I found a new appreciation for current American politics in learning about the French Revolution. See?, the French Revolution (1789) came 13 years after the signing of the American Declaration of Independence (1776), but during the French Revolution, America was still figuring out how to create and operate as a republic. So, politicians such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Aaron Burr, and Alexander Hamilton were influenced by the political arguments and ideas sweeping through Paris during the French Revolution. Please note that we didn’t put Washington into the presidency until 1789 – the same year as the French Revolution – so we kind of grew up together as sister Republics.
Our revolution was moderate by comparison. We didn’t attempt to abolish religion, reallocate property, reallocate money from rich to poor, control the market through price capping, free the slaves, create universal education for the masses, and start an international people’s revolution in Europe, North Africa, and South America. France tried to tackle all this at one time. We just wanted to vote rather than be ruled by a king.
So, the French Revolution had a tinge of socialism in it – Marx based many of his ideas on French writers during the French Revolution. But the socialism of Revolutionary France was different than the idea we have of communism nowadays from Revolutionary Russia and Cuba. France didn’t want a strong central government. They wanted decisions to be made at the lowest level – grassroots politics.
Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr admired the French ideas of a weak central government, powerful states, and equality of all citizens. George Washington, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton wanted a strong federal government, minimal states rights, and people with land and property to have more control in politics than the poor.
In my mind, Thomas Jefferson was similar to today’s Democrats in that he based all his ideas on equality, but like the Republicans in that he wanted stronger states rights. But his reasoning for wanting stronger states rights was different than the reasoning the Republicans of today have. He was definitely a liberal.
George Washington and John Adams, on the other hand, wanted a strong Federal Government like the Democrats of today. But they wanted this strong Federal Government as an expression of moderate thinking to keep the landed aristocracy strong (and to model after Britain rather than France). They were conservatives.
I think I’ll find out how the Liberals realigned to want a stronger Federal Government in the Russian Revolution….but that’s homework for another day. –Carl Miller