The French Revolution

In European History

French Revolution Jeff Lewis

Financial Crisis in France

  • By the end of the century France was undergoing serious financial difficulties with an inefficient tax system that failed to collect the money that the government needed to spend

  • The nobility and the clergy who owned most of the land were virtually exempt from paying taxes.

  • The financial troubles were also made larger because France had heavily helped to finance the American Revolution against England. This was a strategic move more than a moral one to get back at their rival, England for the loss of colonial land they had in America.

  • The King attempted on many occasions to fix the financial crisis, however, failed at every attempt. Eventually, France filed for bankruptcy

(Mason, 2011; Green, 2012)

Enlightenment and Hunger

  • During this time, enlightenment thinkers such as Immanuel Kant began to question the whole idea of religion and that the King was given authority by God.

  • The revolution was not primarily about fancy enlightenment ideas, it was primarily about the lack of food and a political system that made economic contractions hardest on the poor.

  • Essentially, the peasants were hungry, the intellectuals were questioning whether God really saves the king, and the nobles were eating up all of the wealth and not paying taxes

(Mason, 2011; Green, 2012)

Failing Monarchy of King Louis XVI

  • Another issue that France faced was the weakness of the monarchy. King Louis the 16th did not have the strength or the leadership that former kings had. He was both weak and ineffectual. He was unable to control his ministers and feuds among ministers made it difficult to deal with the financial crisis of the 1780s

  • Louis the 16th was also increasingly becoming a prisoner of Versailles. He rarely left the Paris area and became increasingly isolated from his subjects and the diverse regions of his kingdom.

(Mason, 2011; Green, 2012)

Reunion of Estates General

  • The financial crisis led Louis to call the reunion of the Estates General of the three different to deal with the financial crisis and issues with taxes. The Estates General was the closest thing that France had to a parliament.

  • This “super-parliament” was made up of representatives from three estates. The first estate, the nobles; the second estate, the clergy; and the third estate, everyone else. After several failed votes everything was deadlocked.

(Mason, 2011; Green, 2012)

Third Estate National Assembly

  • The third estate had enough and said that they would assemble and create their own national government. This did not make King Louis very happy.

  • One of the biggest things that the third estate assembly did was abolish most of the existing regime and unequal taxation and privileges for nobles. They were all abolished in the name of writing a new constitution,

  • Meeting in a nearby tennis court because the doors to their meeting place had been locked, the vowed to not adjourn until France had a new constitution. This was known as the "Tennis Court Oath".

(Mason, 2011; Green, 2012; History, n.d.)

"If the privileged order were abolished, the nation would not be something less but something more”

  • The National Assembly drafted the Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen, however, the King refused to sign it. At the time, they believed that was necessary to make it official.
  • This was an extraordinary move by the National Assembly. It was the first time in France that anyone had considered that power given by the people not by a King through God.
  • These rights were made available to every single person equally and it made these rights integral to the new constitution

(Mason, 2011; Green, 2012; History, n.d.)

The Fall of the Bastille

  • The fall of the Bastille has come to symbolize the beginning of the French Revolution

  • The delegates and citizens in Paris became more and more unruly, Louis sent in troops to the city, however, the National Assembly also armed militias. They were found in a battle where 100 people died, however, the crowd prevailed and managed to seize the Bastille and the weapons within the fortress.

(Mason, 2011; Green, 2012)

June 1791 - A New Constitution

  • France went into a stalemate for two years in which the assembly worked to draft a new constitution and debated the powers of the monarchy.

  • Eventually, the Assembly confiscated all church property in an effort to deal with the financial crisis and created a Constitution of the clergy in which they had to be elected

  • Finally, in June 1791, the new constitution was presented to the public. It would create an elected assembly and would only give the King a suspensive veto.

(History, n.d.)

Women in the Revolution

  • Women played an important role in the French Revolution. For example, they led the march on Versailles to force King Louis back to Paris where he could be more accessible and accountable to the people.

  • Most the leaders of the revolution were men, not women. Women also found unease in the draft of the Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen because it did not include women. The constitution also did not give women the right to an education.

(Mason, 2011; Green, 2012)

Out With the Monarchy!

  • Louis XVI and the national government developed a plan to invade Austria. The idea was to take Austria’s wealth and to free up food supply for France, but what happened is that Prussia joined Austria in fighting the French

  • Louis then encouraged the Prussians which made him look like an enemy of the revolution, which he was, so the assembly suspended the monarchy and established a republican government

(Mason, 2011; Green, 2012)

Loius XVI's Head and Europe in Utter Shock

  • The first order of business was to decide the fate of King Louis. He was sentenced to death by Guillotine, a new invention that has also become a symbol of the French Revolution

  • Britain, Holland, and Spain joined in war against France because of the revolutionary threat to the other monarchies.

(Mason, 2011; Green, 2012)

Committee of Public Safety and The Terror

  • The fall of the monarchy marked the triumph of popular democracy.
  • Robespierre established the Committee of Public Safety which was a brutal force that arrested and killed anyone against the revolution. Over 17,000 lives were claimed during The Terror.
  • Robespierre soon met the Guillotine and the revolutionary dictatorship was dismantled.

(Mason, 2011; Green, 2012; History, n.d.)

Napoleon and Europe

  • Napoleon was a general who became a national hero for leading France to victory against Austria. He quickly rose to power and was elected 1st consul. He later crowned himself Emperor of the French.

  • Napoleon was rather successful, he built armies and managed to control a large portion of Europe. This was the height of the French Empire

  • Napoleon was not necessarily a revolutionary, but he manages to spread the ideals of enlightenment throughout Europe

  • Eventually, his military conquest spread too thin and was defeated and exiled by the European monarchies against France.

(Mason, 2011; Green, 2012)

Restoration of French Bourbon Monarch

  • With the defeat of napoleon, European monarchs sought to establish the French monarchy as it once existed.
  • Louis XVIII, the brother of Loius XVI was placed on the throne.
  • As it was before, a nobility and an established religion returned to France. It in no way was a democracy or a republic

(Mason, 2011; Green, 2012)