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Enlightment-American revolution - French revolution

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History: Enlightment-Amercican revolution-French revolution

1. How did the Enlightenment change political thinking?

Enlightenment: It was a cultural and intellectual movement in the 17s. and 18s. Centuries.

Political philosophy: Political philosophy was political reflexion about how to arrange our collective life through political institutions: laws, monarchy… They seek to establish basic principles.

Conservatives: Tried to justify current political institutions.

Radicals: Ideas of an ideal state that was very different from anything we have so far experienced.

Main political Enlightenment thinkers:

- Thomas Hobbes: His main idea was that kings grew powerful not by divine right (medieval concept) but by force. King’s power came not from above but from below, from his subjects. Therefore, Thomas Hobbes thought that since the king got power from the people, people had the right to overthrown him.

- Rene Descartes: His most important book that he wrote was “Disours de La Métode” where he advocated the systematic doubting of knowledge (scepticism): he believed that man couldn’t have real knowledge of nature.

- John Locke: His most political book was Two Treatises on Government. Locke argues men are born free and equals in rights. He was very influential in the American Revolution, and was considered to be the father of modern liberalism.

- Montesquieu: French philosopher who wrote the most influential works L’esprit Des Lois where he argued the separation of powers in government. He suggested that the powers should be divided between: the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. This was radical because, it completely ignored the 3 estates structure of the French monarchy: clergy, the aristocracy and the common people of feudalism.

- Voltaire: French philosopher: he fought for toleration, civil rights (fair trial and freedom of religion), and denounced the hypocrisies and injustices of the Ancien Régime.

Ancien Régime : involved an unfair balance of power and taxes between the first estates, the second estates, and the third estates.

- Jean Jacques Rousseau: French Philosopher, writer and composer; he argued that man is naturally good but is corrupted by bad society: ‘Man was born free; and everywhere he is in chains’ Contrast Social.

He thought that government should be fundamentally based on the rights and equality of everyone. If government does not look after these rights, liberty and equality of everyone, then government should be overthrown.

- Thomas Paine: One of the founding fathers of the United States. He participated to the American Revolution; his principal contribution was the Pamphlet Common Sense, arguing for colonial America’s independence from Great Britain. He wrote also the Rights of Man, in which he argued for political rights for all men because of their natural equality, and against all forms of hereditary government; only a democratic republic could be trusted to protect the equal political rights of all men.

CONCLUSION: French Philosophers, proposed a big variety of reforms.

Montesquieu and Rousseau: both were the most influential on future political developments but represent two very different perspectives.

Montesquieu advocated in the separation of the political power.

Rousseau (a radical) believed that society was more important than the individual; cause a properly functioning society could for an individual live a moral life.


- Inquisition: Catholic tribunal set up by Rome to root heresy.

- Heresy: Belief or opinion contrary to Christian religious doctrine.

- Doctrine: Whole of belief or principle of a religion.

- Divine right: Kings claiming that he is appointed by god and for that act as his representatives on earth.

- Nobility: Noble class who had privileged.

- Guilds: Groups of skilled craft workers.

- Humanitarism: Group of conception humankind (humanitaire) judged dangerous.

- Despotism: Sort of government in which only one person have the totality of the powers. (Sort of dictature)

- “Lettre cachet” or sealed letter: Royal decree ordering arrest and imprisonment without trial.

- Liberalism: Political doctrine targeting the development of the individual liberty and the limitation of the state’s power.

2. What were the causes of the American Revolution?

Stamp Acts: Tax on documents (as contracts). ⇒ People protested against Stamp Act because people didn’t want to pay taxes to a parliament that was elected by people living over 3,000 miles away. They only wanted to pay taxes to a parliament that they would have elected themselves.

The causes of the American Revolution:

• Taxes:

Stamp Act: Taxes imposed by the King George III, in 1765. It was taxes on documents as contracts; but people refused to pay tax.

Taxes on goods: So King George replaced this tax with taxes on goods such as tea, glass, paint, and paper… but the colonists felt almost badly for the taxes.

Finally the British removed all taxes except the one on tea. So Americans began to smuggle in tea for which the tax had not been paid.

The Boston Tea Party: Company that sold the tea was in financial trouble, so British government decided to cut the tax on the tea going to America. So the company became cheaper than the smuggler, and many merchants would have lost money if smuggling ended. Then a group of men, in 1773, in Boston, disguised themselves in Native Americans, and went onto the three tea ships in the harbour and emptied the tea into sea. The three hundred and forty-two tea chests were destroyed.

• Boston massacre: Relations between citizens of Boston and British soldiers were bad. In fact, British soldiers were working for a low wages than the citizens, and so this cut the wages of the local people. On March 1770, a dispute broke out between a group of


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