American Revolution, French Revolution, Jacobins, Girondins, Proclamation of Neutrality, Jay Treaty, Hamilton, Jefferson and Citizen Genêt

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 13th, 2012

Politics 101

The Americans stuck by the Rule of Law while the French descended into Mob Rule

The American Revolutionary War was pretty brutal at times.  Especially on the frontier.  And in the civil war in the South.  Where Patriot and Loyalist could be rather cruel to one time friends and neighbors.  But for the most part both the professional soldiers and politicians practiced restraint.  And prosecuted the war by international law.  And a code of honor.  When the Americans defeated Burgoyne’s army at Saratoga the defeated soldiers did not suffer cruel acts of vengeance.  Instead they got rather generous terms of surrender.

When the war was over there were a few flare ups such as Shays’ Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion.  But these were the exception.  Not the rule.  The newly independent states had problems.  Which they addressed through political debate in Philadelphia.  And they drafted a new constitution.  This unleashed bitter partisan debate.  But only bitter partisan debate.  The states ratified the Constitution.  And the new nation went forth.  It wasn’t quite like this in the French Revolution.  Where the streets literally ran with blood.

Jean-Paul Marat, Georges-Jacques Danton and Jacobin Maximillien Robespierre were no Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson or James Madison.  The Americans stuck by the rule of law.  While the French descended into mob rule.  Where competing mobs rallied around different movements.  The Jacobins, the Cordeliers and the Girondins.  Who all incited the mobs to violence.  Against the ancien régime.  The monarchy.  And the Church.  As well as any counterrevolutionaries.  And anyone lacking in revolutionary zeal.

In 1793 French Revolutionaries Guillotined King Louis and Marie Antoinette

The mobs became judge, jury and executioner.  The Paris Commune (the revolutionary ruling authority in Paris) sanctioned the mobs.  Who could act with impunity.  While the people even watched.  And cheered.  Revolutionaries fell on imprisoned political prisoners.  Priests.  The Swiss Guards who protected the king.  As well as the royal servants and clerics.  They forced prisoners to run a gauntlet of revolutionaries armed with swords, knives, pikes, axes and other blunt and sharp instruments.  And bludgeoned and hacked them to death as they ran screaming back and forth.

And the violence grew.  With torture becoming sport.  The level of barbarity reached such levels to include the butchering of women.  Including the hacking off of a woman’s breasts.  Then setting a bonfire beneath her spread legs.  While the people cheered.  They brutally killed Princess de Lamballe, consort of Marie Antoinette.  Bludgeoned with a hammer, stripped naked, mutilated and dragged through the streets of Paris.  Then guillotined.  But that wasn’t the end of it.  They cut out her heart and roasted it over a fire.  Then stuck her bloodied head on a pike.  Took it to a hair salon to fix her hair.  Then returned it to the pike.  As they impaled her naked body on another pike.  Her crime?  She refused to denounce her king and queen.

In 1793 they guillotined King Louis.  The executioner held up his severed head and the people cheered.  Later that year they guillotined Marie Antoinette.  The executioner held up her severed head and the people cheered.  And the processions to the guillotine increased.  Enemies of the revolution.  People falsely accused of being enemies of the revolution.  And a lot of Girondins.  Who the Jacobins condemned.  And guillotined.  Then the people condemned the Jacobins.  And guillotined them.  They even condemned American Patriot Thomas Paine (who was in Paris and even helped write one of the revolutionary constitutions—unfortunately for him it was with the Girondins) to the guillotine.  But he would escape the guillotine and return to America.  They even imprisoned George Washington’s ‘adopted’ son, the Marquis de La Fayette.  Who fought with him throughout the American Revolution.  But he, too, survived.  Though he would languish in a prison for some 5 years.

When Genêt arrived in Philadelphia Washington greeted him with Portraits of King Louis and Marie Antoinette conspicuously behind Him

The events in France would reverberate across the Atlantic.  And further divide an already divided Washington administration.  As the French Revolution escalated the Americans were negotiating the Jay Treaty to resolve some issues left over from the Revolutionary War.  The end result was that the British and the new United States of America moved closer together.  Which really offended the pro-French elements in the Washington administration.  In particular Jefferson and Madison.  While inflaming the French.  For following the Reign of Terror the French exported their revolution throughout Europe.  And soon were at war with the old European monarchies.  Including Great Britain.  Again.

Interestingly, neither Jefferson nor Madison fought in the Revolution.  While Alexander Hamilton and George Washington did.  And yet they were for closer ties to Britain and not revolutionary France.  Why?  America’s future depended on trade.  Most of that trade was with Great Britain.  And that trade enjoyed the protection of the world’s most powerful navy.  The Royal Navy.  It was the pragmatic choice.  Jefferson, though, thought it showed Hamilton’s true colors.  That he was an aristocrat who wanted to turn America into a monarchy like Britain.  That he wanted power for himself.  Not individual liberty.  As exemplified in the American republic.  And in the republic the French were fighting for.  The French believed so strongly in liberty that they turned to world conquest.  Bringing that liberty to oppressed people everywhere.  Which Jefferson liked.  He saw a republican revolution sweeping the world, leaving a swath of liberty in its wake.  Others saw mob rule in France and the execution of a king and queen.  Which absolutely appalled Washington.

George Washington issued a Proclamation of Neutrality in these new European wars.  Which meant they weren’t going to help their one time ally.  France.  Which irked Jefferson.  Then came the Jay Treaty.  Further irking Jefferson.  And the American people.  For the people were clearly behind the French.  And did not like the British at all.  Which made President Washington a very unpopular president at the time.  Then the French sent over Edmond-Charles Genêt.  Citizen Genêt.  The new French ambassador to the United States.  And he was on a mission.  To get American support for their wars against Spain and Great Britain.  Something Jefferson was eager to support.  He communicated with Genêt.  Who assured Genêt that the Franco-American alliance would persevere.  Despite any proclamation or treaty.  He looked forward to his arrival in Philadelphia.  But he didn’t go to Philadelphia to meet President Washington.  He went to South Carolina first.  Where he recruited American privateers to join the French on their attacks on British shipping.  And tried to raise armies to attack Spanish Florida and Louisiana.  And eventually the British in North America as well.  When word of these activities reached Washington he was furious.

When Genêt finally arrived in Philadelphia Washington greeted him with portraits of King Louis and Marie Antoinette conspicuously behind him.  The king that was America’s staunchest ally during the American Revolution.  And the king the French had recently executed.  Genêt asked Washington to suspend their neutrality.  The answer was no.  Even Jefferson agreed and told the French ambassador he was out of line.  Actually joining Hamilton on this one issue.  Soon the Jacobins back in France issued an arrest warrant for Citizen Genêt and asked him to return to France.  Knowing that meant a trip to the guillotine he asked Washington for asylum.  That Washington granted on the advice of Hamilton.  Thus ending the Genêt affair.  But the French Revolution still threatened the young American republic.  First by an overwhelming public sentiment to stand by France.  Then by overwhelming public sentiment to go to war against France.  Something that would threaten to tear apart the next presidential administration.


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LESSONS LEARNED #18: “Man-given rights are only privileges allowed by the privileged elite.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 17th, 2010

GOD WAS HERE before the Marine Corps. So you can give your heart to Jesus, but your ass belongs to The Corps.

(From the movie Full Metal Jacket, 1987.)

In Roman Catholicism, this is the doctrine of the two swords.  The spiritual sword is the Church.  The temporal sword is the state.  Martin Luther had the doctrine of two kingdoms.  The religious and civil.  Going back to the source, Jesus Christ put it this way:

Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s 

The original separation of church and state.  Of course, back then, this was all intended to limit the state’s interference into spiritual matters.  Today it’s reversed.  It’s the state that is trying to hold the spiritual sword at bay.

THE FOUNDING FATHERS were gentlemen of the Enlightenment.  This makes them complex.  The Enlightenment was the Age of Reason.  And guess what we did during the Age of Reason?  We thought.  Rationally.  There was a philosophical revolution going on in Europe.  Simply put, things weren’t what they were because the Church said so.  There were other explanations.  Other laws.  And the Church could be wrong.

So, if the Founding Fathers had lived in the 20th century, they would have probably been fans of the rock group Rush.  And Ayn Rand.  Who influenced Rush.  Thomas Jefferson probably would have an iPod filled with their songs, including Tom Sawyer:

No his mind is not for rent
To any god or government

They questioned ALL authority.  And some may have been Deists.  But they were not atheists.  Even Jefferson.  He may not have believed in the Trinity or Christ’s divinity, but he still believed in God.  And he worshipped Jesus in his own way.  As the world’s greatest philosopher, with his Sermon on the Mount being the best philosophy man could ask for.

THE FOUNDING FATHERS were gentlemen of the Enlightenment.  Now the other part.  The thing that makes them complex.  The gentlemen part.  What did this mean in the 18th century?  Here are some adjectives that describe a gentleman.  Honorable.  Virtuous.  Reputable.  A gentleman strived to achieve moral excellence and righteousness.  He was ethical.  His life was a steadfast adherence to a strict moral code.  And when he served in public office, it was with selfless disinterest.  He would go out of his way to NOT gain personally from his time in public office.  Some did it better than others.  But all tried.  And when they fell short, they at least put on an appearance of disinterest.  It was that important.  And expected.

In a word, restraint.  This is what a gentleman practiced.  George Washington exercised this restraint to such a degree that many found him cold and aloof.  Few saw him smile.  Few saw public displays of emotion.  What they did see was an exemplary life of virtue, honor and moral excellence.  And they would forever look at him with awe and reverence.  We do to this day.

These students of the Enlightenment, then, espoused Judeo-Christian ethics.  They questioned all authority oppressing man, whether it be Church or state.  But they did not throw out the baby with the bath water.  They remained religious.  They just wouldn’t yield to it unconditionally.  Not to the Pope.  To a bishop.  Or any other tyranny of a minority, privileged elite.  Even after their Revolution.

And they would extend this restraint to the new nation they would found.  It would be a government that would govern with the consent of the people.  But it would not be mob-rule.  Not a true democracy.  It would be representative government.  The idea was to restrain the extreme passions of the people.  They would not exchange one tyranny for another.  There would be no tyranny of the majority.

FRANCE HAD PROBLEMS in the late 18th century.  The toll of war was bankrupting the country.  Their financing of the American Revolution didn’t help either.  Food was scarce and expensive.  Famine and malnutrition were commonplace.  Among the Third Estate (the poor).  The First Estate (the Church) was doing well.  The Second Estate (the nobility), too.  Unemployed and hungry, the poor looked at the clergy and the nobility who were not. 

The Church was largely exempt from paying taxes. And the Church was the largest landholder in France.  The Church levied a 10% tax (i.e., a tithe) on the general population.  A lot of that was collected in-kind (food crops).  So the Church had more land, money and food than the starving, suffering masses.  Who became an angry mob.  That demanded democracy.

The people stormed the Bastille.  Confiscated Church property.  Overthrew the monarchy.  And sent the king and queen, and many others, to the guillotine.  Maximilien Robespierre and the Jacobins unleashed the Reign of Terror.  They executed political enemies, including priests, and displayed their severed heads to the angry mob.  They de-Christianized France, destroying churches and religious symbols.  They tried to do away with the Church altogether and replace it with civic and community events and organizations.  It was a revolution against Church and state.  Against law and order.  Against restraint.  They would send Robespierre himself to the guillotine at the end of his terror.  Then another terror followed to avenge the previous terror. 

There’s more to the French Revolution.  But that should suffice for now. 

FRANCE WAS IN the epicenter of the Enlightenment.  Some of the great minds of the Enlightenment were French.  But France was older than America.  And more populated.  With centuries of wrongs to right.  It was anything but a blank canvas.  Egalitarianism soon devolved into angry mob rule.  Democracy.  They went from the tyranny of a minority to the tyranny of the majority without stopping in that fertile middle ground.  As was the case in America.  Why?

It’s that blank canvas thing.  We weren’t overthrowing our history to start anew.  We had little history.  Maybe a century or two of English colonists who literally started with raw earth.  There wasn’t a rich and privileged Church.  So there wasn’t a festering resentment against the Church.  No, the early colonists escaped religious oppression and came here for religious freedom.  Which they found.  And enjoyed.

The American Revolution was more restrained.  There were no bloody reprisals after the War.  There were isolated instances of mob violence during the War, but the ‘mob’ was never in control.  The ‘gentlemen’ were always in control.  Gentlemen steeped in Judeo-Christian ethics.  From the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution, the Founding Fathers built a new nation upon the Rule of Law.  And at its heart were the God-given rights enumerated in those documents.  That no man, or minority, or majority, or mob, could take away.

GOD WAS HERE before the United States.  So we can give our heart to Jesus.  But our ass belongs to the Rule of Law.

Or something like that.  We are a secular nation with a de-emphasis on the religious part.  Yes, legal punishment may dissuade you from doing wrong.  If you think the cops can catch you.  But it’s our morality that will keep us from doing wrong in the first place.  And the people at our founding were moral.  And Christian.  Or deists with Judeo-Christian ethics.

And to those who fear antidisestablishmentarianism, don’t.  I doubt the Catholics and the Protestants could agree on what an established church would be, let alone the myriad other religions peacefully coexisting with each other.  No, more religion would not result in an established church.  It may, though, result in government leaders who fear God and, maybe, they would be better leaders for it.  It sure beats us living in fear of them.


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FUNDAMENTAL TRUITH #17: “The raison d’être of federalism is to keep big government small.” -Old Pithy.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 8th, 2010

BONJOUR.  A LITTLE French there.  To go with the use of the French expression ‘raison d’être’.  Which means reason for being.  Sounds better in French, n’est-ce pas?

I like Canada.  Both parts.  The French and the English parts.  I’ve met and become friends with people in Toronto, Montreal, Fredericton and Corner Brook.  And elsewhere.  I like to talk to my Francophone friends about that day on the Plains of Abraham.  And I like to speak French to my Anglophone friends.  And they both like to point out to me what they believe to be America’s lack of tolerance and compassion.

The Canadians may be a tolerant and friendly people.  Everyone says that about them.  That they’re nice.  And they are.  But they have to work at it at times.  For there ain’t a whole lot of love between the French and English.  Not now.  Or then.  When French Canada became British.

Like it or not, that animosity has been at the van of Western Civilization.  And it would compete in the New World.  Colonize it.  Fight in it.  And give birth to a new nation.  One that would break from the ways of the past.

“WHO’S THAT, THEN?” one filthy peasant asked another.

“I don’t know.  Must be a king. ”


“He hasn’t got shit all over him.”

(From Monty Python and the Holy Grail – 1975.)

What is a king?  Besides someone who “hasn’t got shit all over him.”  A king is where sovereignty lies.  And sovereignty?  In a word, supremacy.  Supreme authority. 

The Sun King, Louis XIV of France, was an absolute monarch and his word was the absolute law of the land.  And he could do pretty much whatever the hell he wanted.  He built his gorgeous palace at Versailles.  Because he could.  Over in England, the king was sovereign, too, but Parliament checked his power.  So the British king wasn’t an absolute monarchy.  In England, the king could do whatever he wanted as long as Parliament agreed to pay for it.  For Parliament controlled the purse strings.  There would be no Versailles in England.

Now France and England were always at war.  Their fighting even spilled over into the New World.  The 7 Years War (as the Europeans called this world war) went by a different name in North America.  The French and Indian War.  The British won.  France lost Canada and other colonial possessions.  Their loss, though, was America’s gain.  The French and Indian attacks on the American Colonists ended, leaving them with peace and prosperity.  But it was costly.  As wars are wont to be.

Over in England, Parliament had to pay that cost.  But taxes were already pretty high at the time in England.  If they raised them further, it could cause trouble.  So what to do?  Well, there were some who pointed out that the American colonists really came out the clear winner in this latest contest.  They got peace and prosperity without really paying anything to get it.  Shouldn’t they pick up part of the tab?  I mean, fair is fair, right?

And they probably would have gladly contributed as good English subjects.  However, and this is a big however, they felt they weren’t treated as good English subjects.  In fact, they felt more like Parliament’s bitch than English subjects.  And to add insult to injury, they had no vote in Parliament.

Parliament passed a series of acts that the Americans would call the Intolerable Acts.  Both sides missed opportunities for compromise and peace.  Instead, tempers festered.  Parliament would bitch-slap the colonists.  And the colonists would bitch-slap Parliament.  Eventually throwing some British East Indian tea into the water.

Now Britain’s king, King George, had a bit of a problem on his hands.  The Americans were challenging his sovereign rule.  There was a name for this.  Kings call it treason.  And they kill people for it.  King George was the supreme authority.  Anyone challenging his authority was challenging his right to rule.  That’s why acts of treason are typically punishable by death.  You don’t stand up to kings.  You grovel.  And these uppity Americans surely weren’t groveling.

And just how does a king get this authority?  Well, you don’t vote for them.  They either inherit power.  Or they kill for it.  It’s a story as old as time.  Patricide.  Matricide.  Fratricide.  And sometimes the killing was by someone outside the family.  But that’s how sovereign power changed.  A king or queen died.  Naturally.  Or with a little help.  And when a new sovereign ascended the throne, he or she usually killed all other possible contenders.

If King George didn’t put down the American rebellion, it could spread.  To Canada.  To other English colonies.  Or give someone ideas back at home that the king was weak.  And challenge him for his throne.

These are things kings think about.  Power can be precarious.  Even when it’s absolute.  As King Louis XVI would learn in France.  During the French Revolution, the people, challenging the king’s sovereignty, sent him to the guillotine.  Chopped his head off.  His wife’s, too.  Marie Antoinette.

ENGLAND GAVE BIRTH to modern, representative government.  It was a balance of power between the many (the common people in the House of Commons), the few (the aristocratic rich in the House of Lords) and the one (the sovereign king).  Each provided a check on the others.  The king was the supreme power but he needed money to wage war and build things.  Parliament collected taxes and paid for things they approved of.  And the House of Lords was to keep that spending from getting out of control as they understood money and costs (that’s what rich people are good at).  They were to protect the nation from the evils of pure democracy where the people, once they realize they can, will vote themselves the treasury.

Most of the American colonists were transplanted Englishmen.  Or came from English stock.  They were English subjects (at least in name if not in practice).  They understood representative government.  Their colonial governments were in fact very British.  The Rule of Law was the rule of the land.  The governed consented to taxation.  And the government collected the taxes they consented to. 

You can probably see where this is going.

Taxation without representation was very un-English.  The fact that it was okay in the American colonies chafed the American English subjects.  I mean, it really frosted their shorts.  It wasn’t right.  By English law.  Or by precedent.  Anger at Parliament turned into anger at the king.  Questions of sovereignty arose.  Should the king be sovereign?  Or should the people?  In 1776, the American colonists stated their opinion in a very treasonous document.  The Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….

The U.S. Constitution emphasized the sovereignty of the people in the preamble.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Kings were out.  The Rule of Law was in.  No aristocracy.  No hereditary offices.  In America, it would be different.  After the Battle of Gettysburg some 75 years later, Abraham Lincoln would reiterate this at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…

…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

THE AMERICAN COLONISTS rebelled and broke away from Great Britain because they were through with being her bitch.  In fact, they weren’t going to be anyone’s bitch.  That’s why there was a lot of opposition to the establishment of a strong, central government.  They didn’t want a national government taking up where Great Britain left off.  And they didn’t want an American president to be just another King George.  The people won their liberty.  And they intended to keep it.  So they could pursue that happiness Thomas Jefferson wrote about in the Declaration of Independence.

Federalism was the solution.  The states’ governments would retain most of their powers.  Only those things they could not do well (regulate ‘free-trade’ interstate commerce, negotiate trade agreements with other nations, wage war, etc.) would be done by the new national government.  The people would remain sovereign.  Strong state governments and a ‘weak’ central government would share power.  In effect, the new central government was to be the people’s bitch.  But you’d never know that by looking at things today.


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