The French Revolution: DBQ Causes and Outcome
Over time, people have expressed a wide variety of opinions about the causes and outcomes of the French Revolution. The following excerpts, dating from the 1790s to 1859, illustrate this diversity of opinion.
Document A: Charles Dickens
In 1859, the English writer Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities, a novel about the French Revolution for which he did much research. In the following scene, Charles Darnay—an aristocrat who gave up his title because he hated the injustices done to the people—has returned to France and been put on trial.
His judges sat upon the bench in feathered hats; but the rough red cap and tricolored cockade was the headdress otherwise prevailing. Looking at the jury and the turbulent audience, he might have thought that the usual order of things was reversed, and that the felons were trying the honest men. The lowest, cruelest, and worst populace of a city, never without its quantity of low, cruel, and bad, were the directing spirits of the scene. . . .
Charles Evrémonde, called Darnay, was accused by the public prosecutor as an emigrant, whose life was forfeit to the Republic, under the decree which banished all emigrants on pain of Death. It was nothing that the decree bore date since his return to France. There he was, and there was the decree; he had been taken in France, and his head was demanded.
“Take off his head!” cried the audience. “An enemy to the Republic!”
Document B Edmund Burke
Burke, a British politician, was one of the earliest and most severe critics of the French Revolution. In 1790, he expressed this opinion.
[The French have rebelled] against a mild and lawful monarch, with more fury, outrage, and insult, than ever any people has been known to rise against the most illegal usurper, or the most [bloodthirsty] tyrant. . . .
They have found their punishment in their success. Laws overturned; tribunals subverted; . . . the people impoverished; a church pillaged, and . . . civil and military anarchy made the constitution of the kingdom. . . .
Were all these dreadful things necessary?
Document C: Thomas Paine
In 1790, Paine—a strong supporter of the American Revolution—defended the French Revolution against Burke and other critics. It is no longer the paltry cause of kings or of this or of that individual, that calls France and her armies into action. It is the great cause of all.
It is the establishment of a new era, that shall blot despotism from the earth, and fix, on the lasting principles of peace and citizenship, the great Republic of Man.
The scene that now opens itself to France extends far beyond the boundaries of her own dominions.
Every nation is becoming her ally, and every court has become her enemy. It is now the cause of all nations, against the cause of all courts.
1. In your own words, summarize the attitude toward the French Revolution expressed in each of these excerpts.
2. Why might Edmund Burke (Source B) be so against the French Revolution?
3. In Source C, what is the distinction Thomas Paine is making between nations and courts?