The century between 1750 and 1850 was a revolutionary period that included the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution of 1791, the Batavian Revolution of 1795, the Spanish American Wars of Independence that began with Napoleon's invasion of Spain in 1809-10, and the various revolts that spread across...
The century between 1750 and 1850 was a revolutionary period that included the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution of 1791, the Batavian Revolution of 1795, the Spanish American Wars of Independence that began with Napoleon's invasion of Spain in 1809-10, and the various revolts that spread across Europe in 1848.
While some of the revolutions, such as the American, Haitian, and Spanish American, were revolts against a colonizing power and a bid for independence, all the revolutions shared similar underlying themes. The ideas that motivated all these revolutions were republicanism, democracy, and equality.
All three of these ideas may seem normal and pedestrian to us, especially if we live in the United States, but these concepts were radical, and to the power elites, frightening, in the 1750-1850 period. For almost 2,000 years, top-down monarchical governments had been the norm. A hereditary monarch or prince ruled with the backing of a small cohort. The franchise, or vote, if there was one, extended only to a very small group of land-owning males. Societies were hierarchical, with great wealth disparities. The idea of a republic, a bottom-up government ruled by the will of the people rather than by a king, was a revolutionary idea. The universal franchise—or one man (and in its more radical form, one man or woman), one vote—was another revolutionary concept that many feared would lead to "mob" rule.
Ideas such as John Locke's of the natural rights of man to liberty, property, and equality, and his idea of the right to resist tyranny, however, began to take hold. By early 1848, Marx and Engels had published The Communist Manfesto, telling workers they had nothing to lose but their chains, and various socialist ideas were in the air.
During this period of rapid industrialization, social change, war, and economic fluctuations, many people were thrown out of normal patterns of agrarian life that had existed for centuries. The growth of newspapers spread ideas, even to the illiterate who heard about them through friends who could read. Discontent with colonialism, slavery, lack of a voice in government, corruption, and wealth inequality led to revolt. People had seen great changes, had suffered under tyrannous monarchical governments, and believed more change was possible that could spread power and wealth more equitably.