Describe the relationship between the American and French Revolutions.

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The French Revolution, which began six years after the formal conclusion of the revolution in America, was motivated by many of the same political ideas that animated the American revolutionaries. Particularly in the early days of the Revolution, its leaders demanded and attempted to establish fair and equitable taxation, an end to unfair privileges, and especially representation in government. The ideological similarities between the two events can be seen in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the first two articles of which are excerpted below:

  1. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.
  2. The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.

The similarities with the Declaration of Independence, particularly its emphasis on natural rights, are obvious, and indeed Thomas Jefferson, then a diplomat in Paris, corresponded with many of the principals involved in crafting the document. Some of the early leaders of the Revolution, most notably the Marquis de Lafayette, had fought with the French army in the American Revolution, and had been inspired at what they viewed as the ideals of the Enlightenment, well-known to them, put into action. 

French involvement in the American Revolution represented an important connection in another sense. Wile the French army and navy were successful in helping the Americans secure independence from Britain, thus achieving a measure of revenge for their loss in the Seven Years' War, they did so at enormous financial cost. In short, they added to the already mountainous French public debt, which the French government was no longer able to manage by the late 1780s. The American Revolution (or at least the American Revolutionary War) thus contributed to the fiscal crisis that precipitated the French Revolution.


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