The American and French Revolutions are linked in many ways, and this research paper seeks to compare and contrast some of the key elements of both Revolutions. This sample comparative essay explores the historical origins of each revolution and analyzes the aftermath of each one.
Background on the American and French Revolutions
Fundamentally speaking, while the American Revolution involved a body of people seeking to govern themselves, thereby requiring the preexisting governing body’s surrender. The French Revolution involved a body of people seeking nothing in particular, but rather reacting to general ineffectiveness of national leadership.
Whereas the American Revolution sought to liberate a people in the hope of their then building a union entirely distinct from the previous order under which they had lived, and the French Revolution sought to incorporate elements of the preexisting order into a new regime. What these two significant historical events did have in common was their ends: both resulted in the formation of republican forms of government.
The American Revolution’s roots were borne of a people who did not believe themselves to be adequately represented by the body purporting to govern them. “Taxation without representation” became the clarion call to action, among others, and the colonies that had for so long lived peacefully under British Empirical rule began to experience an upheaval in their social order.
Overwhelmingly, colonists yearned for liberty; liberty to govern themselves as they pleased, as indicated by the famous words of Patrick Henry, the Virginia statesman: “Give me liberty or give me death!” (McCants 2). Colonial interests were simply not represented by the Crown’s governance and this reality was central to the American Revolution’s origins.
History of the French Revolution
By contrast, the French Revolution was prompted more by dissatisfaction with governance than by the absence of self-sufficient governing order. French citizens had grown wears of Louis XVI and the incompetent manner in which he managed French interests (Baker 284). They were further displeased with the socio-political elitism inherent in the monarchical structure of which French governance was comprised.
In this sense, the French Revolution was more a revolution in the state of life than in form of governance. Colonists wished for the opportunity to cultivate their own versions of both, whereas French citizens wished to remodel a preexisting structure of governance to suit popular social and cultural values of the time.
How political division caused the French Revolution
The French Revolution came during the Enlightenment and was a time when the people understood government as a different institution. They wanted fair treatment and a government that actually worked to better society. The revolution was inevitably and substantially influenced by political considerations of the time. In other words, the French Revolution was internal in nature in that it did not seek some new geographic or political re-definition of France proper, but only an adjustment to its leadership structure.
The revolution was inevitably and substantially influenced by political considerations of the time. In other words, the French Revolution was internal in nature in that it did not seek some new geographic or political re-definition of France proper, but only an adjustment to its leadership structure.
Seeking to anger Britain during the American Revolution
During the period of the French Revolution, the nation of France was engaged in various military engagements that served to express the geopolitical aspirations of France the nation, as opposed to some nuanced expression emanating from France.
Indeed, one example of this was the assistance provided by France to the colonists, which played a significant role in the success of the American Revolution (Corwin 35). The Marquis De Lafayette and his troops were effectively loaned to the American colonists from Europe because of French nationalist desire to detrimentally impact the long-term impact of the British Empire, with which it was not then allied.
History of the American Revolution
Contrastingly, the American Revolution existed and transpired without regard for external geopolitical developments. The American Revolution started with the Tea Party because Americans wanted freedom from the British crown because they weren’t equally represented in parliament.
George Washington would famously announce after the Revolution that the newly formed nation would be wise to avoid external entanglements, partly for the same reasons as founded the Revolution’s successful aftermath—with few foreign enemies with which to be concerned, the fledgling conglomerate of colonies sought valuable assistance in the form of money-lending from the Dutch and French governments.
These financial commitments from foreign governments, acquired through diplomatic missions undertaken personally by the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, served to form the foundation of the modern United States of America. Partly because the American Revolution’s cause was so fundamentally basic in its ambitions, and thus readily perceived by the citizens of the world, it became that much easier to acquire global assistance in the formation of the republic.
With this said, and though they differed in the fashions discussed above, the point of commonality between the American and French Revolutions is that they each resulted in Republican forms of governance, though France’s journey to this political end was far bloodier and more internally strife-ridden. America solidified its victory by writing the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. France created a more effective government that was more concerned with the people than political divisions.
In the end, however, Enlightenment ideals founded both the American and French Revolutions, with each nation boasting the greatest Enlightenment thinkers of the time. At the core of their philosophical underpinnings was the principle that no man could be governed according to a system of beliefs to which he did not subscribe; that men were and are free to cultivate the political, social and cultural ideals of their choosing, provided that they are supported by their fellows in this regard.
In this sense, both the American and French Revolutions sought the opportunity to form “more perfect union[s]”; ones not only of their own choosing via the democratic processes upon which Republican governance relies, but also of their own making. As such, while they differed in critical aspects, both these revolutions will endure in history for the manner in which they each sought to liberate man from the tyranny of heart and mind that still plagues so many modern nations.
Baker, Keith M. “French Political Though at the Accession of Louis XVI ” The Journal of Modern History, 50.2, Jun.1978: 279-303.
Corwin, Edward S. “The French Objective in the American Revolution” The American Historical Review, 21.1, Oct.1915: 33-61.
McCants, David A. “The Authenticity of William Wirt’s Version of Patrick Henry’s ‘Liberty or Death’ Speech.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 87.4, Oct.1979: 1-18.