The story

Did collective punishment of families occur during the French Revolution?

Did collective punishment of families occur during the French Revolution?


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In his classic work of historical fiction, A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens suggests that family members of those sentenced to death by the various tribunals were themselves targeted for execution, if for no other reason than kinship.

To what degree was extending punishments to familial relations who would not have been indicted otherwise practiced during the French Revolution? What was the extent in numerical terms, supposing such data are available from the records of the condemned?


The only thing you needed to be sentenced to death in the Great Terror was to be found as an "Enemy of the People". This doesn't provide a lot of restriction that would spare relatives of another Enemy, and their supposed hostility might provide reason to declare them an Enemy in turn.

Certainly the King and Queen were both executed when their time came.

From Google Answers:

In "Le Quid" (famous french encyclopedy) they wrote about a book called "histoire générale et impartiale de la révolution" written in 1797, that stated 2567 women were killed by guillotine (the book wrote that 18613 people were killed by guillotine during the Revolution)

The 2567 are : - 750 women - 1467 married to a farmer or handworker - 350 religious women ("religieuses")

Strange categories but in 1797 they probably used different social categories than now.


Was It the French Revolution or the American Revolution?

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Top 10 Dark Moments In The French Monarchy

To start, I have no significant qualms about constitutional monarchies. Truthfully, I find some value in giving a population a figurehead to rally around as well as in the benefits of training someone throughout his or her life to become such a leader. Absolute monarchies, by contrast, are much more problematic. In French history, while a constitutional monarchy could have served to benefit the French people in the manner of say the modern Australian, British, Canadian, etc. systems of government, various incidents involving the French monarchy in some way or other helped to alienate certain segments of the population, expose tensions among various organs of government, reveal the dishonesty of particular members of the court, or showcase problems inherent in appointments not based on merit. Now, of course, the French Republic has its shameful moments as well (cough, &ldquoReign of Terror,&rdquo cough), which is why I suppose one can see positives and negatives for any form of government. This list, however, emphasizes arguably the most astonishingly terrifying incidents that played a role in weakening the Bourbon monarchy. I do not claim that these are all the main causes of the revolutions of 1789 and 1830, although some clearly played a role in influencing these revolutions.

The incidents recounted below nevertheless did not exactly help endear the masses to the monarchy and can be considered among various other occurrences that brought about the series of revolutions that thus far has caused France to indeed remain a republic. There are lessons monarchs can learn from these incidents: do not persecute those with different religious beliefs, do not execute people in over the top manners, do not make a big deal claiming your representatives accomplished some heroic feat as slaying a beast prematurely, and do not make people captains of ships with limited naval experience, among other lessons. On a final note, France is one of my favorite countries to visit. I have a number of French friends and greatly admire many people and works of art from their history. So trust me that despite this list&rsquos emphasis on several terrifying moments from French history, the country has many more lists worth of admirable achievements and has many breath-taking sites to see for anyone interested in visiting this remarkable country!

This notorious incident serves as an example of the problems of having an insane man as king. If the fourteenth century was not bad enough for the French with the Black Death, Great Schism, and Hundred Years&rsquo War, the century also ended with a mentally unstable man on the throne. King Charles VI and several other men disguised themselves as savages during a masquerade hosted by Queen Isabeau. While wearing highly flammable attire, the king and his compatriots danced until a torch set them alight. Although a fifteen year-old duchess managed to save the king with her skirt, the queen merely fainted and all but one of the other faux savages died in the chaos. Meanwhile, Charles&rsquos mental health continued to decline as to France&rsquos position in the Hundred Years&rsquo War culminating in the near collapse of the French monarchy roughly twenty years later at the Battle of Agincourt and the subsequent Treaty of Troyes by which Charles&rsquo son was removed from the succession in favor of the English king. French fortunes only returned with St Joan of Arc&rsquos successes in the later 1420s.

This affair resulted in a shift in Francis I&rsquos policy from tolerance to the persecution of Protestants. The incident concerned the appearance of anti-Catholic and pro-Zwinglian posters in several major French cities, including on the door of the king&rsquos bedchamber. French Catholics reacted as if greatly insulted, which in turn prompted leading French Protestants to flee potential reprisals. Francis ultimately issued a royal edict against French Calvinists known as Huguenots, which further divided France in the years leading up to the French Wars of Religion. These wars represented a loss of support for the monarchy among a significant segment of the population.

This example of religious intolerance and alienation of non-Catholics occurred during the French Wars of Religion. The blame for the incident from most historians has largely fallen on Catherine de Medici, mother of King Charles IX, although some historians, such as Denis Crouzet put greater emphasis on the king&rsquos role in ordering the executions during this particularly tense phase of the Wars of Religion. Regardless of who was responsible, thousands were killed in the bloodshed as depicted in many famous artistic renderings by notable artists of the time. The French monarchy did find some support among their fellow monarchs for the massacre (chiefly from King Philip II of Spain), but when even someone named Ivan the TERRIBLE writes a letter in which he expresses his horror of the event, one gets a sense of how bad this particularly incident must have been! Indeed the violence between Catholics and Protestants in France and elsewhere in Europe only persisted in the coming years.

This time we have a famous woman as the victim rather than the possible instigator behind the atrocity. Moreover, we see an instance of religious persecution that was not one of Protestants versus Catholics, although it did occur during the time of the Thirty Years&rsquo War that initially pitted mostly Catholic states against mostly Protestant states in its early years. Once again, if Europeans were not experiencing enough terror from a major war, they also descended into the tragedy known as the Great Witch Hunts. The execution of Anne de Chantraine is therefore an example of superstitious fanaticism that existed during the time of the Divine Rights Monarchs who reigned during the Thirty Years&rsquo War and the Great Witch Hunts. This seventeen year-old girl was burned alive by state sanctioned authorities as a witch based on &ndash as is usual in the cases of witch hunts &ndash specious &ldquoevidence.&rdquo While she is one of many young women executed for witchcraft in early modern France, her fame has endured more so than many other alleged French witches due to her repeated appearances as a witch in the Atmosfear/Nightmare board game series.

The infamous story of this mysterious man serves as an example of absolute monarchy imprisoning someone under mysterious circumstances. What is known is that a prisoner known as Eustace Dauger served time in a number of prisons during the reign of King Louis XIV. The most notorious of his places of imprisonment was the Bastille, the famous target of French revolutionary ire nearly a hundred years later. Yet, beyond the bare facts, the circumstances of Dauger&rsquos arrest and imprisonment have been the subject of much speculation and conspiracy theories and have made for major works of popular fiction including a not-too-distant cinematic portrayal of the man by acclaimed actor Leonardo DiCaprio. As for the man himself, speculation of who he was and why he was arrested ranges from a relative of Louis to a disgraced general to a whole host of other possible candidates.

Whereas Anne de Chantraine probably did not have supernatural powers that necessitated her tortuous execution, Madame de Brinvilliers, another alleged criminal during Louis XIV&rsquos long reign, seems to indeed have been guilty of her crimes. Yet, unlike the man in the iron mask, this murderess has found little sympathy or support among her contemporaries and those who lived after her sentencing. Moreover, whereas the punishment of de Chantraine and Dauger may have made the state system seem arbitrary and harsh, the punishment of de Brinvilliers exposed the nobility as possessing the potential for committing scandalous crimes that one would hardly describe as &ldquonoble.&rdquo The consequences of this affair go further to damaging the position of the French monarchy, however. Here we have an example of a member of the nobility being a murderess, but this example is also significant for causing resentment of Eugene of Savoy against Louis XIV for the expulsion of his mother from France, which prevented him from having a successful military career there. He went on to defeat French armies in the decisive battle of Blenheim in 1704. Louis XIV would thus not be able to achieve the preeminent position in European &ndash if not world &ndash affairs that he spent decades trying to attain.

Yes, many bad incidents in French history seem to be named &ldquoaffair&rdquo for some reason and so here is another! This particularly grotesque &ldquoaffair&rdquo revealed apparent tension between the Parlement of Paris and the monarchy. The horrifying aspect of the event concerned how the authorities dealt with the man after which the affair is named. Robert-François Damiens (9 January 1715 &ndash 28 March 1757) attempted unsuccessfully to assassinate his king, Louis XV, Louis XIV&rsquos successor. After being first imprisoned, he was tortured in a variety of cruel ways, including the use of red-hot pincers on his body, various burning and boiling agents on his hands, and ultimately horses affixed to his limbs via ropes to dismember his body. Reportedly, the dismemberment did not go easily and so the executioner used an axe to finish the job. Witnesses claimed his torso somehow lived after all of that, at least until it was burnt alive! As Ohio State University scholar Dale Van Kley has pointed out in one of his most important books, the affair as a whole represented problems between different aspects of the French government, again the Parlement of Paris (a sort of law court not to be confused with a parliament) and the monarchy. Beyond that it showed the monarchy&rsquos notion of punishment as excessive. The punishment for a failed murder went well beyond even the whole ancient &ldquoeye for an eye, tooth for a tooth&rdquo concept of justice. Thus, future revolutionary writers including Thomas Paine would cite the treatment of Damiens as an example of despotic excess from eighteenth-century monarchies.

Louis XV had more to contend with during his reign than just assassination. Fans of the Atmosfear/Nightmare series may also be familiar with this entry on our list as will those of a visually stunning film called Brotherhood of the Wolf directed by Christophe Gans, who went on to direct the film version of video game Silent Hill. In the decade following the Damiens Affair, something (speculated at various points to be a serial killer, a werewolf, a regular wolf, and even a lion) killed and injured at least scores, but possibly hundreds, of French men and women in what is now the départment of Lozère. Massive effort to find the culprit was undertaken, including dozens of hunters and even soldiers with noble and royal backing to apprehend and/or kill whatever was behind the deaths plaguing the province. As the deaths continued for a few years, the apparent inability to capture or kill the beast suggested an incompetent monarchy, especially when the court celebrated the beast&rsquos death only to have more killings continue shortly afterwards. The beast&rsquos infamy was such that Robert Louis Stevenson described it as &ldquothe Napoleon Bonaparte of wolves.&rdquo

Speaking of Napoleon, in the year following his final defeat and the restoration of the French monarchy under Louis XVIII (yes, Louis is a popular name for French monarchs), another terrible event in French history occurred, but unlike all the other examples, this one took place outside of France proper and instead on the Atlantic Ocean. Whereas Napoleon attempted to establish a system of appointments based on merit (aside, of course, from placing his siblings on thrones), Louis XVIII returned to the monarchic practice of appointments based on familial descent or connections. An incompetent viscount captained a French frigate (the Medusa) sent with three other ships to transport the new governor of a French colony in West Africa along with other colonists. The ineptitude of the viscount&rsquos captaining of the ship resulted in it running aground on a sandbank off the coast of what is now Mauretania.

With the ship apparently hopelessly stuck, most of the ship&rsquos crew and passengers escaped on the lifeboats however, more than a third of the remaining number (around 146 men and one woman) instead loaded onto a raft constructed out of parts of the Medusa in cramped and uncomfortable conditions. Initially, the lifeboats towed the raft, until eventually letting it loose, perhaps out of fear of what the increasingly annoyed people on the raft might do to those enjoying far more comfortable conditions on the lifeboats. For the next thirteen days, the raft floated in the ocean with no official attempt made to rescue the roughly 147 people on board. Finally, after nearly two weeks, another ship from the convoy, the Argus, rescued the only fifteen survivors, the other 132 persons having died of starvation, being thrown overboard, or killed in fighting over the limited supplies. Two survivors wrote an account of their struggle to survivor and renowned painter Théodore Géricault painted a haunting depiction of the survivors amidst remnants of those less fortunate shortly before their rescue. Thus, this shipwreck is an example of the mistake in appointing an untrained person to a position due to birth or title rather than actual ability. Moreover, that the captain was not more severely punished for his blundering was also appalling. All in all, the event hardly helped to endear anyone to the restored monarchy after having gone through the preceding years of revolution. It is not surprising that further discontent continued over the subsequent years that resulted in the definitive downfall of the Bourbon dynasty.

The Bourbon dynasty collapsed under the reign of Louis XVIII&rsquos successor Charles X of France and led to a short lived continuation of the French monarchy under a man from a different line of the French royal family that also ended in a revolution. Having not learned from the mistakes of his predecessors, Charles X reigned in a manner reminiscent perhaps of James II in England over a century earlier who did not learn from what happened to Charles I of England. Charles X embraced the notion of being an absolute monarch once again. The tipping point came when he suspended the constitution after election results he deemed unfavorable. Crowds denounced this action. Charles&rsquo government responded by sending in police forces to shut down critical newspapers, further angering Parisians. Some protesters attacked the police, who not surprisingly responded by shooting the protesters. A full-fledged riot ensued and after the Three Glorious Days, a nice name for days of bloodshed, Charles X abdicated in favor of Henry V. Instead, Louis Philippe of the Orléans branch of the royal family proclaimed himself King of the French. He reigned until 1848 when yet another French revolution occurred. Although the French monarchy has not been restored, monarchist groups still exist in France. After all these tragedies, it is unlikely France will ever see a return to absolute monarchy, but could or should a constitutional monarchy ever make a comeback in France?


During The French Revolution, Who Were Most Affected By Increases In The Price Of Food?

Naturally, the people who were most affected by the increase of food prices during the French Revolution were the people who had the least money to begin with.

  1. The clergy (first estate)
  2. The nobility (second estate)
  3. The rest of France (third estate)

Why Did The Price of Food Go Up?
Well, it was going up anyway, thanks to all the disorganisation and havoc caused by the civil war, but prices went up even more after the Law of the Maximum was passed in 1789. This was a law that set the price of food a lot higher than it should have been.

The poor people of the third estate could no longer afford to eat, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, new laws made stealing an offense punishable by death!

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The First French Republic

The insurrection of August 10, 1792, did not, of course, stop the Prussian advance on the capital. As enthusiastic contingents of volunteers left for the front, fear of counterrevolutionary plots gripped the capital. Journalists such as Jean-Paul Marat pointed to the prisons bursting with vagrants and criminals as well as refractory clergy and royalists and asked what would happen if traitors forced open the jails and released these hordes of fanatics and brigands. In response, Parisians took the law into their own hands with an orgy of mass lynching.

On their own initiative, citizens entered the prisons, set up “popular tribunals” to hold perfunctory trials, and summarily executed between 1,100 and 1,400 prisoners out of a total of 2,800, stabbing and hacking them to death with any instruments at hand. These prison massacres were no momentary fit of frenzy but went on for four days. At the time, no one in authority dared try to stop the slaughter. Officials of the provisional government and the Paris Commune “drew a veil” over this appalling event as it ran its course, though soon political rivals were accusing each other of instigating the massacres. In a different vein, Robespierre among others concluded that popular demands for vengeance and terror had to be channeled into legal forms to prevent such anarchy, the state itself must become the orderly instrument of the people’s punitive will.

The next two weeks brought this period of extreme uncertainty to a close. On September 20 the French army turned back the invaders at the Battle of Valmy, and in November at the Battle of Jemappes it won control of the Austrian Netherlands (now Belgium). On September 21 the National Convention convened, ending the vacuum of authority that had followed the August 10 insurrection. Its first major task was to decide the fate of the ex-king. The Convention’s trial of Louis became an educational experience for the French people in which the institution of monarchy was to be completely desacralized.

Hard evidence of Louis’s treason produced a unanimous guilty verdict, but the issue of punishment divided the deputies sharply. In a painstaking and solemn debate each deputy cast his vote individually and explained it. At the end the Convention voted the death sentence, 387 to 334. A motion for reprieve was defeated (380 to 310), and one to submit the verdict to a national referendum was rejected (425 to 286). This ill-considered proposal left the impression that certain deputies were frantic to save the king’s life, and their Jacobin opponents were quick to raise vague accusations of treasonous intent against them. In any event, the former king Louis XVI, now known simply as “Citizen Capet,” was executed on January 21, 1793, in an act of immense symbolic importance. For the deputies to the National Convention, now regicides, there could be no turning back. Laws to deport the refractory clergy, to bar the émigrés forever upon pain of death, and to confiscate their property rounded out the Convention’s program for eliminating the Revolution’s most determined enemies.


The French Revolution's Angel of Death

Young, idealistic and prone to violence, Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just embodied the spirit of the French Revolution. He was devoured by the Terror he helped unleash.

The arrest of Robespierre on the night of 9-10 Thermidor, Year Two by Jean-Joseph Tessaert. (Musée Carnavalet / Bridgeman Images)

A mong the leaders of the French Revolution none has a more mythical status than Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just. His brief political career encompassed the most radical moment of the 18th century: the Jacobin Republic of the Year Two (1793-4). The Jacobins tried to forge a better world, one in which democracy, liberty and equality would become a reality, but to achieve it they used state-sponsored coercion and violence, in what became known as the Terror. The experiment ended when Saint-Just, along with Robespierre, succumbed to the guillotine in the bloodbath of Thermidor (July 1794). For many people, Saint-Just, even more than Robespierre, embodies the revolution itself: young, full of feverish energy, courage and idealism, but, like the revolutionary Terror, capable of sacrificing human lives, including his own, to make the ideal a reality. When Victor Hugo in his 1862 novel, Les Misérables, described the young student Enjolras, who leads the climatic fight on the barricade, as having ‘too much of Saint-Just’ about him, his readers knew what that meant. A few years earlier, Hugo’s contemporary and fellow countryman, the great republican historian Jules Michelet, described Saint-Just as ‘the archangel of death’, a phrase that encapsulated the legend of the unnaturally beautiful and cold-bloodedly terrible Saint-Just.

People take extreme views about Saint-Just. He is still a controversial figure, even among Anglo-American historians who are usually more dispassionate about the French Revolution than the French themselves. One biographer, the American Eugene Curtis, saw in Saint-Just a French incarnation of the romantic and radical poet Shelley. The English historian Norman Hampson took a more jaundiced view and, perhaps with Michelet’s metaphor of the fallen angel in mind, likened Saint-Just to Lucifer.

Can we get past this controversy to find out how far the myth had a basis in reality? One way is to look at his early life, before the world of revolutionary politics claimed him. He was born on August 25th, 1767 in Decize, in Burgundy, the son of a retired cavalry officer and a notary’s daughter. When Saint-Just was nine his family moved to Blérancourt, a small town in his father’s native Picardy. The following year his father died, leaving the mother to bring up her children alone. As a teenager, Saint-Just fell in love with a local girl, Thérèse Gellé. They hoped to marry but her father wanted a wealthier son-in-law. While Saint-Just was away, she was married off in a wedding attended by all the worthies of Blérancourt. When Saint-Just discovered this he was furious, not least with his mother, who had kept the news from him. Several weeks later, in September 1786, he absconded from his home, taking with him some of the family’s silver, which he sold in a Paris café. At his mother’s insistence the adolescent was tracked down, interrogated by the police and imprisoned in a house of detention, where he spent six miserable months to reflect upon his misdeeds. He must have felt deeply humiliated by this experience: he never spoke about it and few people ever knew. It may have influenced him in other ways, too, for in later writings he attacked the oppression of women and children in patriarchal families and defended women’s freedom to choose whom they loved.

The frustrations of his imprisonment inspired Saint-Just to write Organt, an epic poem that recounted the misadventures of Antoine Organt, the 20-year-old illegitimate son of a bishop. Written in the satirical style inspired by Voltaire, it was the work of a young man, eager to make his mark in the world full of impudence, fantastical imaginings and some pornographic passages that shocked several of his biographers, who were perhaps expecting something more spiritual from the future ‘archangel’ of the Jacobins. In a spirit of mischief Saint-Just dedicated his book to the Vatican. Yet when he surveyed his achievement he was dissatisfied with it and with himself. He added a one-line preface: ‘I am twenty I have done badly I could do better.’

Organt was published in 1789, the year the Revolution came: the year that transformed his life. From that moment on he gave himself body and soul to the Revolution. He had a lot to offer and he knew it: he was talented, forceful and fiercely clever, but he was a social nobody, without powerful connections, much wealth or a regular profession. He was also handicapped by his own youth: he was under 25, the age when he could legally participate in politics.

In June 1791 Saint-Just published a treatise, The Spirit of the Revolution, which stressed the importance of peace and stability. The constitutional monarchy was the best form of government France was not suited to be a republic. While the politics were relatively moderate, some strikingly radical passages dealt with individual relationships and personal freedom. He also stated his absolute opposition to the death penalty. But the political stability he praised was about to be shattered. News broke that Louis XVI had attempted to flee France. Many revolutionaries saw the king’s action as a betrayal of his people: they would never trust him again. Later that year Saint-Just managed to secure nomination to the new national representation, but his moment of triumph was short-lived he was immediately denounced by the father of the girl he had once wanted to marry, who disclosed that Saint-Just was under the legal age. He was obliged to vegetate in Blérancourt for another year, restless, bored and frustrated.

Within ten months the political situation spiralled into renewed crisis. The war with Austria and Prussia, brought about by the group known as the Girondins, was proceeding disastrously, with the French fighting a defensive war within their borders. Many revolutionaries blamed Louis and Marie-Antoinette, claiming that they were secretly in league with the foreign powers. On August 10th, 1792 the monarchy fell. This second revolution gave Saint-Just his chance. A few days past his 25th birthday he became the youngest of the 749 deputies elected to the National Convention, the new representative assembly. The Convention’s first act was to declare France a republic.

Saint-Just gravitated towards the most radical revolutionaries, the Jacobins, a group that included Georges Danton, Camille Desmoulins and Maximilien Robespierre. Back in 1790 Saint-Just had written to Robespierre, declaring: ‘You whom I know only, as I know God, by his miracles.’ Robespierre was flattered, as Saint-Just had intended, but there is no reason to think that Saint-Just was being insincere. The two men became close friends as well as like-minded colleagues and, until the last weeks of their lives, Saint-Just’s loyalty to the Incorruptible did not waver.

Saint-Just made his maiden speech to the Convention on November 13th. It was on the fate of the king and whether he should be tried for crimes against his people. Making oneself heard by an audience of well over a thousand people (the deputies plus the many spectators in the public galleries) and convincing them that you had something original and important to say was not easy. Yet Saint-Just succeeded with that first speech in establishing himself as one of the most effective revolutionary orators. While others tried to demonstrate that the king had acted wrongly, Saint-Just argued that kingship itself was morally wrong. ‘No one can reign innocently’, he said. The king was not a citizen and not subject to the law. If he lived, he would continue to be a danger to the republic. Therefore he should be put to death, without going through the legal formalities of a trial. The deputies were struck by the uncompromising logic of this argument yet for most it was unthinkable that the king should simply be put to death. So Louis got his trial, though it ended, as Saint-Just had predicted, in a death sentence.

Saint-Just was never comfortable with the improvised interventions and frequent exchange of insults that often characterised debate in the Jacobin Club and occasionally the Convention. His forte was the set-piece speech, with its polished rhetoric, striking aphorisms and dramatic staging. Whenever he spoke in the Convention spectators pushed their way to the front of the galleries to hear him and said to their neighbours in expectant tones: ‘There he is!’

What kind of man did they see? Not the androgynous beauty of legend that ‘angelic’ face was the invention of Michelet. Yet Saint-Just was undeniably good-looking. Portraits painted in his lifetime show him with a pale oval face, abundant chestnut hair, light eyes, high cheekbones and a decidedly long nose. The Jacobin leaders worked long hours and were often under considerable strain over time, the effects of this exhausting lifestyle began to show in his face. Like Robespierre, Saint-Just was financially incorruptible and he managed on his modest pay as a deputy yet he always dressed with care. Unlike many Jacobins, he did not adopt the rough clothes of the sans-culottes, the Parisian militants. He often wore a high cravat, conscious that this gave him dignity. His fellow Jacobin, Camille Desmoulins, mocked Saint-Just for his haughty appearance and especially for that cravat: ‘One sees in his bearing and his attitude that he considers his head the cornerstone of the republic.’ Despite Saint-Just’s egalitarian politics, his enemies (of whom he would acquire a fair number, including Desmoulins) said of him that he had the pride and hauteur of an aristocrat.

In June 1793 the Jacobins overthrew the Girondins and seized power. That same month Saint-Just helped draft a new ‘Jacobin’ constitution. It was the most liberal and egalitarian document of the entire Revolution, but it was shelved following a speech made by Saint-Just himself, arguing that the constitution could not be put in place while France was still at war and under threat. On July 10th, 1793 he was elected to the Committee of Public Safety. Made up of 12 members, it held extensive executive powers and took over the coordination of the war effort, becoming, in effect, a war cabinet, while the Committee of General Security was given responsibility for police, arrests and the prisons. Throughout the following year these two committees dominated the revolutionary government.

The summer and autumn brought escalating crises. Britain, Spain and Holland had joined the war against France. Many regions experienced revolts against Paris while a full-scale civil war raged in western France. A series of betrayals, including that of France’s leading general, Dumouriez, hardened the revolutionaries’ attitude. At the same time the sans-culottes staged demonstrations to intimidate the deputies into passing more extreme measures. It was against this backdrop that the revolutionaries embarked on a policy that legalised the use of terror. Saint-Just played his part in this policy, but the Committee of Public Safety took collective decisions and shared responsibilities. The so-called ‘Jacobin Terror’ was not attributable to any one man, or even a group of men. It was in fact a series of laws, voted for by the deputies of the Convention. So why did Saint-Just become so personally identified with the Terror? Partly because he was prepared to speak publicly to justify it: along with fellow Committee members, Robespierre, Barère and Billaud-Varenne, he was one of the Committee’s principal spokesmen. Above all, it was to Saint-Just that both committees entrusted the task of drafting and delivering several speeches used to destroy a series of revolutionary factions. This factional in-fighting was part of the ‘politicians’ terror’. According to revolutionary ideology anyone who was not totally committed to the public good might be a conspirator, bought by the royalists. The power of terror that the revolutionary leaders wielded, threatened them, too. Driven by fear, mutual suspicion and revolutionary fervour, leading revolutionaries turned on one another, in a ruthless kill-or-be-killed scenario.

Saint-Just spent long periods away from the Committee, serving as a deputy on mission, during which time he took no part in the Committee’s decisions. During much of September to December 1793 he was in Alsace with the Army of the Rhine. Here his task was to ensure that the army was well supplied, keep a watchful eye on the generals and curb any civil unrest against the Revolution. Like other deputies, he acted with a colleague in this case Philippe Le Bas, who seems to have been chosen for his conciliatory skills in the hope that he would moderate Saint-Just’s autocratic manner. They made an effective team. Despite the fraught circumstances in this frontier region, where many of the locals did not speak French and much of the territory was occupied by Austrian armies, Saint-Just and Le Bas used their powers with restraint. There were no wholesale killings such as happened elsewhere, where deputies were less scrupulous. There were relatively few arrests and most of these were concerned with army discipline and were dealt with by military courts. While Saint-Just was protective of the well-being of ordinary soldiers, some senior officers were arrested for incompetence, corruption or suspect loyalties.

The business of supplying an army was a way for private contractors to amass immense wealth through exclusive contracts, corruption and backhanders to state officials. Saint-Just would have none of that. ‘Ten thousand men are barefoot in the army’, ran one of his decrees to the municipality of Strasbourg. ‘You must take the shoes of all the aristocrats of Strasbourg, and by tomorrow at ten in the morning ten thousand pairs of shoes must be on their way to headquarters.’ So effective was the implied threat that 17,000 pairs of shoes and 21,000 shirts were hastily donated. Saint-Just went further, demanding forced loans from the rich for the army and local poor. But there were limits to how much social equality the Jacobins could enforce. Their powers, their time and their resources were limited. Saint-Just’s greatest achievement in Alsace was the key role he played in supporting the army as it drove the Austrian invaders back across the Rhine. At critical moments in the battles, and despite their civilian status, Saint-Just and Le Bas fought alongside the soldiers. Baudot, a Jacobin deputy who was also in Alsace and clashed with Saint-Just, remembered his courage under fire: ‘I saw him with the armies and I never saw anything like it!’

More difficult than military battles, where the enemy was clearly visible, were the political battles taking place in Paris, where the enemies were fellow revolutionaries. Here, too, Saint-Just played his part. Over the winter of 1793-94 a political crisis was tearing the Jacobins apart. Two factions challenged the Committees’ authority. The Hébertists, led by self-proclaimed sans-culotte leader, Hébert, wanted to intensify the Terror the Dantonists, led by Danton and Desmoulins, wanted to wind it down. The committees, fearing that the victory of either would bring down the revolutionary government, decided to eliminate both. Saint-Just broke this decision to the Convention. On March 13th, 1793 he delivered a speech against the Hébertists. They were arrested, sent before the Revolutionary Tribunal and executed. Their enemies, the Dantonists, rejoiced, thinking themselves secure, but 18 days later Saint-Just denounced them as conspirators. His speech was based on vague and unsubstantiated allegations, provided for him by Robespierre, who shrank from delivering the actual speech. Saint-Just fashioned the notes into a speech intended to kill and it did its job. As he put it: ‘Those who make revolutions by halves do but dig their own graves.’

While Saint-Just was very guarded about what he said publicly, the scattered papers that he left behind in his rooms when he left for the last time and the notebook taken from him when he was arrested reveal some of what he was really thinking. They suggest that he was more shaken than he would admit about his part in the deaths of his fellow Jacobins. He also referred several times to his own death, which he felt to be imminent and which he pictured as a kind of sacrifice, an atonement, perhaps, that would show that he had acted from pure motives, not for his own benefit: ‘I have attacked men whom no one dared attack … it is for the youngest to die and to prove his courage and his virtue.’ Like Robespierre, Saint-Just feared that ambitious and corrupt individuals would pervert the Revolution, using it as a means to secure personal power. He feared that he would die before the republic could be secured. He tried to imagine a time beyond the Terror, when the republic could be maintained by social institutions, rather than by coercion and violence. But he could not see a way to get there and many of his plans were visionary rather than practical projects. In the last weeks of his life he lost hope, unable to see a way out of the nightmare that the Revolution had become. ‘The Revolution is frozen’, he wrote in despair. ‘All its principles are grown weak. There remain only intriguers sporting the red cap of liberty.’

During the first half of 1794 Saint-Just went on several missions to the Army of the North, where he played a leading role preparing it for imminent conflict. On his final mission he held a mandate over the armies of the North and the East, ‘from the sea to the Rhine’. He was a driving force behind the decisive battle of Fleurus on June 26th, 1794, which finally forced the Austrians from northern France. Saint-Just’s achievements with the armies had increased his personal standing. Month by month he was becoming a more important political figure in his own right.

After Fleurus the French were no longer fighting a defensive war and the policy of terror was no longer necessary. But winding down the Terror would not be easy. The atmosphere in Paris was toxic and Robespierre seemed to be having some kind of breakdown. He had fallen out bitterly with several Jacobins whom he saw as extremists some of them were members of the committees. Robespierre ceased to attend meetings. For the first time Saint-Just wavered in his loyalty to Robespierre. Along with Barère, Saint-Just tried to broker a compromise between Robespierre and his opponents on the committees, which immediately fell apart, with Robespierre accusing his enemies of seeking his destruction.

On 8 Thermidor (July 26th) Robespierre went to the Convention to denounce several Jacobins, yet refused to name them, thereby terrifying everybody and precipitating a fight to the death between himself and his opponents. Saint-Just had been charged by the committees with making a report to the Convention on the compromise. He must have heard Robespierre’s speech with a heavy heart. In the course of that night he took a fateful decision: to ditch his position as spokesman for the committees and give a personal speech in defence of Robespierre. While his speech criticised several members of the committees, it did not ask for their arrest but strove for reconciliation and he called for social institutions to be established that could maintain the republic and prevent power falling into the hands of any individual. It was an enormous risk to take. It did not come off. Moments after he started to speak he was interrupted by Jacobin deputies determined to bring Robespierre down. Since Saint-Just was clearly prepared to defend Robespierre, they turned on him, too. There was turmoil as the plotters denounced Robespierre and those who stood with him. Paul Barras, who was party to the plot, described Saint-Just at the tribune as a ‘motionless, impassive, unconquerable, coolly defying them all’.

The uproar climaxed with the arrest of Robespierre, Saint-Just and three other deputies (including Le Bas, who insisted on joining his friends), all accused of conspiracy against the republic. They were briefly set at liberty by jailers too frightened to receive them, before a final showdown ensued in the town hall that same night. Once news broke that the five had been outlawed, few sans-culottes were prepared to risk their lives for them. Forces of the Convention that broke into the town hall were unopposed. All around them terrified people tried to escape. Le Bas blew his brains out. They found Saint-Just ministering to Robespierre, who had been shot through the jaw. The next day, without trial, Robespierre and his followers were taken to the guillotine. By all accounts Saint-Just bore himself with quiet courage. He was not yet 27. His career as a revolutionary leader had lasted less than two years.

Thermidor marked the beginning of the end of the legalised terror, but there would be plenty of violence still to come, not least on Napoleon’s battlefields, where many thousands would die, far more than in the Jacobin Terror. What might have happened had Saint-Just turned his back on Robespierre and survived Thermidor? Michelet lamented Saint-Just’s untimely end: ‘France will never console herself for the loss of such a hope.’ For Michelet, Saint-Just was the one man who might have stood up to Napoleon and made ‘the sword bow to the law’. But that was not to happen. Instead Saint-Just, like Robespierre, would take the rap for the Terror, for it suited all parties to forget that the choice to use terror had been a collective one. While surviving revolutionaries dwindled into old men, remembering the glory days of 1793, Saint-Just would never grow old and cynical, or disillusioned with the revolutionary cause. As his life ended, the myth began. He remains the archetype of the young and idealistic revolutionary. Yet the revolution to which he devoted his life ended by devouring him, as it did so many of its own children.

Marisa Linton is Reader in History at Kingston University and the author of Choosing Terror: Virtue, Friendship and Authenticity in the French Revolution (OUP, 2013). This article was first published in the January 2015 issue of History Today.


The State Is Us

A Frenchman didn’t need to read Rousseau, Mably, Plato, or Livy to get caught up in the Revolution’s collectivist frenzy. All he had to do was fully buy into the notion of the participatory people’s state.

Such a parasitic, pious fraud was relatively easy to detect.

This was much easier to do, thanks to the Revolution. The state was no longer a prince who ruled by Grace of God or accident of lineage: like the “Sun King,” Louis XIV (1638-1715), a pompous dandy who said, “The State, it is me,” ( L'Etat, c'est moi ) and paraded around his Versailles Palace amid resplendent tax-funded finery, attended by aristocratic sycophants, while mercenary armies fought his wars of personal, dynastic ambition.

Such a parasitic, pious fraud was relatively easy to detect, especially after the Reformation and the Enlightenment made divine right such a dubious claim. It is no wonder, then, that his successors, Louis XV and XVI, faced such stiff resistance from the French people, and thus were unable to get away with nearly as much depredation as their grandiose predecessor.

But now, the state was no longer a distinct set of “others”: a king, his aristocratic courtiers, his servile church clerics, and his administrators. The post-Revolutionary devotees of the French people’s state basically believed, “The State, it is us” ( L'Etat, c'est nous ). (In 2013, US President Barack Obama explicitly invoked this sentiment, saying, “But government can’t stand on the sidelines in our efforts, because government is us.”) The people’s state blurred the delineation between the rulers and the ruled, leading the individual to emotionally identify with his state and to think of the state’s interests as his own.

This analysis should not be interpreted in the slightest as any kind of endorsement or celebration of the princely state. To understand why, consider the following: if an abolitionist were to say that “public” chattel slavery (i.e., slaves working in the state mines of ancient Rome) was even more brutal than “private” chattel slavery (i.e., the personal slaves of Roman patricians), that would in no way be a claim that private chattel slavery was at all good or “necessary.”


The French revolution of 1848European history summary France

At the close of the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars (1789-1815) the Bourbon dynasty was restored in France in the person of a brother of the King who had been sent to the guillotine during the revolution. This restoration King, Louis XVIII, alienated opinion due to his absolutist tendencies and his 'legitimate' monarchy was usurped in 1830 with a junior, 'Orléanist', branch of the dynasty being recognised as Kings of the French rather than as Kings of France.
The King installed in 1830, Louis Philippe, was himself a son of Philippe, Duke of Orléans, a Bourbon prince who had offered some support to the revolution of 1789 and who had become known as Philip Egalité.

Notably disagreeable weather across much of Europe in 1845-6 affected agricultural production leading to rising food prices and to generally depressed economic conditions of widespread unemployment. Such sufferings as this brought to those badly affected led, in turn, to a radicalisation of political attitudes.
During these times France was yet a monarchy under Louis Philippe but with his "Liberal" monarchy having few real supporters. Elections were held on the basis of quite limited suffrage, many felt excluded from any possibility of gaining wealth, and others felt that his "Bourgeois and Liberal" monarchy compared unfavourably with earlier, "Glorious", eras of French Monarchy or Empire.
Many persons in France were also alienated by a series of 'reactionary' foreign policy positions being adopted by Guizot as prime minister to Louis Philippe.

On 14th January 1848 the authorities banned a "banquet", one of a series that had intermittently been held by 'liberal' interests after July 1847 in Paris, and subsequently widely across France, in protest at such things as limitations on the right of assembly and the narrow scope of the political franchise, with the result that the it was postponed by its organisers.
There was actually a law in place requiring official permission for any meeting to be attended by more than six persons.

I am told that there is no danger because there are no riots I am told that, because there is no visible disorder on the surface of society, there is no revolution at hand.

This, gentlemen, is my profound conviction: I believe that we are at this moment sleeping on a volcano. I am profoundly convinced of it .

Think, gentlemen, of the old (i.e. pre 1789) monarchy: it was stronger than you are, stronger in its origin it was able to lean more than you do upon ancient customs, ancient habits, ancient beliefs it was stronger than you are, and yet it has fallen to dust.

Do you not feel -- what shall I say? -- as it were a gale of revolution in the air.

Keep the laws as they are, if you wish. I think you would be very wrong to do so but keep them. Keep the men, too, if it gives you any pleasure. I raise no objection so far as I am concerned. But, in God's name, change the spirit of the government for, I repeat, that spirit will lead you to the abyss.

Alexis de Tocqueville: Speech of January 29, 1848, delivered in the French Chamber of Deputies

The postponed banquet, now set for the 22nd February, was banned by the authorities at the last minute and there were some serious disturbances on the Paris streets on the 22nd and on 23rd February which featured the building of some formidable barricades by groups of protesting citizens. The were instances of units of the civilian National Guard that had been deployed by the authorities refusing to act to contain the protest.
More serious turnings of events followed however - there was a number of fatalities and serious injuries after a group of soldiers fired their weapons directly into a crowd, (allegedly in a period of confusion after the accidental discharge of one of the soldiers' firearms), on the morning of the 23rd of February. Protestors subsequently threw up a large number of barricades in several areas of the city - chopping down thousands of trees and tearing up hundreds of thousands of paving stones in the process. There further widespread instances of members of the citizen National Guard siding with the protesters against the government's authority.
Faced with such unrest Louis Philippe dismissed Guizot, his reactionary Prime Minister, who had been a particular focus of the protestors anger, on the 23rd and himself, reluctantly, abdicated on the 24th writing to the French Chamber of Deputies that he wished that powers of regency should be vested in a Duchess of Orléans, mother to the Comte de Paris (a nine-year-old grandson of Louis Philippe), to whom the French Crown would now pass.

Although Louis Philippe had sought to abdicate in favour of his grandson this was not fully communicated to the Chamber of Deputies. The mother of this young Comte brought her sons to the Chamber of Deputies seeking the acceptance of the Comte de Paris as the next King of France. This seemed to be on the verge of unanimous acceptance but events took a different course after an armed and determined looking crowd composed of national guards, workers and students burst into the parliamentary chamber.

The Chamber subsequently accepted that the forces seeking change could not be denied given the popular mood in a radicalized Paris and that the populace would not accept the establishment of the proposed regency.
The Chamber of Deputies nevertheless opted to attempt to exercise influence over the developing situation with the hope of avoiding yet more serious outbreaks of civil disorder. Seven individual deputies that the Chamber of Deputies deemed capable of assuming responsibilty for overseeing political change as a "Provisional Government" were identified with the support of the Chamber. The Chamber of Deputies was largely led in this selection of members of a Provisional Government by the opinion of an influential liberal and reformist deputy named Lamartine (who had also, reluctantly, contributed decisively to the decision not to accept the young Comte as king).
The members of the would-be Provisional Government then sought to present themselves at the Hôtel de Ville, or City Hall of Paris, in order to attempt, (as they deemed necessary), to take the initiative away from the perhaps excessively radicalized crowd which was gathered there. It was anticipated, by those delegated by the outgoing Chamber of Deputies to attempt to provide leadership necessary to help to prevent social chaos, that efforts at seizing the initiative were to be made through persuasion only. Those nominated to this task by the outgoing Chamber were variously men of established reputation as liberal reformists, as left-leaning radicals, or as men of science who, in the circumstances, accepted that they would only have their existing reputations and their political or persuasive skills to rely on in their project.
The seven individuals who now took on the task of attempting to provide necessary leadership did so at some risk to themselves as they could fail to win over the dis-satisfied sections of the Parisian populace gathered at the Hôtel de Ville and could also stand to very seriously incur the displeasure of French conservatism through their actions.

At this time those who might seek alarmingly radical change were undeniably in possession of the Hôtel de Ville against a background where some twelve thousand muskets formerly held within government arsenals had fallen into the hands of radicalized sections of the Parisian population. It happened that the crowd, tens of thousands strong, who gathered around the Hôtel de Ville in these days of political tumult were in the processes of setting up a "Provisional Government" of their own choosing.
There was a possibility that the French army could be called upon by the deposed king's brothers, or some other conservative leaders, in order to attempt to stifle what many sections of French society might regard as unacceptably radical reforms that could well issue forth with the authorisation of a provisional government based in the Hôtel de Ville.

What had effectively become a French revolution of 1848 continued with a new Provisional Government being formed in a climate where power needed to be exercised by a central authority but where there was also a divergence of opinion as to the desirable political and social outlook of that government.
In the event the Parisian radicals accepted the arrival of the political men of established reputation who presented themselves at the Hôtel de Ville as the Chamber of Deputies' nominees for positions in a new government.
At the Hôtel de Ville it was conceded that the previous monarchical government was overthrown and support for the establishment of a French Republic was publicly declared by Lamartine.

This establishment of a Republic appears to have been viewed, in the circumstances, as politically necessary by the would-be Provisional Government.

The great French writer Victor Hugo wrote of this key sequence of events in his memoirs:-

The new ministers at once set out for the Hôtel de Ville.

At the Chamber of Deputies not once was the word "Republic" uttered in any of the speeches of the orators, not even in that of Ledru-Rollin. But now, outside, in the street, the elect of the people heard these words, this shout, everywhere. It flew from mouth to mouth and filled the air of Paris.

The seven men who, in these supreme and extreme days, held the destiny of France in their hands were themselves at once tools and playthings in the hands of the mob, which is not the people, and of chance, which is not providence. Under the pressure of the multitude in the bewilderment and terror of their triumph, which overwhelmed them, they decreed the Republic without having time to think that they were doing such a great thing.

When, having been separated and dispersed by the violent pushing of the crowd, they were able to find each other and reassemble, or rather hide in one of the rooms of the Hôtel de Ville, they took a half sheet of paper, at the head of which were printed the words: "Prefecture of the Seine. Office of the Prefect." .

. Under the dictation of terrible shouts outside Lamartine traced this phrase:
The Provisional Government declares the Provisional Government of France is the Republican Government, and that the nation shall be immediately called upon to ratify the resolution of the Provisional Government and of the people of Paris." .

. But they did not sign this rough draft. Their whereabouts had been discovered an impetuous stream was surging against the door of the office in which they had taken refuge. The people were calling, ordering, them to go to the meeting-hall of the Municipal Council.

There they were greeted by this clamour: "The Republic! Long live the Republic! Proclaim the Republic!" Lamartine, who was at first interrupted by the cries, succeeded at length with his grand voice in calming this feverish impatience.

The members of the Provisional Government were thus enabled to return and to resume their session. The more ardent ones wanted the document to read: "The Provisional Government proclaims the Republic." The moderates proposed: "The Provisional Government desires the Republic." A compromise was reached on the proposition of M. Cremieux, and the sentence was made to read: "The Provisional Government 'is for' the Republic." To this was added: "subject to the ratification of the people, who will be immediately consulted."

The news was at once announced to the crowds in the meeting-hall and in the square outside, who would listen to nothing but the word "republic" and saluted it with tremendous cheering.

Capital punishment was pronounced to be abolished in relation to political offences.

Important figures in a newly formed Provisional Government administration included established moderate, liberal, middle-class, "reformers - now become republicans", such as Lamartine who became Foreign Minister.
Another prominent member of the new government also derived from the "Provisional Government" initiated by the outgoing Chamber of Deputies including a well-known editorial contributor to the left-leaning La Réforme newspaper named Ledru-Rollin, (as Minister of the Interior), and an eighty-year-old veteran of the earlier years of revolution in France named Dupont de l'Eure.
A campaign sponsored La Réforme, (which enjoyed considerable support across radicalized Paris), culminated in some more notably left-leaning persons, who had been seen by those already in place at the Hôtel de Ville as candidates for positions of authority prior to the arrival on the scene of the seven persons nominated by the Chamber of Deputies, also being accepted into the new government. These included the prominent French socialist Louis Blanc and a "working man" named Albert Martin who was popularly known as "Albert" and addressed by this forename all the while he was involved in the government.

Dupont de l'Eure, who had been recognised by the Chamber of Deputies as their proposed figure-head of the new order, (and who had famously opposed the restoration of the French monarchy at the end of the earlier French Revolutionary and Napoleonic era), was installed as the leader of this new government.

These revolutionary developments were perhaps more Parisian than French, they were orchestrated by a radical section of the population of Paris but they did not generally receive the support of the French provinces. After winning the recognition of the rights to work and to combine the socialistic radicals of Paris further urged the actual adoption of the red flag of socialism whilst those supportive of constitutional republicanism preferred to re-adopt the red, white, and blue, "Tricolour" flag that had been adopted in the early days of the French Revolution of 1789.

Lamartine, who was something of a poet and orator later self-flatteringly recorded his own refusal, as a notably prominent member of the new government whilst faced with a turbulent crowd outside the City Hall of Paris during the late afternoon on the 25th February, in the earliest days of the new republic, to accept the red flag, which they saw as declarative of a commitment to a degree of socialism, as being a turning point in this debate.

[In July, 1791 a red flag had, in fact, been actually flown by the authorities as a declaration of intent to impose martial law and order hence "the people's blood in 1791 and 1793". The followers of the radical Jacobin movement protested the authorities actions of July, 1791, by flying a red flag to honour the "martyrs' blood" of those killed as a result of developments following on from the imposition of martial law.
More than half a century later, in 1848, Socialism had emerged, in various forms, as a societal and political force and the red flag had been adopted, by sections of the people, as the banner of socialism. Nevertheless Lamartine was able to point to the authorities' repressive actions of 1791 and 1793, conducted under a Red Flag, in his efforts to gain acceptance for the Tricolour as the flag of the emerging French state.]

The stresses incidental to this divergence of aspiration and outlook between Republicans and Liberals on the one hand and Socialists on the other nevertheless resulted in a compromise resolution where the old revolutionary slogan Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité was to be featured on the flag and a "socialistic" red rosette was to be added to the standard carrying this modified tricolour and where figures of authority would take it upon themselves to wear red rosettes.

A system of "National Workshops" was instituted on 26 February in relation to this guarantee of "labour to every citizen". On 28 February, Louis Blanc, as the chairman of a Commission of Labour, was entrusted, assisted by Albert, with an influential role in the regulation of working conditions.

Freedom of speech, association and assembly were proclaimed. Some political prisoners were released.

On 2 March the Commission of Labour reduced the working day in Paris from 11 to 10 hours, and from 12 to 11 hours in the provinces. It was accepted, also on 2 March and in fulfilment of one of the key demands of the Banquet Campaign, that future elections would be based on universal adult (male) suffrage - a concession which recognised some nine million persons as being competent electors (compared to the 250,000 previously recognised voters under the previously much more restrictive rules suffrage).
On 5 March it was agreed that elections to be held on 9 April would return delegates who would more fully decide the future direction of the governance of France.

By order of a decree issued by Ledru-Rollin on March 13, certain aristocratic or bourgeois companies of the National Guard were to be disbanded and incorporated into the rest of the National Guard. Ledru-Rollin claimed that by authorising this measure he was acting "in a spirit of republican equality".
Members of the National Guard companies threatened with disbandment marched to the Hôtel de Ville demanding that the decree be recalled but the government failed to oblige leading the protesting National Guardsmen to declare that they would return next day bearing their firearms.

During the earlier French Revolutionary Era after 1789 political clubs appeared where like-minded persons could gather together with others who shared their political and social aspirations - the most notable of these having been the Jacobin Club. This precedent of 1789 was followed in 1848 in that many political clubs were formed in that year also.

A French political activist named Louis Auguste Blanqui who was released, during the early days of the revolution of 1848, from life-imprisonment to which he had been condemned for diverse earlier radical and revolutionary activities, (he was actually sentenced to death early in 1840 but this was commuted to life-imprisonment), soon after his release founded a Société républicaine centrale which sought the establishment of a more radical form of government.

The Société républicaine centrale, which grew in membership to some five thousand persons and was one of the largest political club of these times, twice petitioned for postponement of the election of a constituent assembly, stressing the need for time to educate the masses.

Citizens, we demand the adjournment of the elections for the constituent assembly and the national guard. These elections would be derisory.

In towns, the working classes, conditioned to subjugation by long years of repression and poverty, would take no part in the voting or else they would be led to the polls by their masters like blind cattle.

Out in the countryside, all the influence is in the hands of the clergy and of the aristocrats.

The people do not know yet know they must. This is not a task to be accomplished in a day or even a month. When counter-revolution alone has had the right to speak for half a century, is it too much to give perhaps a year to liberty?

Enlightenment must reach even the tiniest hamlets. The workers must lift up their heads which have been bowed by servitude and recover from that state of prostration and stupor in which they used to be kept by powerful oppressive interests.

From Deuxième pétition pour l'ajournement des élections, by the Société républicaine centrale, issued on 14 March 1848.

In the event the elections were actually postponed to be held, on the 23 April, two weeks later than originally intended after Parisian radicals under Blanqui's leadership added to the provincial impression of potential Paris-based anarchy by invading the Hôtel de Ville (17 March) seeking a two-month postponement to allow more time for nation-wide electioneering. Whilst such reformists were, in principle, in favour of Universal (male) Adult Suffrage they were also fearful that the conservatism of the countryside would return a preponderance of conservatively inclined delegates to the new assembly.

Due to personal animosities or leftist doctrinal rivalries neither Ledru-Rollin nor Louis Blanc had thrown their undoubted influence behind Blanqui's attempts to secure a longer postponement.

In mid-April the National Guard, which had been adapted as Ledru-Rollin intended through the re-assignment of the individual members of its aristocratic and bourgeois companies, and in a situation where each individual Guard company had recently "democratically" elected its own officers, nevertheless supported the government mobilising 130,000 strong to contain "a day of action" seeking the dismissal of the present government being held by some 100,000 persons drawn from the political clubs and also more widely from Parisian society.

You know the events of Paris - the victory of the people their heroism, moderation, and tranquillity the re-establishment of order by the co-operation of the citizens at large, as if, during this interregnum of the visible powers, public reason was, of itself alone, the Government of France

The French revolution has thus entered upon its definitive period. France is a republic. The French republic does not require to be acknowledged in order to exist. It is based alike on natural and national law. It is the will of a great people, who demand the privilege only for themselves. But the French republic, being desirous of entering into the family of established governments, as a regular power, and not as a phenomenon destructive of European order, it is expedient that you should promptly make known to the Government to which you are accredited, the principles and tendencies which will henceforth guide the foreign policy of the French Government.

The proclamation of the French republic is not an act of aggression against any form of government in the world. Forms of government have diversities as legitimate as the diversities of character - of geographical situation - of intellectual, moral, and material development among nations. Nations, like individuals, have different ages and the principles which rule them have successive phases. The monarchical, the aristocratic, the constitutional, and the republican forms of government, are the expression of the different degrees of maturity in the genius of nations. They require more liberty in proportion as they feel equality, and democracy in proportion as they are inspired with a greater share of justice and love for the people over whom they rule. It is merely a question of time. A nation ruins itself by anticipating the hour of that maturity as it dishonours itself by allowing it to pass away without seizing it. Monarchy and republicanism are not, in the eyes of wise statesmen, absolute principles, arrayed in deadly conflict against each other they are facts which contrast one with another, and, which may exist face to face by mutually understanding and respecting each other.

War, therefore, is not now the principle of the French republic, as it was the fatal and glorious necessity of the republic of 1792. Half a century separates 1792 from 1848. To return, after the lapse of half a century, to the principle of 1792, or to the principle of conquest pursued during the empire, would not be to advance, but to regress. The revolution of yesterday is a step forward, not backward. The world and ourselves are desirous of advancing to fraternity and peace.

. The treaties of 1815 have no longer any lawful existence in the eyes of the French republic nevertheless, the territorial limits circumscribed by those treaties are facts which the republic admits as a basis, and as a starting-point, in her relations with foreign nations.

But if the treaties of 1815 have no existence - save as facts to be modified by common consent - and if the republic openly declares that her right and mission are to arrive regularly and pacifically at those modifications - the good sense, the moderation, the conscience, the prudence of the republic do exist, and they afford Europe a surer and more honourable guarantee than the words of those treaties, which have so frequently been violated or modified by Europe itself.

Endeavour, Sir, to make this emancipation of the republic from the treaties of 1815, understood and honestly admitted, and to show that such an admission is in no way irreconcilable with the repose of Europe.

Thus we declare without reserve, that if the hour for the reconstruction of any of the oppressed nations of Europe, or other parts of the world, should seem to have arrived, according to the decrees of Providence if Switzerland, our faithful ally from the time of Francis I, should be restrained or menaced in the progressive movement she is carrying out, and which will impart new strength to the fasces of democratic governments if the independent states of Italy should be invaded if limits or obstacles should be imposed on their internal changes if there should be any armed interference with their right of allying themselves together for the purpose of consolidating an Italian nation, - the French republic would think itself entitled to take up arms in defence of these legitimate movements towards the improvement and nationhood of states.

[The other European powers, and particularly such deeply conservative ones as Austria and Russia, could, by such statements see considerable potential for their own previously pacific peoples being encouraged and even incited by dangerous French examples.

The other European powers would have been aware that the new French government was being lobbied by radical Poles, Germans, Swiss, Greeks, Magyars, Romanians, Portuguese and Spanish in search of what they would have regarded as "revolutionary" assistance. Other interests in France criticised any friendship with Piedmont-Sardinia as it held "French" Savoy and similarly criticised co-operation with Britain which had sought to domestically contain both constitutionally reforming "Chartism" and also Irish national aspirations.

They would also have been aware of the spontaneous formation, within France, of several free corps, or irregular legions, variously committed to bringing their idea of liberty to the Belgian provinces, to Savoy, and into the Germanies].

In early May the situation in the Italian peninsula where the Piedmontese-Sardinian kingdom had come to blows with the Austrian empire seemed to have pressing foreign policy implications for France. On May 1, against a background where Piedmont-Sardinia seemed to be on course to acquire the rich province of Lombardy thereby greatly enhancing its power, Lamartine informed the British ambassador that "France might well expect some small compensation in the way of security, if so powerful a neighbour as Sardinia would them become was established on her Eastern Frontier within forty miles of Lyon".

The settlement to the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, as concluded in 1815, had returned Nice and Savoy, (and with them several strategically critical Alpine passes and coastal roadways Nice and Savoy controlled), which had been seized by France during those years of French Revolutionary and Napoleonic turmoil, to Piedmontese-Sardinian possession. (The dynastic house that ruled in Piedmont-Sardinia was known as the House of Savoy which used to be only a Ducal House of Savoy until their dukes got a kingly upgrade principally as a reward for their involvement in a number of coalitions which prevailed in a series of European dynastic wars of succession). It would become a pressing policy objective for France to again administer these territories, with their control of the Alpine passes and coastal roadways, as enhanced security against a newly empowered neighbour.

The National Workshops system, which was awarded an initial budget of five million francs, (only consistent with the enrolment of some ten to twelve thousand persons!), set out to offer constant work and soon, despite the wages being only at or about basic subsistence level, attracted the services of much of the casual labour of a Paris where economic dislocation was being experienced as diverse forms of private spending fell away in these uncertain times.

The fall off in expenditure by more affluent persons in many cases resulted from their having left the turbulence of Paris for what they hoped would prove to be the relative tranquillity of the countryside.

The number of employees of national workshops in Paris grew from 6,000 in early March 1848 to 25,000 on March 31, to 90,000 in May. The main initial task tackled in Paris itself being a public works scheme levelling a small hill - a scenario that did not involve the receipt of revenues to offset the expense to the public purse. Other tasks included planting trees, building roads, and building railway stations - the authorities even oversaw the performance of "the same tasks" over and over to provide sufficient paid occupation. They did not want to sponsor economic activities that might seem to be in competition with the interests of existing capitalist enterprise.
As there proved to be insufficient work provided by the National Workshops for all the facility was rationed in that those involved reported to the workplace on two days of the week but were recognised as being entitled to a 'salary of inactivity' payment of one franc per day for other days.

Some higher levels of taxes were authorised in the spring of 1948, that was land related and mainly impacted upon the rural peasantry, in efforts to help to meet the expense of the National Workshops. Many amongst the rural peasantry were already living lives close to the poverty line and found such increases in taxation to be hard to bear and were consequently ready to denounce the National Workshops and other expensive programs they could blame for the imposition of this unwelcome taxation.

Ledru-Rollin, as Minister of the Interior, used the powers of his office in efforts to guide the results of the elections to the incoming National Assembly towards a radical outcome.
A circular issued by Ledru-Rollin without the knowledge of his colleagues in government, to the provincial Commissioners, (by whom he had replaced the Prefects of the Monarchy), gave the first open indication of this alarm being felt by radical reformists about the potential outcome, and of the means of violence and intimidation by which the party which Ledru-Rollin represented hoped to impose its will upon the country. The Commissioners were informed in plain language that, as agents of a revolutionary authority, their powers were unlimited, and that their task was to exclude from election all persons who were not animated by revolutionary spirit, and pure from any taint of association with the past.

Although this circular was issued by Ledru-Rollin without the consent of those with whom he shared governmental authority its contents were widely publicised so moderates in the government, and indeed across France, were left in no doubt that Ledru-Rollin was seeking to bend the rules in favour of a radical outcome.

As Minister of the Interior Ledru-Rollin sponsored the publication of a so-called "Bulletin of the Republic." The fifteenth issue of this bulletin appeared on 16th April and featured these ominous sentiments in relation to the upcoming elections:-

In the event neither the delay in holding the elections nor Ledru-Rollin's questionable electoral involvement proved sufficient to provide the outcome the radically reformist parties desired.
The National or Constituent Assembly resulting from the processes of election convened on May 4th 1848. Some 900 deputies from across the provinces and cities of France had been returned to serve in the National Assembly with some eighty four per cent of the eligible voters actually casting their votes.

Those voted in to the new assembly, by elections held under universal male adult suffrage, were returned from electoral constituencies that varied in being rural or urban and in localised traditions of affiliation to monarchy or church. Whilst the overwhelming majority of those elected had conformed themselves to the newly proclaimed 'Republican' situation about half of the new delegates were previously political figures who had given support to (Orléanist or Legitimist) monarchy. Some 350 of the new delegates were returned on a clericalist 'freedom of education' ticket favouring a central role for the (Catholic) church in education, there were only a minority, about 150 strong, of variously committed republicans or socialists.
Despite the breadth of the franchise, that had recognised some nine million persons as being voters, the main voting bloc - the peasantry - proved to be content with the legacy of the 1789-1815 French Revolutionary and Napoleonic era that had left them as owners of their small farms with the result that they generally voted for conservative candidates that would not threaten the rights of property. In these times of widespread illiteracy the political opinions of rural voters were often considerably guided by respected local figures such as parish priests. Increases in taxation already authorised by the provisional government faced with an emergent economic crisis in these unsettled times had included increased land-taxes which impacted particularly on the rural peasant rather than the urban poor - further blighting the chances of government aligned candidates in rural areas.

At the opening of the first session of the new assembly Dupont de l'Eure, the figure-head of outgoing Provisional Government, formally handed over to the incoming delegates :-

Given the political and societal realities of the times delegates may have been returned to the new assembly with differing hopes for the future of France as a republic or as a monarchy. Dupont de l'Eure's recommendation towards republicanism was in line with the mood of the hour for some: and for others may have represented a pragmatic outcome decreed by the force of circumstances.

The first day's session of the National Constituent Assembly was actually brought to a close in a dramatic scene where the delegates, at the suggestion of the Commander-in-Chief of the National Guard, gathered together outside on the steps leading up to the building that had previously housed the Chamber of Deputies. From those steps, in a part of central Paris with views of many impressive buildings and monuments, many of which lay across the river Seine which flowed beside the assembly, the delegates, standing together on a balmy early summer evening with bands playing in the background, gave voice to an unanimous shout of Vive le Republique!

[Historians and statesmen tend to see French political life as featuring a strong tendency to yield to the claims of the state. A strong state being seen as vastly preferable to one distressed by open dissensions such that loyalty should be given to the government in power even by those who might privately have reservations about its desirability.
French history had featured wars of succession and of religion and several instances of revolution - against this historical background yielding to the claims of the state seemed to offer hopes of national self-preservation whereas if parties and groups contended for their own preferences it seemed much ruinous anarchy might well result.
Modern French historians have even been known to refer to this political situation as being one of a "Republic without Republicans".].

As Adolphe Thiers, who was long prominent as a liberal politician, and who was somewhat opposed to this turn of events said, in his first parliamentary speech under these political arrangements:- :-

It proved to be the case that the recently elected political representatives of France as a whole were not prepared to endorse many of the policies that were preferred by Parisian radicals. The administration recognised by the incoming assembly did not include an important role for Louis Blanc.

Lamartine at the time the assembly met for the first time was clearly the most popular public figure in France, although offered nomination as temporary President of the Republic by the new assembly Lamartine unexpectedly declined!
Just as he had taken risks in pursuit of a moderate liberal transformation of French society by being prominent amongst the seven individuals nominated by the former French Chamber of Deputies who had won acceptance as authority figures by those gathered at the Hôtel de Ville in the early days of the 1848 revolution, and again in declining to accept the red flag as the banner of France, Lamartine now again took a risk by opting to align himself in some ways with Ledru-Rollin, (and the leadership of some of the political clubs), maintaining that France should invest executive power in a committee and making it plain that he, himself, would not serve on such a committee unless Ledru-Rollin was also on that committee.
Lamartine, by these decisions, seems to have been prepared to move away from the political moderates, in the hope of achieving a broad "national solidarity" consensus after committee discussions where he could use his charm and persuasion to establish containing limits to the policies being pursued by politically committed radicals.
By pursuing this course, however, Lamartine compromised much of his popularity in exchange for the naturally somewhat conservative incoming assembly overcoming a marked reluctance to award a prominent political role to Ledru-Rollin.

On May 15th the National or Constituent Assembly was invaded by persons seeking social reforms at home and greater French aid for Polish independence abroad but, when their appeals were not given a favourable hearing by the National Assembly, veered towards its overthrow and its replacement by an administration headed up by radicals and republicans.
In the event the National Guard acted quite forcefully to achieve the suppression of the would-be revolutionary government. Some radical leaders were arrested and, in cases, jailed.

Radicalism had showed a willingness to attempt to turbulently impose its own agendas. The stage was now set for a continuance of a serious confrontation between French conservatism and Parisian radicalism. Given this scenario the monarchists, (legitimist and Orléanist), and the moderate republicans agreed to establish a more prominent role, in Paris itself, for the French army vesting many powers in a forty-six year old General Cavaignac on whom they believed they could rely to defend the continued functioning of the National or Constituent Assembly.

Some weeks later, a most serious confrontation between conservatism and radicalism, - that became known to history as the "June Days" - took place between 23-26 June 1848 on the streets of Paris.
Some details of this confrontation are presented in the earlier paragraphs of our Widespread social chaos allows the re-assertion of Dynastic / Governmental Authority - page.

The European Revolutions of 1848 begin A broad outline of the background to the onset of the turmoils and a consideration of some of the early events in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Budapest and Prague.

The French Revolution of 1848 A particular focus on France - as the influential Austrian minister Prince Metternich, who sought to encourage the re-establishment of "Order" in the wake of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic turmoil of 1789-1815, said:-"When France sneezes Europe catches a cold".

The "Italian" Revolution of 1848 A "liberal" Papacy after 1846 helps allow the embers of an "Italian" national aspiration to rekindle across the Italian Peninsula.

The Revolution of 1848 in the German Lands and central Europe "Germany" (prior to 1848 having been a confederation of thirty-nine individually sovereign Empires, Kingdoms, Electorates, Grand Duchies, Duchies, Principalities and Free Cities), had a movement for a single parliament in 1848 and many central European would-be "nations" attempted to promote a distinct existence for their "nationality". Widespread social chaos allows the re-assertion of Dynastic / Governmental Authority Some instances of social and political extremism allow previously pro-reform liberal elements to join conservative elements in supporting the return of traditional authority. Such nationalities living within the Habsburg Empire as the Czechs, Croats, Slovaks, Serbs and Romanians, find it more credible to look to the Emperor, rather than to the democratised assemblies recently established in Vienna and in Budapest as a result of populist agitation, for the future protection of their nationality.
The Austrian Emperor and many Kings and Dukes regain political powers. Louis Napoleon, (who later became the Emperor Napoleon III), elected as President in France offering social stability at home but ultimately follows policies productive of dramatic change in the wider European structure of states and their sovereignty.


Why The French Revolution Marked The Start Of The Fall of Western Civilisation From 'A Study of Our Decline' by P Atkinson (February 2011)

Arnold Toynbee, in his "A Study of History" saw the French Revolution as the point when our civilisation stopped growing and started breaking down. By comparing numerous civilisations, Toynbee was able to identify the eruption of a class war as the common preliminary of social disintegration, and he explained that the explosion of civil violence was a result of the tyranny of the ruling class:

While the rhetoric of the French revolutionaries may support Toynbeeʼs view about their king, an English contemporary denied this was the truth. Edmund Burke in Reflections on the Revolution in France made the opposite claim, stating:

It was not the rulers, but the ruled, who had abused their trust.

And he made it clear in "Thoughts of French Affairs" that this subversion of legal and constitutional government was inspired by private ambition:

But he readily accepted there would be widespread support for the extinction of the monarchy throughout Europe.

Nor did he feel that the movement could be halted, declaring that the "Spread of Dangerous Opinions" and "The General State of Rottenness" would become so widespread as to be considered as normal, for under the heading "What is to be done?" he stated:

The real nature of the French Revolution is revealed by its principles, which Burke explained in "Reflections on the Revolution in France" as:

The Principle of Pure Democracy

The Nature of Pure Democracy
And Burkeʼs denunciation of this "natural government" in his essay leaves no doubt that he considered this declaration by the people of their desire to be ruled by the "occasional will" of the majority, to be the worst form of rule, unrestrained and unaccountable:

"All persons possessing any portion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with an idea that they act in trust: and that they are to account for their conduct in that trust to the one great Master, Author, and Founder of society.

This principle ought even to be more strongly impressed upon the minds of those who compose the collective sovereignty, than upon those of single princes. Without instruments these princes can do nothing. Whoever uses instruments in finding helps, finds also impediments. Their power is therefore by no means complete nor are they safe in extreme abuse. Such persons, however elevated by flattery, arrogance, and self-opinion, must be sensible, that, whether covered or not by positive law, in some way or other they are accountable even here for the abuse of their trust. If they are not cut off by a rebellion of their people, they may be strangled by the very janissaries kept for their security against all other rebellion. But where popular authority is absolute and unrestrained, the people have an infinitely greater, because a far better founded, confidence in their own power. They are themselves, in a great measure, their own instruments. They are nearer to their objects. Besides, they are less under responsibility to one of the greatest controlling powers on earth, the sense of fame and estimation. The share of infamy, that is likely to fall to the lot of each individual in public acts, is small indeed the operation of opinion being in the inverse ratio to the number of those who abuse power. Their own approbation of their own acts has to them the appearance of a public judgment in their favour. A perfect democracy is therefore the most shameless thing in the world. As it is the most shameless, it is also the most fearless. No man apprehends in his person that he can be made subject to punishment. Certainly the people at large never ought: for as all punishments are for example towards the conservation of the people at large, the people at large can never become the subject of punishment by any human hand."

Burke made it clear that the democracy demanded by the French Revolution, and later adopted in principle throughout Europe and America, was a call for "shameless" and "fearless" rule.

The popular support for this form of government within the Western world revealed by the adoption of universal suffrage, means the majority of citizens no longer consider themselves loyal subjects, but individuals who recognise no authority but their own wishes, which is the rule of selfishness.

Choosing Nonsense Over Sense
The French Revolution was not a protest against tyranny, but against authority. It marked the time when Authority stopped being the master and started being the servant of its charges. Which was a choice to abandon sense—sensible rule, where parents rule children—to choose nonsense—the rule by popular whim, where children rule parents.

Rule by Democracy is Decline
Being ruled by the occasional will of the people, which is democracy, is to replace the rule of wisdom with the rule of wishes, and inevitably obtain social decline.


Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution

After the Bastille was stormed on July 14, 1789, the queen urged the king to resist the Assembly's reforms, making her even more unpopular and leading to the unproven attribution to her of the remark, "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche!"— often translated as "Let them eat cake!" The phrase was actually first seen in print in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "The Confessions," written before Marie Antoinette was queen.

In October 1789, the royal couple was forced to move from Versailles to Paris. Two years later, the attempted escape of the royal couple from Paris was stopped at Varennes on October 21, 1791. This failed escape was reportedly planned by Marie Antoinette. Imprisoned with the king, Marie Antoinette continued to plot. She hoped for foreign intervention to end the revolution and free the royal family. She urged her brother, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, to intervene, and she supported a French declaration of war against Austria in April 1792, which she hoped would result in the defeat of France.

Her unpopularity helped lead to the overthrow of the monarchy when Parisians stormed the Tuileries Palace on August 10, 1792, followed by the establishment of the First French Republic in September. The family was imprisoned in the Temple on August 13, 1792, and moved to the Conciergerie on August 1, 1793. The family made several attempts to escape, but all failed.


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