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The French Revolution: the real story.


Cont'd.: In July, following their denunciation by Brissot, the king's ministry resigned, and a proposal by Herault de Sechelles, backed by Brissot, was passed declaring Lafayette a danger to the homeland. Meanwhile in June the former Brissotin minister Joseph Servan had invited tens of thousands of rural National Guard troops to help the Brissotins take back Paris, a proposal passed by the Brissotin cotton merchant Pierre-Joseph Cambon over the opposition of both Vergniaud (seeking reconciliation with the king) and Robespierre (who feared the counter revolutionary potential of such a movement), and vetoed by the king. Meanwhile the Prussian general the Duke of Brunswick sent a manifesto to Paris promising vicious revenge should any harm come to the French royal family.

In August the national guards led by the Marseilles doctor Pierre Chaumette and the printer Antoine-Francois Momoro entered Paris despite the royal veto. Backed by Petion, Manuel, and thousands of citizens led by the brewers, in a bloody battle resulting in thousands of deaths on both sides, overthrew the Paris municipality led by Philippe Mandat, a royal ally, and established a new Commune led by Santerre.

On Vergniaud's proposal the Assembly in response voted to suspend the Executive power pending the election of a new National Convention, and on the proposal of his ally Jean Debry the Assembly voted without debate to make all male citizens over 25 electors, while rejecting the demand of Robespierre and Marat to have the Convention elected directly by the citizens rather than by electoral assemblies elected by them. All proposals vetoed by the king were immediately put into effect on a proposal of Vergniaud, and the Assembly passed an ordinance by the former bishop Francois Chabot, over opposition led by the marquis de Condorcet, a Lafayette ally, to abolish feudal dues without compensation. At this point Lafayette, whose dismissal, demanded by Dominique Anthoine, a Jewish house servant leading a Paris mob, had just been blocked by Vergniaud, deserted to the Austrians.

The assembly found and published letters detailing secret collusion between the king and queen and the Austrian and Prussian courts.

The left swept the elections in Paris and formed the Montagnard Party in the new assembly, while the provincial opposition to Paris was organized by the newly formed Girondins, with the majority of non-Paris deputies occupying the in-between position known as the Plaine.

The Montagnards supported by the Paris insurrection had the initiative in the new Convention and adopted the proposal of the actor and director Jean-Marie Collot d'Herbois, supported by Gregoire, to abolish the monarchy; the proposal by Billaud-Varenne (opposed by the Girondin leader Marc Lasource, a Protestant minister) to order new elections for all judicial authorities nationwide, and the proposal by the journalist Jean-Lambert Tallien, opposed violently by Roland, to allow non-lawyers to be elected judges.

Following the September massacres the Girondins led by Lasource, the spice merchant Francois Rebecqui, Vergniaud, and the lawyer Charles Barbaroux denounced the left-wing "triumvirate" of Marat, Robespierre, and Danton. Danton resigned his new position as minister of justice, pledged to defend private property, and proposed the death penalty for anyone proposing a triumvirate or dictatorship, a proposal supported by Robespierre. Marat then rose and proposed to make himself dictator, a proposal denounced by Barbaroux and voted down by every other member of the assembly. But Georges Couthon, the wheelchair-bound lawyer from the Montagne, lauded Marat's honesty, pointed out that Danton and Robespierre had not supported him, and led a successful opposition to both Barbaroux's proposal to arrest the alleged triumvirs and Danton's proposal.

Roland and his ally Jean-Baptiste Louvet, an erotic novelist, again demanded Robespierre's arrest in November, and we're voted down, while Brissot was expelled by the Jacobins for supporting them.

Meanwhile Jean-Baptiste Mailhe, a lawyer of the Plaine, proposed the trial of the king for treason. This proposal was denounced by Saint-Just and Robespierre, who called for execution without trial, and by Vergniaud, who called for the electoral assemblies to vote on whether to try the king, but supported by Marat. The bishop Robert Lindet, then of the Plaine, led the prosecution, and he was convicted by the Convention. A proposal by Buzot to allow the assemblies to vote on his punishment and one by Petion to keep him as a hostage were defeated by Robespierre, who led the call for his execution.

In April 1793, following tumultuous months of war, rural and urban insurrection, and the treachery of Dumouriez, Lasource denounced Danton as an ally of Dumouriez. Danton responded by stirring up the Jacobins to demand the unseating of the Girondin deputies. Petion denounced Robespierre, who supported him, and Marat, who in turn denounced Petion. Guadet then had passed an act of accusation against Marat, who, supported by the left nationwide, was acquitted by the revolutionary tribunal and borne back to his seat in triumph by a mob led by Jacques Roux.

Desmoulins led a popular delegation of Paris printers and others to demand the arrest of several Girondin leaders. Petion demanded trial by the primary assemblies, but Vergniaud, hoping to avoid civil war, denounced the idea.

In May, Guadet demanded suppression of the Paris Commune. The Girondin journalist Bertrand Barere won passage of a substitute proposal to create a Commission of Twelve (appointed by the Girondin Convention and stacked with Girondins) to examine and "correct" the decisions of Paris. This commission immediately decreed the arrest of Hebert, the radical postal clerk Jean-Francois Varlet, and the leftist alderman Claude-Emmanuel Dobsen.

Delegates of the Commune led by Santerre protested the arrests and were met with threats by Isnard, president of the Convention. Claire Lacombe and the Club of Revolutionary Republican Women, backed by Robespierre, led demonstrations demanding freedom for the accused. The Montagnard lawyer Jacques-Alexis Thuriot led a proposal, backed by Danton and Robespierre over Isnard's objections, to dissolve the Commission of Twelve, free the accused men, and replace Isnard with Herault DE Sechelles.

Dobsen, Chaumette, and Francois Hanriot, a Paris clerk-turned-insurrectionary leader, invaded the Convention in league with Robespierre and Couthon to demand the resignation (Isnard and others) and/or arrest (Vergniaud, Brissot, Lanjuinais, Barbaroux, and others) of the leading Girondin deputies as well as the former Brissotin ministers.

The victorious Montagne, led by Couthon, Saint-Just, and Herault de Sechelles, passed a new constitution, supported by Robespierre but denounced by Jacques Roux, the radical "Enrage" priest speaking in the name of the sans-culottes.

Meanwhile Marat, home sick in his bath, was murdered by the royalist Charlotte Corday.


Cont'd.: The new Montagnard Convention, increasingly dominated by the Committee of Public Safety, found itself divided into 3 major parties: the "Indulgents," led by Danton, Thuriot, and the lawyer Jean-Francois Delacroix, who supported a general amnesty and immediate application of the Constitution; the "Center" led by Robespierre and his allies, which opposed immediate elections and supported the Committee of Public Safety; and the Exageres led by Collot d'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne, which supported vigorous prosecution of the right and had allies among the Paris masses.

Robespierre led the fight against Delacroix's proposal for new elections to the Convention, Robespierre and Billaud-Varenne led the fight against Thuriot's attack on the Committee of Public Safety, while Hebert (in the Cordeliers) and Jean Amar (in the Convention; Amar was a banker on the Committee of General Security and then allied with the Center) led the fight against Danton's proposal for amnesty for the Girondin leaders.

Meanwhile a fierce political struggle over de-Christianization multiplied Robespierre's enemies while the Indulgents leaders Francois Chabot (a priest), Claude Basire (a clerk), and Fabre d'Eglantine, caught up in a burgeoning corruption scandal involving embezzlement and false documents, began denouncing each other, their allies Danton and Desmoulins, as well as Berthold Proli, a Belgian-born banker associated with the Exageres, and his associates, many of them foreigners and Jews.

Basire and Chabot took the offensive against the Committees in November, pushing through a proposal to limit their powers of arrest; but after Hebert organized street protests, this proposal was reversed unanimously on the proposal of Barere and Billaud-Varenne.

Danton denounced Cambon's proposal to demonetize gold and silver, and denounced the Exageres, in December. Coupe de l'Oise demanded his arrest, but Robespierre came to his defense. Desmoulins urged an alliance between the Indulgents and the Center against the Exageres, and demanded a clemency committee to free wrongly imprisoned Patriots. Fabre, Bourdon de l'Oise, and Desmoulins pushed through a purge of Exageres leaders and a crowd of mostly housewives invaded the Convention and obliged Robespierre to support Desmoulins's clemency committee proposal.

However, with the discovery of proof of Fabre's personal involvement in the India Company swindled, and the return of Collot d'Herbois to Paris, the tide turned. Hebert, Collot d'Herbois, and Jean Nicolas demanded the expulsion of Desmoulins and their allies from the Jacobins, and Barere denounced the policy of clemency.

Robespierre, playing both sides against the middle, condemned Desmoulins and Hebert equally, and opposed the expulsion of Desmoulins but allied with Amar to push through the arrest of Fabre, who was defended by Danton, earning Danton a denunciation from Billaud-Varenne.

Popular petitions and posters demanding the release of arrested Exageres leaders led Danton himself to push for their release in January.

In March, as Robespierre lay at home sick, the left organized by Hebert and the Cordeliers launched their final attempt at taking power, demanding the arrest of Desmoulins and Robespierre, but finding themselves opposed by the Exageres leaders in the Convention itself ... Barere and Collot d'Herbois ... as well as by Chaumette, who judged their efforts likely to fail.

Billaud-Varenne, Collot d'Herbois, and Amar all supported Saint-Just's proposal for the arrest and execution of the Cordeliers leaders including Hebert and the recently released Exageres ministers and bitter enemies of Fabre, Charles-Philippe Ronsin (a general) and Jean-Nicolas Vincent (a clerk), on the condition that the arrest of Danton, Desmoulins, Delacroix, Herault de Sechelles, and Pierre Philippeaux, an Indulgent lawyer who had led the attack on Ronsin, would follow immediately.

Following the execution of the Exageres and the repression of the popular movements pushed through by Saint-Just and his allies, the Robespierre center found itself without popular support but beset by enemies from all sides ... the rival Committee of General Security, the supporters of de-Christianization, the Dantonist right, the Exageres left and their allies among the representatives on mission ... each of them with their own reason for hating Robespierre teamed up against him and his allies Saint-Just, Couthon, and his brother lawyer Augustin Robespierre.

With the defeat of the urban insurrection led by Hanriot and the execution of hundreds by the triumphant reaction, the popular movement entered a dormant phase and politics was again reduced to a game of court intrigue.

By July the right in the Convention, bolstered by the Muscadins, felt strong enough to order the arrest and exile of Collot d'Herbois, Billaud-Varenne, Vadier, and Barere.

In May 1795 another Jacobin rebellion in Paris, led by housewives and cobblers armed with pikes, was put down and 10,000 rebels imprisoned.

In August 1795 the conservative leadership under the comte de Boissy d'Anglas pushed through a conservative constitution creating an electoral college, a bicameral legislature, and a strong executive, the directory, elected by the upper house from a secret list of names proposed by the lower house, with one of the five directors chosen at random to be replaced every year, and bringing Paris under the directors' direct control.

The directory, dominated by Jean Nicolas, vicomte de Barras, defeated a royalist rebellion in October 1795, and a communist conspiracy led by Gracchus Babeuf in March-May 1796. Lazare Carnot, a mathematician and count, led the "moderate" (indulgent toward royalism and Catholicism) opposition to Barras, while Jean-Francois Rewbell led a radical anti-Christian opposition.

Following a second coup attempt in April 1797, supported by royalist allied with Carnot and his ally on the directory the Marquis de Barthelemy were removed from the Directory and sent into exile. The Jacobins had meanwhile won recent elections, and their leftist candidates were elevated to the directory, crcreating a left around the lawyer Merlin de Douai. Barras then struck against the left in April 1798 by refusing to allow leftist candidates to run.

Following another Jacobin victory in April 1799, Barras allied with Sieyes to keep the left off the Directory, but the left in the lower house, allied with the revitalized popular societies, purged the directory and pushed leftist candidates such as Jean-Francois Moulin onto it.

In November 1799 Moulin wrote to Bonaparte advocating a leftist coup. Bonaparte refused, but instead joined Sieyes, Talleyrand, Fouche, and Pierre Real in a rightist coup.

The new government consisted of a "Conservative Senate" consisting of 60 members handpicked by the coup plotters and ruling for life, which along with an elected Legislative assembly voted on, but did not debate, laws proposed by the Council of State and debated by the Tribunals, both of which were appointed by the consuls, elected for 10-year terms by popular vote. Bonaparte as first consul quickly became dominant, and defeated a January 1804 royalist coup attempt headed by the duc d'Enghien. In May 1804 the Conservative Senate declared Napoleon emperor.

Although he suffered the intrigues of his leading ministers with the enemy, Napoleon remained in power until 1814 when the monarchy was restored by the triumphant anti-French coalition. He returned to power at the head of an army and ruled again before again being defeated.

The restored monarchy was overthrown in 1830 in a popular liberal revolt led by the duc d'Orleans. The new constitutional monarchy was overthrown in 1848 in a popular republican rebellion. After the masses who led this rebellion were drowned in blood by the right, Napoleon's grandnephew was elected president, and an 1851 coup made him emperor as Napoleon iII.

The French defeat in the 1870 war with Prussia led to the communist takeover of Paris, the alliance of French and Prussian troops against the Parisians, and the fall of Napoleon's empire. The Third Republic, dominated by the left, which replaced it fell in 1940 in the wake of Hitler's invasion and right-wing insurrection. The guerrilla forces resisting Hitler and gaining support of the Allies established a new government in 1944 as they pushed Hitler out, and this government in turn was overthrown by General DE Gaulle's 1959 coup, which created a new constitution with expanded presidential power in the wake of the Algerian revolution. France since that time has been relatively dictatorial and politically unstable.
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Immigration and Homeland Security: in the initial days of the revolution, the principal interest in immigration involved the Swiss mercenaries of the royal party and the Austrian-born Queen; and as the continental war progressed, the left (Vergniaud, Danton, etc.) saw in immigrants a potential fifth column. Brissot and his allies, however, were the first “leftists” (loosely speaking) to welcome immigration, including above all Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin. Paine and the Prussian-born nobleman and anarchist Anacharsis Cloots allied in June 1790 to organize foreign support for the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. Cloots also provided crucial financial support to the revolution from his personal fortune in 1792. As the revolution deepened in 1793, the Montagne increasingly became friendly to immigration as well, and both Paine (who sat with the English-speaking Gironde and allied with Brissot and Sonthonax, and sat on Condorcet’s constitutional committee) and Cloots (who sat with the Montagne and allied with Momoro and others on the far left) were elected to the National Convention in September 1793. However, Cloots was denounced as a Hebertist by Fabre d’Eglantine and Danton (later also by Robespierre and Saint-Just) starting in October, and in December 1793, over opposition led by Cloots, Robespierre pushed through a law excluding foreign-born citizens from the Convention. Paine was arrested on Vadier’s order later that month, and Cloots was arrested on Saint-Just’s order in March 1794 and guillotined. Paine was sentenced to death in July but due to a miscommunication by his guards escaped execution and then saw his death sentence commuted after the fall of Robespierre. He was released from prison in November and restored to his place in the Convention the following July, He voted against the August 1795 Constitution, arguing in favor of universal suffrage. In following years he conspired with royalists and with Napoleon to attack England before leaving France in 1802.

In the early days the greatest episodes of repression were against the popular masses, and included the May 1789-Sept. 1792 ban on the expression of republican and democratic sympathies, the Marquis de Bouille’s brutal suppression in July-August 1790 of a rebellion of Swiss Guards demanding the right of non-nobles to be officers (which resulted in Lafayette’s organization of the National Guard to rival the Royal Army), killing hundreds, Lafayette’s massacre of pro-Jacobin protesters in Paris in July 1791, killing dozens, and the September 1791-September 1792 ban on political clubs.

Danton, Marat, and Tallien may have inspired the September 1792 massacres of prisoners (royalists, common criminals, and foreigners suspected of subversion, including many Swiss guards) by the National Guard, Army, and citizen vigilantes, during an atmosphere of panic over foreign armies approaching Paris and suspicion that the prisoners would ally with them), which killed nearly 1500, mostly in Paris. Danton denounced the massacres but Marat refused to do so, and Tallien openly lauded them.

The first Revolutionary Tribunal was established on Robespierre’s initiative (over opposition led by Vergniaud) in August 1792, to try suspected monarchists in Paris. Its judges rendered their verdict by secret ballot. It was abolished in November largely on the initiative of Danton.

Danton, Marat, and Tallien may have inspired the September 1792 massacres of prisoners (royalists, common criminals, and foreigners suspected of subversion, including many Swiss guards) by the National Guard, Army, and citizen vigilantes, during an atmosphere of panic over foreign armies approaching Paris and suspicion that the prisoners would ally with them), which killed nearly 1500, mostly in Paris. Danton denounced the massacres but Marat refused to do so, and Tallien openly lauded them.

In October 1792, Robespierre and Danton led the push over Roland’s objections to create the Convention’s Committee of General Security, whose members, elected by the Convention, looked for enemies of the Republic such as spies and refractory priests

Danton led the March 1793 push (opposed by Roland) to establish a new Revolutionary Tribunal. This tribunal was appointed by the Convention and included as chief magistrate Jacques-Bernard-Marie Montane (who resigned in August after being accused of being a “moderate” by Fouquier-Tinville and was replaced by Martial Herman, himself replaced one April 1794 by Robespierre ally Rene-Francois Dumas) as Chief magistrate and Antoine Fouquier-Tinville as public prosecutor. Unlike the previous Tribunal, judges at this one wete In 1793 dozens were executed by order of the Revolutionary Tribunal in Paris.

Danton also took the initiative in having the cities set up Committees of Surveillance, appointed by the local communes, to refer suspects to the tribunal.

In April 1793, the Girondist deputy Maximin Isnard, backed by Danton, pushed through the creation of the Committee of Public Safety with powers to appoint military generals and select judges and juries for the Revolutionary Tribunals. In June Danton engineered the reorganization of the committee to bring it under greater control by the left.

In March 1793 the Royal and Catholic Army in the Vendee region (northwest) massacred tens of thousands of Republicans.

Repression of the left continued with the April 1793 arrest of Marat, the May arrest of the Hebertists, and the August-September crackdown on the Enrages.

Popular attacks on the right followed culminating in Claire Lacombe’s beating of a Girondin, singer Anne-Josephe Theroigne de Mericourt, with a whip, and the expulsion of leaders of the right in June 1793.

In August Danton pushed through the creation of the Revolutionary Army led by Hebert ally Charles-Philippe Ronsin, with the power to appoint tribunals in the provinces. The most famous of these were the drownings of thousands in Nantes (in the Vendee region) by the order of Jean-Baptiste Carrier, the killing of tens of thousands more in the region by Barere’s “infernal columns,” and the execution of nearly 2000 in Lyon on the orders of Collot d’Herbois and Fouche.

In preparation for the trial of the rightists, in September Robespierre pushed through the reorganization of the Revolutionary Tribunal under control of the Committee of Public Safety and in October organized (largely via his ally Saint-Just and over Danton’s objections) a law limiting deliberations in the Tribunal to 3 days.

Also in September 1793, Danton pushed through (over opposition led by Elie Lacoste) the appointment of members of the Committee of General Security by the Committee of Public Safety.

In December, Billaud-Varenne led the successful fight for a law restoring election of the Committee of General Security by the Convention and giving the Committee of Public Safety (instead of the Revolutionary Army) the power to appoint provincial tribunals.

In December-January arrests and executions in Paris peaked with thousands of enemies of Robespierre ... leftists, rightists, and anti-Christians ... executed.

In May 1794, this power was taken from the Committee of Public Safety and given to the Paris Tribunal largely on Vadier’s initiative and over Robespierre’s objections. In June, Couthon (backed by Robespierre) pushed through a law depriving those accused of defense attorneys, eliminating witnesses, and allowing denunciations to count as sufficient evidence for trial.

Following Robespierre’s fall in January came the mass repression of leftists in which hundreds were killed by right-wing vigilantes, followed by the creation of a police state under Napoleon.


Cont’d.: the Committee of Public Safety was dominated first by Danton and then by Robespierre. During the time of the “Terror” (winter-spring 1794) it included Robespierre and his close allies Saint-Just and Couthon; Barere and Lindet of the Plain; Herault de Seychelles and Thuriot, sympathetic to Danton; and Billaud-Varenne and Collot d’Herbois on the far left, as well as a group of 4 organized around Lazare Carnot in a military party.

The Committee of General Security and its rivalry with the Committee of Public Safety led to intrigues in 1794 and played a part in the death of Robespierre, after Robespierre attempted to engineer the arrest of his former allies Vadier and Tallien (president of the Paris commune), who had criticized the arrest of Danton and the campaign against atheism. The Committee also included several other to Vadier’s right; Robespierre ally Le Bas; David and Barbeau, critics of Robespierre on the left; and Amar, whose politics were close to Robespierre’s but who quarreled with him over Robespierre’s efforts to implicate Danton in the Fabre d’Eglantine affair investigated by Amar.


Jurisprudence and the Constitution: the great struggle in early 1789 was between the parlements, representing the Noblesse d’Robe and allied with the plebeians and clergy, and the king, allied with the Noblesse d’Epee and gran bourgeoisie.

There followed the struggle between the royal party, associated with the nobility and upper clergy, and the parliamentary party, associated with the masses.

Then came the struggle between the constitutional monarchists, allied with the nobility, the king, and the gran bourgeoisie, and the popular republican party.

There followed the struggle of the plebeians (sometimes allied with the lower clergy) against the bourgeoisie, nobility, and monarchy, the simultaneous divergence of interests between the urban masses and the peasants, and the reconciliation of the wealthier peasants with the nobility, upper clergy, and monarchy. This struggle was reflected in the parliamentary fight among the Montagne, Plain, and Gironde, and the revolutionary journees.

At the height of the revolution came the struggle of the proletariat and semi-proletarian mechanics and servants of Paris against every other class. This was seen in the Hebertist ferment and the revolt of the Enrages.

With the fall of the proletariat, the bourgeoisie sought to establish itself in power, hence the suppression of the Exageres, the toppling of Robespierre, the Directory, and (as the bourgeoisie reconciled with its former noble enemy and leaned on the peasants for support) the rise of Napoleon. The left at this time continued to lean on the urban masses for rearguard actions including the attack on the Indulgents, the Conspiracy of Equals, and the Jacobin Directory, but was crippled by the beheading of the revolution. Meanwhile the nobility continued to organize monarchist coup attempts.

Finally the landed bourgeoisie turned against the urban bourgeoisie and peasantry to embrace the restored monarchy.


Military and war: the revolution inherited the Royal Army which consisted of professional soldiers, including Swiss mercenaries as the most trusted troops, commanded by nobles. Lafayette organized the National Guard, volunteers led by men selected by talent (though invariably rich) in 1790 to supplement them. The major function of the army before 1792 was to repress dissent.

In August 1790, free men of color in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), allied with the British, rebelled against the French colonial administration demanding a right to vote, and opposing the plans for independence by the rich white planters who dominated the island, and were repressed by the French army led by the Vicomte de Rochambeau, who ordered the death of hundreds.

In August 1791, slaves in Saint-Domingue, allied with the Spanish, revolted against the French and established a liberated zone in the island’s north. The French granted political equality to the creoles in March 1792 and recruited an army from among them to fight the slaves.

In February 1792, Edmond Dubois-Crance of the Montagne, over opposition led by Roland, pushed through a law reorganizing the army by amalgamating the old royal army and the national guard into a combined group under civilian leadership. He also won passage (with the help of Sonthonax and Brissot over opposition led by Barnave) of a law granting freedom to any slave willing to serve in the military. However, opposition led by Barnave led to defeat of his proposal for a draft.

Meanwhile, the new commissioner for Saint-Domingue, Leger-Felicite Sonthonax, a Girondist, temporized with the slave rebels by abolishing slavery in the populated northern province and seeking to get slaves and creoles to fight on his side against the white planters. The planters allied with the British, whose forces invaded and fought to restore slavery.

In April 1792, Brissot pushes through his proposal for war against Austria and the Holy Roman Emperor who ruled it. Prussia joined the war in July. France suffered early catastrophic losses and Lafayette deserted to the side of the Austrians, who however tried him as a revolutionary and imprisoned him.

In September an army led by Charles Dumoriez won a major victory over the Prussians at Valmy, helping inspire the revolutionary journee that brought down the monarchy that same month.

Peasant guerrillas in Brittany protesting the persecution of refractory priests began a persistent campaign of vandalism starting in August.

In February 1793, Danton pushed through a bill (over Brissot’s opposition) for conscription, which set a quota of young, unmarried, childless men from each province, with the men sent to be chosen by the local departments. This resulted in much more sustained peasant opposition, particularly in the West, and the birth of the Royal and Catholic Army. The British joined in fomenting rebellion and mounting naval attacks on France.

In March, following a number of defeats in the Netherlands, and fearing lest his association with the Gironde leave him vulnerable to attacks from the left, Dumouriez arrested and betrayed a number of French deputies and the minister of war, attempted to lead an army against the revolutionary government, and then deserted to the Austrians.

The enemies of France continued to gain territory as merchants wanting to trade with the Austrians spearheaded revolt in Lyon and hungry workers rose up in Marseille.

Meanwhile, Sonthonax’s forces were attacked by forces led by Francois-Thomas Galbeau, allied with Roland and the pro-slavery party in France. In August, Sonthonax decreed freedom for any slave who would join him, and in February 1794 Robespierre spearheaded the fight to abolish slavery. In April when the slaves heard of this, they turned against the Spanish and joined the French to fight the British and their new Spanish allies, and ended up taking control of the entire island of Hispaniola.

Danton’s reform of the military in August 1793 left it far more powerful, and it began winning campaigns both against its foreign enemies and domestic rebels. France invaded Spain and forced the king to ally itself with France. The use of more offensive tactics pioneered by Fouche and the systematic and intelligent use of artillery warfare by Napoleon led to a number of victories in Italy over Austria’s allies (Piedmont, Genoa, and the Pope) in 1794-1797 at which point Austria and Prussia sued for peace.

Napoleon went on to invade and conquer Turkish Egypt, but his army was defeated and Austria and Russia took advantage of the situation to attack. Naples and Portugal joined in. But Napoleon broke free and forced his enemies to sue for peace in 1802.

Using the money from the sale of Louisiana Territory to the U.S., he mounted an unsuccessful campaign to restore slavery which ended with Spain in control of Eastern Hispaniola (Dominican Republic) and an independent Black Republic in Haiti.

Following France’s defeat in Haiti, and the massacre of the whites at Britain’s instigation, Austria, Russia, the UK, Naples, Sicily, and Sweden went to war with France, Bavaria, Spain, and France’s Italian puppet regimes. Following a major British naval victory at Trafalgar in 1805, Spain deserted to the British camp; however, following the French victories in 1805-1807, Spain switched back to the French side. In 1806 Prussia joined the war against France.

Having conquered Naples, and won major victories against Austria (Austerlitz 1805) and Prussia (Jena 1806), and having forced Sweden to sue for peace, France now faced guerrilla revolts in southern Italy and western Germany which were very difficult to keep down.

France conquered Spain in 1808, following an 1807 popular rebellion that overthrew the French-Allied monarch and replaced him with a neutral king, but faced persistent guerrilla resistance there as well. As Portugal and Britain concentrated their forces in the Iberian Peninsula, Austria made another attack on France in 1809 and was again defeated.

Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia was famously defeated and he was driven from power and into exile by an alliance of Austria, Prussia, Russia, Britain, Portugal, Bavaria, Sicily, Sardinia, the Netherlands, and Spain (but not before conquering Sweden and Denmark).

The monarchy was restored, bjt Napoleon escaped, recruited an army, and reconquered France. Beset by monarchist peasant revolts in western France that divided his forces, Napoleon was finally driven from power once and for all by Britain, Prussia, French royalists, and virtually the entire rest of Europe following his defeat at Waterloo by the Prussians.


Been meaning to get back to this ...


Victor Hugo spoke of a meeting of the great leftist leaders of the revolution:

"Marat had his coffee, Danton his wine, and Robespierre ... Robespierre had only his papers."

Of the classes and social layers contending for political power, the particular champion of each one in the periods of the revolution:

From 1777 (outbreak of pre-revolutionary crisis) to 1787 (Paris uprising):

Nobility, bourgeois gentry, upper clergy, urban middle classes: Necker
Financial, commercial, and industrial bourgeoisie: Calonne
Lower clergy, peasants, workers: Largely unpoliticized but generally preferred the policies associated with Necker

From 1787 (Paris uprising) to April 1789 (Necker restoration):

Noblesse d'robe, commercial bourgeoisie, upper clergy, urban middle classes: Clermont-Tonnerre
Noblesse d'epee, bourgeois gentry: Louis XVI
Financial and industrial bourgeoisie: Brienne
Peasants and lower clergy: Largely unpoliticized but generally preferred the policies associated with Clermont-Tonnerre
Workers: Largely unpoliticized but generally preferred the policies associated with Necker

From April 1789 (Necker restoration) to May 1789 (salt and wine taxes):

Noblesse d'robe, bourgeois gentry: Necker
Noblesse d'epee, bourgeois gentry: Louis XVI
Clergy, peasants, commercial bourgeoisie, urban middle classes: Clermont-Tonnerre
Financial and industrial bourgeosie: duc d'Orleans
Workers: Largely unpoliticized but workers in parlement cities including Paris generally preferred the policies associated with Clermont-Tonnerre while workers in non-parlement cities generally preferred the policies associated with duc d'Orleans

From May 1789 (salt and wine taxes) to June 1789 (Tennis Court Oath):

Noblesse d'epee, bourgeois gentry, upper clergy: Louis XVI
Noblesse d'robe: Clermont-Tonnerre
Financial bourgeoisie: duc d'Orleans
Lower clergy, urban middle classes, and workers: Gregoire
Commercial and industrial bourgeoisie: Lanjuinais
Peasants: Abbe Sieyes

From June 1789 (Tennis Court Oath) to July 1789 (Storming of Bastille):

Noblesse d'epee: Louis XVI
Upper clergy: Marie Antoinette
Noblesse d'robe: Marquis de Sade
Urban middle classes: Bailly
Workers: Desmoulins
Lower clergy: Gregoire
Commercial and industrial bourgeoisie: Abbe Sieyes
Financial bourgeoisie, bourgeois gentry, and peasants: Lafayette

From August 1789 (Storming of Bastille) to October 1789 (Storming of Versailles):

Metropolitan nobility: Duc du Maury
Bourgeois gentry and upper clergy: Mounier
Urban middle classes: Barnave
Workers: Desmoulins
Financial bourgeoisie: Noailles
Commercial and industrial bourgeoisie: Lafayette
Lower clergy and peasants: Gregoire
Haitian nobility: Saint-Mery
Slaves: Generally not politicized yet (and certainly not at all prior to this), but generally preferring the policies associated with Gregoire

From October 1789 (Storming of Versailles) to March 1790 (Lyon revolt):

Metropolitan nobility: Mounier
Commercial bourgeoisie: Condorcet
Upper clergy: Abbe Sieyes
Bourgeois gentry: Lavoisier
Financial bourgeoisie: Lafayette
Industrial bourgeoisie and Haitian nobility: Lameth
Comprador bourgeoisie: Mirabeau
Urban middle classes and workers outside Paris/Lyon: Danton
Lower clergy and peasants: Gregoire
Workers of Paris/Lyon: Robespierre
Slaves: Generally not politicized yet, but generally preferring the policies associated with Condorcet

From March 1790 (Lyon revolt) to July 1790 (Champs de Mars massacre):

Metropolitan nobility: Comte de Provence
Lower clergy and peasants: Robespierre
Workers of Paris/Lyon: Marat
Commercial bourgeoisie: Mirabeau
Urban middle classes and workers outside Paris/Lyon: Danton
Upper clergy, financial bourgeoisie, Haitian white nobility, and bourgeois gentry: Lafayette
Industrial bourgeoisie, comprador bourgeoisie, and creole nobility: Lameth
Slaves: Generally not politicized yet, but generally preferring the policies associated with Lafayette

From July 1790 (Champs de Mars massacre) to August 1791 (Haitian revolution):

Metropolitan nobility: Lafayette
Upper clergy, bourgeois gentry, creole nobility, and financial bourgeoisie: Marie Antoinette
Urban middle classes: Desmoulins
Peasants and lower clergy: Danton
Workers of Paris/Lyon: Hebert
Industrial bourgeoisie: Lameth
Commercial bourgeoisie, workers outside Paris/Lyon, and Haitian white nobility: Barnave
Slaves: Generally not politicized yet, but generally preferred the policies associated with Desmoulins

From August 1791 (Haitian revolution) to August 1792 (revolt of Paris commune):

Urban middle classes: Desmoulins
Noblesse d'epee, upper clergy, and bourgeois gentry: Lameth
Noblesse d'robe and commercial bourgeoisie: Lafayette
Industrial bourgeoisie: Brissot
Workers outside Paris/Lyon: Roland
Workers of Paris/Lyon: Hebert
Slaves: L'Ouverture (allied with Sonthonax)
Peasants and lower clergy: Sonthonax

From August 1792 (revolt of Paris commune) to June 1793 (Montagnard convention):

Urban middle classes: Robespierre
Male Workers of Paris/Lyon: Marat, Claire Lacombe after May 1793
Female Workers of Paris/Lyon: Desmoulins, Claire Lacombe after May 1793
Workers outside Paris/Lyon: Roland
Bourgeois gentry, peasants, and lower clergy: Brissot
Commercial and industrial bourgeoisie: Danton
Nobility and financial bourgeoisie: Dumouriez
Slaves: L'Ouverture (allied with Sonthonax)

From June 1793 (Montagnard convention) to September 1793 (Reign of Terror):

Urban middle classes: Robespierre
Male workers of Paris: Roux
Commercial Bourgeoisie: Fabre d'Eglantine
Industrial and financial bourgeoisie: Vergniaud
Female workers of Paris: Pauline Leon
Workers of Lyon: Marat (until his death in July); Desmoulins (after July)
Workers outside Paris/Lyon, peasants, lower clergy: Roland
Nobility: Marie Antoinette
Slaves: L'Ouverture (allied with Robespierre)
Bourgeois gentry: Brissot

From September 1793 (Reign of Terror) to April 1794 (Execution of Danton):

Urban middle classes: Billaud-Varenne
Workers of Paris: Hebert (until his execution in March 1794), after Chaumette
Commercial and industrial gran bourgeoisie: Robespierre
Slaves: L'Ouverture (allied with Robespierre)
Workers outside Paris: Lindet
Gran bourgeois gentry and financial gran bourgeoisie: Danton
Peasants: Desmoulins
Haute bourgeoisie and nobility: Marie Antoinette (until her execution in October 1793), afterward Bourdon de l'Oise

From April 1794 (Execution of Danton) to July 1794 (Thermidor coup against Robespierre):

Urban middle classes: Billaud-Varenne
Workers of Paris: Collot d'herbois (except in July 1794 when they championed Robespierre)
Workers outside Paris: Lindet
Lower clergy and peasants: Robespierre
Upper clergy, bourgeoisie, and nobility: Carnot
Slaves: L'Ouverture (allied with Robespierre)

From July 1794 (Thermidor coup) to October 1795 (Directory constitution):

Urban middle classes: Collot d'herbois
Workers: Babeuf
Peasants: Barras
Bourgeoisie and nobility: Abbe Sieyes
Slaves: L'Ouverture (allied with Barras)

October 1795 to September 1797 (reactionary Directory):

Urban middle classes and peasants: Barras
Workers: Babeuf (until May 1797); Treilhard (afterward)
Commercial, financial, and industrial bourgeoisie: Carnot
Gentry: Abbe Sieyes
Slaves: L'Ouverture (allied with Barras)

September 1797 to June 1799 (Jacobin directory):

Workers: Treilhard
Peasants: Napoleon
Bourgeoisie: Sieyes
Urban middle classes: Barras
Slaves: L'Ouverture (allied with Barras)

June 1799 to November 1799 (Sieyes-dominated dictatorship):

Workers: Barras
Peasants and urban middle classes: Napoleon
Bourgeoisie: Sieyes
Slaves: L'Ouverture (allied with Barras)

November 1799 to May 1804 (Consulate):

Workers, peasants, and middle classes: Napoleon
Bourgeoisie: Sieyes
Slaves: L'Ouverture (until his death in April 1803), followed by Dessalines who won their freedom from France, allied with Paine.

May 1804 (Napoleon becomes emperor) to April 1808 (wine tax):

Workers: Sismondi
Peasants and middle classes: Napoleon
Commercial, industrial, and financial bourgeoisie: Talleyrand
Gentry: Louis XVIII

April 1808 (wine tax) to June 1815 (Waterloo):

Workers: Sismondi
Peasants and gentry: Louis XVIII
Commercial and industrial bourgeosie and urban middle classes: Napoleon
Financial bourgeoisie: duc d'Orleans


Race relations

The notable minorities of France proper were Jews, concentrated in the Alsace region, Bretons, concentrated in Brittany, Germans, widespread but particularly in Alsace, Champagne, Burgundy, Rhône-Alps, and Paris, Swiss, concentrated in Rhône-Alpes and Franche-Comte, and Americans, situated largely in Paris.

All but the Bretons were largely urban, and all were generally enemies of the revolutionary left, with the exception of such individuals as Cloots and Marat, of the Bretons, who played a largely revolutionary role (and a leading one during the period of the fight for a single chamber for the National Assembly and the abolition of feudal privileges) prior to the right-wing Catholic peasant uprisings in April 1791, and of the Americans, who generally sided with the left until the Champs de Mars massacre, after which they generally backed the Girondists on the right.

Nonetheless, it was the left that generally championed the emancipation of Jews, Robespierre in particular playing a leading role (alongside Clermont-Tonnerre, Petion, and Vergniaud) supporting emancipation and the Duc du Maury (alongside Lameth) opposing emancipation from the right, while the far left (Marat and Hebert) were later to support emancipation. With the formation of the Legislative Assembly, Duport became a chief opponent of Jewish emancipation, followed by Guadet in the Convention. Then following the suppression of the Enrages and Hebertists, and the factional dissolution of the Montagnards, the situation changed. Suddenly it was the left, led by Chabot and Saint-Just but backed by Robespierre, scapegoating Jews to further its factional aims, and the right, principally Fabre d’Eglantine and later Danton, championing their rights. Cloots, Proli, and Fouche were honorable exceptions on the left. After Thermidor, Fouche remained a leading proponent of Jewish rights while attacks on Jews came from the right-wing forces associated with Freron, Talleyrand, and Louis XVIII.

The situation was different with respect to Germans and Swiss, whose rights (other than religious) were not questioned, but whose influence found in the Lameth brothers (as well as Duport, Lafayette, and Paine) and Dumouriez their chief supporters and in Danton and the left their chief opponents prior to Dumouriez’s desertion, and in Robespierre and the left their chief supporters and in Condorcet their chief opponents afterward, and the Americans, backed largely by Paine and his allies Lafayette and Brissot, whose influence was opposed early mostly by Mounier and the right and later mostly by Danton and the left. Following Thermidor, their influence was greatly diminished, but generally the German and Swiss influence was supported primarily by Sieyes for the right and opposed by Barere and Treilhard for the left, and the American influence was supported mainly by Collot d’Herbois for the left and opposed by Sieyes and Napoleon for the right.

The chief Breton champions during that nation’s revolutionary period were Lanjuinais and later Danton, while opposition to their efforts were associated with the Duc du Maury. In the period of the papist uprisings, the Breton masses allied principally with Dumouriez, later Roland and Lindet, all backed by the elite leader (and American Revolution veteran) the marquis de la Rouerie, while their influence was combated by Danton and his ally Robespierre. Finally in 1794 Puisaye emerged as the military champion of the Catholic and Royal Army of Brittany, which allied with the British against a military leadership dominated by Tallien, and who after his defeat led a mass exodus of Breton counterrevolutionaries to Upper Canada (in present-day Ontario).
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Race relations (Haiti):

Haiti (Saint-Domingue), a center of sugar production based on large slave-labor gangs, brought more money to France than all its other colonies combined, and Black slaves, mostly Yoruba and Fon people from West Africa including many recently arrived, outnumbered the whites and free Blacks combined 10 to 1. The whites dominated the country’s upper class (grands blancs) as well as the urban plebeian element (petits blancs), while the free people of color (called creoles here although that term has also been used both for whites of Saint-Domingue as opposed to Metropolitan France and for slaves born in Saint-Domingue).

In March 1790, largely to undermine the grands blancs’ efforts led by Thomas Millet to take advantage of the revolution to establish an independent white-ruled Saint-Domingue, the Constituent Assembly on Barbaroux’s initiative and over opposition led by none other than Robespierre decreed equal rights for free Blacks, but the colonial Governor Peynier refused to enforce this ruling. The creoles, demanding political and social equality, backed by the petits blancs of northern Haiti, launched an armed rebellion to demand political equality, which was suppressed.

In August 1790, Jean-Jacques Bacon de la Chevalerie, a prominent Freemason, led a pro-Republican revolt by the grands blancs of western and southern Haiti, backed by petits blancs, against the Royalist governor Peynier, who was backed by the grands blancs of northern Haiti (the richest part of the island and that with the largest concentration of slaves) and the creoles led by Julien Raimond, whose center of power was Port-au-Prince, the capital in the West.

After Mirabeau took power, Peynier was dismissed and replaced by the Republican commissioner viscount de Blanchelande in November 1790. The mountains of northern Haiti and the swamps of southern Haiti had long been populated by independent communities of maroons (runaway slaves), allied unofficially with the British administration in Jamaica and in the south with the northern grands blancs. Maroons formed a rebel army under Jean-Francois Papillon, allied with the royalist forces of the Comte de Rochambeau, against Blanchelande’s Republican forces.

In July 1791, Rochambeau declared freedom for any slaves in southern Haiti who fought on his side, and in August a voodoo-inspired slave rebellion led by Georges Biassou broke out in northern Haiti. In September, a slave army in southern Haiti led by the Catholic free Black female plantation owner Romaine-la-Prophetess broke out and took over much of the West. Spanish-allied slaves organized under Jeannot Bonnet massacred whites, mulattoes, and Royalist-allied slave rebels alike, but were defeated by the forces of Papillon, who conquered the eastern half of the island of Hispaniola (the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo) in the name of the king. Blanchelande’s forces responded by massacring creoles and Blacks in Cap-Haitien, Haiti’s largest and richest city, located in the north, prompting creole leader Andre Rigaud to ally with Biassou. Biassou’s lieutenant Toussaint L’Ouverture, an educated creole, rejected the alliance with Rigaud and, backed by petits blancs, defeated and absorbed the armies of Papillon and Biassou, some of whose forces deserted to Rigaud’s side.

In March 1792, on Brissot’s initiative, creoles were granted equal rights. Rigaud deserted to the republicans, and inflicted major defeats on L’Ouverture, who attempted without success to betray his forces to the French for personal safety before allying with the Spanish forces attempting to reconquer Hispaniola.

In the wake of these events, Felix Sonthonax in April 1792 was sent on a second mission to reconquer Haiti and at this point the Brissotin leaders of Saint-Domingue fell into two rival factions. Blanchelande sought alliances with the petits whites and creoles, while Sonthonax sought alliances with Rochambeau and the slave rebels, declaring freedom for slaves who fought on his side in northern Haiti in August 1792. Royalist whites and creoles organized by Edmond de Saint-Leger defeated the forces of Romaine-la-Prophetess and massacred Blacks in southern Haiti.

In September 1793, Jean-Baptiste Belley became the first of 3 creoles elected from Haiti to the French Convention; they supported Haiti’s slave rebels and were active in the fight against slavery as well as the right-wing opposition that brought down Robespierre.

In October 1793, Britain went to war against France, declaring (on the initiative of Tory Prime Minister Pitt the Younger) a crusade to restore white supremacy and slavery. Most of the whites of Haiti including Saint-Leger allied with the British. (Spain was meanwhile allied with France againt Britain, Saint-Leger allied with him while Rigaud and Raimond defected to the side of L’Ouverture. L’Ouverture’s forces fought for the Spanish against Blanchelande’s forces in Santo Domingo and southern and northern Haiti, but with Sonthonax’s forces against the British in western Haiti, where they were led by Henri Christophe. Rigaud meanwhile drove the British out of southern Haiti.

In April 1794, Papillon perpetrated a bloody massacre of the French whites. Meanwhile, as the Jacobins gained control in Paris, slavery was abolished on Robespierre’s initiative. In May 1794, having conquered western Haiti from the British, L’Ouverture allied with Sonthonax, declared loyalty to France, and turned against the Spanish, ambushing the Spanish forces. The British then allied with Blanchelande.

In October 1795, following French victories in Europe, the French turned Santo Domingo over to Spain. Although he continued to support abolition in old Saint-Domingue, to gain Spanish and creole support Sonthonax supported maintaining slavery in the former Spanish colony, and reconciled with Blanchelande and the British. The Jacobin creole general Alexandre Petion was sent by the French Montagnard government to reinforce L’Ouverture’s forces against Blanchelande, who managed to hol

In 1798, the British abruptly switched tactics, abandoning its efforts to reconquer Haiti and organizing to stop slave ships from leaving Africa in an effort to defeat the French. L’Ouverture secured an alliance with the British by putting an end to his efforts to organize slave revolts in Jamaica.

In 1799, the Comte d’Hedouville, backed by the Directory government, arrived to form an alliance with Rigaud and Petion aimed at defeating L’Ouverture’s radical forces and installing a conservative government, inaugurating the “War of Knives” won by L’Ouverture following Petion’s 1801 defection back to his side. L’Ouverture also formed an alliance with the Federalist government of John Adams in the United States, over the objections of vice-president and Democratic-Republican Party leader Thomas Jefferson.

Meanwhile, one of revolutionary France’s most brilliant generals had been Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, father of the novelist Alexandre Dumas and a creole man from Haiti (one of three outstanding Black generals in the war, alongside Joseph Serrant, a Martinique-born creole who fought for the French, and Abram Petrov, a freed slave who fought for the Russians). He played a leading role in the 1794 Italian campaign and the 1798-1801 invasion of Egypt, but by supporting L’Ouverture against Hedouville threatened Napoleon’s rise to power. Napoleon’s ultimately successful efforts to dismiss and imprison him were accompanied by a great campaign of racist demagogy.

Finally, in 1801, after making himself First Consul, Napoleon sent a mission led by his brother-in-law Charles Leclerc, who allied with Rigaud to restore slavery to Haiti. Jefferson meanwhile having become president of the United States, that country switched its support to the pro slavery side. Although L’Ouverture was betrayed and arrested in 1802 and died in prison in 1803, his lieutenant Jean-Jacques Dessalines carried on the fight. Napoleon sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States to finance its mission, and Dessalines responded to this show of determination to the pro slavery cause by declaring independence. In 1804, having defeated most of Leclerc’s forces (although the war would continue until 1808), he ordered (at his ally Britain’s insistence in hope of gaining tactical advantage against France) the complete eradication of the white race in Haiti. He then declared himself emperor of Haiti as Jacques I.

In 1805, Dessalines carried out an unsuccessful attack on Santo Domingo, in the wake of which Rochambeau ordered massacres of Blacks. In 1806, he was assassinated by his disappointed ministers, who themselves fell out with Petion, backed by the creoles and the poor, becoming president of the Republic of Haiti, and Christophe, backed by rich former soldiers given plantations, becoming president of the State of Haiti in the north.

In 1808-1809, the Spanish, supported by Britain, reconquered Santo Domingo. In 1811, Christophe declared himself King of Haiti as Henri I. Jean-Pierre Boyer, who fought with Petion and Rigaud in the war of knives and succeeded him in office when he died in 1818,, conquered N. Haiti from Henri in 1820 and conquered Santo Domingo in 1822, upon which he abolished slavery in Santo Domingo (present-day Dominican Republic), prohibited land ownership by whites, and institutionalized discrimination against the Spanish-speaking population. The Dominican Republic became independent in an 1844 revolt, rejoined Spain voluntarily in the face of the Haitian military threat in 1861, and gained independence from Spain in an 1863-1865 revolt.
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