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American and French Revolutions

October 8, 2012

Below please find a new set of web questions that compare the American and French Revolutions, written by your classmate, Richard Lu.


Both the American and French revolutions were brought about by similar ideas, but the way each played out was not similar. The French wanted to destroy and rebuild practically everything from the old order, but the Americans were content with retaining most of British legal, social, and cultural heritage, even though the Americans had the freedom to do whatever they wanted with their country. Why do you think Americans kept more of the old order instead of recreating everything like the French did? If the American Revolution was as radical as the French one, what do you think American society would be like now?

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Teddy Chattah permalink
    October 10, 2012 5:09 pm

    The American Revolution and the French Revolution were entirely different revolutions. The Americans were not interested in completely re-organizing the social order and the government in place. While they didn’t want to have a monarchy, the 13 colonies already had somewhat formed their own governments in states (some colonies had governors already). The American Revolution was more of a civil war followed by a secession. In contrast, the French people wanted to completely overthrow the system of government and eliminate the class system and Catholic Church with new ideas based on the Enlightenment.
    The Americans were not looking to redistribute wealth and power and did not contain extremists like France. France turned radical because there was no unified thought, group, or leader in charge of the revolution. People didn’t have a George Washington type figure to look up to. The French also believed that human reason would decide the course of action. I think that if America had a Revolution like France, America would not have succeeded as a country. Britain would have lost the was simply out of sheer exhaustion and geographical challenges. The 13 colonies would not have unified under one government if America’s Revolution was like France’s. I think America would be many different weak countries on one land instead of a strong country like it is today.

  2. Fuad Hamid permalink
    October 14, 2012 10:01 pm

    When the French rebelled against its monarchy, they not only wanted to overthrow King Louis XVI, they wanted a complete political and social reform. They wanted to eliminate the Estate system where the third estate, the low class, had unequal rights and power. The Americans also wanted political reform. They wanted to overthrow British monarchy and create a democratic form of government, similar to the French. However, the Americans did want a social reform which is why their culture was still very similar to the British after the revolution was over. The American Constitution initially did not give equal rights to women, nor did they abolish slavery. If you look at the ideas of Locke and Rousseau, two major influences of the American Revolution, they did not believe in a society where white men had the same political rights as women, slaves, peasants, or people of color. If the American Revolution was as radical as the French revolution I don’t think that today’s society would be affected that much but perhaps rights to women and the abolition of slavery may have happened sooner.

  3. aaron ahdut permalink
    October 15, 2012 11:34 am

    While both the American and the French revolution were brought about by similar ideas, they both did not want the same end result. The 13 colonies wanted to be treated the same way as the British were being treated,They didn’t want to abolish the entire governmental system.the Americans wanted equality for all men in their society and this caused them to revolt and form a system of government that had no form of hierarchy.but other than these main points they wanted to have the same society as the British people had. this is why the Americans preserved most of the way the British culture was formed after the revolutionary war. In the other hand the French people wanted to completely overthrow the existing society often referred to as the ancient régime. They did not like how the 3rd estate were being treated so they formed a national assembly to take down the old order and to have liberty equality and fraternity for all man kind.Never the less In the end the french still went back to some form of monarchy in the era of Napoleon. i would think that if the americans had the same revolution as the french , there will be a bigger form of hierarchy and monarchic powers in the united states.

  4. Vera Orlando permalink
    October 15, 2012 3:08 pm

    It is obvious that the American Revolution and the French Revolution had some similarities, however; had many differences. The colonies had a more conservative approach and were just looking for more freedom, as those in their mother country, but the French wanted complete radical changes from the old regime. I think the 13 colonies didn’t want that much change because they were in an extremely stable economic state at the time and everything was going well except for the fact that they felt slightly neglected by Britain and didn’t feel they were receiving the same rights as those living in Britain were. Before the beginnings of the French Revolution on the other hand, France was in a terrible economic state from war debt and was dealing with social (class structure) issues with the National Assembly, so the people in France felt a strong need for complete change. If America took the same approach as the French people,I feel it would have been a much longer process and America would have been under a monarchy’s rule for a long time. I also agree with Teddy in saying that the states would not be completely united as one country, but as individual states.

  5. Shayna Wolf permalink
    October 16, 2012 11:51 pm

    america was doing something new. There was no other country around this time that the could take an example from about what it means to revolt as a country in modern days. they had to set the example. in being the first of that era to revolutionize, they couldn’t go so extreme. what would happen if they would look. i don’t think that when they started the war they thought that they would 100% win. They had to keep in mind “what will happen if we lose”. since they had no one else to fall back on except britain, they couldn’t go all out. France on the other hand had the american example. since they saw what america could do when it comes to revolution, the french could take it to the next level. they didnt need anything to fall back on. they were unhappy in their present situation and things couldn’t get much worse. america didn’t have it so bad. so , the french were more radical. they werent looking at what might happen if they lost so there was probably more of a mindset of ‘who cares’. people in depression do crazy things, and so did france. now, what would have happened if the US would have been more radical? well, we have to look at both side: if they would have won and if they would have lost. if they would have lost, the entire world would be different. other countries would have taken US defeat as an example not to revolt and it would have lasted for a couple of years until another radical country would get really arritated. america would have become more oppressed by britain since they tried to revolt so radically. i don’t think there would have ever been emancipation of slaves because oppressed people tend to oppress others. and eventually the slaves would try to revolt and maybe something like the revolutionary wars in latin american countries might have happened in the US. i dont think that the US would try to declare independence from britain for at least another two generations unless things got really really bad. and in general, people would be more obediant to british rule but would hate it a lot. (had it not been a radical revolution defeat, british might have gone easy on the Us and just charged more taxes). on the other hand, if the US would have won with a radical revolution… well i dont think its even possible because that would mean the colonies would have to be really strongly united and have a strong sense on nationalism, but lets say they did… then i think the US society would have a lot of people who took control and wouldn’t want to share power. i think the states would become independent of another (like german and italian states use to be) because of their differences and people would become oppressed by the few individuals who had control. US citizens might then have many revolutions within their own states and there would be many civil wars until one big war within the US would combine it all. but a lot would change though maybe eventually it would lead to mostly how society is today but would have more government control over everything.however, you can never really predict would would have happened “if…”
    sorry for going so off topic and being way out there but i thought it would be interesting adding a little bit of a different look at things from a new perspective

  6. Shira Binyaminy permalink
    October 18, 2012 8:37 pm

    When we think about the American and French revolutions we conjure in our minds two very different images. The American revolution was a unified body fighting together against the British overseas and the French revolution was a mass of riots in the streets. The French Peasants killed and destroyed everything that symbolized anything to do with the monarchy, and they went so far as to behead their own king and queen and most of the nobles on the guillotine. The reason the French revolution got so out of hand was because they didn’t have any sort of freedom before the revolution. The nobles were in charge of the government and the peasants resented that. When the Third Estate wanted to have more say the First and Second Estate refused to budge so the Third Estate, which consisted of everyone but the nobles and clergymen, created the National Assembly. They did not have any one figure to lead them and that’s how the Reign of Terror happened under Maximilien Ropespierre.
    However, before the American Revolution happened the colonies had their own sort of self-rule and they didn’t feel the need to change everything in their new government. They were able to obtain their freedom and not reject everything from their old rule.
    If the American Revolution was as radical as the French Revolution, I believe things would have turned out very different. They might not have gained their independence the way they did if they weren’t so unified and proud. Their would have been a lot more unnecessary deaths and hatred.

  7. Sundes Ambreen permalink
    October 20, 2012 8:39 pm

    I believe that the reason the Americans kept some of the old order was because that wasnt their concer; it wasnt the reason why they were parting from the mother country. They wanted independence from the British laws, not the British way of life. After all, they themselves were originally British. They wanted the freedom to do what they wished with their businesses without an outside interference. Their main concern was to get their rights and thats what they set our for and achieved.
    If the American Revolution was like the French Revolution, oh boy. Although both revolutions involved bloodshed, the French one was crazy, dont you think? I mean, look at how many people were beheaded… Tsk tsk. But lets say if the American Revolution was like the French…what would happen?… I honestly dont know. It would all depend on the people and how they’d react to injustice. But, I think eventually, we’d reach the state of ‘democracy’.

  8. Syed permalink
    October 30, 2012 5:19 pm

    The French revolution and The American revolution both shared the same principal of englinment. The American only use the Enlightenment as an illusion but The French impose the Enlightenment ideas in practice. The american wanted freedom from their motherland because they wanted to handle own matters. They also wanted aid from the unjustifiable taxes which were imposed by the british govt. The French wanted a total new order of govt. because their citizen were divided in three categories and the upper class used all the benefits. American were unhappy because the outsider were taking all the benefits from them but the French were unhappy of their own govt. The American revolution was not so radical because their main motive was stopping outsider/ motherland involvement in their matter and stop improper taxes by England. They were satisfied when the english left their land.
    If the American Revolution was as radical as the French one, American society would never be like it is now. Everywhere in the world America is seen as the land freedom, land of innovation, land of opportunity. This freedom and opportunity is given by the American Revolution. The American revolution also inspired a lot of kingdom which were under British Empire. The American revolution created The United states of America that later became the global superpower. if the American revolution was as radical as French then it would have never be the same United States Of America that we live in.

  9. Seon Samuel permalink
    November 12, 2012 3:31 am

    To first address this issue, it must be noted that even both the French and the Americas had revolutions, they were completely different in the aims. The french revolutions was more for reform while on the other hand the American revolution was because people were aggravated by the numerous taxes placed upon them. They were not necessarily annoyed by their way of way, their customs, dress or even traditions, they were only revolting against the taxes that british were imposing on them. If the American Revolution was as radical as the french I think the main area which would have been different would have been Immigration and Identity. America is a nation built up immigrants, if they revolted for change like the french, their identity would have been similar to those of the french where the majority of the people in America would have been born in America.

  10. Richard Cabral permalink
    December 18, 2012 6:57 am

    The reason America back then kept the order that they had before was because it worked for them, there was no reason to really change order that they had. Plus as Seon said, America was annoyed by the taxes placed on them while the French despised the system itself. Well if America actually did change its foundation America could be a completely different place, different religion, different laws the whole nine yards. America could have been the first communist country in some way if they really did change.

  11. Joseph DeAngelo permalink
    December 18, 2012 10:17 am

    When speaking of the French and American revolutions, you are looking at two uprisings on completely different sides of the spectrum. On the one hand, you had the French who–very fond of Enlightenment ideas and values–wanted to overthrow their present government (the monarchy) and override it due to the class system. Not only was the class system dividing the nation up into three groups, but it was also depolarizing a large amount of the middle and lower-class society; it is not inappropriate that after so much governmental oppression, with the upper-class taking all the benefits, that the peasants were rioting throughout the streets of France. The French eventually rioted and rebelled against any and all things that represented their monarchy–starting fires and absolute mayhem in the nation. The French revolution was so radical, one of the main upshots was the beheading of King Louis XVI. On the other hand, the American Revolution was more civil, in that it was not even closely parallel to the French Revolution. America did not want to wipe the slate clean, governmentally speaking, such as the French did; rather they wanted changes for their freedoms and equality for the men. Nevertheless, revolution seemed necessary to them as their freedom was being administered by Great Britain, an outside interference they viewed as unwarranted. If the revolution was as radical as the French one, I believe the thirteen colonies would have not seen the freedom they had as a result. With such a radical and disjoined overall body of revolt, the Americans would have been less organized and focused on their goal. America needed a strong, unified revolution or organization and precision, unlike the French. All in all, the revolutions were quite different but effective in their subjective ways.

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