General History in Outline and Story
XI. THE FRENCH REVOLUTION AND NAPOLEON
60 . EARLY DEVELOPMENTS
France had had no small part in the American Revolution. Numbers of Frenchmen had been fighting in the American army, and it was with that help of the French sea-forces that the scale was at last turned against the English. Not long after, France itself was faced with Revolution (1798).
The writings of Voltaire and Rousseau had made the way ready for
Voltaire (d. 1778) had said whatever seemed true to him without fear and without respect. He was specially bitter against what were in his eyes the false beliefs of the Church, and his violent attacks on it were very damaging to its power. He was quick to take the side of the poor and unhappy or those who were wrongly attacked. He made comparisons between the condition of England and that of France, opening the eyes of his countrymen to their wrongs. It was he who made current the noted saying, "I am the State," as representative of the ideas of Louis XIV and those who came after him ; and he saw clearly where these ideas were taking the country. "Everything I see is planting the seeds of revolution. Happy the young, because their eyes will see it."
Rousseau took up the work of Voltaire, and his ideas went even further.
His great book, The Social Contract (1762) had thousands of French readers. Its argument was that 'the Public is the State' and that the power of kings is based on the general desire, on public approval. Its opening statement had the effect of an electric shock : "Man is naturally free, but everywhere he is now in chains. One seems to himself the ruler of others, but is, in fact, more of a slave than they are."
Looking at history it seems to us more true -- at any rate in connection with present-day Europe -- to say that there are six thousand years of development between what man 'naturally' is and what he is now. But thought, even when it is in error, is 'stronger than armies.'
The condition of their country made Frenchmen very ready
to give attention to the new teachings. Even 'tyrants' have to be able men or they will not long keep their power, and the Kings who came after Louis XIV were not able. Canada and India had been taken from them. Their frequent wars had been very dear, and a bad system of controlling public money made things worse. The French government was so deeply in debt that it was almost impossible for it to get credit. But the great families and the churchmen, owners of almost two-thirds of the land, were free from taxes, and for a very long time most of the money had had to come from the workers.
The true causes of the French Revolution go very deep ; it was the outcome of a long chain of causes coming down from feudal days.
Because of his money troubles Louis XVI (1774-93) did what no French king had done for almost two hundred years -- he gave orders for a meeting of the 'Estates,' or House of Representatives, of France.
61 . THE FIRST ACT : "THE RIGHTS OF MAN"
The Estates came together at Versailles in May 1789. Jefferson, the great American, gave it as his opinion that the wisest thing for French lovers of their country to do would be to put through straight away all the changes for the better which they had the power to make. But there was trouble from the first about the organization of the Estates, which was still based on the old feudal system. It was made up of three divisions : the great landowners, or 'nobles,' the Church, and the Third Estate, or 'Commons.' These three groups had their meetings separately, and all had an equal voice, so that the first two, working together, had the power to put a stop to any changes desired by the third which were against their interests. To a nation fired by Rousseau's ideas of equal rights, this was an impossible position, and it was not long before the Third Estate, turned its back on the others, gave itself the name of 'the National Assembly,' as being, in fact, the body representative of all the nation. Later it was joined by the other two Estates, and in this way the first truly representative government in Europe, outside England, came into being.
But all this time nothing had been done for the needs of the country.
Conditions in France at this time were very bad ; it had been a poor year for the farmers the year before, and bread was dear, and these facts made it even harder to keep order in the country. In July there was a violent outburst, and the old government prison named the Bastille was attacked and pulled down. To some of the great families it seemed safer to get out of France. In the country there was a strange wave of fear ; "the outlaws are coming," said the poor. When no 'outlaws' came, the feelings which had been worked up were turned against the 'old order' ; the houses of great landowners were attacked and feudal records burned.
Then at last, in one long meeting (August 4, 1789), the National Assembly put an end to the feudal system, all payments to the Church for land, and all payments to the Pope. After long discussions there was produced the great Declaration of the Rights of Man, the chief points of which are that all men come into the world with equal rights, that power is in the hands of the masses, that all are equal in the eyes of the law, and that the free exchange of thought and opinion, even in religion, is one of the most important Rights of Man.
While this was going on a new sort of society, based on interest in public events, was coming into being in France, with a great number of newspapers, political groups and clubs, and meetings in the houses of women of high position, where the talk was chiefly political and the most important men in the new France were frequently to be seen. Not long before the troubles of 1789 there was printed a small political work which probably had more effect than any other such writing in history. Its argument was : "What is the Third Estate ? Everything. What has it been in the political field up to now ?
Nothing. What is its desire ? To become something."
Again it was a bad year for grain. The women of Paris were in need of bread. They went on foot to Versailles and made the King and Queen and their little son go back with them to Paris (October 1789), in the hope that if the King was there something would be done for their worst needs. This put the King and his family in a very hard position. They quickly made the discovery that they were, in fact, prisoners, and, having no power to do what was desired of them, there was every danger of the unhappy masses turning against them.
62 . THE SECOND ACT : "THE RULE OF FEAR"
The other Great Kings of Europe had now become seriously troubled, specially the Emperor of Austria, who was the brother of Marie Antoinette ; and, at the request of the nobles who had got out of the country, they were getting ready to take armies into France. This made Paris very angry, and the masses took control of the town. Frenchmen came from Marseilles with the new song, which became the song of the French nation (the Marseillaise), and the public got more and more worked up. War was made on Austria, which as quickly joined by Prussia. With attackers outside and in, France was in the greatest danger.
But the burning love of the French armies for their country made them stronger than the incoming forces, which were crushed at Valmy (September 20, 1792). The outcome of this fight went to the heads of the French, and they sent out offers of help to any nation desiring to overcome its rulers. The day after Valmy France was made a Republic. The unhappy King, who had foolishly made an attempt at flight to Austria, and so given color to the idea that he was on the side of the outlaw nobles, came before the judges for 'working against the Republic,' and was put to death in January 1793. Some months later the Queen came to the same end. France, while she was still fighting with Austria and Prussia, then made war on Holland and Britain, and in a short time was at war with all the countries round her.
At first the Revolution had been watched with some approval by Britain. But most Englishmen were by this time shocked by the cruel things done in its name, and public feeling was turned against it.
Power was now in the hands of a group of the revolution's most violent supporters -- Danton, Robepierre, Marat, and others, whose idea was to make the Republic safe by simply putting an end to everyone who had the smallest love for the old order. From September 2, 1793, to July 1794, Paris was a town of death ; men went from house to house looking for those who were not in full agreement with the government, and all who, by reason of birth, word, or act, were judged to be against the Republic, were taken in carts to have their head cut off by the guillotine, the new instrument of death which was the invention of Dr. Guillotin.
But there came a reaction against this rule of fear even among those who were responsible for it. Danton, who had at first been one of the chiefs of the group, became tired of blood, and went to his death in an attempt to make the government see reason. For a time the cruel Robespierre was in complete control, but it was not long before he himself came under the knife to which he had sent hundreds of others, and with his fall the 'Terror,' as it was named, came to an end.
63 . THE THIRD ACT : "THE EMPEROR FOR EVER"
Not long after this there came to the front the 'strong man' of whom France was at that time so badly in need, Napoleon Bonaparte. On October 5, 1795, he put down the last outburst of the Paris masses by giving them 'a taste of gun-fire.' In a short time he mad made order in the land and done such great things in war that all the nation was at his feet. He was one of the greatest military chiefs in history -- expert not only in the science but in all the tricks of war. He took his armies all over Europe (1795-1813), planting the ideas of the Revolution and the seed of political change wherever he went.
Again and again he overcame the Great Kings. The Austrians were put out of the Netherlands and Italy (1796-1797). Austria and Prussia were crushed at Austerlitz (1805), and Prussia again at Jena (1806). From Berlin after overcoming the Prussians, he sent out his 'Berlin Decree,' an order to do as much damage as possible to British trade. In the same year he put an end to the Holy Roman Empire or, more truly, the shade of it, which had gone on in name for hundreds of years. The year after that (1807) he got the Tsar of Russia to make peace, and a secret agreement to give him support in his designs in Europe.
Up to then the only forces which had got the better of him had been British sea-forces. Nelson had overcome Napoleon's ships at the Nile (1798) and so put an end to his idea of copying Alexander in the East, or at least of damaging England's power by taking Egypt. Again at Trafalgar (1805) Nelson gave the death-blow to his hopes of forcing England -- the one country which had never made peace with him -- to her knees. Napoleon had even seemed to have hopes of taking an army into England. At any rate he had had forces and boats ready at Boulogne, but his purpose may not have been serious, because he had, in fact, taken them away before he got the news of Trafalgar.
At last, however, Napoleon was crushed on land. His Berlin Decree, among other things, was the cause of war with Russia. He took his great army on foot all the way to Moscow (1812), but when he got there the Russians had gone and the town was in flames. It was impossible to get food, and he had to go back. Of the half-million men of different nations whom he had taken to Russia, only about one-twentieth came safely through the cruel journey back from Moscow in the bitter cold of the Russian winter. Even so, when Napoleon was driving past his men half-dead in the snow, the cry went up, "The Emperor for ever !"
This crushing blow to Napoleon put heart into the nations of Europe, and they took up arms against his rule, as Spain had done some years before. The year after Moscow he was overcome at Leipzig (1813) by the united Russians, Austrians, and Prussians. At the same time Wellington was taking his armies into France from Spain, where he had long been fighting the French with the help of the Spanish.
On March 13, 1814, the united armies were in Paris, and France was forced to make peace. Napoleon's power was taken from him and he was made ruler of the little island of Elba, on condition that he never again put foot in Europe. Then the kings and representative of the old order came together at Vienna to undo his work as far as possible. But less than a year later Napoleon got away from Elba, put himself at the head of the French army, and for a hundred days was again a danger to Europe. His last fight came at Waterloo (1815), where he was overcome by the united armies of England and Prussia, and this time he was sent to the island of Saint Helena, far away in the Atlantic, for the rest of his existence.
Napoleon's downfall was in the end, caused by the nations of Europe. He had overcome the Kings, but in doing so he had made the nations conscious of themselves as never before, and it was this new public feeling which in the end was stronger then he.
64 . NAPOLEON THE MAN
Napoleon's great qualities were clearly marked when he was still very young. Even when he was only a small boy of four or five he was quite without fear. When he was a man there was a strange attraction about him which men said was overpowering. He had the power of making his men do great things in the field, and it was this more than anything which made him so loved by them. As he said himself, he became King of France by first becoming king of the army.
His military decisions were taken so quickly, and his acts were so sudden and full of force, that those against him were unable to keep up with him. At one time he was in the field for five days without sleeping or even taking his boots off ; after which, when the other side was overcome, he went to sleep for thirty-six hours.
He was great not only as a military chief but as a ruler and law-giver. Unhappily for Europe, his great qualities were clouded by his love of war and of power for himself, making him a force for destruction as much as for good. Though, at the start, he may have been moved by a true love of France and a belief in democracy, after he had a taste of power he was like an animal which has had a taste of blood, desiring more and more.
"If I am seen three times at the theater" he said, "the public will have no more desire to see my face. Even now its interest in me is getting less. Tis little Europe does not give me enough chance of keeping my name bright." In his desire for power and a great name he had no care for the destruction of Europe in war, though he was not naturally cruel. There were almost four million deaths in the wars caused by Napoleon between 1804 and 1815.
When the turn came and events at last went against him, his downfall was as sudden as the growth of his power. When he got back to Paris after Waterloo he was so changed, and so slow in coming to any decision, that his brother said his brain had been turned by the smoke of war.
He was short and good-looking, well-made, with a clear, dark skin, dark eyes, and a hard, cold look. He was one of the greatest men in history -- "as great as any man may be without being good."
Much of the dead wood of the Middle Ages had been cut away by the French Revolution in its early and best years. Napoleon himself had no use for Rousseau's teachings ; he became, in fact, the greatest of Great Kings. But it was through him that the changes made by the Revolution had their effect on the rest of Europe. He was the maker of present-day France, giving her order in addition to a great military name, and he gave to her and to Europe a great Code (or system) of Law. In Italy and Germany his changes made ready the way for them to become united countries. The work of Napoleon was the starting-point of the work of the "Nations."
DIVISIONS OF THE BOOK
I . -- THE FIRST STAGE
II . -- THE EARLY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE EAST
III. -- THE GREAT DAYS OF GREECE
IV . -- THE GREAT DAYS OF ROME
V . -- THE MIDDLE AGES
VI . -- THE 'NEW BIRTH' OF EUROPE
VII. -- NEW FORCES IN RELIGION AND THE GROWTH OF A NEW OUTLOOK
VIII -- THE EXPANSION OF EUROPE OVERSEAS
IX . -- THE 'GREAT KINGS' OF EUROPE
X . -- THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
XI . -- THE FRENCH REVOLUTION AND NAPOLEON top
XII. -- THE BIRTH OF NEW NATIONS
XIII -- THE WORLD OF THE PRESENT DAY