French Revolution(1789 1799)

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  • 8/10/2019 French Revolution(1789 1799)




    Historians agree unanimously that the French Revolution was a watershed event that changedEurope irrevocably, following in the footsteps of the American Revolution, which had occurred just

    a decade earlier. The causes of the French Revolution, though, are difficult to pin down based on

    the historical evidence that e!ists, a fairly compelling argument could be made regarding any

    number of factors. "nternationally spea#ing, a number of major wars had ta#en place in the forty

    years leading up to the Revolution, and France had participated, to some degree, in most of them.

    The $even %ears& 'ar in Europe and the American Revolution across the ocean had a profound

    effect on the French psyche and made the 'estern world a volatile one. "n addition to charging up

    the French public, this wartime environment too# (uite a toll on the French treasury. The costs of

    waging war, supporting allies, and maintaining the French army (uic#ly depleted a French ban# that

    was already wea#ened from royal e!travagance. Finally, in a time of highly seculari)ed

    Enlightenment, the idea that *ing +ouis -" had absolute power due to divine rightthe idea thathe had been handpic#ed by /oddidn&t hold nearly as much water as in the past few decades.

    0ltimately, these various problems within late12344s France weren&t so much the immediate causes

    of the Revolution as they were the final catalyst. The strict French class system had long placed the

    clergy and nobility far above the rest of the French citi)ens, despite the fact that many of those

    citi)ens far e!ceeded nobles in wealth and reputation. 5oreover, these e!clusive titlesmost of

    which had been purchased and passed down through familiesessentially placed their bearers

    above the law and e!empted them from ta!es. "n 2367, when France&s ancient legislative body, the

    Estates1/eneral, reconvened and it became apparent that the higher1ran#ing classes refused to

    forfeit their privileges in the interest of saving the country, the frustration of the French bourgeoisie

    reached its boiling point. The French Revolution was thus a battle to achieve e(uality and removeoppressionconcerns far more deep1seated and universal than the immediate economic turbulence

    France was e!periencing at the time.

    "t may seem on the surface that the immediate results of the French Revolution were negligible, for

    the ne!t leader after the Revolution was 8apoleon, who imposed a dictatorship of sorts, voiding the

    sovereign democracy of the Revolution. 8onetheless, the Revolution won the public a number of

    other victories, both tangible and intangible. 8o French ruler after the Revolution dared to reverse

    the property and rights ac(uisitions gained during the Revolution, so citi)ens who had purchased

    church land were allowed to #eep it. The new ta! system remained devoid of the influence of

    privilege, so that every man paid his share according to personal wealth. 5oreover, the brea#down

    of church and feudal contracts freed people from tithes and other incurred fees. That&s not to say

    that all was well French industry struggled for years after the Revolution to regain a foothold in

    such a drastically different environment. 9n the whole, however, the French people had seen the

    impact they could have over their government, and that liberating, inspiring spirit was unli#ely ever

    again to be suppressed.

    9ther European governments and rulers, however, were not too happy with the French after the

    Revolution. They #new that their own citi)ens had seen the power that the French public wielded,

    and as a result, those governments were never again able to feel secure in their rule after 2377.

    Though there had been other internal revolutions in European countries, few were as massive and

    convoluted as the French Revolution, which empowered citi)ens everywhere and resulted in a

    considerable leap toward the end of oppression throughout Europe.

  • 8/10/2019 French Revolution(1789 1799)


    2.Summary of Events:

    Feudalism and Unfair Taxation

    8o one factor was directly responsible for the French Revolution. %ears of feudal oppression and

    fiscal mismanagement contributed to a French society that was ripe for revolt. 8oting a downward

    economic spiral in the late 2344s, *ing +ouis -" brought in a number of financial advisors toreview the wea#ened French treasury. Each advisor reached the same conclusionthat France

    needed a radical change in the way it ta!ed the publicand each advisor was, in turn, #ic#ed out.

    Finally, the #ing reali)ed that this ta!ation problem really did need to be addressed, so he appointed

    a new controller general of finance, :harles de :alonne, in 236;. :alonne suggested that, among

    other things, France begin ta!ing the previously e!empt nobility. The nobility refused, even after

    :alonne pleaded with them during the Assembly of 8otables in 2363. Financial ruin thus seemed


    The Estates-General

    "n a final act of desperation, +ouis -" decided in 2367 to convene the Estates1/eneral, an ancientassembly consisting of three different estates that each represented a portion of the French

    population. "f the Estates1/eneral could agree on a ta! solution, it would be implemented. However,

    since two of the three estatesthe clergy and the nobilitywere ta!1e!empt, the attainment of any

    such solution was unli#ely.

    5oreover, the outdated rules of order for the Estates1/eneral gave each estate a single vote, despite

    the fact that the Third Estateconsisting of the general French publicwas many times larger than

    either of the first two. Feuds (uic#ly bro#e out over this disparity and would prove to be

    irreconcilable. Reali)ing that its numbers gave it an automatic advantage, the Third Estate declared

    itself the sovereign 8ational Assembly. 'ithin days of the announcement, many members of the

    other two estates had switched allegiances over to this revolutionary new assembly.

    The Bastille and the Great Fear

    $hortly after the 8ational Assembly formed, its members too# the Tennis :ourt 9ath, swearing that

    they would not relent in their efforts until a new constitution had been agreed upon. The 8ational

    Assembly&s revolutionary spirit galvani)ed France, manifesting in a number of different ways. "n

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    The Reign of Terror

    The first acts of the newly named 8ational :onvention were the abolition of the monarchy and the

    declaration of France as a republic. "n anuary 237;, the convention tried and e!ecuted +ouis -"

    on the grounds of treason. >espite the creation of the :ommittee of irectory. 8apoleon&s

    accession mar#ed the end of the French Revolution and the beginning of 8apoleonic France and


    "ac#ues-!ierre Brissot

    A member of the +egislative Assembly and 8ational :onvention who held a moderate stance and

    believed in the idea of a constitutional monarchy. =rissot&s followers, initially #nown simplyas =rissotins, eventually became #nown more generally as the /irondins. After unsuccessfully

    declaring war on Austria and

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    many /irondin leaders, lost his life at the guillotine during the Reign of Terror in 237;B237C.

    $harles de $alonne

    The controller general of finance appointed by *ing +ouis -" after ac(ues 8ec#er was forced out

    of office in 2362. :alonne proposed a daring plan to shift the French ta! burden from the poor to

    wealthy nobles and businessmen, suggesting a ta! on land proportional to land values and a

    lessened ta! burden for peasants. The French nobility, however, refused to pay these ta!es.

    %a&are $arnot

    A French soldier appointed by the :ommittee of

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    Emmanuel-"oseh ,ieys

    A liberal member of the clergy, supporter of the Third Estate, and author of the fiery 2367 pamphlet

    ?'hat "s the Third [email protected] $ieyGs was one of the primary leaders of the Third Estate&s effort at

    political and economic reform in France.


    August Decrees

    A series of decrees issued by the 8ational Assembly in August 2367 that successfully suppressed

    the /reat Fear by releasing all peasants from feudal contracts.


    A large armory and state prison in the center of ay.


    The middle and upper classes of French society who, as members of the Third Estate, wanted an

    end to the principle of privilege that governed French society in the late 2344s. The bourgeoisie

    represented the moderate voices during the French Revolution and were represented by delegates in

    both the Estates1/eneral and the 8ational Assembly.

    $ $onstitution of the $lergy

    A document, issued by the 8ational Assembly in uly 2374, that bro#e ties with the :atholic

    :hurch and established a national church system in France with a process for the election ofregional bishops. The document angered the pope and church officials and turned many French

    :atholics against the revolutionaries.

    $ommittee of !ublic ,afety

    A body, chaired by 5a!imilien Robespierre, to which the 8ational :onventiongave dictatorial

    powers in April 237; in an attempt to deal with France&s wars abroad and economic problems at

    home. Although the committee led off its tenure with an impressive war effort and economy1