The French Revolution

By Ryan Dunning

The Causes of the Revolution

In 1787, things were not going well in France. They were in the middle of a financial crisis, which was mostly from the cost of wars that put them in debt (The Seven Year's War and the American Revolutionary War). People in the lower and middle classes were upset with the current government, and interested in new ideas of government. This was because the current system was unfair.


French society was divided into three groups called estates. The first was made mostly up of clergies (people that perform the religious duties), the second estate was made up of nobles, and the third was the common-folk or peasants. The third estate had to pay most of the taxes and do the "dirty work". A lot of the middle class was in the third estate too, and they were upset about that.


The new government ideas that the people had challenged the current absolute monarchy. The third estate believed that the king (Louis XVI) had too much power and that there were too few checks on him. The king wanted to raise taxes to make up for debt, so he had to call a meeting reluctantly.


Then, at the meeting, things started to go wrong. The third estate wanted to create one large estate called the National Assembly and to have a constitution, but the other two estates refused. But, the third estate was larger than the other two combined so the king gave in.


After this, the king gathered troops to disband the national assembly since he did not want it in the first place, and the people heard about this. They rushed to the Bastille for weapons to defend themselves. They began to tear it down.

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Changes in France

Because the king was unable to stop the National Assembly, things started changing:

  • Many uprisings occurred, especially in Paris, and many nobles fled
  • The assembly began changing laws and granting more rights to all citizens
  • They took over the Roman Catholic Church and sold its land to pay off the nation's debt
  • They made a new church and became tolerant to other religions


All of these caused tension between the king and the legislature.

The French Revolt

Invaders began to invade France to restore the king to power, and the king did nothing to stop him. The king was imprisoned for treason. He was then placed on trial for betraying the country and executed.


Many people began to fear a prison uprising, so more than 1,000 prisoners were executed.


The Revolution began to come even crazier with crazy leaders. Hundreds of thousands were jailed. There were thousands of death sentences, which some gave the name the "reign of terror".


Some reforms were attempted, but they mostly failed. Mean while, through all of this, the French had to fight the invaders.


After much more chaos, France finally became a unified state with a strong central government and free society as a result of the revolution. This was after many reform attempts and bloodshed, but it was necessary. Even still, the French Revolution inspired political movements for a long time.

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Phases of the Revolution

  1. 1787-1789: Absolute Monarchy Under Internal Distress
  2. 1789-1792: Constitutional Monarchy
  3. 1792-1795: Militant Democratic Republicanism
  4. 1795-1799: Moderate Republicanism
  5. 1799-1815: Dictatorship, First Disguised As Democracy And Then As An Imperial State (Rise Of Napolean)*


*some references do not consider this part of the revolution

More Insight

  • The French Revolution was not long-considered and intended, but merely a response by a community to a disaster
  • The revolution happened because of internal pressures alone which sets it apart from other revolutions
  • The national assembly would not have succeeded without the economic disaster which disorganized society and made the government unable to do anything