5.9 Continuity and Change in the 18th-Century States

3 min readjanuary 24, 2023

Jillian Holbrook

Jillian Holbrook

AP European History 🇪🇺

335 resources
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Political Sovereignty

The French Revolution

The French Revolution and Napoleon’s reign challenged the different types of political sovereignty in 18th-Century States between states and individuals. In particular, the French Revolution fundamentally challenged the existing European political and social order.
While revolutionary ideals like liberty, fraternity, and equality inspired some, especially the Haitians, who gained independence in the Haitian Revolution, others outwardly criticized the movement. British statesman Edmund Burke was a prominent critic of the French Revolution; his opposition was based on the belief that the revolution was a radical and dangerous break with tradition, a threat to the established order of society, and a manipulation of the masses. Burke's opinions resonated among conservative and traditionalist circles in Britain and Europe, particularly monarchies that wanted to retain traditional authority.

Napoleon's Reign

Napoleon rose to influence under a stance of defending the ideals of the French Revolution. During his reign, he imposed a variety of enduring domestic reforms, such as increasing civic literacy, restoring the Catholic Church, and implementing the Napoleonic Code (also known as the French Civil Code). However, to retain authority, Napoleon also relied on censorship and a secret police force to suppress opposition, consequently infringing upon the rights and freedoms of French citizens.
With new military tactics, conscription, and academies to train officers, Napoleon spread revolutionary concepts across Europe by imposing widespread French control through the Napoleonic Wars. He upset Europe's balance of power, which provoked a nationalistic response to restore Europe's traditional conservative order. It took several coalitions to culminate in Napoleon's defeat, abdication, and final exile, as he managed to escape and briefly return to power in the Hundred Days' War.
Political sovereignty and government changed in Europe and France more than once during the 18th century. However, the Congress of Vienna, under the leadership of Austrian Prince Klemens von Metternich, restored the Bourbons to the French throne, redesignated European borders, and suppressed liberalism and nationalism to "undo" the French Revolution and bring Europe back to a balance of power from before Napoleon's conquests.



The spread of Scientific Revolution concepts and practices through Enlightenment application to political, social, and ethical issues led to an increased but not unchallenged emphasis on reason in European culture.
Romanticism developed by Rousseau marked a return to nature and the rejection of societal norms. This movement developed alongside the Enlightenment but in opposition to its strict rationality and the suppression of emotion in favor of reason. The Romantic movement was a reaction to the perceived excesses of the Enlightenment, which emphasized rationality, individualism, and progress at the expense of tradition, community, and nature. Romantic philosophers and artists rejected the Enlightenment's focus on reason and science, instead celebrating the emotional, intuitive, and spiritual aspects of human experience.
Revolution, war, and rebellion demonstrated emotional power for mass politics and nationalism, which contributed to the revival of public expression.
🎥 Watch: AP Europe - French Revolution & Neoclassical Art
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