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.
A few of the main ideas in particular of the Enlightenment philosophers had the biggest impact.
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 importantly the famous phrase, “life, liberty and happiness.” Natural rights are also guaranteed by 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.
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. Because of this theory, the American Constitution outlines elections for all offices as well as a way to remove a president from office if they are not doing 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.
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 the 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 3 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. It was often a measure of control for the people. The founders of America and the French Revolution both knew this and took steps to make sure that did not happen again. In America, religious freedom was guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. People had the freedom of religion that was protected by the government. In France, all religions were eventually given both civil and political rights.