Events Abroad | 1763—89

Europe in 1789


The 27 years during which America awakened to its need for independence — debated it, declared it, struggled for it, and ratified and effected its Constitution — were bookended by the end of one global conflict and the beginning of another.

In Europe the 1763 Peace of Paris concluded the Seven Years War, sometimes called the first true world war. It was a conflict that involved all of the major European countries, and once again pitted Great Britain against France for global dominance. In 1789, with the storming of the Bastille, the French Revolution began — influenced by the American Revolution, but begun for lack of bread. It would lead to mass executions of its own people, the rise of Napoleon to general and emperor, millions killed elsewhere, and once more a face-off between France and Britain.


Captain James Cook made three historic voyages to locations that no European had seen. The first voyage (1768—71) is shown in red; the second voyage (1772—75) in green; the third voyage (1776—79) in blue. The route of Cook’s crew following his death is shown as a dashed blue line.


  • The Peace of Paris ends the Seven Years War, which for Colonial Americans brought to a close the French and Indian War. Florida, Mississippi, and Ohio Valley are ceded to England by France and Spain.
  • On 16 May Samuel Johnson (1709—84) meets the 22-year-old Scot, James Boswell (1740—95), his future biographer.



  • Joseph II (1741—90) becomes Holy Roman Emperor (succeeding his father, Francis I). He is co-regent with his mother, Maria Theresa (1717—80).
  • Scottish inventor James Watt (1736—1819) builds his steam engine, having invented the condenser the year before.
  • Samuel Johnson has his critical edition of Shakespeare published as The Plays of William Shakespeare, in Eight Volumes … To which are added Notes by Sam. Johnson.



  • Joseph Priestly (1733—1804), often considered the second greatest British scientist after Isaac Newton, publishes The History and Present State of Electricity, which incorporates Ben Franklin’s work in the field.
  • Laurence Sterne (b. 1713) completes Tristram Shandy, begun in 1760, and dies the next year after completing Sentimental Journey.
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756—91) composes his first opera Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebotes (The Obligation of the First and Foremost Commandment), when he is 11 years old.


  • Captain James Cook (1728—79) begins his first circumnavigation (returning 1771).
  • Publication of Poems by Mr. Gray — by English poet Thomas Gray, 1716—71 — which includes Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. Still today one of the most popular poems, it looked forward in spirit to the romanticism of Wordsworth.


  • Napoleon Bonaparte born in Corsica (d. 1821).
  • Pope Clement XIV (1705—74) succeeds Pope Clement XIII as the 249th pope.
  • The Ottoman Empire declares war on Russia instigating the Russo-Turkish War of 1768—74.



  • Italian physician Luigi Galvani (1737—98) discovers the electrical nature of the nervous impulse.
  • Johann Gottfried Herder (1744—1803) wins a prize from the Berlin Academy for his best-known work in the philosophy of language, the Treatise on the Origin of Language (published 1772).
  • The complete first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica is published in Edinburgh, Scotland.
  • Death of English poet Thomas Gray (b. 1716).



  • In a papal brief on 21 July, Pope Clement XIV (1705—74) calls for the suppression of the Jesuit order.
  • Parliament passes the British East India Company Regulating Act, which is the first step to government control of India.
  • The play She Stoops to Conquer by Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith (1730—74), premieres in London.


  • Louis XVI (1754—93) becomes King of France after his grandfather Louis XV dies.
  • On 19 April Edmund Burke (1729—97) delivers a speech in the House of Commons, On American Taxation, in which he advocates for the full repeal of the Townshend Revenue Act of 1767, which taxed tea.
  • Franz Mesmer (1734—1815) begins using magnétisme animal (animal magnetism) for health purposes. His ideas were adapted and led to the use of hypnotism in the 19th century.
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749—1842), poet and polymath, publishes The Sorrows of Young Werther, an epistolary novel which immediately makes him internationally famous. Arguably, the story, ending in suicide, initiated Romanticism in literature and other arts.
  • Letters by Lord Chesterfield (1694—1773), on how a gentleman should behave, is published posthumously as Letters to his Son.
  • Iphigénie en Aulide by Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714—87) is performed in Paris and sparks tremendous controversy because of its new approach to opera.


  • Joseph Priestley (1733—1804), theologian, political theorist, and natural philosopher, discovers hydrochloric and sulfuric acid.
  • English landscape painter J.M.W. Turner born (d. 1851).
  • English novelist Jane Austen born (d. 1817).
  • Le Barbier de Séville, by French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais (1732—99), has its premiere.


  • Commander James Cook (1728—79) undertakes his third voyage, which he does not survive.
  • An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations is published by Scottish economist Adam Smith (1723—90).
  • Death of David Hume, English empiricist philosopher (b. 1711). He tells James Boswell, who visited him a few weeks before his death, that he believed it to be a most unreasonable fancy that there might be life after death.
  • After the labours of seven years, Edward Gibbon (1737—94) completes the first volume of The Decline and Fall of the Holy Roman Empire, which goes through three editions through 1777. The work, which was eventually published in six volumes over 15 years, is Gibbon’s magnum opus as well as one of the great achievements in history and literature.


  • Spain and Portugal sign the Treaty of San Ildefonso, which settles their disputes regarding the South American colonies.
  • French nobleman Antoine Lavoisier (1743—94) proves that air consists mainly of nitrogen and oxygen.
  • Sébastien Érard (1752—1831), a pioneer of the modern piano, makes his first pianoforte in Paris.
  • The premiere of The School for Scandal by British playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751—1816).


  • France formally declares war on Britain with the signing of the 1778 Treaty of Alliance with the United States on 6 February.
  • Commander James Cook (1728—79) discovers Hawaii during his third voyage to the Pacific and is killed there when he returns there in 1779.
  • Death of Voltaire (b. 1694).
  • Death of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (b. 1712).
  • The first novel by Fanny Burney (1752—1840) Evelina — Or The History of A Young Lady's Entrance into the World becomes a critical success.
  • La Scala opens in Milan, Italy. Today it continues to be one of the Europe's great opera houses.
  • Ludwig van Beethoven (1770—1827) gives his first public performance on the pianoforte in March.


  • Spain declares war on Britain, indirectly entering on the American side.
  • David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is published posthumously by his nephew.
  • Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714—87) premieres his opera Iphigénie en Tauride in Paris.


  • Empress Maria Theresa (b. 1717) of Austria dies and is succeeded by her son Joseph II (1765—90), who has already been Holy Roman Emperor since 1765.
  • The Fourth Anglo-Dutch War begins on 20 December. The British are now fighting against France, Spain, Holland, and the colonists in America.
  • The British Gazette and Sunday Monitor, the first Sunday newspaper in Britain, begins publication on 26 March.
  • French neo-classical painter Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres is born (d. 1867).


  • Richard Arkwright (1733—92) opens the world's first steam-driven textile mill in Manchester, England.
  • Frederick William Herschel — who constructed over 400 telescopes in his career — discovers the planet Uranus, doubling the known size of the solar system.
  • Clarendon Press is established at Oxford.
  • Having been awakened from a dogmatic slumber some eleven years earlier by reading David Hume, Immanuel Kant completes the Critique of Pure Reason. Largely ignored when it was first published, today it is considered one of the great works in the history of philosophy.
  • Samuel Johnson’s final great work, The Lives of the English Poets (begun in 1777), is published in six volumes. The Lives, which are critical as well as biographical studies, appear as prefaces to selections of each poet's work.
  • Joseph Haydn completes his six Opus 33 Quartets (Russian), which are written in a new and special way.


  • Pope Pius VI takes the extraordinary step of visiting Emperor Joseph II (1765-90) in Vienna, to ask him to rescind his program of tolerance which encroaches on papal authority. The emperor is not persuaded.
  • On 14 September Admiral Lord Howe (1726—99), who with his brother led the British military in the first years of the American Revolution, conclusively ends the Spanish and French-led Siege of Gibralter.
  • Spain completes conquest of Florida.
  • Friedrich Schiller (1759—1805), sees the premiere of his first play, Die Rauber (The Robbers) on 13 January in Mannheim, Germany. He is now considered Germany’s greatest classical playwright.
  • Jean Jacques Rousseau’s autobiography, Confessions, is published posthumously.
  • English novelist Fanny Burney (1752—1840) is paid £250 for publication of her novel Cecilia — Or, Memoirs of an Heiress.
  • Death of Johann Christian Bach (b. 1735, the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach); his post-Baroque music influenced Mozart.
  • Wolfgang Mozart (1756—91) completes his opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio), which premieres in Vienna to great acclaim.


  • General Grigory Potemkin (1739—91) conquers Crimea for Russia.
  • William Pitt the Younger becomes the youngest Prime Minister of Britain at the age of 24.
  • The Montgolfier brothers ascend in their globe aérostatique, a hot air balloon in Annonay, France.
  • French nobleman Antoine Lavoisier (1743—94) discovers that water consists of hydrogen and oxygen.
  • French nobleman Marquis de Jouffroy d’Abbans (1751—1832) sails a paddle-wheel boat powered by steam on the Saone River, becoming the first inventor of the steamboat.
  • John Broadwood (1732—1812), English pianoforte maker, patents the piano pedal.
  • English poet William Blake (1757—1827) publishes his Poetical Sketches.
  • The publication of the first three piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770—1827).


  • Joseph Bramah (1748—1814), English inventor and locksmith, patents the safety lock, which was considered unpickable.
  • George Atwood (1745—1807), an English mathematician, accurately calculates the acceleration of a falling body.
  • Death of Denis Diderot (b. 1713), French philosophe and chief editor of the Encyclopédie, which showcased Enlightenment thought and aimed to change the way people think.
  • Gottfried Herder (1744—1803), begins his Ideas for the Philosophy of History of Humanity (1784-91) which attempts to show that nature and history obey one system of laws.
  • Death of Samuel Johnson (b. 1709).
  • Le Mariage de Figaro, by French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais (1732—99), premieres in Paris.


  • The Affair of the Diamond Necklace in Paris, in which Marie Antoinette (1755—93) is blameless, instead further discredits the Bourbon monarchy in the eyes of the French people.
  • Marquis de Sade (1740—1814) writes The 120 Days of Sodom while imprisoned in the Bastille.
  • French painter Jacques-Louis David (1748—1825) completes The Oath of the Horatii which suggests republican ideals over family ties.
  • French inventor Jean-Pierre Blanchard (1753—1809) and Boston physician John Jeffries (1744—1819) are the first to cross English Channel in a balloon, taking about two and a half hours to travel from England to France.
  • James Watt (1736—1819) and his business partner Matthew Boulton (1728—1809) install a steam engine with rotary motion in a cotton spinning factory at Papplewick, Nottinghamshire.
  • English clergyman Edmund Cartwright (1743—1823) receives a patent for the mechanical loom, which he designed the year before.
  • The Daily Universal Register begun by John Walter in London. The name is changed in 1788 to The Times.
  • James Boswell (1740—95) publishes his account of his Scottish travels with Samuel Johnson (1709—84). The Journal of the Tour of the Hebrides, is a preliminary attempt at a biography before his Life of Johnson.
  • Having closely studied what Haydn accomplished in his Opus 33 Quartets (1781), Mozart completes and publishes Six Quartets dedicated to Haydn, a pinnacle in classical chamber composition.


  • Lord Cornwallis (1738—1805), a British general in the American Revolution who lost the war at Yorktown, is made Governor-General of India.
  • Martin Heinrich Klaproth (1743—1817), a German chemist, discovers Uranium.
  • Death of Moses Mendelssohn (b. 1729), influential German Jewish philosopher and grandfather of composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809—47).
  • Publication of Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, by Robert Burns (1759—96), which became an immediate success.
  • The opera The Marriage of Figaro, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (based on the 1778 play by Beaumarchais), premieres in Vienna.


  • Turkey declares war on Russia.
  • An English settlement for freed slaves is founded in Sierra Leone.
  • French nobleman Antoine Lavoisier (1743—94) publishes Method de nomenclature chimique (Elements of Chemistry), for which he is remembered as the Father of Modern Chemistry.
  • Death of Christoph Willibald Gluck (b. 1714), German composer and innovator in Italian and French opera
  • Don Giovanni, Wolfgang Mozart’s second collaboration with opera librettist Lorenzo da Ponte (1749—1848), has its premiere in October to acclaim in Prague.


  • George III experiences his first attack of mental illness.
  • The French Estates-General (representing everyone except the clergy and nobility) present its list of grievances, Cahiers de doléances, to the court of King Louis XVI.
  • Death of the comte de Buffon (b. 1707), whose influential work Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière was published in 36 volumes during his lifetime.
  • Andrew Meikle (1719—1811), a Scottish millwright, obtains a patent for his threshing machine.
  • Seven years after publishing his first Critique on epistemology, Immanuel Kant (1724—1804) follows up with Critique of Practical Reason, a work of moral philosophy which introduces the concept of the categorical imperative. (His concluding work, on aesthetics and teleology, Critique of Judgment would be completed two years later.)
  • Friedrich Schiller (1759—1805) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749—1832) meet and later strike up a friendship that shapes the period now known as Weimar Classicism.
  • The last three volumes (of six) of The Decline and Fall of the Holy Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon (1737—94) is published in London.
  • John Lemprière (1765—1824), completes his Classical Dictionary containing a full Account of all the Proper Names mentioned in Ancient Authors,which updated by later editors, remains a standard reference for two hundred years.
  • Birth of the English Romantic poet George Gordon, Lord Byron (d. 1824).
  • Death of Thomas Gainsborough (b. 1727), the most important English portrait and landscape painter of the 18th century.
  • Mozart (1756—91) writes his last three symphonies, 39, 40, and 41 (Jupiter), in rapid succession during the summer.


  • In France, the bitter cold winter with heavy snowfalls brings commerce to a standstill; in spring, major flooding spoils farming lands. Bread riots break out in Brittany, then Flanders, and eventually Paris.
  • The commoners of the French Estates-General (without the clergy and nobility) meet at Versailles declares itself the National Assembly.
  • The storming of the Bastille by a Paris mob on 14 July: the French Revolution begins.
  • Australian Netherlands declares its independence and becomes Belgium.
  • The mutineers of HMS Bounty settle on the Pitcairn Islands in the Pacific.
  • In his study of flowering plants, Genera Plantarum, Antoine Laurent de Jussieu (1748—1836) develops a system of classification for plants that is still largely in use today.
  • Though printed in 1780, Jeremy Bentham (1748—1832) finally sees published his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. It will be regarded as the founding document of British utilitarianism.
  • English poet William Blake (1757—1827) publishes Songs of Innocence.

The issue of taxation had immense symbolic importance on both sides of the Atlantic. Like most of his fellow members of Parliament, [Lord Frederick] North regarded the right of Britain to tax America as integral to the absolute and indivisible supremacy of Parliament over America. The concept of parliamentary sovereignty was more than an abstract doctrine. It had emotional resonance as a constitutional victory won against the monarchy in the Glorious Revolution, following the deposition of James II in 1688. It was regarded as essential for the protection of liberty in general. For Britain, the right to tax the colonies was fundamental to its authority to govern America. At the same time, taxation united colonial opposition more than any other grievance.

Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy
The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire (2013)