Revolutionary Changes in the Atlantic World,
Prelude to Revolution: The Eighteenth-Century Crisis
A. Colonial Wars and Fiscal Crises
1. Rivalry among the European powers intensified in the early 1600s as the Dutch Attacked Spanish and Portuguese possessions in the Americas and in Asia. In the 1600s and 1700s the British then checked Dutch commercial and colonial ambitions and went on to defeat France in the Seven Years War (1756–1763) and take over French colonial possessions in the Americas and in India. 2. The unprecedented costs of the wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries drove European governments to seek new sources of revenue at a time when the intellectual environment of the Enlightenment inspired people to question and to protest the state’s attempts to introduce new ways of collecting revenue. B. The Enlightenment and the Old Order
1. The Enlightenment thinkers sought to apply the methods and questions of the Scientific Revolution to the study of human society. One way of doing so was to classify and systematize knowledge; another way was to search for natural laws that was thought to underlie human affairs and to devise scientific techniques of government and social regulation.
2. John Locke argued that governments were created to protect the people; he emphasized the importance of individual rights. Jean Jacques Rousseau asserted that the will of the people was sacred; he believed that people would act collectively on the basis of their shared historical experience. 3. Not all Enlightenment thinkers were radicals or atheists. Many, like Voltaire, believed that monarchs could be agents of change. 4. Some members of the European nobility (e.g. Catherine the Great of Russia, Frederick the Great of Prussia) patronized Enlightenment thinkers and used Enlightenment ideas as they reformed their bureaucracies, legal systems, tax systems and economies. At the same time, these monarchs suppressed or banned radical ideas that promoted republicanism or attacked religion. 5. Many of the major intellectuals of the Enlightenment communicated with each other and with political leaders. Women were instrumental in the dissemination of their ideas, purchasing and discussing the writings of the Enlightenment thinkers and, in the case of wealthy Parisian women, making their homes available for salons at which Enlightenment thinkers gathered. 6.The new ideas of the Enlightenment were particularly attractive to the expanding middle class in Europe and in the Western Hemisphere. Many European intellectuals saw the Americas as a new, uncorrupted place in which material and social progress would come more quickly than in Europe. 7.Benjamin Franklin came to symbolize the natural genius and the vast potential of America. Franklin’s success in business, his intellectual and scientific accomplishments, and his political career offered proof that in America, where society was free of the chains of inherited privilege, genius could thrive.
Folk Cultures and Popular Protest
1.Most people in Western society did not share in the ideas of the Enlightenment; common people remained loyal to cultural values grounded in the preindustrial past. These cultural values prescribed a set of traditionally accepted mutual rights and obligations that connected the people to their rulers. 2.When eighteenth century monarchs tried to increase their authority and to centralize power by introducing more efficient systems of tax collection and public administration, the people regarded these...
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