The Development of Liberalism Timeline


Ancient Greek Democracy

507 BC

In the year 507 B.C., the Athenian leader Cleisthenes introduced a system of political reforms that he called demokratia, or “rule by the people.” This system was comprised of three separate institutions: the ekklesia, a sovereign governing body that wrote laws and dictated foreign policy; the boule, a council of representatives from the ten Athenian tribes; and the dikasteria, the popular courts in which citizens argued cases before a group of lottery-selected jurors. Although this Athenian democracy would survive for only two centuries, Cleisthenes’ invention was one of ancient Greece’s most enduring contributions to the modern world.

The impact of the democracy in the society is important. It allowed the citizens to take part in the government. the People governed themselves, debating and voting individually on issues great and small, from matters of war and peace to the proper qualifications for ferry-boat captains. The Athenians understood the value of checks and balances and of enforcing time for reflection before acting. They understood that professionalism is necessary in certain jobs, that accountability was necessary of most jobs, and that some jobs required absolute job-security.

The Ancient Greek Democracy contributed to the development of classical liberalism in saying that everyone individual has the right to vote; unlike before where only certain upper classes had authority. This government system has impacted and influenced countries still to this day. The ideology that every individual has rights and liberties continues worldwide and influenced philosophers to change their entire social class government system.

Magna Carta


By 1215, because of the years of unsuccessful foreign policies and heavy taxation demands, England’s King John was facing down a possible rebellion by the country’s powerful barons. Under duress, he agreed to a charter of liberties known as the Magna Carta (or Great Charter) that would place him and all of England’s future sovereigns within a rule of law. Though it was not initially successful, the document was reissued (with alterations) in 1216, 1217 and 1225, and eventually served as the foundation for the English system of common law.

Impact on Society: Magna Carta serves as a symbol of freedom from oppression in England. It limits the power of the king and expanded the power of the nobility. Additionally, in an age when all political problems were solved by warfare, this was the first time, at least in Europe, where a Rule of Law was established, to which even the king had to submit. People were also given the freedom to conduct business. However, not until 17th century, the benefits of the charter were reserved for only the elite classes, while the majority of English citizens still lacked a voice in government.


Approx. 1300 - Approx. 1700

Renaissance is a period in European civilization immediately following the Middle Ages. The Renaissance was a time of great intellectual growth and rebirth -- in fact, the word Renaissance literally means "rebirth" in French. This new era of enlightenment for Europeans began in Florence towards the end of the 14th century, following the Middle Ages, and after the Black Death wiped out nearly half of Europe's population. During the Renaissance, a revolution in philosophy, science and mathematics dramatically changed arts and culture in Europe

Impact on Society: Prior to the Renaissance, texts were tediously hand written, and education was reserved to wealthy citizens who could afford such luxury. The printing press revolutionized communication because of it, the middle classes were able to educate themselves. Scientists were able to easily share work, leading to faster and more accurate discoveries. New ideas spread quickly throughout Europe and allowed for widespread educational reform. There were also changes in the way people viewed themselves and others (self-awareness), as well as changes in the way people viewed their relationship with God, the Church, and even their rulers, society saw itself transformed into one where individuals could make an impact on the world around them. For the first time, people could question what they saw around them openly (mostly). Artistic expression could depict not just scenes of religious import, but societal import, impressions of beauty, and ideals. And creativity was at last allowed to flourish (this time period saw the emergence of such notable writers as William Shakespeare, John Milton, Francis Bacon, and Miguel de Cervantes.

Haudenosaunee Confederacy

Approx. 1400 - 1776

The Haudenosaunee, or “people of the longhouse,” commonly referred to as Iroquois or Six Nations, are members of a confederacy of Aboriginal nations known as the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Originally a confederacy of five nations inhabiting the northern part of New York state, the Haudenosaunee consisted of the Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga and Mohawk. When the Tuscarora joined the confederacy early in the 18th century, it became known as the Six Nations. Today, Haudenosaunee live on well-populated reserves — known as reservations in the United States — as well as in off-reserve communities. They joined together under an oral constitution called the Great Law of Peace. This consisted of three key points to classical liberalism:
1. Power must be divided among the three branches
2. Citizen (including women) participation was equal
3. The establishment of rights and freedoms.

Impact on Society: The division of powers created more power for the people. Along with this, equal participation of all citizens or rule of law was viewed as revolutionary as it included women. The establishment of rights and freedoms is a principle of liberalism as it advocates for the natural freedom of an individual. Furthermore, this formed confederacy gave ideas to the United States government for their constitution.


1517 - 1648

The Protestant Reformation was the 16th-century religious, political, intellectual and cultural upheaval that splintered Catholic Europe, setting in place the structures and beliefs that would define the continent in the modern era. In northern and central Europe, reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin and Henry VIII challenged papal authority and questioned the Catholic Church’s ability to define Christian practice. They argued for a religious and political redistribution of power into the hands of Bible- and pamphlet-reading pastors and princes. The disruption triggered wars, persecutions and the so-called Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church’s delayed but forceful response to the Protestants.

Impact on Society: The Reformation’s most direct impact was upon religious and philosophical thought.. The Church was fractured, giving rise to the multitude of Christian denominations that are seen in modern times. Reformation leaders like Martin Luther declared authority should be derived from the Bible, not the Pope or the Church, giving rise to Protestant systems of belief. The movement had economic impact as well. John Calvin, another Reformation leader, taught a doctrine of predestination and hard work. He taught that financial success was a sign one was destined to salvation in the afterlife, and that merchants who succeeded in business did so because God looked upon them favorably. This gave rise to what is known as the “Protestant work ethic,” which led to the economic system of capitalism. The Reformation also inspired a mood of anti-authoritarianism, which led to backlash against the feudal system and, by extension, to the democratic movement around the world. In the centuries following the Reformation, movements like women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery traced their roots back to Reformation-era principles.

The Enlightenment

Approx. 1700 - 1815

European politics, philosophy, science and communications were radically reoriented during the course of the “long 18th century” (1685-1815) as part of a movement referred to by its participants as the Age of Reason, or simply the Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinkers in Britain, in France and throughout Europe questioned traditional authority and embraced the notion that humanity could be improved through rational change. The Enlightenment produced numerous books, essays, inventions, scientific discoveries, laws, wars and revolutions. The American and French Revolutions were directly inspired by Enlightenment ideals and respectively marked the peak of its influence and the beginning of its decline. The Enlightenment ultimately gave way to 19th-century Romanticism.

Impact on Society: Enlightenment impacted society by introducing the idea that mankind could use their reason to discover the natural laws of the world and the natural rights of mankind. These ideals opened up the possibility of unending advancements in the knowledge and possibilities of mankind. The thinkers of the Age of Reason ushered in a new way of thinking. This new way championed the accomplishments of humankind. Individuals did not have to accept despair. Science and reason could bring happiness and progress. Kings did not rule by divine right. They had an obligation to their subjects.

Industrial Revolution

1760 - 1840

The Industrial Revolution, which took place from the 18th to 19th centuries, was a period during which predominantly agrarian, rural societies in Europe and America became industrial and urban. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, which began in Britain in the late 1700s, manufacturing was often done in people’s homes, using hand tools or basic machines. Industrialization marked a shift to powered, special-purpose machinery, factories and mass production. The iron and textile industries, along with the development of the steam engine, played central roles in the Industrial Revolution, which also saw improved systems of transportation, communication and banking. While industrialization brought about an increased volume and variety of manufactured goods and an improved standard of living for some, it also resulted in often grim employment and living conditions for the poor and working classes.

Impact on society: The Industrial revolution led to several changes in the society, most important of which was the change from chiefly agricultural to service-based society. Similarly, villages started shrinking and small towns became cities due to the influx of labor and the rapid urbanization that took place. Industrialization increased material wealth, restructured society, and created important new schools of philosophy. For the first time since the Neolithic Revolution, people worked outside of the local environment of their homes. As in all productive revolutions, skill greatly determined the quality of life. Artisans had the easiest time transitioning to the new economic paradigm. The fact that they had highly developed manual skills enabled them to adapt to the new machinery much easier than their agricultural counterparts. Women and children were also sent out to work, making up 75% of early workers (Stearns). Families were forced to do this, since they desperately needed money, while factory owners were happy to employ women and children for a number of reasons. First of all, they could be paid very little, and children could be controlled more easily than adults, generally through violent beatings (Sadler). Children also had smaller hands, which were often needed to reach in among the parts of a machine.

American Revolution

1776 - 1783

American Revolution, is an insurrection by which 13 of Great Britain’s North American colonies won political independence and went on to form the United States of America. The war followed more than a decade of growing estrangement between the British crown and a large and influential segment of its North American colonies that was caused by British attempts to assert greater control over colonial affairs after having long adhered to a policy of salutary neglect. Until early in 1778 the conflict was a civil war within the British Empire, but afterward it became an international war as France (in 1778), Spain (in 1779), and the Netherlands (in 1780) joined the colonies against Britain. From the beginning, sea power was vital in determining the course of the war, lending to British strategy a flexibility that helped compensate for the comparatively small numbers of troops sent to America and ultimately enabling the French to help bring about the final British surrender at Yorktown.

Impact on Society: Political and social life changed drastically after independence. Political participation grew as more people gained the right to vote. In addition, more common citizens (or “new men”) played increasingly important roles in local and state governance. Hierarchy within the states underwent significant changes. Locke’s ideas of “natural law” had been central to the Declaration of Independence and the state constitutions. Society became less deferential and more egalitarian, less aristocratic and more meritocratic.

The Revolution’s most important long-term economic consequence was the end of mercantilism. The British Empire had imposed various restrictions on the colonial economies including limiting trade, settlement, and manufacturing. The Revolution opened new markets and new trade relationships. The Americans’ victory also opened the western territories for invasion and settlement, which created new domestic markets. Americans began to create their own manufacturers, no longer content to reply on those in Britain. Slaves and free blacks also impacted (and were impacted by) the Revolution. The British were the first to recruit black (or “Ethiopian”) regiments, as early as Dunmore’s Proclamation of 1775 in Virginia, which promised freedom to any slaves who would escape their masters and join the British cause.

French Revolution

1789 - Approx. 1799

French Revolution is a revolutionary movement that began in 1789 and ended in the late 1790s with the ascent of Napoleon Bonaparte. It was a period of ideological, political and social upheaval in the political history of France and Europe as a whole, during which the French polity, previously an absolute monarchy with feudal privileges for the aristocracy and Catholic clergy, underwent radical change to forms based on Enlightenment principles of republicanism, citizenship, and rights. These changes were accompanied by violent turmoil, including executions and repression during the Reign of Terror, and warfare involving every other major European power.

Impact on Society: “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” is a reformist idea that was a foundation for French society. The idea of liberty is apparent in various aspects during the French revolution that would set a standard for the future. The rising middle class overthrew an obsolete aristocracy. This strained struggle essentially paved the way for modern democracy. The entirety of the revolt led to the freedom of oppression that the old French monarchs created. Moreover, not only did the revolt of the middle class allow society to be released from the ancien regime, it generated the entire principle of equality. Since the foundations of a democracy were being revealed, a core value in a democratic society is equality across everyone. Universal suffrage of men that came from all social backgrounds was promoted as a government-sponsored reform. This idea of universal suffrage, despite being limited to males only, this idea developed into what modern Western society has now – a true universal suffrage.

Changes to Class System

Approx. 1800

Queen Victoria ruled over England for a large part of the century, from 1837 to 1901. This was a time that Britain saw tremendous economic and industrial growth due to the Industrial Revolution and the invention of the steam engine. After a period of approximately a century of instability in classes, due to the transition of industry, a new stable pattern emerged. One of the effects of Industrial Revolution is the rise of the middle class. The middle class consisted of newly educated experts in industrial technologies, along with other college-educated professionals like doctors, engineers, and lawyers. It also included people who worked as teachers, governesses, clerks, and other white-collar workers who were not paid as much but still saw a distinction between themselves and the lower classes.

Impact on Society: The establishment of the middle class and prominence of the racial divide. The Victorian Period was very prosperous for the middle class. Middle class owned and managed vast business empires. The rise of the middle class put pressures on the upper classes for increased representation, which resulted in a series of reform acts giving commoners increased representation in parliament. The members of the new European middle class shared several

1) Personal security and prosperity were the
highest goals.
2) The sum of everyone's individual success led
to the success of the society as a whole.

3) Competition between
humans stimulated them to do their "best"--to provide their best
human effort.

4) An open, fluid economy, unfettered by natural
or government restrictions, offered the best possible environment
in which to m foster individual achievement.
5) Since the goal of security made members of the new middle class inclined to
avoid risk, radical change occurred only after economic crisis
forced action to cut costs.