Revolutions – Political Study Guide summary and notes




Revolutions – Political Study Guide summary and notes


The following texts are the property of their respective authors and we thank them for giving us the opportunity to share for free to students, teachers and users of the Web their texts will used only for illustrative educational and scientific purposes only.



The information of medicine and health contained in the site are of a general nature and purpose which is purely informative and for this reason may not replace in any case, the council of a doctor or a qualified entity legally to the profession.



Revolutions – Political Study Guide summary and notes


The Age of Revolution. Even before industrialization, new ideas and social pressures caused a series of social and political revolutions in the West.


Forces of Change. A series of political revolutions began in 1775 with the American Revolution and continued with the French Revolution of 1789, and later lesser revolutions. Major trends reversed previous quieter eighteenth-century European themes. Intellectual ferment was high beneath the calm eighteenth-century surface. Enlightenment thinkers challenged the existing order and opened a gap between intellectuals and established institutions. They were joined by businesspeople in encouraging economic and technical change. Another source of disruption was the effect of a huge population increase. Upper-class families, to protect their more numerous children, tightened their grip on public offices. Business families were more willing to take risks. Rural families were forced into the proletariat. The population growth stimulated a rapid expansion of domestic manufacturing and consumerism. Youthful independence grew as the possibility of inheritance from parents declined. Sexual behavior, especially among the lower social classes, altered, with premarital sex rapidly increasing the number of out-of-wedlock births.


The American Revolution. American colonists after 1763 resisted British attempts to impose new taxes and trade controls and to restrict westward movement. Young men seeking new opportunities turned against the older colonial leadership. Revolution followed in 1775. British strategic mistakes and French assistance helped Americans to win independence. In 1789, they created a new constitutional structure based on Enlightenment principles. The revolution, by extending male voting rights, created the world's most democratic society. Social change was more limited: slavery continued.


Crisis in France in 1789.  In France, ideological fervor for change had been growing from the middle of the eighteenth century. Enlightenment thinkers called for limitations on aristocratic and church power and for increased voice for ordinary citizens. Middle-class people wanted a greater political role, while peasants desired freedom from landlord exactions. Growing commercial activity created a market economy, affecting many individuals. The government and ruling elite proved incapable of reform. Louis XVI called a meeting of the long-ignored traditional parliament but lost control of events to middle-class representatives during 1789. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, proclaimed by the assembly, and the storming of the Bastille, were important events in the evolution of a new regime. After peasants acted on their own to redress grievances, the assembly abolished manorialism and established equality before the law. Aristocratic principles were undercut, and the church’s privileges were attacked and its property seized. Royal authority was limited by a parliament with male voting rights based on property.


The French Revolution: Radical and Authoritarian Phases. The initial reforms provoked aristocratic and church resistance, causing civil war in some regions. Economic chaos added to the disorder. Foreign regimes opposed the new government. The pressures led to a takeover of the revolution by more radical groups. The monarchy was abolished and the king executed; internal enemies of the regime were purged during the Reign of Terror. The new rulers wished to extend reforms, calling for universal male suffrage and broad social reform. The metric system was introduced, and all male citizens became subject to military service. The invaders of France were driven out and revolutionary fervor spread to other European nations. The radical leadership of the revolution fell in 1795 and more moderate government followed. The final phase of the revolution appeared when a leading general, Napoleon Bonaparte, converted the revolutionary republic into an authoritarian empire. Napoleon confirmed many of the revolution's accomplishments, including religious liberty and equality under the law (but not for women). Napoleon concentrated on foreign expansion; France by 1812 dominated most of Western Europe, except for Britain. Popular resistance in Portugal and Spain, a disastrous invasion of Russia, and British intervention crushed Napoleon's empire by 1815. The ideals of the revolution—equality under the law, the attack on privileged institutions, popular nationalism—survived the defeat.


A Conservative Settlement and the Revolutionary Legacy. The victorious allies worked to restore a balance of power in the peace settlement of 1815. France was not punished severely, although its border states were strengthened. Europe remained fairly stable for half a century, but internal peace was not secured. The conservative victors attempted to repress revolutionary radicalism, but new movements arose to challenge them. Liberals sought to limit state interference in individual life and to secure representation of propertied classes in government. Radicals wanted more and pushed for extended voting rights. Socialists attacked private property and capitalist exploitation. Nationalists, allied with the other groups, stressed national unity. All groups gained ground; the key political discussion became centered on constitutional structures and political participation. The middle-class was joined by urban artisans in the reform quest. New revolutions with varying results occurred in the 1820s and 1830s in Greece, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Germany, and Belgium. Britain and the United States were part of the process, but without revolution, as they extended male suffrage. Most of the revolutions secured increased guarantees of liberal rights and religious freedom.


Industrialization and the Revolutions of 1848. All Western governments participated in some way in the processes of the Industrial Revolution. Lower-class groups began to turn to their governments to compensate for industrial change. Revolts followed in 1848 and 1849 when governments proved unresponsive. A popular rising in France in 1848 overthrew the monarchy in favor of a brief democratic republic. Urban artisans pressed for social reform and women agitated for equal rights. The revolution spread to Germany, Austria, and Hungary. Adherents sought liberal constitutions, social reforms restricting industrialization, and the termination of manorialism. Also present were ethnic demands for unity or increased autonomy. The 1848 revolutions generally failed, as conservatives and middle-class groups protected their interests. Peasants alone secured their aims, making them very conservative henceforth. The general failure taught potential revolutionaries that gradual methods had to be followed. Social changes also influenced revolutionary ideas. Artisans concentrated on their work and operated within the system. By 1850, a new class structure was in place. Aristocrats declined in power as social structure became based on wealth. Middle-class property owners now were pitted against a working class. The old alliances producing revolutions had dissolved and revolution in the West became obsolete.


In Depth: The United States in World History. Should the United States be regarded as a separate civilization? Some argue that contact with western Europe was incidental to the development of the United States on its own terms. They assert that the vast continent forced changes in the European inheritance. There were clear differences. The absence of a peasantry and the presence of the frontier into the 1890s negated some of the social ills besetting Europeans. Political life was more stable and revolved around a two-party system. Socialism did not become a significant force. Religion was important, but was not a political issue. Slavery and racist attitudes were ongoing problems. In world history terms, however, the United States clearly is a part of Western civilization, sharing its political thought, culture, family patterns, and economic organization.


Causes of Political Change. Four external events had a major effect on Latin American political thought. The American Revolution provided a model for colonial rebellion. The French Revolution offered revolutionary ideology, but it was rejected by elites as too radical politically and socially. The slave rebellion on the French island of St. Domingue led by François-Dominique Toussaint L’Overture in 1791 ended in 1804 with the independent republic of Haiti. The success of the slaves frightened colonial elites and made them even more cautious about social change. The final and precipitating factor was the confused political situation in Spain and Portugal caused by French invasion and occupation. In Spain, the French deposed the king in favor of Napoleon's brother but then had to face prolonged civil war. Latin American Creoles declared loyalty to the Spanish ruler but began to rule the colonies themselves.


New Nations Confront Old and New Problems. Many of the leaders of Latin American independence shared Enlightenment political and economic ideals. There was less agreement about the role of the Catholic Church as the exclusive state religion. Some leaders had egalitarian beliefs. Slavery was abolished in all the former Spanish colonies by 1854. Better treatment of Indians and mestizos was blocked by the elite's fears of losing tax revenue and control. Property and literacy qualifications limited voting; women remained subordinate to men.


Political Fragmentation. Early efforts for political unity quickly failed because of regional rivalries and internal frictions. The great size of the Spanish colonial world and its poor transportation systems gave the eighteen new nations a local focus. The great majority of their peoples were outside of the political process.


Latin American Economies and World Markets, 1820-1870. After the defeat of Napoleon, any plans for ending Latin American independence were thwarted by the opposition of Britain and the United States. The price for British support was freedom of trade. Britain replaced Spain as a dominant economic force in a type of neocolonial commercial system. It became a major consumer of Latin American products and sold its manufactured goods to the new nations. The free entry and export of goods benefited port cities and landowners, but it damaged regional industries producing for internal markets. The resulting dependency on foreign markets reinforced the old order, which made land the basis of wealth and prestige.


Key Terms

American Revolution: Rebellion of the British American Atlantic seaboard colonies; ended with the formation of the independent United States.


French Revolution: Overthrow of the Bourbon monarchy through a revolution beginning in 1789; created a republic and eventually ended with Napoleon’s French empire; the source of many liberal movements and constitutions in Europe.


Louis XVI: Bourbon ruler of France who was executed during the radical phase of the French Revolution.


Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen: Adopted during the French Revolution; proclaimed the equality of French citizens; become a source document for later liberal movements.


Guillotine: Introduced as a method of “human” execution; used during the French Revolution against thousands of individuals, especially during the Reign of Terror.


Napoleon Bonaparte: Army officer who rose in rank during the wars of the French Revolution; ended the democratic phase of the revolution; became emperor; deposed and exiled in 1815.


Congress of Vienna: Met in 1815 after the defeat of France to restore the European balance of power.


Liberalism: Political ideology that flourished in nineteenth-century western Europe; stressed limited state interference in private life, representation of the people in government; urged importance of constitutional rule and parliaments.


Radicals: Following of a nineteenth-century western European political emphasis; advocated broader voting rights than liberals did; urged reforms favoring the lower classes. 


Socialism: Political ideology in nineteenth-century Europe; attacked private property in the name of equality; wanted state control of the means of production and an end to the capitalistic exploitation of the working class.


Nationalism: European nineteenth-century viewpoint; often allied with other “isms”; urged the importance of national unity; valued a collective identity based on ethnic origins.


Greek Revolution: Rebellion of the Greeks against the Ottoman Empire in 1820; a key step in the disintegration of the Turkish Balkan Empire.


French Revolution of 1830: Second revolution against the Bourbon dynasty; a liberal movement that created a bourgeois government under a moderate monarchy.


Belgian Revolution of 1830: Produced Belgian independence from the Dutch; established a constitutional monarchy.


Reform Bill of 1832: British legislation that extended the vote to most male members of the middle class.


French Revolution of 1848: Overthrew the French monarchy established in 1830; briefly established the Second French Republic.


Source :

Web site link:

Google key word : Revolutions – Political Study Guide summary and notes file type : doc

Author : not indicated on the source document of the above text

If you are the author of the text above and you not agree to share your knowledge for teaching, research, scholarship (for fair use as indicated in the United States copyrigh low) please send us an e-mail and we will remove your text quickly.


Revolutions – Political Study Guide summary and notes


If you want to quickly find the pages about a particular topic as Revolutions – Political Study Guide summary and notes use the following search engine:



Revolutions – Political Study Guide summary and notes


Please visit our home page Terms of service and privacy page




Revolutions – Political Study Guide summary and notes