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Vindiciae Gallicae and Other Writings on the French Revolution

James Mackintosh

Publication Year: 2012

Vindiciae Gallicae was James Mackintosh’s first major publication, a contribution to the debate begun by Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (published by Liberty Fund in 1999). The success of Mackintosh’s defense of the French Revolution propelled him into the heart of London Whig circles. The turn of events in France following the September 1792 Massacres caused Mackintosh, along with other moderate Whigs, to revise his opinions and to move closer to Burke’s position.

A Discourse on the Law of Nature and Nations was the introduction to a popular course of public lectures at Lincoln’s Inn in 1799 and 1800. These lectures provided Mackintosh with an opportunity to complete the evolution of his political thought by expounding the principles of a Scottish version of the science of natural jurisprudence dealing with “the rights and duties of men and of states,” to announce his withdrawal of support for the French Revolution, and to criticize former allies on the radical wing of the reform movement.

The Liberty Fund edition also includes Mackintosh’s Letter to William Pitt, an attack on the prime minister, Pitt the Younger, for going back on his own record as a parliamentary reformer; and On the State of France in 1815, his reflections on the nature and causes of the French Revolution.

James Mackintosh (1765–1832) was a prominent Scottish Whig politician, a moral philosopher, and a historian of England. He belonged to the group of students that surrounded Dugald Stewart, professor of moral philosophy in Edinburgh, during the last decades of the eighteenth century and the first decade of the nineteenth century. He was a regular writer for the publishing enterprises this group founded and edited, notably the Edinburgh Review and the Encyclopaedia Britannica; he contributed to the latter his “Dissertation on the Progress of Ethical Philosophy, Chiefly During the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” thereby completing a project begun by Dugald Stewart.

Donald Winch is Research Professor in the School of Humanities at the University of Sussex and a Fellow of the British Academy.

Knud Haakonssen is Professor of Intellectual History and Director of the Centre for Intellectual History at the University of Sussex, England.

Published by: Liberty Fund

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xviii

The writings reprinted here trace James Mackintosh’s involvement with the French Revolution from its hopeful beginnings in 1789 to the confused interlude between Napoleon’s first and second abdications in favor of the restored Bourbon monarchy in 1815. ...

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Note on the Texts Used in This Edition

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pp. xix-xx

The first edition of Vindiciae Gallicae appeared in April 1791, followed by a second in July correcting misprints that had arisen as a result of haste. A third edition appeared in August, containing an additional concluding section on the probable consequences of the French Revolution for European governments. ...

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pp. xxi-xxii

It would not have been possible to complete this edition without the expert assistance and persistence of Dr. Rachel Hammersley, Leverhulme Special Fellow at the University of Sussex and now lecturer in Historical Studies at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, whose own work on the role of the Cordelier Club ...

Title Page

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pp. 1

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pp. 2

Had I foreseen the size to which the following volume was to grow, or the obstacles that were to retard its completion, I should probably have shrunk from the undertaking; and perhaps I may now be supposed to owe an apology for offering it to the Public, after the able and masterly Publications to which this controversy has given occasion. ...

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Advertisement to the Third Edition

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pp. 3-4

I now present the following Work to the Public a third time, rendered, I hope, less unworthy of their favor.—Of Literary Criticism it does not become me to question the justice, but Moral Animadversion I feel it due to myself to notice. ...

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pp. 5-10

The late opinions of Mr. Burke furnished more matter of astonishment to those who had distantly observed, than to those who had correctly examined the system of his former political life. An abhorrence for abstract politics, a predilection for aristocracy, and a dread of innovation, have ever been among the most sacred articles of his public creed. ...

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Vindiciae Gallicae: Section I: The General Expediency and Necessity of a Revolution in France

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pp. 11-56

It is asserted in many passages* of Mr. Burke’s work, though no where with that precision which the importance of the assertion demanded, that the French Revolution was not only in its parts reprehensible, but in the whole was absurd, inexpedient, and unjust; yet he has no where exactly informed us what he understands by the term. ...

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Vindiciae Gallicae: Section II: Of the Composition and Character of the National Assembly

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pp. 57-72

Events are rarely separated by the Historian from the character of those who are conspicuous in conducting them. From it alone they often receive the tinge which determines their moral colour.—What is admired as noble pride in Sully, would be execrated as intolerable arrogance in Richlieu. ...

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Vindiciae Gallicae: Section III: Popular Excesses which attended the Revolution

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pp. 73-90

That no great Revolutions can be accomplished without excesses and miseries at which humanity revolts, is a truth which cannot be denied. This unfortunately is true, in a peculiar manner, of those Revolutions, which, like that of France, are strictly popular. ...

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Vindiciae Gallicae: Section IV: New Constitution of France

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pp. 91-127

A dissertation approaching to completeness on the new Constitution of France would, in fact, be a vast system of political science. It would include a development of the principles that regulate every portion of Government. So immense an attempt is little suited to our present limits. ...

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Vindiciae Gallicae: Section V: English Admirers vindicated

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pp. 128-154

It is thus that Mr. Burke has spoken of the men and measures of a foreign nation, where patriotism could neither excuse his prepossession nor asperity; where no duty nor feeling ought to preclude him from adopting the feelings of disinterested posterity, and assuming the dispassionate tone of a philosopher and a historian. ...

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Vindiciae Gallicae: Section VI: Speculations on the probable Consequences of the French Revolution in Europe

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pp. 155-166

There is perhaps only one opinion about the French Revolution in which its friends and its enemies agree. They both conceive that its influence will not be confined to France; they both predict that it will produce important changes in the general state of Europe. This is the theme of the exultation of its admirers, ...

A Letter

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pp. 167

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pp. 168

Publications on fugitive topics, though from their nature sometimes less dubiously useful to mankind than more permanent works, are so little a source of reputation, that their Authors have commonly thought it prudent to withhold their names. ...

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A Letter to the Right Honourable William Pitt on His Apostacy from the Cause of Parliamentary Reform

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pp. 169-189

History records too many examples of political apostacy to make any case of that sort new or singular. Yet with all your knowledge in that branch of history, to which congenial sentiments must have naturally pointed your studies, I doubt whether you can produce many instances in which ...

Appendix to “A Letter to the Right Honourable William Pitt”

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pp. 190-202

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A Discourse on the Law of Nature and Nations

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pp. 203-249

Before I begin a course of lectures on a science of great extent and importance, I think it my duty to lay before the public the reasons which have induced me to undertake such a labour, as well as a short account of the nature and objects of the course which I propose to deliver. ...

Appendix to the “Discourse”: Extracts from the Lectures

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pp. 250-258

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On the State of France in 1815.

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pp. 259-273

To appreciate the effects of the French Revolution on the people of France, is an undertaking for which no man now alive has sufficient materials, or sufficient impartiality, even if he had sufficient ability. It is a task from which Tacitus and Machiavel would have shrunk; and to which the little pamphleteers, who speak on it with dogmatism, ...

Appendix to “On the State of France in 1815”

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pp. 274-278

Chronology of James Mackintosh’s Life

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pp. 279-282

Selective Chronology of Events Relating to the French Revolution and Parliamentary Reform in Britain

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pp. 283-288

Dramatis Personae

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pp. 289-300


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pp. 301-321

Publication Information

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E-ISBN-13: 9781614878278
E-ISBN-10: 1614878277
Print-ISBN-13: 9780865974630

Page Count: 341
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: None

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Subject Headings

  • Burke, Edmund, 1729-1797. Reflections on the Revolution in France.
  • France -- Politics and government -- 1789-1799.
  • France -- History -- Revolution, 1789-1799 -- Causes.
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