A German philosopher and supporter of the French revolution, Johann Gottlieb Fichte wrote his series of addresses to the German Nation in 1806. During this time, France was under the rule of Napoleon who had set about on different conquests across Europe, Germany included. The French invasion of Germany caused Fichte to think twice about his feelings towards the French and the French revolution and force the German nation to ask themselves what it truly means to be German.
Fichte’s address to the German nation is more of a persuasion as he explains the ways in which the German people need to embrace their own nationality and defer away from the French. Fichte goes about this by stating “Those who speak the same language are joined to each other by a multitude of invisible bonds by nature herself” (Fichte 1). Continuing this statement, he argues that people of the same country have a similar understanding and they belong together, becoming an “inseparable whole” (Fichte 1). The problem however, is that the whole becomes disrupted and confused when others, the French, try and interfere. Fichte states that the French have taken advantage of the Germans, pillaging their villages and using their men to fight in wars. Rather than accept the French into the German nation, Fichte argues for the Germans to unite and form their own nationality.
The French Revolution was in itself, a catalyst for political and cultural change. The classes; clergy, nobles, and third estate were amongst a ruler that had no interest in creating change that benefited all. Thus, the third estate and other groups banded together to influence the changes in their society. These changes were a necessity to bring about the new political and cultural views that were seen in this new society, from a new calendar system to the way individuals wore their clothing. These individuals wanted no reminder of what oppression was before them, they only wanted to alter their culture for future generations to come.
Robespierre argued in “The Cult of the Supreme Being”, that this revolution attempted “to totally transform human society in every way”. His piece instilled in the people, more of the will to fight by believing in a higher power, no matter what religion an individual followed. The same argument goes “La Marseillaise”, as the writing in this French national anthem allows an individual to hone in on their own experiences and express a sense of pride for what they may be fighting for. In this case the third estate saw to it to take a stand on what they thought was right. Moreover, inverting the power system was a great shift in control for the third estate, since they were the minority and became the majority. The core concept of equality became a more integral part of the French society. This French revolt was a classic example of a strong catalyst for a necessary change.
Questions to Consider:
1.) What would it take for the minority to overthrow or influence the majority?( i.e What other lingering factors must a one group do to influence the other?)
2.) What examples of revolt, depicted in the French Revolution do we see in a more modern society?
Declaration of Independence of the United States
While the celebrated document asserts the fledgling nation’s independence, it is additionally a list of grievances the colonizers have concerning the Crown and associated British government. Considering the varied atrocities committed by British troops and officials in the run-up to the war (Boston Massacre, various taxes, and weakening the citizens’ collective voice over time, among a whole host of other things), the revolutionary leaders, i.e., Founding Fathers, took advantage of the Declaration of Independence to effectively declare war as well on the British troops garrisoned in America. The language in the text suggests this. “It is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” “…as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce…” In these two quotes from the text the signatories vocalize both their desire for the Crown to recognize their independence and their willingness to wage war should the British not recognize America’s independence.
French writings leading to the eventual revolution
Similarly, the French used various essays as well as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen to make their revolutionary intentions clear. In “What is the Third Estate”, Abbe Sieyes points out the pervasiveness of the French government and nobility (which Louis XVI often manipulated to advance his own agenda) and reflects that it should be the right of the citizens who live under an undesirable government to simply rebel, for it can be detrimental to both the economy and the morale of the citizens. In the Decree upon the National Assembly and in conjunction with the Tennis Court Oath, deputies of the Third Estate (henceforth the National Assembly) asserted its power which was to be independent of the royalty and nobility of France. Finally, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen does belligerent language appear. Until this point the French Crown was considered sovereign and unchallengeable, but the third declared right sought to undo this: “The Nation is essentially the source of all sovereignty; no can any individual, or any body of men, be entitled to any authority which is not expressly derived from it.” This is a challenge to the royalty and nobility who were seen by many as not having earned their sovereign powers (hence Sieyes’s essay). Additionally, the twelfth right denounces abuse of power given by citizens to a government’s officials, which can also be viewed as a challenge to the crown. The third right challenges the validity of the Crown’s powers, and the twelfth challenges the abuse of that power that is itself invalid. Although the hostility is less evident in the French essays than in the American Declaration of Independence, the Declaration of the Rights of Man also intends to attain sovereignty over the monarchy. The French Revolution began shortly thereafter, the fact of which backs the original theory that it was a declaration of a revolutionary war.