1. Introduction of the Chapter
  2. Feudalism to Nation States
  3. Middle Class
  4. The Renaissance
  5. What is a Revolution?
    1. The English Colonies in America
    2. Causes of the War of American Independence
    3. No taxation without representation
    4. Boston Tea Party
    5. Declaration of Independence
    6. The War of Independence
    7. The American Constitution
    8. Significance of the American Revolution
    9. The Growth of a Nation

The 8th Chapter of old NCERT Class 9 (Story of civilization), deals with following topics

  1. American revolution
  2. French Revolution
  3. Unification of Germany, Italy; Revolutions elsewhere in Europe
  4. The rise of Socialism

In this first part, we’ll see the American revolution, and remaining topics in separate parts.

Introduction of the Chapter

In the previous chapter, you learned about the rise of a new economic system in the world. In this chapter you will read of the developments that transformed the political systems of many countries of Europe and of the Americas in the 18th and 19th centuries. The basic features of these developments were the growth of democratic political systems, nationalism and socialism. Together with the’ industrial Revolution, they brought about great changes and helped to determine people’s thought and conditions of life for a long time to come. These developments began first in certain parts of Europe. Since then, particularly from the 19th century, the establishment of democratic political systems and of independent states based on nationalism have been among the primary aims of peoples the world over. Simultaneously with these in some countries and later in other countries ideas of socialism have inspired movements of social equality.

Feudalism to Nation States

  • Under feudalism, societies were divided into classes some of which were privileged while the others were exploited. A man’s entire life was determined at the time of his birth, depending on the class into which he was born. You have read that the two main classes in the feudal society were feudal lords and serfs.
  • The political systems of the time were also determined by the prevailing social and economic system. Most of the population was excluded from having any share in the governance of the country.
  • Many kings claimed divine rights, that is, that their power was derived from God and not from any capability to rule. Their word was law. A French king declared, “I am the State.”
  • The boundaries of states also were irrational. If you see old maps you will be able to recognize very few states of modern Europe. There were all kinds of states—empires, feudal estates, city-states.
  • The territories within a state were not necessarily contiguous. The people inhabiting these states were not homogeneous. Empires, for example, included territories far apart from each other and inhabited by people of different nationalities.
  • Similarly, the territories inhabited by a homogeneous people were divided into a number of states, some under a local ruler, some under the Church and some as parts of an empire. As a result of many factors nation-states had begun to be formed. However, this process was limited to a few areas. Most of the European states for a long time to come had no rational basis.

Middle Class

  • You have read of the rise of new social groups and classes during the later Middle Ages and about the role played by the middle class in bringing about the Renaissance in Europe. In economic life, this class gradually became very important. However, it was obstructed in its growth by the outdated political systems based on privilege.
  • It could grow only if it also held the political power. With the Industrial Revolution, the strength of this class increased further and the removal of the outdated political systems acquired urgency. The spread of the Industrial Revolution in many countries was slow because of the backward political system that prevailed there. Another important new class that arose, particularly after the Industrial Revolution, was the working class, or the industrial workers. This class also was opposed to the autocratic political systems.
  • Serfdom had declined in some countries but in most other countries of Europe, it was still the dominant feature of the social system. There were many revolts of the serfs but they were suppressed. However, during the period from the 17th to the 19th centuries, there arose movements in different parts of Europe to overthrow the existing political systems. The first successful revolution which overthrew the autocratic monarchy took place in England in the 17th century.
  • Simultaneously, there was also the rise and growth of national consciousness and movements to unite the different territories inhabited by the people of a nation if they were divided into different states, and to overthrow foreign imperial rule if the territories of a nation were part of a larger empire ruled by an alien emperor.

The Renaissance

  • The Renaissance had inaugurated an era of questioning the established beliefs. Gradually, this questioning covered every aspect of thought and belief. The period after the 16th century, witnessed an intellectual revolution when all the existing beliefs based on faith came under heavy attack.
  • Great progress was made in various sciences, which also undermined the existing beliefs. The new ideas were characterized by rationalism and were increasingly concerned with secular affairs. Because of the growing emphasis on reason, the period of the 18th century in European history is called the Age of reason or the Age of Enlightenment.
  • Gradually the beliefs that permitted people to be divided into higher or lower groups on the basis of birth, and into privileged groups and others, and the hold of the Church in the sphere of ideas, were undermined.
  • The new ideas were ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity. Thus arose ideas of freedom, democracy and equality, which became the rallying slogans of peoples everywhere.
  • Simultaneously, there also arose ideas of nationalism which brought a sense of unity and oneness to the people forming a nation and the desire to organize themselves into independent states with their distinctive national identities.
  • Movements arose in many parts of Europe and in North America to overthrow the existing autocratic political systems and replace them by democratic political system and to abolish privileges and establish the equality of political rights. These movements which began earlier became powerful forces in the 19th century Europe.
  • In this chapter you will read about some revolutions that led to the overthrow of autocratic governments and their replacement by democratic forms of government. You will also read about some successful movements of national independence and national unification. In the last section, you will read about the emergence of ideas of socialism and about the movements based on those ideas which took shape.

What is a Revolution?

  • Changes in political and social systems have often been brought about by revolutions. A revolution, as you know from your study of the Industrial Revolution, means a drastic or radical change.
  • A revolution can be the sudden overthrow of an established government or system by force and bloodshed; it can also be a great change that comes slowly and peacefully. The developments described in this chapter were, in some aspects, rapid and accompanied by violence but many of the lasting changes they brought about have taken place gradually and without bloodshed.
  • However, you should remember that every change of government is not a revolution. A revolution involves a fundamental change in the entire political system of a country, a change in the nature of government, in the class or classes that hold political power, and also in the aims of the government.
  • People do not usually revolt against a government or a certain system unless they believe that it is no longer possible to live in the old way. Revolutions occur when an existing system becomes unbearable to a vast majority of the people. This, in itself, makes conditions ‘ripe’ for setting up a new system.
  • Revolutions are ‘contagious’. Revolutionary ideas originating in one place may spread to other places very fast and influence the thinking and actions of peoples suffering under oppressive governments in other lands. Revolutions have played an essential role in the development of human societies. Without them, one kind of system, however unsuitable for the times it might be, would continue for ever and there would be no progress.


  • While some Englishmen were battling at home for improvements in Parliament and reforms in religion, others were adventuring across the Atlantic to establish colonies and trade in the Americas.
  • In the 16th century, European countries began to make settlements there. In North America, colonies were established by France, Holland and Spain as well as by England.
  • In the 18th century, England drove France out of the eastern part of the continent and Canada. She had earlier taken New Netherlands from the Dutch, changing its name to New York.

The English Colonies in America

  • By the middle of the 18th century there were 13 English colonies in North America along the Atlantic Coast. Landless peasants, people seeking religious freedom, traders, and profiteers had settled there. The bulk of the population consisted of independent farmers. Infant industries had developed in such products as wool, flax, and leather.
  • In the north there were fishing and ship-building. In the south, large plantations like feudal manors had grown up where tobacco and cotton were grown with slave labour brought from Africa.
  • Each colony had a local assembly elected by qualified voters. These assemblies enacted laws concerning local matters, and levied taxes. However, they were under the rule of the mother country.
  • By the 18th century, the colonists found the laws which the English government imposed upon them more and more objectionable. The idea of being an independent nation grew and developed into the Revolutionary War in which the colonists gained their independence.

Causes of the War of American Independence


  • The colonial policy of England in economic matters was the primary cause of resentment in the American colonies. England’s policies did not encourage the American colonies to develop an economy of their own.
  • The English Parliament had forbidden them to use non-British ships in their trade.
  • Certain products, such as tobacco, cotton and sugar, could be exported only to England.
  • Heavy duties were imposed on the import of goods in the colonies from other places.
  • The colonies were also forbidden to start certain industries, for example, iron works and textiles.
  • They were forced to import these goods from England.
  • Thus, in every possible way, the growth of industry and trade in the colonies was impeded.


The English also angered the colonists by issuing a proclamation to prevent them from moving west into new lands. English aristocrats had bought lands in America and got rents from the farmers. They wanted to keep the colonists as renters.

Taxes to finance wars

  • As a result of continuous wars in Europe, the English government was burdened with debt. It needed money.
  • In 1765, the English Parliament passed the Stamp Act which imposed stamp taxes on all business transactions in the American colonies.
  • Revenue stamps up to 20 shillings were to be affixed to legal documents and other papers.
  • This Act aroused violent resentment among all sections of the colonists and led them to boycott English goods. There were uprisings in many towns and tax-collectors were killed.
  • The colonists claimed that, since English Parliament had no representatives from the colonies, it had no right to levy taxes on them. The revenue from these taxes was used not in the interests of the colonies but of English.


  • The American revolutionaries were inspired by the ideas of the English philosophers of the 17th century. These philosophers— Locke,Harrington,Milton—believed that men had certain fundamental rights which no government had the right to infringe.
  • American thinkers, especially Thomas Jefferson, were also inspired by what French philosophers were saying and writing at that time. Jefferson asserted the colonists’ right to rebellion, and encouraged their increasing desire for independence.
  • Support for independence was forcefully expressed by Thomas Paine, who detested the inequalities of English society, and had come to America. In a pamphlet entitled Common Sense, he wrote, ‘It was repugnant to reason to suppose that this continent can long remain subject to any external power…there is something absurd in supposing a Continent to be perpetually governed by an island’.

No taxation without representation

  • The leaders in the Massachusetts colony called together representatives from other colonies to consider their common problems.
  • In this Massachusetts assembly, they agreed and declared that the English Parliament had no right to levy taxes on them. ‘No taxation without representation’ was the slogan they adopted.
  • And they threatened to stop the import of British goods. The threat led English to repeal the Stamp Act, but Parliament still insisted that it had the right to levy taxes. Then Parliament imposed a tax on consumer goods coming into the colonies, such as paper, glass, tea and paint.
  • Again the colonies objected saying that only their own assemblies had the right to raise money through taxes. In protest the colonies cut down the English imports by one-half. The English withdrew the plan- leaving only the tax on tea to assert their right to levy taxes.

Boston Tea Party

  • The tax on tea led to trouble. In 1773, several colonies refused to unload the tea coming in English ships.
  • In Boston, when the governor ordered a ship to be unloaded, a group of citizens, dressed as American Indians, boarded the ship and dumped the crates of tea into the water.
  • This incident is known as ‘the Boston Tea Party’.
  • The English government then closed the port of Boston to all trade and precipitated the uprising of the colonies.

Declaration of Independence

  • The representatives of the 13 American colonies met as a group in what is called the First Continental -Congress at Philadelphia in 1774. This Congress appealed to the English King to remove restrictions on industries and trade and not to impose any taxes without their consent.
  • The King declared their action a mutiny and ordered troops to be sent to suppress it. The colonies then planned for military defence with local troops or militia.
  • In 1775, the first battle of the revolution was fought when a thousand soldiers met the colonial militia in Independence.
  • The Declaration On 4 July 1776, the Second Continental Congress asserted ‘that all men are created equal, Congress adopted the Declaration of that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.
  • The Declaration advanced the principle that the people are the source of authority and affirmed the people’s right to set up their own government.
  • The Declaration also stated that the American colonies had been oppressed by the English government and that ‘these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states’.
  • Up to this time the colonists had been fighting for their rights as Englishmen. After the Declaration in 1776, they fought for their right to be an independent nation.

The War of Independence

  • George Washington was put in command of the American forces. The first battles took place in and around Boston. Then English sent a force to Canada with the plan to march it south to meet another English force, and so cut the American colonies in half.
  • But an English general spoiled the plan. As the English marched south, the Americans met and defeated them.
  • This victory of the rough American militia-men against a trained British force gave the Americans confidence.
  • The French government now decided to help the colonies with troops, supplies and funds—to embarrass the English, Frances old enemy. Other enemies of English—Spain and Holland—were soon fighting the English elsewhere
  • Meanwhile, trouble was brewing for Britain at home. There was a threat of rebellion in Ireland; some leaders in
  • Parliament were opposing the war with the colonists.
  • The war ended in 1781 when the English commander, Cornwallis, later to become governor-general in India, surrendered.

Surrender of Cornwallis American Revolution

Two years later, in 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed and the English recognized the independence of its 13 former colonies.

The American Constitution

  • When the war of independence started, each of the 13 colonies was a separate state with its own army, boundaries, customs duties and finances. But they co-operated against a common enemy.
  • In 1781, as states of the United States, they united through a plan for a national government. A constitutional convention was called in Philadelphia to frame a new constitution, which came into effect in 1789.
  • The American constitution established a republican form of government at a time when states in other parts of the world were governed by monarchies.
  • The American Constitution set up a federal system under which powers were divided between a central or federal government and the state governments.
  • Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and his followers campaigned for the addition of a Bill of Rights to the federal constitution.
  • This was done through ten amendments which guaranteed many rights to the American people. The most noted of these are freedom of speech, press and religion, and justice under law.
  • The constitution marked the emergence of the United States of America as a nation in world history. It was the first written republican constitution ever framed in history, which is still in operation.

Significance of the American Revolution

  • The words of the Declaration of Independence regarding the equality of all men and the ‘inalienable rights’ of man electrified the atmosphere in America and outside. Lafayette, the French general who fought on the side of American revolutionaries, was soon to become a hero of the French Revolution. Thomas Paine also participated in the French Revolution.
  • By its example, the American Revolution inspired many revolutionaries in Europe later in the 19th century. It encouraged Spanish and Portuguese colonies in Central and South America to rebel and gain their independence.
  • The main achievement of the American Revolution was the establishment of a republic. This republic was, however, not truly democratic. The right to vote was limited. Negroes— most of them still slaves—American Indians, and women had no vote.
  • Election laws in all states favored men of property for many years. But progress towards democracy had begun. In some states, state religion was abolished, along with religious qualifications for holding public offices.

The Growth of a Nation

  • Early in the 19th century, many new areas were added to the United States. The vast territory in the middle of the continent, known as Louisiana, was purchased from France. Florida was acquired from Spain.
  • By the 1850’s, after a war with Mexico, the United States had extended its boundaries to the Pacific Ocean. People had continued to move west. The westward expansion of the United States was at the expense of the
  • American Indians who were driven out of their territories and in the course of a few decades their population was reduced to an insignificant number.
  • Increasing settlements in the west brought about increasing conflicts between the southern states that wanted to extend slavery to the western territories and the northern states that objected to a slave economy.
  • A change of revolutionary significance came with the Civil War when slave-owning states of the south seceded from the Union and set up a separate government. The Civil War raged from 1861 to 1865 and ended in the defeat of the southern states.
  • It was a victory for the capitalistic industrial states of the north over the slave-owning states of the south. The federal government abolished slavery. The abolition of slavery, however, did not end discrimination against the Black people and their struggle to make equal rights a reality continued.

In the Next three parts, we’ll see

  • French Revolution
  • Unification of Germany and Italy; Revolutionary movements in other parts of Europe
  • Rise of Socialism

For archive of all World history related articles visit Mrunal.org/history