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FrRevol_351-400.indd 7 3/16/12 1:09 PM CHAPTER XVI Ofthe Government Called the Reign ofTerror. We know not how to approach the fourteen months which followed the proscription of the Gironde on the 31st of May, 1793ยท We seem as if we were descending, like Dante, from circle to circle, always lower in hell. To the animosity against the nobles and the priests succeeded a feeling of irritation against the landholders, next against talents, then even against beauty; finally, against whatever was to be found great or generous in human nature. At this epoch, facts become confused, and we are afraid of being unable to enter into such a history without leaving on the imagination indelible traces of blood. We are therefore forced to take a philosophical view ofevents, on which the eloquence ofindignation might be exhausted without satisfying the internal sentiment which they awaken. Doubtless, in taking away all restraints from the people, they were placed in a condition to commit every crime; but whence comes it that this people was so depraved? The government, which is spoken of as an object of regret, had time to have formed the nation which showed itself so culpable. The priests, whose instruction, example, and riches are fitted, we are told, to do so much good, had presided over the childhood of the generation which now turned against them. The class that rose into action in 1789 was of course accustomed to those privileges of feudal nobility, so particularly agreeable, we are still assured, to the persons by whom their weight must be borne. Whence comes it, then, that so many vices germinated under the ancient institutions? Let it not be pretended that the other nations of our days would have shown themselves similar if a revolution had taken place among them. French influence triggered insurrections in Holland and Switzerland, and nothing resembling Jacobinism FrRevol_351-400.indd 8 3/16/12 1:09 PM PART III manifested itself there. During the forty years of the history ofEngland, which in so many points of view may be assimilated to that of France, there is no period that can be compared to the fourteen months ofterror. What must we conclude from this? That for a century past no people had been so miserable as the people of France. If the negroes at St. Domingo committed a much greater number of atrocities,1 it is because they had been still more oppressed. It by no means follows from these reflections that the crimes deserve less detestation; but after more than twenty years, we should unite to the lively indignation ofcontemporaries the enlightened scrutinywhich ought to serve as a guide for the future. Religious disputes provoked the English Revolution: love of equality, the subterraneous volcano of France/ likewise inflamed the sect of the Puritans; but the English were then really religious, and religious Protestants-a circumstance which increases at once austerity and moderation. Although England, like France, polluted herself with the murder of Charles I and the despotism of Cromwell, the reign of the Jacobins is a frightful singularity, the burden of which, in history, must be borne exclusively by France. He, however, has not thought much on the subject of civil disorders who does not know that reaction is equal to the action. The fury of revolts supplies the measure ofthe .vices ofinstitutions; and it is not to the government which is wished for, but to that which has long existed, that we must ascribe the moral state of a nation. At present it is said that the French have been corrupted by the Revolution. But whence come the reckless propensities which expanded themselves so violently in the first years of the Revolution, ifnot from a century of superstition and arbitrary power? It seemed in 1793 that there was no more room for revolutions in France, when everything was overturned, the throne, the nobility, the clergy, and when the success of the armies gave reason to expect peace with Europe. But it is precisely when the danger is past that popular tyrannies are established: so long as there are obstacles and fears, the worst r. Reference to the revolts in Haiti in 1791-92. 2. This idea would play a key role in Tocqueville's The Old Regime and the Revolution. FrRevol_351-400.indd 9 3/16/12 1:09 PM CHAPTER XVI. Reign ofTerror men observe moderation: when they have triumphed, their restrained passions show themselves without a curb. The Girondists...


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