Political Revolutions Review for AP World History (page 2)
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The American Revolution
The revolt for independence in the British North American colonies was the child of Enlightenment philosophers, most notably the Englishman John Locke. Locke spoke of a social contract in which the people relinquished some of their rights to the government in order to establish order. Governments had the responsibility of safeguarding the "unalienable" rights of "life, liberty, and property." If a government did not preserve these rights, the people had the right to overthrow it and establish a new government.
Britain's North American colonies had gradually developed their own identity since their founding in the early seventeenth century. The colonists particularly resented British policies that levied taxes on them without allowing them their own representative in Parliament. Higher taxes were imposed in 1763 after the end of the French and Indian War (the American phase of the Seven Years' War) as a result of British efforts to receive colonial reimbursement for part of the expense of the war that the British had fought on the colonists' behalf. The aftermath of war also brought British restrictions against colonial migration into territories west of the Appalachians once held by the French, territories the British considered unsafe for settlement because of potential conflicts with Native Americans in the area.
The American Revolution began in 1775 as a result of efforts from colonial leaders well versed in Enlightenment thought. In 1776, the colonists set up a government that issued the Declaration of Independence, a document modeled after the political philosophies of John Locke. Its author, Thomas Jefferson, altered the natural rights identified by John Locke to include "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." With the aid of the French, the British colonists were victorious in 1781. In 1787, the new United States of America wrote a constitution insuring the separation of powers and the system of checks and balances, both ideas of the Enlightenment philosopher Montesquieu. A Bill of Rights added a statement of individual liberties in keeping with Enlightenment principles. Voting rights were increased to embrace more white male voters; by the 1820s, property rights for voting had been abolished in the new states. Neither the Declaration of Independence nor the United States Constitution addressed the issue of slavery.
The French Revolution
Enlightenment thinking also contributed to a revolution in France. In the late eighteenth century, French society was divided into three classes, or estates:
- First Estate––the clergy, comprising a little more than 1 percent of the population, and paying no taxes.
- Second Estate––the nobility, comprising slightly more than 2 percent of the population, and paying only a few taxes.
- Third Estate––the remainder of the population, made up of merchants, artisans, and peasants. The peasants were burdened with heavy taxes and labor requirements that were carryovers from feudal days. The middle class, or bourgeoisie, were the merchants, artisans, and professionals who became the driving force of the revolution.
Representatives of the three estates met in the Estates-General, the French legislative assembly. In 1789, however, the French monarchs had not called the Estates-General into session for 175 years. Revolution broke out because of:
- Bourgeoisie desire for a wider political role.
- Bourgeoisie wish for restraints on the power of the clergy, monarchy, and aristocracy.
- Population growth.
- Poor harvests in 1787 and 1788.
When King Louis XVI was forced to call a meeting of the Estates-General in 1789 in order to raise taxes, the bourgeoisie insisted on changing the voting rules in the Estates-General from one vote per estate to one vote per representative. The king was forced to agree to the new voting arrangement as rioting broke out in Paris. On June 14, 1789, the Bastille, a Parisian political prison, was stormed by a Paris mob. The incident liberated only a handful of prisoners but became the rallying point of the French Revolution.
The new bourgeoisie-dominated National Assembly issued the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a document whose content bore a resemblance to clauses in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. The French declaration identified natural rights as "liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression." A new constitution guaranteed freedoms of the press and of religion and increased voting rights. Olympe de Gouges countered the French declaration of rights with her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female.
The Reign of Terror
In 1792, the revolution entered a more radical phase known as the Reign of Terror as the monarchy was abolished, with Louis XVI executed on the guillotine. Under the leadership of a radical club known as the Jacobins, thousands were executed during the Reign of Terror. A new constitution provided universal male suffrage and universal military conscription.
The revolutionaries had to repel foreign armies of Prussia, Russia, Austria, and Great Britain that attempted to preserve the French monarchy. Eventually, the European armies were driven from France, and revolutionaries added new territory in the Netherlands, Germany, and Italy. A wave of nationalism spread throughout France.
The Final Stage
The republican gains of the French Revolution came to an end in 1799 with the rise to power of army general Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon limited the power of the legislative assembly and returned authoritarian rule to France. Napoleon also:
- Censored speech and the press.
- Codified laws in Code Napoleon.
- Granted religious freedom.
- Established universities.
- Denied women basic rights.
Napoleon declared himself the emperor of a new French empire in 1804. The major powers of Europe fought a number of wars against Napoleon's armies. An 1812 French invasion of Russia led to a decisive defeat for Napoleon, largely as a result of the harsh Russian winter. The European alliance defeated Napoleon in 1814 and again, decisively, in 1815. Although it was a setback for the revolutionary principles in France, Napoleon's empire spread the ideals of the revolution outside France and created a spirit of nationalism throughout Europe.
The Aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars
After the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815, European leaders met at the Congress of Vienna to restore legitimate monarchs to the thrones of Europe and to create a balance of power. The purpose of the balance of power was to prevent France or any other European nation from dominating the continent again. This spirit of conservatism kept Europe largely at peace until the end of the nineteenth century. Other political movements gained strength: liberalism sought protection for the rights of propertied classes, whereas radicalism wanted broader suffrage and social reforms on behalf of the lower classes. In 1848, a series of revolutions again swept through Europe, bringing the end of monarchy in France. The liberal Revolutions of 1848 largely failed, however, to bring permanent reform to Europe. Nationalist stirrings in Italy and Germany united the various regional political units in both regions. The unification of Italy was completed in 1870, while German unification occurred a year later in 1871.
The Haitian Revolution
The revolutions in the British North American colonies and in France inspired a revolt in the French Caribbean island colony of Saint-Dominigue, or Haiti. The Haitian Revolution was the first incident in world history in which black slaves successfully rebelled against their enslavers. Haiti's colonial economy was based on the production of sugar. Haitian society was divided among slave workers on the sugar plantations, free people of color, and French colonists. During the French Revolution, tensions increased between white inhabitants and free people of color. In 1791, Haitian slaves took advantage of this division to rebel. Under the leadership of a free black named Toussaint L'Overture, the rebellion succeeded, and in 1804 the island declared its independence as the republic of Haiti.
Other Latin American Revolts and Independence Movements
Enlightenment ideas and a succession crisis in Spain created an opportune moment for the realization of independence in Spain's colonies. The placement of Napoleon's brother on the throne of Spain instead of the Spanish king caused the American colonists to question the identity of Spain's ruler. Consequently, independence revolutions broke out in the Americas.
In Mexico, the Creole Father Miguel de Hidalgo called on mestizos and Indians to assist him in a rebellion against Spain in 1810. The Creoles, fearing the social reforms that might materialize from mestizo and Indian involvement, initially abandoned the independence movement. After Hidalgo was executed, the Creoles rejoined the cause under Augustín de Iturbide, a Creole officer. In 1821, Mexico declared its independence from Spain. In 1824, Mexico became a republic. The Central American states, which had been a part of Mexico, divided into separate independent nations in 1838.
Revolution in Mexico
In 1876, Porfirio Díaz was elected president of Mexico. For the next 35 years, he continued the economic growth of the rule of his predecessor, Benito Juárez. Díaz encouraged foreign investment, industries, and exports. In contrast to other Latin American countries such as Argentina and Brazil, Mexico was not the destination of many immigrants; its population, therefore, was largely native. Often economic growth did not benefit the peasants and working classes. Opponents of Díaz were arrested or exiled and election fraud was common.
In 1910, the middle class began a movement for election reform. Soon joined by workers and peasants, the reform movement escalated into a 10-year-long rebellion known as the Mexican Revolution. The revolution ended in a new constitution that guaranteed land reform, limited foreign investments, restricted church ownership of property, and reformed education.
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