Liberalism, Radicalism, and Republicanism in the 1800s

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  • 0:07 Introduction of Terms
  • 0:47 Radicalism
  • 1:54 Republicanism
  • 2:34 Liberalism
  • 4:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will define and explain the political ideologies of the 19th century, specifically radicalism, republicanism, and liberalism. In doing so, it will highlight their beliefs in the right to vote, freedom from religion, separation of church from state, and laissez-faire economics.

The Meaning of Terms: Then vs. Now

Today, we'll be discussing a few of the political ideologies that molded the 19th century. As we do this, we'll tackle liberalism, radicalism, and republicanism. Before we begin, there's one very important thing you've got to keep in mind: in the 19th century, these terms had a very different meaning than they do today. So, try to clear your mind of any preconceived notions you may have when you hear words like 'liberal' or 'radical.' For our discussion, we'll first give a nod to radicalism and republicanism. However, since these groups were rather overshadowed by liberalism, most of our lesson will focus on it.


Radicalism began to brew in late 18th century England, but really, really grew in the first few decades of the 19th. Although there were several forms in which radicalism took shape, a general description of a radical could be a member of the working or middle class, or a supporter of these classes, who called for the right to vote, fair economic conditions, and freedom of the press. Adding to this definition, radicals were also not fans of monarchies, seeing them as an oppressive force that should be thrown off.

Another hallmark of radicalism was its opposition to the church's involvement in the state. Perhaps nowhere was this more plainly seen than in England's Catholic Emancipation, a series of laws that stopped one's religion from playing a role in whether or not a person held political office. Led by men like Jeremy Bentham, radicals called for the church to be separate from state affairs. They also desired the ousting of monarchies in favor of a constitutional republic, or in other words, a government run by the will of a voting people, not just a few wealthy elite.


This brings us to republicanism, a term that's sometimes used interchangeably with European radicalism. Rising up out of the French Revolution, republicanism, like radicalism, took on many forms. However, there are a few overarching characteristics. Republicanism called for the removal of absolute monarchies. It also called for a level political field in the form of universal suffrage, or in other words, the right to vote. Like their radical counterparts in England, European's who favored republicanism were dead-set against the Catholic Church nosing around in matters of the state.


This brings us to liberalism. In its classical form, liberalism was an ideology that held at its core a commitment to the liberty of the individual. This liberty came in the forms of freedom of speech, press, and the right to assemble. Led mostly by members of the working middle class (merchants, bankers, business owners), some will argue that liberalism was not really a fight for equality of all men, but instead equality for the working middle class.

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