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4 August Decrees

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In late July 1789, as reports of several thousand separate yet related peasant mobilizations poured into Paris from the countryside, a majority of them against seigneurial property, the deputies of the National Assembly debated reforming not just the fiscal system or the constitution but the very basis of French society. In a dramatic all–night session on 4–5 August, one deputy after another... Read More »

45 Years is Enough!

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While the world watched the events in Berlin, another Soviet ally in East-Central Europe suddenly collapsed: On November 9-10, after three-and-a-half decades in power, Bulgarian communist leader Todor Zhivkov was unceremoniously dumped. This poster - a map of the Bulgarian gulag - was circulated by the opposition Union of Democratic Forces during the spring 1990 election campaign.

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9 Thermidor: The Conspiracy against Robespierre

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This account of the proceedings in the Convention Hall on the 9 Thermidor Year II (27 July 1794) describes how Robespierre and Saint–Just, facing an organized attack by other members of the Committee of Public Safety, tried one last gamble, appealing to the deputies of the "Right" to come to their aid. These deputies repudiated the appeal, and the Convention unanimously voted for the... Read More »

A Bread Riot

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Bread was the basic staple of most people’s diets, and variations in the price of bread were keenly felt by the poor, especially by women who most frequently bought bread in the marketplace. Women would sometimes protest against what they thought to be unjust price increases for bread in what were known as "bread riots." As this excerpt shows, these were not usually violent, nor did they... Read More »

A British Observer of the September Massacres

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A British diplomat in Paris here describes, in dispatches back to London, the goings–on in Paris in early September, in light of news of advances by the Duke of Brunswick’s Prussian forces toward the capital. This diplomat was naturally most concerned with reporting the readiness of the Parisians to resist the British, which is evident in his focus on the National Assembly’s call to arms and... Read More »

A Conqueror of the Bastille Speaks

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Having assembled at the traditional protest place in front of the City Hall, known as place des grèves (meaning sandbar, which it was, but which has come to mean "strike"), the crowd set off in search of ammunition. Eventually arriving at the Bastille, the crowd demanded that the few guardians of the fortress surrender. One participant, Keversau, here describes in heroic terms the event that... Read More »

A Defender of the Bastille Explains His Role

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The soldiers stationed at the fortress did not see themselves as resisting the Revolution so much as keeping watch on a rather insignificant outpost that had nothing at all to do with the major events transpiring in Versailles. In this passage, a Swiss officer named Louis de Flue describes how his contingent was overrun and how he was brought back to the City Hall where, to his surprise, he... Read More »

A Democrat, or Reason and Philosophy

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This cartoon by the popular British caricaturist James Gillray depicts the British politician Charles James Fox as a sans–culotte. Wearing a cockade in his wig and a bandage on his forehead, the unshaven Fox raises his bloody left hand as he lifts his left leg to break wind. Notice his torn shirt, the bloody dagger in his belt, and the fact that he wears no pants. He sings the popular... Read More »

A Deputation of Women Citizens Demands Action on Food Prices (24 February 1793)

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In the rioting over prices of February 1793, women appealed first to the authorities, showing that they intended to communicate directly with their representatives in the municipal government of Paris. By explicitly referring to themselves as "citizens," these women publicly claimed their right to be heard.

A Female Writer’s Response to the American Champion or a Well–Known Colonist

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Better known for her defense of the rights of women, Olympe de Gouges defended the rights of the downtrodden in general. Here she points out the cruelty of slavery and expresses the hope that the slave trade will be abandoned.

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