Neoclassicism and Romanticism


 


(Neoclassicism, Romanticism and Art Styles in 19th century - Art Map)



 





BETWEEN

TWO

 REVOLUTIONS






From Jacques-Louis David to Eugene Delcroix




 

     
 

CONTENTS:

 
 

Jacques-Louis David and Eugene Delacroix

 
 

The French Revolution and Napoleon, 1789–1815

 
 

Revolution and Napoleon, 1789–1815

The Napoleonic era

 
 

The restoration and constitutional monarchy

Constitutionalism and reaction, 1815–30

 
 

The restoration and constitutional monarchy

The Revolution of 1830

 
 

 

 

 

 
   

Jacques-Louis David
1748-1825
France

   

Eugene Delacroix
1798-1863
France

   

The most celebrated French artist of his day and a principal exponent of the late 18th-century Neoclassical reaction against the Rococo style.

David won wide acclaim with his huge canvases on classical themes (e.g., "Oath of the Horatii," 1784. When the French Revolution began in 1789, he served briefly as its artistic director and painted its leaders and martyrs ("The Dead Marat," 1793) in a style that is more realistic than classical. Later he was appointed painter to Napoleon. Although primarily a painter of historical events, David was also a great portraitist (e.g., "Portrait de Mme Récamier," 1800).
 

Formative years

David was born in the year when new excavations at the ash-buried ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum were beginning to encourage a stylistic return to antiquity (without being, as was long supposed, a principal cause of that return). His father, a small but prosperous dealer in textiles, was killed in a duel in 1757, and the boy was subsequently raised, reportedly not very tenderly, by two uncles. After classical literary studies and a course in drawing, he was placed in the studio of Joseph-Marie Vien, a history painter who catered to the growing Greco-Roman taste without quite abandoning the light sentiment and the eroticism that had been fashionable earlier in the century. At age 18, the obviously gifted budding artist was enrolled in the school of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. After four failures in the official competitions and years of discouragement that included an attempt at suicide (by the stoic method of avoiding food), he finally obtained, in 1774, the Prix de Rome, a government scholarship that not only provided a stay in Italy but practically guaranteed lucrative commissions in France. His prize-winning work, "Antiochus and Stratonice," reveals that at this point he could still be influenced slightly by the Rococo charm of the painter François Boucher, who had been a family friend.

In Italy there were many influences, including those of the dark-toned 17th-century Bolognese school, the serenely classical Nicolas Poussin, and the dramatically realistic Caravaggio. David absorbed all three, with an evident preference for the strong light and shade of the followers of Caravaggio. For a while he seemed determined to fulfill a prediction he had made on leaving France: "The art of antiquity will not seduce me, for it lacks liveliness . . . ." But he became interested in the Neoclassical doctrines that had been developed in Rome by, among others, the German painter Anton Raphael Mengs and the art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann. In the company of Quatremère de Quincy, a young French sculptor who was a strong partisan of the return to antiquity, he visited the ruins of Herculaneum, the Doric temples at Paestum, and the Pompeian collections at Naples. In front of the ancient vases and columns, he felt, he said later, that he had just been "operated on for cataract of the eye."
 

Rise to fame: 1780-94
 

Back in Paris in 1780, he completed and successfully exhibited "Bélisaire demandant l'aumône" ("Belisarius Asking Alms"), in which he combined a nobly sentimental approach to antiquity with a pictorial technique reminiscent of Poussin. In 1782 he married the rather plain but spirited Marguerite Pécoul, whose father was a wealthy building contractor and the superintendent of construction at the Louvre--a position that carried considerable influence. From this date David prospered rapidly. The pathos and painterly skill of "Andromache Mourning Hector" brought him election to the Académie Royale in 1784; and that same year, accompanied this time by his wife and studio assistants, he returned to Rome with a commission to complete a painting that appears to have been originally inspired by a Paris performance of Pierre Corneille's Horace. The result, finally not based on any of the incidents in the play, was the "Oath of the Horatii". The subject is the solemn moment, charged with stoicism and simple courage, when the three Horatii brothers face their father and offer their lives to assure victory for Rome in the war with Alba; the pictorial treatment--firm contours, bare cubic space, sober colour, frieze-like composition, and clear lighting--is as austerely non-Rococo as the subject. Exhibited first in David's studio in Rome and then, following his return to France, in the official Paris Salon of 1785, the picture created a sensation; it was regarded as a manifesto for an artistic revival (the term Neoclassicism was not yet in use) that would cure Europe of the lingering addiction to dainty curves and boudoir themes. Eventually, it came to be regarded, although such was almost certainly not the first intention, as a manifesto for an end to the corruption of an effete aristocracy and for a return to the stern, patriotic morals attributed to republican Rome.

David became a culture hero; he was even referred to in some quarters as a messiah. He added to his fame by producing in 1787 the morally uplifting "Death of Socrates," in 1788 the less uplifting but archaeologically interesting "Amours de Paris et d'Hélene" ("Paris and Helen"), and in 1789 another lesson in self-sacrifice "Les Licteurs rapportent à Brutus les corps de ses fils" ("The Lictors Bringing to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons"). By the time the "Brutus" was on view, the French Revolution had begun, and this picture of the patriotic Roman consul who condemned his traitorous sons to death had an unanticipated political significance. It also had, through its presumably accurate reconstitution of the details of everyday Roman life, an effect that was perhaps equally unexpected, for with it David began the long and extensive influence he was to have on French fashions. Up-to-date homes began to display imitations of his Roman furniture; men cut their hair short in the Roman style; and women adopted the dresses and the coiffures of Brutus' daughters. Later on, even the flimsy Sabine dress, which left the breasts exposed, was adopted by the ultramodern.

In the early years of the Revolution, David was a member of the extremist Jacobin group led by Robespierre, and he became an energetic example of the politically committed artist. He was elected to the National Convention in 1792, in time to vote for the execution of Louis XVI. By 1793, as a member of the art commission, he was virtually the art dictator of France and was nicknamed "the Robespierre of the brush." He preached moral and aesthetic sermons to the Convention:

The artist must be a philosopher. Socrates the skilled sculptor, Jean-Jacques [Rousseau] the good musician, and the immortal Poussin, tracing on the canvas the sublime lessons of philosophy, are so many proofs that an artistic genius should have no other guide except the torch of reason.

Guided supposedly by the torch of reason and perhaps also by bitter memories of his many unsuccessful attempts to win the Prix de Rome, he succeeded in abolishing the Académie Royale and with it much of the old regime's system for training artists and providing them with patronage. The Académie was replaced briefly by a body called the Commune des Arts, then by a group called the Popular and Republican Society of the Arts, and then, finally, in 1795, after David was out of power, by the beginning of the system--a combination of the Institut de France and the École des Beaux-Arts--that dominated French artistic life during most of the 19th century.

As an artist during these years of his dictatorship, David was frequently busy with revolutionary propaganda. He had commemorative medals struck, set up obelisks in the provinces, and staged national festivals and the grandiose funerals the new government gave its martyrs. Some of his projects for paintings at this time were never completely carried out: one of these is the unfinished "Joseph Bara," which is a tribute to a drummer boy shot by the royalists, and another is the sketched "Oath of the Tennis Court" (Louvre, Musée National de Versailles et des Trianons, and the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass.), which was to commemorate the moment in 1789 when the Third Estate (the commoners) swore not to disband until a new constitution had been adopted. The "Death of Lepeletier de Saint-Fargeau," painted to honour a murdered deputy and regarded by David as one of his best pictures, was eventually destroyed. The result of all this is that the artist's Jacobin inspiration is represented principally by "The Dead Marat", painted in 1793 shortly after the murder of the revolutionary leader by Charlotte Corday. This "pietà of the Revolution," as it has been called, is generally considered David's masterpiece and an example of how, under the pressure of genuine emotion, Neoclassicism could turn into tragic Realism.
 

Later years: 1794-1825
 

In 1794, after his friend Robespierre had been sent to the guillotine, David was arrested. At his trial he is said to have defended himself badly, mumbling that in the future he intended to attach himself "to principles and not to men." He was imprisoned twice, for four months in 1794 and for two more the next year, apparently most of the time in the not uncomfortable Palais du Luxembourg in Paris. He was consoled by being allowed to paint and also by the fact that his wife, who had divorced him two years earlier for having voted for the death of the King, now loyally returned in his hour of trouble and remarried him, on this occasion for good. During his first period in prison, he painted from his window his only landscape, the "Vue du jardin du Luxembourg à Paris" ("View of the Luxembourg Gardens"). While he was held temporarily in another Paris building, he did an unfinished "Self-Portrait." At 46 he appears as a boyish young man with romantically disheveled hair, brown eyes, and a generally aggressive, if worried, look; a cheek tumour from which he suffered all of his adult life and which is said to have impeded his speech gives his face a slight twist.

Even during his imprisonment, he had retained three studios in the Louvre, and, after the amnesty of 1795, he devoted to teaching the same energy he had been devoting to revolutionary politics. Eventually, between the "Oath of the Horatii" and the Battle of Waterloo, he was responsible for the training and indoctrination of hundreds of young painters from all over Europe, among them such future masters as Baron François Gérard, Antoine-Jean Gros, and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. The indoctrination began with the premise that the basis of art was the contour, and so it can be held partly responsible for the excessive emphasis on drawing that characterized European academic painting in the 19th century. But David himself, as his works show, was not always hostile to rich chromatic effects; as late as 1860 he could be called, by no less a colourist than Eugène Delacroix, "the father of the whole modern school."

Neoclassicism was presumably inclined to scorn portraiture, because a contemporary sitter would normally lack both the universality and the nudity of an ancient statue. David, however, had done portraits, remarkable for their psychological individuality and their look of solid flesh, since the beginning of his career: in 1782-83 his sitter had been Alphonse Leroy, a Paris medical professor; in 1784 Mme Pécoul, his mother-in-law; in 1788 the chemist Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, with Mme Lavoisier. In 1795 the freed artist portrayed his pretty, elegant sister-in-law, Mme Sériziat, and her dandyish husband. In 1799 he produced his famous period piece, "Portrait de Mme Récamier," which he left unfinished because the sitter, then at the start of her career as a reigning Paris beauty, proved unreliable about hours for posing.

But David was not a man for the life of a mere teacher and portraitist. In 1799 he made a spectacular reentry into public notice with a new giant canvas, "Les Sabines" ("The Intervention of the Sabine Women"). The picture, often mistakenly referred to as "The Rape of the Sabines," represents the moment, a few years after the legendary abduction, when the women, now contented wives and mothers, halt a battle between their Roman husbands and the Sabine men who have come on an unwanted rescue mission; in the middle of the melee stands the lovely Sabine woman Hersilia, appealing with one arm toward the Roman Romulus and the other toward the bearded Sabine Tatius. The artist had said that his aim was to move away from the allegedly crude Roman manner of the "Oath of the Horatii" into a more graceful Greek manner, and he did win enthusiastic applause for the elegance of his figures. He also won some approval for his supposed intention to preach conciliation after 10 years of bloodletting in France. But he attracted perhaps the most attention with the nakedness of his ancient warriors; having ceased to be the Robespierre of the brush, he now became, in a popular jingle, "the Raphael of the sans-culottes" ("without breeches"; the radical Republicans).

Napoleon admired "The Intervention of the Sabine Women" and saw possibilities for self-aggrandizement in the talent displayed. Soon David, without acquiring political office, was again a government painter, first under the Consulate and then, after 1804, under the Empire. He was not, however, the only prominent Frenchman to move from the Jacobin left to the Bonapartist right, and he had evidently always been a worshiper of historical heroes. His most important Napoleonic work is the huge "Coronation" of 1805-07, sometimes called "Napoleon Crowning the Empress Josephine"; in it Neoclassicism gives way to a style that combines the official portraiture of the old French monarchy with overtones--and occasional straight imitation--of the masters of the Italian Renaissance. This picture was followed in 1810 by the large "Napoleon Distributing the Eagles" and in 1812 by "Napoleon in His Study", a sharply perceptive portrait notwithstanding its conspicuously propagandistic intention.

After the fall of Napoleon in 1815, David was exiled to Brussels. Cut off from the excitement and stimulus of the great events he had lived through, he lost much of his old energy. Toward the end of his life, he executed, probably with considerable help from a Belgian pupil, François-Joseph Navez, one more remarkably convincing portrait: "Les Trois Dames dites de Gand" ("Three Women of Ghent").

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Painter, whose use of colour was influential in the development of both Impressionist and Postimpressionist painters. His inspiration came chiefly from historical or contemporary events or literature, and a visit to Morocco in 1832 provided him with further exotic subjects.
 

Early life

 

Delacroix was the fourth child of Victoire Oeben, a descendant of the Oeben-Riesener family, which had created furniture for the king and court in the 17th and 18th centuries, and of Charles Delacroix, a government official who was ambassador to Holland in 1798 and who died in 1805 while prefect of Bordeaux. One tradition attributes Eugène's true paternity to the statesman Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord. This belief is strengthened both by Delacroix's strong physical resemblance to Talleyrand and by the fact that the future painter would consistently receive important patronage from the French government despite the nonconformist character of his art. Whatever the truth of his parentage, Delacroix's childhood was untroubled, and he would always maintain great affection and admiration for his father. Up to the age of 17 he pursued classical studies. Within his distinguished and artistic family he formed a passion for music and the theatre. In 1815 he became the pupil of a renowned academic painter, Baron Pierre-Narcisse Guérin. He knew the historical painter Antoine-Jean Gros, and as a young man he visited the salon of the royalist and painter Baron François Gérard. As early as 1822 he received the backing of Louis Thiers, the statesman and historian, who, as interior minister in the 1830s, put Delacroix in charge of architectural decorations.

A child of his century, Delacroix was affected by the Romanticism of the painter Théodore Géricault and of his friends the English painter Richard Parkes Bonington, the Polish-born composer and pianist Frédéric Chopin, and the French writer George Sand. He did not, however, take part in the battles of the Romantic movement waged by Victor Hugo, Hector Berlioz, and others.

 

Development of mature style

Delacroix's debut at the Paris Salon of 1822, in which he exhibited his first masterpiece, "Dante and Virgil in Hell" (Louvre Museum, Paris), is one of the landmarks in the development of French 19th-century Romantic painting. "Dante and Virgil in Hell" was inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy, but its tragic feeling and the powerful modeling of its figures are reminiscent of Michelangelo, and its rich colour shows the influence of Peter Paul Rubens. Among Delacroix's contemporaries, the influence of Géricault, who was the young painter's best friend until his sudden death in 1824, was also important.

In his subsequent choice of subjects, Delacroix showed an affinity with Lord Byron and other Romantic poets of his time, and also drew subjects from Dante, William Shakespeare, and medieval history. In 1824, however, he exhibited at the Salon the "Massacre at Chios" (Louvre), a large canvas depicting the dramatic contemporary massacre of Greeks by Turks on the island of Chios. The haughty pride of the conquerors, the horror as well as despair of the innocent Greeks, and the splendour of a vast sky create an expressive unity in which the nature of his genius is evident.

Delacroix had already become interested in the delicate technique of his English painter friends Richard Parkes Bonington and the Fielding brothers (Thales, Copley, Theodore, and Newton), and he also admired the English landscapes of John Constable, which were exhibited in Paris in 1824. Indeed, the luminous tonalities evident in the "Massacre at Chios" are said to have been inspired by Constable's style. To round out his technical and cultural education, Delacroix left for London in 1825. There, his technique, developed by contact with Turner, Constable, and Sir Thomas Lawrence, acquired the freedom and suppleness that until then he had been seeking in Rubens.

Between 1827 and 1832, masterpieces appeared in quick succession. Chief among them is "The Death of Sardanapalus" (1827; Louvre), a violent and voluptuous Byronic subject in which women, slaves, animals, jewels, and rich fabrics are combined in a sensuous but somewhat incoherent scene. One of his finest paintings on historical subjects, "The Execution of the Doge Marino Faliero" (1826-27; Wallace Collection, London), dates from this period, as do two works on medieval history, "The Battle of Nancy" (1831) and "The Battle of Poitiers" (1830; Louvre). He also painted the typically Byronic subject of "Combat Between the Giaour and the Pasha" (1827; Art Institute of Chicago). Like Géricault, Delacroix explored the newly invented medium of lithography and made a set of 17 lithographs (1827) illustrating a French edition of J.W. von Goethe's Faust. In 1830 Delacroix painted "Liberty Leading the People" (Louvre) to commemorate the July Revolution that had just brought Louis-Philippe to the French throne. This large canvas mixes allegory with contemporary realism in a highly successful and monumental manner and is still perhaps the most popular of all Delacroix's paintings. The relatively subdued manner of "Liberty Leading the People" also reflects a change in Delacroix's style, which became somewhat quieter while still retaining elements of animation and grandeur.

From January to July 1832 Delacroix toured in Algeria, Spain, and Morocco with the Count de Mornay, King Louis-Philippe's diplomatic representative to the sultan. Morocco proved to be a revelation to Delacroix, who found in its people and way of life the Homeric nobility and beauty that he had never seen in French academic Neoclassicism itself. The sights of exuberant nature and the beauty of the horses, the Arabs, and their flowing costumes would henceforth inspire his visual memory, even in his last works. Delacroix made copious sketches and notes during the trip that he used to good effect upon his return to Paris. After Morocco, his drawing and paint handling became freer and his use of colour even more sumptuous. The first fruits of his Moroccan impressions are collected in "Women of Algiers in Their Apartment" (1834; Louvre), in which three sumptuously costumed Arab women and their surroundings are portrayed in a blaze of exquisitely warm colour harmonies. Delacroix's other recapitulations of his North African experiences include "Fanatics of Tangier" (1838) and "Jewish Wedding" (1839; Louvre). He continued to paint Arab subjects almost to the end of his life.
 

Building decoration

In the latter part of his career Delacroix was favoured with a string of important commissions to decorate government buildings. His first commission, in 1833-36, was to paint a group of murals for the Salon du Roi at the Palais-Bourbon. He was subsequently commissioned to decorate the ceiling of the Library of the Palais-Bourbon (1838-47), the Library of the Palais Luxembourg (1840-47), the ceiling of the Galerie d'Apollon at the Louvre (1850), the Salon de la Paix at the Hotel de Ville (1849-53; burned in 1871), and the Chapel of the Holy Angels in the Church of Saint-Sulpice (1849-61). His murals represent the last great effort of this kind in the tradition of the Baroque ceiling painters.

During this period Delacroix also painted several canvases on the largest scale, notably two for the museum of history at Versailles: "The Battle of Taillebourg" (1837; Louvre) and "Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople" (1840; Louvre). Among his later easel paintings are ones on Arab, religious, and classical subjects and several superb scenes of wild animals and hunts, among them the "Lion Hunt" of 1858 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and the "Lion Hunt" of 1861 (Art Institute of Chicago). Delacroix painted several notable self-portraits during the course of his long career and occasionally produced portraits of such friends as Frédéric Chopin (1838; Louvre) and George Sand (1838; Øregaard Museum, Copenhagen).

Delacroix died in 1863, leaving more than 6,000 drawings, watercolours, and prints to be sold. His Journals are among the most penetrating of artists' notebooks since those kept by Leonardo da Vinci. A selective edition of them in English by Hubert Wellington was published in 1951 as The Journal of Eugène Delacroix.

With the English painter J.M.W. Turner, Delacroix was the forerunner of the bold technical innovations that culminated in Impressionism and subsequent modernist movements. The uninhibited expression of energy and movement in his works; his fascination with violence, destruction, and the more tragic aspects of life; and the sensuous virtuosity of his colouring have helped make him one of the most fascinating and complex artistic figures of the 19th century.

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The French Revolution and Napoleon, 1789–1815


The destruction of the ancien régime 1789:
the convergence of revolutions

The juridical revolution Louis XVI's decision to convene the Estates-General in May 1789 became a turning point in French history. When he invited his subjects to express their opinions and grievances in preparation for this event—unprecedented in living memory—hundreds responded with pamphlets in which the liberal ideology of 1789 gradually began to take shape. Exactly how the Estates-General should deliberate proved to be the pivotal consciousness-raising issue. Each of the three Estates could vote separately (by order) as they had in the distant past, or they could vote jointly (by head). Because the Third Estate was to have twice as many deputies as the others, only voting by head would assure itspreponderant influence. If the estates voted by order, the clergy and nobility would effectively exercise a veto power over important decisions. Most pamphleteers of 1789 considered themselves “patriots,” or reformers, and (though some were nobles themselves) identified the excessive influence of “aristocrats” as a chief obstacle to reform. In his influential tract Qu'est-ce que le tiers état? (1789; What is the Third Estate?) the constitutional theorist Emmanuel-Joseph Abbé Sieyès asserted that the Third Estate really was the French nation. While commoners did all the truly laborious and productive work of society, he claimed with some exaggeration, the nobility monopolized its lucrative sinecures and honours. As a condition of genuine reform, the Estates-General would have to change that situation.

A seismic shift was occurring in elite public opinion. What began in 1787–88 as a conflict between royal authority and traditional aristocratic groups had become a triangular struggle, with “the people” opposing both absolutism and privilege. A new kind of political discourse was emerging, and within a year it was to produce an entirely new concept of sovereignty with extremely far-reaching implications.

Patriots were driven to increasingly bold positions in part by the resistance and bad faith of royal and aristocratic forces. It is not surprising that some of the Third Estate's most radical deputies came from Brittany, whose nobility was so hostile to change that it finally boycotted the Estates-General altogether. Hoping that the king would takethe lead of the patriot cause, liberals were disappointed at the irresolute, business-as-usual attitude of the monarchy when the Estates opened at Versailles in May 1789. While the nobility organized itself into a separate chamber (by a vote of 141 to 47), as did the clergy (133 to 114), the Third Estate refused to do so. After pleading repeatedly for compromise and debating their course of action in the face of this deadlock, the Third Estate's deputies finally acted decisively. On June 17 they proclaimed that they were not simply the Third Estate of the Estates-General but a National Assembly, which the other deputies were invited tojoin. A week later 150 deputies of the clergy did indeed join the National Assembly, but the nobility protested that the whole notion was illegal.

Now the king had to clarify his position. He began by closing the hall assigned to the Third Estate and ordering all deputies to hear a royal address on June 23. The deputies, however, adjourned to an indoor tennis court on the 21st and there swore a solemn oath to continue meeting until they had provided France with a constitution. Two days laterthey listened to the king's program for reform. In the “royalsession” of June 23 the king pledged to honour civil liberties, agreed to fiscal equality (already conceded by the nobility in its cahiers, or grievance petitions), and promised that the Estates-General would meet regularly in the future.But, he declared, they would deliberate separately by order. France was to become a constitutional monarchy, but one in which “the ancient distinction of the three orders will be conserved in its entirety.” In effect the king was forging an alliance with the nobility, who only a year before had soughtto hobble him. For the patriots this was too little and too late.

In a scene of high drama, the deputies refused to adjourn to their own hall. When ordered to do so by the king's chamberlain, the Assembly's president, astronomer Jean-Sylvain Bailly (1736–93), responded—to the official's amazement—that “the assembled nation cannot receive orders.” Such defiance unnerved the king. Backing down, he directed the nobles several days later to join a National Assembly whose existence he had just denied. Thus the Third Estate, with its allies in the clergy and nobility, had apparently effected a successful nonviolent revolution from above. Having been elected in the bailliages (the monarchy's judicial districts which served as electoral circumscriptions) to represent particular constituents to their king, the deputies had transformed themselves into representatives of the entire nation. Deeming the nation alone to be sovereign, they as its representatives claimed sole authority to exercise that sovereignty. This was the juridical revolution of 1789.

Parisian revolt

In fact, the king had by no means reconciled himself to this revolutionary act. His concession was a strategic retreat until he could muster the military power to subdue the patriots. Between June 27 and July 1 he ordered 20,000 royal troops into the Paris region, ostensibly to protect the assembly and to prevent disorder in the restive capital. Theassembly's pleas to the king to withdraw these menacing and unnecessary troops fell on deaf ears. For all their moral force, the deputies utterly lacked material force to counter the king's obvious intentions. The assembly was saved from likely dissolution only by a massive popular mobilization.

During the momentous political events of 1788–89 much of the country lay in the grip of a classic subsistence crisis. Bad weather had reduced the grain crops that year by almost one-quarter the normal yield. An unusually cold winter compounded the problem, as frozen rivers halted the transport and milling of flour in many localities. Amidst fears of hoarding and profiteering, grain and flour reserves dwindled. In Paris the price of the four-pound loaf of bread—the standard item of consumption accounting for most of the population's calories and nutrition—rose from its usual 8 sous to 14 sous by January 1789. This intolerable trend set off traditional forms of popular protest. If royal officials did not assure basic food supplies at affordable prices, then people would act directly to seize food. During the winter and spring of 1789 urban consumers and peasants rioted at bakers and markets and attacked millers and grain convoys. Then, in July, this anxiety merged with the looming political crisis at Versailles. Parisians believed that food shortages and royal troops would be used in tandem to starve the people and overwhelm them into submission. They feared an “aristocratic plot” to throttle the patriot cause.

When the king dismissed the still-popular finance minister Jacques Necker on July 11, Parisians correctly read this as a signal that the counterrevolution was about to begin. Instead of yielding, however, they rose in rebellion. Street-corner orators such as Camille Desmoulins stirred their compatriots to resist. Confronting royal troops in the streets, they won some soldiers over to their side and induced officers to confine other potentially unreliable units to their barracks. On July 13, bands of Parisians ransacked armourers' shops in a frantic search for weapons. The next day a large crowd invaded the Hôtel des Invalides and seized thousands of rifles without resistance. Then they moved to the Bastille, an old fortress commanding the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, which had served as a notorious royal prison earlier in the century but was now scheduled fordemolition. Believing that gunpowder was stored there, thecrowd laid siege to the Bastille. Unlike the troops at the Invalides, the Bastille's tiny garrison resisted, a fierce battleerupted, and dozens of Parisians were killed. When the garrison finally capitulated, the irate crowd massacred several of the soldiers. In another part of town two leading royal officials were lynched for their presumed role in the plot against the people. Meanwhile the electors of Paris, who had continued to meet after choosing their deputies to the Estates-General, ousted the royal officials of the city government, formed a revolutionary municipality, and organized a citizens' militia or national guard to patrol the streets. Similar municipal revolutions occurred in 26 of the 30 largest French cities, thus assuring that the capital's defiance would not be an isolated act.

By any standard, the fall of the Bastille to the Parisian crowd was a spectacular symbolic event—a seemingly miraculous triumph of the people against the power of royalarms. The heroism of the crowd and the blood of its martyrs—ordinary Parisian artisans, tradesmen, and workers—sanctified the patriot cause. Most importantly, the elites and the people of Paris had made common cause,despite the inherent distrust and social distance between them. The mythic unity of the Third Estate—endlessly invoked by patriot writers and orators—seemed actually to exist, if only momentarily. Before this awesome material andmoral force Louis XVI capitulated. He did not want civil war inthe streets. The Parisian insurrection of July 14 not only saved the National Assembly from dissolution but altered the course of the Revolution by giving it a far more active,popular, and violent dimension. On July 17 the king traveled to Paris, where he publicly donned a cockade bearing a new combination of colours: white for the Bourbons and blue andred for the city of Paris. This tricolour was to become the new national flag.

The French Revolution and Napoleon, 1789–1815

The destruction of the ancien régime

1789: the convergence of revolutions

Peasant insurgencies

Peasants in the countryside, meanwhile, carried on their own kind of rebellion, which combined traditional aspirationsand anxieties with support of the patriot cause. The peasantrevolt was autonomous, yet it reinforced the urban uprising to the benefit of the National Assembly.

Competition over the ownership and the use of land had intensified in many regions. Peasants owned only about 40 percent of the land (see above Agricultural patterns), leasing or sharecropping the rest from the nobility, the urban middle class, and the church. Population growth and subdivision of the land from generation to generation was reducing the margin of subsistence for many families. Innovations in estate management—the grouping of leaseholds, conversion of arable land to pasture, enclosure of open fields, division of common land at the lord's initiative, discovery of new seigneurial dues or arrears in old ones—exasperated peasant tenants and smallholders. Historians debate whether these were capitalistic innovations or traditional varieties of seigneurial extraction,but in either case the countryside was boiling with discontent over these trends as well as over oppressive royal taxes and food shortages. Peasants were poised between great hopes for the future raised by the calling of the Estates-General and extreme anxiety—fear of losing land, fear of hunger (especially after the catastrophic harvest of 1788), and fear of a vengeful and mighty aristocracy.

In July peasants in several regions sacked the castles of nobles and burned the documents that recorded their feudal obligations. This peasant insurgency eventually merged into the movement known as the Great Fear. Rumours abounded that these vagrants were actually brigands in the pay of nobles, who were marching on villages to destroy the new harvest and coerce the peasants into submission. The fear was baseless, but hundreds of false alarms and panics stirred up hatred and suspicion of nobles, led peasants to arm themselves as best they could, and set off widespread attacks on chateaus and feudal documents. The peasant revolt suggested that the unity of the Third Estate against “aristocrats” extendedfrom Paris to villages across the country. The Third Estate truly seemed invincible.


The abolition of feudalism

Of course the violence of peasant insurgency worried the deputies of the National Assembly; to some it seemed as if the countryside were being engulfed by anarchy that threatened all property. But the majority was unwilling to turn against the rebellious peasants. Instead of denouncing their violence, they tried to appease peasant opinion. Liberal nobles and clergy began the session of August 4th by renouncing their ancient feudal privileges. Within hours the Assembly was propelled into decreeing “the abolition of feudalism” as well as the church tithe, venality of office,regional privilege, and fiscal privilege. A few days later, to besure, the Assembly clarified the August 4th decree to assure that “legitimate” seigneurial property rights were maintained. While personal feudal servitudes such as hunting rights, seigneurial justice, and labour services were suppressed outright, most seigneurial dues were to be abolished only if the peasants paid compensation to their lords, set at 20 to 25 times the annual value of the obligation. The vast majority of peasants rejected that requirement by passive resistance, until pressure built in 1792–93 for the complete abolition of all seigneurial dues without compensation.

The abolition of feudalism was crucial to the evolution of a modern, contractual notion of property and to the development of an unimpeded market in land. But it did not directly affect the ownership of land or the level of ordinaryrents and leases. Seigneurs lost certain kinds of traditional income, but they remained landowners and landlords. While all peasants gained in dignity and status, only the landowning peasants came out substantially ahead economically. Tenant farmers found that what they had once paid for the tithe was added on to their rent. And theAssembly did virtually nothing to assure better lease terms for renters and sharecroppers, let alone their acquisition of the land they tilled.


The French Revolution and Napoleon, 1789–1815

The destruction of the ancien régime

The new regime

By sweeping away the old web of privileges, the August 4thdecree permitted the Assembly to construct a new regime. Since it would take months to draft a constitution, the Assembly on August 27 promulgated its basic principles in a Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. A rallying point for the future, the declaration also stood as the death certificate of the ancien régime. The declaration's authors believed it to have universal significance. “In the new hemisphere, the brave inhabitantsof Philadelphia have given the example of a people who reestablished their liberty,” conceded one deputy, but “France would give that example to the rest of the world.” At the same time the declaration responded to particular circumstances and was thus a calculated mixture of general principles and specific concerns. Its concept of natural rightsmeant that the Revolution would not be bound by history and tradition but could reshape the contours of society according to reason—a position vehemently denounced by Edmund Burke in England.

The very first article of the declaration resoundingly challenged Europe's old order by affirming that “men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be based only on common utility.” Most of its articles concerned individual liberty, but the declaration's emphasisfell equally on the prerogatives of the state as expressed through law. (Considering how drastically the erstwhile delegates to the Estates-General had exceeded their mandates, they certainly needed to underscore the legitimacy of their new government and its laws.) The declaration, and subsequent revolutionary constitutions, channeled the sovereignty of the nation into representative government, thereby negating claims by parlements, provincial estates, or divine-right monarchs as well as any conception of direct democracy. Though the declaration affirmed the separation of powers, by making noprovision for a supreme court, it effectively left the French legislature as the ultimate judge of its own actions. The declaration defined liberty as “the ability to do whatever does not harm another . . . whose limits can only be determined by law.” The same limitation by positive law was attached to specific liberties, such as freedom from arbitrary arrest, freedom of expression, and freedom of religious conscience. The men of 1789 believed deeply in these liberties, yet they did not establish them in autonomous, absolute terms that would insure their sanctity under any circumstances.


Restructuring France

From 1789 to 1791 the National Assembly acted as a constituent assembly, drafting a constitution for the new regime while also governing from day to day. The constitution established a limited monarchy, with a clear separation of powers in which the king was to name and dismiss his ministers. But sovereignty effectively resided in the legislative branch, to consist of a single house, the Legislative Assembly, elected by a system of indirect voting.(“The people or the nation can have only one voice, that of the national legislature,” wrote Sieyès. “The people can speak and act only through its representatives.”) Besides failing to win a bicameral system, the moderate Anglophile, or monarchien, faction lost a bitter debate on the king's vetopower: the Assembly granted the king only a suspensive or delaying veto over legislation; if a bill passed the Legislative Assembly in three successive years, it would become law even without royal approval.

Dismayed at what he deemed the ill-considered radicalism of such decisions, Jean-Joseph Mounier, a leading patriot deputy in the summer of 1789 and author of the Tennis Court Oath, resigned from the Assembly in October. In a similar vein, some contemporary historians (notably François Furet) have suggested that the Assembly's integralconcept of national sovereignty and legislative supremacy effectively reestablished absolutism in a new guise, providing the new government with inherently unlimited powers. Nor, they believe, is it surprising that the revolutionaries abused those powers as their pursuit of utopian goals encountered resistance. In theory this may well be true, but it must be balanced against the actual institutions created to implement those powers and the spirit in which they were used. With a few exceptions—notably the religious issue—the National Assembly acted in a liberal spirit, more pragmatic than utopian, and was decidedly more constructive than repressive.

The revolutionaries took civil equality seriously but created a limited definition of political rights. They effectively transferred political power from the monarchy and the privileged estates to the general body of propertiedcitizens. Nobles lost their privileges in 1789 and their titles in 1790, but as propertied individuals they could readily join the new political elite. The constitution restricted the franchise to “active” citizens who paid a minimal sum in taxes, with higher property qualifications for eligibility for public office (a direct tax payment equivalent to three days' wages for voting and 10 days' wages for electors and officeholders). Under this system about two-thirds of adult males had the right to vote for electors and to choose certain local officials directly. Although it favoured wealthier citizens, the system was vastly more democratic than Britain's.

Predictably, the franchise did not extend to women, despite delegations and pamphlets advocating women's rights. The Assembly responded brusquely that, because women were too emotional and easily misled, they must be kept out of public life and devote themselves to their nurturing and maternal roles. But the formal exclusion of women from politics did not keep them on the sidelines. Women were active combatants in local conflicts that soon erupted over religious policy, and they agitated over subsistence issues—Parisian women, for example, made a mass march toVersailles in October that forced the king to move back to the capital. In the towns, they formed auxiliaries to local Jacobin clubs and even a handful of independent women's clubs, participated in civic festivals, and did public relief work.


The Assembly's design for local government and administration proved to be one of the Revolution's most durable legacies. Obliterating the political identity of France's historic provinces, the deputies redivided the nation's territory into 83 départements of roughly equal size. Unlike the old provinces, each department would haveexactly the same institutions; departments were in turn subdivided into districts, cantons, and communes (the common designation for a village or town). On the one hand, this administrative transformation promoted decentralization and local autonomy: citizens of each department,district, and commune elected their own local officials. On the other hand, these local governments were subordinated to the national legislatureand ministries in Paris. The departments therefore became instruments of national uniformity and integration, which is to say, centralization. This ambiguity the legislators fully appreciated, assuming that a healthy equilibrium could be maintained between the two tendencies. That the revolutionary government of 1793 and Napoleon later used these structures to concentrate power from the centrewas not something they could anticipate.

The new administrative map also created the parameters for judicial reform. Sweeping away the entire judicial systemof the ancien régime, the revolutionaries established a civil court in each district and a criminal court in each department. At the grass roots they replaced seigneurial justice with a justice of the peace in each canton. Judges on all these tribunals were to be elected. While rejecting the use of juries in civil cases, the Assembly decreed that felonies would be tried by juries; if a jury convicted, judges would merely apply the mandatory sentences set out in theAssembly's tough new penal code of 1791. Criminal defendants also gained the right to counsel, which had beendenied them under the jurisprudence of the ancien régime.In civil law, the Assembly encouraged arbitration and mediation to avoid the time-consuming and costly processes of formal litigation. In general, the revolutionaries hoped to make the administration of justice more accessible and expeditious.

Guided by laissez-faire doctrine and its hostility to privileged corporations, the Assembly sought to open up economic life to unimpeded individual initiative and competition. Besides proclaiming the right of all citizens to enter any trade and conduct it as they saw fit, the Assemblydismantled internal tariffs and chartered trading monopoliesand abolished the guilds of merchants and artisans. Insisting that workers must bargain in the economic marketplace as individuals, the Le Chapelier Law of June 1791 banned workers' associations and strikes. The precepts of economic individualism extended to rural life as well. In theory, peasants and landlords were now free to cultivate their fields as they wished, regardless of traditional collective routines and constraints. In practice, however, communal restraints proved to be deep-rooted andresistant to legal abolition.



The French Revolution and Napoleon, 1789–1815

The destruction of the ancien régime

The new regime

Sale of national lands

The Assembly had not lost sight of the financial crisis that precipitated the collapse of absolutism in the first place. Creating an entirely new option for its solution, the Assembly voted to place church property—about 10 percent of the land in France—“at the disposition of the nation.” This property was designated as biens nationaux, or national lands. The government then issued large-denomination notes called assignats, underwritten andguaranteed by the value of that land. It intended to sell off national lands to the public, which would pay for it in assignats that would then be retired. Thus church property would in effect pay off the national debt and obviate the need for further loans. Unfortunately the temptation to print additional assignats proved too great. Within a year the assignat evolved into a paper currency in small and large denominations, with sharp inflationary effects.

As the national lands went on sale, fiscal needs took priorityover social policy. Sales were arranged in large lots and at auction in the district capitals—procedures that favoured wealthier buyers. True, for about a year in 1793–94, after émigré property was added to the biens nationaux, large lots were divided into small parcels. In addition, small peasants acquired some of this land through resale by the original buyers. But overall the urban middle classes and large-scale peasants emerged with the bulk of this land, to the intense frustration of small peasants. The French historian Georges Lefebvre's study of the Nord department, for example, found that 7,500 bourgeois purchased 48 percent of the land, while 20,300 peasants bought 52 percent. But the top 10 percent of these peasant purchasers accounted for 60 percent of the peasants' total. Whatever the social origins of the buyers, however, they were likely to be reliable supporters of the Revolution if only to guarantee the security of their new acquisitions.


Seeds of discord

Security could not be taken for granted, however, because the Revolution progressively alienated or disappointed important elements of French society. Among the elites, opposition began almost immediately when some of the king's close relatives left the country in disgust after July 14,thus becoming the first émigrés. Each turning point in the Revolution touched off new waves of emigration, especially among the nobility. By 1792 an estimated two-thirds of the royal officer corps had resigned their commissions and most had left the country. A contentious royalist press bitterly denounced the policies of the Assembly as spoliation and the revolutionary atmosphere as a form of anarchy. Abroad, widespread enthusiasm for the events in France among the general public from London to Vienna was matched by intense hostility in ruling circles, fearful of revolutionary contagion within their own borders.

After the first months of solidarity, long-standing urban-rural tensions took on new force. Though peasants might vote in large numbers, the urban middle classes predictably emerged with the lion's share of the new district and departmental offices after the first elections of 1790. Administrative and judicial reform gave these local officials more powers for intrusion into rural society than royal officials ever had, with battalions of armed national guards to back them up. Peasants might easily view urban revolutionary elites as battening on political power and national lands. And, while the Assembly made the tax system more uniform and equitable, direct taxes remained heavy and in formerly privileged regions actually rose, whilenothing was done to relieve the plight of tenant farmers. Later, when the revolutionary government sought to draft young men into the army, another grievance was added to the list.



The French Revolution and Napoleon, 1789–1815

The destruction of the ancien régime

Seeds of discord

Religious tensions

But it was religious policy that most divided French society and generated opposition to the Revolution. Most priests had initially hoped that sweeping reform might return RomanCatholicism to its basic ideals, shorn of aristocratic trappingsand superfluous privileges, but they assumed that the church itself would collaborate in the process. In the Assembly's view, however, nationalization of church property gave the state responsibility for regulating the church's temporal affairs, such as salaries, jurisdictional boundaries, and modes of clerical appointment. On its own authority the Assembly reduced the number of dioceses and realigned their boundaries to coincide with the new departments, while requesting local authorities to redraw parish boundaries in conformity with population patterns. Under its Civil Constitution of the Clergy (July 1790) bishops were to be elected by departmental electoral assemblies, while parish priests were to be chosen by electors in the districts. Clerical spokesmen deplored the notion of lay authority in such matters and insisted that the Assembly must negotiate reforms with a national church council.

In November 1790 the Assembly forced the issue by requiring all sitting bishops and priests to take an oath of submission. Those who refused would lose their posts, be pensioned off, and replaced by the prescribed procedures. Throughout France a mere seven bishops complied, while only 54 percent of the parish clergy took the oath. Contrary to the Assembly's hopes, the clergy had split in two, with “constitutional” priests on one side and “refractory” priests on the other. Regional patterns accentuated this division: in the west of France, where clerical density was unusually high, only 15 percent of the clergy complied.

The schism quickly engulfed the laity. As refractories and constitutionals vied for popular support against their rivals, parishioners could not remain neutral. Intense local discord erupted over the implementation of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. District administrations backed by urban national guards intervened to install “outsiders” chosen to replace familiar or even beloved refractory priests in many parishes; villagers responded by badgering or boycotting the hapless priests who took the oath. Opinion on both sides tended to fateful extremes, linking either the Revolution with impiety or the Roman Catholic church withcounterrevolution.

Political tensions
The political life of the new regime was also proving more contentious than the revolutionaries had anticipated. With courage and consistency, the Assembly had provided that officials of all kinds be elected. But it was uncertain whether these officials, once the ballots were cast, could do their duty free from public pressure and agitation. Nor was it clear what the role of “public opinion” and the mechanisms for its expression would be. The spectacular development of a free press and political clubs provided an answer. Fearful that these extraparliamentary institutions could be abused by demagogues, the Assembly tried to curbthem from time to time but to no avail. Freed entirely from royal censorship, writers and publishers rushed to satisfy the appetite for news and political opinion. The first journalists included deputies reporting to their constituentsby means of a newspaper. Paris, which had only four quasi-official newspapers at the start of 1789, saw more than 130 new periodicals by the end of the year, most admittedly short-lived, including 20 dailies. As the journalistJacques-Pierre Brissot put it, newspapers are “the only way of educating a large nation unaccustomed to freedom or to reading, yet looking to free itself from ignorance.” Provincial publishers were as quick to found new periodicals in the larger towns. Bordeaux, for example, had only one newspaper in 1789, but 16 appeared within the next two years. While some papers remained bland and politically neutral, many had strong political opinions.

Like the National Assembly, revolutionary clubs also began at Versailles, when patriot deputies rallied to a caucusof outspoken Third Estate deputies from Brittany. This Breton Club, complete with by-laws, minutes, committees, correspondence, and membership requirements, began to call itself “The Society of the Friends of the Constitution.” Soon it was known as the Jacobin Club, after the Dominican convent where the club met when the assembly transferredto Paris in October. Most prominent revolutionaries belonged to the Jacobin Club, from constitutional royalists such as Mirabeau, Lafayette, and Barnave to radicals like Brissot, Pétion, and Robespierre. By mid-1791, however, moderates became uncomfortable at the Jacobin Club, where Maximilien Robespierre was emerging as a dominant figure.

The Jacobin Club was pushed from the left by the Cordeliers Club, one of the neighbourhood clubs in the capital. The Cordeliers militants rejected the Assembly's concept of representation as the exclusive expression of popular sovereignty. They held to a more direct vision of popular sovereignty as relentless vigilance and participationby citizens through demonstrations, petitions, deputations, and if necessary insurrection. In his newspaper L'Ami du peuple (“The Friend of the People”) Jean-Paul Marat injected an extreme rhetoric about alleged conspiracies and the need for violence against counterrevolutionaries that exceeded anything heard in the Assembly's political discourse.

Like the press, clubs quickly spread in the provinces. Building no doubt on old-regime patterns of sociability—reading clubs, Freemasonry, or confraternities—political clubs became a prime vehicle for participation in the Revolution. More than 300 towns had clubs by the end of 1790, and 900 by mid-1791. Later clubs spread to the villages as well: a study has counted 5,000 localities that had clubs at one time or another between 1790and 1795. Many clubs affiliated with the Paris Jacobin Club, the “mother club,” in an informal nationwide network. Most began with membership limited to the middle class and a sprinkling of liberal nobles, but gradually artisans, shopkeepers, and peasants joined the rolls. Initially the clubs promoted civic education and publicized the Assembly's reforms. But some became more activist, seeking to influence political decisions with petitions, to exercise surveillance over constituted authorities, and to denounce those they deemed remiss.

By 1791 the assembly found itself in a cross-fire between the machinations of counterrevolutionaries—émigrés, royalist newspapers, refractory clergy—and the denunciations of radicals. Its ability to steer a stable course depended in part on the cooperation of the king. Publicly Louis XVI distanced himself from his émigré relatives, but privately he was in league with them and secretly corresponded with the royal houses of Spain and Austria to enlist their support. On June 21, 1791, the royal family attempted to flee its “captivity” in the Tuileries Palace and escape across the Belgian border. Rashly, Louis left behind a letter revealing his utter hostility to the Revolution. At the last minute, however, the king was recognized at the town of Varennes near the border, and the royal party was forcibly returned to Paris.

A great crisis for the Revolution ensued. While the Assembly reinforced the frontiers by calling for 100,000 volunteers from the national guard, its moderate leaders hoped that this fiasco would end Louis's opposition once and for all. In order to preserve their constitutional compromise, they turned a blind eye to the king's manifest treason by inventing the fiction that he had been kidnapped. As Antoine Barnave put it: “Are we or are we not going to terminate the Revolution? Or are we going to start it all over again?” Outside the Assembly, however, Jacobins and Cordeliers launched a petition campaign against reinstating the king. A mass demonstration on July 17 at the Champ de Mars against the king ended in a bloody riot, as the authorities called out the national guard under Lafayette's command to disperse the demonstrators. This precipitated vehement recriminations in the Jacobin Club, which finally split apart under the pressure. The mass of moderate deputies abandoned the club to a rump of radicals and formed a new association called the Feuillant Club. Under the leadership of Robespierre and Jérôme Pétion (who later became mortal enemies), the purged Jacobin Club rallied most provincial clubs and emerged from the crisis with a more unified, radical point of view. For the time being, however, the moderates prevailed in the Assembly. They completed the Constitution of 1791, and on the last day of September 1791 the National Assembly dissolved itself, having previously decreed the ineligibility of its members for the new Legislative Assembly.

When the newly elected Legislative Assembly convened in October, the question of counterrevolution dominated itsproceedings. Jacobin deputies like Brissot argued that only war against the émigré army gathering at Coblenz across the Rhine could end the threat: “Do you wish at one blow to destroy the aristocracy, the refractory priests, and the malcontents: then destroy Coblenz.” Whereas the Feuillants opposed this war fever, Lafayette saw a successful military campaign as a way to gain power, while the king's circle believed that war would bring military defeat to France and a restoration of royal authority. On the other side, the Habsburg monarch, Leopold II, had resisted the pleas of his sister Marie-Antoinette and opposed intervention against France, but his death in March 1792 brought his bellicose son Francis II to the throne and the stage was set for war.

In April 1792 France went to war against a coalition of Austria, Prussia, and the émigrés. Each camp expected rapidvictory, but both were disappointed. The allies repulsed a French offensive and soon invaded French territory. The Legislative Assembly called for a new levy of 100,000 military volunteers, but, when it voted to incarcerate refractory clergy, the king vetoed the decree. Though manyFrenchmen remained respectful of the king, the most vocal elements of public opinion denounced Louis and demonstrated against him; but the Legislative Assembly refused to act. As Prussian forces drove toward Paris, their commander, the Duke of Brunswick, proclaimed his aim of restoring the full authority of the monarchy and warned that any action against the king would bring down “exemplary and memorable vengeance” against the capital. Far from terrifying the Parisians, the Brunswick Manifesto enraged them and drove them into decisive action.

Militants in the Paris Commune, the revolutionary government of Paris set up by the capital's 48 wards or sections, gave the Legislative Assembly a deadline in whichto suspend the king. When it passed unheeded, they organized an insurrection. On Aug. 10, 1792, a huge crowd of armed Parisians stormed the royal palace after a fierce battle with the garrison. The Legislative Assembly then had no choice but to declare the king suspended. That night more than half the deputies themselves fled Paris, for theLegislative Assembly too had lost its mandate. Those who remained ordered the election by universal male suffrage ofa National Convention. It would judge the king, draft a new republican constitution, and govern France during the emergency. The Constitution of 1791 had lasted less than a year, and the second revolution dreaded by the Feuillantshad begun.



The French Revolution and Napoleon, 1789–1815

The First French Republic

The second revolution

The insurrection of Aug. 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 like 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 itscourse, though soon political rivals were accusing each otherof instigating the massacres. In a different vein, Robespierreamong 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 endthe 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 impressionthat certain deputies were frantic to save the king's life, andtheir 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 Jan. 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.


A republic in crisis

By the spring of 1793, however, the republic was beleaguered. In the second round of the war, the coalition—now reinforced by Spain, Piedmont, and Britain—routed French forces in the Austrian Netherlands and the Rhineland and breached the Pyrenees. Fighting on five different fronts and bereft of effective leadership, French armies seemed to be losing everywhere. Even General Charles-François Dumouriez, the hero of the first Netherlands campaign, had gone over to the enemy in April after quarreling with the Convention. Meanwhile, civil war had broken out within France. Rural disaffection in western France, especially over the religious question referred to earlier, had been building steadily, leaving republicans in the region's cities and small towns an unpopular and vulnerable minority. Rural rage finally erupted into armed rebellion when in March 1793 the Convention decreed that each department must produce a quota of citizens for the army. In four departments south of the Loire River the Vendée rebellion began with assaults on the towns and the massacre of patriots. Gradually royalist nobles assumed theleadership of the peasants and weavers who had risen on their own initiative. Forging them into a “Catholic and Royalist Army,” they hoped to overthrow the republic and restore the Bourbons.

The Convention could take no comfort from the economic situation either. An accelerating depreciation of the assignats compounded severe shortages of grain and flour in1793. Inflation, scarcity, and hoarding made life unbearable for the urban masses and hampered efforts to provision therepublic's armies. In reaction to such economic hardships and to the advance of antirepublican forces at the frontiers and within France, Parisian radicals clamoured relentlessly for decisive action such as price controls and the repressionof counterrevolutionaries.



The French Revolution and Napoleon, 1789–1815

The First French Republic

Girondins and Montagnards

The Convention, however, was bitterly divided almost to the point of paralysis. From the opening day, two outspokengroups of deputies vied for the support of their less factional colleagues. The roots of this rivalry lay in a conflictbetween Robespierre and Brissot for leadership of the Jacobin Club in the spring and summer of 1792. At that time Robespierre had argued almost alone against the war that Brissot passionately advocated. Later, when the war went badly and the Brissotins, anxious to wield executive power, acted equivocally in their relations with the king, the Jacobins turned on them. Brissot was formally expelled fromthe club in October, but his expulsion merely formalized a division that had already crystallized during the elections tothe Convention in the previous month.

The Paris electoral assembly sent Robespierre, Marat, Georges-Jacques Danton, and other stalwarts of the Paris Commune and the Jacobin Club to the Convention, while systematically rejecting Brissot and his allies such as the former mayor of Paris, Pétion. The Parisian deputies and their provincial supporters, numbering between 200 and 300 (depending on which historian's taxonomy one accepts),took seats on the Convention's upper benches and came to be known as the Montagnards, or the Mountain.

Supported by a network of journalists and by politicians suchas Interior Minister Jean-Marie Roland, however, the Brissotins retained their popularity in the provinces and were returned as deputies by other departments. In the Convention the Brissotin group included most deputies fromthe department of the Gironde, and the group came to be known by their opponents as the Girondins. The inner core of this loose faction, who often socialized in Jeanne-Marie Roland's salon, numbered about 60, and with their supporters perhaps 150 to 175.

At bottom the Girondin-Montagnard conflict stemmed from a clash of personalities and ambitions. Over the years, historians have made the case for each side by arguing that their opponents constituted the truly aggressive or obstructive minority seeking to dominate the Convention. Clearly most deputies were put off by the bitter personal attacks that regularly intruded on their deliberations. The two factions differed most over the role of Paris and the best way to deal with popular demands. Though of similar middle-class background as their rivals, the Montagnards sympathized more readily with the sansculottes (the local activists) of the capital and proved temperamentally bolder in their response to economic, military, and political problems. United by an extreme hostility to Parisian militance, the Girondins never forgave the Paris Commune for its inquisitorial activity after August 10. Indeed, some Girondins did not feel physically secure in the capital. Theyalso appeared more committed to political and economic liberties and therefore less willing to adopt extreme revolutionary measures no matter how dire the circumstances. Ready to set aside similar constitutional scruples, the Montagnards tailored their policies to the imperatives of “revolutionary necessity” and unity.

While the Girondins repeatedly attacked Parisian militants—at one point demanding the dissolution of the Paris Commune and the arrest of its leaders—the Montagnards gradually forged an informal alliance with the sansculottes. Similarly, the Montagnards supported deputies sent on mission to the departments when they clashed with locally elected officials, while the Girondins tended to back the officials. The Montagnards therefore alienated many moderate republicans in the provinces. As deputies of the centre, or “Plain,” such as Bertrand Barère, vainly tried to mediate between the two sides, the convention navigated through this factionalism as best it could and improvised new responses to the crisis: a revolutionary tribunal to try political crimes; local surveillance committees to seek out subversives; and a Committee of Public Safety to coordinate measures of revolutionary defense. By the end of May 1793 a majority seemed ready to support the Mountain.

Believing that the Girondins had betrayed and endangered the republic, the Paris sections (with the connivance of theMontagnards and the Paris Jacobin Club) demanded in petitions that the Convention expel the “perfidious deputies.” On May 31 they mounted a mass demonstration and on June 2 forced a showdown by deploying armed national guards around the convention's hall. Backed by a huge crowd of unarmed men and women, their solid phalanxof fixed bayonets made it impossible for the deputies to leave without risking serious violence. Inside, the Montagnards applauded this insurrection as an expression of popular sovereignty, akin to that of July 14 or August 10. When the people thus spoke directly, they argued, its deputies had no choice but to comply. Centrists did everything they could to avoid a purge but in the end decided that only this fateful act could preserve the Revolution's unity. Barère composed a report to the French people justifying the expulsion of 29 Girondins. Later 120 deputies who signed a protest against the purge were themselves suspended from the Convention, and in October the original Girondins stood trial before the revolutionary tribunal, which sentenced them to death. The Montagnard ascendancy had begun.

Though the deadlock in the Convention was now broken, the balance of forces in the country was by no means clear. The Parisian sansculottes might well continue to intimidate the convention and emerge as the dominant partner in their alliance with the Montagnards—just as Girondin orators had warned. Conversely, provincial opinion might rebel against this mutilation of the National Convention by Paris and its Montagnard partisans. Purged of the Girondins,the Convention itself could reach consensus more readily, but the nation as a whole was more divided than ever.

At first it seemed as if the expulsion of the Girondins would indeed backfire. More than half of the departmental directories protested against the Convention's purge. But, faced with the pleas for unity and the threats from the Convention, most of this opposition subsided quickly. Only 13 departments continued their defiant stance, and only 6 of these passed into overt armed rebellion against the Convention's authority. Still, this was a serious threat in a country already beleaguered by civil war and military reversals. The Jacobins stigmatized this new opposition as the heresy of federalism—implying that the “federalists” no longer believed in a unified republic. Jacobin propaganda depicted the federalists as counterrevolutionaries. In fact, most were moderate republicans hostile to the royalists andcommitted to constitutional liberties. They did not intend to overthrow the republic or separate from it. Rather they hoped to wrest power back from what they deemed the tyrannical alliance of Montagnards and Parisian sansculottes.

In Lyon, Marseille, Toulon, and Bordeaux, bitter conflicts between local moderates and Jacobins contributed decisively to the rebellion. Uprisings in Lyon and Marseille (France's second- and third-largest cities) began in late May when moderates seized power from local Jacobin authorities who had threatened their lives and property—Jacobins like the firebrand Marie-Joseph Chalier in Lyon who was supported by Montagnard representatives-on-mission. The expulsion of the Girondins was merely the last straw. Whatever its causes, however, “federalist” rebellion did threaten national unity and the Convention's sovereign authority. Royalists, moreover, did gain control of the movement in Toulon and opened that port to the British. Holding out no offer of negotiation, the Convention organized military force to crush the rebellions and promised the leaders exemplary punishment. “Lyon has made war against liberty,” declared the Convention; “Lyon no longer exists.” When the republic's forces recaptured the city in October, they changed its name to “Liberated City,” demolished the houses of the wealthy, and summarily executed more than 2,000 Lyonnais, including many wealthy merchants.


The Reign of Terror

After their victory in expelling the Girondins, Parisian militants “regenerated” their own sectional assemblies by purging local moderates, while radicals like Jacques-René Hébert and Pierre-Gaspard Chaumette tightened their grip on the Paris Commune. On Sept. 5, 1793, they mounted another mass demonstration to demand that the Convention assure food at affordable prices and “place terror on the order of the day.” Led by its Committee of Public Safety, the Convention placated the popular movement with decisive actions. It proclaimed the need for terror against the Revolution's enemies, made economic crimes such as hoarding into capital offenses, and decreed a system of price and wage controls known as the maximum. The Law of Suspects empowered local revolutionary committees to arrest “those who by their conduct, relations or language spoken or written, have shown themselves partisans of tyranny or federalism and enemies of liberty.” In1793–94 well over 200,000 citizens were detained under this law; though most of them never stood trial, they languished in pestiferous jails, where an estimated 10,000 perished. About 17,000 death sentences were handed down by the military commissions and revolutionary tribunals of the Terror, 72 percent for charges of armed rebellion in the two major zones of civil war—the federalist southeast and the western Vendée region. One-third of the departments, however, had fewer than 10 death sentences passed on their inhabitants and were relatively tranquil.

To help police the maximum and requisition grain in the countryside, as well as to carry out arrest warrants and guardpolitical prisoners, the Convention authorized local authorities to create paramilitary forces. About 50 such armées révolutionnaires came into being as ambulatory instruments of the Terror in the provinces. Fraternizing withpeasants and artisans in the hinterland, these forces helped raise revolutionary enthusiasm but ultimately left such village sansculottes vulnerable to the wrath of the wealthy citizens whom they harassed.

Back in June the Convention had quickly drafted a new democratic constitution, incorporating such popular demands as universal male suffrage, the right to subsistence, and the right to free public education. In a referendum this Jacobin constitution of 1793 was approved virtually without dissent by about two million voters. Because of the emergency, however, the Convention placed the new constitution on the shelf in October and declared that “the provisional government of France is revolutionary until the peace.” There would be no elections, no local autonomy, no guarantees of individual liberties for the duration of the emergency. The Conventionwould rule with a sovereignty more absolute than the old monarchy had ever claimed. Nor would serious popular protest be tolerated any longer, now that the Jacobins had used such intervention to secure power. The balance in the alliance between Montagnards and sansculottes gradually shifted from the streets of Paris to the halls and committee rooms of the Convention.

From the beginning a popular terrorist mentality had helped shape the Revolution. Peasants and townspeople alike had been galvanized by fear and rage over “aristocratic plots” in 1789. Lynchings of “enemies of the people” punctuated the Revolution, culminating in the September massacres, which reflected an extreme fear of betrayal and an unbridled punitive will. Now the Revolution's leaders were preempting this punitive will in order to control it: they conceived of terror as rational rather than emotional and as organized rather than instinctive. Paradoxically they were trying to render terror lawful—legality being an article of faith among most revolutionaries—but without the procedural safeguards that accompanied the regular criminal code of 1791.

For the more pragmatic Montagnards that deviation was justified by the unparalleled emergency situation confronting France in 1793: before the benefits of the Revolution could be enjoyed, they must be secured against their enemies by force. (“Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible . . . . Is force made only to protect crime?” declared Robespierre.) For the more ideologically exalted Jacobins like Robespierre and Saint-Just, however, the terror would also regenerate the nation by promoting equality and the public interest. In their minds a link existed between terror and virtue: “virtue,without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is powerless.” Whoever could claim to speak for the interests of the people held the mantle of virtue and the power of revolutionary terror.


The French Revolution and Napoleon, 1789–1815

The First French Republic

The Jacobin dictatorship

The Convention consolidated its revolutionary government in the Law of 14 Frimaire Year II (Dec. 4, 1793; for a discussion of the Revolutionary calendar, see below). To organize the Revolution, to promote confidenceand compliance, efficiency and control, this law centralized authority in a parliamentary dictatorship, with the Committee of Public Safety at the helm. The committee already controlled military policy and patronage; henceforthlocal administrators (renamed national agents), tribunals, and revolutionary committees also came under its scrutiny and control. The network of Jacobin clubs was enlisted to monitor local officials, nominate new appointees,and in general to serve as “arsenals of public opinion.”

Opposed to “ultrarevolutionary” behaviour and uncoordinated actions even by its own deputies-on-mission, the committee tried to stop the dechristianization campaigns that had erupted during the anarchic phase of the Terror in the fall of 1793. Usually instigated by radical deputies, the dechristianizers vandalized churches or closed them down altogether, intimidated constitutional priests into resigning their vocation, and often pressured them into marrying to demonstrate the sincerity of their conversion. Favouring a diestic form of civil religion, Robespierre implied that the atheism displayed by some dechristianizers was a variant of counterrevolution. He insisted that citizens must be left free to practice the Roman Catholic religion, though for the time being most priests were not holding services.

The committee also felt strong enough a few months later tocurb the activism of the Paris sections, dissolve the armées révolutionnaires, and purge the Paris Commune—ironically what the Girondins had hoped to do months before. But in this atmosphere no serious dissent to official policy was tolerated. The once vibrant free press hadbeen muzzled after the purge of the Girondins. In March 1794 Hébert and other “ultrarevolutionaries” were arrested, sent to the revolutionary tribunal, and guillotined. A month later Danton and other so-called “indulgents” met the same fate for seeking to end the Terror—prematurely inthe eyes of the committee. Then the Convention passed the infamous law of 22 Prairial Year II (June 10, 1794) to streamline revolutionary justice, denying the accused any effective right to self-defense and eliminating all sentences other than acquittal or death. Indictments by the public prosecutor, now virtually tantamount to a death sentence, multiplied rapidly.

The Terror was being escalated just when danger no longer threatened the republic—after French armies had prevailed against Austria at the decisive Battle of Fleurus on June 26 and long after rebel forces in the Vendée, Lyon, and elsewhere had been vanquished. By June 1794 the Jacobin dictatorship had forged an effective government andhad mobilized the nation's resources, thereby mastering the crisis that had brought it into being. Yet, on 8 Thermidor, Robespierre took the rostrum to proclaim his own probity and to denounce yet another unnamed group as traitors hatching “a conspiracy against liberty.” Robespierre had clearly lost his grip on reality in his obsession with national unity and virtue. An awkward coalition of moderates, Jacobin pragmatists, rival deputies, and extremists who rightly felt threatened by the Incorruptible (as he was known) finally combined to topple Robespierre and his closest followers. On 9 Thermidor (July 27, 1794) the Convention ordered the arrest of Robespierre and Saint-Just, and, after a failed resistance by loyalists in the Paris Commune, they were guillotined without trial the following day. The Terror was over.


The Army of the Republic

The Jacobin dictatorship had been an unstable blend of exalted patriotism, resolute political leadership, ideological fanaticism, and populist initiatives. The rhetoric and symbolism of democracy constituted a new civic pedagogy, matched by bold egalitarian policies. The army was a primary focal point of this democratic impetus. Back in 1790 the National Assembly had opted for a small military of long-term professionals. One-year volunteers bolstered the line army after the outbreak of war, and in March 1793 the convention called for an additional 300,000 soldiers, with quotas to be provided by each department. Finally, in August1793 it decreed the lévee en masse—a “requisition” of all able-bodied, unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 25. Despite massive draft evasion and desertion, within a year almost three-quarters of a million men were under arms, the citizen-soldiers merged with line-army troops in new units called demibrigades. This huge popular mobilization reinforced the revolution's militant spirit. The citizen-soldiers risking their lives at the front had to be supported by any and all means back home, including forced loans on the rich and punitive vigilance against those suspected of disloyalty.

Within the constraints of military discipline, the army became a model of democratic practice. Both noncommissioned and commissioned officers were chosen by a combination of election and appointment, in which seniority received some consideration, but demonstrated talent on the battlefield brought the most rapid promotion. The republic insisted that officers be respectful toward their men and share their privations. Jacobin military prosecutors enforced the laws against insubordination and desertion but took great pains to explain them to the soldiers and to make allowances for momentary weakness indeciding cases. Soldiers received revolutionary newspapers and sang revolutionary songs, exalting the citizen-soldier as the model sansculotte. Meanwhile, needy parents, wives, or dependents of soldiers at the front received subsidies, while common soldiers seriously wounded in action earned extremely generous veterans' benefits.

The Revolution's egalitarian promise never involved an assault on private property, but its concept of “social limitations” on property made it possible for the Conventionto abolish all seigneurial dues without compensation, abolish slavery in the colonies (where slave rebellions had already achieved that result in practice), endorse the idea ofprogressive taxation, and temporarily regulate the economyin favour of consumers. In 1793–94 the Convention enacted an unprecedented national system of public assistance entitlements, with one program allocating small pensions to poor families with dependent children and another providing pensions to aged and indigent farm workers, artisans, and rural widows—the neediest of the needy. “We must put an end to the servitude of the most basic needs, the slavery ofmisery, that most hideous of inequalities,” declared Bertrand Barère of the Committee of Public Safety. The Convention also implemented the Revolution's long-standing commitment to primary education with a system of free public primary schooling for both boys and girls. The Lakanal Law of November 1794 authorized public schools in every commune with more than 1,000 inhabitants, the teachers to be selected by examination and paid fixed salaries by the government.



The French Revolution and Napoleon, 1789–1815

The First French Republic

The Thermidorian reaction

With control passing from the Montagnards after Robespierre's fall, moderates in the convention hoped to put the Terror and sansculotte militance behind them while standing fast against counterrevolution and rallying all patriots around the original principles of the Revolution. But far from stabilizing the Revolution, the fall of “the tyrant” on 9 Thermidor set in motion a brutal struggle for power. Those who had suffered under the Terror now clamoured for retribution, and moderation quickly gave way to reaction. As federalists were released, Jacobins were arrested; as the suspended Girondins were reinstated, Montagnards were purged; as moderates could feel safe, Jacobins and sansculottes were threatened. Like the Terror, the Thermidorian reaction had an uncontrollable momentum of its own. Antiterrorism—in the press, the theatre, the streets—degenerated into a “white terror” against the men of the Year II. In the south, especially in Provence and the Rhône valley, the frontier between private feuds and political reaction blurred as law and order broke down. Accounts were settled by lynchings, murder gangs, and prison massacres of arrested sansculottes.

Alongside this political reaction, Thermidor set off a new economic and monetary crisis. Committed to free-trade principles, the Thermidorians dismantled the economic regulation and price controls of the Year II, along with the apparatus of the Terror that had put teeth into that system. The depreciation of the assignats, which the Terror had halted, quickly resumed. By 1795 the cities were desperately short of grain and flour, while meat, fuel, dairy products, and soap were entirely beyond the reach of ordinary consumers. By the spring of 1795 scarcity was turning into famine for working people of the capital and other cities. Surviving cadres of sansculottes in the Paris sections mobilized to halt the reaction and the economic catastrophe it had unleashed. After trying petitions and demonstrations, a crowd of sansculottes invaded the Convention on 1 Prairial Year III (May 20, 1795) in what was to prove the last popular uprising of the French Revolution. “Bread is the goal of their insurrection, physically speaking,” reported a police observer, “but the Constitution of 1793 is its soul.” This rear-guard rebellion of despair was doomed to fail, despite the support of a few remaining Montagnard deputies, whose fraternization with the demonstrators was to cost them their lives after the insurgents were routed the following day.

Instead of implementing the democratic Constitution of 1793, the Thermidorian Convention was preparing a new, more conservative charter. Anti-Jacobin and antiroyalist, theThermidorians clung to the elusive centre of the political spectrum. Their constitution of 1795 (Year III) established a liberal republic with a franchise based on the payment of taxes similar to that of 1791, a two-house legislature to slow down the legislative process, and a five-man executive Directory to be chosen by the legislature. Within a liberal framework, the central government retained great power, including emergency powers to curb freedom of the press and freedom of association. Departmental and municipal administrators were to be elected but could be removed by the Directory, and commissioners appointed by the Directory were to monitor them and report on their compliance with the laws.


The Directory

The new regime, referred to as the Directory, began auspiciously in October 1795 with a successful constitutional plebiscite and a general amnesty for political prisoners. But as one of its final acts the Convention added the “Two-thirds Decree” to the package, requiring for the sake of continuity that two-thirds of its deputies must sit by right in the new legislature regardless of voting in the departments. This outraged conservatives and royalists hoping to regain power legally, but their armed uprising in Paris was easily suppressed by the army. The Directory also weathered a conspiracy on the far left by a cabal of unreconciled militants organized around a program of communistic equality and revolutionary dictatorship. The Babeuf plot was exposed in May 1796 by a police spy, and a lengthy trial ensued in which François-Noël (“Gracchus”) Babeuf, the self-styled “Tribune of the People,” was sentenced to death.

Apart from these conspiracies, the political life of the Directory revolved around annual elections to replace one-third of the deputies and local administrators. The spirit of the “Two-thirds Decree” haunted this process, however, since the directors believed that stability required their continuation in power and the exclusion of royalists or Jacobins. The Directory would tolerate no organized opposition. During or immediately after each election, the government in effect violated the constitution in order to save it, whenever the right or the left seemed to be gaining ground.

As a legacy of the nation's revolutionary upheavals, elections under the Directory displayed an unhealthy combination of massive apathy and rancorous partisanship by small minorities. When the elections of 1797 produced a royalist resurgence, the government responded with the coup of Fructidor Year V (September 1797), ousting two of the current directors, arresting leading royalist politicians, annulling the elections in 49 departments, shutting down the royalist press, and resuming the vigorous pursuit of returned émigrés and refractory clergy. This heartened the Neo-Jacobins, who organized new clubs called “constitutional circles” to emphasize their adherence to the regime. But this independent political activism on the left raised the spectre of 1793 for the Directory, and in turn it closed down the Neo-Jacobin clubs and newspapers, warned citizens against voting for “anarchists” in the elections of 1798, and promoted schisms in electoral assemblies when voters spurned this advice. When democrats (or Neo-Jacobins) prevailed nonetheless, the Directory organized another purge in the coup of Floréal Year VI (May 1798) by annulling all or some elections in 29 departments. Ambivalent and faint-hearted in its republican commitment, the Directory was eroding political liberty from within. But as long as the Constitution of 1795 endured,it remained possible that political liberty and free elections might one day take root.



The French Revolution and Napoleon, 1789–1815

The First French Republic

The Directory
Sister republics


Meanwhile the Directory regime successfully exported revolution abroad by helping to create “sister republics” inwestern Europe. During the Revolution's most radical phase, in 1793–94, French expansion had stopped more or less at the nation's self-proclaimed “natural frontiers”—the Rhine, Alps, and Pyrenees. The Austrian Netherlands (now Belgium) and the left bank of the Rhine had been major battlefields in the war against the coalition,and French victories in those sectors were followed by military occupation, requisitions, and taxation, but also by the abolition of feudalism and similar reforms. In 1795 both areas were annexed to France, and their territories were divided into departments, which would henceforth be treatedlike other French departments.

Strategic considerations and French national interest were the main engines of French foreign policy in the revolutionary decade but not the only ones. Elsewhere in Europe native patriots invited French support against theirown ruling princes or oligarchies. As the historian R.R. Palmer has argued, Europe was divided not simply by a conflict between Revolutionary France and other states but by conflicts within various states between revolutionary or democratic forces and conservative or traditional forces. Indeed, abortive revolutionary movements had already occurred in the Austrian Netherlands and in the United Provinces (Dutch Netherlands). The ideals of liberty, equality, or popular sovereignty knew no borders.

By 1797 Prussia and Spain had made peace with France, but Austria and Britain continued the struggle. In a new strategy the French launched an attack across the Alps aimed at Habsburg Lombardy, from which they hoped to drive north toward Vienna. Commanded by General Napoleon Bonaparte, this campaign succeeded beyond expectations. In the process northern Italy was liberated from Austria, andthe Habsburgs were driven to the peace table, where they signed the Treaty of Campo Formio on Oct. 17, 1797. An invasion of the Netherlands, home base of British forces on the Continent, produced a similar victory. In short order two “sister republics” were proclaimed by native revolutionaries under French protection—the Cisalpine Republic in northern Italy and the Batavian Republic (formerly the Dutch Netherlands). These were later joined by the Helvetic Republic in Switzerland, and twovery shaky republics—the Roman Republic in central Italy and the Parthenopean Republic in the south around Naples.All these republics were exploited financially by the French, but then again their survival depended on the costly presence of French troops. The French interfered in their internal politics, but this was no more than the Directory was doing at home. Because these republics could not defend themselves in isolation, they acted as sponges on French resources as much as they provided treasure or other benefits to France. France's extended lines of occupation made it extremely vulnerable to attack when Britain organized a second coalition in 1798 that included Russia and Austria. But, when the battles were over, Switzerland, northern Italy, and the Netherlands remained inthe French sphere of influence.

The treasure coming from the sister republics was desperately needed in Paris since French finances were in total disarray. The collapse of the assignats and the hyperinflation of 1795–96 not only destroyed such social programs as public assistance pensions and free public schooling but also strained the regime's capacity to keep its basic institutions running. In 1797 the government finally engineered a painful return to hard currency and in effect wrote down the accumulated national debt by two-thirds of its value in exchange for guaranteeing the integrity of the remaining third.


Alienation and coups

After the Fructidor coup of 1797 the Directory imprudently resumed the republic's assault on the Roman Catholic religion. Besides prohibiting the outward signs of Catholicism such as the ringing of church bells or the display of crosses, the government revived the Revolutionary calendar. Instituted in 1793, the new calendar featured a 10-day week called the décade , designed to swallow up the Christian Sunday in a new cycle of work and recreation. While it had fallen into disuse after the Thermidorian reaction, the Directory ordered in 1798 that the décadi be treated as the official day of rest for workers and businesses as well as public employees and schoolchildren. Forbidding organized recreation on Sundays, the regime also pressured Catholic priests to celebrate mass on the décadi rather than on ex-Sundays. This aggressive confrontation with the habits and beliefs of mostFrench citizens sapped whatever shreds of popularity the regime still had.

French citizens were already alienated by the Directory's foreign policy and its new conscription law. Conscription became a permanent obligation of young men between the ages of 20 and 25 under the Loi Jourdan of Sept. 5, 1798. To fight the War of the Second Coalition that began in 1799, the Directory mobilized three “classes,” or age cohorts, of young men but encountered massive draft resistance and desertion in many regions. Meanwhile, retreating armies in the field lacked rations and supplies because, it was alleged,corrupt military contractors operated in collusion with government officials. This war crisis prompted the legislature to oust four of the directors (the Prairial coup of June 18, 1799) and allowed a brief resurgence of Neo-Jacobinagitation for drastic emergency measures.

In reality the balance of power was swinging toward a group of disaffected conservatives. Led by Sieyès, one of the new directors, these “revisionists” wished to escape from the instability of the Directory regime, especially its tumultuous annual elections and its cumbersome separation of powers. They wanted a more reliable structure of political power, which would allow the new elite to govern securely and thereby guarantee the basic reforms and property rights of 1789. Ironically, the Neo-Jacobins, or democrats, stood as the constitution's most ardent defenders against the maneuvers of these “oligarchs.”

Using mendacious allegations about Neo-Jacobin plots as a cover, the revisionists prepared a parliamentary coup to jettison the constitution. To provide the necessary military insurance, the plotters sought a leading general. Though he was not their first choice, they eventually enlisted Napoleon Bonaparte—recently returned from his Egyptian campaign, about whose disasters the public knew almost nothing. Given a central role in the coup, which occurred on the 18th Brumaire Year VIII (Nov. 9, 1799), General Bonaparte addressed the legislature, and when some deputies balked at his call for scrapping the constitution, histroopers cleared the hall. A rump of each house then convened to draft a new constitution, and during these deliberations Bonaparte shouldered aside Sieyès and emerged as the dominant figure in the new regime. Brumaire was not really a military coup and did not at first produce a dictatorship. It was a parliamentary coup to createa new constitution and was welcomed by people of differing opinions who saw in it what they wished to see. The image of an energetic military hero impatient with the abuses of the past must have seemed reassuring.

 





 


 

 

Encyclopædia Britannica

Revolution and Napoleon, 1789–1815


The Napoleonic era

The Consulate

The “revisionists” who engineered the Brumaire coup intended to create a strong, elitist government that would curb the republic's political turmoil and guarantee the conquests of 1789. They had in mind what might be called a senatorial oligarchy rather than a personal dictatorship. General Bonaparte, however, advocated a more drastic concentration of power. Within days of the coup, Bonaparte emerged as the dominant figure, an insistent and persuasive presence who inspired confidence. Clearly outmaneuvered, Sieyès soon withdrew from the scene, taking with him his complex notions of checks and balances. While the regime, known as the Consulate, maintained a republican form, Bonaparte became from its inception a new kind of authoritarian leader.

Approved almost unanimously in a plebiscite by three million votes (of which half may have been manufactured out of thin air), the Constitution of the Year VIII created an executive consisting of three consuls, but the First Consul wielded all real power. That office was of course vested in Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1802, after a string of military and diplomatic victories, another plebiscite endowed him with the position for life. By 1804 Bonaparte's grip on power was complete, and belief in his indispensability was pervasive in the governing class. In April 1804 various government bodies agreed “that Napoleon Bonaparte be declared Emperor and that the imperial dignity be declared hereditary in his family.” The Constitution of the Year XII (May 1804) establishing the empire was approved in a plebiscite by more than 3,500,000 votes against about 8,000. (After this point General Bonaparte was known officially as Napoleon.)

The Constitution of 1791, the Convention, and the Directory alike had been organized around representation and legislative supremacy, the fundamental political principles first proclaimed in June 1789 by the National Assembly. This tradition came to an end with the Consulate. Its new bicameral legislature lost the power to initiate legislation; now the executive branch drafted new laws. Onehouse (the Tribunate) debated such proposals, either endorsed or opposed them, and then sent deputies to present its opinion to the other house, the Legislative Corps(Corps Législatif), which also heard from government spokesmen. Without the right to debate, the Legislative Corps then voted on whether to enact the bill. Even these limited powers were rarely used independently, since both houses were appointed in the first instance by the government and later renewed by cooption. When certain tribunes such as Benjamin Constant did manifest a critical spirit, they were eventually purged, and in 1807 the Tribunate was suppressed altogether. On the whole, then, the legislative branch of government became little more than a rubber stamp.

After Brumaire, Sieyès had envisaged an independent institution called the Senate to conserve the constitution by interpreting it in the light of changing circumstances. In practice, the Senate became the handmaiden of Bonaparte's expanding authority, sanctioning changes such as the life consulship, the purge of the Tribunate, and Napoleon's elevation to the rank of hereditary emperor. For creating “legislation above the laws” at Bonaparte's behest,its 80 handpicked members were opulently rewarded with money and honours. As power shifted decisively to the executive branch, Bonaparte enlisted a new institution called the Council of State to formulate policy, draft legislation, and supervise the ministries. Appointed by the First Consul, this body of experienced jurists and legislators was drawn from across the former political spectrum. Talentand loyalty to the new government were the relevant criteria for these coveted posts.

The Consulate did not entirely eliminate the electoral principle from the new regime, but voters were left with no real power, and elections became an elaborate charade. Citizens voted only for electoral colleges, which in turn created lists of candidates from which the government might fill occasional vacancies in the Legislature or Senate. In the event, the primary assemblies of voters were rarely convened, and membership in the electoral colleges became a kind of honorific lifetime position. The judiciary too lost its elective status. In the hope of creating a more professional and compliant judiciary, the Consulate's sweeping judicial reform provided for lifetime appointments of judges—which did not prevent Napoleon from purging thejudiciary in 1808. Napoleon was also disposed to eliminate criminal juries as well, but the Council of State prevailed on him to maintain them.

Successive Revolutionary regimes had always balanced local elections with central control, but the Consulate destroyed that balance completely. The Local Government Act of February 1800 eliminated elections for local office entirely and organized local administration from the top down. To run each department, the Consulate appointed a prefect, reminiscent of the old royal intendants, who was assisted by subprefects on the level of the arrondissements (subdistricts of the departments) and by appointed mayors in each commune. The original Revolutionary commitment to local autonomy gave way before the rival principles of centralization and uniformity. The prefect became the cornerstone of the Napoleonic dictatorship, supervising local government at all levels, keeping careful watch over his department's “public spirit,” and above all assuring that taxes and conscripts flowed in smoothly. While even the most trivial local matter had to be referred to the prefect, all major decisions taken by the prefect had in turn to be sanctioned by the interior ministry in Paris.


Loss of political freedom

Politics during the Directory had been marked by an unwholesome combination of ferocious partisanship and massive apathy. Weary of political turmoil and disillusioned by politicians of all kinds, most Frenchmen now accepted the disappearance of political freedom and participation with equanimity. The few who still cared passionately enough to resist collided with the apparatus of a police state. A regime that entirely avoided genuine elections would scarcely permit open political dissent. Where the Directory had been ambivalent about freedom of association, for example, the Consulate simply banned political clubs outright and placed Jacobin and royalist cadres under surveillance by the police ministry. In 1801, blaming democratic militants for a botched attempt to assassinate him with a bomb as his carriage drove down the Rue Saint-Nicaise—a plot actually hatched by fanatical royalists—Bonaparte ordered the arrest and deportation to Guiana of about 100 former Jacobin and sansculotte militants. In 1804 he had the Duke d'Enghien, a member of the Bourbon family, abducted from abroad, convicted of conspiracy by a court-martial, and executed.

Outspoken liberals also felt the lash of Bonaparte's intolerance for any kind of opposition. After he purged the Tribunate, the consul registered his displeasure with the salon politics of liberal intellectuals by dissolving the Class of Moral and Political Science of the National Institute in 1803. One of the most principled liberals, Madame de Stäel, chose to go into exile rather than exercise the self-censorship demanded by the regime. Meanwhile, the only newspapers tolerated were heavily censored. Paris, for example, had more than 70 newspapers at the time of the Brumaire coup; by 1811 only four quasi-official newspapers survived, ironically the same number as had existed before 1789. In the provinces each department had at most one newspaper, likewise of quasi-official character. The reimposition of censorship was matched by Napoleon's astute management of news and propaganda.



The French Revolution and Napoleon, 1789–1815

The Napoleonic era

Society in Napoleonic France
Religious policy


If the Consulate's motto was “authority from above, confidence from below,” Bonaparte's religious policy helped secure that confidence. The concordat negotiated with the papacy in 1802 reintegrated the Roman Catholic church intoFrench society and ended the cycle of bare toleration and persecution that had begun in 1792. Having immediately halted the campaign to enforce the republican calendar (which was quietly abolished in 1806), the Consulate then extended an olive branch to the refractory clergy. The statecontinued to respect the religious freedom of non-Catholics,but the concordat recognized Catholicism as “the preferredreligion” of France—in effect, though not in name, the nation's established religion. Upkeep of the church became a significant item in local budgets, and the clergy regained de facto control over primary education. The state, however,retained the upper hand in church-state relations. By signing the concordat, the pope accepted the nationalization of church property in France and its sale as biens nationaux. Bishops, though again consecrated by Rome, were named by the head of state, and the government retained the right to police public worship.

The most conservative Catholics looked askance at the concordat, which in their eyes promoted an excessively national or Gallican church rather than a truly Roman Catholic church. They correctly suspected that Bonaparte—personally a religious skeptic—would use it as a tool of his own ambitions. Indeed, he declared that the clergy would be his “moral prefects,” propagating traditionalvalues and obedience to authority. Later, for example, the clergy was asked to teach an imperial catechism, which would “bind the consciences of the young to the august person of the Emperor.”

The Napoleonic regime also organized France's approximately one million Calvinists into hierarchical “consistories” subject to oversight by the state. Protestant pastors, paid by the state, were designated by the elders who led local congregations and consistories; the more democratic tendencies of Calvinism were thus weakened in exchange for official recognition. France's 60,000 Jews, residing mainly in Alsace and Lorraine, were also organized into consistories. Like priests and pastors, their rabbis were enlisted to promote obedience to the laws, though they were not salaried by the state. Official recognition, however,did not prevent discriminatory measures against Jews. A law of 1808, ostensibly for “the social reformation of the Jews,” appeased peasant debtors in Alsace by canceling their debts to Jewish moneylenders.

Napoleonic nobility

Napoleon cultivated the loyalty of the nation's wealthy landed proprietors by a system of patronage and honours. He thereby facilitated the emergence of a ruling class drawn from both the middle classes and the nobility of the old regime, which had been divided by the artificial barriers of old-regime estates and privileges. The principal artifacts of Napoleon's social policy were the lists he ordered of the 600 largest taxpayers in each department, most having incomes of at least 3,000 livres a year. Inclusion on these lists became an insignia of one's informal status as a notable. Members of the electoral colleges and departmental advisory councils were drawn from these lists. Although such honorific positions had little power and no privileges, the designees were effectively co-opted into the regime. Napoleon's Legion of Honour, meanwhile, conferred recognition on men who served the state, primarily military officers who largely stood outside the ranks of the landed notables. By 1814 the Legion had 32,000 members, of whom only 1,500 were civilians.

After Napoleon had himself crowned emperor in 1804, he felt the need for a court aristocracy that would lend lustre and credibility to his new image. He also reasoned that only by creating a new nobility based on merit could he displace and absorb the old nobility, which had lost its titles in 1790 but not its pretensions. By 1808 a new hierarchy of titles had been created, which were to be hereditary provided that a family could support its title with a large annual income—30,000 livres, for example, in the case of a count of the empire. To facilitate this, the emperor bestowed huge landed estates and pensions on his highest dignitaries. The Napoleonic nobility, in other words, would be a veritable upper class based on a combination of service and wealth. Predictably, the new nobility was top-heavy with generals (59 percent altogether), but it also included many senators, archbishops, and members of the Council of State; 23 percent of the Napoleonic nobility were former nobles of the ancien régime. These social innovations endured after Napoleon's fall—the Bourbons adopted the system of high-status electoral colleges, maintained the Legion of Honour, and even allowed the Napoleonic nobles to retain their titles alongside the restored old-regime nobility.




The French Revolution and Napoleon, 1789–1815

The Napoleonic era

Society in Napoleonic France

The Civil Code


The Napoleonic Civil Code, however, had a far greater impact on postrevolutionary society than did the social innovations. This ambitious work of legal codification, perhaps the crowning glory of the Council of State, consolidated certain basic principles established in 1789: civil equality and equality before the law; the abolition of feudalism in favour of modern contractual forms of property;and the secularization of civil relations. Codification also made it easier to export those principles beyond the bordersof France. In the area of family relations, however, the Napoleonic Code was less a codification of revolutionary innovations than a reaction against them. By reverting to patriarchal standards that strengthened the prerogatives of the husband and father, it wiped out important gains that women had made during the Revolution. The code's spirit on this subject was summed up in its statement that “a husband owes protection to his wife; a wife owes obedience to her husband.” Wives were again barred from signing contracts without their husbands' consent, and a wife's portion of the family's community property fell completely under her husband's control during his lifetime. The code also curbed the right of equal inheritance, which the Revolution had extended even to illegitimate children, and increased the father's disciplinary control over his children.

The code also rolled back the Revolution's extremely liberal divorce legislation. When marriage became a civil riterather than an obligatory religious sacrament in 1792, divorce became possible for the first time. Divorce could be obtained by mutual consent but also for a range of causes including desertion and simple incompatibility. Under the Napoleonic Code contested divorce was possible only for unusually cruel treatment resulting in grave injury and for adultery on the part of the wife. Faced with an unfaithful husband, however, “the wife may demand divorce on the ground of adultery by her husband [only] when he shall havebrought his concubine into their common residence.”

Napoleonic policy frequently reacted against the Revolution's liberal individualism. While the regime did not restore the guilds outright, for example, it reimposed restrictive or even monopolistic state regulation on such occupational groups as publishers and booksellers, the Parisian building trades, attorneys, barristers, notaries, and doctors. Napoleon wished to strengthen the ties that bound individuals together, which derived from religion, the family, and state authority. Napoleon's domestic innovations—the prefectorial system, with its extreme centralization of administrative authority; the University, a centralized educational bureaucracy that scrutinized all types of teachers; the concordat with the Vatican that reversed the secularizing tendencies of the Revolution; the Civil Code, which strengthened property rights and patriarchal authority; and the Legion of Honour, which rewarded service to the state—all endured in the 19th century despite a succession of political upheavals. Historians who admire Napoleon consider these innovations as the “granite masses” on which modern French society developed.


Campaigns and conquests: 1797–1807

Napoleon's sway over France depended from the start on hissuccess in war. After his conquest of northern Italy in 1797 and the dissolution of the first coalition, General Bonaparte intended to invade Britain, France's century-long rival and the last remaining belligerent. Concluding that French naval power could not sustain a seaborne invasion, however,he launched a military expedition to Egypt instead, hoping tochoke off the main route to Britain's Indian empire. When the expedition bogged down in disease and military stalemate, its commander quietly slipped past a British naval blockade to return to France, where (in the absence of accurate news from Egypt) he was received as the nation's leading military hero.

At the time of the Brumaire coup the republic's armies had been driven from Italy by a second coalition, but they had halted a multi front assault on France by the armies of Russia, Austria, and Britain. The republic, in other words, wasno longer in imminent military danger, but the prospect of an interminable war loomed on the horizon. After Brumaire the nation expected its new leader to achieve peace through decisive military victory. This promise Bonaparte fulfilled, once again leading French armies into northern Italy and defeating Austria at the Battle of Marengo in June 1800. Subsequent defeats in Germany drove Austria to sign the peace treaty of Lunéville in February 1801. Deprived of its continental allies for the second time, a war-weary Britain finally decided to negotiate. In March 1802 France and Britain signed the Treaty of Amiens, and for the first time in 10 years Europe was at peace.

Within two years, however, the two rivals were again in a state of war. Most historians agree that neither imperial power was solely responsible for the breakdown of this peace since neither would renounce its ambitions for supremacy. Napoleon repeatedly violated the treaty's spirit—by annexing Piedmont, occupying the Batavian Republic, and assuming the presidency of the Cisalpine Republic. To Britain, the balance of power in Europe requiredan independent Italy and Dutch Netherlands. Britain violatedthe letter of the treaty, however, by failing to evacuate theisland of Malta as it had promised.

Once again, British naval power frustrated Napoleon's attempt to take the war directly to British soil. At the Battle of Trafalgar (Oct. 21, 1805), British naval gunners decimated the French and Spanish fleets. Against Britain's newly enlisted continental allies Napoleon had better luck, as he confronted them one by one before they could effectively unite. Moving his army rapidly across Europe, Napoleon surprised the Austrians at Ulm and then smashed them decisively at the Battle of Austerlitz (Dec. 2, 1805), probablyhis most brilliant tactical feat. Under the Treaty of Pressburg(criticized by the French foreign minister Talleyrand as entirely too harsh), Austria paid a heavy indemnity, ceded its provinces of Venetia and Tyrol, and allowed Napoleon to abolish the Holy Roman Empire. Prussia, kept neutral for a time by vague promises of sovereignty over Hanover, finallymobilized against France, only to suffer humiliating defeats at the battles of Jena and Auerstadt in October 1806. The French occupied Berlin, levied a huge indemnity on Prussia,seized various provinces, and turned northern Germany into a French sphere of influence. The ensuing campaign against Russia's army in Europe resulted in a bloody stalemate at the Battle of Eylau (Feb. 8, 1807), leaving Napoleon in precarious straits with extremely vulnerable lines of supply. But, when fighting resumed that spring, the French prevailed at the Battle of Friedland (June 14, 1807), and Tsar Alexander I sued for peace. The Treaty of Tilsit, negotiated by the two emperors, divided Europe into two zones of influence, with Napoleon pledging to aid the Russians against their Ottoman rivals, and Alexander promising to cooperate against Britain.



The French Revolution and Napoleon, 1789–1815

The Napoleonic era

The Grand Empire


Napoleon now had a free hand to reorganize Europe and numerous relativesto install on the thrones of his satellite kingdoms. The result was known as the Grand Empire. Having annexed Tuscany, Piedmont, Genoa, and the Rhineland directly into France, Napoleon placed the Kingdom of Holland (which until 1806 was the Batavian Commonwealth) under his brother Louis, the Kingdom of Westphalia under his brother Jérôme, the Kingdom of Italy under his stepson Eugène as his viceroy, the Kingdom of Spain under his brother Joseph, and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw (carved out of Prussian Poland) under the nominal sovereignty of his ally the king of Saxony. To link his allied states in northern and southern Germany, Napoleon created the Confederation of the Rhine. Even Austria seemed to fall into Napoleon's sphere of influence with his marriage to Archduchess Maria Louise in 1810. (Since the emperor had no natural heirs from his marriage to Joséphine Beauharnais, he reluctantly divorced Joséphine and in 1810 married the Austrian princess, who duly bore him a son the following year.)


The continental system

Britain, however, was insulated from French military power;only an indirect strategy of economic warfare remained possible. Thus far Britain had driven most French merchant shipping from the high seas, and in desperation French merchants sold most of their ships to neutrals, allowing theUnited States to surpass France in the size of its merchant fleet. But after his string of military victories Napoleon believed that he could choke off British commerce by closingthe Continent to its ships and products. With limited opportunities to sell its manufactured goods, he believed, the British economy would suffer from overproduction and unemployment, while the lack of foreign gold in payment for British exports would bankrupt the treasury. As France moved into Britain's foreign markets, Britain's economic crisis would drive its government to seek peace. Accordingly,Napoleon launched the “continental system”: in the Berlin Decree of November 1806, he prohibited British trade with all countries under French influence, including British products carried by neutral shipping. When the British retaliated by requiring all neutral ships to stop at British ports for inspection and licenses, Napoleon threatened to seize any ship stopping at English ports. Thus a total naval war against neutrals erupted.

Economic warfare took its toll on all sides. While France did make inroads in cotton manufacturing in the absence of British competition, France and especially its allies suffered terribly from the British blockade, in particular from a dearth of colonial raw materials. The great Atlantic ports of Nantes, Bordeaux, and Amsterdam never recovered, as ancillary industries like shipbuilding and sugar refining collapsed. The axis of European trade shifted decisively inland. The continental system did strain the British economy, driving down exports and gold reserves in 1810, but the blockade was extremely porous. Since Europeans liked British goods, smugglers had incentive to evade the restrictions in places like Spain and Portugal. By 1811, moreover, a restive Tsar Alexander withdrew from the continental system. Thus, the most dire effect of the continental system was the stimulusit gave Napoleon for a new round of aggressions against Portugal, Spain, and Russia.

By 1810 almost 300,000 imperial troops were bogged down in Iberia, struggling against a surprisingly vigorous Spanish resistance and a British expeditionary force. Then, in 1812, Napoleon embarked on his most quixotic aggression—an invasion of Russia designed to humble “the colossus of Northern barbarism” and exclude Russia from any influence in Europe. The Grand Army of 600,000 men that crossed into Russia reached Moscow without inflicting a decisive defeat on the Russian armies. By the time Napoleon on October 19belatedly ordered a retreat from Moscow, which had been burned to the ground and was unfit for winter quarters, he had lost two-thirds of his troops from disease, battle casualties, cold, and hunger. The punishing retreat through the Russian winter killed most of the others. Yet this unparalleled disaster did not humble or discourage the emperor. Napoleon believed that he could hold his empire together and defeat yet another anti-French coalition that was forming. He correctly assumed that he could still rely on his well-honed administrative bureaucracy to replace the decimated Grand Army.



The French Revolution and Napoleon, 1789–1815

The Napoleonic era

Conscription


Building on the Directory's conscription law of September 1798, the Napoleonic regime, after considerable trial and error, had created the mechanisms for imposing on the citizens of France and the annexed territories the distasteful obligation of military service. Each year the Ministry of War Administration assigned a quota of conscripts for every department. Using communal birth registers, the mayor of each commune compiled a list of men reaching the age of 19 that year. After a preliminary examination to screen out the manifestly unfit and those below the minimum height of five feet one inch, the young men drew numbers in a lottery at the cantonal seat. Doctors in the departmental capitals later ruled on other claims for medical exemptions, and in all about a third of the youths avoided military service legally as physically unfit. For obvious reasons, married men were not exempt from the draft, but two other means of avoiding induction remained, apart from drawing a high number: the wealthy could purchase a replacement, and the poor could flee.

Initially the regime had a bad conscience about allowing replacements, since this made its rhetoric about the duties of citizenship sound hollow. But to placate prosperous peasants and notables, it did permit the hiring of a replacement under strict guidelines that made it difficult andcostly but not impossible. Between 5 and 10 percent of all French draftees were replacements. For Napoleon's prefects, the annual conscription levy was the top priority and draft evasion the number one problem in most departments. Persistence, routine stepped-up policing, and coercion gradually overcame the chronic resistance. Heavy fines levied against the parents of evaders did little good since most were too poor to pay them. But billeting troops intheir homes was more effective, and, if they could not feed the troops, the community's wealthier taxpayers were required to do so. By 1811 the regime had broken the habit of draft evasion even as the demand for conscripts increased. In 1812, prefects all over France reported that theannual levies were less contentious than ever.

Napoleon had begun by drafting 60,000 Frenchmen annually, but by 1810 the quota hit 120,000, and the first of many “supplementary levies” was decreed to call up men from earlier classes who had drawn high numbers. In January 1813, after the Russian disaster, Napoleon replenished his armies by calling up the class of 1814 a year early and by repeated supplementary levies. Because he could still rely on his conscription machine, Napoleon consistently rebuffedoffers by the allies to negotiate peace. Only after he lost the decisive Battle of Leipzig in October 1813 and was driven back across the Rhine did the machine break down. His call of November 1813 for 300,000 more men went largely unfilled. With the troops at his disposal the emperor fought the Battle of France skillfully, but he could not stop the allies. Shortly after Paris fell, he abdicated, on April 6, 1814, and departed for the island kingdom of Elba. France was reduced to its 1792 borders, and the Bourbons returned to the throne. Altogether—along with large levies of Italians,Germans, and other foreigners from the annexed territories and satellite states—nearly 2.5 million Frenchmen had been drafted by Napoleon, and at least 1 million of these conscripts never returned.

The most sympathetic explanation for Napoleon's relentlessaggression holds that he was responding to the irreducible antagonism of Britain: French power and glory were the only antidotes to John Bull's arrogance. Others have argued that Napoleon's vendetta against Britain was merely a rationalization for a mad 10-year chase across Europe to establish a new version of Charlemagne's empire. This “imperial design” thesis, however, makes sense only in 1810, as a way Napoleon might have organized his conquests and not as the motivation for them. (Only retrospectively did Napoleon write: “There will be no repose for Europe until she is under only one Head . . . an Emperor who should distribute kingdoms among his lieutenants.”) In the end one is thrown back on the explanation of temperament. In his combination of pragmatism and insatiable ambition, this world-historic figure remains an enigma. Increasingly “aristocratic” at home and “imperial” abroad, Napoleon was obviously something more than the “general of the Revolution.” And yet, with Civil Code in one hand and sabre in the other, Napoleon could still be seen by Europeans as a personification on both counts of the French Revolution'sexplosive force.


Napoleon and the Revolution

The Revolutionary legacy for Napoleon consisted above all in the abolition of the ancien régime's most archaic features—“feudalism,” seigneurialism, legal privileges, and provincial liberties. No matter how aristocratic his style became, he had no use for the ineffective institutions and abuses of the ancien régime. Napoleon was “modern” in temperament as well as destructively aggressive. But in either guise he was an authoritarian with little patience for argument, who profited from the Revolution's clearing operations to construct and mobilize in his own fashion. His concept of reform exaggerated the Revolution's emphasison uniformity and centralization. Napoleon also accepted the Revolutionary principles of civil equality and equality of opportunity, meaning the recognition of merit. Other rights and liberties did not seem essential. Unlike others before him who had tried and failed, Napoleon terminated the Revolution, but at the price of suppressing the electoral process and partisan politics altogether. Toward the end of the empire, his centralizing vision took over completely, reinforcing his personal will to power. France was merely a launching pad for Napoleon's boundless military and imperial ambition, its prime function being to raise men and money for war. In utter contrast to the Revolution, then, militarism became the defining quality of the Napoleonic regime.

Napoleon's ambiguous legacy helps explain the dizzying events that shook France in 1815. When Louis XVI's brother returned as King Louis XVIII, he courted popularity by ending conscription and by agreeing to rule under a constitution (called the Charter), which provided for legislative control over budgets and taxes and guaranteed basic liberties. But the Bourbons alienated the officer corps by retiring many at half pay and frightened many citizens by not making clearhow much of their property and power the church and émigrés would regain. As the anti-Napoleonic allies argued among themselves about the spoils of war, Napoleon slipped back to France for a last adventure, believing that he could reach Paris without firing a shot. At various points along the way, troops disobeyed royalist officers and ralliedto the emperor, while Louis fled the country. Between Marchand June 1815—a period known as the Hundred Days—Napoleon again ruled France. Contrary to his expectation, however, the allies patched up their differences and were determined to rout “the usurper.” At the Battle of Waterloo (June 18, 1815) British and Prussian forces defeated Napoleon's army decisively, and he abdicated again a few days later. Placed on the remote island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic, he died in 1821. The “Napoleonic legend”—the retrospective version of events created by Napoleon during his exile—burnished his image in France for decades to come. But in the final analysis Napoleon's impact on future generations was not nearly as powerful as the legacy of the French Revolution itself.

Isser Woloch
 

 





 





 





 





 

 
 

Encyclopædia Britannica

The restoration and constitutional monarchy


Constitutionalism and reaction, 1815–30

Louis XVIII, 1815–24

King Louis XVIII's second return from exile was far from glorious. Neither the victorious powers nor Louis's French subjects viewed his restoration with much enthusiasm, yet there seemed to be no ready alternative to Bourbon rule. The allies avenged themselves for the Hundred Days by writing a new and more severe Treaty of Paris. France lost several frontier territories, notably the Saar basin and Savoy (Savoie), that had been annexed in 1789–92; a war indemnity of 700 million francs was imposed; and, pending full payment, eastern France was to be occupied by allied troops at French expense.

Within France, political tensions were exacerbated by Napoleon's mad gamble and by the mistakes committed during the First Restoration. The problem facing the Bourbons would have been difficult enough without these tensions—namely, how to arrive at a stable compromise between those Frenchmen who saw the Revolutionary changes as irreversible and those who were determined to resurrect the ancien régime. The reactionary element, labeled ultraroyalists (or simply “ultras”), was now more intransigent than ever and set out to purge the country of allthose who had betrayed the dynasty. A brief period of “white terror” in the south claimed some 300 victims; in Paris, many high officials who had rallied to Napoleon were dismissed, and a few eminent figures, notably Marshal Michel Ney, were tried and shot. The king refused, however, to scrap the Charter of 1814, in spite of ultra pressure. Whena new Chamber of Deputies was elected in August 1815, the ultras scored a sweeping victory; the surprised king, who had feared a surge of antimonarchical sentiment, greeted the legislature as la chambre introuvable (“the incomparable chamber”). But the political honeymoon was short-lived. Louis was shrewd enough, or cautious enough, torealize that ultra policies would divide the country and might in the end destroy the dynasty. He chose as ministers, therefore, such moderate royalists as Armand-Emmanuel du Plessis, Duke de Richelieu, and Élie Decazes—men who knew the nation would not tolerate an attempt to resurrect the 18th century.

There followed a year of sharp friction between these moderate ministers and the ultra-dominated Chamber—friction and unrest that made Europe increasinglynervous about the viability of the restored monarchy. Representatives of the occupying powers began to express their concern to the king. At last, in September 1816, his ministers persuaded him to dissolve the Chamber and order new elections, and the moderate royalists emerged with a clear majority. In spite of ultra fury, several years of relative stability ensued. Richelieu and Decazes, with solid support in the Chamber, could proceed with their attempt to pursue a moderate course. By 1818 they were able, thanks to loans from English and Dutch bankers, to pay off the war indemnity and thus to end the allied occupation; at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle France was welcomed back into the concert of Europe. In domestic politics there were somesigns that France might be moving toward a British-style parliamentary monarchy, even though the Charter had carefully avoided making the king's ministers responsible tothe Chamber of Deputies. In the Chamber something anticipating a party system also began to emerge: ultras on the right, independents (or liberals) on the left, constitutionalists (or moderates) in the centre. None of these factions yet possessed the real attributes of a party—disciplined organization and doctrinal coherence. The most heterogeneous of all was the independent group—an uneasy coalition of republicans, Bonapartists, andconstitutional monarchists brought together by their common hostility to the Bourbons and their common determination to preserve or restore many of the Revolutionary reforms.

The era of moderate rule (1816–20) was marked by a slow but steady advance of the liberal left. Each year one-fifth of the Chamber faced reelection, and each year more independents won seats, despite the narrowly restricted suffrage. The ultras, in real or simulated panic, predicted disaster for the regime and the nation; but the king clung stubbornly to his favourite, Decazes, who by now was head of the government in all but name, and Decazes, in turn, clung to his middle way.

The uneasy balance was wrecked in February 1820 by the assassination of the king's nephew, Charles-Ferdinand, Duke de Berry. The assassin, a fanatical Bonapartist, proudly announced his purpose: to extinguish the royal line by destroying the last Bourbon still young enough to produce a male heir. In this aim he failed, for Caroline, Duchess de Berry, seven months later bore a son, whom the royalists hailed as “the miracle child.” But the assassin didbring to an end the period of moderate rule and returned the ultras to power. In the wave of emotion that followed, the king dismissed Decazes and manipulated the elections in favour of the ultras, who regained control of the Chamberand dominated the new Cabinet headed by one of their leaders, Joseph, Count de Villèle.

This swing toward reaction goaded some segments of the liberal left into conspiratorial activity. A newly formed secretsociety called the Charbonnerie, which borrowed its name and ritual from the Italian Carbonari, laid plans for an armed insurrection, but their rising in 1822 was easily crushed. One group of conspirators—“the four sergeants of La Rochelle”—became heroic martyrs in the popular mythology of the French left. Subversion gave the government an excuse for intensified repression: the press was placed under more rigid censorship and the school system subjected to the clergy.

Meanwhile, the ultras were winning public support through amore assertive foreign policy. Spain had been in a state of quasi-civil war since 1820, when a revolt by the so-called liberal faction in the army had forced King Ferdinand VII to grant a constitution and to authorize the election of a parliament. The European powers, disturbed at the state of semianarchy in Spain, accepted a French offer to restore Ferdinand's authority by forcible intervention. In 1823 French troops crossed the Pyrenees and, despite predictions of disaster from the liberal left, easily took Madrid and reestablished the king's untrammeled power. This successful adventure strengthened the ultra politiciansand discredited their critics. In the elections of 1824 the ultras increased their grip on the Chamber and won a further victory in September 1824 when the aged Louis XVIIIdied, leaving the throne to a new king who was the very embodiment of the ultra spirit.

Charles X, 1824–30

Charles X, the younger brother of Louis XVIII, had spent the Revolutionary years in exile and had returned embittered rather than chastened by the experience. What France needed, in his view, was a return to the unsullied principle ofdivine right, buttressed by the restored authority of the established church. The new king and his Cabinet—still headed by Villèle—promptly pushed through the Chamber a series of laws of sharply partisan character. The most bitterly debated of these laws was the one that indemnifiedthe émigrés for the loss of their property during the Revolution. The cost of the operation—almost one billion francs—was borne by government bondholders, whose bonds were arbitrarily converted to a lower interest rate. A severe press law hamstrung the publishers of newspapers and pamphlets; another established the death penalty for sacrilegious acts committed in churches.

Along with these signs of reaction went a vigorous campaign to reassert the authority of the Roman Catholic church, which had been undermined by Enlightenment skepticism and by the Revolutionary upheaval. Under theBourbons several new missionary orders and lay organizations were founded in an effort to revive the faith and to engage in good works. Catholic seminaries began to draw increasing numbers of students away from the state lycées. Charles X threw himself enthusiastically into the campaign for Catholic revival. The anticlericals of the liberal left were outraged, and even many moderates of Gallican sympathies were perturbed. Rumours spread that the king had secretly become a Jesuit and was planning to turn the country over to “the men in black.”

King Charles and his ultra ministers might nevertheless haveremained in solid control if they had been shrewd and sensitive men, aware of the rise of public discontent and flexible enough to appease it. Instead, they forged stubbornly ahead on the road to disaster. Villèle, though a talented administrator, lacked creative imagination and charismatic appeal. As the years passed, his leadership wasincreasingly challenged even within his own ultra majority. Abitter personal feud between Villèle and François-Auguste-René, Viscount de Chateaubriand, the most colourful of the ultra politicians, undermined both the ministry and the dynasty. This internal conflict contributed to Villèle's downfall; the elections of 1827 brought a sharp resurgence of liberal and moderate strength. The king patched together a disparate ministry of moderates and ultras headed by an obscure official, Jean-Baptiste, Viscount de Martignac. But Martignac lacked Charles's confidence andfailed to win the support of the more moderate leftists in the Chamber. In 1829 the king brusquely dismissed him andrestored the ultras to power.

The delayed consequences of this act were to be fatal to the dynasty. The king, instead of entrusting power to an able ultra such as Villèle or a popular one such as Chateaubriand, chose a personal favourite, Jules-Auguste-Armand-Marie, Prince de Polignac, a fanatical reactionary. The makeup of the Cabinet, which included several members of the most bigoted faction of “ultra-ultras,” seemed to indicate the king's determination to polarize politics. That, in any case, was the immediate result. On the left the mood turned aggressively hostile; the republicans of Paris began to organize; an Orleanist faction emerged, looking to a constitutional monarchy headed by the king's cousin, Louis-Philippe, Duke d'Orléans. The liberal banker Jacques Laffitte supplied funds for a new opposition daily, Le National , edited by a young and vigorous team whose most notable member was Adolphe Thiers. A confrontation of some sort seemed inevitable.

Some of Polignac's ministers urged a royal coup d'état at once, before the rejuvenated opposition could grow too strong. Instead, the king procrastinated for several months, offering no clear lead or firm policy. When the Chamber met at last in March 1830, its majority promptly voted an address to the throne denouncing the ministry. The king retaliated by dissolving the Chamber and ordering new elections in July. Both Charles and Polignac hoped that pressure on the electors, plus foreign policy successes, might shape the outcome. Such a success was won at just the opportune moment: news came that Algiers had fallen to a French expeditionary force sent to punish the Bey for assorted transgressions. But even this brilliant victory could not divert the fury of the king's critics. The opposition won 274 seats, the ministry 143. Charles's alternatives were now clear: to substitute a moderate for Polignac and accept the role of constitutional monarch or to risk a royal coup d'état that would leave the Charter of 1814 in tatters. Without hesitation he chose the second path. King and ministers prepared a set of decrees that dissolved the newly elected Chamber, further restricted the already narrow suffrage, andstripped away the remaining liberty of the press. These July Ordinances, made public on the 26th, completed the polarization process and ensured that the confrontation would be violent.

 





 





 





 
 

Encyclopædia Britannica

The restoration and constitutional monarchy

The Revolution of 1830

The July Revolution was a monument to the ineptitude of Charles X and his advisers. At the outset, few of the king's critics imagined it possible to overthrow the regime; they hoped merely to get rid of Polignac. As for the king, he naively ignored the possibility of serious trouble. No steps were taken to reinforce the army garrison in Paris; no contingency plans were prepared. Instead, Charles went off to the country to hunt, leaving the capital weakly defended.During the three days known to Frenchmen as Les Trois Glorieuses (July 27–29), protest was rapidly transmuted into insurrection; barricades went up in the streets, manned by workers, students, and petty bourgeois citizens (some of them former members of the National Guard, which Charles,in pique, had disbanded in 1827). On July 29 some army unitsbegan to fraternize with the insurgents. The king, on July 30,consented at last to dismiss Polignac and to annul the July Ordinances; but the gesture came too late. Paris was in the hands of the rebels, and plans for a new regime were crystallizing rapidly.

As the insurrection developed, two rival factions had emerged. The republicans—mainly workers and students—gained control of the streets and took over the Hôtel de Ville, where on July 29 they set up a municipal commission. They looked to the venerable Marquis de Lafayette as their symbolic leader. The constitutional monarchists had their headquarters at the newspaper Le National; their candidate for the throne was Louis-Philippe, Duke d'Orléans. Louis-Philippe was at first reluctant to take the risk, fearing failure and renewed exile; Adolphe Thiers undertook the task of persuading him and succeeded. On July 31 Louis-Philippe made his way through a largely hostilecrowd to the Hôtel de Ville and confronted the republicans. His cause was won by Lafayette, who found a constitutional monarchy safer than the risks of Jacobin rule; Lafayette appeared on the balcony with Louis-Philippe and, wrapped in a tricolour flag, embraced the duke as the crowd cheered.Two days later Charles X abdicated at last, though on condition that the throne pass to his grandson, “the miraclechild.” But the parliament, meeting on August 7, declared the throne vacant and on August 9 proclaimed Louis-Philippe “king of the French by the grace of God and the will of the nation.”


The July monarchy

The renovated regime (often called the July monarchy or the bourgeois monarchy) rested on an altered political theory and a broadened social base. Divine right gave way to popular sovereignty; the social centre of gravity shifted from the landowning aristocracy to the wealthy bourgeoisie. The Charter of 1814 was retained but no longer as a royal gift to the nation; it was revised by the Chamber of Deputies and in its new form imposed on the king. Censorship was abolished; the tricolour was restored as thenational flag, and the National Guard was resuscitated. Roman Catholicism was declared to be simply the religion “of the majority of Frenchmen,” the voting age was lowered to 25, and the property qualification reduced to include all who paid a direct tax of 200 (formerly 300) francs.The suffrage was thus doubled, from about 90,000 to almost 200,000.

The new king seemed admirably suited to this new constitutional system. The “Citizen King” was reputed to be a liberal whose tastes and sympathies coincided with those of the upper bourgeoisie. He had spent the Revolutionaryyears in exile but was out of sympathy with the irreconcilable émigrés; and since his return, his house in Paris had been a gathering place for the opposition. Yet, in spite of appearances, Louis-Philippe was not prepared to accept the strictly symbolic role of a monarch who (in Thiers's phrase) “reigns but does not govern.” His authority, he believed, rested on heredity and not merely on the will ofthe Chamber; his proper function was to participate activelyin decision making and not merely to appoint ministers who would govern in his name. As time went by, he was increasingly inclined to choose ministers who shared his view of the royal power. The Orleanist system thus rested on a basic ambiguity about the real locus of authority.

In the Chamber two major factions emerged, known by the rather imprecise labels right-centre and left-centre. The former group, led by the historian François Guizot, shared the king's political doctrines; it saw the revised Charter of 1814 as an adequate instrument of government that needed no further change. The left-centre, whose ablest spokesman was the kingmaker Adolphe Thiers, saw 1830 as the beginning rather than the culmination of a process of change. It favoured restricting the king's active role and broadening the suffrage to include the middle strata of the bourgeoisie. These differences of viewpoint, combined with the king's tendency to intrigue, contributed to chronic political instability during the 1830s.

The decade of the 1830s was marked also by repeated challenges to the regime by its enemies on the right and the left and by a series of attempts to assassinate the king. Both the ultras (who now came to be called legitimists) and the republicans refused to forgive “the usurper” of 1830. In1832 the Duchess de Berry, mother of “the miracle child,” landed clandestinely in southern France in an effort to spark a general uprising; but the scheme collapsed, and most legitimists withdrew into sullen opposition. More serious wasthe agitation of the republicans, fed by rising labour discontent. In the most serious of these outbreaks (Lyon, 1831), 15,000 workers confronted the National Guard in the streets and suffered some 600 casualties before capitulating. Again in 1834 there were serious disturbances in Lyon and Paris. In 1836 it was the turn of the Bonapartist pretender to challenge the regime. Since Napoleon's death in 1821, a legend had rapidly taken shape around his name. No longer detested as a ruthless autocrat who had sacrificed a generation of young Frenchmen on the battlefield, he became transmuted into the Little Corporal who had risen tothe heights by his own talents and had died a victim of British jealousy. The emperor's nephew Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte presented himself as the true heir; he crossed the frontier in 1836 and called on French troops in Strasbourg to join his cause. The venture failed ignominiously, as did also a second attempt on the Channel coast in 1840. Louis-Napoleon was condemned to prison for life but managed in 1846 to escape to England. Interspersed with these attempts at political risings were individual attacks on the king's person; the most elaborate of these plots was the one organized by a Corsican named Giuseppe Fieschi in 1835.

By 1840, however, the enemies of the regime had evidentlybecome discouraged, and a period of remarkable stability followed. François Guizot emerged as the key figure in the ministry; he retained that role from 1840 to 1848. One of thefirst Protestants to attain high office in France, Guizot possessed many of the moral and intellectual qualities that marked this small but influential minority. Hard-working and intelligent, Guizot was devoted to the service of the king and to the defense of the status quo. He was convinced thatthe wealthy governing class was an ideal natural elite to which any Frenchman might have access through talent and effort. To those who complained at being excluded by the property qualification for voting and seeking office, Guizot's simple reply was “Enrichissez-vous!” (“Get rich!”). His government encouraged the process by granting railway and mining concessions to its bourgeois supporters and by contributing part of the development costs. High protective tariffs continued to shelter French entrepreneursagainst foreign competition. The result was a modest economic boom during the 1840s, beginning the transformation of France from a largely rural into an industrial society.

Guizot shared with Louis-Philippe a strong preference for a safe and sane foreign policy. The king, from the beginning of his reign, had cautiously avoided risks and confrontations and had especially sought friendly relations with Britain. In 1830, when the revolution in Paris inspired the Belgians to break away from Dutch rule, Louis-Philippe avoided the temptation of seeking to annex Belgium or of placing one of his sons on the Belgian throne. Again in 1840, when a crisis flared up in the Middle East and Thiers (then head of the government) took an aggressive stance that threatened to coalesce all of Europe against France, the king had found an excuse to replace his firebrand minister. Guizot continued this cautious line through the 1840s, with the single exception of an episode in Spain. A long contest involving rival suitors for the Spanish queen's hand finally tempted Guizot, in 1846, to try for a cheap diplomatic victory; it infuriated the British and helped to destroy the Anglo-French entente. One problem Guizot inherited from his predecessors was that of Algeria. Since 1830 the French had maintained an uneasy presence there, wavering between total withdrawal and expanded conquest. The decision to remain had been made in the mid-1830s; during the Guizot era, General Thomas-Robert Bugeaud de La Piconnerie's forces broke the back of Algerian resistance,pushed the native population back into the mountains, and began the process of colonizing the rich coastal plain.
 

 
 

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