The records of what we call "civilization" are largely devoted to a series of periods or historical epochs, marked by such intensity of action and such profound changes that the effects have a permanent bearing. Such effects in their turn become causes, and bring about still further events and changes. It is indeed true that in the more uneventful stretches of historic time there are silent forces and influences always at work, and that these are recognized by students of national life or of world history as things necessary to be understood. But such influences and forces often operate obscurely, and are not estimated at their full value until they have become revealed in the light of startling events in some new period of intense action.
Thus, in the background of the upheavals that produced the American and French revolutions, are to be found the new movements in navigation and trade due to the discovery and colonization of undeveloped parts of the world. And also, in the background, lies the breakdown of feudalism, with the spread of the new doctrines of human rights and of political liberty. The economic and political changes following that intense period at the end of the Eighteenth and the beginning of the Nineteenth century have been so extensive in their areas, and so vast in their statistical aggregates, that they almost baffle analysis and computation.
Out of that intense period there emerged the typical representative democracy that was destined within a century or more to become the prevailing form of political association among men. There emerged from that period the modern ideals of local, national, and international life, as swayed by the intelligence of the masses. "Public opinion" became a recognized institution, so that its necessary instruments--the right of public assembly and the liberty of the press--were safeguarded in constitutions and laws. Invention and discovery also became recognized agents of social progress; and through these agents, within a century, the civilized nations had achieved an economic emancipation that was giving to the many what had been available to the privileged few alone in the Eighteenth Century.
It has been true, however, of all historical progress, that conflicting influences are always present and that forward movements must fight their way, sometimes suffering retardation and temporary defeat. The leading minds of the American and French revolutions had a conception not merely of the rights of man as related to the government and growth of separate nations, but . . .