Historical Context: Imagine you are a member of the
bourgeoisie who is leading the French Revolution. You
have to make quick decisions for each crisis. After you
read about each real situation below, then the class will
ask any clarifying questions about it, and then you will
write your own solution to the problems presented.
When you are done, the teacher will tell you what really
1789 - The peasants are rebelling, but the bourgeoisie
cannot control them. The peasants think that their right to
freedom means they can do whatever they want since
now they are free from the control of the king. They don’t
know what good rights or bad rights are and have no
understanding of the “social contract”. This is looking
more like the state of nature. What should you do?
The bourgeoisie form the National Assembly and
create the Declaration of the Rights of Man, a
constitution for the French people.
They decide to keep Louis XVI in power as king,
and he has to follow the constitution –
Instead of an Estates-General there is now a
Legislative Assembly, a group of elected officials
that need to approve any laws Louis XVI makes
before they can be passed.
1792 – The bourgeoisie leaders of the revolution are keeping King
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette alive. The National Assembly wrote
a Constitution that made France a constitutional monarchy (where a
King exists and has power to veto (cancel) laws) and set the voting
age at 25, for men only, who own property (so if you don’t own
land, you can’t vote). They had new elections, changed the name of
the government to the Legislative Assembly, and elected new
members. Many of these elected members are Jacobins (an extreme
group of bourgeoisie leaders), led by Maximilien Robespierre who
want to make the voting more fair with universal male suffrage
(meaning all men can vote). But since they are not a majority,
whenever the Jacobins try to pass laws, the King just vetoes them
(does not sign them into law). The King and Queen were also
caught trying to escape from Paris, and even though they were
caught, the Jacobins are furious. Another problem is that the King
and Queen’s relatives in Austria are nervous that the French
Jacobins might execute the King and Queen. They declare that if
anything happens to the Royal Family, there will be consequences.
What should you do?
The Legislative Assembly decides to declare war on
Austria so they don’t have to go back to an absolute
The Jacobins led by Maximilien Robespierre take
over and get rid of the Legislative Assembly and the
monarchy (Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette) to create a
They create the Committee of Public Safety led by
Maximilien Robespierre to find and eliminate
enemies of France & of the revolution.
1793 – The Committee for Public Safety has been
killing thousands of Frenchmen (including King Louis
XVI) because they were supposedly “enemies of the
Revolution”. France is under tight control, but the
Jacobins are making everyone afraid. People are
calling this a “Reign of Terror” because everyone is
afraid of being caught by spies or accused of being an
enemy and executed. The guillotine is a terrible way to
die, and even though many of the people executed are
nobles who tried to restore the monarchy, Robespierre
seems to be out of control. There is also another
problem - Austria, Prussia, Spain, Great Britain, and
the Dutch Republics have declared war on France, and
they are winning these wars. What should you do?
Under Robespierre’s rule the Reign of Terror
occurs. Robespierre had anyone he suspected of
going against him executed.
Robespierre ruled France like a dictator, and was
eventually executed by guillotine.
During this time period many men were
conscripted (forced) into the French military to fight
Austria, making the government very unpopular
and the people very unhappy.
1795 – Robespierre has been killed, and the
“Reign of Terror” is over. Now the “Directory”
is the new government of France – the
executive branch is just 5 men who enforce
the new Constitution. The universal male
suffrage was replaced where only men who
own property can vote again. But they are
mostly rich members of the bourgeoisie who
eliminate controls on prices and start printing
lots of money for themselves. As a result of all
the new money, prices rise, and there are riots
in Paris. What should they do?
The people of France realize the Directory is corrupt
and lose faith in their ability to lead.
The Directory appoints a popular French
General, Napoleon Bonaparte to restore order in Paris
during the riots.
Napoleon successfully restores order to Paris, and goes
off to fight wars throughout the region to help restore
order after all the chaos from the Committee of Public
Safety & Maximilien Robespierre.
The Directory stays in power and continues to rule as
they always have.
1799 – The Directory is out of control – they are not
pleasing anybody. There are still people who support the
monarchy (royalists) who want Louis XVI’s oldest son to
become the King of France under a constitutional
monarchy, and there are more extreme people (radicals)
who see France becoming like Great Britain – where the
wealthy businessmen and bourgeoisie have the real
power because prices are rising and people have fewer
and fewer jobs. The Directory also has to keep fighting
the wars that the Committee for Public Safety
started, which are being won by a strong and popular
General named Napoleon Bonaparte. When Napoleon
wins a battle and gets some more land for France, the
Directory sends unemployed people to go and live on
that land, so Napoleon is one of the only successful parts
of the French government. What should they do?
Napoleon returns from his involvement in foreign
He is seen as a hero, because he helped stop foreign
invasion of France, brought honor, restored
order, and killed a lot of unpopular royalists.
Napoleon sees how popular he is amongst the
French people and how unpopular the Directory
is, so he overthrows the Directory to create a new
government under his leadership.