How did the French Revolution both support and violate the motto - `equality, liberty and fraternity.

The French Revolution was considered an epoch making event of the entire world. This was because its effects, its impact, its universality. When compared to a flood, like the flood the French revolution swept away everything and left behind new ideas such as republicanism, equality, democracy, nationalism which were beneficial to the entire world. The object of this paper is to focus on how the French revolution both violated and supported the motto of the revolution which was ‘equality, liberty, fraternity’. “We know that men\'s behavior is not fully explained by their ideas, in the sense of their concepts, and that we must look not only to the manifest but to the latent content of their minds. What really lay behind the magic words, \"liberty,\" \"equality,\" \"nation,\" \"sovereignty,\" and the others? (Palmer 444)

Involvement in disastrous wars, corrupt and inefficient administration, a defective legal and judicial system led the revolution in France in the 1780’s. From the tennis court oath to the fall of Bastille, France found itself in the midst of a revolution like no other. On 26th August 1789, the Declaration of the rights of man and the citizen was adopted by the National Assembly.

The revolutionaries renounced God and the declaration of rights of man and the citizen was issued. The gist of the declaration was that the basic rights of individuals came from the government and not from God as previously believed.

Equality implies social, political and economic. These were denied to the French people. With the revolution, changes were made to the existing social order. A significant change was that the class of nobility was done away with. Thus the system of privileges which were enjoyed by the nobility, clergy was done away with. Everyone was now equal in the eyes of the law. Though the system of privileges was abolished, the revolution did not fundamentally alter the equal distribution of wealth. The Declaration of rights had been reinforcing the ideas of equality. The blacks in France were given the right to vote. “The guilds and other organizations that monopolized production were done away with. And a free market in labor was imposed” (Dwyer & Mchphee 32). Yet at the same time, speaking of equality, the Protestants had been granted full citizenship, but the same was not granted to the Jews (Dwyer & Mchphee 35). Why was the distinction made? Also women were not given equal status as men. Though they spoke of equality, the women were a minority and many were of the view that women were fundamentally different from men and should be more concerned about domestic issues. “Each citizen has an equal right to take part in the formation of the law and in the nomination of its mandatory or of its agents” (Dwyer & Mchphee 95).

Liberty is freedom of choice, for example it gives a person freedom to decide what occupation he would like to take up, or freedom to choose what religion he wants to. Liberty is personal as well as political. Personal liberty is associated with basic rights of an individual. Personal liberty in the French revolution meant liberation or emancipation of the peasants in France from the tyranny of the King, nobles, the church, landed aristocracy. Complete abolition of feudalism based on exploitation. Political liberty includes certain rights in the political field, like for example, the right of an individual to participate in the administration of the government directly or indirectly, such as the right to vote, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of movement et al. These principles were accepted by the constituent assembly. Though women were denied political rights; they did acquire more civil rights. There were new laws established, which established divorce and gave women as much right to it as men, as well as the law to equal inheritance to girls as boys, when families passed on their property. (Dwyer & Mchpee 31) Though women were not given political rights, there were many women who advocated for it and a few women even began attending political club meetings. They hoped to express their views to the political authorities. The emancipation of salves in French colonies such as Saint-Domingue, was granted and slave trade was abolished. “No man has the right to reduce his fellow man to servitude; nor even to sell his own person. Liberty is an inalienable property” (Dwyer & Mchpee 39).

Fraternity implies brotherhood or international brotherhood. The attempt of the revolution was to bring about a feeling of fraternity – among all sections of society. Though fraternity was advocated via the motto, there was no feeling as such. Like for example, according to the Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia, the National Assembly had been divided from the start into a conservative right that wanted to limit change and a radical left that wanted major social and political reforms. The assembly therefore lacked a unified voice Revolutionary leaders began to turn on each other. It further goes on to state that “the Girondins, who favored federalism, fought a battle to the death with the Jacobins, who denounced the Girondins for lacking revolutionary zeal and for aiding, intentionally or not, counter-revolutionary forces”. Another aspect where fraternity was not manifested was the treatment to the Jews, who were not granted civil rights. Did such a treatment towards other fellow communities advocate fraternity?

In conclusion, though the French revolution gave birth to the motto “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”; the creed outlived the Revolution, finding expression in the nineteenth century, however he further believed, “that many exponents of the creed of liberty, equality, and fraternity exaggerated the advantages and ignored the disadvantages of the political arrangements intended by this famed triptych of values, thereby distorting a proper understanding of liberty, equality, and fraternity along the way” (Stephen). Furthermore, “Liberty, Equality Fraternity” disintegrated to the powerful Robespierre and the reign of terror and in essence lost its meaning and significance. However there is no denying that the ancient regime of France had been in a way crushed and Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, nationalism had paved the way for a new society.

Works Cited

Crubaugh, Anthony. \"The French Revolution.\" The Historian 67.2 (2005): 352+. Questia. 6 May.

2007 .

Dwyer, Philip G., and Peter Mcphee, eds. The French Revolution and Napoleon: A Sourcebook.

London: Routledge, 2002.

“French Revolution” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. May. 2007. 6 May. 2007.


“Lectures on Modern European Intellectual History” The history guide 13 May. 2004. 6 May. 2007. .

Palmer, R. R. The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and

America, 1760-1800. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959.

Stephen, James Fitzjames. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1993. Questia. 6 May 2007 .

Van Kley, Dale, ed. The French Idea of Freedom: The Old Regime and the Declaration of Rights

of 1789. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994. Questia. 6 May 2007


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