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The right of revolution was an idea proposed by Enlightenment Philosopher John Locke, which inspired and challenged the colonies in America and the people of France to revolt. Displeased with their current positions with their governments, they mustered up the courage and strength to challenge authority. Through their battles and hardships, both revolutions sought a government that mirrored the Enlightenment beliefs of natural rights, power of the people, and equality. With those goals in mind, they demonstrated the idea that through revolution, change was indeed possible. In the American and French Revolutions, there were significant differences and similarities in the goals, causes, and events that ultimately led to the outcomes of each. This essay has been written with a view to compare and contrast the American and French Revolutions.
The causes of the revolutions in France and America were very similar. Both revolutions were caused, in one way or another, by taxes. In the American Revolution, the colonies in America were being ruled overseas by a limited monarchy and were generally allowed to govern themselves. The colonial assemblies, elected by the people, passed laws, paid the governors elected by the King and held the “power of the purse,” in which taxes were only passed or raised with the consent of the people. So when Britain found itself in debt after the French and Indian war, and decided to tax the people without their consent, the colonies showed resentment towards their leaders. Eventually, their protests led to the American Revolution. The French Revolution’s tax dilemma was one of the differences between the French and American Revolution. Being ruled by an absolute monarch, the taxes were, like the American Revolution’s, imposed without the consent of the people. However, in the French’s case, the commoners or peasants had little or no say.
How it works
The title of an absolute monarch did not allow peasants or common people to rise against the decisions of the absolute monarchy because they claimed that the king ruled with the “divine right” from God, and therefore no power on earth could stop or order him. In French society, there was the Estates-General, France’s only representative assembly, which consisted of 3 Estates. The Third Estate, mainly consisting of peasants and commoners, paid almost all the taxes and had no special privileges, but The First and Second Estates did not pay taxes and lived lavishly on the taxes collected from the Third. After allying with the colonies in the American Revolution, France, like Britain in the American Revolution, found themselves in a bad financial situation. The French King wanted to impose more taxes upon the Third Estate but, already being unfairly overtaxed, the Third Estate rose up against the monarchy and inevitably caused the French Revolution.
The difference between the causes of the American and the French Revolution was the governments of their time and the amount of power the people were allowed to have. In the French Revolution, the people’s discontent with the King, and his unfair taxing and spending habits, gave the Third Estate a goal to draft a new and fair constitution for the government. In the American Revolution, their original goal was to revolt against the taxes. But soon after Thomas Paine’s words in his pamphlet “Common Sense” were published and spread throughout the colonies, the American Revolution’s goal changed to gaining independence as a new nation apart from Britain. The shared goal to form a better government was one of the main similarities between the American and French Revolution.
There are also similarities and differences that can be seen in the events and outcomes of the French and American Revolutions. In the American Revolution, a group representative of the thirteen colonies called the Continental Congress formed in 1775. In 1789, the French Revolution’s Third Estate changed their name to the National Assembly. Both of these groups represented the people calling for change and, for a period of time, governed the people of the revolutions in their earliest stages. In the American Revolution, on July 4th, 1776, the Continental Congress accepted Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, uniting the colonists as Americans in the fight to become an independent nation. Inspired by the American’s Declaration of Independence, the French Revolution also penned their own declaration called the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.” Both declarations were based on the same ideas of John Locke in his philosophy of “natural law.” These declarations were important documents in history, stating the goals of the Revolutions that readily reflected and shared many of the Enlightenment ideas of reason and law, but the outcomes of both revolutions were very opposite.
In the American Revolution’s outcome, the colonies were able to win independence from Britain with the help of the French. But in contrast, the French Revolution’s outcome did not fulfill its original goal as wished. After Napoleon was exiled to St. Helena, France was left in the hands of the Congress of Vienna meeting, where representatives of the countries neighboring France decided upon the future of France after the Revolution. In the Congress of Vienna, the French monarchy was restored, and the throne was given to Louis XVI’s brother. The representatives tried their best to restore France and reverse the revolution, but despite their efforts, some of the changes made were irreversible. Although the French Revolution’s result did not fulfill the original goals of the people, its place in history did not fail to have an impact on the future. The difference between the American and the French Revolution was their success in accomplishing and fulfilling their goals, but what both revolutions’ outcomes had in common was that both resulted in change.
The American Revolution and the French Revolution were important milestones in history that demonstrated the possibility of change through revolution. After 8 long years, the colonies of the American Revolution finally won their independence from Britain. Although the outcome of the French Revolution did not fulfill their original goals for government reform, change was unmistakably present through it all. Together, the similarities and differences in the both of the Revolutions illustrate their fight for change and a better government. The outcomes of the American and the French Revolutions have, and will forever continue to, influence the decisions our leaders make in the betterment of our lives today.
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