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The valiant Vendeans: As the forces of revolution ravaged France near the end of the 18th century, the Vendeans heroically rose up to defend their religion, their families, and their way of life. (History-Struggle for Freedom).

Late in the evening of April 12, 1793, hundreds of French peasant farmers converged on la Durbeliere, home of the Marquis de la Rochejaquelein. Unlike peasant mobs organized in Paris by the revolutionary government, these humble residents of France's Vendee "department" -- a coastal region roughly the size of West Virginia -- were not motivated by hate or class envy. They had come seeking the Marquis' leadership in the armed struggle against "les Bleus," the Paris government's dreaded National Guard. The Marquis was absent that evening, so it fell to his son, Henri -- a tall, blonde-haired man of 21 years -- to greet the visitors. "Monsieur Henri," pled a spokesman for the throng, "the Blues of Bressuire are marching on us. Put yourself at our head. Defend us."

Monsieur Henri had lived a life of privilege, but he was sober-minded beyond his years. He knew what the Blues were capable of: One general assigned to command them described his troops as "men recruited from the worst elements of the people cowardly and cruel ... interested only in pillage." For more than a year the Blues had rampaged across western France, leaving death and terror in their wake. Henri knew something had to be done to resist the Blues. However, he couldn't see how poorly armed peasants, led by an untested youth, could defeat a hardened mercenary army. Henri regretfully declined command, and urged the farmers to return to their homes. As disappointment descended on the young nobleman's audience, a farmer not much older than Henri reproached him: "Monsieur Henri, if your father had been here, he would not be afraid to fight." Incensed that his honor had been questioned, the young nobleman told the farmers to come back the next morning.

Shortly after daybreak on April 13th, the peasant army assembled once again in the courtyard of the Rochejaquelein chateau. Of the one thousand or so present, less than two hundred had weapons -- and most of them were improvised from hoes, shovels, scythes, or other farm tools. A scant handful had brought hunting muskets. Some of them had pinned a white cockade to their hats, thus demonstrating their support for France's Christian monarchy. Others displayed a badge containing an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus under which was written "Dieu le Roi" -- "God the King." Outnumbered and out-gunned, the peasants were nonetheless ready to fight -- and desperate to find a general willing to lead them.

Their wishes were answered when Henri, dressed for battle and displaying none of the previous evening's ambivalence, appeared to address them:

My friends, if my father had been here, he would have inspired you and given you confidence. As for me, I am no more than a child; but I hope to be able to prove to you by my conduct that I am worthy to lead you. If I advance, follow me; if I retreat, kill me; if I am killed -- avenge me.

Henri displayed his natural leadership abilities a day later when his army, in defiance of realistic expectations, defeated the forces of revolutionary general Pierre Quetineau. This victory provided the armies of Monsieur Henri with three cannons, 1,200 muskets, and abundant ammunition. Those arms were put to good use a few days later when the Vendean armies routed revolutionary forces at Cholet, killing or wounding 2,000 Blues and seizing another bounty of muskets and powder.

Fortified and inspired by these victories, the Vendean counter-revolutionaries, known as the "Royal Catholic Army of France," crushed an entire division at Beaupreau on April 22nd. "The bells of hundreds of churches rang out in celebration, and the Catholic army sang a Te Deum in thanksgiving," recalls historian Michael Davies in his book For Altar and Throne: The Rising in the Vendee.

Nobleman and Peasant Unite

During the first half of 1793, the Royal Catholic Army knew nothing but victory. The thousands of muskets and hundreds of cannon taken from the Blues in the battlefield made the Vendean army a formidable force. One Vendean general wrote a gleeful letter to Paris taunting the revolutionary government: "We have all the cannon that we need at the moment. I beg you, sir, not to be in any hurry to send us more." The spontaneous uprising in the Vendee also begat similar insurrections by traditionalists in the neighboring departments of Loire Inferieure, Maine et Loire, and Deux Sevres -- a region known collectively as La Vendee Militaire. This prompted the revolutionary government in Paris to decree the utter annihilation of resistance throughout the region.

Observes historian Simon Schama in Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution: "Nowhere, as much as in the area of the Vendee ... did the [revolutionary] terror fulfill Saint-Just's dictum that the 'Republic consists in the extermination of everything that opposes it.'" In its campaign against the Vendeans, the revolutionary regime pioneered the tools of genocide that became tragically familiar during the 20th century, including chemical warfare, assembly-line murder of captured civilians, even a Nazi-style "depopulation" and eugenics program intended to "purify" the countryside. More than a quarter-million Vendeans, both royalist and Republican, would die before the insurrection was crushed in 1796.

This is not to say that the Vendeans sacrificed themselves on behalf of a lost cause. "If the Revolution had not encountered the opposition [of the Vendeans], its momentum would have been unstoppable," summarized a review of the Vendean uprising published in the July-August 1999 issue of the Spanish historical review Ahora. "The Vendeans saved Catholicism in France and was a bulwark for all of Christendom." Tales of the Vendean resistance filtered into Europe, stiffening the resolve of traditionalists "in Malta, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Italy ... when the [French] Revolutionary Armies plundered churches and showed complete contempt for the profound religious faith of the peoples they claimed to be liberating," writes Michael Davies.

Though it may seem peculiar to those who accept modem "class warfare" assumptions, the peasantry and nobility of the Vendee had lived in productive harmony for decades. The nobles "had grown up with their tenants under the same oak trees [and] shared the same country pastimes," wrote the Marquise de la Rochejaquelein in her memoirs.

In his study The Banners of the King, British historian Michael Ross points out that by the dawn of the 18th century the Vendean nobility had abolished such onerous practices as the corvee -- essentially a form of conscripted labor -- and the various taxes common elsewhere in France. While the feudal system, with its injustices, still prevailed in the Vendee during the 1790s, it was quickly being supplanted by a sense of genuine community. For decades, nobles and peasants hunted together, drank together, and worshipped together. Now they were called on to fight alongside each other against a revolutionary terrorist regime that threatened all they held precious.

The execution of King Louis XVI in January 1793 had shocked and horrified most Vendeans, traditional Catholics who dutifully included the King in their daily prayers. More shocking still was the revolutionary government's assault on the Catholic Church, regarded by Vendeans of all social strata as the center of their lives.

Assault on Religion Leads to War

The assault on the Church began in October 1789, with nationalizing Church property. This act "was the point of departure" separating "the Church and the Revolution, which was further widened by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy," observes Michael Ross.

The National Assembly enacted the "Civil Constitution" over the faint objections of a debilitated King Louis in July 1790. The measure was intended to make the Church an agency of the revolutionary government. Henceforth, "Bishops were to be elected by the Electoral Assembly of their department and were to take an oath of loyalty to the nation, the King, the law and the Constitution," recalls Michael Davies. A decree issued in November of that year required all Catholic bishops and priests to take the Oath to the Civil Constitution on pain of losing their offices; those who refused and continued to perform their clerical duties would be arrested and prosecuted as "disturbers of the public peace."

This demand divided France's Catholic clergy into two classes: "Juring" (swearing, or "constitutional" clergy) and "non-juring" priests, sometimes disdainfully called "refractories," or "rebellious ones." Pope Pius VI forbade the French clergy to take the oath, and condemned those who did. The Vendean Catholics also rejected the National Assembly's demand that they recognize the juring priests' clerical authority.

When the Paris regime dispatched juring priests to officiate at parishes in the Vendee, locals denounced them as intrus -- "foreigners" or "intruders." One attempt to install a juring priest in Vieillevigne in January 1791 provoked such unrest among local parishioners that "the authorities found it necessary to hang out the red flag, the signal that martial law had been imposed and troops called for."

While traditionalists across the countryside resisted similarly, "Republican" forces loyal to the revolution took power in some of the larger towns. This happened in the city government of Anger, which decreed in January 1792 that all non-juring priests were to be arrested. National Guard troops were sent door-to-door to seize the priests and terrorize traditional Catholics sheltering them. Michael Ross describes how a boycott of "constitutional" priests in the village of La Garde was put down by a contingent of Blues threatening to give residents "'three bullets in the belly' if they did not attend [the government priest's] services...." In the company of local Republican leaders, "the troops made a tour of all houses where children had recently been born, collecting babies, parents and witnesses at sword point, to take them off to the parish church for appropriate services."

That August, in the town of Bressuire, peasants armed only with clubs and farm tools tried to prevent the eviction of a convent of nuns. Well-armed National Guard troops mowed down more than one hundred of the peasants. But this was merely an overture to the "September Massacres" of aristocrats, political prisoners, and non-juring priests.

In The Age of Napoleon, Will Durant describes the onset of the massacres:

About 2 p.m., Sunday, September 2, six carriages bearing non-juring priests approached the Abbaye jail [in Paris]. A crowd hooted them; a man leaped upon the step of one carriage; a priest struck him with a cane; the crowd, cursing and multiplying, attacked the prisoners as they alighted at the gate; their guard joined in the attack on them; all thirty were slain. Exalted by the sight of blood and the safe ecstasy of anonymous killing, the crowd rushed over to the Carmelite Convent and killed the priests who had been incarcerated there. In the evening, after a rest, the crowd, now enlarged by criminals and ruffians ... forced all the prisoners to march out, sat in a rapid informal judgment upon them, and delivered the great majority of them ... to a gauntlet of men who dispatched them with swords, knives, pikes, and clubs.

The killing spree, secretly fomented by the revolutionary government, lasted for four days, devouring victims as young as 12 years old. Some of the murderers, notes Durant, "were especially ferocious; they prolonged the sufferings of the condemned for the keener amusement of spectators...." By the time the frenzy abated, nearly 1,500 people had been slaughtered. Revolutionary radical Gracchus Babeuf (referred to by historian Erik Ritter von Kuhneldt-Leddihn as "the first modern communist leader") admitted that the orgy of violence had been carefully orchestrated. "It is essential to make the people perpetrate deeds that will prevent them from turning back," observed Babeuf. The Vendeans understood that the atrocities in Paris presaged their likely future -- unless they resisted.

Although isolated instances of resistance had flared up across the Vendee throughout 1792, it wasn't until the Paris government issued the conscription decree of February 24, 1793 that the revolt became widespread. With that act the Paris regime demanded the induction of 300,000 men between the ages of 18 and 40 to serve in the Revolutionary Army.

"The Vendeans resented the fact that their able-bodied young men should be taken far away from the farms that needed their labor to fight men with whom they had no quarrel, on behalf of those who were implacably opposed to every belief that they held dear," observes Michael Davies. "They resented the fact that conscription was to be enforced by National Guards ... the same men who had ejected and persecuted non-juring priests in 1791 and intruded the hated jurors into their parishes. They were the same men who had bought up the best Church lands at a premium when they had been nationalized in 1789, men who had been rich before the Revolution and had been made even richer by the Revolution at the expense of honest peasants and the Church to which they gave their love and their loyalty."

"They have killed our King; chased away our priests; sold the goods of our Church, eaten away everything we have," protested one peasant leader. "And now they want to take our bodies! No, they shall not have them!" Of course, the Vendeans were not afraid to fight: The tocsin sounded in 700 parishes across the French countryside, summoning the population to arms.

A few weeks after the conscription decree, Parisian emissaries accompanied by National Guards fanned out across the Vendee to collect "recruits." In each town where an insufficient number of volunteers enlisted, lots were to be drawn until the quota of draftees had been met. But the armed and angry peasantry refused to cooperate.

Most historians agree that the Vendean civil war began with the St. Florent riot of March 12th. On the Sunday before the riot, the revolutionary procurator for St. Florent read a decree announcing that lots would be drawn on the following Tuesday to redress a volunteer shortage. The official had barely finished reading the decree when "several young men, who had been listening to him with impatience, set upon him and knocked him to the ground," writes Michael Ross. "They were immediately surrounded by men of the National Guard and fifteen gendarmes and hustled off to prison, but not before their ring-leader, an ex-corporal named Barbot, called out 'You may be sure of one thing -- by Tuesday I will be free.'"

When the press gang arrived the following Tuesday, they were greeted by "two thousand peasants, all sporting the white Royalist cockade in their hats and armed with shot guns, pitchforks, cudgels and swords improvised with sword blades," relates Ross. "The authorities could muster no more than a handful of gendarmes and two hundred National Guardsmen, half of whom were without firearms." As mayors from several surrounding villages urged postponing the drawing, a single shot rang out; National Guardsmen opened fire on the crowd, killing several and wounding dozens more. "With cries of [long live the king] and [long live the priests], the infuriated mob immediately surged forward, while the terrified guardsmen, throwing away their arms, ran for their lives...," narrates Ross. Shortly thereafter, young Barbot and his friends were free -- and the War of the Vendee was underway.

Rebel Leaders Fight a "Just War"

As the rebellion spread, several other noblemen joined the youthful Monsieur Henri as Vendean military leaders. Of these the most daring was Francois Athanase Charette de la Contrie, who had served in the Royal Navy of King Louis and fought alongside American colonists in our War for Independence. Charette demanded instant and unquestioning obedience from his troops, and he earned that loyalty by his tactical cunning and insane fearlessness on the battlefield: He took an oath never to return to his home in Nantes until he was either victorious or dead. Unfortunately, Charette's genius was wedded to a sense of vanity preventing him from cooperating with the other Vendean commanders -- contributing to the disunity that eventually proved the Royal Catholic Army's downfall.

Jacques Cathelineau, the "Saint of Anjou," was vastly different from Charette in disposition but just as courageous. A father of five, Cathelineau's wife urged him to avoid the conflict. "Do not be afraid," the nobleman assured his spouse. "God, for whom I fight, will protect you." Before joining the fray, Cathelineau attended Mass with 27 young recruits. Emerging from the church, peasants surrounded him eager to join him in battle. "My friends, never forget that we are fighting for our holy religion," Cathelineau declared, before joining his soldiers in the Vexilla Regis -- a prayer recognizing Jesus Christ as the One True King of the faithful.

Like Monsieur Henri, Joseph-Louis Maurice Gigost d'Elbee, a former cavalry officer who had retired to become a country gentleman in Beaupreau, reluctantly accepted the charge to lead his peasant neighbors into battle. Unfortunately, the first mission his soldiers intended to carry out was to slaughter about 500 National Guardsmen taken prisoner in early April after having wiped out nearly the entire village of Barre. D'Elbee "pointed out that if Catholics behaved as brutally as Republicans, they might just as well be Republicans," notes Michael Davies. When this appeal to reason failed to persuade his troops, d'Elbee offered an inspired appeal to their Christian conscience: He agreed to let them conduct their bloody reprisal after praying the Pater Noster (also known as "The Lord's Prayer").

"The peasants removed their hats and knelt down," recounts Davies. "When they reached the words: 'Forgive us our trespasses,' d'Elbee ordered them to stop. 'Do you dare to mention God?' he cried. 'You are asking Him to forgive you in the same way that you pardon others.' The lesson was an obvious one to the Catholic peasants. Five hundred Blue prisoners were saved." One of them, a devoted Republican, later testified that d'Elbee was "a friend of humanity, who never shed blood unnecessarily and was always opposed to the murder of prisoners."

Even more renowned for his devotion to Christian "Just War" principles was Artus, the Marquis de Bonchamps, who emerged as the leader of the peasants of Saint Florent. Like d'Elbee, Bonchamps had been a professional soldier, serving in India and rising to the rank of major. After the revolution he renounced his commission and retired to Saint Florent, only to accept -- with genuine reluctance -- the commission extended to him by the peasants of the region.

Both Bonchamps and d'Elbee were seriously wounded in the Battle of Cholet in October 1793 -- a ferocious engagement in which a force of elite regular troops from the Revolutionary Army defeated the Vendean army. Following that engagement, d'Elbee was captured and executed by a firing squad. Bonchamps received a wound that proved to be fatal. Nonetheless, he helped direct the Vendean army's retreat across the Loire River -- a logistical miracle involving the transfer of artillery, ox carts, pack animals, thousands of prisoners, tens of thousands of troops, and an even greater number of civilian refugees.

Bonchamps was ferried across the river and taken to the home of a friend in Saint Horent. While there, he learned that the Vendean army -- starving, bitter, and understandably outraged by the atrocities their people had endured -- planned to execute the 5,000 Republican prisoners taken at Cholet. On his deathbed, Bonchamps issued an order to pardon the prisoners. Delivering the order to his aide-de-camp, Bonchamps declared: "My friend, this is certainly the last order that I shall ever give you. Promise me that you will carry it out." The order was delivered to the Vendean field commanders, who declared to their troops: "Mercy! Mercy! Bonchamps commands it!"

As his subordinates carried out his command for clemency, General Bonchamps received the Last Rites. "I dare to put my trust in God's mercy," he declared as his life expired. "I have not succeeded in restoring the altars and the throne, but I have at least defended them. I have served my God, my King, and my country. I have known how to forgive." Bonchamps' example of Christian charity toward a defeated enemy inspired sculptor Pierre Jean David -- a devoted child of the Revolution -- to create a statue of the dying general. The sculpture, in the pediment of the Parthenon in Paris, bears the inscription: "Grace aux prisonniers. Bonchamps l'ordonne!" -- "Mercy to the prisoners. Bonchamps commands it!"

Revolutionary Atrocities

To understand Bonchamps' noble ability to extend mercy, it is necessary to appreciate the bestial savagery of the Vendeans' enemy. The armies deployed by the Paris regime against the Vendeans were utterly pitiless. Their announced intention was to destroy the Vendee -- not only its religion, culture, and capacity to resist, but its entire population as well. The campaign to exterminate the "counter-revolution" was history's first example of applied totalitarianism.

To abate the rebellion, writes Simon Schama, the revolutionary regime set out to destroy "the entire social and economic infrastructure of the region.... Crops were to be burned, farm animals slaughtered and seized, hams and cottages razed, woods set on fire." Troop detachments called "infernal columns" were sent into the Vendee to conduct the holocaust. "The whole territory must be so utterly consumed by fire that, for at least a year, no man or beast will be able to find sustenance there," declared revolutionary leader Fayau.

In July 1793, the National Convention in Paris commissioned a depraved maniac named Jean-Baptiste Carrier to suppress the uprising, concentrating particularly on the Nantes region. In his book The Unsleeping Eye, Australian historian Robert J. Stove notes that "Carrier cultivated such pastimes as repeatedly flinging himself on the floor, 'howling and snapping like a madman,' and committing mass infanticide (he called children 'little whelps ... they must be butchered without mercy') by ordering the shooting and clubbing to death of five hundred peasant boys and girls."

Carrier and his troops filled prisons throughout Nantes to capacity with men, women, and children. Some jails were so tightly packed that many perished from asphyxiation. Typhus and other diseases claimed many more. Carrier invoked the lack of prison space as evidence that Nantes suffered from "overpopulation," thereby providing a pretext to implement some of the Revolution's schemes for "depopulation." "We will make France graveyard, rather than not regenerate it in our own way," he proclaimed.

One of Carrier's most fiendishly inventive programs for "regeneration" was the noyade -- mass drowning of prisoners conducted in the Loire River Writes Schama:

Holes were punched in the sides of flat-bottomed barges below the waterline, over which wooden planks were nailed to keep the boats temporarily afloat. Prisoners were put in with their hands and feet tied and the boats pushed into the center of the river to catch the current. The executioner-boatmen then broke or removed the planks and made haste to jump into boats that were alongside, while the victims helplessly watched the water rise above them.

Carrier's sadistic troops called these mass drownings "Republican baptisms." Occasionally this ritualized mass murder was accompanied by "Republican marriages," in which male and female victims were stripped and tied together before being sent to the river's bottom. "We are packing all these rogues into boats which we then send to the bottom," gloated one Republican leader. "In truth, if these brigands complained that they were dying of hunger, they at least cannot complain that we are now letting them die of thirst."

"Ultimately, so many corpses blocked the Loire that the whole of Nantes was in danger of an epidemic of typhus," writes Michael Ross. Recall that the mortally wounded Bonchamps had passed over that same Loire River just before issuing the order sparing the lives of Republican prisoners - some of whom may later have had a hand in the mass drownings.

Many revolutionary radicals eagerly offered ambitious plans for the liquidation of the Vendee. Charles Philippe Henri Ronsin, a prominent Republican revolutionary, "proposed systematic 'depopulation,' with the 'brigands' deported and dispersed throughout France or sent to Madagascar," relates Schama. "In their place legions of 'pure' French colonists would settle the country and breed families untainted by [the Vendeans'] crime." Apparently considering this scheme as too humane, Carrier drew up plans for chemical warfare -- depositing arsenic in wells across the Vendee. Jean Antoine, a member of the ultra-radical Paris Commune, presented an even more sophisticated program for mass murder: He asked a distinguished chemist to explore the possibility of using "mines, gassings, or other means to be able to destroy ... or asphyxiate the enemy" in the Vendee.

While the more ambitious theoretical proposals to deal with the Vendeans prefigured the National Socialists' "Final Solution," many of the methods actually employed by the revolutionary forces foreshadowed Cambodia's Khmer Rouge. In a message to Robespierre, a Republican commander reported: "...the soldiers have killed all the wounded and the sick in the hospital. Several wives of brigands were there in a state of illness. They were raped and their throats cut."

Sexual torture and mutilation were among the common practices of revolutionary troops to terrorize the countryside. "Young girls were hung stark naked from trees after they had been raped, their hands tied behind their backs," recorded one eyewitness. "The lucky ones were rescued ... by charitable passersby from this shameful torture." Elsewhere, continues the contemporary account, "pregnant women were crushed to death by wine- presses...."

Presiding over many of these atrocities was General Francois-Joseph Westermann, whose "infernal column" raped and pillaged its way across the Vendee to the strains of the Marsellaise -- a revolutionary hymn of hate that contained these lines: "To arms, citizens! Form your battalions, let us march, so that impure blood will drench our furrows."

Westermann commanded Republican forces at the battle of Le Mans in December 1793. During that battle, "the Vendeans, worn out, famished, and half frozen, scarcely able to hold a musket, stood their ground, keeping up a constant fire as the three wings of the Republican army closed in on them," writes Michael Ross. With doomed courage the badly outnumbered Vendean troops withstood the siege "in an attempt to allow the civilian followers to escape." But eventually their line broke, and the Republicans carried out what Westermann gleefully described as "the most horrible butchery."

In a letter to the Welfare Committee of the Paris regime, Westermann exulted: "The Vendee is no more, my Republican comrades.... The streets are littered with corpses which sometimes are stacked in pyramids. Mass shootings are taking place in Savenay because there brigands keep turning up to surrender. We do not take any prisoners because they would have to be fed the bread of freedom, but pity is incompatible with the spirit of revolution."

Vendeans' Last Stand

Westermann's triumphal message was somewhat premature. Armed resistance continued for more than a year and a half after the Vendean defeat at Le Mans. This was largely the work of the irrepressible Charette, the "King of the Vendee" who commanded a largely independent force of 15,000 men. By the fall of 1794, emissaries from Paris made a peace proposal to Charette and the other Vendean leaders: If they would recognize the Republic, they would be granted amnesty. "The kings of Europe have now recognized the Republic," one Republican informed Charette's representative. "That may be true, but they are not Vendeans," came the reply.

Under General Hoche's cunning leadership, the Republican forces devised a strategy to neutralize the Vendean leadership and isolate Charette: They pronounced a policy of "religious toleration," assuring the Vendeans that the anti-Catholic policies would be repealed, and their houses of worship rebuilt. In fact, General Hoche ordered their troops to assist nonjuring priests in repairing many of the same churches they had defiled and destroyed. "Surrender your arms," Hoche urged the Vendeans. "Rebuild your homes, cultivate your farms, pray to God. You will be left in peace."

Slowly but steadily, Charette's war-weary forces abandoned him. Convinced that restoring religious liberty was merely a Republican ploy, Charette continued to scourge the Blues by conducting guerrilla raids with his dwindling corps of veteran fighters. With all other resistance quelled, Hoche "was now free to devote all his energies to hunting down Charette," writes Michael Davies. In March 1796, three Republican columns hemmed in Charette's tiny band. Pfeiffer, Charette's devoted bodyguard, was among the last survivors. As a musket ball pierced his chest, Pfeif fer, in one last valiant attempt to save his commander's life, cried out: "I am Charette!" The Blues were not deceived. Several swarmed Charette, one of them shooting him in the shoulder, the other cutting off several of his fingers with a saber.

The captive general, who had promised not to return to his home in Nantes unless victorious or dead, was taken there to be shot. Asked why he refused to accept Paris's "peace" proposal, Charette replied: "Because the Republic does not keep its promises." As if determined to illustrate Charette's point, the Republicans denied his request that a non-juring priest hear his confession. After refusing a blindfold, Charette himself gave the order to the firing squad that executed him.

In the winter of 1798, the disintegrating Republic had fulfilled Charette's prediction by resuming religious persecution, provoking another uprising in the Vendee. Within a year, Napoleon Bonaparte would seize power, overthrowing the Republic. Although he too was an enemy of the Catholic Church, Napoleon admired the courage and the tactical brilliance of the Vendeans, whom he extolled as "giants." Napoleon's concordat with the Holy See in 1801, which extended religious freedom to Catholics throughout France, was described as the "Victory of the Vendee."

That victory was certainly an ambivalent one. Neither France nor the world at large has fully recovered from the forces unleashed by the French Revolution. One sobering legacy of the Revolution and the Vendean War it instigated is described by The Black Book of Communism, a 1998 study compiled by a group of French academics: "Lenin compared the Cossacks to the Vendee during the French Revolution and gladly subjected them to a program of what Gracchus Babeuf, the 'inventor' of modern Communism, characterized in 1795 as 'populicide.'"

Lenin, the apostle of modem totalitarianism, understood his lineage -- and so should contemporary defenders of individual freedom and the permanent things. Friends of liberty from all faiths should honor the memory of the valiant Vendeans.
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Author:Grigg, William Norman
Publication:The New American
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Date:Jun 17, 2002
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