Simplifying things way too much, one might say that both the American Revolution and the French Revolution were fought over taxes. Perhaps the American Revolution more directly so with catch phrases like No taxation without representation! But even the French Revolution’s Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité can be traced back to the country’s deep debts and severely regressive system of taxation.
But the first violence in both revolutions actually started, of all things, over ammunition.
The start of the American Revolution is usually considered the battles of Lexington and Concord. In addition to searching for John Hancock and Sam Adams, alleged perpetrators of the Boston Tea Party, the British were headed toward Concord to seize the military supplies (a.k.a. ammo) that the Americans had stored there. It had been moved by the time they got there, but nevertheless, that was their purpose for going.
|"Prise de la Bastille" by Jean-Pierre Houël (1735-1813) |
Bibliothèque nationale de France.
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
The French Revolution is widely seen as starting on July 14, 1789. That was the day French Revolutionaries stormed the Bastille Prison, looking for ammunition. Ostensibly, they might also have been looking to free the political prisoners held there, but by 1790, there were very few. The Marquis de Sade (yes, that one) and the few fellow prisoners remaining had already been moved. I’m not sure what happened to the ammunition. The history books and the associated French holiday tend to focus on the symbolism of the event, not the outcome.
A quest for ammunition starting both revolutions. It’s enough to send a chill down one’s spine.