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Background to the Rise of Democracy in Europe
Democracy can be defined as system of government by the people and for the people. It can also be defined as a form of government in which all people can choose their leaders and hold them accountable for their policies and conduct in office.
Democracy entails the key elements of basic human rights, free and fair elections and equality of all people before the law.
Background to the Rise of Democracy in Europe
Original of Democracy in the World.
Democracy is said to be originated from two Greek words, namely “Demos” which means rule of power or authority. Generally the term democracy can simply mean the rule of people who are divided by their own concern.
Historically Democracy was said to be practiced for the first time in ancient Greek especially during the 300BC years ago which basically was under direct democratic system. Due to the shortage of number of Authorians in Greek in which who ever in the state had a choice of providing a suggestion so as to promote the social, economic and political matters of the state. Later due to the increase of populations there was a need of indirect democracy (Representatives).
Democracy spread to other ports of the world especially in England and France. It was achieved through revolutions (17th C England and 18th C-France). Later democracy spread to USA, the rise of democracy in America act as the main bridge to the rise abd spread of democracy in the world.
The principle that governed politics in Europe before the rise of democracy
a. Absolutism
This was one of the main principles that governed politics in Europe. Throughout Europe in the period before the French revolution of 1789, the government was in the hands of few individuals. The individuals had absolute power and in most cases their positions were hereditary.
In France, the king was above the law and not controlled by it. He had power to have an individual arrested and imprisoned during “the king’s pleasure” through the famous “letter de cachet”.
b. Divine right of the king.
This was the belief that the power of monarchies was given directly by God and thus monarchs were answerable only to God. Any opposition to the king was an attack on God himself. Thiswas very true in Britain during the reign of king James I. The same situation occurred in France where it was a serious offense to questions the powers of the king, king Louis XIV once remarked that “I am the state”.
c. Feudal order/ feudalism
Before the rise of democracy, Europe was characterized by feudal order/feudalism and privileged classes. Feudalism as practiced in the kingdom of England was a state of human society which was formally structured and stratified on the basis of land tenure. The land lords were part and parcel of the government. In France, the ancient regime was characterized by distinctive classes of the clergy and the nobles.
d. The church and the state were inseparable
There was a strong relationship between the church and the state in Europe before the rise of democracy. The official faith or religion in France was supposed to be Catholics. The pop could even influence the decisions of the kings of France. In Britain, the official faith or religion was Anglican. All members of the royal family had to be Anglicans.
The English revolution (The glorious revolution) 1640 - 1689
The English revolution refers to series of events in Britain that led to the collapse of feudalism and destroyed absolutism and serfdom in Great Britain.
There were series of conflicts in Britain; the commercial bourgeoisie were determined to destroy feudalism. The bourgeoisie wanted to make the crown an overall leader of England without the assistance of the landlords.
Another conflict was the control of the common land because the monarchy was against the enclosure system. Due to these conflicts, the democracy was abolished in 1649 but the king was restored as the head of the state.
The revolution was also characterized with the replacement of the Roman Catholic king, James II with the protestant one, William III.
There was also the passage of the bill of rights which included the following;
a. Any English monarchy must be a member of the Anglican Church.
b. The king has no powers to increase taxes without the general consent of the parliament.
c. The elections of the members of parliament should be free.
d. It declared that there should be frequent parliamentary elections.
Causes of the English revolution
1. Heavy taxation
The merchants were gaining a lot of influence, hence the king decided to impose heavy taxes on the merchants so as to control their growing influence. Taxes hindered business activities which forced the merchants to rise up and overthrow the government.
2. Principle of divine right of the king.
The king argued that he was an absolute and his power could not be questioned by man. The British people wanted this principle to be changed because they wanted a king who will be answerable to them.
3. Role of English philosophers.
The English philosophers also contributed to the pot break of the English. Their writings enlightened the English people about weakness of old system. John Locke an English philosopher attacked the monarchy as being autocratic and oppressive in nature. John Locke wanted a king who will be accountable to the people. These writings partly prompted the English people to stage a revolution.
4. Role of Oliver Cromwell.
Oliver Cromwell contributed to the outbreak of English revolution by uniting the people to remove the dictatorial monarchy. He was protesting against religious discrimination and all forms of dictatorships in England. Oliver Cromwell even suggested that King Charles has to be assassinated to pave a way for the establishment of a new government.
5. Enclosure system.
The enclosure system was an agreement reached in parliament by wealthy landowners to buy small peasants landless consequently the peasants appealed to the king to stop the process of enclosure. The king tried to stop the enclosure system but his actions worsened relations between him and the wealthy.
6. The emergency of classical economists.
The emergence of classical economists played huge role in the outbreak of the English revolution. Economists such as Adam smith, David Ricardo and Thomas Malthus advocated private property and individual freedom in economic life of a society. Their views brought awareness among the people thus leading to the English evolution.
7. Religious conflicts.
There were religious conflicts in 1531 where king Henry VII declared himself the king of Church of England, this action drew resistance from some of the church which led to the rise of a group known as puritans. The puritans were dissatisfied with the church and decided to separate themselves from the main stream, the king responded by persecuting them and calling them enemies. This led to the outbreak of the English revolution.
8. Emergency of commercial bourgeoisie class.
The emergency of a bourgeoisie class contributed to the outbreak of the English revolution. This class was determined to conduct business activities in England thus any class of people that tried to hinder their goals was overthrown. The monarchy had failed to introduce liberal economic policies that would support capitalism thus the commercial bourgeoisie joined with the peasants to stage the revolution.
9. Maintenance of discriminative classes.
The maintenance of discriminative classes contributed to the outbreak of the English revolution. The nobility and the clergy were the most privileged class. The middle class consisted of professionals and government officials and the last class consisted of the peasants who were very poor. It was the peasants who united with the commercial bourgeoisie to stage a revolution.
The role of English revolution in the rise of capitalism in England
The English revolution played a great role in the development of capitalism in England. The effects of the revolution paved way for the rise of capitalism.
a. Introduction of free trade.
The new government pursued the laissez faire policy whereby it did not intervene in economic activities. The government allowed the domestic economy to operate fairly with few controls. The absence of government interference encouraged the investors to increase production thus leading to the industrial revolution.
b. Seizure of political power by the merchants.
There was seizure of political power by the merchants; this was a fundamental change in Britain because before the revolution all political powers rested in the hands of the king. The merchants played a great role in abolishing feudalism and introduced capitalism.
c. Unification of England.
The unification of England played a great role in the rise of capitalism. The coming together of Britain, Wales, Scotland and Ireland widened the market thus playing a crucial to support the industrial revolution consequently leading to the rise of capitalism.
d. Abolition of serfdom.
The revolution contributed to the abolition of serfdom and absolutism, there was introduction of a constitution rights. The abolition of serfdom created free workers who were needed by capitalist industries thus leading to the rise of capitalism.
e. Control of the church.
There was confiscation of church land and the church was separated from the state, this created room for the introduction of liberal capitalist ideas which supported the rise of capitalism.
f. Land consolidation.
The revolution abolished feudal land tenure system and put land in the hands of the capitalists who carried out mechanized agriculture which paved way for the rise of the agrarian revolution. The agrarian revolution played a great role in the rise of capitalism.
a After the revolution the king became ceremonial title because the one who was given power to control the government was the prime minister under the parliamentary government therefore prime minister became the head of the government and the king became a ceremonial leader.
b Politically the revolution led to the overthrown of the absolute monarchy and the capitalist formed the republic government based on parliamentary supremacy controlled by the capitalists.
c The Capitalist who formed parliamentary government possessed both economic and political power in Britain, this causes changes in English economy for example it led to abolition of internal taxes, barriers which led to promote trading activities in England, freedom of farming and individual enterprises.
d The Royal army and soldiers started to be under the control of the government established by the capitalists.
e The Government funds started to be controlled and approved by the parliament; this means that the parliament had power to budget the government expenditure as it was during monarchy system of the king.
f All the feudalism elements that remained were removed (dismantled) that is, feudalism as a mode of production collapsed completely after the English political revolution.
g The Revolution accumulated wealth, through the illegal ways of accumulating wealth (capital) Primitive accumulation of capital such as; plundering, looting etc and free competition in production was adopted which led merchants to start competing each other in production, this was because of merchants who come into power and who was under the development of capitalism.
h The revolution caused death; many people were badly wounded and there was massive destruction of people’s properties like farms, shops, and workshops.
Contribution of English Revolution to the Rise of Democracy in Britain
i. It brought multiparty political system, basically in Greet Britain where Conservative party and Liberal party were enacted. This give chance to individuals to select the leader of their wishes, hence rise of democracy.
ii. Emergence of shared government. The English revolution of 17th C made the emergence of a shared government between common people and the existing government.
iii. It brought much freedom of worship as they were able to worship the way they wish in any sect.
iv. Respect of human rights. The English revolution gave room to the respect of human right as opposed from the farmer fudor monorchies which demanded the right of human being.
v. The revolution brought realistic constitution. It led to the country governed by the rule of law, all matters of the state follow the principle and law of the country.
vi. Freedom of debate and expression. The England political revolutions played a great role for the rise of democracy in the world. The parliament was given high states of debating bill, to amend laws etc.
vii. The revolutions spreed ideas of democracy to other countries such as France.
The French revolution of 1789 – 1799
A revolution is a gradual or sudden change that takes place in the societies politically, economically and social setup. A revolution occurs not because people are just interested in changes but their certain factors on the ground that forces them to stage a revolution.
The French revolution of 1789 marked a turning point in the political history of France. It destroyed a well established monarchy and replaced it with a republican government.
Causes of the French revolution
a. Financial crisis.
The financial crisis was the most immediate and paramount cause of the French revolution. In 1789, the French national treasury ran bankrupt to the extent of failing to pay workers. The bankrupt was due to the frequent wars which France fought example the seven years war with Britain (1756 – 1763) over colonies in India and Canada, and American war of independence. The bankrupt was also caused by the luxury life at the king’s palace. This crisis worsened the problems of the French thus contributing to the revolution.
b. Despotic aristocracy.
The French aristocracy was despotic; all French kings right from Louis XIV, XV and XVI were despotic kings, whose powers could not be questioned. They possessed all political powers like making all important political decisions and policies. There was no written constitution to check the powers of the king. There was also no written laws to control the actions of the king, this meant that, the king’s word was the law, example; king Louis the XVI ones remarked that “something is legal because i wish it” this kind of despotism made the revolution inevitable by 1789.
c. Character of King Louis XVI.
There was a weak administration in France especially that of Louis XVI. He was corrupt, inefficient and inconsistent in his policies, that is he could at times show signs of helping the peasants but shortly thereafter he withdraws his good intention.
Besides the above the king was under the strong influence of his wife Marie Antoinette, she was an Austrian princess who was hated by the French people because she was not ready to help peasants.
d. French class structure.
The maintenance of discriminative classes contributed to the outbreak of the French revolution. The French population was divided into three discriminative classes namely the first estate, second estate and third estate. The first estate consisted of the nobility who enjoyed the highest salaries and key positions in the government and the military. The second estate comprised of the clergy (Bishops and Priests). This grouped lived in urban areas and owned large estates of land and were exempt from paying taxation. The last class consisted of the peasants who paid all taxes both direct and indirect. The problems of the third estate forced them to stage a revolution in 1789.
e. Intellectual movements.
These intellectual movements especially those of philosophers played a significant role in enlightening the French people about the political and economic crisis in France. They exposed the abuse of power by the government philosophers such as Voltaire advocated for fair taxation policies. Montesquieu advocated for separation of power in the government. The enlightenment of the French people about their political forced them to stage a revolution in 1789.
f. American war of independence.
The American war of independence led to both economic and political effects which were exploited by the rich middle class and the peasants to stage a revolution. Politically this war failed them with a strong desire for establishment of a democratic and constitutional government. Economically, the war partially worsened the financial crisis because it was expensive to maintain soldiers abroad.
g. Economic crisis.
During the 18 th C, France experienced a rapid growth in her population and yet the agricultural and industrial production remained low thus leading to food shortage. There was also another problem of unemployment which affected the living standards of the people. Amidst this growing population and unemployment, there was also persistent inflation. These severe conditions forced the French to stage a revolution in 1789.
h. Dismissal of financial controllers.
The dismissal of financial controllers had a role to play in the outbreak of the French revolution. Turgot and Necker had been appointed by the king to oversee the economic condition of France, but these were later dismissed following the advice of the queen. The financial controllers revealed the heavy cost incurred by the king and his members.
i. The march of the women.
The marching of the women at Versailles demanding bread, land and equality sparked off the French revolution. Marie Antoinette provoked the demonstrators by saying that “If you cannot afford bread, go and buy cakes” this statement made both the king and the queen more unpopular in France.
In conclusion by 1789 there was enough material for combustion, what was lacking was a spark to see the materials ablaze. People had enough grievances; all they needed was a leader, thus the mobilization and organization of the middle class made the revolution.
The effects of the French revolution
a. Elimination of feudalism
The French revolution contributed to the elimination of feudalism and the consequent rise of capitalism. The new government that was established after the revolution was abolition of feudalism and introduced capitalist relations of production, whereby the major means of production were controlled by the private sectors.

b. Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte.
The French revolution contributed to the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte to power. It destroyed the discriminative classes that had made it difficult for anyone in the third estate to rise to power. Following the French revolution, promotion was based on merit and not birth. Napoleon was able to display his skills during the revolution which helped him to rise to power.
c. Development of social infrastructure.
After the election of Napoleon Bonaparte, he improved the social infrastructure system by building more roads and railways and various financial institutions. These changes played a great role in the rise of capitalism in France.
d. Introduction of unity.
The French revolution introduced unity in France, whereby all people were equal before the law. People were free to conduct any type of business of their choice; this is what contributed to the rise of capitalism.
e. Development of nationalism.
The French revolution inspired the spirit of nationalism among the French people. The revolution which advocated for equality, fraternity and liberty became a lesson to the French to fight against absolute monarchies like that of Louis XVI. These ideas were able to spread beyond the French borders.
f. Establishment of a republican government.
The French revolution contributed to the destruction of the bourbon monarchy and put in place a republican government in 1792. This was the government that played a crucial role in the abolition of feudalism and the consequent rise of capitalism.
g. Control of the church.
One of the most important changes of the French revolution was the control of the church. The Bishops were to be paid by the state like any other civil servants, the church was also not supposed to levy taxes. It was completely detached from state affairs.
h. Abolition of slave trade.
The French revolution contributed to the abolition of slave trade in French colonies. The French claimed that slave trade was not in line with its slogan of the revolution thus it had to be abolished.
The 1848 revolutions in Europe
1848 has been regarded as the year of revolution in Europe. The revolutions broke out mainly in France and the Austrian empire. There were mainly directed against the spirit of the Vienna arrangement of 1815. In France, the 1848 revolutions contributed to the downfall of Louis Philippe and his Orleans monarchy, while in Austria Empire the 1848 revolutions lead to the downfall of Metternich.
Common features of the 1848 revolutions
a. Reaction against the Vienna settlement.
The 1848 revolutions were opposed to the Vienna settlement of 1815 thus the revolutions were either nationalists or liberal in nature. In Germany and Italy states, there was a strong feeling for national unity and political independence. In France and Hungary, there were strong feelings for liberal ideas.
b. Urban based revolutions.
The 1848 revolutions were urban centered and with less impact on the country side. They were common in cities like Paris, Berlin, Rome and Milan.
c. Lack of mass mobilization.
The 1848 revolutions was started and led by intellectuals such as university professors, poets, journalists and teachers. The merchant class also took an active role in organizing the revolutions. The peasants were not actively involved and perhaps this explains why these revolutions were short lived.
d. Reaction against the side effects of the industrial revolution.
The 1848 revolutions erupted in less industrialized countries of Europe such as France and Austria whose economies were based on agriculture. The spread of the industrial revolution from Britain led to various effects which left many people dissatisfied. The workers were exploited and oppressed through low wages and long working hours.
e. Promotion of the French revolutionary ideals.
The 1848 revolutions promoted the ideals of the French revolution. There was a lot in common between the 1848 revolutions and the French revolution. There was formation of national guards to protect the gains of the revolutions, liberal constitutions were advocated for to protect peoples’ political liberty.
f. Short lived revolutions.
Most of the 1848 revolutions failed by the end of 1849 to achieve their desire and goals, they were only partially successful in France where the Orleans monarchy was forced out of power. The provisional government that was established was too weak to solve the problems of the French population.
In the case of Austrian empire, the 1848 revolution in Piedmont, Hungary and Prussia to a certain extent forced the respective governments to grant liberal constitutions but by the end of 1849 they were defeated and the constitutions were withdrawn.
Causes of the 1848 revolutions in Europe
a. Nationalism
Politically there was a strong spirit of nationalism among the Italians and Germans. They resented foreign domination of Austria and strongly advocated for national unity and national political independence. The spirit of nationalism thus contributed to the outbreak of the 1848 revolutions.
b. Liberal constitutions (liberalism).
The desire for liberalism had grown too strong especially in France and hungry. People demanded for political reforms of the existing political systems. They advocated for constitutional governments which by then were lacking. In France, Louis Philippe had risen to power on the ticket of preserving constitutional rights of the French people but by 1848 the French were still denied expansion of franchise (voting rights).
In Hungary, the people demanded for independence and constitutional parliaments so that their political rights could be protected.
c. Widespread discontent.
The Metternich system had caused a lot of discontent in the Austrian empire. There was a package of strict regulations introduced by Metternich to preserve the spirit and arrangement of the Vienna settlement. Metternich always used force to check the growth of liberalism and nationalism. In 1819, he introduced the Carls bad law which banned people’s freedom. The press was concerned, political parties were banned and nationalist leaders were imprisoned. These conditions forced people to stage the 1848 revolutions.
d. Economic problems.
The spread of the industrial revolution to the Austrian empire and France had side effects which forced the people to join the 1848 revolutions. The industrial revolution was championed by the capitalists who wanted to maximize profits by exploiting the workers. There was mass unemployment, low wages and long working hours. The masses demanded economic reforms but their respective governments were slow to respond thus they decided to stage a revolution.
e. Role of the socialists.
The ideas of socialism contributed to the outbreak of the 1848 revolutions in Europe. The socialists mobilized the workers into a strong force that played an active part in the 1848 revolutions. The workers were promised better working and living conditions.
f. Natural calamities.
Natural calamities partly sparked off the 1848 revolutions in France and the Austrian empire between 1846 and 1847, there was general bad weather in Austrian empire and France which was characterized by heavy rains which destroyed crops. The poor harvests were followed by severe food shortages. To make matters worse, there was an outbreak of epidemics such as typhoid and cholera. These conditions create a good atmosphere for the 1848 revolutions.
g. Chain reaction.
The success of the revolution in France of February 1848 inspired similar revolutions throughout the Austrian empire because of common existing political, social and economic conditions. Following the revolution in France, Louis Philippe and his Orleans monarchy was pushed out of power. In March, the revolution spread to piedmont, Sicily and Prussia. It is from this point that historians concluded that “whenever France coughs, the rest of Europe catches cold” the revolution in France provided a practical example to the already discontented masses in the Austrian empire.
Therefore, it follows from the above that the 1848 revolutions, mainly broke out because of paramount political consideration the social and economic distress only facilitated the pace of the revolutionary mood.
Role of the 1848 revolutions in the rise of democracy
a. Establishments of constitutions.
The revolutions took place in 1848 contributed to the rise of democracy by facilitating the establishment of constitutions. During the 1848 revolutions, people demanded for political reforms of the existing political systems. They advocated for parliamentary democracy and constitutional governments which by then were lacking. In France, the Orleans monarchy was removed from power and constitutional government was established.
b. Demise of feudalism.
The 1848 revolutions contributed to the destruction of feudalism and serfdom in Europe which contributed to the rise of democracy. The absolute monarchies were part and parcel of feudalism and serfdom thus creating a good atmosphere for the rise of democracy.
c. Rise of national consciousness.
1848 revolutions played a crucial role in the rise of national consciousness (feeling) in Europe which contributed to the rise of democracy. In German and Italian states, there was a strong national feeling that aimed at achieving national unity and national political independence.
d. Overthrow of the papacy regimes
The 1848 revolutions played a great role in the overthrow of the papacy regimes in Italy consequently contributing to the rise of democracy in Europe. Republican such as Mazzini and Garibaldi contributed significantly to the unification of Italy which laid a foundation for the establishment of democracy.
e. Emergency of the capitalist class.
The 1848 revolutions contributed to the rise of democracy in Europe by destroying feudalism and paving way for the rise of the merchant class which was very fundamental in the rise of capitalism and democracy in Europe.
Although the 1848 revolutions generally failed, they provided important lessons for future nationalists and liberal leaders. They lead the ground for future dynamic and strong leadership that played a great role in the Italian and German unification. In case of Italy, they lead to the rise of count Camilla Carvour and victor Emmanuel II. In case of Germany, there was the rise of Otto Von Bismarck. 

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