Impact of Enlightenment Thoughts on the Atlantic Revolution – DBQ

Impact of Enlightenment Thoughts on the Atlantic Revolution

The Enlightenment ideals produced during the period from the 18th century to the 19th century affected the people, usually of lower class, in devastating conditions in order to create numerous reforms and revolutions. However, due to these reforms, conservative ideas started to appear to check on the social and political transformations.

Analyzing the status of the Atlantic countries before the revolution it is clear that there were not much traits of ideas similar to the thought processes produced during the enlightenment. Document 2 explains the absence of enlightenment ideas before the Atlantic revolution by clearly showing that the monarch of the state, Louis the XVI, both restricts the right of people to express and say in public and also justifies himself, the individual, to be the absolute power that decides the rights and the wrongs. To add on, he shows numerous traits of absolutism oppressing and restricting the rights of the peasant class by extensively claiming the title of guarantor of respective rights. These show how enlightenment ideas such as the individual natural rights are not present. Considering the document’s point of view, this document was written in governmental power’s point of view after several riots and uprisings. However, considering the time period that this document was written, it shows that even though there were uprisings, the prior ones lacked in its philosophy thus not carrying enough significance to the governmental power that the monarch thought it would be fine to oppress people not compensate with them of what they needed. This led to future uprisings which did support their causes through ideas that appeared during the enlightenment movement, contributing directly to the collapse of royal authorities. Furthermore, document 4 shows that slaves were oppressed in their rights more extensively. Considering article 2, it is clear that the slave’s right to freedom of religion has been oppressed. To add on, the amount of food to be given to slave as their weekly ration specified in article 22 is insufficient for a grown up human being to survive for a week considering the hard labor they have to complete in order to eat them. Furthermore, article 59 also shows how only free men were allowed to enjoy not only the fruits of labor but also the natural rights and additional benefits granted by the government. To consider the document’s view point, this document is a law code written and maintained by the central government in France, but applied in Saint Domingue, across the Atlantic Ocean. To add on, because of the fact that both legislative and executive branch are very far from where it is actually needed, chances of this law code perverting to favor the minority of higher social and economic status, eventually degrading the life of the slaves were very likely. Along with the documents mentioned above, the Stamp Act passed by the British Parliament on its Colonies in North America will demonstrate the social and political situation of the nations before its revolution through ideas of enlightenment in a different dimension from the previous documents. Stamp Act shows how British Colonies in America, as the leaders of Atlantic Revolution came into being through describing the tense and restricted trade and economic situation they were in before fighting for their liberty. This restriction eventually triggered the revolution to happen. To add on, similar to document 4, the Stamp Act being a legal document passed by the British Parliament, across the Atlantic Ocean, shows how these restrictions too might have been heavier than what it is mentioned. These factors emphasize the terrible condition they were in before using Enlightenment thoughts to revolutionize the society. Through the documents mentioned above, it is clearly shown that situation before the revolution was very unfavorable to the majority who were oppressed by the minority monopolizing wealth and power. To add on, the ideas produced during the enlightenment such as the idea of natural rights or popular sovereignty is clearly not very well spread throughout the Atlantic regions.

As the enlightenment ideas spread, the unprivileged majorities took up different forms of revolution in order to claim their basic rights, life and liberty. Document 1 directly shows people’s expression of their pursuit of those rights. Document 1 clearly states that people do deserve rights from their birth and the purpose of the government is to protect them. The document not only states but also emphasizes the fact that the rights are extremely individualistic and is given from nature. To add on, document 1 expands to say that it is the people’s right and also their duty to abolish the government that has failed to reinforce the rights and also to institute a new government that will support those rights for the people. These ideas supposed in the document show great traits of enlightenment ideas such as natural rights. This document being a legal document of declaration, the perspective of this document shows how enlightenment ideas were not only ideals pursued by people informally but also philosophies that made the foundation of a nation. Furthermore, these ideas also took forms of violent revolts. Document 7 clearly states that there will be a violent revolt and the revolt will not stop unless the people are satisfied. To add on, it also states that the cause of this violent reform is for the liberty of the people. This does show how the enlightenment ideals such as right to liberty impact the people in more extreme ways. Considering the document’s perspective, the fact that document is presumed to be written by or if not, influenced by the leader of the slave revolt, Toussaint L’ Ouverture, emphasizes the desire for liberty in the first person’s shoe and also suggests that this document, with much influence, would have motivated several other revolts contributing to the spread and further impact of enlightenment ideas. To further develop the impact, the enlightenment ideas started to form different forms of government from violent revolts. Document 10 states that people under oppression will continue to fight for their liberty even in violent terms. However, the conclusion of the document states that the fighting should not end just as a revolt but should finish as a formation of a new government. To add on, even though he emphasizes the role of final government to control the revolution he does not specify its type; except for the fact that it has to be liberal, thus opening its format so that the formation of it is a very fast process. This shows how enlightenment ideas of liberty could be pursued with any type of government instituted by the people. Analyzing the perspective of this document, Simon Boulivar as the leader of the revolt and the head of revolution could have easily overtaken the government like Robespierre of France. However, his continuous pursuit of common goal of the nation shows how enlightenment ideals expanded to create nationalistic ideas in order to pose a different dimension of national development. Through the documents mentioned above, it is clear that enlightenment thoughts not only influenced people to revolt against the existing power to claim their basic rights but also developed those thoughts into action and finally into ideas such as nationalism that played an important role in thrusting the development into its next step.

Not only did people pursue basic rights but after liberty was stabilized, people started to claim rights to benefit themselves and to raise their quality of life. Document 3 is a direct example of pursuit of expanded rights. It not only demands for basic rights such as liberty and resistance to oppression also present in earlier documents but also contains rights to property, security and most importantly, right to exercise authority as the source of sovereignty. To analyze the document’s perspective in a bigger historical context, document 3 also shows the process in which ideal rights in previous documents come to reality. In document 1, it has been clearly stated that it is the right of the people to abolish the government if it fails to protect the individual’s rights. However, Declaration of Independence was written in response to the oppressive colonial government, thus it can be seen that the right to abolishment of government wasn’t in full activation. Document 3, on the other hand, was declared in response to oppressive French Government. This shows that because the nation was free of external oppression, unlike the examples discussed above, people were able to declare rights on their own government and ask for more rights. To add on, The Constitution of these United States of America of 1787 along with The Mexican Constitution of 1824 will further support the argument by demonstrating other ways in which different parts of the Atlantic Ocean advance their life style through acquiring additional rights. The Constitution of these United States of America of 1787 shows how people of the United States were guaranteed luxuries such as freedom of press, right to freely assemble for various purposes, and finally more active participation in politics. Furthermore, it can be observed that even slaves did have a voice in government too. Analyzing its point of view, since the document is a legal law code, it can be easily drawn out that the government too started to get influenced by enlightenment ideas such as popular sovereignty thus trying to work in favor of the citizen. To add on, The Mexican Constitution of 1824 clearly shows popular enlightenment ideas regarding politics such as division of government. To expand on previous rights, the document also guarantees higher quality education to first develop even more merit based system of government and second to develop scientific technologies in order to increase efficiency and grow more competitive to other European countries economically and technically. Similar to the Constitution of the United States of America of 1787, this document too is a legal law code showing greater care that the central government imposes on the people in order to earn their favor in the system of popular sovereignty. Through the documents mentioned above, it is clearly shown that people participating and leading the Atlantic Revolution not only borrows the enlightenment theories but also uses them and combines them with their situations to ask the central power for more luxury that they could enjoy.

However, as enlightenment ideals influenced people to rise and make changes for a better cause, many people were also influenced in another way. People who opposed the revolutionary idea formed the conservative party to suppress the revolution and try to return to monarchal structure. Document 5 explains one way in which conservatism rose. The document says that even though colonies are a part of the Empire and are encouraged to not only enjoy their rights but also the benefits of the Empire, the colonists were not granted any rights specified in the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen” for they are not included in the constitution. To add on, it assures that the slave trade will remain active and whoever rises against the government or the higher classed colonists will be considered traitor, further oppressing them of their enlightenment ideals of freedom. To analyze the document further, this document was written by the French Government as soon as Mulattoes in their colony started to develop arguments to claim right and eventually abolish the existing government for a new one. This shows how conservatism was used as a tool to control the growing revolutions. To add on, Document 6 shows how the government will remain as it is, continuing to use slaves, and will not grant any rights to the slaves showing traits of conservative ideas. Analyzing the document’s point of view, the fact that this document was created right after the execution of the mulatto leader who tried to claim more rights for his own race shows that even after the influence of enlightenment ideas, the government will not grant rights to anybody stopping the revolution to its halt. Furthermore, document 8 shows how the US president Thomas Jefferson tried to stop Haitian revolution from negatively influencing the people of the United States. To add on, this shows that as a governor of a neighboring country of a revolutionizing country, it would have been an inevitable decision to try and ban the revolution from happening in order to keep order in your own country. Thus, to these leaders, enlightenment ideas would have been a big threat thus trying to oppose it. Similar to document 8, document 9 shows how slave owners tried to stop the spreading of the thoughts of rebellion and furthermore, enlightenment ideas. To add on, this document also shows the pressure that revolution has imposed not only to the leader ruling the rebellious regions but also to the leaders of neighboring regions. These two documents show how political or economic minorities ruling the subjects of potential rebellion would have turned their heads towards conservatism than the enlightenment. However, since this turn away from the enlightenment is caused by major revolutions, it can be easily said that even the increase of conservatism is the aftermath of the spread of enlightenment thoughts.

To conclude, the enlightenment ideas were a great influence on the Atlantic society that originally was portrayed to be monarchal and very hierarchal. However, those newly evolving theories not only created new nations liberating from other powers but it also gave chance for numerous people to earn rights and raise their quality of life. However, as more people tried to pursue the ideals, the minorities in control of power started to oppose the enlightenment ideas eventually creating an everlasting conflict between the conservatives and the liberals.


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