The french revolution


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The french revolution

  1. 1. THE FRENCH REVOLUTION. The French Revolution was a period of violent political and social changes, which saw the abolition of the absolute monarchy and the end of the 3 estates. This violent movement took place because the enlightened monarchs were incapable of introducing the ideas of the enlightenment thinkers so the reforms were violently imposed by the people. All the enlighten ideas were slowly setting in the French society and people no longer wanted an absolute monarch but wanted to have a say in the government. The French society was divided in 3 estates: The church, the nobility and the third estate. However this system was unfair as the third estate was formed up by everyone who did not belong to the church or the nobility. The differences between the third estate and the first and second estates were huge. The first and second estates, although they were the richest, they did not have to pay any taxes. Moreover they held the most important positions in government although the third estate formed up the 90% of the population. The third estate had to pay lots of taxes and tolls to the nobles every time they used basic things such as the mill or they crossed a river. Moreover this period coincided with a famine due to the bad harvest between 1787-1789. So the peasant’s income was lower but the food prices were higher. However the population had to stand how the king and his family lived a luxurious live. Marie Antoinette was accused of being very naïf as he lived a very luxurious life and did not understand the problems of the common people. France was not in a very good economic situation as the king had spent lots of money in supporting the rebels in the War of Independence. As a result, the state had many debts. To pay all this debts Luis XVI asked for help to the church and the clergy which formed up the first and second estate. However they refused to loss their economic privileges. As a result the king had to call the Estates General to raise taxes in May 1789. The Estates General hadn’t been called since 1614 so the Third Estate saw in the Estates General the opportunity of that the king heard their demands. The Estates general were also unfair; there were 300 representatives for the church, 300 for the nobility and 600 for the third estate. However each estate had one vote so the third estate always lost all the votes. The third estate presented their complaints in the cahier de doleances. The bourgeoisie was angry because they could not participate in government and the petite bourgeoisie and the peasants were angry because of the high taxes, poor harvests and wars.
  2. 2. During this meeting the third estate proposed a new voting system on which each representative had one vote and like that gain some voting. The king did not want to hear them and so closed the doors of the assembly so that they could not enter to vote. As a result the representatives from the third estate declared themselves the true representatives of the national and created a national assembly where they demanded a constitution. They met in June 1789 in a tennis court where they swore the tennis court oath of not leaving until the king heard their demands. Finally the king gave pup and a constituent assembly was elected to write a constitution in July 1789. While the constitution was being written people began to revolt. The Bastille (a famous political prison in Paris) was stormed by the revolutionaries that same month and the Great Fear against Feudal Lords in the countryside started. Due to the protests the constituent assembly abolished feudal right and approved the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. It stated that all men are born equal and that liberty consisted in that people are free to do anything that does not harm other people. Due to the changes the king tried to escape to Austria in June 1791 but he was caught and in September of that same year the constitution was finally written. It established a constitutional monarchy, popular sovereignty with limited male suffrage and the separation of power. After this, the constituent assembly was dissolved and the legislative assembly was created. The legislative assembly was dominated by 2 political groups: The Girondins: represented the interests of the bourgeoisie. They wanted liberal economic policies and were moderated. The Jacobins: represented the labourers and the sans-culottes (people who could not afford the expensive culottes). They were more radical as they wanted to try the king, expand suffrage and control prices to help poor people. During this assembly a national guard was created and laicism was proclaimed as the church and the state became separated. However in 1792 Austria threatened to invade France if any harm was done to the king. France had to declare war to Austria and the Royal family was imprisoned in September when the Republic was proclaimed ending the constitutional monarchy (1789-1792). During this period the national assembly was known as the Convention. In it Robespierre who represented the Jacobins took control of the government in June 1793 and imposed a dictatorship known as the Terror. The Royal family was executed in January 1793 and a coalition of European countries was formed against France. Moreover pro-monarchy revolts started such as La Vendeé. Robespierre created a new constitution in 1793 on which he created universal suffrage. Even the sans-culottes could vote. Robespierre governed through the
  3. 3. Committee of Public Safety and thanks to this committee he could execute 42000 people in the guillotine as he executed his competitors. Moreover Robespierre abolished catholic religion and the government created instead a new religion which worshiped goddess reason who was represented by an actress. Also he changed the names of the months. Finally a coup lead in Thermidor was done and Robespierre was executed in the guillotine ending the Democratic Republic (1792-1794). When Robespierre was executed, the moderates took control of the government and created what is known as the Directory: a conservative government formed up by 5 members. However in 1799 revolutionaries wanted to regain control and France was still at war with Europe. So Napoleon organized another coup and created a Consulate. Napoleon ruled together with other 2 consuls and was supported by the middle classes. He belonged to the low nobility and was a very good military (he learned his career in 2 years). However in 1802 he was named Consul for life and in 1804 he appointed himself as emperor of France. He was quite liberal; he established a civil code (a set of laws which were equally applied to all citizens), he introduced civil marriage, divorce for women and state education. Moreover he introduced new subjects such as Science and physics. Also he signed a treaty with the pope and he established once again catholic religion as he was very tolerant. However he was mostly known as a great military. He expanded his Empire and defeated all the countries that were allied against France except England as he was defeated by Admiral Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar 1805. England was very powerful at sea and escaped from all the attempts of Napoleon such as for example the English Blockade that consisted in isolating England from the continent. Napoleon decided to invade Portugal, England ally, by land as he could not defeat England in the sea. One of his great victories was the conquest of Spain. At that time Spain was ruled by Charles IV who always followed the counsel of Manuel Godoy, his valido. Spain and France signed an alliance under his rule. Napoleon asked Spain permission so that French troops could pass through Spain and invade Portugal. However the king was cheated as when he was invited to Bayonne, Napoleon imprisoned him and invaded Spain instead. Napoleon was defeated in 1814 in his campaign to invade Russia. The Russians receded burning everything so that when Napoleon’s troops arrived everything was destroyed. As a result the French troops were defeated by the lack of food and because of the bad weather. Moreover Napoleon was also losing Spain as General Wellington was reconquering it.
  4. 4. After this defeat Napoleon was imprisoned in the Island of Elba. However he escaped and created a new army but he was finally defeated in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 by a coalition of countries led by the Duke of Wellington formed up by England, Netherlands, Prussia and some German states. Napoleon was imprisoned in the island of St. Helena in the middle of the Atlantic where he finally died. Napoleon appointed his family as monarchs everywhere he went. Also he abolished the feudal system and wrote a constitution introducing revolutionary ideas in all Europe. These constitutions looked for the separation of powers and popular sovereignty. Moreover they established limited male suffrage and civil rights so Europe began to be formed by Republics or constitutional monarchies. Economically Napoleon guaranteed property rights, free trade and taxes that had to be paid also by the nobility and the clergy.