Last updated: 2009-02-19 15:39 EET
The 1848 Revolution introduced the concept of public space to the Romanian Principalities. This concept is closely linked to modernity and to the construction of a democratic state and society. Until then, Moldavia and Wallachia had been two principalities found at the boundaries of three European regions: eastern, western and south-eastern Europe. This meant a complex array of various mentalities and customs in these parts. However, modern age brought consistency and reform to the societies in both principalities, along with the Western concepts of equality and freedom. Christian Tell was one of the most notable activists to militate for a modern spirit in the Romanian principalities, and for the creation of a public arena.

Christian Tell was born on January the 2nd, 1808, into a modest family in Brasov, central . He was a simple man, whose hard work was the cornerstone of his career. He attended Gheorghe Lazar's school, and had such classmates as Nicolae Balcescu, Ion C. Bratianu, Ion Ghica, and C.A. Rosetti, all of them later to become key figures of the 1848 Revolution in Romania. He then pursued a military career, and fought as captain in the Russian army in the Russian-Turkish War of 1828-1829. In 1834, he married Tarsita Stefanescu, daughter of a low-rank boyar. The two had 13 children. In 1843, he joined a secret society called “The Brotherhood”, which grouped together all those who fought for rapid changes in Wallachia's international political and judicial statute. In 1848, he took part in the Romanian revolution, alongside General Gheorghe Magheru and Captain Nicolae Plesoianu.

The revolution had started off in Oltenia, a region in south-western Romania, where Tell, Magheru and Plesoianu managed to gain extensive popular support. People in these parts still held a living memory of Tudor Vladimirescu and his rebellion of 1821. On June the 9th, 1848, Tell and his troops are on the fields near Islaz, a village southwest of Bucharest, demanding that prince Gheorghe Bibescu accept a constitutional regime for Wallachia. Upon his arrival in Bucharest, backed by his mounted troops, Christian Tell is named chief of the national guard, as part of a provisional government. He is quickly promoted colonel, and subsequently general. After Gheorghe Bibescu stepped down as prince of Wallachia, Tell, alongside Ion Heliade Radulescu and Nicolae Golescu, became members of the royal lieutenancy, a political and administrative body that acted as a de facto government.

With the revolution quashed, Tell was forced into exile in Paris. Although he continued to keep in touch with his fellow revolutionaries, some divergences arose. Bratianu, Balcescu, Ghica and other revolutionary leaders would not recognise royal lieutenants as leaders of the diaspora. Tensions deepened to such an extent that Balcescu even challenged Tell to a duel, which never took place. In 1853, at the dawn of the Crimean War, Tell joined forces with the Turks, and was paid to recruit Romanian troops to fight for the Ottoman Empire against Russia. In 1857 he returned to the country, like all exiled revolutionaries, and took part in the historical moments that eventually led to the foundation of modern Romania: the union and the reforms. He was chosen to take part in the ad-hoc gatherings fighting for the unification of Moldavia and Wallachia. Upon his return to Wallachia, Tell renounced his former radical ways. Alongside Mihail Kogalniceanu, he set up a group of moderate liberals, who took increasing distance from Bratianu's radical liberals.

During the rule of Alexandru Iona Cuza, between 1859 and 1866, Tell supported the prince in his effort to consolidate public authority and initiate reforms. Between December 1862 and May 1836, Christian Tell was the Minister of Education and Religious Affairs in the Cretulescu government, and once again between 1871 and 1874, in the government led by Lascar Catargiu.

Later, in 1876, liberals formed a new cabinet, while members of the conservative government, including Tell, were sent to court for their actions while in power. Christian Tell was cleared of all charges on account of his past as a revolutionary; the prince himself stood up for him. Christian Tell died in his home on LuminaStreet in Bucharest on February the 12th 1884. The street was later renamed after him, and bears his name to this day. He lived to see Romania as he had dreamt it: united, reformed, strong, independent and a constitutional monarchy.
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