Wood argues that America may be deemed “radical” like other major political revolutions in history because it produces dramatic social as well as political transformation. Not everyone would agree with his statement. However, the French Revolution also had a dramatic political and social change. Before saying which revolution was more radical, I believe you must first figure out what really is radical. That is advocating or based on thorough or complete political or social reform; representing or supporting an extreme section of a political party.
I believe that both the American and French Revolutions were radical as any revolution, for the fact that both revolutions produced drastic changes in its societies both socially and politically; but the French Revolution was more radical. The American Revolution took place from 1765 to 1783 between America and Great Britain and can be described as a social upheaval, the colonists gained independence from Great Britain through the American Revolution. Gordon expresses that there was not an oppressed class in America, however this is not true due to black slaves.
Gordon briefly touches on slavery which is very odd to me because during the American Revolution he would say equality came about through the revolution, however it was white equality. Furthermore, the white colonists were not oppressed nor did they have poverty or unnecessary taxes as the French had; Wood states, “There should no longer be any doubt about it: the white American colonists were not an oppressed people; they had no crushing imperial chains to throw off” (Wood 4). However, the American Revolution is still radical without oppression being the main reason.
Personal relationships were important in the monarchical society. There is no reason that the American Revolution is not seen as radical because republicanism simply defied what was thought of the monarchical society. The monarchy relied on fear, family ties, and patronage. Wood believes “the Revolution had created a society fundamentally different from the colonial society of the eighteenth century” ( Wood 6). The new society was never seen before, its people were now building great social relationships among one another.
Through this America was able to change the society as well as the government; Wood states, “purifying a corrupt constitution, elimination courtiers, fighting off the crown power, and most important, becoming republicans” (Wood 5). During this time period society was kept together because of their personal relationships and kinships. If you know the right person then they can help you out of your problem. Wood describes these personal relationships as forms of paternalism. Patronage was essential to politics during the eighteenth century, Wood gives the example of Benjamin Franklin appointing family and friends to positions.
Wood believes that the monarchical society contained corruption and I would have to agree with that. The patronage in politics might have held the society together, but merely by a thread. Such relationships are not fair, but this is still seen today when bosses will give a job to a family member or simply a friend that asks for a job. Wood states “we find it difficult to understand why members of that society put up to the extent they did with the flagrant efforts of political officials to exploit their positions for their own personal gain” (Wood 80-81).
The Americans wanted equality to emerge through the revolution and it did. As well as “new social bonds of love, respect, and consent” (Wood 229). The fact that equality itself is seen as a radical force then the American Revolution must be radical. Wood goes on to tell us “by equality they meant most obviously equality of opportunity, inciting genius to action and opening up careers to men of talent and virtue while at the same time destroying kinship and patronage as sources of leadership”(Wood 234).
Having Political leadership being ran by patronage and kinship clearly shows the corruption that was previously hinted at. Wood “relates equality with independence thus men were equal in that no one of them should be dependent on the will of another, and property independence made this possible”(Wood 234). Equality is very important to Americans. Constructing a new society for America was more or less needed. By destroying the patronage and kinship, republicanism simply wanted respect and love to replace fear and social f that the monarchy once had.
Wood states “the natural feelings of love and benevolence between the people could become republicans substitutes for the artificial monarchical connectives of family, patronage, and dependency and the arrogance, mortification, and fear that they had bred” (Wood 220). This change was essential because due to it the most modern and liberal nation emerged and without it no one knows how America would be if we still were in a monarchical society. Wood states “the revolutionaries wanted to create a new republican world in which all offices lie open to men of merit, of whatever rank or condition”(Wood 180).
Also, the possession of property changed from the male hereditary way. Wood states the revolution made a major change in these older patterns of inheritance, particularly in recognizing the equal rights of daughters and widows in the inheriting and passion of property”(Wood 183). Each man wanting to become independent seems to exemplify the radicalism of the American Revolution. Wood states, “the revolutionaries’ appeal to independence, not just the independence of the country from Great Britain, but, more important, the independence of individuals from personal influence and warm private friendship” (Wood 178).
However, the change was great for America but republicanism was having trouble staying afloat. I would agree with Wood when he says the republican revolution was the greatest utopian movement in American history. The revolutionaries succeeded in destroying personal relationships such as kinships and patronage that caused corruption. Wood claims, “they sought to construct a society and governments based on virtue and disinterested public leadership and to set in motion a moral movement that would eventually be felt around the globe”(Wood 229). When considering elected officials, the mindset of Americans was now changed due to the revolution.
Wood states, “instead of electing men to office for their abilities, integrity and patriotism, the people were much more likely to vote for someone from some mean, interested, or capricious motive”(Wood 251). The French Revolution took place from 1789 to 1799 between the Clergy, Nobility estates, and the 3rd estate. Just as the American Revolution, the French Revolution involved a social and political upheaval. In addition, this revolution consisted of an overthrowing of the monarchy as well as built a republic. Not to forget that France had incurred a tremendous amount of debt.
They wanted to cut the deficit, however failed at doing so. After the American Revolution, “European advocates of political change soon began to look to America for inspiration; soon, too, the influence of the republican example was to spread from the northern to the southern American continent” (Roberts and Westad 729). Due to the debt of France it really pushed the country to become financially unstable. They knew that their governmental structure as well as their constitutional structure needed to be reformed. There was clearly poverty among the French and clear differences among each class.
They saw the inability of government to share fiscal burdens equitably between classes the extreme example of a whole range of abuses which needed reform” (Roberts and Westad 733). The increasing debt kept abusing the government of France thus leading to more quarrels among the upper and lower class. The lower class kept being targeted as the debt kept rising due to the government putting up taxes. The only way for the lower class to redistribute the wealth was for them to be able to tax the upper class, however there were certain rights that could not allow them to do such thing.
The lower class needed to get away from the unnecessary taxes that they incurred also they needed to get out of poverty. “By 1791, when it dispersed, it had nationalized the lands of the Church, abolished what it termed the feudal system, ended censorship, created a system of systemized representative government”(Roberts and Westad 735). The French Revolution contained lots of bloodshed through both foreign and civil wars. They believed in equality just as the colonists and also they believed in the thought of everyone being individuals.
Unlike the colonists, the French would go to any extreme for what they believed in; “what distinguished them from their predecessors that they were willing to go rather further to meet emergencies than earlier French assemblies”(Roberts and Westad 736). If one was in favor of the old regime then they were most likely killed. It takes years of oppression to overthrow the government and cause a revolution. Going back to the definition of radical; that is advocating or based on thorough or complete political or social reform: representing or supporting an extreme section of a political party.
Thus, this social and political upheaval is the very act of revolution and is definitely justified as radical. I believe, all revolutions seem to be radical if a society exemplifies drastic political or social change. The American Revolution is definitely radical, however they fought for independence as well as veered away from the monarchy. However, the French Revolution was more radical, because it called for a complete overthrow of the previous order. It was a political, social, and cultural revolution. The distribution of wealth between the American colonists and Great Britain was nothing like the lower and upper class of France.
The French Revolution clearly needed to somehow figure out a way to distribute the wealth equally. French revolution was a call for a social justice. As seen in Wood’s novel, the American Revolution seen leadership and respect as driving forces. On the other hand, French revolutionaries were driven by ideals, hatred, and ambition. Through both revolutions emerged a better society that once ruled before. I believe that all revolutions are radical, however the levels of radicalism differs in each. The French Revolution is more radical than the American Revolution however they both exemplified ultimate change that is still seen today.