Enlightenment Ideas Lead to Revolutions

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Enlightenment Ideas Lead to Revolutions

The Enlightenment era ushered in a series of sweeping changes in both Europe and the English Colonies in America. Both the American and French Revolutions were greatly influenced by ideas that came from the Enlightenment period.

There were several key ideas of the Enlightenment philosophers that had the biggest impact.


Natural Rights

Natural rights, as explained by John Locke, greatly influenced both of these revolutions. In America, the Declaration of Independence drew heavily from John Locke, most notably the famous phrase, “life, liberty and happiness.” Natural rights are also guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. In France, natural rights were the foundation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, a document about human rights during the French Revolution.

Social Contract

The social contract theory made its way into both the American and French Revolutions. In both revolutions, the social contract theory gave the people reason to overthrow their monarchs. Deriving from this theory, the American Constitution outlines elections for all offices as well as a way to remove a president from office if they are failing to do their job. In France, the people believed that their monarchy was not honoring the social contract and they overthrew it and replaced it with a republic.

Enlightenment Ideas Lead to Revolutions

Balance of Power

Montesquieu’s theory on the separation of powers also found its place in these revolutions. When America was designing its new government, the founders designed three separate branches of government. These three branches, which are the legislative, executive, and judicial, each have the power to check the other two. This system is called checks and balances. In France, the monarchy and the three estates were removed from power because of how the First and Second Estate abused the peasants of the Third Estate.

Separation of Church and State

During the age of absolute monarchies, religion played an important role. Religion was often used as a measure of control for the people. The founders of America and the French Revolution both knew this and took steps to make sure this did not happen again. In America, religious freedom was guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. It gave people the freedom of religion and was protected by the government. In France, all religions were eventually given both civil and political rights.

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