Thursday, July 14, 2011

The age of democratic revolution. Is this a good description of the period 1970-1848?

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‘The age of the democratic revolution. Is this a good description of the period 1770-1848?


In order to assess the revolutions of the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century it is essential to look at the main revolutions the American Revolution, the French Revolution and the Revolutions of 148.


The American War of Independence can be said to have sparked the tide of Revolutions from this period. The Americans, who had outgrown the status which Britain had accorded them, sought independence from Britain and its economic exploitation.


Economic exploitation such as the ‘Navigation Acts’ which restricted colonial trade, which consequently made smuggling universal and the enforcement of taxes to pay for Greenville’s army.


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The stamp act provoked riots throughout the Colonies and shortly after, it was abolished. The Townsend act of 1767 brought even more unrest to the colonies as British troops were called in to restore order in Boston in 1770 and 5 people were killed. In April 1770 a ‘tea act’ was passed, which granted a monopoly on tea trade to an East India tea company. But colonists refused to buy this tea and instead, smuggled tea from elsewhere. 177 then saw the ‘Boston Tea Party’ at which tea chests at the port of Boston were tossed into the sea by colonists.


George III was outraged and closed the port of Boston, his so-called ‘intolerable acts’ then gave the Massachusetts governor the power to billet soldiers in colonists’ houses, annulled the colony’s charter and moved the capital from Boston to Salem. Colonists then responded by forming the first continental congress in Philadelphia on 5 September 1774. Colonists wanted civil disobedience against the British authorities in protest at the acts. At this stage Independence was rejected and it wasn’t until later that the faction that sought it gained support.


The Battle of Lexington and Concord then began the Revolution, the Second Continental Congress met in May 1775 and a continental army was adopted but not yet prepared to overthrow the crown. After the battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775 the congress decided that it could no longer accept the British crown, and the American Declaration of Independence was drafted by Thomas Jefferson, revised by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams and was formally passed on 4 July 1776. The Colonists now sought Independence from Britain which had previously interfered with their freedom. British regulation, taxation and Monarcharial government from England had only brought the divided colonies together.


They were now willing to stand up to Britain but they were not the only country that resented Britain. France, the Netherlands, Spain and Russia also helped out, the American Revolution thus became part of a larger war in which most of the great powers participated to some extent. Surprisingly, the war had went well for the British, in 1780 they made gains in the South but American guerillas won.


The Treaty of Paris in 178 recognised American Independence from Britain and borders were set.


Some people argue that the Revolution can be seen as confirmation of a process that was already taking place, America had been looking after itself for years, Britain was preoccupied with war and they had become used to autonomy � their government had matured and just needed to break free from Britain.


The American Revolution was the first successful large scale revolt against an imperial power. It is significant to both American and world history.


The Revolution saw two movements


1. A contest for home rule � a break away from Britain


. Democratisation of America � a break away from established order. There were disagreements over how to achieve this. Conservatives wanted Home Rule but not Internal democracy, the Radicals wanted democracisation.


By this stage the war was over, there was no longer a common enemy against America, there were conflicts against different states, they needed a stronger central government so they discussed the constitution in Philadelphia. The American Constitution was developed for this weak nation, it holds America together, a unifying factor that is of symbolic value to the people. It gives the world its first written constitution. But the American Constitution then raises the question of whether or not there was a Revolution. The Constitution can be seen as a counter revolution by the elite. Alexis de Tocqueville particularly criticized democracy in America at that time, by stressing the power of the presidents and the possibility that American society could become authoritarian rather than democratic, a dictatorship of the majority, rather than a minority.


The level of democracy can also be criticized � in the outcome of the French Revolution. The period of 178-17 saw the end of monarcharial rule in France. Sparked by the need to raise taxes due to financial crisis from wars, the new named ‘national assembly’ demanded to limit the King’s powers. Power began to be transferred from the monarchy to the national assembly, but the King’s consent was needed to pass new laws. Armed forces were raised to support the national assembly, citizens took up arms and were commanded by Lay Fayette.


Soon the old regime was abolished and citizens were treated equally due to new laws and a new voting system. The most significant document was the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen’, influenced by the American Declaration of Independence, England’s bill of rights in 1688 and Rousseau’s ideas, it proclaimed the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, the right to own property and the right to resist oppression.


But soon, fears of a counter-revolution spread, especially when the ‘Civil Constitution of the Clergy’ was brought in in 1770 by the national assembly. It stated that all priests would have to swear an oath of loyalty to the civil state but many refused, to whom the pope have his backing. This proved opposition to the revolution. These changes led to many nobles emigrating and reaction amongst many children. It was a counter-revolutionary movement.


The King welcomed it and hoped that the revolution would self-destruct because of it. After an attempted flee, the King was forced to accept the new government. On the September 17 the previously renamed constituent assembly then became the national convention, this was known as the first day of liberty, this marked the beginning of a bloody phase in the revolution. King Louis IX was then tried and executed, the monarchy was abolished and france declared a Republic.


Counter-revolutionary movements led to thousands being guillotined. There was also conflict within the national convention itself, this was the reason that many promises, such as free primary education, income-based taxes etc. were never carried out.


In 1775 the national convention was replaced by a 5-man directory � was this the beginning of the end of France’s newly found democracy? This 5-man directory was troubled by war, economic problems and continuing political intrigues, and in October 17 turned to Napoleon Bonaparte in an attempt to gain military support against a number of political leaders who were plotting to overthrow its powers. The revolution was finally brought to an end when Napoleon seized power as dictator on November 17.


The French Revolution was the most significant revolution of all, it drew together earlier strands of enlightenment ideas which appealed to radicals and reformers throughout Europe both in its time and afterwards esample Ireland had some similarities to france in the eighteenth century and sought help from France during Napoleon’s reign. Ireland came very close to overthrowing its government but the movement failed. However, it proved that true Union between Ireland and England would be impossible. The French Revolution proved that an absolutist government could be overthrown, it sparked political ideas such as Liberalism, Socialism and Anarchism. But it has a distinct Irony, it practically turned a full circle, with one man back in charge with all the trappings of a monarchy.


It is certain that 1“the French Revolution sooner or later came to influence all Western civilization”. The spreading of French ideas was unstoppable as the revolutions of 1848 unfolded.


“The Revolutions of 1848 ignited the countries of Europe in a way that would not be repeated until 18. Violence broke out because legal and parliamentary movements for change were frustrated”.


The Italian revolution was sparked by Pope Pius IX’s reforms in 1846-47, Charles Albert of Piedmont responded by granting a freer press but Matternich was furious and sent Austrian troops in on July 1847 to reinforce the garrison of Ferrara in the Romagna. Pope Pius IX then fled after defeats in Lombardy and Venice. Mazzini declared a Republic, but not for long, in 184 after the abdication of Charles Albert, Lombardy was reverted to Austria, Venice and part of the Piedmontese territory which was also ceded. Rome was then restored to the pope by the French and Gen Oudinot was sent to besiege the city but was defeated by the Roman republican army. The Neapolitans were also defeated by Garibaldi but in spite of all this, French troops succeeded in entering Rome and the Pope returned in 1850. Another failed Revolution.


After the Napoleonic wars, a long period of peace had followed but from 1815, tension and discontent grew all over Europe, Austria was included in it. The Austrian Empire was in complete chaos, Austrian forces had crushed the Czech revolt in Prague and the pacified Vienna. Austria recovered Lombardy � Italy from the nationalists and crushed the major revolt in Hungary in 184. Ferdinand abdicated in favour of Franz Joseph. Austrian forces then took the rest of northern Italy. For the next 10 years the government was revived, there were some reforms but the nationalist aspirations of the non-German speaking people of the empire were suppressed.


Hungary had begun to adopt nationalist ideas in the 1840’s. Magyar as the new language replaced Latin, nationalist feeling grew among the Croats, Serbs, Slovaks and Romanians. New laws were then introduced in April 1848 which declared legal equality and united Transylvania with Hungary.


But soon civil war began to break out from the summer onwards. The new leader Kossuth then declared Hungary’s independence in 184, he then became governor. The Hungarian army was defeated only in late summer 184.


Germany had also attempted a revolution in 1848 which led the government to introduce liberal measures. Chancellor Matternich fled and a parliament was summoned. Also, a national assembly was convened in Prussia. But in Frankfurt, the German assembly ended in failure, along with all hopes of uniting Germany under a Liberal constitution.


The Revolutions of 1848 play a major role in the construction of nineteenth century European history. Some of the revolutions in this era had republican ideas, but others were motivated by economic grievances. None of the revolutions enjoyed any lasting success and most were violently suppressed within a few months but nevertheless, 1848 marks a year of great significance in the history of Europe.





So what defines the term ‘Revolution’? Norman Davies believes that it was the French Revolution, which gave the word ‘Revolution’ its full, modern meaning. He then claims that it means “no more political upheaval, but the complete overthrow of a system of government together with its social, economic and cultural foundations”. He then mentions various other revolutions such as the Roman revolution, the ‘scientific revolution’, the ‘military revolution’, the Industrial revolution, and even a ‘sexual revolution’, but stresses that not all of them deserve the title.


The period of 1770-1848 should not necessarily be deemed as one of political and democratic revolutions. The Industrial revolution for example describes a range of technological and organizational changes. The term also refers to the period of ‘modernization’. It began in the second half of the eighteenth century and it must be stressed that the industrial revolution did not consist of sudden and dramatic change but was actually a long drawn out affair which varied from country to country.


Some argue that the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries may have witnessed a type of ‘women’s revolution’. Early European campaigners fought for women’s right to own property, to access to higher education, and also to vote. It was not until the twentieth century that the emphasis of a so-called ‘women’s movement’ shifted to employment. Although some argue that women are still treated unequally and have less opportunities than men, so we could say that the assumption of the succession of a so-called ‘women’s revolution’ is still debatable.


The period of 1770-1884 may be defined as an ‘age of democratic revolution’ but it depends on how we interpret the word ‘revolution’ and what meaning we attach to it, we also need to stress the fact that the main ‘democratic’ revolutions in this era, were failure.





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