‘Every citizen must be the same in the state, Fraternite’, Egalite, Liberte’, the rights and equality of man, the enlightenment and an end to slavery, emancipation for all who have been slaves. Religion is an old superstition that has very little place in the progressive and enlightened world’. All these matters, yet not all were on the lips of the Revolution, they had also been championed during the Renaissance to a great extent by the reformists many years before.
Revolutionary Politics and Governance during French Revolution
Many of these democratic rights of government and people are a cornerstone of our societies today. During the French Revolution after the storming of the Bastille, the new road for society was not as easy to achieve as all the facets would indicate, it would require many changes to do so. The next three years 1789-93, would see the struggle for political control and the added exacerbation of economic recession in France which would play a damning role on the Revolution’s final outcome.
The chaotic and fearful atmosphere that permeated throughout France during the Revolution would lead to many innocent deaths, poor governance at many levels and so on, as the newly installed structures were abused to suit personal agendas. Ruling by fear and for personal gain became an easy option for the likes of Maximillian Robespierre, The Montagnard’s and the violence of the Sans-Cullones.
Finally, a war right across Central and Eastern Europe where many citizens lost their lives to a French Emperor and dictator.
France and Equality Governance
The Radical political changes that brought in the Estates General in November 1789, would end with the rule of the French Consulate of 1799. The fundamentals of modern democracy are the ideas as principles, by definition, liberal democratic practice.
The Consulate of France was the top level of Government after 1799,replacing its predecessor, the Directory that was dismantling by the actions of the 18th Brumaire, which installed the rule of the Consulate from November 1799 to the beginning of the Napoleonic period in September 1804.
The Directory was a group of five or more higher officials elected during the First French Republic of 1793, who were overthrown during the 18th Brumaire on the 10th of November, 1799 by Napoleon Bonaparte.
The term Brumaire is not clearly understood in direct terms as to its references, it was a bloodless Coup d’état by intent that overthrew the officials of the Directory, ending the French Revolution, and replacing it with the Consulate of France, and the Coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte as emperor.
Equality in France remained an incomplete task on many levels. Firstly, the Directory was influenced by key individuals, the Constitution still had not been accepted nor would matters change much until the French Government had tied up the ‘loose ends’ of the Revolution, mistrust of the Church and senior clergy amongst the populace, a constitutional monarchy replacing an absolute one, its role in serving the nation, displaced French Emigres and refugees elsewhere in Europe and in France itself, that were targets of the Revolutionaries and the Terror.
There was a general sense of immediacy amongst senior politicians in the summer of 1793 between the widespread civil war in the country and counter revolution. The appointment of the Revolutionary Tribunal in March of 1793, a court that would deal with political offenders that further motivated the cause for application of The Terror amongst the Revolutionary radicals, it was in fact no better than a ’kangaroo court’. The Tribunal became one of the most powerful engines of The Terror.
Maximillian Robespierre the head of the committee of Public Safety, answerable to the National Convention, was one of the most notorious personalities to come out of the Revolution, as was Bertrand Barere of the National Convention.
Under pressure from the radical revolutionary peoples the Sans-Culottes, and a need for the forming of a Revolutionary army, was agreed on by the Convention, but not the implementation of widespread terror, to suit the Cullottes.
As head of the Committee of Public Safety in Paris, Robespierre had picked up on the temperament of the revolutionaries in identifying and routing out ‘anti-revolutionary’ elements and perceived un-revolutionary activity no matter how small, within diplomatic circles and amongst the populace. He advocated that treason charges be instituted against those caught practicing perceived anti-revolutionary comments and actions amongst citizens and diplomats.
The charges were used against people at every level, and for the pettiest of reasons. As a clever lawyer, he was respected and admired for his knowledge and revolutionary purpose, but he was distant cold and aloof to others who thought him to be completely indulged in the machinery of Revolutionary Terror rather than the actual purpose of the Revolution.
He was plotted against by fellow politicians, who were fearful of his ultimate intentions and power ambitions. His end came in July 1794, in the month of Thermidor Year II of the Revolutionary calendar. After his trial he was executed on the guillotine on 28th of July, an execution he had condemned many others too before him. Robespierre’s execution effectively brought the French Revolution to an end.
The Girondins – a Loosely affiliated group of intellectual Revolutionaries, and political council members in the Legislative Assembly from 1791-93, had largely dominated the Legislative Assembly during these years up until 1793, believing in the ideology and principles of International revolutionary expansion by military means, with a perception and intent of acting as a conduit amongst the citizens and states of many nations in Europe, a planned revolution exported from France.
They were connected to the Society of the Jacobins, or just simply the Jacobins, the Friends of freedom and Equality, and the Jacobin Club, after 1792. Believed to be the most political club gathering during the revolution in 1789.
The Jacobins were also more prominent in France when war was declared against Austria and Russia during 1792-3, the deposing of Louis XVI and the First French Republic.
The Mountain Faction in May of 1793, led by Maximillian Robespierre succeeded in creating a dominance over the Girondin’s in the government until July 1794. The factions time in government control managed by the use of high levels of political violence. The Jacobin/Mountain government during its time in office was known as the Reign of Terror.
As a group they were not fully in line with the French national revolutionary authority and will at the time, especially amongst members of the National Convention of France. Their leader Jacques Brissot advocating an ambitious military plan internationally, for the spread of the ideas of the French Revolution, excluding the terror. They were all for the fall of the monarchy, but less inclined to follow on with the radical Revolutionaries.
This brought them into conflict with the more radical Montagnard’s (The Mountain revolutionaries by name). The insurrection of 31 May – 02 June 1793, the Montagnard’s dominated and then purged the Girondins, eventually having them put on trial and executed on mass. The insurrection became one of three popular insurrections of the Revolution amongst the people, with the involvement as always through the Tribunal and trial of ‘offenders’.
Execution of the deposed French Monarch
The single most notable and important event in the Revolution occurred when Louis the XVI went to trail at the Revolutionary Tribunal. Louis attempted to leave France covertly using a disguise at a check point manned by soldiers sympathetic to the cause, which failed, he was captured and held in Paris awaiting trial.
Louis trial was held on 17th January 1793, where he was unanimously pronounced guilty by the tribunal councilors, which was no surprise and of course expected under the conditions prevalent at the time. His execution at the Place De la Revolution happened four days later on the 21st of January under the blade of the guillotine, his execution was a turning point in the Revolution.
Reactions varied, some believed that the execution brought an end to the unbroken thousand-year reign of an absolute monarchy in France, others although sympathetic and active in the Revolution too, saw it as a senseless act of bloodshed in a France that had sunken into a state of violent, amoral chaos.
Drafting of a New Freedom Constitution
The Marquis De Lafayette and the American diplomat, Thomas Jefferson drafted the new Constitution for France. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, which echoed some of the facets of the US Declaration of Independence.
Of its contents and intent, the drafting of the Constitution had its detractors, the pragmatist Jean Joseph Mounier, thought that too many expectations would be made of it, there was also the matter of where the monarchy would stand in the future in French society and in the constitution. The Constitution was drafted none the less and was edited by Honoré Mirabeau, and on 26th August the constitutional was accepted in principal and presented as a statement of intent.
The content in places of the document was radical enough for the situation at the time in 1789 France, let alone elsewhere in Europe. Parts of it would be changed as commentary at the time pointed out that Jefferson saw it as the politics of the US Constitution and the ‘Bill of Rights at a ‘specific place and time‘. He would trust in the French Philosopher, Judge, Historian and Man of Letters, Montesquieu - Charles Louis-de’Secondat, Baron dela Brede et de Montesquieu, who had assisted in drafting the US Constitution. The final French Constitution would be much different from the original draft of 26 August and the US Constitution.
It was accepted however as a new starting point for the National Convention and the people of France. The end of Revolution would not be as a result of the acceptance of the new Constitution, or just a fading away of that period. Revolution was still to be exported to other states in Europe during the Wars of the Coalition.
The French Revolution, the implementation of The Terror amongst the people of France and the changes of Revolutionary Councils, Government Assemblies and the end of the Revolution, were all conducted with a purpose after the fall of the House of Bourbon.
Sanity would somehow prevail thereafter once it had been decided to remove the destructiveness of The Terror, the powerhouses of the military command and politics under Napoleon Bonaparte that would control France with a capable authority. Napoleon Bonaparte would change Frances future for close to thirty years with the connivance of all of the French people.