Atlantic Revolutions

American Revolution Revolutionary wave Haitian Revolution
Atlantic Revolutions
Part of the Age of Revolution
Atlantic Revolutions.png
Lands affected by the Atlantic Revolutions in Europe
Date1760s - 1870s
OutcomeMultiple revolutions across the Atlantic world, including the Latin American wars of independence
A tree of liberty topped with a Phrygian cap set up in Mainz in 1793. Such symbols were used by several revolutionary movements of the time.

The Atlantic Revolutions were a revolutionary wave in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It was associated with the Atlantic World during the era from the 1760s to the 1870s.

It took place in both the Americas and Europe, including the United States (1765–1783), Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (1788–1792), France and French-controlled Europe (1789–1814), Haiti (1791–1804), Ireland (1798) and Spanish America (1810–1825).[1] There were smaller upheavals in Switzerland, Russia, and Brazil. The revolutionaries in each country knew of the others and to some degree were inspired by or emulated them.[2]

Independence movements in the New World began with the American Revolution, 1765–1783, in which France, the Netherlands and Spain assisted the new United States of America as it secured independence from Britain. In the 1790s the Haitian Revolution broke out. With Spain tied down in European wars, the mainland Spanish colonies secured independence around 1820.[3]

In long-term perspective, the revolutions were mostly successful. They spread widely the ideals of liberalism, republicanism, the overthrow of aristocracies, kings and established churches. They emphasized the universal ideals of the Enlightenment, such as the equality of all men, including equal justice under law by disinterested courts as opposed to particular justice handed down at the whim of a local noble. They showed that the modern notion of revolution, of starting fresh with a radically new government, could actually work in practice. Revolutionary mentalities were born and continue to flourish to the present day.[4]

The common Atlantic theme breaks down to some extent from reading the works of Edmund Burke. Burke firstly supported the American colonists in 1774 in "On American Taxation", and took the view that their property and other rights were being infringed by the crown without their consent. In apparent contrast, Burke distinguished and deplored the process of the French revolution in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), as in this case property, customary and religious rights were being removed summarily by the revolutionaries and not by the crown. In both cases he was following Montesquieu's theory that the right to own property is an essential element of personal freedom.

National revolutions

Various connecting threads among these varied uprisings include a concern for the "Rights of Man" and freedom of the individual; an idea (often predicated on John Locke or Jean-Jacques Rousseau) of popular sovereignty; belief in a "social contract", which in turn was often codified in written constitutions; a certain complex of religious convictions often associated with deism or Voltairean agnosticism, and characterized by veneration of reason; abhorrence of feudalism and often of monarchy itself. The Atlantic Revolutions also had many shared symbols, including the name "Patriot" used by so many revolutionary groups; the slogan of "Liberty"; the liberty cap; Lady Liberty or Marianne; the tree of liberty or liberty pole, and so on.

Individuals and movements

See also


  1. ^ Wim Klooster, Revolutions in the Atlantic World: A Comparative History (2009)
  2. ^ Laurent Dubois and Richard Rabinowitz, eds. Revolution!: The Atlantic World Reborn (2011)
  3. ^ Jaime E. Rodríguez O., The Independence of Spanish America (1998)
  4. ^ Robert R. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760–1800. (2 vol, 1959–1964)