Law News and Tips
The French “4th of July”?
Yesterday was Bastille Day. Many people say that this is the French “Fourth of July.” I guess you could look at it that way, but the French Revolution was not much like the American Revolution.
The Bastille was a French prison. Many, but by no means even a majority, of the prisoners were political prisoners. The French peasantry stormed the prison, set all the prisoners free, and started a very dark period of French history.
First, the French monarchy was abolished. Power was shifted to its somewhat democratic National Assembly. Then, based on ideas of “rationalism,” the clergy were all required to swear allegiance to the government. They became government employees, and all Church property was confiscated. “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you.”
Then began the Reign of Terror. People who were deemed to be “enemies of the revolution” were executed. Tens of thousands were killed, many by the “National Razor,” the guillotine. The clergy who refused to swear an oath to the Revolution were many times put on barges in French harbors where they were left to die. A play that was recently produced dealt with the Carmelite nuns of Compeigne who were executed by the guillotine for their refusal to swear the oath. Political intrigue was rampant, so most people just hoped they didn’t get noticed.
One of the leaders during the Reign of Terror was a lawyer (wouldn’t you know it?) by the name of Maximilian Robespierre. Robespierre was brilliant, dedicated to the “cause,” and ruthless. But the revolution even caught up with him, and within two years, he himself was put to death also by the guillotine.
Both civil and international wars appear to have been the result of the Revolution. In this environment, it seems only natural that a brilliant general would rise in leadership. His name was Napoleon, and he took over as the “Emperor.”
So it looks as if the French Revolution to overthrow the monarchy eventually led to a new monarchy. It should be noted that after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, a French Republic was established. But it was a long time coming.
As you can see, the French Revolution was fundamentally different from the American Revolution. The one similarity was that they both threw off the yoke of a monarchy. But whereas the American Revolution proceeded without bloodshed to the formation of a national, republican government, the French Revolution initially resulted in a brutal and repressive dictatorship of terror. The freedoms of religion, speech, press, and even assembly were greatly curtailed either officially or through the Terror. Then came the empire of Napoleon, and that is another story.
I know this is kind of dark, but I think it is good to reflect on how fortunate we are to live in America which is the result of a very unique revolution, one that promoted freedom rather than suppressing it.
But it’s also important to note that there are no guarantees of our freedoms. Vigilance against encroachment on our freedoms by the government is critical and really constant.
I’m just glad I didn’t live in France at that time. What about you?
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