“Before the French Revolution, gradual reform was well under way in Europe” Discuss.
The French Revolution could be considered the culmination of a gradual reform that took place all over Europe. In this essay we will take a look at different aspects in which reform was taken in England, that is a very good example to see how the reform was well under way. We will analyse social, political and cultural changes before the French Revolution.
The Industrial Revolution in Britain and the political and social revolution of 1789 in France, marked the beginning of Europe's modern history. During the years 1789-1815, Europe was dominated by the French Revolution and due to this revolution, loads of reforming movements had place elsewhere, which led to several revolutionary wars and the Napoleonic Wars.
If we take a look at 18th Century British society, we realise that it was the golden ages for aristocracy. The increase of agricultural production gave them the opportunity to expand their invests, and the consequent domination of the government. New areas were created in London, Edinburgh and Dublin. The most important political offices were ruled by the aristocracy.
Other part of British society, gentry, were not happy with this new aristocracy, many holders couldn't afford the taxes imposed by landowners to finance Britain's wars. Although the gentry's status in the local community was secure, merchants soon eclipsed the gentry in wealth and influence on the national level during the 18th century.
Poverty dominated the lower classes of British society, and this was accentuated when the population grew and food prices rose by the middle of the century. Towns were full of homeless families, the sick, and individuals with disabilities. The government and charitable organizations established orphanages and hospitals, as well as workhouses where the unemployed could find temporary work. While women and children were left to live in poverty, the government forced men into military service. London experienced the worst of this situation, poor migrants flooded the city seeking work or charity and most of them died before founding it. But improvements in sanitation, medicine, and food production allowed many poor people to live longer lives, increasing the population of poor people. This increase in wealth, however, did not benefit everyone and as the standard of living rose for some, the quality of life declined for others.
Society in the 18th Century experienced a great change, there was a increasement of middle class families in towns and cities and they started to earn their money by professions such as law or medicine. Emerged a new way of thinking, literacy and education is now valued, this ideas were spread by thinkers of the Age of Enlightenment. Now is taken in to consideration the importance of the senses and the environment in shaping the individual. Literacy and education spread throughout the country and written material was being produced.
The “Age of Enlightenment” is a term used to describe the new way of thinking in Europe and the American colonies during the 18th Century, before the French Revolution. This Phrase was usually used by writers of this Century, they thought they were emerging from darkness and ignorance, and they were creating a new era, they were bringing light to humanity. The most important assumption philosophers and thinkers of the enlightenment was their trust in the power of human reason. The age was impressed by Isaac Newton's discovery of universal gravitation.
More than a set of fixed ideas, the Enlightenment implied an attitude, a method of thought. All the old ideas were questioned and re-examined, and explore new ideas in different directions. During the later 18th Century certain changes in emphasis emerged in Enlightenment thought, philosophers started to include in their critics, political and economic issues. The American Revolution probably encouraged attacks and criticisms against existing European regimes. The Age of Enlightenment is usually said to have ended with the French Revolution of 1789, in fact lot of people see all this changes led to the final French Revolution. Even thou the Revolution embraced many of the ideals of the philosophers, the Revolution in its more violent stages, served to discredit these ideals temporarily in the eyes of many European contemporaries.
The Enlightenment period marked a stage in the decline of the church. It served as the model for political and economic liberalism and for humanitarian reform throughout the 19th Century Western world.
Another aspect that changed in a very significant way, was the industry, industrialization transformed nearly every aspect of British life. Reform of industry was a key point in the 18th Century and a very good way to prove that before the French Revolution, a reform in Europe was well under way. The development of industry in Britain was a long and gradual process. Industrialization took place earlier and more rapidly in Britain than anywhere else because existing conditions were favourable in England. Ireland, failed to industrialize and remained largely agricultural.
In the first phase of industrialization, workers were unprotected by social legislation, and there were only a few safety regulations so this led to the organization of the workers asking for better conditions, but the government attacked them and a lot of people died fighting for their rights. This event was critical in the history of labour organization in Britain.
The agricultural improvement and the different advances in agriculture that took place in England in the 17th Century, contributed to the industrialization process. The first phase of industrialization was centred on the production of cotton clothing, soon England became the world's primary supplier of cotton cloth, thanks to the invention of new machines like the spinning jenny. With the introduction of machinery, factories became the site of organized production of textiles, replacing small scale manufacture in the home. This machines were built with iron, that was a very important factor for the industrialization. The iron was also used in the rails, in building railroads, the railroads were developed as a result of the technological advances made during the Industrial Revolution.
Reforms were taken as well in politics and economy in Britain. During the 18th Century, monarchs still had some indirect power through ministers of the Parliament. European monarchs soon wanted to emulate French absolutism and Tsar Peter the Great, as an example, devoted his energies to transforming Russia into a major military power, he created an army and a navy and so he obtained the success in the Great Northern War, defeating Sweden. At the beginning of the Century, France had the military power in Europe, but at the end of it, England, Austria, Russia, and Prussia became great competitors and a balance of power was establish. Europe was organized as an equilibrated group of great powers.
The economic development of Britain in the 18th Century made possible its military successes and the expansion of its empire. It was a great advance the creation of the Bank of England and the Bank of Scotland so the circulation of money and transactions could now take place. At the end of the century Britain had more than half a million men in the military but due to the different wars during this Century, the national debt rose higher than it had ever been before.
After the union with Scotland, the population of Britain experienced one of its hugest explosions in its history and around 1750, they reached 15.75 million. Agricultural production changed as well gradually over the century and but these changes had an important impact on British society, most of landowners converted small family farms into large commercial enterprises. This maybe occurred thanks to the fact that new techniques were introduced and so, the productivity increased. The meaning of agriculture changed from subsistence to business. By the century's end Britain was the dominant commercial power in the world marketplace. Although most people lived in the country, the 18th Century was notable for the growth of towns and London became one of the most important cities in the world, having the prestigious universities of Cambridge and Oxford.
But due to the great debt, the Parliament established new taxes in sugar, glass, cider, and tea, colonial commodities, and this was not very well accepted by Americans, they were taxed but they had no representation in British government. All this facts will led to the American Revolution, supported by Spain and France. British army will be finally defeated. In London, there were anti-Catholic riots in 1780 that led to new reforms of laws. In Ireland, Protestants formed volunteer military groups during the war, to defend the island from a French invasion.
In 1783 the king turned power over to William Pitt, he had great ideas to reduce the debt, and his strategy might have resulted in financial stability had it not been for developments in France.
The French Revolution was a Radical Stage. In 1789 the French Revolution erupted. The French revolutionaries invited all people of Europe to follow their example and in fact, in Britain, there were early supporters of the cause of revolution. Most British politicians adopted a more conservative philosophy because they were frightened by the introduction of radical social and political changes in France. In 1793 France declared war on Britain that finally ended with the defeat of French navy. The rise of French emperor Napoleon and his powerful armies threatened the international balance of power. The Napoleonic Wars ended up with the Congress of Vienna, that supposed a victory for Britain, and pace was re-establish in Europe.
Reforms and revolutions were not an isolated fact, and that's why almost all countries in Europe were implied in some or another aspect of cultural, social or political developments during this Century and as we had seen, the French Revolution was the culmination of those different reforms that were taken in the 18th Century in all over Europe.