I started out wondering about the particular rulers to whom the letters
were sent. My first question was: What does every school-age child know
about these monarchs? In order to answer that, I consulted every child's
favorite reference, World Book Encyclopedia, in the various articles on the
monarchs. The first thing I discovered was that most of them were
considered, at some point, to be liberal thinkers and, in some cases,
potential reformers. What happened? For the purposes of my timeline, I was
mostly interested in the European monarchs because it was the process of
the rise of the nation state that I wanted to track. I was not as
interested in Queen Victoria because England was already a stable, single
entity; and I was not as interested in Russia because political change
there was slower.
The ultimate questions I want to explore are: What are some of the pivotal
historical events from 1844-1871 that gave rise to the nation state? Are
there any historical parallels, implications for our own time period?
That is the background, the point from which I began, and the point from
which my essay begins.
I believe that there are significant historical similarities between the
time in which we are living, and the time in which the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh
lived and exhorted the rulers of the earth to turn their attention toward
God and His Manifestations. History has given us some crucial lessons, if
you will pay attention to them.
By the time the Báb declared His Mission to the world, civilization
was already changing. By 1844, especially in western Europe, there had
been some significant changes in the way people thought and interacted.
Western Europe had experienced 'enlightenment.' A new age of skepticism
had arisen, and old structures and traditional ways of doing things were
falling away. Compared to even 50 years earlier, people were living longer
and in better health; more people were literate and more were formally
educated; an influential, commercial, middle class had arisen;
technological advances allowed more profitable use of land and resources;
industrialization was luring more people to city centers; many countries
had colonies or trading partners in other parts of the world; monarchies
and leaders still spoke of 'divine right' but increasingly groups were
forming to draw attention to the needs of the 'common man.' While many
citizens were still disenfranchised, the will of the populous was being
addressed by elected and appointed officials. In England, Parliament had
real legislative power. The Bahá'í writings tell us that when the
Manifestation appears, a fresh wave of energy accelerates the growth of
God's Plan for His creatures. The Báb's announcement came at a time when
western European countries were coalescing from a collection of squabbling,
warring principalities into true nations. The timeline below illustrates
some of the changes that took place beginning with the Báb's Declaration in
1844. Of course, the process had begun much earlier, but it is the rapid
acceleration toward the modern western European states with which we are
familiar that caught my attention.
This is a very skeletal timeline covering, in general, only 1844-1871
highlighting the rise of the nation states. The Promised Day Is Come gives
a full account of what befell each of the recipients of Bahá'u'lláh's
- The Báb declares His Mission
Napoleon III writes 'The Extinction of Poverty'
- Pius IX is elected pope because it is felt he is the liberal candidate
- Marx and Engles write "The Manifesto of the Communist Party"
Pius IX flees popular uprising in Rome; Roman Republic proclaimed
Constitutions are granted to the Italian States
Revolution in Paris; Second Republic is proclaimed
Uprising in Vienna; Hungary and Czech autonomy demanded
Uprising in Berlin; Frederick Wilhelm IV grants constitutions to German States
Hungary claims independence from Austria
Austria gains a Constitution
Serfs are freed in Austria
France suppresses the Roman Republic and restores Pius IX
- Prussian attempt to unify German States halted by Austrian treat of war;
Germanic Confederation established
Cavour, Prime Minister of Sardinia, promotes anti-clerical legislation
- Napoleon III names himself Emperor of France
- National Society created to work for Italian unity
- War with Austria secretly planned by Napoleon III and Cavour
- Peace of Villafranca between France and Austria
Between the 1860s and 1880s a number of societies of workers were formed to
better conditions and increase their social/political power. Many of these
societies acquired legal status between 1870 and 1900.
- Garibaldi invades Italy
- Proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy under Vittorio Emmanuele II
- Russian serfs freed
- Bismarck becomes first minister of Prussia
- Bahá'u'lláh declares His Mission
- Pius IX writes 'Syllabus of Errors'
- Austria defeated in Seven Weeks' War
- Marx writes "Das Kapital"
First women are admitted to the University of Zurich
New Parliament with limited powers for all Germany set up by the German States
Garibaldi's invasion of Papal States halted by papal and French forces
Austro-Hungarian Empire formed
- Bahá'u'lláh arrives in Holy Land
- Second Tablet to Napoleon III sent -- followed by Tablets to the
- Franco-Prussian War declared
Withdrawal of the French garrison from Rome allows Italian troops to enter the
city. After a plebiscite, Rome becomes capital of Italy
All German States unite to defeat France
- German Empire inaugurated at Versailles
Law of Guarantees defines relationship between Italy and the Papal States; income
and independence are assured the pope and extra territoriality granted the
Bahá'u'lláh's letters to the rulers came at a crucial time in this
process. Clearly, the old order of the day was giving way to a new, more
egalitarian structure. Bahá'u'lláh warns the rulers that they must be
aware of their responsibilities before God. They must turn toward God and
His Manifestation for guidance; otherwise, they will be swept away along
with the outmoded traditions and systems they represent. On one level, He
may have had some hope the monarchs would heed His call. Of those to whom
He wrote, all but Wilhelm I had shown some signs of liberality of thought.
Thumbnail sketches from encyclopedia accounts seem to indicate that these
rulers were, to a certain extent, in tune with their time.
Pope Pius IX originally favored unification of the Italian States. He
was elected pope because it was felt he was a liberal choice; however,
continued threats to papal power caused him to become much more
conservative. In 1864 he wrote "Syllabus of Errors" in which he condemned
what he believed were errors of modern thought -- liberalism, rationalism,
communism and socialism. By 1870 Italy had absorbed all the Papal States
except the Vatican, the Lateran palaces and the papal villa at Castel
Gandolfo. The pope shut himself inside the Vatican and considered himself
Napoleon III wrote "The Extinction of Poverty" in 1844; this treatise
proposed the government act to end poverty and suffering. In 1848 he was
elected President of France but instead of working to end suffering and
poverty, he spent the next four years consolidating power. He named
himself Emperor in 1852. He was a dictator surrounded by dishonest men.
The legislature and the press had no power or authority. After 1860, in an
attempt to increase his popularity and power, he began to move in the
direction of a liberal empire, but by then people had begun to demand a
democracy. His policy unraveled as he entered into a number of unfortunate
political alliances, skirmishes, and deceitful dealings which led, finally,
to his defeat in 1870 by the Germans. Two days after his surrender, the
revolutionists overthrew the empire. He died an exile in England in 1873.
Alexander II was called the Czar liberator because he freed the
Russian serfs in 1861. He also carried out judicial reforms, especially in
the courts, and improved the financial administration. In addition, he
ended censorship, permitted provincial representative assemblies, and
promoted industrialization and railroad building. Alexander fought and
defeated the Turks. Nevertheless, vigorous revolutionary leaders demanded
further reforms and greater political and social power. In 1881 Alexander
II was assassinated. He was followed by Alexander III who was much more
autocratic and repressive.
Franz Joseph was a popular ruler but also believed in military force.
After Austria was defeated in the Seven Week's War of 1866, he adopted a
much more liberal attitude allowing Hungarians equal rights which
eventually led to the formation of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1867.
Victoria I was the most successful of the monarchs in that she saw the
best interests of her subjects were the best interests of herself. When
she became Queen, the English people had very little respect for the throne
because the previous Kings had been profligate and unconcerned with the
welfare of their subjects. Victoria proved to be hard-working and caring,
but she realized her role was as a symbol of national tradition and pride.
The real power in Britain, then as now, resided in the Parliament.
Wilhelm I opposed constitutional reform and supported the policies of
his Prime Minister, Bismarck, who united Germany through ruthless political
and military tactics. Bismarck once declared that the great problems of
his time would be solved through "blood and iron" not speeches and
By virtue of their positions and power, the rulers addressed by
Bahá'u'lláh could have implemented great changes among their people and
promulgated God's Plan through the whole world. Had they been prepared to
turn to Bahá'u'lláh, God's Messenger for this day, they would have learned
at His feet how to build the future world civilization. They would have
been part of the solution to man's lack of true spirituality and separation
from God rather than encouragers of disunity and disintegration. When the
Kitáb-i-Aqdás appeared, they would have welcomed the guidance as a means of
bringing about a peaceful union of their countries, their colonies, and the
world -- a means of creating the Kingdom of God on earth for which they had
been taught to pray in 'The Lord's Prayer.' But they rejected the Lord of
the Age and utterly misunderstood His Message, so mankind is still
struggling toward its goal of unity. The rulers of Bahá'u'lláh's day
preoccupied themselves with earthly power. They could not suppress their
egos, selfish desires, and thirst for personal power. Like Esau in the Old
Testament, they bartered away their inheritance for a cup of stew.
What is the implication for those us who live in 1998? The world is
now at another critical juncture. In the 19th century separate, small,
political entities came together to build the modern nations of the world.
In this day, the nations are moving ever closer to the promised world
commonwealth. I believe one lesson to be learned from the mistakes of
those kings and rulers who were addressed by Bahá'u'lláh is that we must
firmly put aside our own egos, material considerations and desires to
concentrate on the spiritual and material needs of all mankind.
Another lesson is that the leaders of thought will need the assistance
of those who have the Message of God for this day. Our leaders may have
difficulty disassociating themselves from the selfish desire for individual
power. Unlike the kings and rulers in the 19th century, our leaders do not
have the bounty of receiving the Word from the Manifestation Himself. Only
Bahá'ís, the followers of Bahá'u'lláh, have the Message of God for this
day. If we learn from the lessons of the past, Bahá'ís must realize our
grave responsibility to accomplish what those who had material power failed
to do in the past -- we must assist in the birth of God's Kingdom on Earth.
"In these days, the most important of all things is the guidance of the
nations and peoples of the world. Teaching the Cause is of utmost
importance for it is the head corner-stone of the foundation itself."
Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p.10
"Every Bahá'í, however humble or inarticulate, must become intent on
fulfilling his role as a bearer of the Divine Message. Indeed, how can a
true believer remain silent while around us men cry out in anguish for
truth, love and unity to descend upon this world?"
Messages from the Universal House of Justice: 1963-1986, p. 154
"The Message of Bahá'u'lláh is God's guidance for mankind to overcome the
difficulties of this age of transition and move forward into the next stage
of its evolution, and human beings have the right to hear it.... The
slowness of the response of the world has caused and is causing great
suffering; hence the historical pressure upon Bahá'ís to exert every effort
to teach the Faith for the sake of their fellowmen."
Messages from the Universal House of Justice: 1963-1968, p. 514
Illustrated History of Europe: a Unique Portrait of Europe's Common
History. Federic Delouche, ed. New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1992
Messages from the Universal House of Justice: 1963-1986. Wilmette, IL,
Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1996
Roberts, J.M., A History of Europe. New York, Allen Lane The Penguin
Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day Is Come. Wilmette, IL, Bahá'í Publishing
Taherzadeh, Adib, The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh: Adrianople, 1963-68,
Volume 2. Oxford, George Ronald, 1977
Taherzadeh, Adib, The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh: 'Akká, The Early Years,
1968-77, Volume 3. Oxford, George Ronald, 1984
Toynbee, Arnold, Mankind and Mother Earth: A Narrative History of the
World. New York, Oxford University Press, 1976
Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Wilmette, IL., Bahá'í Publishing
The World Book