Lectures on the French Revolution
Publication Year: 2012
Delivered at Cambridge University between 1895 and 1899, Lectures on the French Revolution is a distinguished account of the entire epochal chapter in French experience by one of the most remarkable English historians of the nineteenth century. In contrast to Burke a century before, Acton leaves condemnation of the French Revolution to others. He provides a disciplined, thorough, and elegant history of the actual events of the bloody episode—in sum, as thorough a record as could be constructed in his time of the actual actions of the government of France during the Revolution. There are twenty-two essays, commencing with “The Heralds of the Revolution,” in which Acton presents a taxonomy of the intellectual ferment that preceded—and prepared—the Revolution. An important appendix explores “The Literature of the Revolution.” Here Acton offers assessments of the accounts of the Revolution written during the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries by, among others, Burke, Guizot, and Taine.
Published by: Liberty Fund
Title Page, Copyright
I. THE HERALDS OF THE REVOLUTION
The revenue of France was near twenty millions when Lewis XVI., finding it inadequate, called upon the nation for supply. In a single lifetime it rose to far more than one hundred millions, while the national income grew still more rapidly; and this increase was...
II. THE INFLUENCE OF AMERICA
The several structures of political thought that arose in France, and clashed in the process of revolution, were not directly responsible for the outbreak. The doctrines hung like a cloud upon the heights, and at critical moments in the reign of Lewis XV. men felt that...
III. THE SUMMONS OF THE STATES-GENERAL
The condition of France alone did not bring about the overthrow of the monarchy and the convulsion that ensued. For the sufferings of the people were not greater than they had been before; the misgovernment and oppression were less, and a successful war...
IV. THE MEETING OF THE STATES-GENERAL
The argument of the drama which opened on May 6, 1789, and closed on June 27, is this:-The French people had been called to the enjoyment of freedom by every voice they heard-by the king; by the notables, who proposed unrestricted suffrage; by the...
V. THE TENNIS-COURT OATH
We saw last week that much time was spent in fruitless negotiation which ended in a deadlock- the Commons refusing to act except in conjunction with the other orders, and the others insisting on the separate action which had been prescribed by their instructions and...
VI. THE FALL OF THE BASTILLE
After the dramatic intervention of the Marquis de Breze, the king's speech of June 23 was never seriously considered by the Assembly. Yet the concessions, which it made to the spirit of political progress, satisfied philosophic observers, and there had been no time in...
VII. THE FOURTH OF AUGUST
When the Assembly was fully constituted, it had to regulate its procedure. Sir Samuel Romilly, a friend of Dumont, and occasionally of Mirabeau, sent over an account of the practice of the British Parliament, with the cumbrous forms, the obstacles to prompt...
VIII. THE CONSTITUTIONAL DEBATES
From the tennis court to the great constitutional debate, the Moderates, who may be called the Liberals , were predominant. Mounier was their tactician, Clermont Tonnerre and Lally Tollendal were their orators, Malouet was their discreet adviser...
IX. THE MARCH TO VERSAILLES
The French Revolution was approved at first by the common judgment of mankind. Kaunitz, the most experienced statesman in Europe, declared that it would last for long, and perhaps for ever. Speaking less cautiously, Klopstock said: "I see generations crushed...
The transfer of the Government to Paris, which degraded and obscured the king, at once made the queen the foremost person in the State. Those days of October are an epoch in her character as well as in her life, and we must turn our thoughts to her, who had...
XI. SIEYÈS AND THE CONSTITUTION CIVILE
Before coming to the conflict be tween Church and State, with which the legislation of 1790 closes, I must speak of a man memorable far beyond Mira beau in the history of political thought and political action, who is the most perfect representative of the Revolution...
XII. THE FLIGHT TO VARENNES
The direct consequence of the ecclesiastical laws was the flight of the king. From the time of his removal to Paris, in October 1789, men began to study the means by which he might be rescued, and his ministers were ready with the necessary passports. During the...
XIII. THE FEUILLANTS AND THE WAR
Tuesday, June 21, the day on which the departure of the king became known, was the greatest day in the history of the Assembly. The deputies were so quick to meet the dangers of the situation, they were so calm, their measures were so comprehensive, that...
On the 17th of February 1792 Pitt informed the House of Commons that the situation of Europe had never afforded such assurance of continued peace. He did not yet recognise the peril that lay in the new French Constitution. Under that Constitution, no...
XV. THE CATASTROPHE OF MONARCHY
The calculations of the Girondins were justified by the event. Four months after the declaration of war the throne had fallen, and the king was in prison. Next to Dumouriez the principal members of the new ministry were the Genevese Claviere, one of...
XVI. THE EXECUTION OF THE KING
The constitutional experiment, first tried on the Continent under Lewis XVI., failed mainly through distrust of the executive and a mechanical misconstruction of the division of power. Government had been incapable, the finances were disordered, the army...
XVII. THE FALL OF THE GIRONDE
The Constitution of 1791 had failed because it carried the division of powers and the reaction against monarchical centralisation so far as to paralyse the executive. Until the day when a new system should be organised, a series of revolutionary measures were adopted...
XVIII. THE REIGN OF TERROR
The liberal and constitutional wave with which the Revolution began ended with the Girondins; and the cause of freedom against authority, of right against force was lost. At the moment of their fall, Europe was in arms against France by land and sea; the...
XIX. ROBES PIERRE
We reach the end of the Reign of Terror, on the 9th of Thermidor, the most auspicious date in modern history. In April Robespierre was absolute. He had sent Hebert to death because he promoted disorder, Chaumette because he suppressed religion, Danton...
XX. LA VENDÉE
The remorseless tyranny which came to an end in Thermidor was not the product of home causes. It was prepared by the defeat and defection of Dumouriez; it was developed by the loss of the frontier fortresses in the following July; and it fell when the tide of battle...
XXI. THE EUROPEAN WAR
The French Revolution was an attempt to establish in the public law of Europe maxims which had triumphed by the aid of France in America. By the principles of the Declaration of Independence a government which obstructs liberty forfeits the claim to...
XXII. AFTER THE TERROR
It remains for us to pursue the course of French politics from the fall of the Terrorists to the Constitution of the year III., and the close of the Convention in October 1795. The State drifted after the storm, and was long without a regular government or...
APPENDIX: THE LITERATURE OF THE REVOLUTION
Page Count: 350
Publication Year: 2012
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