were appalled to find themselves in the same position as the Genoese. That of having their authority reluctantly respected in the immediate vicinity of military strongholds but largely disrespected thereafter.

  In 1774 there was a serious Corsican revolt against the French authority on the island. This revolt was met by a programme of brutal repression that tended to greatly further the alienation of Corsican sentiment from any acceptance of French authority. Over the ensuing fifteen years (1774-89) there were many causes of complaint by Corsicans against such things as the employment of Frenchmen only in all meaningful roles in the administration, the awardance of monopolies that often left Corsicans at the mercy of rapacious merchants and high customs duties that stifled Corsican trade with the Italian mainland or France.

  The French Royal States finances were severly strained during these decades by the expense of the Seven Years War (1756-63) and also by the involvement of French forces in support of the American interest that was struggling for independence from Britain (1776-1783). A deep financial crisis resulted in the calling together of Aristrocratic, Clerical, and Third Estate (i.e. commoner) representatives to make humble representations to an "Estates General" that was to convene before the presence of the King in May 1789. As an adminstrative part of France it happened that Corsica contributed one Aristocratic, one Clerical, and two Third Estate representatives to these proceedings. The meeting of the Estates General was within weeks however followed by developments that culminated in the onset of "Revolution in France".
  As the tradition of previously absolute French Royal authority gradually fell into decay there was more opportunity for Corsican complaints about many aspects of the present French Royal administration in Corsica to be voiced. By August of 1789 there were many instances of an actual Corsican insurgency against the French authority.

  In efforts to frame a new policy that would tend to allow for a more consensual continued association of Corsica with France a political amnesty was declared by the French National Assembly on 30th November that, amongst other things, covered Paoli and other persons' previous transgressions against the authority of the French Royal state at the time when French control was being established after the effective purchase of Corsica from Genoa.
  Paoli, now in his early sixties, travelled to Paris in April 1790 and was personally acclaimed by the populace and by many prominent radicals in the new revolutionary France. He was raised to the rank of lieutenant-general in the French army and appointed as governor of Corsica. He made a triumphal progress across France to the mediterranean port of Toulon landing on the Corsica in July 1790 to take up his new duties. There was a continued intolerance across Corsica of those who had co-operated with the Royal French State in the past however and many persons felt it necessary because of diverse harassments to depart for France or the Italian mainland.

  When the French monarchy was finally abolished Paoli was confirmed in his appointment as Governor by the newly established French Republic. Paoli was unsympathetic to some of the more radical turns the French Revolution took in particular, although he was himself something of a Deist believing in God somewhat abstractly, Paoli was opposed to the revolutions' reform of the organisation of the Catholic church in France in a form subservient to the state. He was also unable to support the centralizing policies followed by the Revolutionary government.

  In early February 1793 the French National Convention declared war on England. This had the effect, in the case of Pasquale Paoli, who was known to have been a long time resident of Britain and to have received a British pension, of leaving him somewhat open to being denounced by his rivals for influence in Corsican affairs. The Convention could not afford to have persons whose loyalty they doubted in positions of power as they might be of great use to an enemy. Paoli was formally summoned to Paris but pleaded age and pressures of work in order to avoid such a journey.

  Some weeks thereafter the defection of an hitherto loyal general named Dumouriez heightened the Conventions' paranoia about potential betrayal. On 2nd April 1793 the Convention ordered Paoli's arrest but, as most Corsicans still warmly supported Paoli there was much unrest that constituted an effective breach with the present policy of the Convention. Most Corsicans who were quite prepared to see their island remain as part of France were nonetheless strongly supportive of Paoli's role in Corsica's governance.

  A serious revolt against the Convention occured in the south of France after the Convention had purged itself of Girondin influence. Most of the Girondins were deputies who had been returned by areas of Southern France. This development may well have contributed to the Convention deciding on 17th July that Paoli and some thirty other influential Corsicans were to be regarded as traitors.

  This declaration by the Convention that many prominent Corsicans were traitors caused deep rifts in Corsican society as people were faced with choosing between their loyalties to a Corsican association with France and a Corsica led by Paoli. In the event many persons decided not to support Paoli but to leave Corsica. In late August Paoli solicited "England's protection for Corsica's political existence". With the help of the British Admiral Hood the French were defeated by June 1794. The Corsican assembly (consulta) recognised Paoli as President and adopted the former Constitution of the 1770's with adaptions consistent with the King of Great Britain also being regarded as the King of Corsica. Corsica could now expect to be a British protectorate.

  General Sir Gilbert Elliot was appointed viceroy (October 1794) and Pozzo di Borgo (formerly Paoli's principal aide) became chief of the Corsican council of state that acted in an association with Elliot as viceroy.

  Despite a negotiated expectation by the Corsicans at the time of their agreeing to adopt Britain as a protecting power that they would effectively be self-governing in internal matters several high handed decisions as sponsored by Elliot gave the Corsicans dire cause for complaint. Paoli tried to heal the emerging rifts but Elliot for his part saw Paoli as an actual fomenter of opposition to his authority and urged the arrangement of Paoli being asked to sail to England at the King's request (October 1795).

  Paoli's departure was profoundly regretted by many Corsicans. From March 1796 there were numerous risings against the British in response to attempts to raise unpopular taxations and to the suspension of the Corsican parliament. Corsican interests, with French assistance, succeeded in their aim of overthrowing the unpopular British protectorate by September of that year.

  Although Paoli had some fitful hopes of returning to live somewhere closer to Corsica the dominance of French armies on the continent of Europe was one of the factors that discouraged any such move. Paoli continued to reside in England until his death on 5th February 1807. His remains were buried in St. Pancras churchyard and sometime thereafter influential English friends arranged for a memorial bust to be placed in Westminster Abbey.

  In September 1889 Paoli's remains were disinterred and transported on an English naval frigate to Corsica where they were re-interred with much ceremony in a mausoleum at his family's home in Morosaglia

Popular European History pages
at Age-of-the-Sage

The preparation of these pages was influenced to some degree by a particular "Philosophy of History" as suggested by this quote from the famous Essay "History" by Ralph Waldo Emerson:-
There is one mind common to all individual men...
Of the works of this mind history is the record. Its genius is illustrated by the entire series of days. Man is explicable by nothing less than all his history. Without hurry, without rest, the human spirit goes forth from the beginning to embody every faculty, every thought, every emotion, which belongs to it in appropriate events. But the thought is always prior to the fact; all the facts of history preexist in the mind as laws. Each law in turn is made by circumstances predominant, and the limits of nature give power to but one at a time. A man is the whole encyclopaedia of facts. The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn, and Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul, Britain, America, lie folded already in the first man. Epoch after epoch, camp, kingdom, empire, republic, democracy, are merely the application of his manifold spirit to the manifold world.
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"Germany" had a movement for a single parliament in 1848 and many central European would-be "nations" attempted to assert a distinct existence separate from the dynastic sovereignties they had been living under.

4 The "Italian" Revolution of 1848
A "liberal" Papacy after 1846 helps allow the embers of an "Italian" national aspiration to rekindle across the Italian Peninsula.

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Some instances of social and political extremism allow previously pro-reform conservative elements to support the return of traditional authority. Louis Napoleon, (who later became the Emperor Napoleon III), attains to power in France offering social stability at home but ultimately follows policies productive of dramatic change in the wider European structure of states and their sovereignty.

Emerson's "Transcendental" approach to History

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Pasquale Paoli
& Corsica