During which phases of the French Revolution was France the most and least democratic? 

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Moderate Phase of the French Revolution was the most democratic, while the Radical phase was the least democratic.

When examining the concept of "democratic," I would suggest that we look at anything that represents individual voice in government.  This means that democratic initiatives are ideas that advocate individual rights and self-determination in government.

These ideas can be seen in the Moderate Phase of the French Revolution, where the call for democratic change was the loudest.  This was the first phase of the French Revolution from about 1789–1792.  It appealed to ideas from Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke.  It stressed that there needed to be change in French monarchal rule.  It sought to create a representative government in its place.  While it did not advocate full, pure democracy, the call for changing French government was the closest to democracy that the French Revolution would move.  The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen came out of this phase of the Revolution.  This document stressed ideas that mirrored the American Bill of Rights.

The least democratic phase of the French Revolution was the Radical phase.  I suggest this because the Reign of Terror was the embodiment of anti-democracy.  People were denied the right to a fair trial and summarily executed.  Vengeance killings became the norm through the use of the guillotine.  The Committee for Public Safety was not democratically limited through checks and balances.  Rather, it acted in the "people's name" without representing much in way of the people's interests.  It instilled order through terror. There was little in way of democracy in this phase's battle between the Girondins and Jacobins. Invoking and punishing anyone as a potential "enemy of the revolution" without due process is not democratic.

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