The Force Behind the American, French, and Industrial Revolutions
A revolution is a period in history that radically and rapidly changes a society. The American, French, and British Industrial revolutions are some of the most powerful movements, whose impact significantly transformed not only the societies across America, France, and Britain but also the world at large. Though the reasons for the rise of these revolutions are diverse, the pivotal trigger was the increasing influence of the Enlightenment movement on the respective societies.
The quest for freedom, equality, and disapproval of oppressive monarchs triggered the American and French revolutions. The American revolution saw the fall of the British authority in America and the formation of the United States under a democratic government that allowed citizens more cultural, political, and economic liberties. The French revolutions led to the fall of the French Monarchy, feudalism, and the decrease in the church's influence on the French society. More significantly, people gained the right to choose political leaders.
The Industrial Revolution commenced in Britain in the late 1700s (Hisory.com, 2018). It marked an era when the principally agrarian, rural communities in Europe and America turned into urban, industrial epic centers (Hisory.com, 2018). Before the Revolution, people manufactured in their houses with simple, handheld tools or rudimentary machineries (Hisory.com, 2018). However, industrialization brought about motorized and specialized machinery, factories, and large-scale production (Hisory.com, 2018). The iron and textile industries and the advent of the steam engine, fundamentally contributed to the Industrial Revolution, which eventually led to enhanced transport, communication, and banking systems (Hisory.com, 2018).
The Enlightenment Influence
Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason, was a movement of revolutionary thinkers whose ideals radically altered the political, philosophical, scientific, and communication conventions in Europe between 1685 and 1815 (Hisory.com, 2018). The Enlightenment intellectuals challenged traditionalist notions of power by proposing the enhancement of humanity lies with rational change (Hisory.com, 2018). Their writings resulted in inventions, scientific discoveries, enactment of new laws, wars, and revolutions (Hisory.com, 2018).
The quest for a new type of government was key to the American Revolution. The Americans saw the British monarchy reign as oppressive. The founding fathers, borrowing from the ideas of 18th century philosophies, perceived the taxation of the Americans by the British monarch as unfair (UShistory.org, n.d.). Scholars such as Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Rousseau wrote against the existence of absolute monarchs. Montesquieu, for instance, proposed a system of separation of power within different government branches (Graf, 2018). John Locke's essays, however, were the most influential factors for the Revolution (UShistory.org, n.d.). He argued people could use reason to avoid oppressive regimes (UShistory.org, n.d.). Locke also contended that the authority of rulers comes from the consent of those they rule, and the responsibility of a government is to protect the natural rights of citizens, which include life, liberty, and property UShistory.org. Further, a government that fails on this duty gives people the right to overthrow it (UShistory.org, n.d.). Thomas Jefferson was highly inspired by these ideas as he drafted the Declaration of Independence where he justifies the American Revolution using Locke's arguments (Hisory.com, 2018; UShistory.org). Therefore, the Enlightenment principles of liberty, equality, and justice created the conditions for the Revolutionary War (UShistory.org, 2019).
The French Revolution
Like the American Revolution, French revolutionaries sought to overthrow the hereditary monarchy and replace it with institutions drawn from the tenets of the Enlightenment (Cranston, 1989; Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, n.d.). Some of these principles came from philosophers like Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Rousseau (Graf, 2018). Voltaire argued individuals shape their destiny, which implies the traditional argument that authority and control the church and the monarchy had over the public are divine is incorrect (Graf, 2018). On his part, de Montesquieu supported separation of power among different government divisions to prevent rulers from hurting people through corruption (Graf, 2018). Additionally, he stated an absolute monarchy would rule arbitrarily (Graf, 2018). Rousseau posited that a state arises from a sincere social contract that offers people freedom (Graf, 2018). These people then agree someone to rule them and to follow state-imposed laws (Graf, 2018). These sentiments led to the French Revolution as the monarchy's oppressive policies increasingly incensed people.
The attribution of the Revolution to the Enlightenment is justified by the influence the movement's ideologies had in the drafting of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen - the most important outcome of the uprising (Cranston, 1989; Graf, 2018; Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, n.d.).
The Industrial Revolution (18th - 19th Century)
The Enlightenment ideal that reason would reveal the law of nature not only ushered in a period when man become more interested in understanding nature but also endeavored to control it (York University, n.d.). The aim for controlling nature was to make it work for them. Armed with the belief that rational reasoning could allow humans understand the forces of nature, the British were able to harness the powers of nature, turning them into industrial tasks (York University, n.d.).
It no coincidence that the Enlightenment period overlap with the above Revolution but this era sparked those revolutions. The ideals like citizens' right to liberty, equality, and property; peoples right to choose a government; and solving social issue via rational reasoning came from the Enlightenment thinkers. These principles influenced the American and French to revolt against tyrannical monarchies, while the British utilized the proposition that man could understand and control nature to harness its powers and kickstarted the Industrial Revolution.
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