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22 Mar 2019

Lesson 8 Definition of important terms in the course of the French Revolution

This lesson seeks to assist the student by providing definitions of some of the important terms encountered in the study of the French Revolution

It is important for the student to note that an ability to define the key terms is absolutely necessary to answering essay questions and achieving good grades in examinations 

The Declaration of Pillnitz (27 August 1791)

  • This was declaration issued by the Austrian Emperor and Prussian king threatening military action against the revolutionary government of France if Louis XVI was harmed in any way
  • The declaration followed a series of events which started with Louis XVI’s attempt to flee France before he was caught at Varennes in 1791 and resulted in his brother and other émigrés petitioning the Austrian and Prussian monarchs to support military action against France to destroy the Revolutionary Government and restore Louis XVI to his former position as an absolute monarch
  • The declaration however failed to scare the revolutionary Government or the French revolutionaries
  • Instead the declaration made the situation worse for Louis XVI who was now seen as a traitor working with foreign governments to destroy the French Revolution
  • The declaration as one of the events that convinced the revolutionaries, particularly the Jacobin faction that the monarchy should be completely abolished and a republic be established in its place
  • The declaration was therefore one of the events that changed the course of the Revolution from being moderate to radical

The Brunswick Manifesto (25 July 1792)

  • This was issued by the Duke of Brunswick  commander of the Allied Army (principally Austrian and Prussian) during the War of the First Coalition
  • He threatened to destroy Paris and its citizens if the Royal Family was humiliated, subjected to acts of violence and harmed in any way
  • Although it was issued by the Duke of Brunswick, the general belief in France at the time was that the manifesto was written French emigres working together with Louis XVI
  • Just like the Declaration of Pillnitz, the Brunswick Manifesto failed to intimidate the people of Paris and the revolutionaries into submission
  • Instead, it helped to galvanise the revolutionaries and the population into more serious opposition to the king Louis XVI who was seen as collaborating with foreign enemies in an attempt to destroy the Revolution
  • The Manifesto appears to have had the opposite effect of endangering the safety of Louis XVI and the Royal Family as just a fortnight later on 10 August the Paris Mob stormed the Tuileries Palace and ended up massacring the king’s Swiss Guards
  • France was also galvanised into patriotic anger and ultimately action against foreign enemies
  • Ultimately, the Manifesto was one of the factors that culminated in the overthrow, trial and eventual execution of Louis XVI

The Edict of Fraternity (November 1792)

  • The Edict of Fraternity was issued by the French government (National Convention) and it stated among other things, that, “All governments are our enemies, all people our friends”
  • The Edict called on European people to rise against their monarchical rulers
  • There was a promise of material and moral support for such uprisings
  • The Edict aimed to spread the Republican form of government throughout Europe together with their revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity which they believed to be remedy for all the social, political and economic ills
  • “The National Convention declares in the name of the French nation that it will accord fraternity and assistance to all peoples who wish to recover their liberty. It charges the executive power to give the generals the necessary orders for bearing help to these peoples and defending citizens who are vexed for the cause of liberty. The present decree shall be translated and printed in all languages.” (This is a translation of the Edict of Fraternity as quoted in Leonard W. Cowie, ed. 1967. Documents and Descriptions in European History 1714-1815. London: Oxford University Press.)
  • Naturally, the monarchical governments of Europe were alarmed and justifiably feared that France was seeking to spread its revolution which also result in the end of their own political power
  • The Edict therefore contributed to destroying the chances of peaceful co-existence between France and the rest of Europe, ensuring that there would be continuous warfare

The First Republic (September 1792)

  • This was an elected form of government that the National Convention established in France after abolishing the monarchy
  • It was essentially a political system where government officials are voted into power and could be voted out as well by those citizens who qualified as voters
  • Political power was no longer based on factors of birth (aristocracy) but on merit through voting
  • This was in line with the Revolutionary ideals of ensuring political participation and positions for everyone based on merit regardless of birth

The Reign of Terror (1793-1794)

  • This was a period of the French Revolution during which the National Convention delegated executive power to a Jacobin-dominated Committee of Public Safety giving them sweeping powers to deal with internal and external threats to the Revolutionary Government and the Revolution itself
  • The COPS was allowed to suspend the constitution and all the individual liberties/ freedoms including freedoms of speech, expression and political association in order to deal with internal threats posed by the clergy, peasants, royalists/nobles as well as the external threats of invading foreign powers like Austria, Britain and Prussia
  • They passed various laws including the Law of Suspects and Law of 22nd Prarial which took away the basic rights of the accused to representation as well as defined crimes of a counter-revolutionary nature
  • They also set up a special court the Revolutionary tribunal to try cases of suspected counter-revolutionaries
  • Penalties including the death sentence, fines and imprisonment were handed out by the Revolutionary Tribunal

See section on Governments for greater detail on the Reign of Terror




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