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What The World Lost And Gained from The Triumph Of Christianity

What The World Lost And Gained from The Triumph Of Christianity

What The World Lost And Gained from The Triumph Of Christianity - History

Initial voyages to the New World by Columbus spurred an era of exploration and invasion by other European empires.

Learning Objectives

Examine the causes and consequences of European exploration and expansion

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Spanish exploration of the New World was led by Christopher Columbus and Juan Ponce de Leon, who invaded and colonized great parts of what would become South, Central, and North America.
  • The French Empire, led by Jacques Cartier and Giovanni da Verrazano, focused predominantly on North America.
  • The Dutch in New Netherland confined their operations to Manhattan Island, Long Island, the Hudson River Valley, and what later became New Jersey.
  • British explorations of the New World were led by John Cabot and Sir Walter Raleigh. Trading companies, such as the Plymouth and London companies, were granted charters to develop and expand British settlements.
  • The course of New World explorations was deeply affected by the settlers’ interactions with indigenous groups—interactions that, through a combination of violence and disease, resulted in massive declines in indigenous populations.

Key Terms

  • British Empire: The United Kingdom, together with its dominions, colonies, dependencies, trust territories, and protectorates became the Commonwealth of Nations following the independence of many of its constituent countries.
  • New World: The continents of North America and South America combined.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus, supported by the Spanish government, undertook a voyage to find a new route to Asia and inadvertently encountered “new” lands in the Americas full of long established communities and cultures. Other European countries quickly followed suit and began to explore and invade the New World. Jacques Cartier undertook a voyage to present-day Canada for the French government, where they began the settlement of New France, developing the fur industry and fostering a more respectful relationship with many of the inhabitants. The Spanish conquistadors invaded areas of Central and South America looking for riches, ultimately destroying the powerful Aztec and Inca cultures. The course of New World explorations was deeply affected by the invaders’ interactions with indigenous groups—interactions that, through a combination of violence and disease, resulted in massive declines in indigenous populations.

Christopher Columbus on the Santa Maria in 1492: Painting by Emanuel Leutze. On the evening of August 3, 1492, Columbus departed from Palos de la Frontera with three ships: a larger carrack, the Santa María ex-Gallega (“Galician”) and two smaller caravels, the Pinta (“Painted”) and the Santa Clara, nicknamed the Niña (“Girl”) after her owner Juan Niño of Moguer.

The Spanish Empire

Colonial expansion under the Spanish Empire was initiated by the Spanish conquistadors and developed by the Monarchy of Spain through its administrators and missionaries. The motivations for colonial expansion were trade and the spread of the Christian faith through indigenous conversions.

The Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon was an early invader of the Americas, traveling to the New World on Columbus’ second voyage. He became the first governor of Puerto Rico in 1509. Upon the death of Christopher Columbus, the Spanish did not allow Christopher’s son, who like his father had committed atrocities upon the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean, to succeed him. Instead, the governors were replaced with successors from Spain. Leon found a peninsula on the coast of North America and called the new land Florida, chartering a colonizing expedition. His presence there was brief, however, as he was attacked by American Indian forces and subsequently died in nearby Cuba.

By 1565, Spanish forces looked to expand their influence and Catholic religion in the New World by attacking the French settlement of Fort Caroline. The Spanish navy overwhelmed 200 French Huguenot settlers and slaughtered them, even as they surrendered to Spain’s superior military. Spain formed the settlement of St. Augustine as an outpost to ensure that French Huguenots were no longer welcome in the area. St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European-established city in North America.

The French Empire

Major French exploration of North America began under the rule of Francis I, King of France. In 1524, Francis sent Italian-born Giovanni da Verrazano to explore the region between Florida and Newfoundland for a route to the Pacific Ocean. Verrazano gave the names Francesca and Nova Gallia to that land between New Spain and English Newfoundland, thus promoting French interests.

From the middle of the 16th century forward, France tried to establish several colonies throughout North America that failed due to weather, disease, or conflict with other European powers. A major French settlement lay on the island of Hispaniola, where France established the colony of Saint-Domingue on the western third of the island in 1664. Nicknamed the “Pearl of the Antilles,” Saint-Domingue became the richest colony in the Caribbean at that time. This colonial era ended with a slave revolt in 1791, which began the Haitian Revolution and led to freedom for the colony’s slaves in 1794 and complete independence for the country a decade later. France also briefly ruled the eastern portion of the island, which is now the Dominican Republic.

French habitants, or farmer-settlers, eked out an existence along the St. Lawrence River. French fur traders and missionaries, however, ranged far into the interior of North America, exploring the Great Lakes region and the Mississippi River. These pioneers gave France somewhat inflated imperial claims to lands that nonetheless remained firmly under the dominion of indigenous peoples.

The Dutch Empire

Seventeenth-century French and Dutch colonies in North America were modest in comparison to Spain’s colossal global empire. New France and New Netherland remained small commercial operations focused on the fur trade and did not attract an influx of migrants. The Dutch in New Netherland confined their operations to Manhattan Island, Long Island, the Hudson River Valley, and what later became New Jersey. Dutch trade goods circulated widely among the native peoples in these areas and also traveled well into the interior of the continent along pre-existing native trade routes.

The British Empire

Shortly after Columbus’ first voyage to the New World, the British Empire funded an exploratory mission of its own led by John Cabot. Cabot explored the North American continent, correctly deducing that the spherical shape of the earth made the north—where the longitudes are much shorter—a quicker route to the New World than a trip to the South Islands where Columbus was exploring. Encouraged, he asked the English monarchy for a more substantial expedition to further explore and settle the lands. He was successful in obtaining the expedition and the ships departed, never to be seen again.

England also took over the Dutch colony of New Netherland (including the New Amsterdam settlement), which was renamed the Province of New York in 1664. With New Netherland, the English also came to control New Sweden (now Delaware), which the Dutch had conquered earlier. In the north, the Hudson Bay Company actively traded for fur with the indigenous peoples, bringing them into competition with French, Aboriginal, and Metis fur traders. The company came to control the entire drainage basin of Hudson Bay, which they called Rupert’s Land.

At the start of the 17th century, the English had not established a permanent settlement in the Americas. Over the next century, however, they outpaced their rivals. The English encouraged emigration far more than the Spanish, French, or Dutch. They established nearly a dozen colonies, sending swarms of immigrants to populate the land. England had experienced a dramatic rise in population in the 16th century, and the colonies appeared a welcoming place for those who faced overcrowding and grinding poverty at home. Thousands of English migrants arrived in the Chesapeake Bay colonies of Virginia and Maryland to work in the tobacco fields. Another stream, this one of pious Puritan families, sought to live as they believed scripture demanded and established the Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, New Haven, Connecticut, and Rhode Island colonies of New England.

Early Map of the Atlantic Ocean: This map illustrates early notions of the geography of the Atlantic Ocean, which directly influenced Columbus’s plans.

A Welcome Review of The Triumph of Christianity

It is every author’s dream to have a book reviewed in the Sunday New York Times Book Review. I’ve never had that happen before. Until now. This Sunday The Triumph of Christianity will be reviewed by Tom Bissell, whose writings some of you may know.

Most reviews in the NYT bring out both the outstanding features and the shortcomings of the book under consideration. A damning review can be devastating. Rarely is a review all praise. I would say this one is extremely generous and exceedingly gratifying, written by a knowledgeable scholar who “got” the book.

You can see it here, with graphics: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/13/books/review/bart-d-ehrman-the-triumph-of-christianity.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fbook-review&action=click&contentCollection=review&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=6&pgtype=sectionfront

But here is the text of the review itself:

How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World
By Bart D. Ehrman
335 pp. Simon & Schuster. $28.

“I used to believe absolutely everything that Bill just presented,” the scholar Bart D. Ehrman once said during a 2006 debate with the conservative theologian William Lane Craig. “He and I went to the same evangelical Christian college, Wheaton, where these things are taught. … I used to believe them with my whole heart and soul. I used to preach them and try to convince others that they were true. But then I began … looking at them deeply myself.”

Ehrman, in other words, is no longer an evangelical, or even a Christian. Although he’s written a number of valuable books on the shortcomings of fundamentalist readings of Scripture, not every enemy of fundamentalism has approved. On his popular blog, Ehrman has occasionally responded to personal attacks by the atheist crowd, who do not share his considered equanimity. In 32 years, he’s managed to write or edit more than 30 books, while also pausing to debate Christology with Stephen Colbert.

The field of New Testament studies has never been a reliable starting point for scholars seeking publishing superstardom. One explanation for this is the subject matter itself. A true understanding of the forces that shaped Christianity — seemingly familiar but in fact highly arcane — requires the ability to synthesize and express deep learning in a dozen interlocking subjects. Ehrman, who considers himself a historian but has done extensive work in textual criticism, has managed to achieve his remarkable renown by writing a string of best sellers that skillfully mine and simplify his more scholarly work.

That may sound pejorative, but it’s not. Ehrman’s outreach to a popular audience — among whom I happily include myself — is wholly to the good, if only because throughout history average Christians have proved oddly unwilling to dig into the particularities of their faith, beyond familiarizing themselves with a few tentpole doctrines. They share this reluctance with one of Christianity’s most spectacular converts, the Roman emperor Constantine, who credited his victory at the Milvian Bridge in A.D. 312 to the auspices of the Christian deity, despite not knowing much about Christianity, including the degree to which it was riven by sectarian disagreement. The following year, Constantine co-issued the Edict of Milan, granting Christians the right to practice their faith unmolested.

In “The Triumph of Christianity,” Ehrman describes the Edict of Milan (which was neither an edict nor written in Milan) as the Western world’s first known government document to proclaim the freedom of belief. At the time, Ehrman notes, “Christianity probably made up 7 to 10 percent of the population of the Roman Empire.” A mere hundred years later, half the empire’s “60 million inhabitants claimed allegiance to the Christian tradition.” Ehrman declares, without hyperbole, “That is absolutely extraordinary.”

Over the centuries, countless books have been written to explain this, a great many of them by Christian writers and scholars who take the Constantinian view: Their faith’s unlikely triumph was (and is) proof of divine favor. Interestingly, pagan advisers argued in vain to the first Christian Roman emperors that pagan beliefs had been what won the empire favor in the first place. When the emperor Valentinian II removed the altar of the goddess Victory from the Roman Senate house in A.D. 382, for instance, a pagan statesman named Symmachus reminded him, “This worship subdued the world.”

Very little about the historical triumph of Christianity makes sense. When Constantine converted, the New Testament didn’t formally exist and Christians disagreed on basic theological concepts, among them how Jesus and God were related. For those living at the time, Ehrman writes, “it would have been virtually impossible to imagine that these Christians would eventually destroy the other religions of Rome.” Some saw glimmers of danger, however. An otherwise unknown pagan philosopher named Celsus wrote a tract called “On the True Doctrine” that attacked Christians’ penchant for secrecy, refusal to partake in public worship and naked appeals to “slaves, women and little children.”

The great appeal of Ehrman’s approach to Christian history has always been his steadfast humanizing impulse. In his superb book “The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture,” which concerns textual variants in early Christian texts that were driven by theological agendas, Ehrman argues that these corruptions weren’t typically the product of willful obfuscation but rather the work of careful scribes trying to make sense of often perplexing language, imagery and traditions. Ehrman always thinks hard about history’s winners and losers without valorizing the losers or demonizing the winners. The losers here, of course, were pagan people.

Ehrman rejects the idea that Constantine’s conversion made much difference the empire, he writes, would most likely have turned Christian in time without him. So how did Christianity triumph? To put it plainly, Christianity was something new on this earth. It wasn’t closed to women. It was so concerned with questions of social welfare (healing the sick, caring for the poor) that it embedded them into its doctrines. And while there were plenty of henotheist pagans (that is, people who worshiped one god while not denying the validity of others), Christianity went far beyond henotheism’s hesitant claim upon ultimate truth. It was an exclusivist faith that foreclosed — was designed to foreclose — devotion to all other deities. Yet it was different from Judaism, which was just as exclusivist but crucially lacked a missionary impulse.

Ehrman, summarizing the argument of the social historian Ramsay MacMullen (author of Christianizing the Roman Empire), imagines a crowd of 100 pagans watching a persuasive Christian debate an equally persuasive adherent of the healing god Asclepius: “What happens to the overall relationship of (inclusive) paganism and (exclusive) Christianity? … Paganism has lost 50 worshipers and gained no one, whereas Christianity has gained 50 worshipers and lost no one.” Thus, Christian believers go from roughly 1,000 in A.D. 60, to 40,000 in A.D. 150, to 2.5 million in A.D. 300. Ehrman allows that these raw numbers may look “incredible. But in fact they are simply the result of an exponential curve.” At a certain point, math took over. (Mormonism, which has been around less than 200 years, has seen comparable rates of growth.)

Ehrman quotes a valuable and moving letter from a devout pagan named Maximus, which was written to Augustine near the end of the fourth century: “God is the name common to all religions. … While we honor his parts (so to speak) separately … we are clearly worshiping him in his entirety.” But when pagan intellectuals decided to confront Christianity on its exclusivist terms — “We believe in one God as well!” — they effectively stranded themselves on their own 20-yard line. The heart-rending pagan inability to anticipate the complete erasure of their beliefs gave Christianity one clear path to victory.

And yet, when the caliga was on the other foot, Christians had different opinions about religious oppression and compulsion. Many of Christianity’s earliest apologists wrote of their longing to be left alone by the Roman state. Here is Tertullian: “It is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature, that everyone should worship according to his own convictions.” These Christians “devised,” Ehrman writes, somewhat cheekily, “the notion of the separation of church and state.” But when Christians seized control of the empire, the separation they had long argued for vanished. The charges once lobbed against Christians — atheism, superstition — were turned against pagan people.

Ehrman is careful to note that, for the most part, there was no Christian secret police forcing pagans to convert: The empire was too large and diffusely governed to make such an effort feasible. In addition, “there was no one moment when the world stopped being pagan to become Christian.” Rather, it happened in the manner of Hemingway’s theory of bankruptcy: gradually, then suddenly. Reading about how an entire culture’s precepts and traditions can be overthrown without anyone being able to stop it may not be heartening at this particular historical moment. All the more reason to spend time in the company of such a humane, thoughtful and intelligent historian.

Tom Bissell’s most recent book is “Apostle.” His essay collection “Magic Hours” is being reissued in paperback in March.

Hearth of Hellenism: Genocide and the &ldquoTriumph&rdquo of Christianity

Bart Ehrman is by far my favorite New Testament scholar. When I saw he was publishing a book on the rise of Christianity, I was excited, and curious to see how he would tackle this subject. Like all his previous works, Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World, is a digestible entry into the matter. I recommend you read it if you want to learn about this topic.

This entry of the Hearth of Hellenism is just a reflection on the topic of Christianization in the Roman world which were prompted by based on some material I read from Triumph of Christianity. My primary goal for reading Triumph of Christianity was to see how far Bart would go in recognizing the horror that the rise of Christianity was. I say horror because what happened to the &ldquopagans,&rdquo the people who followed their ancestral religions was nothing short of an ethnocide/genocide. Christianity, with state support, sought to eliminate their opposition through any means necessary. Christian leaders hated Greeks and believed the empire had to be purged clean of their false religion and culture.

How would Bart deal with this Christian terrorism that plagued the Roman Empire? Bart touches on the subject a little in the introduction and dedicates a chapter towards the end of the book dubbed &ldquoConversion and Coercion.&rdquo At the end of his summation of this chapter, Bart says &ldquoPaganism did not have to be destroyed by violent acts of Christians intolerance. It could, and did, die a natural death cut off from resources and abandoned by popular opinion.&rdquo I find this conclusion to be very soft and too neutral. I expected as much, how far would a New Testament scholar go side with polytheism? Academia has, in my opinion, has difficulty overall with giving any real sympathy for the pagans. It seems that what happened was just some sort of natural transformation and we really should not feel too bad or blame the Christians or the Emperors all that much in the end.

When Ehrman says &ldquodie a natural death cut off from resources and abandoned by popular opinion&rdquo is a nice way to say paganism starved to death. This can explain why it took many centuries for Christianity to eliminate their enemies. Starvation in this context is not a natural death by any stretch of the imagination though. Describing it in such bland terms that Ehrman uses overlooks what happened with the rise of Christianity. I think much of the issue regarding this subject stem from not orienting ourselves properly towards the destructive nature replacing traditional religions is. Because it is merely not just a religion that is replaced, but also an ethnic group&rsquos identity is eliminated in the process. This fact seems not to get enough attention or is not stressed enough.

Conversion to Christianity kills your native identity in a nutshell. This may not have been the case in the first or second centuries &ndash but once Christianity rises to the top of the government structure and that government gives support to only one religion and outlaws everything else, what do you think is going to happen?

Desecrated statue at Eleusis, photo by Mankey.

Why do I say Christianization of the empire was a genocide? Under Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide &ldquointent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such&rdquo is a &ldquomental element&rdquo of genocide. To become Christian meant giving up your ethnic identity and your heritage. In the case of Greeks, to become Christian meant to give up Hellenism, a Greek&rsquos ethnic way of life, and cultural identity. Their gods were not allowed to be worshiped, temples destroyed, books burned, and the closure of centers of learning all constitute an attack on a people with the intent to destroy. The intent is clear as day in the historical record. Non-Christians were indeed singled out and murdered, but what was more detrimental was the cultural destruction Hellenism which was attacked and replaced with Christinaity.

I also want to reference Article 7 of a 1994 draft of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People it stated that Indigenous People have the collective and individual right not to be subjected to ethnocide and cultural genocide:

(a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities

(b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources

(c) Any form of population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights

(d) Any form of assimilation or integration by other cultures or ways of life imposed on them by legislative, administrative or other measures

(e) Any form of propaganda directed against them.

Many of these criteria apply when we discuss Christianization of the Roman world. The religions and way of life of the people of the Roman world were the indigenous religions of the inhabitants of the empire. I will discuss only the first two to not make this blog excessively long.

1. Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities.

The numerous Imperial laws which ban ethnic religion and exclude non-Christians from high positions in the imperial administration, military and education satisfy this. Here is a list of some laws which demonstrate &ldquointent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.&rdquo Non-Christians could not pass down inheritances to their children and could lose their property for violating these laws.

Here is a short list of imperial legislation against Hellenism found in The Passion of the Greeks: Christianity and the Rape of the Hellenes by Evaggelos Vallianatos.

320: Domestic sacrifice prohibited
(Emperor Constantine, December 17, 320, Theodosian Code [ThC], 16.10.1)

346: Shutting down the temples and sacrifices
Temples shall be closed &ldquoin all places and all cities.&rdquo All men &ldquoshall abstain from sacrifices.&rdquo Anyone who commits the crime of offering sacrifice to the gods, &ldquohe shall be struck down with the avenging sword.&rdquo (Emperors Constantius and Constans, December 1, 346, ThC., 16.10.4)

380: Christianity the Religion of the Roman Empire
All people in the Roman Empire &ldquoshall practice that religion which the divine Peter the Apostle transmitted to the Romans.&rdquo We consider the non-Christians &ldquodemented and insane.&rdquo They will suffer &ldquothe heretical dogmas.&rdquo (Emperors Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosios, February 28, 380, ThC., 16.1.2)

381: Sacrifice Forbidden
Sacrifices are forbidden by day or night. No &ldquomadman&rdquo or &ldquosacrilegious person&rdquo ought to attempt, or think of, approaching any shrine or any temple for preforming criminal sacrifice. (Emperors Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosius, December 21, 381, ThC., 16.10.7)

392: No more worship of the household gods
No person will, &ldquoby more secret wickedness, venerate his lar with fire, his genius with wine, his penates with fragrant odors he shall not burn lights to the them, place incense before them, or suspend wreaths for them.&rdquo Those guilty of violating Christianity, will be punished with confiscation of their house or land in which they practiced their &ldquopagan superstition.&rdquo (Emperors Theodosios, Arcadius and Honorius, November 8, 392, ThC., 16.10.12)

396: End of the Eleusinian Mysteries
All privileges ever granted to civil priests, ministers, prefects, or hierophants of the sacred Eleusinian mysteries are &ldquocompletely abolished&rdquo &ndash the law now condemns their professions. (Emperors Arcadius and Honorius, December 7, 396, ThC 16.10.14)

416: No pagans need apply for government jobs
No pagan may join the imperial government service or &ldquobe honored with the rank of administrator or judge.&rdquo (Emperors Honorius and Theodosius II, December 7, 416, ThC 16.10.21)

484: Killing Hellenism
Bishops and government agents should find and punish teachers of Hellenic studies. They should not be allowed to teach, least they corrupt their students. Bishops and government agents should put Greek teachers out of business, bringing the &ldquoimpieties&rdquo of Hellenism to an end. No one shall leave a gift or bequeath anything to Greeks or to schools, and other institutions supporting the &ldquoimpiety&rdquo of Hellenism. All previous legislation against the &ldquoerror&rdquo of the Greeks I reaffirmed. (Emperor Zeno, C 482-484, Codex Iustinianus 1.11.9-10)

These laws have been largely dismissed, as spotty enforced and that the constant reaffirmation showed their ineffectiveness. Regardless of the effectiveness, these laws demonstrate state-sponsored anti-Hellenic actions with intent to do harm to non-Christians. I think most are not able don&rsquot grasp the severity of this because it is presented as attacking &ldquopagans&rdquo &ndash a term which I reckon does not resonate sympathy with modern readers. When you label and talk about the people of the Roman Empire, the non-Christians as &ldquopagan&rdquo &ndash they become faceless, what does it mean to the average person? Pagan largely has no meaning to most people. However, when you read the law codes directly they don&rsquot say pagan, they say Greek. These laws attacked Greeks (Hellenes) and anyone who partakes in the Greek way of life (Hellenism).

2. Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources

The agrarian/religious system of the Greeks was under constant attack by Christianity. I wish I had time to go into explaining the agricultural system in Greece and its importance in economic/political/religious terms. This requires analysis from classical Greece to Byzantium, and I don&rsquot have the space for that here. In simple terms, the Greek identity and sense of freedom were deeply tied to their land. The land had economic, political, and religious significance. When Rome conquered Greece, over time, land ownership became consolidated &ndash creating large landowners. A somewhat good analogy would be what Walmart has done to mom and pop shops when they enter rural communities.

Jumping a little forward, the trend of large land ownership persisted. With the rise of Christianity and forward, churches gained control over land, replacing temples as they were destroyed. Imperial estates would be sold to the Church or the aristocracy, who then exploited the poor. In the West, Pope Gregory the Great, enslaved peasants to owners of plantations, setting up Western Europe for feudalism, the world&rsquos most oppressive agrarian, social, and political system.

Bishops demanded the Greek stop celebrating their festivals. Festivals for Dionysus that connected the people to their land, framing, and harvest. It took centuries to accomplish this, Dionysus was worshipped as late as the twelfth century! Removing Dionysus was essential for breaking the Greek farmer&rsquos spirit and happiness (theatre attendance was also banned/condemned, another attack on Dionysus).

George Gemistos Plethon (1355-1452) the Platonic philosopher in Constantinople pushed the Emperor to end the plantations in the Peloponnese and reintroduce an agrarian republic (based on the Greek model), ending the large land ownership and landless peasant problem. Even more radical, Plethon advocated for the reestablishment of the Greek gods and culture.

The Emperor did nothing, the ghosts of Hellenism, an agrarian republic, and the Gods were both too much for consideration. The Greek way of life was too alien by this point for anyone in power to consider it a viable reality anymore. Public ethnic Greek identity was gone thanks to centuries of persecution and cultural destruction. What the people had become were Roman Christians. The so-called Byzantine Empire, which is characterized as &ldquoGreek,&rdquo was far from Greek, the people called themselves Romaioi. Greek was not a viable self-identity. The &ldquotriumph&rdquo was secured thanks to the intentional destruction of the Greek people. A &ldquonatural death&rdquo it was not.

Lists with This Book


Historians generally view the underlying causes of the French Revolution as the result of the Ancien Régime's failure to manage social and economic inequality. Rapid population growth and the inability to adequately finance government debt resulted in economic depression, unemployment and high food prices. [6] These combined with a regressive tax system and resistance to reform by the ruling elite to produce a crisis Louis XVI proved unable to manage. [7] [8]

From the late 17th century on, political and cultural debate became part of wider European society, rather than being confined to a small elite. This took different forms, such as the English 'coffeehouse culture', and extended to areas colonised by Europeans, particularly British North America. Contacts between diverse groups in Edinburgh, Geneva, Boston, Amsterdam, Paris, London or Vienna were much greater than often appreciated. [9]

Transnational elites who shared ideas and styles were not new what changed was their extent and the numbers involved. [10] Under Louis XIV, the Court at Versailles was the centre of culture, fashion and political power. Improvements in education and literacy over the course of the 18th century meant larger audiences for newspapers and journals, with Masonic lodges, coffee houses and reading clubs providing areas where people could debate and discuss ideas. The emergence of this so-called "public sphere" led to Paris replacing Versailles as the cultural and intellectual centre, leaving the Court isolated and less able to influence opinion. [11]

In addition to these social changes, the French population grew from 18 million in 1700 to 26 million in 1789, making it the most populous state in Europe Paris had over 600,000 inhabitants, of whom roughly one third were either unemployed or had no regular work. [12] Inefficient agricultural methods meant domestic farmers could not support these numbers, while primitive transportation networks made it hard to maintain supplies even when there was sufficient. As a result, food prices rose by 65% between 1770 and 1790, yet real wages increased by only 22%. [13] Food shortages were particularly damaging for the regime, since many blamed price increases on government failure to prevent profiteering. [14] By the spring of 1789, a poor harvest followed by a severe winter had created a rural peasantry with nothing to sell, and an urban proletariat whose purchasing power had collapsed. [15]

The other major drag on the economy was state debt. Traditional views of the French Revolution often attribute the financial crisis to the costs of the 1778–1783 Anglo-French War, but modern economic studies show this is only a partial explanation. In 1788, the ratio of debt to gross national income in France was 55.6%, compared to 181.8% in Britain, and although French borrowing costs were higher, the percentage of revenue devoted to interest payments was roughly the same in both countries. [16] One historian concludes "neither the level of French state debt in 1788, or its previous history, can be considered an explanation for the outbreak of revolution in 1789". [17]

The problem was French taxes were predominantly paid by the urban and rural poor, while attempts to share the burden more equally were blocked by the regional parlements which controlled financial policy. [18] The resulting impasse in the face of widespread economic distress led to the calling of the Estates-General, which became radicalised by the struggle for control of public finances. [19]

Although not indifferent to the crisis, when faced with opposition Louis tended to back down. [20] The court became the target of popular anger, especially Queen Marie-Antoinette, who was viewed as a spendthrift Austrian spy, and blamed for the dismissal of 'progressive' ministers like Jacques Necker. For their opponents, Enlightenment ideas on equality and democracy provided an intellectual framework for dealing with these issues, while the American Revolution was seen as confirmation of their practical application. [21]

Financial crisis

The French state faced a series of budgetary crises during the 18th century, caused primarily by structural deficiencies rather than lack of resources. Unlike Britain, where Parliament determined both expenditures and taxes, in France, the Crown controlled spending, but not revenue. [22] National taxes could only be approved by the Estates-General, which had not sat since 1614 its revenue functions had been assumed by regional parlements, the most powerful being the Parlement de Paris' (see Map). [23]

Although willing to authorise one-time taxes, these bodies were reluctant to pass long-term measures, while collection was outsourced to private individuals. This significantly reduced the yield from those that were approved and as a result, France struggled to service its debt despite being larger and wealthier than Britain. [22] Following partial default in 1770, reforms were instituted by Turgot, the Finance Minister, which by 1776 had balanced the budget and reduced government borrowing costs from 12% per year to under 6%. Despite this success, he was dismissed in May 1776 after arguing France could not afford intervention in North America. [24]

He was succeeded by Swiss Protestant Jacques Necker, who was replaced in 1781 by Charles de Calonne. [25] The war was financed by state debt, creating a large rentier class who lived on the interest, primarily members of the French nobility or commercial classes. By 1785 the government was struggling to cover these payments and since default would ruin much of French society, this meant increasing taxes. When the parlements refused to comply, Calonne persuaded Louis to summon the Assembly of Notables, an advisory council dominated by the upper nobility. The council refused, arguing this could only be approved by the Estates, and in May 1787 Calonne was replaced by the man responsible, de Brienne, a former archbishop of Toulouse. [26] [a] By 1788, debt owed by the French Crown totalled an unprecedented 4.5 billion livres, while devaluing the coinage caused runaway inflation. [28] In an effort to resolve the crisis, Necker was re-appointed Finance Minister in August 1788 but was unable to reach an agreement on how to increase revenue and in May 1789 Louis summoned the Estates-General for the first time in over a hundred and fifty years. [29]

Estates-General of 1789

The Estates-General was divided into three parts the First for members of the clergy, Second for the nobility, and Third for the "commons". [30] Each sat separately, enabling the First and Second Estates to outvote the Third, despite representing less than 5% of the population, while both were largely exempt from tax. [31]

In the 1789 elections, the First Estate returned 303 deputies, representing 100,000 Catholic clergy nearly 10% of French lands were owned directly by individual bishops and monasteries, in addition to tithes paid by peasants. [32] More than two-thirds of the clergy lived on less than 500 livres per year, and were often closer to the urban and rural poor than those elected for the Third Estate, where voting was restricted to male French taxpayers, aged 25 or over. [33] As a result, half of the 610 deputies elected to the Third Estate in 1789 were lawyers or local officials, nearly a third businessmen, while fifty-one were wealthy land owners. [34]

The Second Estate elected 291 deputies, representing about 400,000 men and women, who owned about 25% of the land and collected seigneurial dues and rents from their tenants. Like the clergy, this was not a uniform body, and was divided into the noblesse d'épée, or traditional aristocracy, and the noblesse de robe. The latter derived rank from judicial or administrative posts and tended to be hard-working professionals, who dominated the regional parlements and were often intensely socially conservative. [35]

To assist delegates, each region completed a list of grievances, known as Cahiers de doléances. [36] Although they contained ideas that would have seemed radical only months before, most supported the monarchy, and assumed the Estates-General would agree to financial reforms, rather than fundamental constitutional change. [37] The lifting of press censorship allowed widespread distribution of political writings, mostly written by liberal members of the aristocracy and upper middle-class. [38] Abbé Sieyès, a political theorist and priest elected to the Third Estate, argued it should take precedence over the other two as it represented 95% of the population. [39]

The Estates-General convened in the Menus-Plaisirs du Roi on 5 May 1789, near the Palace of Versailles rather than in Paris the choice of location was interpreted as an attempt to control their debates. As was customary, each Estate assembled in separate rooms, whose furnishings and opening ceremonies deliberately emphasised the superiority of the First and Second Estates. They also insisted on enforcing the rule that only those who owned land could sit as deputies for the Second Estate, and thus excluded the immensely popular Comte de Mirabeau. [40]

As separate assemblies meant the Third Estate could always be outvoted by the other two, Sieyès sought to combine all three. His method was to require all deputies be approved by the Estates-General as a whole, instead of each Estate verifying its own members. Since this meant the legitimacy of deputies derived from the Estates-General, they would have to continue sitting as one body. [41] After an extended stalemate, on 10 June the Third Estate proceeded to verify its own deputies, a process completed on 17 June two days later, they were joined by over 100 members of the First Estate, and declared themselves the National Assembly. The remaining deputies from the other two Estates were invited to join, but the Assembly made it clear they intended to legislate with or without their support. [42]

In an attempt to prevent the Assembly from convening, Louis XVI ordered the Salle des États closed down, claiming it needed to be prepared for a royal speech. On 20 June, the Assembly met in a tennis court outside Versailles and swore not to disperse until a new constitution had been agreed. Messages of support poured in from Paris and other cities by 27 June, they had been joined by the majority of the First Estate, plus forty-seven members of the Second, and Louis backed down. [43]

Abolition of the Ancien Régime

Even these limited reforms went too far for reactionaries like Marie Antoinette and Louis' younger brother the Comte d'Artois on their advice, Louis dismissed Necker again as chief minister on 11 July. [44] On 12 July, the Assembly went into a non-stop session after rumours circulated he was planning to use the Swiss Guards to force it to close. The news brought crowds of protestors into the streets, and soldiers of the elite Gardes Françaises regiment refused to disperse them. [45]

On the 14th, many of these soldiers joined the mob in attacking the Bastille, a royal fortress with large stores of arms and ammunition. The governor de Launay surrendered after several hours of fighting that cost the lives of 83 attackers. Taken to the Hôtel de Ville, he was executed, his head placed on a pike and paraded around the city the fortress was then torn down in a remarkably short time. Although rumoured to hold many prisoners, the Bastille held only seven: four forgers, two noblemen held for "immoral behaviour", and a murder suspect. Nevertheless, as a potent symbol of the Ancien Régime, its destruction was viewed as a triumph and Bastille Day is still celebrated every year. [46]

Alarmed by the prospect of losing control of the capital, Louis appointed Lafayette commander of the National Guard, with Jean-Sylvain Bailly as head of a new administrative structure known as the Commune. On 17 July, he visited Paris accompanied by 100 deputies, where he was greeted by Bailly and accepted a tricolore cockade to loud cheers. However, it was clear power had shifted from his court he was welcomed as 'Louis XVI, father of the French and king of a free people.' [47]

The short-lived unity enforced on the Assembly by a common threat quickly dissipated. Deputies argued over constitutional forms, while civil authority rapidly deteriorated. On 22 July, former Finance Minister Joseph Foullon and his son were lynched by a Parisian mob, and neither Bailly nor Lafayette could prevent it. In rural areas, wild rumours and paranoia resulted in the formation of militia and an agrarian insurrection known as la Grande Peur. [48] The breakdown of law and order and frequent attacks on aristocratic property led much of the nobility to flee abroad. These émigrés funded reactionary forces within France and urged foreign monarchs to back a counter-revolution. [49]

In response, the Assembly published the August Decrees which abolished feudalism and other privileges held by the nobility, notably exemption from tax. Other decrees included equality before the law, opening public office to all, freedom of worship, and cancellation of special privileges held by provinces and towns. [50] Over 25% of French farmland was subject to feudal dues, which provided most of the income for large landowners these were now cancelled, along with tithes due to the church. The intention was for tenants to pay compensation for these losses but the majority refused to comply and the obligation was cancelled in 1793. [51]

With the suspension of the 13 regional parlements in November, the key institutional pillars of the old regime had all been abolished in less than four months. From its early stages, the Revolution therefore displayed signs of its radical nature what remained unclear was the constitutional mechanism for turning intentions into practical applications. [52]

Creating a new constitution

Assisted by Thomas Jefferson, Lafayette prepared a draft constitution known as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which echoed some of the provisions of the Declaration of Independence. However France had reached no consensus on the role of the Crown, and until this question was settled, it was impossible to create political institutions. When presented to the legislative committee on 11 July, it was rejected by pragmatists such as Jean Joseph Mounier, President of the Assembly, who feared creating expectations that could not be satisfied. [53]

After editing by Mirabeau, it was published on 26 August as a statement of principle. [54] It contained provisions considered radical in any European society, let alone 1789 France, and while historians continue to debate responsibility for its wording, most agree the reality is a mix. Although Jefferson made major contributions to Lafayette's draft, he himself acknowledged an intellectual debt to Montesquieu, and the final version was significantly different. [55] French historian Georges Lefebvre argues that combined with the elimination of privilege and feudalism, it "highlighted equality in a way the (American Declaration of Independence) did not". [56]

More importantly, the two differed in intent Jefferson saw the US Constitution and Bill of Rights as fixing the political system at a specific point in time, claiming they 'contained no original thought. but expressed the American mind' at that stage. [57] The 1791 French Constitution was viewed as a starting point, the Declaration providing an aspirational vision, a key difference between the two Revolutions. Attached as a preamble to the French Constitution of 1791, and that of the 1870 to 1940 French Third Republic, it was incorporated into the current Constitution of France in 1958. [58]

Discussions continued. Mounier, supported by conservatives like Gérard de Lally-Tollendal, wanted a bicameral system, with an upper house appointed by the king, who would have the right of veto. On 10 September, the majority led by Sieyès and Talleyrand rejected this in favour of a single assembly, while Louis retained only a "suspensive veto" this meant he could delay the implementation of a law, but not block it. On this basis, a new committee was convened to agree on a constitution the most controversial issue was citizenship, linked to the debate on the balance between individual rights and obligations. Ultimately, the 1791 Constitution distinguished between 'active citizens' who held political rights, defined as French males over the age of 25, who paid direct taxes equal to three days' labour, and 'passive citizens', who were restricted to 'civil rights'. As a result, it was never fully accepted by radicals in the Jacobin club. [59]

Food shortages and the worsening economy caused frustration at the lack of progress, and the Parisian working-class, or sans culottes, became increasingly restive. This came to a head in late September, when the Flanders Regiment arrived in Versailles to take over as the royal bodyguard and in line with normal practice were welcomed with a ceremonial banquet. Popular anger was fuelled by press descriptions of this as a 'gluttonous orgy', and claims the tricolor cockade had been abused. The arrival of these troops was also viewed as an attempt to intimidate the Assembly. [60]

On 5 October 1789, crowds of women assembled outside the Hôtel de Ville, urging action to reduce prices and improve bread supplies. [61] These protests quickly turned political, and after seizing weapons stored at the Hôtel de Ville, some 7,000 marched on Versailles, where they entered the Assembly to present their demands. They were followed by 15,000 members of the National Guard under Lafayette, who tried to dissuade them, but took command when it became clear they would desert if he did not grant their request. [62]

When the National Guard arrived later that evening, Lafayette persuaded Louis the safety of his family required relocation to Paris. Next morning, some of the protestors broke into the Royal apartments, searching for Marie Antoinette, who escaped. They ransacked the palace, killing several guards. Although the situation remained tense, order was eventually restored, and the Royal family and Assembly left for Paris, escorted by the National Guard. [63] Announcing his acceptance of the August Decrees and the Declaration, Louis committed to constitutional monarchy, and his official title changed from 'King of France' to 'King of the French'. [64]

Revolution and the church

Historian John McManners argues "in eighteenth-century France, throne and altar were commonly spoken of as in close alliance their simultaneous collapse . would one day provide the final proof of their interdependence." One suggestion is that after a century of persecution, some French Protestants actively supported an anti-Catholic regime, a resentment fuelled by Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire. [65] Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote it was "manifestly contrary to the law of nature. that a handful of people should gorge themselves with superfluities while the hungry multitude goes in want of necessities." [66]

The Revolution caused a massive shift of power from the Catholic Church to the state although the extent of religious belief has been questioned, elimination of tolerance for religious minorities meant by 1789 being French also meant being Catholic. [67] The church was the largest individual landowner in France, controlling nearly 10% of all estates and levied tithes, effectively a 10% tax on income, collected from peasant farmers in the form of crops. In return, it provided a minimal level of social support. [68]

The August decrees abolished tithes, and on 2 November the Assembly confiscated all church property, the value of which was used to back a new paper currency known as assignats. In return, the state assumed responsibilities such as paying the clergy and caring for the poor, the sick and the orphaned. [69] On 13 February 1790, religious orders and monasteries were dissolved, while monks and nuns were encouraged to return to private life. [70]

The Civil Constitution of the Clergy of 12 July 1790 made them employees of the state, as well as establishing rates of pay and a system for electing priests and bishops. Pope Pius VI and many French Catholics objected to this since it denied the authority of the Pope over the French Church. In October, thirty bishops wrote a declaration denouncing the law, further fuelling opposition. [71]

When clergy were required to swear loyalty to the Civil Constitution in November 1790, it split the church between the 24% who complied, and the majority who refused. [72] This stiffened popular resistance against state interference, especially in traditionally Catholic areas such as Normandy, Brittany and the Vendée, where only a few priests took the oath and the civilian population turned against the revolution. [71] The result was state-led persecution of "Refractory clergy", many of whom were forced into exile, deported, or executed. [73]

Political divisions

The period from October 1789 to spring 1791 is usually seen as one of relative tranquility, when some of the most important legislative reforms were enacted. While certainly true, many provincial areas experienced conflict over the source of legitimate authority, where officers of the Ancien Régime had been swept away, but new structures were not yet in place. This was less obvious in Paris, since the formation of the National Guard made it the best policed city in Europe, but growing disorder in the provinces inevitably affected members of the Assembly. [74]

Centrists led by Sieyès, Lafayette, Mirabeau and Bailly created a majority by forging consensus with monarchiens like Mounier, and independents including Adrien Duport, Barnave and Alexandre Lameth. At one end of the political spectrum, reactionaries like Cazalès and Maury denounced the Revolution in all its forms, with extremists like Maximilien Robespierre at the other. He and Jean-Paul Marat gained increasing support for opposing the criteria for 'active citizens', which had disenfranchised much of the Parisian proletariat. In January 1790, the National Guard tried to arrest Marat for denouncing Lafayette and Bailly as 'enemies of the people'. [75]

On 14 July 1790, celebrations were held throughout France commemorating the fall of the Bastille, with participants swearing an oath of fidelity to 'the nation, the law and the king.' The Fête de la Fédération in Paris was attended by Louis XVI and his family, with Talleyrand performing a mass. Despite this show of unity, the Assembly was increasingly divided, while external players like the Paris Commune and National Guard competed for power. One of the most significant was the Jacobin club originally a forum for general debate, by August 1790 it had over 150 members, split into different factions. [76]

The Assembly continued to develop new institutions in September 1790, the regional Parlements were abolished and their legal functions replaced by a new independent judiciary, with jury trials for criminal cases. However, moderate deputies were uneasy at popular demands for universal suffrage, labour unions and cheap bread, and over the winter of 1790 and 1791, they passed a series of measures intended to disarm popular radicalism. These included exclusion of poorer citizens from the National Guard, limits on use of petitions and posters, and the June 1791 Le Chapelier Law suppressing trade guilds and any form of worker organisation. [77]

The traditional force for preserving law and order was the army, which was increasingly divided between officers, who largely came from the nobility, and ordinary soldiers. In August 1790, the loyalist General Bouillé suppressed a serious mutiny at Nancy although congratulated by the Assembly, he was criticised by Jacobin radicals for the severity of his actions. Growing disorder meant many professional officers either left or became émigrés, further destabilising the institution. [78]

Varennes and after

Held in the Tuileries Palace under virtual house arrest, Louis XVI was urged by his brother and wife to re-assert his independence by taking refuge with Bouillé, who was based at Montmédy with 10,000 soldiers considered loyal to the Crown. [79] The royal family left the palace in disguise on the night of 20 June 1791 late the next day, Louis was recognised as he passed through Varennes, arrested and taken back to Paris. The attempted escape had a profound impact on public opinion since it was clear Louis had been seeking refuge in Austria, the Assembly now demanded oaths of loyalty to the regime, and began preparing for war, while fear of 'spies and traitors' became pervasive. [80]

Despite calls to replace the monarchy with a republic, Louis retained his position but was generally regarded with acute suspicion and forced to swear allegiance to the constitution. A new decree stated retracting this oath, making war upon the nation, or permitting anyone to do so in his name would be considered abdication. However, radicals led by Jacques Pierre Brissot prepared a petition demanding his deposition, and on 17 July, an immense crowd gathered in the Champ de Mars to sign. Led by Lafayette, the National Guard was ordered to "preserve public order" and responded to a barrage of stones by firing into the crowd, killing between 13 and 50 people. [81]

The massacre badly damaged Lafayette's reputation the authorities responded by closing radical clubs and newspapers, while their leaders went into exile or hiding, including Marat. [82] On 27 August, Emperor Leopold II and Frederick William II of Prussia issued the Declaration of Pillnitz declaring their support for Louis, and hinting at an invasion of France on his behalf. In reality, Leopold and Frederick had met to discuss the Partitions of Poland, and the Declaration was primarily made to satisfy Comte d'Artois and other émigrés. Nevertheless, the threat rallied popular support behind the regime. [83]

Based on a motion proposed by Robespierre, existing deputies were barred from elections held in early September for the French Legislative Assembly. Although Robespierre himself was one of those excluded, his support in the clubs gave him a political power base not available to Lafayette and Bailly, who resigned respectively as head of the National Guard and the Paris Commune. The new laws were gathered together in the 1791 Constitution, and submitted to Louis XVI, who pledged to defend it "from enemies at home and abroad". On 30 September, the Constituent Assembly was dissolved, and the Legislative Assembly convened the next day. [84]

Fall of the monarchy

The Legislative Assembly was often dismissed as an ineffective body, compromised by divisions over the role of the monarchy and exacerbated by Louis' resistance to limitations on his powers and his attempts to reverse them with external support. These issues combined with inflation and rising prices which particularly impacted the urban working class. [85] Restricting the franchise to those who paid a minimum amount of tax meant only 4 out of 6 million Frenchmen over 25 were able to vote it largely excluded the sans culottes, who increasingly saw the new regime as failing to meet their demands for bread and work. [86]

This meant the new constitution was opposed by significant elements inside and outside the Assembly, itself split into three main groups. 245 members were affiliated with Barnave's Feuillants, constitutional monarchists who considered the Revolution had gone far enough, while another 136 were Jacobin leftists who supported a republic, led by Brissot and usually referred to as Brissotins. [87] The remaining 345 belonged to La Plaine, a central faction who switched votes depending on the issue many of whom shared Brissotins suspicions as to Louis' commitment to the Revolution. [87] After Louis officially accepted the new Constitution, one response was recorded as being "Vive le roi, s'il est de bon foi!", or "Long live the king – if he keeps his word". [88]

Although a minority, the Brissotins control of key committees allowed them to focus on two issues, both intended to portray Louis as hostile to the Revolution by provoking him into using his veto. The first concerned émigrés between October and November, the Assembly approved measures confiscating their property and threatening them with the death penalty. [89] The second was non-juring priests, whose opposition to the Civil Constitution led to a state of near civil war in southern France, which Bernave tried to defuse by relaxing the more punitive provisions. On 29 November, the Assembly passed a decree giving refractory clergy eight days to comply, or face charges of 'conspiracy against the nation', which even Robespierre viewed as too far, too soon. As expected, Louis vetoed both. [90]

Accompanying this was a campaign for war against Austria and Prussia, also led by Brissot, whose aims have been interpreted as a mixture of cynical calculation and revolutionary idealism. While exploiting popular anti-Austrianism, it reflected a genuine belief in exporting the values of political liberty and popular sovereignty. [91] Ironically, Marie Antoinette headed a faction within the court that also favoured war, seeing it as a way to win control of the military, and restore royal authority. In December 1791, Louis made a speech in the Assembly giving foreign powers a month to disband the émigrés or face war, which was greeted with enthusiasm by supporters and suspicion from opponents. [92]

Bernave's inability to build a consensus in the Assembly resulted in the appointment of a new government, chiefly composed of Brissotins. On 20 April 1792 the French Revolutionary Wars began when France armies attacked Austrian and Prussian forces along their borders, before suffering a series of disastrous defeats. In an effort to mobilise popular support, the government ordered non-juring priests to swear the oath or be deported, dissolved the Constitutional Guard and replaced it with 20,000 fédérés Louis agreed to disband the Guard, but vetoed the other two proposals, while Lafayette called on the Assembly to suppress the clubs. [93]

Popular anger increased when details of the Brunswick Manifesto reached Paris on 1 August, threatening 'unforgettable vengeance' should any oppose the Allies in seeking to restore the power of the monarchy. On the morning of 10 August, a combined force of Parisian National Guard and provincial fédérés attacked the Tuileries Palace, killing many of the Swiss Guard protecting it. [94] Louis and his family took refuge with the Assembly and shortly after 11:00 am, the deputies present voted to 'temporarily relieve the king', effectively suspending the monarchy. [95]

Proclamation of the First Republic

In late August, elections were held for the National Convention voter restrictions meant those cast fell to 3.3 million, versus 4 million in 1791, while intimidation was widespread. [96] The former Brissotins now split into moderate Girondins led by Brissot, and radical Montagnards, headed by Maximilien Robespierre, Georges Danton and Jean-Paul Marat. While loyalties constantly shifted, around 160 of the 749 deputies were Girondists, 200 Montagnards and 389 members of La Plaine. Led by Bertrand Barère, Pierre Joseph Cambon and Lazare Carnot, as before this central faction acted as a swing vote. [97]

In the September Massacres, between 1,100 to 1,600 prisoners held in Parisian jails were summarily executed, the vast majority of whom were common criminals. [98] A response to the capture of Longwy and Verdun by Prussia, the perpetrators were largely National Guard members and fédérés on their way to the front. Responsibility is disputed, but even moderates expressed sympathy for the action, which soon spread to the provinces the killings reflected widespread concern over social disorder [99]

On 20 September, the French army won a stunning victory over the Prussians at Valmy. Emboldened by this, on 22 September the Convention replaced the monarchy with the French First Republic and introduced a new calendar, with 1792 becoming "Year One". [100] The next few months were taken up with the trial of Citoyen Louis Capet, formerly Louis XVI. While the Convention was evenly divided on the question of his guilt, members were increasingly influenced by radicals centred in the Jacobin clubs and Paris Commune. The Brunswick Manifesto made it easy to portray Louis as a threat to the Revolution, apparently confirmed when extracts from his personal correspondence were published showed him conspiring with Royalist exiles serving in the Prussian and Austrian armies. [101]

On 17 January 1793, the Assembly condemned Louis to death for "conspiracy against public liberty and general safety", by 361 to 288 another 72 members voted to execute him subject to a variety of delaying conditions. The sentence was carried out on 21 January on the Place de la Révolution, now the Place de la Concorde. [102] Horrified conservatives across Europe called for the destruction of revolutionary France in February the Convention anticipated this by declaring war on Britain and the Dutch Republic these countries were later joined by Spain, Portugal, Naples and the Tuscany in the War of the First Coalition. [103]

Political crisis and fall of the Girondins

The Girondins hoped war would unite the people behind the government and provide an excuse for rising prices and food shortages, but found themselves the target of popular anger. Many left for the provinces. The first conscription measure or levée en masse on 24 February sparked riots in Paris and other regional centres. Already unsettled by changes imposed on the church, in March the traditionally conservative and royalist Vendée rose in revolt. On 18th, Dumouriez was defeated at Neerwinden and defected to the Austrians. Uprisings followed in Bordeaux, Lyon, Toulon, Marseilles and Caen. The Republic seemed on the verge of collapse. [104]

The crisis led to the creation on 6 April 1793 of the Committee of Public Safety, an executive committee accountable to the convention. [105] The Girondins made a fatal political error by indicting Marat before the Revolutionary Tribunal for allegedly directing the September massacres he was quickly acquitted, further isolating the Girondins from the sans-culottes. When Jacques Hébert called for a popular revolt against the "henchmen of Louis Capet" on 24 May, he was arrested by the Commission of Twelve, a Girondin-dominated tribunal set up to expose 'plots'. In response to protests by the Commune, the Commission warned "if by your incessant rebellions something befalls the representatives of the nation. Paris will be obliterated". [104]

Growing discontent allowed the clubs to mobilise against the Girondins. Backed by the Commune and elements of the National Guard, on 31 May they attempted to seize power in a coup. Although the coup failed, on 2 June the convention was surrounded by a crowd of up to 80,000, demanding cheap bread, unemployment pay and political reforms, including restriction of the vote to the sans-culottes, and the right to remove deputies at will. [106] Ten members of the commission and another twenty-nine members of the Girondin faction were arrested, and on 10 June, the Montagnards took over the Committee of Public Safety. [107]

Meanwhile, a committee led by Robespierre's close ally Saint-Just was tasked with preparing a new Constitution. Completed in only eight days, it was ratified by the convention on 24 June, and contained radical reforms, including universal male suffrage and abolition of slavery in French colonies. However, normal legal processes were suspended following the assassination of Marat on 13 July by the Girondist Charlotte Corday, which the Committee of Public Safety used as an excuse to take control. The 1793 Constitution itself was suspended indefinitely in October. [108]

Key areas of focus for the new government included creating a new state ideology, economic regulation and winning the war. [109] The urgent task of suppressing internal dissent was helped by divisions among their opponents while areas like the Vendée and Brittany wanted to restore the monarchy, most supported the Republic but opposed the regime in Paris. On 17 August, the Convention voted a second levée en masse despite initial problems in equipping and supplying such large numbers, by mid-October Republican forces had re-taken Lyon, Marseilles and Bordeaux, while defeating Coalition armies at Hondschoote and Wattignies. [110]

Reign of Terror

The Reign of Terror began as a way to harness revolutionary fervour, but quickly degenerated into the settlement of personal grievances. At the end of July, the Convention set price controls over a wide range of goods, with the death penalty for hoarders, and on 9 September 'revolutionary groups' were established to enforce them. On 17th, the Law of Suspects ordered the arrest of suspected "enemies of freedom", initiating what became known as the "Terror". According to archival records, from September 1793 to July 1794 some 16,600 people were executed on charges of counter-revolutionary activity another 40,000 may have been summarily executed or died awaiting trial. [111]

Fixed prices, death for 'hoarders' or 'profiteers', and confiscation of grain stocks by groups of armed workers meant that by early September Paris was suffering acute food shortages. However, France's biggest challenge was servicing the huge public debt inherited from the former regime, which continued to expand due to the war. Initially the debt was financed by sales of confiscated property, but this was hugely inefficient since few would buy assets that might be repossessed, fiscal stability could only be achieved by continuing the war until French counter-revolutionaries had been defeated. As internal and external threats to the Republic increased, the position worsened dealing with this by printing assignats led to inflation and higher prices. [112]

On 10 October, the Convention recognised the Committee of Public Safety as the supreme Revolutionary Government, and suspended the Constitution until peace was achieved. [108] In mid-October, Marie Antoinette was found guilty of a long list of crimes and guillotined two weeks later, the Girondist leaders arrested in June were also executed, along with Philippe Égalité. Terror was not confined to Paris over 2,000 were killed after the recapture of Lyons. [113]

At Cholet on 17 October, the Republican army won a decisive victory over the Vendée rebels, and the survivors escaped into Brittany. Another defeat at Le Mans on 23 December ended the rebellion as a major threat, although the insurgency continued until 1796. The extent of the brutal repression that followed has been debated by French historians since the mid-19th century. [114] Between November 1793 to February 1794, over 4,000 were drowned in the Loire at Nantes under the supervision of Jean-Baptiste Carrier. Historian Reynald Secher claims that as many as 117,000 died between 1793 and 1796. Although those numbers have been challenged, François Furet concluded it "not only revealed massacre and destruction on an unprecedented scale, but a zeal so violent that it has bestowed as its legacy much of the region's identity." [115] [b]

At the height of the Terror, the slightest hint of counter-revolutionary thought could place one under suspicion, and even its supporters were not immune. Under the pressure of events, splits appeared within the Montagnard faction, with violent disagreements between radical Hébertists and moderates led by Danton. [c] Robespierre saw their dispute as de-stabilising the regime, and as a deist he objected to the anti-religious policies advocated by the atheist Hébert. He was arrested and executed on 24 March with 19 of his colleagues, including Carrier. [119] To retain the loyalty of the remaining Hébertists, Danton was arrested and executed on 5 April with Camille Desmoulins, after a show trial that arguably did more damage to Robespierre than any other act in this period. [120]

The Law of 22 Prairial (10 June) denied "enemies of the people" the right to defend themselves. Those arrested in the provinces were now sent to Paris for judgement from March to July, executions in Paris increased from five to twenty-six a day. [121] Many Jacobins ridiculed the festival of the Cult of the Supreme Being on 8 June, a lavish and expensive ceremony led by Robespierre, who was also accused of circulating claims he was a second Messiah. Relaxation of price controls and rampant inflation caused increasing unrest among the sans-culottes, but the improved military situation reduced fears the Republic was in danger. Many feared their own survival depended on Robespierre's removal during a meeting on 29 June, three members of the Committee of Public Safety called him a dictator in his face. [122]

Robespierre responded by not attending sessions, allowing his opponents to build a coalition against him. In a speech made to the convention on 26 July, he claimed certain members were conspiring against the Republic, an almost certain death sentence if confirmed. When he refused to give names, the session broke up in confusion. That evening he made the same speech at the Jacobins club, where it was greeted with huge applause and demands for execution of the 'traitors'. It was clear if his opponents did not act, he would in the Convention next day, Robespierre and his allies were shouted down. His voice failed when he tried to speak, a deputy crying "The blood of Danton chokes him!" [123]

The Convention authorised his arrest he and his supporters took refuge in the Hotel de Ville, defended by the National Guard. That evening, units loyal to the Convention stormed the building, and Robespierre was arrested after a failed suicide attempt. He was executed on 28 July with 19 colleagues, including Saint-Just and Georges Couthon, followed by 83 members of the Commune. [124] The Law of 22 Prairial was repealed, any surviving Girondists reinstated as deputies, and the Jacobin Club was closed and banned. [125]

There are various interpretations of the Terror and the violence with which it was conducted Marxist historian Albert Soboul saw it as essential to defend the Revolution from external and internal threats. François Furet argues the intense ideological commitment of the revolutionaries and their utopian goals required the extermination of any opposition. [126] A middle position suggests violence was not inevitable but the product of a series of complex internal events, exacerbated by war. [127]

Thermidorean reaction

The bloodshed did not end with the death of Robespierre Southern France saw a wave of revenge killings, directed against alleged Jacobins, Republican officials and Protestants. Although the victors of Thermidor asserted control over the Commune by executing their leaders, some of the leading "terrorists" [ citation needed ] retained their positions. They included Paul Barras, later chief executive of the French Directory, and Joseph Fouché, director of the killings in Lyon who served as Minister of Police under the Directory, the Consulate and Empire. Others were exiled or prosecuted, a process that took several months. [128]

The December 1794 Treaty of La Jaunaye ended the Chouannerie in western France by allowing freedom of worship and the return of non-juring priests. [129] This was accompanied by military success in January 1795, French forces helped the Dutch Patriots set up the Batavian Republic, securing their northern border. [130] The war with Prussia was concluded in favour of France by the Peace of Basel in April 1795, while Spain made peace shortly thereafter. [131]

However, the Republic still faced a crisis at home. Food shortages arising from a poor 1794 harvest were exacerbated in Northern France by the need to supply the army in Flanders, while the winter was the worst since 1709. [132] By April 1795, people were starving and the assignat was worth only 8% of its face value in desperation, the Parisian poor rose again. [133] They were quickly dispersed and the main impact was another round of arrests, while Jacobin prisoners in Lyon were summarily executed. [134]

A committee drafted a new constitution, approved by plebiscite on 23 September 1795 and put into place on 27th. [135] Largely designed by Pierre Daunou and Boissy d'Anglas, it established a bicameral legislature, intended to slow down the legislative process, ending the wild swings of policy under the previous unicameral systems. The Council of 500 was responsible for drafting legislation, which was reviewed and approved by the Council of Ancients, an upper house containing 250 men over the age of 40. Executive power was in the hands of five Directors, selected by the Council of Ancients from a list provided by the lower house, with a five-year mandate. [136]

Deputies were chosen by indirect election, a total franchise of around 5 million voting in primaries for 30,000 electors, or 0.5% of the population. Since they were also subject to stringent property qualification, it guaranteed the return of conservative or moderate deputies. In addition, rather than dissolving the previous legislature as in 1791 and 1792, the so-called 'law of two-thirds' ruled only 150 new deputies would be elected each year. The remaining 600 Conventionnels kept their seats, a move intended to ensure stability. [137]

The Directory has a poor reputation amongst historians for Jacobin sympathisers, it represented the betrayal of the Revolution, while Bonapartists emphasised its corruption to portray Napoleon in a better light. [138] Although these criticisms were certainly valid, it also faced internal unrest, a stagnating economy and an expensive war, while hampered by the impracticality of the constitution. Since the Council of 500 controlled legislation and finance, they could paralyse government at will, and as the Directors had no power to call new elections, the only way to break a deadlock was to rule by decree or use force. As a result, the Directory was characterised by "chronic violence, ambivalent forms of justice, and repeated recourse to heavy-handed repression." [139]

Retention of the Conventionnels ensured the Thermidorians held a majority in the legislature and three of the five Directors, but they faced an increasing challenge from the right. On 5 October, Convention troops led by Napoleon put down a royalist rising in Paris when the first elections were held two weeks later, over 100 of the 150 new deputies were royalists of some sort. [140] The power of the Parisian san culottes had been broken by the suppression of the May 1795 revolt relieved of pressure from below, the Jacobins became natural supporters of the Directory against those seeking to restore the monarchy. [141]

Removal of price controls and a collapse in the value of the assignat led to inflation and soaring food prices. By April 1796, over 500,000 Parisians were reportedly in need of relief, resulting in the May insurrection known as the Conspiracy of the Equals. Led by the revolutionary François-Noël Babeuf, their demands included the implementation of the 1793 Constitution and a more equitable distribution of wealth. Despite limited support from sections of the military, it was easily crushed, with Babeuf and other leaders executed. [142] Nevertheless, by 1799 the economy had been stabilised and important reforms made allowing steady expansion of French industry many remained in place for much of the 19th century. [143]

Prior to 1797, three of the five Directors were firmly Republican Barras, Révellière-Lépeaux and Jean-François Rewbell, as were around 40% of the legislature. The same percentage were broadly centrist or unaffiliated, along with two Directors, Étienne-François Letourneur and Lazare Carnot. Although only 20% were committed Royalists, many centrists supported the restoration of the exiled Louis XVIII in the belief this would end the War of the First Coalition with Britain and Austria. [144] The elections of May 1797 resulted in significant gains for the right, with Royalists Jean-Charles Pichegru elected President of the Council of 500, and Barthélemy appointed a Director. [145]

With Royalists apparently on the verge of power, the Republicans staged a coup on 4 September. Using troops from Bonaparte's Army of Italy under Pierre Augereau, the Council of 500 was forced to approve the arrest of Barthélemy, Pichegru and Carnot. The election results were cancelled, sixty-three leading royalists deported to French Guiana and new laws passed against émigrés, Royalists and ultra-Jacobins. Although the power of the monarchists had been destroyed, it opened the way for direct conflict between Barras and his opponents on the left. [146]

Despite general war weariness, fighting continued and the 1798 elections saw a resurgence in Jacobin strength. The invasion of Egypt in July 1798 confirmed European fears of French expansionism, and the War of the Second Coalition began in November. Without a majority in the legislature, the Directors relied on the army to enforcing decrees and extract revenue from conquered territories. This made generals like Bonaparte and Joubert essential political players, while both the army and the Directory became notorious for their corruption. [147]

It has been suggested the Directory did not collapse for economic or military reasons, but because by 1799, many 'preferred the uncertainties of authoritarian rule to the continuing ambiguities of parliamentary politics'. [148] The architect of its end was Sieyès, who when asked what he had done during the Terror allegedly answered "I survived". Nominated to the Directory, his first action was removing Barras, using a coalition that included Talleyrand and former Jacobin Lucien Bonaparte, Napoleon's brother and president of the Council of 500. [149] On 9 November 1799, the Coup of 18 Brumaire replaced the five Directors with the French Consulate, which consisted of three members, Bonaparte, Sieyès, and Roger Ducos most historians consider this the end point of the French Revolution. [150]

The Revolution initiated a series of conflicts that began in 1792 and ended only with Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1815. In its early stages, this seemed unlikely the 1791 Constitution specifically disavowed "war for the purpose of conquest", and although traditional tensions between France and Austria re-emerged in the 1780s, Emperor Joseph cautiously welcomed the reforms. Austria was at war with the Ottomans, as were the Russians, while both were negotiating with Prussia over partitioning Poland. Most importantly, Britain preferred peace, and as Emperor Leopold stated after the Declaration of Pillnitz, "without England, there is no case". [151]

In late 1791, factions within the Assembly came to see war as a way to unite the country and secure the Revolution by eliminating hostile forces on its borders and establishing its "natural frontiers". [152] France declared war on Austria in April 1792 and issued the first conscription orders, with recruits serving for twelve months. By the time peace finally came in 1815, the conflict had involved every major European power as well as the United States, redrawn the map of Europe and expanded into the Americas, the Middle East and Indian Ocean. [153]

From 1701 to 1801, the population of Europe grew from 118 to 187 million combined with new mass production techniques, this allowed belligerents to support large armies, requiring the mobilisation of national resources. It was a different kind of war, fought by nations rather than kings, intended to destroy their opponents' ability to resist, but also to implement deep-ranging social change. While all wars are political to some degree, this period was remarkable for the emphasis placed on reshaping boundaries and the creation of entirely new European states. [154]

In April 1792, French armies invaded the Austrian Netherlands but suffered a series of setbacks before victory over an Austrian-Prussian army at Valmy in September. After defeating a second Austrian army at Jemappes on 6 November, they occupied the Netherlands, areas of the Rhineland, Nice and Savoy. Emboldened by this success, in February 1793 France declared war on the Dutch Republic, Spain and Britain, beginning the War of the First Coalition. [155] However, the expiration of the 12-month term for the 1792 recruits forced the French to relinquish their conquests. In August, new conscription measures were passed and by May 1794 the French army had between 750,000 and 800,000 men. [156] Despite high rates of desertion, this was large enough to manage multiple internal and external threats for comparison, the combined Prussian-Austrian army was less than 90,000. [157]

By February 1795, France had annexed the Austrian Netherlands, established their frontier on the left bank of the Rhine and replaced the Dutch Republic with the Batavian Republic, a satellite state. These victories led to the collapse of the anti-French coalition Prussia made peace in April 1795, followed soon after by Spain, leaving Britain and Austria as the only major powers still in the war. [158] In October 1797, a series of defeats by Bonaparte in Italy led Austria to agree to the Treaty of Campo Formio, in which they formally ceded the Netherlands and recognised the Cisalpine Republic. [159]

Fighting continued for two reasons first, French state finances had come to rely on indemnities levied on their defeated opponents. Second, armies were primarily loyal to their generals, for whom the wealth achieved by victory and the status it conferred became objectives in themselves. Leading soldiers like Hoche, Pichegru and Carnot wielded significant political influence and often set policy Campo Formio was approved by Bonaparte, not the Directory, which strongly objected to terms it considered too lenient. [159]

Despite these concerns, the Directory never developed a realistic peace programme, fearing the destabilising effects of peace and the consequent demobilisation of hundreds of thousands of young men. As long as the generals and their armies stayed away from Paris, they were happy to allow them to continue fighting, a key factor behind sanctioning Bonaparte's invasion of Egypt. This resulted in aggressive and opportunistic policies, leading to the War of the Second Coalition in November 1798. [160]

Although the French Revolution had a dramatic impact in numerous areas of Europe, [161] the French colonies felt a particular influence. As the Martinican author Aimé Césaire put it, "there was in each French colony a specific revolution, that occurred on the occasion of the French Revolution, in tune with it." [162]

The Revolution in Saint-Domingue was the most notable example of slave uprisings in French colonies. In the 1780s, Saint-Domingue was France's wealthiest possession, producing more sugar than all the British West Indies islands combined. In February 1794, the National Convention voted to abolish slavery, several months after rebels in Saint-Domingue had already seized control. [163] However, the 1794 decree was only implemented in Saint-Domingue, Guadeloupe and Guyane, and was a dead letter in Senegal, Mauritius, Réunion and Martinique, the last of which had been captured by the British, and as such remained unaffected by French law. [164]


Newspapers and pamphlets played a central role in stimulating and defining the Revolution. Prior to 1789, there have been a small number of heavily censored newspapers that needed a royal licence to operate, but the Estates-General created an enormous demand for news, and over 130 newspapers appeared by the end of the year. Among the most significant were Marat's L'Ami du peuple and Elysée Loustallot's Revolutions de Paris [fr] . [165] Over the next decade, more than 2,000 newspapers were founded, 500 in Paris alone. Most lasted only a matter of weeks but they became the main communication medium, combined with the very large pamphlet literature. [166]

Newspapers were read aloud in taverns and clubs, and circulated hand to hand. There was a widespread assumption that writing was a vocation, not a business, and the role of the press was the advancement of civic republicanism. [167] By 1793 the radicals were most active but initially the royalists flooded the country with their publication the "L'Ami du Roi [fr] " (Friends of the King) until they were suppressed. [168]

Revolutionary symbols

To illustrate the differences between the new Republic and the old regime, the leaders needed to implement a new set of symbols to be celebrated instead of the old religious and monarchical symbols. To this end, symbols were borrowed from historic cultures and redefined, while those of the old regime were either destroyed or reattributed acceptable characteristics. These revised symbols were used to instil in the public a new sense of tradition and reverence for the Enlightenment and the Republic. [169]

La Marseillaise

"La Marseillaise" (French pronunciation: ​ [la maʁsɛjɛːz] ) became the national anthem of France. The song was written and composed in 1792 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle, and was originally titled "Chant de guerre pour l'Armée du Rhin". The French National Convention adopted it as the First Republic's anthem in 1795. It acquired its nickname after being sung in Paris by volunteers from Marseille marching on the capital.

The song is the first example of the "European march" anthemic style, while the evocative melody and lyrics led to its widespread use as a song of revolution and incorporation into many pieces of classical and popular music. De Lisle was instructed to 'produce a hymn which conveys to the soul of the people the enthusiasm which it (the music) suggests.' [170]


The guillotine remains "the principal symbol of the Terror in the French Revolution." [171] Invented by a physician during the Revolution as a quicker, more efficient and more distinctive form of execution, the guillotine became a part of popular culture and historic memory. It was celebrated on the left as the people's avenger, for example in the revolutionary song La guillotine permanente, [172] and cursed as the symbol of the Terror by the right. [173]

Its operation became a popular entertainment that attracted great crowds of spectators. Vendors sold programmes listing the names of those scheduled to die. Many people came day after day and vied for the best locations from which to observe the proceedings knitting women (tricoteuses) formed a cadre of hardcore regulars, inciting the crowd. Parents often brought their children. By the end of the Terror, the crowds had thinned drastically. Repetition had staled even this most grisly of entertainments, and audiences grew bored. [174]

Cockade, tricolore and liberty cap

Cockades were widely worn by revolutionaries beginning in 1789. They now pinned the blue-and-red cockade of Paris onto the white cockade of the Ancien Régime. Camille Desmoulins asked his followers to wear green cockades on 12 July 1789. The Paris militia, formed on 13 July, adopted a blue and red cockade. Blue and red are the traditional colours of Paris, and they are used on the city's coat of arms. Cockades with various colour schemes were used during the storming of the Bastille on 14 July. [175]

The Liberty cap, also known as the Phrygian cap, or pileus, is a brimless, felt cap that is conical in shape with the tip pulled forward. It reflects Roman republicanism and liberty, alluding to the Roman ritual of manumission, in which a freed slave receives the bonnet as a symbol of his newfound liberty. [176]

The role of women in the Revolution has long been a topic of debate. Deprived of political rights under the Ancien Regime, the 1791 Constitution classed them as "passive" citizens, leading to demands for social and political equality for women and an end to male domination. They expressed these demands using pamphlets and clubs such as the Cercle Social, whose largely male members viewed themselves as contemporary feminists. [177] However, in October 1793, the Assembly banned all women's clubs and the movement was crushed this was driven by the emphasis on masculinity in a wartime situation, antagonism towards feminine "interference" in state affairs due to Marie Antoinette, and traditional male supremacy. [178] A decade later the Napoleonic Code confirmed and perpetuated women's second-class status. [179]

At the beginning of the Revolution, women took advantage of events to force their way into the political sphere, swore oaths of loyalty, "solemn declarations of patriotic allegiance, [and] affirmations of the political responsibilities of citizenship." Activists included Girondists like Olympe de Gouges, author of the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen, and Charlotte Corday, the killer of Marat. Others like Théroigne de Méricourt, Pauline Léon and the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women supported the Jacobins, staged demonstrations in the National Assembly and took part in the October 1789 March to Versailles. Despite this, the constitutions of 1791 and 1793 denied them political rights and democratic citizenship. [180]

On 20 June 1792 a number of armed women took part in a procession that "passed through the halls of the Legislative Assembly, into the Tuileries Garden, and then through the King's residence." [181] Women also assumed a special role in the funeral of Marat, following his murder on 13 July 1793 by Corday as part of the funeral procession, they carried the bathtub in which he died, as well as a shirt stained with his blood. [182] On 20 May 1793 women were in the forefront of a crowd demanding "bread and the Constitution of 1793" when they went unnoticed, they began "sacking shops, seizing grain and kidnapping officials." [183]

The Society of Revolutionary Republican Women, a militant group on the far left, demanded a law in 1793 that would compel all women to wear the tricolour cockade to demonstrate their loyalty to the Republic. They also demanded vigorous price controls to keep bread – the major food of the poor people – from becoming too expensive. After the Convention passed the law in September 1793, the Revolutionary Republican Women demanded vigorous enforcement, but were countered by market women, former servants, and religious women who adamantly opposed price controls (which would drive them out of business) and resented attacks on the aristocracy and on religion. Fist fights broke out in the streets between the two factions of women.

Meanwhile, the men who controlled the Jacobins rejected the Revolutionary Republican Women as dangerous rabble-rousers. At this point the Jacobins controlled the government they dissolved the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women, and decreed that all women's clubs and associations were illegal. They sternly reminded women to stay home and tend to their families by leaving public affairs to the men. Organised women were permanently shut out of the French Revolution after 30 October 1793. [184]

Prominent women

Olympe de Gouges wrote a number of plays, short stories, and novels. Her publications emphasised that women and men are different, but this shouldn't prevent equality under the law. In her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen she insisted that women deserved rights, especially in areas concerning them directly, such as divorce and recognition of illegitimate children. [185]

Madame Roland (a.k.a. Manon or Marie Roland) was another important female activist. Her political focus was not specifically on women or their liberation. She focused on other aspects of the government, but was a feminist by virtue of the fact that she was a woman working to influence the world. Her personal letters to leaders of the Revolution influenced policy in addition, she often hosted political gatherings of the Brissotins, a political group which allowed women to join. As she was led to the scaffold, Madame Roland shouted "O liberty! What crimes are committed in thy name!" [186] Many activists were punished for their actions, while some were executed for "conspiring against the unity and the indivisibility of the Republic". [187]

Counter-revolutionary women

Counter-revolutionary women resisted what they saw as the increasing intrusion of the state into their lives. [188] One major consequence was the dechristianisation of France, a movement strongly rejected by many devout people especially for women living in rural areas, the closing of the churches meant a loss of normality. [189] This sparked a counter-revolutionary movement led by women while supporting other political and social changes, they opposed the dissolution of the Catholic Church and revolutionary cults like the Cult of the Supreme Being. [190] Olwen Hufton argues some wanted to protect the Church from heretical changes enforced by revolutionaries, viewing themselves as "defenders of faith". [191]

Economically, many peasant women refused to sell their goods for assignats because this form of currency was unstable and was backed by the sale of confiscated Church property. By far the most important issue to counter-revolutionary women was the passage and the enforcement of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy in 1790. In response to this measure, women in many areas began circulating anti-oath pamphlets and refused to attend masses held by priests who had sworn oaths of loyalty to the Republic. These women continued to adhere to traditional practices such as Christian burials and naming their children after saints in spite of revolutionary decrees to the contrary. [192]

The Revolution abolished many economic constraints imposed by the Ancien régime, including church tithes and feudal dues although tenants often paid higher rents and taxes. [193] All church lands were nationalised, along with those owned by Royalist exiles, which were used to back paper currency known as assignats, and the feudal guild system eliminated. [194] It also abolished the highly inefficient system of tax farming, whereby private individuals would collect taxes for a hefty fee. The government seized the foundations that had been set up (starting in the 13th century) to provide an annual stream of revenue for hospitals, poor relief, and education. The state sold the lands but typically local authorities did not replace the funding and so most of the nation's charitable and school systems were massively disrupted [195]

Between 1790 to 1796, industrial and agricultural output dropped, foreign trade plunged, and prices soared, forcing the government to finance expenditure by issuing ever increasing quantities assignats. When this resulted in escalating inflation, the response was to impose price controls and persecute private speculators and traders, creating a Black market. Between 1789 to 1793, the annual deficit increased from 10% to 64% of gross national product, while annual inflation reached 3,500% after a poor harvest in 1794 and the removal of price controls. The assignats were withdrawn in 1796 but inflation continued until the introduction of the gold-based Franc germinal in 1803. [196]

The French Revolution had a major impact on European and Western history, by ending feudalism and creating the path for future advances in broadly defined individual freedoms. [197] [198] [5] Its impact on French nationalism was profound, while also stimulating nationalist movements throughout Europe. [199] Its influence was great in the hundreds of small German states and elsewhere, where it [ clarification needed ] was either inspired by the French example or in reaction against it. [200]


The impact on French society were enormous, some of which were widely accepted, while others continue to be debated. [201] The system established by Louis XIV centralised political power at Versailles and was controlled by the monarch. His power derived from immense personal wealth, control over the army and appointment of clergy, provincial governors, lawyers and judges. [202] In less than a year, the king was reduced to a figurehead, the nobility deprived of titles and estates and the church of its monasteries and property. Clergy, judges and magistrates were controlled by the state, and the army sidelined, with military power placed held by the revolutionary National Guard. The central elements of 1789 were the slogan "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity" and "The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen", which Lefebvre calls "the incarnation of the Revolution as a whole." [203]

The long-term impact on France was profound, shaping politics, society, religion and ideas, and polarising politics for more than a century. Historian François Aulard writes:

"From the social point of view, the Revolution consisted in the suppression of what was called the feudal system, in the emancipation of the individual, in greater division of landed property, the abolition of the privileges of noble birth, the establishment of equality, the simplification of life. The French Revolution differed from other revolutions in being not merely national, for it aimed at benefiting all humanity." [204] [ title missing ]

Status of the Catholic church

One of the most heated controversies during the Revolution was the status of the Catholic Church. [205] In 1788, it held a dominant position within society to be French meant to be a Catholic. By 1799, much of its property and institutions had been confiscated and its senior leaders dead or in exile. Its cultural influence was also under attack, with efforts made to remove such as Sundays, holy days, saints, prayers, rituals and ceremonies. Ultimately these attempts not only failed but aroused a furious reaction among the pious opposition to these changes was a key factor behind the revolt in the Vendée. [206]

Over the centuries, charitable foundations had been set up to fund hospitals, poor relief, and schools when these were confiscated and sold off, the funding was not replaced, causing massive disruption to these support systems. [207] Under the Ancien régime, medical assistance for the rural poor was often provided by nuns, acting as nurses but also physicians, surgeons, and apothecaries the Revolution abolished most of these orders without replacing organised nursing support. [208] Demand remained strong and after 1800 nuns resumed their work in hospitals and on rural estates. They were tolerated by officials because they had widespread support and were a link between elite male physicians and distrustful peasants who needed help. [209]

The church was a primary target during the Terror, due to its association with "counter-revolutionary" elements, resulting in the persecution of priests and destruction of churches and religious images throughout France. An effort was made to replace the Catholic Church altogether with the Cult of Reason, and with civic festivals replacing religious ones, leading to attacks by locals on state officials. These policies were promoted by the atheist Hébert and opposed by the deist Robespierre, who denounced the campaign and replaced the Cult of Reason with the Cult of the Supreme Being. [210]

The Concordat of 1801 established the rules for a relationship between the Catholic Church and French State that lasted until it was abrogated by the French Third Republic on 11 December 1905. The Concordat was a compromise that restored some of the Church's traditional roles but not its power, lands or monasteries the clergy became public officials controlled by Paris, not Rome, while Protestants and Jews gained equal rights. [211] However, debate continues into the present over the role of religion in the public sphere and related issues such as church-controlled schools. Recent arguments over the use of Muslim religious symbols in schools, such as wearing headscarves, have been explicitly linked to the conflict over Catholic rituals and symbols during the Revolution. [212]


Two thirds of France was employed in agriculture, which was transformed by the Revolution. With the breakup of large estates controlled by the Church and the nobility and worked by hired hands, rural France became more a land of small independent farms. Harvest taxes were ended, such as the tithe and seigneurial dues, much to the relief of the peasants. Primogeniture was ended both for nobles and peasants, thereby weakening the family patriarch. Because all the children had a share in the family's property, there was a declining birth rate. [213] [214] Cobban says the Revolution bequeathed to the nation "a ruling class of landowners." [215]

In the cities, entrepreneurship on a small scale flourished, as restrictive monopolies, privileges, barriers, rules, taxes and guilds gave way. However, the British blockade virtually ended overseas and colonial trade, hurting the cities and their supply chains. Overall, the Revolution did not greatly change the French business system, and probably helped freeze in place the horizons of the small business owner. The typical businessman owned a small store, mill or shop, with family help and a few paid employees large-scale industry was less common than in other industrialising nations. [216]

A 2017 National Bureau of Economic Research paper found that the emigration of more than 100,000 individuals (predominantly supporters of the old regime) during the Revolution had a significant negative impact on income per capita in the 19th century (due to the fragmentation of agricultural holdings) but became positive in the second half of the 20th century onward (because it facilitated the rise in human capital investments). [217] Another 2017 paper found that the redistribution of land had a positive impact on agricultural productivity, but that these gains gradually declined over the course of the 19th century. [218] [219]


The Revolution meant an end to arbitrary royal rule and held out the promise of rule by law under a constitutional order, but it did not rule out a monarch. Napoleon as emperor set up a constitutional system (although he remained in full control), and the restored Bourbons were forced to go along with one. After the abdication of Napoleon III in 1871, the monarchists probably had a voting majority, but they were so factionalised they could not agree on who should be king, and instead the French Third Republic was launched with a deep commitment to upholding the ideals of the Revolution. [220] [221] The conservative Catholic enemies of the Revolution came to power in Vichy France (1940–44), and tried with little success to undo its heritage, but they kept it a republic. Vichy denied the principle of equality and tried to replace the Revolutionary watchwords "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" with "Work, Family, and Fatherland." However, there were no efforts by the Bourbons, Vichy or anyone else to restore the privileges that had been stripped away from the nobility in 1789. France permanently became a society of equals under the law. [222]


The Jacobin cause was picked up by Marxists in the mid-19th century and became an element of communist thought around the world. In the Soviet Union, "Gracchus" Babeuf was regarded as a hero. [223]

Europe outside France

Economic historians Dan Bogart, Mauricio Drelichman, Oscar Gelderblom, and Jean-Laurent Rosenthal described codified law as the French Revolution's "most significant export." They wrote, "While restoration returned most of their power to the absolute monarchs who had been deposed by Napoleon, only the most recalcitrant ones, such as Ferdinand VII of Spain, went to the trouble of completely reversing the legal innovations brought on by the French." [224] They also note that the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars caused England, Spain, Prussia and the Dutch Republic to centralize their fiscal systems to an unprecedented extent in order to finance the military campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars. [224]

According to Daron Acemoglu, Davide Cantoni, Simon Johnson, and James A. Robinson the French Revolution had long-term effects in Europe. They suggest that "areas that were occupied by the French and that underwent radical institutional reform experienced more rapid urbanization and economic growth, especially after 1850. There is no evidence of a negative effect of French invasion." [225]

A 2016 study in the European Economic Review found that the areas of Germany that were occupied by France in the 19th century and in which the Code Napoleon was applied have higher levels of trust and cooperation today. [226]


On 16 July 1789, two days after the Storming of the Bastille, John Frederick Sackville, serving as ambassador to France, reported to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Francis Osborne, 5th Duke of Leeds, "Thus, my Lord, the greatest revolution that we know anything of has been effected with, comparatively speaking – if the magnitude of the event is considered – the loss of very few lives. From this moment we may consider France as a free country, the King a very limited monarch, and the nobility as reduced to a level with the rest of the nation. [227] " Yet in Britain the majority, especially among the aristocracy, strongly opposed the French Revolution. Britain led and funded the series of coalitions that fought France from 1793 to 1815, and then restored the Bourbons.

Philosophically and politically, Britain was in debate over the rights and wrongs of revolution, in the abstract and in practicalities. The Revolution Controversy was a "pamphlet war" set off by the publication of A Discourse on the Love of Our Country, a speech given by Richard Price to the Revolution Society on 4 November 1789, supporting the French Revolution (as he had the American Revolution), and saying that patriotism actually centers around loving the people and principles of a nation, not its ruling class. Edmund Burke responded in November 1790 with his own pamphlet, Reflections on the Revolution in France, attacking the French Revolution as a threat to the aristocracy of all countries. [228] [229] William Coxe opposed Price's premise that one's country is principles and people, not the State itself. [230]

Conversely, two seminal political pieces of political history were written in Price's favour, supporting the general right of the French people to replace their State. One of the first of these "pamphlets" into print was A Vindication of the Rights of Men by Mary Wollstonecraft (better known for her later treatise, sometimes described as the first feminist text, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman) Wollstonecraft's title was echoed by Thomas Paine's Rights of Man, published a few months later. In 1792 Christopher Wyvill published Defence of Dr. Price and the Reformers of England, a plea for reform and moderation. [231]

This exchange of ideas has been described as "one of the great political debates in British history". [232] Even in France, there was a varying degree of agreement during this debate, English participants generally opposing the violent means that the Revolution bent itself to for its ends. [233]

In Ireland, the effect was to transform what had been an attempt by Protestant settlers to gain some autonomy into a mass movement led by the Society of United Irishmen involving Catholics and Protestants. It stimulated the demand for further reform throughout Ireland, especially in Ulster. The upshot was a revolt in 1798, led by Wolfe Tone, that was crushed by Britain. [234]


German reaction to the Revolution swung from favourable to antagonistic. At first it brought liberal and democratic ideas, the end of guilds, serfdom and the Jewish ghetto. It brought economic freedoms and agrarian and legal reform. Above all the antagonism helped stimulate and shape German nationalism. [235]


The French invaded Switzerland and turned it into the "Helvetic Republic" (1798–1803), a French puppet state. French interference with localism and traditions was deeply resented in Switzerland, although some reforms took hold and survived in the later period of restoration. [236] [237]


The region of modern-day Belgium was divided between two polities: the Austrian Netherlands and Prince-Bishopric of Liège. Both territories experienced revolutions in 1789. In the Austrian Netherlands, the Brabant Revolution succeeded in expelling Austrian forces and established the new United Belgian States. The Liège Revolution expelled the tyrannical Prince-Bishop and installed a republic. Both failed to attract international support. By December 1790, the Brabant revolution had been crushed and Liège was subdued the following year.

During the Revolutionary Wars, the French invaded and occupied the region between 1794 and 1814, a time known as the French period. The new government enforced new reforms, incorporating the region into France itself. New rulers were sent in by Paris. Belgian men were drafted into the French wars and heavily taxed. Nearly everyone was Catholic, but the Church was repressed. Resistance was strong in every sector, as Belgian nationalism emerged to oppose French rule. The French legal system, however, was adopted, with its equal legal rights, and abolition of class distinctions. Belgium now had a government bureaucracy selected by merit. [238]

Antwerp regained access to the sea and grew quickly as a major port and business centre. France promoted commerce and capitalism, paving the way for the ascent of the bourgeoisie and the rapid growth of manufacturing and mining. In economics, therefore, the nobility declined while middle-class Belgian entrepreneurs flourished because of their inclusion in a large market, paving the way for Belgium's leadership role after 1815 in the Industrial Revolution on the Continent. [239] [240]


The Kingdom of Denmark adopted liberalising reforms in line with those of the French Revolution, with no direct contact. Reform was gradual and the regime itself carried out agrarian reforms that had the effect of weakening absolutism by creating a class of independent peasant freeholders. Much of the initiative came from well-organised liberals who directed political change in the first half of the 19th century. [241]

North America


The press in the colony of Quebec initially viewed the events of the Revolution positively. [242] Press coverage in Quebec on the Revolution was reliant, and reflective of public opinion in London, with the colony's press reliant on newspapers and reprints from journals from the British Isles. [243] The early positive reception of the French Revolution had made it politically difficult to justify withholding electoral institutions from the colony to both the British and Quebec public with the British Home Secretary William Grenville remarking how it was hardly possible to "maintain with success," the denial "to so large a body of British Subjects, the benefits of the British Constitution". [244] Governmental reforms introduced in the Constitutional Act 1791 split Quebec into two separate colonies, Lower Canada, and Upper Canada and introduced electoral institutions to the two colonies. [244]

French migration to the Canadas was decelerated significantly during, and after the French Revolution with only a small number of artisans, professionals, and religious emigres from France permitted to settle in the Canadas during that period. [245] Most of these migrants moved to Montreal or Quebec City, although French nobleman Joseph-Geneviève de Puisaye also led a small group of French royalists to settle lands north of York (present day Toronto). [245] The influx of religious migrants from France reinvigorated the Roman Catholic Church in the Canadas, with the refectory priests who moved to the colonies being responsible for the establishment of a number of parishes throughout the Canadas. [245]

United States

The French Revolution deeply polarised American politics, and this polarisation led to the creation of the First Party System. In 1793, as war broke out in Europe, the Democratic-Republican Party led by former American minister to France Thomas Jefferson favored revolutionary France and pointed to the 1778 treaty that was still in effect. George Washington and his unanimous cabinet, including Jefferson, decided that the treaty did not bind the United States to enter the war. Washington proclaimed neutrality instead. [246] Under President John Adams, a Federalist, an undeclared naval war took place with France from 1798 until 1799, often called the "Quasi War". Jefferson became president in 1801, but was hostile to Napoleon as a dictator and emperor. However, the two entered negotiations over the Louisiana Territory and agreed to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, an acquisition that substantially increased the size of the United States.

The French Revolution has received enormous amounts of historical attention, both from the general public and from scholars and academics. The views of historians, in particular, have been characterised as falling along ideological lines, with disagreement over the significance and the major developments of the Revolution. [247] Alexis de Tocqueville argued that the Revolution was a manifestation of a more prosperous middle class becoming conscious of its social importance. [248]

Other thinkers, like the conservative Edmund Burke, maintained that the Revolution was the product of a few conspiratorial individuals who brainwashed the masses into subverting the old order, a claim rooted in the belief that the revolutionaries had no legitimate complaints. [249] Other historians, influenced by Marxist thinking, have emphasised the importance of the peasants and the urban workers in presenting the Revolution as a gigantic class struggle. [250] In general, scholarship on the French Revolution initially studied the political ideas and developments of the era, but it has gradually shifted towards social history that analyses the impact of the Revolution on individual lives. [251]

Historians until the late 20th century emphasised class conflicts from a largely Marxist perspective as the fundamental driving cause of the Revolution. [252] The central theme of this argument was that the Revolution emerged from the rising bourgeoisie, with support from the sans-culottes, who fought to destroy the aristocracy. [253] However, Western scholars largely abandoned Marxist interpretations in the 1990s. By the year 2000 many historians were saying that the field of the French Revolution was in intellectual disarray. The old model or paradigm focusing on class conflict has been discredited, and no new explanatory model had gained widespread support. [254] [255] Nevertheless, as Spang has shown, there persists a very widespread agreement that the French Revolution was the watershed between the premodern and modern eras of Western history, and one of the most important events in history. [254]

It marks the end of the early modern period, which started around 1500 and is often seen as marking the "dawn of the modern era". [256] Within France itself, the Revolution permanently crippled the power of the aristocracy and drained the wealth of the Church, although the two institutions survived despite the damage they sustained. After the collapse of the First Empire in 1815, the French public lost the rights and privileges earned since the Revolution, but they remembered the participatory politics that characterised the period, with one historian commenting: "Thousands of men and even many women gained firsthand experience in the political arena: they talked, read, and listened in new ways they voted they joined new organisations and they marched for their political goals. Revolution became a tradition, and republicanism an enduring option." [222]

Some historians argue that the French people underwent a fundamental transformation in self-identity, evidenced by the elimination of privileges and their replacement by rights as well as the growing decline in social deference that highlighted the principle of equality throughout the Revolution. [257] The Revolution represented the most significant and dramatic challenge to political absolutism up to that point in history and spread democratic ideals throughout Europe and ultimately the world. [258] Throughout the 19th century, the revolution was heavily analysed by economists and political scientists, who saw the class nature of the revolution as a fundamental aspect in understanding human social evolution itself. This, combined with the egalitarian values introduced by the revolution, gave rise to a classless and co-operative model for society called "socialism" which profoundly influenced future revolutions in France and around the world.

Revealed: the ancient propaganda war that led to the triumph of Christianity

N ew historical research is shedding fresh light on the birth of Christianity as a major religion.

Although Christianity had existed since the mid-first century AD, it didn’t become the Roman empire’s main religion until more than 250 years later.

Now, new research is revealing the dramatic pro-Christian and anti-Christian propaganda wars which preceded Christianity’s emergence as the empire’s dominant faith.

An investigation by an American historian of early Christianity, David Lloyd Dusenbury of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is for the first time establishing the scale and nature of the propaganda battles that raged in the final decades of pagan control of the empire.

The new research, published in a groundbreaking book this week, shows that a major issue used by both sides in the late third and the very early fourth century was the role of Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect of Judaea who had ordered Jesus’s crucifixion some 270 years earlier.


A 19th-century painting of Pilate’s trial of Jesus

The battle seems to have centred around Pilate’s actions. Both sides wanted Pilate, a traditional high-ranking Roman, to appear innocent of any wrongdoing – but in different ways.

The new research suggests that the pagans tried to vindicate Pilate by claiming that Jesus was a violent and dangerous rebel – and that therefore Pilate was quite right to have had him executed.

By contrast, many Christian propagandists sought to exonerate Pilate by claiming that the Jews had taken matters into their own hands – and that therefore it was the Jews, not Pilate, who were to blame for Jesus’s death.

Both pagans and Christians were keen to portray themselves as loyally pro-Roman, in order to try to win over traditional elites within the empire.

Although the pagan/Christian ideological war was ultimately decided on the battlefield, both sides appear to have seen their respective propaganda campaigns as essential in increasing their chances of political and military victory.

At the time, it’s estimated that only around 10 per cent of the population of the empire was Christian. Of the remaining 90 per cent, most were pagan.

And yet, with the help of pro-Christian propaganda, Christianity succeeded in winning over sufficient high status and powerful individuals to enable it to triumph politically and militarily.

The new research highlights the key “spin doctors” on both sides.

Maximinus Daza became co-emperor between AD310 and 313

On the pagan side there were two key propagandists: one was the rabidly anti-Christian Roman ruler of Syria, Palestine and Cyprus, a Roman soldier called Maximinus Daza, who became co-emperor between AD310 and 313.

He was the promoter of the main pro-pagan book, entitled Memoirs of Pilate, which sought to justify Pontius Pilate’s decision to crucify Jesus. He claimed that the book was based on Pilate’s own (now long-lost) account of Jesus’s trial, an account which had apparently been sitting in an imperial library for the preceding 270 years.

Daza was an eastern European of peasant stock, who was accused by Christian propagandists of being a sex-mad, alcohol-obsessed, debauched serial adulterer. Apart from a very brief pagan comeback half a century later, he was the last pagan emperor of the empire, and was also (as Roman ruler of Egypt) the last and roughly 210th person to have the title of pharaoh.

The other key pro-pagan propagandist was the Roman governor of Bithynia (northern Turkey), a Roman aristocrat and philosopher by the name of Sossianus Hierocles who wrote an anti-Christian propaganda book called Lover of Truth, which seems to have accused Jesus of being the leader of a 900-strong gang of robbers!

Although it’s extremely unlikely that Jesus was in any way involved with such outlaws, first and early-to-mid-second century Judea would have been perceived by many educated Romans as a hotbed of violent, and often messianically inspired, rebels and politically motivated “robbers”. Indeed, in the century and a half following Jesus’s birth, there were at least a dozen partly religiously motivated armed Jewish rebellions against Rome in at least five different parts of the empire (including at least seven in Judea itself). The empire’s Jewish population, especially the Jews of Jesus’s era, was without doubt one of its most rebellious, a reputation which anti-Christian propagandists appear to have exploited to the full.

On the Christian side there were also two key propagandists, the most aggressive of whom was a stridently anti-pagan imperial adviser named Firmianus Lactantius, who produced anti-pagan and anti-Jewish propaganda material. In one book, The Deaths of the Persecutors, he describes in lurid detail how God inflicts particularly gruesome deaths on political leaders involved in anti-Christian campaigns. And, in another book, The Divine Institutes, he spread totally fake allegations that the Jews (not the Romans) had actually carried out Jesus’s crucifixion – and that Pilate had never sentenced Jesus to death. Lactantius was a key adviser of the first Christian emperor, Constantine, but he was also, to a large extent, a progenitor of Christian antisemitism.

A fourth century mural probably depicting Firmianus Lactantius

Another key pro-Christian campaigner was a Christian theologian and historian called Eusebius who wrote a book known as Martyrs of Palestine in order to discredit the pagan Roman rulers who controlled that region. The book was an expose of pagan brutality, and a work of praise for Christian heroes.

“Prior to carrying out this new research, we had never realised how large the figure of Pilate loomed in the huge propaganda war that preceded Christianity’s triumph over paganism,” said Dr Dusenbury, who has just published his revelatory new research in The Innocence of Pontius Pilate.

Although the least Christian part of the empire was Europe, it was from there that the most powerful pro-Christian political leader, a ruthless senior Roman military officer called Constantine, emerged. Conversely, it was the empire’s Asian provinces which had the largest Christian populations – but also, perhaps as a consequence, some of the most virulent anti-Christian political leaders. It is conceivable that in the east, Christians were seen by some of their pagan fellow citizens as a threat, while in some parts of Europe, Christianity was not perceived so strongly in that way.

Constantine the Great, the Roman emperor who brought pagan supremacy to an end

The key accusation against Jesus concerned his alleged claim to be King of the Jews (albeit not in the conventional political sense). Pontius Pilate had referred Jesus’s case to the ruler of Galilee, Herod Antipas, but Herod refused to convict and referred the case back to the Roman prefect. Pilate then finally tried Jesus and found him guilty.

Some historians have been puzzled over why Jesus’s alleged claim of royal status (even if only in a spiritual sense) would have been a Roman capital offence. The answer may lie, by a bizarre coincidence, around the year of Jesus’s birth, in an event 1,400 miles to the northwest.

A 16th-century portrayal of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge of AD312 – one of the most important military events in world history

For, around the year 1BC, the Emperor Augustus had finally settled a Middle Eastern political dispute between different claimants to the Judean throne (ie, to the title “King of the Jews”) by indefinitely suspending the use of that title. Indeed the title itself was, in legal terms, a Roman “possession”, having been specifically created some years earlier not in Jerusalem, but by the Senate in Rome.

Jesus’s alleged claim to be “King of the Jews” may well therefore have been perceived as violating that imperial legal decision to suspend that Roman-originating title. Although Jesus himself never confirmed or denied that he claimed that title, the Romans and others perceived that he did.

The propaganda conflict which preceded the triumph of Christianity occurred between roughly AD290 and 313, and as that battle intensified, the struggle between pro-pagan and pro-Christian forces became a more physically violent one. First, between 303 and 313, a succession of pagan Roman emperors launched a brutal suppression of Christianity (mainly in the east of the empire). But, in the final few years of that period, armies, led by pro and anti Christian emperors, began to clash.

The two key battles were in AD312 when Constantine, who had been declared emperor by the Roman legions in Britain six years earlier, defeated his pro-pagan rival near Rome – and in the following year, when the emperor Maximinus Daza was defeated by Christian-aligned forces near what is now Istanbul.

‘The Innocence of Pontius Pilate: How the Roman Trial of Jesus Shaped History’ is published on 21 April by Hurst, hardback, £25

Gramsci’s Grand Plan

One of the most interesting aspects of the study of history is that very often men born in the most humble of circumstances nevertheless rise up to affect the course of human history dramatically. They may be men of action or men of thought, yet in either case their activities can father tremendous changes across the years. Antonio Gramsci was both a man of action and thought and, whatever the outcome of the events of the next several decades, he will almost certainly be reckoned by future historians to have been a remarkable figure.

Born in obscurity on the island of Sardinia in 1891, Gramsci would not have been considered a prime candidate to impact significantly the 20th century. Gramsci studied philosophy and history at the University of Turin, and soon became a dedicated Marxist, joining the Italian Socialist Party. Immediately after the First World War, he established his own radical newspaper, The New Order, and shortly afterwards helped in the founding of the Italian Communist Party.

Disillusioned Marxist

The fascist “March on Rome” and the appointment of Benito Mussolini to the prime ministry impelled the young Marxist theorist to depart Italy. Casting about for a new home, he chose the most logical place for a Communist, Lenin’s newly fashioned USSR. However, Soviet Russia was not what he had expected. His powers of observation wakened immediately to the distance that so often separates theory from reality. A fanatical Marxist insofar as political, economic, and historical theories were concerned, Gramsci was profoundly disturbed that life in Communist Russia exhibited little evidence of any deeply felt love on the part of the workers for the “paradise” that Lenin had constructed for them. Even less was there any deep attachment to such concepts as the “proletarian revolution” or “dictatorship of the proletariat,” apart from the obligatory rhetoric.

On the contrary, it was obvious to Gramsci that the “paradise” of the working class maintained its hold over workers and peasants only by sheer terror, by mass murder on a gargantuan scale, and by the ubiquitous, gnawing fear of midnight knocks on the door and of forced-labor camps in the Siberian wilderness. Also crucial to Lenin’s state was a continuous drumbeat of propaganda, slogans, and outright lies. It was all very disillusioning for Gramsci. While other men might have reassessed their entire ideological outlook after such experiences, Gramsci’s subtle, analytical mind worked on the seeming paradox differently.

The death of Lenin and the seizure of power by Stalin caused Gramsci immediately to reconsider his choice of residence. Building upon Lenin’s achievements in terror and tyranny, Stalin began to transform agrarian Russia into an industrial giant that would then turn all of its energies to military conquest. It was Stalin’s design to build the greatest military machine in history, crush the “forces of reaction,” and impose Communism on Europe and Asia — and later on the whole world — by brute force.

In the meantime, however, to consolidate and assure his power, Stalin systematically commenced the extermination of potential foes within his own camp. That, as it turned out, became an ongoing process, one that lasted until his own demise. In particular, men suspected of even the slightest ideological heresy in relation to Stalin’s own interpretation of Marxism-Leninism were sent straight to torture chambers or death camps, or were hurried before firing squads.

Prison “Prophet”

His days obviously numbered in Stalinist Russia, Gramsci decided to return home and take up the struggle against Mussolini. Seen as both a serious threat to the safety of the fascist regime and a likely agent of a hostile foreign power, after a relatively short time Gramsci was arrested and sentenced to a lengthy term of imprisonment, and there, in his prison cell, he devoted the nine years that were left to him to writing. Before his death from tuberculosis in 1937, Gramsci produced nine volumes of observations on history, sociology, Marxist theory, and, most importantly, Marxist strategy. Those volumes, known as the Prison Notebooks, have since been published in many languages and distributed throughout the world. Their significance comes from the fact that they form the foundation for a dramatic new Marxist strategy, one that makes the “spontaneous revolution” of Lenin as obsolete as hoop skirts and high button shoes, one that promises to win the world voluntarily to Marxism, and one based on a realistic appraisal of historical fact and human psychology, rather than on empty wishes and illusions.

As we shall see, Gramsci’s shrewd assessment of the true essence of Marxism and of mankind makes his writings among the most powerful in this century. While Gramsci himself would die an ignominious and lonely death in a fascist prison, his thoughts would attain a life of their own and rise up to menace the world. What are these ideas?

Essence of the Red Revolution

Gramsci’s signal contribution was to liberate the Marxist project from the prison of economic dogma, thereby dramatically enhancing its ability to subvert Christian society.

If we were to take the ideological pronouncements of Marx and Lenin at face value, we would believe — as have millions of their deluded disciples — that the uprising of the workers was inevitable, and that all that was to be done was to mobilize the underclass through propaganda, thereby sparking universal revolution. Of course, this premise is invalid, yet it remained inflexible doctrine among Communists — at least, for public consumption.

However, the hard core of the Communist movement consisted of ruthless criminals, clear-eyed in their understanding of the intellectual errors of Marxism, who were willing to employ any necessary means to obtain the power they sought. For such hardened, hate-intoxicated conspirators, ideology is a tactic, a means of mobilizing supporters and rationalizing criminal actions.

Those who accept uncritically the idea that “Communism is dead” fail to understand the true nature of the enemy. Communism is not an ideology in which one believes. Rather, it is a criminal conspiracy in which one enlists. Although Lenin professed to revere Marx’s scribblings as sacred writ, once his Bolsheviks had seized power in Russia, Lenin freely modified Marxism to suit his needs. The same was true of Stalin. The Bolsheviks did not come to power in Russia by any uprising of the workers and peasants, but by a coup d’etat, orchestrated by a tightly disciplined Marxist cadre and ultimately consolidated by civil war. They also received — lest it be forgotten — critical help from Western political and banking elites.

In similar fashion, Communism did not come to power in Eastern Europe by revolution, but rather through the imposition of that system by a conquering Red Army — and, once again, through the corrupt connivance of conspirators in the West. In China, Communism came to power through civil war, aided by the Soviets and by traitorous elements in the West.

In no single instance has Communism ever achieved power by means of any popular revolutionary upheaval, but always by force or subterfuge. The only popular revolutionary upheavals recorded in the 20th century have been anti-Marxist “counter-revolutions,” such as the revolt in Berlin in 1954 and the Hungarian uprising of 1956.

Looking back on the 20th century, it is clear that Marx was wrong in his assumption that most workers and peasants were dissatisfied with their places in, and alienated from, their societies, that they were seething with resentment against the middle and upper classes, or that they in any way were predisposed to revolution. Moreover, wherever Communism achieved power, its use of unprecedented levels of violence, coercion, and repression have generated underground opposition at home and militant opposition abroad, making endless killing and repression endemic to Marxism and essential for Communist survival. All of these undeniable facts, when examined honestly, posed insurmountable difficulties insofar as further extensions of Communist power were concerned, and assured some kind of ultimate crisis for Marxism.

While the foregoing is obvious to perceptive observers now, looking back from the vantage point of our time and after more than eight decades of experience with the reality of Communism in power, we begin to understand something of the insightfulness of Antonio Gramsci when we realize that what is evident now, at the close of the millennium, was evident to him when the Soviet regime was in its infancy and Communism still largely untried conjecture.

Gramsci was a brilliant student of philosophy, history, and languages. This education imparted to him an excellent grasp of the character of his fellow men and of the character of the societies that made up the civilized community of nations in the early decades of this century. As we have already seen, one of the foundational insights given him by this education was that Communist hopes for a spontaneous revolution, brought about by some process of historical inevitability, were illusory. Marxist ideologues were, he asserted, beguiling themselves. In the Gramscian view workers and peasants were not, by and large, revolutionary-minded and they harbored no desire for the destruction of the existing order. Most had loyalties beyond, and far more powerful than, class considerations, even in those instances where their lives were less than ideal. More meaningful to ordinary people than class solidarity and class warfare were such things as faith in God and love of family and country. These were foremost among their overriding allegiances.

Such attractiveness as Communist promises might possess among the working classes was, moreover, diminished by Communist brutalities and by heavy-handed totalitarian methods. Stirring the aristocratic and bourgeois classes to action, these negative attributes were so terrifying and sobering that militant anti-Marxist organizations and movements sprang up everywhere, effectively putting a halt to plans for Communist expansion. With all of this easily apparent to him, and, blessed in a way with the seemingly endless leisure afforded by prison life, Gramsci turned his excellent mind to saving Marxism by analyzing and solving these questions.

Subverting Christian Faith

The civilized world, Gramsci deduced, had been thoroughly saturated with Christianity for 2,000 years and Christianity remains the dominant philosophical and moral system in Europe and North America. Practically speaking, civilization and Christianity were inextricably bound together. Christianity had become so thoroughly integrated into the daily lives of nearly everyone, including non-Christians living in Christian lands, it was so pervasive, that it formed an almost impenetrable barrier to the new, revolutionary civilization Marxists wish to create. Attempting to batter down that barrier proved unproductive, since it only generated powerful counter-revolutionary forces, consolidating them and making them potentially deadly. Therefore, in place of the frontal attack, how much more advantageous and less hazardous it would be to attack the enemy’s society subtly, with the aim of transforming the society’s collective mind gradually, over a period of a few generations, from its former Christian worldview into one more harmonious to Marxism. And there was more.

Whereas conventional Marxist-Leninists were hostile towards the non-Communist Left, Gramsci argued that alliances with a broad spectrum of leftist groups would prove essential to Communist victory. In Gramsci’s time these included, among others, various “anti-fascist” organizations, trade unions, and socialist political groups. In our time, alliances with the Left would include radical feminists, extremist environmentalists, “civil rights” movements, anti-police associations, internationalists, ultra-liberal church groups, and so forth. These organizations, along with open Communists, together create a united front working for the transformation of the old Christian culture.

What Gramsci proposed, in short, was a renovation of Communist methodology and a streamlining and updating of Marx’s antiquated strategies. Let there be no doubt that Gramsci’s vision of the future was entirely Marxist and that he accepted the validity of Marxism’s overall worldview. Where he differed was in the process for achieving the victory of that worldview. Gramsci wrote that “there can and must be a ‘political hegemony’ even before assuming government power, and in order to exercise political leadership or hegemony one must not count solely on the power and material force that are given by government.” What he meant is that it is incumbent upon Marxists to win the hearts and minds of the people, and not to rest hopes for the future solely on force or power.

Furthermore, Communists were enjoined to put aside some of their class prejudice in the struggle for power, seeking to win even elements within the bourgeois classes, a process which Gramsci described as “the absorption of the elites of the enemy classes.” Not only would this strengthen Marxism with new blood, but it would deprive the enemy of this lost talent. Winning the bright young sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie to the red banner, wrote Gramsci, “results in [the anti-Marxist forces’] decapitation and renders them impotent.” In short, violence and force will not by themselves genuinely transform the world. Rather it is through winning hegemony over the minds of the people and in robbing enemy classes of their most gifted men that Marxism will triumph over all.

Free-will Slaves

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, a classic study of modern totalitarianism, contains a line that epitomizes the concept that Gramsci tried to convey to his party comrades: “A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.” While it is improbable that Huxley was familiar with Gramsci’s theories, the idea he conveys of free persons marching willingly into bondage is nevertheless precisely what Gramsci had in mind.

Gramsci believed that if Communism achieved “mastery of human consciousness,” then labor camps and mass murder would be unnecessary. How does an ideology gain such mastery over patterns of thought inculcated by cultures for hundreds of years? Mastery over the consciousness of the great mass of people would be attained, Gramsci contended, if Communists or their sympathizers gained control of the organs of culture — churches, education, newspapers, magazines, the electronic media, serious literature, music, the visual arts, and so on. By winning “cultural hegemony,” to use Gramsci’s own term, Communism would control the deepest wellsprings of human thought and imagination. One need not even control all of the information itself if one can gain control over the minds that assimilate that information. Under such conditions, serious opposition disappears since men are no longer capable of grasping the arguments of Marxism’s opponents. Men will indeed “love their servitude,” and will not even realize that it is servitude.

Steps in the Process

The first phase in achieving “cultural hegemony” over a nation is the undermining of all elements of traditional culture. Churches are thus transformed into ideology-driven political clubs, with the stress on “social justice” and egalitarianism, with worship reduced to trivialized entertainment, and with age-old doctrinal and moral teachings “modernized” or diminished to the point of irrelevancy. Genuine education is replaced by “dumbed-down” and “politically correct” curricula, and standards are reduced dramatically. The mass media are fashioned into instruments for mass manipulation and for harassing and discrediting traditional institutions and their spokesmen. Morality, decency, and old virtues are ridiculed without respite. Tradition-minded clergymen are portrayed as hypocrites and virtuous men and women as prudish, stuffy, and unenlightened.

Culture is no longer a buttress supporting the integrity of the national heritage and a vehicle for imparting that heritage to future generations, but becomes a means for “destroying ideals and … presenting the young not with heroic examples but with deliberately and aggressively degenerate ones,” as theologian Harold O.J. Brown writes. We see this in contemporary American life, in which the great historical symbols of our nation’s past, including great presidents, soldiers, explorers, and thinkers, are shown to have been unforgivably flawed with “racism” and “sexism” and therefore basically evil. Their place has been taken by pro-Marxist charlatans, pseudo-intellectuals, rock stars, leftist movie celebrities, and the like. At another level, traditional Christian culture is condemned as repressive, “Eurocentric,” and “racist” and, thus, unworthy of our continued devotion. In its place, unalloyed primitivism in the guise of “multiculturalism” is held as the new model.

Marriage and family, the very building blocks of our society, are perpetually attacked and subverted. Marriage is portrayed as a plot by men to perpetuate an evil system of domination over women and children. The family is depicted as a dangerous institution epitomized by violence and exploitation. Patriarchally oriented families are, according to the Gramscians, the precursors of fascism, Nazism, and every organized form of racial persecution.

The Frankfurt School

With respect to the subject of the undermining of the American family, and to many other aspects of the Gramscian technique, let us explore briefly the story of the Frankfurt School. This organization of leftist intellectuals, also known as the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, was founded in the 1920s in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. There it flourished amidst the decadence of the Weimar period, both compounding and feeding off the decadence, and extending its influence throughout the country.

With Hitler’s acquisition of the chancellorship in 1933, the leftist stalwarts of the Frankfurt School fled Germany for the United States, where they soon established a new institute at Columbia University. As is characteristic of such men, they repaid their debt to the United States for sheltering them from Nazi brutality by turning their attention to what they regarded as the injustices and social deficiencies inherent to our system and society. Immediately they set about devising a program of revolutionary reform for America.

Max Horkheimer, one of the notables of the Frankfurt School, determined that America’s profound allegiance to the traditional family was a mark of our national inclination towards the same fascist system from which he had fled. Explaining this connection between fascism and the American family, he declared: “When the child respects in his father’s strength a moral relationship and thus learns to love what his reason recognizes to be a fact, he is experiencing his first training for the bourgeois authority relationship.”

Commenting critically on Horkheimer’s theory, Arthur Herman writes in The Idea of Decline in Western History: “The typical modern family, then, involves ‘sado-masochistic resolution of the Oedipus complex,’ producing a psychological cripple, the ‘authoritarian personality.’ The individual’s hatred of the father is suspended and remains unresolved, becoming instead an attraction for strong authority figures whom he obeys unquestioningly.” The traditional patriarchal family is thus a breeding ground for fascism, according to Horkheimer, and charismatic authority figures — men like Hitler and Mussolini — are the ultimate beneficiaries of the “authoritarian personality” instilled by the traditional family and culture.

Theodor W. Adorno, another notable of the Frankfurt School, underscored Horkheimer’s theory with his own study, published in book form as The Authoritarian Personality, which he authored together with Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel J. Levinson, and R. Nevitt Sanford. Upon closer examination, it became apparent to critics that the research on which The Authoritarian Personality was based was pseudo-sociological, flawed in its methodology, and skewed in its conclusions. But, the critics were ignored.

America, Adorno and his research team pronounced, was ripe for its own, home-grown fascist takeover. Not only was the American population hopelessly racist and anti-Semitic, but it had far too acquiescent an attitude towards authority figures such as fathers, policemen, clergy, military leaders, and so forth. It was also far too obsessed with such “fascist” notions as efficiency, cleanliness, and success, for these qualities revealed an inward “pessimistic and contemptuous view of humanity,” a view that leads, Adorno held, to fascism.

Through such unmitigated balderdash as one finds in the writings of Horkheimer, Adorno, and the other luminaries of the Frankfurt School, the structures of the traditional family and traditional virtue have been called seriously into question and confidence in them blunted. Elected government officials and bureaucrats have contributed to this problem through government taxation policies, which mulct the traditional family while subsidizing anti-traditional modes of life.

Additionally, these officials are inclined more and more towards the elevation of abominations such as homosexual and illicit heterosexual unions to the same level as marriage. Already, in many localities throughout the country and in numerous private corporations, benefits previously reserved to married couples are now granted to unmarried sexual “partners.” Even the word “family” is slowly being superseded by the vague euphemism “household.”

A Lawless Land

Americans have long boasted that their nation is a government of law, not of men. American law is derived directly from English common law and from the biblical and Christian principles that are at the root of English common law. One would therefore expect law to constitute one of the chief barriers against the subversion of our society. Instead, in the field of law, revolutionary change has become the order of the day, change so astounding that it could not have been imagined by Americans of 50 years ago. None would have dreamed of the outlawing of prayer and any expression of religious conviction on public property, the legalization of abortion as a constitutionally guaranteed “right,” and the legalization of pornography, to mention but three.

Clearly expressed principles embraced by the Founding Fathers and set forth in our Constitution are now routinely reinterpreted and distorted. Those that cannot be reinterpreted and distorted, such as the Tenth Amendment, are simply ignored. Worse yet, the ideological agenda underpinning the radicalization of American law is blithely accepted by millions of Americans, who have themselves been radicalized without ever realizing it.

Crucial to the Gramscians’ success is the disappearance of all memory of the old civilization and way of life. The older America of unregulated lives, honest government, clean cities, crime-free streets, morally edifying entertainment, and a family-oriented way of life is no longer vivid in the minds of many Americans. Once it is gone completely, nothing will stand in the way of the new Marxist civilization, which demonstrates as nothing else that through the Gramscian method it is indeed possible to “Marxize the inner man,” as Malachi Martin wrote in The Keys of This Blood. Then and only then, writes Fr. Martin, “could you successfully dangle the utopia of the ‘Workers’ Paradise’ before his eyes, to be accepted in a peaceful and humanely agreeable manner, without revolution or violence or bloodshed.”

It must be evident to all but the most simple souls that after the passage of a generation or two, such ceaseless social conditioning is bound to alter the consciousness and inner-substance of a society, and it is bound to produce significant structural crises within that society, crises that manifest themselves in numberless ways in virtually every community throughout the country.

The Good Fight

It may seem to some that the situation in our nation is hopeless and that no force or agency can possibly put a halt to the insidious strategies working to destroy us. Despite the grim chronicle of the past 60 or 70 years, however, there is still much that may be done and much reason for hope. Families and individual men and women still possess, to a large extent, the freedom to avoid and escape the mind-altering social conditioning of the Gramscians. They have the power to shield themselves from these influences and especially to shield their young. There are alternatives to public schools, television, trashy movies, and strident “rock” music, and those alternatives must be embraced. The propaganda and cultural strychnine must be excluded from our lives.

Those in charge of young people have an especially weighty responsibility. Despite all of the efforts of the radical left and of their sympathizers in the schools and media to transmute young Americans into savages, they must not be allowed to succeed, because disorganized minds — mental vortices of anarchism and nihilism — have no powers of resistance. Savages soon become slaves. Children and youths should be introduced to such bedrock concepts as honesty, decency, virtue, duty, and love of God and country through the lives of authentic national heroes — men like George Washington, Nathan Hale, John Paul Jones, and Robert E. Lee.

Similarly, they will better be able to retain civilized values and maintain healthy minds if they are encouraged to learn to love their cultural inheritance through great literature, poetry, music, and art. Parents must demand from their children the upholding of the morals, manners, and standards of their ancestors.

In school, the young must be required to adhere to high standards of scholarship. Most importantly, traditional religion must be an integral part of daily living.

We as citizens must also exercise our persuasive powers over our elected representatives. In doing this our mindset must be one of demanding absolute non-compromise from politicians. Likewise, in choosing elected representatives at every level, we must look to men and women who refuse to compromise.

Just as importantly, the honorable, uncompromising men and women we elect to represent us must be made aware of the Gramscian strategy of cultural subversion they must be able to recognize the tactics and strategies being used to undermine the institutions upon which our liberties depend. Building that understanding will, in turn, require the creation of an educated and principled electorate that will impart this wisdom to our representatives — and hold them accountable once they have been entrusted with elective office.

We should never allow ourselves to be stampeded, herd like, into forming opinions and judgments stimulated and orchestrated by the sensationalism of the press and the other media masters. Instead, we must calmly resist their mind-control techniques. We must strive to be independent thinkers. Realizing that we are not alone, we should turn to tradition-minded churches, schools, and political and educational organizations, and there lend our voices and support to the creation of bastions of resistance to the Gramscian onslaught.

Finally, we must never give up our faith in the future and our hope for a better America and world. God, with His infinite power and boundless love for us, will never forsake us but will answer our prayers and reward our efforts, as long as we do not lose our faith. Marxism — and whatever other flags the total state parades under these days — are not inevitable and are not the wave of the future. As long as we think and act in the indomitable spirit of our forefathers, we cannot fail.

The great age of monarchy, 1648–1789

By the 17th century there was already a tradition and awareness of Europe: a reality stronger than that of an area bounded by sea, mountains, grassy plains, steppes, or deserts where Europe clearly ended and Asia began—“that geographical expression” which in the 19th century Otto von Bismarck was to see as counting for little against the interests of nations. In the two centuries before the French Revolution and the triumph of nationalism as a divisive force, Europe exhibited a greater degree of unity than appeared on the mosaic of its political surface. With appreciation of the separate interests that Bismarck would identify as “real” went diplomatic, legal, and religious concerns which involved states in common action and contributed to the notion of a single Europe. King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden saw one aspect when he wrote: “All the wars that are afoot in Europe have become as one.”

A European identity took shape in the work of Hugo Grotius, whose De Jure Belli et Pacis (1625 On the Law of War and Peace) was a plea for the spirit of law in international relations. It gained substance in the work of the great congresses (starting with those of Münster and Osnabrück before the Peace of Westphalia in 1648) that met not only to determine rights and frontiers, taking into account the verdict of battle and resources of states, but also to settle larger questions of justice and religion. By 1700 statesmen had begun to speak of Europe as an interest to be defended against the ambitions of particular states. Europe represented an audience for those who wrote about the great issues of faith, morals, politics, and, increasingly, science: Descartes did not write only for Frenchmen, nor Leibniz for Germans. The use of Latin as the language of diplomacy and scholarship and the ubiquity, alongside local systems and customs, of Roman law were two manifestations of the unity of Christendom.

As a spiritual inheritance and dynamic idea greater than the sum of the policies of which it was composed, “Christendom” best represents Europe as envisaged by those who thought and wrote about it. The existence of vigorous Jewish communities—at times persecuted, as in Poland in 1648, but in places such as Amsterdam secure, prosperous, and creative—only serves to emphasize the essential fact: Europe and Christendom were interchangeable terms. The 16th century had experienced schism, and the development of separate confessions had shredded “the seamless robe,” but it had done so without destroying the idea of catholicism to which the Roman church gave institutional form. The word catholic survived in the creeds of Protestant churches, such as that of England. Calvin had thought in catholic, not sectarian, terms when he mourned for the Body of Christ, “bleeding, its members severed.” Deeper than quarrels about articles of belief or modes of worship lay the mentality conditioned by centuries of war against pagan and infidel, as by the Reconquista in Spain, which had produced a strong idea of a distinctive European character. The Renaissance, long-evolving and coloured by local conditions, had promoted attitudes still traceable to the common inheritance. The Hellenic spirit of inquiry, the Roman sense of order, and the purposive force of Judaism had contributed to a cultural synthesis and within it an article of faith whose potential was to be realized in the intellectual revolution of the 17th century—namely, that man was an agent in a historical process which he could aspire both to understand and to influence.

By 1600 the outcome of that process was the complex system of rights and values comprised in feudalism, chivalry, the crusading ideal, scholasticism, and humanism. Even to name them is to indicate the rich diversity of the European idea, whether inspiring adventures of sword and spirit or imposing restraints upon individuals inclined to change. The forces making for change were formidable. The Protestant and Roman Catholic Reformations brought passionate debate of an unsettling kind. Discoveries and settlement overseas extended mental as well as geographic horizons, brought new wealth, and posed questions about the rights of indigenous peoples and Christian duty toward them. Printing gave larger scope to authors of religious or political propaganda. The rise of the state brought reactions from those who believed they lost by it or saw others benefit exceedingly from new sources of patronage.

Meanwhile, the stakes were raised by price inflation, reflecting the higher demand attributable to a rise in the population of about 25 percent between 1500 and 1600 and the inflow of silver from the New World the expansion of both reached a peak by 1600. Thereafter, for a century, the population rose only slightly above 100 million and pulled back repeatedly to that figure, which seemed to represent a natural limit. The annual percentage rate of increase in the amount of bullion in circulation in Europe, which had been 3.8 in 1550 and 1 in 1600, was, by 1700, 0.5. The extent to which these facts, with attendant phenomena—notably the leveling out from about 1620, and thereafter the lowering, of demand, prices, and rents before the resumption of growth about 1720—influenced the course of events must remain uncertain. Controversy has centred around the cluster of social, political, and religious conflicts and revolts that coincided with the deepening of the recession toward mid-century. Some historians have seen there not particular crises but a “general crisis.” Most influential in the debate have been the Marxist view that it was a crisis of production and the liberal political view that it was a general reaction to the concentration of power at the centre.

Any single explanation of the general crisis may be doomed to fail. That is not to say that there was no connection between different features of the period. These arose from an economic malaise that induced an introspective mentality, which tended to pessimism and led to repressive policies but which also was expressed more positively in a yearning and search for order. So appear rationalists following René Descartes in adopting mathematical principles in a culture dominated by tradition artists and writers accepting rules such as those imposed by the French Academy (founded 1635) statesmen looking for new principles to validate authority economic theorists (later labeled “mercantilists”) justifying the need to protect and foster native manufactures and fight for an apparently fixed volume of trade the clergy, Catholic and Protestant alike, seeking uniformity and tending to persecution witch-hunters rooting out irregularities in the form of supposed dealings with Satan even gardeners trying to impose order on unruly nature. Whether strands in a single pattern or distinct phenomena that happen to exhibit certain common principles, each has lent itself to a wider perception of the 17th century as classical, baroque, absolutist, or mercantilist.

There is sufficient evidence from tolls, rents, taxes, riots, and famines to justify arguments for something more dire than a downturn in economic activity. There are, however, other factors to be weighed: prolonged wars fought by larger armies, involving more matériel, and having wider political repercussions more efficient states, able to draw more wealth from taxpayers and even, at certain times (such as the years 1647–51), particularly adverse weather, as part of a general deterioration in climatic conditions. There are also continuities that cast doubt on some aspects of the general picture. For example, the drive for conformity can be traced at least to the Council of Trent, whose final sessions were in 1563 but it was visibly losing impetus, despite Louis XIV’s intolerant policy leading to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685), after the Peace of Westphalia. Puritanism, which has been seen as a significant reflection of a contracting economy, was not a prime feature of the second half of the century, though mercantilism was. Then there are exceptions even to economic generalizations: England and, outstandingly, the United Provinces of the Netherlands. Insights and perspectives gain from the search for general causes. But truth requires an untidy picture of Europe in which discrepancies abound, in which men subscribe to a common civilization while cherishing specific rights in which countries evolved along distinctive paths and in which much depended on the idiom of a community, on the ability of ruler or minister, on skills deployed and choices made.

Complementing the search for order and for valid authority in other fields, and arising out of the assertion of rights and the drive to control, a feature of the 17th century was the clarification of ideas about the physical bounds of the world. In 1600 “Europe” still lacked exact political significance. Where, for example, in the eastern plains before the Ural Mountains or the Black Sea were reached, could any line have meaning? Were Christian peoples—Serbs, Romanians, Greeks, or Bulgarians—living under Turkish rule properly Europeans? The tendency everywhere was to envisage boundaries in terms of estates and lordships. Where the legacy of feudalism was islands of territory either subject to different rulers or simply independent, or where, as in Dalmatia or Podolia (lands vulnerable to Turkish raids), the frontier was represented by disputed, inherently unstable zones, a linear frontier could emerge only out of war and diplomacy. The process can be seen in the wars of France and Sweden. Both countries were seen by their neighbours as aggressive, yet they were concerned as much with a defensible frontier as with the acquisition of new resources. Those objectives inspired the expansionist policies of Richelieu, Mazarin, and Louis XIV and—with the added incentives of fighting the infidel and recovering a patrimony lost since the defeat at Mohács in 1526—the reconquest of Hungary, which led to the Treaty of Carlowitz (1699). The frontier then drawn was sufficiently definite—despite modifications, as after the loss of Belgrade (1739)—to make possible effective government within its perimeter.

Another feature of the period was the drawing into the central diplomatic orbit of countries that had been absorbed hitherto in questions of little consequence. Although Henry of Valois had been elected king of Poland before he inherited the French throne (1574) and James VI of Scotland (later James I of England, 1603–25) had married Anne of Denmark, whose country had a footing in Germany through its duchy of Holstein, it was still usual for western statesmen to treat the Baltic states as belonging to a separate northern system. Trading interests and military adventures that forged links, for example, with the United Provinces—as when Sweden intervened in the German war in 1630—complicated already tangled diplomatic questions.

Travelers who ventured beyond Warsaw, Kraków, and the “black earth” area of Mazovia, thence toward the Pripet Marshes, might not know when they left Polish lands and entered those of the tsar. The line between Orthodox Russia and the rest of Christian Europe had never been so sharp as that which divided Christendom and Islam. Uncertainties engendered by the nature of Russian religion, rule, society, and manners perpetuated former ambivalent attitudes toward Byzantium. Unmapped spaces, where Europe petered out in marshes, steppes, and forests of birch and alder, removed the beleaguered though periodically expanding Muscovite state from the concern of all but neighbouring Sweden and Poland. The establishment of a native dynasty with the accession of Michael Romanov in 1613, the successful outcome of the war against Poland that followed the fateful revolt in 1648 of the Ukraine against Polish overlordship, the acquisition of huge territories including Smolensk and Kiev (Treaty of Andrusovo, 1667), and, above all, the successful drive of Peter I the Great to secure a footing in the Baltic were to transform the picture. By the time of Peter’s death in 1725, Russia was a European state: still with some Asian characteristics, still colonizing rather than assimilating southern and eastern lands up to and beyond the Urals, but interlocked with the diplomatic system of the West. A larger Europe, approximating to the modern idea, began to take shape.

What The World Lost And Gained from The Triumph Of Christianity - History

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"The american covenant, the untold story" Newly Updated campfire edition

For more than three decades the WHI has been researching and teaching the “cause and effect” paper-trail of personal liberty and human rights of private enterprise and constitutional government and of charity and the explosion of faith around the world. The Institute embraces the providential view of history, which observes history as a purposeful saga under the direction of a loving Creator. This historical perspective has been the dominant view of Western Civilization from the time of Augustine in the 4th century A.D. to the 20th century. All of the resources, articles, conferences and tours of the World History Institute are created to help you in your quest to understand the world and its meaning. Winston Churchill, the eminent statesman and historian of the 20th century, said “The greatest advances in human civilization have come when we recovered what we had lost: when we learned the lessons of history.” Like Churchill – who was faced with a great depression and then Nazi tyranny – we now face a world in economic chaos and at the brink of worldwide ideological war. We can stare down the evils of our time, as Churchill did, and see good triumph over evil and a better day for ourselves and our children’s children. We hope you will be greatly encouraged by the powerful untold stories of history that are found in our DVD series, CDs, books, conferences and tours. These stories clearly document the fact that each individual has a vital role to play in shaping the future of the world. It is not power-seekers, tyrants and celebrities that lead the way in building successful and good civilizations. It has always been the outnumbered, principled people of faith who have led the way to freedom by following the universal, biblical principles of nation-building.

In 1976, Dr. Marshall Foster founded the World History Institute, a nonprofit educational foundation, to teach the biblical and historical foundations of liberty. The World History Institute (formerly the Mayflower Institute) has become a major force in the movement to restore our nation to its Judeo-Christian heritage. The Institute has reached millions with America’s “untold heritage.”

Dr. Foster has trained tens of thousands through live seminars in 40 states, Canada, and Europe. He has been the co-host of a weekly syndicated radio broadcast entitled "The Story of Liberty" which has reached hundreds of thousands of Americans. Dr. Foster is in constant demand as a keynote speaker at numerous conventions, schools, churches, retreats and political and business groups. He speaks to audiences as large as 20,000 at business conventions and religious gatherings concerning our heritage. He has been a keynote speaker for Promise Keepers, Coral Ridge Ministries, Vision Forum Ministries, Reclaiming America, Christian Coalition, ACSI Christian School Conventions, Worldview Weekends and many more. He has trained the national staff of Campus Crusade for Christ, the Christian Broadcasting Network, the National Day of Prayer, James Robison Ministries, and over 100,000 business associates of Amway Corporation and Boeing Aircraft, among many others.

The World History Institute has produced numerous educational seminars. His 12 part DVD series entitle Terror to Triumph covers the growth and impact of Christianity over the past 2,000 years. This series and it's question and answer guide is being used in churches, schools and home Bible studies throughout the country. Dr. Foster produced numerous DVD's and CD's that are available here on the website including a four hour DVD series called Hope Four Our Time. Marshall's syndicated monthly journal is read by thousand each month and is available on our website for free.

Since 1988, Marshall has led tours of America’s historic East Coast with American Christian Tours. He is now the Director of Christian Education with ACTS, training tour guides to lead over 10,000 students and families each year on the trip of a lifetime. He personally leads annual tours of the historic East Coast and Europe.

Marshall, in collaboration with actor Kirk Cameron, was co-producer for the film, Monumental: In Search of America’s National Treasure, which was released in theaters nationwide in March 2012. The basis of the film revolves around the National Monument to the Forefathers in Plymouth. The film traces the heroic and harrowing travels of the early Pilgrims and encounters the unlikely men and women who risked everything for liberty. Marshall was the co-producer of Kirk Cameron's film Unstoppable in 2013 and continues to work on producing popular films and documentaries.

Marshall has authored three books. His best-selling book, "The American Covenant, the Untold Story", has become an effective training tool in Bible studies, classrooms, and study groups nationwide. The American Covenant book and accompanying documentary have had a deep and lasting impact upon the grass-roots movement to restore our nation. The documentary, narrated by Marshall Foster, has aired on numerous TV programs, and has been viewed in thousands of homes, churches, schools, and study groups.

Marshall is a 1967 graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara. His graduate studies were accomplished at Talbot Theological Seminary, Christian Associates Seminary, with doctoral studies completed at the California Graduate School of Theology and Cathedral Bible College. He was ordained in 1973 and earned a Doctorate of Divinity degree from Cathedral Bible College. He and his wife, Trish, have two grown children and seven grandchildren. They currently reside in Southern California.