The Age of the Democratic Revolution

The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800

R. R. PALMER
With a new foreword by David Armitage
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: REV - Revised
Pages: 800
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hhrg5
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  • Book Info
    The Age of the Democratic Revolution
    Book Description:

    For the Western world, the period from 1760 to 1800 was the great revolutionary era in which the outlines of the modern democratic state came into being. Here for the first time in one volume is R. R. Palmer's magisterial account of this incendiary age. Palmer argues that the American, French, and Polish revolutions-and the movements for political change in Britain, Ireland, Holland, and elsewhere-were manifestations of similar political ideas, needs, and conflicts. Palmer traces the clash between an older form of society, marked by legalized social rank and hereditary or self-perpetuating elites, and a new form of society that placed a greater value on social mobility and legal equality.

    Featuring a new foreword by David Armitage, this Princeton Classics edition ofThe Age of the Democratic Revolutionintroduces a new generation of readers to this enduring work of political history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5022-8
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. FOREWORD
    (pp. xv-xxii)
    DAVID ARMITAGE

    The late eighteenth century has long held a special place in narratives of the making of the modern world. Contemporaries from Bengal to Boston, and in Paris and Patna, were certain theirs was an age of revolutions. Empires collided and crumbled in the Americas and South Asia. A new order of the ages seemed to be rising from the wreckage of old regimes. And huge changes were afoot in commerce and manufactures, warfare and communications, government and finance. Whether these upheavals amounted to a single seismic shift was not so clear. Did the period’s revolutions all point in the same...

  5. Part 1: The Challenge
    • PREFACE TO PART 1
      (pp. 3-4)
      R. R. PALMER
    • CHAPTER I THE AGE OF THE DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION
      (pp. 5-21)

      A young Philadelphian of good family, Thomas Shippen, in the course of a visit to Europe, where he cultivated the acquaintance of “titled men and ladies of birth,” bore a letter of introduction to Thomas Jefferson, the American Minister to France, who presented him at the court of Versailles. They arrived, one day in February 1788, “at 1/2 past 10 and were not done bowing until near 2.” Young Shippen chatted with the Papal Nuncio and the Russian Ambassador, who “was very polite,” and on meeting a woman and her two daughters who were all countesses he was introduced with...

    • CHAPTER II ARISTOCRACY ABOUT 1760: THE CONSTITUTED BODIES
      (pp. 22-41)

      Edmund Burke, after the American troubles began, thought that the Virginians were very much like the Poles. He would solve the American question by putting America on the same legal footing as Ireland. For Ireland he recommended the example of France, which he saw as a federal “empire,” where great provinces like Brittany raised their own taxes and otherwise enjoyed extensive autonomy. Gibbon cited England, France, Venice, and Genoa to show that liberty was preserved by a gradation of social ranks. Rousseau considered the citizens of Geneva and the nobles of Venice to be much alike. The abbé Morellet, mixing...

    • CHAPTER III ARISTOCRACY ABOUT 1760: THEORY AND PRACTICE
      (pp. 42-63)

      “There is no more certain maxim of politics,” observed Robert Walpole in 1719, “than that a monarchy must subsist either by an army or a nobility; the first makes it a despotic, the latter a free, government.”¹ He was explaining his opposition to the Peerage Bill, then before Parliament, by which the earls of Stanhope and Sunderland and others of the Whig magnates intended to restrict the creation of new peers. By making the peerage more strictly hereditary, the great Whigs hoped to prevent control of the House of Lords by the King or his advisers. They wanted no repetition...

    • CHAPTER IV CLASHES WITH MONARCHY
      (pp. 64-82)

      The constituted bodies faced a new situation at the close of the Seven Years’ War. Fighting had gone on for a generation interrupted by a few years of truce; governments had accumulated great debts, which they had now to find means to carry or repay. The search by governments for new sources of income met with resistance from magistracies or assemblies in many countries. It therefore produced constitutional crises. “From the need for money, which put into motion the machinery of reforms, arose a great drama: the clash between autonomous entities and the central power, between local governing classes and...

    • CHAPTER V A CLASH WITH DEMOCRACY: GENEVA AND JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU
      (pp. 83-105)

      Geneva in 1760 was a city of about 25,000 people, about the equal of Philadelphia in size, though not growing as rapidly. A man could walk across the town in fifteen minutes; the whole territory of the independent republic (which did not join the Swiss Confederation until 1814) comprised only seventy square miles. It was enclosed by the kingdoms of France and Sardinia, except for a few miles along the lake. From the Genevan point of view Sardinia was huge, and France almost infinite in extent. The city lived at the mercy of these two, or by the local balance...

    • CHAPTER VI THE BRITISH PARLIAMENT BETWEEN KING AND PEOPLE
      (pp. 106-137)

      Of all those constituted bodies of Europe, largely aristocratic in composition, which in some countries came into conflict with kings in the decade before 1775, and which at Geneva had trouble with the citizens whom they governed, the most famous and the most powerful was the Parliament of Great Britain, whose misfortune it was to be challenged from both sides at once. Or, at least, the most ardent devotees of the Houses of Parliament found Parliamentary independence being undermined by the King, in the person of George III, while at the same time a growing number of dissatisfied persons, in...

    • CHAPTER VII THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION: THE FORCES IN CONFLICT
      (pp. 138-158)

      It is a main thesis of this book that the American Revolution was a great event for the whole Eur-American world. In the Age of the Democratic Revolution the American Revolution was, after the disturbance at Geneva already recounted, the earliest successful assertion of the principle that public power must arise from those over whom it is exercised. It was the most important revolution of the eighteenth century, except for the French. Its effect on the area of Western Civilization came in part from the inspiration of its message (which in time passed beyond the area of Western Civilization), and...

    • CHAPTER VIII THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION: THE PEOPLE AS CONSTITUENT POWER
      (pp. 159-176)

      If it be asked what the American Revolution distinctively contributed to the world’s stock of ideas, the answer might go somewhat along these lines. It did not contribute primarily a social doctrine—for although a certain skepticism toward social rank was an old American attitude, and possibly even a gift to mankind, it long antedated the Revolution, which did not so much cut down, as prevent the growth of, an aristocracy of European type. It did not especially contribute economic ideas—for the Revolution had nothing to teach on the production or distribution of goods, and the most advanced parties...

    • CHAPTER IX EUROPE AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
      (pp. 177-213)

      The first and greatest effect of the American Revolution in Europe was to make Europeans believe, or rather feel, often in a highly emotional way, that they lived in a rare era of momentous change. They saw a kind of drama of the continents. This was the generation that read Raynal’sPhilosophical History of European Establishments in the Two Indies, a huge work published in Paris in 1770, which went through fifty-five editions in five or six languages within thirty years. It was a long humanitarian recital of the evils brought upon the world by European greed and colonialism. Seen...

    • CHAPTER X TWO PARLIAMENTS ESCAPE REFORM
      (pp. 214-241)

      As we now, after long considering the American Revolution and its influence, return to pick up the trail of events in a dozen European countries, it is well to look back upon some of the main points staked out since the beginning of this volume. The makings of a great conflict were accumulating in Europe, a conflict that was to reach its height during the last years of the century and that may be called the Great Democratic Revolution, in that it was primarily a revolt against aristocracy in its numerous manifestations. Aristocracy was entrenched in a multitude of constituted...

    • CHAPTER XI DEMOCRATS AND ARISTOCRATS—DUTCH, BELGIAN, AND SWISS
      (pp. 242-279)

      It is unfortunate that the affairs of the smaller European peoples do not enter more fully into our general histories, for their experience has been illuminating. The very words “democrat” and “aristocrat,” as observed above in the first chapter, were coined in the Dutch and Belgian troubles of the decade from 1780 to 1790. In both countries the common pattern of the time was especially evident. Constituted bodies—in this case town councils and estate-assemblies—determining their own membership within a closed system, claimed to represent the country and to rule in their own right. Both asserted their powers and...

    • CHAPTER XII THE LIMITATIONS OF ENLIGHTENED DESPOTISM
      (pp. 280-306)

      The forces of aristocracy, which in some countries in the 1780’s prevailed over democratic movements, prevailed in others over monarchy itself. This chapter takes up a thread left hanging at the close of Chapter IV. It was shown there that, by the middle 1770’s, or just before the American Revolution, the Kings of France and of Sweden, and the Queen of Hungary and Bohemia (to which titles the Hapsburg monarchy owed most of its stature), had asserted royal authority and put the constituted bodies of their several realms under restraint. In France, Chancellor Maupeou abolished the old parlements, in Sweden...

    • CHAPTER XIII THE LESSONS OF POLAND
      (pp. 307-325)

      It has been the fate of Poland, more than of most countries, that outsiders have been mainly concerned to see in it a spectacular object lesson, hurrying on from interest in the Poles themselves to find evidence for general truths of wider application. Very much this same treatment will be accorded to Poland in this chapter, which is a compressed account of the Four Years’ Diet of 1788–1792 and its background; but it may be said, as an apology to the Poles, that in this book the affairs of all other countries are presented in the same way, so...

    • CHAPTER XIV THE FRENCH REVOLUTION: THE ARISTOCRATIC RESURGENCE
      (pp. 326-346)

      That the French Revolution had points of resemblance to movements of the time in other countries is the central theme of this book. Like them, it arose out of circumstances characteristic of Western Civilization, and it was to merge with them, especially with the war that began in 1792, into a great struggle that no political borders could contain. From the beginning, however, there was much that was unique about the revolution in France.

      The very size of France was enough to make its Revolution a special case. Fifty French cities in 1789 were larger than the Boston of the...

    • CHAPTER XV THE FRENCH REVOLUTION: THE EXPLOSION OF 1789
      (pp. 347-372)

      The figure of Philip Mazzei has been seen from time to time in these pages. A cosmopolitan Italian, he had settled in 1773 in Virginia, where he was almost immediately caught up in the movement against England. He had then returned to Europe to solicit loans for the new state, talked at Florence with the future Emperor Leopold about the American constitutions, gone to Paris, written a book to correct French misunderstandings of the United States, and while remaining in Paris had become a kind of news agent for King Stanislas of Poland. In Paris, late in 1788, he belonged...

  6. Part 2: The Struggle
    • PREFACE TO PART 2
      (pp. 375-376)
      R. R. PALMER
    • CHAPTER XVI THE ISSUES AND THE ADVERSARIES
      (pp. 377-399)

      “What hadlibertyand therights of manto do with this second revolution?” Noah Webster posed the question in a tract on the French Revolution published in New York at the height of the Reign of Terror. By the second revolution he meant the events in France in the summer of 1792. Later historians have also used the term “second revolution” for these events—the popular upheaval in Paris which led to the attack on the Tuileries on August 10, the dethronement, humiliation, and subsequent death of Louis XVI, the collapse of the first constitution of the Revolution, the...

    • CHAPTER XVII THE REVOLUTIONIZING OF THE REVOLUTION
      (pp. 400-423)

      In 1792 the Revolution became a thing in itself, an uncontrollable force that might eventually spend itself but which no one could direct or guide. The governments set up in Paris in the following years—the Convention, the Committee of Public Safety, the Thermidorians, the Directory, however they might differ, whether “Jacobin” or “anti-Jacobin” in their composition—all alike faced the problem of holding together against forces more revolutionary than themselves. Two such forces may be distinguished for analytical purposes. There was a popular upheaval, an upsurge from below,sans-culottisme. This occurred only in France; there were revolutions outside of...

    • CHAPTER XVIII LIBERATION AND ANNEXATION: 1792–1793
      (pp. 424-446)

      The year 1793 was one of great successes for the Counter-Revolution, especially in Belgium and Poland, the two theaters in which the forces of a democratic revolution most conspicuously failed to maintain themselves. For a while it seemed that the same would be true in France.

      In 1792 the French army occupied Belgium, and the Russian army, closely followed by the Prussian, occupied Poland. In both cases the entering powers announced themselves as liberators, and were welcomed as such by certain elements in the population. The French in Belgium within a few weeks passed to a policy of annexation. The...

    • CHAPTER XIX THE SURVIVAL OF THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE
      (pp. 447-472)

      Everything now depended on what happened in France. The revolution in Poland had been stopped. Belgian democrats had again scurried out of their country, where the Statists came to terms with the Austrians. The Dutch émigrés had their expectations suddenly dashed, and the Dutch patriots at home, sadly disappointed, were reduced to passively awaiting a change in the fortunes of war which would bring in the French as liberators. In Ireland, Wolfe Tone privately remarked in March 1793 that ten thousand French troops in Ireland would effect Irish deliverance from Great Britain. In Britain the radical feeling was less subversive,...

    • CHAPTER XX VICTORIES OF THE COUNTER-REVOLUTION IN EASTERN EUROPE
      (pp. 473-504)

      The year that saw the survival of the Revolution in France saw its extinction in Poland. The same months in which it became clear that structural changes would spread to Belgium and Holland saw the stamping out of “Jacobinism” in Austria and in Hungary. The present chapter is designed to describe—not the failure of revolution in Eastern Europe, since, except in Poland, no revolution was attempted—but the triumph and strengthening of counter-revolutionary forces in Eastern Europe at this time. These were the forces, agrarian and conservatively aristocratic, which had already largely destroyed the work of Joseph II in...

    • CHAPTER XXI THE BATAVIAN REPUBLIC
      (pp. 505-529)

      At the very moment when the Old Order entrenched itself in Eastern Europe it began to crumble in the West. As the “Jacobins” of Poland, Hungary, and Vienna were put down, the friends of revolution from Italy to Ireland took hope from the victories of the French armies. The end of the Terror, following the death of Robespierre, persuaded most friends of France in other countries that the Revolution would succeed.

      By the summer of 1794 the French were everywhere on the offensive, crossing the Pyrenees into Catalonia, occupying Oneglia on the Italian Riviera, overrunning the German Rhineland and Belgium,...

    • CHAPTER XXII THE FRENCH DIRECTORY: MIRAGE OF THE MODERATES
      (pp. 530-543)

      After Robespierre’s death, as the Terror came to an end, and the political and emotional crisis of the Year II receded, the question that a great many Frenchmen put to themselves both in France and in the emigration, and a question to which observers throughout Europe and America awaited the answer, was whether some kind of moderate or constitutional regime would be durably established. The next four years, punctuated toward their end by the coups d’état of Fructidor and Floréal, were to show that constitutional quietude was still far away.

      The difficulty was that not everyone agreed on what either...

    • CHAPTER XXIII THE FRENCH DIRECTORY BETWEEN EXTREMES
      (pp. 544-567)

      As one moved from the center in a leftward direction, one at first entered a territory that was not very radical, peopled by men who can be called “democrats” in the ordinary American sense, though they were more likely to call themselves “true republicans” or “good patriots.” They accepted the constitution and saw no further need of violent insurrection, but they feared that the new national government might go too far in an understanding with émigrés or refractory clergy, or that the governing groups in Paris did not hold to the great principles of Liberty and Equality as firmly as...

    • CHAPTER XXIV THE REVOLUTION COMES TO ITALY
      (pp. 568-588)

      The year 1796 is chiefly remembered for Napoleon Bonaparte’s brilliant victories in North Italy. In this book, however, Bonaparte will remain no more than one of many generals in the service of the French Republic, and his first Italian campaign will be presented, not as the public initiation of his own career, but as a turning point in the larger revolutionary movement of the European world. It was not the first such turning point. Of such grand events, if we consider only those subsequent to the Terror in France, the first had been the Dutch revolution and establishment of the...

    • CHAPTER XXV THE CISALPINE REPUBLIC
      (pp. 589-613)

      Thetriennioof the Italians began with the irruption of the French in 1796, and ended in 1799 when the French were driven out by the Austrian and Russian armies, with some assistance from the Turks, by whose combined efforts, it was briefly hoped, European civilization in Italy would be saved from the evils of Jacobinism. Thegiacobinicalled themselves “democrats.” Nowhere else at the time, and certainly not in the United States, was the word “democracy” so enthusiastically adopted. Where in France it was the Babeuf group that most freely applied the term to themselves, and the secretive inner...

    • CHAPTER XXVI 1798: THE HIGH TIDE OF REVOLUTIONARY DEMOCRACY
      (pp. 614-641)

      The period of about a year beginning late in 1797 was the high point of the whole decade, and indeed of all European history until 1848, in the matter of international agitation stirred up by the revolutionary-democratic movement. The purpose of this chapter is to try to recapture this moment of excitement, and to offer an impression of the movement as a whole before following it again in separate countries.

      Events happened so swiftly, with so little central direction, and yet with so many immediate repercussions over hundreds and thousands of miles, that no plan of exposition can do justice...

    • CHAPTER XXVII THE REPUBLICS AT ROME AND NAPLES
      (pp. 642-662)

      Peace prevailed on the Continent from the signing of the treaty of Campo Formio in October 1797 to the attack on Rome by the King of Naples in November 1798, which proved to be the opening episode in the War of the Second Coalition, and hence of the grand climax or confrontation in 1799 between the Old Regime and the New Republican Order.

      But the peace was no more than a semi-peace. On the one hand, neither France nor Austria could accept the terms of Campo Formio with any finality. Each looked for bastions against the other in Switzerland and...

    • CHAPTER XXVIII THE HELVETIC REPUBLIC
      (pp. 663-683)

      All Switzerland is only twice as large as the American state of New Jersey, but until 1798, small as it was, it was an incredibly complex mosaic of dissimilar pieces. Nowhere else was the impact of certain principles of the Revolution more apparent and more lasting—especially of the principles of legal equality and of the unity and indivisibility of the Republic. If in New Jersey, with the passage of a few generations, there has grown up a jungle of adjoining boroughs, townships, cities, planning boards, boards of education, and joint districts and authorities of many kinds, they at least...

    • CHAPTER XXIX GERMANY: THE REVOLUTION OF THE MIND
      (pp. 684-708)

      The position of Germany was intermediate in more than a geographical sense. When we take a comparative view, we find in this heartland of Europe neither a triumph of counter-revolution as in the East, nor yet the setting up of revolutionary assemblies and republics as in the West. Not wholly content with the place of their own country in the world, the Germans could not enjoy the self-congratulating conservatism of the English, but on the other hand, since they retained a high respect for their existing authorities, they had none of the aversion to their own past that characterized the...

    • CHAPTER XXX BRITAIN: REPUBLICANISM AND THE ESTABLISHMENT
      (pp. 709-744)

      Until late in 1792 the British government expected to remain at peace, but once engaged in the war with France it became the most persistent adversary of the New Republican Order. In the British official view, at least after 1797, there could be no lasting settlement, nor would British interests be secure, except by a liquidation not only of the French Revolution but of the new regimes in Holland and elsewhere. And it seems true that Britain, which if not fighting for its life was fighting for the freedom to grow, could never have enjoyed its great Victorian and Edwardian...

    • CHAPTER XXXI AMERICA: DEMOCRACY NATIVE AND IMPORTED
      (pp. 745-774)

      It was the Americans who had first given the example of rebellion, proclaimed the rights of man and the sovereignty of the people, and established a new public authority in their state constitutions by recognizing a constituent power in bodies called conventions. They had attracted the lively notice and admiration of dissatisfied persons in many parts of Europe. A mere fifteen years later the American image had already faded in a more blinding light on the screen of the world’s opinion, and the mild accents of the heralds of liberty had been succeeded by a more ringing and compelling voice....

    • CHAPTER XXXII CLIMAX AND DÉNOUEMENT
      (pp. 775-795)

      In the year 1799, with the War of the Second Coalition, there took place a gathering and confrontation of the forces separately described in preceding chapters—a confrontation in which the matter in question was the survival of the New Republican Order in Europe, as in 1793 it had been the survival of the Republic in France itself. Neither side can be said to have won. Or rather, the Counter-Revolution was certainly defeated, but the New Order prevailed only by being transmuted into something else, the authoritarian, innovating, dynamic, and yet compromising semi-monarchism or semi-republicanism represented by Bonaparte.

      As the...

  7. Appendixes
    • APPENDIX I. REFERENCES FOR THE QUOTATIONS AT HEADS OF CHAPTERS
      (pp. 796-797)
    • APPENDIX II. TRANSLATIONS OF METRICAL PASSAGES
      (pp. 798-800)
    • APPENDIX III. EXCERPTS FROM CERTAIN BASIC LEGAL DOCUMENTS
      (pp. 801-810)
    • APPENDIX IV. THE VIRGINIA DECLARATION OF RIGHTS OF 1776, AND THE FRENCH DECLARATION OF RIGHTS OF 1789
      (pp. 811-814)
    • APPENDIX V. “DEMOCRATIC” AND “BOURGEOIS” CHARACTERISTICS IN THE FRENCH CONSTITUTION OF 1791: Property Qualifications in France, Britain, and America
      (pp. 815-820)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 821-854)