The Age of Absolutism, 1660-1815

By Max Beloff | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
THE MARITIME POWERS AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION

THE penetration of the absolutist regimes of eighteenth- century Europe by the ideas of the enlightenment provides the central interest of the long period of peace on the Continent between 1763 and the outbreak of an even greater cycle of wars in 1792. Some countries stood apart from the general trend to a greater or lesser extent: Italy outside Lombardy, Piedmont, Tuscany, and Naples under Charles III; the Swiss Cantons of which the most important, Berne and Zurich like Geneva were the homes of tight urban oligarchies; and as already seen, parts of Germany. Even countries relatively remote from the main currents of opinion underwent substantial renovation: Sweden under Gustavus III from 1772-92, and Denmark after the initial impulse given by the brief domination of the German physician Struensee from 1770-2. But it should be remembered that as far as the Great Powers were concerned the results of reform were still measured in military not in welfare terms. Prussia with an army of 186,000 in 1771 (capable of being raised to 218,000 in wartime) made the running; and this on a population of 5,000,000. Austria, France and Russia, with their far greater populations, could put no more men in the field. Foreign policy was governed by notions of balance to which, where necessary, smaller or weaker Powers could be sacrificed as Poland was in the partitions. More significant for the future was an event with which these great land-powers were only indirectly connected-- the American Revolution.

The American Revolution was not, of course, a revolution against any form of absolutism; it took place within another political and social constellation, the world of overseas commerce and sea-power. The difference repeatedly emphasized between the essential characteristics of eastern and western

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The Age of Absolutism, 1660-1815
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chapter I - The Age Defined 11
  • Chapter II - The European Scene: 1660-1789 28
  • Chapter III - France 46
  • Chapter IV - Spain and Portugal 77
  • Chapter V - Prussia and Austria 104
  • Chapter VI - Russia and Poland 133
  • Chapter VII - The Maritime Powers and The American Revolution 152
  • Chapter VIII - Absolutism in Transformation: 1789-1815 170
  • A Note on Books 181
  • Index 183
  • Selected List of Books Available In This Series 189
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