American Revolution vs. French Revolution

The American Revolution is a fascinating and enormous subject, with many parallels to the French Revolution, and it would be impossible to discuss every aspect of it in only a few paragraphs. However, here is a general overview. Perhaps the most interesting aspect was that the British colonies in North America were at first very loyal to the United Kingdom, but in a period of 10 or 15 years they became so dissatisfied that they demanded complete independence.


After the defeat of France in 1763, the United Kingdom gained the entire French empire in North America. At this time, the British colonists in North America were very loyal to their mother country. However, distance and time caused the colonists to evolve differently from British subjects in the British Isles. For example, the colonists tended to be more independently-minded and self-reliant. Their abilities and work brought greater rewards in the colonies, whereas society in the British Isles followed a strict class structure. Nonetheless, the colonists were content under British rule, which allowed them a large measure of self-government.


What caused the American Revolution? In general terms, the American Revolution came about because the British government did not fully realize the seriousness of the unrest and dissatisfaction which soon developed in its colonies in North America. The British government in London considered the distant colonies more as a possession than as an extension of its territory and people. Ill-will between the British government and its colonies in North America began to develop after 1763. With France defeated

in Canada, the British government then wished to strengthen its authority in North America. Political leaders in London decided to maintain a standing army in their colonies, and they imposed new taxes on the colonists to support the army. The army was intended to protect against French, Spanish and Native American attacks, but it could also be used against the colonists.


The American colonies had enjoyed a large degree of self-government, and they wanted even greater freedom from British control, so they resented the imposition of stronger British rule and heavier taxes. The colonists refused to pay these taxes, and in 1773 the Boston Tea Party was staged to dump incoming tea into the harbor rather than pay taxes on it. Troops were sent into Massachusetts to strengthen British authority. Other events which aggravated the growing dissatisfaction in the colonies were new laws which limited westward settlement, restricted colonial trade with other countries and required colonists to house British soldiers stationed in their communities. All these laws are passed without consultation of the colonists.


At first, the colonists wished only to have their grievances addressed and remain within the British Empire. The First Continental Congress was formed in Philadelphia in 1774 to petition the British government to ease their control of Massachusetts and to repeal what the colonists considered taxation without representation in the British Parliament. Instead, the British government considered Massachusetts and its neighbor colonies to be in rebellion, and British troops were ordered to take action. Boston Harbor was closed to punish the city for its "tea party". The first clashes between British and Americans soldiers occurred at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts in 1775. After the war had erupted, the colonists resolved to end British rule completely and fight for complete independence. The Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. This formally cut all ties between the colonies and the mother country.


The United Kingdom ordered a massive offensive to crush the rebellion. A British Army under Lieutenant General William Howe overpowered the Continental Army under General George Washington in New York. However, the Continental Army under General Horatio Gates defeated the British Army under Lieutenant General John Burgoyne at Saratoga in 1777. For the first time, the United States had real hope of winning its independence from the United Kingdom. The British defeat persuaded the British government to make concessions and offer the colonists the status of dominion (as it later granted to Canada in 1867). However, this major victory helped persuade France to lend its support to the Americans. French aid would be crucial during the remainder of the American Revolution. France recognized the new United States of America in 1778. Spain followed suit in 1779 and the Netherlands in 1780.


Faced with so many enemies, the United Kingdom found it very difficult to assemble an army powerful enough to destroy the American forces. Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton captured Charleston, South Carolina in 1780, but Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis was unable to follow this with other victories in the southern states. Cornwallis then turned to Virginia, where he met a French fleet and an army of American and French soldiers led by General George Washington. Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781. This was the last major battle of the war. The Revolutionary War officially ended on September 3, 1783, when the United Kingdom recognized the United States of America in the Treaty of Paris.


The Revolutionary War was a relatively small war, and battles rarely involved more than 15,000 men. Nonetheless, the war inflicted heavy economic losses in the United States due to disruption of normal trade and destruction of property. The British economy was also strained by the war, but it withstood the strain. France suffered perhaps the worst of all in its support of the United States as it sank into bankruptcy and later revolution. About 1/4 of the colonists remained loyal to the British government, and many of them moved north into what is now Canada. Canada later also became independent in 1867 as a dominion within the British Commonwealth.


The American Revolution has many parallels with the French Revolution. France and the United Kingdom were great powers in the 1700's, and they often clashed in their quest for lucrative colonies. British military power gradually stripped France of many of her colonies, most notably the British conquest of Canada in 1759. When the American Revolution erupted in 1776, King Louis XVI of France supported the American colonies in their bid for independence from the United Kingdom. Little did the King know that he had helped bring about his own downfall. French military and financial support seriously weakened the French economy. In 1789, the same revolutionary fervor crossed the Atlantic Ocean and erupted in France. The effects of these revolutions spread around the world, as absolute monarchies in many other countries were replaced much more peacefully with limited constitutional monarchies, republics and other democracies.


The American Revolution officially began with a document, the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The French Revolution officially began with an action, the Storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. The most obvious difference was that the American Revolution resulted in the newly independent United States, whereas the French Revolution overthrew its own government. However, the French people were greatly impressed with the ideals of freedom and democracy sought by the new United States, and these greatly influenced their thinking. In the 1780's, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson came to France as diplomats, and their presence in Paris greatly impressed the French people.


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