The Enlightenment ideas of natural rights, separation of powers in government, tabula rasa (the blank slate), and social contract influenced oppressed people to fight for equality. These people formed alliances with one another based on a variety of commonalities, such as language, religion, social standing, and territory. During 1750-1900, people from around the world challenged established government structures, and this led to a great deal of political, economic, and social change. For many of the following Revolutions, Enlightenment ideas directly influenced their advent!
The American Revolution involved the British North American colonies rebelling against the empire of Great Britain. Great Britain had been exerting its influence more and more across North America, including battling France in the Seven Years’ War for dominance in North America. Wars cost money, and the Seven Years’ War increased British debts, causing Great Britain to tax their North American colonies. 💵
The colonies were used to being left alone by the mother country, but the new taxes upset the colonists. Initially, the colonists wanted representation in Parliament to influence tax decisions. Phrases like “No Taxation without Representation” became commonplace in the colonies.
After being unable to find common ground regarding representation and taxation, colonial leaders issued the Declaration of Independence. This document was inspired by Enlightenment ideals, and it listed a series of grievances the colonists had with the British monarchy. Along with French assistance, the colonists won the war and their independence. The United States established a constitutional government, leaving the idea of monarchy behind.
In the mid-19th Century, Great Britain controlled large parts of the globe. The Maori tribes, as part of the larger Polynesian migration patterns, lived in New Zealand since roughly 1200 C.E. under Maori rule.
In 1840, Great Britain annexed New Zealand as part of their quest for global dominance in the race between industrialized nations for new territory. Because of industrialization and imperialism, Great Britain wanted land to harvest resources and new potential markets to buy their factory-finished products.
In response to the increased control from Great Britain, Maori tribes rebelled sporadically over a 40-year period. This forced the various tribes to see a common identity amongst themselves, increasing nationalism. By sharing many common traits, such as territory, Maori tribes banded together against Britain. Alas, the powers of industrialization overpowered the Maori, and Britain won by 1872.
Similar to the American Revolution, debt from the Seven Years’ War (as well as participation in the American Revolution) forced the French monarchy to call the Estates General for the first time in a long time.
The Seven Years' War was a global conflict that lasted from 1756 to 1763 and involved most of the great powers of the time, including the Kingdom of Great Britain, the Kingdom of France, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Spanish Empire. The war was fought on multiple continents, including Europe, North America, and India. The Seven Years' War was a conflict between the great powers over colonial territories and trade routes, and it was also a struggle for supremacy in Europe. The war resulted in significant territorial changes, including the transfer of French territories in North America to Great Britain. The Seven Years' War is considered one of the first true world wars in history and had a significant impact on the global balance of power.
The Estates General consists of Three Estates: clergy, nobility, and commoners. Each estate had equal voting power despite commoners composing 97% of the population, which led to commoners being outvoted and taken advantage of regarding taxation.
The commoners, also known as the Third Estate, formed the National Assembly in defiance of the Estates General. The National Assembly sought to undo a lot of what the Estates General did, such as altering the tax code. With tension rising with the French monarchy, members of the Third Estate stormed the Bastille in order to acquire weaponry as well as undermine the authority of the monarchy. The siege forced the King to accept the National Assembly as the legitimate government.
Similar to the American Revolution, the French Revolutionary leaders issued a guiding document that had clear Enlightenment principles. The Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen sought to guide the French people toward natural rights, equality, and a representative government that derived its authority from the people.
This new government, however, had its own problems. Due to its instability from radical revolutionaries, the Reign of Terror occurred, which saw many people accused of treason and beheaded by guillotine. Science and reason, meant to propel human flourishing, were applied to efficiently kill people, of which the guillotine was a byproduct.
Napoleon emerged to put order back into French society. He passed the Napoleonic Codes, which included making all male citizens equal (no more primogeniture) and protecting private property. However, Napoleon also crowned himself as emperor, which in many ways, ended the French Revolution.
If overthrowing existing governments is the definition of success for a revolution, Haitians garnered inspiration from the success of revolutions in America and France. Slaves of the French colony of Haiti revolted against their white masters in 1791. Toussaint L’Ouverture led maroon communities (various groups across the island) against the French authorities.
Haiti established equality and citizenship. In a unique moment, leaders redistributed land to the formerly enslaved and free black people. Most places that experienced abolition did not provide the same economic freedom for the newly freed person. France did not like this, betraying L’Ouverture’s leadership, and sought to bring Haiti back into the French empire by any means necessary.
Although the French government wanted to bring Haiti back under the empire, the French government was experiencing its own variety of internal and external problems. Napoleon had sought to conquer large parts of Europe, which requires a great deal of money and attention. This ensured French forces would not have the full support they would need to take back Haiti; thus, Haiti became the first black-led country in the western hemisphere. 🌎
Latin America is generally associated with Spanish colonies in the Americas, along with a heavy influence of catholicism (since Latin is the official language of the Roman Catholic Church). Within this society, there’s a hierarchy based on race and ethnicity, primarily between Creoles (whites born in the Americas) vs. Peninsulares (whites born in Spain). The Spanish monarchy favored Peninsulares to the frustration of the Creoles, and Creoles wanted more political power and economic freedom (no more mercantilism).
In addition to Peninsulares and Creoles, other members of the Spanish colonial social hierarchy were not happy with their share. Mestizos (combination of white and Native ancestry) wanted political power as well. Within this context, Simon Bolivar guided a diverse independence movement, including war, through Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru. It is important to note, unlike the American, French, and Haitian revolutions, that the Latin American revolutions did not coalesce into a single country afterward.
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Bolivar, the leader of this revolution, wrote the Jamaica Letter (1815), which advocated independence for the Latin American nations. He started to identify “Spanish Americans” as a group distinct from the Spaniards back in Europe. After the dust settled, Creoles created many new constitutional governments, abolishing slavery in their new governments. However, Indigenous communities and women continued to be oppressed.
Spain, since its glory days of the 16th century, slowly lost its empire. Puerto Rico and Cuba were two of the last colonies Spain had in the Americas. Lola Rodriguez de Tio, a poet with overt influences from the Enlightenment, continually urged the people of Puerto Rico and Cuba to overthrow the Spanish overlords throughout the late 1800s. Poetry by Lola Rodriguez de Tio directly related to starting revolutions, including “Come, Puerto Ricans, come now, for freedom awaits for us, anxiously, freedom, freedom!”
By 1900, Puerto Rico and Cuba were both free from Spain. Unfortunately, the United States began to exert its own influence over them. To this day, the United States has a military base in Cuba, specifically in Guantanamo Bay.
Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the region of Italy was divided among several small kingdoms and city-states. The people among those kingdoms did share common religion (Catholicism) and language, but they were not a united country. Due to the influence of nationalism, Count di Cavour started the process to unify Italy into one nation.
He practiced Realpolitik, which stresses practical political approaches. Cavour used an alliance with France to force Austria, a major opponent to Italian unification, out of its efforts to prevent Italian unification. He also received help from Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi.
Similar to Italian unification, Germany unified due to the influence of nationalism. Realpolitik (practical politics) was also used to unify Germany, and in this instance, Otto von Bismarck manipulated a series of three ways (involving France, Prussia, and Austria) to slowly gain land for the German nation. Nationalism continued to grow in Germany from its founding in 1871 to the World Wars of the 20th century.
The Ottoman Empire, since its glory days of conquering the Byzantine Empire (around 1450 C.E.), slowly began to decline, mostly due to a hesitancy to industrialize. Also, the Ottoman Empire had a tremendous amount of diversity, and those ethnically unique peoples wanted independence. Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania, also influenced by nationalism, wanted their own nations separate from the Ottomans.