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The French Revolution



Background- King Louis XVI called the Estates General to meet after the Assembly of Notables failed to consent to new taxes.


·        Representatives of the “Estates” gathered instructions/grievances.

·        May, 1789-  the King agreed that the number of Third Estate representatives should equal number of other two. Vote would still be by estate. Third estate objected. Decided to meet separately.

·        Summer, 1789. Third estate formed new National Assembly. King agrees to vote by head, recalls Estates General. Paris revolts. King vacillates. Great tension.

·        August 4-5 some nobles and clergy renounced old rights and privileges. Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen followed shortly thereafter.

·        Over the next two years, the National Assembly destroyed most institutions of the old Regime- feudal system abolished, constitutional government based on democratic principles set up, new constitution written, Catholic church “controlled,” universal suffrage espoused.

·        New constitution was fairly moderate. Radicals on both sides unhappy. Revolutionary leadership falls into more and more radical hands. Much anti-revolution agitation, too.

·        Louis XVI executed in January, 1793. A Republic was declared. The existing moderate constitution and Assembly discredited. The Committee for Public Safety formed in the Spring of 1793.

·        June, 1793-July, 1794 was the most radical and violent period of the revolution. Systematic terror employed on behalf of the Committee for Public Safety. Massive military mobilization- universal conscription first used. Patriotism came to be equated with loyalty to the Revolution.

·        Terror burned out in late summer 1794. The more radical elements of the Revolution which represented the lower classes faded from leadership. The new government was weak. The army (led by Napoleon) was used to subdue the Paris mob and restore order. Universal suffrage abandoned in favor of property-based enfranchisement.

·        By 1799, the Revolution had lost momentum altogether. Public disorder, political corruption and military defeats abroad brought much discontent.

·        The army backed a coup then pushed aside the new government. Napoleon reconciled the state and the church, and avoided factional identification. Only criteria were loyalty to him, and one’s ability.

·        Napoleonic state embodied many principles from earlier Revolution and Enlightenment. Civil Code of 1804. Public schools. Created bank of France, centralized currency and financial policy, etc.

·        Attempted to spread the Revolution abroad