Philosophers such as Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Locke which trumpeted the revolutionary ideas of the French Revolution were also influential to the authors of the American Revolution. Karl Marx was Russia’s chief influence. These thinkers wrote about ideal states based on the injustice of the class system and the heavy concentration of power in the hands of incapable and unjust monarchs. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was the basis upon which the French (short-lived) Constitutional Monarchy was to rest, and it was influenced by the preceding American Declaration of Independence and subsequent formation of the Bill of Rights. The French and American revolutions occurred contemporaneously, while the Russian occurred over a century later.
In Russia and France, the class conditions were very similar. The French had three classes: the first estate belonged to the clergy—the higher clergy enjoyed wealth and deference while the lower clergy lived almost like peasants; the second estate consisted of the nobility, who owned land and were very prosperous. The third estate consisted of the bourgeoisie, the artisans, and the peasants. The bourgeoisie were learned and prosperous, but had no representation in the French Assembly. The peasants were tied to the land owned by the nobles, much like the serfs in Russia. In common with the French, the Russian nobles’ prosperity rested upon near enslavement of the peasants. Taxation for the poor classes had become unbearable. The French third estate and the Russian serfs raged against their injustices and incited a Revolution to overthrow the oppressive government. The ideas of the French rested upon the Assembly’s Rights of Man as well as on the separation of powers advocated by Montesquieu and Locke. The Russian revolution came to be one that followed the socialist ideas of Karl Marx.
The American Revolution preceded the French and influenced it, although the ideas of the French philosophers gave ideological strength to the movement. Like the French bourgeoisie, the lack of American representation in the English government led to the cry “no taxation without representation,” and the outraged American forefathers declared independence from the British monarchy in order to create a Republic. It is notable that all three revolutions led to the creation of a Republic, although it was the constitutions of the French and American government that most resembled each other. The French and Russian Revolutions led to the execution of their monarchs.
Spielvogel, Jackson J. Glencoe World History Book. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.