In a previous entry thread, which unfortunately has gone in other directions since then, commentator Jeff Singer raises the interesting possibility that the key to the difference between American and French notions of democracy is religion. As Jeff says:
The French Revolution turned nasty quickly against the Church and against religion in general -- unmoored from faith the democratic mob was dangerous in France. In America a deeply pious people seemed to make better choices when in came time to choose our leaders and vote on legislation.
It is undeniably true that the French revolution was deeply and virulently anti-religious--hanging the last king in the entrails of the last priest, or vice versa, and all of that. The American revolution, whether or not there were deists among the founders, was not virulently anti-religious. That's got to be significant.
But another thing to be tossed into the mix is the British background of the American colonies and the long, long history of representative government in England. For the English, the idea of a House of Commons was old hat. The idea that Parliament should reign and the monarch be more or less a figurehead--whether one is a Tory and hates it or a Whig and lauds it--was not just an idea but a fait accompli in England by the late 18th century. Some hint of that figurehead role could be discerned when the last king to refuse to be a figurehead--Charles I--lost his head. And in 1714, when Parliament rejected the last of the Stuarts and brought in, all on its own recognizance and regardless of any ordinary laws of succession, the House of Hanover, the rule of the representatives rather than the monarch was a done deal. It would have been something of a joke to portray the Georges as devouring their people, with or without the collusion of the priests, and the American revolutionaries were able to make a villain out of George III only because, with the cooperation of Parliament, he was taxing the colonists and disfavoring them in trade to an extent they considered insupportable.
Again, one may hate all of this or love it, but in my opinion it had something to do with the fact that there was never a reign of terror in England and never any thought of one in America. Say what you will for those bourgeois merchants; at least they usually have little taste for mass murder.
And here I would like to say a word for the Father of the House of Commons, Simon de Montfort. De Montfort insisted on the notions of rule of law as applied to the barons in Magna Carta (under which both John Lackland and Henry III chafed), but he also inaugurated the idea of borough representatives in Parliament.
Men die, but their ideas live on. De Montfort was defeated by the young military genius, Prince Edward, at Evesham, and killed by Edward's forces on the field. Edward hated de Montfort and all his house and carried on that hatred to the next generation. But when Prince Edward became Edward I (ruthless conqueror of Wales and would-be conqueror of Scotland), he called a Parliament like the one de Montfort had conceived. It is known as the Model Parliament.
Such are the oddities of history.
Speaking for myself, I think there's a lot to be said for a representative form of government so old-established that it makes guillotines look pointless and silly.