Revolutionary Grievances: Exploring American Influence on Common French Citizens via the Cahiers de Doléances Open Access
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The influence of the American Revolution on the French Revolution is a topic that has received ample attention since Americans first saw the reflections of themselves as the events in France unfolded in the late eighteenth century. However, these analyses often focus on the key players of both revolutions, and how they influenced the development of revolutionary thought. What is often missed is how common French citizens, largely poor and illiterate, developed sentiments that pushed them from relative compliance in the Ancien Regime, to intense political activity. Fortuitously, the early days of the French Revolution provide scholars with an invaluable source that serves as a window into public sentiment across all levels of society, the cahiers de doléances. The cahiers, ubiquitous across France, were King Louis XVI's call to the citizens of France to list their grievances ahead of the Estates General of 1789. For my senior honors thesis, I am currently examining these cahiers to search for American influence, implicit or explicit, intentional or unintentional, that made its way across the Atlantic Ocean into the minds of common French citizens. I am seeking to answer the question, how were common French citizens influenced by the American Revolution, if at all? The most analogous sources for the American Revolution are various grievances delivered to King George III, culminating in the local declarations of independence that predated the national Declaration of Independence of July 1776. These state and local declarations detail the first generation of Americans' grievances toward George III and their demands for a more just society. By studying these two sets of sources, I plan to explore convergences and divergences between the American and French Revolutions that go beyond the established trends in current history which focus on the influence of revolutionary leaders and shared Enlightenment philosophy. This study holds the promise of better understanding the ideology of common people and their relationship to the state by the close of the eighteenth century. By examining these similar sources, we can have a deeper appreciation for what the revolutions shared and what made them unique. Common people drove the French Revolution, and their grievances listed in the cahiers de doléances present our best hope for perceiving what, if any, influence the American Revolution might have had on the general French populace. Only then can we determine whether the late eighteenth century was truly an age of Atlantic revolutions.
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