Declaring a Revolutionary War

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.

Compare and Contrast French and American Revolution Documents

Instigating Change

While reflecting on the revolutions of the past it has been seen that they have brought upon suffering and at times more chaos. Even after there has been a reform, the public’s misery has not been eased. However, at times the natural rights of the people become violated enough and the desire for happiness necessitates retribution which is similarly displayed by the French and American revolutionary documents. They also put doubt on the “perfect State” (The Republic) proposed by Plato.

Although the two documents draw many parallelisms; they occur in different social contexts. While Americans were being oppressed by a King on the other side of the shore, French were being oppressed in their homeland. This probably led to the French having a more aggressive approach in their declaration as the control by the monarchy was a much stronger one. Whereas the Americans living on another land probably had much more freedom than their French did counterparts did.

Both the French and American societies bring to light the tyranny of their respective rulers: one by the dictatorship of the British King; the other, the hierarchal social structure. Being on a common stage brought upon by violation of rights, they plead for equal standing regardless of place of birth in society. Born under the same sun, they believe every man deserves, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”(Blaisedell 64). They reveal that the majority is ruled by a minor group in society and their desires fulfilled at the cost of the majority. In America’s case a British monarch far overseas enforces dictatorship and the French, by the First and Second estate which consists of less than 2% of society but has the most say in the State. They infringe the rights of man which are considered “sacred” and “inviolable”(Paine 94).  The documents also display parallel rhetoric in their arguments. They display a common use of pathos by describing the incompetency of the King and Second estate as the rulers have defiled their right to rule by giving in to personal desires of power, ignoring the public good. Such use of pathos was important, as it would rally up the people to rise for a change in governance. The use of emotion was needed to unite them under one banner.

These two documents signify how intellectuals brought up an issue to the people and allowed them to strive for what was rightfully theirs. While proving that the desire for freedom can instigate change, they also display the long term results of ‘perfect’ compulsive societies put forward by Plato and that perhaps a utopia is one with everyone’s happiness considered.