Influence of Enlightenment Ideology on Struggle of the Americans and the French for Independence

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Throughout history, many ideas influenced many nations around the world. Whether it was big or small, civilizations everywhere were swayed by others in which they too wanted to be just as prosperous as their neighbors. One of the biggest influences across the world was that of the works of the Enlightenment ideology. The Enlightenment ideas were those surrounded by freedom: freedom of speech, freedom of religion practices, equality, the list goes on. Many countries used this proposal as a way of viewing their independence from their ruler. Among them were the Americans and the French, both having revolutions around the same time as each other, and both inspired by Enlightenment views. Throughout their countries process of being independent, there were many documents being recorded to show how the Americans and French people came about being free.

During the time of the United States of America’s fight for independence, many citizens had different views on what they wanted for the country in terms of the new government that was to be composed. Once it was established that America had fought and won the Revolutionary War in 1783, the founding fathers and the citizens of the new independent land had to come about what the new government was set to do. Coming from the rule of a king who was on the verge of being a dictator, the people of America had set proposed a government that the people could make the laws for. The Declaration of Independence and, later proposed, the Bill of Rights did just that.

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The citizens of America wanted freedom more than anything, that is predominately why they came to the new land. In full hope and expectation of receiving what they sought out for, the two congressional documents made them proud. The article of the summary of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights from the National Archives website, archives.gov, suggest that the founding fathers and the people of America had set regulations on what the government was in control of. They also made it a point of what the government could not dictate to other states because of that state’s individual rights and along with that, what it could not dictate to its citizens because of the same reasoning. In the Declaration of Independence portion of the source, it was said: “That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government” (archives.gov). Along with the Bill of Rights, the people were given flat out freedom of their lives as it does not pertain to destroying another or committing a crime. The people in America were finally getting their sense of freedom they so dreamt of, and from across the Atlantic, the French wanted the same thing too.

The French Revolution was sought out by the commoners of France to eliminate the treatment of the third estate as being underclass when in fact they made of majority of the country’s population. The Enlightenment ideas traveled throughout France in a way that the citizens were willing to do whatever it took for them to have freedom from the hardships that their king and noblemen put upon them. From the summary of the documents the Declaration of the Rights of the Man and of the Citizen, written by the French National Assembly, and Maximilien Robespierre’s ‘On the Moral and Political Principles of Domestic Policy’, we can gather more information on the effects of the ideas of the Enlightenment.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen shows that the French people did believe that the French monarch were abusing their powers and sought to create a foundation of what the new government in France should be. This is because as stated from the source of a short portion of ‘Readings in European History’ by James Harvey Robinson: “The representatives of the French people, organized as a National Assembly, believing that the ignorance, neglect, or contempt of the rights of man are the sole cause of public calamities and of the corruption of governments, have determined to set forth in a solemn declaration the natural, inalienable, and sacred rights of man, in order that this declaration, being constantly before all the members of the social body, shall remind them continually of their rights and duties…” (Robinson, 409-11). The meaning of the document written but the French Assembly was to show the people and the political figures the right of freedom for the citizens of France. Throughout the document, there are many points made about the treatment of citizens and what the government is to be obliged by to follow.

At the same time, the French lawyer Maximilien Robespierre, who took over the French government during its country’s revolution made it a point to control France by the outlooks of the Enlightenment ideas but to also ‘eliminate’ those who stood in the way of destroying freedom within the country. From the summary of the ‘On the Moral and Political Principles of Domestic Policy’ suggest that Robespierre thought that the only way to total freedom of the French people were to kill those who were thought of against the goals of the revolution movement. This is because in his document it states, “This great purity of the French revolution’s basis, the very sublimity of its objective, is precisely what causes both our strength and our weakness. Our strength, because it gives to us truth’s ascendancy over imposture, and the rights of the public interest over private interests; our weakness, because it rallies all vicious men against us, all those who in their hearts contemplated despoiling the people and all those who intend to let it be despoiled with impunity, both those who have rejected freedom as a personal calamity and those who have embraced the revolution as a career and the Republic as prey” (Robespierre).

However, even though Robespierre ‘terror’ did frighten the citizens he was trying to protect, the viewpoints of all three documents did however claim and prove that they were all trying to behold the ideology of being an enlightened nation. Similarities would be between the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen both being in which they embodied set rules/ regulations for the government to follow in terms of freedom that created a society of all its people to live in harmony. The differences would be that of Robespierre view of how to essentially ‘make’ a government enlightened instead of the people how that view from themselves. The different areas of the worlds both being influenced by the ideas of one ideology soon spread to other regions as they too sought for independence and freedom.

References

  1. ‘Declaration of Independence: A Transcription’. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, http://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript
  2. Robespierre. On the Moral and Political Principles of Domestic Policy. 1794.
  3. Robinson, James Harvey, and Charles A. Beard. Readings in Modern European History. Ginn & Co., 1909.
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Influence of Enlightenment Ideology on Struggle of the Americans and the French for Independence. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 13, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/influence-of-enlightenment-ideology-on-struggle-of-the-americans-and-the-french-for-independence/
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