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Term Paper on the French Revolution

Term Paper Contents:

  1. Term Paper on the Introduction to French Revolution
  2. Term Paper on the Occurrence of Revolution in France
  3. Term Paper on the Causes of French Revolution
  4. Term Paper on Prelude to the French Revolution
  5. Term Paper on the French Revolution at Versailles
  6. Term Paper on the French Revolution Hits the Streets
  7. Term Paper on the French Revolution’s Political Culture
  8. Term Paper on the French Revolution Turns Radical
  9. Term Paper on the French Revolution Ends
  10. Term Paper on the Factors Responsible for French Revolution
  11. Term Paper on the Significance of French Revolution


Term Paper # 1. Introduction to the French Revolution:

A watershed event in modern European history, the French Revolution began in 1789 and ended in the late 1790s with the ascent of Napoleon Bonaparte. During this period, French citizens razed and redesigned their country’s political landscape, uprooting centuries-old institutions such as absolute monarchy and the feudal system.

Like the American Revolution before it, the French Revolution was influenced by Enlightenment ideals, particularly the concepts of popular sovereignty and inalienable rights. Although it failed to achieve all of its goals and at times degenerated into a chaotic bloodbath, the movement played a critical role in shaping modern nations by showing the world the power inherent in the will of the people.

France was a strong and powerful state in 18th century. France had seized vast territories in North America, islands the West Indies and Madagascar in Africa. However, despite its outward strength the French monarchy was facing a crisis which was to lead to its destruction.


The French king Louis XVI came to the throne in 1774 at the age of 20. He was a well-intentioned but dull witted and ineffectual monarch, far more devoted to his hobbies hunting and lock making than to the business of absolutist kingship. On July 14, 1789, when mobs stormed the Bastille, he wrote in his diary ‘Nothing’.

Fortunate at the outset in that he had as his principal financial minister the extremely able Anne Robert Jacques Turgot (1727-1781), Louis lost that advantage two years after his accession when he dismissed Turgot rather than press ahead with the economic reforms his minister advocated, when they encountered serious opposition from the nobility.

From that time, national policy traced an unstable course, uncontrolled by the king and influenced by self-interested courtiers. As responsible as any for the king’s indecisive misrule was the queen, Marie Antoinette, daughter of Austria’s monarch Maria Theresa. Vain and strong willed, fond of court entertainment and palace intrigue, she inspired the dedicated hatred of reformers, intellectuals, and the common people.

Term Paper # 2. Occurrence of Revolution in France:


In many European countries conditions were worse than in France. The common masses were sandwiched badly between the absolute monarchy and exorbitant taxes. The French farmers enjoyed more freedom than the serfs in Germany, Italy and Russia.

The plight of Prussian farmers was more agonizing than the French farmers because the Prussian farmers had to bear with the atrocities inflicted by the feudal barons and the monarchy. It is obvious that merely an isolated -cause does not breed a revolution, various forces work behind the execution of revolution.

But nation state had been formed very early in France and the whole nation had been politically united. Political unity contributed to generating a nation-wide public opinion, a nation-wide movement and a nation-wide policy. Although the French revolution the French revolution hit at the feudal setup, its trend was not as distorted as the revolution which affected had Austria, Prussia, Russia and Italy.

With the end of political setup of feudalism in France, anarchy ceased there towards the end of the 16th century. During the reign of Louis XIII (1610-1643), Richelieu strengthened the central rule. Louis XIV divested the nobility of their important rights and divided the state into provinces in order to centralize and systematize the government and appointed Intendents.

The French farmer was relatively vigilant. The people in other countries of Europe tolerated the cruelties of the nobility as a destiny. But the French farmers were dissatisfied with their wretched condition and wanted to improve it. In contrast to other serfs of Europe, the majority of French farmers had become independent but the feudal taxes and services were still in practice which tormented them.

A question flashed across the mind of the French farmers why they should pay taxes to nobles when the government servants performed the functions of nobility. The French farmers desired to acquire more land while the serfs in other countries could not even imagine of becoming owners of a small piece of land.

From the period of Louis XIII, the feudal barons had been divested of their several rights and were relegated to the position of hangers on of the kings as they had lost their political power. Besides, many- nobles sank into poverty as a result of indulging in heavy drinking, gambling and profligation.

During the idle and weak rule of Louis XVI, the feudal lords made efforts to revive their lost political prestige but their objective was frustrated although they hatched on several conspiracies. Eventually they became supporters of political upheavals. That is why they supported the demand for convening a session of the Estates General.

The intellectual philosophers of France exposed inequality, corruption, and religious superstitions rampant in the French society and lay bare before the public the profligate living of the nobility. Voltaire slashed the Church by exposing the luxurious ways of priests. Rousseau gave top priority to public will.

He emphasized that the ruler should be accountable to the public and the public is fully empowered to dethrone a king who neglects them. Montesquieu introduced the outstanding concept of the separation of powers in order to specify the functions of different organs of the government. On the strength of their writings, the French intellectuals produced an intellectual atmosphere in the French public and prepared a psychological basis for the revolution.

Impressed by the thoughts of the learned writers of the 18th century, the administration in many European states had begun to flow towards public not withstanding absolute monarchy. Under the spell of the intellectual absolute reign, many steps were taken for public welfare and promotion of business.

Prior to the revolution, there had been no other intellectual and liberal rulers than the Prussian ruler Frederick, the Great (1740-1760) the Austrian emperor Joseph II (1765-1790), the Russian empress Catherine the Great (1762-1796), and the Spanish ruler Charles III (1759-1788).

If in view of changing times France had adopted intellectual absolutism in place of hereditary despotism the revolution could have been averted for some time. It should be remembered that to run the centralized state, it is imperative that the ruler should have intelligence and an impressive personality, but Louis XV and Louis XVI proved to be incompetent rulers.

Needless to say, a conscious group is required to understand the concept of revolution and France had such an enlightened group. Other countries of Europe were devoid of the rich, progressive and vigilant middle-class. Even after enjoying a good economic status, the middle-class was not rewarded with influential ranks in the French government and it perturbed them, the middle-class was much impressed by the French intellectuals.

It did not enjoy social esteem also. Hence they wanted to strengthen their social positions. The conviction held by the middle-class that ‘we are better than the nobles’ became a prominent cause of the revolution. In addition to it, the nobility ridiculed the middle-class on so many occasions.

The incident of bankruptcy of France annoyed the middle-class because many members of the middle-class had lent enough money to the government. Therefore, they wanted a change in the contemporary political and social organization. Besides, because of several restrictions on business they desired for a change in the government.

It was the middle-class which led the peasant to revolt successfully. The French farmers had little concern that they were completely deprived of political rights but the huge burden of taxes nailed them to abject poverty. On the whole, the middle-class played a decisive role in the French revolution.

Nowhere in history do we find any other middle-class which could be a match for the intelligent and progressive middle-class of France at the time of revolution. The peoples of other countries of Europe were facing man difficulties at that time but there was nobody to steer the cause of adverse circumstances and stand as an ideal. Therefore, revolution did not occur in other countries.

The French capital Paris had become the hub of political and administrative activities. That is why the entire nation greeted the revolutionary forces when they took possession of Paris. In other countries of Europe, centralized administration was either absent or in an elementary stage.

It follows that the reactionary steps taken in a province did hardly influence other parts of the country. Further the distress at the center did not affect other provinces because the provincial rulers were not bound to wait for the orders issued by the central rulers. But the matter in France was different because of the excessive centralization of administration; a slight commotion in Paris influenced the entire country.

Unlike France, a few select people did not accumulate immense wealth in other parts of Europe. In other countries, feudal lords lived among their dependent farmers and money did not flow from villages to cities. But the entire money of villages in France flowed from villages and got pooled in a few cities.

Therefore, farmers would seek the help of rich feudal barons in cities whenever, famine struck villages (as it happened in the winter of 1789). They would make a comparative study of the severity of famine and the paying capacity of farmers. In this way, the incompatible conditions like abject poverty and miseries of the lower class and immerse wealth and luxurious living of the feudal lords proved conducive to the revolution.

After gaining victory in the war of American independence, when the French soldiers came back to France, it flashed through their mind that they should strive hard to better their bitter conditions as they had redeemed America from the cruelties of England. Such an idea did not strike the mind of soldiers in other countries.

Besides it, the war of American independence influenced France in so many ways. Lafayette and his fellow soldiers learnt from the American Revolution that ‘To oppose the wrong is a holy duty’. Lord Acton had written in his book ‘French Revolution’ that the French soldiers also learnt that ‘political power is obtained from those upon whom it is imposed and it is run at their consent.

The formation of such a government is unjust and wrong’. In other words, the public is the real master of the sovereign authority not the king or the ruler. The French people also learnt from Americans that ‘the chief aim of the government or intellectual development is liberty rather than happiness or prosperity or the security of government or intellectual development or increase in true virtue’.

In this way, the war of American independence injected new political awareness in France. The French army was also discontent with the government. Soldiers had not been paid their salaries for many months. They got neither good clothes nor good food. The armed forces of other countries were not displeased so bitterly with their respective rulers.

The army showed readiness in suppressing any revolt against the government. But the discontent among the French soldiers had reached such a disgusting level that they cooperated and supported the revolutionaries.

In a nut-shell, we may conclude that a great revolution erupted only in France because of certain pinching factors like an enlightened middle-class, disgusting feudal set up, an irresistible greed among the feudal lords for catching political power, a perpetual influence of the philosophers, want of competent rulers, a strong desire in farmers for improvement in their wretched condition, great importance of Paris, decisive participation in the war of American independence and great discontent among soldiers.

Term Paper # 3. Causes of the French Revolution:

A brief on causes of French Revolution has been laid down below:

i. Conditions in France:

Conditions in France would have taxed the abilities of even the most talented king; for one with Louis XVI’s personal shortcomings, the task was virtually insurmountable. Three factors, in particular, contributed to the breakdown that produced revolution.

ii. Inability of the Monarch to Carry Forward the Centralized Administrative Processes:

The first was inability of the monarch to carry forward the centralized administrative processes, which Louis XIV had instituted, and which even he had found it difficult to sustain. During the 18th century the efficacy of the intendant system declined in direct proportion to the crown’s failure to keep the nobility isolated and impotent. By the 1780’s intendants were themselves often noblemen, prepared to sacrifice state interests to those of their own privileged station.

iii. Parliaments—France’s Powerful Courts of Record Reasserted their Independence:

At the same time, the Parliaments, France’s powerful courts of record, had reasserted their independence during the early years of the reign of Louis XV. Throughout the century they had grown increasingly insistent upon what they began to call their ‘constitutional’ rights in reality, their traditional habit of opposing any legislation that did not serve the interests of their aristocratic members.

When Louis XVI had pressed for new taxes to be levied on the nobility as well as the rest of the community after the expensive Seven Years War, the Parliaments successfully blocked the proposal, insisting upon their right to exemption from major national taxes. In the mid 1770’s this episode was reenacted when Turgot attempted to combat the government’s indebtedness through a series of reforms that included the curtailing of court expenses, the abolition of the corvee (forced labor by the peasants on the royal roads) in favour of a small tax on landowners, and the abolition of certain guild restrictions in order to stimulate manufacturing.

The Paris Parliament, whose members claimed that Turgot was trampling upon ancient prerogatives and privileges as indeed he was, steadfastly and successfully opposed these innovations.

iv. Growing Antagonism within and between the Various Social Orders:

The continued opposition to centralization on the part of the aristocracy was a symptom of the second major factor contributing to the outbreak of revolution; growing antagonism within and between the various social orders that composed French society. There was tension within the Roman Catholic Church, the so-called first estate of the realm.

Its rulers- bishops, archbishops, and cardinals were in the main recruited from the aristocracy. They enjoyed large incomes, derived from property that had been willed to the Church over the centuries and that the Church continued to claim-successfully-was exempt from taxation by the state.

In addition, the Church collected a tax-the tithe-on all land under cultivation, an average of between 1/10th and 1/15th of the annual harvest. Income from both property and tithe was inequitably distributed among the ranks of the clergy. The princes of the Church, along with the leading monastic orders, took the lion’s share.

Parish priests received very little. This imbalance in the distribution of revenues was resented not only by the priests, but by peasant tithe payers, who hated to see their taxes spent to support a distant and haughty ecclesiastical hierarchy, rather than their own, often very deserving, local clergy.

v. Ranks of the Aristocracy Divided:

The ranks of the aristocracy, France’s second estate, were also divided. Many determined reformers were themselves noblemen, but they were nobles of the robe, men who had, often by purchase, acquired administrative or judicial office (hence the ‘robe’) which conferred a title of nobility, as well as the opportunity to amass a substantial fortune in land and other property.

Included in this group were talented men such as the philosopher the baron de Montesquieu, the lawyer the Comte de Miradeau, and the statesman the marquis de Lafayette, who had represented France in America at the time of the revolutionary war. Among these nobles of the robe were men who would play prominent roles in the French Revolution.

In contrast to this group stood the nobles of the sword or noblesse de race, as the group enjoyed calling itself whose title extended back to the Middle Ages. These aristocrats regarded the nobles of the robe as upstarts. In general, they lived at the royal court at Versailles, where they enjoyed making political mischief, leaving the management of their estates to bailiffs.

In 1781, they pressed successfully for a law which restricted the sale of military commissions to men whose aristocratic lineage extended back at least four generations. If they could not prevent the general debasing of their order, they reasoned, they could at least ensure that the army remained their preserve.

The tensions between the nobles of the robe and the sword kept the aristocracy fragmented and at odds with itself, and hence unable to form together into anything more than a negative and potentially destructive force.

vi. Bourgeoisie was Heterogeneous:

Another social group, urban middle class or the Bourgeoisie, a large group, was by no means homogeneous. At the top stood government officials, talented professionals, and large-scale financiers and merchants. Lesser nobles were to be found throughout the ranks of the 3rd estate.

Movement from the upper ranks of the 3rd estate into the nobility had been possible in the past for wealthy, ambitious members of the middle orders. The appointment or purchase of position the route favoured by nobles of the robe or the marriage of a wealthy financier’s daughter to the son of an impoverished aristocrat were the most common means of advancement.

Yet to increasing numbers of the urban bourgeoisie it appeared by about 1780 that the nobility of the sword was more determined than ever to turn back their advances. They were now excluded from participation in the political life of the nation. No matter how much money a merchant, manufacturer, banker, or lawyer might acquire, he was still excluded from political privileges.

He had almost no influence at the court; he could not hold high political office; and except in the choice of a few petty local officers, he could not even vote. As the middle orders achieved affluence and greater self-esteem, their members were bound to resent such discrimination.

Above all, it was the demand of the commercial, financial, and industrial leaders for political power commensurate with their economic position that turned members of the third estate into revolutionaries.

vii. Resentment of the Aristocracy on the Part of the Urban Bourgeoisie:

The hatred rural peasants felt for their aristocratic overlords dwarfed resentment of the aristocracy on the part of the urban bourgeoisie. Those peasants who owned property, as well as those who worked the land as tenant farmers or laborers, remained obligated in various ways to both the clergy and nobility: a tithe and levy on farm produce owed the church; fees, called banalities, for the use of a landlord’s facilities.

In addition, peasants were forced to pay a disproportionate share of both direct and indirect taxes the most onerous of which was the gabelle or salt tax levied by the government. (For some time the production of salt had been a state monopoly; every individual was required to buy at least 7 pounds a year from the government works. The result was commodity whose cost was often as much as 50 or 60 times its actual value).

During the 18th century they also came under pressure as a result of the increasingly frequent enclosure of what had been common land. Fields allowed to lie fallow, together with those tilled only infrequently, were considered ‘Common’ land on which all persons might graze their livestock.

These common lands, particularly extensive in the west of France, were an important resource for the peasants. In addition to the right to pasturage, they enjoyed that of gathering wood and of gleaning cultivated fields following a harvest. Now the king’s economic advisors declared these collective rights to be obstacles in the path of agricultural improvement.

Anxious to increase their income by increasing the efficiency of their estates, the landlords attempted to enclose these common lands, thereby depriving the peasants of the open pasturage they had come to depend on.

viii. Role of Philosophers:

No events as all-encompassing as the French Revolution occur in an intellectual vacuum. Although ideas may not have ’caused’ the revolution, they played a critical role in giving shape and substance to the discontent experienced by so many, particularly among the literate middle orders.

The political theories of Locke, Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Condorcet appealed to both discontented nobility and bourgeoisie: Voltaire, because of his general execration of the privileged institutions of church and absolute monarchy; Condorcet because of his belief in progress; Locke and Montesquieu’s defense of private property and limited sovereignty.

Montesquieu’s ideas were especially congenial to aristocrats, who read his doctrine of checks and balances as a defense of their ancient privileges now elevated to the status of ‘liberties’. The Parliament and provincial Estates, or governing assemblies, were the constituted bodies which would provide a check to royal power.

The theories of one further thinker, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), played an important part in shaping the ideas and attitudes of French revolu­tionaries. ‘The most significant of his writings’ on poli­tics were Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1753) and ‘Social Contract’ (1762), the latter published in many editions before the revolution.

Rousseau developed an altogether different conception of sovereignty from that of other Enlightenment political theorists. Whereas Locke and his followers had argued that only a portion of sovereign power is surrendered to the state, the rest being retained by the people themselves, Rousseau contended that sovereignty is indivisible, and that all of it became vested in community when civil society was formed.

He insisted further that individuals in becoming a party to the social contract gave up their rights and agreed to submit absolutely to the general will. The sovereign power of the state was thus subject to no theoretical limitations.

Rousseau’s appeal, though great, was not so much to those men whose thoughts and actions dominated the first stage of the revolution. Although they might have agreed with Rousseau’s opposition to hereditary privilege, there were, as convinced individualists, unmoved by arguments in favour of surrender to a general will.

Rousseau’s influence upon the revolution was greatest during its second stage, when a more democratic and radical coterie emerged to lead events, first in the direction of democracy and then toward a new kind of ‘democratic absolutism’ that accorded with Rousseau’s notions of the sovereign state.

ix. Continuing and Deepening Financial Crises:

Social antagonism thus contributed in important ways to the tensions that eventually produced revolution. Those tensions were heightened by the third major, and eventually precipitation, cause of the revolution, a continuing and deepening financial crises brought on by years of administrative improvidence and ineptitude.

This crisis was compounded by a general price rise during much of the 18th century. It worked hardship on the peasantry and urban artisans and laborers, who found their purchasing power considerably reduced. Their plight deteriorated further at the end of the 1780’s when poor harvests encouraged landlords to extract even larger sums from their dependents in order to compensate for a sharp decline in profits, and when the high price of bread generated desperation among the urban poor.

Families found themselves spending more than 50 percent of their income on bread in 1788; the following year the figure rose to as much as 80 percent. Poor harvests contributed to a marked reduction in demand for manufactured goods; families had little money to spend for anything other than food.

Peasants could no longer rely on the system of domestic industry to help them make ends meet, since they were receiving so few orders for the textiles and other articles they were accustomed to making at home. Many left the countryside for the cities, hoping to find work there, only to discover that unemployment was far worse than in rural areas.

Evidence indicated that between 1787 and 1789 the unemployment rate in many parts of urban France was as high as 50 percent. The financial despair produced by this unemployment-fueled resentment and turned peasants and urban workers into potential revolutionaries.

x. Inefficient System of Tax Collection and Disbursal:

The country’s financial position was further weakened by an inefficient system of tax collection and disbursal. Not only was taxation tied to differing social status, it varied as well from region to region, some areas, for example, subject to a much higher gabelle than others.

The myriad special circumstances and exemptions that prevailed made the task of collectors all the more difficult. Those collectors were in many cases so called tax fanners, members of a syndicate which loaned keep for itself the difference between the amounts it took in and the amounts it loaned.

The system of disbursal was at least as inefficient as was revenue collection. Instead of one central agency there were several hundred private accountants, a fact which made it impossible for the government to keep accurate track of its assets and liabilities. The financial system all but broke down completely under the increased expenses brought on by French participation in the American war of Independence.

The cost of servicing the national debt of four million lives in the 1780’s consumed 50 percent of the nation’s budget. By 1788 the chaotic financial situation, together with severe social tensions and an inept monarch, had brought absolutist France to the edge of political disaster.

Term Paper # 4. Prelude to the French Revolution: Monarchy in Crisis:

As the 18th century drew to a close, France’s costly involvement in the American Revolution and extravagant spending by King Louis XVI (1754- 1793) and his predecessor had left the country on the brink of bankruptcy. Not only were the royal coffers depleted, but two decades of poor cereal harvests, drought, cattle disease and skyrocketing bread prices had kindled unrest among peasants and the urban poor.

Many expressed their desperation and resentment toward a regime that imposed heavy taxes yet failed to provide relief by rioting, looting and striking.

In the fall of 1786, Louis XVI’s controller general, Charles Alexandre de Calonne (1734-1802), proposed a financial reform package that included a universal land tax from which the privileged classes would no longer be exempt. To garner support for these measures and forestall a growing aristocratic revolt, the king summoned the Estates General, (‘les etats generaux’) an assembly representing France’s clergy, nobility and middle-class-for the first time since 1614.

The meeting was scheduled for May 5, 1789; in the meantime, delegates of the 3 estates from each locality would compile lists of grievances (‘cahiers de doleances’) to present to the king.

Term Paper # 5. The French Revolution at Versailles: Rise of the Third Estate:

France’s population had changed considerably since 1614. The non-aristocratic members of the Third Estate now represented 98 percent of the people but could still be outvoted by the other two bodies. In the lead-up to the May 5 meeting, the 3rd Estate began to mobilize support for equal representation and the abolishment of the noble vetoin other words, they wanted voting by head and not by status.

While all of the orders shared a common desire for fiscal and judicial reform as well as a more representative form of government, the nobles in particular were loath to give up the privileges they enjoyed under the traditional system.

By the time the Estates-General convened at Versailles, the highly public debate over its voting process had erupted into hostility between the three orders, eclipsing the original purpose of the meeting and the authority of the man who had convened it.

On June 17, with talks over procedure stalled, the 3rd Estate met alone and formally adopted the title of National Assembly; 3 days later, they met in a nearby indoor tennis court and took the so called Tennis Court Oath (‘serment du jeu de paume’), vowing not to disperse until constitutional reform had been achieved. Within a week, most of the clerical deputies and 47 liberal nobles had joined them, and on June 27 Louis XVI grudgingly absorbed all 3 orders into the new assembly.

Term Paper # 6. The French Revolution Hits the Streets: The Bastille and the Great Fear

On June 12, as the National Assembly (known as the National Constituent Assembly during its work on a constitution) continued to meet at Versailles, fear and violence consumed the capital. Though enthusiastic about the recent breakdown of royal power, Parisians grew panicked as rumors of an impending military coup began to circulate.

A popular insurgency culminated on July 14 when rioters stormed the Bastille fortress in an attempt to secure gunpowder and weapons; many consider this event, now commemorated in France as a national holiday, as the start of the French Revolution.

The wave of revolutionary fervor and widespread hysteria quickly swept the countryside. Revolting against years of exploitation, peasants looted and burned the homes of tax collectors, landlords and the seigniorial elite. Known as the Great Fear (‘la Grande peur’), the agrarian insurrection hastened the growing exodus of nobles from the country and inspired the National Constituent Assembly to abolish feudalism on August 4, 1789, signing what the historian Georges Lefebvre later called the ‘death certificate of the old order.’

Term Paper # 7. The French Revolution’s Political Culture: Drafting a Constitution:

On August 4, the Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (‘Declaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen’), a statement of democratic principles grounded in the philosophical and political ideas of Enlightenment thinkers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778).

The document proclaimed the Assembly’s commitment to replace the ancien regime with a system based on equal opportunity, freedom of speech, popular sovereignty and representative government.

Drafting a formal constitution proved much more of a challenge for the National Constituent Assembly, which had the added burden of functioning as a legislature during harsh economic times. For months, its members wrestled with fundamental questions about the shape and expanse of France’s new political landscape.

For instance, who would be responsible for electing delegates? Would the clergy owe allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church or the French government? Perhaps most importantly, how much authority would the king, his public image further weakened after a failed attempt to flee in June 1791, retain? Adopted on September 3, 1791, France’s first written constitution echoed the more moderate voices in the Assembly, establishing a constitutional monarchy in which the king enjoyed royal veto power and the ability to appoint ministers.

This compromise did not sit well with influential radicals like Maximilien de Robespierre (1758-1794), Camille Desmoulins (1760-1794) and Georges Danton (1759-1794), who began drumming up popular support for a more republican form of government and the trial of Louis XVI.

Term Paper # 8. The French Revolution Turns Radical: Terror and Revolt:

In April 1792, the newly elected Legislative Assembly declared war on Austria and Prussia, where it believed that French emigrant were building counterrevolutionary alliances; it also hoped to spread its revolutionary ideals across Europe through warfare.

On the domestic front, meanwhile, the political crisis took a radical turn when a group of insurgents led by the extremist Jacobins attacked the royal residence in Paris and arrested the king on August 10, 1792.

The following month, amid a wave of violence in which Parisian insurrectionists massacred hundreds of accused counterrevolutionaries, the Legislative Assembly was replaced by the National Convention, which proclaimed the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of the French republic. On January 21, 1793, it sent King Louis XVI, condemned to death for high treason and crimes against the state, to the guillotine; his wife Marie-Antoinette (1755-1793) suffered the same fate 9 months later.

Following the king’s execution, war with various European powers and intense divisions within the National Convention ushered the French Revolution into its most violent and turbulent phase. In June 1793, the Jacobins seized control of the National Convention from the more moderate Girondins and instituted a series of radical measures, including the establishment of a new calendar and the eradication of Christianity.

They also unleashed the bloody Reign of Terror (‘la Terreur’), a 10-month period in which suspected enemies of the revolution were guillotined by the thousands. Many of the killings were carried out under orders from Robespierre, who dominated the draconian Committee of Public Safety until his own execution on July 28, 1794. His death marked the beginning of the Thermidorian Reaction, a moderate phase in which the French people revolted against the Reign of Terror’s excesses.

Term Paper # 9. The French Revolution Ends: Napoleon’s Rise:

On August 22, 1795, the National Convention, composed largely of Girondins who had survived the Reign of Terror, approved a new constitution that created France’s first bicameral legislature. Executive power would lie in the hands of a five- member Directory (‘Directoire’) appointed by parliament.

Royalists and Jacobins protested the new regime but were swiftly silenced by the army, now led by a young and successful general named Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). The Directory’s four years in power were riddled with financial crises, popular discontent, inefficiency and, above all, political corruption. By the late 1790s, the directors relied almost entirely on the military to maintain their authority and had ceded much of their power to the generals in the field.

On November 9, 1799, as frustration with their leadership reached a fever pitch, Bonaparte staged a coup d’état, abolishing the Directory and appointing himself France’s ‘first consul.’ The event marked the end of the French Revolution and the beginning of the Napoleonic era, in which France would come to dominate much of continental Europe.

Term Paper # 10. Factors Responsible for the French Revolution:

i. Feudalism and Unfair Taxation:

No one factor was directly responsible for the French Revolution. Years of feudal oppression and fiscal mismanagement contributed to a French society that was ripe for revolt. Noting a downward economic spiral in the late 1700s, King Louis XVI brought in a number of financial advisors to review the weakened French treasury.

Each advisor reached the same conclusion that France needed a radical change in the way it taxed the public and each advisor was, in turn, kicked out. Finally, the king realized that this taxation problem really did need to be addressed, so he appointed a new controller general of finance, Charles de Calonne, in 1783. Calonne suggested that, among other things, France begin taxing the previously exempt nobility. The nobility refused, even after Calonne pleaded with them during the Assembly of Notables in 1787. Financial ruin thus seemed imminent.

ii. The Estates General:

In a final act of desperation, Louis XVI decided in 1789 to convene the Estates-General, an ancient assembly consisting of 3 different estates that each represented a portion of the French population. If the Estates-General could agree on a tax solution, it would be implemented.

However, since two of the three estates—the clergy and the nobility were tax exempt, the attainment of any such solution was unlikely. Moreover, the outdated rules of order for the Estates-General gave each estate a single vote, despite the fact that the Third Estate consisting of the general French public was many times larger than either of the first two.

Feuds quickly broke out over this disparity and would prove to be irreconcilable. Realizing that its numbers gave it an automatic advantage, the 3rd Estate declared itself the sovereign National Assembly. Within days of the announcement, many members of the other two estates had switched allegiances over to this revolutionary new assembly.

iii. The Bastille and the Great Fear:

Shortly after the National Assembly formed, its members took the Tennis Court Oath, swearing that they would not relent in their efforts until a new constitution had been agreed upon. The National Assembly’s revolutionary spirit galvanized France, manifesting in a number of different ways.

In Paris, citizens stormed the city’s largest prison, the Bastille, in pursuit of arms. In the countryside, peasants and farmers revolted against their feudal contracts by attacking the manors and estates of their landlords. Dubbed the ‘Great Fear,’ these rural attacks continued until the early August issuing of the August Decrees, which freed those peasants from their oppressive contracts.

Shortly thereafter, the assembly released the declaration of the Rights of Man and of the citizen, which established a proper judicial code and the autonomy of the French people.

iv. Rifts in the Assembly:

Though the National Assembly did succeed in drafting a constitution, the relative peace of the moment was short lived. A rift slowly grew between the radical and moderate assembly members, while the common laborers and workers began to feel overlooked. When Louis XVI was caught in a foiled escape plot the assembly became especially divided.

The moderate Girondins took a stance in favour of retaining the constitutional monarchy, while the radical Jacobins wanted the king completely out of the picture. Outside of France, some neighbouring countries feared that France’s revolutionary spirit would spread beyond French land.

In response, they issued the ‘Declaration of Pillnitz’, which insisted that the French return Louis XVI to the throne. French leaders interpreted the declaration as hostile, so the Girondin led assembly declared war on Austria and Prussia.

v. The Reign of Terror:

The first acts of the newly named National Convention were the abolition of the monarchy and the declaration of France as a republic. In January 1793, the convention tried and executed Louis XVI on the grounds of treason. Despite the creation of the Committee of Public Safety, the war with Austria and Prussia went poorly for France, and foreign forces pressed on into French territory.

Enraged citizens overthrew the Girondin led National Convention, and the Jacobins, led by Maximilien Robespierre, took control. Backed by the newly approved Constitution of 1793, Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety began conscripting French soldiers and implementing laws to stabilize the economy.

For a time, it seemed that France’s fortunes might be changing. But Robespierre, growing increasingly paranoid about counterrevolutionary influences, embarked upon a Reign of Terror in late 1793-1794, during which he had more than 15,000 people executed at the guillotine. When the French army successfully removed foreign invaders and the economy finally stabilized, however, Robespierre no longer had any justification for his extreme actions, and he himself was arrested in July 1794 and executed.

vi. The Thermidorian Reaction and the Directory:

The era following the ousting of Robespierre was known as the Thermidorian Reaction, and a period of governmental restructuring began, leading to the new Constitution of 1795 and a significantly more conservative National Convention.

To control executive responsibilities and appointments, a group known as the Directory was formed. Though it had no legislative abilities, the Directory’s abuse of power soon came to rival that of any of the tyrannous revolutionaries France had faced.

vii. Napoleon:

Meanwhile, the Committee of Public Safety’s war effort was realizing unimaginable success. French Army, especially those led by young general Napoleon Bonaparte, were making progress in nearly every direction. Napoleon’s forces drove through Italy and reached as far as Egypt before facing a deflating defeat.

In the face of this rout, and having received word of political upheavals in France, Napoleon returned to Paris. He arrived in time to lead a coup against the Directory in 1799, eventually stepping up and naming himself ‘first consul’ effectively, the leader of France. With Napoleon at the helm, the Revolution ended, and France entered a fifteen-year period of military rule.

Term Paper # 11. Significance of the French Revolution:

The French Revolution may be recognised as the most important event of modern European life till 1914. In view of results, it may be contrasted with the reformation of the 16th century and the crusades of the 17th century. It destroyed the vestige of old system in the fields of the politics, economy, social life and thoughts, diplomacy and war. The French Revolution originated a new ideology in respect of politics and society and presented a fresh, novel outlook towards life.

It kindled imagination and thoughts in the majority of people, cultivated matchless enthusiasm in them and infused immense hopes in them. French Revolution was not a local event. It influenced not only the French public but left an indelible impression on Europe and the entire world. German philosopher, Kante termed it as the ‘victory of wisdom’.

Thinkers like Hegel planted trees to commemorate the Revolution. After the fall of Bastille, students danced with great delight on the roads of St. Petersburg. Thinking about the revolution, the English poet Wordsworth became enthralled and regretted for not being young and a French.

i. Important Role in the Success of Greek Independence:

It is not easy of evaluate the influence of French Revolution on the world. French Revolution played an important role in the success of Greek independence (1830), because the struggle for Greek independence derived strength from the ideals of French Revolution. Napoleon played a significant role in the unification of Italy.

The principle of liberty of French Revolution infused the spirit of unity among the Italians. Napoleon paved the way for the unification of Germany by making an end of the Holy Roman Empire. The vast effect of French Revolution did not spare England also.

ii. Feudal Prerogatives could not Flourish Again and the Church could not Revive its Bygone Glory:

The first republic of France lasted a few years only and anyone may deduce from it that revolution was a fiasco. Although France retrieved monarchy, it sustained good objectives of the revolution. Feudal prerogatives could not flourish again and the Church could not revive its bygone glory which it enjoyed during the old governing system. Government was run efficaciously and the condition of farmers improved considerably.

Jurisdiction of law increased. Taxation was made more rational. In this way, French Revolution planted the sapling of modern age in the graveyard of medieval system.

iii. French Revolution was a Fountain of all Modern Thoughts:

The French Revolution was a fountain of all modern thoughts. The revolution laid the foundation of liberal democratic and progressive outlook of modern life. It played a remarkable role in the making of modern age in Europe and familiarized the common people with the spirit of freedom, equality and democracy.

iv. French Revolution Rejuvenated the Political, Social, Religious and Economic Systems of France:

The French Revolution rejuvenated the political, social, religious and economic systems of France. The French Revolution was not merely a national event, nut its doctrines, liberty, equality and fraternity rent the entire Europe. Hence it is said that French Revolution was the movement of international importance.

It was the French Revolution which converted French history into the history of Europe and the national hero of France, Napoleon got a golden chance of becoming the hero of Europe. John Hall Stewart has described the immense significance of revolution, as ‘the consequences of the French Revolution have been so far reaching that in case of their satisfactory evaluation, they would encompass the entire French history’ and that of Europe from 1789 onwards. It was often said that, ‘When France catches cold, all Europe sneezes’.

v. French Revolution Put an End to the Old System:

The French Revolution put an end to the old system. Before the Revolution, feudal barons exploited farmers and middle-classes on account of their prerogatives. French Revolution gave relief to common people by revoking special rights of a few persons.

It was the great impact of French Revolution that the process of eliminating the old system also started in other countries of Europe. Consequently, the privileged classes could not retain their high prestige and the common people got relief. But we should not ignore the fact that the aristocratic families still enjoyed dominance in the reorganized local government because of their extensive experience of local administration.

In 1795, many expatriates came back to France. Napoleon selected his perfects from those families whose members were appointed as regional governors during the reign of Bourbon dynasty.

In the same way, the special rights of the Church were curtailed and the income earned from the tithe came to an end. But in spite of the great efforts made by the Jacobins to reduce the impact of Christianity, the influence of the Church could not be washed out of the minds of common people.

vi. Agricultural Reforms were Carried out with Great Enthusiasm:

After the Revolution, the agricultural reforms were carried out with great enthusiasm. At the time of revolution, farmers snatched land from their lords, officers and religious heads and cultivated it themselves. With the strength generated by the revolution, France soon became a nation of prosperous farmers.

French Revolution made an end of serfdom and tyranny related to it. Farmers enjoyed such individual freedom that they had never dreamt of. The serfdom had been eradicated in Spain, Italy and elsewhere. In 1848, serfdom came to an end in Germany. Russia was compelled to free its serfs in 1861.

vii. Declaration of Human Rights:

The ‘Declaration of Human Rights’ made by the National Convention put much emphasis on the fact that ‘Absolute sovereignty’ is vested in the public and law is the expression of the will of common people. It was stressed that the country should be governed for the maximum welfare of the people.

It is true there had been many rulers prior to French Revolution who realized the necessity of improving the condition of the public, but their outlook did not last forever not did it flourish in entire Europe. French Revolution claimed that the public should govern themselves and the rule should not be over people but people too should rule the country. That ideology extended its roots gradually in entire Europe.

viii. French Revolution Introduced Pivotal Principles—Liberty, Equality and Fraternity:

Not only of France but also for the history of entire human society, French Revolution introduced certain pivotal principles which gained much popularity. Those principles were—liberty, equality and fraternity. It was the natural outcome of democratic concept that public liberty dawned for the first time in France.

That liberty was interpreted as the protection of the right to property, to religious freedom, as well as the freedom of movement and freedom of speech and expression. Among the rules and governing systems that were enacted during the period of Revolution, public liberty was given a very prominent position.

In consequence of Napoleon’s victories, the principle of public liberty was introduced in countries like Italy, Holland etc. and the freedom of press was established. In the ensuing period liberty became a universal practice. Efforts were made to achieve not only individual freedom but political freedom also. It was demanded by the common masses that legislative bodies having minimum privileges should be elected. In that matter, England led the way and France followed her.

The principle of equality is complementary to that of liberty. It was the French Revolution which promulgated the principle that everybody is equal before the law and it rejected the privileges based on wealth. It was accepted in principle that appointments on government posts should be made on the basis of qualification and proficiency. The right of education for every one became valid.

The principle of fraternity was connected with patriotism. It involved the thinking that citizens of a country are bound firmly with each other in order to build a nation and the future of the nation is shaped by means of their combined efforts.

ix. New Trends and Attitudes Generated by the French Revolution:

Among new trends and attitudes generated by the French Revolution, the spirit of nationality is the most prominent one. There should be a separate state for those who are identical in religion, language, race, social practices and historical traditions. This principle is a significant and prime contribution of French Revolution.

The slogan ‘Hail the nation’ rent entire France. When the French republic was overcast with danger, the slogan ‘Father-land is in danger’ infused the spirit of nationality in people and inspired France to put a tough fight against the enemies. With exceptional success, France fought against the combined forces of those rulers who supported autocracy in entire Europe and the spirit of nationality was the underlying reason for that performance.

Wherever Napoleon invaded, he used to say, ‘I am fighting a war to redeem nations from the atrocities of despots’. The citizens of Spain and Portugal drove Napoleon away since they were brimming over with the spirit of nationality. The war in which Napoleon met the humiliation of defeat is called the war of nations. Unification of the states of Germany and Italy and the national movement of Balkan states were the exemplary incidents which had been charged by the principles of nationality.

x. French Revolution Paved the Way for Socialism:

French Revolution paved the way for socialism. Revolutionaries craved for political, economic and social equality. The idea of the sanctity of property was shaken when the government seized the property of expatriates. End of serfdom and feudalism, abolition of privileges assigned to the Church and feudal barons, equality of law, no imprisonment for the debtors, dominance of farmers over the Churchland all these dominant factors contributed to prepare the background for socialism. Afflicted people of other countries were treated like brothers by revolutionaries. Thus they paved the way for Karl Marx by raising the slogan of fraternity.


The rulers of Europe turned reactionaries after the end of Revolution. After Napoleon’s decline, the rulers of Europe took every decision on national and international stage after contemplating the dangers of Revolution. The decisions relating to Vienna Congress (1814) were taken after considering the facts that revolution should not break out again and France should not become a powerful nation.

Therefore, the history of Europe from 1815, to 1848, is known as an ‘Era of Reaction’. On the whole, it may be concluded without dispute that France and Europe underwent a great change after the end of French Revolution.