Comparing the American and French Revolutions

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The American and the French revolutions had many similarities and differences. One similarity being is that they both wanted to escape the rule of their King. Second, they both started by an uprising of people against unfair taxation by the monarchy. The French peasants were not represented by the Parliament. It was mainly composed of middle and upper class people. Now, the American colonists were not represented in England because of their lack of presence. Both wanted to set up a Republic, which provided liberty and justice to all classes of citizens. Just like France, the American colonists were composed up mainly middle and lower class citizens. The American Revolution started out by not wanting bloodshed and violence. France started out with violence and bloodshed. (American Revolution)
Now, even though they started out similarly, they also did have some differences from each other. The American Revolution was the first significant revolution of the century, and it was also the first to be successful. The main reason it was successful was that it did not start out being “rebellious” in nature, but rather conservative. In another words, it was not a rebellion against the Government, but rather against having too much government controlling them. (American Revolution) The French revolution was a true rebellion against the King and the government in general. The French were the ones on the offensive, fighting to gain new freedom starting with the Storming of the Bastille. (French Revolution)
Finally, the biggest contrast between the American and French Revolution was the difference in the outcomes of the two. The American Revolution brought liberty and justice for all. It created the first Republic since Rome. The French revolution resulted in dictatorship that lasted for decades.
Now, the American Revolution was started by England putting pressure on the colonists economically by imposing new taxes on them. They thought that there was not good enough reason for the new taxes. England on the other hand stated that they taxed the colonist more because they were nearly bankrupt after the French and Indian War. That felt someone had to help compensate and since the American colonies benefited more. They need to bear most of the cost for England’s’ protection and administration. (Pg.536). Between 1763 and 1774, the government passed a new series of laws; placing the colonies under strict restrictions and making them pay higher taxes.
They were able to place pass such laws because Parliament had approved the decision to collect them, and fair because the money was spent in the colonies. (pg.536) What started as a protest to the new higher taxes and restrictions, during the night, a group of colonist dumped a whole shipload of tea into the Harbor in protest, otherwise known as the “Boston Tea Party”. “In, response Parliament in 1774, they passed a series of Laws now known as the Intolerable Acts. This closed port of Boston, reorganized the government of Massachusetts, allowed troops to be quartered in their homes, and removed the trials of royal customs officials to England. In September 1774, committees were organized who were critical of the British policy, in hope to persuade Parliament to restore self-government in the colonies and abandon its direct supervision of colonial affairs.”(pg.537). (These committees were known as the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia. By April 1775, the battles of Lexington and Concord had been fought. George III had declared the colonies in rebellion in August 1775. On July 4 1776, Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. The war continued until 1781, when the forces of George Washington defeated those of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. The Treaty of Paris concluded the conflict and the thirteen colonies received their independence.)(pg 537)
The country of France was, like many other countries, in terrible financial state in the late 1700’s. “The French Royal Government could not command sufficient taxes to be able to finance itself.” (pg.594) It all started when the French Monarchy emerged from The Seven Year war defeated, and deeply in debt. Ironically a lot of the debt came from the French support of the American Revolution. Paradoxically, France was a rich nation with an impoverished government (pg.594.)”
France restricted free trade with other nations and kept the country and most of its people in a state of poverty. These people were still organized into three different feudal class divisions of estates. (French Revolution) The First Estate was, the Clergy, it consisted of those employed by the Catholic Church. They had great influence in France, controlling vast amounts of land and they were exempt from taxes. The Second Estate, the Nobility, were also exempt from most of the king taxes. They had the best and highest paid jobs in the army, church, and legal professions. The Third Estate, encompassing all the other people not in the other classes, which composed of about 98% of the population and had the greatest economic and social diversity. They were starved and ragged. They bore the brunt of the ever-increasing taxes. They were required to pay fees for land ownership every year. Because the other two estates did not have to pay taxes, this made it more of a burden for the peasants. Now the king is running out of money, and the people were running out of patience.) (French Revolution Origins)
Each Estate drew up grievances and expectations, most from the Third Estate wanted the same things; a written constitution, equal taxation, equal justice, to get rid of all feudalism. The people from the First and Second Estates wanted different things. Although they did agree on a constitution that stated some control over what the king could do. There was a debate of how to count the estates votes, because the Third Estate controlled 98% of the vote. So if they counted individually the other two estates would be out numbered. Or if you voted as an entire unit this would be unfair as well because again there were 98% of the people in the one unit. So there was turmoil over to vote traditionally, or by giving each one vote. King Louis wanted each state to vote as a whole.
When the delegates of the Third Estate grew weary and tired they decided to proclaim themselves the National Assembly. They invited delegates from all the other classes to join them. They decided to denounce the Kings injustice and the current social order.
Then on June 20, the National Assembly found their doors locked from their meeting room. So, they gathered at the nearby tennis court and took an oath not to disband until a new constitution has been made known as the” Tennis Court Oath”. In June, it looked like the king had given into the Assembly because they started to work on writing the new constitution. In reality, he was planning to close down the assembly by ordering troops to be stationed in Versailles and Paris. The people got wind of the idea and thought the king was trying to kill them as well. (French Revolution)
“What the king did not plan on was the populace of Paris, which numbered more than 600,000 people. The mustering of troops created anxiety in the city (pg.599.) By June, the people was organizing a citizen militia and collecting arms. They intended to protect the Assembly and thus the revolution had begun, (pg599) With the storming of the Bastille on July 14. “On the night of August 4, 1789 aristocrats in the National Constitute Assembly attempted to halt the spreading disorder in the countryside. By prearrangement several liberal nobles and clerics rose in the Assembly and renounced their feudal rights, dues, and tithes. They really only gave up what they had already lost. Nonetheless, after that night all French citizens were subject to the same and equal laws.”(pg601)
“In late August 1789, the National Constitute Assembly issued the Declaration of the Rights of Man and citizens. The French document proclaimed that all “men” were born free and remain free and equal in rights.” “That the Government existed only to protect those rights! (pg601)” The constitution also made the king, formerly absolute ruler, subject to constitution and the decisions of the assembly. The fall of the French Monarch was complete.
“While the Assembly was busy modifying laws of the kingdom, the peasants to the West of France were busy fighting a war against Austria and Prussia. An army had gathered in Trier, led by the King of Prussia who announced his plans to overthrow the revolutionary government and restore the king to absolute power (French Revolution). On August 10, a mob led by Danton invaded the palace and killed the kings guards. The same mob insisted that the Assembly call for another convention to write another constitution. Under extreme pressure the Assembly finally created a new body called the National Convention and called for election to do it.
Mobs ran all over slaughtering all who were suspected of being supporters of the monarchy. In September, widespread massacres occurred. The National Convention abolished the monarchy once and for all. Faced with the threat for invasion by Prussia, the new government took action against King Louis. He was sentenced to death after being tried and found guilty by a tribunal. Then he was taken to the middle of Paris, were he was led to the guillotine and beheaded. (French Revolution)
The death of King Louis marked a turning point in the Revolution. Things just became worse there was more bloodshed and destructivity. The Committee of Public Safety, which was appointed by the Convention, was given the duty finding and killing all those who were opposed of the Revolution. Over the course of the Revolution, the Committee was said to be responsible for an estimated 40,000 deaths. Maximilien de Robespierre one of the leaders of the Committee did not stop at killing commoners, he also executed Danton. Who’s only default was that he wanted to end all killing sprees. This period of time became known as the “Reign of Terror” Fearing for their lives other members of the Committee had Robespierre arrested and sent to the guillotine on the ninth day of Thermidor, 1794. The revolution was effectively over. A new constitution was soon completed, abolishing the Convention and placing their hopes in France in Napoleon Bonaparte hands. (French Revolution)
The American Revolution and the French Revolution did have some similarities in how they started, but the end they had many differences as well. Both the people of each country felt that their presence was not felt in the governments; basically it was “unfair”. Their goals were to gain independence from their monarchy and set up a Republic of equality and liberty.
They started out similarly, but they ended very differently. The American Revolution ended in a newly formed independent government. The French revolution overthrew their government and killed their king. The French Revolution resulted in dictatorship that lasted for years.

Works Cited

[Kagan, Donald. The Western Heritage Volume 2, Pearson Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 2006]
The American Revolution the History, November 1, 2007, american
Encarta, French Revolution, November 1, 2007,
Paul Halsall, Modern Western Civilization class 10: The French Revolution Origins
November 1, 2007.

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