Revolutions, Age of

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REVOLUTIONS, AGE OF. At the end of the eighteenth century a series of revolutions broke out on both sides of the Atlantic. In the 1960s the historians R. R. Palmer and Jacques Godechot argued that these were not discrete revolutions but manifestations of a single democratic revolution common to the entire Atlantic world. In fact, eighteenth-century revolutions shared a common language but little else, and each had significant unique features. Moreover, once the Revolution of 1789 broke out in France, the democratic features of this supposedly single Atlantic revolution ebbed away. The French Revolution was not inherently more radical than any of the others, but it did face entrenched and determined opposition from a very early stage, which forced the revolutionaries to violate their own principles and institute terror. Finally, once the French began to expand and annex surrounding countries and principalities, they transformed local democrats into unpopular collaborators and provoked much of the same kind of opposition as they had faced at home, and often for the same reasons. The repression in occupied territories was just about as brutal as anything that had been witnessed in France itself during the Terror. Such patterns of opposition and repression played themselves out throughout Europe, until the age of revolution ushered in an age of counterrevolution, a counterrevolution that was popular and enduring.

Partisans of change certainly had a common language, which had developed over the course of the eighteenth century, and a powerful sense of transnational solidarity. Phrases like "patriot," "liberty," "aristocrat," and "democrat" and symbols like the liberty tree, the eye of vigilance, and so on, cropped up in most of these revolutions. There was also widespread sympathy among European intellectuals, and later among journalists, for the "patriots" in various struggles. Enlightenment writers such as Voltaire, Jean Le Rond d'Alembert and Jean-Jacques Rousseau all celebrated the revolution against the oligarchs in Geneva (1760searly 1780s). The struggles of the Dutch patriots and certainly the American patriots also had extensive support. The journalist Camille Desmoulins (17601794) called his first newspaper Révolutions de France et de Brabant (Revolutions of France and Brabant).


Palmer was certainly right to call attention to the eighteenth-century struggles against oligarchies in various parts of Europe, but these oligarchies differed in their nature and in the ways they held power, and despite the common language of liberty among their opponents, the struggle against oligarchy took various forms. Geneva, whose revolution began in the 1760s, illustrates this point. By 1768, the majority natifs (those born in the city but with no political rights) had forced the ruling patricians to share power. By 1781 the citizenship was extended, again under pressure from the natifs and under the banner of equality of rights. This was too much for the French, who intervened in 1782 to restore the settlement of 1768.

The struggles in Geneva reassembled those that broke out later in France itself over the issue of municipal citizenship and access to office. The conflict in the United Provinces, however, was more complex. Here the Amsterdam oligarchy of merchants, who called themselves "republicans" and later "patriots," was pitted against the Orangist party, which supported the stadtholder and was backed by plebeian and noble elements as well as the more rural provinces. The Amsterdam merchants favored an alliance with France and, through France, support of the American rebels in their war for independence from Great Britain, while the Orangists favored the traditional alliance with Britain. In 1780 the merchants prevailed and went to war with Britain. Opinion blamed the stadtholder for the disastrous campaigns that followed. The fear of the prince's army provoked the formation of the Free Corps, which soon numbered some twenty-eight thousand volunteers. At the same time many municipal councils revolted against the prince's power of appointment, and some began to adopt the elective principle. The Prussians intervened in 1787 to restore the old order, while many patriots fled to the Austrian Netherlands or to France.

Meanwhile, the reforms of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II (ruled 17801790) threw huge areas of the Austrian empire into turmoil. Like the other "enlightened despots," Joseph was motivated in part by the desire to improve his finances and his military after Austria's mediocre performance in battle under his mother, Maria Theresa. Unlike his "enlightened" counterparts, he did not believe that further exploitation of his subjects was desirable. Instead, Joseph's policies borrowed from many of the nostrums of the intellectuals of his day. Thus his tax reforms were based on a thorough land survey that evaluated real resources, and they also annulled the exemptions for nobles and certain corporate bodies. He promulgated religious toleration for Protestants (but not for Jews or Muslims). He also suppressed the contemplative orders of the Roman Catholic Church, which he considered useless, and seized their property.

These measures provoked massive disturbances throughout Joseph's realms. Peasants in the Tyrol rebelled against the suppression of their monasteries, while the Hungarian nobility flirted with treason over the loss of their privileges. The most prolonged resistance originated in the Austrian Netherlands (roughly modern Belgium), where the numerous provincial Estates were upset that the new tax reforms had been introduced without their consent. Eventually, the Estates were simply replaced with a set of "rational" administrative bodies responsible to the emperor's officials in Brussels. Meanwhile, peasants in the Flemish-speaking regions revolted against the religious reforms. The war on the Turks delayed repression, but when repression came in mid-1789, it was met with widespread resistance. In a phenomenon that became common elsewhere, excitable priests and monks did everything they could to stir up opinion by claiming that "religion" was threatened. The patriots' civilian militiascontemptuously referred to as the "Army of the Moon" by the Austrians, who grossly underestimated themmet with considerable success, and their victories encouraged further rebellion. Finally, having routed the Austrians, the Estates General declared independence and the formation of a United States of Belgium in December 1789.


It is seductive to see parallels between the revolution in France and the revolutions in these other countries. After all, as in the Austrian Netherlands, the government in France needed to reorganize the fiscal system in order to compete with its great-power rivals. In France as elsewhere, oligarchs struggled among themselves for control of state power. But in Belgium, traditional society exerted itself against princely power, and so privilege protected all of society against despotism. In France, patriots saw privilege and despotism as one and the same. Furthermore, unlike in Geneva, the Dutch Republic, or Belgium, the repression from outside came very late in the French case, well after the revolution had defined itself. European powers initially interpreted the French Revolution as a collapse of French power and saw no reason to intervene; rather, they saw limitless advantage in letting France immolate itself. In short, because a revolution had broken out in a great power, other powers were bound to treat it differently. For that reason alone, the revolution in France followed a different course.

With the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (26 August 1789) the Revolution declared its principles: liberty under the law, due process, religious toleration, and protection of property. It took more than a year to work out the implications of these principles, but they were by any standard a radical departure from the recent past. The Constitution of 1791 established a unicameral legislature elected by an indirect but very wide male suffrage. The king was to have extensive executive powers over foreign relations and the military, as well as a veto over any legislation, one that could not be overridden easily. The constitution failed to provide for a speedy resolution to a clash between the legislature and the executive, leaving force as the only solution should such a conflict arise.

By the new constitution, the old division of France into provinces was abolished and replaced by eighty-three territorial entities called "departments." Although theoretically responsible to the national government, the department administrators were not paid officials but elected volunteers. Government was henceforth in the hands of at least a million enthusiastic citizens, who often governed in their own way, frequently ignoring direct orders from Paris.


The revolutionary crisis had begun over the insolvency of the crown, and the Constituent Assembly inherited huge problems of public finance. Its attempts to resolve these problems were disastrous. In a series of laws, the Assembly seized the property of the church and sold it at auction. But the church had much less property and many fewer resources than contemporaries imagined. Church land comprised about 3 to 4 percent of the national patrimony, not 10 to 15 percent as had been thought. Moreover, the Assembly's decision to issue noninterest-bearing bonds (paper money, in other words) called assignats turned out to be calamitous. Assignats amounted to a loan that was supposed to be retired as the church lands (termed biens nationaux ) were sold. But this did not happen. The economist and deputy Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier pointed out that biens nationaux were worth far less than they seemed, because the Assembly also assumed responsibility for the church's massive debt and the payment of clerical salaries. The value of the assignat against gold therefore began to fall almost immediately. There were more and more assignats in circulation that were not backed by the mass of biens nationaux. Thus in January 1791, the assignat had lost 10 percent of its value, and a year later, nearly 40 percent.

The consequences of this monetary disaster reverberated throughout the country and abroad. Farmers refused to bring grain to market if they were going to be paid in the deteriorating currency. The result was endless rioting from 1791 until 1795. Smart citizens paid their taxes in assignats, when they paid at all. Not only did the state lose, so did private individuals. Holders of government bonds, among whom the high nobility was well represented, had their fortunes wiped out. Landlords who received rents in cash were also big losers. The falling assignat even affected how the French fought their wars for the rest of the decade.

One of the biggest demands in the summer of 1789 was for fiscal equality. With the outbreak of the Revolution, the implicit assumption was that the destruction of fiscal privilege would lower the tax burden. This did not happen. Estimating whether the new regime's citizens paid more than the Old Regime's subjects is tricky, but it is certain that the Revolution did not effect much, or even any, transfer of wealth. By law, landlords were allowed to add the equivalent of the defunct tithe to leases. A rise in rents would have happened regardlessbecause of the intense land hunger in Franceand the rise in rents exceeded the former tithe and former seigneurial dues combined. Indeed, the higher rents gave landlords some compensation for the loss of their fiscal privileges. But the state was the main beneficiary, since the increase in taxes gouged landlords. In Brittany, for instance, large landowners paid roughly 15 percent of their incomes in taxes under the Old Regime, but 40 percent during the Revolution. Under Napoleon Bonaparte, this percentage was cut by half. No wonder the emperor was popular. Nobody had anticipated that fiscal equality would mean higher taxes.

It was in this context of monetary crisis, continuing economic inequality, and rising rents and taxes that the French were asked to express their loyalty to the Revolution, and the result in many areas of the country was disturbing to the new regime. The regime attempted to regulate the relations between church and state by means of a new law, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (12 July 1790). Unlike the Americans, the revolutionaries in France did not believe in the separation of church and state. Instead, they envisioned the clergy as proselytizers for the revolutionary regime, and the Civil Constitution was supposed to promote this new role. When the upper clergy balked, the Constituent Assembly added an oath of loyalty to the Civil Constitution. About 60 percent of French parish priests took the oath, but in large parts of the country, especially in the west and south, huge numbers of clerics refused it. In many cases, they had the support of their parishioners, many of whom had gotten nothing from a revolution that had once been so promising. Many of the supporters of the refractories, as those who refused the oath were called, were women who had deep emotional attachments to their parish priests, many of whom had long attended to their families. Still others supported the refractories simply because these clerics were overtly defiant of the bourgeois revolutionaries who, many felt, had deceived them.


A Revolution that should have been over at the end of 1789 thus proved impossible to conclude because of the unforeseen consequences of the Constituent Assembly's policies. National politics aggravated this turmoil immeasurably. On 20 June 1791, Louis XVI and his family fled Paris for the eastern frontier. What the king hoped to accomplish is unclear, and perhaps he did not know himself. The next day he was apprehended at Varennes and brought back to Paris. The flight to Varennes had enormous consequences. At first the politicians in the Constituent Assembly were masters of the situation. They had no intention of deposing the king and preferred to believe he had been kidnapped. Their determination to preserve the monarchy probably cut short a drift to republicanism in the provinces, and in the capital republicanism was dealt a violent blow in the Champ de Mars massacre (17 July 1791).

Nonetheless, restoring Louis XVI to the throne was a huge error. Many disgusted patriots, including the radical journalist Jacques-Pierre Brissot, began to demand a war on the hereditary enemy, Austria, to smoke out, as they said, the "great treasons." The question of war and the defense of the Revolution dominated the new Legislative Assembly (October 1791September 1792). According to Brissot, war would define loyalties clearly, and Louis XVI had shown where he stood by vetoing several laws penalizing the refractory clergy and émigrés, those who had fled abroad.

The vetoes not only revived the democrats in Paris, who began to denounce the king; they also galvanized the provinces. Democrats in the provinces had expressed their dismay at the king's betrayal following the flight to Varennes but had largely demurred on the issue of a penalty for his attempted escape. After the vetoes, many provincial administrations and many Jacobin clubs went far beyond the demands of the radicals in Paris. They illegally interned refractory priests, invoking a justification often heard later, during the Terror, that the safety of the people is the supreme law. They also demanded, well ahead of Paris, the suspension of the king. By mid-summer of 1792 dozens of National Guard battalions, including that of Marseille, converged on Paris, singing the hymn that later became the national anthem.

On 10 August 1792 the provincial National Guards, with some help from Parisian radicals, overthrew the monarchy. But this did not neutralize the immediate threat. The internal enemythe supporters of the refractory priestswas as dangerous as ever. Furthermore, Brissot finally persuaded the Legislative Assembly to declare war on Austria (20 April 1792). Prussia soon allied with Austria, and the Prussians were indeed the first to cross the frontier. Shortly after the fortress of Verdun surrendered to the Prussians, the September Massacres (26 September 1792) began in Paris. About 1,400 people were murdered in this appalling episode, in which murderers methodically dragged prisoners from their cells, set up kangaroo courts, and murdered the "guilty" in the streets. The most prominent victim was the Princesse de Lamballe, an intimate of Marie Antoinette, whose head and body parts were paraded through the Marais section of Paris.

The overthrow of the monarchy was also the death of the Constitution of 1791. Consequently, a new body, the National Convention, was elected to replace the Legislative Assembly. The Convention declared France a republic on 20 September 1792. Military victories at Valmy and Jemappes forced the Prussians out of France and allowed the French to occupy Belgium. The Convention also decided to put Louis XVI on trial. It ignored the fact that he was immune for all political acts under the Constitution of 1791. Despite widespread charges that the king was guilty of treason (a charge that many historians continue to repeat), the Convention failed to produce any evidence that he had betrayed his country in wartime.

Even so, the Convention found Louis guilty, and he was executed on 21 January 1793. The men of the Convention were convinced that they were living through a great moment in human history. They were right, but not for the reasons they imagined. They thought they had founded the republic of universal happiness, that the sacrifice of their king had made them true republicans, that spilling the blood of Louis the Last had sacralized the republic. It did none of this. Indeed, the republic succumbed to a dictatorship eleven years later, in part because of what they had done. In effect, the execution of the king provoked the counterrevolution, in the person of the king's brother, the new self-proclaimed regent. He vowed that a successful counterrevolution would demand the execution of the regicides. The execution of Louis XVI therefore rendered impossible any compromise between revolutionary and counterrevolutionary France.


The death of the king solved none of the pressing challenges before the Convention. In February and March, the Convention declared war on Great Britain, Holland, and Spain. Every great power except Russia was now at war with France. Moreover, the spring military campaign went badly. A renewed Austrian offensive forced the French into retreat. Worse still, one of the French generals, Charles-François du Périer Dumouriez, tried to turn his troops on Paris to "restore the sane part of the Convention." He failed, but his treason fueled the revolutionaries' already powerful conviction that conspiracy was everywhere and no one could be trusted.

The economy, meanwhile, teetered on the brink of collapse. By January 1793 the assignat was at half its original value. There were riots in several major cities, particularly in Paris, where journalists and demagogues demanded a law prescribing death to hoarders. The Convention balked at that, but it did decree a "maximum," a law fixing the price of grain. The maximum did little for the cities, but it did fix the price the government would pay for grain for the swelling armies of the republic.

Alongside foreign war and economic chaos, the third dimension of the crisis of 1793 was counterrevolutionary insurrection in the west of France. The first riots were spread over fourteen departments in Normandy, Brittany, Maine, Anjou, and Poitou. The revolutionary army and local National Guard put down most of the rebellion, but they failed to do so in four departments south of the Loire, known as the "Vendée militaire " or simply the "Vendée." This was easily the most extensive and enduring peasant rebellion of the entire Revolution. It began as a protest over the recruiting law of 24 February 1793, whereby the Convention conscripted 300,000 young men into the army. But whole communities, upset over higher taxes, higher rents, and the disruption of their spiritual life by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, soon joined the young men. By July, noble leaders, often impressed into service by their former "vassals," had formed a "Catholic and Royal Army of the West" and sent out emissaries to seek out British arms and money.

The Convention responded with the first steps toward the Terror. It established a Revolutionary Tribunal in Paris, whose initial purpose was to punish traitors like Dumouriez, and a Committee of Public Safety to take whatever measures were necessary to save the young republic. It also established revolutionary committees to arrest suspects, that is, anyone thought to be a potential enemy. And it passed the law of 10 March 1793, which established revolutionary tribunals that reduced enormously the protections for the accused as guaranteed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. Finally, it authorized its own members, known as "representatives on mission," to fan out over the provinces to supervise conscription and the application of revolutionary laws in general.

These early measures of defense provoked widespread resistance, especially in the cities of the south. Because local Jacobins took these measures even further than the Convention intended and threatened a bloodbath of their enemies, many in the south rebelled under the banner of "federalism." The federalists had little contact amongst themselves and not much of a program beyond resistance to the Jacobin vision of the future, but one by one they took over many cities in the region. These cities, Lyon, Marseille, Toulon, Bordeaux, and some smaller ones such as Arles and Aubagne, had all experienced lynchings the previous summer. Like the September Massacres in Paris, these lynchings had never been punished.


Federalism and the Vendée were defeated, at least militarily, by the end of 1793. At the same time, the purge of Brissot's friends from the Convention (31 May2 June 1793), the accession of Maximilien Robespierre to the Committee of Public Safety (27 July 1793), and the murder of the journalist-deputy Jean-Paul Marat in his bath by Charlotte Corday (13 July 1793) all combined to ratchet up a will to destroy the enemies of the Revolution.

These events led France to the Terror, the most violent and also one of the most misunderstood episodes of the Revolution. Most of the victims of the Terror were found guilty of counterrevolutionary acts, but in fact their trials were too short to establish guilt or innocence: in Marseilles they averaged twenty minutes each, in Lyon seventy-two seconds. Around Nantes, one tribunal passed 666 death sentences in three days. Among the victims were numerous women, priests, and children. In any case, the language of Terror was not defensive, and it was deliberately horrible and cruel. "The guillotine awaits its game birds," said the representative on mission in Arras, Joseph Le Bon. According to the representatives in Lyon,

Our enemies need a great example, a terrible lesson to force them to respect the cause of Justice and Liberty. All right then! We are going to give it to them....All their allies at Liberated City [Lyon] must fall before the thunderbolts of justice and their bloodied corpses, tossed into the Rhône, offer from its two banks until its mouth, under the walls of the infamous Toulon, to the eyes of the cowardly and ferocious English, the impression of horror and the image of the all powerful French people.

The Terror had many purposes, but one of the most common justifications at the time was that it was needed to purge the nation of corrupting influences and to regenerate the citizenry, to make it worthy of the egalitarian republic. Hence the necessity to make executions as spectacular as possible and hence, too, the frequent ceremonies, often known as dechristianization, to exorcize the Christian, royalist, and feudal past. The Terror was intended to purge the Old Regime from people's minds.

The Terror as mass execution, of course, failed, and it formally came to an end with the execution of Robespierre and his faction on 28 July 1794. But the successor regimes, known as the Thermidorean Convention (after the month in the revolutionary calendar when the Terror ended) and the Directory (the government established by the Constitution of the Year III, or 1795) nonetheless remained revolutionary regimes. They, too, aimed to produce a new republican man animated by public virtue, through reforms in the school curricula and lengthy, didactic public ceremonies. They were enthusiastically anticlerical and maintained the death penalty for returned refractory priests and émigrés. Finally, they established exceptional military commissions from time to time, whose legal basis and procedures were scarcely different from revolutionary courts of the Terror.


Thus, when the French expanded into western Europe, they brought with them not the promise of 1789a regime based upon the rights of man, fraternity, and limited governmentbut rather revolutionary regimes, which they imposed upon the newly liberated peoples. Moreover, they exported not only policies, but also stubborn habits of mind. French authorities viewed all opposition as the result of conspiracy, and religious dissidence as the work of refractory priests. They believed foreigners unworthy to receive the blessings of liberty, since they had been corrupted by centuries of despotism. The same attitudes had played themselves out in France itself; abroad, the result was the same: repression followed by resistance.

The pattern of repression and resistance appeared almost everywhere as people protested the French-imposed reforms of the Catholic Church. In France, strong anticlerical surges throughout the 1790s provoked an equally powerful response, including talk of apparitions of the Virgin in sacred oak trees, pilgrimages to holy fountains and wells to ward off divine wrath, stories about the end of days, pilgrimages to the Holy Land to establish the "Republic of Jesus Christ," and so on. The rest of Europe was no different. On the left bank of the Rhine, for instance, although the monasteries were left alone for a while, the invaders imposed the revolutionary calendar, forbade pilgrimages, suppressed outdoor religious ceremonies, deported unruly priests, and took other similarly repressive measures. The response in the Rhineland was similar to that in France. Around Aachen, one widely distributed pamphlet denounced "all enemies of the saints, of their images and of their solemn veneration . . . all harbingers of the Anti-Christ . . . O Lord, be gracious unto us! At a time when many carry the mark of the beast." In Italy, there were stories of miraculous appearances of the Virgin in lonely dilapidated chapels, stories of miraculous cures at her shrines, stories of her statues weeping, blinking, falling over, or speaking. The French, like the Tridentine reformers before them, deplored the reports as senseless superstition and tried to suppress them, but in driving such sentiments underground, they made the faithful cling to their traditions even more. As in France, clerics who had once condemned such enthusiasms as aberrations began to see their value as stimulants to faith, and the church entered the new century with priests and laity more in harmony than they had been in centuries.

Another reason for discontent was that the French occupiers did not bring liberty to Europe's oppressed for free. Not only did they expect the natives to sustain the occupation and tolerate pillage, they also expected indemnities. When the republican armies overran Belgium, the Dutch Republic, and the left bank of the Rhine in late 1794early 1795, they made the price clear. In the former Dutch Republic they established the first of the "sister republics," the Batavian Republic, and staffed it with Dutch patriots. But they also imposed an indemnity of 100 million florins, and over a fifth of the new republic's expenditure was for the upkeep of French troops. One of the reasons for the invasion of Switzerland was to loot the treasury of the city of Bern in order to finance Bonaparte's Egyptian campaign. General Guillaume Brune levied an indemnity of five million livres and took hostages among the patricians to ensure compliance. One commissioner threatened to toss the patricians into the nearby lakes as fish food. In the Kingdom of Naples, ordinary people welcomed the French because they believed their liberators would abolish all taxes. Instead, they levied an indemnity of 2.5 million ducats as well as a separate indemnity on Bari of 40,000 ducats. Royalist opponents of the French, in turn, got a great deal of traction by promising a moratorium on all taxes for ten years.

Resistance against the French emerged almost everywhere. Although the particular motivating factors varied from place to place, rebellion usually had to do with increased taxation, conscription, and religious innovation. In Belgium, for instance, the French definitively abolished the old institutions of estates and provinces that had recently defied the Austrian "despotism," creating instead nine new subservient departments. Many priests refused yet another oath of loyalty, and nearly five hundred were deported to Guienne or the islands of Ré and Oléron off the Atlantic coast. In December 1798, a "War of the Peasants" broke out on both sides of the Flemish-Walloon linguistic line to protest conscription. Young men; the rural poor, now desperate because of the abolition of traditional relief; and the socially marginal, including demobilized imperial soldiers and men the French called "brigands," took up all manner of farm tools and tore down liberty trees, burned vital statistics registers, robbed tax offices, and welcomed refractory priests. One band called itself the "Catholic Army of Brabant," while others shouted their support for George III, the prince of Orange, or the Austrian emperor. Many of these same people had rebelled against the innovations of Joseph II nine years before. French repression was far more successful than Austria's had been; some five to ten thousand Belgians were arrested, and nearly two hundred were shot by military commissions.

In the vastly over-taxed Batavian Republic, the Dutch navy mutinied during the Anglo-Russian invasion of August 1799, but the rebellion did not spread, possibly because the Orangist pretender remained an uncompromising enemy of the former patriots, now Jacobins, just as he had been in the 1780s. There were also significant disturbances in Switzerland. Many could see little point in the "Helvetic Republic," with its modern and expensive government, its requisitions, and its military drafts. People in the more remote cantons had never paid taxes of any sort and had certainly never been drafted (there were similar conditions in many of the tiny German statelets, where the knights of the Holy Roman Empire lived off their own resources and made no demands on their subjects). Everywhere the French tax system was disruptive, since the Swiss had never known a direct land tax. As in France and elsewhere, in Switzerland protests based on religion were dismissed as the work of fanatics, and in one rising nearly four hundred were killed.

In Italy there was counterrevolutionary resistance almost from the beginning of the French invasion in March 1796. There were irregulars operating against the Army of Italy in Lombardy, Liguria, Romagna, and Tuscany. The "Jacobins" who accepted positions of authority in the sister republicsthe Ligurian (Genoa, June 1797), Cisalpine (Milan, July 1797), Roman (February 1798), and Parnethopean or Neapolitan (January 1799)had very little popular following and were always threatened with insurrection. There was a major counterrevolutionary rising in the Ligurian Republic as early as September 1797, which the French saw as a clerical and noble-inspired rising (like previous risings in France) to restore the Genovese oligarchy using religion as a pretext. In fact, French anticlericalism had outraged local religious sensibilities. Around Rapollo some peasants wished to plant "a tree with the banner of the Madonna" to counter the French liberty trees. Nearby, the "low people" decided to "raise the Genovese standard, reinforced with the image of the Immaculate Virgin." In a rising in Ferrara, one rebel leader said he was a "captain of the Emperor." In Nice and western Piedmont, a particularly vicious guerilla movement, known as the barbets or barbetti, murdered "the French" and bragged about eating their livers and bread soaked in their blood. They frequently decapitated their victims and took the heads with them.

There was a major insurrection in Rome on 25 February 1798, in which up to two hundred French may have been killed. Earlier, General André Masséna had been accused of being the Antichrist. On the eve of the declaration of the Roman Republic, "around 90,000 faithful, covered with the grime of penitents, implored divine help." The occasion for the rising itself was the decision of the republic to abolish the Jewish ghetto and free Jews from the obligation to wear a yellow symbol. Jews could now wear the republican tricolor, which raised fear and suspicion that they supported the French. The rebellion was quickly suppressed and on 27 February alone, thirty rebels were executed after sentencing by a military commission. Over the next two years over eighty people were executed.

The year 1799 witnessed generalized insurrections throughout the peninsula. These had begun in Piedmont, in the valley of the Aosta, the previous December; in February 1799 they spread to the Neapolitan Republic, and they became general with the Austro-Russian invasion. The Russian commander Aleksandr Suvorov entered Milan on 28 April, whereupon the Cisalpine Republic collapsed. Turin fell a month later. This encouraged the counterrevolution throughout Italy. In the Alpine villages, the local captains of the irregulars were parish priests who had swords and pistols stuffed into their cassocks. The most dramatic and bloody rebellion occurred in the Neapolitan Republic. In February 1799, Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo, a former official in the papal curia, set out from Sicily and landed in Calabria with just four men. Gradually, he gathered more and more forces to his movement, the Santa Fede or 'Holy Faith'. Officially, he called his army the "Most Christian Armada of the Holy Faith," although it was less an army than a constantly changing series of formations of local irregulars. On 13 June, the Santafedisti entered Naples and began an orgy of revenge and bloodletting. Ruffo himself watched with despair. As an enlightened reformer, he had gnawing misgivings about the crude faith of his followers, but he contributed to the lawlessness by promising them confiscated Jacobin estates. Indeed, authority collapsed to such an extent, and the restored Bourbons and their advisor Lord Horatio Nelson were in such a vindictive mood, that the vendetta killings continued for another year. Brigandage remained a problem in the kingdom for decades afterward.


The French Revolution destroyed the ancient institutions of old Europe, institutions that had kept an uneasy and not always successful balance between despots and subjects. The consequence of this destruction was the Napoleonic despotism and, in response, a revival of the Catholic enthusiasm that the Tridentine reforms had tried to contain over two hundred years before. No one could have anticipated such an end to the Revolution back in the summer of 1789, amid the blissful hopes for a humanity reborn.

See also American Independence, War of (17751783) ; Ancien Régime ; Dutch Republic ; Enlightened Despotism ; Estates-General, French: 1789 ; France ; Geneva ; Italy ; Joseph II (Holy Roman Empire) ; Louis XVI (France) ; Marie Antoinette ; Patriot Revolution ; Popular Protest and Rebellions .


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