Browse Primary Sources
Primary sources from world and global history, including images, objects, texts, and digitally-born materials – annotations by scholars contextualize sources.
Thumbnail of engraving of ceremony

The King Returns to Paris

From Berthault’s series of great moments in the Revolution, this engraving presents a version of events on 6 October 1789 favorable to the King. Reminiscent of orderly ceremonial royal appearances, this image suggests that the outcome stemmed from the King’s own will and that his heroic intervention prevented the massed National Guard units from firing.

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Thumbnail of print of Third Estate

The Tennis Court Oath at Versailles by Jacques–Louis David

This amazingly rich sketch by Jacques–Louis David is one of the most famous works from the French revolutionary era. The thrust of the bodies together and toward the center stand for unity. The spectators, including children at the top right, all join the spectators. Even the clergy, so villified later, join in the scene.

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Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson on the French Revolution

Although deeply sympathetic to the French in general and the revolutionary cause in particular, Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) deplored the excesses of violence that took place even before the implementation of the Reign of Terror.

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Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton on the French Revolution

Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804) represented the Federalist Party perspective on events in France. He, and they, supported the moderate phase of the Revolution, which they understood to be about U.S.–style liberty, but detested the attacks on security and property that took place during the Terror. In particular, Hamilton distrusted the popular masses.

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Immanuel Kant

Kant, The Contest of Faculties

The most influential German philosopher of the eighteenth century, Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), set the foundations for much of modern philosophy. He lectured on a wide variety of topics, from astronomy to economics. In this short statement from 1798, he captures much of the significance of the French Revolution for his time.

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François-René Chateaubriand

Historical, Political, and Moral Essay on Revolutions, Ancient and Modern

The French novelist and essayist François–René Chateaubriand (1768–1848) was a royalist who for a time admired Napoleon. Like Burke, he denounced the revolutionary reliance on reason and advocated a return to Christian principles. Although Chateaubriand detested the revolutionaries and their principles, he recognized that the French Revolution required extended commentary.

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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

The Philosophy of History

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) was a famous philosophy professor in Berlin whose lectures attracted many students, even though the lectures were extraordinarily abstract. The Philosophy of History was a compilation of his lectures given in 1830–31 and published after his death.

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Guiseppi Mazzini

Mazzini on Revolutionary Nationalism

The journalist and politician Guiseppi Mazzini (1805–72) was the apostle of nationalism during the first half of the nineteenth century. He was exiled by the Austrians from his native Italy in 1831 and spent the next two decades working unsuccessfully through Young Italy, a secret society dedicated to beginning a European–wide revolution on the Italian peninsula.

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Charles Fourier

Charles Fourier on the Revolution

Charles Fourier (1772–1837) was a salesman for a cloth merchant in Lyons who conceived of a different form of social organization, called a "phalanx," that was part garden city and part agricultural commune. All jobs would rotate and a network of small decentralized communities would replace the state. He also believed that equal rights for women were necessary for social progress.

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John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill on the French Revolution

John Stuart Mill (1806–73), an English civil servant and philosopher, was a firm believer in the liberal, democratic, and anti–absolutist elements of the legacy of the Revolution and hoped to extend these concepts as widely as possible. Most famous for On Liberty (1859) and The Subjection of Women (1869), Mill was profoundly influenced by the French Revolution.

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