The Execution of Louis XVI, 21 Jan 1793 The French Revolution
Edmund Burke and Mary Wollstonecraft
How do these excerpts compare? Do we get enough of
Burke's text to appreciate all the references made by
Edmund Burke (1729-1797) Things to Consider:
common law vs. statute law: The difference between the
common law and statute is that whereas statute is codified,
common law is not.
What appears to be Burke's central argument?
Explain: "Everything seems out of nature in this
strange chaos of levity and ferocity, and of all sorts of
crimes jumbled together with all sorts of follies" (103).
cf. Rousseau's Emile:
Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the
author of things, everything degenerates in the hands of
man. He forces one soil to nourish the products of
another, one tree to bear the fruits of another. He mixes
and confuses the climates, the elements, the seasons. He
mutilates his dog, his horse, his slave. He turns
everything upside down, he disfigures everything, he loves
deformities, monsters. He wants nothing as nature made it,
not even man himself. For him man must be trained like a
saddle- horse; he must be shaped according to the fashion,
like trees in his garden.
Why must the constituent parts of the state all work
What is the body politic?
What is an entailed inheritance?
Explain: "People will not look forward to
posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors" (105).
What is "a permanent body composed of transitory parts"
Explain: "In this choice of inheritance, we [are] . . .
binding up the constitution of our country with our dearest
domestic ties; adopting our fundamental laws into the bosom of
our family affections" (105).
Because of this inheritance, "the spirit of freedom . . .
is tempered with an awful gravity" (106).
Explain: "We procure reverence to ur civil
institutions on the principle upon which nature teaches us
to revere individual men; on account of their age, and
on account of those from whom they are descended" (106).
What is the difference between levelling and equalizing,
according to Burke? What is the "natural order of
Explain: "Law itself is only beneficence acting by a
Explain: "All men have equal rights; but not to equal
things" (106). [Would Wollstonecraft agree?]
Is this a sympathetic portrayal of Louis XVI? Of their
Explain: "The age of chivalry is gone" (108). [Is this
necessarily a bad thing?]
Explain: "All homage paid to the [female] sex in
general as such, and without distinct views, is to be regarded
as romance and folly" (109). [Why is such a statement included
in a discussion of the Revolution?]
Explain: "Regicide, and parricide, and sacrilege,
are but fictions of superstition" (109).
Explain: "Public affections, combined with manners,
are required sometimes as supplements, sometimes as
correctives, always as aids to law" (109).
Explain: "All the good things which are connected with
manners and with civilization, have, in this European world of
ours, depended for ages upon two principles: . . . the
nobility and the clergy" (110).
Explain: "Our minds . . . are purified by terror
and pity" (110).
Explain the relevance of the analogies to drama that
Burke employs here.
Explain: "He should approach to the faults of the
state as to the wounds of a father, with pious | awe and
trembling solicitude" (111).
Explain: "Society is a contract" ==> "It becomes
a partnership not only between those who are living, but
between those who are living, those who are dead, and those
who are to be born" (112).
What is "the great primaeval contract of eternal society"
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) 113:
What is "sensibility" (113)? How does Wolstonecraft
characterize Burke's embodiment of it?
school of philosophy that saw human society as deriving
from and sustained by bonds of feeling and sympathy.
For Burke, the family values of loyalty and heredity
"act like instincts, having no need of reason. W's version
owes much to the egalitarian, experimental, but no less
emotional relationships of progressive groups.
Though it is from the heart that all that is great and good
comes, it must be an educated heart. W rejected the
automatism of B's view of the passions"(Jones 45).
"The passions may be involuntary, but they can be
subjected to analysis" (Jones 46).
How does her definition of the rights of men compare with
Burke's on pge. 106?
Explain: "The demon of property has ever been at
hand to encroach on the sacred rights of men" (113-14).
Explain: "The whole tenor of his plausible
arguments settles slavery on an everlasting foundation" (115).
What is primogeniture? How, according to
Wollstonecraft, does it lead to parental tyranny?
How, according to Wollstonecraft, does it impact
Why does Wollstonecraft agree with Burke's views on the
"homage paid to the [female] sex" (117)?
Explain her discussion of the missing "father" in the
quote from Burke.
Explain: "When the heart speaks we are seldom
shocked by hyperbole" (117).
Explain: "Improveable reason has not yet discovered
the perfection it may arrive at--God forbid!" (118).
Explain this quote from Burke: "'They must be
taught their consolation in the final proportions of eternal
What is the "fostering sun of kindness" (120)?
What are "enclosure acts"? How do they contribute to
the problems Wollstonecraft is discussing?
Explain: "Virtue can only flourish among equals"
Explain: "Is the humane heart satisfied with
turning the poor over to another world, to receive the
blessings this could afford?" (120).
Who/What is "the idol human weakness had set up?
Explain her final statement.
Thomas Paine (1737-1809) Things to Consider:
Connection to American Revolutionary Rhetoric (see
Declaration of Independence )
Discussion Questions: 122:
How, according to the editors, does Paine's style compare
Explain: "The vanity and presumption of governing
beyond the grave is the most ridiculous and insolent of all
tyrannies" (122). To what aspect of Burke's argument is
How is Burke "contending for the authority of the dead
over the rights and freedom of the living" (123)?
Explain: "A law not repealed continues in force,
not because it cannot be repealed, but because it is
not repealed; and the non-repealing passes for consent"
In what ways, according to the editors, was Louis XVI
"the friend of the Nation"(123--see 123)?
Explain: "A casual discontinuance of the practice
of despotism, is not a discontinuance of its principles"
How, according to Paine, is it true that despotism
"divides and subdivides itself" (124).
Explain: "It is power, and not principles, that Mr.
Burke venerates" (125).
Are Paine's suggestions about "so few sacrifices"
accurate? Is it true that "principles, and not persons,
were tbe meditated objects of destruction" (125)?
Explain: "He pities the plumage, but forgets the
dying bird" (126).
Explain: "If any generation of men ever possessed
the right of dictating the mode by which the world should be
governed forever, it was the first generation that existed"
(126). Is there a contradiction involved here?
What does Paine mean by the "unity of man" (126)?
According to Paine, what two points comprise man's
What, according to Paine, is government?
Explain: "A nation has at all times an inherent
indefeasible right to abolish any form of government it finds
inconvenient, and to establish such as accords with its
interest, disposition and happiness" (127).
According to Paine, how do the revolutions in America and
France differ from past revolutions?