Sep 25, 2019 in History

Revolution and the Growth of Industrial Society, 1789–1914


Revolutions and the materialization of industrial society led to a rise in power. Besides Europe and Western civilizations, the resultant power was extended in other parts of the world. For instance, the American Revolution began in 1775 while the French Revolution began in 1789. Later on, lesser revolutions across the globe followed pursuit. Enlightenment thinkers challenged the prevailing order and widened the gap between established institution and intellectuals. They were joined by capitalistic businesspeople in facilitating technological and economic change. The industrial revolution also resulted in population growth. Rural communities migrated to urban centers where most industries were established. Some historians divide the period into somewhat small periods, including the Age of Revolution (1789-1815), a period of response and adjustment (1815-1848), subsequent phase of industrialisation and unification of Italy and Germany (1848-1871); and 1871-1914 as the era of the imperialism. Superseding these markers, two simpler divisions can useful. These include political revolutions and the first phase of the industrial revolution (1789-1849) and the emergence of industrial society (1849-1914). In the former period, European stated dealt with the forces of revolution and the impact of the first phase of industrialization. In the latter the growth of industrial society was marked by development of new forms of States, as well as military and political alignments. The First and Second Phases of Industrial Revolution created new social, political and economic structures. All aspects of human life were influenced by one way or the other. Progress was inevitable in the sense that humankind was striving to be perfect. Even before Industrial Revolution, socio-economic pressures and novel ideas triggered a series of socio-political revolutions in Europe and the West. This paper explores major aspects of Industrial Revolution and the growth of the Industrial Society between 1789 and 1914.

The Age of Revolution

By mid 19th century, Europe was transformed by three key influences. Firstly, intellectual excitement or enlightenment was pervasive across Europe. For example, philosophical ideas from Jean-Jacques were read widely across the continent. Secondly, more Europeans became part of the commercial economy. The traditional notions of the right to rule were challenged by commercial wealth. Lastly, population revolution, which was a result of control of diseases and better nutrition created population pressure. Interestingly, proto-industrialization in Europe was facilitated by the availability of labor presented by the population revolution. The American Revolution created a new government in 1776, but its objectives were achieved in 1789. Almost immediately after the American Revolution, the French Revolution followed, initiating political restructuring. Calls for social change and reforms augmented the thrust of the struggles.

The Consolidation of the Industrial Order (1850-1914)

The last half of the nineteenth century was typified by economic growth and an expanding infrastructure connecting European countries. Most industrial centers and transport hubs urbanized. Urban life improved rapidly to attention to the social needs of the poor, as well as improved sanitation. Industrialization transformed almost all aspects of human life. Wealth or material well-being rose as a result of industrialization and trade. Scientific breakthroughs in the health sector led to reduced mortality rates among infants and childhood diseases were limited by effective treatment methods. The breakthroughs of Louis Pasteur in the realm vaccination accounted a great effort in the improvement of health. In the same context, businesses were transformed by corporations based in the available capital. The work of corporation resulted in political and economic power. Unfortunately, the political activities of peasants declined.

In the political arena, the agenda shifted radically after the 1848 revolutions. The concept of constitutions and absolutism was resolved, paving the way for debates over employment conditions, as well as workers’ rights. In Britain, voting was expanded by Benjamin Disraeli, who was the Prime Minister during that period. Conservatives called for nationalism to argument their power. Nationalism platforms took the form of imperialism noted in the case of U.S expansion and British conquests. Despite the papal opposition, Italy was unified. Similarly, Otto von Bismarck used nationalism to unify Prussia. Bismarck extended voting rights to all men, pushed mass education and emancipated Jews. Further, Bismarck led the country into war with Austria and Denmark, leading to unification of Germany in 1871. In the United State, the American Civil War (1861-1855), reiterated the Union and stopped the slave trade. France reintroduced its republican system of government. Across Europe, most countries embraced parliamentary system irrespective of changes in leadership.


After 1870, European governments increased their domestic reach. Agencies or ministries regulating industry, health, welfare and education became common across states. Germany became one of the leaders in the implementation of social insurance for old age and illness. Socialism emerged as a result of increased debates about social issues in political platforms. Earlier socialist was largely inspired and influenced by Karl Marx. The ideas of Karl Marx inspired new generations to focus on the rationale of the centrality of class struggle and the logic of violent protest. In the last decades of the 19th century, Socialism became a powerful force in the fight for social equality and justice. In the same line, Feminist movements surface and added their agendas, demanding a political voice.

Cultural Transformations and Western Settler Societies

Western society was subjugated by two themes: the spread of Western values and institutions to settler societies; and political upheaval. By the 1914, parliamentary system of governance had overthrown most monarchies. More people including workers voted. Certainly, European settler societies were vital international actors in the transformed world of balance of power. In fact, Western society experienced dramatic cultural transformation during the 19th century. Increased industrial revolution triggered the search for more raw materials, labor and market for the finished products. In the same context, the West gained a military advantage, it terms of using guns and steamships manufactured in European industries. Together with other factors, settlers expanded in Africa, Australia, and the United States. The United States emerged as a global power as from mid 19th century. The U.S government enlarged its territory through treaties and purchase of land.

The influx of European settlers in the United States and the Westward movement transformed the life of Native Americans. The American Civil War violently resolved the cultural and economic gap between the northern and the southern states. The Civil War pushed the development of transport infrastructure and industrialization across the United States. The construction of the railroad linking the East and West coasts was principal in the Westward movement and exploitation of the land in the West. Natives sparsely populated the British dominions of Australia, Canada and New Zealand. As of consequence, they followed Western models of governance. To avoid an independence movement, Britain began giving Canada independence on 1839. Australia, Canada, and New Zealand remained closely linked to Britain, but developed independently.

Diplomatic Tension and the First World War

The unification of Germany endangered the balance of power in continental Europe. In the same context, European leaders sought solutions through imperialism. However, by 1900, much of territories were occupied. European powers moved to Africa to scramble and partition the continent. The scramble and partitioning of Africa, not only increased the dominance of European countries, but also increased tensions among the colonials. The balance of power was replaced by the alliance system. The Triple Entente which consisted of Britain, France and Russia, and the Triple Alliance which consisted of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Italy set the industrial powers against each other. In relation to the alliances system, militarization induced by the industrialists and nationalism made the rivalry volatile. Austria-Hungary and Russia were relatively the most unstable states susceptible to internal conflicts. Balkan nationalism also threatened Continental peace. Additionally, Serbia surfaces and sought to expand its boundaries. Arguably, industrialization was an indirect cause of the First World War because the quest for industrial power resulted in nationalism, scramble and partitioning of Africa, the creation of Alliances and militarization. Leaders used international activities, to settle the social unrest. As an economic advantage, militarization led to armed conflict.


The Industrial Revolution left a lasting impact on almost all political, social and economic aspect of life globally. Developments in the nineteenth century Europe are bounded by the French revolution which begun in 1789 and the First World War which started in 1914. The War was a result of many factors or trends in European culture, society and diplomatic relations in the last decades of the 19th century. In between these two great events, much of Europe’s social, political and economic activities were defined. During the 125-year span, Europe was both divided and united. Some of fundamental cultural trends, including the spread of scientific knowledge and new literary styles widened through the entire continent. In the same line, the European state became more connected through diplomatic linked, leading to continent-based alliance unit after 1871. The century was also marked by increased nationalism, where states protected their identities and established more stringent border controls than ever. Further, the continent was divided into two zones characterized by discrepancy in development. Political activism and industrial revolution spread fastest in Western Europe, especially in Britain, France Germany and France. Southern and Eastern Europe was remote at the onset of the period and changed relatively slowly as compared to the West.


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