The American and French Revolutions

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In some ways, the American and French Revolutions seem alike. Both were influenced by ideas of the Enlightenment. Enlightenment is the term used to describe the trends of thinking and writing in Europe and America during the 18th century before the French Revolution. These ideas included the philosophical ideas of equality before the law; a centralized state governed by the middle classes, a government not in the absolute power of a King and rich landowners but a government elected by all the people.
In the 1770’s an enormous increase in newspapers and books ensured a wide spread of philosophies and ideas on both sides of the Atlantic. The French Revolution was a social and political revolution. Different classes of people had enjoyed different rights and privileges. Rich landowners had claims on the labor of peasants, clergy was exempt from taxes and the court consumed a large part of the wealth in the form of taxes and tithes. Complex laws prevented peasants from selling their product and kept them from advancing economically. The larger cities had different taxes and tolls, making it impossible for industry to grow and compete with other countries in Europe. But French society was changing. An emerging new middle-class was beginning to get more economic power although they had no political power. These people could not progress under feudalism, they embraced the ideas of freedom of self-government, industry and commerce. The French people took courage from the American Revolution, that a handful of colonies could defeat the world’s greatest empire.
A significant difference between the two revolutions was in their constitutions. Some believe this is the main reason why the two revolutions turned out differently. The French constitution was modeled after the English, with the king as the main symbol of national unity.The real authority placed in the parliament, or the educated middle class, which was to represent the thinking …