The French Revolution And Napoleon


by ‘divine right’ without recognising any dependence on, or partnership with, the body of the nation, and which controlled France through its officials and its bureaucracy; the richest, the most splendid, and life had most influential of the monarchies of Europe. The vigour and life had largely passed away from it. The mistakes and the defeats of Louis XIV and  the vices and follies of Louis XV in part account for this. But the institution of autocratic monarchy no longer corresponded to the ideas or the needs of the time. The example of the Government of Great Britain was by reason of its success a great force throughout the century,  and the time was soon coming when it would be necessary for all the governments in one way or another to take the people into partnership, On the eve of the Revolution the old system of government in France was almost without defenders. There was an almost universal aspiration after something new; all classes were touched in different ways by the new spirit, and the King himself was in sympathy with much of the humanitarian ideas of the time. What these new ideas were we will shortly examine. It is plain of that the complete victory of the Monarchy over all rivals itself contributed to its overthrow and to the completeness of the triumph of the Revolution. When the central government was once overthrown there was no further resistance possible. The defenders of the old system-of what is usually called the old regime-were few. and they had no institutions through which they could work. France was, as it were, dominated by a single fort, and, when that fell, there was no further resistance.

The social system of France had many features common to many European states as well as some peculiar to herself. The population was divided-as most European populations were-into the privileged and the unprivileged classes. The Clergy, the Nobility, and those connected with the Court were the privileged and belong to an exclusive society from which the rest of the inhabitants of France were shut out. They did not, indeed, govern France; for the Monarchy had found its most dangerous rivals in the nobles, and had in its triumph excluded them from the most important administrative posts. But they and the Clergy and the countries enjoyed very considerable social privileges. They were exempt from many taxes that were paid by the unprivileged; the nobles alone were eligible for the higher ranks of the army and formed the Court that shone with such great splendor at Versailles. The twentieth century has outlived most of the German States, in Poland, and in Russia. Not was the social condition of the people exceptional either in the taxation fell upon the inhabitants of the villages and the peasantry. The peasants, though it increased the peasant proprietorships of France, did not, by any means, originate them. This class, which since the Revolution has


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