This is David's winning entry for the Liberty Day essay contest (for the adult age group). We have "blog-i-fied" it by adding in a couple headings.
According to Webster’s 1828 dictionary, reformation is defined as “correction or amendment of life, manners, or any thing vicious or corrupt”, while revolution is defined as “a material or entire change in the constitution of government”. In pondering these two definitions, differences can be identified that will be helpful in understanding the distinctions between the American War for Independence and the French Revolution. While reformation is concerned with aligning one’s life to an objective standard of truth, revolution is characterized by an overthrow of existing state rule. While reformation is seeking to alter the internals of the heart, revolution is looking for ways to modify the externals of those in political power. While reformation is focused on a change that benefits others, revolution is centered on changing the environment for self-seeking purposes. While reformation is pursuing to amend that which is different from its true and original intent, revolution has no higher ideal than endeavoring to alter current governmental leadership.
Differences Between the American War for Independence and the French Revolution
Having defined these important terms, let us review a number of aspects to determine why the birth of the new nation of the United States of America can be classified as the result of reformation, while the 18th century leadership change in France can be categorized as a revolution. In this review of history, there is much to be gained by emulating the principles upheld in the establishment of the land of the free and the home of the brave, while avoiding the pitfalls that were prevalent in the French Revolution.
First, there was a difference of philosophy. The patriots who sought to establish an independent nation out from under the tyranny of Great Britain employed the Biblical principle of interposition, which is the concept that a lesser magistrate is right in standing up against a higher ruler when that higher official has overstepped the bounds of his jurisdiction. Interposition is based on the fact that God alone has ultimate authority and that all other authority is delegated by His hand. In contrast, those who attempted to overthrow King Louis XVI during the French Revolution were highly influenced by the man-centered principles of the Enlightenment and believed that man by himself could bring about a utopian state.
Second, there was a difference of methodology. Those in the American colonies repeatedly sought to resolve the dispute with the British crown via peaceful negotiations. It was only when those attempts were rejected that the colonists made the decision to employ armed resistance. In contrast, the French Revolution began with violence in the storming of the Bastille fortress, which was viewed as a significant symbol of the current monarchial regime. As the French Revolution progressed, the Reign of Terror was ushered in with thousands being put to death via the guillotine for alleged counter-revolutionary activities—without a trial.
Third, there was a difference in leadership. George Washington is known as the father of our country and was a man of honor with an indefatigable spirit, showed a servant view of leadership, and espoused the doctrine of providence, holding to the belief that the God of the Bible superintends the affairs of men. On the other hand, Maximillien Robespierre, who led the French Revolution, studied under the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who articulated that man was perfectible and placed man’s autonomous reason as the highest court of appeal. With these misguided ideas, Robespierre sought to create a society that would throw off the chains of the ruling class and result in a new state of egalitarianism.
Fourth, there was a difference in results. After the Treaty of Paris ended the war between the British and the Americans, a new nation was born that showed a commitment to state government by Biblical principles, including an emphasis on individual liberty. Indeed God shed His grace on this newly formed federal republic through His protection and provision. In contrast, the French Revolution brought about increased violence with Robespierre himself being executed followed by the establishment of a dictatorship through Napoleon. Rather than achieving the ideals that the French Revolution had sought of liberty, equality, and fraternity, it serves as a reminder of what happens when placing man’s worldly wisdom ahead of the teaching of Holy Scripture.
In the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville journeyed from France to the United States with the assignment of determining what made this young nation so great. He discovered much during his years in this land and is commonly attributed to reaching the following insightful conclusion: “America is great because America is good. If America ever ceases to be good, it will also cease from being great." In seeing the descent that this beloved nation of ours has undergone, let us restore this nation’s greatness by returning to its source of goodness through applying reformation ideals to our lives, families, churches, and culture.