Philip has taught college history, English, and political science, and he has a doctorate in American history.
That's Not Fair!
Have you ever felt a situation was unfair? Maybe a sibling got something you didn't. Well, the French Revolution was about a group of people who felt the way their country operated was completely unfair. Let's look at why.
It's Good to be the King
In France in the late 1700s, when the country was faced with difficult economic times, the wealthy and powerful rarely felt the effects. Of course, everyone else DID suffer, which led to people feeling that the situation in France was unfair. One of the reasons many French people felt this way was due to ideas of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was a political movement that began in Europe, promoting equality and freedom for everyone.
The Third Estate
In 1789, the economic situation in France was so bad that King Louis XVI called for a meeting of the Estates-General. The Estates-General included three groups: leaders of the clergy (the First Estate), the nobility (the Second Estate), and pretty much everyone else (the Third Estate). The Estates-General was supposed to propose solutions to the economic crisis; however, the first two Estates refused any plan that would increase their taxes. In response, the Third Estate formed their own legislature called the National Assembly and met for the first time at a tennis court!
The Constitutional Monarchy
The National Assembly created a new constitution for France, and a statement of guiding principles for the country called 'The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.' France was on its way to establishing a democratic system with a permanent legislature, religious freedom, and equal treatment under the law. However, while these sweeping political changes were being made, the economic situation in France continued to get worse. In the summer of 1789, a mob, including some French soldiers, stormed the Bastille, a fortress and prison in Paris, and freed the prisoners there. Then in October 1789, a group of over 7,000 women marched on the royal palace of Versailles demanding economic reforms. These women even attacked the palace! In the end, the king promised to return to Paris to oversee political and economic changes. Instead, two years later, Louis tried to flee the Paris to start a counter-revolution, but was arrested. Many French people felt betrayed by their king's actions.
In August of 1792, suspicion of the king boiled over. Revolutionaries stormed the palace and took the royal family into custody. The kings of other countries in Europe grew concerned with the political changes in France, so in the Brunswick Manifesto, they demanded that France restore the powers of the king. Eventually, the tensions between France and Austria boiled over into open warfare. Meanwhile, many French people continued to suffer due to a lack of food. These problems opened the door for more radical members of the new Legislative Assembly to take control in 1793. These radicals were called the Jacobins. The Jacobins believed the nobility and leaders of the Catholic Church were traitors and too dangerous to live. Thousands of clergy and nobles, including King Louis, were executed by a device called the guillotine.
Within a few short years, people were tiring of the violence of the Jacobins, so they were overthrown and replaced by a government called The Directory in 1795. A rising star in the French military named Napoleon Bonaparte led a revolt against The Directory and established himself as emperor in 1799, ending the French Revolution.
The French Revolution began as an example of the Enlightenment that promoted equality. The French created their first constitution through the National Assembly. However, economic problems and threats from abroad led to the rise of the Jacobins and the time known as The Terror. Finally, a military revolt by Napoleon Bonaparte ended the French Revolution.
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