The first known democracy, Athens' political system consisted of the 12% of citizens who had the right to vote. These citizens participated in a direct democracy, and political officers were chosen by drawing lots. Though this system was not particularly democratic or liberal, it still set part of the foundation for liberalism by the citizens' right to have a say in government.
The Magna Carta was a charter signed in Britain, which limited the powers of the monarch and instituted fundamental rights to citizens. The Magna Carta is one of the earliest manuscripts supporting the liberal ideas of liberty and equality in its attempt to balance power between the King and citizens. It displays early development of the principles of liberalism: rule of law and individual rights and freedoms.
The Renaissance (which means "rebirth") was a period in history of major social, intellectual, political, and artistic change. New ideas about humans emerged including ideas about human nature, human reason, human creative potential and the concept of the worth of the individual in society. these concepts of humanity promoted the liberal ideas that people are essentially reasonable and deserve the right to make personal decisions to benefit themselves and society.
The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) was a participatory democracy which followed their constitution, The Great Law of Peace. Its key principles included equal participation by citizens, including women, and the establishment of individual rights and freedoms. This ideology is clearly liberal and inspired figures such as Thomas Jefferson who used it to serve as a model for the Constitution of the United States, thus developing liberalism.
The Reformation describes the reform of the Church of Europe, begun by the posting of the 95 theses by Martin Luther. Power of the Roman Catholic Church was challenged as the beliefs and practices were reformed, and the belief that people can reason for themselves (a principle of liberalism) increased. The Reformation showed the belief that reason was as important as faith for the Christian.
The Age of Enlightenment came about when the ideas of the Renaissance and Reformation became more popular. It was an intellectual movement, spreading ideas of classical liberalism throughout Europe and spreading different views of religion, reason, nature and human beings. These ideas about human nature were promoted by Enlightenment philosophers and led to the development of classical liberalism with the growing popularity in the beliefs of its principles.
The American Revolution was the colonial revolt of the Thirteen Colonies against Great Britain, fighting for independence, which they won and created the United States of America. American Revolution came about with the new ideas of the Enlightenment, and fired by the anger of being taxed by Britain. The people wanted the power to come from the people and not from a foreign monarch. This event reflects the liberal beliefs that humans are reasonable and rational and that there should be limitations on government.
The Industrial Revolution describes the change of Britain from agricultural and mercantile society to industrialization. This period is marked by the laissez-faire economy ( economic freedom was a principle of classical liberalism), along with the ability of business owners to act in self-interest and competition. Though the living conditions of the poor was dismal and inhumane, they had the right to vote, were responsible for their own lives, and owned their own property (another principle of classical liberalism).
Influenced by the American Revolution, the French Revolution attempted to use liberal principles to change society. At this time, society was still organized into the Three Estates. Tired of the oppression and unjust conditions they suffered, the Third Estate revolted, led by leaders who believed in the principles of liberalism. The Revolution led to the creation and approval of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, which established individual freedoms for citizens (although only male citizens) and shows how principles of liberalism influenced French society.
Prior to the establishment of classical liberalism, society was organized into three social classes: The First, Second, and Third Estates. Moving from one class to another was nearly impossible, as one stayed in the particular class that they were born into. Classical liberalism began to change this, making it possible for for people to move to higher classes based on wealth. The economic freedom now given to citizens allowed them to take risks in business, not be interfered with by the government and so earn their fortune. Under classical liberalism, everyone had rights and freedom and were equal under the rule of law. These changes to the class system clearly display principles of classical liberalism.