French Revolution

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“What is the end of our revolution? The tranquil enjoyment of liberty and equality; the reign of that eternal justice, the laws of which are graven, not on marble or stone, but in the hearts of men, even in the heart of the slave who has forgotten them, and in that of the tyrant who disowns them.” (Robespiere, On the Principles of Political Morality) “... to put an end to the anarchy in the interior of France, to check the attacks upon the throne and the altar, to reestablish the legal power, to restore to the king the security and the liberty of which he is now deprived and to place him in a position to exercise once more the legitimate authority which belongs to him.” ( Duke of Brunswick, Proclamation) “The poor man is superior to government and the powers of the world; he should address them as a master.” (Saint-Just, Republican Institutes) The French Revolution was essentially the pivotal culmination of a rising conflict between two opposing conceptions as to the source by which a governing state derived its authority. During the late eighteenth century an ideology accentuating reason, freedom, and the sovereignty of the common man grew in direct opposition to the accepted dogmas of absolutism and divine right of the monarchy. As illustrated within the three aforementioned quotes, the divergent depth between these two philosophies of government created a void, one which would ultimately lead to the French Revolution and alter the course of Western culture. Within Robespiere’s quote one is able to observe the aspirations of the Bourgeoisie and peasant revolutionaries; an ideal society of liberty and equality wherein one is as much a subject of the state as the state is a subject of thee. This converging movement towards reasoning and justice grew from the theories of such revolutionary thinkers as Voltaire, Rousseau, and the Encyclopedists, who presented a vision of a liberal community with equal rights and responsibilities, wherein reason replaced the monarch’s claim to divine right as the ultimate authority, and where all men lived in a brotherhood. It must be acknowledged that such influences as France’s severe financial difficulties and the resulting poverty, peasant grievances with such abuses as the seigniorial system, a weak and unstable monarchy under Louis XVI, and the expense of supporting Washington’s army in the New World all attributed to the eventual revolt. However, it was this new ideology set upon equality, justice and freedom, an ideology further fueled by some of the ideas that French soldiers returned with from America, that was the essential keystone which led to the Revolution.

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