How did the American Revolution influence the French Revolution?


Quick Answer

With its philosophical ideas of the natural rights of individuals and the division of powers, the American Revolution inspired the French Revolution. Additionally, the French involvement in the American Revolution drove France further into debt, causing financial problems that destabilized the traditional social structure.

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Full Answer

The first phase of the French Revolution took much inspiration from the works of Montesquieu, Thomas Jefferson and John Locke, whose ideas the revolutionaries in America had also touted. Their ideas came to the fore in the early phases of the revolution, when the National Constituent Assembly replaced the absolute monarchy of the Ancien Régime with a constitutional monarchy, Montesquieu's favored system of government. In 1789, the same assembly passed "The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen," a document that draws deeply from the works of John Locke and from Thomas Jefferson's "Declaration of Independence."

The influence, however, was not only philosophical. France fought on the American side in the American Revolution, causing them to go deep into debt. To resolve this debt crisis, French officials attempted to pass a land tax that the aristocratic and religious classes, who had formerly been exempt from such taxes, would have to pay. When representatives from French society met to discuss the tax, members of the Third Estate, which represented all French citizens who were not clergy or nobility, asked for more say in the matter. This request set off the events that ultimately became the French Revolution.

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