Next: Madame de Graffigny, Letters of a Peruvian Woman (1747). Study Questions: What attitudes toward Amerindians do you find expressed in the novel? How do they compare with other, earlier attitudes we've studied? What historical issues do you find in the novel? What insights into French/European life in the 18th century do you find? What makes the novel a work of the early Enlightenment?

European States and Competition for Empire

Change or persistance in attitudes of Europeans and Amerindians, 1492-1700

  • the native peoples of the Caribbean and Mexico in the 1492 and the 1520s
  • the Huron of the Northeastern woodlands during the 1630s and 1690s


  Major changes in the World System, 1500-1750 (Marks)
  • Polycentric "worlds" of 1400s become connected into a single world system via new linkages begun with the voyages of Columbus and the European relations with the Americas
  • Continued growth Empires outside of Europe--Russia, China, and the Islamic Empires under rules of Turkish orgin: Mughal India, Safavid Iran, and Ottoman middle East. In the Americas, the Aztec and Incan empires.
  • The development of the European state system, a collection of relatively small and competitive sovereign states whose power was based on war.
  • "Conquest" of the Americas and the Spanish Empire in the 16th century, 1520s on
  • Columbian Exchange
  • The Great Dying: ex. Mexico from 25 million in 1519 to 2.7 million ca. 1570, 750,000 ca. 1670. Organization of labor in encomienda (estate farms) and repartimento (controlled towns)
  • Discover of Silver leads to deeper linkage of Euro-America with China and Asia.
  • Collapse of Spanish Empire by 1648
  • The "New World" Economy (sugar and slavery promote the accumulation of wealth)
  • The European State System
    • 30 Years' War 1618-1648
    • War of Austrian Succession (1740-46)
    • Seven Years' War (1754-1763) The first war for global empire.
    • The American War of Independence 1776-83
    • State finance: how to raise money to fight wars?
      • Mercantilism
      • Taxation & extraction

European States in the 17th and 18th centuries: Competition for Power and Empire

Generalization: In Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, monarchs and rulers sought to increase their power both domestically within their own states and internationally by adding to their territories and populations. Both in consolidating their power internally and expanding their power externally, they employed three aspects of state-building: control, extraction, and integration.

Assess this generalization by marshaling specific evidence that supports or questions it.

 Key Concepts:

  • Consolidation of Power
    within an existing state
    • Control
    • Extraction
    • Integration


    Accumulation of Power
    through the addition of new territory, population, and resources

European States considered to be Great Powers

17th Century

18th Century


 Balance of Power


Great Britain


-Henry IV d. 1604
-Louis XIV d. 1715


Austria/Holy Roman Empire
-Leopold I 1658-1705
-Maria-Theresa 1740-80


Frederick Wm the Great Elector 1640-1688
Frederick III 1688-1701 became -Frederick I, king of Prussia in 1701

- Frederick Wm I (1713-1740)
Fredrick II “the Great” (1740-1786)

-Brandenburg-Prussia: A Fragmented Country
See Maps of Europe in 1600, 1700

Peter the Great (1689-1725)

-Catherine the Great (1762-1796)

The Rise of Brandenburg-Prussia under the Hohenzollerns




Frederick Wm the Great Elector


Geo Political situation: scattered lands, lack of monarchical tradition, etc. The Army would become the unifying institution and force.

Background of weakness during 30 years war

Established standing army in 1650s; served as domestic bureaucracy in part, police, as well as army for foreign warfare

Financed by indirect taxes granted by Estates of Brandenburg and Prussia in exchange for avoiding a land tax and in Prussia for giving full control over the inhabitants of Junker lordships

Co-opted Nobility into Service of the State as army officers and bureaucrats

Raison d’etat: to raise funds, got foreign subsidies for putting his army at the service of the highest bidder, the Dutch, Louis XIV, or Emperor Leopold.

Frederick III

The reign of Bacchus at court


Frederick Wm. I : The Sergeant King

Growth of Army: 40,000 to 80,000

 Rigorous discipline and drill transforms the army into a modern fighting force

Up to 80+ percent of the state budget used to support the army

The place of the army in Prussian and French society around 1740

  • France: 7-8 soldiers for every 1000 population (population ~ 22 million)
  • Prussia: 18 /1000 (population ~ 2.2 million)



 Frederick II "The Great"

  • "I am the first servant of the state."
  • Seizure of Silesia in 1740 from the Austrian Habsburgs

Perspectives on International Relations in the 18th Century. What was a "just" war? What were the motives for war in the European competitive state system?

Historians on the Invasion and Seizure of Silesia by Frederick the Great in 1740

  • G.P. Gooch, writing in 1947, immediately after World War II: Frederick the Great’s seizure of Silesia in 1740 was “a great historical crime.” “The rape of Silesia ranks with the partition of Poland as among the sensational crimes of modern history.”
  • Gerhard Ritter, writing in 1955 about Frederick the Great, arguing that he was not a militarist, but a follower of ‘raison d’etat.’ “Whenever one fights to exalt and aggrandize the state and not simply because of the personal caprices of the ruler,” then the war is “just.”

 Contemporaries of the 18th century: International Relations equivalent to the state of nature in Hobbes.

  • “Each nation in its natural state must be considered as the enemy of all others; or as disposed to be such.” European writer in 1740s
  • “We cannot rely on virtue; it is weak or equivocal, or hidden and unknown; . . . we must thus take as our starting point only the possible and even probable abuse of power.” European writer of 1770s.
  • It is the kingdom of heaven which is won by gentleness; those of this world belong to force.” Frederick II 1742

    “The natural function of the state is to expand its territories.” Frederick II ca. 1740s.
  • “A state should always be at the ready, like a gentleman living a among swashbucklers and quarrelers. Such are the nations of Europe, today more than ever; negotiations are only a continual struggle between men without principles, impudently aggressive and ever greedy.” Marquis d’Argenson, 1739