Revolutionary Documents Comparison

Sam Wittmer

The French and American revolutions developed from each other’s ideas and actions concerning oppressors.  The American Revolution took inspiration from ideas that were circulating around France, inspiring the Declaration of Independence. Six years after the States became officially independent from Britain, the National Assembly of France released The Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which shows influence from the Declaration of Independence.  These documents aim to highlight the natural rights of man, all stemming from the right of men to opportunity—authorized by the nation’s people and God.

There are different forms of the right to opportunity.  Prominent is the complaint against economic hindrance, both personal and in terms of the group for which the document speaks.  For the Declaration of Independence, two of the grievances are Britain’s “cutting off Trade with all parts of the world,” and “imposing Taxes without our consent.”[1]  The National assembly of France, creating the Declaration of the rights of man, twice highlights Man’s right to property. In the second Right, it is part of the “imprescriptible” rights of man; “Liberty, Property, Security, and Resistance of Oppression.”[2] Then, in the seventeenth Right, as property being “inviolable and sacred” and that “no one ought to be deprived of it.”[3] The natural economic rights are featured in both documents because the livelihood of the people depended on their physical property. Most opportunity relied on what a person could do with their assets—and therefore have a right to prosper in this respect.

The documents also demand rights to making their own decisions.  In the colonies, independent assemblies were restricted, soldiers were quartered in civilians’ houses, and migration to the colonies was restricted.  The grievance is that external forces were regulating the opportunity for the colonies to better themselves.  In France, the nobility and clergy consumed the products of the bourgeoisie, while they produced nothing themselves.  While doing this, they also had a bar that the “lower” class could reach but never pass.  Sieyes says that the words of the nobility are, “ ‘No matter how useful you are…you can go so far and no further.”[4]  With this system there is no opportunity to advance, therefore, the Assembly requires that honors be available to all people.

The documents derive the support for these natural rights from different sources, though they share similar elements.  The natural rights of the Declaration of Independence come from divine power: God being mentioned three times.  But there are tones that it is the voice of the people who accredit these rights as well.  In the French documents, the people of the third estate are responsible for these rights.  They are the majority who produce and could function as a separate state, and therefore accredit the natural rights.  But God is mentioned as the Assembly asks for the Supreme Being’s blessing before stating the rights of man.

 


[1] Representatives of the United States, “The Declaration of Independence,” in The Communist Manifesto and other Revolutionary Writings, ed. Bob Blaisdell (Mineola: Dover Publications, 2003), 65.

[2] National Assembly of France, “Declaration of the Rights of Man,” in The Communist Manifesto and other Revolutionary Writings, ed. Bob Blaisdell (Mineola: Dover Publications, 2003), 80.

 

[3] National Assembly of France, “Declaration of the Rights of Man,” 81.

[4] Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes, “What is the Third Estate?,” in The Communist Manifesto and other Revolutionary Writings, ed. Bob Blaisdell (Mineola: Dover Publications, 2003), 72.

 

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