French Revolution

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the revolution of 1789
the reconstruction of france, 1789–1791
a second revolution, 1792
the revolution in the balance, 1793–1794
ending the revolution, 1794–1799
the significance of the revolution

France's involvement in the war of independence waged by Britain's North American colonies from 1775 to 1783 partially revenged the humiliations Britain had inflicted on France in India, Canada, and the Caribbean; the war, however, cost France over one billion livres, more than twice the usual annual revenue of the state. As the royal state sank into financial crisis after 1783, the costs of servicing this massive debt impelled the monarchy to seek ways of ending noble immunity from taxation and the capacity of noble-dominated high courts (parlements) to resist royal decrees to that end.

Historians agree that it was this financial crisis that erected the stage on which the French Revolution of 1789 was enacted. They do not agree, however, on whether this was only the immediate cause of a much longer and deeper crisis within French society. Were the long-term pressures of royal state-making that fueled pressures to remove the nobility's fiscal immunities paralleled by another challenge to the nobility, from a wealthier, larger, and more critical bourgeoisie and a disaffected peasantry? If this was not the case, it could be argued that there was no deep-seated, long-term crisis within this society, that the Revolution had only short-term and therefore relatively unimportant causes, and that it was therefore avoidable.

Since the early 1990s some historians have seen debates about the socioeconomic origins of the Revolution as moribund and have contested the applicability of terms such as class and class-consciousness to eighteenth-century France. Instead, they have argued that the origins and nature of the Revolution are best observed through an analysis of "political culture," especially the emerging sphere of "public opinion." Other historians have focused on the "material culture" of eighteenth-century France, that is, the material objects and practices of daily life. From this research it seems clear that a series of interrelated changes—economic, social, and cultural—was undermining the bases of social and political authority in the second half of the eighteenth century. The limited but highly visible expansion of capitalist enterprise in industry and in agriculture in the outskirts of major cities, and above all the growth of commerce, linked to the colonial trade, was generating forms of wealth and values at odds with the institutional bases of absolutism, corporate privilege, and the claims to authority of the nobility and church. The most articulate statements of these challenges to established forms of politics and religion are known as the Enlightenment. Well before 1789, a language of "citizen," "nation," "social contract," and "general will" was being articulated across French society, clashing with an older discourse of "orders," "estates," and "corporations."

The lively world of literature in the 1780s was essentially an urban phenomenon: most men and women in towns could read. There is little sign of an "Enlightenment" in the countryside. Nevertheless, rural France was in crisis in the 1780s, because of the rapid increase in rents owing to long-term increases in agricultural productivity and population, and in some areas to the collapse of the textile industry following the free trade treaty with England in 1786. While the surviving traces of the feudal regime were relatively light in some regions, resentment of seignorial prerogatives everywhere bonded rural communities together against their lords.

During 1787 and 1788 royal ministers made successive attempts to persuade meetings of the most prominent "Notables" to agree to lift the fiscal privileges of the nobility, or Second Estate. These foundered on the nobility's insistence that only a gathering of representatives of the three orders (clergy, nobility, commons) as an Estates-General could agree to such innovation. Tension between crown and nobility came to a head in August 1788, with the parlements insisting that the measures King Louis XVI's ministry sought to impose amounted to "royal despotism." In such a situation, both sides looked to an Estates-General to provide legitimacy for their claims. They were both mistaken. Instead, the calling of the Estates-General for May 1789 facilitated the expression of tensions at every level of French society. The remarkable vibrancy of debate in the months before May 1789 was facilitated by the suspension of press censorship and the publication of several thousand political pamphlets. This war of words was fueled by Louis's indecision about the procedures to be followed at Versailles. Would representatives of the three orders meet separately, as at the previous meeting in 1614, or in a single chamber? Louis's decision on 27 December to double the size of the Third Estate representation served to highlight further this crucial issue of political power, because he remained silent on how voting would occur.

In the spring of 1789, people all over France were required to elect deputies to the Estates-General and to formulate proposals for the reform of public life by compiling "lists of grievances." The drawing up of these cahiers de doléances in the context of subsistence crisis, political uncertainty, and fiscal chaos was the decisive moment in the mass politicization of social friction. At least on the surface, the cahiers of all three orders show a remarkable level of agreement: they assumed that the meeting of the Estates-General in May would be but the first of a regular cycle; and they saw the need for sweeping reform to taxation, the judiciary, the Catholic Church, and administration. On fundamental matters of social order and political power, however, entrenched divisions were to undermine the possibilities of consensual reform. Rural communities and the nobility were in sharp disagreement about seignorial dues, and bourgeois across the country challenged the nobility by advocating "careers

open to talent," equality of taxation, and the ending of privilege. Many parish priests agreed with the commons about taxation reform in particular, while insisting on the prerogatives of their own order.

the revolution of 1789

Some 208 of the 303 First Estate deputies were lower clergy; only 51 of the 176 bishops had been elected as delegates. Most of the 282 noble deputies were provincial men prominent in their districts. The 646 Third Estate deputies were almost all officials, professionals, and men of property. The latter body of delegates rapidly developed a common outlook, insistent on their dignity and responsibility to "the Nation"; they refused to meet in a separate chamber, and on 17 June proclaimed themselves the National Assembly. This was the first revolutionary challenge to absolutism and privilege. Louis appeared to capitulate, ordering all deputies to meet in a common assembly, but at the same time he invested Paris, 16 kilometers (10 miles) from Versailles and a crucible of revolutionary enthusiasm, with twenty thousand mercenaries.

The National Assembly was saved from probable dissolution only by a collective action of Parisian working people, angry at an escalation in the price of bread, and certain that the assembly was under military threat. Arms and ammunition were seized from gunsmiths and the Invalides military hospital. The main target was the Bastille fortress in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, known to have supplies of arms and gunpowder; it was also an awesome symbol of the arbitrary authority of the monarchy. The seizure of the Bastille on 14 July not only saved the National Assembly, it also strengthened the calls for change elsewhere in the country. In communities all over France, "patriots" seized control of local government. News of the storming of the Bastille reached a countryside simmering with conflict, hope, and fear: the harvest failure in 1788 had been followed by a harsh winter, and widespread hunger as crops ripened was matched by hopes invested in the Estates-General. In what became known as the Great Fear, rumors swept the countryside of nobles taking revenge in the wake of the Parisian revolution by hiring "brigands" to destroy crops. When the acts of revenge failed to materialize, armed peasant militias seized foodstuffs or compelled seigneurs or their agents to hand over feudal registers.

On the night of 4 August, panic-stricken nobles mounted the rostrum of the National Assembly to respond to the Great Fear by renouncing their privileges and abolishing feudal dues. In the succeeding week, however, they made a distinction between instances of "personal servitude," which were abolished outright, and "property rights" (especially seignorial dues payable on harvests) for which peasants would have to pay compensation before ceasing payment. This distinction was to fuel ongoing peasant revolt for the next three years.

Later, on 27 August, the National Assembly voted its Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Fundamental to the declaration was the assertion of the essence of liberalism, that "liberty consists of the power to do whatever is not injurious to others." The declaration guaranteed rights of free speech and association, of religion and opinion. This was to be a nation in which all were to be equal in legal status, and subject to the same public responsibilities: it was an invitation to become citizens of a nation instead of subjects of a king. The August decrees and the Declaration of the Rights of Man together marked the end of the absolutist, seignorial, and corporate structure of eighteenth-century France. They were also a revolutionary proclamation of the principles of a new golden age. But, while the declaration proclaimed the universality of rights and the civic equality of all citizens, it was ambiguous on whether the propertyless, slaves, and women would have political as well as legal equality, and was silent on how the means to exercise on's talents could be secured by those without the education or property necessary to do so.

Both the August decrees and the declaration met with refusal from Louis. The Estates-General had been summoned to offer him advice on the state of his kingdom: did his acceptance of the existence of a "National Assembly" require him to accept its decisions? Once again the standing of the National Assembly seemed in question. This time it was the market women of Paris who took the initiative, convinced that the king had to sanction the decrees and return to Paris: in this way they believed that the noble conspiracy to starve Paris would be broken. Louis did so on 6 October. Later he married the white of the Bourbon family to the blue and red of Paris to symbolize the unity of king and nation. The Revolution seemed secure and complete, but Louis's reluctant consent to change was only thinly disguised by the fiction that his obstinacy was solely due to the malign influence of his court.

Elsewhere in Europe and America, people were struck by the dramatic events of the summer. Few failed to be enthused by them, despite news of bloodshed. Among the crowned heads of Europe, only the kings of Sweden and Spain and Catherine the Great of Russia were resolutely hostile from the outset. Others may have felt a certain pleasure at seeing one of Europe's Great Powers incommoded

by its own people. Among the general American and European populaces, however, support for the Revolution was widespread, and initially there were few outspoken "counterrevolutionaries" such as Edmund Burke.

The euphoria of the autumn of 1789 was tempered by awareness of the magnitude of what remained to be done. The revolutionaries' declaration of the principles of the new regime presupposed that every aspect of public life would be reshaped. The ancien régime, as it was now called, had been overthrown, but what was to be put in its place?

the reconstruction of france, 1789–1791

Over the next two years, the deputies threw themselves into the task of reworking every dimension of public life. The reconstruction of France was based on a belief in the equal status of French citizens whatever their social or geographic origin. In every aspect of public life—administration, the judiciary, taxation, the armed forces, the church, policing—a system of corporate rights, appointment, and hierarchy gave way to civil equality, accountability, and popular sovereignty. The institutional structure of the ancien régime had been characterized by extraordinary provincial diversity controlled by a network of royal appointees. Now this was reversed: at every level officials were to be elected, but the institutions in which they worked were everywhere to be the same. The institutional bedrock would be the forty-one thousand new "communes," mostly based on the parishes of the ancien régime, the base of a hierarchy of cantons, districts, and eighty-three departments.

The complex set of royal, aristocratic, and clerical courts and their regional variants was replaced by a national system deliberately made more accessible, humane, and egalitarian. In particular, the introduction of elected justices of the peace in every canton was immensely popular for its provision of cheap and accessible justice. The number of capital offenses was sharply reduced, and the punishment for them would be a style of decapitation perfected by a deputy, the Parisian doctor Joseph Guillotin, and accepted as humane by the National Assembly. This vast project of creating a new legal framework was matched by a zeal for individual rights. By the end of 1789 full citizenship had been granted to Protestants and, by the following January, to the Sephardic Jews of Bordeaux and Avignon. The latter was passed only by 374 votes to 280, however, and the Ashkenazic Jews of the east had to wait until September 1791 for equal recognition.

From the outset the ideals of liberty and equality were compromised by pragmatic considerations of vested interests. Neither poorer men—dubbed "passive" citizens—nor women were judged capable of exercising sovereign rights. A similar hesitancy was expressed over whether the principles of 1789 should be extended to the Caribbean colonies. A bitter debate pitted the colonial lobby (the Club Massiac) against the Société des amis des Noirs (Society of the Friends of the Blacks), which included Jacques-Pierre Brissot and Maximilien Robespierre. In May 1791 the National Assembly granted "active" citizen status to free blacks with free parents and the necessary property, but avoided the issues of slavery and the slave trade.

The National Assembly had inherited the monarchy's bankruptcy, and this pressing problem was now aggravated by popular refusal to pay taxes. Several measures were taken to meet this crisis. In November 1789 the vast church lands were nationalized and, from November 1790, sold at auction, mainly to local bourgeois and the wealthiest peasants. These sales were also used to back the issue of assignats, a paper currency that soon began to decline in real purchasing power. Fiscal exemptions were finally ended by a new system of taxation, based on the estimated value of and income from property, introduced from the beginning of 1791.

Until 1791 the Revolution was overwhelmingly popular: sweeping changes in public life occurred within a context of mass optimism and support. The Festival of the Federation, on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, celebrated the unity of church, monarchy, and Revolution. Two days earlier, however, the National Assembly had voted a reform that was to shatter this unity. The widespread agreement in the cahiers on the need for reform guaranteed that the National Assembly had been able to push through the nationalization of church lands, the closing of contemplative orders, and the granting of religious liberty to Protestants and Jews. Mounting clerical opposition to these changes ultimately focused on the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, adopted on 12 July 1790. Many priests were materially advantaged by the new salary scale, and only the upper clergy would have regretted that bishops' stipends were dramatically reduced. Most contentious, however, was the issue of how the clergy were to be appointed in the future: in requiring the election of priests and bishops, the National Assembly crossed the line separating temporal and spiritual life. In the end, it would prove impossible to reconcile a church based on divinely revealed truth and hierarchical authority, and a certainty of one true faith, with a Revolution based on popular sovereignty, religious tolerance, and the certainty of earthly fulfillment through the application of secular reason.

Parish priests were required to take a civic oath in order to continue their functions, and their difficult choice—felt as one between loyalty to the Revolution and loyalty to God and the pope—was often influenced by parishioner sentiment. By mid-1791 two Frances had emerged, the pro-reform areas of the southeast, the Paris basin, and much of the center contrasting with the west and southwest, much of the north and east, and the southern Massif Central. The strength of refractory, or non-oath-taking ("non-juring"), clergy in border areas fed Parisian suspicions that peasants who could not understand French were prey to the "superstitions" of their "fanatical" priests.

Everywhere, the birth of new systems of administration within a context of popular sovereignty and hectic legislative activity was part of the creation of a revolutionary political culture. The work of the National Assembly was vast in scope and energy. The foundations of a new social order were laid, underpinned by an assumption of the national unity of a fraternity of citizens. This was a revolutionary transformation of public life. At the same time, the Assembly was walking a tightrope. On one side lay a growing hostility from nobles and the elite of the church angered by the loss of status, wealth, and privilege, and bolstered in many areas by a disillusioned parish clergy and their parishioners. On the other side, the National Assembly was alienating itself from the popular base of the Revolution by its compromise on feudal dues, its exclusion of the "passive" citizens from the political process, and its implementation of economic liberalism.

One element of the new political culture was the many thousands of political clubs established in the early years of the Revolution, the most famous of which was the Jacobin Club of Paris, known by the name of its premises in a former convent. Many of these clubs catered to "passive" citizens. In 1791 active democrats among the menu peuple (common people) became widely known by a new term, sans-culottes, which was both a political label for a militant patriot and a social description signifying men of the people who did not wear the knee breeches and stockings of the upper classes.

Ever since July 1789 the National Assembly had had to face a double challenge: How could the Revolution be protected from its opponents? Whose Revolution was it to be? These questions came to a head in mid-1791. Louis fled Paris on 21 June, publicly repudiating the direction the Revolution had taken, especially in reforms to the church. On the evening of the next day, Louis was recognized in a village near the eastern frontier and arrested. Although he was suspended temporarily from his position as king, the National Assembly was determined to quell any popular unrest that might threaten the constitutional monarchy. On 17 July, an unarmed demonstration to demand Louis's abdication was organized on the Champ-de-Mars by the democratic Club of the Cordeliers, with some Jacobin support, at the same "altar of the homeland" on which the Festival of the Federation had been celebrated a year earlier. The marquis de Lafayette, the commander of the National Guard, was ordered to disperse the petitioners; his guardsmen killed perhaps fifty of them.

On 14 September an apparently sincere Louis promulgated the Constitution that embodied the National Assembly's work since 1789. France was to be a constitutional monarchy in which power was shared between the king, as head of the executive, and a legislative assembly elected by a restrictive property franchise. The issues of his loyalty and of whether the Revolution was over were, however, far from resolved.

It was in this highly charged context that a new Legislative Assembly was elected and convened in Paris in October 1791. At the outset most of its members sought to consolidate the state of the Revolution as expressed in the Constitution, and deserted the Jacobin Club for the Feuillants, a club similarly named after its meeting place in a former convent. Growing anxiety about the opposing threats of popular radicalism and counterrevolution, on the one hand, and bellicose posturing from European rulers, on the other, was to convince the Legislative Assembly that the Revolution and France itself were in danger.

a second revolution, 1792

A key element in this unease was the rebellion of hundreds of thousands of mulattoes and slaves in Saint Domingue, beginning in August 1791. The Legislative Assembly responded in April 1792 by extending civil equality to all "free persons of color." The slave revolt in the Caribbean colonies so important to the French economy further convinced the deputies of the insidious intentions of France's rivals, England and Spain.

The Jacobin followers of Brissot argued that the Revolution would not be safe until this foreign threat was destroyed and the loyalty of French citizens to the Constitution demonstrated by a patriotic war against internal and external enemies. The war declared on 20 April against Austria exposed internal opposition, as the "Brissotins" hoped, but it was neither limited nor brief. With the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, it was to prove one of the major turning points of the revolutionary period, influencing the internal history of France until Napoleon's defeat in 1815. The French armies were initially in disarray because of the emigration of many noble officers and internal political dissension within garrisons. The vitriol of counterrevolutionary rhetoric added to the popular conviction that Louis was complicit in the defeats being suffered by the army. In response, the forty-eight neighborhood "sections" of Paris voted to form a Commune of Paris to organize insurrection and an army of twenty thousand sans-culottes from the newly democratized National Guard. After Louis took refuge in the nearby Legislative Assembly, six hundred Swiss guards, the palace's main defenders, were killed in the fighting or subsequently in bloody acts of retribution. This insurrection thereby succeeded in overthrowing the monarchy on 10 August 1792.

Among those who participated in the overthrow of the monarchy were soldiers from Marseille en route to the battlefront. They brought with them a song popular among republicans in the south—"La Marseillaise"—composed by the army officer Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle as the "Chant de guerre pour l'armée du Rhin" (War song of the Army of the Rhine). This song would later be adopted as the French national anthem.

The declaration of war and overthrow of the monarchy radicalized the Revolution. The political exclusion of "passive" citizens now called to defend the French nation was untenable. Moreover, by overthrowing the monarchy, the popular movement had issued the ultimate challenge to the whole of Europe. The Revolution was now armed, democratic, and republican.

On 2 September, news reached Paris that the great fortress at Verdun, just 250 kilometers (155 miles) from the capital, had fallen to the Prussians. The news generated an immediate, dramatic surge in popular fear and resolve. Convinced that "counterrevolutionaries" (whether nobles, priests, or common-law criminals) in prisons were waiting to break out and welcome the invaders once the volunteers had left for the front, hastily convened popular courts sentenced to death about 1,200 of the 2,700 prisoners brought before them, including 240 priests.

About two weeks after these "September massacres," revolutionary armies won their first great victory, at Valmy, 200 kilometers (125 miles) east of the capital. As news arrived of the victory, the new National Convention, elected by universal manhood suffrage, was convening in Paris. The men of the Convention were mostly middle class by social background. They were also democrats and republicans: immediately on convening, they abolished the monarchy and proclaimed France a republic.

The Jacobins within the Convention were somewhat closer to the popular movement, and exuded a militant republicanism. Their habit of sitting together on the upper-left-hand benches in the Convention earned them the epithet of the

"Mountain." The label given to their opposition, the "Girondins," denoted men closer in sympathy to the concern for political and economic stability among the upper bourgeoisie of Bordeaux, capital of the Gironde.

The trial of Louis XVI exposed this division. Whereas the Girondins sought to placate the rest of Europe by considering a sentence of exile or mercy, the thrust of the Jacobin argument during this dramatic and eloquent debate was that to spare Louis would be to admit his special nature: for them "Louis Capet" was a citizen guilty of treason. The Convention narrowly agreed, and Louis went to the guillotine on 21 January 1793. One effect of this regicide was the expansion of the enemy coalition to include Britain and Spain.

the revolution in the balance, 1793–1794

As the external military crisis worsened in early 1793, most of the uncommitted deputies swung behind the Jacobins' emergency proposals. The Convention ordered a levy of 300,000 conscripts in March. In the west this provoked massive armed rebellion and civil war, known, like the region itself, as "the Vendée." Ultimately, the civil war was to claim perhaps as many as 200,000 lives on each side, as many as the external wars waged from 1793 to 1794.

The nation was in grave danger of internal collapse and external defeat. In the spring of 1793 the Convention responded by vesting emergency executive powers in a Committee of Public Safety and placing policing powers in a Committee of General Security. The military challenge was met by an extraordinary mobilization of the nation's resources and repression of opponents. The Convention appointed "deputies on mission" from its own number to supervise the war effort. It passed emergency decrees, such as those declaring émigrés "civilly dead," and placed controls on grain and bread prices.

Despite these measures, by midsummer 1793 the Revolution faced its greatest crisis, which was simultaneously military, social, and political. Enemy troops were on French soil in the northeast, southeast, and southwest and, internally, the great revolt in the Vendée absorbed a major part of the republic's army. These threats were aggravated by the hostile response of sixty departmental administrations to the purge of twenty-one leading Girondins in June.

With the appointment of Robespierre in July and two other Jacobins in September, the Committee of Public Safety had the resolve to mobilize an entire society in defense of the Revolution and to decimate its internal and external opponents. Essential to this mobilization was the creation by the Jacobin government of a rural–urban alliance through a mixture of intimidation, force, and policies aimed both at meeting popular grievances and placing the entire country on a war footing. The Convention acted to meet sans-culotte demands by decreeing the "general maximum" of 29 September, which pegged the prices of thirtynine commodities. It also responded to the waves of rural unrest that had affected two-thirds of all departments since 1789, with the complete abolition of seignorialism. From 17 July 1793, former seigneurs were left with only nonfeudal rents on land. The feudal regime was finally dead.

The central purpose of what became known as the Terror was to institute the emergency and draconian measures deemed necessary at a time of military crisis. The Convention acquiesced in draconian measures—such as surveillance committees in neighborhoods and villages, and suspension of civil liberties—necessary to secure the republic to a point where the newly drafted democratic constitution of June 1793 could be implemented. The Law of Suspects (17 September) was designed to imprison the unpatriotic with detention, to intimidate them into inaction, or to execute them as counterrevolutionaries. In the last three months of 1793, 177 of the 395 accused before a newly instituted extraordinary criminal court, the Revolutionary Tribunal, were sentenced to death, including the Girondin leaders and Marie-Antoinette. This mixture of national mobilization and intimidation was so successful that by the end of 1793 the threat of civil war and invasion had at least been countered.

The Jacobins who now dominated the Convention and the Committee of Public Safety also sought to realize their vision of a regenerated society worthy of the grandeur of the Enlightenment and the Revolution. During the eighteen months after the overthrow of the monarchy in August 1792, a combination of radical Jacobin reforms and popular initiative created an extraordinary force for republican "regeneration." Supporters of the Revolution—"patriots," as they were most commonly known—marked their repudiation of the old world by attempting to eradicate all of its traces, giving children names drawn from nature, classical antiquity, or contemporary heroes, and purging place-names of religious or royal connotations. A new citizenry was to be created by a secular and republican education system. Most radically, in order to mark the magnitude of what had been achieved since the proclamation of the republic on 21 September 1792, the Convention introduced a new calendar that replaced the Gregorian calendar and its saints' days and religious cycles with a decimal calendar based on décades, periods of ten days—three décades comprising a month. A year thus still consisted of twelve months, the names of which were drawn from nature, plus five sans-culottes days named after the virtues (with one extra holiday, Revolution Day, added in leap years). The calendar began on 22 September 1793: the first day of the Year II of liberty and equality.

In the eighteen months between August 1792 and early 1794, the political participation of urban working people reached its zenith. The sans-culottes had a vision of a society of small farms and workshops created by property redistribution and underpinned by free education, purges of old elites, and direct democracy.

The achievements of this new alliance of Jacobins, sans-culottes, and some of the peasantry were dramatic by the end of 1793. By then, republican forces led by a young artillery officer, Napoleon Bonaparte, had recaptured Toulon, and foreign armies had suffered major reverses in the northeast and southeast. The Vendéan rebellion had been contained and other revolts crushed, both at a huge costinlives. Though the "general maximum" had not been fully implemented, the economic slide had been reversed, and the purchasing power of the assignat had climbed back to 48 percent from 36 percent a few months earlier.

For the majority of the Convention, however, the goal of the Terror was the attainment of peace, and economic and political controls were but temporary constraints to that end. The regular extension of the powers of the committees was a recognition of their achievements during the continuing war crisis, but it was not a measure of support for Jacobin ideology. In late 1793 "moderate" Jacobins such as Georges Danton and Camille Desmoulins urged an end to the controls of the Terror and the implementation of the constitution of 1793. For several months Robespierre and his closest Jacobin associates were able to paint Danton and his associates as "indulgents," like the "Enragé" militants seen as guilty of undermining republican unity. Success in the war effort, especially the battle of Fleurus (26 June 1794)—which finally ended the threat of Austrian troops on French soil—exposed the divisions in the popular alliance of the Year II. The geographic incidence of executions during the Terror had been concentrated in departments where the military

threat had been greatest; but now, as the military threat receded, the number of executions for political opposition increased. Such executions included Danton and his associates, sent to the guillotine in April 1794.

A speech to the Convention by Robespierre on 26 July (8 Thermidor), with his vague threat to unnamed deputies, provided the motivation for reaction. Among those who plotted his overthrow were Joseph Fouché, Jean-Marie Collot d'Herbois, Louis Fréron, and Paul Barras, fearful that Robespierre intended to call them to account for their bloody repression of revolts in Lyon, Toulon, and Marseille.

The execution of Robespierre and his associates on 28 July marked the end of a regime that had had the twin aims of saving the Revolution and creating a new society. It had achieved the former, at great cost, but the vision of the virtuous, self-abnegating civic warrior embodying the new society had palled for most within the Convention. The expression "the system of the Terror" was first used two days later by Bertrand Barère.

The year of the Terror has always polarized historians. To those sympathetic to the goals of the Revolution and mindful of the magnitude of the counterrevolution determined to crush it, it has seemed a successful emergency military regime during which excesses were regrettable but explicable. Others have emphasized the disproportionate level of violence against the Revolution's opponents, particularly as the military crisis receded. Still others have seen in the messianic social vision of the Jacobins a precursor to the most authoritarian regimes of the twentieth century. Whatever the case, the overthrow of Robespierre was universally welcomed at the time as symbolizing the end of large-scale executions.

ending the revolution, 1794–1799

The post-Thermidorian regimes were republican, but they were driven above all else by the imperative to end the Revolution, most obviously by suppressing the sources of instability represented by the Jacobins and sans-culottes. The Thermidorians were hard men, many of them former Girondins, who had lived through the Terror in quiet opposition, and were determined that the terrifying experience would not be repeated. While there was a widespread longing for a return to democratic freedoms, a bitter social reaction was unleashed by the removal of wartime restrictions.

The end of all fixed prices in December 1794 unleashed rampant inflation, and, by April 1795, the general level of prices was about 750 percent above 1790 levels. In this context of social and political reaction and economic deprivation, the sans-culottes made a final desperate attempt to regain the initiative. The risings of Germinal and Prairial Year III (April and May 1795) effectively sought a return to the promises of the autumn of 1793, the epitome of the sans-culottes' influence. The crushing of the May 1795 insurrection unleashed a wide-ranging reaction, with thousands of arrests. Prison camps were established in the Seychelles and French Guiana.

The majority in the Convention now sought a political settlement that would stabilize the Revolution and end popular upheaval. The Constitution of the Year III (August 1795) restricted participation in electoral assemblies by wealth, age, and education as well as by sex. Popular sovereignty was to be limited to the act of voting: petitions, political clubs, and even unarmed demonstrations were banned. The social rights promised in the Jacobin constitution of 1793 were removed; property ownership was again to be the basis of the social order and political power, as was the case from 1789 to 1792. Gone now was the optimism of the period 1789 to 1791, the belief that with the liberation of human creativity all could aspire to the "active" exercise of their capabilities. The constitution of 1795 now included a declaration of "duties," exhorting respect for the law, the family, and property. In this sense, the constitution can be seen to mark the end of the Revolution.

One important difference in the new constitution was the attempt to resolve religious divisions by separating church and state. On 11 Prairial Year III (30 May 1795) the regime allowed the reopening of churches closed during the Terror and allowed émigrépriests to return under the decree of 7 Fructidor Year IV (24 August 1797), but only on condition of their taking a civic oath. Religious observance was to be a purely private matter: bells and outward signs of religiosity were forbidden. The church was to be sustained by the offerings of the faithful rather than direct state support.

By excluding the poor from active participation in the political process, the Directory sought to create a republican regime based on "capacity" and a stake in society. To avoid a strong executive with its Jacobin connotations, there were to be frequent partial elections to the Council of the Five Hundred and rotation of executive authority. The rule of the committees was over. This combination of a narrow social base and internal instability caused the regime to vacillate between political alliances to the right and left to broaden its appeal and forced it to resort to draconian repression of opposition and to the use of military force.

For the better off, the regime of the Directory represented much of what they wanted: the guarantee of the major revolutionary achievements of the period 1789 to 1792 without threats from popular politics. The years of the Directory were often characterized, however, by bitter tensions occasioned by religious divisions, desertion from the army and avoidance of conscription, political abstention, and violent revenge for the deadly politics of the Year II. Underpinning all these tensions were the Directory's economic policies, which ultimately alienated the great mass of people.

As it trod its narrow path the Directory had to protect the regime against resurgent political forces on either side. The elections of 1797 returned a majority of royalists of various nuances. In response, the Directors annulled the elections of 177 deputies and called in troops on 17–18 Fructidor Year V (3–4 September 1797). A new wave of repression followed against refractory clergy, many of whom had returned in hope after the elections. Then, on 22 Floréal Year VI (11 May 1798) another coup was effected to prevent a resurgence of Jacobinism: this time 127 deputies were prevented from taking their seats.

The republican rationale for war in 1792—that this was a defensive war against tyrannical aggression that would naturally become a war of liberation joined by Europe's oppressed—had developed since 1794 into a war of territorial expansion. Peace treaties were signed with Prussia and Spain in 1795. In 1798 the Directory established "sister republics" in Switzerland and the Papal States; and the left bank of the Rhine was incorporated into the "natural boundaries" of what was increasingly referred to as "la grande nation." Conflict with Britain and Austria continued. A peace treaty with the latter was signed at Campo-Formio on 25 Vendémiaire Year VI (17 October 1797), but hostilities recommenced in Italy in 1798. This, together with the extension of war with Britain into Ireland and Egypt, convinced the Directory that irregular army levies had to be replaced by an annual conscription of single men aged twenty to twenty-five years (the Jourdan Law, 19 Fructidor Year VI [5 September 1798]).

The Directory's military ambitions were increasingly resented by rural populations liable to conscription and requisitioning at a time of economic difficulty. Resentments climaxed in the summer of 1799 in large-scale but uncoordinated royalist risings in the west and southwest. By that time, too, the requisitioning, anticlericalism, and repression practiced by French armies was provoking discontent and insurrection in all of the "sister republics." This and the initial successes of the Second Coalition formed between Russia, Austria, and England provided a pretext for a challenge to the Directory, led by Napoleon, the army officer who had dispersed the royalist insurgents in 1795 and who now abandoned his shattered forces in Egypt. Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès and Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, two of the architects of revolutionary change in the period from 1789 to 1791, supported Napoleon. On 18–19 Brumaire Year VIII (9–10 November 1799), the furious members of the Five Hundred were driven out by troops and a decade of parliamentary rule was over.

Napoleon moved quickly to establish internal and external peace. On 15 July 1801 a concordat was signed with the papacy, formally celebrated at Easter mass at Notre-Dame de Paris in 1802. The treaty of Lunéville was signed with Austria on 21 Pluviôse Year IX (9 February 1801) and that of Amiens with Britain on 5 Germinal Year X (25 March 1802). The end of war offered the chance for deserters to be amnestied and for returning émigrés and priests to be reintegrated into their communities in a climate of reconciliation. The peace with Europe was, of course, to be temporary.

the significance of the revolution

A revolution that had begun in 1789 with boundless hopes for a golden era of political liberty and social change had thus ended in 1799 with a military seizure of power. French people had had to endure a decade of political instability, civil war, and armed conflict with the rest of Europe. Despite this, the Revolution had permanently changed France, and these changes were to reverberate through Europe for decades to come.

Many of these changes were put in place from 1789 to 1791, when revolutionaries reshaped every aspect of institutional and public life according to principles of rationality, uniformity, and efficiency. The eighty-three departments (today ninety-six) were henceforth to be administered in precisely the same way; they were to have an identical structure of responsibilities, personnel, and powers. Diocesan boundaries coincided with departmental limits, and cathedrals were usually located in departmental capitals. The uniformity of administrative structures was reflected, too, in the innovation of a national system of weights, measures, and currency based on new, decimal measures. These evident benefits to business and commerce were accentuated by the abolition of tolls paid to towns and nobles and internal customs.

For the first time, the state was also understood as representing a more emotional entity, "the nation," based on citizenship. All French citizens, whatever their social background and residence, were to be judged according to a single uniform legal code and taxed by the same obligatory proportional taxes on wealth, especially landed property. This uniformity gave substance to the ideals of "fraternity" and "national unity," meanings reinforced by the new political culture of citizenship and the celebration of new national heroes drawn from antiquity or the revolutionary struggle itself.

Historians agree that French political life had been fundamentally transformed. For the first time, a large and populous country had been reformed along democratic, republican lines. Even the Restoration of the monarchy in 1814 could not reverse the revolutionary change from royal absolutism to constitutional, representative government. But twenty-five years of political upheaval and division left a legacy of memories, both bitter and sweet. In the west, in particular, memories of the Terror and of mass conscription and war were etched deep into the memories of every individual and community. The Revolution was a rich seedbed of ideologies ranging from communism and social democracy to liberal constitutionalism and authoritarian royalism, and French people were to remain divided about which political system was best able to reconcile authority, liberty, and equality.

Whatever the importance of these changes to government, political ideas, and memories, many of the essential characteristics of daily life emerged largely unchanged—especially patterns of work, the position of the poor, and social inequalities. In the colonies, too, the prerevolutionary hierarchies of race were reimposed, with one exception. In January 1802 French troops landed in Saint Domingue to reimpose colonial control; but after two years of bloody fighting the first postcolonial black nation—Haiti—was born. Elsewhere Napoleon reversed the Jacobin abolition of slavery in 1794 and in 1802 reintroduced the Code Noir of 1685, which treated slaves as the property of the slave owner. The slave trade would not be abolished until 1818, and slavery itself not until 1848.

Women emerged from the revolution with no political rights and limited legal rights, but one effect of the abolition of seignorialism may have been that rural women and their families were better nourished. In March 1790 the National Assembly abolished inheritance laws that had favored the firstborn son in some regions. Although this was enacted more with a view to breaking the power of great noble patriarchs than to recognizing the rights of women, one outcome was the strengthening of the position of daughters. Another consequence of this legislation may have been a sudden drop in the national birthrate, from 39 per thousand in 1789 to 33 in 1804, as parents sought to limit family size and therefore pressures to subdivide the family's farm.

Despite the exhortations of revolutionary legislators to a peaceful, harmonious family life as the basis of the new political order, it is doubtful whether patterns of male violence changed. What did change, albeit temporarily, was the legal capacity of women to protect their rights within the household. The divorce law voted at the last session of the Legislative Assembly, on 20 September 1792, gave women remarkably broad grounds for leaving an unhappy marriage. Nationally, perhaps thirty thousand divorces were decreed under this legislation, especially in towns, and it was working-women above all who used this law, which lasted until the enactment of the Napoleonic Code in 1804.

Perhaps 20 percent of land changed hands as a result of the expropriation of the church and émigrés, and much of this was acquired by better-off peasants. Indeed, peasants who owned their own land were among the most substantial beneficiaries of the Revolution. After the abolition of feudal dues and the church tithe, both of which had normally been paid in grain, farmers were in a better position to concentrate on using the land for its most productive purposes; they were also better fed. The gains for the peasantry went beyond tangible economic benefits. The abolition of seignorialism underpinned a revolutionary change in rural social relations, voiced in political behavior after 1789. Despite the emigration and death of many nobles, most noble families retained their properties intact, but nothing could compensate them for the loss of judicial rights and power—ranging from seignorial courts to the parlements—or the incalculable loss of prestige and deference caused by the practice of legal equality.

Those who had taken the initiative in creating the new France after 1789 had been the bourgeoisie, whether professional, administrative, commercial, landowning, or manufacturing. The Revolution created economic chaos for the commercial middle classes in the great coastal towns because of the uncertainties caused by wars and blockades and the temporary abolition of slavery. Many other bourgeois benefited from the new war industries, from a stronger internal market, and from uniform economic legislation. Everywhere, however, the Revolution had opened up political life for them and changed the dominant social values necessary to recognize their importance in the life of the nation. The Revolution was their triumph.

See alsoCitizenship; Committee of Public Safety; Danton, Georges-Jacques; Directory; Estates-General; France; French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars; Girondins; Haiti; Jacobins; Lafayette, Marquis de; Louis XVI; Marat, Jean-Paul; Marie-Antoinette; Napoleon; Paris; Reign of Terror; Robespierre, Maximilien; Toussaint Louverture.


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Peter McPhee

French Revolution

views updated May 18 2018


The French Revolution (178999), whose religious history alone is here recounted, was not merely a violent and decisive overthrow of the political and social structures of the French kingdom; it was also a spiritual and religious drama. After demolishing the traditional ecclesiastical structure of one of the oldest Catholic countries of Europe, the revolutionaries aimed to formulate valid principles of organization for all modern societies, while prescinding from the Church's traditional doctrines or opposing them.

This aspect of the crisis in France during the last decade of the 18th century greatly impressed contemporary observers and later historians. Joseph de Maistre, in his Considérations sur la France (1796), described the Revolution as a death struggle between Christianity and a diabolical philosophy and as a trial permitted by Providence to revivify Catholicism. Abbé Augustin de Barruel's Mémoires pour l'histoire du Jacobinisme (1797) saw in it the fruit of a plot hatched by philosophers, freemasons, and fanatics to destroy the Church. Edgar Quinet in La Révolution (1865) interpreted it as an essentially religious conflict whose goal was the triumph of the spirit of enquiry and of liberty over the "ancient belief" that formed the basis of political despotism. Still later, "scientific" historians rejected these earlier interpretations as too systematic and too philosophical. François Alphonse Aulard (18491928) and Albert Mathiez (18741932) studied

the religious aspects of the disturbance, but denied that the Revolution was a premeditated war against the Church. They brought out the role of circumstances and of necessity (financial, national security) in the decisions taken against the Church. According to them, national renovation could not be effected unless the revolutionary leaders could attract powerful religious support. Lacking the support of the old Church, which had become hostile, they turned to the new "revolutionary religions." Finally, contemporary historiographers invite us to place the revolutionary phenomenon as it appeared in France behind every ideological and reform movement that disturbed Europe and even the entire Western world about the beginning of the 19th century. Although it was in France that the conflict between traditional religion and the new spirit erupted and proceeded to extreme lengths, one cannot separate the history of the vicissitudes of French Catholicism from that of the upheavals that have affected the Catholic Church and other denominations elsewhere and that have changed among peoples everywhere traditional concepts of relations between the state and religion.

Religious Situation in France in 1789. From the beginning of the 18th century throughout all Christian Europe "enlightened" minds and innovators, such as writers, political figures, administrators, and economists, examined "God's case," as Paul Hazard termed it, on a metaphysical plane, and also the Roman Catholic Church's case, on a political and social plane. The "philosophers" rejected divine revelation and the authority of the ecclesiastical magisterium and replaced them, in the name of reason, with "natural religion" or more rarely with outright atheism. They complained that the clergy, especially the papacy, was domineering, intolerant, and scandalously wealthy; and they condemned Catholicism for its social shortcomings, its complete disregard for civic-mindedness, and its alliance with despotism. Incredulity was restricted mostly to the aristocracy and intelligentsia. The middle classes were often hostile to the clergy, especially to the regular clergy, and disliked the Holy See and its ultramontane defenders. Among the masses religious practice remained regular, but it was mixed with much ignorance and was based more on conformity than on solid devotion (see enlightenment).

In France the Cahiers de doléances, drawn up in 1789 with a view to a meeting of the Estates-General, manifested a widespread attachment to the national religion, but they contained numerous criticisms of the ecclesiastical institution and revealed an eagerness to see the Church reform and bring the fullness of its influence to bear on the reform of the state. The Cahiers demanded that the clerical class surrender its privileges, especially its exemption from direct taxation, and a part of its immense real estate holdings, which occupied about one-tenth of the country. They showed great hostility toward religious congregations, especially of men, which were considered too numerous, useless, and contrary to human nature because of their vows of chastity and obedience. Convinced supporters of gallicanism wished to limit papal authority over the national clergy. In this respect they were in accord with the disciples of jansenism, who were very hostile to the Roman Curia and to pius vi (177599), who pursued them with his condemnations in France, in Italy, and in German-speaking countries. Supported by philosophers who advocated tolerance, Protestants demanded complete liberty of conscience and of worship.

On the whole there was no evidence in any part of France at the beginning of the Revolution of an intention to destroy Catholicism. Patriots no more intended to knock down the altar than to overthrow the throne. They had not even a common program for Church-State relations. No one imagined the possibility of establishing a regime of separation similar to that recently set up in the U.S. Furthermore, all differences were hidden by the unanimity of hopes. Everyone believed that the eliminating of abuses, the revivifying of institutions, and the establishment of a new constitution "on the sacred foundation of religion" would require the cooperation of bishops and priests; all expected such cooperation. The Catholic Church seemed to be held in much higher respect in France than in Austria or in the Rhineland. It seemed that in case of difficulty the Church could rely for defense on the devout King Louis XVI and on the deep attachment of a population that had never envisioned throwing aside its Catholic tradition.

Attempt to reorganize the National Church (May 1789 to April 1792). During its first year, the Constituent Assembly made decisions whose direct or indirect effects were to upset the Church's status and to alarm Catholics.

On the night of Aug. 4, 1789, the deputies abolished all privileges of individuals and of social groups. Thenceforth the clergy could no longer exist in the state as a distinct order or class, enjoying precedence, the right to levy certain taxes (tithes), and the power to administer its own holdings and to consent to imposts sought by the king. In the future ecclesiastics were to be citizens on the same level as others and, like them, subject to the law.

Nationalization of ecclesiastical property followed in November of 1789. To circumvent the danger of public insolvency, the Assembly heeded the suggestion of talleyrand-pÉrigord, Bishop of Autun, and legislated the seizure of the extensive properties belonging to the Church and the sale of it to benefit the state treasury. The Assembly promised that in exchange the state would guarantee an appropriate salary to ecclesiastical functionaries and would assume responsibility for maintaining hospitals, schools, and foundations that had been up to then the Church's care. This confiscation raised some protests, including the indignation of the Holy See; but it was carried out without great difficulty. Purchasers of "national property" continued to fear a return to the past and became determined adversaries of the Church, which persisted in condemning the operation.

At this time the Constituent Assembly, by way of prologue to the political constitution, proclaimed the Declaration of the Rights of Man, inspired by the American Declaration of Independence but more general and universal in character. It declared all men free and equal in rights, with freedom to think and write as they wish; it promised further that no one should be harassed for his opinions, even on religion. The ecclesiastical delegates accepted this moderate formula of tolerance, as well as the complete civil equality of Protestants. Pius VI, however, severely censured the principles contained in the declaration as contrary to revelation and impregnated with an indifferentism capable of leading to the ruin of the true religion (March 10, 1791).

Dissolution of religious congregations was the next step. In the spring of 1790 the Assembly decided to reform religious congregations as a measure indispensable to the public welfare; and it did so without consulting Rome. Religious vows were forbidden in the name of the inalienable liberty of the individual. Congregations not devoted to nursing or teaching were suppressed. Religious houses with few members were united. Religious men and women were authorized to leave their convents. These measures resulted very soon in the desertion of the houses of male religious, which were thereupon confiscated. The congregations of women resisted the pressure of local authorities much longer. Their convents, havens of retreat for priests and laymen who were dissatisfied with the religious reforms, were treated with increasing severity by the government until all were closed and the nuns dispersed (August 1792).

Although it had stripped the clergy of its privileges, the Assembly denied any hostile intentions against the Church. Indeed the majority of the clerical deputies still believed in 1790 that the Gallican Church, once purified, would find a worthy place in the "regenerated" state. Relations between the Revolution and the Church were changed decisively by the civil constitution of the clergy (July 12, 1790). Without consulting the Holy See, the Constituent Assembly enacted on its own authority a new statute concerning the Catholic clergy as part of its program of administrative and social reforms. It then demanded that priests, as salaried civil servants, take a civil oath to uphold the Civil Constitution. This threatened the enfeoffment of the clergy to the civil power and a break between the Gallican Church and Rome. Another effect of the law was to divide clergy and laity into two hostile groups. The constitutionals, or jurors, supported the Civil Constitution; the nonjurors, or refractory element, opposed it. Pius VI's solemn condemnation of the Civil Constitution (March-April 1791) caused the majority of the faithful to lean toward the refractory. As a result many Catholics detached themselves from the patriots and sided with the "aristocrats," who were resolved to restore the ancien régime with the help of foreign arms if necessary.

The dream of harmonious collaboration between the Revolution and the Church disappeared. Toward the end of 1790 violent anticlerical manifestations broke out in Paris and throughout France. Most of the bishops feared for their lives and fled the country. They joined the royalists, who in Germany and Italy were trying to organize a league of Christian princes that would save the Church and King Louis XVI, by now a prisoner of the Revolution. European rulers hesitated to engage in a very hazardous ideological war, which Pius VI regarded as inevitable. In May of 1791 the French government severed diplomatic relations with the Holy See; and in September it seized avignon, a part of the States of the Church. The pope was convinced that the Jacobins in Paris were spreading their propaganda in order to rouse peoples everywhere to insurrections against the throne and the altar. Within France and throughout all western Europe the revolutionary ideal and Roman Catholicism seemed to be in tragic opposition. Cardinal Zelada, the papal secretary of state, affirmed: "A most cruel and uncompromising war against religion has been openly declared by the dominant party."

The Legislative Assembly declared war on Emperor Leopold II of Austria (April 20, 1792). Soon afterward it decreed the deportation beyond French borders of all nonjuring priests suspected of conspiring against the state. Louis XVI, who had endeavored to prevent the enforcement of this last measure and who was suspected of connivance with foreign powers, was dethroned in a violent Parisian insurrection (Aug. 10, 1792). The collapse of the throne led to a ferocious attack against Catholicism.

Dechristianization (May 1792 to October 1794). Historians have coined the term "dechristianization" to describe the assault by the Legislative Assembly and its successor, the National Convention, against Roman Catholicism and then against all forms of Christianity. This persecution involved the deportation of ecclesiastics and the condemnation of some of them to death; the closing of churches, the wholesale destruction of religious monuments and symbols; the prohibition of worship, religious teaching, and propaganda; the secularization of the state and its institutions; and the condemnation of all ancient religious traditions. Attempts were made to replace "superstition" with revolutionary and civic religions. Dechristianization coincided almost exactly with the Reign of Terror, i.e., with the establishment of a centralized, dictatorial, and bloody regime that arose because of the Revolution's implacable war on a Europe allied against it. Dechristianization was also the consequence of a growing aversion, even hatred toward the Church and the religious ideal, and of a determination to "extirpate fanaticism," a resolve that characterized some political leaders and the populace under their influence.

Stages of Dechristianization. There were two outbreaks of dechristianization corresponding to what is called the "little terror," during the summer and autumn of 1792, and the "great terror," from September 1793 to August 1794.

Since the Legislative Assembly had to wage war against Austria, Prussia, Sardinia, and the French émigrés, it feared the internal disorders caused by the rivalry between juring and nonjuring priests and by the collusion of the latter, who maintained a strong ascendancy over the populace, with the enemies of the Revolution. The government therefore decreed the arrest and exile of nonjuring priests, who were regarded as models of disobedience to the laws. While the Austrians and Prussians were invading France from the northeast, local authorities imprisoned suspects somewhat at random. In Paris a mob became panic-stricken at the news of the approaching enemy, invaded the prisons, and indiscriminately massacred the prisoners as "accomplices of foreign powers" (Sept. 24, 1792). Many of the victims have been beatified (see paris, martyrs of).

The confusion that followed the collapse of the throne permitted the installation at Paris of an insurrectionary city council, the Commune, which exercised discretionary authority, apart from that of the Assembly. It forbade public manifestations of worship, such as processions, midnight Mass at Christmas, and the wearing of clerical garb. It likewise despoiled churches to amass silver and bronze for national defense. These measures affected the clergy and worship of the Constitutional Church as well as the nonjurors. Actions of this kind were applauded by Cordelier and Jacobin clubs, by popular societies, and by the majority of the Legislative Assembly, whose Girondist deputies were very antireligious. The Assembly even decided to remove the clergy from its function as keepers of the census (the last social function they still performed) and to confine this work to lay officials.

However, these oversystematic procedures ran the risk of deeply wounding popular sentiment, especially in the provinces, and prudent political figures sought to slow down the application of them and to avoid their spread.

Under the National Convention the dechristianizing movement began anew in the summer of 1793, spread across France, and lasted until at least the autumn of 1794 and the Thermidorean reaction. The external and internal situation had become very grave. With England and Spain allied with the enemies of the Revolution, France was besieged by land and sea on all its frontiers by the First European Coalition. At the same time it was torn asunder domestically by terrible civil revolts, notably by the uprising in the Vendée, where the Catholics, who were also royalists, fought with extraordinary intensity to retain the nonjuring "good priests." A federalist insurrection set the large cities of the provinces against Paris and went so far as to make a compact with foreign countries. The Convention, dominated by the Mountain faction, sought by every means to reduce the French to submission. Thus it sent throughout the country commissioners armed with discretionary powers to crush the enemies of the Republic. Some of these envoys, with the complicity of local clubs, stirred up popular wrath against "fanaticism and its henchmen." They forbade all public and private worship. After tracking down priests, the revolutionists compelled them to marry and to abjure the priesthood (deprêtriser ). Priests who resisted, along with their religious or lay accomplices, were arraigned before revolutionary tribunals. A law of Oct. 21, 1793, made all suspected priests and all persons who harbored nonjurors liable to death on sight. Condemnations multiplied. Sometimes they were carried out in batches. Thus 135 priests were shot to death at Lyons in the mitraillades (November of 1793). In Compiègne 16 Carmelites were executed; in Orange, 32 Ursulines. The Church has honored a number of these victims as martyrs (see compiÈgne, martyrs of; orange, martyrs of; arras, martyrs of; laval, martyrs of; valenciennes, martyrs of).

Once the "conspirators" were crushed, the attempt was made to replace "superstitious and hypocritical cults" by the cult of the Republic and of natural morality. Civic celebrations were organized in honor of Liberty and of the "Goddess Reason," whose feast was commemorated in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (November of 1793) and later in several provincial cathedrals. If these celebrations were not the Saturnalia depicted by the enemies of the Revolution, they inevitably repelled believers as sacrilegious parodies. Henceforth churches were devoted to popular meetings or transformed into shops. It was forbidden to attempt to reopen them for religious services. Protestants also had their churches closed and their services stopped. Some zealots of the Mountain went so far as to close Masonic lodges. All propaganda, all teachings other than those imparting Republican doctrines, were forbidden in popular societies.

To erase the memory of ancient traditions, it was considered insufficient to "demolish the temples that proclaimed the imbecility of our fathers" and to demolish belfries and crosses. Localities bearing names of saints were renamed, and children were given civic first names. Finally, in October of 1793, the Convention abolished the Gregorian calendar, in use among Christian peoples, and replaced it with a revolutionary calendar without Sundays or saints' feast days; the foundation of the Republic was taken as the year I. This was supposed to signify humanity's entrance upon a new era.

Scope and Limits of the Dechristianization Movement. This desperate effort to "uproot fanaticism" from the earth and from souls was the act of a small minority to whom circumstances had momentarily permitted the exercise of almost unlimited authority: Girondists during the Legislative Assembly, the Mountain during the National Convention, members of the Paris Commune and of the Jacobin clubs. Among them were jurists; intellectuals; lawyers, such as Pierre Chaumette; journalists, such as Jacques Hébert or Jean Marat; former religious, such as Joseph Fouché; members of the middle class who led the sans-culottes of the towns; and artisans and workmen, but not the lowest classes. This attests to the existence of a strong current of resentment against the Church, mixed with a rationalist ideology that was in good measure a tributary of the philosophical ideas of the preceding period, although not entirely so. This current continued for a long time after the Revolution.

It would be inaccurate to attribute the entire responsibility for the dechristianizing movement to the Jacobins or to regard all of them indiscriminately as atheists who denied all transcendent morality. The political leader who enjoyed the largest audience in the club of the Jacobins and who dominated the government committees and the Convention during the Reign of Terror was Maximilien robespierre. He professed a form of deism inspired by Jean Jacques rousseau. Once in power, he sought to impose by law on all citizens belief in a Supreme Being and in the immortality of the soul (see supreme being, cult of the). He did not favor the Church, nor did he advocate clemency toward it, but he disapproved the excesses of dechristianization as a discredit to the Revolution. His opposition to some members of the National Convention was not without bearing on his fall (July 28, 1794).

These distinctions were scarcely understood outside France. Most Christian peoples, Catholics and Protestants alike, viewed the religious persecution as the crowning point of the collective fury called the Reign of Terror, which could be explained only as a satanic blow against all that was most respectable in civilization. Beginning with the summer of 1794, the French Republic went from victory to victory and occupied Belgium, the Rhineland, and Savoy. In these Catholic countries it put into effect some of the Revolution's ecclesiastical legislation and measures. All western Europe was seized with dread lest the spread of the antireligious movement prove irresistible. Aversion to the Revolution increased still more because of the sympathy some of its victims inspired. The thousands of refugee or banished priests, religious, and bishops who had settled in Rome, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, England, and the U.S. (where a handful of Sulpicians founded in Baltimore the first Catholic seminary) demonstrated, on the whole, a dignity under trial and piety amid their hardships that won them great respect, even in the opinion of the antipapist British. The émigrés contributed not a little to confirming abroad the conclusion that France was the scene of an explosion of antireligious hate that was truly satanic.

Although the tempest that had been sweeping over France left ruins in its wake, it did not destroy all religious life, even momentarily. The Catholic masses opposed dechristianization with heroic resistance. Not all the Catholic clergy who were attached to Roman orthodoxy left France. Out of 135 bishops 25 refused to emigrate, and some spent the entire period of the Reign of Terror hidden in the vicinity of Paris. Other bishops sought to maintain the direction of their dioceses through authorized representatives. In Paris the Sulpician Jacques Émery prudently directed the archiepiscopal council; in Lyons the Vicar-General Linsolas courageously organized itinerant missions. Priests and also many religious women who transformed themselves into unassuming schoolmistresses lived and worked clandestinely with the cooperation of the local inhabitants, especially in mountain and forest regions far from administrative centers, such as Jura, Haute Loire, and Lot. Nonjuring priests in western France found shelter among the insurgents of the Vendée.

In the Constitutional Church there was a relatively large number of priests and even of bishops who abdicated their faith, but there were also men of character, such as Henri grÉgoire, Bishop of Loir-et-Cher, who was a deputy in the National Convention and always defended courageously the rights of religious conscience.

The prohibition of worship could be enforced in very unequal measure in different regions and in different periods. Even in Paris, where the promoters of dechristianization were most determined, religious services in secret could not be completely prevented. In the various departments of France the situation varied according to the zeal of local authorities and, above all, according to the resistance of the populace. There were whole regions, as in Brittany, where the prerevolutionary situation hardly changed. Areas with strong religious tradition succeeded in inaugurating missions entrusted to itinerant priests endowed with regular faculties, who were assisted by catechists and utilized the interval between visits from one parish to another to strengthen their spiritual lives. Even in more tepid regions the populace indicated by its attitude that, at the least sign of change in the political scene, it would demand the reopening of churches and schools where children could receive education based on traditional religion and morals.

It was this passive resistance, this evident determination of the people that brought about the progressive abandonment of dechristianization measures, beginning with the day when the Thermidorean Convention let the revolutionary government fall into disgrace, after the elimination of Robespierre.

Separation of Church and State (September 1794 to November 1799). During the year III the Thermidorean Convention turned gradually toward a regime of separation of Church and State. Force of circumstances rather than doctrinal convictions guided it. To lighten the public financial burden, the government decided first to cease paying salaries to the clergy. Implied in this was the abandonment of the Constitutional Church. To free itself from inextricable difficulties, the Convention next promised the free exercise of all religions, subject to precautions necessary to keep public order. This principle was even inserted in the new political constitution of the year III (promulgated in October of 1795), which initiated the Directory regime. This meant that the state would consider itself alien to religious questions and would guarantee to all citizens freedom of conscience and of religious practice.

Unlimited government tolerance was, however, impossible in a nation that was prey to the most profound political and moral divisions and that contained partisans of diverse cults engaged in continual rivalry and bickering. For five years the Directory shifted from complete abstention in regard to religion to half-hearted attempts at accommodation with the Catholic Church, to enforcement, and even to renewal of measures of surveillance and repression of Catholicism. This inconsistent attitude offered no security to any creed and succeeded in discrediting a regime that was very unpopular anyway because of the prolongation of the war, financial bankruptcy, and increasing anarchy.

Attempt at Tolerance and the Revival of Catholicism. From October of 1795 to September of 1797 the government sought to be tolerant. Catholic priests reappeared, and public worship resumed. The rival Constitutional and Roman Churches tried to reorganize. They disputed bitterly with one another over the faithful as clientele. But the Constitutional clergy were weakened by defections and by the low esteem in which the laity held them. On the other hand, the orthodox clergy suffered from divisions in their own ranks. Some priests preached prudence and submission to the authorities, but the majority, especially those who had returned from exile, refused reconciliation with the Republic and censured its laws and its representatives. The Directory thought it prudent to impose on ministers of religion a promise to obey the Republic's laws. In the summer of 1796 it made a somewhat ambiguous attempt to negotiate with the pope to get him to impose submission of the refractory clergy. When this failed and when resistance continued, the Directory stiffened its policy and accused Catholics of seeking to be "aloof, dominant, and persecuting." Furthermore, anti-Catholic prejudice remained very strong in government circles. The Directory imposed the revolutionary calendar and the decadi feasts on which the magistrates had to preach a civic religion (see decadi, cult of). One of the directors, Louis Larevellière-Lépeaux, even pretended to be the prophet of a new religion of his own invention, called theophilanthropy. The minister Joseph Lakanal was active in organizing a secular type of education that removed pupils from any semblance of religious cult.

The elections in the year V (MarchApril of 1797) manifested a strong popular movement against those in power and in favor of complete religious liberty and the recall of deported priests. In the elections Catholics, hoping to restore the Church to its old position, allied with the royalists, who were enemies of a republican form of government. The Directory used this as a pretext to disregard the elections by the coup d'état of 18th Fructidor (September 4) and to call in question the whole policy of religious appeasement.

New Anti-Catholic Offensive. As a result severe persecution started again and lasted two years (September of 1797 through November of 1799). Under the pretext of seeking guarantees of loyalty, the Directory imposed on priests an oath of "hate for the royalty" to which they could not subscribe. Against nonjuring priests the Directory revived the deportation legislation of the previous period and caused 2,000 priests to be arrested (of whom 500 belonged to departments in annexed Belgium). While waiting to transport them to Guiana, officials herded them into prisons and onto convict ships at Rochefort and neighboring ports under conditions so inhuman that many died. Although executions were relatively rare, annoyances were incessant. Catholic worship was no longer tolerated even for the Constitutional Church. The Directory hoped that it would wear down its opponents and put an end to the Church and its priests; it expected that eventually the populace would forget about them.

The victories won outside France by the armies of the Republic seemed to foretell the ruin of Catholicism in every country under French rule. As early as 1796 some directors wished to take advantage of the brilliant success of Gen. Napoleon Bonaparte in Italy by having him advance to Rome and attack the Holy See. Bonaparte refused, unwilling to jeopardize his conquests by stirring up the wrath of the Italian masses, whom he knew to be attached firmly to their religious traditions. He was satisfied to conclude with Pius VI the Treaty of Tolentino (February of 1797), which imposed on the pope rigorous neutrality but left him independent and in possession of Rome. This act permitted Napoleon to pose as the savior of the Holy See in the eyes of Italian and French Catholics (see napoleon i).

Bonaparte's departure for Egypt and numerous incidents between French occupation troops and Italian princes in central and southern Italy allowed the Directory finally to dispatch to Rome Gen. Louis Berthier's army, which dispersed the papal court and proclaimed the Roman Republic (February of 1798). Pius VI, although 81 years old and ill, was seized and taken as a prisoner to France, where he died (Aug. 29, 1799). On this day the total destruction of the Holy See seemed to many to be accomplished. It might have appeared practically impossible to proceed to the election of a new pope in Europe, where the Second Coalition had stirred up war everywhere or to restore Catholicism in France after seven years of merciless persecution.

Religious Pacification (November of 1799 to July of 1802). Actually, the Jacobin government, as it was called in Catholic circles, was condemned by its inconsistency and injustices and by the intense desire of all Frenchmen for peace. When Gen. Bonaparte returned from Egypt, he took advantage of his popularity and of the discredit of the Directory to effect his coup d'état of 1819 Brumaire (Nov. 910, 1799) and to seize power amid general approval. Within two years Napoleon as First Consul restored religious peace in France and in Europe. Once he became First Consul, he declared the Revolution ended but promised to guarantee its "conquests," such as liberty of opinion and of belief, equality among religions, and the sale of religious property. Napoleon used exhortation and force to unite the French. He permitted the return of the refugee priests, from whom he demanded only a simple promise of fidelity to the constitution. Public worship resumed. Churches that had not been confiscated were allowed to reopen, but control over them was disputed between the Constitutional and the orthodox clergy. Each group claimed full authority to the exclusion of the other. The First Consul was surrounded by counselors who had been members of the Jacobin assemblies and who were very hostile to the restoration of Gallican and monarchist bishops to their former sees. Napoleon did not, however, lean toward the Constitutional Church or seriously consider making Protestantism the official religion of the new state, because he had already decided in favor of the Roman Church.

Experience had taught Napoleon to rule men according to the wish of the majority. In France and also in Belgium, the Rhineland, Italy, and in other territories annexed to France, the majority of the population was Catholic and much attached to the Holy See. These Catholics would not overlook the violence of the religious quarrels or submit to the laws of the established government except on the advice of their "good priests" or on the pope's orders. It was, therefore, necessary to negotiate with Rome, but at the same time to advance so cautiously that there would be neither victor nor vanquished among the partisans of the different religions, and to act so firmly that the papacy would be unable to take revenge for the Revolution and oblige Napoleon to compromise his principles and his conquests. It was with these considerations in mind that the government of the Consulate entered into negotiations (November of 1800) with pius vii, who had recently arrived in Rome to reestablish the papal government. The new pope was more inclined than his predecessor to enter into an accord with the French government, since he judged this indispensable to save religion in Europe.

The accord was incorporated in the concordat of 1801, which was signed July 15, 1801, and promulgated April 18, 1802. It guaranteed full liberty of worship to the Roman Catholic apostolic religion (implicitly rejecting the Civil Constitution of the Clergy), the reestablishment of the hierarchy in communion with the Holy See, and the payment of an adequate salary to the clergy in compensation for the loss of their landed property confiscated and sold during the Revolution. But it did not make Catholicism the national or dominant religion, because Napoleon wanted to safeguard the freedom of dissident religions and the equality of religions recognized by the Republic. The silence of the concordat concerning religious congregations resulted in the disappearance of one group among the clergy and the transfer to others of the social services that they performed. The Concordat was, therefore, a promise of restoration of Catholicism in France and in the countries belonging to it; but this restoration did not involve any compensation for past losses, nor did it bestow any future concessions or special privileges.

Emperor Napoleon I was responsible for the observation of tolerance and for what must be called the laicizing of the state. He gave legal recognition to Protestant and Jewish worship and obliged all creeds to live on good terms under the watchful eye of the government. This situation was so novel in comparison with the ancien régime that Catholics found difficulty in accepting it. Its emancipation of religious dissidents, however, was in conformity with the Revolution's decrees.

So well was the formula of the Concordat adapted to existing conditions and to the mentality of the time in France and throughout most of western Europe that many neighboring states tried to obtain from the Holy See a similar accord during the following quarter-century. In France the Concordat survived its author. The Restoration period did not succeed in replacing it, even though it regarded a return to the prerevolutionary regime as essential. Despite numerous changes of government, France retained the concordat for 104 years, until the Third Republic legislated the separation of Church and State (December of 1905).

Prolongation of the Conflict. The mass of French Catholics interpreted the Concordat of 1801 as proof of the Revolution's failure in its attempt at dechristianization. But some conservative philosophers and, still more, some ultramontane theologians continued to deplore the Church's impaired status in comparison with the ancien régime; even more did they bewail the partial victory of Revolutionary principles over Catholic doctrine. The Church could indeed forgive and forget the plundering, the bloody persecution, even the sacrilegious overthrow of the Holy See during the Revolution. It could also consent to deal with the new, secularized states to obtain the blessings of peace and to safeguard religious liberty. It could not and would not, however, tolerate the propagation of those doctrines championed by the Revolution that were injurious to God and to society. Among them was the substitution of popular sovereignty for authority emanating from God. Unacceptable to the Church also was the concession of equal rights to religious truth and error implied in the phrases "liberty of opinion" and "liberty of conscience." The proclaimed equality among individuals seemed contrary to traditional teachings about the providential inequality of conditions.

This explains the effort by the Church, particularly by the papacy, for more than a century to condemn and refute the "principles of 89" and to repel the Revolution, which was conceived thenceforth less as an historic event than as a doctrine of revolt and of negation that had taken hold of the human mind as a result of a false philosophy and had caused the diabolic insurrection of man against God. If several popes, notably Gregory XVI, Pius IX, and Pius X, waged a relentless struggle against the Revolution, it was because they attributed to it the essential responsibility for the spread of such modern errors as doctrinal indifferentism, rationalism, naturalism, and liberalism and because they saw in it a series of innovations dangerous to the individual, the family, and society, including civil marriage, secularized education, and separation of Church and State.

Liberal Catholics proposed, at times with tenuous arguments, that the Church reexamine the message and significance of the Revolution and the conditions of its promulgation; but for a long time this proposal went unheeded. The Church considered war on Catholicism as the basic aim of the Revolution, against which it must take an irreversible counterrevolutionary stand. The appeasement of this antagonism between Church and Revolution demanded, especially in the 20th century, new and terrible trials by mankind. It required also a pacifying of the antireligious fury that characterized the spiritual heirs of the Revolution, a more serene and detailed examination of the philosophical contents of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, a more minute and exact knowledge of the origin of some decisions and of the historic chain of events between 1789 and 1799. In fine, it necessitated a long labor of reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the modern world.

Bibliography: p. de la gorce, Histoire religieuse de la Révolution française, 5 v. (Paris 190923). a. latreille, L'Église catholique et la révolution française, 2 v. (Paris 194650). j. leflon, La Crise révolutionnaire 17891846 (Fliche-Martin 20;1949). c. ledrÉ, L'Église de France sous la Révolution (Paris 1949). f. mourret, A History of the Catholic Church, tr. n. thompson, 8 v. (St. Louis 193057) v. 7. h. daniel-rops, L'Église des révolutions: En face des nouveaux destins (Histoire de l'Eglise du Christ 6.1; Paris 1960). Dansette v. 1. a. aulard, La Révolution française et les congrégations (Paris 1903); Christianity and the French Revolution, tr. lady frazen (London 1927). a. mathiez, Les Origines des cultes révolutionnaires, 178992 (Paris 1904); Contributions à l'histoire religieuse de la Révolution française (Paris 1907); La Révolution et l'Église (Paris 1910); Rome et le clergé français sous la Constituante (Paris 1911); La Question religieuse sous la Révolution (Paris 1929). a. sicard, L'Ancien clergé de France, 3 v. (Paris 18931903; v. 1, 5th ed. 1912); Le Clergé de France pendant la Révolution, 3 v. (new ed. Paris 191227). p. pisani, L'Église de Paris et la Révolution, 4 v. (Paris 190811). c.h. tilly, The Vendée (Cambridge, Mass. 1964).

[a. latreille]

French Revolution

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Position of the Jews before the Revolution

The nature, status, and rights of the Jews became an issue of public consequence in *France in the last two decades before the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789. The Jewish population was then divided into some 3,500 Sephardim, concentrated mostly in southwestern France, and perhaps 30,000 Ashkenazim in eastern France. The Sephardim had arrived there after 1500 as *Marranos. By 1776, when the last lettres patentes in their favor had been issued by the crown, they had succeeded, step by step, in establishing their status as a merchant guild, avowedly Jewish, with at least the right to live anywhere within the authority of the parlement of *Bordeaux. The leading families of the Sephardim engaged in international trade. They were sufficiently assimilated to behave like bourgeois, and some were *Deists or nonbelievers before the Revolution. The Ashkenazim in eastern France were foreign and un-French in their total demeanor. This community spoke Yiddish and was almost totally obedient to the inherited ways of life. The power of the community over the individual was much larger among the Ashkenazim than among the Sephardim, for rabbinic courts were, in Metz and in Alsace, the court of first jurisdiction for all matters involving Jews. With the exception of a few rich army purveyors and bankers, Jews in eastern France made their living from petty trade, often in pursuits forbidden to them; by dealing in cattle; and from petty moneylending. More than any other, this last occupation embroiled the Jews in conflict with the poorest elements in the local population, the peasants.

Another economic quarrel involved the Jews in several places in France, and especially in Paris, with the traditional merchant guilds. In March 1767 a royal decree was issued creating new positions in the guilds and making these new posts freely accessible to purchase by foreigners. Jews managed to enter the guilds in a few places in eastern France, and to bid for entry in Bayonne. These efforts were fought in lawsuits everywhere. The new, Physiocratic insistence on productive labor had also helped sharpen the issue of "productivization" of the Jews in these years before the Revolution.

In the intellectual realm the Jews became a visible issue of some consequence in the 1770s and 1780s for a variety of reasons. The attack of the men of the Enlightenment on biblical religion inevitably involved these thinkers in negative discussion of the ancient Jews and, at least to some degree, of the modern ones. All of the newer spirits agreed that religious fanaticism, whether created by religion or directed against deviant faiths, needed to end. The Jews were thus an issue both as the inventors of "biblical fanaticism" and as the object of the hatred of the *Inquisition. Some of the great figures of the Enlightenment, with *Voltaire in the lead, argued that the Jews had an ineradicably different nature, which few, if any, could escape. The more prevalent, less ideological opinions were those of men such as the Marquis de *Mirabeau (the younger) and the Abbé *Grégoire, that the defects of the Jews had been created by their persecutors, who had excluded them from society and limited them to the most debasing of economic pursuits, leaving them entirely under the sway of their own leaders and their narrow tradition. With an increase in rights and better conditions, the Jews would improve.

Propaganda and pressure by Jewish leadership in eastern France, led by Herz *Cerfberr, the leading army purveyor in the region, had resulted in 1784 in the two last acts of the old order concerning Jews. In January 1784, Louis xvi, speaking in the accents of contemporary enlightened absolutism, forbade the humiliating body tax (see *Taxation) on Jews in all places subject to his jurisdiction, regardless of any local traditions to the contrary. In July of that year a much more general decree was published which attempted a comprehensive law for the Jews in Alsace. It was a retrograde act. A few increased opportunities were afforded the rich but no Jew could henceforth contract any marriage without royal permission and the traditional Jewish pursuits in Alsace, the trade in grain, cattle, and moneylending, were surrounded with new restrictions. The rich were given new scope for banking, large-scale commerce, and the creation of factories in textiles, iron, glass, and pottery. The Jewish leaders in Alsace fought against this decree, and especially against that part of it which ordered a census in preparation of the expulsion of all those who could not prove their legal right to be in the province. This census was indeed taken and its results were published in 1785. Nonetheless, Jews continued to stave off the decree of expulsion until this issue was overtaken by the events of the Revolution. These quarrels and the granting of public rights to Protestants in 1787 kept the question of the Jews before the central government in Paris. Under the leadership of Chrétien Guillaume de Lamoignon de *Malesherbes, the question was again discussed by the royal government in 1788. Delegations of both the Sephardi and the Ashkenazi communities were lobbying in Paris during these deliberations. The prime concern of the Sephardim was to see to it that no overall legislation for Jews resulted in which their rights would be diminished by making them part of a larger body which included the Ashkenazim. The representatives of the Jews from eastern France followed their traditional policy of asking for increased economic rights and of defending the authority of the autonomous Jewish community.

The Era of Revolution

In the era of the Revolution the Jews did not receive their equality automatically. The Declaration of the Rights of Man which was voted into law by the National Assembly on Aug. 27, 1789, was interpreted as not including the Jews in the new equality. The issue of Jewish rights was first debated in three sessions, Dec. 21–24, 1789, and even the Comte de *Mirabeau, one of their chief proponents, had to move to table the question, because he saw that there were not enough votes with which to pass a decree of emancipation. A month later, in a very difficult session on Jan. 28, 1790, the "Portuguese," "Spanish," and "Avignonese" Jews were given their equality. The main argument, made by Talleyrand, was that these Jews were culturally and socially already not alien. The issue of the Ashkenazim remained unresolved. It was debated repeatedly in the next two years but a direct vote could never be mustered for their emancipation. It was only in the closing days of the National Assembly, on Sept. 27, 1791, that a decree of complete emancipation was finally passed, on the ground that the Jews had to be given equality in order to complete the Revolution, for it was impossible to have a society in which all men of whatever condition were given equal rights and status, except a relative handful of Jews. Even so, the parliament on the very next day passed a decree of exception under which the debts owed the Jews in eastern France were to be put under special and governmental supervision. This was a sop to anti-Jewish opinion, which had kept complaining of the rapacity of the Jews. The Jews refused to comply with this act, for they said that it was contrary to the logic of a decree of equality. Opinion thus had remained divided even in the last days, when Jews were being given their liberty.

This division of opinion about the status of the Jews was, to some degree, based on traditional premises. Such defenders of the old order as Abbé Jean Sieffrein Maury and Anne Louis Henry de la Fare, the bishop of Nancy, remained in opposition, arguing that the Jews were made by their religion into an alien nation which could not possibly have any attachment to the land of France. The more modern of the two, Maury, went further, to quote Voltaire to help prove that the Jews were bad because of their innate character and that changes of even the most radical kind in their external situation would not completely eradicate what was inherent in their nature. De la Fare was from eastern France, and he was joined in the opposition to the increase of Jewish rights by almost all of the deputies from that region regardless of their party. That this would occur had already been apparent in the cahiers from eastern France which, with the exception of one writer under the influence of Abbé Grégoire, were almost uniformly anti-Jewish. The most notable of the left-wing figures from Alsace in the revolutionary parliament, Jean François Rewbell, remained an uncompromising opponent. He held that it was necessary to defend "a numerous, industrious, and honest class of my unfortunate compatriots who are oppressed and ground down by these cruel hordes of Africans who have infested my region." To give the Jews equality was tantamount to handing the poor of eastern France over to counterrevolutionary forces, for the peasant backbone of the Revolution in that region would see the new era as one of increased dangers for them. The only organized body in eastern France which was publicly in favor of increased rights for the Jews was the moderate, revolutionary Société des Amis de la Constitution in Strasbourg, with which the family of Cerfberr had close connections. This group argued that the peasants were being artificially whipped up and that their hatred of the Jews would eventually vanish. A policy of economic opportunity would allow the Jews to enter productive occupations and become an economic boon to the whole region. It was along this general line that the Jews, if they were regenerated to be less clannish and more French and if they were dispersed in manufacture and on the land, would be good citizens, that their friends argued for Jewish emancipation. In the first debate on the "Jewish Question" on Sept. 28, 1789, when the Jews of Metz asked for protection against the threat of mob outbreaks (there had been outbursts in Alsace that summer and some Jews had fled to Basle), Stanislas de *Clermont-Tonnerre, a liberal noble from Paris, had agreed that the existing Jews did merit the hatred against them but ascribed what was wrong with the Jews to the effects of oppression. The Jews themselves could not maintain any separatism, for "there cannot be a nation within a nation." The emancipation of the Jews in France eventually took place on the basis sketched out by him: "The Jews should be denied everything as a nation but granted everything as individuals …" Such views were argued in the revolutionary years by the Jacobins of Paris, who were pro-Jewish (almost all the others and especially those in eastern France were anti-Jewish) and by the main body of moderate revolutionaries, who ultimately made their feeling prevail, that emancipation was a moral necessity, its purpose being to improve the Jews so that they could be part of a regenerated society.

The final decree of Sept. 27, 1791, did not end the tensions in eastern France. The structure of the Jewish community remained, and in some places in eastern France local civil powers continued, at least briefly, to enforce the taxation imposed by the parnasim for the support of the Jewish community. It soon became apparent that the revolutionary government itself needed to keep some kind of Jewish organization in being. The decree of nationalization of the property of the Church and of the émigrés (Nov. 2, 1789) had contained a provision for the assumption of the debts of the churches by the government, but it refused to assume responsibility for the debts contracted by the Jewish communities. The one in Metz was heavily in debt, largely to Christian creditors, and the issue of the payment of these debts remained a source of irritation and of repeated legal acts well into the middle of the 19th century. Those who had lived in Metz before 1789 and their descendants who had moved far away, even those who had converted from the faith, were held to be liable.

Throughout the era of the Revolution there was recurring concern about the patriotism of the Jews (their civisme) and about the channeling of their young into "productive occupations" and making them into good soldiers of the Republic; that is, whether the Jews were indeed "transforming" themselves as their emancipators had envisaged. During the first decade of the Revolution some economic changes were taking place. Jews did participate in the buying of nationalized property, and in particular lent money to the peasants in Alsace, who thus acquired their own farms. This splitting of the estates of the Church and of the émigré nobility into small farms gave the peasantry a stake in the Revolution, but the contribution of Jewish creditors and speculators to this trade (it was significant though not dominant) earned them no gratitude. It remained a fixed opinion, especially among Jacobins, that the Jews were usurers and that they were using the new opportunities of the Revolution to become even more obnoxious. In general, the occupational structure of the Jews changed very little in the 1790s. They continued mostly to be middlemen or peddlers; very few were beginning to work in factories or even to own land, despite much propaganda and occasional pressure on them to take up agriculture. There were some difficulties about their joining the armies of the Revolution. In many places the National Guard refused to accept Jews; sometimes it even attacked them and made minor pogroms, and it was regarded as a matter of unusual public importance that Max Cerfberr was accepted in Strasbourg in 1790. On the other hand, most Jews tried to avoid military service because of the problems of Sabbath and holiday observance which this created for them. A few of the sons of the richest families did become officers in the army as early as the 1790s, but the major military contribution of the Jews during the Republican period was in their traditional role as *contractors to the army. Jewish financiers were actually of minor importance, even here, but their visibility remained high and they were attacked with particular vehemence. Jews were involved in the military purchasing directory which was created in 1792, with Max Cerfberr as one of its directors. This body lasted just a few months, but it was at the center of much controversy during its existence, and thereafter. The Jews who were involved were subject to bitter criticism, but in this affair none was put to death for economic crimes or for treason.

The older Jewish leadership continued to dominate the Jewish community in the 1790s, but some newer forces were also arising. In southern France a group of Jewish Jacobins, whose club was named after Rousseau, became in 1793–94 the revolutionary government of Saint Esprit, the largely Jewish suburb of Bayonne. There were a few instances among both the Sephardim and the Ashkenazim of individual Jews who participated in the Religion of Reason. The overwhelming majority, however, both in the French Jewish communities and in those of the papal possessions, *Avignon and *Comtat Venaissin, which had been annexed to France in 1791, kept their religious traditions alive as best they could. No Jew was guillotined during the Terror (July 1793–July 1794) on the ground that his religious obduracy had made him an enemy of society, though such rhetoric was used by some of the Jacobins of eastern France in outraged reaction to the continuing practice of such traditions as Jewish burial. This was termed severely antisocial and a further expression of the supposed Jewish trait of hating the entire human race. During the Terror many synagogues and other Jewish properties were, indeed, nationalized and synagogue silver was either surrendered or hidden, as were books and Torah Scrolls. In some situations, such as in Carpentras in 1794, the Jews finally "willingly" gave their synagogue to the authorities. Nonetheless, religious services continued in hiding everywhere and after the Terror Jews were able not only to reopen many of their former synagogues but also to establish new conventicles in communities such as Strasbourg in which they had not had the right to live before the Revolution. As early as Aug. 4, 1794, within a few days after the fall of Robespierre, the Jews demanded the right to open a synagogue in Fontainebleau. There were a few cases of mixed marriage, though these remained very much the exception in the 1790s and did not become a trend of any significance until after the end of the century. The whole question of the status of Jewish acts in law remained confused, with many jurisdictions still continuing to restrict the personal freedom of Jews and the French courts still continuing to recognize Jewish law as determinant for Jews on matters of personal status, and especially marriage.

Anti-Jewish acts did not stop entirely with the end of the Terror. In November 1794, two Metz Jews were fined for carrying out Jewish burials and four years later five Jews were sentenced in Nice for building tabernacles for the Sukkot holiday. Thermidor was, however, regarded by Jews as a period in which religious persecution had ended. The problems of this period were mostly economic, for the civic tax rolls in various communities bore down heavily on Jews. From the very beginning of the Thermidor the central government ordered the protection of the Jews against agitation in eastern France. Occasional outbreaks continued and there were even some attacks on Jews for being in league, supposedly, with what remained of the Jacobins. Some angers that had been evoked by the emancipation of the Jews, and their involvement in the events of the first days of the Revolution, were evident during these days of reaction, but crucial was the fact that no change took place in the legal status of the Jews. Their emancipation was a fact and remained so; so was the economic conflict caused especially by their moneylending; so was the continued existence of their religious tradition and of their considerable communal apartness, even though the legal status of the community had been ended; so was the need of the central power to deal with the Jewish community in an organized way for many of its own purposes. All these questions, and an underlying concern about the "reform" of the Jewish religion and Jewish habits to accommodate the needs of the state, were deeded on to the next era, the period of *Napoleon.

Effects Outside France

The French Revolution brought legal equality to the Jews who dwelt in territories which were directly annexed by France. In addition to its operation in the papal possessions, Avignon and Comtat Venaissin, which were reunited with France in September 1791, just a few days before the final decree of emancipation for all of French Jewry, this legislation was applied to such border territories as Nice, which was conquered in 1792.

The German regions on the west bank of the Rhine were acquired by conquest in that same year, and the French conqueror, General A.P. de Custine, announced as his troops were entering the Rhineland that winter, that equality for Jews was one of his intentions. The formal enactments did not take place until 1797, when the supposedly independent Cisrhénane Republic was created. In the intervening years Jews who had begun by being suspicious of the new regime had become partisans of the Revolution.

In the *Netherlands there was a revolution in 1795, with help from the French army, and the Batavian Republic was proclaimed. A group of "enlightened" Jews had been among the prime organizers in Amsterdam of a body called *Felix Libertate. This association had as its purpose the furtherance of the ideas of "freedom and equality." There was substantial opposition in Holland even among some of the makers of the Revolution to the granting of full citizenship for Jews. The leaders of the official Jewish community were also opposed, for they fought bitterly against the disappearance of a Jewish separatist organization in a new regime of personal rights. There was a substantial debate, which culminated in eight days of discussion (Aug. 22–30, 1796), at the first session of the new revolutionary parliament. This debate was on a higher level than those held some years before in France; it resulted in the decision that Jews were to be given equal rights as individuals but that they had no rights as a people. The view of Clermont-Tonnerre in France in 1789 was thus upheld in Holland. In law this equality remained for the Jews in the Netherlands even after the fall of the Batavian Republic in 1806.

There were almost immediate echoes in *Italy of the French Revolution, but these stirrings were repressed in all of its various principalities. In the spring of 1790 the Jews were suspect of being partisans of the Revolution, and there were anti-Jewish outbreaks in both Leghorn and Florence; a comparable riot took place in Rome in 1793. There was almost no truth in all of these suspicions. A small handful of "enlightened" individuals were for the Revolution, but the organized Jewish communities looked forward only to some alleviations of their status by the existing regimes in Italy. Radical changes did take place toward the end of the decade, in 1796–98, when Napoleon Bonaparte conquered most of northern and central Italy, including the papal territories, in the course of two years of war. Everywhere the conquering French troops announced the end of the ghetto and equality for the Jews. In Italy the physical walls behind which Jews dwelt still existed in many places and the advent of the French armies gave the signal for the actual physical breaking down of these barriers by Jews and other partisans of the new order. Trees of liberty were planted in many places, especially in the Jewish quarters. Brief and even bloody revenge was taken on the Jews during Napoleon's absence in 1798–99 on his campaign in Egypt, as counterrevolutionary forces did battle against "Gauls, Jacobins, and Jews." In 1800 Napoleon, now as first consul, reconquered northern and central Italy and annexed it to France, ultimately to serve as the kernel of his future Kingdom of Italy. Jewish equality was secure in Italy until Napoleon's fall in 1815.

Elsewhere in Europe, the events of the French Revolution had enormous effects, but they did not lead to equality for the Jews. The French-inspired revolutionary Swiss regime of 1798 did not, even during its brief life, show any real desire to give the few Jews in Switzerland legal equality. In the Austrian Empire, the government was fearful of the Revolution and little was done in the 1790s that went beyond the several decrees of toleration that had been enacted in the spirit of enlightened absolutism by *Joseph II in 1781–82. The early years of the French Revolution coincided with the death agonies of independent Poland, leading to its partition and the end of Polish independence in 1795. Austria, Prussia, and Russia, among whom Poland was divided, were all either actively or passively arrayed against France throughout the 1790s. The influence of the French example, therefore, had no effect on their policy when these countries acquired among them the largest Jewish community, numbering some 800,000, in all of Europe. There was no change during the 1790s in the legal status of the Jews in any of the independent German principalities, not even those which sided with France in war. In the most important of the German states, *Prussia, despite notable and ongoing acculturation by members of the Jewish bourgeoisie in Berlin, the government refused to make any substantial changes in the regime of exclusion. A new decree that was issued at the beginning of 1790 spoke only of some future time, perhaps in three generations, when "regenerated Jews" might be admitted to civic equality. David *Friedlander answered on behalf of the leaders of Berlin Jewry that no changes at all were better than this "new imposition of chains"; what Jews wanted, he boldly added, was that such chains "be completely removed." To be sure, he and his circle were not insisting that equality be attained immediately by all Jews. Like the more successful Sephardim of France at that moment, the men whom David Friedlander led were interested almost entirely in their own rights. They proclaimed that the Jews in Berlin had already become culturally and intellectually the equal of the highest of German society, and they were, therefore, to be treated differently from their brethren in Bohemia or Poland, who were yet to wait until they had suitably prepared themselves by westernization for freedom.

The news from France was reported extensively and with exaltation in Ha-Me'assef for 1790, the Hebrew annual that was supported by this Berlin circle and by like-minded men on both sides of the Rhine and in Central Europe. These accents were soon suppressed in the name of patriotism, as Prussia went to war against France, but the example of equality in France, and of the United States Constitution of 1787, remained an ideal. For Jews everywhere in the next century after the French Revolution, the battle for emancipation became the central issue of their lives. Everywhere disabilities and exclusions were measured by the standards of France after 1791. In relation to the Jewish question Napoleon was the heir of the Revolution, and his victories after 1800 only extended the sphere of the emancipation. When he fell in 1815 the legal equality of Jews ended in much of his former empire, except in France and in Holland – and in Prussia, emancipation of 1812 had been a domestic decision, not forced upon Prussia by Napoleon. Nonetheless, the memory of the equality that Jews once held remained. Even in the many countries where nothing favorable to Jews had happened between 1789 and 1815, the example of the French Revolution was a dominant political force. Despite attempts at reaction in the 19th century the states of Europe had increasingly to contemplate full legal equality for all of their citizens, including Jews, as a central element of their entering modernity.


Z. Szajkowski, Jews and the French Revolutions of 1789, 1830, and 1848 (1970); A. Hertzberg, French Enlightenment and the Jews (1968); Milano, Italia, 339–51; Roth, Italy, 421–45; S. Seeligman, De Emancipatie der Joden in Nederland (1913); Z.H. Ilfeld, Divrei Negidim (1799); I. Freund, Emanzipation der Juden in Preussen (1912); A. Kober, in: jsos, 8 (1946), 291–322; M. Wiener, Juedische Religion im Zeitalter der Emanzipation (1933); R. Mahler, Divrei Yemei Yisrael: Dorot Aḥaronim, 1 (1952), 2 (1954), index.

[Arthur Hertzberg]

French Revolution

views updated May 18 2018

French Revolution (1789–99) Series of events that removed the French monarchy, transformed government and society, and established the First Republic. Suggested causes include economic pressures, an antiquated social structure, weakness of the (theoretically absolute) royal government and the influence of the Enlightenment. Beginning in June 1789, when the States-General met at Versailles during a political crisis caused by attempts to tax the nobility, representatives of the bourgeoisie demanded reform and proclaimed themselves a National Assembly. Popular resistance, epitomized by the storming of the Bastille, forced the government to accede to demands which included the abolition of the aristocracy, reform of the clergy, and a Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. The Legislative Assembly was installed (October 1791) and, faced with growing internal and external pressure, declared war on Austria (April 1792). It was soon in conflict with most other European states, the governments of which viewed events in France with fear. The war hastened political change: Louis XVI was deposed (August 1792) and the National Convention met to proclaim a republic (September 1792). After a period of rivalry between Jacobins and Girondins (November 1792–June 1793), strong central government, marked by fanaticism and violence, was imposed during the Reign of Terror, and Louis was executed. Social anarchy and runaway inflation characterized the Thermidorean Reaction (July 1794–October 1795), which followed the fall of Robespierre. Another new constitution imposed a five-man executive called the ‘Directory’ (1795). It lasted until 1799, when the Consulate (1799–1804), dominated by Napoleon, put an end to the decade of revolution.

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