Questions of periodization


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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

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