History 104: Western Civilization since 1648

Lecture: Political and Industrial Revolutions

Marat dead in his bath

Political Revolutions

The Revolutionary Idea
Causes of the French Revolution
Stages of the French Revolution
Factors in the French Revolution
The Napoleonic Experience


European Economy
Concepts of Industrialization
The Technology
Coal and Steam
The People
Spread and Effects
Philosophical Reaction


Political Revolutions

Song played by French revolutionaries as Ça Ira, then by the British to taunt the French as Downfall of Paris in 1815 (Lyrics in French and English)


Pity is treason.

--Robespierre, 1794


The revolutionary idea

I did not mean to imply, in my last lecture, that the American War for Independence was not important in European history or to Western Civilization. Indeed it was. Thomas JeffersonThe most important thing for history was this:

bookWorkbook document: Declaration of Independence (1776)

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Jefferson's document set out for all eternity the practical application of Locke's political liberalism. It was the second step in a pattern of modernizing revolutions: from the Glorious Revolution -> American Revolution -> French Revolution -> Russian Revolution. It had created an idea of revolution based on freedom from oppression.


Causfleur de lises of the French Revolution

There are many causes of the French Revolution. I'm going to reduce them to two: one long-term and one short-term:


The rational thinking of the Enlightenment had led to a belief in rational governance of human beings. Locke had originated the idea of the right to rebel in the 1680s, then Jefferson had added the concept of inalienable rights in the 1770s. In France, Voltaire had been the major proponent of the crushing of superstitions and intolerance, and the need for rationalism. Rousseau had added his ingredient: the idea of the sovereignty of the people. Indeed, Rousseau's emphasis on the general will of the people, and his dedication to freedom and liberty for individuals, caused some to blame him for the French Revolution even though he was dead by then.

oppressive Ancién Regime

To begin with, the tax system in France was skewed. Peasants and urban workers (bakers, grave-diggers, road workers, lace makers, merchants, etc.) paid the taxes. The elites (both aristocrats and clergy) were exempt from taxes.

The political power was unbalanced. The Estates-General was a representative body made up of the three estates: (1) the clergy, (2) the nobility, and (3) everybody else. Each estate had one house to represent them, meaning that the First and Second estates simply outvoted the Third on any issue. But it didn't matter anyway, because the absolutist king decided. In fact, the Estates-General hadn't met since 1614, when Richelieu had arranged their dismissal. The only threat to the king's power was the Parlement, which was the high court of justice (don't confuse it with the British Parliament!). Only they could stop tax measures, and they were controlled by the nobility.

The elites were completely out of touch with the ordinary folk. Queen Marie Antoinette is a startling example.

Marie Antoinette paintings

Isn't she lovely? She apparently thought so too. Although she didn't say "Let them eat cake" about the peasants not having bread, and she has a new crop of defenders, she was also known to dress up as a milkmaid and go "play peasant" in her own private village at the palace.


Stages of the French Revolution

Here's a summary of the whole damn thing.

Revolt of the elite

The story begins with King Louis XVI going broke (why? take a look at Marie's dresses on the previous page). Seriously, France was in debt up to its armpits after helping the ungrateful Americans win their war of independence against Britian. And that debt was on top of the debt they had from losing the Seven Years' War, not to mention the loss of profits from the colonies and territories that were taken. Louis had a great idea: tax the elites. Parlement (the court, remember) blocked this measure. The elites, who were of course well read, then demanded a Constitution to secure their rights and control the king. They demanded that he call the Estates-General. So Louis counted on his fingers and decided to do just that, figuring that the First and Third Estate would vote to let him tax the Second Estate.
Fall of the Bastille: July 14, 1789

National Assembly

He counted wrong. First he had to call for elections, since of course no one was left alive who had been in the Estates-General in 1614. France was in dire straights: crop failure, high taxes, inflation, unemployment. The new members met in May 1789, and were immediately deadlocked over the issue of how to vote: by order? (the old way) or by head count? (which would benefit the Third Estate). Finally, the Third Estate combined with liberal members of the First and Second Estates and left, creating a new government called the National Assembly that vowed to write a Constitution for France. On July 14, mobs in Paris, fearing a rumor that the king's troups were coming to kill them, stormed the Bastille (a combined prison/armory) and armed themselves. In August the Assembly issued:
bookWorkbook document: Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen

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Constitution and war

Under the new Constitution of 1791, the newly-named Constituent Assembly took action. Church land was confiscated to avoid bankruptcy. The Catholic Clergy were made civil and were paid by the state. The government administration was reformed into efficient departments. A constitutional monarchy was established, and the king seemed to cooperate. Clearly, the French Revolution was over, and therefore could be argued about. British Member of Parliament Edmund Burke fired the first volley:

bookWorkbook document: Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)

Edmund Burke speaks out against the French Revolution

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Revolutionary Thomas Paine (also a participant in America) defied Burke's interpretation, claiming that the natural rights of man were more important than tradition. The argument is basic to understanding what happened next.

The king tried to escape France and make contact with supporters from other absolutist governments. Aristocrats, clergy and devout Catholics rallied around him. The surrounding European nations, afraid that the revolution would spread, armed themselves. Prussia and Russia were already crushing similar revolts. The new French government saw an opportunity to promote the revolutionary values of freedom, equality, fraternity. France declared war on Austria in 1792, and would be continually at war with somebody until 1815.

The Terror

Annual elections during time of strife and war and hope meant that the government of France became increasingly radical. The nobility were outlawed, and so was persecution of Protestants and Jews. Slavery was made illegal, and divorce was made legal. Representatives of workers began to dominate the assembly, and they renamed themselves the Convention.

guillotineThe Convention imprisoned and tried the king, executing him and Marie Antoinette in 1793. By this time, the countries at war with France included Spain, England, Holland, Austria and Prussia.Thus there was a clear connection between traitors and counter-revolutionaries. The Convention appointed the Commitee for Public Safety, headed by Maximilian Robespierre, to hunt down counter-revolutionaries.

Robespierre, and by now most of the government, were turning away from a liberal revolution toward a radical one. Instead of freedom as the ideal, the focus was on equality. Thus aristocrats were hunted down not only as traitors to the revolution, but as traitors to an equal and just society. Only by renouncing ones status could one save his/her own life, and even then it might now work. Eventually, over 50,000 people went to the guillotine. Many of these were original revolutionaries from 1789, who had wanted a liberal middle-class government.

bookWorkbook document: Maximilien Robespierre: Speech on Virtue (1793)

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Thermidorian reaction

By 1794, this middle class gained enough momentum to reassert itself and rewind the goals back to liberalism. In July 1794 (a month renamed Thermidor to get away from the Catholic calendar) Robespierre was overthrown (he'd end up guillotined, if you like your justice western-style). The propertied classes reasserted their control, but were unable to provide an efficient government under their 5-man Directory and two-house assembly. Ultimately, the corruption of the Directory paved the way for one man who could save the Revolution (that is, the 1789 Revolution): Napoleon Bonaparte.

NapoleonNapoleon in his study

You either love him or you hate him. Some say he was the saviour of the Revolution. Some say he was a dictator, a monarch no better than Louis XVI. He was both. Basing his power on the re-emergence of the middle class, and mutually beneficial relations with the French Church, he maintained control and conducted France through years of war. He made two big mistakes: arresting the pope (which alienated Catholics) and invading Russia (he lost half his army there to the winter).

Napoleon's great legacy to the Revolution was the establishment of the Civil Code of 1804 (also called the Napoleonic Code). This set of laws instituted the basic revolutionary goal of equality under the law. Based on Roman law, the Code was both liberal and humanitarian. (Take a look at the Code itself.)

After the Napoleonic wars, it was impossible for the autocratic governments of Europe to ignore the cries of the people for freedom. Even as they turned the clock back at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, monarchs had to acknowledge liberal ideas. Many were forced to accept reforms or lose their power. In 1830, France would again explode in revolution. By 1848, other nations would follow.


Factors in the French Revolution


womenWomen contributed to all aspects of the revolution. They led the bread riots in Paris and the storming of the Bastille. They were among all the demonstrations and mob actions against the government of Louis XVI. Within the left wing of the Republic, some of them fought for the rights of women. They wrote speeches, signed petitions, and operated radical presses. Their quest for equality put them in the radical camp, rather than the liberal.

Between 1789 and 1793, women were influential in the course of the revolution, and helped pull it toward the radical left. One example was Olympe de Gouges:

* Textbook document: Olympe de Gouges' Declaration of the Rights of Women

De Gouges would be guillotined in 1793, because she opposed the death sentence of Louis XVI (she even offered to defend him in court, believing him to be no worse than any other king). She had also spoken out against the bloody policies of Jacobite Jean Paul Marat and Robespierre, who considered her a royalist counter-revolutionary.

Marat dead in his bathOther women also took an active role in revolution. Charlotte Corday, horrified at the excesses of Jacobites murdering without cause, killed leader Jean Paul Marat in his bath. This moment was marked by painter David, who seemed to always be in favor of whichever government hired him. (He sketched the Oath of the Tennis Court in 1789 but survived to paint Napoleon later on.)

1793 was not only the year of the deaths of de Gouges and Corday, but it also marks a shift away from the demands of women for equal rights. The Convention, in other ways the most politically radical of the French governments, tried to outlaw women in politics. They accused women of counter-revolutionary activities (such as the trumped-up charge against de Gouges), lack of education, moral weakness, and excitability (pretty funny coming from guys feeding the guillotine on a daily basis).

Debating women's rights as a public issue, the possibility emerged that they could become citizens and vote too much. Thus the Convention took on the task of defining women's rights for them, removing them from most public influence. Throughout the Directory and Napoleon's rule, most of the gains made by women during the Revolution were reversed. Under the Napoleonic Code, women had no political rights, and their legal status was dependent. They couldn't sign contracts, buy or sell property, and they were restricted in initiating divorce.


Two peasants repairing a plow
The participation of peasants began right after the storming of the Bastille, though resentment had already been brewing due to the rise in the price of bread. Beseiging towns and villages hoping for assistance, peasants were hopeful that the Estates-General would solve their problems. Assuming this, they took action in the countryside: poaching in the forests of the nobility, attacking food convoys, and refusing to pay taxes and tithes. With the formation of the National Assembly and the storming of the Bastille, they began burning manor houses and debt books. Others, fearing the king would send troops to kill them, went on rampages of rural violence.

This violence was instrumental in forcing the aristocrats to give up their privileges, as dictated by the National Assembly. Nobles renounced their exclusive hunting rights, tax exemptions, monopolies on high office, manorial courts, and debts of service. All well and good, but the Assembly had trouble controlling the peasants' demands. As liberal middle-class men, Assembly members held fast to policies regarding property rights, which peasants ignored. This would be a major problem all the way through the Revolution.


The Napoleonic ExperiencNapoleone (1799-1815)

Napoleon Bonaparte kept power by evoking the Revolution, the original principles of 1789. He restored the prestige of the Church and the power of the middle-class, but kept both under control.

Napolen was both conservative (in the way he enforced the stability of his own rule) and liberal (in his laws). He was a genius at military strategy. Creating a new nobility based on merit within the army, he defeated much of Europe and created an Empire. He then made two mistakes: arresting the pope (thus alienating Catholics) and attacking Russia (where he lost half his army in the Russian winter). Defeated at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, he gathered an army in exile to defeat England, Austria, Russia and Prussia. Defeated at Waterloo in 1815, he was exiled to the island of St. Helena, where he died in 1821.

His legacy was the spread of the French Revolution throughout Europe, and the establishment of its principles in law. The Civil Code, based on Roman law, instituted the liberal and humanitarian goals of the Revolution: equality before the law, freedom of religion, property rights, and the abolition of feudalism. In taking over Europe, Napoleon rallied the middle classes and common people to defeat their own absolutist regimes. Even after Napoleon's final defeat, as European monarchs regained their power, they had to keep in mind the Revolution and promise reforms to maintain power. Even as these nations fostered a hatred of revolutionary France, they had to create their own nationalism in order to counter it. That changed European politics forever.


Hanley, an industrial town

Hanley, an industrial town

This is a piece of a work by Haydn known as the "Clock Symphony" (1794). Though there is definitely detachment here from the working classes, there is also the feeling of industrial mechanization.


Machines were, it may be said, the weapon employed by the capitalists to quell the revolt of specialized labor.

-- Karl Marx (1847)


European Economy

You may remember the classic text introducing free trade:

bookAdam Smith -- The Wealth of Nations (1776)

As the economy expanded under the principles of free trade, so would industry. The industrialists would use the same principles to prevent government interference, permitting vast profits without oversight of their activities. Just as Smith is the founding document of modern trade, it is also the founding document of modern industry.


Concepts of industrialization

Most historians refer to this era as "The Industrial Revolution" and mark its dates around 1750-1850.

But to do so ignores something I call "industrial continuum". Throughout history, humans have used tools to control their environment. Usually these tools required human or animal power. mill wheelBut even during ancient times, Europeans were using water to power large waterwheels and mills to grind grain for flour. During the Middle Ages, Europeans harnessed water power for industry, creating machine mills that pounded cloth, minted coins, operated bellows for smelting iron, sawed logs, and pumped water. These technologies were the ones used in the 18th century.

Seen from a perspective of industrial continuum, the changes in the 18th and 19th century were not revolutionary. Rather they were steps in the evolution of industrial production.

So what was new? First, the source of power will move from water to steam. Second, the social impact will be greater than in any previous industrial advance.


The Technology Broadloom and spinning wheel

In a sense, the boom began with a single invention related to the production of England's primary export: woollen cloth. Since the 16th century, cloth had been spun using the spinning wheel, then woven using a broadloom. A spinning wheel could be worked by one person, but a broadloom took three: one to work the pedals to move the heddles up and down for weaving, and tall people at either end to pass the shuttle back and forth.

In an effort to speed up the weaving process, in the 1730s John Kay invented the "flying shuttle" loom:

Kay's flying shuttle

The weaver could sit at the machine, working the pedals with his/her feet, and use the handle to activate springs that popped the shuttle back and forth. This eliminated the tall helpers, and speeded up the rate of production by about 300%.

That caused a problem, a technological "bottleneck", because the amount of yard from spinning wheels could not keep up with the demand from Kay looms. This led to further inventions:

Great Wheel Spinning

Spinning by Hand

The spinning jenny, invented by a guy named Hargreaves, made it possible for one person to spin multiple spindles using a hand wheel.


spinning machine

The spinning machine hooked the devices vertically, and could spin fine threads.

Hand Loom weaving (one person narrow)

Power Loom

Ultimately, both spinning machines and the new looms developed further and could be connected to water power. The power looms and power spinning machines automated cloth production. They made possible factories, where unskilled women and children could tie up threads and keep machines going. Skilled spinners and weavers were no longer necessary, and the new machine-made cloth was less expensive and undercut the price of hand-made fabric.

The new technologies, applied to linen and cotton production, led to mass production.


Coal and steam

Iron production

Britain mapEngland had the advantages in developing alternatives to water power. First, they had a problem. Water mills had to be located in the hills to get the fall of water necessary to run efficient water wheels. This meant they froze in winter, and were far from ports and markets.

They had another problem, this one in the iron industry. Iron smelting is a touchy business, requiring a pure fuel. For centuries, this fuel had been wood, burned down to make clean-burning charcoal. But by the 18th century, most of the usable forests had gone or were owned in private hands. The British navy took most of the trees tall enough for ship masts, and entrepreneurs had to look elsewhere.

England is an island built on coal. But coal has impurities, such as sulfur, that would make iron unusable. In 1709, Abraham Darby perfected the creation of a purified version of coal, called coke, that burned cleanly and could be used to smelt iron. As a result, iron production increased on a vast scale. Iron could then be used to make many things, such as boilers and pumps.

Steam enginesNewcomen's engine

The steam engine utilized all of England's resources: coal, iron, and water. Boilers were built of iron, and coal was used to heat the water in the boiler to make steam. Inventors like Thomas Newcomen and James Watt perfected the techniques of building steam engines, basing their designs on formulas for steam distillation derived from whiskey distilleries in Scotland.

Steam power was revolutionary. Unlike water power, it could be used anywhere, and did not rely on the weather. Hooked up to spinning machines and power looms, it could create huge factories with huge output. Hooked up to water pumps (its first use), it could be used to pump water out of coal mines to make lower reaches of coal more accessible. Hooked to a wheeled carriage, it could make a locomotive that moved goods along iron tracks.

Even today, steam power is basic. A nuclear power plant uses the splitting of the atom to create heat to boil water in a boiler, to create steam, to turn a turbine (which looks like a water wheel).


The People

The class system

Each of the classes was affected by industrialization. The aristocracy could become involved, but many considered industry to be akin to trade, and thus beneath their interest. The landed classes could not control industrialization, and they had little capital to invest unless they'd made some through investments in trade. As aristocratic power declined, industry could provide an opportunity for younger sons who could not inherit the family lands. Forward-thinking nobles put their sons in industry, or married them into industrail families, and made a lot of money.middlec-lass couple

The middle class was the place for industrialists. In England, many had been religious dissenters, excluded from the money-making opportunities of religious conformers. Inventors, factory owners, managers, former craftspeople could find opportunity in industry. There was no need for great wealth or education, and the economic concepts of liberalism provided a rule-free environment where people could succeed based only on the usefulness of their ideas. Industrialization provided the middle class with great wealth, and they tried to turn this wealth into respectability.

The working class was newly created, because for the first time they did not work for themselves. These were the wage-laborers, frequently unskilled, including women and children. Instead of engaging in cottage industry as a supplement to industrial labor, or running shops in a town, these workers were employed in the factories that sprung up all over Europe.

Working conditionsIndustrial city

The working conditions were appalling. Workers were poorly paid and their jobs were insecure (a result of the excess population, which meant they could be easily replaced). Uprooted from traditional town and village life, workers were disconnected from family control and kinship ties. There were no safety standards. Factories were crowded and poorly lighted. There was no heat in winter, since the coal used for heat would make smoke that would tinge the product. In textile mills, windows were kept closed in summer to preserve the humidity that kept the threads from breaking. The machines were unbearably loud, and many children went deaf. Limbs were lost in machines, and the injured workers fired and replaced by others. Children were beaten to make them work. Farming folk accustomed to rising and sleeping by the sun, and doing less work in winter, were working according to shifts by the clock. The work of tending machines was monotonous, the final product of ones labor often never seen.

Friedrich Engels, who would later work with Karl Marx on the Communist Manifesto, studied the conditions in the facotries.

bookWorkbook document: Engel's The Condition of the Working Class in England (1844)

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cartoon In this cartoon, children are being beaten by the factory foreman for letting go of a spindle. He says, "Why did you let go the spindle, you young woman?". She replies "My fingers were so cold I could not hold it..." Such cartoons represented the types of conditions leading to reforms, such as those instituted by the Sadler Commitee, which heard the testimony of industrial workers.
food line Factory jobs were insecure. During the American Civil War, the Union blockaded the coast of the U.S. This meant that the South could not ship its raw cotton to England. Workers in areas like Lancashire, which was dependent on American cotton, starved to death.

Despite the obvious misery of industrial workers, some commenters insisted that hard work remained the key to success.

bookWorkbook document: Samuel Smiles' Self-Help (1882)

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Spread and effects

Alexander Graham Bell
Alexander Graham Bell at the New York end of the first long-distance line (to Chicago) in 1892

Western expansion

Industrialization spread from England to the rest of Europe, setting off a new wave of production. Although other countries at first had trouble competing with British production, in the long-run they had an advantage because they didn't have to deal with an "R and D" period: a time when new technologies were subject to trial and error. Instead, they were able to adopt the technologies in their usable form, and build on the initial inventions.

By the 1850s, other nations became competitive by specializing in certain areas. Germany, for example, became expert in chemistry, inventing and marketing synthetic dyes, chloroform, and rayon. The internal combustion engine, which runs today's automobiles, was a German invention. The United States, a very large country, excelled in telecommunications, inventing and marketing devices like the telegraph, telephone, and radio.

Transportation Revolution

The 19th century saw the transformation from walking, horses and coaches to railroads, steamships, and cars.

The initial stages of this change, however, were based on water. In particular, canal technology permitted nations with water resources to use them efficiently for transport of goods.

Canal locks permitted barges to be moved up or down hills by filling sections with water. Barges could carry tons of bulk goods for far less money per mile than wagons on roads, particularly in nations with lots of water.
locomotive Steam boilers could provide pressure for pistons to power cranks that turned railroad wheels.
rocket train Stephenson's Rocket locomotive won a contest in 1829 for an engine that could pull 20 tons at a minimum speed of 10 miles per hour. At first, trains were used for cargo transport. Only later were they used for passenger excursions (after the boilers stopped exploding precipitously).
1887 car
A fun ride in an 1887 automotive tricycle.

Philosophical Reaction

In addition to efforts to reform labor practices, the transformation of society created by industrialization led to philosophical reactions as well.


Socialism was one reaction, as we will see later in the course. French scholar Charles Fourier, in his 1808 book The Social Destiny of Man, noted that "truth and commerce are as incompatible as Jesus and Satan." He advocated a socialist structure based on a cooperative system of production that would permit self-fulfillment among workers. His work was highly influential on later philosophers, though Karl Marx would call him "utopian".

Lanark bike
New Lanark, Robert Owens' mill town

Robert Owen, Welsh manager of a larger spinning factory in Manchester, England, married into an industrial family and became owner of several mills. Some employed children as young as five. Believing in good treatment for workers and education to develop good human beings, he established schools and reformed child labor, eliminating harsh punishments. In his effort to establish a "new moral order", he ran his factories in a cooperative and responsible manner, and supported labor reform.

Henri de Saint-Simon called for a secular application of Christian morality to working conditions. He was one of the first to identify "industrialization" as it was happening, and insist that science be applied to social problems. This scientific approach was later developed further by Marx.


Auguste Comte developed positivism.

Web document: Comte's The Positive Philosophy

In positivism, humanity is seen as moving through three stages:
1. Theological: where humans attribute all phenomena to gods or the supernatural
2. Metaphysical: where they attribute things to abstract ideas
3. Positive: where they attribute things to scientific fact
He believed that humanity was entering the last stage. Ed Stephan of Western Washington University has helpfully given examples:

Question Theological Metaphysical Positive
Why does a rock fall? God (or a spirit) wills it it's the nature of heavy objects to fall law of gravity
Why is there disease? punishment for sin life is nasty, brutish and short (Hobbes) viruses, bacteria
Why are there wars? gods toy with mortals; evil warmongers it's human nature: territorial, desire for power ?
How is the cause of things discovered? revelation reason scientific method

You'll note that some questions cannot be solved by positivism, and yet even today we live in Comte's world. Notice how you have to get your facts together to get anything done. Let's say you want a skateboard park in Cardiff, California. Do you go to the city council and say, "I want a skateboard park because God wills it?" Do you say, "I want a skateboard park because people like to ride skateboards"? No. You gather data. You find out how many people want a skateboard park, project where it might be and how much it would cost. You then present your facts to the council. That's positivism.



All text, lecture voice audio, and course design copyright Lisa M. Lane 1998-2018. Other materials used in this class may be subject to copyright protection, and are intended for educational and scholarly fair use under the Copyright Act of 1976 and the TEACH Act of 2002.