Revolution is a basic change in social, economic, and political aspects of a country. In most instances, revolutionary actions are political. They occur when citizens of a given country reject the existing regime and replace it with a new one. It is important to note that political revolutions are violent. Enlightenment ideas were the main causes of many American and French Revolutions. The Enlightenment took a form of rational intellectual rebellion. It was based on natural law, secularism, liberty, hope, and progress. While it might be noted that Enlightenment was not a single reason for the American and French Revolutions, leaders who promoted these two revolutions got their inspiration from scholars of the Enlightenment like Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Voltaire. People joined their efforts and reacted to social and political problems of the times through the prism of ideas of Enlightenment to protect their rights for equality and liberty.
Similarities between French and American Revolutions
American revolutionary leaders were influenced by Enlightenment ideas, just like the French leaders were. It is the need for equality, freedom of speech, religious tolerance, freedom of press, and other Enlightenment concepts, which Americans fought for to be incorporated into laws of the country. American colonists did not have natural human rights. In this regard, they demoded for it from their oppressor - England. In the Declaration of Independence of America, Thomas Jefferson helped to ensure Americans' rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. American rights concepts originated from the ideals of the Enlightenment, which Thomas Jefferson had become familiar with during his time in France.
Enlightenment concepts were products of various sets of cultural and intellectual ideas in Europe during 1500s and 1600s. These Enlightenment ideas produced social norms that led revolution, which swept through Europe in the late 1600s and 1700s. One of the most critical changes during the period of 1500s and 1600s was the Scientific Revolution. Scientific Revolution laid a formidable platform, on which other Enlightenment ideas were developed upon. European and American scholars and philosophers tore down the flawed sets of ancient societal beliefs, which were maintained by the Church.
French and American Revolutions took place because American and French citizens were unhappy and oppressed. People in two countries were unhappy due to widespread impunity and inequality in America and France in those period. John Locke's ideas on property right also inspired two revolutions in America and France.
American and French Revolutions had intense consequences not only for American and French colonists, but also for the rest of the world as well. These revolutions marked the end of extreme oppression in America and France. Declaration of Independence, which Thomas Jefferson wrote was unique and reasonable since it presented a strong concise case for American rebellion against a dictatorial government. Since the end of American Revolution many nations have adopted new concepts not only in their constitution but also in running of their governments.
Difference between French and American Revolutions
The two revolutionary movements occurred in different periods of time. American Revolution took place in 1776–1783. American Revolutionary leaders put an end to British colonial rule to establish an independent and democratic republic. Colonial leaders referred to the revolution as a necessary evil and controlled the use of violence. Although American Revolution affected lives of most Americans, there was little social disorder. On the other hand, French Revolution took place between the years 1788–1799, which was much later after the American Revolution (Bernard 3). French Revolution began much like American Revolution had, but it quickly turned violent. Another difference between the two revolutions is that French revolution led to the death of thousands of French citizens, who were killed during so-called Maximilian Robespierre’s Reign of Terror (Furet 231). Revolutions are very difficult to attain. Therefore, for a revolution to succeed, all people must agree that the government of the day is bad and must be overthrown. In addition to this, people must be willing to risk their lives and prepare for the possibility of civil war.
In the two revolutions, Americans succeeded in their mission while the French failed. The success that Americans was marked by protection of rights they had. These rights included rights for life, liberty, and property. Americans put together a constitution to protect them from oppression as well as to provide a stable government - a representative government. French revolutionary action never achieved its missions. This is because of chaos, terror, fear, and war, which characterized the movement. In this regard, the French could not unsuccessfully establish a democratic government. Therefore, in the end they were left with a dictator.
Sherman explains that “America's Constitution protects property” (324). This property protection is contained and well stipulated in the 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendments, which guarantee protection of property in America. However, in France the revolution did not achieve the protection of property. In America it was put up in order for citizen to acquire property. Americans were motivated to enlarge their potential, but the Proclamation of 1763 prohibited the expansion beyond Appellation Mountains. This kind of restriction was a clear depiction of oppression and dictatorship. In France, ownership of property was not equal among all people (Aftalion 89). It was divided according to different classes. Therefore, class status was used to determine how much property a citizen can acquire and maintain. In this social stratification, peasants could have the least since they were at the bottom of class structure in the country.
After the French and Indian War in America, the period of salutary neglect ended. Britain, wanted to replenish its drained resources as a result of war (Goldstone 87). Therefore, it placed a larger tax burden on America coupled with tight regulations in colonies. For a long period of time, Americans were not allowed to circulate local printed currencies. Americans were made to house British troops and strictly comply with restrictive shipping policies. In addition, Americans were forced to pay heavy taxes. Furthermore, people who failed to comply with the stipulated rules got themselves facing a British judge without jury. Due to this, Americans were shocked and became unhappy by what they termed as great violations of their liberties. Over time, this disbelief and dilemma turned into indignation, which essentially grew into need for a revolution. In a period of 12 years, which was between the end of the French and Indian War in 1763 and the beginning of the Revolutionary War in 1775, the colonists made nightly toasts to King George III’s health to a widespread rebellion characterized by outright hostility toward the British Crown.
The American and French Revolutions had a great impact to the entire globe. They led to creation of international law to defend human rights. International community uses legal instruments in the form of treaties to seal any binding agreements or resolutions between two or more states. These agreements can also be referred to as conventions or protocols. There are several ways in which a country can give its consent so that it is bound by a treaty after its representatives have signed this treaty. The most commonly used means are ratification and accession. A treaty is usually ratified by countries that initially participated in the negotiation about the instrument. Other countries that were not part of the initial negotiations process can choose to accede to the treaty later. Once a certain number of countries have ratified or acceded to the treaty, it enters into force. Any country that ratifies or accedes to a treaty can make reservations concerning one or more articles of that treaty, unless the treaty itself prohibits expression of reservations.
Similarly, American and French Revolutions created the foundation, upon which international humanitarian law can be respected and upheld. International humanitarian law prohibits and puts limitations on the use of certain means and methods that can be used during armed conflicts. This law covers those weapons and tactics that kill indiscriminately, regardless of whether targets are soldiers or civilians. The law aims to protect civilians in this case. Weapons that cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering to victims are also prohibited alongside those that cause significant and long-term damage to the environment. Some of the dangerous weapons covered under this law include anti-personnel mines, chemical and biological weapons, exploding bullets, and blinding laser weapons among others.
There are usually many cases of torture and ill-treatment of enemy soldiers and prisoners of war during any conflict. These constitute some of the most heinous crimes under the international humanitarian law. They violate both human rights and human dignity. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights aims to protect everyone against “torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Cullen 51).” There are no exceptions to this under international law, and all countries have the responsibility to comply with this unconditional prohibition of all kinds of torture and ill treatment. Several international organizations have come up with various guidelines that are meant to help in prevention of torture and ill-treatment. They are also actively involved in the process of monitoring conflicts all over the world to identify cases in which people have been subjected to torture or ill-treatment. Third world countries are especially blamed for torture and ill-treatment of people, and the international community with a help of various organizations, is pushing for these countries to follow relevant international humanitarian laws regarding the same.
Enlightenment concepts had a great influence on both America and France. During the Enlightenment, many scholars wrote and illustrated how governments should operate. John Locke was one of those scholars. His contributions included the consent of the governed, which was later known as the social contract. Enlightenment inspired revolutions since people were tired of oppression. American and French Revolution was marked with a number of challenges. Nevertheless, it allowed people to create a democratic government for their own benefit. The underlying reasons, which led to revolution in America were pursued to its logical conclusion and were put into law. American and French Revolutions offered a new insight that oppressive governments can be taken down and that people, through logics, can fight for their freedom. It can be argued that without American and French Revolutions, several parts of the globe would be caught up in the quagmire of archaic political system of absolutists’ regime through oppression and fear. However, since American and French were brave, strong, and dedicated to rebel, the world was able to form governments where people take charge of their destiny. The Enlightenment is achieved through revolutions, and in many countries government protect their citizens. People still fight for human rights and many citizens now are free to express their thoughts and speak freely due to the Enlightenment.