This PPS is about French Revolution - How and why did it happen, what were its outcomes and impacts. I have kept in mind the syllabus of Class IX, NCERT while preparing this PPS, but is useful for others also.
The time was half past three, on the famous date of July 14, 1789. A huge, bloodthirsty mob
marched to the Bastille, searching for gun powder and prisoners that had been taken by the
unpopular and detested King, Louis XVI. The Bastille had been prepared for over a week,
anticipating about a hundred angry subjects and along the thick rock walls of the
gargantuan fortress and between the towers were twelve more guns that were capable of
launching 24-ounce case shots at any who dared to attack. However, the enraged Paris
Commune was too defiant and too livid to submit to the starvation and seeming injustice of
their government. But nothing could have prepared the defenders for what they met that
now famous day.
The Bastille was governed by a man named Marquis de Launay. At three o'clock that
afternoon, a huge group of French guards and angry citizens tried to break into the fortress.
There were over three hundred people ready to give their lives to put an end to their
overtaxing and overbearing government. The Marquis de Launay said he would surrender if
his troops were allowed to leave peacefully, but he was simply rebuked. They wanted de
Launay on a noose or with his head in a basket. .
De Launay sent a note to a mob leader named Hulin, claiming that he had 20,000 pounds of
gunpowder and if the besiegers did not accept his offer, he would annihilate the entire
fortress, the garrison, and everyone in it! Yet, they still refused. The bridges were finally
lowered on de Launay's command, and he and his soldiers were captured by the crowds
and dragged through the filthy streets of Paris .
The mob paraded through the streets, showing off their captives, and crudely cutting off
many heads. Upon learning that the Bastille had been taken, King Louis XVI, who was
residing at Versailles, was reported to have asked an informer: "Is this a revolt?" and La
Rochefoucauld-Liancourt said, "No, Sire, it is a revolution."
How and why did this happen ?
During the Late
When Louis XVI ascended
the throne in 1774, faced a
severe financial crisis. The
help extended to American
colonies in their war of
British had added more then
a Billion livres to a debt that
had already risen to more
than 2 Billion livres. To meet
its regular expenses, the
state was forced to increase
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette
During the Old Regime the French
Society was divided into Three Estates
First Estate consisted of Clergy, Second
Estate consisted of Nobles and Third
Estate consisted of the rest of the
people. First and Second Estate owned
more then 60% of the land, didn’t pay
any taxes, enjoyed privileges by birth,
nobles enjoyed feudal privileges,
Church extracted separate taxes like
Tithes. State extracted a direct tax
called Taille and a number of indirect
taxes. Members of Third Estate made
about 90% of the population, taxes
were borne by the Third Estate only.
Third Estate carrying the burden of First & Second Estate
The Struggle to
Population rise led
to a rapid increase
not keep pace with
the demand this led
to the rise in prices
of the essential
items. The gap
between poor and
rich widened. Years
of bad harvest led
The Spider and the Fly. An anonymous etching
A Growing Middle Class Envisages an End to Privileges
Revolts against increasing taxes and food scarcity was left to groups withing the third
estate who had become prosperous and had access to education and new ideas.
Eighteenth century saw the emergence of middle class (Merchants, Manufacturers,
Lawyers or Administrative officials). These were educated and believed that no group
should be privilaged by birth, a person’s social position must depend on his merit,
envisaged a society based on freedom and equal laws and opportunities for all.
In his Two Treatises
of Government John
Locke sought to
refute the doctrine of
the divine and
absolute right of the
In the Spirit of the
division of power
executive and the
put into force in
the USA, after the
Rousseau carried the idea forward,
proposing a form of government
based on a social contract between
people and their representatives.
The ideas of these philosophers were
discussed intensively in salons and
coffee-houses and spread among
people through books and
newspapers. These were frequently
read aloud in groups for the benefit of
those who could not read and write.
The news that Louis XVI planned to
impose further taxes to be able to
meet the expenses of the state
generated anger and protest against
the system of privileges.
Jean Jacques Rousseau
Meeting of the Estates General - To pass the proposal of new taxes the meeting of the
Estates General was called on 5 May 1789, last time it was called in 1614. First and
Second Estate each sent 300 representatives, Third Estate sent 600 representatives,
each estate had one vote. Peasants, artisans and women were denied entry. This time
Third Estate demanded each member of the Estate General to have one vote. The king
rejected the proposal, Third Estate walked out of the assembly.
Resplendent hall in Versailles, Representatives of first, second and third Estates attending the
meeting of Estates General
The Outbreak of the Revolution
Tennis Court Oath - Members of the Third Estate assembled in the hall of an indoor
tennis court and declared themselves a National Assembly and swore not to disperse till
they had drafted a constitution for France that would limit the powers of the monarch.
Storming of the Bastille - Bad harvest, price rise, exploitation forced people to go
against the government. On 14 July, the agitated crowd stormed and destroyed the
Bastille. In the countryside peasants attacked chateaus, looted hoarded grain and
burnt down documents containing record of manorial dues. Louis XVI finally
accorded recognition to the National assembly. On the night of 4 August 1789, the
Assembly passed a decree abolishing the feudal system of obligations and taxes,
assets worth 2 billion livers were acquired.
The spread of the Great Fear. The picture shows how bands of peasants spread and attacked
the rich farmers.
France becomes a Constitutional Monarchy
National assembly completed the draft of the constitution in 1791, it made France a
Constitutional monarchy. Constitution of 1791 vested the power to make laws in the
National Assembly, which was indirectly elected. Passive Citizens - Men above 25
years of age, paid taxes equal to at least 3 days of a labourer’s wage. Remaining men
and all women were called as passive citizens.
The Political system under the Constitution of 1791
Constitution began with a
Declaration of the Rights
of Man and Citizen.
Rights such as the right
of life, freedom of
speech, freedom of
opinion, equality before
law, were established as
‘natural and inalienable’
rights, that is they
belonged to each human
being by birth and could
not be taken away. It was
the duty of the state to
protect each citizen’s
Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen
Reading political symbols
The broken chain : Chains were used to fetter slaves.
A broken chain stands for the act of becoming free.
The bundle of rods or fasces : One rod
can be easily broken, but not an entire
bundle. Strength lies in unity.
The eye within a triangle radiating light :
The all- seeing eye stands for knowledge.
The rays of the sun will drive away the
clouds of ignorance.
Sceptre : Symbol of royal
Snake biting its tail to form a ring : Symbol
of Eternity. A ring has neither beginning
Red Phrygian cap : Cap worn by a slave
upon becoming free.
Blue-white-red : The national colours of
The winged woman :
Personification of the law.
The Law Tablet : The law
is the same for all, and all
are equal before it.
Roget de L’Isle chanting - Marseillaise
France Abolishes Monarchy and Becomes a Republic
Although Louis XVI had
signed the Constitution, he
entered into secret
negotiations with the king
of Prussia. The National
Assembly voted in April
1792 to declare war
against Prussia and
Austria. People saw this as
a war of the people against
kings and aristocracies all
over Europe. Among the
patrootic songs they sang
was the Marseillaise,
composed by the poet
Roget de L’Isle. The
Marseillaise is now the
national anthem of France.
Jacobins - A political club which got its
name from the convent of St.Jacob in
Paris. Members belonged mainly to the
less prosperous sections of the society.
Their leader was Maximilian
Robespierre. In addition to the red cap
that symbolised libert, they wore long
striped trousers similar to those worn by
dock workers. On August 10, 1792
Jacobins attacked the Place of the
Tuileries and held the King as hostage.
Elections were held. Newly elected
assembly was called the Convention.
On September 1792 it abolished the
monarchy and declared France
Republic.On January 1793 Louis XVI
was executed publicly on the charge of
A sans – culottes couple
The summer of 1792 the
Jacobins planned an
insurrection of a age
number of Parisians who
were angered by the short
supplies and high prices of
food. On the morning of
August 10 they stormed the
Place of the Tuileries, Later
the Assembly voted
imprison the royal family.
Elections were held. From now all men of 21 years and above, regardless of wealth,
got the right vote. The newly elected assembly was called the Convention. On 21
September 1792 it abolished the monarchy and declared France a republic.
Palace of the Tuileries
Louis XVI was sentenced to death by a court on the
charge of treason. On 21 January 1793 he was executed
publicly at the Place de la Concorde. The queen Marie
Antoinette met with the same fate shortly after.
Louis XVI executed publicly at the Place de la Concorde
The period in between 1793-94 is referred as the “Reign of Terror”.
During this period Robespierre, who was the head of the government of France followed
a policy of severe control and punishment. Ex-nobles and clergy, even members of his
own party who did not agree with his methods were arrested, imprisoned and then
guillotined. France witnessed the guillotine of thousands of nobles and innocent men who
supported monarchy. Robespierre issued laws placing a maximum ceiling on prices.
Churches were shut down. Finally Robespierre was guillotined in July 1794.
The Reign of Terror :
A Directory Rules France :
The reign of terror ended in 1794. The
Jacobin government fell, and a new
constitution was prepared by an
elected convention providing for a
republican form a government with a
legislature and an executive body
called the Directory. Directory was an
executive made up of five members.
Directors often clashed with the
legislative councils, who then sought to
dismiss them. The political instability of
the Directory paved the way for the rise
of a military dictator, Napoleon
Condition of women in Third Estate in France was never good. They had to work for a
living, did not have access to education or job training, had to take care of their families,
their wages were lower than those of men. The Society of Revolutionary and
Republican Women demanded that women enjoy the same political rights as men,
demanded the right to vote, to be elected to the Assembly and to hold political office.
Did Women have a Revolution ?
Parisian women on their way to Versailles
Revolutionary government did provided relaxation to women (creation of state schools,
compulsory schooling, divorce could be applied for by both women and men, training
for jobs etc.) During the Reign of Terror, the new government issued laws ordering
closure of women’s clubs and banning their political activities.
Women’s movements for voting rights and equal wages continued through the next two
hundred years, finally in 1946 women in France won the right to vote.
Female allegory of liberty
Slave trade began in the seventeenth century. Slaves from Africa were brought, and
sold to the plantation owners of Caribbean and America. Port cities like Bordeaux and
Nantes owed their economic prosperity to the flourishing slave trade. The Convention
in 1794 legislated to free all slaves from the French overseas possessions. Napoleon
reintroduced slavery, was finally abolished in French colonies in 1848.
The emancipation of
slaves : The tricolour
banner on top carries
the slogan : The right
of man’. The
reads : ‘The freedom
of the unfree’. A
prepares to ‘civilise’
the African and
slaves by giving them
European clothes to
The Abolition of Slavery
The Revolution and Everyday Life
One important law that come into effect soon after the storming of the Bastille in the
summer of 1789 was the abolition of censorship. The Declaration of the Rights of Man
and Citizen proclaimed freedom of speech and expression to be a natural right.
The patriotic fat-reducing press to make the idea of justice tangible
Newspapers, pamphlets, books and printed pictures flooded the towns of France form
where they traveled rapidly into the countryside. They all described and discussed the
events and changes taking place in France. Freedom of the press also meant that
opposing views of event could be expressed. Plays, songs and festive processions
attracted large numbers of people This was one way they could grasp and identify with
ideas such as liberty or justice that political philosophers wrote about at length in texts
which only a handful of educated people could read.
Marat addressing the people.
In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor of France. He set out to
conquer neighboring European countries, dispossessing dynasties and creating
kingdoms where he placed members of his family. Napoleon saw his role as a
modernizer of Europe. He introduced many laws such as the protection of private
property and a uniform system of weights and measures provided by the decimal
system. Initially, many as Napoleon as a liberator who would bring freedom for the
people. But soon the Napoleonic armies came to be viewed everywhere as an invading
force. He was finally defeated at Waterloo in 1815.
Napoleon crossing the Alps.
Legacy of French Revolution
The ideas of equality (one person-one
vote), freedom from bondage into their
movements to create a sovereign nation
state. In liberty, sovereignty and
democratic rights the throughout the world
during the nineteenth century, where
feudal systems were world. Colonized
peoples reworked the ideas of India, Tipu
Sultan and spread from France to the rest
of Europe also abolished. The Divine
rights of Kings was opposed for the first
time in France only, later on this opposition
spread throughout Rammohan Roy are
two examples of individuals who
responded to the ideas coming from
revolutionary France. The UN charter of
Human Rights also embodies the
principles of the Revolution as laid down in
the Declaration of Rights of Man and