The Beginning of the Constitutional Era: A Bicentennial Comparative Study of the American and French Constitutions

This article is intended only to be introductory. The author is quite aware that the period surrounding the creation of the American Constitution has been profoundly studied; thorough analysis has been provided concerning both the origin and historical development of the American Constitution, as well as the intellectual background of the “founding generation.” Characteristically, these studies have focused on the “American constitutional tradition,” which means that they have been limited to little more than two centuries of colonial experience. This essay follows a different vein of inquiry. The author’s purpose is not to add another article to the numerous works already devoted to American constitutional development. Rather, the focus of this work is on France. The first part of the article concentrates on the period in which the British colonies had not yet been established or when their organization was in embryo; this part will focus mostly on French constitutional traditions as compared to English traditions, and traditions of Poland – the first European country to adopt a written constitution. The ensuing parts compare the intellectual background of the framers of the American and French Constitutions, central principles of those documents, and their impact on the constitutional developments in both countries.