The western world of the 18th century saw the philosophies and theories of Enlightenment philosophers (like John Locke) put to the test of being made the concrete foundations of political systems. In North America, the Caribbean, and Europe violent revolutions emerged, producing new states (the United States of America, Republican France, and Haiti for example.
The following documents address aspects of these three revolutions.
- The American Declaration of Independence (1776)
- The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789)
- A letter from Tobias Lear to US Secretary of State James Madison on the Haitian Revolution (1801)
- Excerpt of a letter from US President Thomas Jefferson to the Marquis de Lafayette (1801)
Questions to consider:
- What are some specific ways that the French and American documents echo some of the ideas of John Locke or other Enlightenment thinkers with which you may be familiar?
- How are the French and American documents similar and different?
- Look at the last two full paragraphs of the letter from Lear to Madison. How does the new government of Haiti seem to differ from those of the new United States or the new French Republic?
- What does Jefferson believe the ideal outcome of the Haitian revolution to be? Does this surprise you? Why or why not?