1776 vs 1789

The American and French Revolutions both occurred in the eighteenth century;
subverting the existing government and opening the way for capitalism and
constitutionalism. Because of these similarities, the two revolutions are often assumed to be
essentially eastern and western versions of each other. However, the two are fundamentally
different in their reason, their rise, progress, termination, and in the events that followed,
even to the present.
The American Revolution was not primarily fought for independence. Independence
was an almost accidental by-product of the Americans’ attempt to rebel against and remove
unfair taxes levied on them by British Parliament. Through propaganda; sermons, speeches,
newspaper articles, and pamphlets; public opinion was manipulated to convince the colonists
and the world that they had legal and moral right to be separate from Great Britain.
The American colonies, because of the nature of colonies, had a strained, equivocal
relationship with Britain to begin with. Britain saw the colonies as a means to an end; to
strengthen their own power, enrich their own nation, and provide additional tax revenue.
The colonists therefore did not feel as traitors in rebelling against England. They were a
distant colony separating from the mother country.
The American colonists were primarily seeking freedom of trade and, because they
felt it unfair to pay taxes to Britain, were attempting to do away with these taxes through
whatever means they thought necessary, including revolt.
The Americans were fighting not to create their freedom, but to maintain it. At the
time the Revolution occurred, the American society was freer and less controlled by
monarchy and aristocracy than any nation on earth. They were fighting a fear of
suppression, rather than actual suppression. They were resisting the force of tyranny before
it could be applied. The revolt occurred not because of suffering, but out of principle.
The French Revolution was fought primarily for the reason of overthrowing the
existing government, and establishing a new one to replace it. It was an altruistic revolution
that was fought to liberate individuals from crushing imperialism and provide basic human
freedom. It was a revolt against absolute feudal and monarchial restraint. The spirit of this
revolution was much more radical. The entire country was in upheaval, and the intent was
to entirely destroy the ruling class. It was fought out of actual oppression and not just the
fear that it might occur.
At the time of the French Revolution, society was still based on a system of
feudalism dating back centuries. The citizens of France did not experience equality. The
nobility were extremely wealthy and becoming wealthier. The peasants were reduced to
extreme poverty in an attempt by the monarch and noblemen to build up greater wealth for
themselves. There was no middle class or working class in France. The suppressed farmers
were overwhelmed with higher and higher taxes and were ready for a revolution without
having to be propagandized into it.1 The French Revolution occurred out of a basic need to
overthrow tyranny.
The American Revolutionists found it relatively easier to fight against the English
government because they did not feel an extreme loyalty to their “mother country”. First,
they were on an entirely different continent and separated by the Atlantic Ocean from their
empire. Second, the American colonists were comprised of immigrants not only from Great
Britain, but from all European nations as well. The colonists of other nationalities, quite
obviously, felt no loyalty whatsoever to King George the Third, Parliament, or Britain.
Therefore the colonists did not have to overcome traitorous feelings in their fight for
The French Revolution, conversely, was a matter of the immediate subjects rebelling
against their government. The oppressed and the oppressors were of one nation, living
together on one soil. The French Revolution had to deal with feelings of being traitorous
toward their country while rebelling against it.
The American and French Revolutions differed in the governing of the “new”
country during and after their revolutions. The Americans were much better equipped to
handle the problem faced in governing a newly forming republic. The colonies had
practically been self-governing before the war, with their own political officials. It was
relatively easy, therefore, for them to organize thirteen colonies into one unified nation to
achieve national goals. The Continental Congress had been in existence since 1774 and was
later to become a forerunner of the new federal government. Each colony also had their own
colonial government, which were adopted into the new state governments. This
pre-existence of government prevented the newly forming republic from being left open to a
revolutionary dictatorship in America.2
The French Revolution did leave the