From Absolutism to Parliamentary Monarchy: A Historical Overview

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Ancien Régime and the Transition to Parliamentary Monarchy

Understanding the Ancien Régime

The Ancien Régime was a system characterized by:

  • Political Absolutism: Kings and queens held absolute power.
  • Social Hierarchy: Society was divided into estates with unequal privileges.
  • Subsistence Economy: The economy focused on meeting basic needs.
  • Cultural and Religious Influence: Culture and religion served the ruling class.

Factors Leading to Change

Several factors contributed to the decline of Absolutism and the rise of Parliamentary Monarchy:

  • Bourgeoisie and Peasants: The bourgeoisie criticized the privileges of nobles and clergy, advocating for social recognition based on merit. Peasants opposed the manorial system and excessive taxes.
  • Economic Challenges: Workers faced increasing poverty, prompting calls for reform.
  • Enlightenment Thinkers: Philosophers like Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Voltaire proposed new political systems based on reason and individual rights.

Parliamentary Monarchy in Great Britain

Great Britain emerged as a model for Parliamentary Monarchy, where Parliament held the power to create laws and exercise judicial authority. However, limitations remained, such as restricted voting rights and the persistence of slavery in the colonies.

The American Revolution and the Enlightenment

Independence of the Thirteen Colonies

The American colonists, dissatisfied with British policies such as lack of representation in Parliament, commercial monopolies, and taxation, declared independence in 1776. The American Revolution culminated in British recognition of American independence in 1783 and the establishment of a republican government with a Bill of Rights.

The Enlightenment's Impact

The Enlightenment played a crucial role in shaping political and social thought, advocating for:

  • Economic Reforms: Opposition to mercantilism and support for free trade.
  • Social Mobility: Emphasis on personal merit over inherited privilege.
  • Political Change: Separation of powers, social contracts, and limitations on monarchical power.

Key Enlightenment thinkers included Montesquieu, Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, and d'Alembert.

The Spanish Succession War and the Bourbon Monarchy

The Conflict and its Resolution

The death of Charles II of Spain without an heir led to the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). The conflict involved European powers supporting either Philip V of Bourbon or Archduke Charles of Austria. The Treaty of Utrecht (1713) ended the war, with Philip V recognized as King of Spain.

Bourbon Reforms in Spain

The Bourbon Monarchy implemented significant changes, including:

  • Centralization: Unification of territories under the Crown of Castile and imposition of Castilian laws through the Nueva Planta decrees.
  • Administrative Reforms: Establishment of audiencias for justice, corregidores for municipal governance, and intendentes for tax collection.

Comparing Political Systems

Federal vs. Unitary States

The historical context of Spain and the United States led to different forms of government. Spain, transitioning from an absolute monarchy, adopted a more centralized unitary system. The United States, born from a war for independence, embraced a federal system with greater power sharing between states and the federal government.

Evolution of Parliamentary Monarchy in England

Key events in the development of Parliamentary Monarchy in England include:

  • Execution of Charles I (1649): A turning point in the struggle between the monarchy and Parliament.
  • Habeas Corpus Act (1679): Protection against unlawful imprisonment.
  • Glorious Revolution (1688): Overthrow of James II and establishment of William and Mary as joint monarchs, accepting the Bill of Rights and limitations on royal power.

Treaty of Utrecht and the Ancien Régime

The Treaty of Utrecht (1713) marked a shift away from the Ancien Régime by ending the War of the Spanish Succession and establishing a new balance of power in Europe. The treaty's provisions, such as the Nueva Planta decrees in Spain, further eroded the traditional structures of the Ancien Régime.

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