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Research paper topic: 1776 Vs 1789 - 1691 words
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1776 vs 1789 The American and French Revolutions both occurred in the eighteenth century; subverting the existing government and opening the way for capitalism and constitutionalism. Because of these similarities, the two revolutions are often assumed to be essentially eastern and western versions of each other. However, the two are fundamentally different in their reason, their rise, progress, termination, and in the events that followed, even to the present. The American Revolution was not primarily fought for independence. Independence was an almost accidental by-product of the Americans attempt to rebel against and remove unfair taxes levied on them by British Parliament.
Through propaganda; sermons, speeches, newspaper articles, and pamphlets; public opinion was manipulated to convince the colonists and the world that they had legal and moral right to be separate from Great Britain. The American colonies, because of the nature of colonies, had a strained, equivocal relationship with Britain to begin with. Britain saw the colonies as a means to an end; to strengthen their own power, enrich their own nation, and provide additional tax revenue. The colonists therefore did not feel as traitors in rebelling against England. They were a distant colony separating from the mother country.
The American colonists were primarily seeking freedom of trade and, because they felt it unfair to pay taxes to Britain, were attempting to do away with these taxes through whatever means they thought necessary, including revolt. The Americans were fighting not to create their freedom, but to maintain it. At the time the Revolution occurred, the American society was freer and less controlled by monarchy and aristocracy than any nation on earth. They were fighting a fear of suppression, rather than actual suppression. They were resisting the force of tyranny before it could be applied.
The revolt occurred not because of suffering, but out of principle. The French Revolution was fought primarily for the reason of overthrowing the existing government, and establishing a new one to replace it. It was an altruistic revolution that was fought to liberate individuals from crushing imperialism and provide basic human freedom. It was a revolt against absolute feudal and monarchial restraint. The spirit of this revolution was much more radical. The entire country was in upheaval, and the intent was to entirely destroy the ruling class.
It was fought out of actual oppression and not just the fear that it might occur. At the time of the French Revolution, society was still based on a system of feudalism dating back centuries. The citizens of France did not experience equality. The nobility were extremely wealthy and becoming wealthier. The peasants were reduced to extreme poverty in an attempt by the monarch and noblemen to build up greater wealth for themselves. There was no middle class or working class in France. The suppressed farmers were overwhelmed with higher and higher taxes and were ready for a revolution without having to be propagandized into it.1 The French Revolution occurred out of a basic need to overthrow tyranny.
The American Revolutionists found it relatively easier to fight against the English government because they did not feel an extreme loyalty to their mother country. First, they were on an entirely different continent and separated by the Atlantic Ocean from their empire. Second, the American colonists were comprised of immigrants not only from Great Britain, but from all European nations as well. The colonists of other nationalities, quite obviously, felt no loyalty whatsoever to King George the Third, Parliament, or Britain. Therefore the colonists did not have to overcome traitorous feelings in their fight for independence. The French Revolution, conversely, was a matter of the immediate subjects rebelling against their government. The oppressed and the oppressors were of one nation, living together on one soil.
The French Revolution had to deal with feelings of being traitorous toward their country while rebelling against it. The American and French Revolutions differed in the governing of the new country during and after their revolutions. The Americans were much better equipped to handle the problem faced in governing a newly forming republic. The colonies had practically been self-governing before the war, with their own political officials. It was relatively easy, therefore, for them to organize thirteen colonies into one unified nation to achieve national goals.
The Continental Congress had been in existence since 1774 and was later to become a forerunner of the new federal government. Each colony also had their own colonial government, which were adopted into the new state governments. This pre-existence of government prevented the newly forming republic from being left open to a revolutionary dictatorship in America.2 The French Revolution did leave the country vulnerable to dictator control. The revolution overthrew the entire existing government and left the country disorganized, with no real leadership; in a state of chaos. France did not have even the pseudo-self-government of the American colonies to fall back on. They had to start from nothing and build a government strong enough to govern a volatile, changing nation.
They did not succeed. The new government set up in Paris was weak and was overthrown within four months by counter revolution and the Revolutionary Commune was formed.3 The American and French Revolutions both resulted in Declarations of Independence and Bills of Rights. The American version primarily dealt with the creation of new government power once the authority of England was abolished. It was a constitution of political freedom. It was based on the Protestant belief that men need government in order to control their badness.
The French Bill of Rights proclaimed that every man, by birth, was entitled to certain rights independent of the government; it then reiterates these rights to all French citizens. The French constitution encompasses the theory that men are good outside society, which is basically a Catholic belief. Their constitution dealt with human rights. This wasnt strong enough to govern by; for by definition the government wrote itself to be unconstitutional and left itself no authority. They were trying to found their new government on principles and to have the government as an agent and not as a master. Both the French and American revolutions opened the way for capitalism in these countries.
Prior to the American Revolution, England had handled all colonial trade; their trading patterns were subject to British controls. Most American merchants grew accustomed to this system and depended on it. During and following the revolution, the American merchants had to pursue new trading opportunities to replace the ones they had lost. Asiatic trade was opened up, new demands were created, and business grew and prospered. The war itself encouraged growth of production in America, and brought in foreign investors.4 The American Revolution provided freedom of trade and shaped the future for a capitalistic America.
In France, capitalisms growth was apparent in the development of middle, mercantile, class. Factories were built and industry expanded; and as a result cities became much larger and more numerous. Manufacturing provided jobs and caused rural farm workers to move to the cities. Because there were few pre-revolution factories, all commerce and trade as a result of the expanding capitalism was also new. The French merchants had to not only develop new products, but also methods of distribution. They were not nearly as ambitious in this regard as the post-revolutionary Americans; an attitude that is still apparent in commerce today.
The American and French revolutions both quite obviously created a need for a new form of governing and law making and enforcement. The first step the French took was for each village to arm itself. This was for confederation against unlawful tax collection as well as to provide safety for the villages. The second thing they did was to hold an election by which they elected twelve hundred thousand municipal magistrates and one hundred thousand judges.5 This new municipal power inherited all the ruins of authority. It was what held France together in the stages of forming a new government, through the counter-revolution, and the stabilization of the new government.
The revolution and the chaos following it caused many differences of opinion as to how Frances future as a nation should progress. Three political parties were formed. The largest party, the Marsh party, were moderates and didnt want any extreme actions to be taken. The Girondins party was composed of the overthrown feudalists and wealthy land owners. The Jacobins, or Montagnards, represented Paris and its members were professional men put into power by lower class support. They were a form of low level communists.
The party that finally prevailed was the Marsh party and this is still apparent in Frances moderate attitude toward government today.6 The American people did not have the same problems to face following their revolutionary war. Their enemy had been on foreign soil and was therefore eradicated by the wars end; there were not two opposing sides living together. Therefore there was no animosity to overcome and the Americans were not nearly so concerned with their personal safety and unlawful tax collection as the French citizens. The Americans also had throughout the war been governed by the continental congress and therefore did not need to hold elections to select a governing body. They just incorporated the existing system into the new federal government. The Americans did have political parties, but these had been in existence prior to the revolution.
The two predominant parties were the Federalists and Anti-Federalists. The Federalists stood for extreme nationalism and a strong central government. The Anti-Federalists were opposed to the establishment of a strong national government.7 However, the Americans, in contrast to the French, did not elect just one political party to power. They elected government officials from both parties, and this practice is still followed today, allowing for a more equal representation of the people by the government. The American and French revolutions were both unavoidable and necessary at the times when they occurred. The American Revolution was unavoidable and necessary because of greed and fear; and the French revolution was unavoidable and necessary because of unfairness and suppression and a need to make life better. The reasons each revolution was fought are still obvious in the each nation is today.
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