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The French Revolution and Napoleon; Great Britain and Ireland (1789-1802).


Modern History. (a.d. 1492-1898). From the Outbreak of the French Revolution to the Congress of Vienna. (1789-1815).
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The series of events known as the French Revolution has a literature of its own, and we can only here indicate its chief stages and most prominent events. The picturesque, grotesque, and horrible side of the earlier period is well presented in Carlyle's French Revolution and Dickens' Tale of Two Cities. The philosophy of the subject is an endless matter, belonging to other works than this. In its wider sense, the revolutionary period covers 25 years, from 1789 to 1815, divided into four stages. The first includes events from the opening of the States-General in May, 1789, to the middle of 1793. The second, or "Reign of Terror," takes us to October, 1795. The third covers the period of the Directory and the Consulate, until Napoleon's election as emperor, in May 1804. The fourth stage is that of the French Empire under Napoleon I., with a brief interval of restored Bourbon rule, until July, 1815.

The chief cause of the political convulsion in France has been already indicated - misery due to long misrule such as* has rarely cursed mankind. The spirit of revolution was in the air, a spirit devoted to the reformation or destruction of all existing institutions; a spirit expressed in bitter mockery, keen wit, scorn, searching analysis, enlightened philosophy, and advanced philanthropy by such writers as Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Diderot, and Condorcet, some of them numbered among the Encyclopedistes, or authors of the Encyclopedic, a work which appeared between 1751 and 1765, and was characterised by a disregard of all mere authority, and by a free spirit of inquiry and criticism on religious, social, and political matters. Without directly aiming at political changes, these men, wielding a very extensive and powerful influence, prepared the way for them by their exposure of abuses of every kind. It was in May, 1789, that on the advice of Necker, recalled to office in the previous year, the States-General, or National Parliament, met at Versailles, composed of 300 representatives of the nobles, 300 of the clergy, and 600 of the Tiers Etat, or Third Estate of the realm, meaning the Commons, or mass of the nation. After various disputes as to methods of sitting and voting, the Tiers Etat, under the leadership of the resolute, able, and eloquent Mirabeau, a man of the noble class, styled themselves the "National Assembly," and were joined by the clerical and noble members. This was a first triumph for the popular element. The king, Louis XVI., listening to Marie Antoinette and the party of reaction at court, aroused distrust by gathering around him at Versailles a large body of troops, including foreign - Hungarian and German - regiments, and by arming the bridge of Sevres with cannon pointed towards the capital. This step, followed by the dismissal of Necker from office on July nth, caused an immediate outbreak in Paris. On July 14th the fortress-prison styled the Bastille was stormed by the people, and a provisional government was set up at the Hotel de Ville. The revolution had begun, and it was in vain that the king, in a panic, recalled Necker. A "National Guard" was formed by the municipality of Paris, under the command of Lafayette, a marquis and member of the National Assembly, a man who had fought on behalf of the revolted colonists in America. The famous " tricolour " of the French republic was now adopted as the national emblem, composed of blue and red, the Paris colours, with white in the centre, representing the monarchy. Matters now advanced with swift and terrible steps. The emigration of the nobles began, headed by the count of Artois, the king's second brother, afterwards Charles X. In the provinces the people rose, plundered and burnt many of the chateaux, and hunted the tax-gatherers out of the district, while local provisional governments were set up in the great towns. The nobles and clergy of the Assembly sought to allay popular rage by a voluntary surrender of all feudal rights and privileges - tithes, imposts, the hated gabelle or salt-tax, the preservation of game. At the same time the sale of offices was prohibited, and the guilds which had restricted freedom of trade, and greatly raised the price of commodities, were dissolved. In October the famous mob of women rushed out to Versailles, urged by hunger, and brought the king and his family into Paris as hostages. The National Assembly, with numbers reduced by resignations, then sat in the capital, and in December all the estates of the clergy were confiscated for the benefit of the nation, the state assuming the support of ecclesiastics. In 1790 the old provinces were abolished, and the country was divided into 83 departments, with names derived from mountains and rivers, and with subdivision into districts and cantons. The old parliaments and judicial constitution were swept away, and trial by jury was established. Hereditary nobility and titles were abolished, and all ecclesiastical orders were dissolved, except such as had charge of education and the sick.

During this time the spirit of revolution in its most advanced form had made its home in the political clubs of the capital entitled the Jacobins and the Cordeliers. The more famous of these was that of the Jacobins, a name bestowed first by its enemies, and one which became proverbial for holders of extreme liberal views on political and religious affairs. The members called themselves the Society of Friends of the Constitution, and the title of Jacobins was derived from the fact of their meeting in a hall of the former Jacobin convent in the Rue St. Honore, the Dominicans of France being styled Jacobins because their chief religious house in Paris was that of St. Jacques (Latin, Jacobus) in the Rue St. Jacques. The presiding authority was Robespierre, and under the influence of his fanatical energy it became the headquarters of revolutionary agitation, wielding a power exceeding that of the National Assembly, and directing many hundreds of branch-societies or clubs throughout France, with a system of intrigue and espionage that reached every corner, and endangered every man and woman who might be deemed hostile to revolutionary principles and to the doctrines of "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity." The Cordeliers ("cord-wearers," a French name for the strictest branch of the Franciscans, who wore a girdle of knotted cord) met in the chapel of a Franciscan monastery, and included the bold Danton, Hebert, Camilla Desmou-lins, and Marat, the last three being very influential as journalists disseminating revolutionary matter. The club of the Feuillants, named from a reformed body of the Cistercian order, because they met at an old Cistercian convent in the Rue St. Honore, was composed of moderate monarchists who had quitted the Jacobins, and included Lafayette and Bailly, president of the National Assembly and mayor of Paris. As revolutionary violence grew, its influence decayed, and in March, 1791, it was forcibly closed by a raging mob. In order to estimate the forces at work in Paris, the centre of agitation, we must note the new organisation of the municipality, or commune, of the capital, then containing about 800,000 people. The 84,000 voters, adult males, of the city were divided into 48 sections, each section having its primary assembly, and the whole being directed by a general council, with an executive board of 44 members. The members of the sections were all armed, and were ready to rise at a moment's notice to carry out orders received from the revolutionary leaders.

The death of Mirabeau - the one man who might, as mediator, have guided the revolution to moderate and beneficent ends - in April, 1791, left a free course to the Jacobins. Louis had taken, for himself, the fatal step of conspiring with foreign powers against his subjects, and arranging with the governments of Austria and Prussia for his deliverance by invasion. In June, 1791, with the queen and two of his children, he made his escape from Paris, but was caught at Varennes, in the north-east, west of Verdun, and henceforth closely watched. In August the French people were irritated by the transaction known as the "Convention of Pillnitz," which was concluded at a country-house of that name near Dresden, between Leopold II. of Austria. Frederick William II. of Prussia, and some minor German princes. The contracting parties undertook to "interfere by effectual methods" on behalf of the French sovereign, and this proceeding practically sealed his fate. In September the National Assembly, having framed a new constitution and thus accomplished its purpose as a "constituent" body, dissolved itself. Some of its measures survived the revolutionary period and were embodied in the Code Napoleon. The political and other provisions included universal suffrage for tax-payers of a certain small amount; freedom of the press; liberty of worship; abolition of the laws of entail and primogeniture, and equal subdivision of property among children. This body was succeeded by the "Legislative Assembly," composed of 745 members, mostly from the middle class, and mainly chosen under the influence of the Jacobin club. The party of the right, the Feuillants or royalists, had little power. The left, forming the majority, was partly composed of moderate republicans (styled "the Plain," as occupying lower seats), who included the Girondists, so named because leading members represented Bordeaux, in the new Gironde department, or Brissotins, from a leader named Brissot. This body, republicans famous from ability, eloquence, and their tragical end, included Gensonne, Vergniaud, Guadet, Petion, Roland, Barbaroux, Condorcet, Valaze, and Buzot. The "Mountain" party, so called from occupying the highest seats on the left side of the hall, was that of the Jacobins and Cordeliers, or advanced revolutionists, the supporters of a "united, indivisible republic."

It was foreign interference with the domestic affairs of France that wrought mischief at this time. In reply to the Pillnitz convention, the new Assembly was compelled by the public voice to pass severe measures against the Emigres, or self-exiled nobles, and the priests who refused to swear allegiance to the new constitution. The king was, at this crisis, refusing to sanction the decrees of the legislature, and maintaining a correspondence with the enemies of his country. In February, 1792, an alliance was made between Prussia and Austria, and Leopold, on his death, was succeeded by his son Francis. In April war was declared against Austria, and the inexperienced republican troops suffered defeat on the northern and eastern frontiers. Popular fury was aroused in Paris, and on June 20th the Tuileries palace was invaded by the mob, and the king was insulted by being compelled to assume the bonnet rouge, or red cap, which was a symbol of republican views. In July Prussia declared war, and her general, the duke of Brunswick, issued a manifesto, in which he threatened France with "military execution" if Louis were personally ill-treated. The natural result of this monstrous folly was another outburst of revolutionary violence in the French capital. On the famous "Tenth of August" the mob stormed the Tuileries and slaughtered the Swiss guard, who were ordered by Louis, in his misplaced mercy, to cease firing at the moment when their heroic resistance was gaining the upper hand of the "Sections." The king was then suspended from his functions, and kept as a close prisoner with his family in the tower of the "Temple," the old house of the Knights Templars. Lafayette, as a royalist leader, was impeached, but escaped by flight, and became a prisoner for some years in the hands of the Austrians. The capture of Verdun by the Prussians, in whose ranks many of the French emigres were found, caused another outburst. The -prisons of Paris were full of royalists and " constitutionalists," and these people, including numerous priests and ladies, became the victims of the terrible " September massacres," instigated by the city-council and by Danton, the minister of justice. Many hundreds thus died in Paris, and like outrages occurred in some provincial cities.

A turning-point in the history of the Revolution, of France, and of Europe, came in the success, on September zoth, at Valmy, in the woody and hilly Argonne district of the north-east, of the troops under Dumouriez and Kellermann, against the Prussians commanded by the duke of Brunswick. Referring readers, for full details, again to Creasy's delightful and instructive work, the Decisive Battles, we may state that here, for the first time in this war, the French forces, defending their country against unjust aggression, made a firm stand, and compelled the foe to retire. The democracy of France was now decided in its warlike character; the new levies gained confidence and courage; and the nucleus thus arose of the military force which was afterwards wielded with such effect by the greatest conqueror of modern days. On September 21st the "National Convention," superseding the Assembly, came into existence as a body composed entirely of republicans, 749 members in all, with the Girondists, or moderates, as the right wing, and the "Mountain," or Jacobins, on the left. Monarchy was at once abolished, and a republic was set up. The French troops were victorious in the Austrian Netherlands and on the Rhine, and the new republic at once took an aggressive attitude towards European monarchies by offering aid to all peoples desiring to change the system of rule. On January 21st, 1793, the king, condemned by a vast majority of votes for treason to France, died by beheading, and war was then declared against Great Britain, Holland, and Spain. In March the terrible "Revolutionary Tribunal " was established for the trial of offences against the state, and a struggle began in the Convention between the Girondists and the Jacobins. The extreme party, outvoted in the debates, but backed by the armed force of the "Sections," and aided by their own ferocious energy and resolution, won the day. In April the " Committee of Public Safety " was founded, ultimately composed of 12 members, invested with supreme administrative power. The leaders were Danton, Robespierre, St. Just, Couthon, Carnot (the famous director of military affairs), and Collot d'Herbois. The commune of Paris, acting through its committee of 20, sitting at the Hotel de Villa, also exercised great power. Under the influence of this last body, 31 of the leading Girondists were arrested in June, and some, as Vergniaud, Gensonne', Brissot, and their friend Madame Roland, wife of a leading Girondist, died in Paris by the guillotine. Some escaped from the capital, but nearly all perished in the end, in the provinces, by the axe, or by suicide with poison or steel.

The "Reign of Terror" had fairly begun. In July, Marat, one of the most bloodthirsty fanatics, died by the dagger of Charlotte Corday, styled by Lamartine "the angel of assassination." Revolutionary committees throughout the country executed slaughter in various forms - by the axe, musketry, grape-shot, drowning - at Bordeaux, Arras, Nantes, and other towns where opponents of the extreme party were found. We need not give details of these atrocities, or of the atheistic follies which attended organised murder in Paris. The more violent revolutionists were alike foolish and wicked. Their absurdities and excesses paved the way for reaction, and for a period of despotic rule in their own country. They supplied the enemies of popular rights with telling arguments and illustrations against political concessions to the body of the people. They injured the cause of liberty in other lands. The first French Revolution, by creating a panic amongst the selfish and comfortable classes, and by arousing prejudice even amongst the sincere promoters of political development, postponed for 40 years the granting of parliamentary reform in the British Isles. The over-ardent French advocates of popular freedom, by seeking to impose the new revolutionary system on neighbouring states, caused a long and desolating European war in which some millions of men perished on the battle-field' or by disease, and the progress of civilisation was, in some important respects, postponed for half a century. As for the sufferings and losses of the French nobility, with all due pity for the many innocent victims included among them, the privileged class reaped only what it had sown. A whole people had been oppressed. The lower class, in town and country alike, had been allowed to exist in misery and ignorance, and, suddenly possessed of power, they inevitably misused it. It may, however, be confidently asserted, that the amount of human suffering, in France itself, inflicted by revolutionary violence in the Reign of Terror, was exceeded a hundredfold by the misery of the people in the long years preceding the day of retribution.

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