On Thursday, which happens to be the anniversary of the Treaty of Paris (1783) which ended the American Revolutionary War, the government of Louisville, Ky., removed the statue of the French king who supported the colonists in the American Revolution. He was beheaded in the French Revolution ten years after the treaty was signed. Rioters angry over the horrific police shooting of Breonna Taylor had vandalized the statue of the king for whom Louisville was named, and the mayor caved to the rioters.
“Given the statue’s damaged condition, officials are concerned about further destruction, causing potential injury to people in the area,” Mayor Greg Fischer (D-Louisville) said in a statement.
Early on Thursday morning, the city removed the 9-ton statue in a historically resonant move.
Who was Louis XVI?
Louis XVI (1754-1793) was the last king of France before the French Revolution. He inherited a country in turmoil, taking the throne after Great Britain had defeated France in the Great War for Empire (1754-1763), which left both countries with a large amount of debt and deprived France of most of its American colonies. Louis XVI tried to reform the government along the lines of the French Enlightenment, but his efforts failed.
Louis XVI championed the American Revolution, providing much-needed funds and military support to the American colonies. This only worsened France’s fiscal situation, leading to the monetary crisis that ultimately sparked the French Revolution.
The revolutionaries first changed Louis XVI’s title, but eventually, they decided they had to abolish the monarchy and execute him for colluding with France’s foreign enemies in an attempt to reverse the revolution. The revolutionaries beheaded the king on January 21, 1793.
George Rogers Clark founded the City of Louisville in 1778, naming the city after King Louis XVI because he helped the American colonies defeat the British in the Revolutionary War. The famous 9-ton statue of Louis XVI only came to Louisville in 1960, however.
In 1829, the dead king’s daughter Marie-Therese presented the 9-ton statue to the City of Montpelier in France. Yet Montpelier did not appreciate the statue and kept it hidden away in a library. In 1960, the government of France gave the 9-ton statue as a gift to the City of Louisville and a symbol of the friendship between the U.S. and France.
It may be a mere coincidence that Fischer removed the statue on the anniversary of the Treaty of Paris, although it does seem rather noteworthy, since Louisville was named after Louis XVI because of his help in the American Revolution.
Echoes of the French Revolution
In June, when Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) lost to Jamaal Bowman, a radical Democrat endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) warned that the “French Revolution” had come to the Democratic Party. “Every elected Democrat in office, and every Democrat running for office, lives in fear of the mob and The Squad.”
The antifa and Black Lives Matter mob that arose from the George Floyd protests and the dangerous cancel culture atmosphere pervading American society arguably do echo the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror.
Following the death of George Floyd, vandals defaced and toppled monuments celebrating George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. They also targeted Mahatma Gandhi, Union General Ulysses S. Grant, black Union soldiers, and freed slave Frederick Douglass. The iconoclasts also vandalized a monument to five firefighters who lost their lives trying to save lives at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
The lawlessness and mob rule across America arguably represents the victory of The New York Times‘s “1619 Project” and its attempt to convince Americans that the true founding of this nation did not come with the Declaration of Independence in 1776 but with the arrival of the first black slaves in 1619. The narrative of America as a racist, sexist, classist, heteronormative force of oppression helps propel AOC’s movement, the riots, and the iconoclasts.
The French Revolution really hit its stride in the Reign of Terror (September 1793-July 1794) under the Jacobin leader Maximilien Robespierre. After the revolutionaries beheaded King Louis XVI in 1793, the squabbling factions began executing nobles, priests, and eventually revolutionaries who disagreed with them. Robespierre himself infamously found his own head chopped off after he led this terror in the name of republican “virtue.”
Under Robespierre during the Reign of Terror, France renamed the months of the year, swapped the 7-day week for a 10-day week, and murdered hundreds of priests in an attempt to wipe out Catholic Christianity in France and replace it with the Cult of the Supreme Being. Ironically, the revolutionaries cut off the heads of kings on the Notre Dame Cathedral, thinking they were the kings of France — when they were really the biblical kings of Judah.
Ultimately, the French Revolution failed. Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself emperor in 1804, conquered large swaths of Europe, and then lost the definitive Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The victorious allies installed a new king, Louis XVIII.
As for the Reign of Terror, it has gone down in history as the central proof of the maxim that revolutions devour their own. This period of the French Revolution convinced many of the folly of revolution in general, and it terrified the rest of Europe. Other European leaders sought to hamstring France after the Napoleonic Wars in part to prevent anything like this from happening again. (Interestingly, some leaders of the Paris Commune, of which Seattle’s
CHAZ/CHOP/Antifastan may be a distant echo, tried to emulate the Reign of Terror.)
While the antifa and Black Lives Matter riots are sporadic across the United States, 48 percent of Americans have said they fear the riots may spread to their own communities. In some cities, false reports about police shooting black men have inspired looting and rioting.
Modern America’s echoes of the French Revolution seem faint, but the removal of King Louis XVI is a worrisome sign. When mayors refuse to stand against lawlessness, they send a tacit message of approval. Louisville was named after Louis XVI, yet Mayor Fischer refused to defend the statue. Instead, he had it removed — on the very anniversary of Louis XVI’s most significant achievement.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.