Scientific Revolution to Political Change- absolutism and Enlightenment to Revolution (1500-1800)

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Scientific Revolution to Political Change- Absolutism and Enlightenment to Revolution (1500-1800)

I. Scientific Revolution- CH. 22 Section 1

A. Background
The Scientific Revolution changed the way people thought about the physical world around them.  The same spirit of inquiry that fueled the Renaissance, led scientists to question traditional beliefs about the workings of the universe.  The most prominent scientists of this time include, Copernicus, Galileo, and Isaac Newton.

B. The Scientific Method
The basis for the Scientific Revolution was the Scientific Method.  The scientific method uses observation and experimentation to explain theories on the workings of the universe. This process removed blind adherence to tradition from science, and allowed scientists to logically find answers through the use of reason.  This method of research is the basis for modern science.

1. Read pg. 625 to list the four major steps to this method.-

C. Scientists
Copernicus: Nicolaus Copernicus developed the heliocentric model of the universe.  This states that the sun is the center, and that the earth revolves around it.  Despite his calculations, many scholars disagree with his theories and continue to believe in the geocentric model proposed by the ancient Greek Ptolemy 1500 years earlier.

Galileo: Galileo continues Copernicus' work by observing the skies with a homemade telescope.  Although he was able to prove Copernicus correct, his work was rejected by the Church (during his Inquisition) and he was forced to recant (take back) or face execution. He recanted and spent his life under house arrest.

Newton: Isaac Newton built upon the earlier work of Copernicus and Galileo and used mathematics to describe gravity as the force that keeps planets revolving around the sun.  He also explained that this same force is what causes objects to fall to earth.

2. Highlight and study the following terms: (descriptions and significance): Scientific Method, heliocentric model, Copernicus, geocentric model, Galileo, Newton

D. Effects
The Scientific Revolution had far reaching effects.  Besides changing the way people thought about the universe, the use of the Scientific Method resulted in discoveries in medicine, physics, and biology.  Applied to the study of government, the scientific revolution inspired the Enlightenment- an attempt to find the laws that governed politics and society.

  1. The Enlightenment
    Another result of the Scientific Revolution was the Enlightenment.  The Enlightenment changed the way people lived as political and social scholars began to question the workings of society and government, while rejecting traditional ideas.  While the Scientific Revolution focused on the physical world, the Enlightenment attempted to explain the purpose of government, and describe the best form of it.  The most influential Enlightenment thinkers were Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Voltaire, Baron de Montesquieu, and Jean Jacques Rousseau.

A. 2 Views of Government: Absolutism vs. Limited Government

3. Read pg. 594 about the rise of Absolutism in Europe. What did absolute monarchs want? What was their goal? Explain the theory of “divine right”?

4. Read the short section on pg. 595 about the growing power of monarchs in Europe. Identify four conditions explaining the growth of power amongst monarchs.

B. Case Study: Absolutism in France:

Religious wars between Catholics and Protestants tore France apart in the late 1500s. In the 1640s, under Louis XIV, who assumed absolute power with the help of Cardinal Richelieu, France became the most powerful state in Europe. Louis, known as "The Sun King," ruled for 72 years. His claim to power was furthered by Jacques Bousset, who argued that Louis was god's representative here on earth.

In Russia, Peter the Great used autocratic methods to modernize Russia, pushing through social and economic reforms and importing western technology. Later, Catherine the Great achieved the Russian dream of a warm-water port on the Black Sea by waging war against the Ottoman Empire.

5. Look at the picture on pg. 588- Read the three bullet points. What might people gain from having King Louis on the throne? Reading the caption at the top of the page- what did Louis’s desire to gain land for France cost him? Why might this be a problem?

6. Look at the picture on pg. 600- What is pictured? Read the captions under each picture. Which stands out as the most impressive fact?

7. In contrast to the rise of absolute rulers in Europe stood the example of limited government in England. Drawing upon review- what is the Magna Carta and how did it attempt to thwart the rise of a monarchy with absolute power?

C. Enlightenment Thinkers
Opposing the ideas of absolute government came the notion of limited government. Read what these famous philosophers have said about the proper role of government in the lives of individuals. Descartes: Rene Descartes was a French intellectual who challenged traditional ideas.  He said that human reason was capable of discovering and explaining the laws of nature and man.  The idea of human reason being superior to tradition led to the beginning of the Enlightenment, a time of political awakening that became an intellectual revolution in government.

Hobbes: Thomas Hobbes based his theories on government on his belief that man was basically greedy, selfish, and cruelIn his book, Leviathan, Hobbes states that life would be a state of constant warfare without a strong government to control man's natural impulses. He believed  people would enter into aSocial Contract” to escape from this.  In the Social Contract, people would exchange most of their freedoms for the safety of organized society.  Once people entered into this contract, there was no release.  Hobbes did not believe in revolutions, and supported the idea of absolute monarchs.

Locke: John Locke also based his theories on his assessment of human nature.  However, Locke believed that people could be reasonable and moral.  In his book, Two Treatises of Government, Locke explained that all men have Natural Rights, which are Life, Liberty, and Property, and that the purpose of government was to protect these rights.  Furthermore, Locke states that if government does not protect these rights, and becomes bad for the people, then they have a right to revolution.  Locke supported a limited government that protected people's natural rights.

Montesquieu: Baron de Montesquieu was an Enlightenment thinker from France who wrote a book called, The Spirit of the Laws in 1748.  In his book, Montesquieu describes what he considers to be the best government.  He states that government should divide itself according to its powers, creating a Judicial, Legislative, and Executive branch. Montesquieu explained that under this system each branch would Check and Balance the others, which would help protect the people's liberty.  The ideas of Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances can be seen in the government of the United States.

Voltaire: was a French intellectual who wrote and lectured about freedom of speech.  Voltaire is best known for saying, "I do not agree with a word that you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."  He believed that freedom of speech was the best weapon against bad government.  He also spoke out against the corruption of the French government, and the intolerance of the Catholic Church.

Rousseau: Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote a book called, The Social Contract, where he stated that people were basically good, and that society, and its unequal distribution of wealth, were the cause of most problems.  Rousseau believed that government should be run according to the will of the majority, which he called the General Will.  He claimed that the General Will would always act in the best interest of the people.

  1. Highlight and study the philosophers, their body of works and be able to recognize a summary of their philosophies: Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Baron Montesquieu, and Voltaire

  2. Terms to study: social contract, natural rights, consent by the governed, separation of powers, checks and balances

Writer / Works

Enlightenment Ideals Expressed

Example(s) in US Government

John Locke
Two Treatises on Government (1690)

- Social Contract: This notion held that an unwritten contract or agreement existed between the people and their rulers, by which the people allowed the government to rule and in exchange the government protected the natural rights of the people. Furthermore if the government fails to protect these rights the people can replace that government with a new system.

- Natural Rights: Natural rights are believed to be the rights all people are born with and that are to be protected, Locke expressed these as "life, liberty and property".

- Consent of the governed: Locke reasoned that to be legitimate a government had to rule with the consent of the people to be governed.

- The American Revolution is an exercise in ending the social contract. It was reasoned by colonial thinkers such as Thomas Paine (in his influential work Common Sense) that King George III had failed to protect the rights of colonists and as such a revolution was justified.

- The notion of natural rights can be directly traced to the language used in the Declaration of Independence, which contains reference to inalienable rights such as "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness".

- In American democracy the consent of the governed is expressed by voting for the politicians who wield power. This idea is also expressed by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence.

Baron de Montesquieu
The Spirit of Laws (1748)

- Separation of Powers: Montesquieu believed that governments functioned best when the powers of government were not concentrated into the hands of one person or group. This was a direct reaction to the monarchies and nobility in Europe that concentrated absolute power into the hands of only a few.

- Checks and balances: The idea of separating power is further developed by not only dividing powers, but allowing the various parts of government the ability to oversee and limit the actions of the others.

- Within the US Federal Government, there are three branches each with unique powers and responsibilities, the Executive Branch (the President and the agencies of government which run government and enforce the laws), the Legislative Branch (Congress which creates law) and the Judicial Branch (Supreme Court and lower federal courts which interpret laws and actions).

- Checking and balancing is a key component to the separation of powers within the US Federal Government, keeping each branch within its defined roles through oversight by the other two branches. For example, the President may veto laws passed by the US Congress, the Congress impeach the President (removal from office) and the Supreme Court can declare unconstitutional a law of Congress or an action of the President.

Jean Rousseau
The Social Contract (1762)

- Social Contract: While the concept of the Social Contract was first proposed by John Locke, the French thinker Rousseau further developed the concept in his work of the same name. Rousseau went further that Locke in defining and defending the ability of the people to replace the government by forcible action if necessary.

- It is clear that the American Revolution was a forcible, violent action taken by the colonists in reaction to the English violation of the social contract as defined by the writers of the Enlightenment. The French Revolution a short time later would be equally influenced by the writings of Rousseau and the example of the American Revolution.

C. Impact
Enlightenment ideas helped to stimulate people's sense of individualism, and the basic belief in equal rights.  This in turn led to the Glorious Revolution is Britain, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Latin American Revolutions. Some of these revolutions resulted in government based upon the ideas of the Enlightenment such as, Great Britain and the United States.

Elsewhere, a few monarchs retained absolute control of their countries while also enacting reform based on Enlightenment ideas.  These monarchs are called Enlightened Despots.  In Austria, Maria Teresa and her son Joseph II both introduced reforms based on Enlightenment ideas.  They reduced the tax load on the peasants, provided free education, and ended censorship in their empire.  In Russia, Catherine the Great introduced similar reforms.  She enacted laws for religious toleration and free education, and also sought the advice of nobles and peasants in the running of government. However, these reforms seldom outlived the monarchs who had enacted them.

  1. Case Study: Influence of the Enlightenment on the American Revolution

Locke declared that all men are born with the natural rights of "life, liberty and property" and no government can revoke these rights. Locke maintained that citizens grant governments the power to rule, in order to protect their natural rights. When a government fails to protect rights and consent is revoked, the government can be changed or replaced with a revolution. Jean Rousseau developed the idea of the social contract, based on the previous ideas of Locke. It held that a social contract existed between government and the people. It further stated that when government broke the contract by failing to serve the will of the people, a revolution was justified, supporting the right to revolution asserted by Locke. Baron de Montesquieu was an enlightenment philosopher who wrote of the benefits of dividing power in a government among more than one branch.

Thomas Jefferson and the founding fathers borrowed many of these ideas when crafting the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (during the American Revolution). Natural Rights appear in the declaration (of Independence) as "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". The notion of replacing a government that fails to maintain consent is cited in the Declaration of Independence as justification for the American Revolution against the English. Finally, separation of powers is integrated into US government along the three branch system and protected by the system of checks and balances.

  1. Go to page 708 in your textbook: List the reasons why the Americans waged a war of Independence from Britain?




As children of England, the colonies in America had the benefit of knowing a democratic form of government. In 1776, the American colonies declared their independence from England based on many real and perceived wrongs that they had suffered. The success of the American Revolution and its guiding principles was a major inspiration of the French Revolution in 1789, and the Latin American Revolutions of the 1790s and early 1800s. Proof that foreign rule and slave chains could be thrown off was extremely encouraging to the mixed-blood inhabitants of the Caribbean islands, and Latin America.

  1. From the above paragraph- Which events did the American Revolution inspire?

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