Leaders of the French Revolution Author:J. M. Thompson The plan adopted in the chapters which follow is to stody the Revolution through a series of representative Revolutionists; to describe their part in it, and to interpret it through their experience. If there is some risk of repetition in this method, there is less danger in looking at the many-sided structure of the Revolution from only one of ... more »two angles. We soon find how different were the antecedents and the capacities of the men whom the Revolution attracted and used; how many currents of thought flowed into its blood; and how impossible it is to include all its aspects or ideas within the scope of an epigram, or the terms of a definition. 'Leaders' we call them; but indeed they were led--or rather, swept off their feet, and carried along by a movement which they were powerless to control.
During the six years of this revolutionary drama there must have been at least a hundred men who played large enough parts, and left a clear enough impression on the records of the time, to repay historical stody--over fifty, for instance, figure as speakers alone in Aulard's volumes on the Orators of the three Assemblies. Few of them were great men, but they lived under the microscope of great times, which gave to their most insignificant qualities portentous proportions. Perhaps, too, their age and country, which subjected them to no standardized education, or compulsory service, or industrial discipline, perhaps the general disuse of law and order to which the generation before the Revolution had grown accustomed, perhaps the cult of Rousseau's natural man, encouraged a peculiar variety and extravagance of character. Whatever the cause, there are few periods in history so rich in personalities as the years 1789-1795.
Of the eleven men chosen for study...three only (Sieyes, Lafayette, and Dumouriez) survived the Revolution, and lived to see its cynical apotheosis in the Napoleonic Empire. But to all of them the Revolution was an overwhelming experience. What did they do in it? What did they think of it? Let us see.« less