The Development of Liberalism


Ancient Greek Democracy

507 BC

"Demokratia" or rule by the people was introduced by Cleisthenes, the Athenian leader, as a form of political reformation. This form of democracy lasted only two centuries, but happened to be a large contribution to todays government system. This reform was the first sign of rule of law being in place when Greek historian Herodotus wrote, "equality before the law" and Cleisthenes abolished political distinctions between classes.

Magna Carta


The Magna Carta was a document King John of England was forced into signing. This document reduced the power he had, and was considered the beginning to a constitutional government in England. The Magna Carta not only became the basis for English citizens rights but was the start to the individual rights and freedoms we have today. It demonstrated that the kings power could be limited and is considered the founding document of English liberties.


1300 - 1500

Meaning "rebirth" the Renaissance in Europe brought a greater interest in the individual. The people of Europe showed an interest in ancient Greek ideals. Europeans began to appreciate the worth of the individual and the importance of life on this world, which resulted in influencial people in Europe's way of thinking and what they studied and focused on. Painters, for example, shifted their perspective to the world around them which made for a better depiction of the real world. This time period opened people up to use their own self interest when it came to the way they thought and acted. And the Renaissance showed people that it is okay to do so.

Haudenosaunee Confederacy

1400 - 1776

The Great Law of Peace was established by the Haudenosaunee people and influenced liberal thought in North America. This constitution outlined many things that we practice in todays government. These such things are, equal participation of people in government issues (even women), different levels of government, unity among nations and rights and freedoms. This constitution showed us individual rights and freedoms first being established on paper, as well as equal opportunities.


1517 - 1648

Protestant reformation came about by the 1517 posting of Martin Luthers Ninety-Five theses, which is a book that discusses the practices of the Catholic Church. Reformation was initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other protestants who objected the doctrines and structure of the Catholic Church. They created protestant churches in attempt to erode peoples faith in the Roman Catholic Church. This reformation resulted in European religious wars between Roman Cathlic and Protestant religions but were ended in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia. Competition is a principle of liberalism that is displayed in this act of reformation, as people were fighting over which religion they deemed as more accurate.

Industrial Revolution

1700 - 1800

Known as the coming together of new ideas and new conditions, the Industrial Revolution created such an impact that it is considered the most far reaching transformation. The Industrial Revolution consisted of farming in rural areas shifting into factory work in urban areas - agricultural and mercantile to modern industrial. But, this new system created large class discrepancies - extremely wealthy and extremely poor. Another big change occured during the revolution, that was enclosure. Public lands that could be farmed by many became private - this was the starting point for private property.

The Enlightenment


Also known as the age of reason, the Enlightenment period helped promote classical liberalism and its beliefs turned into liberal ideologies that are now seen in the 19th century. This age was promoted by the ideas of the Renaissance and Reformation, but it had newer and more improved ideas. The Enlightenment promoted ideas such as rights, the power of human reason, democratic values, economic freedom and the worth of individuals. This time period demonstrated multiple of the principles of individualism such as rights and freedoms, economic freedom and self interest. This period put together many of the ideas that had been brought forth in previous events.

American Revolution


The American Revolution seemed to be a risky and evolving experiment. John Locke's ideas, and the ideas of other early liberal thinkers inspired the American Revolution. American colonists declared independence from Britian and the British crown to create a republican government. The authority in government invested in the citizens of the country, more so than the monarch. Locke believed that the government should be held responsible for citizen activity and since during the revolution the government invested in the citizens there is somewhat a demonstration of collective responsibility that took effect.

French Revolution


This is when the concepts of liberalism started to form into an ideology. Representatives of the common people started to go against the King of France as they sensed a lack of commitment to reform by him. The leaders of the revolution believed in liberal ideals, and the principles of liberalism, so in turn the leaders and ordinary people developed a mob mentality, which then turned into a reign of terror. Many people lost property's while others lost their lives. But not all was bad because documents were made for foundational individual freedoms, this document was the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. This revolution put individual rights and freedoms into a document, and shows how principles of liberalism came to influence French society.

Changes to Class System


The revolutions impacted the class systems that emerged in the 19th century. The "nouveau riche" or "the newly wealthy" emerged as factory owners, bankers, retailers, engineers and other professions came about. All of these newly found professions had great wealth that challenged the aristocrat class for power. But, with the rich came the poor. Labourers struggled as they had substancially poor working and living conditions as well as insufficient pay wages, making it hard to get by. The class changes showed that economic freedom and self interest benefits many, but it can also put many in dismay.