French Revolution, one of the major revolutions in
European history. The revolution marks a turning point in
Frence history and in world history in general. Forms of
government, morals, ideologies, and social development were
greatly affected by it in all Europe and even in U.S.
The beginning of the Frence Revolution in generally
dated from June, 1789. But the crisis in political and
economic affairs in France in that period was so great that
social unrest, rioting, a and rebellion were common for two
years before. The end of the revolutionary perios was
marked by the establishment of the Empire by Napolean in
The basic causes of the French Revolution were rooted
in the rigidities of French society in the 18th century.
Lines of distinction between classes were tightly drawn, and
opportunites for social advancement were very few. The
economy was not growing as fast as it should have been.
Then needs of an increasing population were not being met.
Governmet was inefficient and unrepresentative. Economic
problems made the heavy tax exempt but neary so, while the
peasents and middle classes were subjected to greater and
greater burdens. Crops falied, and trade was stagnant.
The people could no longer be taxed, but the government
faced bankruptcy unless new revenues were found. The only
soulution was to tax the privileged classes. But they were
jealoous of their privileged posistion. Altought they were
not completely unwilling to contribute some additional
taxes, they never understood how grave the economis
crisis was. They say the crises as only some form of
financial corruption that could be explained away by firing
the king's finace ministers. The libiral ideas of the French
Enlightenment had been absorbed by some of the clergy and
the nobility but only by a very few. The upper classes
in France in 1789 were more jealous of their privileges then
they had been at any time in the 100 years before.
When the French aided the Americans during the American
Revolution, they only sent men and ships and guns but lent
saubstantial financial aid as well. As a result, the budget
of the French government was thrown out of balance. When
economic depression in France made the every growing debt
even greater, the state seemed on the verge of bankruptcy.
It was necessary to vote new taxes.
The king's power was not as absoulute as he pretended
it was, and no new taxes could be decreed unless the king's
edicts were registered in the district courts, the
parliaments. Their members were mostly members of the
priviliged classes and were always ready to oppose the
king's measures. Becuase of their continual refusal to
register tax and reform edicts, it was necessary for the
king, Louis XVI, to find some other way of legalizing his
France had never had a parliament exactly like the
British, but it had a similar institution called the States-
General. Unlike the British institution it met very
frequently. The last one had met in 1616. The States-
General was called, and it convened in May, 1789.
The States-General was composed of three houses, or
estates, calles the first, second, and third estates. The
first represented the clerfy; the second, the nobility; and
the third, the middle classes. The third estate contained
as many members as the first and second combined.
When the estates met, the third estate wished to vote
with the first two houses. The clergy and nobility and the
king insisted the houses vote separately. But the third
decided that it was more representative of the French people
than the other two estates and that it was not fair to allow
the first two estates so much power. On June 17, 1789, they
converted themselves into a National Assembly, or
Constituent Assembly, and resolved to draw up a new
consitution for France. The king closed down the hall, but
the members went to a nearyby tennis court and there took an
oath (June 20) not to disband until a constitution was
written. The pressure of public opinion was so much in
their favor that Louis XVI was forced to reconize them,
as he did by the end of the month.
Bad crops and famine conditions contributed to the
unrest. During July there were spotaneous peasant uprisings
all over France. On Jult 14 a Paris mob stormed and
demolished the Bastille, and old fortress housing political
prisoners. On August 4, the assembly, led by certain
enlightened nobles, abolished feudal rights and privileges
with compensation to owners. A few years later the
compensation was also abolished. On August 27 a Declaration
of the Rights of Man, similar to the American Bill of
Rights, was issued. The new constitution was completed by
July, 1790, and the king accepted it. But Louis XVI's
behavior was never consistent. In July, 1791, he tried to
flee the country in order to reconquer it with the aid of
Austrain and Prussian armies. He was caught, however, and
popular feeling ran against him. He now accepted a revised
constitution, in September, 1791, and the assembly
dissolved. A legislative assemble was elected, and it met
from October, 1791, to September, 1792.
The legislative assembly was dominated by the
Girondists, who wished to set up a federal republic. When
the war broke out with Austria in April, 1792, there was no
longer any reason for tolerating Louis XVI. He had plotted
with his wife's family, which ruled Austria, and was now an
enemy of the state.
The National Convention, which reigned from September,
1791, to October, 1795, was the government of the Reign of
Terror. It was the one that executed the king in January,
1793. The convention was ruled by two committees under the
domination of Roberspirre from 1793 to 1794. Robespierre
saw to the execution of his enemies and was rampant, war
was at the doorstep, and bread riots were common. The tide
turned in another direction, and a stronger executive power
in the form of the Dierctory (1795-1799) was set up. A
five-man committe ruled the country. Meanwhile, Napolean was
making his name famous by his military success. Napoleon
allied with two directors in the Directory and with his
btoher Lucien, who was president of the Council of Five
Hundred, and assembly under the Directory. On Nov. 9, 1799,
in the Coup d'Etat de Brumaire he overthrewthe government. A
forn of government modeled on the old Roman type was set up.
Napoleon was elected first consul for ten years. By
1804 Napolean assumed the title of emperor, and absoulute
monarachy was revied.
Microsoft Encarta, 1997
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