Story of Modern France - Helene Guerber

End of the Revolution

Years of trouble and horror had passed, but the year 1795 was fortunately to bring brighter days to France. At its very beginning, the Republican armies entered Holland, where, undaunted by the extreme cold, French soldiers made themselves masters of the country, and of its fleets, held fast by the ice in the Zuider Zee. Thus, you see, a mere detachment of cavalry could master the dauntless Dutch navy! The French were so anxious to have every one follow the example they were giving to the world, that they presently induced the Dutch to send away their stadtholder, and to organize into a new state, known during its brief existence as the Batavian Republic.

The triumphs of the French Republican army, whose glorious record was eight pitched battles, 116 towns and 230 forts taken, 90,000 prisoners, and 3800 cannon captured, so awed all Europe, that Prussia and Spain made peace with France. Proud as the nation was of these successes, lack of bread still caused constant rioting, and once a mob even burst into the hall where the Convention was sitting, to clamor for food. In the confusion, one rioter aimed a shot at the president, and killed the deputy who bravely flung himself in the way. When the head of this hero was brought before the president, on a pike, a few moments later, he gravely and respectfully saluted it, saying boldly it was "the head of a brave man," whereupon the fickle mob, suddenly agreeing with him, honored their own victim with a grand funeral.

Before the Convention closed (Oct. 26, 1795), a new government was provided, which was to consist of a Council of Ancients and one of Five Hundred, together with a board of five Directors. As you have seen, the Convention had issued some very wise and some very foolish and wicked decrees during the three years and more of its sway. Its attitude toward religion had changed from time to time. In the end it decreed religious liberty, but provided that the government should not pay the expenses of any form of worship. One of its last acts was to provide that the square where the guillotine had stood (pages 90, 91) should henceforth be known as Place de la Concorde (or Harmony Square)!

Just before the Convention disbanded, violent riots again broke out, and it became evident that the palace of the Tuileries—now used for the government of the Republic—would again be stormed. Barras, whose voice was now heard most often, suggested armed resistance, and when the objection was made that most of the officers sympathized too keenly with the Parisians to be trusted, he exclaimed, "I have the very man you want; he is a little Corsican officer who will not stand upon ceremony." This "little Corsican officer" was Napoleon Bonaparte, who, since the siege of Toulon, had been both idle and unhappy, and so poor that he had to pawn his watch to secure six-cent dinners. When asked at the present juncture whether he felt competent to defend the Convention, Bonaparte answered boldly, "Perfectly, and I am in the habit of accomplishing what I undertake!" This answer pleased the authorities, who gave him full powers, thus enabling Bonaparte, in the course of the next night, to place his cannon so that he could sweep with grapeshot every street leading up to the palace.

Early the next morning, the Parisians came—an army 40,000 strong—to invade the Tuileries. After allowing them to draw sufficiently near, Bonaparte, without the least compunction, gave orders to fire, and, as he had predicted when the mob invaded the Tuileries in the days of Louis XVI., the death of a few hundred men so terrified the rest that all fled. Bonaparte thus kept his promise, winning such prestige by this triumph that he was able shortly after to disarm the Parisians, who ever since the taking of the Bastille had been well armed, and hence able to take an active part in every fray.

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


With the grapeshot which quelled the rioters, Bonaparte also put an end to the Revolution, of which the greatest permanent effect was the establishment of civil and religious equality in the eyes of the law. As already mentioned, the Revolution also caused the adoption of the metric system of weights and measures, a system which has been of lasting advantage to the country; but the Convention's attempt to revise the calendar proved an utter failure, although it was given a fair trial of over ten years. This plan was to begin numbering the years from September 21, 1792, which was called "the Republican Era." Each year was to contain twelve months of thirty days; the five days extra in ordinary years—and six in leap years—were to be devoted to national festivals, dedicated to Genius, Industry, Fine Actions, Rewards, and Public Opinion, and were dubbed collectively "Sansculottide Days." The old month names were replaced by the "vintage," "mist," and "frost "months for autumn; the "snow," "rain," and "wind "months for winter; the "bud," "flower," and "meadow "months for spring; and the "harvest," "heat," and "fruit "months for summer (vendemiaire, brumaire, frirnaire; nivose, pluviose, ventose; germinal, floreal, prairial; messidor, thermidor, fructidor). The week was abolished; instead, the month was divided into "decades "of ten days each, the last day of each decade being set aside for rest.

It is estimated that the French Revolution cost France about 1,000,000 lives, many of those who perished being the elite (choice) of the nation. But, strange to relate, all the riots and massacres of these six years seemed to effect little change in the daily life of the people, which went on much as usual. Some people even invented new styles of dress called "victim fashions" (a la victime)  and wore miniature guillotines as ornaments, many of them having apparently assumed the old motto, "Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow we die!"