The French Revolution



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The French Revolution

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The Old Regime (Ancien Regime)

  • Old Regime – socio-political system which existed in most of Europe during the 18th century
  • Countries were ruled by absolutism – the monarch had absolute control over the government
  • Classes of people – privileged and unprivileged
    • Unprivileged people – paid taxes and treated badly
    • Privileged people – did not pay taxes and treated well

Society under the Old Regime

  • In France, people were divided into three estates
    • First Estate
      • High-ranking members of the Church
      • Privileged class
    • Second Estate
      • Nobility
      • Privileged class
    • Third Estate
      • Everyone else – from peasants in the countryside to wealthy bourgeoisie merchants in the cities
      • Unprivileged class

The Three Estates

  • Estate
  • Population
  • Privileges
  • Exemptions
  • Burdens
  • First
  • Circa 130,000
  • High-ranking clergy
  • Collected the tithe
  • Censorship of the press
  • Control of education
  • Kept records of births, deaths, marriages, etc.
  • Catholic faith held honored position of being the state religion (practiced by monarch and nobility)
  • Owned 20% of the land
  • Paid no taxes
  • Subject to Church law rather than civil law
  • Second
  • Circa 110,000
  • Nobles
  • Collected taxes in the form of feudal dues
  • Monopolized military and state appointments
  • Owned 20% of the land
  • Paid no taxes
  • Support the monarchy and Old Regime
  • Third
  • Circa 25,000,000
  • Everyone else: artisans, bourgeoisie, city workers, merchants, peasants, etc., along with many parish priests
  • None
  • None
  • Paid all taxes
  • Tithe (Church tax)
  • Octrot (tax on goods brought into cities)
  • Corvée (forced road work)
  • Capitation (poll tax)
  • Vingtiéme (income tax)
  • Gabelle (salt tax)
  • Taille (land tax)
  • Feudal dues for use of local manor’s winepress, oven, etc.
  • What does this contemporary political cartoon say about conditions in France under the Old Regime?

What the King Did

Economic Conditions under the Old Regime

  • France’s economy was based primarily on agriculture
  • Peasant farmers of France bore the burden of taxation
  • Poor harvests meant that peasants had trouble paying their regular taxes
  • Bourgeoisie often managed to gather wealth
    • But were upset that they paid taxes while nobles did not

France Is Bankrupt

  • The king (Louis XVI) lavished money on himself and residences like Versailles
  • Queen Marie Antoinette was seen as a wasteful spender
  • Government found its funds depleted as a result of wars
    • Including the funding of the American Revolution
  • Deficit spending – a government spending more money than it takes in from tax revenues
  • Privileged classes would not submit to being taxed

Long-term Causes of the French Revolution

Short-term Causes of the French Revolution

Preparing for the Estates-General

  • Winter of 1788-1789
    • Members of the estates elected representatives
  • Cahiers
    • Traditional lists of grievances written by the people
    • Nothing out of the ordinary
      • Asked for only moderate changes

Meeting of the Estates-General: May 5, 1789

  • Voting was conducted by estate
  • ◊ First Estate + ◊ Second Estate - vs. - ◊ Third Estate
  • Representatives from the Third Estate demanded that voting be by population
    • This would give the Third Estate a great advantage
  • Deadlock resulted

Tennis Court Oath

  • Tennis Court Oath by Jacques Louis David

Review Questions

Four Phases (Periods) of the French Revolution

National Assembly (1789-1791)

  • Louis XVI did not actually want a written constitution
  • When news of his plan to use military force against the National Assembly reached Paris on July 14, 1789, people stormed the Bastille

Uprising in Paris

Goodbye, Versailles! Adieu, Versailles!

  • Parisian Commune feared that Louis XVI would have foreign troops invade France to put down the rebellion
    • Louis XVI’s wife, Marie Antoinette, was the sister of the Austrian emperor
  • A group of women attacked Versailles on October 5, 1789
    • Forced royal family to relocate to Paris along with National Assembly
    • Royal family spent next several years in the Tuileries Palace as virtual prisoners

Tuileries Palace (Paris, France)

Changes under the National Assembly

Declaration of the Rights of Man

End of Special Privileges

  • Church lands were seized, divided, and sold to peasants
  • Civil Constitution of the Clergy required that Church officials be elected by the people, with salaries paid by the government
    • 2/3 of Church officials fled the country rather than swear allegiance to this
  • All feudal dues and tithes were eradicated
  • All special privileges of the First and Second Estates were abolished

Reforms in Local Government

  • The 30 provinces and their “petty tyrants” (Intendants) were replaced with 83 new departments
    • Ruled by elected governors
  • New courts, with judges elected by the people, were established

Constitution of 1791

  • Democratic features
    • France became a limited monarchy
    • All laws were created by the Legislative Assembly
    • Feudalism was abolished
  • Undemocratic features
    • Voting was limited to taxpayers
    • Offices were reserved for property owners
  • This new government became known as the Legislative Assembly

Legislative Assembly (1791-1792)

  • Royal family sought help from Austria
    • In June, 1791, they were caught trying to escape to Austria
  • Nobles who fled the revolution lived abroad as émigrés
    • They hoped that, with foreign help, the Old Regime could be restored in France
  • Church officials wanted Church lands, rights, and privileges restored
    • Some devout Catholic peasants also supported the Church
  • Political parties, representing different interests, emerged
    • Girondists
    • Jacobins

Opposition to the New Government

  • European monarchs feared that revolution would spread to their own countries
    • France was invaded by Austrian and Prussian troops
  • In the uproar, the Commune took control of Paris
    • Commune was led by Danton, a member of the Jacobin political party
  • Voters began electing representatives for a new convention which would write a republican constitution for France
    • A republic is a government in which the people elect representatives who will create laws and rule on their behalf
    • Meanwhile, thousands of nobles were executed under the suspicion that they were conspirators in the foreign invasion

Convention (1792-1795)

  • On September 22, 1792, the Convention met for the first time
  • Established the First French Republic
  • Faced domestic opposition and strife
    • Girondists were moderates who represented the rich middle class of the provinces
    • Jacobins (led by Marat, Danton, and Robespierre) represented workers
  • Faced opposition from abroad
    • Austria, England, Holland, Prussia, Sardinia, and Spain formed a Coalition invading France

Abolishment of the Monarchy

  • The Convention abolished the monarchy
    • As long as the royal family lived, the monarchy could be restored
    • Put the royal couple on trial for treason
      • Convictions were a foregone conclusion
    • Louis XVI was guillotined on January 21, 1793
    • Marie Antoinette was guillotined on October 16, 1793
    • Daughter Marie-Thérèse was allowed to go to Vienna in 1795
      • She could not become queen because of Salic law, which did not allow females to succeed to the throne
    • Son Louis-Charles, a.k.a. Louis XVII (lived 1785-1795) was beaten and mistreated until he died in prison

Growing Coalition against the French

  • Convention drafted Frenchmen into the army to defeat the foreign Coalition
    • These troops were led by General Carnot
    • The people supported military operations because they did not want the country back under the Old Regime
  • Rouget de Lisle wrote the “Marseillaise
    • Became the French national anthem
    • Inspired troops as they were led into battle
  • After two years
    • Coalition was defeated
    • France had gained, rather than lost, territory

Reign of Terror: September 5, 1793-July 27, 1794

  • Despite military successes, the Convention continued to face problems domestically
  • Danton and his Jacobin political party came to dominate French politics
  • Committee of Public Safety
    • Headed by Danton (and later Robespierre)
    • Those accused of treason were tried by the Committee’s Revolutionary Tribunal
    • Approximately 15,000 people died on the guillotine
      • Guillotine became known as the “National Razor
      • Including innovative thinkers like Olympe de Gouges and Madame Jeanne Roland

End of the Reign of Terror

  • Members of the Girondist political party tried to end the Reign of Terror initiated by the Jacobin political party
    • This opposition to the Committee of Public Safety caused many Girondists to be tried and executed for treason
  • Eventually, even Georges Danton wanted to end the executions
    • This resulted in Danton being tried and executed for treason
  • Maximilien Robespierre became leader of the Committee of Public Safety
    • He continued the executions
    • Convention came to blame Robespierre for the Reign of Terror
  • Thermidorean Reaction
    • July 27, 1794 – ended the Reign of Terror
    • Convention sent Robespierre and other members of the Committee of Public Safety to the guillotine
      • Robespierre was guillotined on July 28, 1794

Constitution of the Year III of the Republic (1795)

  • With the foreign invaders vanquished and the Reign of Terror at an end, the Convention was finally able to inaugurate its new constitution
  • Constitution of the Year III of the Republic (1795) created the Directory

Government under the Directory

Other Parting Reforms Passed by the Convention

Directory (1795-1799)

Review Questions


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