Table of Contents
The right to revolution, an idea described by the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke, inspired the colonies in America and the people of France to fight. Dissatisfied with their position in their governments, they gathered the courage and strength to challenge the authorities. Through uprisings, both revolutions sought to establish a government that reflected Enlightenment beliefs in legitimate rights, the power of the people, and equality. In pursuit of these goals, people embodied in reality the idea that with the help of revolution, it is absolutely possible to achieve change. The American and French Revolutions had significant differences and similarities in the goals, causes and events that ultimately led to the results of each.
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French and American Revolution
The preconditions of the revolutions in France and America were almost similar. Both revolutions were caused, one way or another, by taxes. At the time of the American Revolution, the colonies in America were controlled overseas by a limited monarchy and predominantly asserted the right to their own power. Colonial assemblies, elected by the people, enacted laws, paid governors chosen by the King and had the “power of the purse” in which taxes were imposed or raised solely with the consent of the people. Therefore, when Britain, after the war with France and India, found itself in a complex economic situation and decided to tax the population without their consent, people began to resent it. Ultimately, their protests led to the American Revolution. The tax issue of the French Revolution was significantly different from that of the American Revolution. Since the country was governed by an absolute monarch, taxes, as in the American Revolution, were imposed without the consent of the people. But in the French case, commoners or peasants claimed no right to express their political opinion. The title of an absolute monarch forbade ordinary people to oppose the decisions of the monarchy, as it was believed that the king ruled by “divine right” from God and therefore no one and nothing could contradict him. The difference between the causes of the American and French Revolutions was the form of government and the rights that the people had. In the French Revolution, the people’s discontent with the king and his unjust economic policies prompted the Third Estate to formulate a new and fair constitution. During the American Revolution, the primary goal was to rebel against taxes. However, in most cases, both the American and French revolutions decided on a common goal — to form a more effective government.
There are additionally similarities and differences in the events that took place during the French and American Revolutions. During the American Revolution in 1775, a group of representatives of thirteen colonies, known as the Continental Congress, was formed. In 1789, the Third Estate of the French Revolution replaced its name with the National Assembly. These formations represented the people’s desire for change and directed the people during the initial stages of revolutions. During the American Revolution, on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress adopted Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, which united Americans in the struggle to become an independent nation. Motivated by the American Declaration of Independence, the participants of the French Revolution also presented their own declaration entitled “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen”. Both declarations were formed on the identical principles of philosopher John Locke in his idea of “natural law”. These declarations became essential historical documents that defined the goals of the revolutions and clearly reflected many of the enlightenment ideas of reason and law.
However, the results of both revolutions were exactly reversed. As a consequence of the American Revolution, the colonies were capable of gaining independence from Great Britain with the help of the French. In contrast, the results of the French Revolution did not achieve its desired initial purpose. After the exile of Napoleon to the island of St. Helena, France was under the rule of the Congress of Vienna, where representatives of neighboring countries decided the fate of the state. The representatives made efforts to restore France and reverse the revolution, but despite their attempts, the changes were inevitable. Although the outcome of the French Revolution was not successful, it has forever taken its place in history. The distinction between the American and French Revolutions was in their effectiveness in achieving and implementing their goals. But what both revolutions had in common was that they both led to great changes.
The American and French Revolutions were important markers in history that proved the possibility of transformations through revolution. After 8 long years, the colonies of the American Revolution finally gained freedom from Britain. Although the results of the French Revolution did not achieve their goals, change was undoubtedly involved in all of it. Collectively, the similarities and differences of both revolutions reflect their struggle for change and better government. The results of the American and French Revolutions have become crucial factors that our leaders still consider today to improve our lives.