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Beyond the Guillotine: Positive Outcomes from the French Revolution

the french revolution had many positive outcomes
LPLT / Wikimedia Commons (2010)

So many books, articles, and journals have been written on the French Revolution, and I’m not too sure there’s any stone left to be overturned. Every point of view concerning the impact of the Revolution has been covered (at least from what I’ve read).

What about some of the tangible items that came out of the Revolution that are still around? There has to be some positive outcomes that originated in those wonderful years we know as the French Revolution. Surprisingly, there are and many of them seem like natural outcomes but several may not.

First of all, probably the most significant and the one having the most impact not only on France but the rest of the world is the internationally accepted Metric System. Prior to the Revolution, every country had its own standard for measurement. During the Revolution, many traditional forms of measurement were replaced (e.g., the calendar). Today, you can see one of the two remaining meter standards at 36, rue de Vaurigard in Paris. These were placed around Paris so people could get used to the new system of measurement: the meter was considered the universal standard.

The Flag

The French flag or Tricolor as it’s called originated during the Revolution. The blue and red were the colors of Paris and the Revolutionaries adopted those colors for their knitted caps called the cockades. It is said that Lafayette added the white because it represented the monarchy (I’m constantly amazed that Lafayette was able to keep his head on his shoulders throughout all of this—seems no one liked him—the monarchy or the Revolutionaries).


Antoine Lavoisier, today considered the Father of Chemistry, discovered oxygen, hydrogen, created the first periodic table, and wrote about the conservation of mass. He also happened to be one of the Farmers–General. These were 28 men who put up a wall with gates around Paris to control the flow of goods into the city for the purpose of collecting taxes (of which a good part went into their own bank accounts). As you can imagine, the good citizens of Paris didn’t take too kindly to these fellows so off they went to the guillotine, including Lavoisier. He asked for a delay in his execution so that he might finish an important experiment. His request was declined.

The optical telegraph was invented during the Revolution. Approximately 556 stations were set up and it was used for communication by the army during the Revolutionary wars with other European countries. Speaking of the army, for the first time, mass conscription was used. I suppose that’s the forerunner to the military draft (as an aside, my number in the last draft held during the Vietnam war was 2).


When you watch the French national team take the field at the World Cup, the national anthem you hear played is called, La Marseillaise. The song was written during the French Revolution and sung by a group of volunteer sailors as they marched from Marseilles to Paris. Today, many of the verses are no longer sung because they were down right nasty.

Surprisingly, most of the ideals and attributes of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen never really played out. The stuff about “equality before the law,” never really happened for women. The “rights to property” was sort of adhered to unless you were a member of the clergy or a émigré or poor. Separation of state and church was a great idea but France remained Catholic and continued a historically strong anti-Protestant and anti-Semitic viewpoint. Oh, and then a whole other blog could be written about the laws under Napoleon.

Do we have a lot of stories? Of course we do. I’m looking forward to sharing these with you. Please continue to visit our blog and perhaps subscribe so that you don’t miss out on the most recent blog posts.

Thanks so much for following my blog and my little journey through this incredibly interesting process of writing a series of niche historical travel books and then getting the bloody things published.


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Copyright © 2014 Stew Ross



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