Both died of strokes, but of different kinds of strokes. Lenin’s was a cerebral stroke; Louis’s was the stroke of the blade of a guillotine.
Ruminations on the date, and the men: How much of current history can be understood by studying those two events, and those two men? How much if we add in George Washington, and Napoleon, other men affected by revolution?
A few years ago I had a sophomore student spell out the importance of people in history. Israel Pena observed that Americans got rid of their king through revolution, and ended up with George Washington as leader, and then president. Washington’s modeling of his life after the Roman patriot Cincinattus led Washington to resign as commander of the Continental Army when the warring was done, instead of declaring himself king, and then later to step down from the presidency after two terms, to promote peaceful retirement of presidents.
The French got rid of their king through revolution in 1789, but in the chaos that followed, they got Napoleon who took over the government after battlefield victories against France’s enemies. Then Napoleon declared himself emperor, and took off on a reign of conquest and war across Europe.
France’s revolution produced Napoleon; America’s revolution produced Washington, and that has made most of the difference.
Mr. Pena’s commentary compared only those two nations. What if we add in a third nation and revolution: Russia? Russia got rid of its king (czar) through revolution in 1917. In the chaos that followed it got a government led by Lenin, and upon Lenin’s early death, taken over by Joseph Stalin.
Is the future of a nation written by the character of the men who run the government? One might make a good case that the deaths of these men paint most of the picture we really need to have. Louis XVI died at the age of 39, on the guillotine; Vladimir I. Lenin, died at the age of 53, of stroke. Both still worked to cling to the strings of power; Compare the deaths of Washington and Napoleon. George Washington. died in 1799 at the age of 67, of complications from a strep throat, but in retirement and in his bed at Mount Vernon, Virginia; while Napoleon Bonaparte died at 52, probably from stomach cancer, while he suffered in humiliating exile on the far distant South Atlantic isle of St. Helena, in 1821.
Revolution marked these men. Three of them led revolutions, and the fourth was put out of power by one. Whose life would you have preferred to follow? Which of these lives is most meritorious of modeling?
Which one lived the life that put his nation on the more secure footing so that its citizens might live good lives, and die of old age in their beds, rather than at war?
Can one person really push the history of a nation so much? Or are these four lives simply emblematic of the nations they ruled?
Something to ponder on a January 21.