American and French Revolution

During the late 1800’s, two great revolutions occurred, the American Revolution and the French Revolution. These two historical events happened at the same time, but had a great number differences and very little similarity. When French Revolution occurred, it turned into a very violent and bloody event, while the American Revolution was almost nonviolent, aside from the war.


In 1774, King Louis XVI made a decision that could have prevented the French Revolution by breathing new life into the French economy: he appointed Physiocrat Robert Turgot as Controller General of Finance. The Physiocrats were a small band of followers of the French physician Francois Quesnay, whose economic prescriptions included reduced taxes, less regulation, the elimination of government-granted monopolies and internal tolls and tariffs, ideas that found their rallying cry in the famous slogan, "laissez-faire, laissez-passer."

The Physiocrats exerted a profound influence on Adam Smith, who had spent time in France in the 1760s and whose classic The Wealth of Nations embodied the Physiocratic attack on mercantilism and argued that nations get rich by practicing free trade.2 Of Smith, Turgot, and the Physiocrats, the great French statesman and author Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850) wrote: "The basis of their whole economic system may be truly said to lie in the principle of self-interest. . . . The only function of government according to this doctrine is to protect life, liberty, and property."10
Embracing the principle of free trade not just as a temporary expedient, but as a philosophy, Turgot got the king to sign an edict in January 1776 that abolished the monopolies and special privileges of the guilds, corporations, and trading companies. He then dedicated himself to breaking down the internal tariffs within France. By limiting government expense, he was able to cut the budget by 60 million livres and reduce the interest on the national debt from 8.7 million livres to 3 million livres.

Had Turgot been allowed to pursue his policies of free trade and less government intervention, France may very well have become Europe\'s first "common market" and avoided violent revolution. Unfortunately for France and the cause of freedom, resistance from the Court and special interests proved too powerful, and Turgot was removed from office in 1776. "The dismissal of this great man," wrote Voltaire, "crushes me. . . . Since that fatal day, I have not followed anything . . . and am waiting patiently for someone to cut our throats."3

Turgot\'s successors, following a mercantilist policy of government intervention, only made the French economy worse. In a desperate move to find money in the face of an uproar across the country and to re-establish harmony, Louis XVI agreed to convene the Estates-General for May, 1789. Meanwhile, the king\'s new finance minister, Jacques Necker, a Swiss financial expert, delayed the effects of mercantilism by importing large amounts of grain.

On May 5, the Estates-General convened at Versailles. By June 17, the Third Estate had proclaimed itself the National Assembly. Three days later, the delegates took the famous Tennis Court Oath, vowing not to disband until France had a new constitution.

But the real French Revolution began not at Versailles but on the streets of Paris. On July 14, a Parisian mob attacked the old fortress known as the Bastille, liberating, as one pundit put it, "two fools, four forgers and a debaucher." The Bastille was no longer being used as a political prison, and Louis XVI had even made plans to destroy it. That made little difference to the mob, who were actually looking for weapons.

Promising the guards safe-conduct if they would surrender, the leaders of the mob broke their word and hacked them to death. It would be the first of many broken promises. Soon the heads, torsos, and hands of the Bastille\'s former guardians were bobbing along the street on pikes. "In all," as historian Otto Scott put it, "a glorious victory of unarmed citizens over the forces of tyranny, or so the newspapers and history later said."11 The French Revolution had begun.
Despite the bloodshed at the Bastille and the riots in Paris, there was some clear-headed thinking. Mirabeau wanted to keep the Crown but restrain it. "We need a government like England\'s," he said.4 The French would never accept it though, for