Profession(s): Writer, archivist and historian
Books: History of the French Revolution from 1789 to 1814 (1824)
Perspective: Classical / liberal
François Mignet was a 19th century French historian who specialised in medieval and modern Europe. Born in the Vendee, Mignet read history, philosophy and law at Avignon, excelling at his studies. After graduation, he worked as a teacher, lawyer, journalist and archivist before returning to history. Mignet’s History of the French Revolution, published in 1824, was one of his earliest works. Given that Mignet was writing barely two decades after the end of the revolution, and relied on erratic and incomplete sources, his account of the revolution was remarkably thorough and cohesive. Historiographically, Mignet was something of a determinist. He considered the revolution of 1789 inevitable; he believed the revolution failed after 1792 because it did not adhere to certain laws and principles. Politically, Mignet was a liberal who hailed the bourgeoisie as the driving force of the revolution. He considered the nobility a tired, anachronistic force. The radicals of 1792-94 he condemned for their disorganised self-interest. As a consequence, Mignet’s 1824 work has been described as the “bible for liberal revolutions”.
“[The Constitution of 1791]… was the work of the middle class, then the strongest. For as is well known, the predominant force takes possession of institutions… In this constitution the people was the source of all powers, yet they exercised none. They were entrusted only with election in the first instance [while] magistrates were selected by men chosen from among the enlightened portions of the community.”
“All the old aristocratic armies of Europe had succumbed to these bourgeois, at first disdained and then feared… [they] had become heroic soldiers, great captains, and had added to the formidable power of their ideas the prestige of military glory and the authority of their conquests.”