The American and French Revolutions

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Which revolution, the American or the French, has had the greatest influence during the last two centuries?

Although interpretations of both the American and French Revolution vary, there is still a spectrum of thought that includes the belief that one was more influential than the other. However, the American Revolution has been characterized not as a “revolution”, but as a shift of government from distant to local. Therefore, radical changes that emerged from radical events greatly impacted world affairs. The American Revolution brought about peoples “natural rights”, republicanism-neither good nor bad, and a system of laws that were chosen by the people. On the other hand, we can’t ignore the fact that the French Revolution introduced a platform of laissez-faire reforms in Europe during the 19th century and remain today as simplistic forms of democracy.

After the Glorious Revolution and the Magna Carta, British citizens felt they had more freedom and rights and were protected from injustice. Not only that, but the Americans understood their law and government. If there was a so called injustice, they had the precedent of the Glorious Revolution that told them when it was being done,therefore it could be retaliated against. This rational perspective resulted in their independence and the formation of one of the most influential nations of the modern world.

On the other hand, the French Revolution played an important role with religion.The freedom of religion and the press, as articulated in the Declaration of the Rights of Man, resulted in freedom of morality and status for Protestants and Jews. The Revolution ultimately paved the way for the separation of church and state. Consequently, the American Declaration of Independence, as well as the American state constitutions, directly influenced what evolutionary changes were taking place in France.

Ultimately, the American Revolution proved to Europeans that liberalism during the Enlightenment was not a lifeless manifestation. The ideas that man had the right to equality, thought, press, religion, and liberty proved to be the very embodiment of the American Revolution. It created a new social contract, proving that a better world could be achieved. The more intangible results of the Revolution were embodied in its watchwords, “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity”. However, ultimately, both Revolutions resulted in a highly centralized state and mass warfare involving total wars of nations-in-arms.

In the end, the American Revolution was far less important to Europe than the French Revolution, although in the Americas it was revolutionary. The French Revolution was much more complex and radical, and while a new social order was established during the American Revolution, a political movement in France inaugurated the modern political world. It’s hard to say which revolution had more impact, simply because each contributed different aspects to the Americas and Europe.


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