The American Revolution was an inspiration to liberals and nationalists throughout Europe. It proved liberal Enlightenment ideals could be put into practice and many Europeans identified with the American struggle for equality and independence. The American Revolution motivated Ireland to demand more freedoms from Great Britain. France revolted against what it perceived as a tyrannical monarchy. Nationalists in Italy attempted to unite the city-states under a republican government, and Germany attempted to establish a constitutional monarchy. The efforts of these countries to assert themselves changed the face of European politics.
The American Revolution inspired Irish patriots to seek concessions from Great Britain, including reform of the penal code for Catholics, more self-governance and fewer trade restrictions. Ireland waited until warfare had broken out between Great Britain and the American colonies before demanding these concessions from Great Britain. Ireland followed the American colonies' example of non-consumption of British goods to force the lifting of trade restrictions. Ireland backed up its demands with a sizable volunteer army modeled after the American patriots. By 1779, the penal codes had been greatly modified, Ireland had gained legislative independence from Great Britain, and free trade within the British Empire was allowed.
The French Revolution in 1789 was by far the most violent of the European revolutions. The monarchy was abolished and the Catholic Church came under control of the state. Many changes brought about by the revolution were internal to France. A public school system was set up, the royal library became the national library, and the middle class became the dominant class. Male suffrage was granted to all landowners, regardless of class. Even though Napoleon later established what was essentially a dictatorship and King Louis XVIII replaced Napoleon in a restored monarchy, the French constitution was preserved, giving citizens far greater say in government and uniting them in the spirit of nationalism.
The American and French revolutions gave rise to an impassioned struggle for unification and independence in the city-states of Italy, which were controlled by the Austrian Empire, the Pope and King Victor Emmanuelle, an Italian-born ruler. Revolutionary groups like the Carboneri and Young Italy organized coordinated uprisings against these powers, eventually establishing a Roman Republic in 1849. Even though the republic was quickly dismantled by French forces supporting the Pope, the spirit of nationalism was not vanquished. In 1861, leaders in Sardinia-Piedmont, the strongest city-state, succeeded in establishing the Kingdom of Italy, which eventually united the peninsula under a constitutional monarchy.
German Hessians fought on the side of the British during the American Revolution and it's likely German political thought was influenced by the French rather than the American Revolution. The biggest obstacle to unification of the German states was its absence of a ruler. Middle class revolutionaries organized the Frankfurt Convention in Berlin to establish a constitutional monarchy. When they could not come to agreement on who should lead the monarchy, the convention failed. It was not until 1871 that Germany was unified and became part of the German Empire with Prussia. Germany thrived but its emphasis on a buildup of elite military forces caused fear and alienation among other European powers.
- History.com: Enlightenment
- The Online Library of Liberty: Ireland: Social, Political and Religious, Vol. 1 (1839); Gustave de Beaumont: Chapter 1. Effects of American Independence on Ireland:
- U.S. History Scene: The American Revolution: A Very European Ordeal
- The West: Encounters and Transformations; Levack, Muir, Veldman, Mass: Chapter Summary: The Age of The French Revolution, 1789-1815
- Exploring Western Civilization: 1600 to The Present: A Worktext For The Active Student; Thomas J. Kehoe, Harold A. Damerow, Jose Marie Duvall: The Unification of Italy
- State University of New York: Community College of Suffolk: Historical Analysis: Liberal Revolutions: Phases of Revolution: Revolutions of 1848
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