Texas Tech University

Erin-Marie Legacey

Assistant Professor, Department of History, Texas Tech University 

The Dead and the Founding of the French Revolution

The French Revolution looms as large in history as its American counterpart, but in contrast to the U.S., France does not have any revolutionary "founders." While certain names may ring familiar (Sièyes, Roland, Robespierre, Bonaparte), none of these figures occupy quite the same imaginary space as a Washington, Jefferson, or Hamilton. However, this talk examines the unexpected ways that revolutionaries in France used prominent national figures in their attempt to build a solid foundation for their new nation. The "founders" in question had nothing to say on the matter because they were, in fact, dead. At its most macabre, this meant parading the decomposing body of Jean-Paul Marat through the streets of Paris. In its most enduring, it took the form of the French Panthéon. In revolutionary France, the dead did not rest in peace; they were much too busy helping to found the new republic.