ENLIGHTMENT AND THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE
The XVIII century characterized for being the period of transition between the
early modern age and the modern age. However during this period the society
continued to be divided in 3 estates that were like close boxes that you couldn’t leave:
1. The church was divided into the high church (cardinals, bishops and abbots)
and the Low Church (priests, monks…)
2. Nobility was also divided into high nobility (the royal family) and the low
nobility (lord farmers)
3. The third estate was the most confusing estate as it was formed by everyone
who did not belong to the previous estates. It was formed by:
The middle class, also known as the bourgeoisie (merchants,
Lower class (working people)
When the king needed counsel he sent for the representatives of each estate.
However there was the same amount of representatives for each estate although the
third estate was the most numerous. So the third estate lost all the voting against the
nobility and the church. The bourgeoisie wanted to have a say in government and this
was the reason why movement such as the Enlightenment were created.
The enlightenment was an intellectual movement who wanted to use reason,
science and education to combat ignorance and reform society. They criticized the
structure of the ancient regime and wanted to promote social progress.
They saw reason as the only real source of knowledge so beliefs and dogma
were not considered rational. Learning and teaching were considered essential and
equality and liberty had to be the key elements of society so laws had to be the same
for all the estates.
All these ideas were spread through newspapers, newspapers and through
schools. Moreover enlightenment thinkers meet together in salons and discussed their
ideas. In Spain also societies were created known as sociedadeseconomicas de amigos
delpais or such as the Royal Botanic Gardens. However in Spain these ideas
encountered resistance. The most important representatives of Enlightenment in
Spain were Jovellanos and the Conde de Floridablanca.
It all lead to changes in science, economy, society and politics.
Science evolved from the science of middle Ages to modern science. During the
Middle ages science was based on ideas from the Greeks, was not based on
experimentation and science was bounded to religion and the bible. However during
the 16th century a new movement of science emerged: Empiricism. A theory that
asserts that knowledge arises from experience and evidence.
The most important scientist were Copernicus, Galileo, Johannes Kepler who
discovered that orbitals were elliptical and Isaac Newton who developed the theory of
gravity and that light was formed by colors.
The best example of the fight between Ancient science and modern science
was the fight between the geocentric model and the heliocentric. The geocentric
model established that the Earth was the center of the model and this theory was
believed by the church. However the Heliocentric theory established that the sun was
the center of the universe; this theory was established by Copernicus and proved by
Galileo with his telescope in the year 1632. For this he was tried by the inquisition.
All this knowledge was summarized in a book called the Encyclopedia wrote by
D’Alembert and Diderot.
Economy was based on industry and commerce although a group of
intellectuals called the Physiocrats argued that agriculture was the true source of
wealth, they rejected mercantilism and though that the state should not interfere in
The bourgeoisie became very powerful and rich. However they did not have
any political power and they suffered the inequalities of law. This led to the French
In politics enlightenment thinkers proposed measures to limit the monarch’s
Montesquieu: argued for the separation of powers. This mean that the
legislative, the executive and the judicial powers should be separated the one
from the other.
Voltaire: favored parliamentary monarchies.
Rousseau: believed in popular sovereignty.
The result was that absolute monarchs introduced social reforms to improve their
subjects’ quality of life. However they did not allow people to participate in choosing
the government in what we know as enlightened despotism.
Enlightenment despotism was a mixture of an absolute monarchy with
enlightenment ideas. The king thought that he was the father of the nation so he did
what was possible to take care of his subjects but he didn’t allow them to have a say in
politics. So their motto was:
“Everything for the people, nothing by the people”
What they did was to create centralize governments to implement their policies.
Also they appointed enlightenment thinkers as ministers and to avoid challenges they
tried to make changes peacefully. They modernized the army, and they promoted
agriculture, industry, education and culture.
The most important monarchs were Catherine of Russia, Joseph II of Austria,
Frederick II of Prussia and Carlos III. However this system did not succeed as it
maintained the privileges of the estates.
One of the most important enlightenment victories was the war of
Independence in North America (1756-1763). In this war the 13 British colonies in
North America fought against Britain for Independence. These colonies were very
important for Britain as they were places where surplus of people and goods were
sent. Moreover they were places that supplied raw materials such as tobacco or tea.
Colonist were discontent with Britain because of taxation and because they did
not have representation in the English parliament.
“No taxation without representation”
Moreover they were not allowed to cross the Appalachian Mountains and go to
the fertile lands beneath them. Also they were not allowed to import or export
products that were not from the British so the prices were very high.
One day colonist dressed as natives entered a tea ship and threw the tea to the
sea in what is known as the Boston Tea Party in 1773 and which was the beginning of
the revolution. The 4 of July of 1776 colonist leaders met in Philadelphia where they
signed the declaration of Independence. It said that Americans had the right to life,
liberty and happiness.
Finally in 1781 the British surrounded and in 1783 the peace of Versailles was
signed. America turned into a Republic and created a congress and George Washington
became the first president of the United States. Moreover the colonists started to
expand until they reached the Pacific.
The British loss the war because the colonist believed in their cause, the
Atlantic ocean separated the British from England, Rebels were supported by France
and Spain and Rebels fought the war of guerillas; a type of war that the English were
not used to.