The French Revolution

Revolt and Reform

The Storming of the Bastille

A storehouse for large supplies of gunpowder, along with being a notorious prison, the Bastille was a unsurprisingly disliked structure throughout revolutionary Paris in 1789. The people's distaste for the building paired with the increasingly intense atmosphere in which they lived finally exploded on July 14 of that year. A mob of common people formed, and after stealing around 28,000 weapons, but having yet to find any gunpowder for them, they decided to raid the Bastille for the resource. Upon seeing the group of angry people approaching the castle, the man in charge, Marquis de Launay, agreed to a meeting with a few representatives, hoping to stall until reinforcements could arrive. During the negotiations, violence erupted as a group of revolutionaries entered the castle and guards opened fire on the people. After hundreds of deaths, the aforementioned reinforcements arrived, however, they changed the course of history when decided to fight on the side of the revolutionaries. They quickly defeated the guards and at around 4 pm, Marquis de Launay surrendered to the mob. After entering the prison, brutally killing the guards, and releasing the inmates (there were only seven), they beheaded Marquis de Launay and placed his head on a stake, where is was carried around the streets of Paris, showing their victory. This day marks the French Independence Day, and is known as Bastille Day.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man

Issued by the National Assembly on August 26, 1789, just three weeks after the abolition of feudalism in France, the Declaration of the Rights of Man was a document stating all of the rights that the people of France thought that they deserved. Much like the U.S Declaration of Independence, it contained the revolutionary concepts of John Locke and many other enlightenment thinkers. That "all men were born and remain free and equal in rights" was a more significant one of Locke's that was used in the document. Along with it went the belief of "life, liberty, and property" and that the people should be taxed only with their consent. The French people believed that the government should protect all of these rights and more that were a part of the Declaration.

A New Constitution

In 1791, the National Assembly put forth a new constitution for France. This document stated many things, including the creation of a national legislature, known as the Assembly. The Assembly could make laws, collect taxes, and have power over war and peace. This constitution also stated that male citizens who paid taxes would be allowed to elect members of the Assembly. Other rights included the protection of private property, and the support of free trade. It also opposed labor unions and ended guilds. Basically, it exuded the ideas and beliefs of the Enlightenment age.

The Reign of Terror

Claiming close to 40,000 lives of French citizens, the Reign of Terror was by far the bloodiest phase of the French Revolution. It stretched on for about 10 months, from September 5, 1793 to July 27th of the next year. The primary instigator of this act of national terrorism was Maximilien Robespierre, a lawyer, principal member of the Jacobin club, and one of twelve in the Committee of Public Safety. A radical group, the committee's main goal was to protect the ideals of the Revolution, and none took this more seriously than Robespierre. Attacking, at first, only the aristocrats that were partial to the old monarchy and it's ways, he soon changed the criteria to fit any person who showed any hesitation towards the new order. That meant that the list of victims grew to include men, women, and children of all social classes who, many times, were not aware of their offense. This terrible time finally ended with the execution of Robespierre himself on July 27th, 1794.

The Constitution of 1795

The brainchild of moderates in 1795, this new constitution outlined a bicameral government for France, a system that was new to the country. Those appointed to either council had to be elected male citizens who owned property. Along with the two-house legislature, it proposed a 5-man directory made up of government-elected officials. After it was put forth to the National Convention on August 22, 1795, it was accepted on September 23, and its provisions began to be enforced on October 26. Unfortunately, it was doomed to fail as the Directory faced corruption and inefficiency over time. Among their many flaws was the use of violence to control the populace and the execution of women who spoke out concerning their rights. The Directory was finally overthrown at the coup de 'etat due to France's immense debt and Napoleon's heightened popularity.