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Quotes / The French Revolution

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Duke of La Rochefoucauld: Sire, the Bastille has been taken.
Louis XVI: Taken? But by who?
Duke of La Rochefoucauld: By the people, sire.
Louis XVI: Is it a revolt?
Duke of La Rochefoucauld: No Sire, it is a revolution.

Unité, Indivisibilité de la République; Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité ou la mortnote 

"Antoinette avait résolu [Antoinette had decided]
De nous faire tomber sur le cul; [To drop us on our arses] [Repeat x 2]
Mais le coup a manqué [But the plan was foiled]
Elle a le nez cassé." [And she fell on her face.]
Dansons la carmagnole [Dance the Carmagnole]
Vive le son, vive le son [Hear the sound, hear the sound]
Dansons la carmagnole [Dance the Carmagnole]
Vive le son du canon! [Hear the sound of canon]
— "La Carmagnole", a popular song after the fall ofhe Tuileries about the former Queen of France.


Pamphlets and Newspapers

What is the Third Estate? The purpose of this essay is very simple. We have three questions to consider:
1. What is the Third Estate? Everything.
2. What has it been until now in the political order? Nothing.
3. What does it ask? To become something."
Abbé Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, What is the Third Estate?

"Five or six hundred [aristocratic] heads lopped off would have assured you repose and happiness; a false humanity has restrained your arm and suspended your blows; it will cost the lives of millions of your brothers."
Jean-Paul Marat, L'Ami du Peuple

"... popular and democratic government is the only constitution which suits France, and all those who are worthy of the name of men."
Camille Desmoulins, La France Libre, in which he calls explicitly for a republic


"If you have orders to remove us from this hall, you must also get the authority to use force, for we shall yield to nothing but bayonets."
Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau

"Those who have not lived in the eighteenth century, in the years before the Revolution do not know the sweetness of living and cannot imagine what it was like to have happiness in life."
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Mémoires du Prince de Talleyrand: La Confession de Talleyrand, V. 1-5 Chapter: La jeunesse – Le cercle de Madame du Barry.

"Happiness is a new idea in Europe."
Louis Antoine de Saint-Just

"Il nous faut de l’audace, encore de l’audace, toujours de l’audace, et la France sera sauvée!"'note 
Georges Danton

"To administer is to govern: to govern is to reign. That is the essence of the problem."
Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau

A king should be tried not for the crimes of his administration, but for that of having been king, for nothing in the world can legitimize this usurpation, and whatever illusion, whatever conventions royalty surrounds itself in, it is an eternal crime against which every man has the right to rise up and arm himself... No one can reign innocently: the madness of this is too obvious. Every king is a rebel and a usurper. This man must reign or die.
Louis Antoine de Saint-Just

"Formerly, when a king died at Versailles the reign of his successor was immediately announced by the cry: "The king is dead, long live the king", in order to make it understood that despotism is immortal! Now an entire people, moved by a sublime instinct, cried: Long live the Republic! to teach the universe that tyranny died with the tyrant."

"Citizens, we have reason to fear that the Revolution, like Saturn, will successively devour all its children, and finally produce despotism, with the calamities that accompany it."
Pierre-Victurnien Vergniaud

"O Liberté, que de crimes on commet en ton nom!"
(Oh Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!)
Madame Roland

"Let us be terrible in order to prevent the people from being terrible themselves!"
Georges Danton

"We have finally docked on the isle of freedom, and we have burned the vessel that brought us there."
Pierre-Joseph Cambon, on the execution of Louis XVI

"Only a democratic or republican government — these two words are synonyms despite the abuses in common speech — because an aristocracy is no closer than a monarchy to being a republic...Democracy is a state in which the sovereign people, guided by laws which are of their own making, do for themselves all that they can do well, and by their delegates do all that they cannot do for themselves...the French are the first people of the world who have established real democracy, by calling all men to equality and full rights of citizenship; and there, in my judgment, is the true reason why all the tyrants in league against the Republic will be vanquished."

"After me, the Revolution — or, rather the ideas which formed it — will resume their course. It will be like a book from which the marker is removed, and one starts to read again at the page where one left off."
Napoleon Bonaparte, After his Defeat at Leipzig in 1813.


"In 1793 such a force as no one had any conception of made its appearance. War had again suddenly become an affair of the people, and that of a people numbering thirty millions, every one of whom regarded himself as a citizen of the State... By this participation of the people in the war... a whole Nation with its natural weight came into the scale."
Clausewitz, On War

"There is, moreover, in this disease of the French Revolution something very strange that I can sense, though I cannot describe it properly or analyse its causes. It is a virus of a new and unknown kind. There have been violent Revolutions in the world before; but the immoderate, violent, radical, desperate, bold, almost crazed and yet powerful and effective character of these Revolutionaries has no precedents, it seems to me, in the great social agitations of past centuries. Where did this new race come from? What produced it? What made it so effective? What perpetuates it?...Independently of all that can be explained about the French Revolution, there is something unexplained in its spirit and in its acts. I can sense the presence of this unknown object, but despite all my efforts, I cannot lift the veil that covers it."
Alexis de Tocqueville

"Historically speaking, the most obvious and most decisive distinction between the American and the French Revolutions was that the historical inheritance of the American Revolution was "limited monarchy" and that of the French Revolution an absolutism which apparently reached far back into the first centuries of our era and the last centuries of the Roman Empire. Nothing, indeed, seems more natural than that a revolution should be predetermined by the type of government it overthrows; nothing, therefore, appears more plausible than to explain the new absolute, the absolute revolution, by the absolute monarchy which preceded it, and to conclude that the more absolute the ruler, the more absolute the revolution will be which replaces him."
Hannah Arendt

"I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her [Marie Antoinette] with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever."
Edmund Burke

"It is obvious that the French Revolution was a vaster and more profound social upheaval, involving more violent conflict between classes, more radical reorganization of government and society, more far-reaching redefinition of marriage, property, and civil law as well as of organs of public authority, more redistribution of wealth and income, more fears on the part of the rich and more demands from the poor, more sensational repercussions in other countries, more crises of counterrevolution, war, and invasion, and more drastic or emergency measures, as in the Reign of Terror. From very early in the French Revolution the American Revolution came to seem very moderate."
R. R. Palmer

"He[Napoleon] had destroyed only one thing: the Jacobin Revolution, the dream of equality, liberty and fraternity, and of the people rising in its majesty to shake off oppression. It was a more powerful myth than his, for after his fall it was this, and not his memory, which inspired the revolutions of the nineteenth century, even in his own country."
Eric Hobsbawm.

"For the same reason that the Ancien Regime is thought to have an end but no beginning, the Revolution has a birth but no end."
François Furet

"Hunger whets everything, especially Suspicion and Indignation."
Thomas Carlyle

"There were two, three or four French Revolutions. Like a multi-stage rocket today, the Revolution involved several successive explosions and propellant thrusts."
Fernand Braudel, A History of Civilizations.


"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

"Ninety-three was the war of Europe against France, and of France against Paris. And what was the Revolution? It was the victory of France over Europe, and of Paris over France. Hence the immensity of that terrible moment?, '93, greater than all the rest of the century"

"The French Revolution gave birth to no artists but only to a great journalist, Desmoulins, and to an under-the-counter writer, Sade. The only poet of the times was the guillotine."

"When I finished Carlyle's French Revolution in 1871, I was a Girondin; every time I have read it since, I have read it differently—being influenced and changed, little by little, by life and environment ... and now I lay the book down once more, and recognize that I am a Sansculotte! And not a pale, characterless Sansculotte, but a Marat."

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!—Oh! times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!
When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights,
When most intent on making of herself
A prime Enchantress—to assist the work
Which then was going forward in her name!
William Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book 11, Lines 108-116, reflecting on his time in France in the first three years of the Revolution

"After all, the French Revolution was the biggest event in the world since Christianity...We owe many things to the French Revolution, if only that it gave Jewish people names, for examples. That's already a contribution, because before, Jews were named, for example, Abraham, son of Jacob, but they had no family names and weren't listed with the registry office. The Revolution actually forced them to take one. The victorious revolutionary and Napoleonic armies did the same thing in the conquered countries. That's why so many Jews in Germany have the same name. They went to the town hall to get one, but they were taken by surprise. The clerk asked them, "So, what name do you want? — Well...I don't know. — OK, then, across from us is a mountain, the rose mountain. You'll be Rosenberg..." And there you have it. That gave a social existence to many people who didn't have one."
Jean Renoir, Renoir on Renoir: Interviews, Essays, and Remarks

You went the wrong way, ol' King Louis
Now we must put you on the shelf
That's why the people are revolting, because Louis
You're pretty revolting, yourself!
Allan Sherman, You Went The Wrong Way Ol' King Louis


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