Reflections on the French Revolution: A Model for U.S. Civil War?
By Dennis Jamison —July 16, 2020
While the storming of the Bastille is renowned as the key event that sparked the French Revolution, within four years, the ideals espoused in the more formal Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in August of 1789 had been hijacked by the Friends of the Constitution that later morphed into the Society of the Jacobins. The Jacobins used their previous name to disguise their true intent to manipulate or dominate the development of the French Constitution and to ultimately execute the king.
In a dual initiative, the Jacobin political party rose rapidly from 1789 to 1793 to become the most influential political party in the French Revolution. During this period the acting government evolved into the National Constituent Assembly, as King Louis XVI became impotent in the midst of such genuine political upheaval. But, the descent into chaos took place in stages. After the National Assembly abolished feudalism in early August, it passed the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen on August 28, 1789. This very idealistic document had been drafted by the Abbé Emmanuel Sieyès and the Marquis de Lafayette (oddly, members of the First and Second Estates respectively). Thomas Jefferson even provided consultation on the document since he was serving as the U.S. Minister to France at the time.
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen has been hailed as comparable to the Declaration of Independence and declared a model for human rights in the world. Yet, it is a very European-oriented document—strong on theory, but short on substance. There were 17 Articles that were practically broken as quickly as they had been voted upon. Highly idealistic, they were all humanistic in origin: Article One stated: “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common good.” The real problem with this ideal is who determines the common good? What standard of public good is being used as the measurement?
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen asserted that rights are derived from the state—-in this case, the National Assembly. Article Three of the Declaration stated: “The principle of any sovereignty resides essentially in the Nation. Nobody, no individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.”
So, this was a decree of national sovereignty, and theoretically, it eliminates the need for a king if the National Assembly is declaring itself as sole and genuine sovereign over all of France. In other words, this legislature declared itself to be the sovereign rule at the heart of the nation. At this stage of the French Revolution, it appears fine that rational men are able to reason with one another. It is similar to the Continental Congresses of the rebellious British Colonies. But, one fundamental difference lies in the Declaration of Independence: the rights of men are derived from God, thus rights derived from decree by national leaders, or the government, are opposite from the concept of God-given rights, and the purpose of government being to protect the inalienable rights from God.
This difference between the two revolutionary actions is quite significant, yet the secular world does not easily acknowledge it. Although the United States is a nation based on the value of the rule of law, it is based upon the concept that government is primarily necessary in order to secure or protect the rights of the people, and it is the consent of those governed that provides the government its basis of power. However, underlying this system is the fundamental belief that there is a God who rules over the affairs of men, which means accountability to the “Supreme Judge of the world.”
In mid-May 1790, the National Assembly abolished the rights of all nobility, followed by the government control of the clergy through the Civil Constitution of the French Clergy, adopted in July of 1790. Since France was a Catholic-dominated nation in that time, the national government essentially decreed that the Catholic clergy were all suddenly government employees, and the state confiscated all church property. This must have been where Karl Marx got the idea that all private property should be turned over to a socialist government. But, the French did not know they were communists at the time, except they called themselves commoners or the Communes.
By November 27th, all of the clergy was to swear their allegiance to France—no notion of free exercise of religion. So, the clergy had been artificially disengaged from Rome—-the mother church, and while the Pope protested, he had little power over the new French government. Even the King of France had virtually no power over the French government; yet, the National Assembly was supposedly moving to create a new Constitutional Monarchy. And, when the Assembly finally established and ratified a Constitution in September of 1791, King Louis signed it. But, that would not matter, even though a new French Republic was proclaimed one year later, in 1792.
On January 21, 1793, exactly four months after the Constitutional Republic was established, the people executed King Louis XVI. That ended the Constitutional Monarchy because, without a monarch, only one half of the equation exists. Once the king was executed, it opened the pathway for anyone to be executed. This was the turning point of the revolution into a more rapid descent into confusion, chaos, rampant suspicion, and widespread accusation, condemnation, and the execution of individuals without much control. In short, the people’s revolution, imbued with noble ideals, deteriorated into a reprehensible bloodbath of horror during the Reign of Terror.
A diligent student of history would recognize that the French Constitution did not last long. The French Republic that had been established in 1792 by the new constitution, which the king signed, was technically dead when they killed the king in 1793. But, the precious constitution the people had fought so valiantly for was essentially shredded by 1799. Practically, the French Revolution ended after ten years, after the French people had bankrupted their country, and after the people elected Napoleon Bonaparte as the lone Consul to help salvage their dreams. In the end, the people’s revolution failed to truly establish a stable nation of freedom and liberty; tyrants and tyranny smashed them completely. It is not a glorious history; it is a tragic history.
The question would be whether the Marxist revolutionaries in the U.S. are using the French Revolution as a model for the Civil War over control of America’s soul in this time. Are current violent events across the nation a foreshadowing of a Reign of Terror, in this nation? A popular concern over police brutality could be hijacked by the terrorist groups and could quickly devolve into confusion, chaos, rampant suspicion, widespread accusation, condemnation, and murders of innocent people with little control. Oh, wait! This, and more, is already happening right now – in 2020!