Influence of the French Revolution

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The French Revolution had a major impact on Europe and the New World. The long-term impact on France was profound, shaping politics, society, religion and ideas, and polarizing politics for more than a century. The closer other countries were the greater and deeper was the French impact, bringing liberalism and the end of many feudal or traditional laws and practices.[1][2] However there was also a conservative counter-reaction that defeated Napoleon, reinstalled the Bourbon kings, and in some ways reversed the new reforms.[3]

Most of the new nations created by the French were abolished and returned to prewar owners in 1814. However, Frederick Artz emphasizes the benefits the Italians gained from the French Revolution:

For nearly two decades the Italians had the excellent codes of law, a fair system of taxation, a better economic situation, and more religious and intellectual toleration than they had known for centuries.... Everywhere old physical, economic, and intellectual barriers had been thrown down and the Italians had begun to be aware of a common nationality.[4]

Likewise in Switzerland the long-term impact of the French Revolution has been assessed by Martin:

It proclaimed the equality of citizens before the law, equality of languages, freedom of thought and faith; it created a Swiss citizenship, basis of our modern nationality, and the separation of powers, of which the old regime had no conception; it suppressed internal tariffs and other economic restraints; it unified weights and measures, reformed civil and penal law, authorized mixed marriages (between Catholics and Protestants), suppressed torture and improved justice; it developed education and public works.[5]

The greatest impact came of course in France itself. In addition to effects similar to those in Italy and Switzerland, France saw the introduction of the principle of legal equality, and the downgrading of the once powerful and rich Catholic Church to just a bureau controlled by the government. Power became centralized in Paris, with its strong bureaucracy and an army supplied by conscripting all young men. French politics were permanently polarized—new names were given, "left" and "right" for the supporters and opponents of the principles of the Revolution.

Impact on France[edit]

The changes in France were enormous; some were widely accepted and others were bitterly contested into the late 20th century.[6] Before the Revolution, the people had little power or voice. The kings had so thoroughly centralized the system that most nobles spent their time at Versailles, and played only a small direct role in their home districts. Thompson says that the kings had:

ruled by virtue of their personal wealth, their patronage of the nobility, their disposal of ecclesiastical offices, their provincial governors (intendants), their control over the judges and magistrates, and their command of the Army.[7]

After the first year of revolution, this power had been stripped away. The king was a figurehead, the nobility had lost all their titles and most of their land, the Church lost its monasteries and farmlands, bishops, judges and magistrates were elected by the people, the army was almost helpless, with military power in the hands of the new revolutionary National Guard. The central elements of 1789 were the slogan "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" and the "The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen", which Lefebvre calls "the incarnation of the Revolution as a whole."[8]

The long-term impact on France was profound, shaping politics, society, religion and ideas, and polarizing 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."[9]

Impact on Europe[edit]

Europe was racked by two decades of war revolving around France's efforts to spread its revolutionary ideals, and the opposition of reactionary royalty, led by Britain and Austria. War broke out in 1792 as Austria and Prussia invaded France, but were defeated at the Battle of Valmy (1792).

French conquests[edit]

In foreign affairs, the French Army at first was quite successful. It conquered Belgium and turned it into another province of France. It conquered the Netherlands, and made it a puppet state. It took control of the German areas on the left bank of the Rhine River and set up a puppet regime. It conquered Switzerland and most of Italy, setting up a series of puppet states. The result was glory for France, and an infusion of much needed money from the conquered lands, which also provided direct support to the French Army. However the enemies of France, led by Britain and funded by the inexhaustible British Treasury, formed a Second Coalition in 1799 (with Britain joined by Russia the Ottoman Empire, and Austria). It scored a series of victories that rolled back French successes, and The French Army trapped in Egypt. Napoleon himself slipped through the British blockade in October 1799, returning to Paris.[10][11]

Napoleon conquered most of Italy in the name of the French Revolution in 1797-99. He consolidated old units and split up Austria's holdings. He set up a series of new republics, complete with new codes of law and abolition of old feudal privileges. Napoleon's Cisalpine Republic was centered on Milan. Genoa the city became a republic while its hinterland became the Ligurian Republic. The Roman Republic was formed out of the papal holdings while the pope himself was sent to France. The Neapolitan Republic was formed around Naples, but it lasted only five months before the enemy forces of the Coalition recaptured it. In 1805 he formed the Kingdom of Italy, with himself as king and his stepson as viceroy. In addition, France turned the Netherlands into the Batavian Republic, and Switzerland into the Helvetic Republic. All these new countries where satellites of France, and had to pay large subsidies to Paris, as well as provide military support for Napoleon's wars. Their political and administrative systems were modernized, the metric system introduced, and trade barriers reduced. Jewish ghettos were abolished. Belgium and Piedmont became integral parts of France.[12][13] \ The new nations were abolished and returned to prewar owners in 1814. However, Artz emphasizes the benefits the Italians gained from the French Revolution:

For nearly two decades the Italians had the excellent codes of law, a fair system of taxation, a better economic situation, and more religious and intellectual toleration than they had known for centuries.... Everywhere old physical, economic, and intellectual barriers had been thrown down and the Italians had begun to be aware of a common nationality.[14]

Nationalism[edit]

Otto Dann and John Dinwiddy report, "It has long been almost a truism of European history that the French Revolution gave a great stimulus to the growth of modern nationalism."[15] Nationalism was emphasized by historian Carlton J. H. Hayes as a major result of the French Revolution across Europe. The impact on French nationalism was profound. For example, Napoleon became such a heroic symbol of the nation that the glory was easily picked up by his nephew, who was overwhelmingly elected president (and later became Emperor Napoleon III).[16] The influence was great in the hundreds of small German states and elsewhere, where it was either inspired by the French example or in reaction against it.[17][18]

Britain[edit]

Britain saw minority support, but the majority, and especially the elite, 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. Edmund Burke was the chief spokesman for the opposition.[19][20]

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.[21][22]

Germany[edit]

German reaction to the Revolution swung from favorable at first to antagonistic. At first it brought liberal and democratic ideas, the end of gilds, of serfdom and of the Jewish ghetto. It brought economic freedoms and agrarian and legal reform. German intellectuals celebrated the outbreak, hoping to see the triumph of Reason and The Enlightenment. There were enemies as well, as the royal courts in Vienna and Berlin denounced the overthrow of the king and the threatened spread of notions of liberty, equality, and fraternity. By 1793, the execution of the French king and the onset of the Terror disillusioned the "Bildungsbürgertum" (educated middle classes). Reformers said the solution was to have faith in the ability of Germans to reform their laws and institutions in peaceful fashion.[23][24][25]

The Confederation of the Rhine, composed of client states under Napoleon's control, 1806 to 1813; most German states belonged except Prussia (in the northeast) and Austria (in the southeast). The map text is in German

After Prussia was humiliated by Napoleon opinion swung against France and stimulated and shaped German nationalism.[26]

France took direct control of the Rhineland 1794-1814 and radically and permanently liberalized the government, society and economy.[27]

The French swept away centuries worth of outmoded restrictions and introduced unprecedented levels of efficiency. The chaos and barriers in a land divided and subdivided among many different petty principalities gave way to a rational, simplified, centralized system controlled by Paris and run by Napoleon's relatives. The most important impact came from the abolition of all feudal privileges and historic taxes, the introduction of legal reforms of the Napoleonic Code, and the reorganization of the judicial and local administrative systems. The economic integration of the Rhineland with France increased prosperity, especially in industrial production, while business accelerated with the new efficiency and lowered trade barriers. The Jews were liberated from the ghetto. One sour point was the hostility of the French officials toward the Roman Catholic Church, the choice of most of the residents. Much of South Germany felt a similar but more muted influence of the French Revolution, while in Prussia and areas to the east there was far less impact.[28] The reforms were permanent. Decades later workers and peasants in the Rhineland often appealed to Jacobinism to oppose unpopular government programs, while the intelligentsia demanded the maintenance of the Napoleonic Code (which was stayed in effect for a century).[29]

Switzerland[edit]

Main article: Helvetic Republic

The French invaded Switzerland and turned it into an ally known as the "Helvetic Republic" (1798–1803). The interference with localism and traditional liberties was deeply resented, although some modernizing reforms took place.[30][31] Resistance was strongest in the more traditional Catholic bastions, with armed uprisings braking out in spring 1798 in the central part of Switzerland. The French Army suppressed the uprisings but support for revolutionary ideals steadily declined, as the Swiss resented their loss of local democracy, the new taxes, the centralization, and the hostility to religion.[32]

The long-term impact of the French Revolution has been assessed by Martin:

It proclaimed the equality of citizens before the law, equality of languages, freedom of thought and faith; it created a Swiss citizenship, basis of our modern nationality, and the separation of powers, of which the old regime had no conception; it suppressed internal tariffs and other economic restraints; it unified weights and measures, reformed civil and penal law, authorized mixed marriages (between Catholics and Protestants), suppressed torture and improved justice; it developed education and public works.[33]

Belgium[edit]

French invaded the territory of modern-day Belgium and controlled it between 1794-1814. The French imposed reforms and incorporated the territory into France. 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.[34]

Antwerp regained access to the sea and grew quickly as a major port and business center. 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 the 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.[35][36]

Netherlands[edit]

Main article: Batavian Republic

France turned the Netherlands into a puppet state that had to pay large indemnities.[37]

Denmark and Sweden[edit]

The Kingdom of Denmark adopted liberalizing reforms in line with those of the French Revolution, with no direct contact. Danes were aware of French ideas and agreed with them, as it moved from Danish absolutism to a liberal constitutional system between 1750-1850. The change of government in 1784 was caused by a power vacuum created when King Christian VII took ill, and power shifted to the crown prince (who later became King Frederik VI) and reform-oriented landowners. In contrast to Old Regime France, agricultural reform was intensified in Denmark, serfdom was abolished and civil rights were extended to the peasants, the finances of the Danish state were healthy, and there were no external or internal crises. That is, 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-organized liberals who directed political change in the first half of the 19th century.[38][39]

In Sweden, King Gustav III (reigned 1771–92) was an enlightened despot, who weakened the nobility and promoted numerous major social reforms. He felt the Swedish monarchy could survive and flourish by achieving a coalition with the newly emerged middle classes against the nobility. He was close to King Louis XVI so he was disgusted with French radicalism. Nevertheless he decided to promote additional antifeudal reforms to strengthen his hand among the middle classes.[40] When the king was assassinated in 1792 Gustaf Adolf Reuterholm became regent and bitterly opposed the French Revolution and all its supporters. Under King Charles XIII, Sweden joined various coalitions against Napoleon, but was badly defeated and lost much of its territory, especially Finland and Pomerania. The king was overthrown by the army, which in 1810 decided to bring in one of Napoleon's marshals, Bernadotte, as the heir apparent and army commander. He had a Jacobin background and was well-grounded in revolutionary principles, but put Sweden in the coalition that opposed Napoleon. Bernadotte served as a quite conservative king Charles XIV John of Sweden (1818–44).[41]

World impact[edit]

Middle East[edit]

The impact of the French Revolution on the Middle East came in terms of the political and military impact of Napoleon's invasion; and in the eventual influence of revolutionary and liberal ideas and revolutionary movements or rebellions. In terms of Napoleon's invasion in 1798, the response by Ottoman officials was highly negative. They warned that traditional religion would be overthrown. Long-standing Ottoman friendship with France ended. Sultan Selim III immediately realized how far behind his empire was, and started to modernize both his army and his governmental system. In Egypt itself, the ruling elite of Mamluks was permanently displaced, speeding the reforms. In intellectual terms, the immediate impact of the French Revolutionary ideas was nearly invisible, but there was a long-range influence on liberal ideas and the ideal of legal equality, as well as the notion of opposition to a tyrannical government. In this regard, the French Revolution brought such influential themes as constitutionalism, parliamentarianism, individual liberty, legal equality, and the sense of ethnic nationalism. These came to fruition about 1876.[42]

Latin America and Mexico[edit]

As early as 1810, the term "liberal" was coined in Spanish politics to indicate supporters of the French Revolution. This usage passed to Latin America and animated the independence movement against Spain. In the nineteenth century "Liberalism" was the dominant element in Latin American political thought. French liberal ideas were especially influential in Mexico, particularly as seen through the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville and Benjamin Constant and Édouard Laboulaye. The Latin American political culture oscillated between two opposite poles: the traditional, as based on highly specific personal and family ties to kin groups, communities, and religious identity; and the modern, based on impersonal ideals of individualism, equality, legal rights, and secularism or anti-clericalism. The French Revolutionary model was the basis for the modern viewpoint, as explicated in Mexico in the writings of José María Luis Mora (1794-1850). In Mexico, modern liberalism was best expressed in the Liberal Party, the Constitution of 1857, the policies of Benito Juárez, and finally by Francisco I. Madero's democratic movement leading to the Revolution of 1911.[43]

United States[edit]

The French Revolution won widespread American support in its early phase, but when the king was executed it polarized American opinion and played a major role in shaping American politics.[44] President George Washington declared neutrality in the European wars, but the polarization shaped the First Party System. In 1793, the first "Democratic societies" were formed. They supported the French Revolution in the wake of the execution of the king. The word "democrat" was proposed by French Ambassador Citizen Genet for the societies, which he was secretly subsidizing. The emerging Federalists led by Alexander Hamilton began to ridicule the supporters of Thomas Jefferson as "democrats". Genet now began mobilizing American voters using French money, for which he was expelled by President Washington.[45] After President Washington denounced the societies as unrepublican, they faded away. In 1793, as war broke out in Europe, the Jeffersonian Republican Party favored France and pointed to the 1778 treaty that was still in effect. Washington and his unanimous cabinet (including Jefferson) decided the treaty did not bind the U.S. to enter the war; instead Washington proclaimed neutrality.[46] Under President Adams, a Federalist, an undeclared naval war took place with France in 1798-99, called the "Quasi War". Jefferson became president in 1801, but was hostile to Napoleon as a dictator and emperor. Nevertheless, he did seize the opportunity to purchase Louisiana in 1803.[47]

The broad similarities but different experiences between the French and American revolutions lead to a certain kinship between France and the United States, with both countries seeing themselves as pioneers of liberty and promoting republican ideals, this bond manifesting itself in such exchanges as the gift of the Statue of Liberty by France.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Mike Rapport and Peter McPhee. "The International Repercussions of the French Revolution." in A Companion to the French Revolution (2013) pp: 379-396
  2. ^ Klaits, Joseph; Haltzel, Michael H.; Haltzel, Michael (2002). Global Ramifications of the French Revolution. Cambridge UP. 
  3. ^ Frederick B. Artz, Reaction & Revolution: 1814-1832 (Rise of Modern Europe) (1934)
  4. ^ Frederick B. Artz, Reaction and Revolution: 1814-1832 (1934) pp 142-43
  5. ^ William Martin, Histoire de la Suisse (Paris, 1926), pp 187-88, quoted in Crane Brinson, A Decade of Revolution: 1789-1799 (1934) p 235
  6. ^ John Hall Stewart, A Documentary Survey of the french revolution (1951) pp 783-94
  7. ^ J.M. Thompson, Robespierre and the French Revolution (1962) p 22
  8. ^ Georges Lefebvre (2005) [1947]. The Coming of the French Revolution. Princeton UP. p. 212. 
  9. ^ A. Aulard in Arthur Tilley, ed. (1922). Modern France. A Companion to French Studies. Cambridge UP. p. 115. 
  10. ^ William Doyle, The Oxford History of the French Revolution (1989) pp 341-68
  11. ^ Steven T. Ross, European Diplomatic History, 1789-1815: France Against Europe (1969)
  12. ^ Alexander Grab, Napoleon and the Transformation of Europe (2003) pp 62-65, 78-79, 88-96, 115-17, 154-59
  13. ^ Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution 2:293-326, 365-94
  14. ^ Frederick B. Artz, Reaction and Revolution: 1814-1832 (1934) pp 142-43
  15. ^ Dann, Otto; Dinwiddy, John (1988). Nationalism in the Age of the French Revolution. Continuum. p. 13. 
  16. ^ Beatrice Fry Hyslop, French Nationalism in 1789 (1968) especially chap. 7
  17. ^ Carlton J. H. Hayes, The Historical Evolution of Modern Nationalism (1931), ch 2-3
  18. ^ Keitner, Chimene I. (2007). The Paradoxes of Nationalism: The French Revolution and Its Meaning for Contemporary Nation Building. SUNY Press. p. 12. 
  19. ^ Emma Vincent Macleod, A War of Ideas: British Attitudes to the War against Revolutionary France, 1792-1802 (1999)
  20. ^ Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution: The Struggle, Volume II (1970) pp 459-505
  21. ^ Nick Pelling (2002). Anglo-Irish Relations: 1798 1922. Routledge. pp. 5–10. 
  22. ^ Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution 2:491-508
  23. ^ James J. Sheehan, German History, 1770-1866 (1993) pp 207-322
  24. ^ Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution 2:425-58
  25. ^ Blanning Blanning, "The French Revolution and the Modernization of Germany," ''Central European History (1989) 22#2 pp 109-29
  26. ^ Theodore S. Hamerow (1958). Restoration, Revolution, Reaction: Economics and Politics in Germany, 1815-1871. Princeton UP. pp. 22–24, 44–45. 
  27. ^ T. C. W. Blanning, The French Revolution in Germany: Occupation and Resistance in the Rhineland 1792-1802 (1983)
  28. ^ Hajo Holborn, A History of Modern Germany, 1648-1840 (1964) pp 386-87
  29. ^ Michael Rowe, From Reich to state: the Rhineland in the revolutionary age, 1780-1830 (2003)
  30. ^ Lerner, Marc H. Lerner, "The Helvetic Republic: An Ambivalent Reception of French Revolutionary Liberty," French History (2004) 18#1 pp 50-75.
  31. ^ R.R. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution 2:394-421
  32. ^ Otto Dann and John Dinwiddy (1988). Nationalism in the Age of the French Revolution. Continuum. pp. 190–98. 
  33. ^ William Martin, Histoire de la Suisse (Paris, 1926), pp 187-88, quoted in Crane Brinson, A Decade of Revolution: 1789-1799 (1934) p 235
  34. ^ E.H. Kossmann, The Low Countries: 1780-1940 (1978) pp 65-81, 101-2
  35. ^ Bernard A. Cook, Belgium (2005) pp 49-54
  36. ^ Samuel Clark, "Nobility, Bourgeoisie and the Industrial Revolution in Belgium," Past & Present (1984) # 105 pp. 140-175; in JSTOR
  37. ^ Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution 2:394-421
  38. ^ Henrik Horstboll, and Uffe Ostergård, "Reform and Revolution: The French Revolution and the Case of Denmark," Scandinavian Journal of History (1990) 15#3 pp 155-179
  39. ^ H. Arnold Barton, Scandinavia in the Revolutionary Era, 1760-1815 (1986)
  40. ^ Munro Price, "Louis XVI and Gustavus III: Secret Diplomacy and Counter-Revolution, 1791-1792," Historical Journal (1999) 42#2 pp. 435-466 in JSTOR
  41. ^ Alan Palmer, Bernadotte: Napoleon's Marshal, Sweden's King (1991)
  42. ^ Nikki R. Keddied, "The French Revolution in the Middle East," in Joseph Klaits and Michael Haltzel, eds. Global Ramifications of the French Revolution (2002) pp 140-57
  43. ^ Charles A. Hale, "The revival of political history and the French Revolution in Mexico," in Joseph Klaits and Michael Haltzel, eds. Global Ramifications of the French Revolution (2002) pp 158-76
  44. ^ Charles Downer Hazen (1897). Contemporary American Opinion of the French Revolution. Johns Hopkins UP. 
  45. ^ Genet would have been executed if he returned to Paris; he stayed in New York, became an American citizen, and married the daughter of the governor of New York. Eugene R. Sheridan, "The Recall of Edmond Charles Genet: A Study in Transatlantic Politics and Diplomacy," Diplomatic History (1994) 18#4 pp: 463-488.
  46. ^ Susan Dunn, Sister Revolutions: French Lightning, American Light (2000)
  47. ^ Lawrence S. Kaplan, "Jefferson, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Balance of Power," William and Mary Quarterly (1957) 14#2 pp. 196-217 in JSTOR

Further reading[edit]

  • Amann, Peter H., ed. The Eighteenth-Century Revolution: French or Western? (Heath, 1963) readings from historians
  • Brinton, Crane. A Decade of Revolution 1789-1799 (1934) the Revolution in European context
  • Desan, Suzanne, et al. eds. The French Revolution in Global Perspective (2013)
  • Desan, Suzanne. "Internationalizing the French Revolution," French Politics, Culture & Society (2011) 29#2 pp 137–160.
  • Fremont-Barnes, Gregory. ed. The Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars: A Political, Social, and Military History (ABC-CLIO: 3 vol 2006)
  • Goodwin, A., ed. The New Cambridge Modern History, Vol. 8: The American and French Revolutions, 1763-93 (1965), 764pp
  • Grab, Alexander. Napoleon and the Transformation of Europe (Macmillan, 2003), country by country analysis
  • Mazlish, Bruce. "The French Revolution in Comparative Perspective," Political Science Quarterly (1970) 85#2 pp. 240–258 in JSTOR
  • Palmer, R. R. "The World Revolution of the West: 1763-1801," Political Science Quarterly (1954) 69#1 pp. 1–14 in JSTOR
  • Palmer, Robert R. The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760–1800. (2 vol 1959), highly influential comparative history; vol 1 online
  • Rapport, Mike, and Peter McPhee. "The International Repercussions of the French Revolution." in A Companion to the French Revolution (2013) pp: 379-396.
  • Ross, Steven T. European Diplomatic History, 1789-1815: France Against Europe (1969)
  • Rothenberg, Gunther E. (Spring 1988). "The Origins, Causes, and Extension of the Wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon". Journal of Interdisciplinary History 18 (4): 771–793. JSTOR 204824. 
  • Rude, George F. and Harvey J. Kaye. Revolutionary Europe, 1783–1815 (2000), scholarly survey excerpt and text search
  • Schroeder, Paul. The Transformation of European Politics, 1763–1848. 1996; Thorough coverage of diplomatic history; hostile to Napoleon; online edition
  • Skocpol, Theda. States and social revolutions: A comparative analysis of France, Russia and China (Cambridge University Press, 1979.) influential sociological comparison