In other words, the American Revolution was fought for the sake of G-d given rights, rights that all individuals are endowed with, and which no government may revoke, while the French Revolution was fought for the sake of the government's ability to tyrannize individuals for the sake of the collective. We should not be surprised that only the latter resulted in a Reign of Terror, in a heresy-hunt against dissidents. For only in France - where the collective took precedence over the individual - was dissidence a threat.
So when people say that democracy means majoritarian rule according to the will of the people, they are really following Athenian tyranny, in which Socrates could be executed for heresy, with Plato justifying Socrates's death, saying that the state and society are one's god, that one owes everything he has to the collective, and must bow to its will. But this Platonic/Rousseau-ian tyranny really has nothing to do with "Democracy in America", about which Thomas Paine says,
But where says some is the king of America? I'll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal of Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America the law is king. For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other. But lest any ill use should afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremony be demolished, and scattered among the people whose right it is.
An excellent description of this is found in Benjamin Hart's book, Faith & Freedom: The Christian Roots of American Liberty. I quote at length from chapter 20, "Different Gods, Different Revolutions". Italics are Hart's, but I have added bold emphasis in a few places.
Another major enterprise of liberal historians has been to recast the American Revolution in the image of the French Revolution. The tendency of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin toward deism is often cited as evidence of America's trend toward "enlightened rational humanism" during the period of America's founding. Whatever still remained of the Christian faith in America was merely a fading remnant - or so we are told.
It is very instructive, therefore, to turn for a moment to the revolution in France, whose announced aim was to duplicate the American Revolution, which had been such an obvious success. In fact, Thomas Jefferson traveled to Paris in order to assist Lafayette and his associates to draft their own Declaration of Rights. "Everyone here is trying their hands at forming a declaration of rights," Jefferson wrote in a letter to Madison, and included in his correspondence several drafts. "As you will see," Jefferson observed, "it contains the essential principles of ours accommodated as much as could be to the actual state of things here." Article Four of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, drafted in August of 1789, for example, states that "liberty consists in the ability to do whatever does not harm another." France's Declaration abolished slavery, titles of nobility, and the remnants of feudalism and serfdom. In many respects, the French Declaration appeared superior to Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. But whereas the American Revolution ended in the establishment of a constitutional democracy, a government under law, the French Revolution ended in tyranny and government by the guillotine, followed by the rise of Napoleon. The obvious question is: What went wrong in France?
The French Declaration did not acknowledge that the source of man's rights is man's "Creator," as Jefferson had affirmed in America's Declaration of Independence. The French Declaration did not even state that rights are inherent, in-alienable, or derived from any transcendent authority. Rights for the Frenchman were granted by an "enlightened" government. Tocqueville noted the striking contrast when he explained to his countiymen a half century later that America's experiment in liberty was firmly rooted in the fact that "in the United States the sovereign authority is religious." The French Revolution was explicitly anti-religious, and could not replicate the American example on a secular humanist foundation. Moreover, the prevailing sentiment in the American colonies was to preserve liberties they already enjoyed, to prevent the British monarchy from taking over their churches and subverting their colonial ways of life. But the driving force behind the French Revolution was a fanatical determination to tear down established ways and institutions, which the disciples of Rousseau saw as responsible for corrupting human nature.
Rousseau did not believe in original sin or private property. He hated European civilization precisely because he saw it as a product of Christianity. Rousseau stated flatly that "our souls are corrupted in proportion to the advance of arts and sciences. His society rejected all forms of Christianity, and put in its place the gospel of the "General Will." Against it no individual rights would stand, because, in Rousseau's view, the protection of individual rights stood in opposition to the sovereignty of the people. Following Rousseau's doctrines, the French executed their king, even after he had accepted their constitution. From here, conditions rapidly degenerated into anarchy, with the outbreak of internal ideological war and, in the words of historian Henry May, the subsequent "executions of deviants, the lukewarm and the suspect," culminating in the Reign of Terror presided over by Robespierre. In just two years 20,000 people-considered allies of the Old Regime-were executed. France's complete break with the past and with Christianity was symbolized by the introduction of a new calendar that took 1792 as the year One, the first year of the Republic.
The revolution finally turned against itself and began to devour its own. Robespierre denounced the Encyclopedists, even though they were a symbol of Enlightenment thinking, for their compromises with the monarchy. Robespierre was himself guillotined in the summer of 1794. The French Revolution was a grim example of how people behave when they are unchecked by a sense of religious obligation.
The British statesman Edmund Burke, a Whig, saw this point clearly. After making a trip to Paris and talking with the French philosophes, he told Parliament as early as 1773 that their political theories could only produce tyranny. "The most horrid and cruel blow that can be offered to civil society is through atheism," Burke predicted. After the fall of the Bastille in 1789, he wrote his most famous work, Reflections on the Revolution in France. Burke placed the blame for France's miseries on a philosophy that denied God. Remarking on the beheading of the beautiful Marie Antoinette in 1793, Burke wrote: "The age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever."
Burke, by contrast, called the American Revolution a "glorious revolution." In his speech on conciliation with the American colonies, delivered on the floor of the House of Commons on March 22, 1775, he made the case for Britain leaving America alone: "England, Sir, is a nation which I hope respects, and, formerly adored, her freedom. The colonists emigrated from you when this part of your character was most predominant; and they took this bias and direction the moment they parted from your hands. They are therefore not only devoted to liberty, but to liberty according to English ideals, and on English principles." Moreover, said Burke, "the people are Protestants; and of that kind which is most adverse to all implicit subjection of mind and opinion. This is a persuasion not only favorable to liberty, but built upon it." William Penn agreed: "If man is not governed by God," he wrote, "then he must be governed by tyrants."
Thomas Paine failed to make a distinction between the revolution in America and the one in France. He was a political agitator and ideologue, pure and simple, and was not disposed to looking closely at the facts. Paine traveled to France to help topple the monarchy there, and published The Rights of Man. Paine's behavior in France was rebuked by John Quincy Adams, who challenged Paine's latest political tract designed to throw fuel on the flames of the French Revolution. Adams objected principally to Paine's main premise that "whatever a whole nation chooses to do, it has the right to do," echoing Rousseau. Adams replied: "Nations, no less than individuals, are subject to the eternal and immutable laws ofjustice and morality." Paine's "doctrine," said Adams, "annihilated the security of every man for his inalienable rights, and would lead in practice to a hideous despotism, concealed under the party-colored garments of democracy."
Paine, Adams pointed out, had missed the entire point of the American Revolution, which was the assertion of rights that cannot be deprived from an individual even by a majority. Adams rejected Paine's contention that the people of Great Britain should follow the example of France and "topple down headlong" their present government on the grounds that the Anglican Church did not allow religious freedom: "Happy, thrice happy the people of America!" said Adams, "whose principles of religious liberty did not result from an indiscriminate contempt of all religion whatever, and whose equal representation in their legislative councils was founded upon equality really existing among them, and not among the metaphysical speculations of fanciful politicians, vainly contending against the unalterable course of events, and the established order of nature [emphasis added]."