Different from American Revolution in the following ways:
· First social revolution; people’s revolt against their own government
· About restructuring society & principle of governance vis–a-vis American revolution which was just for a change in government
· Highly revered revolution; change in the structure of Europe
Before discussing the causes of the French revolution, it is important to understand the social structure of France.
Figure 1 social structure of France
2. Causes of French revolution:
A. Social cause:
· All the resources (land and other property) belonged to the 1st and 2nd estate while 80% population: 3rd estate
· Only 3rd estate taxed
· Peasants have to serve the 1st and the 2nd estate; no obligation of the 1st and 2nd estate on the peasants
· Detoriating economic condition of the peasant class and growing amount of taxes
B .Financial cause:
Factors leading to the drain of wealth causing financial burden:
· 7 year war with Britain : 1756-1763
· French help in America revolution.
· Life style of king and queen at that time.
C. Inspiration from American Revolution
D. Social thinkers and philosophers like Rousseau, Voltaire, Johnlocke criticizing the dominance of church and the absolute rights of the first estate
E. Arbitrary rule and the absolutism of the French king
3. Middle class:
· Emergence of the middle class including merchants,lawyers,artists etc as a product of industrial revolution
· Middle class led the French revolution also called as bourgeoisie revolution
· Middle class emerged from the 3rd estate
4. Course of the revolution:
- Louis XVI convened the estates general,meeting of 3 estates upon the advice of swiss banker Jacques necker and the transition to constitutional monarchy from absolute monarchy was put up.
- Though the third estate was vastly larger than the clergy and the nobility, each estate had the same representation-one vote.
- Inevitably the third estate vote on this transition proposal was overridden by the first and the second estate.
ii.Tennis court oath:
- Third estate which was now the national assembly split from the other estates and convened on a near-by tennis court instead.
- Took an oath famously called the tennis court oath stating that they would remain indissoluble until they succeed in creating a new national constitution.
iii. The Bastille:
- Upon the dismissal of necker(being popular with the people) because of his inability to successfully convene the estate general, the hostility spiked yet again.
- July,1789 revolutionaries raided the Paris town hall in pursuit of arms.
- Later stormed the Bastille,a medieval fortress realizing that it contained large armory.
- This was a symbolic victory over the old regime.
iv. Lafayette and the National Guard:
- National assembly secured the control over the capital.
- Previous government council was exiled.
- Assembly members occupied top government positions in Paris.
- Marquis de Lafayette,a noble,assembled a collection of citizens into the French National Guard.
- Assembly issued an august decree nullifying many of the feudal obligations that the peasants had to their landlords in order to anoint the raging rural peasants.
v.Declaration of the rights of the man and the citizen:
- On august 1789 assembly issued the declaration of the rights of the men and the citizen; document guaranteeing the due in process in judicial matters and established sovereignty among the French people.
- Every person was a French man and equal.
- French people embraced it.
- Not acceptable to king and nobles.
vi.Food crisis and assembly’s tenuous control:
- Despite the assembly’s gains, the France experienced the looming and growing food crisis.
- French women took up arms in Oct, 1789 and marched to Versailles.
- The weakness of the assembly being exposed within the France and the great fear and the women’s march demonstrated perhaps that the assembly did not have as much control as it liked to think.
vii.Louis XVI Flight:
- In 1791 Louis XVI and his family attempted to escape to the Austrian border where they were to meet an Austrian army and arrange an attack on the revolutionaries.
- Caught before reaching the border and brought back to Tueleries in Paris.
viii.Declaration of Pillnitz:
- In response to Louis VXI’s capture and forced return to Paris,Prussia and Austria issued the declaration of Pillnitz on Aug,1791 warning the French against harming the king and demanding the monarchy be restored.
ix.Constitution of 1791:
- The national assembly released much anticipated constitution of 1791 which created constitutional monarchy for France.
- King Louis XVI and his ministers had to answer to the new legislature though they could maintain control.
x. Jacobins and Girondins:
These two groups were two large political groups during the French revolution.
· Jacobins were people who supported the revolution and wanted a centralized Republic. They were the ones to intituted the reign of terror.
· Girondins were members of the moderate republican party that was in power during the French Revolution; they were a group of individuals who held certain opinions and principles in common rather than an organized . They wanted a democratic revolution within and of defiance to the European powers without.
Jacobins were the ones who wanted radical change and the Girondins were the ones who wanted conservative change.
xi. War against Prussia and Austria and Execution of Louis XVI:
- After the initial defeats at the hands of Austria and Prussia, the revolutionarie(Jacobins) could finally get the better off them.
- They also proclaimed the abolition of monarchy and the establishment of the republic.
- Louis XVI condemned to death for treason and executed on January 21,1793.
xii.Robespierre and the reign of terror:
- Robespierre and the Jacobins focused on addressing economic and political threats within France.
- They instituted its infamous campaign against internal opposition known as the reign of terror.
- Anywhere between 15000-50000 French citizens were guillotined.
- Finally Robespierre convicted by court in July 1794, arrested and sent to guillotine.
xiii. Constitution of 1795:
- The fall of the Jacobin government allowed the wealthier middle classes to seize power.
- On august 22,1795 they ratified the new constitution ushering the period of governmental restructuring.
- The new legislature consisted of 2 houses: upper house called the council of ancients (250 members) and the lower house called the council of five hundred (500 members).
- Also had the executive body called the directory of the group of 5 officers.
- Napoleon lead a coup against the directory in 1799 eventually stepping up and naming himself the first council- effectively the leader of the France.
- With the napoleon at the helm, France entered the 15 year period of military rule
xiv. Era of napoleon:
- As first consul,began to consolidate his power.
- Introduced Napoleonic code doing away with all the privileges based on birth, established equality before law and secured the right to property.
- At 1804, he did away with the consulate and crowned himself emperor in an extravagant coronation ceremony.
- With the series of further invasions and expansions he could establish many treaties like that of treaty of tilsit etc.
- He was defeated in the battle of Waterloo in June 1815,exiled and died in 1821.
xv. Constitutional monarchy restored by restoring Louis XVIII to the throne.
5.In a nutshell:
Figure 2 Course of governance in France
6. Contribution of the French revolution:
· Popularized people’s rule/concept of popular sovereignty
· Inspired constitutional monarchy movement in Europe leading towards formation of modern Europe. For ex: unification of Italy, Germany etc
· Popularized the spirit of liberty,equality and democracy.In terms of equality promoted socio-economic equality. Special privileges of first and second state taken away. 3rd estate gained equal rights.
· Popularized the idea of republic clubbing it with the spirit of nationalism
· Concept of secularism popularized by French revolution.