Let us follow the example of the United States: they have set a great example in the new hemisphere; let us give one to the universe, let us offer a model worthy of admiration. – Duke Mathieu de Montmorency, 1 August 1789
[The French] have taken Genius instead of Reason for their Guide, adopted Experiment instead of Experience and wander in the Dark because they prefer Lightning to Light. – Gouverneur Morris, 18 September 1790
Terror is nothing but prompt, severe, inflexible justice; it is therefore an emanation of virtue. It is less a special principle than a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our country’s most pressing needs. – Robespierre, 5 February 1794
Dunn set up the dichotomy and explored the thought of the revolutionaries but did not much look into the philosophical antecedents that were the precursors to the split. Her work on rights instead focused on the more apparent, but less essential, difference in the rights of the Americans being proscriptions against the state as opposed to positive assertions of the citizens.
Even if one accepts that the French Revolution was different from the beginning and did not descend into a tragic trajectory later on, the pertinent and fundamental question of “why?” still lingers and demands answering.
The American and French Revolutionaries would come to see political rights in different ways. Sometimes the differences were subtle and sometimes they were profound, but the differences were crucial in determining the relation of the states created by the revolutionaries to their individual citizens and would, by extension, be crucial to the success or failure of the two revolutions.
Unsurprisingly, Tom Paine, who would be elected to the Convention at the start of the republic in September 1792, was outraged and put his considerable talents to work for the French Revolution. Paine unraveled Burke’s many repeated appeals to tradition which had been used to attack the “innovations” at work in France and to support the British Constitution. Paine also provided an English translation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, the first three articles of which he called, “the basis of Liberty, as well individual as national.” Yet with the ascendancy of Robespierre, Paine ended up in prison and only barely avoided going to the guillotine for his lack of enthusiasm in beheading Louis XVI.
Hamilton’s concerns only grew during the next years of the revolution and he would conclude in 1794, that while all Americans had greeted the news of revolution in France in 1789 with “a warm zeal,” the “excesses which have constantly multiplied, with greater and great aggravations have successively though slowly detached reflecting men from their partiality for an object which has appeared less and less to merit their regard.” Principal architect of the 1780 constitution of Massachusetts and Federalist Vice-President John Adams was anxious about the revolution in France from its beginning, writing to Richard Price in April 1790 Adams predicted that the new constitution, which vested all power into the National Assembly, would either be altered or France would re-enact the tragedies of the past, concluding, “Too many Frenchmen, after the example of too many Americans, pant for equality of persons and property. The impracticability of this, God Almighty has decreed, and the advocates for liberty, who attempt it, will surely suffer for it.”
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Before one can properly look to the revolutionaries in America and France and their work on political rights, it is necessary to examine the philosophical precursors which influenced them and in some cases formulated the political doctrines and ideas of rights the revolutionaries would adopt and put into practice. It is almost the ultimate truism of intellectual history to say that John Locke, the seventeenth century Scottish philosopher, was the ideological forbear of the American founding fathers. Yet Locke’s thought was extremely valuable to the founders and they openly proclaimed their attachment to him, Jefferson calling Locke one of “the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception,” and to not look into his ideas on liberty and rights a little more in depth, accepting the truism only, would be a disservice.
The radical Whigs truly put the individual and his rights before any notions of society and its alleged needs, Sidney denied the right of anyone to anyone else’s property for as men “are all equal, and equals can have no right over each other, no man can forfeit anything to one who can justly demand nothing, unless it may be by a personal injury.” Trenchard and Gordon hammered this point home when they defined liberty as,
It should not be hard to figure out how Thomas Jefferson chose his language for the Declaration of Independence, because the ideas of rights articulated by Locke and the radical Whigs had long been circulating in the colonies whether it was in the forms already discussed or through numerous other sources. Take for example the British essayist and radical Whig Joseph Addison, whose Spectator essays were the favorites of a young James Madison or whose play Cato was the favorite of George Washington. Washington quoted the play frequently, had it performed for the army during the revolution, and may even have drawn upon it in his speech to potentially mutinous officers at Newburgh.
There could be no more articulate and influential spokesman for the philosophical underpinnings of autocratic government than Rousseau. His collectivist conceptions of rights and the nature of civil society would be present at every stage of the French Revolution. Where the Americans had the “dilemma” of protecting individual rights against a popular majority, the French, in accepting the premises of Rousseau, had no dilemma which the general will, reflected through conventions, assemblies, committees, and the guillotine could not resolve.
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When the American and French revolutionaries came to construct their governments they often came directly to the question of rights, frequently prefacing their written constitutions with a bill or declaration of rights. In 1774, the First Continental Congress adopted a declaration of rights and resolves, authored principally by John Adams. The rights declared were grounded first in the “immutable laws of nature” and included “life, liberty, and property.” The rest of the declaration consisted of resolves claiming that the colonists had not lost their traditional rights as Englishmen because their forefathers had crossed the Atlantic. By the time the Second Continental Congress declared independence little had changed other than the absence of rhetoric about retaining their rights as Englishmen, men instituted government to secure their inalienable rights, among which were “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The congress then called on the colonies to draft state constitution, which they did along with their own declarations of rights.
To make things even plainer, Adams wrote “The body politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals.” In the “Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Adams defined the fundamental rights of men as the “right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting [their] property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.” Throughout the declaration Adams made sure that it would be clear to all that it was the individual who was the basic unit of civil society, reiterating throughout, “Each individual of the society has a right to be protected by it in the enjoyment of his life, liberty, and property,” “But no part of the property of any individual can, with justice, be taken from him, or applied to public uses, without his own consent,” and “It is essential to the preservation of the rights of every individual, his life, liberty, property, and character, that there be an impartial interpretation of the laws, and administration of justice.” For this emphasis on the individual and his penchant for being able to “convert theory into practice” one historian of John Adams’ political philosophy has aptly called him “one of John Locke’s greatest underlaborers.”
But Simon Schama reminds us that despite the language Lafayette and others had codified, the situation on the ground in Paris was far different where the rights of unpopular officials or perceived enemies of the revolution routinely violated in numerous ways, including repeated violations of the right to life. As Schama points out in one of the most powerful passages of his work on the revolution,
The inability of those sympathetic and active in the revolution to deal with or control the violence endemic to it from the beginning made assuring that “men are born and remain free and equal in rights” or that “the imprescriptible rights of man,” which were “liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression,” were not violated nearly impossible without an alternate conception of political society.
Also instructive is that while the American revolutionaries were not immune from committing abuses in the midst of their revolutionary struggle, they did move fairly quickly to curb the abuses in whatever ways they had at their disposal, whether it was through state constitutions and bills of rights during the revolution or with the creation and adoption of a Federal Constitution which limited the powers of government and would guarantee fundamental rights which did not constitute a claim or debt on others.
 George Washington to Bryan Fairfax (24 August 1774), The Spirit of Seventy-Six, ed. Henry Steele Commager and Richard B. Morris (Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2002), 25.
 Duke Mathieu de Montmorency, “Duke Mathieu de Montmorency, August 1, 1789,” in The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History, ed. and trans. Lynn Hunt (Boston: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 74.
 Gouverneur Morris, A Diary of the French Revolution, ed. Beatrix Cary Davenport (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1939), vol. 1, 594.
 Robespierre, “On Political Morality,” (5 February 1794), Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution [http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/413/].
 Susan Dunn, Sister Revolutions (New York: Faber and Faber, 1999), 24.
 Ibid, 145-59.
 Simon Schama, Citizens (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), 447.
 François Furet, Interpreting the French Revolution, trans. Elborg Forster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 62-63.
 Gordon S. Wood, “The Origins of the Bill of Rights,” reprinted from The Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, Volume 101, Part 2 (Worcester: American Antiquarian Society, 1992), 258.
 Edmund Burke, “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” Edmund Burke: Selected Writings and Speeches, ed. Peter J. Stanlis (Washington D.C.: Regnery, 1963), 515.
 Thomas Paine, “Rights of Man, Part One, 1791,” Collected Writings, ed. Foner (New York: Library of American, 1995), 509.
 Gouverneur Morris, Diary, vol. 1, 171.
 Alexander Hamilton, “Letter to Lafayette (6 October 1789),” Hamilton: Writings, ed. Joanne B. Freeman (New York: The Library of America, 2001), 521.
 Hamilton, “Memorandum on the French Revolution, 1794,” Writings, 833-34.
 Adams, “Letter to Richard Price (19 April 1790),” Political Writings, 663.
 Thomas Jefferson on the French Revolution (3 January 1793) [http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/592/].
 James Monroe, “To Secretary of State Edmund Randolph (15 August 1794),” The Political Writings of James Monroe, ed. James P. Lucier (Washington DC: Regnery Publishing, 2001), 114.
 Madison, “To Thomas Jefferson (2 September 1793),” Writings, 549.
 Madison, “Political Reflections, in Aurora General Advertiser (23 February 1799),” Writings, 599-607.
 Thomas Jefferson to John Adams (11 January 1816), The Adams-Jefferson Letters, ed. Lester J. Cappon (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1987), 459.
 Thomas Jefferson, “To Madame de Staël (24 May 1813),” Writings, ed. Mettill D. Peterson (New York: Library of America, 1984), 1271.
 Hamilton, “Memorandum on the French Revolution, 1794,” Writings, 835.
 William Doyle, The Oxford History of the French Revolution, 2d ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 446.
 Thomas Jefferson, “To John Trumbull (15 February 1789),” Writings, 939. The other two Jefferson considered to be in this eminent troika were Sirs Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton, all three were British “empiricists” as opposed to Cartesian “rationalists.”
 John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), ed. Peter Laslett, 2nd Treatise, Chapter 9, 350.
 Ibid, Chapter 11, 362.
 Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, enlarged ed. (Cambridge: Belknap, 1992), 34-5; see also Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic 1776-1787 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 16; and Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York: Vintage, 1991), 179.
 Ibid, 189.
 John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, Cato’s Letters, ed. Ronald Hamowy (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995), Letter No. 62, vol. 1, 427.
 Algernon Sidney, Discourse Concerning Government, ed. Thomas G. West (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1996), 511.
 Trenchard and Gordon, Cato’s Letters, Letter No. 62, V.1, 429.
 Ralph Ketcham, James Madison (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990), 41; and Forrest McDonald’s forward in Joseph Addison, Cato: A Tragedy, and Selected Essays, ed. Christine Dunn Henderson and Mark E. Yellin (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2004), viii. The relevant passage comes in Act III, Scene V.
 Addison, Cato and Selected Essays, Freeholder No. 51 (15 June 1716), 252.
 Sidney, Discourses, 166.
 Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, ed. and trans. Anne Cohler, Basia Miller and Harold Stone (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 187.
 Pennsylvania Minority, “The Address and Reasons of Dissent of the Minority of the Convention of Pennsylvania to their Constituents,” 18 December 1787, The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates, ed. Ralph Ketcham (New York: Mentor, 1986), 251.
 James Madison, Writings, ed. Jack N. Rakove (New York: The Library of America, 1999), 273-80.
 Denis Diderot, from the Encyclopédie, Political Writings (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 20.
 Doyle, Oxford History of the French Revolution, 52.
 Ibid, 53.
 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Discourse on Inequality,” Rousseau’s Political Writings, ed. Alan Ritter and Julia Conway Bondanella, trans. Julia Conway Bondanella (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1988), 34.
 Ibid, “On Social Contract,” 98.
 Ibid, 92.
 Ibid, 93.
 Ibid, 101.
 “Declaration and Resolves of the First Congress, 14 October 1774,” The Spirit of Seventy-Six, 57.
 The Virginia Declaration of Rights quoted by Robert A. Rutland, George Mason: Reluctant Statesman (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989), 111.
 The Political Writings of John Adams, ed. George W. Carey, The Report of a Constitution, or Form of Government, for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (Washington D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2000), 499.
 Ibid, 501.
 Ibid, 506.
 Ibid, 510.
 C. Bradley Thompson, John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998), 87.
 Marquis de Lafayette, “Marquis de Lafayette, July 11, 1789,” in French Revolution and Human Rights, 73.
 “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, 26 August 1789,” in French Revolution and Human Rights, 78.
 Ibid, 79.
 Paine, “Rights of Man,” Collected Writings, 509.
 Speech by Saint-Just (13 November 1792) [http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/320/].
 Speech by Thomas Paine (21 November 1792) [http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/321/].
 Speech by Robespierre (3 December 1792) [http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/324/].
 Robespierre, “On Political Morality,” (5 February 1794) [http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/413/].
 “Decree upon the Press, 29 March 1793,” in The Constitutions and Other Select Documents Illustrative of the History of France, 1789-1901, ed. Frank Maloy Anderson (Minneapolis: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1904), 158.
 Rousseau, “On Social Contract,” Rousseau’s Political Writings, 164.
 The Virginia Declaration of Rights quoted by Rutland, George Mason, 113.
 U.S. Constitution, amend 1.
 “Robespierre’s Proposed Declaration of Rights, 24 April 1793,” in Constitutions and Other Select Documents, 160.
 Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen from the Constitution of the Year I (1793) [http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/297/].
 “Robespierre’s Proposed Declaration of Rights, 24 April 1793,” in Constitutions and Other Select Documents, ed. Anderson, 161.
 Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen from the Constitution of the Year I (1793) [http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/297/].
 Declaration of Rights and Duties of Man and Citizen, Constitution of the Year III (1795) [http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/298/].
 Decree against Profiteers (26 July 1793) [http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/414/].
 The Law of Suspects (17 September 1793) [http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/417/].
 “Decree of the National Convention of February 4, 1794, Abolishing Slavery in All the Colonies,” French Revolution and Human Rights, 116.
 Georges Lefebvre quoted in Doyle, Oxford History of the French Revolution, 449.
 Furet, Interpreting the French Revolution, 62.