Term Paper: French Revolution Revisited No Moment

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[. . .] As the war progressed, it was unfortunately necessary to put aside some of the last trappings of democracy in favor of a sufficiently powerful leader that could save the country. This was Napoleon. While his pride and military willingness to go beyond mere defense certainly made the war last far longer than it otherwise might have, it is important to remember that Napoleon did not actually start the war between France and the rest of Europe. Nonetheless, his rise to power and the wars that followed all stemmed from the Revolution in one way or another.

The social changes wrought by Napoleon are difficult to separate from the social changes created by the Revolution; what is certain is that before the Revolution France was feudalistic and did not have a stable civil system of law that protected the rights of all classes -- nor was it a fully developed capitalist nation. After the time of Napoleon, it both followed a tradition of Roman-styled law, and had abandoned the feudalistic stance. This made France a force for modernization, and it continued to be both economically, legally, and philosophically at the liberal cutting edge of Europe's politics for a long time, exerting great influence for the liberalization of surrounding countries. The Napoleonic codes of law were a strong influence on the legal precedent in all of the mainland countries of Europe from that day forward, so some form of order may be said to have arisen from the chaos of the Revolution.

Finally, the French Revolution proved a point which the American Revolution nor the British Civil War had entirely proved before: it was possible for a people to throw off the chains of feudalism and to make a new system out of the ruins with far more ease than had been expected. One would not be amiss to suggest that this example not only revolutionized most of Europe, but may have also been possible for the causation of the Russian Revolution and many other smaller revolutionary movements across time. The warnings of the Terror and of Napoleon's rise to dictatorship are valuable to aspiring revolutionaries as a warning against excess, even as the triumph stories of the Revolution provide inspiration.

The Revolution: A success?

It is difficult to say whether or not the Revolution was a success. It fought to free France from tyranny, and yet within a matter of a decade the nation had become an empire with an absolute ruler... And after that it eventually returned to monarchy. The Declaration of the Rights of Man which served as a key element of the Revolutionary Gospel appeared to be less important during the Terror. This document reads: "The goal of any political association is the conservation of the natural and imprescriptible [i.e., inviolable] rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, safety and resistance against oppression...No one may be questioned about his opinions, [and the] same [for] religious [opinions], provided that their manifestation does not trouble the public order established by the law." (Wikipedia) One does not quite see these two articles being applied in France in the years of the Terror, nor does one see "The principle of any sovereignty resides essentially in the Nation. No body, no individual can exert authority which does not emanate expressly from it" (Wikipedia) applying to either the Napoloenic era or that following it. On the other hand, while the specific freedoms and goals may have been erased by the excesses of the Revolution, on the other hand France afterwards did have greater freedom than before. If the land was more free, and left a greater legacy of freedom to its children, one might say the revolution succeed.

A similar draw is to be had with the wars that followed. The wars themselves were foul, because they destroyed the purity of the Revolution -- and Napoleon's response in which he attempted to conquer all of Europe was also morally problematic. These wars shed a truly prodigious amount of blood and had very high casualties compared to the overall population of Europe. This cannot be good. Nor can the fact that this war increased the effects of nationalism in Europe, and "inaugurated the era of modern, total warfare." (Columbia) On the other hand, these wars spread a fair system of law, and had other positive sorts of effects, such as placing Louisianna in the hands of America and the standardization of forms of measurement.

Likewise one may be torn over the long-term inspiration afforded by the war. According to some Christians, "the French Revolution not only unleashed the Reign of Terror of Robespierre and the dictatorship of Napoleon, it served as the grandfather to other evil systems such as Nazism and Communism which also believe that man owes nothing to God or the authority of the Church." (Aquinas Pub) This is a little extreme. However, on a more realistic level it is true that the French Revolution inspired a revolutionary spirit that would lead to a host of small revolutions throughout Europe for the next hundred years. While some would say this was bad, others might suggest that the revolutionary spirit was good. It inspired grand art and philosophy, and every revolution served as an example to those who might otherwise become tyrants. All in all, the author of this essay at least thinks that while many aspects of the Revolution (such as the wars that followed) were regrettable, its original cause and approach was both right and in many ways beneficial.


It is impossible to sum up all the motivations of a war in a matter of paragraphs, let alone to speculate so quickly on the full scope of the effect such an event has on history. As much as such a thing is possible, however, it has been presented in short here. The Revolution in brief was justified, a necessary response to the greed and dissolution of a top-heavy and unfeasible system. The oppression of the common people demanded a response. The effects --both short-term and long-term-- of the Revolution were so mixed primarily because its course was interfered with by outside hostile parties. Nonetheless, in the final analysis it seems to have positively effected the world at least to such a degree that the positive weighs equal with the negative backlash it suffered.


Aquinas Publications. "Effects of the French Revolution."

St. Joseph Messenger. 1998. http://www.aquinasmultimedia.com/stjoseph/history.html

Badanedwa, et al. "The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen." Wikipedia. April 2004. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declaration_of_the_Rights_of_Man_and_of_the_Citizen

Effects of the Revolution." The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. Columbia University Press, 2000. http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/history/A0858289.html

French Revolution." Encyclopedia Britannica. 2004. Encyclopedia Britannica Premium Service. http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?eu=36018.

Invicta Media. "French Revolution 1789." January 2001. http://www.theotherside.co.uk/tm-heritage/background/revolution.htm

Mignet, F. History of the French Revolution from 1789 to 1814. Project Gutenberg, 2003. http://www.outfo.org/literature/pg/etext06/8hfrr10.txt

SimonP, et al. "French Revolution." Wikipedia. April 2004. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_revolution

Van Loon, Hendrik. "The Great French Revolution Proclaims the Principles of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality Unto All the People of the Earth." The Story of Mankind. World Wide School, 1922. http://www.worldwideschool.org/library/books/youth/history/TheStoryofMankind/chap50.html [END OF PREVIEW]

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