French Revolution

French Revolution

The French Revolution (1789–1799) was a period of political and social upheaval in the history of France, during which the French governmental structure, previously an absolute monarchy with feudal privileges for the aristocracy and Catholic clergy, underwent radical change to forms based on Enlightenment principles of nationalism, citizenship, and inalienable rights.

These changes were accompanied by violent turmoil, including the trial and execution of the king, vast bloodshed and repression during the Reign of Terror, and warfare involving every other major European power. Subsequent events that can be traced to the Revolution include the Napoleonic Wars, two separate restorations of the monarchy, and two additional revolutions as modern France took shape.

In the following century, France would be governed variously as a republic, dictatorship, constitutional monarchy, and two different empires.


Adherents of most historical models identify many of the same features of the "Ancien Régime" as being among the causes of the Revolution. Economic factors included:
* Widespread famine and malnutrition, which increased the likelihood of disease and death, and intentional starvation in the most destitute segments of the population in the months immediately before the Revolution. The famine extended even to other parts of Europe, and was not helped by a poor transportation infrastructure for bulk foods. (Some researchers have also attributed the widespread famine to an El Niño effect, [A recent study of El Niño patterns suggests that the poor crop yields of 1788–1789 in Europe resulted from an unusually strong El Niño effect between 1789 and 1793. Richard H. Grove, “Global Impact of the 1789–93 El Niño,” "Nature" 393 (1998), 318–319.] or colder climate of the little ice age combined with France's failure to adopt the potato as a staple crop [ [ Little Ice age: Big Chill] . [ History Channel] .] )
* Louis XV fought many wars, bringing France to the verge of bankruptcy, and Louis XVI supported the colonists during the American Revolution, exacerbating the precarious financial condition of the government. The national debt amounted to almost 2 billion livres. The social burdens caused by war included the huge war debt, made worse by the monarchy's military failures and ineptitude, and the lack of social services for war veterans.
* An inefficient and antiquated financial system unable to manage the national debt, both caused and exacerbated by the burden of a grossly inequitable system of taxation.
* The continued conspicuous consumption of the noble class, especially the court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette at Versailles, despite the financial burden on the populace.
* High unemployment and high bread prices, causing more money to be spent on food and less in other areas of the economy.
* The Roman Catholic Church, the largest landowner in the country, which levied a tax on crops known as the "dime" or tithe. While the "dîme" lessened the severity of the monarchy's tax increases, it worsened the plight of the poorest who faced a daily struggle with malnutrition.
* No internal trade and too many customs barriers Fact|date=February 2008

There were also social and political factors, many of which involved resentments and aspirations given focus by the rise of Enlightenment ideals:
* Resentment of royal absolutism.
* Resentment by the ambitious professional and mercantile classes towards noble privileges and dominance in public life, many of whom were familiar with the lives of their peers in commercial cities in The Netherlands and Great Britain.
* Resentment by peasants, wage-earners, and the bourgeoisie toward the traditional seigneurial privileges possessed by nobles.
* Resentment of clerical privilege (anti-clericalism) and aspirations for freedom of religion, and resentment of aristocratic bishops by the poorer rural clergy.
* Continued hatred for Catholic control and influence on institutions of all kinds, by the large Protestant minorities.
* Aspirations for liberty and (especially as the Revolution progressed) republicanism.
* Anger toward the King for firing Jacques Necker and A.R.J. Turgot (among other financial advisors), who were popularly seen as representatives of the people. [cite book|title=The Oxford History of the French Revolution|author=Doyle, William|year=1989|page=pp.73-74]

Finally, perhaps above all, was the almost total failure of Louis XVI and his advisers to deal effectively with any of these problems.

Estates-General of 1789

The immediate trigger for the Revolution was King Louis XVI’s attempts to solve the government’s worsening financial situation. In February 1787, his finance minister, Loménie de Brienne, convened an Assembly of Notables, a group of nobles, clergy, bourgeoisie, and bureaucrats selected in order to bypass the "parlements", special courts with the power to register royal edicts, who saw themselves as upholders of traditional constitutional constraints on the monarchy. The Controller-General of Finances, Charles Alexandre de Calonne, asked the Notables to approve a new land tax that would, for the first time, include a tax on the property of nobles and clergy. The assembly did not approve the tax, but instead demanded that Louis XVI call the Estates-General, a representative assembly of the estates of the realm, last called in 1614. On 8 August 1788, the King agreed to convene the Estates-General in May of 1789. By this time, Jacques Necker was in his second turn as finance minister.

As part of the preparations for the Estates-General, "cahiers de doléances" (books of grievances) were drawn up across France, listing the complaints of each of the orders. This process helped to generate an expectation of reform of some kind.

There was growing concern, however, that the government would attempt to gerrymander an assembly to its liking. To avoid this, the "parlement" of Paris proclaimed that the Estates-General would have to meet according to the forms observed at its last meeting. Although it would appear that the magistrates were not specifically aware of the "forms of 1614" when they made this decision, this provoked an uproar. The 1614 Estates had consisted of equal numbers of representatives of each estate, and voting had been by order, with the First Estate (the clergy), the Second Estate (the nobility), and the Third Estate (the remainder of the population) each estate receiving one vote.

Almost immediately the "Committee of Thirty", a body of liberal Parisians, began to agitate against voting by order, arguing for a doubling of the Third Estate and voting by headcount (as had already been done in various provincial assemblies, such as Grenoble). Necker agreed that the size of the Third Estate should be doubled, but the question of voting by headcount was left for the meeting of the Estates themselves. Fueled by these disputes, resentment between liberal reformers and government supporters began to grow.

Pamphlets and works by liberal nobles and clergy, including the comte d'Antraigues and the Abbé Sieyès, argued the importance of the Third Estate. As Antraigues wrote, it was "the People, and the People is the foundation of the State; it is in fact the State itself". Sieyès' famous pamphlet "Qu'est-ce que le tiers état?" ("What is the Third Estate?"), published in January 1789, took the argument a step further: "What is the Third Estate? Everything. What has it been until now in the political order? Nothing. What does it want to be? Something." [cite book|title=Revolutionary France, 1770-1880|author=Furet, François|year=1992|page=p.45]

When the Estates-General convened in Versailles on 5 May 1789, lengthy speeches by Necker and Lamoignon, the keeper of the seals, did little to give guidance to the deputies, who were sent to separate meeting places to credential their members. The question of whether voting was ultimately to be by head or by order was again put aside for the moment, but the Third Estate now demanded that credentialing itself should take place as a group. Negotiations with the other two estates to achieve this, however, were unsuccessful, as a bare majority of the clergy and a large majority of the nobility continued to support voting by order.

National Assembly (1789)

On 10 June 1789 Abbé Sieyès moved that the Third Estate, now meeting as the "Communes" (English: "Commons"), proceed with verification of its own powers and invite the other two estates to take part, but not to wait for them. They proceeded to do so two days later, completing the process on 17 June. [John Hall Stewart. "A Documentary Survey of the French Revolution". New York: Macmillan, 1951, p. 86.] Then they voted a measure far more radical, declaring themselves the National Assembly, an assembly not of the Estates but of "the People." They invited the other orders to join them, but made it clear they intended to conduct the nation's affairs with or without them.

In an attempt to keep control of the process and prevent the Assembly from convening, Louis XVI ordered the closure of the Salle des États where the Assembly met, making an excuse that the carpenters needed to prepare the hall for a royal speech in two days. Weather did not allow an outdoor meeting, so the Assembly moved their deliberations to a nearby indoor real tennis court, where they proceeded to swear the Tennis Court Oath (20 June 1789), under which they agreed not to separate until they had given France a constitution. A majority of the representatives of the clergy soon joined them, as did 47 members of the nobility. By 27 June the royal party had overtly given in, although the military began to arrive in large numbers around Paris and Versailles. Messages of support for the Assembly poured in from Paris and other French cities. On 9 July the Assembly reconstituted itself as the National Constituent Assembly.

National Constituent Assembly (1789–1791)

torming of the Bastille

By this time, Necker had earned the enmity of many members of the French court for his support and guidance to the Third Estate. Marie Antoinette, the King's younger brother the Comte d'Artois, and other conservative members of the King's privy council urged him to dismiss Necker. On 11 July, after Necker suggested that the royal family live according to a budget to conserve funds, the King fired him, and completely reconstructed the finance ministry at the same time.

Many Parisians presumed Louis's actions to be the start of a royal coup by the conservatives and began open rebellion when they heard the news the next day. They were also afraid that arriving soldiers - mostly foreigners under French service rather than native French troops - had been summoned to shut down the National Constituent Assembly. The Assembly, meeting at Versailles, went into nonstop session to prevent eviction from their meeting place once again. Paris was soon consumed with riots, chaos, and widespread looting. The mobs soon had the support of the French Guard, including arms and trained soldiers, and the royal leadership essentially abandoned the city.

On 14 July, the insurgents set their eyes on the large weapons and ammunition cache inside the Bastille fortress, which also served as a symbol of tyranny by the monarchy. After several hours of combat, the prison fell that afternoon. Despite ordering a cease fire, which prevented a mutual massacre, Governor Marquis Bernard de Launay was beaten, stabbed and decapitated; his head was placed on a pike and paraded about the city. Although the Parisians released only seven prisoners (four forgers, two noblemen kept for immoral behavior, and a murder suspect), the Bastille served as a potent symbol of everything hated under the "Ancien Régime". Returning to the Hôtel de Ville (city hall), the mob accused the "prévôt des marchands" (roughly, mayor) Jacques de Flesselles of treachery; his assassination took place "en route" to an ostensible trial at the Palais Royal.

The King and his military supporters backed down, at least for the time being. La Fayette took up command of the National Guard at Paris. Jean-Sylvain Bailly, president of the Assembly at the time of the Tennis Court Oath, became the city's mayor under a new governmental structure known as the "commune". The King visited Paris, where, on 27 July he accepted a tricolore cockade, as cries of "Vive la Nation" "Long live the Nation" changed to "Vive le Roi" "Long live the King".

Necker was recalled to power, but his triumph was short-lived. An astute financier but a less astute politician, Necker overplayed his hand by demanding and obtaining a general amnesty, losing much of the people's favour. He also felt he could save France all by himself, despite having few ideas.

Nobles were not assured by this apparent reconciliation of King and people. They began to flee the country as "émigrés", some of whom began plotting civil war within the kingdom and agitating for a European coalition against France.

By late July, insurrection and the spirit of popular sovereignty spread throughout France. In rural areas, many went beyond this: some burned title-deeds and no small number of châteaux, as part of a general agrarian insurrection known as "la Grande Peur" (the Great Fear). In addition, plotting at Versailles and the large numbers of men on the roads of France as a result of unemployment led to wild rumours and paranoia (particularly in the rural areas) that caused widespread unrest and civil disturbances and contributed to the Great Fear (Hibbert, 93).

Working toward a Constitution

On 4 August 1789 the National Constituent Assembly abolished feudalism, in what is known as the August Decrees, sweeping away both the seigneurial rights of the Second Estate and the tithes gathered by the First Estate. In the course of a few hours, nobles, clergy, towns, provinces, companies, and cities lost their special privileges.

Looking to the Declaration of Independence of the United States for a model, on 26 August 1789, the Assembly published the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Like the U.S. Declaration, it comprised a statement of principles rather than a constitution with legal effect. The National Constituent Assembly functioned not only as a legislature, but also as a body to draft a new constitution.

Necker, Mounier, Lally-Tollendal and others argued unsuccessfully for a senate, with members appointed by the crown on the nomination of the people. The bulk of the nobles argued for an aristocratic upper house elected by the nobles. The popular party carried the day: France would have a single, unicameral assembly. The King retained only a "suspensive veto"; he could delay the implementation of a law, but not block it absolutely. The Assembly eventually replaced the historic provinces with 83 "départements", uniformly administered and roughly equal in area and population.

Originally summoned to deal with a financial crisis, by late 1789, the Assembly had focused on other matters and only worsened the deficit. Honoré Mirabeau now led the move to address this matter, and the Assembly gave Necker complete financial dictatorship.

Women's March on Versailles

Fueled by rumors of a reception by the King's bodyguards 1 October 1789 in which the national cockade had been trampled upon, on 5 October 1789 crowds of women began to assemble at Parisian markets. The women first marched to the Hôtel de Ville, demanding that city officials address their concerns. [cite book|author=Doyle, William|title=The Oxford History of the French Revolution|year=1989|page=p.121] The women were responding to the harsh economic situations they faced, especially bread shortages. They also demanded an end to Royalist efforts to block the National Assembly, and for the King and his administration to move to Paris as a sign of good faith in addressing the widespread poverty.

Getting unsatisfactory responses from city officials, as many as 7,000 women joined the march to Versailles, bringing with them pieces of cannon and a variety of smaller weapons. Twenty thousand National Guardsmen under the command of La Fayette responded to keep order, and members of the mob stormed the palace, killing two guards. [cite book|author=Doyle, William|title=The Oxford History of the French Revolution|year=1989|page=p.122] La Fayette ultimately convinced the king to accede to the demand of the crowd that the monarchy relocate to Paris.

On 6 October 1789, the King and the royal family moved from Versailles to Paris under the protection of the National Guards, thus legitimizing the National Assembly.

Revolution and the Church

The Revolution brought about a massive shifting of powers from the Roman Catholic Church to the state. Under the "Ancien Régime", the Church had been the largest landowner in the country. Legislation enacted in 1790 abolished the Church's authority to levy a tax on crops, known as the "dîme", cancelled special privileges for the clergy, and confiscated Church property. To no small extent, the Assembly addressed the financial crisis by having the nation take over the property of the Church (while taking on the Church's expenses), through the law of 2 December 1789. In order to rapidly monetize such an enormous amount of property, the government introduced a new paper currency, "assignats", backed by the confiscated church lands. Further legislation on 13 February 1790 abolished monastic vows. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, passed on 12 July 1790 (although not signed by the King until 26 December 1790), turned the remaining clergy into employees of the State and required that they take an oath of loyalty to the constitution, taking Gallicanism to its logical conclusion by making the Catholic Church in France a department of the state, and clergy state employees.

In response to this legislation, the archbishop of Aix and François de Bonal, the bishop of Clermont, led a walkout of clergy from the National Constituent Assembly. The pope never accepted the new arrangement, and it led to a schism between those clergy who swore the required oath and accepted the new arrangement ("jurors" or "constitutional clergy") and the "non-jurors" or "refractory priests" who refused to do so. The ensuing years saw violent repression of the clergy, including the imprisonment and massacre of priests throughout France. The Concordat of 1801 between Napoleon and the Church ended the dechristianisation period and established the rules for a relationship between the Catholic Church and the French State that lasted until it was abrogated by the Third Republic via the separation of church and state on 11 December 1905.

Appearance of Factions

Factions within the Assembly began to clarify. The aristocrat Jacques Antoine Marie de Cazalès and the abbé Jean-Sifrein Maury led what would become known as the right wing, the opposition to revolution (this party sat on the right-hand side of the Assembly). The "Royalist democrats" or "monarchiens", allied with Necker, inclined toward organising France along lines similar to the British constitutional model; they included Jean Joseph Mounier, the Comte de Lally-Tollendal, the comte de Clermont-Tonnerre, and Pierre Victor Malouet, comte de Virieu.

The "National Party", representing the centre or centre-left of the assembly, included Honoré Mirabeau, La Fayette, and Bailly; while Adrien Duport, Barnave and Alexandre Lameth represented somewhat more extreme views. Almost alone in his radicalism on the left was the Arras lawyer Maximilien Robespierre. Abbé Sieyès led in proposing legislation in this period and successfully forged consensus for some time between the political centre and the left. In Paris, various committees, the mayor, the assembly of representatives, and the individual districts each claimed authority independent of the others. The increasingly middle-class National Guard under La Fayette also slowly emerged as a power in its own right, as did other self-generated assemblies.

Intrigues and Radicalism

The Assembly abolished the symbolic paraphernalia of the "Ancien Régime" - armorial bearings, liveries, etc., which further alienated the more conservative nobles, and added to the ranks of the "émigrés". On 14 July 1790, and for several days following, crowds in the Champ de Mars celebrated the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille with a "Fête de la Fédération"; Talleyrand performed a mass; participants swore an oath of "fidelity to the nation, the law, and the king"; and the King and the royal family actively participated.

The electors had originally chosen the members of the Estates-General to serve for a single year. However, by the terms of the Tennis Court Oath, the "communes" had bound themselves to meet continuously until France had a constitution. Right-wing elements now argued for a new election, but Mirabeau carried the day, asserting that the status of the assembly had fundamentally changed, and that no new election should take place before completing the constitution.

In late 1790, several small counter-revolutionary uprisings broke out and efforts took place to turn all or part of the army against the Revolution. These uniformly failed. The royal court "encouraged every anti-revolutionary enterprise and avowed none."cite book|author=Mignet, François|title=Histoire de la Révolution française|year=1824|page=Chapter III]

The army faced considerable internal turmoil: General Bouillé successfully put down a small rebellion, which added to his (accurate) reputation for counter-revolutionary sympathies. The new military code, under which promotion depended on seniority and proven competence (rather than on nobility) alienated some of the existing officer corps, who joined the ranks of the émigrés or became counter-revolutionaries from within.

This period saw the rise of the political "clubs" in French politics, foremost among these the Jacobin Club: according to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, 152 clubs had affiliated with the Jacobins by 10 August 1790. As the Jacobins became more of a broad popular organisation, some of its founders abandoned it to form the Club of '89. Royalists established first the short-lived "Club des Impartiaux" and later the "Club Monarchique". The latter attempted unsuccessfully to curry public favour by distributing bread. Nonetheless, they became the frequent target of protests and even riots, and the Paris municipal authorities finally closed down the Club Monarchique in January 1791.

Amidst these intrigues, the Assembly continued to work on developing a constitution. A new judicial organisation made all magistracies temporary and independent of the throne. The legislators abolished hereditary offices, except for the monarchy itself. Jury trials started for criminal cases. The King would have the unique power to propose war, with the legislature then deciding whether to declare war. The Assembly abolished all internal trade barriers and suppressed guilds, masterships, and workers' organisations: any individual gained the right to practice a trade through the purchase of a license; strikes became illegal.

In the winter of 1791, the Assembly considered, for the first time, legislation against the "émigrés". The debate pitted the safety of the State against the liberty of individuals to leave. Mirabeau carried the day against the measure, which he referred to as "worthy of being placed in the code of Draco". But Mirabeau died on 2 April 1791. In Mignet's words, "No one succeeded him in power and popularity" and, before the end of the year, the new Legislative Assembly would adopt this "draconian" measure.

Royal flight to Varennes

Louis XVI, opposed to the course of the Revolution, but rejecting the potentially treacherous aid of the other monarchs of Europe, cast his lot with General Bouillé, who condemned both the emigration and the assembly, and promised him refuge and support in his camp at Montmédy. On the night of 20 June 1791 the royal family fled the Tuileries wearing the clothes of servants, while their servants dressed as nobles.

However, the next day the King was recognised and arrested at Varennes (in the Meuse "département") late on 21 June. He and his family were paraded back to Paris under guard, still dressed as servants. Pétion, Latour-Maubourg, and Antoine Pierre Joseph Marie Barnave, representing the Assembly, met the royal family at Épernay and returned with them. From this time, Barnave became a counselor and supporter of the royal family. When they reached Paris, the crowd remained silent. The Assembly provisionally suspended the King. He and Queen Marie Antoinette remained held under guard.

Completing the Constitution

As most of the Assembly still favoured a constitutional monarchy rather than a republic, the various groupings reached a compromise which left Louis XVI as little more than a figurehead: he had perforce to swear an oath to the constitution, and a decree declared that retracting the oath, heading an army for the purpose of making war upon the nation, or permitting anyone to do so in his name would amount to "de facto" abdication.

Jacques Pierre Brissot drafted a petition, insisting that in the eyes of the nation Louis XVI was deposed since his flight. An immense crowd gathered in the Champ de Mars to sign the petition. Georges Danton and Camille Desmoulins gave fiery speeches. The Assembly called for the municipal authorities to "preserve public order". The National Guard under La Fayette's command confronted the crowd. The soldiers first responded to a barrage of stones by firing in the air; but the crowd did not back down, and La Fayette ordered his men to fire into the crowd, thus killing as many as 50 people.

In the wake of this massacre the authorities closed many of the patriotic clubs, as well as radical newspapers such as Jean-Paul Marat's "L'Ami du Peuple". Danton fled to England; Desmoulins and Marat went into hiding.

Meanwhile, a new threat arose from abroad: Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, Frederick William II of Prussia, and the King's brother Charles-Philippe, comte d'Artois issued the Declaration of Pillnitz which considered the cause of Louis XVI as their own, demanded his total liberty and the dissolution of the Assembly, and promised an invasion of France on his behalf if the revolutionary authorities refused its conditions.

If anything, the declaration further imperiled Louis. The French people expressed no respect for the dictates of foreign monarchs, and the threat of force merely caused the militarisation of the frontiers.

Even before his "Flight to Varennes", the Assembly members had determined to debar themselves from the legislature that would succeed them, the Legislative Assembly. They now gathered the various constitutional laws they had passed into a single constitution, showed remarkable strength in choosing not to use this as an occasion for major revisions, and submitted it to the recently restored Louis XVI, who accepted it, writing "I engage to maintain it at home, to defend it from all attacks from abroad, and to cause its execution by all the means it places at my disposal". The King addressed the Assembly and received enthusiastic applause from members and spectators. The Assembly set the end of its term for 29 September 1791.

Mignet argued that the "constitution of 1791... was the work of the middle class, then the strongest; for, as is well known, the predominant force ever takes possession of institutions... In this constitution the people was the source of all powers, but it exercised none." [cite book|author=Mignet, François|title=Histoire de la Révolution française|year=1824|page=Chapter IV]

Legislative Assembly (1791–1792)

Under the Constitution of 1791, France would function as a constitutional monarchy. The King had to share power with the elected Legislative Assembly, but he still retained his royal veto and the ability to select ministers. The Legislative Assembly first met on 1 October 1791, and degenerated into chaos less than a year later. In the words of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica: "In the attempt to govern, the Assembly failed altogether. It left behind an empty treasury, an undisciplined army and navy, and a people debauched by safe and successful riot." The Legislative Assembly consisted of about 165 Feuillants (constitutional monarchists) on the right, about 330 Girondists (liberal republicans) and Jacobins (radical revolutionaries) on the left, and about 250 deputies unaffiliated with either faction. Early on, the King vetoed legislation that threatened the "émigrés" with death and that decreed that every non-juring clergyman must take within eight days the civic oath mandated by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Over the course of a year, disagreements like this would lead to a constitutional crisis, leading the Revolution to higher levels.

War (1792–1797)

The politics of the period inevitably drove France towards war with Austria and its allies. The King, the Feuillants and the Girondins specifically wanted to wage war. The King (and many Feuillants with him) expected war would increase his personal popularity; he also foresaw an opportunity to exploit any defeat: either result would make him stronger. The Girondins wanted to export the Revolution throughout Europe and, by extension, to defend the Revolution within France. Only some of the radical Jacobins opposed war, preferring to consolidate and expand the Revolution at home. The Austrian emperor Leopold II, brother of Marie Antoinette, may have wished to avoid war, but he died on 1 March 1792. France declared war on Austria (20 April 1792) and Prussia joined on the Austrian side a few weeks later. The invading Prussian army faced little resistance until checked at the Battle of Valmy (20 September 1792), and forced to withdraw. However, by this time, France stood in turmoil and the monarchy had effectively become a thing of the past.

Constitutional crisis

:"Main articles: 10th of August (French Revolution), September Massacres"

On the night of 10 August 1792, insurgents, supported by a new revolutionary Paris Commune, assailed the Tuileries. The King and queen ended up prisoners and a rump session of the Legislative Assembly suspended the monarchy: little more than a third of the deputies were present, almost all of them Jacobins.

What remained of a national government depended on the support of the insurrectionary Commune. The Commune sent gangs into the prisons to try arbitrarily and butcher 1400 victims, and addressed a circular letter to the other cities of France inviting them to follow this example. The Assembly could offer only feeble resistance. This situation persisted until the Convention, charged with writing a new constitution, met on 20 September 1792 and became the new "de facto" government of France. The next day it abolished the monarchy and declared a republic. This date was later retroactively adopted as the beginning of Year One of the French Republican Calendar.

National Convention (1792–1795)

In the Brunswick Manifesto, the Imperial and Prussian armies threatened retaliation on the French population if it were to resist their advance or the reinstatement of the monarchy. This made Louis appear to be conspiring with the enemies of France. 17 January 1793 saw Louis condemned to death for "conspiracy against the public liberty and the general safety" by a close majority in Convention: 361 voted to execute the king, 288 voted against, and another 72 voted to execute him subject to a variety of delaying conditions. [William Doyle, "The Oxford History of the French Revolution", London: Oxford University Press (2002), p. 196.] The 21 January execution led to more wars with other European countries. Louis' Austrian-born queen, Marie Antoinette, would follow him to the guillotine on 16 October.

When war went badly, prices rose and the "sans-culottes" — poor labourers and radical Jacobins — rioted; counter-revolutionary activities began in some regions. This encouraged the Jacobins to seize power through a parliamentary "coup", backed up by force effected by mobilising public support against the Girondist faction, and by utilising the mob power of the Parisian "sans-culottes". An alliance of Jacobin and "sans-culottes" elements thus became the effective centre of the new government. Policy became considerably more radical.

Reign of Terror

The Committee of Public Safety came under the control of Maximilien Robespierre, a lawyer, and the Jacobins unleashed the Reign of Terror (1793-1794). According to archival records, at least 16,594 people died under the guillotine or otherwise after accusations of counter-revolutionary activities.cite book|author=Gough, Hugh|title=The Terror in the French Revolution|year=1998|page=p.77] A number of historians note that as many as 40,000 accused prisoners may have been summarily executed without trial or died awaiting trial. [cite book|author=Doyle, William|title=The Oxford History of the French Revolution|year=1989|page=p.258] The slightest hint of counter-revolutionary thoughts or activities (or, as in the case of Jacques Hébert, revolutionary zeal exceeding that of those in power) could place one under suspicion, and trials did not always proceed according to contemporary standards of due process.

On 2 June, Paris sections — encouraged by the "enragés" ("enraged ones") Jacques Roux and Jacques Hébert — took over the Convention, calling for administrative and political purges, a low fixed price for bread, and a limitation of the electoral franchise to "sans-culottes" alone. With the backing of the National Guard, they managed to convince the Convention to arrest 31 Girondin leaders, including Jacques Pierre Brissot. Following these arrests, the Jacobins gained control of the Committee of Public Safety on 10 June, installing the "revolutionary dictatorship". On 13 July, the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat—a Jacobin leader and journalist known for his bloodthirsty rhetoric—by Charlotte Corday, a Girondin, resulted in further increase of Jacobin political influence. Georges Danton, the leader of the August 1792 uprising against the King, having the image of a man who enjoyed luxuries, was removed from the Committee and on 27 July, Robespierre, "the Incorruptible", made his entrance, quickly becoming the most influential member of the Committee as it moved to take radical measures against the Revolution's domestic and foreign enemies.

Meanwhile, on 24 June, the Convention adopted the first republican constitution of France, variously referred to as the French Constitution of 1793 or Constitution of the Year I. It was ratified by public referendum, but never applied, because normal legal processes were suspended before it could take effect.

In Vendée, peasants revolted against the French Revolutionary government in 1793. They resented the changes imposed on the Roman Catholic Church by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (1790) and broke into open revolt in defiance of the Revolutionary government's military conscription. [ [ In a Corner of France, Long Live the Old Regime] , New York Times] This became a guerrilla war, known as the Revolt in the Vendée, led at the outset by an underground faction called the Chouans. [McPhee, Peter [ Review of Reynald Secher, A French Genocide: The Vendée] H-France Review Vol. 4 (March 2004), No. 26 ]

Facing local revolts and foreign invasions in both the East and West of the country, the most urgent government business was the war. On 17 August, the Convention voted for general conscription, the "levée en masse", which mobilized all citizens to serve as soldiers or suppliers in the war effort. On 5 September, the Convention, pressured by the people of Paris, institutionalized The Terror: systematic and lethal repression of perceived enemies within the country.

The result was a policy through which the state used violent repression to crush resistance to the government. Under control of the effectively dictatorial Committee, the Convention quickly enacted more legislation. On 9 September, the Convention established "sans-culottes" paramilitary forces, the "revolutionary armies", to force farmers to surrender grain demanded by the government. On 17 September, the "Law of Suspects" was passed, which authorized the charging of counter-revolutionaries with vaguely defined crimes against liberty. On 29 September, the Convention extended price-fixing from grain and bread to other essential goods, and also fixed wages.

The guillotine became the symbol of a string of executions: Louis XVI had already been guillotined before the start of the terror; Queen Marie Antoinette, the Girondins, Philippe Égalité (despite his vote for the death of the King), Madame Roland and many others were executed by guillotine. The Revolutionary Tribunal summarily condemned thousands of people to death by the guillotine, while mobs beat other victims to death. Sometimes people died for their political opinions or actions, but many for little reason beyond mere suspicion, or because some others had a stake in getting rid of them. Most of the victims received an unceremonious trip to the guillotine in an open wooden cart (the tumbrel). Loaded onto these carts, the victims would proceed through throngs of jeering men and women.

Another anti-clerical uprising was made possible by the installment of the Revolutionary Calendar on 24 October. Against Robespierre's concepts of Deism and Virtue, Hébert's (and Chaumette's) atheist movement initiated a religious campaign to dechristianize society. The climax was reached with the celebration of the Goddess "Reason" in Notre Dame Cathedral on 10 November.

The Reign of Terror enabled the revolutionary government to avoid military defeat. The Jacobins expanded the size of the army, and Carnot replaced many aristocratic officers with younger soldiers who had demonstrated their ability and patriotism. The Republican army was able to throw back the Austrians, Prussians, British, and Spanish. At the end of 1793, the army began to prevail and revolts were defeated with ease. The Ventôse Decrees (February–March 1794) proposed the confiscation of the goods of exiles and opponents of the Revolution, and their redistribution to the needy.

Because dissent was now regarded as counterrevolutionary, extremist "enragés" such as Hébert and moderate Montagnard "indulgents" such as Danton were guillotined in the spring of 1794. On 7 June Robespierre, who had previously condemned the "Cult of Reason", advocated a new state religion and recommended that the Convention acknowledge the existence of God. On the next day, the worship of the deistic "Supreme Being" was inaugurated as an official aspect of the Revolution. Compared with Hébert's popular festivals, this austere new religion of Virtue was received with signs of hostility by an amazed Parisian public.

In 1794, Robespierre had ultra-radicals and moderate Jacobins executed, markedly eroding his own popular support. On 27 July 1794, the Thermidorian Reaction led to the arrest and execution of Robespierre and Louis de Saint-Just. The new government was predominantly made up of Girondists who had survived the Terror, and after taking power, they took revenge as well by persecuting even those Jacobins who had helped to overthrow Robespierre, banning the Jacobin Club, and executing many of its former members in what was known as the White Terror.

In the wake of excesses of the Terror, the Convention approved the new "Constitution of the Year III" on 22 August 1795. A French plebiscite ratified the document, with about 1,057,000 votes for the constitution and 49,000 against.cite book|author=Doyle, William|title=The Oxford History of the French Revolution|year=1989|page=p.320] The results of the voting were announced on 23 September 1795, and the new constitution took effect on 27 September 1795.

The Directory (1795–1799)

The new constitution created the "Directoire" ( _en. Directory) and the first bicameral legislature in French history. The parliament consisted of 500 representatives — "le Conseil des Cinq-Cents" (the Council of the Five Hundred) — and 250 senators — "le Conseil des Anciens" (the Council of Elders). Executive power went to five "directors," named annually by the "Conseil des Anciens" from a list submitted by the "le Conseil des Cinq-Cents".

With the establishment of the Directory, contemporary observers might have assumed that the Revolution was finished. Citizens of the war-weary nation wanted stability, peace, and an end to conditions that at times bordered on chaos. Those who wished to restore Louis XVIII and the "Ancien Régime" and those who would have renewed the Reign of Terror were insignificant in number. The possibility of foreign interference had vanished with the failure of the First Coalition. Nevertheless, the four years of the Directory were a time of arbitrary government and chronic disquiet. The earlier atrocities had made confidence or goodwill between parties impossible. The same instinct of self-preservation which had led the members of the Convention to claim so large a part in the new legislature and the whole of the Directory impelled them to keep their predominance.

As many French citizens distrusted the Directory, [cite book|author=Doyle, William|title=The Oxford History of the French Revolution|year=1989|page=p.331] the directors could achieve their purposes only by extraordinary means. They habitually disregarded the terms of the constitution, and, even when the elections that they rigged went against them, [cite book|author=Doyle, William|title=The Oxford History of the French Revolution|year=1989|page=p.332] the directors routinely used draconian police measures to quell dissent. Moreover, the Directory used war as the best expedient for prolonging their power, and the directors were thus driven to rely on the armies, which also desired war and grew less and less civic-minded.

Other reasons influenced them in this direction. State finances during the earlier phases of the Revolution had been so thoroughly ruined that the government could not have met its expenses without the plunder and the tribute of foreign countries. If peace were made, the armies would return home and the directors would have to face the exasperation of the rank-and-file who had lost their livelihood, as well as the ambition of generals who could, in a moment, brush them aside. Barras and Rewbell were notoriously corrupt themselves and screened corruption in others. The patronage of the directors was ill-bestowed, and the general maladministration heightened their unpopularity.

The constitutional party in the legislature desired toleration of the nonjuring clergy, the repeal of the laws against the relatives of the émigrés, and some merciful discrimination toward the émigrés themselves. The directors baffled all such endeavours. On the other hand, the socialist conspiracy of Babeuf was easily quelled. Little was done to improve the finances, and the assignats continued to fall in value.

The new régime met opposition from remaining Jacobins and the royalists. The army suppressed riots and counter-revolutionary activities. In this way the army and its successful general, Napoleon Bonaparte eventually gained much power. On 9 November 1799 (18 Brumaire of the Year VIII) Bonaparte staged the "coup of 18 Brumaire" which installed the Consulate; this effectively led to his dictatorship and eventually (in 1804) to his proclamation as "Empereur" (emperor), which brought to a close the specifically republican phase of the French Revolution.


Historical analysis

The constitutional assembly failed for many reasons: there were too many monarchists to have a republic and too many republicans to have a monarch; too many people opposed the King (especially after the flight to Varennes), which meant that the people who supported the King had their reputation slashed; the Civil Constitution of the Clergy; and many more.

Historian François Furet in his work, "Le Passé d'une illusion" (1995) ("The Passing of An Illusion" (1999) in English translation) explores in detail the similarities between the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution of 1917 more than a century later, arguing that the former was taken as a model by Russian revolutionaries. This is in partial contrast with the Marxist tradition, which has usually claimed that the 1871 Paris Commune was the Bolsheviks' primary inspiration source.

A contributing factor to the Revolution was the considerable increases in poverty in the preceding years. Some scholars trace this to several years of recurrent weather aberrations, caused by the Laki eruption of 1783 [Wood, C.A., 1992. "The climatic effects of the 1783 Laki eruption" in C. R. Harrington (Ed.), The Year Without a Summer? Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, pp. 58– 77] and the severe El Niño effects that were to follow. [Richard H. Grove, “Global Impact of the 1789–93 El Niño,” Nature 393 (1998), 318-319]

ee also

* A Tale of Two Cities - A novel by Charles Dickens
* Biens nationaux
* French Revolutionary Calendar
* French Revolutionary Wars
* Glossary of the French Revolution
* History of democracy
* Historiography of the French Revolution
* Jean Nicolas Pache - Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité
* La Révolution française (film)
* List of people associated with the French Revolution
* List of people granted honorary French citizenship during the French Revolution
* List of revolutions and rebellions
* Napoleonic code
* Olympe de Gouge
* Revolt in the Vendée
* Rise of nationalism in Europe
* Scarlet Pimpernal - Novel and play by Emma Orczy
* Timeline of the French Revolution
* French Counter-Revolution

Other revolutions in French history

* July Revolution
* French Revolution of 1848
* Paris Commune of 1871
* May 1968, a noteworthy rebellion, though not quite a revolution
* Haïtian Revolution, Haiti colony
* Camisard Rebellion, French Huguenots
* French Army Mutinies (1917)


Works cited

*Cite book|title=The French Revolution: A History|date=2002|location=New York|publisher=The Modern Library|first=Thomas|last=Carlyle|isbn=0375760229
*Cite book|title=Oxford history of the French Revolution|edition=3rd|publisher=Oxford University Press|first=William|last=Doyle|date=1990|location=Oxford|isbn=0192852213
*Cite book|title=The French Revolution: A very short introduction|date=2001|location=Oxford|publisher=Oxford University Press|first=William|last=Doyle|isbn=0192853961
*Cite book|title=The French Revolution|date=2004|publisher=Greenwood Press|location=Westport, Connecticut|isbn=0313321930|first=Linda|last=Frey|coauthors=Marsha Frey
*Cite book|title=The Days of the French Revolution|date=1980|location=New York|publisher=Quill, William Morrow|first=Christopher|last=Hibbert|isbn=0688037046
*Cite book|title=A short history of the French Revolution: 1789-1799|date=1977|publisher=University of California Press, Ltd|location=Berkeley and Los Angeles, California|isbn=0520034198|first=Albert|last=Soboul|translator=Geoffrey Symcox

Further reading

* Andress, David. "The Terror: The Merciless War for Freedom in Revolutionary France" New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005 ISBN 0374530734 ISBN-13: 978-0374530730
**Recently published history concentrating on the radical phase of the revolution.
* Carlyle, Thomas. "". 1837. New York: The Modern Library, 2002 ISBN 0-375-76022-9
** A history of the early course of the Revolution (1789-1795) written in high-style poetic prose, but which is grounded in historical fact.
* Cobban, Alfred. "The Social Interpretation of the French Revolution". Cambridge University Press, 1964.
* Dickens, Charles. "A Tale of Two Cities"
** Although a work of fiction, Dickens' work captures the spirit of the Revolution.
* Doyle, William. "Oxford history of the French Revolution", 2nd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002 ISBN 0-19-925298-X
* Doyle, William. "Origins of the French Revolution", 3rd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999 ISBN 0-19-873175-2, ISBN 0-19-873174-4 (pbk.)
* Feuerwerker, David. "L'Émancipation des Juifs en France. De l'Ancien Régime à la fin du Second Empire". Albin Michel: Paris, 1976 ISBN 2-226-00316-9
*Furet, François. "The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century", University of Chicago, Chicago, 1999, ISBN 0 225 27340-7 originally published as "Le passé d'une illusion (1995)".
** Includes a linking of the nature and events of the Russian Revolution with those of the French Revolution.
* Furet, François. "La révolution en débat", Paris: Gallimard, 1999 ISBN 2-07-040784-5
** Contains a series of articles on the historiography of the Revolution.
* Greer, Donald. "Incidence of the Terror During the French Revolution: A Statistical Interpretation". New York: Peter Smith Publishers Inc., 1935.
* Hibbert, Christopher. "The Days of the French Revolution", New York: Morrow Quill Paperbacks, 1981. ISBN 0-688-00746-5 (pbk.)
** Considered to be a classic of the genre, this text is available in many bookstores.
* Lefebvre, Georges. "Coming of the French Revolution (translated by R.R. Palmer)". Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1947.
* Legrand, Jacques. "Chronicle of the French Revolution 1788-1799", London: Longman and Chronicle Communications, 1989 ISBN 0-582-05194-0
** The English-language edition of the collaborative work "Chronique de la Révolution 1788-1799", Paris: Larousse, 1988 ISBN 2-03-503250-4, produced under the direction of Jean Favier and others.
* Loomis, Stanley. "Paris in the Terror, June 1793 – July 1794", Drum Book, 1986 ISBN 0-931933-18-8
* McPhee, Peter. "The French Revolution, 1789-1799", Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002 ISBN 0-19-924414-6
** A text that covers many areas, including feminism and the environment.
*Schama, Simon. "Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution", Penguin, London, 1989. ISBN 0 14 017206 8 This account also contains illustrations related to the Revolution.
* Sobel, Robert. "The French Revolution" (1967)
* Soboul, Albert. "The Parisian Sans-Culottes and the French Revolution, 1793-4". New York: Greenwood Press Reprint, 1979.
* Tackett, Timothy. "Becoming a Revolutionary: the deputies of the French National Assembly and the emergence of a revolutionary culture (1789-1790)", Princeton, N.J.; Chichester: Princeton University Press, 1996 ISBN 0-691-04384-1
** Thorough research on the deputies of the Estates General and the National Assembly.
* Vermeil, Jean. "L`autre Histoire de France", Paris: Editions du Félin, 1993 ISBN 2-86645-139-2
** "The exactions of the revolutionaries in the Vendée" (Chapters 13 to 16). (In French)
* Steel, Mark. "Vive la Révolution: A Standup history of the French Revolution" (2003) ISBN 0-7432-0805-6, (2004) ISBN 0-7432-0806-4
**Satirical history of the revolution. A cross between a history of the French Revolution and a spirited defence of the ideals that inspired it.

Historical Era

External links

* [ Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution] , a collaborative site by the Center for History and New Media (George Mason University) and the American Social History Project (City University of New York)
* [ The Origins of the French Revolution] , [ The French Revolution: The Moderate Stage, 1789-1792] , and [ The French Revolution: The Radical Stage, 1792-1794] , three essays from The History Guide: Lectures on Modern European Intellectual History
* [ The French Revolution on] : from the Columbia Encyclopedia
* [ Open University course on French Revolution]
* [ Primary source documents on French Revolution] from The Internet Modern History Sourcebook

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