George Washington’s views on the French Revolution (1789)


Writing to a correspondent in October 1789, newly elected US president George Washington gave his opinion of the French Revolution:


“The revolution which has been effected in France is of so wonderful a nature that the mind can hardly recognise the fact. If it ends as our last accounts to August 1st predict, that nation will be the most powerful and happy in Europe.

But I fear, though it has gone triumphantly through the first paroxysm [seizure], it is not the last it has to encounter before matters are finally settled. In a word, the revolution is of too great a magnitude to be effected in so short a space, and with the loss of so little blood.

The mortification of the king, the intrigues of the queen and the discontent of the princes and nobles, will foment divisions in the National Assembly, and they will unquestionably avail themselves of every faux pas in the formation of the constitution, if they do not give a more open, active opposition.

Great temperance, firmness, and foresight are necessary. To forbear [prevent] running from one extreme to another is no easy matter, and should this be the case… rocks and shelves, not visible at present, may wreck the vessel and give a higher-toned despotism than the one which existed before.

George Washington.
New York
October 13th 1789.”