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 Anyone think that Marie Antoinette was wrongly beheaded.? 
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Post Re: Anyone think that Marie Antoinette was wrongly beheaded.?
I can't agree with this opinion that the end justifies the means. It never does, to me, and it is essential that it never would, otherwise, we lose our humanity. And that is what those French revolutionaries did, eventually. They finally forgot they were human beings supposed to serve the people. And they forgot those people were human too, made of flesh, blood and tears.

They slaughtered thousands of people, in the streets and also in Vendée, which appeared to be a real ethnic epuration, a kind of genocide. They sent thousands of people to the guillotine, using an expeditive justice, with a real concern for efficiency and return on investment. Considering all they did, I can't say the end justifies the means.

I hope Petitfils' so relevant biography of Louis XVI will soon be translated in English, as well as Felix's study. In these, we can see how much Louis XVI was aware of these inequalities, and that he tried several times to correct them. Unfortunately, his clergymen and his noblemen let the king down.

Certainly Louis XVI could become a great constitutional monarch, but with a real constitution, not the one the assembly made to monopolise the whole power in the country and make a fool of the king. But Louis was a clever and a wize man... Too bad Turgot's reforms were never approved, that would have been a royal revolution !

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Wed Jun 17, 2009 7:15 pm
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Post Re: Anyone think that Marie Antoinette was wrongly beheaded.?
Pimprenelle, I could not agree with you more. I do not think that the murder of thousands of people is EVER justified. Even as an absolute monarch, Louis XVI was gradually bringing about major reforms and the lot of the people was slowly improving. Those who put the violence into motion were interested in changing the entire social order, and gaining power for themselves.

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Wed Jun 17, 2009 8:00 pm
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Post Re: Anyone think that Marie Antoinette was wrongly beheaded.?
If that's meant to respond to my post just before, I certainly didn't say the end justifies the means. In fact, I repeated a few times that the Revolutionaries had gone too far.

But neither can one change a regime from monarchic to democratic without, by definition, violating the rules of the existing regime. When the existing power says, in effect, their power came from God (never mind all the battles and violence which established these monarchies - these weren't exactly pacifist regimes), then ANY attempt to displace them is considered sedition. Just as, again, the American colonists' attempt to assert their independence was so considered.

It's one thing to say the Revolution went too far (as I have myself, repeatedly), it's another to say that those who opposed the monarchy were inherently illegitimate because they opposed the existing order of the time, or to imply that no resulting government had the right to try Marie-Antoinette, fairly or not.

Democratic rule comes from the people. That is not, today, a radical or a socialist idea - it is the bedrock of most modern government. The people had an absolute right, then, to take the power. It shocks me that anyone would question that. The problem, at heart, is that they didn't really. In the event, demagogues got a hold of the whole thing and it all went horribly astray (the people, in the end, welcomed Napoleon's dictatorship, as they often welcome order, even fascist order, after chaos). But acknowledging that is neither the same as questioning the inherent legitimacy of an attempt to establish democracy nor, certainly, any kind of claim that the end justifies the means.

What was justified was the attempt to replace the existing government with a democracy. In that light, France's monarchs had no more legitimate right to rule than the rabble-rousers who replaced them. That is, in a modern sense, their power did NOT derive from the people they ruled.

The losers, stuck in the middle, were the French people, who took generations to finally establish a democracy something like what had long existed in England.

As for Louis himself trying to improve the lot of his people, it would have been very nice had he done that. Unfortunately, he was so weak a figure that in practice it's unlikely he would have succeeded. But again, it wasn't his call, historically. What was needed was an orderly transfer of power to its proper owners - the people themselves. The great tragedy of the Revolution is that that never happened at the time.

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Thu Jun 18, 2009 12:02 am
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Post Re: Anyone think that Marie Antoinette was wrongly beheaded.?
jimcheval wrote:

As for Louis himself trying to improve the lot of his people, it would have been very nice had he done that. Unfortunately, he was so weak a figure that in practice it's unlikely he would have succeeded. But again, it wasn't his call, historically. What was needed was an orderly transfer of power to its proper owners - the people themselves. The great tragedy of the Revolution is that that never happened at the time.


Hi, Jim. My point is that the change WAS happening. Here is a list of the reforms of Louis XVI (I have posted this list elsewhere on this forum so I beg forbearance for the repetition):

~1774 Louis XVI placed Turgot in charge of finances and introduced free circulation of grain. Founded School of Medicine in Paris.

~1775 Droits d'octroi were reduced, prison reform begun, and the death penalty for deserters was abolished.

~1776 The king signed the six edicts of Turgot comprising the abolition of the corvée. The parlements resisted the edicts, preventing them from becoming law. In the same year he reduced his household.

~1778 More taxes reduced.

~1779 The king abolished servitude and other reforms were made.

~1780 Further reductions in the Royal household were made, hospital reform was begun, prison reform continued, most torture was abolished.

~1784 Relief given to Jews.

~1786 More hospital reform, aid to the deaf, and provisions made for lost children.

~1787 Steps taken towards the total abolition of the corvée, more reductions in royal household, civil rights accorded to Jews and Protestants.

~1788 All forms of torture were abolished, greater freedom given to press, steps towards abolition of lettres de cachet.

(See Simon Schama's Citizens and Vincent Cronin's Louis and Antoinette.)

These are the changes that were in place before the Revolution. There were more to come, but Louis resisted giving his country over to extremists, as was his duty.

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Thu Jun 18, 2009 12:18 am
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Post Re: Anyone think that Marie Antoinette was wrongly beheaded.?
Let me repeat my one central point here, which seems to get buried in alternate issues: the French people of this period had the right to demand self-rule and there was nothing treasonous in their doing so (unless you consider that the American colonists were also guilty of treason to their monarch).

To say this is not to say the ends justify the means, and I didn't say that. To say that is not to say that the Revolution didn't go badly wrong and I didn't say that either (in fact, I said the opposite). To say that is not to suggest some progress was not already occurring.

I have of course read "Citizens" and agree with most of it, as I do the quote from Schweitzer to the effect that the Revolution was snow falling on new buds. Nowhere do I recall Schama suggesting, however, that there was anything illegitimate about the fundamental objective of establishing democracy (which inherently means ending absolute monarchy), nor that Louis (a particularly weak and feckless monarch) was likely to have led the country to democracy on his own (he really didn't do very well in confronting vested interests, for one thing). He certainly supported a number of reforms, but I doubt very much he ever contemplated handing power over to a constitutional democracy one whit more than he was forced to.

As for his preserving the country against extremists, in fact, had he worked more closely with the moderates who first tried to effect change, he might not have had to deal with the extremists who later gained the upper hand.

Either way, the fact is, ultimately it wasn't his call. When you have fundamental rights, no one else, in a just society, gets to decide if you exercise those rights. So his place - and I would very much have liked to have seen him take it - was a bit like Botha's in South Africa when he transitioned from white separatist rule to black majority rule. Louis might, in other words, have helped to replace himself (ironically, had he done so, France might well have a constitutional monarchy today).

It is tragic that the French people, newcomers to the whole idea of self-rule, got it so terribly wrong and, yes, that so many people died as a result. But anyone who considers them traitors for even trying would consider them so even had they managed to do so peacefully; either way, they were trying to replace their current, absolute. monarchy with self-government.

My point, quite simply, is that there is nothing inherently treasonous in that effort. Government which derives from the governed is inherently more legitimate than any hereditary or other imposed form. That, as our American Forefathers said, is "inalienable" and "self-evident".

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Thu Jun 18, 2009 3:09 am
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Post Re: Anyone think that Marie Antoinette was wrongly beheaded.?
jimcheval wrote:
Let me repeat my one central point here, which seems to get buried in alternate issues: the French people of this period had the right to demand self-rule and there was nothing treasonous in their doing so (unless you consider that the American colonists were also guilty of treason to their monarch).

To say this is not to say the ends justify the means, and I didn't say that. To say that is not to say that the Revolution didn't go badly wrong and I didn't say that either (in fact, I said the opposite). To say that is not to suggest some progress was not already occurring.

I have of course read "Citizens" and agree with most of it, as I do the quote from Schweitzer to the effect that the Revolution was snow falling on new buds. Nowhere do I recall Schama suggesting, however, that there was anything illegitimate about the fundamental objective of establishing democracy (which inherently means ending absolute monarchy), nor that Louis (a particularly weak and feckless monarch) was likely to have led the country to democracy on his own (he really didn't do very well in confronting vested interests, for one thing). He certainly supported a number of reforms, but I doubt very much he ever contemplated handing power over to a constitutional democracy one whit more than he was forced to.

As for his preserving the country against extremists, in fact, had he worked more closely with the moderates who first tried to effect change, he might not have had to deal with the extremists who later gained the upper hand.

Either way, the fact is, ultimately it wasn't his call. When you have fundamental rights, no one else, in a just society, gets to decide if you exercise those rights. So his place - and I would very much have liked to have seen him take it - was a bit like Botha's in South Africa when he transitioned from white separatist rule to black majority rule. Louis might, in other words, have helped to replace himself (ironically, had he done so, France might well have a constitutional monarchy today).

It is tragic that the French people, newcomers to the whole idea of self-rule, got it so terribly wrong and, yes, that so many people died as a result. But anyone who considers them traitors for even trying would consider them so even had they managed to do so peacefully; either way, they were trying to replace their current, absolute. monarchy with self-government.

My point, quite simply, is that there is nothing inherently treasonous in that effort. Government which derives from the governed is inherently more legitimate than any hereditary or other imposed form. That, as our American Forefathers said, is "inalienable" and "self-evident".


Sorry, Jim, I have to disagree that Louis XVI was a weak and feckless monarch. A weak and feckless monarch would not have accomplished so many reforms, or helped the Americans win their independence. When under incredible stress and pressure, especially after his son's death, he struggled with indecision, but that is a far different state from being "feckless." I hope with Pimprenelle that the Petitfils bio and the study by Felix are soon translated into English. Meanwhile, there is also the excellent bio by Bernard Fay. And I think the social changes could have been obtained without violence.

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Post Re: Anyone think that Marie Antoinette was wrongly beheaded.?
Therese wrote:
A weak and feckless monarch would not have accomplished so many reforms, or helped the Americans win their independence. When under incredible stress and pressure, especially after his son's death, he struggled with indecision, but that is a far different state from being "feckless."


I don't think that. He was a monarch with competent material sources to finance the American Independence war. Later, as we know, his efforts turned to financial deficiency and disaffection of the French, but the main thing is that France was able to help an other nations' war in fact. It is not about Louis XVI's fortitude at all, it is all about money. And we shouldn't forget that a king do not make his decisions alone. He had advisors and ministers. I do not see any mark of his resolve and resoluteness at that time.

He showed great courage during his last days, but, to be realistic, only these days determinded his later appreciation. By his precending attitude historians have the right to call him weak and infirm. His lifelong behaviour, except for his attitude during his trial and death, made the bad judgement what still stands. To be honest, this public opinion must be right considering the facts of the king's life. Now I do not I think about his tenderness and presonal care for his family- of course he was a good man, no doubt about it. But considering his political acts, I see the difference between his behaviour and Marie Antoinette's and I have to tell that I prefer his wife great courage instead of his shakiness.

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Thu Jun 18, 2009 4:16 am
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Post Re: Anyone think that Marie Antoinette was wrongly beheaded.?
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And I think the social changes could have been obtained without violence.

As do I - in theory at least (one could write a whole series of novels made up of nothing but the alternate possible outcomes of the first steps of the Revolution).

But the ground keeps shifting from my original point: which was that the French people had a right to replace the monarchy, and were not traitors for trying to do so. To do so was their fundamental, natural right.

That's all I was saying. How do we keep drifting off to numerous other ancillary points?

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Post Re: Anyone think that Marie Antoinette was wrongly beheaded.?
jimcheval wrote:
How do we keep drifting off to numerous other ancillary points?

Ah, Jim, that is discussion for you! :wink:

I have really enjoyed the vigorous, intelligent debate between all of us here. An online salon, if you will.

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Post Re: Anyone think that Marie Antoinette was wrongly beheaded.?
I think there are two different points being concerned in this discussion: the first, is if the people had the right to replace the monarchy, and the second is, whether killing Marie Antoinette was right. I don't think the two things are necessarily interrelated.
As for the first question, I think the people had the right to choose their governement, so they were not treasonous. But, on the other way, neither Luois XVI and MA can be considered treasonous, because, under their point of view (and I stress, their point of view, which I'm not saying is mine), they felt betrayed, so they believed they were saving the natural and right order of things. So I think we don't have the right of calling either part "traitor", in the true sense of the word. This said, of course one could argue that, once the Revolutionary governement considered itself legitimate, the execution of the king who had tried to replace that governement could be held as inevitable (obviously, I'm not considering matters related to the human rights in general. I'm against death penalty in any case, but here we are concerned with a historical period when capital executions were held as "normal").

As for MA, however, I think the matter is quite different. If executing the king could be considered as "killing the monarchy", there was no such need for the queen. When she was put on trial and then executed, she was an ill woman, who had already suffered every sort of humiliation and pain, and I don't think that she could ever represent a threat to the new republic. I have the impression that her death was needed above all to give a demonstration of strength to the people, and to impress them by showing the final defeat of the hated "Austrian". I think, therefore, that her execution was contrary to every sense of humanity and I cannot consider it legitimate.

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Wed Jun 24, 2009 7:54 pm
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Post Re: Anyone think that Marie Antoinette was wrongly beheaded.?
Rosalie is perfectly right about there being two different points. One can feel the monarchs were unfairly beheaded without accusing a people trying to establish its liberty of being seditious.

As for the fairness or unfairness, as I've written before, I certainly believe some pretext would have been found to execute the monarchs, since a certain kind of revolutionary at least believes in extirpating the previous regime. But for the accusation of being a "traitor", there's the general right and wrong and the legal right and wrong, and then, to complicate things, there's trying to sort out what would have been considered a crime even today from arbitrary and often ephemeral laws.

If Marie-Antoinette did, as some writers claim, correspond with the enemies of France in time of war, that even today would be considered treason. And people have been executed for it in the United States. Her motivation might have been pure - so was the Rosenbergs' - but idealism is not an excuse under the law. So in the most narrow sense, one has to examine the claimed evidence to see if it applied in the case.

In the larger question, was it fair that so many people wanted this family (and yes, probably the whole family) dead fair? Well, no. But it wasn't fair that one of the kindest of officers at the Bastille was massacred in the streets and his head put on a pike along with that of the awful De Launay. Nor that a great scientist like Lavoisier was executed because, years before, he'd been an Intendant. Nor was it fair that numerous people who thought of themselves as revolutionaries were executed as counter-revolutionaries. Etc.

It was an awful, sanguinary time. But many people were executed on virtually no evidence at all and if Marie-Antoinette did indeed play with political fire, she provided more pretext than many for her own destruction.

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Thu Jun 25, 2009 5:53 pm
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Post Re: Anyone think that Marie Antoinette was wrongly beheaded.?
Let's take these points separately.

1. No, I don't think those people reunited by the king had the right to confiscate the power. They were totally illegitimate, and that's why Louis XVI first decided to consider illegitimate all the decisions they made.

Alas, it was too late... those agitators had already taken the lead.

The point here is not to determine if people have the right, in an absolute meaning of the concept, to sedition. It is to see that, in this case, the acts of this assembly were not legitimate, and any monarch could erase them. Later, this new jacobine Bonaparte would be completely illegitimate also, and completely succeed.

2. Of course, the beheading of king and queen was a terrible fact. The exexution of Louis XVI seemed necessary to some revolutionaries, in order to really destroy the monarchy by killing the monarch. Seeing his blood running on the square would unified the people into the soul of revolution.

Actually, the people felt deeply traumatized by this, and for long.

3. Marie Antoinette's execution was even more stupid than the king's one. She was but a poor widow, they could send her back to Austria. But they needed more blood, for they were falling into terror and horror.

Saying that she committed high treason actually is a dangerous simplification, and could even be a deep misinterpretation, a kind of anachronism. French historian still debate the point, and many among them think that we cannot see Marie Antoinette's facts the way we would see them today. We have to get back to the thoughts of the time, and especially those of the queen.

Marie Antoinette had no idea of "nation", she only had the notion of kingdom. France was the kingdom of her husband, and she wanted this country to get back to peace and happiness. Those words you constantly would find in her letters.

Now, the question is : what would she have done if France was in peace ? What if this revolution brought happiness to the people her husband had for duty to protect ? Well... all she saw were blood and killings and war and poverty and anarchy.

Of course, she called the whole Europe for helping to stop this !

She would have been a traitor if she did not do that.

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Wed Jul 01, 2009 9:24 am
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Post Re: Anyone think that Marie Antoinette was wrongly beheaded.?
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No, I don't think those people reunited by the king had the right to confiscate the power. They were totally illegitimate, and that's why Louis XVI first decided to consider illegitimate all the decisions they made.

Do you realize the implications of that simple statement? Most of modern democracy is founded on the opposite proposition.

To put it another way: do you think the American Founding Fathers were also involved in an "illegitimate" effort when they rejected the rule of their own monarch (who, be it noted, had a duly elected House of Commons and a legitimate if unelected House of Lords backing him, no less, unlike the absolute French monarchy)?

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Post Re: Anyone think that Marie Antoinette was wrongly beheaded.?
A revolt, a sedition, a revolution is always illegal. A change can be necessary, but this need does not legitimate any sedition. Changes must happen other ways. In no case, not any, the end justifies the means.

Back to the French revolution, the king himself was conscious important reforms were necessary, and he was ready for that. He even tried several times to make them but his ministers did not succeed.

Those changes must be done by a collaboration between the king and the orders. That's why Louis XVI called the General Estates. But, even before this meeting began, many people wanted more, they were ready for a massive sedition, and they did it. That was totally illegitimate, they illegally occupied the Jeu de Paume room, and all the décisions they made could count for nothing.

They, after people made a sedition, changes can be obtain, if they are able to have a dialogue with the legitimate power. Otherwise, this sedition remains unstable, and can be put down by any new sedition.

Back to the French revolution again, Louis XVI could never have a real dialogue with those agitators, because some of them did not recognize his power... and some of them even hoped for a republic to come. They did not want to dialogue with the king, they just wanted to take more power from him, so that he finally was nothing more than a poor "veto man".

The consequence of this all is, to me, that the French revolution was a failure. This never lead to a real government stable enough. This actually lead to war and to terror, a massive anarchy from which raised a dictator, the jacobine Bonaparte. Who was also totally illegitimate and finally put down.

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Fri Jul 03, 2009 5:57 am
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Post Re: Anyone think that Marie Antoinette was wrongly beheaded.?
I certainly (as I keep repeating) believe that the Revolution went badly wrong. And Napoleon was a military dictator, gussy him up as you will. But then the Restorations didn't last either, so saying he was ultimately displaced says more about French government in general than it does about him. (Almost symbolically, it was the creator of the vulgarized press in France, Emile de Girardin, who went to the king in 1848 and told him he should resign.)

Still, the fact remains that if some flavor, however peaceful, of this "sedition" had not occurred, France might well still have an absolute monarchy today.

Is that the outcome you would have preferred?

For my part, I might have posted this centuries-old rejoinder several times in this exchange, but the Fourth now having arrived in Southern California, here are lines that have long been the last word on this subject, not only for Americans but others inspired by their model:

Quote:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government...

from The Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies
In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776

Did Louis XVI agree? One wonders if he thought about it. At any rate, he certainly gave material support to the project these words initiated.

Does that make him an ally of progress or a supporter of sedition?

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Fri Jul 03, 2009 4:47 pm
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