Similarities Between the French, American, and Haitian Revolutions

The revolutions that took place in Haiti, France, and the colonial United States were similar in many ways. All three revolutions based their ideals heavily in Enlightenment thinking popular to that era. The revolutionists in these countries borrowed their ideas from the Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, Voltaire, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. All three revolutions had roots in the reformation of political and legal freedoms demanded by the citizens of each nation, as well as intertwining connections with each other. Oppression from the leaders of the nations as well as economic strains contributed to the development of these revolutions. The Revolutionary Era was a critical time in our history, and the key players influenced the way that many nations today are organized and run.

All three of the great revolutions during the 1700s and the 1800s all borrowed ideas from Enlightenment thinkers of that era. For example, Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that sovereignty belonged to the people of a society, not the ruling elites. He also argued that the common man should directly participate in the formation of laws and policies. These ideas are seen in the American Revolution, where the colonists wanted to bring power away from the king of England as well as do away with certain unfair and exploitative laws created by the king. The French and Haitian revolutions both followed the peoples sovereignty concept as well, where both nations wanted to discard oppressive rulers and/or laws.

John-Locke, another prominent enlightenment thinker held the belief that society began with groups of people working together and appointing rulers who would protect and promote their common interests. Locke believed that people retained their right to life, liberty, and property. This idea directly influenced the creation of both the United States’ Declaration of Independence and France’s National Assembly ideals. Voltaire argued against the persecution of religious minorities, as well as censorship of material deemed inappropriate by the ruling elites. ‘Voltaire’ was actually just his pen name, and all of his work was censored from France and had to be smuggled into the country, which advocated his position even more. The three main revolutions of the era were deeply interconnected within themselves. When the 13 Colonies declared independence from Great Britain, they were supported by the French. After the revolution, France went broke from war debts accumulated from their support of the American Revolution. This partially led to the reformation and revolution of the ‘Old Regime’ in France. During this chaotic time in France, the French colony of Haiti (Saint-Domingue at the time) was torn by a civil war between slave rebels and the French military stationed there. All three revolutions were connected in some way to one another, and there was a partial domino effect involved in the development of these conflicts.

The American Revolution built up after many years of oppression on the colonists by the King of England. The tension built up after Parliament levied staggering taxes and law policies on the colonists following the Seven Years war. The French Revolution was started because of similar problems. The French Regime was in debt after supporting the Colonists in the American Revolution. Because King Louis XVI could not procure any more taxes from the peasantry, King Louis looked to levy taxation from the nobility. After negotiations between the classes failed, tensions escalated exponentially, resulting in a full rebellion of the ‘Old Regime’ by the majority of French peasants. Unlike the American Revolution, the French revolution developed and escalated very quickly, and became very chaotic as different groups vied for power. After about 20 years of bloody conflict, Napoleon Bonaparte took control over France and named himself Emperor. Through his policies, stability was returned to France, and the laws of the nation were modified to appease most of the French people.

In Saint-Domingue (Haiti) during the American Revolution, France sent about 800 free black men to fight for the colonists. When they returned, these soldiers had become familiar with ideas of freedom and equality. The white settlers of Saint-Domingue also supported Enlightenment ideals and proposed to govern themselves when the French Revolution broke out. These white settlers opposed equality between the free black slaves and themselves, however, and this eventually led to a chaotic civil war between runaway slave factions, free black men, and the white settlers. The free slaves and runaways were eventually united by a revolutionist by the name of Toussaint Louverture. Louverture was able to defeat French and other opposing forces, and he granted equal citizenship to all people living on the newly named Haiti. The resulting power shifts after the revolutions in America, Haiti and France led the way for many changes during the following two centuries. Revolutions in almost every other colony in the world took place after the first three big revolutions. The original 13 colonies grew into a world superpower, and under the influence of the revised governmental system, so did France. The world’s perception of a strong nation shifted from an examination of that nation’s leader, to an examination of that nation's populace and collaborative government as a whole. The idea of divine rule was replaced by a system that gave the power of sovereignty to the people of the nation, and even to this day all modern nations employ a similar means of government to organize their countries.

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