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What is the Revolutionary Era?

By Jason C. Chavis
Updated: May 17, 2024

Following the Seven Years' War, known as the French and Indian War in North America, the period known as the Revolutionary Era began in the late 1700s. The time period was known for the adaptation of independent thought and self-determination into daily life. Western philosophy, primarily throughout Europe and North America, made scientific and cultural advances, particularly centered on the concept of reason. The period was highlighted by a number of revolutions in government and politics throughout the Americas and Europe.

Adopting the principles of a number of philosophers, the American Enlightenment quickly enveloped the 13 British colonies in North America. Adopting the principles of nationalism created by Thomas Abbt, great thinkers such as Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin stimulated the independent spirit of the population. In 1775, the colonies and the British Empire found themselves engaged in a full-scale conflict that became known as the American Revolution. Ultimately, the colonies gained their independence with the help of France, Spain and the Dutch Republic, creating a new nation based on the fundamentals of the Enlightenment. Through famous works such as the Declaration of Independence, the United States created a republic by the people and for the people.

The push for independence moved to Europe around the same time, prompting an expansion of the Revolutionary Era. Influenced by the success of the American Revolution, Patriots attempted to overthrow the aristocracy in the Netherlands, but were beaten back by Prussian military forces. Many of the instigators of the revolt fled to France, helping to stimulate the burgeoning movement for freedom from the monarchy.

During the Revolutionary Era, the French Revolution beginning in 1789 became the most radical and public upheaval prompted by the thoughts of the Enlightenment. Over the course of a decade, society cast off the religious and feudal control of the old regime and adopted a citizen-driven movement based on the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Without the strong leadership that signified the American Revolution, much of the actions in France involved mob mentality and revenge against the aristocracy. This also left the government open to the individuals with personal aspirations of power, such as Maximilien Robespierre and Napoleon Bonaparte.

The Revolutionary Era continued to spread across the western world. In 1791, slaves in Haiti successfully overthrew French rule in Saint-Domingue, establishing a permanent republic. Prompted by the success of the American Revolution, the United Irishmen Rebellion rose up against British rule in 1798, beginning the conflict that would essentially last for centuries. Perhaps the most salient change from the Revolutionary Era were the revolts and rebellions that took place throughout Latin America, with a majority of countries throwing off the colonial rule of Portugal and Spain. One of the most prominent figures influenced by the American Enlightenment was Simon Bolivar, who led Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, Panama, Ecuador and Colombia to independence.

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Discussion Comments
By amohamed — On Nov 08, 2014

Some considered the 'Revolutionary Era' as a period that, ironically, brought about fascism.

The thinking was that the Enlightenment and its subsequent Revolutions put heavy emphasis on the rationality of man. Humankind's rationality enforced order and meaning on Nature and put it under their thumb. After Nature was conquered, humankind turned to enforcing order on each other, controlling people's passions and desires and thoughts. This new type of human ordering were the totalitarian states of the 20th century.

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