Comparing American and French Revolutionary Documents

Though the American and French documents we studied were written with the idea of change in mind and were somewhat inspired by each other, they had different views on property and the function of such. Property was a very important aspect to take into account because these documents were not only directed towards the public, but towards the higher power (ie. the government) that would end up reading them.

The American Declaration of Independence put a distinct focus on property. The majority of the document listed the negative actions that the King inflicted on the people, and in doing so the reader can see that instead of the citizens being treated like citizens, they were essentially the property of the King. An example of this is how he “[cut] off our Trade with all parts of the world,” which was obviously a huge decision, but not one that the citizens had any say in. The action reminds me of a parent scolding a child; having the right to trade taken away and the isolation that comes with such is almost like being grounded. Property is also addressed in a more typical manner- in the context of owning something- when it is mentioned that “[he imposed] Taxes on us without our Consent.” By being so dominating and overbearing, the King makes it clear that he had total control over his governed people.

On the other hand, the French documents of independence put a slightly different twist on the concept of property. While the American document mentioned taxes being imposed without any warning, the French government actually gave the citizens a say in such (through a vote), though they only did so because they knew the odds would never be in the favor of the citizens. This led the writer to call property an “an inviolable and sacred right” and mention that it should only ever be taken away if it was legally determined to do so. With some historical context we know that the French rulers oppressed their citizens just as much as the English ones did, but such was not implicitly state as it was in the American Declaration of Independence. Personally I think this lack of specificity strengthens the French document; saying less rather than more is often powerful.

In The Declaration of Independence the King not only abused his power through raising taxes, but through treating his people like property, while The Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen focused less on listing complaints, and more on introducing solutions.