November 08, 2014

“O Liberty! What crimes are committed in thy name!”

In 1781, a young French woman named Marie-Jeanne Philippon married wealthy businessman Jean-Marie Roland, thus becoming known as Madame Roland.

Madame Roland and her husband were early supporters of the the democratic goals of the French Revolution when it started in 1789. 

They became active leaders of what was considered a relatively moderate pro-democracy party called the Girondists.

Unfortunately for the Rolands – and for French King Louis XVI and many other French citizens – a much more extreme group took control of France a few years after the storming of the Bastille.

They were called the Jacobins and were responsible for the infamous “Reign of Terror.”

During that bloody period, Jacobin leaders imprisoned and thousands of people they viewed as political threats or simply didn’t like.

Eventually, they deemed the Rolands to be insufficiently revolutionary.

Madame Roland was arrested in Paris in the spring of 1793.

Her husband was traveling at the time. When he heard his of wife’s imprisonment, he went into hiding.

The Jacobins held Madame Roland in prison for months.

Then, on November 8, 1793, they sent her to the guillotine, a few weeks after Marie Antoinette met the same fate.

On the way to her execution, Madame Roland passed a large statue of the goddess Liberty that her former political comrades had erected nearby (the same goddess portrayed by the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor).

According to historical accounts of the day, when Madame Roland saw the statue she gazed at it sadly and made a remark you will find in many books of famous quotations:

“O Liberté, que de crimes on commet en ton nom!” (“O Liberty! What crimes are committed in thy name!”)

Not long after saying these words, Madame Roland was beheaded.

When her husband heard the news, he killed himself with his own sword.

Her poignant quote has since been used in many commentaries about the excesses committed in the name of freedom and democracy.

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