2.2.6 Classical Liberalism Timeline


Ancient Greek Democracy

600 BCE - 102 BCE

Athens is often thought of as the first democracy. 12% of the people of Athens had the right to participate in the democratic decision-making process. Only male citizens were eligible to attend assembly meetings. Women and others were excluded from the process. Athenians were allowed to keep slaves, and the rights of Athenian women were restricted. Athen's short lived direct democracy required 40+ meetings of the governing assembly per year, so not all citizens could attend regularly. Only 1/6 of people eligible to vote showed up. Citizens had the right to vote on public policy, but they didn't decide who would implement those policies. The principles shown in this about classical liberalism is property laws (Urukagina) and self-interest (Aristotle)

Magna Carta


A binding document signed in Great Britain in 1215 to establish limits to the rights of the monarch. First drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury to make peace between the unpopular King and a group of rebel barons, it promised the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown, to be implemented through a council of 25 barons. The principles of liberalism used in the Magna Carta was individual rights and freedoms and economic freedom to an extent.


1400 - 1600

Renaissance means rebirth. It was a time of great social, intellectual, political and artistic chance in European history, often seen as a bridge between the Middle Ages and modern times. The Renaissance Humanists believed in individual human worth and dignity. They believed in reason over faith. They thought that people choose their own nature - a great departure from the common thinking at the time that a person's true nature was divined by a higher power. With the Renaissance came the awareness of individualism. The principle about classical liberalism shown by this is individual rights and freedoms.

Haudenosaunee Confederacy

1500 - 1776

The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) is the longest continuously existing participatory democracy in the world. Haudenosaunee means "People of the Longhouse", implying that the six nations should live together as families in the same house under the same rules. The Great Law of Peace states that 1. division of powers among government, 2. equal participation by citizens and 3. establishment of rights and freedoms. The six included nations were: Kanien'kehaka (Mohawk), Oneniote'a:ka (Oneida), Gan'dagwëni:io'geh (Onondaga), Kaion'keha:ka (Cayuga), Shotinontowante'a:ka (Seneca) and Tehatiskaro:ros (Tuscarora). The principles of liberalism created by the Haudenosaunee people were individual rights and freedoms and rule of law.


1517 - 1648

Reformation is the name given to the restructuring of the Church in Europe. It began with a German pastor who believed the church had become corrupt and has too much power. He and others felt that the church had strayed from its true purpose and demanded that it be reformed. Influenced by humanism, over the next years, reformers in many countries broke away from the established roman catholic church and constructed new denominations according to various ideas, especially the idea that people were capable of making their own decisions based on reason. At this time, the power of the church waned and faith in the rational nature of human beings grew. The principles of liberalism shown in the Reformation was individual rights and freedoms and self-interest.


1650 - 1800

As the ideas of the Renaissance and Reformation became more popular, European philosophers helped promote the ideas about human nature that led to the development of classical liberalism. Classical liberalism is typically considered to encourage the following principles: "the primacy of individual rights and freedoms, to be exercised in the individual's self-interest", "the belief that humans are reasonable and can make rational decisions that will benefit both themselves and society as a whole", "economic freedom, involving the ownership of private property and free markets (markets with limited government intervention)", "the protection of civil liberties", and "constitutional limitations on the government". All of these were discovered through the Enlightenment, and they are the basic principles that make up classical liberalism.

Industrial Revolution

1760 - 1840

Before the Industrial Revolution, most people lived under the feudal system. They were peasant farmers who did not own their own land but farmed common land or the land owned by the local lord, or they produced goods for sale in their own cottages or small workshops. After the Industrial Revolution, most people lived in cities, worked in mining and manufacturing industries, or farmed their own land. They owned their own homes, had the right to vote, and were responsible for their own lives. The Industrial Revolution had a lot of impacts on society. One was technology. The growing acceptance of science began to be applied to farming and industry. This meant fewer people were needed to produce goods. People needed to work and went searching for employment in towns and cities. Technology was used to build factories that mass-produced goods that could be transported on improved transportation including ships, railroads, canals and roads. Important things that surfaced during this time were the steam engine, the cotton ginny and road surfacing. Another impact was private property. Land that was publicly owned was taken over by wealthy landowners for private use. Farmers were forced from the land and into towns. There was also a huge impact on individual freedom and economic freedom. Wealthy land owners and industrialists wanted more freedom to own land, factories and mines. Richer people demanded more political power. A wealthy middle class began to develop also. These people demanded greater political rights to accompany the greater economic freedom. Self-interest and competition was an impact as well. During the 1500-1600's, British merchants made huge profits from trade with others which included tobacco, sugar, tea and slaved. The new class of British merchants and industrialists or entrepreneurs explored new ways to make money by taking risks and inventing in new ventures. As you can see, the principles of liberalism used in the Industrial Revolution was private property, individual rights and freedoms, economic freedom, self-interest and competition.

American Revolution

1765 - 1783

Each group of colonies of Great Britain had their own name and government. Settler's were taxed by Britain and they paid tariffs on imported goods. They did not want to be ruled from a government from abroad and declared themselves independent from Great Britain with the "Declaration of Independence" which established a republican form of government in which authority to rule came from the citizens and not a foreign monarch. John Locke had a profound influence on the American revolutionaries. His ideas inspired the American colonists to declare independence from the British crown and establish a republican government. He believed that all people have a natural right to life, liberty and ownership of property and if the government fails to protect these rights, it loses its right to rule and the citizens are entitled to set up a new government.

French Revolution

1789 - 1799

A class structure based on injustice fueled a revolution. At this time, the French society was divided into a class structure in which nobility and members of the church had more rights than regular citizens. They had more money and more power. The French government was in financial trouble partly because they helped fund the American Revolution and partly because of the spending the king was doing. The burden for dealing with this debt came in the form of taxes on the "average" citizen. During the French Revolution, people fought for equality rights. The Declaration of the Rights of Man was signed on August 26th, 1789. The French Revolution was an attempt to transform a society using liberal principles. The principles of liberalism that were included in the Declaration of the Rights of Man were the rule of law, individual rights and freedoms, private property, economic freedom and self-interest. The Declaration is as follows: "men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good", "The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression...", "Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law", "Law is the expression of the general will. Every citizen has a right to participate personally, or through his representative, in its foundation. It must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens being equal in the eyes of the law, are equally eligible to all dignities and to all public positions and occupations, according to their abilities, and without distinction except that of their virtues and talents..", and "The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.."

Changes to class system

1900 - Approx. 1930

Classical liberalism valued the individual as unique and encouraged more economic opportunities. A class structure based on wealth began to emerge. Changes to the class structure so that people could not be born into a better station in life was a key feature of liberalism. Classical liberalism also values private property and economic freedom. People had greater opportunities to become wealthy and join a higher economic class. The principles valued in the changes to the class system were economic freedom, private property, and individual rights and freedoms.