Americans keenly followed the events of the French Revolution. Reactions to the growing violence and social upheaval split along emerging party lines—Federalists expressed horror while Democratic Republicans were more sympathetic. Benjamin Franklin Bache, grandson of Benjamin Franklin, was a journalist, the founder of the Philadelphia General Advertiser, and supporter of Jefferson’s Republican party. In these two pieces he sympathetically summarized the situation in France during the period when Louis XVI was put on trial and executed. He defended the actions of the revolutionaries on the grounds that they were merely responding to the provocations of nobles and other “traitors.” Newspapers in the 1790s quickly became party organs and contributors to the fierce polemics of this factious era. Bache was no exception. He attacked the Federalists mercilessly and was arrested under the Sedition Act, an act of Congress passed by Federalists to prosecute government critics for seditious speech or writings.
Benjamin Franklin Bache:
12 December 1792
SITUATION OF FRANCE
In adverting to the present disastrous situation of France, many, perhaps may be inclined to reprobate that revolution which has produced effects so horrible. But if we survey the effects with the eye of cool deliberation, we shall find that though they certainly emanated from the revolution, yet that our reprobation ought to be turned into another channel. The change which took place in the system of government, emancipated twenty-four millions of the human species.—Prima facie, therefore, the most cautious reasoning must allow it to be an event of infinite advantage to the world.
But though it was effected with the consent and support of nine parts out of ten, yet the tenth part viewed it in a different light. A long series of years had transmitted to them hereditary rights & privileges which placed them above the great body of the nation. The King exercised a despotic power without restraint. The nobles described around them a circle equally tyrannical, though of extent less ample. To those who know how dear the possession of power to the human mind, it will not appear strange that such persons should view the revolution with the eye of anger, in as much as it wrested from them those exclusive rights which had descended to them covered with the reverend rust of antiquity neither will it be a matter of wonder that they should attempt to impede the progress of a system to them so distasteful. The argument will apply in the present instance.
The Emigrant Princess, and the other malcontents have sedulously and uniformly endeavored to bring the revolution in disrepose. We have seen them, secretly assisted by the King and Queen disperse calamities all over Europe. We have seen them dispatch emissaries into France to attack every measure that tended to facilitate the progress of Liberty.
We have heard them broach the most abominable falsehoods and the most monstrous doctrines.—We have beheld them at length engage several nations to assist in murdering their countrymen, and in deluging their native soil with blood. To such men what crimes are too horrible to be committed, or what system too infamous to be adopted?—none—Leagued with Calonne, a man indeed tauto dignus honore, we have no doubt that the recent massacres are attributable to them. We can easily believe that they have bribed persons to feign an affection for the revolution, and under that mask to take the lead in the most ferocious murders. Nor let this appear strange—the world knows how easily a few designing men can inflame the passions of the mob to a degree of madness that breaks down every barrier opposed to it.
In fine, whether our conjectures be well founded or not, let us recollect, that though much blood may be shed ere Liberty be firmly established; yet that when it shall be established the effusion will cease. A system of Despotism, however, cannot be supported without blood, and we have no reason to believe that as long as it continues, the sanguinary torrent will ever cease. Until we know the real cause of those ferocious acts, which no honest man can approve nor no honest man contemplate without horror, it is treason against a good cause to attribute them to the friends of the Revolution.
25 January 1793
Answer to a paragraph exhibiting the difference between the French and American Revolution, lately published in some of the newspapers of the United States.
There is that difference between the French and American Revolutions, that the latter was not opposed by cunning priests, nor cruel aristocrats determined to overthrow every principle of honesty and humanity, for a chimera misled by common sense—A royal puppet on this spot, did not dance on the wire of a band of courtiers; the most despicable and abandoned wretches that ever disgraced mankind. The focus of both despotism and nobility was far from this land of liberty, and its glorious adherents could not be infected with the pernicious breath of mad royalty and impudent aristocracy. The popular cause was opposed openly, sword in hand, and victoriously fought by the friends to the rights of men; had the French republicans met with such opponents, they had not done those excesses, the king, the nobles and clergy have roused them to by the most perfidious contrivances. A king did not forswear himself in America, nor had the American people more than one Arnold; their tempers were soured neither by misery nor by a complicated system of treachery, framed coolly and pursued with the greatest obstinacy. The American people were not loaded with enormous taxes that had reduced millions of their fellow citizens to the utmost misery to maintain haughty plunderers in sloth and profligacy. All this odds must be reckoned by impartial men; to explain the difference insidiously delineated between the two revolutions, by some desperate royalty, or a narrow minded plan.
Source: Benjamin Franklin Bache, The General Advertiser, no. 690 (Philadelphia, December 12, 1792), 2; and The General Advertiser, no. 727 (Philadelphia, January 25, 1793), 2.