You have already traveled throughout the Italian Peninsula and have learned about the remarkable achievements in art that led to the Renaissance. In Machiavelli’s, The Prince you investigated the advice he left for absolute rulers on how to rule their nation. Indeed, the nation states of the world all ruled absolutely, that is without any restrictions upon them.
During the 17th and 18th century a scientific and intellectual movement began to sweep over the Western World. The movement was known as the Enlightenment, or Age of Reason. Intellectuals began to examine the standards by which rulers governed. The principles of this time held that everything, including the government, was worth examination and scrutiny. These principles spread to our early political scientists. These new liberal ideas stated that individuals had natural rights and that government was an agreement or contract between the people and their ruler. In this governmental contract both the ruler and the citizen had rights and responsibilities.
In the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution, two great thinkers of the age emerged. Both were Englishmen. John Locke was to write one of the most important documents for the democratic development of the World! Locke first burst on the scene when he published his essay called, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, published in 1690 just three years after the Glorious Revolution. Locke concluded that the human mind is like a sheet of blank paper. We receive impressions from the moment we are born. These impressions are the basis of our knowledge. In other words, its our environment that forms the basis of all our knowledge. Locke concluded that all knowledge comes from reason and that governments are organized in accordance with the principles of Natural Law.
The Declaration of Independence is arguably one of the most influential documents in American History. Other countries and organizations have adopted its tone and manner in their own documents and declarations. For example, France wrote its ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man’ and the Women’s Rights movement wrote its ‘Declaration of Sentiments’. However, the Declaration of Independence was actually not technically necessary in proclaiming independence from Great Britain.
The United States Constitution was influenced by significant English philosophers and other English documents. In turn, other countries have used the framework of U.S. Constitution to establish their own governments. This activity will help you to understand how the U.S. Constitution has influenced other countries, become more knowledgeable about your own Constitution, and lastly, see how the Bill of Rights impacts our lives today.
When the Estates General met in Versailles in May of 1789 they took an oath not to adjourn until a Constitution like the United States had been created. From 1789 to 1799 France was ruled in some form as a Constitutional monarchy and later as a Republic. Perhaps the most important document that was created by France’s government during this time was the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens. The Declaration was adopted on August 26, 1789.
A LITTLE ABOUT NAPOLEON
Read about Napoleon’s early life on one of these websites:
Institute on Napoleon and the French Revolution at Florida State University
Napoleon Series a web site, or e-magazine, dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte and his times.
“Napoleon I: Emperor of France”
THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
Napoleon rose to prominence during the French Revolution.
Read more about the French Revolution on one of these websites:
The French Revolution Home Page—Links on the French Revolution
French Revolution 1789-1793 By a group of Modern European History students