The French Revolution was a tumultuous ten-year period that lasted from approximately 5 May 1789 to 9 November 1799 and forever changed France. Those people who experienced these tumultuous times saw monumental social and political change. It also ultimately created the Emperor Napoleon and did away with the ancien régime beheading its leader Louis XVI on 21 January 1793. To further understand this period, I have provided French Revolution quotes from some of the people involved at the time:
Non sire, ce n’est pas une révolte, c’est une révolution.
No sire, it’s not a revolt; it’s a revolution.
This was said by the François Alexandre Frédéric de La Rochefoucauld, Duke of La Rochefoucauld, a French social reformer, the morning after the storming of the Bastille when Louis XVI asked him, “Is it a revolt?”
Le silence des peuples est la leçon des rois.
The people’s silence is the king’s lesson.
Although this was first said at the funeral sermon for King Louis XV in 1774, this phrase was repeated after the storming of the Bastille on 15 July 1789 by the great orator Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Count of Mirabeau, who was also an early leader in the revolution. He said this phrase when addressing the Constituent Assembly.
Le sang qui vient de couler était-il donc si pur?
Was the blood that has just been spilled so pure then?
A French politician named Antoine Pierre Joseph Marie Barnave said this on 23 July 1789 after the Bastille was stormed. The phrase referred to the death of those who perished in the Bastille’s attack, which killed 98 attackers and 1 defender.
L’insurrection est le plus saint des devoirs.
Insurrection is the holiest of duties.
This phrase was used in a speech on 20 February 20 1790 to the Constituent Assembly by Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, better known as Lafayette.
Liberté, égalité, fraternité.
Liberty, equality, fraternity.
This was the motto of the French Republic and was supposedly created by Antoine-François Momoro, a Parisian painter. However, it was popularized by one of the most influential persons of the revolution and the Reign of Terror, Maximilien Robespierre. He said it in a speech on 5 December 1790, after which it was widely disseminated.
Périssent les colonies plutôt qu’un principe!
Perish the colonies rather than a principle!
This phrase was used in two speeches given to the Constituent Assembly on 13 May 1791. It was first said by Pierre Samuel duPont de Nemours, a French writer, economist, and government official, and then by l’incorruptible (the incorruptible), Robespierre.
This was a short, expressive saying alluding to reconciliation and derived from a speech made by the bishop of Rhône-et-Loire (Lyon), Abbé Antoine-Adrien Lamourette, on 7 July 1792. The Abbe’s speech resulted in opposing political opponents embracing other. However, three days later the same opponents were back to hating and criticizing each other as much as they did before.
Faites, sire, ce sacrifice; c’est un dernier trait de ressemblance avec votre divin modèle.
Make this sacrifice, sire; it is a last trait of resemblance to your divine model [Jesus Christ].
This advice was given to Louis XVI by the Abbé Edgeworth de Firmont, an Irish ecclesiastic, when the King’s hands were tied for his execution on 21 January 1793.
Faites comme eux, vous étiez dessous, mettez-vous dessus. Voilà la révolution.
Act like them, you are undermost, put yourselves uppermost. There’s revolution.
Georges Jacques Danton was a leading figure in the early stages of the French Revolution and the first President of the Committee of Public Safety, which was created in April of 1793 and formed the de facto executive government in France during the Reign of Terror. This was Danton’s reply when consulted as to what to do with the aristocrats.
Mort aux tyrans, paix aux chaumines.
Death to the tyrants, peace to the cottages.
This was an oath taken at the foot of the statue of Liberty at the place de la Révolution by Jacobins on 21 January 1794 and marked the one-year anniversary of King Louis XVI’s death.
Le Tribunal, d’après la déclaration unanime du jury, faisant droit sur le réquisitoire de l’accusateur-public, d’après les lois par lui citées, condamne ladite Marie-Antoinette, dite Lorraine d’Autriche, veuve de Louis Capet, à la peine de mort; … ordonne qu’a la requête de l’accusateur-public, le présent jugement sera exécuté sur la place de la Révolution, imprimé & affiché dans toute l’étendue de la France.
The tribunal, according to the unanimous declaration of the jury, granting the indictment of the public prosecutor, according to the laws by him cited, condemns said Marie Antoinette, known as Lorraine of Austria, widow of Louis Capet, to the death penalty; … orders that at the request of the public prosecutor, the present judgment shall be executed on the Place de la Revolution, printed and displayed throughout the whole of France.
After Marie Antoinette was determined by the Tribunal to be guilty, the President pronounced the sentence above and she was guillotined on 16 October 1793.
Messieurs, j’espérais avant peu vous faire sortir d’ici; mais m’y voila moi-même avec vous, et je ne sais comment cela finira.
Gentlemen, I was hoping before long to set you free; but here I am with you myself, and I know not how it will end.
Those associated with the Committee of Public Safety, such as Robespierre and Georges Couthon, found reasons to indict Danton for counter-revolutionary activities and various financial misdeeds. He was arrested on 30 March 1794, and these words were spoken by Danton to his fellow prisoners as they were taken to prison.
J’ai l’âge au sans-culotte Jésus, trente-trois ans quand il mourut.
I am the age of the sans-culotte, Jesus, 33 years old when he died.
This was the reply made by Camille Desmoulins on 3 April 1794 after he was asked by the Revolutionary Tribunal his age. He was executed two days later on the 5th of April.
A mois, mes amis! A moi!
Help, friends! Help!
These were the last words of Jean-Paul Marat. He was one of the most radical supporters of the French Revolution, a vigorous defender of the sans-culottes, and a staunch Jacobin. He was stabbed by Charlotte Corday while sitting in his bathtub. She plunged a 5-inch kitchen knife under his right clavicle, which opened the carotid artery and killed him. If you are interested in reading more about this event, click here.
Les grands noms ne se font qu’en Orient.
It is only in the East that great names are made.
This was a saying of Napoleon Bonaparte. He used it after he returned from Italy in 1797, and it showed that he was desirous to undertake an expedition to Egypt.
Géneral, vous étes grand comme le monde!
General, you are as great as the world!
This was said by General Jean Baptiste Kleber as he joyously seized Napoleon around the waist after the Turkish army was destroyed by Napoleon’s forces at the Battle of Aboukir in July 1799.