Louis XVI

Historical content: 
The Revolutionary War and Early America
Historical skills: 



Read the passage below and answer the questions that follow.

Background Information: This is a passage from the memoir of Thomas Jefferson, who was the U.S. Foreign Minister to France and lived in Paris in 1789.  This segment, written in 1821, describes the leadership of King Louis XVI of France in 1789 during the French Revolution.

Portion of Jefferson's manuscript, 1821.
Source text: 

“[King Louis XVI] had not a wish but for the good of the nation, and for that object no personal sacrifice would ever have cost him a moment's regret. But his mind was weakness itself, his constitution timid, his judgment null, and without sufficient firmness even to stand by the faith of his word. His Queen too, haughty and bearing no contradiction, had an absolute ascendency over him; and around her were rallied the King's brother d'Artois, the court generally, and the aristocratic part of his ministers . . . men whose principles of government were those of the age of [Louis XIV].”

Question 1: How might this passage from Thomas Jefferson’s memoir be useful as evidence about the leadership of Louis XVI during the French Revolution?

Question 2:  What about this source might make it less useful as evidence about the leadership of Louis XVI during the French Revolution? 

About the Assessment

Like the Slave Quarters assessment, this question requires students to consider the relative strengths and weaknesses of a document as historical evidence.  Students with a sophisticated understanding of how to source a document will be able to explain that Jefferson's memoir is useful as evidence of Jefferson's thoughts on Louis XVI's leadership and his observations while in France.  They will also observe that Jefferson's memoir was written many years after his time in France, making it less useful as specific evidence about Louis XVI's leadership.