Teaching

Source Collection: Legacies of the Revolution

Festival of National Unity, 14 July 1939 Rights of Man

Overview

The powerful influence of the French Revolution can be traced in the reactions of those who witnessed the event firsthand and in the strong emotions it has aroused ever since. For some, the French Revolution was a beacon of light that gave a world dominated by aristocratic privilege and monarchical tyranny a hope of freedom. Nineteenth-century revolutionaries and nationalists frequently harkened back to the days of 1789, sometimes even taking up the names, terms, colors, and rituals of the original French Revolution. Twentieth-century revolutionaries looked to 1789 as a kind of template for revolutionary events. If Robespierre could come on the heels of Lafayette and he, in turn, could give way to Napoleon, then might modern revolutions inevitably follow a similar scripted path, toward authoritarianism? Did revolutions always begin with hope and enthusiasm only to turn violently radical and then permit an authoritarian, even dictatorial figure, to seize power? Were revolutions like some sort of political fever, with distinct symptoms? Scholars and political activists continue to argue these questions. Yet no matter what their interpretation, the lessons and impact of the Revolution continue to be at the heart of several different historical and contemporary political debates.

This source collection consists of 41 primary sources.

Essay

Part I: Contemporary Reactions to the French Revolution
The events of the French Revolution alternately energized and repulsed contemporaries. Many experienced what English poet William Wordsworth immortalized in his poem French Revolution As It Appears to Enthusiasts (1804; also in Prelude): "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/ But to be young was very heaven!" The French overthrow of the old regime and all it stood for was celebrated and commemorated in songs, engravings, poems, paintings, and music. Some, like Wordsworth, even voyaged to France to see events firsthand. Yet from the first months of the Revolution, others saw a darker side of the unfolding drama. The first major debate about the French Revolution outside of France was sparked by a lively polemical tract written by Edmund Burke just months after the fall of the Bastille. A member of the British Parliament, Burke had gained a reputation defending the Americans in their revolt against the British crown. He was much less favorably impressed by the French Revolution, however. In Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), he expressed reservations about the revolutionaries' reliance on reason as the sole standard of government and predicted, quite presciently it turned out, that the French would eventually turn to violence to enforce their decisions. Burke went beyond criticizing the French revolutionaries; he offered the first systematic defense of "conservative" principles, arguing that gradual change and a kind of organic continuity in society stretching across the generations were preferable to violent, rapid upheavals in the structure of government. From its very beginning then, the French Revolution stimulated profound political controversy and equally profound rethinking of the nature of government itself. Because the revolutionaries aimed to rebuild government from the foundation upward, substituting reason for tradition and equal rights for privilege, they inevitably provoked wide-ranging reactions.

Burke's attack set off a firestorm of protest within Great Britain. His passing reference to the lower classes as "the swinish multitude" got him swift responses, with titles such as "Hog's Wash" and "Pig's Meat" and an "Address to the Hon. Edmund Burke from the Swinish Multitude." The most effective response was that of Thomas Paine, the English author of the famous defense of the American cause, Common Sense (1776). Paine's Rights of Man: Being an Answer to Mr. Burke's Attack on the French Revolution (1791 and 1792) laid out a cogent defense of the use of reason in remaking the forms of government. Paine insisted that good government depended on establishing a constitution that guaranteed the natural rights of all men. In his view, Great Britain did not have a constitution; it had only a long history of fraudulent monarchical and aristocratic claims guaranteed by force. By 1793 Paine's attack on the English social and political establishment had sold some 200,000 copies, more than any other political polemic in English history. Paine's prestige became so great that he was elected to the National Convention despite the fact that he did not speak French.

Burke's tract also provoked one of the first sustained feminist arguments in world history in Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792). (Document 3) Wollstonecraft's pronouncement that women should be educated like men in order to become virtuous citizens created instant controversy. One critic declared that her works would be read "with disgust by every female who has any pretensions to delicacy; with detestation by every one attached to the interests of religion and morality" (Miriam Brody, ed., Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, [London: Penguin Books, 1992], 2, citing the Historical Magazine, [1799], 1:34). If her arguments for women's rights seem relatively tame to present-day readers, then that is probably a good measure of the impact on the modern world of French Revolutionary feminists.

North Americans followed the French Revolution with special interest. Americans believed that the events of 1789 drew heavily on their own experience. The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen seemed to borrow strikingly from the states' bill of rights. Even more direct influence took place when Thomas Jefferson, resident in France at this time, passed along specific ideas to the legislators through the Marquis de Lafayette. Although the French Revolution took a far different path than the North American variety, this interaction was close, so it is not surprising that the initial U.S. reaction to the Revolution was positive. Virtually the only dissenting voice among the leading American politicians was that of John Adams who, like Burke, expressed his reservations early. Indeed, throughout the revolutionary decade, the Republican Party, led by Jefferson, remained generally favorable, although the Terror did inspire some wavering. Others, however, became opposed, especially the Federalists. Despite its declining influence in American politics, this party carried the day with regard to U.S. policy toward France. Conflict over land and borders between these two ostensibly friendly nations would sour many Americans on France and its revolution by the late years of the revolutionary decade.

Philosophers, poets, and novelists felt compelled to comment on the French Revolution as much as politicians. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant followed events with interest, sometimes enthusiasm, but also with worry. As his treatises show, he appreciated the deep power of the notion of right. The French aristocrat François-René Chateaubriand took a more negative view. In his Historical, Political and Moral Essay on Revolutions, Ancient and Modern, he denounced the Jacobins as "infuriated men" who had erected "a thousand sanguinary guillotines" in all the villages and towns of France. The German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel used the course of the French Revolution to develop his notions about the essential, inner meaning of history. Such use of the Revolution as a springboard for philosophical and political inquiry marked the degree to which contemporaries viewed this event as both a turning point and as a break with older ways of doing things.

Part II: Revolutionary Legacies in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
Since the beginning of the nineteenth century the legacy of the French Revolution has been hotly debated by politicians, revolutionaries, and political theorists. The Revolution of 1789 gave birth to what soon came to be called "ideologies," a word that was first used during the French Revolution. An ideology is a defined doctrine about the best form of social and political organization. Before 1789, most people (the Americans of the new United States were the great exception) lived with the general form of government their ancestors had known for centuries, and by and large this meant hereditary monarchy. After 1789, no form of government could be accepted as legitimate without justification. The revolutionaries had established a republic, so from the foundation of the republic in 1792 onward, at the very least, republicans would challenge monarchists. Among republicans, some preferred a government directed by the elite, whereas others, known as democratic republicans, advocated a more democratic structure. Many other self-conscious ideological alternatives arose during this era—nationalism, liberalism, socialism, and eventually communism—all as a result of, or in reaction to, the French Revolution. Only conservatism stood opposed, arguing that all of these doctrines of social or political change were dangerous innovations.

Modern nationalism began in France during the revolutionary decade and was spread by revolutionary and Napoleonic armies to the rest of Europe. Many Europeans adopted this idea because nationalism defended the right of a nation to resist French control. After the fall of Napoleon and the remaking of European boundaries at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, nationalists turned their ire on foreign rulers: the Austrians in Italy, the Russians in Poland, and so on. From Derry (Northern Ireland) to Danang (Vietnam) and from Helsinki to the Cape of Good Hope, this struggle for national liberation became one of the most important themes of nineteenth- and twentieth-century European and world politics.

Nationalists hoping for their own nation-state might favor either a monarchy or a republic. Among republicans, they might be either socialists or liberals. The Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini took the left-wing nationalist position; he believed that nationalism should be revolutionary and allied with projects to defend the interests of the poor. Others, such as the "utopian socialist" Charles Fourier, wanted to keep the revolutionary legacy of social reform but limit the violence that was increasingly associated with the "Reign of Terror" of 1793–94. This same violence repelled other generally favorable nineteenth-century commentators such as the philosopher John Stuart Mill and the historian and politician Alexis de Tocqueville, who preferred a more elitist approach to any reform of the structure of government.

Not only did the Revolution spawn many beliefs that further extended its logic, but as Hegel surmised, it also created reactions against it. Even before 1789, the "anti-philosophes" had decried Enlightenment thinking. Burke and others quickly denounced the Revolution itself, particularly the potential for violence. The next two centuries would witness the rise of a powerful and diverse group of detractors. Even Hippolyte Taine, holding a chair in the history of the French Revolution at the Sorbonne and a defender of the legacy of freedom he saw emanating from the Revolution, considered the event as a whole monstrous.

Many French who opposed the French Revolution did so because of their religious beliefs. Although the Revolution had instigated a degree of religious oppression, it also permitted an uneasy truce with the churches. The fundamental secularism of the revolutionary project offended those who preferred that state power be dependent on religious authority. Typical of these critics was Joseph de Maistre, an aristocratic writer and philosopher who condemned the Revolution as fundamentally evil and impious. In the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, conservatives also linked the French Revolution to what they saw as the negative aspects of democracy and mass politics. Gustave Le Bon, an influential theorist of "crowd" behavior, warned that the French Revolution epitomized the irrationality, savagery, and violence of the mob. Some conservatives went even further, decrying the universal principles of human rights upon which the Revolution was based. Critics saw danger in these universal appeals, especially as they promised to open first France and then the world to social equality for Jews and for immigrants. The "cosmopolitan" form of thinking, so they alleged, ate away at the fibers knitting together the French people and violated the deep roots of moral strength of France vested in its people. These two commitments—religion and nativism—had separable chronologies, but became increasingly linked as some individuals, such as Charles Maurras, leader of the right-wing organization Action française, insisted that France must become, or return to being, more devout and more nationalistic. For such critics, the legacy of the French Revolution was almost wholly negative.

Socialists and communists had a more positive view of the French Revolution: they considered it an important harbinger of the future. However, they wanted to go beyond its tentative promises of individual rights and legal change within a constitutional order. Socialists and communists believed that the French Revolution had not gone far enough. The founders of communism as an international movement, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, both commented extensively on the French Revolution, hoping to find in those events important lessons for the future course not only of communism but of history itself.

Interest in the French Revolution was especially intense at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. In 1889 France's Third Republic celebrated the centennial of the French Revolution with the building of the Eiffel Tower. Arguments about revolutionary events continued to be heated, especially because ü had broken out again in France in 1830, 1848, and 1870–71. The latter revolution, associated with the Paris Commune, was especially violent; as many as 20,000 people died in street fighting in 1871 when the new republican government sent its army to disband the revolutionary commune (city government) of Paris. Because of the continuing cycle of revolutions in France and the promise of a worldwide revolution through communism, memories of the original French Revolution of 1789 continued to haunt the writings of important socialists, anarchists, and communist revolutionaries.

The French Revolution clearly had repercussions throughout the world. For example, the Napoleonic occupation of Spain in 1808 was the spark that ignited the independence movement in Latin America. Beginning with Mexico in 1810, Central and South American local elites declared their independence from Spain and Portugal. Most countries achieved independence in the 1820s. Others, like the revolutionary Simon Bolívar, rejected the control of these elites, preferring to follow the example of Haiti. The spread of nationalism to Latin America was accompanied by some of the other liberal ideas associated with the French Revolution, but not by all.

Twentieth-century revolutionaries in east Asia were interested not only in the potent ideology of nationalism, but also in the transformative power of revolutions on both society and the state. Exposed early to the model of the French Revolution, those espousing revolutionary change in China and Vietnam made the French Revolution of 1789 topical in a new part of the world.

Outside the realm of politics, the allure of the Revolution remained important, not only for those who wished to comment on contemporary events but also for the innate drama and pathos of many revolutionary events. Alexis de Tocqueville observed, "What remains most alive in the original spirit of the Revolution is in . . . literature. . . . [T]he only Frenchmen who today can be connected by a kind of esprit de corps to their fathers are the men of letters" (Roger Boesche, ed., Alexis de Tocqueville: Selected Letters on Politics and Society, trans. James Toupin and Roger Boesche [Berkeley, 1985], 329). Some of the giants of nineteenth-century European literature wrote about the French Revolution, including Honoré de Balzac, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, and Anatole France. These literary treatments kept the people, the events, and the ideas of the Revolution alive for generations. In the twentieth century, the powerful imagery and impact of the Revolution made it an ideal candidate for the cinema. Some of the greatest films in French cinematic history have focused on the revolutionary period. From Abel Gance's Napoleon in 1927 to Andrezj Wajda's Danton in 1984, directors have grappled with the meaning of the events of the French Revolution. The frequent twentieth-century remakes of films about the Scarlet Pimpernel demonstrate that the allure of the Revolution remains alive and well in the English-speaking world too.

Has the importance of the French Revolution now faded? In some ways, it has simply shifted. Scholars continue to be interested in the causes, course, and legacy of the French Revolution, but they have a wider view of it: not only do they seek its meaning in a broader range of events and activities, in the traditional arenas of diplomacy and high politics as well as in the newer ones of festivals, symbols, engravings, and songs. They also seek its significance in many more places, from Haiti and the other French colonies to Egypt, Russia, and wherever the French armies marched, indeed, to wherever the message of the Revolution was heard.

Even before the Revolution had ended, before the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, enterprising artists and printers had begun to publish collections of engravings that recounted the principal events of the French Revolution for subscribers. Revolutionary governments aimed to spread their message through propaganda, and they left no item of everyday life untouched in their efforts to spread the gospel of revolution.

Memories of the French Revolution of 1789 are not only historical in nature, but also constitute a living legacy. They are found in places, images, and objects. A few liberty trees still stand today, usually large oaks on the village square. Many people kept mementos of the Revolution, whether engravings, ribbons (in the form of cockades), crockery, even bits of the stones of the Bastille prison. Songs continued in popular memory. The sheer weight of these memories can be measured by the very large number of objects and images still in existence. The Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris houses some 30,000 engravings from the time of the French Revolution. Libraries in the United States have many thousands of them too. Museums all over France have material collections of crockery, ribbons, flags, swords, and clothing, all of which could serve as emblems of revolution—or counterrevolution. The Museum of the French Revolution in Vizille, France, has the most systematic and extensive of these collections, which we can only sample here.

Primary Sources

Festival of National Unity, 14 July 1939

Festival of National Unity, 14 July 1939
Annotation
In this celebration of national unity, the focus on 1789 is quite apparent. The Phrygian cap at the top of the decorations recalled the Revolution, as did the date for this celebration. Of course, both symbol and date had been used and appropriated repeatedly since 1789, but this is a clear reference to the 1789 event. A "Popular Front," leftist government was in control and saw its origins in the revolutionary tradition begun in the eighteenth century. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France

Annotation
Born in Ireland, Edmund Burke (1729–97) immediately opposed the French Revolution, warning his countrymen against the dangerous abstractions of the French. He argued the case for tradition, continuity, and gradual reform based on practical experience. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Rights of Man

Rights of Man
Annotation
Thomas Paine (1737–1809) played a vital role in mobilizing American support for their own independence, and he leapt to support the French revolutionaries when Edmund Burke attacked. Elected deputy to the French National Convention in 1793, Paine nearly lost his head as an associate of the Girondins during the Terror. In his reply to Burke, Paine defended the idea of reform based on reason. He dedicated the work to George Washington with the words: "Sir, I present you with a small treatise in defense of those principles of freedom which your exemplary virtue hath so eminently contributed to establish. That the rights of man may become as universal as your benevolence can wish, and that you may enjoy the happiness of seeing the new world regenerate the old." Paine argued that people now alive should not be bound by what their ancestors did; tradition and heredity should count for nothing. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Annotation
The English writer Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–97) argued against both Burke and Rousseau, defending the notion of natural rights, particularly rights for women, such as equal education. She insisted that women could not become virtuous, even as mothers, unless they won the right to participate in economic and political life on an equal basis with men. Although she did not specifically demand the right to vote for women, her emphasis on women’s rights made her an object of ridicule for some, heroism for others. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Mr. de Lafayette, Commander of the Paris National Guard, Receives the City’s 'Sword for the Defense of Liberty'

Annotation
During the French Revolution the most visible connection between America and France was Lafayette, who had volunteered for service in the American Revolution and had been mentored by Washington and Jefferson. This special status vaulted him to prominence in 1789 as he became a delegate in the Estates–General, head of the National Guard, and a general in the military. In a way, his background undid him as his attachment to relatively moderate forms of American liberty isolated him as the Revolution became radicalized. Increasingly alienated, he was forced out of his general’s command, and he fled to avoid arrest. After Napoleon came to power, Lafayette returned to France, where he defended his ideals of moderate revolution until his death in 1832, at the age of sixty–five. This print commemorates the gift of a sword presented by the Parisian guard after Lafayette resigned this post in October, 1791. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

With the Help of Mr. de la Fayette, the French Nation Defeats Despotism

Annotation
In this image, Lafayette’s role is praised. A warlike liberty stands with him over a defeated despotism at his feet. Revolutionaries often represented despotism as a multiheaded monster. Original Format Engraving Physical Dimensions 27 x 18.5cm Title (French) La Nation française assistée de Mr de la Fayette terrasse le despotisme et les abus du Regne Feodal qui terrassaient le peuple This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Washington and Lafayette in Color

Washington and Lafayette in Color
Annotation
Washington (left) had taken a special interest in Lafayette (right). Both men are shown in profile dressed in military attire. The juxtaposition of the two men with the French and American flags shown behind their portraits highlights the closeness between the two men and their two countries. Title Washington and Lafayette in Color Original Format Lithograph This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Statue of Lafayette-Le Puy

Statue of Lafayette-Le Puy
Annotation
Standing as a testament to the lasting impact of the Revolution, this statue of Lafayette graces the streets of a provincial town in present-day France. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Thomas Jefferson on the French Revolution

Thomas Jefferson
Annotation
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. Still, he believed that many of the steps taken by the French, such as deposing their king, had been necessary, and claimed that most North Americans supported the French. The Terror would later make him reconsider still more, though without renouncing the Revolution entirely. Here he explains himself to the secretary he had used while working in France. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

A Positive American View

Annotation
Benjamin Franklin Bache, grandson on Benjamin Franklin, was a supporter of Jefferson’s Republican Party. His sympathetically summarized the situation in France during the period when Louis XVI was put on trial and executed. He defended the actions of the revolutionaries on the grounds that they were merely responding to the provocations of nobles and other "traitors." Even through the Terror Bache continued his strong support. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Alexander Hamilton on the French Revolution

Alexander Hamilton
Annotation
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. However, even he concedes how important the French Revolution is. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Kant, The Contest of Faculties

Immanuel Kant
Annotation
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. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

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

Annotation
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. Here he analyzes the Jacobins whom he clearly despises. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

The Philosophy of History

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Annotation
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. They give the flavor of his philosophy of history and of his preoccupation with the French Revolution. Hegel was almost obsessed with Napoleon, whom he described as "world history on horseback." Hegel argued that the French Revolution failed because it had not been preceded by a prior Protestant Reformation, as in the German states. Freedom, he insisted, depended on a mental change; it could not be enforced politically. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Mazzini on Revolutionary Nationalism

Guiseppi Mazzini
Annotation
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. In the revolutions of 1848, he returned to Italy and became president of the short–lived Roman republic before it fell to French forces protecting the papacy. Mazzini played an important role in spreading the cause of Italian nationalism and Italian unity, although his hope for a revolution proved to be greatly delayed. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Charles Fourier on the Revolution

Charles Fourier
Annotation
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. His optimistic views on what society could look like earned him the epithet of "utopian socialist," but his views helped keep revolutionary principles alive in the public consciousness. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

John Stuart Mill on the French Revolution

John Stuart Mill
Annotation
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. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Alexis de Tocqueville on the French Revolution

Alexis de Tocqueville
Annotation
The nobleman Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–59) was a historian, social critic, and politician who wrote a vastly influential work entitled The Old Régime and the French Revolution (1856). Tocqueville worried that although the revolutionary legacy was still alive and well, liberty was no longer its primary objective. He believed, indeed, that it had been a casualty of how the French Revolution emerged. He feared that just as the first Republic had fallen to Napoleon and the second had succumbed to his nephew Napoleon III, all future revolutions might experience the same fate. Here he ruminates about the shortcomings of the French Revolution. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Hippolyte Taine on the French Revolution

Hippolyte Taine on the French Revolution
Annotation
Literary critic and historian, Hippolyte Taine (1828–1893) was lionized by late–nineteenth–century republican France. He emphasized rationalism and mathematical simplicity, being a bitter critic of the ideological abstractions that had occupied France since 1789. He searched for formulas to understand history and human behavior to comprehend France’s humiliation by Prussia in 1870–71 and, here in his study of the French Revolution, he attacked the revolutionaries for their lack of respect for government and for being petty despots. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

De Maistre, Considerations on France

Joseph de Maistre
Annotation
Joseph de Maistre (1753–1821) defended the absolutist legacy and the close alliance of throne and altar. He thought the Revolution and the republic it created in the name of reason and individual rights had failed. De Maistre and other staunch Catholic royalists believed that tradition and faith had to fill the void opened by the failure of the Revolution. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Le Bon, The Psychology of Revolution

Gustave Le Bon
Annotation
Gustave Le Bon (1841–1931) disparaged the Revolution and the revolutionary legacy because he distrusted the common person, particularly when making collective decisions. His analysis of revolutionary crowds pictured them as primitive animals devoid of good decision–making abilities who had to be reigned in by a "strong man" or dictatorial figure. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Charles Maurras on the French Revolution

Charles Maurras
Annotation
A classical scholar and militant atheist and anti–Semite, Charles Maurras (1868–1952) became involved in politics during the Dreyfus Affair (1893–1906) when he founded a group known as Action Française. He believed that as a result of the Revolution, France had become dominated by outside influences, namely, Protestants, Freemasons, and especially Jews. He hoped to destroy these influences and return France to its traditional institutions, particularly the monarchy and Catholicism. Maurras and his movement embittered numerous groups and contributed to the development of attitudes and positions that would become identified with fascism between the two World Wars. Here he gives his thoughts on the French Revolution. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Karl Marx: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

Karl Marx
Annotation
The German philosopher and founder of international communism, Karl Marx (1818–83), wrote on many occasions about the French Revolution, which he considered the first stage in an eventual worldwide proletarian revolution. In this relatively early work from 1852, Marx compares the French Revolution of 1789 with that of 1848. Marx considered the French Revolution the classic example of the "bourgeois revolution," in which capitalism overthrew feudalism, creating the legal conditions under which capitalism could flourish. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Frederick Engels: Socialism, Utopic and Scientific

Frederick Engels
Annotation
Marx’s lifelong collaborator, Frederick Engels (1820–95), devoted himself to popularizing the ideas he had developed with Marx. In 1880 he published this pamphlet in French in order to explain the main principles of communism. In this excerpt Engels lays out the importance of the French Revolution in modern history and describes the reactions of the early socialists to its shortcomings. He terms their efforts "utopian" in order to contrast them to his and Marx’s more "scientific" version. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Solemn Inauguration of the Statue of Liberty

Solemn Inauguration of the Statue of Liberty
Annotation
Toned down and transformed from her revolutionary past, the Statue stands for liberty, even without a pike and a Phrygian cap. Furthermore, the Statue, a gift from France and a marvel of engineering, still connotes revolution because of the identification between France and revolutionary notions. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Peter Kropotkin on the Need for Individual Action

Peter Kropotkin
Annotation
The Russian author Peter Kropotkin (1842–1921) wrote prolifically about the French Revolution and about the ideology known as anarchism. He joined in the Russian revolutionary movement in 1872, was imprisoned by the tsarist state, and fled, escaping to Paris and then Switzerland, where he founded and edited a revolutionary newspaper. When he returned to Russia in 1917 he denounced the Bolshevik dictatorship installed during the recent revolutionary coup d’état. In this excerpt Kropotkin uses the French Revolution of 1789 as his model for revolution more generally. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Leon Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution

Leon Trotsky
Annotation
Leon Trotsky (1879–1940), whose original name was Lev Davidovich Bronstein, was one of the chief figures in the Russian Revolution of 1917. After years spent in exile agitating in favor of Russian communism, he put his ideas into practice as one of the leaders of the Bolshevik Revolution. After falling out with Stalin, he was expelled from the Russian Communist Party in 1927 and forced into exile once again. There he wrote prolifically about the meaning of the Russian—and French—revolutions. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Antonio Gramsci: Selections from The Prison Notebooks

Antonio Gramsci
Annotation
Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937) was an Italian intellectual who joined first the Socialist and then the Communist Party. Between 1924 and 1926 Gramsci was the head of the Italian Communist Party. In 1926 he was arrested by the Mussolini fascist government and sent to prison where he remained until 1937. The excerpt that follows comes from his prison notebooks and demonstrates his fascination with the French Revolution, especially its Jacobin phase. Although Gramsci was a devoted Marxist, he helped turn Marxism toward an interest in local conditions, particularly toward the alliance between intellectuals and workers. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Sun Yat–Sen, The Three Principles of the People

Annotation
Sun Yat–Sen (1866–1925) was a Chinese doctor who led the revolution against the Qing dynasty in 1911. Educated in Hawaii and Japan, he tried to compare Western concepts to Chinese conditions. Although his republic proved relatively short–lived, it showed the influence of the heritage of the French Revolution. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Ho Chi Minh, Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Viet–Nam

Annotation
Ho Chi Minh, the revolutionary name of Nguyen That Thanh (1890–1969), was the leader of the Vietnamese revolution for independence from the French. He was educated in France, where he became a communist. He returned home to fight Japanese occupation during World War II and to lead resistance to the French afterward. He denounced the imperialist deformation of revolutionary principles and explicitly allied himself with the promise of the original French Revolution. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Balzac’s The Chouans

Cover of The Chouans
Annotation
Novelist Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850) was a giant of nineteenth–century European literature. In his multivolume The Human Comedy, he investigated the general desire for social advancement in the post–revolutionary world. Although generally supportive of the Revolution, Balzac could also portray those rebels in the Vendée known as Chouans in a sympathetic or even romantic light, as the last flowering of a doomed plant. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Dickens, Tale of Two Cities

Cover of A Tale of Two Cities
Annotation
Charles Dickens’s (1812–70) novels generally appeared in serial form in popular newspapers. Usually he took his subjects and characters from contemporary English society, but in this novel he created one of the most enduring and pessimistic English–language portrayals of the French Revolution, particularly the fearsome female "knitters" of the Faubourg Saint–Antoine in Paris, like Madame Defarge, to whom he attributes much of the Revolution’s bloodthirstiness. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Hugo, Ninety–Three

Image of Victor Hugo
Annotation
Victor Hugo (1802–85) was an ardent republican and defender of the revolutionary legacy who went into exile during the Second Empire (1852–70). He lived long enough to become an icon of the Third Republic. He portrayed the democratic aspects of the Revolution in glowing, indeed somewhat romanticized terms. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

France, The Gods Are Athirst

Annotation
One of the most widely–read authors of the late nineteenth century, Anatole France (1844–1924) saw the humanity of even the most notorious revolutionary figures such as Jean–Paul Marat. Yet, dedicated to the principles of 1789, France preferred the earlier period of the Revolution. Consequently, his treatment of the National Convention is somewhat ironic despite his general support for the Republic. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

The Marseillaise

The Marseillaise
Annotation
A similar emphasis on patriotic unity can be seen in Jean Renoir’s film, La Marseillaise (1938). The movie tells the story of France’s national anthem, composed by Rouget de Lisle as a way to rally the troops. The song, written for soldiers from Marseillaise, soon inspired the entire nation. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution and Songs of the Revolution source collections.

The Marseillaise (War Song for the Army of the Rhine)

Annotation
Composed by Joseph Rouget de Lisle when he learned that France had declared war on Austria, the Marseillaise quickly became the anthem of the republican Revolution. it remains the French national anthem today. A republican anthem, the Marseillaise was considered suitable for all sorts of revolutionary events. While it was often sung casually in streets and parks, its learned composition also facilitated its adoption as a hymn by formally–trained musicians and singers. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution and Songs of the Revolution source collections.

Assembly of Notables, Held at Versailles

Assembly of Notables, Held at Versailles
Annotation
Here an engraver provides a view of the assembly, called by the King to get around the Parlement, a judicial body that blocked his initiatives. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Burning the Guardhouse on the Pont Neuf

Burning the Guardhouse on the Pont Neuf
Annotation
This retrospective shows that early in the French Revolution targets were often economic. This should be no surprise as the populace had a long tradition of taking the law into its own hands to rectify what they saw as injustices. Here a guardhouse is destroyed during a riot focused on a network of facilities regulating the market. Most dangerously, the crowd burned an effigy of Brienne, the leading minister in the government. Economic complaints were spilling into the political arena. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Speech in the Garden of the Palais-Royal

Thumbnail of drawing of man giving a speech for a crowd
Annotation
In this artistic rendition, on 12 July 1789 Camille Desmoulins stands on a table and encourages his listeners to rise against the threat to the Estates–General. He, and others of his ilk, would be successful in bringing about the fall of the Bastille on 14 July. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

National Assembly Relinquishes All Privileges

Annotation
This image, part of a series produced to show the most important events of the Revolution, focuses on 4 and 5 August 1789, when the system of privileges came to an end. This legal structure, characteristic of the old regime, guaranteed different rights for different people. Most obviously, nobles had advantages over commoners, but the system was a far more general phenomenon that encompassed guilds, cities, and regions. Almost, everyone participated in this system, but grievances were most obviously directed against the nobility. In destroying privilege, the National Assembly meant to set up a new system, in which every individual was equal before the law. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Saucière with Phrygian Bonnet

Annotation
An ornate gravy boat featuring a Phrygian bonnet framed by two olive branches. This source is a part of the Legacies of the Revolution source collection.

Credits

From LIBERTY, EQUALITY, FRATERNITY: EXPLORING THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, https://revolution.chnm.org/exhibits/show/liberty--equality--fraternity/legacies-of-the-revolution

How to Cite This Source

"Source Collection: Legacies of the Revolution," in World History Commons, https://worldhistorycommons.org/source-collection-legacies-revolution [accessed January 20, 2022]