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The Age of Revolutions and the Modern World


The Age of Revolutions is most often dated 1775-1848 and is defined as a period of rapid evolutionary change from empires (monarchies) to constitutional republics in various parts of the world (particularly North and Latin America and Europe). The period starts with the American Revolution and ends with the Spring of Nations of 1848, including the French Revolution, the liberation of Latin America, and the revolutions in Europe of the 1820s and 1830s. The Age of Revolutions altered the map of the world, creating a number of new independent countries. It was the time of the final transition from feudalism to capitalism, the industrialization, the birth of new social justice movements, and the so-called Darwinist revolution in science.

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The Age of Revolutions is a well-examined period and, of course, each specialist approaches this issue in a different way. For instance, R.R. Palmer in his two-volume The Age of Democratic Revolution (1959) argues that these revolutions were democratic movements with a new understanding of social justice. However, he sees the movements as the global ones and fails to notice national elements in them. In our days, such a view is shared by L.D. Langley (Adelman, 2008, p. 320-321). On the contrary, D. Armitage (The Concepts of Atlantic History, 2002), though recognizing a transnational character of the revolutions, states that the revolutionary processes were shaped by precise circumstances existing in each country (Adelman, 2008, p. 321). The majority of the researchers tend to ignore the imperial context of the events. Conversely, P.K. Liss (Atlantic Empires: The Network of Trade and Revolution, 1713-1826, 1983), F. Anderson (Crucible of War: The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, 2000), D.P. Geggus (The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World, 2001), J.H. Elliott (Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America, 1492-1830, 2006) are the exceptions to this rule and base their research on studying the imperial context (Adelman, 2008, p. 320-322).

Summarizing the Revolutions

The Age of Revolutions includes the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, the Greek Revolution, the Latin American War for Independence, and a variety of revolutionary events in Europe. Each one of the revolutions brought something new to the world’s republican and democratic experience since each new state was itself a separate attempt to embody democratic principles.

The first such attempt was made in 1775 by the Thirteen Colonies of Great Britain. Whether it was successful or not, is still a question to discuss, but the fact is that the Founding Fathers were the first to test the ideas of the Enlightenment, to find out what works and what does not. America’s achievements were an inspiration to another nation. The French Revolution, however, was a far more radical uprising. Not only did the revolutionaries challenge their own aristocracy, but they also proclaimed the abolition of slavery. The French Revolution is considered a classical sample of a revolution. As Eric Hobsbawm put it, “France provided the first great example, the vocabulary of nationalism” (Hobsbawm, 1996, p. 53). The events in France triggered revolutionary activity in the other parts of the world. E. Hobsbawm divides this activity into three revolutionary waves. The first one, according to him, occurred in the 1820-s and included Spain (1820), Naples (1820), Greece (1821), and Latin America (Hobsbawm, 1996, p. 109-110). The second wave (1829-1834), which affected all Europe and the United States (Jacksonian democracy), was stronger than the first one and marked the defeat of aristocrats by bourgeois (Hobsbawm, 1996, p. 110-111). Finally, the third wave (1848), often named The Spring of Nations, was the strongest. It spread all over Europe and can be considered a product of the first two ones (Hobsbawm, 1996, p. 112).

The Consequences of The Age of Revolutions

The significance of the products of the Age of Revolutions is hard to overestimate. First of all, a number of new countries was created; hence, their nations won their right for self-determination. The revolutions destroyed or at least severely shook the major empires. The new states were republican, and their first steps were a great experience of translating democratic ideas into reality. In some cases, the democratic beliefs of political thinkers turned out to be inconsistent with reality. For instance, here is what H.M. Wriston tells about the American experience with an idea that political parties were unnecessary or even dangerous to democracy: “Even then [in 1789] we had not fully faced reality. The new Constitution made no reference to parties, which Washington and others denounced, calling them factions. Yet between the ideas of Jefferson on the one hand and Hamilton on the other there was a great gulf, which neither all the efforts nor all the persuasion nor all the prestige of Washington could bridge. Parties proved to be essential to the operation of the government” (Wriston, 1961, p. 538).

The other outcome was the appearance of new social justice movements, the process initially connected with the French revolution. It is in these times that people of labor started identifying themselves as “working class” (Hobsbawm, 1996, p. 117). Apart from moderate liberals, the situation created more radical movements, such as socialism and communism. Political changes in various parts of the world provided the abolitionist movement with a possibility to fight slavery – it was abolished in several states of the USA, prohibited in the British Empire, and seriously challenged in some parts of Latin America.

Revolutionary changes occurred in other spheres, as well as in the political one. The Age of Revolutions is the period of industrialization and active urbanization. Science has gone through considerable changes such as Darwinist revolution.

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The Age of Revolutions has brought meaningful changes to the world. Not only did it create new democratic states, but it was also connected with an industrial and a scientific revolution. The events of this period either seriously challenged the empires of the modern world and led to the birth of radical social and political movements. The Age of Revolutions is considered a period when feudalism finally gave way to capitalism, and the bourgeoisie took the positions that had previously belonged to the aristocracy.


Adelman, J. (2008). An Age of Imperial Revolutions. American Historical Review. 113(2), 319-340.

Hobsbawm, E. (1996). The Age of Revolution, 1789-1848. New York, NY: Vintage Books, a Division of Random House.

Wriston, H.M. (1961). The Age of Revolution. Foreign Affairs. 39(4), p. 533-548.

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