“Arise children of the fatherland // Theday of glory has arrived … To arms, citizens // Form you battalions // March,march!”1Sung by provincial troops, from Marseillais, as they marched into Paris duringthe French Revolution, the Marseillaise was a nationalistic rallying callagainst tyranny and foreign invasion for all citizens. Although there was greatvariety to French culture before the revolution, and French was not even thelanguage every Frenchman spoke, from the Revolutionary era onward, theinhabitants of France somehow achieved a spirit unity beyond political oradministrative structure.
2Informed by the Enlightenment ideals, French masses were united to bringfreedom and equality to their country. From 1789 to 1815, during theRevolutionary and Napoleonic era, various government(s)’ policies helpedconstruct a French national identity by creating a more equalized society,destroying privileges, and exporting collective experience and ideology tocitizens. Through transforming the social structurein France, various government policies during the revolutionary era contributedto a greater sense of French national identity. Prior to the French Revolution,remnants of feudalism were still prevalent across regions.
Society was dividedinto orders; feudal rights were owed to lords of the manor. The nobles enjoyedaristocratic privilege such as exemptions from taxes, noble hunting rights andexclusive access to the top jobs in the government, army and church. Yet, onthe famous night of August 4, 1789, the National Assembly announced the feudalsystem entirely abolished.3Then, in August 26, 1789, the National Assembly proceeded to promulgate theDeclaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, an expression of the Enlightenmentprinciples such as legal equality, freedom of religion, free speech, judicialrights.
Upholding that “Men are born and remain free and free and equal inrights,”4the document not only showed the National Assembly’s emphasis on nationalidentity, but also affirmed the nation as the highest entity from which authorityand privilege were derived, and a nation that was ultimately in the interestsof its people. The same can be said for the Constitution of 1791 which eliminatedall legal exemptions, whether for the noble or clergy, ensured legal equalityfor all Frenchmen, and required them to take the Civic oath: “I swear to befaithful to the nation, to the law, and to the King…”5It is quite apparent that the writers of the Constitution believed that thenation, instead of the King, comes first. This reinforced the concept that thecitizens had to be utmost loyal to the nation, and thus increased the sense ofnational identity among French citizens during the Revolutionary Era.Government policies during theRevolutionary Era and the Napoleonic Era helped contribute to a greater senseof French national identity by creating more equal opportunities among people andencouraging national pride through warfare. In the Revolutionary Era,responding to War of the First Coalition in 1793, the Committee of PublicSafety proclaimed a “levee en masse,” declaring compulsory military service forall Frenchmen between 18 and 40.
The Decree neglected class distinctions as “theFrench were placed at the disposal of the armed forces, where young, single menwere expected to serve in battle, while married men, women, children, and theelderly were supposed to provide various kinds of economic, logistical, andmoral support.”6Mobilizing all citizens in France, the mass war effort certainly boosted thesense of national identity among the Frenchmen, especially when they were ableto defy all odds and held their own against powers such as Austria, Prussia andBritain. Moreover, it was important to note that with theabolishment of aristocratic monopoly in the military, officer corps were nowpromoted based on merit and their participation in the higher ranks of anational army. Therefore, since ordinary soldiers possessed equal opportunitiesto rise through the ranks in the army, they were more motivated to performwell, as reflected through their impressive victories in the War of the FirstCoalition. In addition, aside from defeating foreign powers to defend therevolutionary ideals of their nation, government policies such as thePropagandist Decrees of 1792 boosted national pride by providing the Frenchpeople the mission to spread those ideals. By proclaiming that the Frenchmilitary would help liberate other countries from existing regimes, the Frenchpeople developed an even deeper sense of national identity as France was nowviewed as above all other nations, for possessing the power to instruct themregarding their rights and freedoms. Also through creating more equalopportunities among people and encouraging national pride through warfare,various government policies in the Napoleonic Era helped facilitate thestrengthening of national identity among the French people.
“With about halfthe population illiterate, Napoleon believed that schools could developpatriotic and obedient citizens by teaching secular values that wouldultimately link education to nationalism. Therefore, in 1802, to increaseFrench citizens’ attachment to the nation, Napoleon established state-runschools, lycees, thirty-seven of which were operating six years later.”7These schools used textbooks that were approved only by Napoleon. Then, in1808, Napoleon also established France’s first public university system, chargingit with the duty of directing political and moral opinions. Prior to the FrenchRevolution, only the sons of nobles enjoyed such educational privileges. Yetowing to Napoleon’s intention to “create a new social hierarchy based not onblood but on service to the state, particularly in the army and thebureaucracy”8,the common people had more opportunities to improve their social statuses byreceiving education in such schools and working in the bureaucracy.
Moreover,due to the establishment of the French nation, a standard French languagespread throughout the country during the Napoleonic era, which overtook andreplaced many regional dialects in France. Having a common language facilitatedthe spread of ideas and ideals between the common people and most importantly,helped unite the whole nation. Finally, conquests under Napoleon alsocontributed to a greater sense of French national identity.
Just like theFrench Revolution which relied on “citizen-soldiers” to defend their nation, between1800 and 1815, perhaps as many as 2 million men served in or allied withNapoleon’s armies.9To demonstrate how Napoleon’s conquests encouraged national pride andstrengthened national identity, “the Imperial Guard refused to fight untilNapoleon had moved to a safer place.”10Thus, Napoleon would be remembered not only for his many decisive victories andsuccessful conquests, but also for reminding the common people, that it wastruly proud to be French after all. From 1789 to 1815, during theRevolutionary and Napoleonic era, various government(s)’ policies helpedconstruct a French national identity by creating a more equalized society,destroying privileges, and exporting collective experience and ideology tocitizens.1 “The Marseillaise,”History Wiz, accessed January 16, 2018,http://www.historywiz.
com/marseillaise.htm.2Bickford, Kiley, “Nationalism in the FrenchRevolution of 1789” (2014), Honors College, Paper 147. 3 Christopher Freiler, Achiever Exam Prep Guidefor AP European History (Columbus,OH: McGraw Hill Education, 2017), 163.
4 2008 Lillian Goldman Law Library, Declaration of the Rightsof Man – 1789, accessed January 16, 2018,http://avalon.law.yale.
edu/18th_century/rightsof.asp.5 “The Constitution of 1791 on Government (1791),”Alpha History, accessed January 16, 2018,http://alphahistory.
com/frenchrevolution/constitution-of-1791-government-1791/. 6Daniel Moran and Arthur Waldron, The People inArms, Military Myth and National Mobilization since the French Revolution, Chapters 1-3, (Cambridge: Cambridge UniversityPress, 2003), 1.7 John Mustard Merriman, AHistory of Modern Europe: From the Renaissance to the Present, 3rd ed.(n.p.: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009), Page 4958 John Mustard Merriman, AHistory of Modern Europe: From the Renaissance to the Present, 3rd ed.
(n.p.: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009), Page 4949 John Mustard Merriman, AHistory of Modern Europe: From the Renaissance to the Present, 3rd ed.
(n.p.: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009), Page 49210 John Mustard Merriman, AHistory of Modern Europe: From the Renaissance to the Present, 3rd ed.(n.p.
: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009), Page 493