Prelude to Terror: The Constituent Assembly and the Failure of Consensus, 1789-1791

  • Publish Date: 1988-11-13
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Author: Norman Hampson
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  • $22.65
  • Regular price $68.20


The beginning of the French Revolution in the spring of 1789 seemed to offer a promise of national regeneration that caught the imagination of the whole of Europe. In this extraordinary outburst of altruism and hope, the men elected to the National Assembly saw themselves as drafting a new social contract between the king and his people that would re-establish the French state on a new moral foundation. Within two years everything had gone sour, with the country now facing civil war and several of its former leaders plotting to invade France at the head of a foreign army. This book, by one of the most distinguished historians of the French Revolution, seeks to discover what went wrong. Focusing on the National Assembly, where the revolutionaries clashed passionately on ideals, principles, policies and personalities, Norman Hampson provides a graphic account of events in Paris from 1789-1791. He examines why the members of the Assembly, who shared a common lifestyle and aspirations, came to hate and distrust each other. He shows convincingly how these deputies were the victims of a millenarian ideology that confused politics with ethics and turned political differences into holy wars. At the same time, he argues, they found themselves confronted by political problems which they were unable to resolve - foremost among them, whether to treat the king as a potential ally in the transformation of France, or as an irreconcilable enemy. Disagreement bred suspicion and what came to separate the protagonists was not so much their actual policies as the myths that they created about each other. By the time that the Assembly dissolved, in the autumn of 1791, France was already heading for the Terror.



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