Atlantic Revolutions in French

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Week 8 : Atlantic Revolutions in French; Midterm Review


  1. In what ways did the American Revolution and French Revolutions speak the language of Enlightenment? Discuss with reference to quotes from the readings. Are these revolutions truly liberating?
  2. In what ways do historic outliers to privilege (like women and slaves) apply the ideas of the French Revolution and Enlightenment to their own condition? Provide examples from Olympe de Gouge’s Rights of Woman and the letters of Toussaint Louverture.





Reading Question

  • The American Revolution was intended to liberate the United States from the yoke of British Colonization.
  • The initiators of such a move yearned for self-governance to determine their own affairs, which is in keeping the idea of shedding off ‘immaturity’ as portrayed by Kant in Enlightenment.
  • As per Kant, immaturity is “the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another.” (The Literary Link). This clearly describes a colonial situation where the colonized submit to a colonizer.
  • The American Revolution can be considered truly liberating because it granted American citizens “the freedom to use reason publicly in all matters” (The Literary Link) including how they wanted to be governed.
  • The French Revolution also espoused the values of liberty and equality, which are core tenets of Kant’s Enlightenment
  • These two revolutions culminated in a situation whereby governments treated individuals “in accord with their dignity.” (The Literary Link).
  • Historical outliers to privilege, such as women, apply the principles of enlightenment to agitate for a recognition of their rights in a partriarchal society.
  • Women make these demands based on the fact that all human beings are bvorn equal, as evidenced by Olympe de Gouge’s Rights of Woman; “Woman is born free and lives equal to man in her rights.”
  • As in Kant’s Enlightenment, Gouge asserts that only women can free themselves from her oppressed position; “Regardless of what barriers confront you, it is in your power to free yourselves.”
  • Slaves also appeal to the tenets of Enlightenment to make their case.
  • Such tenets include liberty and impartiality in the dispensation of justice.
  • This is indicated by Toussaint Louverture’s letter when he asserts that he believes too much in the greatness of the French judicial system “to doubt a moment of its impartiality.”
  • In essence, both women and slaves make a claim on rights which derive their legitimacy from the principles of liberty and equality exhibited by both the French Revolution and Kant’s Enlightenment.