The causes and consequences of the American and French Revolutions Why do nations revolt? What happens when they do?
American Causes - Political The American colonists disliked the lack of political control they had over their land. The political power rested in England with the King and the Parliament, where the colonies had no representation. The colonists wanted to have members in the Parliament or their own decision making bodies in the colonies. The British govt. refused to compromise and was unable to satisfy the concerns of the colonists in a satisfactory manner.
American Causes - Economic The British govt. weighed down by debts from wars both on the American continent and at home, tried to limit colonial expansion because their feared the cost of fight the Amerindians. Colonists were frustrated by the limitation imposed and sought to bring change. The largest cause of the revolt was taxes. American colonists did not believe that the British govt. had the right to raise taxes in the colonies on their whim. Boycotts and protests further weakened Britain’s trading in the colonies.
French and American Causes Intellectual The Enlightenment heavily influenced the American and French Revolutions. Using scientific method to understand human behavior, E thinkers began to challenge traditional viewpoints on religion and politics. John Locke believed that govts. were created to protect life, liberty, and property, and if they did not he believed that the people had a right to rebel. Jean-Jacques Rousseau asserted that the will of the people was sacred and the legitimacy of the monarch was dependent on the consent of the people. Both Enlightenment thinkers’ works were popular with the middle classes in the US and France and their ideas were instrumental in beginning change.
French Causes - Political The consequences of the rule of absolutism under Louis XIV had descended upon Louis XVI. Years of costly wars and extravagant government spending left the French govt. on the verge of bankruptcy. Few were satisfied with the kings rule - the 1st and 2nd Estates wanted to gain more power and the 3rd Estate wanted a voice in govt. Led by the middle class lawyers and merchants, the third estate began to call for political reform. Unable to gain reform, they moved towards revolution by declaring themselves the National Assembly.
French Causes - Economic French society was dealing with a serious economic crisis that the nobles refused to solve by paying taxes. The government was broke, people were starving, and the calling of the Estates General proved to be the last straw. The nobility refused to pay taxes though they and the clergy had the most money. The Third Estate which made up 97% of the population shouldered the financial burden and refused to continue to. Bad harvest and starvation spurred them on.
French Causes - Social At the time of the Revolution, France was divided into 3 Estates - the First Estate, the Clergy, the Second Estate, the nobility, and the Third Estate, the commoners. The First and Second Estate had many privileges and the Third Estate was left with the financial burden of the country though they were the poorest of the three estates. The Third Estate was hardest hit by the poor harvests and crop yields and the peasantry, which amounted to 80% of the population, was forced into beggary and prostitution to survive.
Course and Consequence With fewer class issues to keep them apart, the colonists of the American Revolution are able to unite against a foreign power and are successful in creating an enduring democracy. The French, on the other hand, are marred by a lack of unity and an inability to solve the crucial economic, political, and social concerns. The French revolution lasts from 1789-1812 and in the end the Congress of Vienna reinstates the monarchy under Louis XVIII. For 23 years, chaos has ruled France and in the end they have little to show for it. Thousands have died and little change actually occurred.
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