Marleigh Kerr


Prof. Westblade

20 February 2023

The Landscape of the World in the 1780s and 90s

There are specific moments that define history. Every era has a significant event, but some ripple far more than others. The 1780s and 1790s were two such eras. Both contained events that affected the World in a massive way. One such event would be the creation and implementation of the U.S. Constitution. Another would be the French Revolution and the killing of Louis XVI which ultimately brought about the rise of Napoleon. A third major event of these decades finds itself in the Slave Revolts that were occurring, particularly in Saint-Dominique. While these were clearly defining moments in World History, few could fully understand just how far those ripples would go, or how much they would affect the world, even in their era.  The different events of this time period emphasize both the history of the world and highlight some of the events that may have been affecting the Puritans in this time.

The first main event is obviously associated with the New World, and that would be the implementation and ratification of the new United States Constitution. The impact of this created a new way of governing in America, but it also created a ripple effect throughout the world as there was a recognition of what the power of a republic could do and what the rise of this new superpower would look like. What this document contained was clearly the most impactful part of it. It contained a new type of freedom. The ideas that would have most influenced the Puritans were the ones on religion, however there were far more. The one that influenced the world was the focus on the people. Lynn Wardle speculates in a writing entitled “The Constitution as Covenant” that the root of the Constitution is founded on the idea of a covenant that was so important to the Protestants in America. He said, “The belief that church government should be by covenant (that is, by consent of the congregation) was one of the most revolutionary aspects of covenant theology….”[1] That same idea could be found heavily in that of the writing of the Constitution. The religious influence on the Constitution as a principle that would be guided by the people was an aspect that was relevant in both government and religion and permeated its way throughout the entire history of this time. This idea of covenantal relationship in the American Constitution also showcases the influence the Puritans were having on the world and the establishment of this new country as they brought this idea of covenants with them to the New World. As another writing says, “But the Constitution was permeated with the substance of covenant which anchored and perpetuated the commitment to the Union.”[2] It may have taken many years for this affect to be realized but it eventually made its way into major world events. The purpose of the Constitution was to protect the states and to specify the powers within one document. The emphasis was to be a commitment between the people and the government to protect from anarchy and establish powerful political habits. [3] This idea was going to be one that was looked to in other revolutions, even within these decades. This Constitution became the “ideal against which positive law could and should be judged….”[4] The signing of the Constitution was the start of a new era of control and established a new way of thinking about not only government, but also a new way to look at the entire world.

Another major event that happened as a part of the aftermath of the American Revolution and the Constitution was the French Revolution. This makes clear that the ideas that were permeating America were having effects all over the world, although to varying degrees of success. The French Revolution left many with confusion. Some of the biggest events that happened in the space of just a few years were “…from 1789 (the fall of the Bastille) to 1794 (Thermidor), the Great Fear Occurred, ‘feudalism’ was abolished, church lands were nationalized, a king was executed, and a Declaration of the Rights of Man was proclaimed.”[5] Most well-known, these years ended in the Regin of Terror. Even if this did not have daily implications for people outside of France, it very clearly was a big enough event to warrant some notice by the rest of the world. It changed the way France was governed and showed the far more violent side of attempting to implement people’s rule. Particularly in Europe, there was attention paid to the destruction of order that was occurring in France.[6] This revolution had an impact by causing many others to believe that they too had the ability to start a revolution. The Napoleonic Era spread far and caused a ripple throughout the World in a more concrete way in the following years. Many other revolutions were occurring at the time but because Napoleon rose to power following the French Revolution there are true far-reaching effects due to the colonization that went far beyond the French Revolution. The Revolution also developed a standard for change in the world, as it brought about the recognition of the “capitalist world-economy.”[7] This may have only spanned a few decades, but it had world-wide consequences.

Another world event that was playing in the background of the world was that of the Slave Revolts. While there were many that were small, there were multiple that grew to a great number of slaves. They also lasted far longer than the 1780s and 1790s, although they were prevalent in this era as well. These events play in the background of the world events, and one revolt tended to inspire another. One such revolt was one in Saint-Dominique in 1791-1793. As one author wrote, “As for Saint-Domingue, not only did the Northern Plain uprising of 1791-1793 dwarf all others in magnitude, duration, and outcome, but it stimulated five or six other revolts in different parts of the colony that each involved probably thousands of insurgents.”[8] It was speculated that part of the reason this revolution may have grown to a larger one than those that preceded it was because of the effect of revolutionary spirit in other parts of the world. This revolution focused on similar aspects of liberation as could be seen in France but was more focused on the force of arms to free themselves from a society created on bondage.[9] These revolutions built off of each other with different aims and effects. There would have been attention paid to these events all around the world as the question of slavery was beginning to be discussed more prevalently all around.

The world stage throughout the 1780s and 1790s appears to be one of re-birth and change, for good or for ill. From the establishment of a new Constitution in the United States to attempting to re-start many societies by revolutions, this change could be seen. This age of revolution is interesting because of the vast impact that it has on the world. There is not merely a continuation of the status quo, but now a look to the future and change. This would have affected the Puritans in America because they too were attempting to bring about change in their religious faith and are now seeing more change happen around the world. The major events that play out in the background of the Puritans are important for the effect they had on the view of the world.


Geggus, David. “Slave Rebellion During the Age of Revolution.” Essay. In Curacao in the Age of Revolution, 1795 - 1800, edited by Wim Klooster and Gert Oostindie, 23–56. Boston, MA: Brill, 2014.

Rothman, Rozann. “The Impact of Covenant and Contract Theories on Conceptions of the U.S. Constitution.” Publius 10, no. 4 (1980): 149–63.

Wallerstein, Immanuel. “The French Revolution as a World-Historical Event.” Social Research 56, no. 1 (1989): 33–52.

Wardle, Lynn D. “The Constitution as Covenant.” Brigham Young University Studies 27, no. 3 (1987): 11–28.

“World Events and Major Publications 1780-1795 Timeline.” Preceden, n.d.



[1] Lynn D Wardle, “The Constitution as Covenant,” Brigham Young University Studies 27, no. 3 (1987): pp. 11-28, 13.

[2] Rozann Rothman, “The Impact of Covenant and Contract Theories on Conceptions of the U.S. Constitution,” Publius 10, no. 4 (1980): pp. 149-163, 163.

[3] Rothman, 159.

[4] Rothman, 162.

[5] Immanuel Wallerstein, “The French Revolution as a World-Historical Event,” Social Research 56, no. 1 (1989): pp. 33-52, 41.

[6] Wallerstein, 41

[7] Wallerstein, 44

[8] David Geggus, “Slave Rebellion During the Age of Revolution,” in Curacao in the Age of Revolution, 1795 - 1800, ed. Wim Klooster and Gert Oostindie (Boston, MA: Brill, 2014), pp. 23-56, 25.

[9] Geggus, 27-28.