UNIT IV: 1750-1914

The era between 1750 and 1914 C.E. was one of clear European hegemony. In the previous era (1450 to 1750 C.E.), Europeans had tilted the balance of world power away from Asia, where powerful civilizations had existed since ancient times. However, despite growing European influence based on sea trade and colonization, major land-based empires in Asia still influenced long-distance trade and shaped political and economic conditions around them. In this era, Europe not only dominated the western hemisphere, as it had in the last, but it came to control the eastern hemisphere as well. How did they do it? Part of the answer lies in a set of discoveries and happenings that together constitute an important "Marker Event" - the Industrial Revolution. Another set of philosophical and political events were equally important - the establishment of democracy as a major element of a new type of political organization - the "nation."


Very important characteristics that distinguish 1750-1914 from previous eras in world history include:

  • European dominance of long-distance trade - Whether by "unequal treaties" or colonization, sea-based trade gave European countries control of all major trade circuits in the world.
  • "Have" and "have not" countries created by Industrialization - The Industrial Revolution gave huge economic and political advantages to countries where it occurs over countries that remained primarily agricultural.
  • Inequalities among regions increase due to imperialism - Industrialized countries set out to form overseas empires, sometimes through colonization and other times by economic and/or political domination.
  • Political revolutions inspired by democracy and desire for independence - These revolutions continue to the present, but "seed" revolutions that put new democratic forms of government in place occurred during this era. The "nation" emerged as a new type of political organization.

We will analyze these important characteristics of the period by examining these topics:

  • Changes in global commerce, communications, and technology - Patterns of world trade and contact changed as the Industrial Revolution revolutionized communications and commerce. Distances became shorter as the Suez and Panama Canals cut new channels for travel, and new technology meant that ships were faster than before. Railroads revived land travel.
  • Demographic and environmental changes - Huge numbers of people migrated to the Americas from Europe and Asia, so that population in the western hemisphere grew dramatically. The slave trade ended, and so did forced migrations from Africa to the New World. Industrialization had a huge impact on the environment, as demands for new fuels came about and cities dominated the landscape in industrialized countries. Industrialization also increased the demand for raw materials from less industrialized countries, altering natural landscapes further.
  • Changes in social and gender structures - Serf and slave systems became less common, but the gap between the rich and poor grew in industrialized countries. We will explore the controversy regarding changes in women's roles in response to industrialization. Did women's status improve, or did gender inequality grow?
  • Political revolutions and independence movements; new political ideas - Absolutism was challenged in many parts of the globe, and democracy took root as a result of economic and social change and Enlightenment philosophies that began in the 17th century. "Nations" arose as political entities that inspired nationalism and movements of political reform.
  • Rise of western dominance - The definition of "west" expanded to include the United States and Australia, and western dominance reached not only economic and political areas, but extended to social, cultural, and artistic realms as well.

Although coercive labor systems as such declined during this era, new questions of equality and justice emerged as west came to dominate east, and the gap between the rich and poor grew larger, particularly in the most prosperous countries.


By 1750 international trade and communications were nothing new. During the 1450-1750 era Europeans had set up colonies in the Americas so that for the first time in world history the western and eastern hemispheres were in constant contact with one another. However, after 1750 the pace of trade picked up dramatically, fed by a series of economic and technological transformations collectively known as the Industrial Revolution.


Remember that to be called a Marker Event in world history, a development should qualify in three ways:

  • It must cross national or cultural borders, affecting many civilizations.
  • Later changes or developments in history must be at least partially traced to this event or series of events.
  • It must have impact in other areas. For example, if it is a technological change, it must impact some other major areas, like government, belief systems, social classes, or the economy.

Like the Neolithic Revolution that occurred 10,000 years before it, the Industrial Revolution qualifies as a Marker Event according to all of the above criteria. It brought about such sweeping changes that it virtually transformed the world, even areas in which industrialization did not occur. The concept seems simple; invent and perfect machinery to help make human labor more efficient - but that's part of its importance. The change was so basic that it could not help but affect all areas of people's lives in every part of the globe.

The Industrial Revolution began in England in the late 18th century, and spread during the 19th century to Belgium, Germany, Northern France, the United States, and Japan. Almost all areas of the world felt the effects of the Industrial Revolution because it divided the world into "have" and "have not" countries, with many of the latter being controlled by the former. England's lead in the Industrial Revolution translated into economic prowess and political power that allowed colonization of other lands, eventually building a worldwide British Empire.


The Industrial Revolution helped England greatly increase its output of manufactured goods by substituting hand labor with machine labor. Economic growth in Britain was fueled by a number of factors:

  • An Agricultural Revolution - The Industrial Revolution would not have been possible without a series of improvements in agriculture in England. Beginning in the early1700s, wealthy landowners began to enlarge their farms through enclosure, or fencing or hedging large blocks of land for experiments with new techniques of farming. These scientific farmers improved crop rotation methods, which carefully controlled nutrients in the soil. They bred better livestock, and invented new machines, such as Jethro Tull's seed drill that more effectively planted seeds. The larger the farms and the better the production the fewer farmers were needed. Farmers pushed out of their jobs by enclosure either became tenant farmers or they moved to cities. Better nutrition boosted England's population, creating the first necessary component for the Industrial Revolution: labor.
  • A technological revolution - England also was the first to experience a technological revolution, a series of inventions built on the principles of mass production, mechanization, and interchangeable parts. Josiah Wedgwood developed a mold for pottery that replaced the potters wheel, making mass production of dishes possible. Many experimented with machinery to speed up human labor, and interchangeable parts meant that machines were more practical and easier to repair.
  • Natural resources - Britain had large and accessible supplies of coal and iron - two of the most important raw materials used to produce the goods for the early Industrial Revolution. Also available was water power to fuel the new machines, harbors for its merchant ships, and rivers for inland transportation.
  • Economic strength - During the previous era, Britain had already built many of the economic practices and structures necessary for economic expansion, as well as a middle class (the bourgeoisie) that had experience with trading and manufacturing goods. Banks were well established, and they provided loans for businessmen to invest in new machinery and expand their operations.
  • Political stability - Britain's political development during this period was fairly stable, with no major internal upheavals occurring. Although Britain took part in many wars during the 1700s, none of them took place on British soil, and its citizens did not seriously question the government's authority. By 1750 Parliament's power far exceeded that of the king, and its members passed laws that protected business and helped expansion.


The earliest transformation of the Industrial Revolution was Britain's textile industry. In 1750 Britain already exported wool, linen, and cotton cloth, and the profits of cloth merchants were boosted by speeding up the process by which spinners and weavers made cloth. One invention led to another since none were useful if any part of the process was slower than the others. Some key inventions were:

  • The flying shuttle - John Kay's invention carried threads of yarn back and forth when the weaver pulled a handle, greatly increasing the weavers' productivity.
  • The spinning jenny - James Hargreaves' invention allowed one spinner to work eight threads at a time, increasing the output of spinners, allowing them to keep up with the weavers. Hargreaves named the machine for his daughter.
  • The water frame - Richard Arkwright's invention replaced the hand-driven spinning jenny with one powered by water power, increasing spinning productivity even more.
  • The spinning mule - In 1779, Samuel Crompton combined features of the spinning jenny and the water frame to produce the spinning mule. It made thread that was stronger, finer, and more consistent than that made by earlier machines. He followed this invention with the power loom that sped up the weaving process to match the new spinners.

These machines were bulky and expensive, so spinning and weaving could no longer be done at home. Wealthy textile merchants set up the machines in factories, and had the workers come to these places to do their work. At first the factories were set up near rivers and streams for water power, but other inventions later made this unnecessary. Before the late 1700s Britain's demand for cotton was met by India, but they increasingly came to depend on the American south, where plantation production was speeded by Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin, a machine that efficiently separated the cotton fiber from the seed. By 1810 southern plantations used slave labor to produce 85 million pounds of cotton, up from 1.5 million in 1790.


Once the textile industry began its exponential growth, transportation of raw materials to factories and manufactured goods to customers had to be worked out. New inventions in transportation spurred the Industrial Revolution further. A key invention was the steam engine that was perfected by James Watt in the late 1790s. Although steam power had been used before, Watt invented ways to make it practical and efficient to use for both water and land transportation.

Perhaps the most revolutionary use of steam energy was the railroad engine, which drove English industry after 1820. The first long-distance rail line from the coastal city of Liverpool to inland Manchester was an immediate success upon its completion in 1830, and within a few decades, most British cities were connected by rail. Railroads revolutionized life in Britain in several ways:

1) Railroads gave manufacturers a cheap way to transport materials and finished products.

2) The railroad boom created hundreds of thousands of new jobs for both railroad workers and miners.

3) The railroad industry spawned new industries and inventions and increased the productivity of others. For example, agricultural products could be transported farther without spoiling, so farmers benefited from the railroads.

4) Railroads transported people, allowing them to work in cities far away from their homes and travel to resort areas for leisure.


The Industrial Revolution occurred only in Britain for about 50 years, but it eventually spread to other countries in Europe, the United States, Russia, and Japan. British entrepreneurs and government officials forbade the export of machinery, manufacturing techniques, and skilled workers to other countries but the technologies spread by luring British experts with lucrative offers, and even smuggling secrets into other countries. By the mid-19th century industrialization had spread to France, Germany, Belgium, and the United States.

The earliest center of industrial production in continental Europe was Belgium, where coal, iron, textile, glass, and armaments production flourished. By 1830 French firms had employed many skilled British workers to help establish the textile industry, and railroad lines began to appear across western Europe. Germany was a little later in developing industry, mainly because no centralized government existed there yet, and a great deal of political unrest made industrialization difficult. However, after the 1840s German coal and iron production skyrocketed, and by the 1850s an extensive rail network was under construction. After German political unification in 1871, the new empire rivaled England in terms of industrial production.

Industrialization began in the United States by the 1820s, delayed until the country had enough laborers and money to invest in business. Both came from Europe, where overpopulation and political revolutions sent immigrants to the United States to seek their fortunes. The American Civil War (1861-1865) delayed further immigration until the 1870s, but it spurred the need for industrial war products, all the way from soldiers' uniforms to guns to railroads for troop transport. Once the war was over, cross-country railroads were built which allowed more people to claim parts of vast inland America and to reach the west coast. The United States had abundant natural resources; land, water, coal and iron ore; and after the great wave of immigration from Europe and Asia in the late 19th century; it also had the labor.

During the late 1800s, industrialization spread to Russia and Japan, in both cases by government initiatives. In Russia the tsarist government encouraged the construction of railroads to link places within the vast reaches of the empire. The most impressive one was the Trans-Siberian line constructed between 1891 and 1904, linking Moscow to Vladivostock on the Pacific Ocean. The railroads also gave Russians access to the empire's many coal and iron deposits, and by 1900 Russia ranked fourth in the world in steel production. The Japanese government also pushed industrialization, hiring thousands of foreign experts to instruct Japanese workers and mangers in the late 1800s. Railroads were constructed, mines were opened, a banking system was organized, and industries were started that produced ships, armaments, silk, cotton, chemicals, and glass. By 1900 Japan was the most industrialized land in Asia, and was set to become a 20th century power.




Industrialization greatly increased the economic, military, and political strength of the societies that embraced it. By and large, the countries that benefited from industrialization were the ones that had the necessary components of land, labor and capital, and often government support. However, even though many other countries tried to industrialize, few had much success. For example, India tried to develop jute and steel industries, but the entrepreneurs failed because they had no government support and little investment capital. An international division of labor resulted: people in industrialized countries produced manufactured products, and people in less industrialized countries produced the raw materials necessary for that production. Industrial England, for example, needed cotton, so turned to India, Egypt, and the American south to produce it for them. In many cases this division of labor led to colonization of the non-industrialized areas. As industrialization increased, more iron and coal were needed, as well as other fibers for the textile industry, and the British Empire grew rapidly in order to meet these demands.

Many countries in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia, and southeast Asia became highly dependent on one cash crop - such as sugar, cotton, and rubber - giving them the nickname of "Banana Republics." Such economies were very vulnerable to any change in the international market. Foreign investors owned and controlled the plantations that produced these crops, and most of the profits went to them. Very little of the profits actually improved the living conditions for people that lived in those areas, and since they had little money to spend, a market economy could not develop.

Despite the inequalities, the division of labor between people in countries that produced raw materials and those that produced manufactured goods increased the total volume of world trade. In turn, this increased volume led to better technology, which reinforced and fed the trade. Sea travel became much more efficient, with journeys that had once taken months or years reduced to days or weeks. By 1914 two great canals shortened sea journeys by thousands of miles. The Suez Canal built by the British and French in the 1850s linked the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, making it no longer necessary to go around the tip of Africa to get from Europe to Asia by sea. The Panama Canal, completed in 1913, did a similar thing in the western hemisphere, cutting a swath through Central America that encouraged trade and transportation between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.


The Industrial Revolution significantly changed population patterns, migrations, and environments. In industrialized nations people moved to the areas around factories to work there, cities grew, and as a result an overall migration from rural to urban areas took place. This movement was facilitated by the growth of railroads and improvement of other forms of transportation. This era also saw migrations on a large scale from Europe and Asia into the Americas, so that the overall population of the western hemisphere increased. However, this movement did not translate into a decrease of population in the eastern hemisphere. Particularly in Europe, the Agricultural Revolution improved nutrition, especially as the potato (transported from the New World in the previous era) became a main diet staple for European peasants.


Even as we may debate whether slavery and the slave trade came about because of racism or economic benefit, we may argue about why both ended during this era. From the beginning, as the Atlantic slave trade enriched some Africans and many Europeans, it became a topic of fierce debate in Europe, Africa, and the Americas in the late 18th century. The American and French revolutions stimulated these discussions, since both emphasized liberty, equality, and justice, topics that fed a strong abolitionist movement. Because most slaves were not allowed to learn to read and write, most outspoken abolitionists were free whites in England and North America. However, Africans themselves took up the struggle to abolish slavery and the slave trade, rising in frequent slave revolts in the 18th and 19th centuries that made slavery an expensive and dangerous business. Probably the most famous African spokespersons was Olaudah Equiano, a west African who published an autobiography in 1789 that recounted his experiences as a slave in Africa and the New World. He later gained his freedom, learned to read and write, and became active in the abolitionist movement. Many people read his works, heard him speak, and were influenced to oppose slavery.

Despite the importance of the abolitionist movement, economic forces also contributed to the end of slavery and the slave trade. Plantations and the slave labor that supported them remained in place as long as they were profitable. In the Caribbean, a revolution, led by Toussaint L'Ouverture resulted in the liberation of slaves in Haiti and the creation of the first black free state in the Americas. However, the revolution was so violent that it sparked fear among plantation owners and colonial governments throughout the Caribbean. In the late 18th century, a rapid increase in Caribbean sugar production led to declining prices, and yet prices for slaves remained high and even increased.

Even as plantations experiences these difficulties, profits from the emerging manufacturing industries were increasing, so investors shifted their money to these new endeavors. Investors discovered that wage labor in factories was cheaper than slave labor on plantations because the owners were not responsible for food and shelter. Entrepreneurs began to see Africa as a place to get raw materials for industry, not just slaves.


Most European countries and the United States had abolished the slave trade before the mid-19th century: Britain in 1807, the United States in 1808, France in 1814, the Netherlands in 1817, and Spain in 1845. Ardent abolitionists in Britain pressured the government to send patrol ships to the west coast of Africa to conduct search and seizure operations for ships that violated the ban. The last documented ship that carried slaves on the Middle Passage arrived in Cuba in 1867.


The institution of slavery continued in most places in the Americas long after the slave trade was abolished, with the British abolishing slavery in their colonies in 1833. The French abolished slavery in 1848, the same year that their last king was overthrown by a democratic government. The United States abolished slavery in 1865 when the north won a bitter Civil War that had divided the southern slave-holding states from the northern non-slavery states. The last country to abolish slavery in the Americas was Brazil, where the institution was weakened by a law that allowed slaves to fight in the army in exchange for freedom. Army leaders resisted demands that they capture and return runaway slaves, and slavery was abolished in 1888, without a war.


Various immigration patterns arose to replace the slave trade. Asian and European immigrants came to seek opportunities in the Americas from Canada in the north to Argentina in the south. Some were attracted to discoveries of gold and silver in western North America and Canada, including many who made their way west from the eastern United States. However, European and Asian migrants who became workers in factories, railroad construction sites, and plantations outnumbered those who were gold prospectors.

By the mid 19th century European migrants began crossing the Atlantic to fill the factories in the eastern United States. Increasing rents and indebtedness drove farmers from Ireland, Scotland, Germany and Scandinavia to North America, settling in the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys in search of land. The potato famine forced many Irish peasants to make the journey, and political revolutions caused many Germans to flee the wrath of the government when their causes failed. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most immigrants to North America were from southern and eastern Europe, fleeing famine, poverty, and discrimination in their countries of origin.

While migrants to the United States came to fill jobs in the developing industrial society, those who went to Latin America mostly worked on agricultural plantations. About 4 million Italians came to Argentina in the 1880s and 1890s, and others went to Brazil, where the government paid the voyage over for Italian migrants who came to work on coffee plantations after slavery was abolished. Others came from Asia, with more than 15,000 indentured laborers from China working in sugarcane fields in Cuba during the 19th century. Chinese and Japanese laborers came to Peru where they worked on cotton plantations, in mines, and on railroad lines.


This era saw a basic change in the population structures of industrialized countries. Large families had always been welcome in agricultural societies because the more people a family had, the more land they were able to work. Children's work was generally worth more than it costs to take care of them. However, in the west, including the United States, the birth rate declined to historically low levels in the 19th century. This demographic transition from high birth rates to low reflected the facts that child labor was being replaced by machines and that children were not as useful as they were in agricultural societies. Instead, as life styles changed in urban settings, it became difficult to support large families, both in terms of supporting them with salaries from industrial jobs and in housing them in crowded conditions in the cities. High birth rates continued elsewhere in the world, so the west's percentage of total world population began to slip by 1900 even as its world power peaked.


Wilderness areas in Europe were virtually gone by 1750, with almost every piece of land used by farmers or townspeople. However, the process continued during this era, and deforestation became the most serious problem. Americans transformed their lands even more rapidly as people moved west, clearing forests for farms and then moving on when the soil was depleted. The cultivation of cotton was especially harmful. Planters cut down forests, grew cotton for a few years, moved west, and abandoned the land to scrub pines.

Surprisingly, industrialization actually relieved environmental depletion in Britain because raw materials once grown on British soil; like wool and grain - were replaced by coal and iron found underground. Iron replaced wood in many building structures, including ships, so that deforestation slowed.

The most dramatic environmental changes in industrialized countries occurred in the towns. Never before had towns grown so fast, and major cities formed. London grew from about 500,000 inhabitants in 1700 to more than 2 million by 1850, with the largest population a city had ever had in world history. Cities in the middle industrial belt of Britain, such as Liverpool and Manchester grew rapidly during this period as well. New York City in the United States reached about 600,000 in 1850.


Industrialization also transformed social and gender structures in countries where it developed, although it is not entirely clear as to whether the "gender gap" narrowed or widened. By and large industrialization widened the gap between the rich and the poor by creating opportunities for businessmen to be far richer than the upper classes in an agricultural society ever could be. Although they were free, not forced, laborers, the wages for factory workers were very low, and many suffered as much if not more poverty than they had as rural peasants.


Industrialization offered new opportunities to people with important skills, such as carpentry, metallurgy, and machine operations. Some enterprising people became engineers or opened their own businesses, but for the vast majority of those who left their farming roots to find their fortunes in the cities, life was full of disappointments. Most industrial jobs were boring, repetitive, and poorly paid. Workdays were long with few breaks, and workers performed one simple task over and over with little sense of accomplishment. Unlike even the poorest farmer or craftsman, factory workers had no control over tools, jobs, or working hours. Factory workers could do very little about their predicament until the latter part of the period, when labor unions formed and helped to provoke the moral conscience of some middle class people. Until then, workers who dared to go on strike; like the unmarried girls at the Lowell mills in Massachusetts; they were simply replaced by other workers from the abundant supply of labor.


Because machinery had to be placed in a large, centrally located place, workers had to go to factories to perform their work, a major change in lifestyles from those of agricultural societies. In previous days all family members did most of their work on the farm, which meant that the family stayed together most of the time. Division of labor meant that they did different types of work, mostly split by gender and age, but the endeavor was a collective one. Even in the early days of commercialization, "piece work" was generally done by people at home, and then delivered to the merchant or businessman. Now, people left their homes for hours at a time, often leaving very early and not returning till very late. Usually both husband and wife worked away from home, and for most of this period, so did children. Family life was never the same again.

In the early days of industrialization, the main occupation of working women was domestic servitude. If they had small children, they usually tried to find work they could do at home, such as laundry, sewing, or taking in lodgers. However, even with both parents working, wages were so low that most families found it difficult to make ends meet. Most industrialists encouraged workers to bring their children along with them to the factories because children usually could do the work, too, and they were quite cheap.


A major social change brought about by the Industrial Revolution was the development of a relatively large middle class, or "bourgeoisie" in industrialized countries. This class had been growing in Europe since medieval days when wealth was based on land, and most people were peasants. With the advent of industrialization, wealth was increasingly based on money and success in business enterprises, although the status of inherited titles of nobility based on land ownership remained in place. However, land had never produced such riches as did business enterprises of this era, and so members of the bourgeoisie were the wealthiest people around.

However, most members of the middle class were not wealthy, owning small businesses or serving as managers or administrators in large businesses. They generally had comfortable lifestyles, and many were concerned with respectability, or the demonstration that they were of a higher social class than factory workers were. They valued the hard work, ambition, and individual responsibility that had led to their own success, and many believed that the lower classes only had themselves to blame for their failures. This attitude generally extended not to just the urban poor, but to people who still farmed in rural areas.

The urban poor were often at the mercy of business cycles; swings between economic hard times to recovery and growth. Factory workers were laid off from their jobs during hard times, making their lives even more difficult. With this recurrent unemployment came public behaviors, such as drunkenness and fighting, that appalled the middle class, who stressed sobriety, thrift, industriousness, and responsibility.

Social class distinctions were reinforced by Social Darwinism, a philosophy by Englishman Herbert Spencer. He argued that human society operates by a system of natural selection, whereby individuals and ways of life automatically gravitate to their proper station. According to Social Darwinists, poverty was a "natural condition" for inferior individuals.


Changes in gender roles generally fell along class lines, with relationships between men and women of the middle class being very different from those in the lower classes.


Factory workers often resisted the work discipline and pressures imposed by their middle class bosses. They worked long hours in unfulfilling jobs, but their leisure time interests fed the popularity of two sports: European soccer and American baseball. They also did less respectable things, like socializing at bars and pubs, staging dog or chicken fights, and participating in other activities that middle class men disdained.

Meanwhile, most of their wives were working, most commonly as domestic servants for middle class households, jobs that they usually preferred to factory work. Young women in rural areas often came to cities or suburban areas to work as house servants. They often sent some of their wages home to support their families in the country, and some saved dowry money. Others saved to support ambitions to become clerks or secretaries, jobs increasingly filled by women, but supervised by men.


When production moved outside the home, men who became owners or managers of factories gained status. Industrial work kept the economy moving, and it was valued more than the domestic chores traditionally carried out by women. Men's wages supported the families, since they usually were the ones who made their comfortable life styles possible. The work ethic of the middle class infiltrated leisure time as well. Many were intent on self-improvement, reading books or attending lectures on business or culture. Many factory owners and managers stressed the importance of church attendance for all, hoping that factory workers could be persuaded to adopt middle-class values of respectability.

Middle class women generally did not work outside of the home, partly because men came to see stay-at-home wives as a symbol of their success. What followed was a "cult of domesticity" that justified removing women from the work place. Instead, they filled their lives with the care of children and the operation of their homes. Since most middle-class women had servants, they spent time supervising them, but they also had to do fewer household chores themselves.

Historians disagree in their answers to the question of whether or not gender inequality grew because of industrialization. Gender roles were generally fixed in agricultural societies, and if the lives of working class people in industrial societies are examined, it is difficult to see that any significant changes in the gender gap took place at all. However, middle class gender roles provide the real basis for the argument. On the one hand, some argue that women were forced out of many areas of meaningful work, isolated in their homes to obsess about issues of marginal importance. On the farm, their work was "women's work," but they were an integral part of the central enterprise of their time: agriculture. Their work in raising children was vital to the economy, but industrialization rendered children superfluous as well, whose only role was to grow up safely enough to fill their adult gender-related duties. On the other hand, the "cult of domesticity" included a sort of idolizing of women that made them responsible for moral values and standards. Women were seen as stable and pure, the vision of what kept their men devoted to the tasks of running the economy. Women as standard-setters, then, became the important force in shaping children to value respectability, lead moral lives, and be responsible for their own behaviors. Without women filling this important role, the entire social structure that supported industrialized power would collapse. And who could wish for more power than that?


In 1750 only England and the Netherlands had constitutional monarchies, governments that limited the powers of the king or ruler. All the other kingdoms of Europe, as well as the Muslim Empires and China, practiced absolutism. Absolutist rulers benefited from the tendency for governments to centralize between 1450 and 1750 because it extended the power they had over their subjects. Most of the rulers reinforced their powers by claiming special authority for the supernatural, whether it be the mandate of heaven as practiced in China, or divine right as European kings declared. Between 1750 and 1914, absolute rulers almost everywhere lost power, and the rule of law became a much more important political principle.

One of the most important political concepts to arise from the era was the "nation-state," a union often characterized by a common language, shared historical experiences and institutions, and similar cultural traditions, including religion at both the elite and popular levels. As a result, political loyalties were no longer so determined by one's attitudes toward a particular king or noble but by a more abstract attachment to a "nation."


As the Industrial Revolution began in England, the economic changes were accompanied by demands for political changes that spread to many other areas of the world by the end of the 19th century. Two important forces behind the change were:

  • The influence of the Enlightenment - The 1700s are sometimes referred to as the "Age of Enlightenment," because philosophical and political ideas were begun to seriously question the assumptions of absolute governments. The Enlightenment began in Europe, and was a part of the changes associated with the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, and the Protestant Reformation, all taking place between 1450 and 1750. The Enlightenment invited people to use their "reason" using the same humanistic approach of Renaissance times. People can figure things out, and they can come up with better governments and societies. In the 1600s John Locke wrote that a ruler's authority is based on the will of the people. He also spoke of a social contract that gave subjects the right to overthrow the ruler if he ruled badly. French philosophes, such as Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau spread the new ideas to France, where they began uproar in a land that epitomized absolutism.
  • New wealth of the bourgeoisie - Ongoing commercialization of the economy meant that the middle class grew in size and wealth, but not necessarily in political power. These self-made men questioned the idea that aristocrats alone should hold the highest political offices. Most could read and write, and found Enlightenment philosophy appealing in its questioning of absolute power. They sought political power to match the economic power that they had gained.


A combination of economic, intellectual, and social changes started a wave of revolutions in the late 1700s that continued into the first half of the 19th century. The started in North America and France, and spread into other parts of Europe and to Latin America.


Ironically, the first revolution inspired by the new political thought that originated in England began in the North American colonies and was directed at England. It began when American colonists resisted Britain's attempt to impose new taxes and trade controls on the colonies after the French and Indian War ended in 1763. Many also resented Britain's attempts to control the movement west. "Taxation without representation" turned British political theory on its ear, but it became a major theme as the rebellion spread from Massachusetts throughout the rest of the colonies. Colonial leaders set up a new government and issued the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The British sent forces to put the rebellion down, but the fighting continued for several years until the newly created United States eventually won. The United States Constitution that followed was based on enlightenment principles, with three branches of government that check and balance one another. Although initially only a few had the right to vote and slavery was not abolished, the government became a model for revolutions to come.


A very different situation existed in France. No established nobility existed in the United States, so when independence was achieved, the new nation had no old social and political structure to throw off. In contrast, the Revolution in France was a civil war, a rising against the Ancien Regime, or the old kingdom that had risen over centuries. The king, of course, had absolute power, but the nobility and clergy had many privileges that no one else had. Social classes were divided into three estates: first was the clergy, second the nobility, and the Third Estate was everyone else. On the eve of the Revolution in 1789, about 97% of the population of France was thrown into the Third Estate, although they held only about 5% of the land. They also paid 100% of the taxes.

Part of the problem was that the growing class of the bourgeoisie had no political privileges. They read Enlightenment philosophes, they saw what happened in the American Revolution, and they resented paying all the taxes. Many saw the old political and social structure as out of date and the nobles as silly and vain, undeserving of the privileges they had.

The French Revolution began with King Louis XVI called the Estates-General, or the old parliamentary structure, together for the first time in 160 years. He did so only because the country was in financial crisis brought on by too many wars for power and an extravagant court life at Versailles Palace. Many problems converged to create the Revolution: the nobles' refusal to pay taxes, bourgeoisie resentment of the king, Louis Vic's incompetence, and a series of bad harvests for the peasants. The bourgeoisie seized control of the proceedings and declared the creation of the National Assembly, a legislative body that still exists in France today. They wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, modeled after the American Declaration of Independence, and they set about to write a Constitution for France.

The years after the revolution began were turbulent ones that saw the king beheaded and the government taken over by the Jacobins, a radical group that sought equality through executing those that disagreed with the government. The Reign of Terror lasted for about two years, with thousands of people guillotined and thousands more fleeing the country. The Jacobin leaders themselves were eventually guillotined; the country teetered for several years in disarray, and finally was swept up by Napoleon Bonaparte as he claimed French glory in battle. Democracy did not come easily in France.


Napoleon Bonaparte, of minor nobility from the island of Corsica, rose through the ranks of the French military during a time of chaos. He seized the French Government at a time when no one else could control it. He promised stability and conquest, and by 1812 the French Empire dominated Europe to the borders of Russia. His invasion of Russia was unsuccessful, done in by cold winters, long supply lines, and Tsar Alexander It's burn and retreat method that left French armies without food. Finally, an alliance of European countries led by Britain defeated Napoleon in 1815 at Waterloo in modern day Belgium. Although Napoleon was defeated and exiled, other countries were horrified by what had happened in France: a revolution, the beheading of a king, a terrorizing egalitarian government, and finally a demagogue who attacked all of Europe. To conservative Europe, France was a problem that had to be contained before their ideas and actions spread to the rest of the continent.

The allies that had defeated Napoleon met at Vienna in 1815 to reach a peace settlement that would make further revolutions impossible. The Congress of Vienna was controlled by the representatives of three nations: Britain, Austria, and Russia. Each country wanted something different. The British wanted to destroy the French war machine, Russia wanted to establish an alliance based on Christianity, and Austria wanted a return to absolutism. They reached an agreement based on restoring the balance of power in Europe, or the principle that no one country should ever dominate the others. Rather, the power should be balanced among all the major countries. France actually came out rather well in the proceedings, due in large part to the talents of their representative, Tallyrand. However, the Congress restricted France with these major decisions:

  • Monarchies - including the monarchy in France - were restored in countries that Napoleon had conquered
  • France was "ringed" with strong countries by its borders to keep its military in check.
  • The Concert of Europe was formed, an organization of European states meant to maintain the balance of power.


No matter how the Congress of Vienna tried to stem the tide of revolution, it did not work in the long run. France was to wobble back and forth between monarchy and republican government for thirty more years, and then was ruled by Napoleon III (Bonaparte's nephew) until 1871, when finally a parliamentary government emerged. And other countries in Europe, as well as colonies in Latin America, had heard "the shot heard round the world," and the true impact of the revolutionary political ideas began to be felt.


From North America and France, revolutionary enthusiasm spread throughout the Caribbean and Spanish and Portuguese America. In contrast to the leaders of the War for Independence for the United States, most of the early revolutions in Latin America began with subordinated Amerindians and blacks. Even before the French Revolution, Andean Indians, led by Tupac Amaru, besieged the ancient capital of Cuzco and nearly conquered the Spanish army. The Creole elite responded by breaking the ties to Spain and Portugal, but establishing governments under their control. Freedom, then, was interpreted to mean liberty for the property-owning classes. Only in the French colony of Saint Domingue (Haiti) did slaves carry out a successful insurrection.

The rebellion in 1791 led to several years of civil war in Haiti, even though French abolished slavery in 1793. When Napoleon came to power, he sent an army to tame the forces led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, a former slave. However, Napoleon's army was decimated by guerrilla fighters and yellow fever, and even though Toussaint died in a French jail, Haiti declared its independence in 1804.

Other revolutions in Latin America were led by political and social elites, although some of them had important populist elements.

  • Brazil - Portugal's royal family fled to Brazil when Napoleon's troops stormed the Iberian Peninsula. The presence of the royal family dampened revolutionary fervor, especially since the king instituted reforms in administration, agriculture, and manufacturing. He also established schools, hospitals, and a library. The king returned to Portugal in 1821, after Napoleon's threat was over, leaving Brazil in the hands of his son Pedro. Under pressure from Brazilian elites, Pedro declared Brazil's independence, and he signed a charter establishing a constitutional monarchy that lasted until the late 19th century when Pedro II was overthrown by republicans.
  • Mexico - Father Miguel Hidalgo led Mexico's rebellion that eventually led to independence in 1821. He was a Catholic priest who sympathized with the plight of the Amerindian peasants and was executed for leading a rebellion against the colonial government. The Creole elite then took up the drive for independence that was won under the leadership of Agustin de Iturbide, a conservative military commander. However, Father Hidalgo's cause greatly influenced Mexico's political atmosphere, as his populist ideas were taken up by others who led the people in revolt against the Creoles. Two famous populist leaders were Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa, who like Father Hidalgo were executed by the government. Mexico was not to work out this tension between elite and peasants until well into the 20th century.
  • Spanish South America - Colonial elite - landholders, merchants, and military - also led Spanish colonies in South America in rebellion against Spain. The term "junta" came to be used for these local governments who wanted to overthrow colonial powers. Two junta centers in South America were:

1. Caracas, Venezuela - At first, laborers and slaves did not support this Creole-led junta. However, they were convinced to join the independence movement by Simon de Bolivar, a charismatic military leader with a vision of forging "Gran Columbia," an independent, giant empire in the northern part of South America. He defeated the Spanish, but did not achieve his dream of empire. Instead, regional differences caused the newly independent lands to split into several countries.

2. Buenos Aires, Argentina - Another charismatic military leaders - Jose de San Martin - led armies for independence from the southern part of the continent. His combined Chilean/Argentine forces joined with Bolivar in Peru, where they helped the northern areas to defeat the Spanish. Martin's areas, like those led by Bolivar, also split along regional differences.

All in all, constitutional experiments in North America were more successful than those in South America. Though South Americans gained independence from colonial governments during the 19th century, their governments remained authoritarian and no effective legislatures were created to share the power with political leaders. Why this difference?





Mother country had parliamentary government, so colonial governments had a constitutional model

Mother country governed by absolute monarch; colonial governments had authoritarian model

Colonies had previous experience with popular politics; had their own governments that often operated independently from British control

Colonies had no experience with popular politics; colonial governments led by authoritarian Creoles

Military leaders were popular and sometimes became Presidents (Washington, Jackson), but they did not try to take over the government as military leaders; constitutional principle that military would be subordinate to the government

Had difficulty subduing the power of military leaders; set in place the tradition of military juntas taking over governments

American Revolution occurred in the 1770s; vulnerable new nation emerged at an economically advantageous time, when the world economy was expanding

Latin American Revolutions occurred during the early 1800s, a time when the world economy was contracting, a less advantageous time for new nations

The differences in political backgrounds of the two continents led to some very different consequences. For the United States (and eventually Canada), it meant that relatively democratic governments left entrepreneurs open to the Industrial Revolution, which, after all, started in their mother country. For Latin America, it meant that their governments were less supportive and/or more removed from the economic transformations of the Industrial Revolutions, and stable democratic governments and economic prosperity would be a long time in coming.


The Enlightenment philosophy that inspired revolutions in the United States, France, and Latin America brought about lasting changes in western political ideology, with some people reacting against the chaos that revolutions brought, and others inspired by the values of democracy, liberty, equality, and justice. Three contrasting ideologies may be seen by the early 1800s:

  • Conservatism - People who supported this philosophy at first advocated return to absolute monarchy, but came to accept constitutional monarchy by the mid-1800s. Generally, conservatives disapproved of the revolutions of the era, particularly the French Revolution with all the violence and chaos that it brought.
  • Liberalism - Liberals supported a republican democracy, or a government with an elected legislature who represented the people in political decision-making. These representatives were generally from the elite, but were selected (usually by vote) from a popular base of citizens. Emphasis was generally on liberty or freedom from oppression, rather than on equality.
  • Radicalism - Radicals advocated drastic changes in government and emphasized equality more than liberty. Their philosophies varied, but they were most concerned with narrowing the gap between elites and the general population. The Jacobins during the French Revolution, and Marxism that appeared in the mid 19th century were variations of this ideological family.


The political values supported by revolutions were embraced by some who saw them as applying to all people, including women and former slaves. Values of liberty, equality, and democracy had profound implications for change within societies that had always accepted hierarchical social classes and gender roles. Reform movements sprouted up as different people put different interpretations on what these new political and social values actually meant.

Women's Rights

Advocates of women's rights were particularly active in Britain, France, and North America. Mary Wollstonecraft, an English writer, was one of the first to argue that women possessed all the rights that Locke had granted to men, including education and participation in political life. Many French women assumed that they would be granted equal rights after the revolution. However, it did not bring the right to vote or play major roles in public affairs. Since gender roles did not change in the immediate aftermath of revolution, social reformers pressed for women's rights in North America and Europe. Americans like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in the United States decided to concentrate their efforts on suffrage, or the right to vote. A resolution passed at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, emphasized women's rights to suffrage, as well as to education, professional occupations, and political office. Their movement did not receive popular support, however, until the 20th century, but their activism laid a foundation for large-scale social change later.

The Limits of the Abolitionist Movement

Although slavery was abolished in Europe and North America by the late 19th century, blacks did not realize equality within the time period. Although former slaves were guaranteed the right to vote in the late 1860s in the United States, they were effectively barred from political participation by state and local legislation called Jim Crow laws. Blacks all over the Americas tended to have the least desirable jobs, limited educational opportunities, and lower social status than whites.

Conservative Reactions to Reform

During the late 1800s two systems of related political thought emerged among conservatives to justify inequalities:

  • Scientific racism - This idea system became popular among conservative thinkers in industrialized societies. It used scientific reasoning and evidence to prove its premise that blacks are physiologically and mentally inferior to whites. The theory generally constructed three main "races" in the world - Caucasian, Mongoloid, and Negroid ; and built its arguments that basic differences existed among them that made Negroids inherently inferior to Caucasians. Scientific racism, then, justified the inferior positions that blacks had in the society and the economy.
  • Social Darwinism - This philosophy justified not racial differences, but differences between the rich and the poor. It used Darwin's theory of natural selection (living things that are better adapted to the environment survive, others don't) to explain why some get rich and others remain poor. In the competition for favored positions and bigger shares of wealth, the strong, intelligent, and motivated naturally defeat the weak, less intelligent, and the lazy. So, people who get to the top deserve it, as do the people who remain at the bottom


Another reaction to the revolution in political thought was Marxism, The father of communism is generally acknowledged to be Karl Marx, who first wrote about his interpretation of history and vision for the future in The Communist Manifesto in 1848. He saw capitalism; or the free market; as an economic system that exploited workers and increased the gap between the rich and the poor. He believed that conditions in capitalist countries would eventually become so bad that workers would join together in a Revolution of the Proletariat (workers), and overcome the bourgeoisie, or owners of factories and other means of production. Marx envisioned a new world after the revolution, one in which social class would disappear because ownership of private property would be banned. According to Marx, communism encourages equality and cooperation, and without property to encourage greed and strife, governments would be unnecessary. His theories took root in Europe, but never became the philosophy behind European governments, but it eventually took new forms in early 20th century Russia and China.


In older forms of political organizations, the glue of political unity came from the ruler, whether it is a king, emperor, sultan, or caliph. Political power generally was built on military might, and a ruler controlled the land that he conquered as long as he controlled it. Power was often passed down within one family that based the legitimacy of their rule on principles that held sway over their populations, often some kind of special contact with the spiritual world. The era 1750 to 1914 saw the creation of a new type of political organization - the nation - that survived even if the rulers failed. Whereas nations' political boundaries were still often decided by military victory, the political entity was much broader than control by one person or family. Nations were built on nationalism - the feeling of identity within a common group of people. Of course, these feelings were not new in the history of the world. However, the force of common identity became a basic building block for nations, political forms that still dominate world politics today. Nationalism could be based on common geographical locations, language, religion, or customs, but it is much more complex than that. The main idea is that people see themselves as "Americans" or "Italians" or "Japanese," despite the fact that significant cultural variations may exist within the nation.

Napoleon contributed a great deal to the development of strong nationalism in 19th century Europe. His conquests were done in the name of "France," even though the French monarchy had been deposed. The more he conquered, the more pride people had in being "French." He also stirred up feelings of nationalism within a people that he conquered: "Germans" that could not abide being taken over by the French. In Napoleon's day Germany did not exist as a country yet, but people still thought of themselves as being German. Instead Germans lived in a political entity known as "The Holy Roman Empire." However, the nationalism that Napoleon invoked became the basis for further revolutions, in which people around the world sought to determine their own sovereignty, a principle that Woodrow Wilson called self-determination.


A combination of economic and political transformations in Europe that began in the 1450 to 1750 era converged between 1750 and 1914 to allow the "west" (including the United States and Australia) to dominate the rest of the world. From China to the Muslim states to Africa, virtually all other parts of the world became the "have nots" to the west's "haves." With political and economic dominance came control in cultural and artistic areas as well.


A major political development inspired by growing nationalism was the consolidation of small states into two important new nations:

  • Italy - Before the second half of the 19th century, Italy was a collection of city-states that were only loosely allied with one another. A unification movement was begun in the north by Camillo di Cavour, and in the north by Giuseppe Garibaldi. As states unified one by one, the two leaders joined, and Italy became a unified nation under King Vittore Emmanuele II. The movement was a successful attempt to escape the historical domination of the peninsula by Spain in the south and Austria in the north.
  • Germany - The German Confederation was created by the Congress of Vienna in 1815, but it had been controlled by the Austrian and Prussian Empires. In 1848 major rebellions broke out within the confederation, inspired by liberals who envisioned a German nation ruled by parliamentary government. The revolutions failed, and many liberals fled the country, but they proved to be an excuse for the Prussian army to invade other parts of the Confederation. The Prussian military leader was Otto von Bismarck, who subjugated the rebels and declared the beginning of the German Empire. The government was a constitutional monarchy, with Kaiser Wilhelm I ruling, but for a number of years, Bismarck had control. He provoked three wars; with Denmark, Austria, and France; and appealed to German nationalism to create a strong new nation in the heart of Europe. He pronounced it the "2nd Reich" or ruling era (the 1st was the Holy Roman Empire and the 3rd was set up by Adolph Hitler in the 20th century).

These new nations altered the balance of power in Europe, causing established nations like Britain and France concern that their own power was in danger. Nationalism, then, was spurred on by a renewal of deep-rooted competition that European nations carried to the ends of the earth. They competed with one another through trade, industrial production, and colonization, setting up worldwide empires to bolster their attempts to outdo all the others.


The Russian and Ottoman Empires - two land-based powers in Eurasia - suffered the disadvantages of being neighbors to the rising nations in Europe. Russia had its wins and losses during the era yet managed to retain its power, but the Ottomans were in steep decline during most of the period and on the brink of destruction by 1914.



The Russian Empire turned its attention to the west under the late 17th and early 18th century rule of Peter the Great. His moves to build Russia into a great western empire were reinforced by tsar Catherine the Great in the late 18th century. Although the tension between Slavic traditions and the new western orientation remained, Russia retained its growing reputation as a world power, especially after resisting Napoleon's invasion in 1812. However, Russia in the mid-19th century was a huge, diverse realm that was very difficult to rule from a central location, even with the power granted to an absolute tsar. Its economy remained agriculturally based, with most people as serfs bound to the land that they cultivated.

Russia got into trouble with powerful England and France, when its formidable army attacked the Ottoman Empire to seize access to warm water ports around the Black Sea. Fearful of an upset in European balance of power, England and France supported the Ottomans in defeating Russian troops in the Crimean War (1853-1856). This defeat clearly showed Russian weakness, and it led Tsar Alexander II to attempt reform by emphasizing industrialization, creating elected district assemblies called zemstvos, and emancipating the serfs.

Russia's instability became apparent when Alexander II was assassinated by one of the many revolutionary groups that were growing rapidly within the country. Some of these revolutionary groups were Marxist, and their influence would eventually take over the country in 1917. However, Russia continued on under absolute rule until then, with an intense state-run industrialization program that did modernize Russia by the end of the 19th century.


The Ottoman Empire reached its peak during the 16th and 17th centuries when they won many of their encounters with European kingdoms, although their attack of Europe was stopped with their unsuccessful siege of Vienna. By the early 1800s the Ottoman Empire had many internal problems, including these:

  • Economic problems - Military officers owned most of the land, a fact that created a great deal of resentment from others. Since military were exempt from taxes, the government had problems getting enough revenue to keep the army and government functioning. "Tax farming"; or relying on middlemen to collect taxes; became corrupt, and their demands created resentment from the taxpayers.
  • Problems with the Janissaries - The Janissaries originally were Christian boys from the Balkans that had been recruited by the Ottomans to fight in their armies. By the early 1800s, the Janissaries were well established as military and political leaders. They often operated separately from the weakening sultan's court and gained a reputation form brutality and corruption.
  • Revolts in the Balkans and Greece - At their heart, these revolts were evidence of nationalism; Balkan and Greek people who had loyalties to their ethnic identities, not the Ottoman Empire. Many people in these Christian areas resented Ottoman control, and they were inspired to revolt when janissary governors treated them brutally. The Balkans appealed to Russia for help, which eventually led Russia to invade the Ottoman Empire, sparking the Crimean War. Greece gained its independence, supported in large part by western European nations. Most famously, the English poet Lord Byron, who fought and died in the Greek Revolution, saw the battle as one between western civilization (with roots in Ancient Greece) and the Islamic Ottomans.

When the Russians attack started the Crimean War, the Ottomans were aided by England and France. Even though Russia was defeated, an important result of the war was that the Ottomans found themselves increasingly dependent on western Europe. Even before the war, weak Ottoman rulers tried to restore their power by imposing western reforms, such as trials, rules of law, separation of church and state, and a Magna Carta type document. Young people were sent to France to learn modern military techniques and medicine. Education reforms featured textbooks written in French, and the army adopted French-style uniforms. The nickname that western nations bestowed on the Ottomans reflected their attitudes about the empire: "the sick man of Europe."

The decline of Ottoman power and prosperity had a strong impact on a group of urban and well-educated young men who protested European domination of the empire's political, economic, and cultural life. Inspired by the European nationalist movements, they began to call themselves the Young Turks, and they pushed for a Turkish national state. A constitution was granted in 1876, but was later rescinded under a new sultan. However the Young Turk movement continued on through the era.


Empire building is an old theme in world history. Societies have sought to dominate weaker neighbors as long ago as ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, all the way through to the present. Motivations have been similar - to obtain natural resources, to subdue enemies, to accrue wealth, to win power and glory - but until the rise of the west, most empires have expanded to territories next to their borders. With the combination of sea power, centralized governments, and industrialized economies, European nations set out to build empires all over the world, like none that had been seen before. They were driven by the need to provide raw materials for their industrial capacity, and the types of goods exchanged were determined by that need.


Europeans began building their empires in the western hemisphere in the early 1500s, but by the 1800s, Spain and Portugal were no longer powerful countries, and the largest British colony had become the United States. Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and the Netherlands continued to colonize during this era, but they also devised other ways to spread their empires. In the late 19th century Japan and the United States joined the European nations as an imperialist power.

Types of imperialism in the 1800s included:

  • Colonial imperialism - This form of imperialism is virtual complete takeover of an area, with domination in all areas: economic, political, and socio-cultural. The subjugated area existed to benefit the imperialist power, and had almost no independence of action. In this era, almost all of Africa and southern and southeast Asia were colonized.
  • Economic imperialism - This form of imperialism allowed the area to operate as its own nation, but the imperialist nation almost completely controlled its trade and other business. For example, it may impose regulations that forbid trade with other nations, or imperialist companies may own or have exclusive rights to its natural resources. During this era, China and most of Latin America were subjected to economic imperialism.
  • Political imperialism - Although a country may have had its own government with natives in top political positions, it operated as the imperialist country told it to. The government was sometimes a relatively permanent "puppet government," as happened in late Qing China, and other times the control was temporary, as occurred in the Dominican Republic when the United States ran its government until it got out of debt.
  • Socio-cultural imperialism - The dominating country deliberately tried to change customs, religions and languages in some of the countries. A good example was British India, where English was taught in schools, Indian soldiers dressed British-style, and western trading rules were set up. Generally, the imperialist countries assumed their cultures to be superior, and often times they saw themselves as bringing about improvements in the society.


Between 1450 and 1750 Europeans traded with Africa, but they set up very few colonies. By 1850, only a few colonies existed along African coastlines, such as Algeria (French), the Cape Colony (Great Britain,) and Angola (Portugal). Instead, free African states continued, and after the end of the slave trade in the early 1800s, a lively exchange took place between Europeans and African states, such as the Sokoto Caliphate in western Africa and Egypt and Ethiopia in northeast Africa. They traded manufactured goods for gold, ivory, palm oil (a substance used in soap, candles, and lubricants). Under the leadership of Muhammad Aliž and his grandson Ismailž Egypt grew to be the strongest Muslim state of the 19th century, producing cotton for export and employing western technology and business methods. They benefited from the American Civil War, when cotton shipments from the southern U.S. were cut off, but the Egyptian cotton market collapsed after American shipments resumed after the Civil War was over.

In the latter half of the 19th century, dramatic changes occurred, as Europeans began to explore Africa's interior, and by 1914, virtually the entire continent was colonized by one or the other of the competing European countries. European imperialists built on the information provided by adventurers and missionaries, especially the famous Dr. David Livingstone and Henry Stanley. Livingstone, a Scottish missionary, went to Africa in the 1840s and spent three decades exploring the interior of Africa and setting up missionary outposts all the way from central Africa to the Cape Colony on the southern tip. When people in Britain lost contact with Livingstone, journalist Henry Stanley became a news sensation when he traveled to Africa and found Livingstone. The two sparked interest in Africa and others followed, including the imperialists.

Belgium was one of the first countries to sponsor expeditions to develop commercial activities, first establishing the Congo Free State under the direction of Belgium's King Leopold II, and eventually seizing it as the Belgian Congo. This event set off the Scramble for Africa, in which Britain, France, Germany, and Italy competed with Belgium for land in Africa. The Berlin Conference of 1884-5, in an effort to avoid war, allowed European diplomats to draw lines on maps and carve Africa into colonies. The result was a transformation of political and economic Africa, with virtually all parts of the continent colonized by 1900.


With the Mughal Empire significantly weakened, the French established trading cities along the Indian coast during the 18th century, but the British East India Company had pushed them out by the early 1800s. The British were still following the model of government support for private companies that they had used in colonizing North America during the 19th century. The company forced the Mughals to recognize company rule first over Bengal, and when the old Mughal Empire was defeated in the 18th century by Iranian armies, the British pushed for economic control over more and more areas. Again India fell into the familiar pattern of decentralized independent states ruled by nawabs, native princes who had nominally supported the Mughal emperor, and the company made agreements with them that were economically advantageous to the British.

The British "Raj" - 1818-1857

India was under "company" rule for almost forty years, but they were not actually a British colony during that time because the British East India Company was still private, even though the British government supported it. However, the company administered governmental affairs and initiated social reform that reflected British values. At the same time, they depended on the nawabs to support them, and so they also had to abide by Indian customs and rules as well. The contradictory roles they played eventually erupted in the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857. The Sepoys were Indian Muslims and Hindus who served the British as soldiers in the army that defended the subcontinent. The rebellion took the British by surprise, but they found out that the Indian fury could be traced to a new training technique that the soldiers refused to follow. It required them to put a bullet shell in their mouths that had been greased in either pork or beef fat, with the pork fat being highly offensive to the Muslims and the beef to the Hindu. The British changed the practice, but it was too late because nationalism had reached India, too, and a movement for a country based on Indian identity was beginning. The leaders of the movement would have to wait about 90 years, though, to fulfill their dreams.

British Rule - 1857-1947

The Sepoy Rebellion showed the British government how serious the problems in India were, and they reacted by removing the British East India Company from control and declaring India a British colony. British officials poured into India to keep control of its valuable raw materials for industry and trade, particularly cotton and poppies for opium. They expanded production, built factories in India, and constructed huge railroad and irrigation, and telegraph systems.

Rising Indian Nationalism

With growing industrialization and British controlled trade, a middle class of Indian officials and managers began to rise during the late 1800s. By and large, the British did not allow Indians to own companies or to hold top government positions, but they did provide education for people to fill middle level and professional jobs. Some Indians went to England for higher education, where they absorbed western political values of liberty, equality, and justice, and they began to apply those values to their own situations. For example, the Brahmo Samaj movement, led by Rammouhan Roy, advocated unity for Indians by combining traditional and modern ways. The Indian National Congress was formed in 1885, with the goals of promoting political unity and appointing more Indians into higher positions in the British Civil Service. The Congress was controlled by Hindus, and in 1906 another nationalist group was established for Muslims called the All-India Muslim League. Despite tensions between them, by 1914 both groups were demanding Indian independence from the British.

Were the British merely exploiting Indians for profit, or were they trying to "do the right thing" for India? Certainly the profit motive was strong, especially apparent in the takeover in the early years by the British East India Company, a profit-driven company. However, many British people of the time insisted that a major goals for the government was to improve Indian lives through modernization of their country. Perhaps the most famous defense for British motives was The White Man's Burden, a poem by Rudyard Kipling that promotes the vision of a British world leadership idealistically improving the lives of people in the areas they dominated. Of course, the Indian National Congress and the All-India Muslim League did not agree.


After the long and prosperous rules of Kangxi and Qianlong in the 17th and 18th centuries, problems of the Qing Dynasty began to mount during the early 19th century. It suffered from many old land-based ailments, such as long borders to defend and the challenge of keeping transportation and communication routes operating, but they also faced other serious issues. The Manchu, rulers of the Qing dynasty, were originally a northern group that conquered the Han Chinese under Ming rule. Han Chinese, as they did under Mongol rule, pushed for restoration of rule to the natives. The dynasty also began to experience significant revolts from minorities, and the government, under an increasingly corrupt line of rulers, was not able to deal with them properly. As the Chinese dynastic cycle was clearly going into decline, Europeans sensed the problems, and began to push for trading rights that China had been reluctant to grant in earlier times.

The Opium Wars (1839-1842)

In 1759 Emperor Qianlong had restricted European commercial presence to Guangzhou, a port in the southeastern part of China. There the trade was very much supervised by Chinese under the cohong system, with specially licensed Chinese firms operating under government set prices. Trade with Europeans was also restricted by the fact that Europeans had very little that the Chinese wanted to buy, even though the reverse was far from true. So the British East India Company, using Turkish and Persian expertise) grew opium in India and shipped it to China. As a result, trade boomed, especially once the Chinese developed addictions to the drug. The weak Qing government failed to act, even after some Chinese officials began to support the trade by accepting bribes. In 1838, with about 40,000 chests of opium coming into Guangzhou that year, the government finally tried to stop it.

The Opium Wars began after the Qing refused to listen to British protests of the trade ban. The British sent well-armed infantry and gunboats to attack first Chinese coastal villages, and eventually towns along the Grant Canal. The British used the Canal to reach inland areas, fought the ill-equipped villagers all the way to the Yellow River, when the Qing surrendered. Although the British did not take over the government, they forced the Qing to sign a treaty allowing the trade.

The Unequal Treaties

The Treaty of Nanjing, signed by the Chinese after the Opium Wars, was oriented toward trade. The Chinese agreed to allow the trade of opium and open other ports to exclusive trade with Britain. Beyond that, it gave the British control of Hong Kong (near Guangzhou), and it released Korea, Vietnam, and Burma from Chinese control. This was the first of many unequal treaties signed by Asians with European nations, and they eventually led to "spheres of influence." China was divided up into trading spheres, giving each competing European nation exclusive trading rights in a particular areas. By the early 20th century, virtually all of China was split into these areas, and the Qing government was virtually powerless.

The Taiping Rebellion - 1850-1864

The Qing Dynasty was significantly weakened by the Taiping Rebellion, a revolt led by Hong Xiuquan, a village schoolteacher who hated the Manchus as foreigners. He gathered support among poor and unhappy farmers, and under his charismatic leadership, his armies captured the city of Nanjing as their capital, and came very close to toppling the government in Beijing. Hong was an unusual leader, believing that he was the younger brother of Jesus, and advocating abolition of private property and equality for women. The Chinese government finally ended the civil war, with a great deal of help from the Europeans, but the cost to the country was about 20-30 million killed in this 14-year struggle.

Although it is difficult to see the Taiping Rebellion as nationalism, its leader's ideas were similar in many ways to the radical political movements in the west. Chinese nationalism was more apparent in the 1900 Boxer Rebellion, in which a group called the Boxers led an army against the Qing with the express purpose of recovering "China for the Chinese." The group fed on their efforts to rid the country of European interests, and even though the rebellion was unsuccessful, the Boxers laid the foundations for the 1911 Chinese Revolution that finally ended the Qing Dynasty.


By the late 1800s, two non-European nations- the United States and Japan; were rising to power through industrialization and imperialism. Both were destined to become important world powers in the 20th century.

The United States

As industrialization enriched and empowered the United States in the late 19th century, the country also began to experiment with imperialism. It began with the purchase of Alaska from Russia, and followed with a coup of the native government in Hawaii, a plot sponsored by American planters and growers in the Hawaiian Islands. Both Alaska and Hawaii became territories, and although many questioned the wisdom of the Alaska purchase, the Hawaii takeover clearly had an economic motive.

After a quarrel over Cuban independence, the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish American War in 1898, a fairly easy task since Spain was long past the peak of her colonial power. The peace treaty gave the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and the Pacific island of Guan to the United States as protectorates, as well as considerable economic control of Cuba. To keep their new empire intact, President Theodore Roosevelt advocated the building of a powerful American navy, and the United States sponsored the building of the Panama Canal to allow the new Great White Fleet access to both east and west coasts of the country.


United States sea captain Matthew Perry may take some credit for the destruction of the Tokugawa Shogunate. By the mid 19th century the Japanese were most concerned about European incursions in China, and so they kept up their guard against Europeans trying to invade their islands from the south. They were most surprised when Perry arrived from the east with his demands for opening of Japan to trade with the United States through an "unequal treaty." That was all the daimyos needed to joint together in an insurrection against the Tokugawa, who indeed signed such a treaty. To legitimize their cause, the daimyos fought in the name of the emperor, and when they won, they declared that the legitimate government had been "restored." The Meiji Restoration took advantage of the fact that their geography made them less strategically important than the Chinese, so that the Europeans and Americans tended to leave them alone. They were left to their own devices - to create a remarkable state that built the foundations for Japan as a world power.

The Meiji (meaning "enlightened rule") claimed to have ended centuries of shogun-dominated governments that made the emperor totally powerless. They mystified and revered the position of the emperor, who became a very important symbol for Japanese unity. However, the new state did not give the emperor any real power, either. Japanese nationalism was built on the mysticism of the emperor, anxiety over the foreign threat, and an amazing transformation of Japan's military, economy, and government. The country was ruled by oligarchs, a small group of leaders who together directed the state. They borrowed heavily from the west to industrialize their country and to build a centralized, strong military. They gradually but systematically dissolved the daimyo and samurai classes, and they placed a great deal of emphasis on building a strong education system.

The era from 1750-1914 was clearly one of growing European power and domination of the globe. Industrialization created unprecedented wealth, and new western political ideas spawned strong, centralized states that directed empires around the world. However, the new political ideas encouraged nationalism, which on the one hand strengthened the industrialized countries, but on the other hand caused the people that they dominated to resent their control. The potential for worldwide power and riches also intensified the conflict and competition that had long existed among European states. In 1914 these conflicts came to the surface and erupted into a Great War that ushered in the new, very different era of the 20th century.