The uprising in France against an oppressive aristocracy and the American declaration of independence from an unfair British rule are two major events of modern world history. In this respect, both events were revolutions for freedom and share many aspects. The implications of these two revolutions go beyond France and America, for modern electoral democracy effectively began as a consequence. The rest of this essay will compare and contrast these two major historical events.
The revolution in America preceded that in France by a decade or so. It effectively began in 1763 when people of the American colonies revolted against the principle of taxation without representation. Although the colonies were self-governed from thirty years earlier, the straining relationship with the British crown became more acute with the passage of each new tax law. The series of tax laws, including the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act and the Currency Act aggravated the grievances of an already over-taxed colonial population. Almost all trade-related shipments to and from the Eastern American coast was deemed taxable. While some of the taxes were reasonable, others were plainly unjust, given that the colonists were not granted representation in the affairs of the Crown. The British Crown reasoned that such taxations were necessary to keep up its expansive and expensive naval operations. But its use of authoritarian methods in enforcing tax laws proved to be the decisive spur for American Revolution. For example, when some of the governing officers in the colonies expressed their solidarity with fellow colonists, the British Crown took a hasty decision to dismiss and replace all disloyal officers and took more stringent measures to enforce taxation laws. This move further alienated the colonists and primed their thoughts for independence.
So studying the American declaration of independence in retrospect, we see that the British rule, by its obstinate, inconsiderate and high-handed approach to dealing with colonial affairs, had triggered the revolt. By 1770 the movement for independence had gathered substantial following, making it a full blown war against Britain. Colonists gathered in huge numbers and participated in protestations. They applied paints on their faces, wore Mohawks as a mark of identifying with America, while simultaneously distinguishing themselves from British troops. It was at this juncture that the famous Boston Tea Party happened. Acting in disobedience to the orders given from England, the colonists marched down onto the ships that sat in the bay that contained crates of tea. After boarding the ships they requested the keys to unlock the containers which contained the crates of tea and started tearing open and tossing every last crate of tea into the water. Their fury was such that they made sure that the last floating crate of tea was duly sunk into the saline ocean waters. The Boston Tea Party sent a strong message to the British Crown that the colonies wanted complete independence and separation from the rule of England.
The French Revolution, on the other hand, did not gain momentum until the year 1796. In many ways, the causes for which the French were fighting resembled that of the American colonists. In the years preceding the revolution, the French monarchy steadily lost its popularity as a result of harsh laws imposed by it. The abuse of power by the French aristocracy also did not go well with the majority of the masses. The French people were also inspired by the success of American colonists in defeating their British masters. During this time, intellectuals such as Rousseau and Voltaire published influential pamphlets, articles and books which caught the imagination of the general public. This period saw the flourishing of philosophical and political thought and brought reason to the centre stage of these fields of enquiry. Hence, this period in Western history, came to be termed the Age of Enlightenment. As people in France got educated about the enlightenment ideals and principles, they started to question the authority of the monarchy and the excesses of the aristocracy. They no longer believed in the divine rights of Kings and Queens and started believing in the trinity of equality, liberty and fraternity. The result is the radical change in public consciousness that primed the nation for revolution. In these aspects the two revolutions on either side of the Atlantic Ocean do resemble one another.