The French and American Revolutions are two of the most famous revolutionary movements in the history of mankind. The revolutions are very similar, mainly in the writing that led up to revolution. The United States’ “Declaration of Independence” and the French’s “What is the Third Estate”, “Decree Upon the National Assembly”, “Tennis Court Oath”, and “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” all outline very similar grievances that the people are rising against.
In the “Declaration of Independence” the Continental Congress wrote “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” In the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” the French wrote “The end of all political associations is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible right of man; and these rights are Liberty, Property, Security, and Resistance of Oppression.” The common theme in those two quotes is the word Liberty, which is “the state or condition of people who are able to act and speak freely” (Dictionary.com). While the Patriots and the French had smaller grievances, specific to their situation, Liberty is the most overarching one. Both groups felt underrepresented by their controlling body, the English monarchy for the Americans and the French monarchy for the French. Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès wrote his “What is the Third Estate” after the American Revolution but it applies to what was happening in the colonies as much as it did to what was happening in France. Sieyès wrote “1) What is the Third Estate? Everything. 2) What has it been until now in the political order? Nothing. 3) What does it want to be? Something.” Both the American colonists and the French citizens wanted recognition from their controlling government but more importantly they wanted the rights they felt they deserved.
The colonists way of gaining “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” was to declare independence from Britain. They wrote in the Declaration of Independence “these United Colonies are, and of Right out to be Free and Independent States.” The French offered up a similar solution, however their monarch was not an ocean away. The “Third Estate” formed the “National Assembly”, which consisted of “at least ninety-six per cent of the nation.” The “National Assembly” wrote in the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” that they had “resolved to set forth in solemn declaration, these natural, imprescriptible, and inalienable right; that this declaration being constantly present to the minds of the members of the body social” effectively declaring their own independence from the monarchy.
While the American and French revolution happened an ocean away and began about 13 years apart they followed the same track in action and writing.
The similarities between the two revolutions is extremely interesting. Both drew from many enlightenment ides, especially the Declaration of Independence almost taking Locke’s inalienable rights word for word. The similarities also show the beginnings of a global world the west had become, with many of the American ideals being shown through the French’s Declaration. It is interesting to note then, how different both ended, the United States creating a functional government, and the French resulting in a form of dictatorship.