Quotations – revolutionary ideas

This selection of French Revolution quotations contains remarks about revolutionary ideas from significant leaders, political figures, philosophes and observers. It has been selected and compiled by Alpha History authors. New quotations are regularly added. If you would like to submit a relevant and interesting quotation, please contact Alpha History.

“When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty… To prevent this abuse, it is necessary from the very nature of things that power should be a check to power.”
Baron de Montesquieu, 1746

“Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in fetters [chains].”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1762

“What man loses by the social contract is his natural liberty and an unlimited right to everything… what he gains is civil liberty and the proprietorship of all he possesses.”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1762

“If you want good laws, burn those you have and make new ones.”
Voltaire, 1765

“The arbitrary rule of a just and enlightened prince is always bad. His virtues are the most dangerous and the surest form of seduction. They lull a people imperceptibly into the habit of loving, respecting, and serving his successor, whoever that successor may be, no matter how wicked or stupid.”
Denis Diderot, 1776

“Here, we had an influence — distant, certainly, but obtained for the first time in more than a century and a half. And this privilege had been won by an enlightened generation who understood its value and would be able to extend its advantages.”
Jean-Sylvian Bailly, 1789

“The democratic ideal had gathered strength and continues to grow. As the arts, trade and the pursuit of luxury enrich the industrious sections of the people… so science and education bring them closer in their daily lives, and recall men to the basic idea of equality.”
Antoine Barnave on the events of 1789

“When the government violates the people’s rights, insurrection is, for the people and for each portion of the people, the most sacred of the rights and the most indispensable of duties.”
Marquis de Lafayette, 1790

“The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please. We ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations.”
Edmund Burke, 1790

“Aristocracy has a tendency to degenerate the human species.”
Thomas Paine, 1791

“Vanity made the revolution; liberty was only a pretext.”
Napoleon Bonaparte in the late 1790s

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