History of the French Revolution

The Revolution, according to Jules Michelet (1798–1874), is the “tardy advent of Eternal Justice” against the tyranny of the monarchy. It is personified by the People, whose joy and misery Michelet evokes in every page of this “romantic history” of unprecedented social upheaval.

Charles Cocks’ translation of 1864 includes the first four Books of Michelet’s Histoire de la Revolution Française, covering events from the earliest indications of the Revolution to the King’s flight in 1791. 

“...the cornerstone of all revolutionary historiography and a literary monument.”
—François Furet

  • Preface
  • Introduction
    • First Part: On the Religion of the Middle Ages
    • Second Part: On the Ancient Monarchy
  • Book 1: April to July, 1789
    1. Elections of 1789
    2. Opening of the States-General
    3. National Assembly
    4. Oath at the Tennis Court
    5. Movement of Paris
    6. Insurrection of Paris
    7. The Taking of the Bastille, July 14, 1789
  • Book 2: July 14 to October 6, 1789
    1. The Hollow Truce
    2. Popular Judgments
    3. France in Arms
    4. The Rights of Man
    5. The Clergy and the People
    6. The Veto
    7. The Press
    8. The People Go to Fetch the King, October 5th, 1789
    9. The King Brought Back to Paris
  • Book 3: October 6, 1789 to July 14, 1790
    1. Unanimity to Revive the Kingly Power
    2. Resistance—The Clergy (October to November, 1789)
    3. Resistance—The Clergy—The Parliaments—The Provincial States
    4. Resistance—Parliaments—Movement of the Confederations
    5. Resistance—The Queen and Austria (October to February)
    6. Continuation—The Queen and Austria
    7. A Religious Struggle—The Passion of Louis XVI
    8. Religious Struggle—Success of the Counter-Revolution
    9. The Counter-Revolution Quelled in the South
    10. Spontaneous Organization of France
    11. The New Religion — Confederations
    12. The New Religion—General Confederation
  • Book 4: July 1790 to July 1791
    1. Why the New Religion Could Not Be Reduced to a Formula—Interior Obstacles
    2. Continuation—Exterior Obstacles—Two Sorts of Hypocrisy: The Hypocrisy of Authority, and the Priest
    3. Continuation—Exterior Obstacles—Hypocrisy of Liberty, the Englishman
    4. Massacre at Nancy (August 31, 1790)
    5. The Jacobins
    6. Struggle of Principles in the Assembly and at the Jacobins’
    7. The Cordeliers
    8. Impotency of the Assembly—The Oath Refused (November, 1790 to January, 1791)
    9. The First Step of the Reign of Terror
    10. The First Step of Terror—Mirabeau’s Opposition
    11. Death of Mirabeau (April 2, 1791)
    12. Intolerance of the Two Parties—Robespierre’s Progress
    13. The Precedents of the King’s Flight
    14. The King’s Flight to Varennes (20th–21st June, 1791)



first part
On the Religion of the Middle Ages

section 1
Is the Revolution Christian or Anti-Christian?


I define the Revolution—the advent of the Law, the resurrection of Right, and the reaction of Justice.

Is the Law, such as it appeared in the Revolution, conformable, or contrary, to the religious law which preceded it? In other words, is the Revolution Christian or Anti-Christian?

This question, historically, logically, precedes every other. It reaches and penetrates even those which might be believed to be exclusively political. All the institutions of the civil order which the Revolution met with, had either emanated from Christianity, or were traced upon its forms, and authorized by it. Religious or political, the two questions are deeply, inextricably intermingled. Confounded in the past, they will reappear tomorrow as they really are, one and identical.

Socialists’ disputes, ideas which seem today new and paradoxical, were discussed in the bosom of Christianity and of the Revolution. There are few of those ideas into which the two systems have not deeply entered. The Revolution especially, in her rapid apparition, wherein she realized so little, saw, by the flashes of the lightning, unknown depths, abysses of the future.

Therefore, in spite of the developments which theories have been able to take, notwithstanding new forms and new words, I see upon the stage but two grand facts, two principles, two actors and two persons, Christianity and the Revolution.

He who would describe the crisis whence the new principle emerged and made room for itself, cannot dispense with inquiring what relation it bears to its predecessor, in what respects it continues or outsteps, sways or abolishes it—a serious problem, which nobody has yet encountered face to face.

It is curious to see so many persons approaching, and yet nobody willing to look at this question seriously. Even those who believe, or pretend to believe, the question obsolete, show plainly enough, by their avoiding it, that it is extant, present, perilous, and formidable. If you are not afraid of the pit, why do you shrink back? Why do you turn aside your head? There is here, apparently, a power of dangerous attraction, at which the brain grows giddy.

Our great politicians have also, we must say, a mysterious reason for avoiding these questions. They believe that Christianity is still a great party, that it is better to treat it cautiously. Why fall out with it? They prefer to smile at it, keeping themselves at a distance, and to act politely towards it, without compromising themselves. They believe, moreover, that the religious world is generally very simple, and that to keep it in play, it is merely sufficient to praise the Gospel a little. That does not engage them very deeply. The Gospel, in its gentle morality, contains hardly any of the dogmas which make Christianity a religion so positive, so assuming, and so absorbing, so strong in its grasp upon man. All the philosophers, of every religion, of every philosophy, would subscribe, without difficulty, to the precepts of the Gospel. To say, with the Mohammedans, that Jesus is a great prophet, is not being a Christian.

Does the other party expostulate? Does the zeal of God which devours them, fill their hearts with serious indignation against this trifling of politicians? Not so; they declaim much, but only about minor matters, being but too happy so long as they are not molested in what is fundamental. The conduct of politicians, often trifling and occasionally savoring of irony, does not grieve them much. They pretend not to understand the question. Ancient as that party is, it has still a strong hold upon the world. While their opponents are occupied in their parliamentary displays, ever rolling their useless wheel and exhausting themselves without advancing, that old party still holds possession of all that constitutes the basis of life—the family and the domestic hearth, woman, and, through her instrumentality, the child. They who are the most hostile to this party, nevertheless abandon to its influence all they love, and all that makes them happy. They surrender to it every day the infant, man unarmed and feeble, whose mind, still dreaming, is incapable of defending itself. This gives the party many chances. Let it but keep and fortify this vast, mute, undisputed empire, its case is all the better; it may grumble and complain, but it will take good care never to drive politicians to a statement of their belief.

Politicians on either side! connivance against connivance! Where shall I turn to find the friends of truth?

The friends of the holy and the just? Does the world then contain no one who cares for God?

Children of Christianity, you who claim to be faithful, we here adjure you. Thus to pass by God in silence, to omit in every disputation what is truly the faith, as something too dangerous, offensive to the ear—is this religion?

One day, when I was conversing with one of our best bishops on the contradictions between Grace and Justice, which is the very basis of the Christian faith, he stopped me and said: “This question luckily no longer engages the attention of men. On that subject we enjoy repose and silence. Let us maintain it, and never go beyond. It is superfluous to return to that discussion.”

Yet that discussion, my lord, is no less than the question, whether Grace and Salvation through Christ, the only basis of Christianity, is reconcilable with justice; it is to examine whether such a dogma is founded on justice, whether it can subsist. Nothing lasts against justice. Does, then, the duration of Christianity appear to you an accessory question?

I well know, that after a debate of several centuries, after heaps of distinctions and scholastic subtleties had been piled together, without throwing light on the question, the pope silenced all parties, judging, like my bishop, that the question might be laid aside with no hope of settling the matter, and leaving justice and injustice in the arena to make up matters as they could.

This is much more than has ever been done by the greatest enemies of Christianity. To say the least, they have always been respectful enough to examine the question, and not put it out of court without deigning to grant it a hearing.

For how could we, who have no inimical feelings, reject examination and debate? Ecclesiastical prudence, the trifling of politicians, and their avoiding the question, do not suit us in the least. We owe it to Christianity to see how far it may be reconcilable with the Revolution, to know what regeneration the old principle may find in the bosom of the new one. We have desired fervently and heartily that it would transform itself and live again! In what sense can this transformation be achieved? What hope ought we to entertain that it is possible?

As the historian of the Revolution, I cannot, without this inquiry, advance one step. But even though I were not invincibly impelled towards it by the very nature of my subject, I should be urged to the investigation by my own heart. The miserable reluctance to grapple with the difficulty which either party evinces, is one of the overwhelming causes of our moral debasement—a combat of condottieri, in which nobody fights; they advance, retire, menace, without touching one another—contemptible sight! As long as fundamental questions remain thus eluded, there can be no progress, either religious or social. The world is waiting for a faith, to march forward again, to breathe and to live. But, never can faith have a beginning in deceit, cunning, or treaties of falsehood.

Single-handed and free from prejudices, I will attempt, in my weakness, what the strong do not venture to perform. I will fathom the question from which they recoil, and I shall attain, perhaps, before I die, the prize of life; namely, to discover the truth, and to tell it according to one’s heart.

Engaged as I am in the task of describing the heroic days of Liberty, I may venture to entertain a hope that she herself may deign to support me—accomplish her own work through the medium of this, my book, and lay the deep foundation upon which a better age may build the faith of the future.

History of the French Revolution

Michelet’s Histoire de la Revolution Française was published between 1847 and 1853. This Antipodes edition is a republication of Charles Cocks’ English translation, titled Historical View of the French Revolution, published by H.G. Bohn, London, in 1864. The original text has been slightly altered to reflect modern orthography and usage.

This volume contains Books 1–4 of the 21 “Tomes” of Michelet’s original work. English translations of subsequent Books of Histoire de Revolution Française were published by Kolokol Press in 1973.

ISBN: 978-0-9994283-1-3
596 pages

Antipodes books are distributed worldwide by Ingram Content Group

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