“Revolutions evolve in definite phases. At first they are moderate in scope, then they become radical to excess and finally they are brought to abrupt conclusions by the emergence of a strong man to restore order.” Discuss this statement with specific references to the French Revolution.
The French Revolution brought about great changes in the society and government of France. The revolution, which lasted from 1789 to 1799, also had far-reaching effects on the rest of Europe. “It introduced democratic ideals to France but did not make the nation a democracy. However, it ended supreme rule by French kings and strengthened the middle class.” (Durant, 12) After the revolution began, no European kings, nobles, or other members of the aristocracy could take their powers for granted or ignore the ideals of liberty and equality.
The revolution began with a government financial crisis but quickly became a movement of reform and violent change. In one of the early events, a crowd in Paris captured the Bastille, a royal fortress and hated symbol of oppression. A series of elected legislatures then took control of the government. King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were executed. Thousands of others met the same fate in a period known as the Reign of Terror. The revolution ended when Napoleon Bonaparte, a French general, took over the government.
At the beginning of the revolution, events seemed minor and proceeded in a logical fashion. One of the reasons the revolution originated was the discontent among the lower and middle classes in France. By law, society was divided in to three groups called estates. The first estate was made of up clergy, nobles comprised the second and the rest of the citizens, the third estate.
The third estate resented certain advantages of the first two estates. The clergy and nobles did not have to pay most taxes. The third estate, especially the peasants, had to provide almost all the country’s tax revenue. Many members of the middle class were also worried by their social status. They were among the most important people in French society but were not recognized as such because they belonged to the third estate.
“Financial crisis developed because the nation had gone deeply into debt to finance the Seven Years War (1756-1763) and the Revolutionary War (1775-1783).” (Durant, 22) The Parliament of Paris insisted that King Louis XVI could borrow more money or raise taxes only by calling a meeting of the States-General. The States-General was made up of representatives of the three estates, and had last met in 1614. Unwillingly, the king called the meeting.
The States-General opened on May 5, 1789, at Versailles. The first two estates wanted each estate to take up matters and vote on them separately by estate. The third estate had has many representatives as the other two combined. It insisted that all the estates be merged into one national assembly and that each representative had one vote. The third estate also wanted the States-General to write a constitution.
The king and the first two estates refused the demands of the third estate. In June 1789, the representatives of the third estate declared themselves the National Assembly of France. Louis the XVI them allowed the three estates to join together as the National Assembly. But he began to gather troops around Paris to break up the Assembly.
Meanwhile, the masses of France also took action. On July 14, 1789, a huge crowd of Parisians rushed to the Bastille. They believed they would find arms and ammunition there for use in defending themselves against the king’s army. The people captured the Bastille and began to tear it down. Massive peasant uprisings were also occurring in the countryside.
The king’s removal led to a new stage in the revolution. The first stage had been a liberal middle-class reform movement based on a constitutional monarchy. The second stage was organized around principles of democracy. The National Convention opened on September 21, 1792, and declared France a republic.
“Louis XVI was placed on trial for betraying the country. The National Convention found him guilty of treason , and a slim majority voted for the death-penalty. The king was beheaded on the guillotine on January 21, 1793. The revolution gradually grew more radical-that is more open to extreme and violent change. Radical leaders came into prominence. In the Convention, they were known as the mountain because they sat on the high benches at the rear of the hall during meetings. Leaders of the Mountain were Maximilien Robespierre, Georges Jacques Danton, and Jean Paul Marat. The Mountain dominated a powerful political club called the Jacobin Club.
“Growing disputes between the Mountain and the Gironde led to a struggle for power, and the Mountain won. In June 1793, the Convention arrested the leading Girondists. In turn, the Girondists’ supporters rebelled against the Convention. One of these supporters assassinated Marat in July 1793.” (Woloch, 526)
This was the most horrific period of the revolution. The Convention’s leaders included Robespierre, Lazare Carnot, and Bertrand Barere. The Convention declared a policy of terror against rebels, supporters of the king, and anyone else who publicly disagreed with official policy. “In time, hundreds of thousands of suspects filled the nation’s jails. Courts handed down about 18,000 death sentences in what was called the Reign of Terror. Paris became accustomed to the rattle of two-wheeled carts called tumbrels as they carried people to the guillotine.” (Woloch, 526)
In time, the radicals began to struggle for power among themselves. Robespierre succeeded in having Danton and other former leaders executed. Many people in France wanted to end the Reign of Terror, the Jacobin dictatorship, and the democratic revolution. Robespierre’s enemies in the Convention finally attacked him as a tyrant on July 29, 1794. He was executed the next day. The Reign of Terror ended with Robespierre’s death.
“The Convention, which had adopted a democratic constitution in 1793, replaced that document with a new one in 1795. The government formed under this new constitution was called the Directory. France was still a republic, but once again only citizens who paid a certain amount of taxes could vote.” (Woloch, 527)
The Directory began meeting in October 1795. In October 1799, a number of political leaders plotted to overthrow the Directory. They needed military support and turned to Napoleon Bonaparte, a French general who had become a hero during a military campaign in Italy in 1796 and 1797. Bonaparte seized control of the government on November 9, 1799, ending the revolution. Napoleon would restore order to the French people with such great achievements as his Code Napoleon.
Filed Under: French Revolution, History
Causes of French Revolution: Political, Social and Economic Causes!
The three main causes of French revolution are as follows: 1. Political Cause 2. Social Cause 3. Economic Cause.
1. Political Cause:
During the eighteen the Century France was the centre of autocratic monarchy. The French Monarchs had unlimited power and they declared themselves as the “Representative of God”.
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Louis XIV was the exponent of this view. The French Monarchs engaged themselves in luxurious and extravagance at the royal court of Versailles. They enjoyed unlimited power. By the Letter de Catchet, they arrested any person at any time and imprisoned them. They paid no attention towards their subjects.
Louis XIV (1643-1715) of the Bourbon Dynasty was a powerful monarch. He was an efficient, hard-working and confident ruler. He participated in many wars. Louis XIV’s concept of unlimited royal power is revealed by his famous remarks, “I am the State”.
Louis XV (1715-1774) succeeded Louix XIV He was a ‘butterfly monarch’. His defective foreign policy weakened the economic condition of France. Louis XV fought the Seven Years War against England which brought nothing for France. France became bankrupt due to over expenditure in wars and luxury. He realised it later on. Before his death he cried-‘After me the Deluge’.
After Louis XV, Louis XVI (1774-1793) ascended the throne of France. During that period, the economic condition of France became weak. Louis XVI was an innocent and simple man. But he was influenced by his queen Marie Antoinette who always interfered in the state affairs.
Out of frustration he uttered-“Oh! What a burden of mine and they have taught me nothing.” Marie Antoinette was the daughter of Marie Theresa, the Austrian Empress. She always felt proud as she was the daughter of Austrain Empress. She always enjoyed luxurious and extravagant life. She sowed seed of the French Revolution. Thus, the autrocratic monarchy, defective administration, extravagant expenditure formed the political cause of the French Revolution.
2. Social Cause:
The Social condition of France during the eighteenth century was very miserable. The then French Society was divided into three classes— the Clergy, Nobles and Common People.
The Clergy belonged to the First Estate. The Clergy was subdivided into two groups i.e. the higher clergy and the lower clergy. The higher clergy occupied the top position in the society. They managed the churches, monasteries and educational institutions of France. They did not pay any tax to the monarch.
They exploited the common people in various ways. The higher clergy lived in the midst of scandalous luxury and extravagance. The common people had a strong hatred towards the higher clergy. On the other hand, the lower clergy served the people in true sense of the term and they lived a very miserable life.
The Nobility was regarded as the Second Estate in the French Society. They also did not pay any tax to the king. The Nobility was also sub divided into two groups-the Court nobles and the provincial nobles. The court nobles lived in pomp and luxury. They did not pay any heed towards the problems of the common people of their areas.
On the other hand, the provincial nobles paid their attention towards the problems of the people. But they did not enjoy the same privileges as the Court nobles enjoyed. The Third Estate formed a heterogenous class. The farmers, cobblers, sweepers and other lower classes belonged to this class. The condition of the farmers was very miserable.
They paid the taxes like Taille, Tithe and Gable. Inspite of this, the clergies and the nobles employed them in their fields in curve. The Bourgeoisie formed the top most group of the Third Estate. The doctors, lawyers, teachers, businessmen, writers and philosophers belonged to this class. They had the wealth and social status. But the French Monarch, influenced by the clergies and nobles, ranked them as the Third Estate.
So they influenced the people for revolution. They aroused the common people about their rights. Thus, the common people became rebellious. The lower Clergies and the provincial nobles also joined their hands with the common people along with the bourgeoisie. So the French Revolution is also known as the ‘Bourgeoisie Revolution’.
3. Economic Cause:
The economic condition of France formed another cause for the outbreak of the French Revolution. The economic condition of France became poor due to the foreign wars of Louis XIV, the seven years War of Louis XV and other expensive wars. During the reign period of Louis XVI, the royal treasury became empty as extravagant expenses of his queen Marie Antoinette.
To get rid of this condition. Louis XVI appointed Turgot as his Finance Minister in 1774. Turgot tried to minimise the expenditure of the royal court. He also advised the king to impose taxes on every classes of the society. But due to the interference of Queen Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI dismissed Turgot.
Then Necker was appointed as the Finance Minister in 1776. He published a report on the income and expenditure of the State in order to arouse the people. But he was also dismissed by the king.
The next person who was appointed by the King as the Finance Minister of France in 1783 was Callone. He adapted the policy of borrowing in order to meet the expenditure of the royal court. But due to this policy, the national debt of France increased from 300,000,000 to 600,000,000 Franks only in three years.
Then Callone proposed to impose taxes on all the classes. But he was dismissed by the king. In this situation, the king at last summoned the States General. The economic instability formed one of the most important causes of the French Revolution.