It's Bastille Day today when Frenchmen, world-wide, celebrate their inglorious revolution. It has become fashionable lately to equate the French and American revolutions, but they share absolutely nothing beyond the word "revolution." They are like chalk and fromage. The American Revolution was a movement based on ideas, painstakingly argued by serious men in the process of creating what would become the freest, most prosperous nation in world history.
The French Revolution was a revolt of the mob. It was the primogenitor of the horrors of the Bolshevik revolution, Hitler's Nazi Party, Mao's cultural revolution, Pol Pot's slaughter, and now with the continuing of the Arab Spring The French Revolution is the godless antithesis to the founding of America.
One rather important difference is that Americans did win freedom and greater individual rights with their revolution, creating a republic. France's revolution consisted of pointless, bestial savagery, followed by another monarchy, followed by Napoleon's dictatorship and then finally something resembling an actual republic 80 years later. Both revolutions are said to have come from the ideas of Enlightenment thinkers; the French Revolution informed by the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Americans influenced by the writings of John Locke.
Locke was concerned with private property rights. His idea was that the government should allow men to protect their property in courts of law, in lieu of each man being his own judge and police force. Rousseau saw the government as the vessel to implement the "general will" and to create more moral men. Through the unchecked power of the state, the government would "force men to be free." As historian Roger Hancock summarized the theories of the French revolutionaries, they had no respect for humanity "except that which they proposed to create. In order to liberate mankind from tradition, the revolutionaries were ready to make him altogether the creature of a new society, to reconstruct his very humanity to meet the demands of the general will."
As Stephen Waldman writes in his definitive book on the subject, "Founding Faith," the American Revolution was "powerfully shaped by the "Great Awakening," an Evangelical revival in the colonies in the 1700's. There are books of Christian sermons of the day encouraging the American Revolution. Indeed, it was the very irreligiousness of the French Revolution that would later appall the sensibilities of Americans and British alike, even before the bloodletting began.
Americans celebrate the Forth of July, the date our written demand for independence from Britain based on "Nature's God" was released to the world. The French celebrate Bastille Day, a day when a thousand armed Parisians stormed the Bastille, savagely murdered a half dozen guards, defaced their corpses, stuck their heads on pikes -- all in order to seize arms and gunpowder for more tumults. It would be as if the United States had a national holiday to celebrate the L.A. riots! No Thanks!
The Way I See It....Patrick Henry's famous quote, "Give me liberty or give me death!" far out ways the French Revolution's famous slogan, "Fraternity or death," which soon became, "Be my brother or I'll kill you." And even the stark differences in the icons of the two revolutions: the Liberty Bell, first rung to herald the opening of the new Continental Congress and rung again to summon the citizens of Philadelphia to a public reading of the just-adopted Declaration of Independence and the French "Revolution's "national razor" , the guillotine....says it all.
NOTE: Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, all died of natural causes in old age, with the exception of Button Gwinnett of Georgia, who was shot in a duel unrelated to the revolution. Meanwhile, the leaders of the French Revolution all died violently...guillotine by guillotine.