Describe ways in which the French and American documents are similar and different from one another. What accounts for the differences?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One way in which The Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen are similar to one another is that they both actively seek to define consciousness. What it means to be a human being in the modern political and social setting is a driving force of each.  They are both responses to conditions in the world that sought to take away from human identity.  The primary creative force in each document is to actively define what human beings are and how they should be viewed.  This is where another similarity exists.  Both documents seek to define human consciousness in a setting of external oppression.  Against the French and British monarchies, both documents assert that there is a natural right to political autonomy, repudiating a centralized view of political rule.

A significant difference between both documents is that Jefferson's work does not speak as much to economic reality.  The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen felt that addressing issues such as "A general tax is indispensable for the maintenance of the public force and for the expenses of administration; it ought to be equally apportioned among all citizens according to their means" was essential.  Such language is not present in Jefferson's writing, as it speaks of freedom in a more theoretical and abstract sense.  The French understood that one of the significant differences between both political contexts was that the French Revolution was more concerned with class issues in their social configuration, a structure that the Colonists chose not to address.  

It is in this where another significant difference is evident in that the French document sought to construct what society should look like. Jefferson and the writers of The Declaration of Independence were concerned with stating the case for freedom for England.  They sought to make a case for separation.  The French writers of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen wanted to articulate a vision of what society should look like once the monarchy is gone. The difference between present and future tenses in both documents is another realm where the French actively sought to make their vision different than that of the American version.