Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Giant of the French Revolution: Danton, A Life / by David Lawday

Among the more epic events which have ruffled the course of western civilization, the French Revolution is one incident remembered within a notably violent context. It was indeed a very bloody affair. Ending the reign of a monarchy that had ruled for nearly a millenium, the 1789 storming of the Bastille and removal of the aristocracy were only the beginning as unending political insurgency, the Reign of Terror and the struggle for power witnessed heads rolling (literally) from the executioner's guillotine for a solid ten year period until the tensions eased and Napoleon ascended to power. Perhaps no one individual had as much influence on the initial onset of the revolution than Georges Jacques Danton, a robust proponent of political reform who stirred the public with his masterful oratory gifts and forceful, impassioned call to action.
Despite his physically imposing presence, which coupled with his skillful rhetoric abetted his rise to power among the revolutionary ranks, Danton is depicted by author David Lawday as a gentle giant of a somewhat sentimental nature. A family man with two children, he was fonder of the power of speech than physical aggression and more prone to ordered diplomacy when it came to restructuring the government than the systematic execution of the aristocracy. The overthrow of the Bastille saw him made the Minister of Justice when he was then only 29, a position allowing him the freedom to employ the tactics needed to uphold the movement's threshold of power and keep those constituents loyal to the monarchy at bay during the Revolution's most critical stages. The political counterpart to Robespierre, whose trail of bloodshed seemingly knew no end, Danton boldly walked the line between patriotism and rebellion, strongly opposed to the anarchy he saw sweeping throught the country. Heading this new French regime proved costly however. His legislation included initiatives which, though successful in meeting mutually agreed upon objectives, inevitably drew the ire of his more bloodthirstly opponents who convicted him of treason and sentenced him to death in 1793 when he was only 34. Lawday, a former professor of history at Oxford, leads us from Danton's roots as a magistrate's son to the blood-red streets of Revolutionary Paris where the statesman would make destiny his own. (B DANTON)

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