French Revolution

About the French Revolution

The French Revolution of the 1700s was a watershed event in modern European history. It was a period of social, political, economical, and radical changes that ended with the ascent of Napoleon Bonaparte. The major social upheaval during the French Revolution from 1789–1799 is an important event in the modern history of the world. There have been many causes of the revolution that led to the downfall of the monarchy and the establishment of the French Consulate in France. 


When learning about the French Revolution, we will find a lot of information about the French Revolution that will eventually make us understand the why and how of the French Revolution. The after-effects of the French Revolution lasted not for about 10 years after the French Revolution but still continues to affect each and every democracy out there today. In this article, students will learn about the history, causes, and results of the French Revolution. We will end our notes with a brief summary of the French Revolution and wind up our chapter.


The French Revolution

In the early morning of 1789, the city of Paris was in a state of alarm. The rumours spread that the King would open fire on the populace. People began to gather and began to tear down a number of state buildings in search of weapons. The commanding officer of the Bastille was slain in armed struggle, and the prisoners were released. People despised the Bastille as it stood for the king's despotic power. People were also protesting against the high price of bread that was a staple. A new series of events started, leading to the execution of the King in France.


French Society During the Late Eighteenth Century

In 1774, Louis XVI took the throne of France. France's treasury was empty due to the war. France, under King Louis xiv, assisted the thirteen American colonies to gain independence from Britain. Taxes were raised in order to meet daily expenditures such as maintaining the army, the court, running government offices, or universities. 


France was split into three estates in the 18th century. The feudal system was part of society's estates dating back to the medieval era. Ninety percent of the populace was dominated by peasants, but only a small percentage of them owned the land they farmed. Sixty percent belonged to the nobles, the Church, and other wealthier members of the Third Estate. Since birth, the clergy and the nobility, members of the first two estates, had certain special privileges. These groups were excluded from paying taxes and enjoyed feudal privileges. The third estate paid taxes to the State, which included a direct tax, known as taille, and a list of indirect taxation on everyday goods such as salt or tobacco.


Struggle for Survival

The increase in population had already led to a rapid increase in demand for food grains. The production of grains couldn't really keep up with demands that led to a rapid increase in the price of bread. Due to the low wages paid to the workers, the divide between the rich and the poor widened. Things got worse when the drought or the hail reduced the harvest.


A Growing Middle Class Envisages an End to Privileges

The peasants slowly started to participate in rebellions against taxes and food shortages. The Third Estate had now become prosperous and had access to quality education and fresh ideas. New groups of people emerged in the eighteenth century, called the middle class, which gained wealth through the expansion of foreign trade and the production of woollen and silk textiles, which were either exported or bought by the wealthier members of the community. The third estate were professionals such as lawyers or administrative officers. The social status of a person was now dependent on their merit.


These groups were schooled and believed that by birth, no group in society should be privileged. Rather, the social status of a person must rely on his merit. A new system of government was proposed during these times by Rousseau on the basis of a social contract between people and their representatives. 


Similarly, Montesquieu also proposed the division of power within the government between the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. This model of government has been put into effect in the modern-day USA. King Louis XVI on the other hand planned to impose additional taxes to meet the costs in these turbulent times.


The Outbreak of the Revolution

In the late 1700s, the monarch did not have the power to impose taxes. A meeting of the Estates-General had to be called to submit proposals for new taxes. King  Louis XVI, on 5 May 1789, called the assembly to approve a series of new taxes. Leaders of the first and second estates were present and the third estate was represented by its wealthy and educated members. As per the rule, every estate had one vote. But the leaders of the third estate started demanding that each member have one vote. The demand was rejected which resulted in the members of the tThird eEstate to walk out in protest. They vowed not to disperse until a constitution was drawn up for France that would restrict the powers of the king. 


In the extreme winters, the price of bread rose and people had to spend hours in long queues. Rumours spread that the lords of the manor hired bands of men to destroy ripe crops. In fear, the farmers began to loot the stocked grain and set fire to papers containing manorial dues accounts. Nobles fled their homes. Louis XVI granted recognition to the National Assembly and accepted at last that his powers would, from now on, be restricted by a constitution. On 4 August 1789, the Assembly adopted a decree abolishing the feudal system of duties and taxes. Tithes were abolished and the land owned by the Church was confiscated.


France Becomes a Constitutional Monarchy

The National Assembly finished the draft of the Constitution in 1791 and its main objective was to limit the authority of the king. These powers will now be divided and distributed to various institutions – the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. France had become a constitutional monarchy. People voted for a group of candidates who, in turn, elected the Assembly, but unfortunately not every person had the right to vote. Men over 25 years of age who paid taxes equal to at least 3 days' pay were permitted to vote. The French Constitution began with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. 


France Abolishes Monarchy and Becomes a Republic

In April 1792, the National Assembly decided to wage a war against Prussia and Austria. Marseillaise by then had become the national anthem of France. While men were fighting wars, women cared for their families. Large sections of society demanded that the revolution should continue, as the Constitution of 1791 granted political rights to only the wealthier sections of society. Political clubs were established and Jacobins became the most successful club among them. 


Jacobin members began to wear long striped pants similar to those donned by dockworkers. These Jacobins were nicknamed the sans-culottes, literally translated to 'those without knee breeches.' On August 10, 1792, Jacobins barged the Tuileries Palace and held the King hostage for several hours. Elections were held and at last, all men aged 21 and over were given the right to vote. On 21 September 1792, the monarchy was outlawed, and France was declared a republic. Louis XVI was executed by a court on charges of treason.


The Reign of Terror

The period from 1793 to 1794 has been called the reign of terror. People whom Robespierre considered as enemies of the republic were detained, imprisoned, and then tried by a revolutionary commission. If they were found guilty of a crime, they would be guillotined. Rules were imposed to set a maximum ceiling on prices and wages. Meat and bread were already rationed. It was forbidden to use expensive white flour. Equality was practised through types of expression and address. All men and women were addressed as Citoyen and Citoyenne. 


A Directory Rules France

The fall of the Jacobin government led the richer middle classes to come into power. As per the new constitution, non-proprietary sections of society had already refused to vote. It was established for two legislative councils to be elected. The Board of Directors was appointed by the Government, consisting of five officials. Political unrest paved the way for a new ruler of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, a military dictator.


Did Women have a Revolution?

Information about the French Revolution tells us that since the beginning, women have been active participants in the revolution, which has brought significant changes in France. Women of the third estate had to work to make a living, and they had no access to education or job training. The daughters of the nobles of the Third Estate were allowed to go to school at the convent. Working women even had to take care of the family. Their pay was lower than their male counterparts. 


Women also set up their political clubs and newspapers. The Society of Revolutionary and Republican Women was one of the most renowned women's clubs in the country. They demanded equal political rights as men, voting rights, and to hold public office. The progressive government introduced legislation to improve the conditions of women. Schooling had become compulsory, divorce was legalized, and small businesses could be run by women now. During the reign of terror, the state shut down women's clubs restricting their political activities. After a lot of struggle, women received the right to vote in France in 1946.


The Abolition of Slavery

The most revolutionary social reform of the Jacobin regime was the abolition of slavery in the French colonies. Slave trade began in the seventeenth century where slaves were brought from local chiefs, branded and chained, and tightly packed into ships for a 3-month journey across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. Slavery met the increasing demands in the European countries for sugar, coffee, and indigo. 


During the 18th century, there was hardly any condemnation of slavery in France. In 1794, the Convention legislated the liberation of all slaves in French overseas assets. After ten years, Napoleon re-introduced slavery, which was abolished in the French colonies later in 1848.


The Revolution and Everyday Life 

France witnessed changes in the lives of men, women, and children in 1789. The abolition of censorship took place in the summer of 1789. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen had affirmed freedom of speech and expression as a natural right. Press freedom meant that opposition to actions could be expressed. These rights of individuals are all about the French Revolution and its motives.


Conclusion

This is a summary ofabout the French Revolution which gives us an insight into the aftermath of the French Revolution. Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor of France in 1804 and launched a number of laws, such as the protection of private property and the uniform system of weights and measures given by the decimal system. Napoleon was defeated by Waterloo in 1815. The ideas of liberty and democratic rights were the most important achievement of the French Revolution. Colonized people have redefined the idea of freedom to create a sovereign nation-state.


Fun Facts

The Bastille had been torn down by hand since they had no explosives. For more than two centuries after the beginning of the French Revolution, the guillotine continued to remain a legal execution method in France.

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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Write the legacy of the French Revolution in the 19th and 20th Centuries?

The legacy of the French Revolution continued not for about 10 years after the French Revolution but rather lasted till the 19th and 20th centuries:

  • The spread of ideas of equality, as well as of democracy, has led to a huge difference between France and other European countries. Feudalism was abolished. 

  • The ideas of freedom, equality, and fraternity were adopted. 

  • The Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizens gave citizens freedom of speech, equal treatment under the law, and the right to life. 

  • Women also were given rights, including how they could not be forced to marry against will, divorce was legalised, and the right to education was made mandatory to train for jobs.

Describe the social cause of the French Revolution.

In the old regime, the French society and the institution were described a long time before 1789, when the society was divided into three estates – the clergy, the nobility, and the common folk. The first estate was a group of people associated with the church affairs classified as clergy. The second estate consisted of people who were ranked highly in the state administration classified as the nobility. The first two estates enjoyed lots of privileges since birth and were even excluded from any kind of state tax. The third estate consisted of big businessmen, the court, lawyers, officials, craftsmen, peasants, servants, and even landless workers. This was the estate that usually had to bear the taxes.


Moreover, the lack of political rights, unfair treatment in terms of judiciary, feudalism, serfdom, lack of social rights, and further ignorance from the upper classes enraged the Third estate. After getting educated, most of them understood the importance of rights and rebelled against the autocratic system that existed.

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