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Origins of the French Revolution - Part 1
The French Revolution was one of the most violent and politically rippling events of the 18th century. Join Prof. David Andress in part 1, as he considers the key reasons why the revolution began, the key players involved, and its lasting legacy.
Hello, I'm Dave Andress. Welcome to the first part of this lecture on the origins of the French Revolution. The debate between radical and conservative views of revolution is often a debate about structures and intentions. Was collapse built into the evils of a cruelly hierarchical society? Or was a functioning and developing society plunged into chaos by opportunists exploiting a temporary setback? In that sense, it's classically been seen as a difference between social and political interpretations. And in the most recent generation of scholarship, this is further complicated by the question of what kind of cultural explanation might also need to be considered. Within the sphere of the social, the key question since the 1820s has been the rise of the middle classes, in French terms, the bourgeoisie. With this class and its attendant capitalist values clearly triumphant in the 19th century, it was generally taken for granted by scholars that they played a decisive role in events. However, revisionist studies in the 1960s and 1970s queried this, showing that the link between the kind of people who took leading roles in the revolution and any kind of capitalist values and practices was weak. A key route to social prominence was the age old trajectory of the law, and career paths, even for merchants tended to end with buying land and titles and aspiring to become noble. Colin Lucas famously called the bourgeoisie in this system "a transitional category of indeterminate social mutants with no clear collective difference in values from the established elite". While a simple link between class structure, economic change and revolution was decisively broken by this work, more recent scholarship has argued that more capitalist values were intruding into society. A flourishing provincial press in the late 18th century promoted a consumer culture, disseminating commercial information and providing a marketplace for a more mobile and individualistic culture of wealth and property. There was a quite ardently pro-capitalist culture amongst networks of merchants as the swelling trade with Caribbean slave colonies was transforming the economy. One important way of understanding these apparent contradictions comes through work on the individuals who would become revolutionary politicians. While many of the bourgeois individuals displayed all the ambiguities just discussed, what emerged very clearly by the time of the revolution was that most of the nobles involved remained absolutely certain that they were a separate order, indeed, for some, a separate race. Thus, if in quieter times this group could cope with a blending at the edges from social mutants, they remained committed to a difference that in revolutionary crisis became a decisive rupture. One reason this rupture would prove so traumatic is that the language of politics, the realm of political culture, had for decades been drifting towards a denial of the hierarchical divisions of society. Across the century, a long series of disputes had played out between the royal government and the parlements, regional law courts, that, because of their role in registering new laws and taxes and their numerous aristocratic membership, viewed themselves as guardians of the constitution, a viewpoint the absolute monarchy never accepted but could not decisively overcome. Parlemente judges, as they disputed the boundaries of royal power, came to shape and deploy from mid century on the language of the nation as a body with an identity that could not simply be subsumed within the passive loyalty of subjects to a monarch. As this was happening, the more general developments we call The Enlightenment brought two political ideas, among many other things, into focus. The first was that public dissemination of information was good in itself, contributing to the formation of a public as an informed and rational body. The second following from this, was a growing view that such a public formed by its existence, a public opinion that was effectively a rational consensus. Remarkably, despite remaining deeply concerned about actual circulation of information, even the government came to accept from the later 1770s that this public opinion existed, as did a national interest. Thus, a significant dimension of the increasingly overt political debate of Louis XVI reign was the contest between ministers and parlementaires, and journalists, pamphleteers and other authors on both sides about which better represented the voice of public opinion. All while nobody could actually measure or sample such a thing, merely claiming its support for their self-evidently superior views and plans. As this language shaped thinking about a genuine rolling crisis of state power was linked to rising views amongst the elite that some real change in national institutions was required, it would soon come into shattering collision with both the Royal State and the underlying noble conviction of superiority. Revolution arrived when it did not because of any compelling structural change, but out of the state's inability to change. In some senses, this is true of all the great historical revolutions of the West. Charles I and Nicholas II blundered their way into collision with their populations. As in a slightly different way did George III's ministers of the 13 colonies. The French case was a particularly elaborate failure, however, and one for which Louis XVI cannot be held wholly responsible. It's an abiding irony that enthusiastic French support for American independence, resulting in five years of overt warfare after several years of more covert action, broke the back of the French fiscal system. When royal minister, and acclaimed financial genius, Jaques Necker, took out huge loans to finance the fighting from 1778, he was tacitly admitting the inability of the taxation system to deliver the necessary resources, while also piling a significant new burden of repayment on a structure that had grown for decades to repay the debts incurred in previous major wars. The underlying problem was twofold. Firstly, the taxation system itself was impossibly complex, much better at taking money from poor peasants than wealthy noblemen, and cemented into the culture of privilege that marked out hierarchical social status. In effect, to be important was to be exempt from the major burdens of taxation. Thus, to threaten to make taxation more effective was to threaten a real foundation of the elites' self-definition. Secondly, because of the baroque complexity of tax collecting arrangements and their extensive opportunities for private profit, it was very easy to blame fiscal underperformance not on privilege, but on corruption. Turning the spotlight of accusation on the very royal ministers who were increasingly desperate to achieve reform. This was particularly clear in the case of Calonne, finance minister from November 1783. Using major programs of public spending to boost confidence in the state while wrestling behind the scenes with a debt mountain rapidly approaching unsustainability left him extremely vulnerable to charges of both personal profligacy and structural corruption, amounting to aspirations to despotism, when, from late 1796, he began to attempt fundamental reform. Calonne could not have known that his reform plans were probably doomed by the very act of calling an assembly of notables to debate them. But in hindsight, the contradictions it exposed were simply too vast. The men drawn together in February 1787 proved to have a combination of views fundamentally opposed to the reform the government was offering. On the one hand, the plans to reduce and remove privileged exemptions from taxation and to give the privileged classes no special place in new administrative assemblies were attacked as an assault on the fundamental realities of such people's identity. On the other, the halfhearted gestures towards permanent consultative bodies were condemned as a thin cover for despotism, with both history and a new sense of national identity demanding a permanent estates general, a return to the pre-absolutist model of consultative government. Calonne's failure to persuade his opponents, especially after making the argument public with a denunciatory text he distributed to be ready in every pulpit nationwide, brought him down in April. But he was replaced in office by Lomenie de Brienne, who offered nothing new except the ability to go from being a vocal opponent of the plans to a stern advocate when factional manoeuvring and the Queen's favour brought him to high office. Nothing he was able to do gained traction with the notables and dissolving the assembly and trying to force measures through the parliament in the summer of 1787, just created more deadlock. For the next year, the political argument returned to its habitual course as ministers assailed the parlement with demands to approve reform and the judges persistently refused, increasingly presenting the idea of the estates general as the only legitimate way to make such major changes. A partial compromise reached in the autumn of 1797 was soured in November when the king demanded enforced registration of new plans without permitting the judges to debate them. Vehement protests followed. Given that the king was still a firm believer in the absolute nature of his own powers, only an escalation of the crisis could break the deadlock. This came in the spring of 1798 when the parlement were abolished in a strikingly absolutist assertion of power. There was riotous resistance as armed force was used to arrest judges and close down their institutions. The events of the previous year had been watched and commented on with feverish intensity by the public, including many ordinary working people in the towns where the business of parlement supported the local economy. And there was general uproar at the Crown's move. The result of that was a further collapse in the state's credit. And a situation by the late summer of real looming bankruptcy. Brienne was forced to suspend his changes to the parlement and agree to call the estates general for the spring of 1789. And in late August was forced from office as a discredited failure by court intrigue. The genius Necker was recalled in his place and by the end of August had cancelled all the recent reforms and restored the parlement to their full powers, awaiting the now imminent estates general. On the 25th of September, the restored judges of the Paris parlement in their auguste pomp declared that the only proper way for the estates general to meet was to follow the forms of 1614, its last actual session. The Catholic clergy, the nobility and the rest of the population would form three separate estates, each meeting, debating and voting in its own chamber. The privileged classes would have an in-built majority over the representatives of the great mass of the population. What had appeared as a triumph for national opposition to royal despotism was suddenly exposed as an apparent power grab by the privileged minority, causing an eruption of public dissent from third estate writers who'd been expecting a body that represented the whole country. The parliament reacted with censorship, destroying its public reputation. And Necker's efforts to resolve this new crisis with a second assembly of notables revealed deeply entrenched resistance to equality amongst the privileged. At the end of the year, a royal decree authorised the election of twice as many third estate deputies as for the other two orders. And lifted press censorship on discussing the electoral process, but failed to cite whether this doubled representation would be counted by head when actual votes were taken. France entered 1789 with what had been a fight between the monarch and the nation. Suddenly transformed into one about the nature of that nation itself. To modern eyes, the French pre-revolution 1787 to 8 can seem inexplicable as leading figures make arguments for liberty with one side of their mouth while demanding privilege with the other. A frequent response has been to dismiss all this as hypocritical manoeuvring and skip on to the events of 1789, but the way in which the monarchical state collapsed in these years does show us important features about it and about the conflicts to come. All the individuals and factions involved appear to have believed very firmly in their rights to make the arguments they did. Even when those arguments are also blatantly moves in a game of power. The society that the parlement and the notables were seeking to protect from royal despotism was one in which oppression had been normalised. This was the logical underpinning of the networks of privilege that ran through every level of the hierarchy. The wealthier and more powerful you were the further distanced you were from any real obligation to attend to anything except your own interests. Your right not to be taxed like ordinary people was as much part of your identity as your name. At lower social levels, such patterns were replicated. Different provinces held different historical entitlements to avoid taxes or services imposed on others, and these formed their core identity. Towns held privileges that distinguished them from the relatively unprivileged peasants outside their walls. And within those walls, different groups of officeholders and craft guilds held their own privileges, which at once gave them social and political status and economic power. It would be difficult to find anyone except a homeless beggar who could not claim some kind of local privilege, but for most those privileges were a pale shadow of those enjoyed by the powerful, holding them barely above an implicit abyss of marginalization. Like the many actual beggars of the 18th century, often treated as dangerous contaminants, harassed from town to town or locked up in mendicity depots to work or starve. In that sense, the privileges of many merely confirm their position close to the bottom of a steep hierarchy which demanded their obedience without question. Beyond the historically grounded dissemination of privileges set against state taxation, there was also a wider array of array of privileges grounded even more firmly in ideas of social difference. Just as noble status purportedly made you a different kind of person in relation to the state, so feudal privileges and rights historically associated with noble status could put you not just above but over others. To be a Seigneur, a Lord of the Manor, entitled you to a share of harvests, annual fees, tolls and monopoly charges for mills and other services covering anything from a part of a village to a whole county sized area. You need not own any of the actual land involved as long as you owned the feudal rights over it, the inhabitants and cultivators owed you a significant chunk of their income. So taken for granted was this structure that for much of the century, it had increasingly become an investment of choice for middle class individuals aspiring to security and leisure as their careers developed. Feudal rights, that had the once derived from cloudy ideas of armoured noblemen defending their vassals from outsiders were essentially by the reign of Louis XVI, a capitalist investment market that also gave their buyers a convenient leg up the ladder of social status. Those buyers, meanwhile, expected a healthy return on their investment and had no hesitation in employing ruthless agents, bailiffs and lawyers to get it. Aided further by the fact that seigneurial status often brought the right to hold local courts in your own name, judging those who owed you money. In this sense, the hierarchy of privilege was not just a passive environment, but was an active, often aggressive force holding down ordinary people and sucking their livelihoods into the pockets of the already wealthy. The sense of an active, repressive hierarchy also dominated the political and cultural realms. Royal disputes with the parlement hinged on notions of absolutism which invested the monarch with the power to act as he saw fit, subject to the distant sanction of divine punishment, in making new laws and conducting policy. Where the parlement objected to this model of royal power. It was often because they sought to tie that power more firmly to respect for historically established rights and privileges of the dominant elites. Both sides might increasingly use a language of public opinion and national interest. But until the breakdown of 1788, such rhetoric overlay a consensus to keep most of the population very firmly subjugated. The general approach to information marked out this perspective. Both the royal state and the Catholic Church assumed and acted on a right to control what people read, saw and thought. Censorship was seen as a natural state of affairs, guiding and shaping a healthy public debate by weeding out all that was disruptive and potentially corrupting. Royal censors took an active role in discussing with authors how their works could be made better and more acceptable in their system and their statements of approval were printed in the final product. Both the church and the courts took dramatic action, including the burning of books and imprisonment of authors when this system was breached, and an active control over information continued and in some cases became more effective, right down to the eve of the revolution itself. Control over individuals followed a similar pattern. In its harshest form, it was marked by the use of lettres de cachet, letters under seal, which gave royal authority for the detention without trial of a named person. Very widely used to detain those suffering mental health problems, such orders were also granted to families seeking to control rebellious teenage or older children and had a notorious existence as a system for ensuring that any dangerous or disruptive individual could be confined, sent to a convent, exiled, stripped of office or otherwise dealt with without a public hearing or right of appeal. Royal authorities were rumoured to be extremely obliging in the granting of such orders to superiors in a wide range of contexts, from army regiments to religious institutions, casting a shadow of fear over any resistance to abuse of power. Systems of censorship and control came together under the general umbrella of police, which meant both the public and visible ordering of society through administration so that in Paris, for example, street sweeping, street lighting, shop displays, market hours, weights and measures and wet nursing all came under the supervision of la police and also the closed and secret practices of spying on the population for potential dissent and seising detaining and interrogating suspected dissenters. In the former sense, it also covered a great deal of economic life, so that apprentice tradesmen and women and those who'd passed their apprenticeships to work as regular employees were subject to the authority of guild masters in controlling who they could work for, where they worked, and what they were actually authorised to make and sell. When guilds tried to police the boundaries of their jurisdictions, raiding workshops where unlicensed work was taking place and dragging competitors through the courts, they showed the many different spheres in which the old regime rejected the very notion of general freedom. In Paris in particular, where the population of some 700,000 was seen as a continuous potential threat to good order, dozens and rumoured hundreds of police spies moved through the public spaces and the taverns, often themselves former criminals, their existence was well-known, despised and feared. Join me in the second part of this lecture to discuss how this situation developed further to the brink of revolution itself. Thank you.
Origins of the French Revolution - Part 2
The French Revolution was one of the most violent and politically rippling events of the 18th century. Join Prof. David Andress in part 2, as he considers the key reasons why the revolution began, the key players involved, and its lasting legacy.
Hello and welcome back to the second part of this lecture on the origins of the French Revolution, with me Dave Andress. The ways in which all the systems of censorship and control within France had operated before 1789 were freighted with heavy ironies, some of which may have contributed to the revolution itself. The decades before 1789 are, of course, the period of the Enlightenment, when radical new forms of knowledge and debate spread through the literate classes. Raising, among other things, the spectre of public opinion that penetrated to the heart of pre-revolutionary politics. This happened because royal authorities, and the social elite in general, never actually treated the system of secrecy and censorship as if it applied to them. The aristocratic Parisian dinner parties that history knows as the salons were one site where the elite played with new ideas. A range of different hostesses cultivated tastes for everything from new literature, plays and poetry, to scientific and mathematical discussions, to court gossip and even to the assiduous collection of popular rumours. The membership of the salons was always dominated by the wealthy and noble elite, and while some of these were themselves also intellectuals, other authors and thinkers from the lower ranks were only admitted under the protection of patrons. The salon environment prided itself on its free flowing discussion, and relative equality, and has often been taken by historians at its own valuation. But recent studies have shown conclusively the extent to which it absolutely relied on an aristocratic and hierarchical context to function. It was in this context that the strange relationship between state censorship and the wider world of publishing played out. Right from the start of the 18th century elite reformers had sought to reach an elite public for their works and found themselves at odds with censors. From the 1750s, as the salon culture firmly embedded itself, royal ministers in charge of the book trade began quietly allowing more dangerous publications, sharing the general enlightened view that discussion of reform would be healthy for the kingdom and its future prosperity and glory. Such tacit permission was confined to works that circulated at a price that kept them out of the hands of the common people and was not a free for all. Even the renowned encyclopaedia had run-ins with censorship over various volumes. But it nonetheless reinforced the sense that the law did not apply to important people. Alongside this, royal authorities wrestled with a swelling illegal book trade, the capacity of printers and publishers to operate in an arc of territories outside French control, and smuggle their wares into the country meant that throughout the pre-revolutionary decades, almost anyone in the middling and upper classes had access to reading matter that it was a crime to possess. Much of this was frankly obscene, as a pornographic approach to sexuality was used by authors to lampoon the church, royal ministers and court factions. Until recently, it was thought that this tide swelled to a flood in the 1780s and embraced what were in every sense explicit condemnations of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. It now appears that the Crown fought hard to keep such material out of circulation. But the fact that to do so, they often had to pay large sums to blackmailing authors and lock up the offending texts literally in the Bastille, shows what a strange cultural landscape had developed. In the realm of culture, France by the 1780s was in a place of confusion. Through the illegal book trade, everything from obscene histories of Louis XV mistresses to denunciations of the lettres de cachet, was in wide circulation. Through the privileges of the parlement, lawyers could write openly and legally about court cases that sometimes cast the elite in an equally bad light, composing narrative memoirs that sold by the thousand, with stories of abuse of power within families and institutions. In the attics and taverns of Paris, new generations of young writers were trying to scrape a living under police surveillance. Over it all, the abiding doctrine that the state could, would and must control, censor and condemn dissent continued to reign. But even the Minister Calonne used the press to enter into a scathing public dispute with the Assembly of Notables. A sense that the system was unbreakable seemed to coexist with very firm efforts at every level to break it. To add to the general confusion of the era, we must also recognise that the efforts to save the old regime from collapse through the 1770s and 80s also included many genuine enlightened reforms. There were real debates amongst government officials and pioneering changes made. Necker's ministry during the American war set up two trial provincial assemblies which functioned thereafter down to the revolution. Their 48 members were co-opted rather than elected, but saw rural and urban, non noble elites sitting on an equal footing with nobles and clergy empowered to apportion local taxes and pursue projects of public works and agricultural reform. Calonne's unsuccesful relationship with the Assembly of Notables in 1787 masks the further successful step towards representative institutions. Tens of thousands of propertied voters went to the polls in an active political process that year, choosing representatives for a network of municipal assemblies. Without conceding any royal power in practise, the government itself was nonetheless opening up the question of how social structure and political institutions should be related. And observers at the time, including Americans, thought France was progressing toward some new balanced constitution. America, its independence and the constitutional arrangements of the new United States provided another strong stimulus to thoughts of change. The war fought there may have had dire fiscal consequences for the French state, but the French elite widely embraced what they understood to be the pure and natural virtues of the new nation. A significant cohort of noble officers fought with the French Expeditionary Force or like the Marquis de Lafayette, were so keen that they volunteered to serve in the American army itself. While some of the enthusiasm may have come from the chance to humiliate the British victors of 1763, many even of the most distinguished noblemen, seem genuinely to have admired the American spirit and been fascinated by the process of constituting the new states. the Duc de la Rochefoucault d'Enveille produced a translation of the various US state constitutions in 1783, and many intellectuals pored over such texts and produced their own observations in the following years. Lafayette was a member of the Assembly of Notables and voiced his principles there by asking when France could expect a truly national representation to be created. He also kept a framed copy of the US Declaration of Independence in his home with an empty frame beside it for a French Declaration of Rights. As the crisis of the pre-revolution developed, such elite commitment to change expanded. From November 1788, the so-called Society of 30 began to meet regularly in the capital to promote the estates general. Actually numbering over 50, this group included noblemen, judges and senior clerics. Around half the membership came from the highest echelons of the military and court nobility. The language of such men and that of the far wider reading classes of France had come to accept almost without question that public opinion and the rights of the third estate should come to the fore in new structures. Though as their enemy soon charged the members of the 30 also expected that their distinguished origins and principles would give them a right to a leading role in a new polity. This was just one more layer of contradiction, soon to be cut through by direct political conflict. From the end of 1788, Necker's ministry took a remarkably hands-off approach to the estates general, perhaps themselves, influenced by the belief that public opinion sufficiently widely based would see reason. Some very traditional worries about public order in Paris called elections there to be delayed and the franchise tightly controlled. But elsewhere, they went ahead on an extra ordinarily broad basis and with the explicit and also traditional royal summons for subjects to make their grievances known. Lack of governmental effort to manage the process or the surrounding public debate led to two major developments. Firstly, the fault line of privilege opened up by the Paris parlement continued to widen. Famously, the Abbe Sieyes, an intellectual cleric and member of the 30, published 'What is the Third Estate?' in January 1789, a book length polemical pamphlet summed up in its most famous line: "What is the third estate? Everything. What is it been hitherto in a political order? Nothing. What does it desire to be? Something." In making this argument, he also lambasted the privileged orders as essentially parasites on the body politic. An intriguing argument for a man who moved in Parisian high society. However, it was not amongst such circles that this and similar attacks struck home. These months saw a rallying to the defence of noble identities from the tens of thousands of provincial noblemen, often current or former army officers, whose voices had not been heard in the pre-revolution. They had little doubt that their social existence, which they took to be a historic and God given right, was threatened. Frequently, they took the circulation of political information from groups such as the 30 as evidence of an active conspiracy against them. Such circulation was part of the second major development, the emergence of the cahiers de doleances as a landmark moment in history. These registers of grievance, were the traditional accompaniment to the estate's general, intended to form its agenda for redress. Under the conditions of long running crisis and mass participation of early 1789, they became something remarkable. No brief summary can do justice to the volume of words that poured forth from every village, neighbourhood and craft guild. Some texts took an expansive view of the structural problems of the French state. Some focussed on personal liberties or economic development. Many lamented the local consequences in suffering and injustice of what were nonetheless nationwide structures of privilege and oppression. Amalgamated by district meetings into over three hundred third estate cahiers to be carried by representatives alongside an equal number drafted by meetings of nobles and of clergy, some of this local flavour was lost, but not the overall impression. Alexis de Tocqueville made a pioneering study of them in the mid 19th century and his judgement has never been bettered. "I have read attentively the cahiers of the three estates. I observe that here a law and there a custom is sought to be changed and I note it. Persuing the immense task to the end, and adding together all the separate demands I discover with terror that nothing less is demanded than the simultaneous and systematic repeal of all the laws and the abolition of all the customs prevailing in the country. And I perceive at once that one of the great revolutions the world ever saw is impending". Estates general representatives or deputies gathered at Versailles at the start of May 1789 with all the nervous energy of the cahiers and the divisive public debate behind them. As with their elections, the government failed to take advantage of the situation to set a clear agenda, not even obliging the first stages of the body's formation, the verification of individual deputy's credentials, to go ahead speedily. The loudest voices in the third estate demanded that the three estates meet as one. The loudest voices in the nobility and clergy refused and stalemate ensued. The outcome of this was a dynamic radicalization on both sides, with the third estate talking themselves into dramatic declarations of their identity as a national assembly and an oath on the 20th of June to write a new constitution. While nobles increasingly saw this as the fermentation of revolt dug in to resist. Royal refusal to give a positive lead, swung in late June to attempting to dictate a reform package which had already been surpassed by third estate demands and in early July to plotting a coup d'etat to replace Necker with a government that would crack down hard on dissent. Realisation of the dangerous stakes swept through the third estate deputies, many of whom frankly admitted to being terrified for their lives. At this stage, the parallel revolution amongst the common people came to the fore. The pre-revolution of 1787-8 had already seen episodes of dramatic popular involvement, demonstrations in Paris in favour of the beleaguered parlement in 1787, similar protests and veritable riots in regional centres when all the parlements were closed down in 1788 and protests about food prices and fear of shortage in a number of regions as early as September of that year. The 1788 harvest was terribly small and the subsequent winter terribly harsh, adding to a steep economic downturn caused by political uncertainty and an ill judged free trade treaty with Britain. Thus, the elections for the estates general had been held in a nationwide atmosphere of not merely political but material crisis. Across the country, the outcome of the drafting of the cahiers doleances was a realisation, particularly by rural communities, that they did not have to passively accept the overtly oppressive structures they lived under. Observers from the upper classes frequently glossed this as a naive or stupid peasant belief that by stating their problems they'd ended them, obtaining royal commission not to pay taxes, tithes or feudal dues. But in practise, such scorn was soon turned to alarm by the very real mass resistance to such payments and by increasing news of communities going even further. By the spring of 1789, reports were coming in from around France of tax offices being pillaged and their records burned. Of wealthy abbeys forced to open their storehouses to relieve popular hunger. And of aristocrats privileged game reserves being opened to a slaughter of rabbits, deer and fowl. In many areas, villages marched to confront the local feudal lords, breaking down fences enclosing pasture land, demanding the return of crops surrendered in tithes and dues after the last harvest and actively seeking out and destroying the charters and registers that recorded their obligations to subordinate vassals. While elite witnesses were thrown into paralyzed horror at his insurrection, which they alternated between seeing as madness or the outcome of some conspiracy of shadowy outsiders. A historical analysis demonstrates that popular actions were almost always relatively restrained and targeted at specific abuses. Wanton destruction and killing was almost entirely absent and violence against persons in general was relatively limited given the months of activity and the hundreds of thousands actively involved. Major rioting reached Paris in late April 1789 when two factory owners were rumoured to have called for wage cuts. Amidst spiralling food prices, the popular reaction was the gutting of both men's houses, along with the factory of the one, Reveillon, who gives his name to this episode. Crowds triumphantly burned the men's furniture and possessions in huge bonfires. The state's response to this defiance was an assault by the military garrison that killed at least several dozen and a rumoured 300. Only 10 weeks later, the deputies of the National Assembly would burst into almost hysterical tears of relief when they came to understand that the insurrection of Paris between the 12th and 14th of July was directed in their defence and not some fiendish addition to an aristocratic plan of anarchy and destruction. The events that culminated in the storming of the Bastille did not lack social complexity. Several men were hanged for looting while storehouses were being opened in the name of the people. But overall, they demonstrated a remarkable near unanimous mobilization by the capital against the feared aristocrats and their grip on the state. The hundred people who perished under canon fire on the 14th were mostly humble artisans and workers and the middle class leaders who took charge of the city, emerging from the electoral assemblies that had met only in the spring here, soon had a force of over 60,000 under arms from every social class. Popular action created the French Revolution as something larger than a merely political crisis, and popular action saved the national patriot leadership from being snuffed out in July 1789. But elite attitudes did not change overnight. The Parisian leadership was soon busy disarming the less prosperous and hence allegedly more unreliable elements of its new National Guard and appointed the Noble Patriot Lafayette as its commanding general to keep any radical tendencies firmly in check. Similar patterns appeared across the country, where many urban militias were even more focussed on the defence of property and order than in Paris. When rural communities rose up in what was later dubbed the great fear of late July, they were demonstrating a willingness to resist rumoured aristocratic plots, but that did not stop many at the centre reading it is quite possibly such a plot itself. Popular mobilization as mere anarchy, fermented to destroy revolutionary control of the country. In August, the National Assembly joyfully abandoned privilege and wrote a declaration of the rights of man, but it was also careful to insist that feudal and other rights with a cash value would be compensated and should be paid until they were formally ended. Respect for law and property wove through the declaration and it would be several years before the kind of spontaneous abolition that the peasantry had already carried out in the spring of 1789 was recognised as a reality. The tension between knowing that the revolution depended on popular support and wishing to stabilize the social structure ran through politics in the following years. One definition of revolutionary radicalism was to be willing to see crowds as a legitimate expression of the popular will, while against this conservatives and centrists tried to build a political nation of property owners and taxpayers. Both sides feared the very real threat of an aristocratic backlash, and both came to see the other as a potential treacherous agent of that counterrevolution. Here, in the inescapable complexities of its origins, lay much of the reason for the revolution's long and tortuous path towards a republic terror reaction and the return of authoritarian rule under Napoleon. Thank you very much for listening.
The Terror continues to be one of the most captivating events of the French Revolution.
Here, Professor David Andress considers what ‘Terror’ was within its eighteenth century context, and talks about why the Reign of Terror became the violent and all-consuming machine during 1793–1794.
The Terror in the French Revolution - Part 1
The Terror continues to be one of the most captivating events of the French Revolution. Here in part 1, Prof. David Andress considers what ‘Terror’ was within its eighteenth century context, and addresses why the Reign of Terror became the violent and all-consuming machine during 1793-94
Hello, I'm Dave Andress. Welcome to this lecture on the terror in the French Revolution. What was The Terror? To answer that, we need to think about what terror was and about how the events labelled afterwards as 'the reign of terror' and only shortened to the current label decades later were understood at the time. The first thing we must do is to put aside all the meanings that have accumulated since the 1790s, terror and terrorism in the 21st century have been defined in practise as the wilful commission of brutal and indiscriminate slaughter, often by movements that are highly effective at using the internet to disseminate their agendas while being imagined largely falsely as some kind of throwback to a primitive era of carnage. If we step back a few decades to the 1960s and 70s, terror and terrorism then were understood much more clearly as political tactics in which military and civilian deaths were sometimes the result, but where coded warnings, hijack negotiations and the intervention of different forces in the wider Cold War environment could limit harm and place it within a framework of political rationality. Further back, we find 'terrorist' being used by the Nazis to describe resisters and partisans. But we also start to find the idea of terror as a weapon of the state, most notably, of course, in Stalin's great terror of the 1930s. Further back still, into the late 19th century, we find another phase when terrorism was understood as a revolutionary weapon, particularly by anarchists who bombed and assassinated widely in the 1880s and 90s. On the one hand, they viewed direct strikes against leading rulers and capitalists as legitimate in conditions of social war, and on the other, they spoke of 'propaganda by the deed', of the publicity that violence brought with it, right up to final speeches from the dock by terrorists condemned to execution. Overall, from the 19th century to the present, terror in politics is understood as a great and disruptive thing breaking out usually from below, but sometimes as the result of a plot or a long matured ideology, with the explicit aim of wreaking havoc, of shattering what existed before. All of that is a result of how the survivors of the French revolutionary terror, looking back on their recent past, chose to define what had happened to them, which I'll return to later. But the people who made the terror had, of course, already used the word themselves. Maximilian Robespierre famously linked virtue and terror in February 1794 as the main springs of popular government in revolution. Earlier in September 1793, Jacobin and Sans Culottes protesters had demanded that the national convention 'put terror on the order of the day', something the convention didn't formally do, but a sentiment that resounded in many speeches and reports. Gorges-Jacques Danton, six months before that, at the founding of the revolutionary tribunal had said "let us be terrible so that the people doesn't have to be". What did they mean by terror? And why were they so keen on it? Robespierre in his February speech, gave his own definition of terror. Nothing other than justice; prompt, severe, inflexible. And this is, in fact, very close to what terror had meant for generations down to 1793. A new book by Ronald Schecter has demonstrated that when French people in the 18th century thought of terror, they thought of it as a positive attribute of supreme power. God was terrible, regularly described as great and terrible in the old testament and even in the new, where terrors from heaven appear on judgement day. Theologians discoursed on a tag attributed to Saint Augustine, "where there is terror there there is salvation", and regularly invoked holy terror and salutary terror as attributes to be cultivated in worshippers desiring salvation. Rulers, both as military conquerors and as custodians of justice, were terrible. The 1762 edition of the Dictionary of the Academie Francais carried a series of examples "when speaking of a great captain, one says that he's the terror of his enemies and of a severe judge, that he is the terror of scoundrels". In so doing, it echoed centuries of usage. Emperors and kings from ancient times onwards would dignify it with markers of the terror they had struck in others. Voltaire was speaking approvingly of Louis XIV conquests when in 1751 he called him the terror of Europe. And other authors extended the same courtesy to Louis XV. Indeed, at his predecessor's funeral, one preacher had forecast a role as 'the terror of your enemies' as part of a long and glorious reign for the then five year old monarch. By the later 18th century, as history writers began to use more openly nationalistic frames, they had started to write about 'the terror of the name Frenchmen' being carried to the kingdom's enemies, in periods from Charlemagne to the Renaissance. Other authors engaged in vigorous debate over the nature of justice and punishment, joined in a general view that the law ought to instill terror, but often divided over whether, for example, gruesome executions or a lifetime of penal servitude would best terrorize potential offenders onto the straight and narrow. When we think, therefore, of what French people meant when they asked for terror in 1793, we need to think of them demanding the power of sovereignty, for the republic, the people, to be able to do what great rulers and Almighty God had been understood to do in the name of their country salvation. Why, though, was that salvation necessary? Because France, by the early months of 1793, had experienced almost four whole years of its revolution being constantly attacked and betrayed. The period of terror is impossible to understand without relating it to what French people had lived through since 1789. There's no space here to review events in detail, but we can grasp the narrative built up over those years, the way they were explained by the people going through them to themselves at the time and again in hindsight, was of a traumatic series of treasons, each of which threatened the survival of the nation. The revolution begins with deadly betrayal. First, the feared plot that caused the National Assembly to swear its fateful tennis court oath. Then only a few weeks later, the real plot, that dismissed Necker and attempted to cordon off Paris with troops. A plot that would certainly have ended the revolution if the city had not risen in its own defence, even if the risk of universal massacre was lower than the insurgents feared. A few months later, with the July plotters already emigrated and swearing revenge, it had taken the October march on Versailles to overcome the king's resistance to enacting the Declaration of Rights, after further rumours that he was attempting to flee under military guard. For the next year and a half, the steady trickle of aristocratic immigration continued. And as early as the summer of 1790 could be linked clearly to the outbreak of murderous violence in the south around religious questions. Questions which by the start of 1791 had split the country down the middle. With the supposed fanaticism of peasants led astray by their priests, breaking out into open resistance. Then in the summer of that year came the flight to Varene, grotesquely fudged at the time as a kidnapping, but clear in hindsight as an overt attempt at fatal emigration by the King himself with his whole family. It was, of course, the conviction that only overt confrontation with the forces of aristocracy could save the revolution, that had prompted a lunge into war in April 1792, after the king had been shown to favour emigrated aristocrats and fanatical priests by vetoing measures against them. The summer of 1792 saw further spiralling coils of apparent betrayal. Why did the allies of Brissot, who had fought to get the war, now fight to avoid deposing the king? Why did General Lafayette dare abandon his army to threaten Paris with a military coup in June? And why did he go unpunished for this? Why was the war, in fact, going so badly when free men were supposed to be invincible against the slaves of tyrants? Here we must pair the fear of betrayal with the nature of politics as it had been forged through the revolutionary process. The culture of politics in the 1790s was tied to some quite profound beliefs, going back to enlightenment definitions of rational public opinion. The good people within the nation would always be essentially unanimous on any important matters. This had many implications. It explained why individuals were not allowed to declare themselves as candidates for new elective offices. Voters should meditate privately on the best person for the job, not be swayed by divisive promises. It explained why the elected deputies in assemblies were forbidden from also being government ministers to keep their national representative function untainted by power. It explained why Jacobin clubs across the country could identify themselves entirely seriously as simply patriots and absolutely not any kind of faction or party, regardless of how they actually policed the opinions of their members. It explained how the radical activist networks of Paris, who were beginning to use the label sans culottes to define themselves as a particular kind of patriot could also declare their opinions and actions to be simply those of 'the people' and proceed to topple the monarchy in the people's name. And all of this also meant that when apparently good people did disagree, it could only be in their minds because one set of them were not, in fact, good at all. We can see this in practise from the fall of the monarchy in August 1792 onwards in the toxic rivalry between the friends and associates of Brissot on one hand and the Parisian grouping that included the sans culotttes leadership and Marat, Danton and Robespierre, on the other. The Brissotant were absolutely sure that they were patriotic statespeople, struggling to keep the country afloat and that the Parisians were a mob led by conscious disorganizers out to loot the state. In early September, the Brissotant convinced themselves that they escaped a plot to put them to death in the September massacres by the skin of their teeth. And the following month, openly charged Robespierre in the new national convention with aspiring to dictatorship through control of a national network of rebellious municipalities. Robespierre, the newly named Montagnard radical side of the convention, and the sans culottes leadership all saw the Brissotant meanwhile as compromises with monarchy. In their pursuit of office in the previous spring, in their efforts to avoid the August overthrow and in their continuing efforts to avoid a trial of the now captive Louis, they had clearly in radical eyes, been bought and paid for by the court. The terrible reality that leads inexorably to the terror is that these groups, with their various sympathizers together making up perhaps as many as two thirds of the national convention, were unable to do more than hack at each other rhetorically while having to coexist with in a body that did put the king on trial, was trying to write a new constitution, did have to manage a war effort, was passing a stream of new laws to expand the effort, did declare war on all its neighbours and was moving towards further mass mobilization. Yet still, it took outside intervention from the sans culottes movement to finally purge the Brissotant, now renamed the Girondan at the start of June 1793. By that time, of course, the dramatic decision to expand the scope of the war and the means of fighting it had sparked disastrous uprising against conscription in the West. From a peasantry that the Parisians continue to view as fanatical and priest ridden. The birth of the Vendeean revolt was clear evidence to anyone who needed it that the counter-revolutionary internal threat remained absolutely deadly. And in a terrible coincidence, far to the north, the overconfident girondan backed General De Maurier had suffered a grim defeat at near Windon before giving justification to sans culottes attacks by trying to conspire with the Austrians to turn his troops on Paris. His desertion brutally paralleled that of Lafayette, who'd done almost exactly the same after the 10th of August the previous year. Corrosive fear of betrayal met once again the explosive reality of treason. And here we can think again about that definition of terror as the power of sovereignty unleashed on its enemies. With the levy of 300,000, which sparked the Vandeean revolt, with the creation of the Central Revolutionary Tribunal, local surveillance committees and the empowerment of roving representatives on a mission that followed closely behind and above all, with the near simultaneous declaration that all armed rebellion would be met with death sentences without appeal, the national convention was wielding the terror of sovereign power six months before the demand arose for terror as the order of the day. What happens in those intervening six months? France falls apart. The treason of the Vendee becomes a growing threat against which a rising flow of volunteer forces are sent to little good effect, reinforcing a sense of panic and recrimination. Meanwhile, after the Griondan have tried to purge the sans culottes leadership from Paris as disorganised traitors, they are themselves purged. At the same moment that the cities of Lyon and Marseilles explode into dispute between followers of the two sides. Then the purged Girondant leaders actively ferment the situation into a second civil war, on top of the one in the Vendee, so that by the start of July, it seems as if half the country might be in some form of rebellion. Then on the 13th the Girondan strike at the heart of radicalism, assassinating Marat through the hand of a young woman who goes to the guillotine boasting of her martyrdom. And meanwhile, of course, there is a war to fight on all the frontiers. And a country to feed with rising alarm in the cities at food shortages and the start of calls from the most radical for draconian controls on prices and supplies, the kind of controls that were a familiar part of that protective role of pre-revolutionary royal absolute sovereignty. And to see where we go from here please join me for the second half of this lecture. Thank you.
The Terror in the French Revolution - Part 2
The Terror continues to be one of the most captivating events of the French Revolution. Here in part 2, Prof. David Andress considers what ‘Terror’ was within its eighteenth century context, and addresses why the Reign of Terror became the violent and all-consuming machine during 1793-94
Hello, I'm Dave Andress. Welcome back to the second part of this lecture on The Terror in the French Revolution. In late July 1793, almost exactly a year before his death, Robespierre joined the Committee of Public Safety. As that committee itself was acquiring an ever more focussed role as the supervisor of government, the effective replacement for a sovereign head. Does this signal a decisive change? Probably not. Robespierre is an icon of political purity. And as an early opponent of the Girondan one that's been fully vindicated by events. But his early months on the committee were marked by conflicts between much larger groups. It's the Parisian radical movement as a whole that forces the convention to introduce the mass levy in August and the general maximum and the law of suspects in September. While one of Robespierre most notable interventions that month is a rather hectoring speech defending the committee's decision making record against criticism from the convention. What does happen then to signal the period in the process that we all now call The Terror? We can identify a series of dimensions of activity that pull against each other, all born either practically or ideologically from what has gone before. And all heightening the sense of crisis that extreme measures like those already taken were supposed to relieve. Firstly, practically, the terror is an emergency mobilization for war. The levy en-mass of August 1793, on top of earlier levies, gave France an army of over 800,000 men if it could equip them. It turned much of the economy of Paris into an arms factory, turning out 700 muskets a day by the spring of 1794. Across the country, wherever there were existing iron works or engineering concerns, representatives on mission converted them to arms production with workers under military discipline. Countrywide, there were some 6000 small workshops processing saltpetre for gunpowder. Tailors and shoemakers were conscripted to work exclusively for the army. Cloth was scavenged up even from old regime regalia to make uniforms. While the general maximum controlled prices and wages, it was widely necessary to go further and institute rationing of food stocks and compulsory shipment of supplies between regions and to the front lines. This was a simply massive undertaking. Remarkable if done in a situation without other sources of strife. Given that there were many other sources of strife, the war effort became a pressure which intensified all those other problems. Secondly, of necessity, the terror is about civil war. The political reaction to the Vendeean revolt, as we've already discussed, produced revulsion at betrayal and a savage willingness to strike without mercy at such internal threats. The federalist revolt of the summer of 1793 was experienced as a brutal stab in the back against a Republic already confronting deadly danger. Worsened by the apparent leadership of those who'd sat in the convention itself. And worsened further by the defection of cities such as Lyon and Marseilles, both strategically vital to national defence and former pillars of the national revolutionary movement. Federalism proved to radical revolutionaries that not just individuals, but whole populations of apparent patriots could turn out to be traitors. How vital it must therefore be in order to win the war against the external foes, to keep up a relentless pressure to root out internal ones. Thirdly, out of civil war comes both intensified antagonism to the old regime's culture and intensified antagonism between revolutionaries. The trial and execution of the Girondan leadership at the end of October 1793 came two weeks after that of Marie Antoinette, an episode marked by a parade of vicious lies about her role as an evil aristocratic woman in the revolution's troubles. And these led onto an increasingly wide ranging series of trials in which increasingly flimsy evidence was used to condemn for example, the old King Louis XV's surviving mistress, Madame duBarry. The general assertion that women had poisoned old regime politics was used to decisively shut down women's participation in revolutionary activity in these same months, with the example of Madame Roland, supposedly secret coordinator of Girondan plots and also executed in these weeks as further justification. Yet if a supposedly purified masculine sphere of politics was supposed to be more virtuous and less corrupt, it showed little sign of progress in that direction. One poisonous consequence of the early months of the Vendeean revolt was a collision between Parisian sans culottes leaders, often with no actual military experience or competence, and representatives on mission trying to rally an effective military response. Practical questions of leadership became personal charges in which incompetence blended into corruption and deliberate sabotage. Then into factional confrontations that embittered everything that followed. By the later months of 1793, the sans culottes position, backed by some representatives, had hardened into the de-christianization movement. Following the logic put forward by the convention as a whole when it introduced the Republican calendar to erase the influence of Catholicism on the management of time, de-christianization launched an attack on the surviving practices of religion and on those clergy who'd remained loyal through previous rounds of purge. But to many in the convention, the energies this absorbed and particularly the strife it was likely to cause with the general population, made de-christianization seem counterproductive. And if it was counterproductive, that could only be because at root, its advocates were counterrevolutionary. Fourthly, the terror is framed by an intense suspicion of government and by a relentless expansion of the personnel entrusted with official functions. These are some of the most outwardly paradoxical aspects of the convention's conduct in these months, but they are grounded in beliefs that it shaped the revolution and long preceded it, that power and corruption were almost the same thing and that those with the behind the scenes power of government in their hands could do almost anything. The extent to which this attitude allowed the revolution to be presented as a permanent crisis, requiring desperate measures was marked on the 10th of October 1793, when Saint-Just, on behalf of the Committee of Public Safety, browbeat a reluctant convention into suspending the recently ratified Constitution of 1793, thus making government revolutionary until the peace. A central plank of his argument for doing so was, in fact, that the government France currently had was entirely corrupt and untrustworthy, to quote "Everyone has pillaged the state. Generals have waged war against their armies. A people has only one dangerous enemy, and that is its government. Yours has constantly made war against you with impunity. Government is therefore a perpetual conspiracy against the present order of things". When at the same time, men from every section of society were being recruited pell mell into the administration of the maximum, onto local surveillance committees, given commissioner's powers by passing representatives and when at the same time the most aggressive of the sans culottes movement had overtly taken over the war ministry and stuffed it with their political bedfellows. The consequence of such actions was inevitable grinding tension, which led to, fifthly, a reinforcement of the purging mentality and an intensification of real factional strife exactly where terrorist ideology said none should exist. By the end of 1793, purging of all public bodies by calling them together and publicly name and shame their members who'd done something, anything slightly suspicious, had become official policy. Thousands and tens of thousands of individuals over the following months, sometimes for good reason, sometimes for none at all, were routed out of their positions, sometimes merely put under house arrest or surveillance, sometimes packed off for actual trial as suspicion became enough for action. And all this went to the very top of politics. In the winter of 1793-4, it became increasingly clear that what we now call the Dantonist and that Abertist factions were coalescing around groups that both wanted to dramatically change the course of the revolution. The one towards a negotiated peace. The other towards a clean sweep of anyone not a sans culottes. And these groups were also animated by quite savage personal antagonism. To the more practical minded on the Committee of Public Safety, it seemed that these men's desire to destroy each other could destroy the republic. And to the more ideologically minded, that could only mean that their goals were, in fact counterrevolutionary. Sixthly, therefore, and only because of all of these, Robespierre's crusade for moral purity gains strength. Robespierre himself was plunged into the factional maelstrom on the 14th of November 1793, when the representative, François Chabot, burst into his bedroom, waving a hundred thousand livre in assigne notes under his nose and demanding protection from royalist plotters he claimed had given him the money to bribe another representative to nod through a major fraud. This extraordinary story, elaborated further by Chabot over the coming weeks, seems to embroil dozens of senior revolutionary figures and provided the kernel of the foreign plot accusation that was used to send both the Abertist and the Dantonist to the guillotine the following spring, the latter along with Chabot himself. Much of what was claimed was a tissue of self-serving lies, but a lot of the lies from Chabot and those around him seem also to have been about either covering up real massive corruption or shifting the blame for it onto other factions. What it all did was to provide enough apparent evidence of such corruption to harden the committee's hearts against anyone challenging their policy direction. The main real crime of both executed factions. In the spring of 1794, Robespierre at last obtained a clear executive role within the committee. Running a Bureau of General Police to supervise all the operations of government and finding men to fill it. His attitude to the kind of patriotism necessary was unbending, but also curiously personal. When charged with staffing an expansion of the revolutionary tribunal in late 1793, for example, he had put forward a man he knew from childhood to be its president and found places as jurors for his own landlord, their local doctor and grocer and the printer of his own newspaper. The deputy presidency went to the best man of the representative who married Robespierre's landlord's daughter. And Robepierre went on using personal connections to fill the new bureau and seems from his own papers to have been convinced that he was putting forward men of the purest civic virtue. In the case of some like this still teenage Marc-Antoine Jullien, patriotism could look a lot like thoughtless fanaticism. He managed to both denounce the sans culottes massacres of vendeean prisoners in Nantes as insufficiently morally pure and months later, to carry out a personal mini terror in Bordeaux, overseeing the execution of almost 200 individuals left alive by previous less rigorous representatives. In these months of Robespierre's greatest apparent power, there is also sometimes an atmosphere of curious detachment. Also amongst his circles of friends, for example, were a group of radicals from Lyon, survivors of federalism, but now more interested in a vendetta against the Parisian radicals who ousted them from lucrative local offices in the liberated city. Robespierre seemed to listen to these men's denunciations without any critical faculty at all, while going on to follow the prompting of others in his circle to drive through the dramatic acceleration of terror and removal of almost all safeguards against false denunciation, that is the law of the 22nd of Prairial. That law was passed only two days after Robespierre appeared to be ecstatically wrapped up in his role presiding over the new religion inaugurated in the Festival of the Supreme Being. Hoping to bring an end to the cultural conflict around de-christianization and earnestly convinced that an essentially fabricated religion, like so many of the other essentially fabricated rituals of Republican life made up in these months could unify the French. Which all brings us seventhly, to the moment that Robespierre's crusade turns on all those who'd survived the previous cycles of purging and they seize the opportunity to save themselves by blaming Robespierre for everything. There are many things that could be said about the 9th of Thermidor and the forces involved, and it's perhaps easier to address some of the things that it was not. It was not an immediate social reaction, a swing to the political right. It's very hard to see the Robespierreists as in any way left wing in a modern socialist sense. The convention had thoroughly suppressed the independence of the sans culottes movement months earlier and was keeping workers across Paris and elsewhere under effective military discipline. With workplace dissent treated as counter-revolutionary subversion. They had advertised further wage cuts, even as the thermidorian conspirators struck. Those conspirators were in large part the men who'd done the dirty work of suppressing federalism, sometimes with massacres that Robespierre now wanted to hold against them. Others had sat in the governing committees and nodded through every measure of intensifying terror and in some cases actively campaigned for them until they felt the guillotine's chill on their neck. There was undoubtedly a social reaction months after Thermidor, but by then the whole political landscape had changed. What ended Robespierre's life was a series of accusations almost identical to those levied against other enemies of the revolution and the republic. Of having always been a secret counter-revolutionary, of aspiring to rule over a subjected people, and with a particular refinement at this point for Maximillian personally of having plans to make himself King, marry Louis XVI's captive daughter and make peace with aristocratic Europe over France's ruins. They even planted a fake royal seal amongst his papers as evidence. It's fairly clear that even if such moves demonstrate a brutally cynical approach to political means, the rationale for them was an earnest and accurate belief that their lives were profoundly threatened. The men who ended the terror were themselves terrorized, but then so too, we might say, was Robespierre. In his last speech, the day before his fall, he denounced a conspiracy against public liberty in the very bosom of the convention with accomplices on the committee of general security. And where even members of the Committee of Public Safety have entered into this plot to destroy the Patriots and the country. In this context, he demanded purges to save France. But he also declared that he was the pre-eminent intended victim of the plot to quote: "there is hardly perhaps been one individual arrested, hardly a citizen vexed or harassed in any way to whom they have not said of me, behold the author of your calamities. How could I recount or divine all the species of impostors which have been clandestinely insinuated both in the national convention and elsewhere in order to render me an object of odium or terror?" As he effectively predicted his own martyrdom while at the same time distinctly calling down death upon his enemies in the extraordinary atmosphere of ratcheted tension, we are reminded with that last phrase of the mutability of terror itself. Passing in these very moments from being the desired attribute of a great or divine sovereign to becoming the despised conduct of monsters, outcast from society. I hope I've shown you in this lecture what a complex trajectory that was and how despite his own wish for martyrdom, we cannot simply burden one man with responsibility for it. Thank you for listening.
Sandwiched between the events of the Terror and the rise of Napoleon, the premiership of the Directory is often marginalised, or at worst forgotten during the wider history of France in revolution.
Professor David Andress explores the foundations, governance, and downfall of the Directory, and how it ultimately led to the reign of Napoleon.
The Directory: France 1795-1799 - Part 1
Sandwiched between the events of the Terror and the rise of Napoleon, the premiership of the Directory is often marginalised, or at worst forgotten during the wider history of France in revolution. Here in part 1, Prof. David Andress explores the foundations, governance, and downfall of the Directory, and how it ultimately led to the reign of Napoleon.
Hello, I'm Dave Andress. Welcome to this lecture on The Directory in the French Revolution. The directory is often seen as a mere interlude between the revolutionary terror and the rise of Napoleon, a period of stilted rhetoric and slightly odd costumes. Indeed, the very first result on an image search for the directory is a picture of the coup d'etat that ended it, but there is in fact a lot more to be said about it than that. The regime of the Constitution of the Year Three, generally known by the name of its committee based presidential system as The Directory, was a study in enormous contradictions. To list only some of these; it was a system built on constitutional separation of powers, checks and balances that functioned by annulling elections and manipulating results. It was a system that presided over continuing economic collapse and disorder, but became powerful enough to confidently declare France the great nation. It was a system that sought to offer a clean break with the past, but was completely mired in the history of the terror and its ideological divisions. And ultimately, of course, it was a system of supposedly liberal order that constructed many of the building blocks of the dictatorship that was to follow it. Today, I'm going to explore these contradictions and in so doing, ask whether, in fact the directory could have been anything else. What was its room for manoeuvre? And who was responsible for its failure? I may even suggest it didn't actually fail. To begin with the directorial regime in itself. Why did it take the form it did? And what was that form? The Constitution of the Year 3, finalized in the summer of 1795, was the last work of the national convention that had been sitting since September 1792, attempting to govern the country, while at the same time giving it a new Republican constitution. The intervening years, of course, had seen France spiral into The Terror, when the members of the convention unleashed havoc on the country while fighting to contain several different civil wars and to win a huge external war against all the powers of Europe. They had already written one constitution in 1793, a document both democratic in spirit and also highly centralised in how it imagined the exercise of democratic power. But they suspended its implementation out of concern that the electorate, riven by civil war, was not ready to choose reliably Republican legislators. After that suspension, of course, the internal strife for the convention had only grown worse and the blade of the guillotine cut closer and closer to the centre of power. For those inside the convention who survived this period and in many cases helped to send Robespierre and other terrorists to their deaths in the coup of 9 Thermidor, the key explanations for what had gone wrong lent in two directions, towards the corruption of personal power at the centre of politics and towards the disruptive influence of dangerous people from the bottom of society. Both these arrows of blame curve back to connect to the aristocratic counter-revolution, which was always understood to be the ultimate enemy. The Thermidorian convention invested a great deal of rhetorical energy in late 1794 in convincing itself of these points. Unselfconsciously accusing Robespierre of being a counter-revolutionary tyrant, in the same terms he had used to condemn enemies and lamenting thier own collective innocence in the face of a storm of unreasoning violence which had convulsed the country. When in the spring of 1795, Parisian workers and artisans twice rose up to demand the return of price controls and other terrorist measures, killing one convention deputy in the process, the Thermidorian sense of justification in repressing the popular voice gained new strength. So the system they designed was intended to bring electoral power back to a sensible centre of taxpayers, rejecting 1793's experiment with the universal manhood suffrage, and to get those taxpayers to choose two separate bodies of men as legislators. The Councils of 500 and the Ancients, all over forty, one of which would debate and propose projected laws, and the other approve or reject them. All the representatives would be regularly renewed by annual elections for a third at a time, preventing the build up of longstanding factions. These councils would then elect a directory of five men, all with prior political or governmental experience, who would form the executive, managing the government, appointing individual ministers, generals and senior officials with all decisions taken by majority agreement. These two would rotate out of office regularly to avoid the consolidation of power. All this sounds great in theory, but how did it work in practise? Even after suppressing the rising of the Parisian sans culottes, and organising an administrative persecution of up to 100,000 suspected terrorists nationwide, the convention in mid-1795 knew that it faced a country divided between political extremes, both long term supporters of monarchy, and increasing numbers alienated by what Republicans had done, coalesced into a persistent royalist bloc. While against them stood many even amongst the property owning classes, who upheld the more radical Jacobin position, equality, popular rights and hostility to any compromise with what they saw as fanatical supporters of aristocracy and religion. Royalism appeared a particular threat by the late summer of 1795 as renewed fighting had broken out in the heartland of the vendais, and Louis XVI's brother, the Comte d'Artois, had actually seised control of a small island off the coast with British naval support. Some of the more prosperous western districts of Paris experienced disturbing anti-Republican demonstrations as false rumours of royalist advances filtered through. With this as background, the convention accompanied the final draught of the new constitution with the law of two thirds, at the end of August, by which they would take up two of every three seats in the new councils, ensuring that their views, not the electorates, would predominate. As elections on these terms loomed in October, royalists in Paris rose up and attempted to seize the convention. There was significant street fighting, including the memorable engagement of General Bonaparte, who drove off much stronger, albeit disorganised royalist forces with cannon fire. These events, which killed three to four hundred people, happened scarcely a week before the first new elections, under the crippling hand of the law of two thirds. Such violence confirmed the new directorial elite that it was simply not safe to sit back and allow their own democratic mechanisms to operate unchecked. Over the next year, a violent threat from the left arose as the most extreme elements of the Jacobin movement in Paris began plotting their own coup. This forced the directory to disband the only recently created Parisian police force in the spring of 1796 after its loyalty was compromised, followed by a ruthless pursuit of the ringleaders and the suppression of another attempted rising in September. In the spring of 1797, the first proper national elections under the new regime took place and the electorate swung strongly rightwards, rejecting 203 of the 216 former convention members who'd sought re-election. In the summer, the new councils pushed through laws easing penalties against emigrated aristocrats, while the directors drew reliable Army units closer to the capital. Both sides soon appeared to be contemplating violent action. And in early September, the directors struck first in the so-called Fructidor coup. Paris was occupied by troops, election results in 49 departments were annulled and 177 individual deputies removed from the councils. Two of the five directors themselves were deposed and subsequently deported for their right wing leanings by the centrist majority and a swathe of aggressively anti royalist legislation was passed. All this encouraged the Jacobin side of the electorate to push forwards, but by the spring of 1798, the directors were even more active in corrupting the electoral process, notably by encouraging local electoral assemblies to split and produce alternative lists of the elected. It now took the government only a few weeks to decide to launch the Floreal coup, annulling many dangerously leftwing results and seising control from electors of appointment to local administrative and judicial positions. All this would set up an even more unstable situation in 1799 and see the directory tumble out of existence. We can then, at one level, see the directory as a regime afflicted by simply irreconcilable ideological divisions facing foes on both sides who did not accept its legitimacy, and who narrowed its options until dictatorship was all that was left. But we can also dig deeper and think about both the other problems the directory confronted and the limitations of its responses. France, after the terror, was a country ravaged by the events of the previous half decade, the imposition of the general maximum prices in late 1793 and its abrupt withdrawal two years later, touching off famine, while only the extremes of an ongoing struggle to define the basic relationship between market relations and daily subsistence that had gone on continuously since before 1789. Revolutionary elites stubbornly insisted that free markets would provide, as the Enlightenment said they should, while the general population doggedly asserted that only top down regulation prevented cheating and fatal manipulation. Money itself was trapped in this tangle. The revolution had introduced the assignee paper currency from 1790 to help manage the state's debts. But as taxes went unpaid and outgoings spiralled, more and more paper was simply printed to deal with the problem. There seems to have been literally no understanding amongst the elite of the relationship between money supply and public confidence in its value. Rigid price controls, of course, helped keep the asisignee from inflating out of control during the terror, but afterwards its value collapsed and the state followed it down the inflationary rabbit hole by printing more and more. By the time assignee printing was halted in early 1796, over 45 billion livre in value had been produced. The state's debts in 1789 that had prompted the revolution had been only 1 billion. A new paper currency issued that year, supposedly backed by the value of land inflated to worthlessness within six months. Loss of trust in money was matched by loss of trust in other kinds of economic activity. Prerevolutionary conservative critics had warned that an optimistic enlightenment drive to end traditional guild controls on craft industry would produce a reign of charlatans, fakers and con men. When revolutionaries put such policies into effect from 1790 this largely proved true, from major military contracts down to the production of everyday consumer goods, the decade saw endemic dishonesty and a slump in the basic quality of goods for sale, exacerbated by the fact of wartime blockade, the French economy staggered from crisis to crisis, and as it did so, it increasingly saw basic concepts of law and order coming under threat. Join me in the second part of this lecture to see what happened from there. Thank you
The Directory: France 1795-1799 - Part 2
Sandwiched between the events of the Terror and the rise of Napoleon, the premiership of the Directory is often marginalised, or at worst forgotten during the wider history of France in revolution. Here in part 2, Prof. David Andress explores the foundations, governance, and downfall of the Directory, and how it ultimately led to the reign of Napoleon.
Hello, I'm Dave Andress. Welcome back to the second part of this lecture on The Directory in the French Revolution. The later 1790s would long be remembered by communities as a time when fear stalked the countryside. In the northern region of Picardy, for example, farmers lived in fear of the intimidatory extortion letters from local gangs threatening arson and pillage. Across a whole swathe of northern France, gangs became known for the practise of warming victims feet in their own fires until they revealed their hidden valuables. Some of these bands swelled into virtual private armies, the 'bande de salombrie', roamed the northern border region with over 60 participants in 1795 to 7. The 'bande d'augier', numbered over 120 and terrorized countryside south of Paris until finally hunted down in 1799, having at its peak two years earlier been raiding farms at the rate of more than one a week. Over 75 murders, including several outright massacres of whole households, were charged to them. Law and order in these years had broken down not just practically, but also conceptually. Those who had survived the terror and clung on to local power and position had learned to safeguard their own interests above all else. They'd also often learned how to make the violent assertion of those interests sound like a virtuous course of action whether claming Republican or Royalist motives according to the audience. At a local level, the ideological struggles that the directory charged into with its electoral coups were as often about faction fighting among local families and clans as they were about genuine political beliefs. Grim faced survivors were not about to risk their lives trying to get bandits and cutthroats into open court, especially not when even the most desperate villains might have their own connections to call on for revenge. At this point, we can turn back to the political centre and think again about how it approached dealing with a country facing such a tormented situation. And here we can suggest that the answers the directory found were from the point of view of France as a state, practical, successful, albeit unpalatable. The first great practical success of the later 1790s was warfare. The terror had placed a huge number of Frenchmen under arms, more than 800,000, double the size of any previous army, and had begun using them to drive back a threat of invasion on every frontier. The directory inherited forces that had pushed even further since Thermidor, securing control of the Netherlands. Driving Prussia towards peace and a neutralized northern Germany, and beginning a process of assailing Spain across the Pyrenees that by 1796 would turn it into a subservient ally. By 1797 Bonaparte's campaigning in Italy had established a series of new satellite states and propelled Austria, the arch enemy, to an unfavourable peace. Further satellites were added in the following year. Military success was not just essential for France's geopolitical survival. It was also self-financing and in fact profitable as the loot of the low countries, Rhineland and Italy kept the Treasury afloat after gathering conventional taxation had become almost impossible. Allowing generals to become as important as they inevitably did for the survival of the regime was an obvious risk. But it was also part of another unpalatable but successful strategy, the reconstitution of the political class as a self-conscious elite. We can hold up as an emblem here, the figure of Paul Barras, born a noble, later serving as a radical convention deputy during the terror and the only man to remain a director from 1795 to 99. He became legendary for what some writers later called his immorality. But in many ways, he simply returned to what the old regime would have recognised as the practices of an important political figure. There were some excesses that went further. He was part of a government alongside the unutterably wily and self-interested figure of the former bishop, foreign minister Tallyrond, that sought to extract millions in bribes from both the US and British governments to offer favourable peace terms around 1797 to 8. This horrified the puritanical American authorities so much that they shuddered to even name the French leaders involved, leading to a scandal referred to as the X, Y, Z affair from the redacted documentation. Barras, along with others, such as Tallyrond steadily amassed a significant fortune while taking part in a high life of parties and sexual liaisons where pleasure and intrigue were hard to untangle. He was a lover of Rose Beauharnais and may have introduced her to her future husband, Napoleon, who called her Josephine, and with whom Barras had fought against royalists at Toulon in 1793 and again in the 1795 Paris uprising. Barras may also have helped Bonaparte get command of the Italian army in 1796 because of his continuing friendship for his wife. Barras would later also be one of the distinguished lovers of Theresa Tallien who had married and then divorced Jean Lombard Tallien, a leader with Barras of the Thermidorian coup. Theresa herself had shared imprisonment with Rose Beauharnais during the terror. The interlocking connections of famous beauties and powerful men was shocking and disgusting to austere Republican followers of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and also, as in this image, a subject of mockery for the British. But it bound this elite group together in time honoured fashion, even as they were also defining the value of elites in new intellectual forms. I've already mentioned the persistent and pervasive disagreement between political leaders and the popular voice over control of the food supply. This was only one symptom of a wide ranging clash of perspectives. The Enlightenment period in general had left revolutionary France with a profoundly ambiguous set of ideas about leadership, progress, and the capacities of the majority of the population. Even amongst the leaders of the most radical Jacobinism, there was a strong sense that the people in general had to be led, not listened to. The sans culottes image was a theatrical stereotype promoted by educated journalists and activists, and before it had been in existence for a year, it had already become an image that people were expected to conform to rather than a perception of how they actually lived. Every spring from 1792 to 94, there were shortages of consumer goods like coffee, sugar and soap in Paris and popular protests as a result. And on each occasion, Jacobin leaders condemned those involved as dupes of the aristocracy. They were unwilling to see that hot, sweet coffee, for example, might matter more to a working person starting their day in the February cold than it did to a middle class politician sitting in a warm office. Robespierre himself claims to identify with the people at an effectively spiritual level, but he had no problem with increasingly authoritarian controls throughout the terror on working people's wages and conditions and draconian bans on strike action. During the terror, such ambiguities and contradictions were covered over with a thick layer of moral exhortation and frankly utopian dreaming. Robespierre led the installation of the cult of the supreme being, in which huge crowds were dragooned to act as passive worshippers. The young fanatic Louis Saint-Juste left in his notebooks a vision of Republican institutions that included compulsory public commitment to certain kinds of friendship and the removal of all children from their parents for years of state controlled educational indoctrination. The politicians of the directory took a franker approach to the heritage of enlightenment concerned with progress. They acted in their first weeks in office to restore the kind of elite intellectual institutions that had been abolished in 1792 for their royal connections. The National Institute of Sciences, Letters and Arts, founded in October 1795, was designed to give space, time and resources to a real intellectual elite. Just as former Royal Academies had to rescue that elite and its preoccupations from a perceived threat of degradation. Within the institute, the group dedicated to addressing moral and political sciences elaborated a whole conceptual framework around progress, civilization and the threat of relapse into barbarism. The moral enthusiasm of the terror was now to be understood as an aberration, a dangerous swing away from reason that had happened primarily because elite leadership had ceded ground to unthinking popular impulses. While we may regard such a claim as flagrantly untrue, the scholars of the institute were able to demonstrate to their own satisfaction, in fields from economics to linguistics, statistics to psychology, that elite control of behaviour, communication and public life in general will contribute to genuine civilizational progress. People needed to be led to a better future by the small minority, whose superior faculties meant that they simply knew better. This was a multi-dimensional belief system in which the same answer, ruled by a Paris based white upper class male elite, offered the prospect of advancement to obedient French peasants and at a slightly slower rate to the non-French inhabitants of annexed territories and satellite states and at an even slower rate to the non-European world, including recently freed slaves in the Caribbean. Symbolic of this global ambition was, of course, Bonaparte's 1798 Egyptian expedition. Foisted on a slightly reluctant civilian government by the general's insistence on its strategic value in the war against the British Empire, and underpinned by his personal belief that truly great leaders won renown in the Orient. This was accompanied by a monumental effort at intellectual as well as military conquest. Hundreds of scholars were drafted in to accompany several tens of thousands of soldiers and formed their own Institute of Egypt in conquered Cairo. From there, they excavated the monuments of ancient civilization from what they saw as the ignorant neglect of centuries of Muslim rule. Although driven out by the British, only a few years later, they took with them the material to publish a vast description of Egypt in dozens of huge volumes, thus claiming effective intellectual ownership of what France could not hold physically. Egyptian motifs would become universal in the art, architecture and decoration of what became the 'empire style'. When we come to sum up the nature of the directorial regime, the projection of its power, both military and intellectual into the distant land and distant past of Egypt should perhaps be seen as more significant than its engagement in sordid electoral interference. To the social, intellectual and military elite that ran the country in the later 1790s, the Constitution of the Year 3 was arguably only a mechanism. Its checks and balances as much about inhibiting excessively democratic urges as about limiting individual power. Through these years, those actually in charge of the government were less and less inhibited about taking decisions in their own collective interest, regardless of procedural niceties or the principles of 1789. Thus, we might note they solved the terrible problem of assigne inflation and an empty treasury, partly with military loot, but also with the reimposition of taxes on the movement of goods denounced in 1789 and by an effective state bankruptcy in which two thirds of debts were wiped away. The very thing which the whole revolution had been born to prevent. Pragmatism overrode the principle which had brought down the whole old regime. In a similar fashion, the problem of failing civilian law enforcement was already starting to be dealt with by 1799 through the imposition of martial law across whole regions with military flying columns and summary tribunals doing what elected local office holders had no stomach for very much in the style of old regime provost courts. We might further suggest that the coup of 18th of Brumaire, the 9th of November 1799, that replaced the directory with the consulate was at the governmental level. No more than the consolidation of control by the conservative centrist elite over the parts of the state that already functioned effectively rising to the challenge of an external crisis and the ongoing war by casting to one side a few hundred squabbling ideological zealots. In a sense, this too would only be a further echo of what had already happened at Thermidor, when men who'd used terrorist methods for practical ends cast out the minority who'd made an ideology of terror and who'd become dangerously useless in the process. Of course, none of this would explain the precise way in which the chosen figurehead of the 18th of Brumaire and only the second choice figurehead at that was to become unchallenged sole ruler in the years to come. But that is another story. Thank you very much for listening.
Napoleon Bonaparte is one of the most fascinating figures of history. Few men have ever raised themselves from such comparative obscurity to such dazzling heights, and fewer have engendered such continual controversy.
We explore Napoleon’s rise, success, decline, fall, and legacy.
Napoleon: Genius or Megalomaniac? Part 1
Napoleon Bonaparte is one of the most fascinating figures of history. Few men have ever raised themselves from such comparative obscurity to such dazzling heights, and fewer have engendered such continual controversy. Join Prof. David Andress as he explores Napoleon’s rise, success, decline, fall, and legacy.
Hello, I'm Dave Andress. Welcome to this lecture on Napoleon: Genius or Megalomaniac? Napoleon Bonaparte is, of course, one of the most fascinating figures of history. Few men have ever raised themselves from such comparative obscurity to such dazzling heights, and fewer have engendered such continual controversy. Perhaps only the great dictators of the 20th century bear comparison, with the important proviso that only at the far fringes of politics. Does anyone credit Hitler or Stalin with admirable personal qualities. Regarding Napoleon as an admirable figure is still a thoroughly mainstream position. There are many reasons to account for this. One is that Napoleon worked furiously hard to manage his own image during his lifetime. He cultivated a sense in himself of destiny, even in youthful obscurity. Promoted himself as an exceptional man of destiny throughout his career, and spent his enforced retirement on producing justifications attuned to the mood of nationalism rising in post Waterloo Europe. He was in some ways the romantic hero of his own novel and his visual image, as manifested by the artists he supported, demonstrates his aims. This first image is of Napoleon leading his troops in a famous charge at the Bridge of Arcola in 1796. Painted shortly after the events by Jean-Antoine Gros, it remained in Napoleon's personal collection through his lifetime. It shows a strangely calm figure drawing attention to the brooding good looks of the youthful general, as if both in the action yet separate, perhaps above it. This theme continues, in Jacques Louis David's iconic image of Napoleon, now First Consul of France, leading his armies across the Alps towards victory in 1800. It's said that Napoleon himself requested to be depicted calm, mounted on a fiery steed. And also refused to sit for the picture, saying that nobody knows if the portraits of the great men resemble them, it's enough that their genius lives there. It may also have been his idea to carve the names of historic precedence, Charlemagne and Hannibal into the rocks. Four different versions of this picture were made for major collections. This next image, Napoleon in the uniform of First Consul by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres depicts him as a peacemaker and a lawgiver. It was a personal commissioned by Napoleon as a gift for the city of Liège, which had greeted him as an almost messianic figure on a tour in August 1803. He's shown pointing to an order for the rebuilding of a section of the city devastated by Austrian bombardments in the 1790s. Next, we have the vast canvas completed by David to celebrate Napoleon's coronation as emperor in December 1804. A who's who of the inner circles of the new imperial court and government, and centred on the moment when, having already crowned himself, Napoleon crowns his wife Josephine as Empress. Moments like this demonstrate his meteoric rise to an utterly exceptional status, and artists struggle to capture what his regime wanted to promote about this. After his relatively naturalistic previous portrait, Ingres responded to Napoleon's elevation with this image of him enthroned. Here we can see on the one hand the regime's conscious deployment of symbolism from the carpet and the sceptre, which recalls Charlemagne, to the other sceptre of the Holy Roman Empire, to royal ermine robes and the laurel wreath and golden sandals which recall ancient Rome. On the other, we can see in the unearthly glare of the face the artist's difficulty in keeping the emperor a human being. David was more successful in 1812 in his portrayal of Napoleon in his office at the Tuilleries palace, commissioned intriguingly by a British nobleman, the Duke of Hamilton. I'ts details are full of rich propagandistic value, while the uniform and the sword invoke military glory, the paperwork makes reference to his legislative prowess and the closed volume embossed with royal fleur d'lis hints at continuity and completion of an older era. Meanwhile, the stub of candle and the clock set at almost 4:15 indicate a man who's been at work all night, as do the wrinkled stockings. If David's portrait perhaps best, captures Napoleon's image from inside his regime, British caricatures demonstrate the other side of the coin. When he first came to attention during the 1798 Egyptian campaign, little was known of his appearance. These first images are essentially generic or in this case, zoological. This next image, however, based on reports of a speech made after Nelson's destruction of his fleet, begins to personalize Napoleon's ambition as he reportedly talks of conquering the Ottoman Empire, re-entering Europe via Greece and the Balkans, smashing the great powers and specifically being hailed on an obelisk at Constantinople as conqueror of the world, an extirpator of the English nation. Now, as everyone knows, Napoleon was a man of medium height for his time. But the idea that he was a midget soon became a staple of British propaganda. As we can see here from a series of images between 1803 and 1805, when the danger of invasion was at its height. While often playing on the idea of a cross-channel war of words, they sometimes, as in this famous image, are more evenhanded politically. The British opposition critiquing its own government's lust for conquest as much as Napoleon's. Or here mocking the craven surrender of the Austrian armies at Ulm in October 1805. As in 1798, much play was often made of Napoleon's reported rage at the English. Here he is depicted in 1803 and a self-pitying rant about being attacked in the English press alongside fears about French traitors. The quotation ending "revenge, revenge come fire sword, famine, invasion, invasion, 480,000 Frenchmen. British slavery and everlasting chains. Everlasting chains". This quite chilling image of Napoleon 48 hours after landing in England manages to mix an only slightly caricatured image of him with a bold and bloody prophecy and also notably continues the 18th century habit of depicting British prosperity and strength through a population that's extremely well fed. Sometimes the mockery of Napoleon is a little more gentle as here from late 1807 during a lull in hostilities when probes for peaceful were made. But John Bull will still see the modern Atlas damned before yielding up anything to his importunate suggestions. More often, the tone remains fairly savage, particularly as imperial pretensions rise, this image from 1806 captures what would be a prevalent British attitude to the emperor, who they never stopped referring to publicly simply as General Bonaparte. His own monarchy and those of his relatives and allies are no more than gingerbread men cooked up in batches. This image from the last desperate weeks of fighting before Napoleon's first abdication carries vilification to its logical conclusion. The emperor is the spawn of Satan who's been awarded the Legionne d'Honour for his troubles. Now, it's not, of course, surprising to find Napoleon's sworn enemies treating him in this fashion. But if we return visually to the image of calm grandeur given by Anne-Louise Girodet's depiction of the emperor as sovereign legislator, an image distributed widely in 36 official copies, we can begin to weigh up why after 200 years, this is an argument that still rages. Princes and dukes had become nominal generals at younger ages, and kings, of course, were bathed in glory however young they came to the throne. But these were not men who'd made themselves by their own efforts. Simply viewed from a personal level, Napoleon's rise was astonishing. So much so that for figures of the post 1815 generation, such as the author Stendhal, he made it almost impossible to imagine success. How could one outdo what had just been done? For many at the time and since, genius is the self-evident explanation. We can add to that, the reports which make it clear that Napoleon had a magnetic personality. Contemporaries noted that physically, no portrait could do justice to the mobile charm of his face and his commanding presence drew eyes to him. His facility with inspirational words was allied to the fact that he was a bold and pre-eminently successful leader of men in battle. Re-asserting an age old link between personal prowess and rule that had broken down in monarchical Europe over the previous century. Even in 1799, Napoleon was not supposed to become the unchallenged ruler of France. The powerful men who coordinated the 18th Burmaire coup had sounded out other generals before settling on him and hoped to wield him as a sword in the collective hand of a select group. He outmanoeuvred them in a matter of weeks and never looked back. At the heart of Napoleon's own claims on genius were the various combinations of mastery and pacification that he wielded. There is ample testimony that he had a phenomenal appetite for administrative detail, wearing out scribes and secretaries and keeping State Council meetings in session for so long that some unfortunate ministers fell asleep. It was claimed, though we can never know how much this is propaganda, that he never had to read anything twice. And in the first few years of his rule, there is no doubt that he brought all this to bear on reconstructing a nation that had been wracked for a decade with intractable, violent conflict. The aristocracy and the clergy that had been the bugbears of revolution were drawn back into the national fold without yielding up the essence of the underlying changes since 1789. A decade in which almost every year had seen some violent upheaval or disruption of the political process was put to rest. And the rising military power that had been the saving grace of such upheaval since 1793 continued to develop, funnelling more loot and more glory inwards. In both the short and the longer term, this has been clearly identified as one of the emperor's great virtues. Contemporaries on the progressive side of politics and many others since saw the old order of Europe as fundamentally decadent, unwholesome, and increasingly intolerable. Whatever else Napoleon did, such observers argued, he stood for a new vision of a Europe where nations could form new identities, unshackled by medieval survivals of nobility. Hand-in-hand with this went the great idea that Napoleon opened up worlds of possibility for individuals. Where famously every soldier had a marshal's baton in his knapsack, and as the emperor put it himself, the "career open to talents" was what he offered every ambitious man in both military and civilian life, free from the restraints of old regime privilege that had locked out so many from opportunities for distinction. On the other hand, let us consider the case against genius. Three of the original 14 active marshals of the Empire created in 1804 were born the same year as Napoleon. Three more only a year or so earlier, and one Davout was actually a year younger. Another great revolutionary general, Lazare Hoche, was also only a year older than Napoleon, and might have outshone him had his health not declined to an early death from tuberculosis in 1797. General Louis Desaix, the same age, was killed on the battlefield of Marengo, in 1800, having led his troops to rescue Bonaparte's forces from looming defeat, in what Napoleon thereafter claimed as one of his signature victories. The rise of all these men owed everything to some combination of their own talents and the massive upheavals of the 1790s. Military historians agree that Napoleon was frequently exceptionally lucky to survive unscathed his various battlefield adventures and how far it was luck overall that gave him opportunities ahead of others is an open question. Modern historians have made clear that notwithstanding the various coups and uprisings of the later 1790s, the state was steadily re-extending its grip over a society which had indeed descended into near lawlessness in the middle of the decade. Before Napoleon's rise, military power was already being used to combat banditry and to protect administrative processes it had been previously too dangerous to carry out. With conscription becoming law in 1798 and applied for the first time the following year, much of the machinery Napoleon would use to settle his new order was already in place before his coup. The historian Isa Wollack made this important point in a book in 2001: "There were many powerful people who helped Napoleon's supposedly individual rule succeed and on whose intellects and labours he continued to depend. Whatever his enormous appetite for work might have been, he couldn't rule without active support and needed to accommodate a wide variety of powerful allies in his military and civilian administrations. Some, like the former radical Fouchet and the bishop-cum-diplomat Tallyrond, became famous and infamous in their own right, but many others worked in Napoleon's shadow. A whole generation of legal scholars, for example, had been working to create new uniform law codes out of the chaotic legal structures of the old regime for over a decade before this labour was pulled together into the monumental Napoleonic Code of 1804. It's not clear, despite sycophantic recollections, that Napoleon himself added anything substantive to this except a misogynistic view of women's rights that was entirely in keeping with his wider opinions. Despite taking power in a coup d'etat, and despite occasional highly publicized assassination attempts, there was in practise strikingly little resistance to Napoleon's rule. Beyond the immediate circles of his collaborators, he was welcomed by all those whose wealth and education entitled them, so they felt, to a comfortable and distinguished life, sweeping away the need to concern oneself with the ugliness of confrontational politics. Napoleon gave free rein to businessmen, intellectuals, administrators and professionals to pursue self-interest with the security of knowing that the common people were once more to be regarded as safely irrelevant. Government was now a matter of having leaders appointed to make sure they stayed that way. One thing that emerges absolutely clearly from many personal recollections of Napoleon, and from his own words, is that he regarded himself as a completely exceptional being. He stated this to a sympathetic listener in exile on St. Helene in 1817. "In spite of all the libels, I have no fear. Whatever about my fame, posterity will do me justice. The truth will be known. And the good which I have done with the faults which I've committed will be compared. I am not uneasy over the result. Had I succeeded, I should have died with the reputation of the greatest man that ever existed. As it is, although I have failed, I shall be considered an extra ordinary man. My elevation was unparalleled because unaccompanied by crime, I have fought 50 pitched battles, almost all of which I have gained. I have framed and carried into effect a code of laws that will bear my name to the most distant posterity. From nothing, I raised myself to be the most powerful monarch in the world. Europe was at my feet. My ambition was great, I admit, but it was caused by events and the opinion of great bodies". Three years earlier, on the 1st of January 1814, the emperor had harangued his own handpicked legislature for complaining about his desperate attempts at military victory. You call yourselves representatives of the nation. It is not true. You're only deputies of the departments. A small portion of the state. Inferior to the Senate. Inferior even to the Council of State. The representatives of the people. I am alone the representative of the people. Twice have 24 millions of French called me to the throne. Which of you dares undertake such a burden? It had already overwhelmed your assemblies and your conventions. Your Jacobins and your Girondan. They are all dead. What? Who are you? Nothing. All authority is in the throne, and what is the throne? This wooden frame covered with velvet? No. I am the throne. France stands more in need of me than I do of France". We have to ask, does this sound like a genius or like a megalomaniac? And join me in the second half of this lecture to explore this question further. Thank you
Napoleon: Genius or Megalomaniac? Part 2
Napoleon Bonaparte is one of the most fascinating figures of history. Few men have ever raised themselves from such comparative obscurity to such dazzling heights, and fewer have engendered such continual controversy. Join Prof. David Andress for part 2, as he explores Napoleon’s rise, success, decline, fall, and legacy.
Hello, I'm Dave Andress. Welcome back to the second part of this lecture on Napoleon: Genius or Megalomaniac. Sustaining the notion of genius becomes increasingly problematic as we review the wider evidence. In the name of the stability that Napoleon Bonaparte offered to France, all semblance of democracy was stripped out of the revolutionary heritage. The famous prefects carried state authority into every locality. And voting was turned into a process of suggesting candidates who might be acceptable to power. Napoleon and his collaborators made much use of the plebiscite or referendum to legitimize his power. But they scarcely bothered to conceal the fact that the results were always rigged. The Napoleonic state was not a military dictatorship, but it was essentially a police state. All public communication was understood as part of a battle between the state and its enemies, and the truth had very little role to play in that. So notoriously deceitful was the output of his press, and the notably bombastic Bulletin of the Grand Army that he had published about his campaigns, that to 'lie like a bulletin' became a common phrase amongst the French. Napoleon also saw this battle as an essentially personal one in which his own identity, pride and ego were at stake. Hence the rants we've already seen reported openly and referenced in English prints. Throughout his career, it's hard to avoid the essential selfishness of Napoleon's conduct. The Egyptian expedition was formulated in terms of a geopolitical attack on British power. But also in Napoleon's private conversations, very much as the pursuit of the kind of glory that Alexander the Great had found in Asia. Bonaparte reportedly mused before proposing the expedition that "everything here wears out. Already I no longer have any glory. This little Europe does not supply enough. I must go to the east. All great glory comes from there". And of course, as we must always note when considering the Egyptian expedition, not only did Napoleon comport himself as a figure that could somehow revive the grandeur of the ancients and reconcile Islam and Christianity, but when his army began to wither and reports leaked through of upheaval in France, he abandoned that army, contrary to orders, to put himself on the ground in Paris and catch the eye of the coup plotters. This point really stands by itself. A thousand years earlier, Charlemagne had been crowned Emperor by the Pope. Napoleon felt the need to go one better and crown himself. Napoleon is the only leader in modern history to have formally restored the condition of racial slavery after its legal abolition. And gone about systematically attempting to reimpose it in practise. One of his first acts, once a truce with Britain had been secured in 1801, was to dispatch a major military expedition to the Caribbean, which embarked on a policy of near genocidal massacre until defeated by a combination of climate, disease and armed resistance. The French historian Eve Bonneau has described the series of ongoing impractical Napoleonic schemes to regain an overseas empire as a colonial dementia gripping the emporer's mind. Here, in the pattern of his largest scale actions, we also find evidence of Napoleon's deepest character. He could not tolerate opposition. He was personally affronted by the idea of being even potentially challenged. And he does appear to have spent this decade in an almost continual state of fury at the very existence of British maritime power outside his grasp. It was beyond him to see the benefits of a balance of power in Europe or to grasp that other powers might feel entitled to defend their rights and prerogatives against him. In this context, the historian Paul W. Schrader has written of the emperor as a sort of diplomatic criminal, a shameless rule breaker, against whom the other powers were in practise, ultimately compelled to unite for their own survival. We can explore further aspects of this by considering how Napoleonic imperialism actually occurred. In practise, Napoleon was a tyrant. While his charm sparkled when he was in a good mood, his default response to bad news was raging anger. Senior figures in the Empire knew to fear him. Admiral Viellneve, defeated and captured by the Royal Navy at Trafalgar in October 1805, was exchanged back to France a few months later and subsequently found dead in a hotel room with six stab wounds in his chest. This was reported as a suicide. If this was a rather singular feint, many lesser troublemakers were flung in prison on administrative orders, that were as arbitrary and unchallengeable as the worst excesses of the prerevolutionary old regime. Meanwhile, across the lands ruled by the French the 'career open to talent' was for many a career as an imperial overseer. Administrators answerable only to their own superiors with a normal face of Napoleonic rule for millions backed up by police and gendarmes, and in many cases driven by a robust sense of French cultural and social superiority. Such officials commentaries on the mental and moral deficiencies of Italians, Germans, Spaniards and others ring with the kinds of attitude we're used to seeing in the worst of Victorian colonialism. And it's not for nothing that this generation of Bonapartists provided the legendary origins of the word chauvinism. Even as he spent less and less time at the centre of his empire, Napoleon expended much of his tremendous energy on holding administrative power for major decisions in his own hands. A veritable travelling bureaucracy accompanied him and couriers criss crossed Europe with his orders. The conduct of the peninsula war, for example, was deeply affected by the regular receipt in Madrid of peremptory instructions brooking no disobedience and demonstrating that Napoleon remained convinced that he understood the local situation better than those on the ground, even from thousands of miles away. This is a topic on which it's popular to discuss Napoleon's Corsican nature and his feelings of responsibility for his Mediterranean clan. But the fact of the matter is that he appointed his three brothers, his brother in law Murat, his stepson Eugene Beauharnais, and even his sister Eliza as sovereigns over tens of millions of people rather than risk letting power slip outside this family circle. The fact that he did this at the same time as denying them any real autonomy and frequently haranguing them violently in person and correspondence about their duties to him, suggests that he saw them more as extensions of himself, more trustworthy because of their private connection, but no more capable than any servant. Napoleon never in all his reorganisations of the map of Europe, yielded an inch of territory. He expanded the area under the direct rule of France continuously, even at the expense of the satellite states he had himself established. And he never, of course, contemplated consulting anyone. Peoples or crowned heads about whether he should. As he treated his own family as hapless servants, so he treated the populations they and his allies ruled as mere resources at his disposal. From 1805 onwards, Central Europe was one massive barracks for the Grand Army, with hundreds of thousands of troops housed and fed at the expense of the local populations. Local elites and governments were driven to extract vast sums in taxation and exactions from their populations, or face French soldiers doing it by force. And as if that were not enough, by 1809, the demands of incessant campaigning were turning the Grand Army into a European assemblage of conscripts, hauled by state power from every corner into which Napoleonic influence could extend. Napoleon had crowned himself king of Italy in 1806. In correspondence with the Ottoman Empire, he was named King of Kings. As the empire reached its greatest extent in 1810 and 11, the phrase 'king and emperor' came into official usage to describe him. In all of these ways, the idea of the emperor, as in some sense the ancient Roman Imperator, a supreme commander of what was still a republic, slipped out of sight to be replaced by a full blooded commitment to monarchy. When French troops occupied Berlin late in 1806, Napoleon had ordered the sword and other regalia of the warrior king Frederick the Great, taken into his personal collection. Displayed in Paris, they added another dimension to his claim to be an monarchical heir of former royal glories. In the same period, he created the imperial nobility. Which neatly addressed several issues. Firstly, it bound major figures to his role by giving them a hierarchical position to defend for themselves and their heirs. Second, it created around that hierarchy an atmosphere of striving competition for rewards only he could grant. And finally, along with the Legion d'Honour, it reinforced the sense that glory lay in seeking such rewards. Glory both personal and collective, and glory, which reflected back on Napoleon himself. Not for nothing did officers chant to their men advancing under fire on the battlefield that "L'empereur recompensra l'homme qui va de l'avant - the emperor will reward the man who goes forward". Napoleon himself clearly went forward at every stage of his career. And I think that we must finally acknowledge that it was a movement into ever greater megalomania that also reflected a sociopathic indifference to the cost in lives that resulted. There was a point around 1802/03 when Napoleon could have settled for being a revolutionary hero and a peacemaker. France's boundaries had been expanded. Western Europe was effectively under French hegemony. And there was little prospect of an effective military threat to this situation. But the first consul needled Britain into renewed war. And thereafter set out on an almost uninterrupted sequence of efforts at conquest and domination. In 1803, although Napoleon tried to pin the war on the British, the French had been long prepared for expansive moves both to the north and the south, which they executed immediately. In 1804, in something which was very famously described by Tallyrond as not a crime, not merely a crime, but a mistake, Napoleon's secret police abducted the Bourbon prince, the Duc d'Enghein on spurious charges of conspiring against him and had him immediately executed. In the same year of course, after another rigged plebiscite, Napoleon elevated himself to the imperial throne. And so things went on year after year to the north, to the east, to the south, campaigning and military victory accompanied by political acts of domination. In 1806, after Austerlitz, the whole map of Central Europe was redrawn. Eight hundred years of history around the Holy Roman Empire erased to create a Bonapartist set of satellite states. In 1807 Bonaparte again went further to the north. Further to the south, expanding the boundaries of what he was attempting to do. Leading the following year to the disastrous effort to impose his will on the Spanish people, impose his brother as a new king of Spain, and to begin the Peninsula War, which would ultimately contribute to his downfall. In 1809, Napoleon seises the opportunity to crush rebellious Austria while simultaneously continuing to fight the peninsula war. And this leads the following year to one of his most dramatic cultural U-turns in which, having banned divorce for ordinary people in the Code Napoleon, he divorces the Emperor Josephine in order to marry the Austrian emperor's daughter in the hope of producing an heir. So we find Napoleon by 1811 with all the states locked into his continental system. The counter blockade attempting to stop British trade with the continent stretching from the Atlantic to the borders of Russia. And as everyone knows, this was not enough for him. To try to force the Tsar to banish British imports, he marched his armies all the way to Moscow. Napoleon probably only took about two thirds of the nominal strength of the Grand Army into Russia, but he took with them tens of thousands of civilians, almost all the troops and almost all those civilians perished in a campaign which was littered with huge strategic and logistical errors. Napoleon himself, as he'd done over a decade earlier in Egypt, abandoned the army, abandoned it to the significantly inadequate command of his brother in law, Murat, contributing significantly to that enormous death toll on the terrible retreat from Moscow. After his flight, Napolean raised another army, scouring France and the wider empire for teenage boys and middle-aged men who had missed out on previous rounds of conscription. In the campaigning of 1813 he condemned almost all of those men to death. The majority of them through epidemic disease that ran rampant through military camps. And this is in the context in which Austria, in the person of its great wildly diplomatic leader Metternich had desperately attempted in the summer of 1813 to get Napoleon to agree to peace, and had only joined the war against him when Napoleon had comprehensively scorned that objective. And Napoleon fought on through the winter into the early spring of 1814, leaving a situation where France had been devastated, occupied and yet treated extremely leniently by those occupiers until he himself comes back the following spring. Much has been made of the apparent sharp turnaround in Napoleon's political principles once he'd been greeted joyously back in his capital in 1815. He very conspicuously abolished the transatlantic slave trade in French hulls, although he also very conspicuously did not abolish slavery. He created something called the Additional Act, or Charter of 1815, liberalizing the Constitution, which had been issued in the previous year, offering to return genuine electoral freedom, offering to guarantee freedom of speech and freedom of the press. But the context for all of this was rallying France to war. It must almost be borne in mind that this was a period of mere weeks in which maintaining internal peace or rallying hundreds of thousands to military service and looming war were the emperor's prime objectives. In the unlikely event that he had triumphed at Waterloo and subsequently defeated massive Austrian and Russian armies as well, somehow restoring his former dominant position, I think we have to review his behaviour over the rest of his life to judge whether he would suddenly become a champion of dissent or soon cracked down again. Whatever extraordinary personal qualities Napoleon undoubtedly had, and whether you choose to define them as genius, the story of his rule overall is that of a man whose ceaseless desire for mastery cost millions of lives. Someone, in short, who we would be better off comparing to the dictators who came after him rather than to the great heroes of antiquity and legend. Thank you for listening.
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