Declaration of Independence of the United States
While the celebrated document asserts the fledgling nation’s independence, it is additionally a list of grievances the colonizers have concerning the Crown and associated British government. Considering the varied atrocities committed by British troops and officials in the run-up to the war (Boston Massacre, various taxes, and weakening the citizens’ collective voice over time, among a whole host of other things), the revolutionary leaders, i.e., Founding Fathers, took advantage of the Declaration of Independence to effectively declare war as well on the British troops garrisoned in America. The language in the text suggests this. “It is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” “…as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce…” In these two quotes from the text the signatories vocalize both their desire for the Crown to recognize their independence and their willingness to wage war should the British not recognize America’s independence.
French writings leading to the eventual revolution
Similarly, the French used various essays as well as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen to make their revolutionary intentions clear. In “What is the Third Estate”, Abbe Sieyes points out the pervasiveness of the French government and nobility (which Louis XVI often manipulated to advance his own agenda) and reflects that it should be the right of the citizens who live under an undesirable government to simply rebel, for it can be detrimental to both the economy and the morale of the citizens. In the Decree upon the National Assembly and in conjunction with the Tennis Court Oath, deputies of the Third Estate (henceforth the National Assembly) asserted its power which was to be independent of the royalty and nobility of France. Finally, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen does belligerent language appear. Until this point the French Crown was considered sovereign and unchallengeable, but the third declared right sought to undo this: “The Nation is essentially the source of all sovereignty; no can any individual, or any body of men, be entitled to any authority which is not expressly derived from it.” This is a challenge to the royalty and nobility who were seen by many as not having earned their sovereign powers (hence Sieyes’s essay). Additionally, the twelfth right denounces abuse of power given by citizens to a government’s officials, which can also be viewed as a challenge to the crown. The third right challenges the validity of the Crown’s powers, and the twelfth challenges the abuse of that power that is itself invalid. Although the hostility is less evident in the French essays than in the American Declaration of Independence, the Declaration of the Rights of Man also intends to attain sovereignty over the monarchy. The French Revolution began shortly thereafter, the fact of which backs the original theory that it was a declaration of a revolutionary war.
I find it fascinating how the American and French Revolution compare to Kant’s writing. Kant asserted that enlightenment could not be achieved through rebellion and revolution. But did neither the French nor American Revolution lead to a society where more people were released from self-incurred tutelage?
When writing the Declaration of Independence the Founding Fathers wanted to convey the differences that there would be between the reign in Great Britain and in the United States. It served as a way to let Britain know that the US would no longer be subjected to their rule and that Britain should recognize their independence.
Additionally with the Declaration of Independence, I believe that in addition to the Founding Fathers grievances to King George III, the document also stood as a symbol for the revolting colonists to rally behind, as they revolted against the most powerful nation on Earth. The Declaration of the Rights of Man similar in this sense; however, the United States was able to create a collective goal and a effective revolution, while the French became much more unraveled as the revolution progressed.
Well written. The Declaration of the Rights of Man catalyzed the progression of the Third Estate to rise up and equalize the distribution of power throughout the nobility, the clergy, and the masses. An integral advancement to laying the foundation for a modern society.
The Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of the Rights of Man, written thirteen years apart, detail similar inalienable rights of man (respectively): “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and “liberty, property, security, and resistance of oppression.” The American Revolution certainly influenced French revolutionaries to seek similar freedom from oppression and to establish a new order.