The Origins of the American and French Revolution

The American Revolution and its Origins

The American Revolution concerns the political turmoil throughout the late years of the 18th century in which the Thirteen Colonies of North America removed the supremacy of the British Empire from power and then denied to bow down to the British monarchy and finally lead to the establishment of the sovereign United States of America. During this phase, the colonies initially denied the powers of the Parliament of Great Britain to rule over them devoid of any representation, and instituted self-governing autonomous states. The American Revolution was kindled by several ideas and incidents, which collectively brought about a political and social severance of colonial belongings from the home realm and an amalgamation of those previously separate colonies into a single sovereign autonomous nation.

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The revolutionary period set in during 1763, with the French military intimidation to British North American colonies subsiding. To implement a strategy utilizing which colonies had to pay a larger fraction of the expenses linked with retaining them under the rule of the Empire, Britain enforced numerous taxes and subsequently put into effect other laws which aimed to express the British influence. Such measures became extremely ostracized and met with huge criticism.

John Locke’s thoughts on liberalism influenced the political think-tank who was engaged in the revolution largely. For example, his conjecture of the “social contract” entailed that the right to overthrow their leaders, in case those leaders are disloyal to the historic rights of Englishmen, was a natural right. A stirring vigor at the back of the revolution was the appreciation of a political philosophy called “republicanism”. Corruption was observed as the ugliest form of immorality and good community qualities called for men to prioritize civic duty ahead of their wishes.

The British Empire functioned by implementing the mercantile system, which benefited Great Britain rather than America through American trade. In 1764, Parliament passed the Sugar Act and the Currency Act and Quartering Act, which added fuel to the fire. Disapproval caused a new dominant weapon- the total rejection of British merchandise. The Stamp Act of 1765 made it obligatory for all newspapers, directories, brochures, and official papers to use the stamps on them. This aggravated the volatile political situation further. The Townshend Act, the Boston massacre, and the Intolerable Acts of 1774 were the final nails in the coffin, which lead to a full-scale American Revolution.

The French Revolution and its Origins

The French Revolution, which took place in the dying moments of the eighteenth century, was an era of political and communal cataclysm and led to a drastic alteration in the history of France. During the French Revolution, the administrative framework, formerly a complete monarchy with feudal rights for the elites and Catholic clergy, endured a fundamental transformation to a structure rooted in Enlightenment values of nationality and inalienable rights.

The origins of the French Revolution were rooted in a significant economic calamity. The Ancien Régime was overthrown, partially due its own stringency, to a certain extent because of the aspirations of a rising middle class, in addition to distressed peasants and laborers and with people from various classes, inclined towards the thoughts of Enlightenment.

Although it is arguable that the concept of Enlightenment directly influenced the French revolution, it can be said without doubt that it had a major influence on the people behind the revolution. Philosophers accentuated rationalism and reasonableness over adhering to obsolete customs and established a yearning for autonomy, parity, and civic accountability. Thinkers in the likes of Diderot, Rousseau, Voltaire, and Montesquieu held up the concepts of freethinking, secularism, egalitarian discourse to the mass.

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Almost over a century, the French monarchy had administered their fiscal issues by escalating the weight of the antique and imbalanced system of taxes, scrounging capital, and occasionally selling dignified titles and other benefits. “Nobles owned about 25 percent of the lands in France outright, and they were too lightly taxed.” (McKay, 684) However, since dignified designations were not liable to pay future taxes, the procurer of such titles in effect bought an annuity. Consequently, this caused the long-term economic calamity for the French regime. Just prior to the revolution, France was deeply indebted and in fact was faced with bankruptcy. “By the 1780’s, fully 50 percent of France’s budget went for interest payments on debt.”( McKay, 688)

As France did not engage in major international trade, it looked to collect a major fraction of its revenues from within. Thus, the aboriginal population was immensely taxed in France as compared to other European nations. Unpopular taxes such as gabelle, tithe, taille, vingtième and capitation vastly pressurized the common person. Further, as nobles were exempted from taxes, the mass suffered. Further, the failure of financial reforms, in particular, restructuring the taxations of the nobles, worsened the conditions. Even with the absolute monarchial status of the Ancien Régime, it was evident that the imperial administration could not fruitfully implement the changes it preferred without the approval of the elites. Consequently, the financial calamity transformed into a political emergency.

All of the problems were intensified by an enormous dearth of food in the 1780s. “Grain was the basis of the diet of ordinary people in the eighteenth century, and in 1788 the harvest had been extremely poor.” (McKay, 690) Similar successive agricultural failures initiated a scarcity of grain, therefore elevating the cost of bread. As the bread was the staple food for the poor, the situation caused starvation. The poor class merely depended on aids to stay alive. Gradually the peasant sect became a group with the aspiration to offset social injustice and put a stop to food shortages.

Comparing the Origins of the Two Revolutions

In many ways, the events that led up to both the revolutions were similar. In addition, the American Revolution had profuse impact on the French. Firstly, both the revolutions were a result of the subjugation of the masses due to oppressive taxes levied by the ruling governments. It might be observed that in the colonies of America, taxes were levied by the British regime to recover losses from the long war between the British and the alliance of French and the native Indians. Given the fact that the French monarchy financially and militarily supported the revolutionaries of America, had lead to huge financial losses for the French regime. Consequently, and similar to the situation in America, the French rule levied huge taxes on the population of France. Moreover, it was the bourgeoisie, which felt the impact of the taxation the most. In addition, it was this class, which led both revolutions.

Secondly, the concept of Enlightenment was a concept driving both revolutions. The desire for justice, equality, and autonomy were common to both. Both regions underwent social and economic adversities that brought about the consciousness that something must be done to overthrow the monarchy and bring back the authority in the hands of the mass.

There were nevertheless some significant differences between both revolutions. Although the British were left with some losses due to the conflicts for lands, it was nothing compared to the bankruptcy that the French faced due to the Seven years war.

In conclusion, it should be mentioned that the class of revolutionaries also differed to an extent in both cases. In the American Revolution, “Some colonists remained loyal to the crown; a large number of Loyalists immigrated to the northern colonies.” (McKay, 687) On the other hand, in the French revolution, even the nobles partook in the revolution against the monarchy. However, it must be noted that similarities are much more than the differences in both revolutions.

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Works Cited

McKay, John P., Bennett D. Hill, John Buckler. ‘The Revolution in Politics, 1775-1815’. Chapter 21. History of Western Society, A: Volume 2: From Absolutism to Present. Edition: 8 (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2005)

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