Class 10 History

Situation Before French Revolution

In the mid-eighteenth-century Europe there were no nation-states as we know them today. Modern day Germany, Italy and Switzerland were divided into kingdoms, duchies and cantons. Their rulers had their own autonomous territories.

Diverse people lived under autocratic monarchies of Eastern and Central Europe. The people did not share a collective identity. The region was full of people from different ethnic groups who spoke different languages. The only binding factor among the people was their allegiance to a common emperor.

Causes and Process of Emergence of Nation States


Socially and politically, a landed aristocracy was the dominant class on the continent. The members of this class were united by a common way of life that cut across regional divisions. They owned estates in the countryside and also town-houses. They spoke French for purposes of diplomacy and in high society. Their families were often connected by ties of marriage. This powerful aristocracy was, however, numerically a small group.

The majority of the population was made up of the peasantry. To the west, the bulk of the land was farmed by tenants and small owners, while in Eastern and Central Europe the pattern of landholding was characterised by vast estates which were cultivated by serfs.

New Middle Class

In Western and parts of Central Europe industrial production and trade grew. This led to the growth of towns where new commercial classes emerged. The existence of this new class was based on production for the market.

New social groups came into existence. A working class population and a middle class (which was composed of industrialists, businessmen and professionals) made the new social groups. It was this class which shaped the ideas of national unity.

Idea of Liberal Nationalism

Ideas of national unity in early-nineteenth-century Europe were closely allied to the ideology of liberalism. For the new middle classes; freedom for the individual and equality of all before the law were the bases of idea of liberalism. From the political perspective, the idea of liberalism emphasized the concept of government by consent.

Liberalism also meant an end of autocracy and clerical privileges. Further, it meant the need of a constitution and a representative government. Inviolability of private property was also emphasized by the nineteenth century liberals.


Universal suffrage was yet to become a reality in France. During the earlier period of revolution, only property-owning men had the right to vote. For a brief period during the Jacobins, all adult males got the voting right. However, Napoleonic Code reverted to the earlier system of limited suffrage.

During the rule of Napoleon, women were accorded the status of minor; subject to authority of father and husband. The struggle for voting rights for women and non-propertied men continued throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century.