Why the revolution break out in France:The spread of new Enlightenment ideals, the development of the bourgeoisie in the 18″ century and the example of the American Revolution stimulated the desire for change in Europe. A revolutionary wave began in France in 1789 and spread through Europe in the first half of the 19′ century. Its aim was to end absolutism and the Ancien Régime.

THE IMPACT DF THE ENLIGHTENMENT AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION: The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America and its Constitution (1787) defended the inalienable rights of the cilizen, Ine-separation of powers, principles of equality and freedom and the right to elect a government, These ideals coincided with Enlightenment ideals spreading through France and were adopted by the cultural elites and the new bourgeoisie, Enlightenment principles and the American Revolution gave the bourgeoisie new ideas to help them confront absolutism and the stratified estate system of Jociety. They proposed new forms of social organisation and government. A of this led to the revolutionary cycle that began in France in 1789.

THE SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC CRISIS: In the late 18th century, the Third-Estate, aspired to profound social reforms. The peasants (80% of the population) were opposed to the heavy taxes and rents imposed on them by the feudal lords. The bourgeoisie wanted to end the privileges enjoyed by the nobility and clergy. The descent into revolution was caused by discontent among the population and the arrival of two major crises in 1789.

  • The economic crisis, which was the result of a series of poor harvests since 1760. The rise in the price of food especially bread, generated discontent and a spirit of rebellion among the people.
  • The financial crisis, caused by the monarchy’s lack,ef money. To resolve this problem, Louis XVI’s ministers proposed that the privileged begin to pay taxes. They refused to accept this and demanded that Louis XVT convene the Estales-General.

REVOLUTION BREAKS OUT: The Estates-General met in Versailles in May 1789. The meeting was chaired by the king and made up of representatives of the nobility, clergy and the Third Estate. However, the Third Estate representatives decided to leave the meeting when the privileged classes refused to allow them greater representation and insisted on one vote per estate rather than one per representative. The representatives of the Third Estate met in a pavilion in Versailles (Jeu de Paume) and proclaimed themselves the National Assembly representatives of the nation. They pledged draft a constitution that reflected the will of the majority of French people.The people of Paris supported the Assembly’s proposals and, on July 14, they stormed the Bastille. The revolution spread to the countryside, where nobles’ homes were burnt (the Great Fear). Louis XVI was frightened by the situation and, in the autumn of 1789 accepted the National Assembly, which made France a constitutional monarchy and ended the Ancien Régime.

The Constitutional Monarchy (1789-1792): In the first phase of the Revolution, the moderate bourgeoisie tried to reach an agreement with the king and the privileged classes to make France a constitutional and parlamentary monarchy: 

  • abolished feudalism and approved the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which recognised the rights.
  • drew up a constitution (1791) based on the separation of powers, national sovereignty Census suffrage.

Once the Constitution was approved, a Legislative Assembly was formed. This drafted new laws to implement liberalism, forced the nobility to pay taxes and abolished the guilds. A new army, the National Guard. Finally, in order to solve the financial crisis, Church property was expropriated (confiscated) and sold. A Civil Constitution of the Clergy separated the Church and the state. A constitutional monarchy was established in 1791, but the royal family ane-the privileged classes did not accept the changes and asked absolute monarchies in Europe to help restore absolutism. The Austrian army invaded France and Louis XVI fled Paris (Flight to Varennes, June 1791), but he was arrested, and the Austrian army entered France and reached Paris.

The Social Republic (1792-1794): The betrayal by the king and the military invasion led to the revolt by the common people (sans-culottes). A republic was declared and the second phase of the Revolution began.

The Girondin Convention (1792-1793): The Girondins, the more moderate bourgeoisie, controlled the Republic. A new assembly. the National Convention, was elected by universal male sufrage,XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were and executed (1793).In response to the king’s death, monarchies in Europe formed an absolutist coalition against France.

The Jacobin Convention (1793-1794): In June 1793, the Jacobins, the most radical sector of the bourgeoisie,endorsed the demands of the popular sectors and seized power. The Revolution had now entered its most extreme phase. A new constitution was enacted. Gave power to the Jacobin leader Robespierre. To reject the Austrian invasion, a mass levy (levée en masse) was organised that forced all citizens to join the army. To stop conspirators, the Reign of Terror was imposed. Freedoms were suspended and people opposed to the government by quillotine (Law of Suspects). Many people opposed the dictatorial government, and a coup July 1794 ended the Jatebin government. Robespierre and other Jacobin leaders were executed by guillotine.

The Conservative Republic: The Directory (1794-1799): The moderate bourgegisie took back control of the Revolution and a new Constitution (1795) granted executive power to a collegial government, known as the Directory. The Director was permanently unstable because it faced opposition from the aristocracy, re-establish the monarchy and the common people, who supported the return of the Jacobins. General Napoleon Bonaparte organised a coup in 1799 that ended the Directory.

The Consulate (1799-1804): Napoleon’s coup d’état was supported by a large part of the bourgeoisie.His aim was to implement the more moderat ideologies that had inspired the French Revolution in 1789. In 1799, Napoleon was named consul, and the Consulate’s rule began. Napoleon aspired to put an end to the political instability of the Revolution. The Constitution of 1800 of the new political system did net include the separation of powers or a declaration of rights. Liberties were very limited and censorship was imposed to control public opinion. The state was organised into departments that were run by prefects who implemented government policies. Napoleon signed an agreement with the Church called a concordat, and a civil cole for all citizens was drawn up. Furthermore, a commercial code was established to stimulate the economy, the Bank of France was created.

The Napoleonic Empire (1804-1815): Napoleon began his conquest of Europe in 1803 and was crowned emperor by the Pope in 1804. His large army and the use of new military tactics enabled him to defeat most European monarchies. After France’s victory over Austria and Russia at Austerlitz (1806). In 1808, the French invaded Spain and Joseph Bonaparte, one of the emperor’s brothers, was made king. In 1811 the Napoleonic Empire had reached its zenith: it extended from Germany to Spain.

WHY WAS NAPOLEON DEFEATED: The Napoleonic military campaigns sparked two types of reaction in the countries occupied by the French:

  • On the one hand, the abolishment of absolute monarchies and the suppression of manorial rights had the support of European liberals.
  • On the other hand, invasion by a foreign army, the indiscriminate violence by its soldiers and French interests caused strong anti-French sentiment.

REJECTION OF THE INVASION: The French armies occupied the European nations by force and made Napoleon’s family members or army generals, their leaders. They also collected taxes, did business and recruited soldiers on top of spreading liberal ideals. This caused the emergence of resistance movements and provoked strong nationalist feelings in conquered countries such as Spain, Poland, Germany and Italy.

THE FALL OF NAPOLEON: The failure of his invasion of Russia in 1812 and the revolt in Spain against a foreign king (Joseph Bonaparte) marked the decline of the Napoleonic Empire. In 1815, the imperial armies were finally defeated in Waterloo by Great Britain and Prussia. Napoleon abdicated after the defeat and was sent into exile on the island of Saint Helena, where he died in 1821.

What was the lega y of the French Revolution: The French Revolution is one of the most significant events in the history of humanity, and marked the beginning of the late modern period. It started an era in which western society began the construction of a future based on respect for fundamental and basic human rights, and on the principle that all citizens had the same rights.

THE BASIS OF DEMOCRACY: The organisation of states and the political systems that are used in most western democracies are based on the same principles that drove the French Revolution

  • People as citizens with rights recognised by the state (Declaration of Human Rights).
  • Popular sovereignty, iLe. citizens’ right to vote to choose their representatives who meet in Pariament to make laws and choose the government.
  • The Constitution as the fundamental lew that establishes the rights and duties of both citizens and rulers.
  • Equality before the law, based on legal codes and an independent justice system
  • The organisation of state administration into departments (provinces) and town councils.