Revolutions, Human Rights and the Constitutions

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Absolute monarchy was almost without exception the only form of government in the whole of Continental Europe during the 1600s and 1700s. In this period, the bourgeoisie gradually came to play a larger role in the central administrations, and the state ardently supported trade and industry. This did not increase the influence of the peasant, who everywhere led a poor life. But the many new ideas of the Enlightenment made the bourgeoisie turn against the kings from time to time, because they wanted more political influence, and around Europe something was brewing amongst the citizens.

A common feature of the development in all the countries was also the social uprising seemingly caused by the industrialization around the late 1700s. From the middle 1800s, large parts of the rural population started moving to the cities to find work. In the cities, they lived and worked under terrible conditions, but they encountered the ideas of socialism and revolution and thus gained a political awareness.

Independence and Constitution in America

An event that sparked these changes was the American independence from England in the 1770s. What began as revolt against being under the power of a king situated far away in London eventually started a wave of revolutions in Europe. Not least because the American declaration of independence from July 4th 1776 was also the first declaration of human rights. Its thoughts on the equality of humans and their rights were groundbreaking:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, that to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

(Note to translators: Insert translation of the above quote in your language by using the following formula: “And in Portuguese: ...quote...”)

The secession from England did not happen without war, and the war took seven years. In 1783 the war ended with the foundation of USA as a federal state of 13 constituent states, and in 1788 they ratified the world's first democratic constitution. It is of course questionable just how much freedom and democracy the people enjoyed as the constitution neither covered women nor slaves. But it begins by unequivocally asserting that this is the people's own constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

(Note to translators: Insert translation of the above quote in your language by using the following formula: “And in Portuguese: ...quote...”)

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Next chapter: Representative Democracy