During the Early Modern Era in Europe where European Enlightenment was being embraced by the masses, in the American Colonies so too felt the impact of the Enlightenment period. The Founders of the colonies were contemporaries of the astronomer Galileo Galilei, the philosopher-mathematician Rene Descartes, and Sir Isaac Newton, the genius who revealed to the world the workings of gravity and other laws of motion. The impact of Enlightenment ideas went far beyond religion. The writings of John Locke and other political theorists found a receptive audience. So did the work of the Scottish philosophers Francis Hutton and David Hume and the French philosophes, particularly Montesquieu and Voltaire. (Carnes & Garraty, 2008, pg.90) These philosophers did not realize at the time the impact that they would have upon the rest of the world in regard to the birth of democracy and the ideal that “all men are created equal”. Not only would these thought put into motion change the governmental info structure of one newly forming country, but would impact a long established monarchy and a newly formed society of creoles.
In the newly formed colonies of Britain stretching along the Chesapeake Bay down to the rest of the Atlantic Coast, the colonists were happy British subject under the rule of a king an ocean away. The American colonists were content until they were handed the bill for Brittan’s Seven Years War against France. Colonists especially resented the imposition of taxes on molasses by the Sugar Tax, on publications and legal documents by the Stamp Act, on a variety of imported items by the Townshend Act, and on tea by the Tea Act. Colonists also took offense at the Quartering Act which required them to provide housing and accommodations for British Troops. (Bentley, Ziegler, & Streets, 2008, pg. 477) These unfair taxes or as we now know them as “taxation without representation” strongly served as a turning point in American history. Following the ideals of Locke, Hobbes, and Montesquieu, the Framers organized the First Continental Congress and drafted the Declaration of Independence stating that the British Parliament had no legal right to legislate in the colonies. The actions of the First Continental Congress led the British authorities to force a showdown with their bumptious colonial offspring. Parliament echoed with demands for a show of strength in America. The London Government decided to use troops against Massachusetts in January 1775. (Carnes & Garraty, 2008, pg. 114) This military action on Britain’s part led to the infamous “shot heard round the world” and the beginning of the American Revolutionary War. The American colonists won against British tyranny and the result was a form of government that was not necessarily new to the world, but a civilization changing form of government; democracy. The American Revolution also gave hope to a nation filled with disillusioned poor who sought a way to better their lives rather than the lives of the nobles who ruled above them.
The French Revolution came about by many causes; the French monarchy was bankrupt after centuries of fighting wars against Britain, a lack of efficient financial system, and the inability of Louis XVI to rule his country. The French people were tired of the nobility of the Old Regime and how they had to suffer at the hands of the nobles. Louis the XVI’s predecessors had added to the problems over the course of their reigns. Louis XIV’s lavishly built Palace of Versailles and Louis XV’s mismanagement of the French Treasury was two of the main causes of the French Revolution. These two actions had caused many Frenchmen and women to starve to death while the nobles partied in the halls and gardens of Versailles. Many of these nobles had earned an appointment with Madame Guillotine and the infamous Marie Antoinette was one of her victims after she incensed the masses with her insensitive remark “let them eat cake” The fall of the Bastille affected the surrounding countryside and smaller towns and their way of life and belief in the monarchy. The very fact that the people of France celebrated the defeat to overthrow the Revolution by using such valuable and expensive luxuries as candles and lamp oil spoke volumes of their support. The celebrations that took place; feasting that only occurred during religious holidays, balls, bonfires, cannon salvo and the lighting luminaries at night to show their support of the Revolution. Like the Americans, the French were fighting to free themselves of oppression from their monarchy. Unlike the Americans, the French resorted to regicide as a means to an end. In 1793 King Louis XVI and his wife, Queen Marie Antoinette, themselves went to the guillotine when the Convention found them guilty of treason to the principles of the revolution. (Bentley, et al, 2008, pg.482) After their deaths there was a power vacuum in France that was ultimately taken over by Napoleon Bonaparte who went on to wreak havoc across the Continent.
The Enlightenment ideas affected not only the American colonies and the France, but other parts of the world as well. In Latin America, creoles saw the results of the American, French and Haitian revolutions. Like British colonists in North America, the creoles resented administrative control and economic regulations propose by the Iberian powers. (Bentley, et al, 2008, pg.486) Like their North American counterparts, the creoles embraced the philosopher’s ideal of the time, yet they did not care so much for putting a new form of government into place. Instead they wanted to live life as they always had before, but without the interference of the Iberian government. Between 1810 and 1825, creoles led movements that brought independence to all Spanish colonies in the Americas-except Cuba and Puerto Rico-and established Creole-dominated republics. The creoles would not have succeeded as far as they could if it was not for Napoleon terrorizing the Spanish peninsula. His fighting Spain and Portugal at their front door allowed for the creoles to attack at the back leaving the peninsulares vulnerable to revolts and returning to Spain and Portugal. Independence brought little social change in Latin America: although the peninsulares returned to Europe, Latin American society remained stratified and unequal. (Bentley, et al, 2008, pg.487) In the end the Latin American revolution did not necessarily have the same impact upon the world that the American and French revolutions did. It did not bring about a new form of government, nor did it challenge absolute monarchy and bring it crashing down.
Carnes, M, & Garraty, J. (2008) The American Nation: A History of the United States. New York: Pearson Longman
Bentley, J., Ziegler, H., & Streets, H. (2008) Traditions and Encounters: A Brief Global History. Boston: McGraw Hill