November 9, 2017
During the American Revolution, France was an important ally to the patriots. French ships cornered General Charles Cornwallis in Yorktown, forcing him to surrender to General George Washington, ending the American Revolution. In addition, Marquis de Lafayette offered tremendous military support to Washington, becoming close friends with him and other Founding Fathers. So when the French Revolution erupted in Paris, many Americans were eager to return the favor. However, others kept their distance, for a very important reason.
Elitism in the nobility and clergy classes, along with huge debt and over taxation without representation among the lower classes, sparked the fires that led to the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. (see ) Americans sympathized with France’s desire for liberty as Frenchmen planted “Trees of Liberty,” in small villages throughout France. (See ) Unfortunately, it was France’s means of obtaining freedom that kept many prominent American leaders from supporting their efforts.
American patriots who united as one against the British crown to win freedom found themselves at odds in their opinions about France. Thomas Jefferson and Englishman Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense, (see ) a book that led to the American Revolution, stood with France while George Washington and John Adams kept their distance. It’s not because they weren’t grateful for what they did for America. Washington was still a very close friend of Lafayette. However, Washington and Adams could see that bloodshed and violence were driving factors in the French Revolution, where they were necessary evils in the American Revolution. The argument become so intense between Adams and Jefferson, it not only made for malicious election cycles in both 1796 and 1800, it destroyed their friendship for almost two decades. (see )
The foundations of freedom and liberty within the American Revolution were preached by Revs. Peter Muhlenberg and George Whitfield, along with other “Black Robed Regiment” ministers. (see and ) On the other hand, French Revolutionaries were influenced by pamphlets and writings encouraging molestation, rape, destruction, theft, and murder of nobles and royalty and some middle class. America’s goal was to break the chains of tyranny. France seemed to seek revenge against the tyrants after taking over the reins.
When the American Revolution ended, Paine returned to England where he began defending the French Revolution. He penned Rights of Man, which advocated social welfare, including ideas such as progressive taxation, public employment and retirement benefits. Under charges of treason against the crown, Paine fled England, taking refuge in France.
Following the fall of the Bastille, a new government, called the National Constituent Assembly, was constructed, establishing equality among the classes even though slavery still existed in French colonies. Land owned by the Roman Catholic Church was seized and sold to pay off the country’s debts, redistributing the property among the bourgeoisie (middle class craftsmen and business owners) and peasants. A new governing system was developed using a more republic-based monarchical regime, with the king sharing power with other bodies. Nevertheless, he was a weak leader and remained under the thumb of his advisors. As a result, he tried to leave the country, but was captured and returned to his castle in Paris. However, many counter-revolutionaries, primarily the upper-class citizens and nobles, successfully fled France, and began working with other countries against their native home.
Without opposition, the National Constituent Assembly declared war on Austria, believing it would unite the people. Prussia quickly joined with Austria and advanced on Paris. Not trusting the monarchy, as Marie-Antoinette was Austrian, Paris citizens stormed Tuileries Palace and imprisoned King Louis XVI and the royal family in the Temple of Reason, home of a new belief system that replaced Christianity with reason, virtue and liberty, spreading the idea of revolution. A month later, the Parisians overran the prisons, slaughtering the nobles and clergy detained within. By the end of the month, a new assembly met, entitled the National Convention, of which Paine was elected as one of the few foreign members. On the other hand, Washington’s loyal friend, Lafayette, was relieved of his command over the French Northern Army and forced to flee France as emerging revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre adamantly opposed him.
The French continued the war as the National Convention debated a new form of government. Paine and the Girondins wanted to abolish the monarchy, set up a middle-class republic and spread the Revolution through war. Robespierre and the extremely left Montagnards, or “Mountain Men,” wanted the lower classes to have a greater share in the power. They also promoted the execution of all those opposing the Revolution, which the Girondins objected to. Despite opposition, Louis XVI was convicted of treason by the Convention and sent to the guillotine. Marie-Antoinette followed nine months later.
Robespierre believed the only way to secure France’s future was to bring everyone together to a single will. However, he noted one thing jeopardized their goal: “The internal dangers come from the middle classes; in order to defeat the middle classes we must rally the people. ... The people must ally itself with the Convention, and the Convention must make use of the people.”
As European countries joined forces against France, the Girondin leaders were forced out of the Convention, allowing the Montagnards to seize control. With the support of the radical Jacobin Club, also led by Robespierre, new policies included government control over prices, capping salaries, taxation of the rich, government assistance to poor and disabled, and free and mandatory education were implemented. They also seized and sold the property of the counter-revolutionaries that fled the country. Finally, they tried to eliminate Christianity. Robespierre even created his own artificial cult religion, holding a Festival of the Supreme Being in 1794 to authenticate it.
These policies were in complete contrast to the , which is why some Americans were unable to support the French Revolution. Many Frenchmen also rejected the new laws, showing their displeasure with violent revolts throughout France. Robespierre stopped the opposition by declaring Martial Law, resulting in a “Reign of Terror” lasting from September 5, 1793 to July 27, 1794. Robespierre declared that, “To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to forgive them is barbarity.” Therefore, during this time, a minimum of 300,000 citizens suspected of resistance were arrested. Of those, 17,000 were tried and executed while others simply died while in prison or murdered without a trial. Among those arrested was Thomas Paine. (see ) He was sent to Luxembourg Prison, where he narrowly escaped execution.
Robespierre, in a lecture to the Convention, defended the Terror stating, “The foundations of a popular government in a revolution are virtue and terror; terror without virtue is disastrous; and virtue without terror is powerless. The Government of the Revolution is the despotism of liberty over tyranny.” A far cry from President Washington, who voluntarily left office, peacefully passing power over to another which obtained liberty free from tyranny. (see and ). A point Paine failed to ever realize.
While in prison, Paine developed a fever. His cellmates convinced the guards to allow the door to remain ajar during the day to allow circulation. While the door lay open flat against the outer wall, an official passed by and marked on it a number in chalk. This number told the executioner who to take to the guillotine. When Paine and his cellmates closed the door that night, the number disappeared from view from the outside. Therefore, as the executioner walked through the prison that night, he walked right past the marked victims in Paine’s cell.
By this time, Robespierre had begun launching allegations of disloyalty against those in the government but refused to name names. Recognizing they were under a tyrannical dictator, the National Convention soon came to their senses and arrested Robespierre, ending the Terror. The next day, July 28th, he was sent to the guillotine, where he had eagerly dispatched so many of his opponents, and just days after Paine’s escape from it. The Reign of Terror, which tried to force equality among the classes with terrorism and total government control, lasted less than a year.
Newly appointed American Minister to France, James Monroe, began efforts to obtain freedom for Paine. Monroe’s persistent efforts, including the insistence of Paine’s American citizenship, brought results with Paine’s release on November 6, 1794. Afterwards, Paine resumed his position in the French Convention, still believing in the French Revolution.
Though the Terror ended, the Revolution continued. France moved forward, occupying and spreading the Revolution throughout Europe. Under General Napoleon Bonaparte, France achieved several military victories. However, in 1799, Napoleon returned to France following an election which resulted in a loss of government supporters and an increase in the extreme left. With a weakened government, Napoleon conducted a coup d’etat, declaring himself France’s “first consul”. He proclaimed the Revolution over on November 9, 1799, though many historians mark it as December 24th, the day France adopted the Constitution of the Year VIII and formally established the new Consulate. Regardless, fighting continued until 1815 with the Napoleonic Wars.
Liberty, America’s political atmosphere today is very similar to that in both America and France at the time of their Revolutions. Congressmen have made themselves Lords and Ladies, believing they are untouchable by the peasants who might want to revolt. And even if they did, it would give them the excuse they crave to declare Martial Law, expanding the hand of the government to completely control the people. Unfortunately, they have never learned or worse yet, never heard, the lessons of the French Revolution. While Congress says, “Let them eat cake,” too many are starting to cry, “Off with their heads.”
This past weekend, Antifa held protests all over the country. (see ) Their anthem is “By Any Means Necessary,” believing a revolution is achieved by using whatever methods it takes, including molestation, destruction, theft, and even murdering their political enemy. They totally subscribe to the ideology that a revolution must be accompanied by terror. And they are willing to comply.
Robespierre was the antithesis of Washington. While Washington and the other patriots were fighting for religious freedom, Robespierre and the revolutionists wanted to abolish Christianity, instead worshipping the rival cults of the Supreme Being and Reason. Ultimately, Robespierre valued government morality over God’s. Washington, on the other hand, believed, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports…And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.” (see )
Both the American and French Revolutions began because of oppression and taxation. However, while America decided to break from the monarchy, France chose to eliminate theirs. In both cases, their actions left a hole. In France, that void was filled by the dictators Ropespierre and then Napoleon, both bringing more death, destruction, and war. America replaced the monarchy with the Constitution, which gives us liberty and freedom. However, John Adams warned, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Liberty, we are at a crossroads again. Antifa and others want us to follow France. Constitutionalists believe we must stay with our principles and values to survive. As Democrats now start to abandon Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the extreme leftism of Bernie Sanders and the Antifa movement, it seems they have forgotten that it was Robespierre, and not Paine, that ended up losing his head.
That’s my 2 cents.
REIGN OF TERROR