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The French Revolution
Transcript of The French Revolution
In the 1770s the social and political system of France--the Ancient Regime--was firmly in place.. Society was divided into three social classes, or estates. The first two enjoyed many privileges, including exemption from paying taxes. The Third Estate was the largest of the three groups and was burdened with paying almost 100% of the taxes collected in France. Well educated in the ideals of the Enlightenment, the bourgeoisie, who belonged to the Third Estate, began to cry out against the unfair system and injustices they felt were perpetrated by the government. Economic troubles brought on by King Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, combined with Enlightenment beliefs to cause the people to rise against and overthrow the monarchy to the slogan of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity."
The Stage is Set for Revolution
The Storming of the Bastille
July 14, 1789
Third Estate delegates declared themselves a National Assembly and demanded laws be passed to reform France's political system. Rumors spread in Paris that Louis was intent on using military force to dismiss the National Assembly. A mob searching for gunpowder and weapons attacked the Bastille, a Paris prison, and seized control of it. The prison commander and several guards were hacked to death by the attackers. Storming the Bastille was an important step towards revolution because it was a symbolic act for the people--the nobility had used the prison to lock away many people who spoke out against the old order
The Great Fear
Peasants, worried the King would hire outlaws to terrorize them, began a senseless wave of panic that gripped the countryside. Arming themselves with pitchforks and other farm tools, they broke into and destroyed the nobles' manor houses. Women in Paris rioted over the rising cost of bread, a staple in the French diet. They turned their anger on the king and queen and broke into Versailles, demanding that Louis and Marie Antoinette move back to Paris. Louis eventually agreed. The Great Fear was a precursor to the violence that was in store for the French people. Like the Storming of the Bastille, it showed the violent power of the mob over the Ancient Regime as Louis had no choice but to relent to its wishes.
The Rights of Man
August 26, 1789
Soon the National Assembly adopted a statement of revolutionary ideals entitled the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. The document held to Enlightenment philosophy and stated that "men are born and remain free and equal in rights." It also guaranteed equal justice, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. This work was significant because it embodied in writing the revolutionary ideals of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" and attempted to change the government . It gave the people of France hope that the unfairness of the old order would end.
Th e Directory was appointed to keep control of France after the terror ended. However, it quickly lost the confidence of the French people, paving the way for Napoleon Bonaparte to take power. Napoleon was a war hero and loved by the military. He was urged to seize power in a coup d'etat, or "blow to the state." After assuming control of France, Napoleon ended its wars with other European nations and sought to maintain order at home. He eliminated some injustices, but favored order over liberties of speech and religion. While he was not a monarch, the French people ended up right were they began--with one person in control of the country.. Napoleon signaled the end of the revolution and ushered in a period of empire building
for France. .
Napoleon Seizes Power
The Reign of Terror
In the early months of 1793, a leader of the radical Jacobin party, Maximilien Robespierre, slowly gained power. By July he was in charge of all of France and governed virtually as a dictator. Anyone who challenged his leadership was executed by guillotine. This was the bloodiest stage of the revolution as thousands were beheaded. Perhaps the most significant of all the executions were those of Louis XVI and later Marie Antoinette. The monarchy had officially been abolished, however, most of the victims of the terror were the peasants and urban workers of the Third Estate, who the revolution was designed to help most. As the revolution imploded on itself, Robespierre himself was also sentenced to the guillotine.