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The French Revolution Essay, Research Paper

A New Beginning or a License to Kill?

The French Revolution evokes many different emotions and controversial issues in that some believe it was worth the cost and some don’t. There is no doubt that the French Revolution did have major significance in history. Not only did the French gain their independence, but an industrial revolution also took place. One of the main issues of the Revolution was it’s human costs. Two writers, the first, Peter Kropotkin who was a Russian prince, and the other Simon Schama, a history professor, both had very opposing views on whether the wars fought by France during the Revolution were worth it’s human costs. Krapotkin believed that the French Revolution was the main turning point for not only France but for most other countries as well. On the other hand, Schama viewed the French Revolution as unproductive and excessively violent.

The French Revolution started in 1787 because the country was going through financial difficulties and there was unrest between the classes of citizens in the country. The differences between the lower class citizens and higher classes, being nobles and the monarchy were great. The citizens had heard of the revolution that went on in the colonies and they also wanted freedom and independence. The real start of the French Revolution was on July 14, 1789, with the storming of the Bastille. Between 1789 1793, a constitution was written, feudalism was abolished, war had broken out, and King Louis XVI was put to death. In late 1793 and early 1794, Maximilien Robespierre became the head of the Committee of Public Safety in France. This was the new governing body in France; it could be compared to the executive branch of a government. Robespierre was a great leader, he instituted the first military draft, set prices so that the poor could afford food, and reformed the government. He also began one of the bloodiest periods in French history, the Reign of Terror. During the Reign of Terror, more than 30,000 people were executed, mainly for opposing Robespierre’s views. Late in 1794, Robespierre was put to death and a new leader was looked for; this of course turned out to be Napoleon. With many conquered lands under his belt by 1798, Napoleon had a huge following and planned a coup d’etat. On November 18, 1799, Napoleon became the First Consul of France, or in his mind the dictator. Napoleon then crowned himself Emperor in 1804 and conquered many countries including Austria, Prussia, and Russia in 1805,06, and 07 respectively. Such a strong ruler is bound to fall eventually, this happened in 1815 with his death. Even with the many improvements to the country of France in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, some still believe that the French Revolution was not worth it’s human costs. Detailed below are two opposing viewpoints on the topic.

Peter Krapotkin, a revolutionary Russian prince, argues that the French Revolution paved the way for expansion and democratic growth. Krapotkin’s first argument is that the French monarchy before the Revolution deprived the lower class citizens of food and necessities. There was a shortage of food at the time, and the prices were too high for the lower class to afford. The monarchy also taxed the lower class, which made it even harder for them to afford the food that they needed. During the revolution, Krapotkin says that “For the first time in centuries the peasant ate his fill…” His next arguments were his most influential in his decision. Krapotkin states that both serfdom and absolutism were abolished in France during the Revolution. He believes that, “These two achievements represent the principle work of the nineteenth century…” Krapotkin states that no longer will people have to live under strict rule, whether it be from a lord or an absolute monarch. The tables have now turned in favor of the middle class, and more power is put into the hands of the everyday man. In conclusion, Krapotkin summarizes exactly how he feels about the human costs of the French Revolution. He states, “The blood they shed was shed for humanity-the sufferings they endured were borne for the entire human race…liberty, equality, fraternity.” Krapotkin believed that no matter how many losses there are in any revolution, if it helped the country they were all worth it; this not only being for that country, but for all humankind.

Simon Schama, a history professor, held a totally different viewpoint than that of Krapotkin. Schama believed that the French Revolution betrayed it’s own goals and did not show the results that it promised. Schama first says that there was no single Revolution in France, but a large number of self-imposed revolutions on whomever a person chose. He says that local interests were more a determinant in the revolutions than the countries future as a whole. Schama’s most important argument is that violence of the revolution was not merely a by-product of politics but the Revolution itself. One of the bloodiest periods of the Revolution was the Reign of Terror. Schama believes that these so called revolutionaries were no more than terrorists killing their own people for their own causes. He also stated that the end of feudalism only changed a small legal aspect of life. The hierarchy went from lords to landlords, which was already underway in the old regime, and with the end of total control, people were even more exposed to economic inequities. During the Napoleonic era, Schama believed that the violence was now coming from the people’s own army. They had turned France into a police state and taken away the citizen’s new found freedom. In conclusion, Schama states that the revolutionaries belief was that “…surely, that for such a nation to be born, many would necessarily die.” Schama’s idea of the French Revolution was that it was an unneeded bloodbath that could have been less violent with the same results.

In conclusion, I believe that the French Revolution had to take place to pave the way for democracy, but the bloodshed could have been more limited. Many people during the Revolution believed that France needed a change in many ways. They had achieved that by 1793. Many new reforms had been implemented in the country and it was much better off than it had been four years prior. I do agree with Kropotkin that the abolishing of serfdom and absolutism was a great achievement for France and that it did lead to a democratic system. Though this is true, the violence and bloodshed during the Revolution could have been minimized through committees and discussions. Schama is also right in that some men were too radical and their new found power went to their head. All said and done, the French Revolution was a bloody time in history, but it paved the way for a new democratic system not only for France but for many other countries as well.


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