French Revolution

The French Revolution

The storming of the Bastille, 14 July 1789
Other names Reign of Terror; French Revolutionary War
Participants French society
Location France
Date 1789–1799

Abolition and replacement of the French monarchy with a radical democratic republic. Radical social change to forms based on Enlightenment principles of citizenship and inalienable rights.
Armed conflicts with other European countries

Napoleon Bonaparte takes power.

The French Revolution (1789–1799) was a period of radical social and political upheaval in French and European history. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years. French society underwent an epic transformation as feudal, aristocratic, and religious privileges evaporated under a sustained assault from liberal political groups and the masses on the streets. Old ideas about hierarchy and tradition succumbed to new Enlightenment principles of citizenship and inalienable rights.

The French Revolution began in 1789 with the convocation of the Estates-General in May. The first year of the Revolution witnessed members of the Third Estate proclaiming the Tennis Court Oath in June, the assault on the Bastille in July, the passage of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in August, and an epic march on Versailles that forced the royal court back to Paris in October. The next few years were dominated by tensions between various liberal assemblies and a conservative monarchy intent on thwarting major reforms. A republic was proclaimed in September 1792 and King Louis XVI was executed the next year. External threats also played a dominant role in the development of the Revolution. The French Revolutionary Wars started in 1792 and ultimately featured spectacular French victories that facilitated the conquest of the Italian peninsula, the Low Countries, and most territories west of the Rhine–achievements that had defied previous French governments for centuries. Internally, popular sentiments radicalized the Revolution significantly, culminating in the brutal Reign of Terror from 1793 until 1794. After the fall of Robespierre and the Jacobins, the Directory assumed control of the French state in 1795 and held power until 1799, when it was replaced by the Consulate under Napoleon Bonaparte.

The modern era has unfolded in the shadow of the French Revolution. The growth of republics and liberal democracies, the spread of secularism, the development of modern ideologies, and the invention of total war all mark their birth during the Revolution. 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 at one point or another as a republic, constitutional monarchy, and two different empires.



History of France
Celtic Gaul
Roman Gaul
Middle Ages
Early Modern France
Revolution to WWI
French Revolution
National Assembly
Storming of the Bastille
National Constituent
(1, 2, 3)
Legislative Assembly
and fall of the monarchy
National Convention
and Reign of Terror
War in the Vende
Related: Glossary,
Timeline, Wars,
List of people,
First Empire
July Monarchy
Second Republic
Second Empire
Third Republic
Fourth Republic
Modern France

Adherents of most historical models identify many of the same features of the Ancien Rgime as being among the causes of the Revolution. Economic factors included widespread famine and malnutrition, due to rising bread prices (from a normal 8 sous for a 4-pound loaf to 12 sous by the end of 1789),[1] 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.

Another cause was France's near bankruptcy as a result of the many wars fought by Louis XV as well as financial strain caused by French participation in the American Revolutionary War. The national debt amounted to almost two 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. The inefficient and antiquated financial system was unable to manage the national debt, something which was both caused and exacerbated by the burden of a grossly inequitable system of taxation. Meanwhile the conspicuous consumption of the noble class, especially the court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette at Versailles continued despite the financial burden on the populace. High unemployment and high bread prices caused 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, levied a tax on crops known as the dme or tithe. While the dme lessened the severity of the monarchy's tax increases, it worsened the plight of the poorest who faced a daily struggle with malnutrition. Internal customs barriers caused serious problems for internal trade[2], as well as periodic grain shortages.

Many other factors involved resentments and aspirations given focus by the rise of Enlightenment ideals. These included resentment of royal absolutism; resentment by the ambitious professional and mercantile classes towards noble privileges and dominance in public life, as many of these classes 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 advantage (anti-clericalism) and aspirations for freedom of religion, 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; and 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.[3]


Financial crisis

Louis XVI ascended to the throne amidst a financial crisis; the nation was nearing bankruptcy and outlays outpaced income.[4] This was because of France–s involvement in the Seven Years War and its participation in the American Revolutionary War.[5] In May 1776, finance minister Turgot was dismissed, after he lost favor. The next year, Jacques Necker, a foreigner, was appointed Director-General of Finance. He was not made a minister because he was a Protestant, and could not become a naturalized French citizen.[6] Necker realized that the country's tax system subjected some to an unfair burden;[6] numerous exemptions existed for the nobility and clergy.[7] He argued that the country could not be taxed higher, that tax exemptions for the nobility and clergy should be removed, and proposed that borrowing would solve the country's fiscal problems. Necker published a report to support this claim that underestimated the deficit by roughly 36,000 livres, and proposed restricting the spending power of the parlements. This was not received well by the King's ministers and Necker, hoping to solidify his position, argued to be accepted as a minister. The King refused, Necker was fired, and Charles Alexandre de Calonne was appointed to the Directorship.[6] Calonne initially spent liberally, but he quickly realized the critical financial situation and put forth a new tax code.[8] The proposal included a consistent land tax, which would include taxation of the nobility and clergy. Faced with opposition from the nobility, Calonne organised the summoning of the Assembly of Notables. But the Assembly failed to endorse Calonne's proposals and instead weakened his position through its criticism. In response, the government announced the calling of the Estates-General, for May 1789, the first time the body had been summoned since 1614. This was a signal that the Bourbon monarchy was no longer absolute.[9]

Estates-General of 1789

The Estates-General was organized into three estates, respectively: the clergy, the nobility, and the rest of France.[10] On the last occasion that the Estates-General had met, in 1614, each estate held one vote, and any two could override the third. The Parlement of Paris feared the government would attempt to gerrymander an assembly to rig the results. Thus, they required that the Estates be arranged as in 1614.[11] The 1614 rules differed from practices of local assemblies, wherein each member had one vote and third estate membership was doubled. For instance, in the province of Dauphin the provincial assembly agreed to double the number of members of the third estate, hold membership elections, and allow one vote per member, rather than one vote per estate.[12] The "Committee of Thirty", a body of liberal Parisians, began to agitate against voting by estate. This group, largely composed of the wealthy, argued for the Estates-General to assume the voting mechanisms of Dauphin. They argued that ancient precedent was not sufficient, because "the people were sovereign".[13] Necker convened a Second Assembly of the Notables, which rejected the notion of double representation by a vote of 111 to 333.[13] The King, however, agreed to the proposition on 27 December; but he left discussion of the weight of each vote to the Estates-General itself.[14]

Elections were held in the spring of 1789; suffrage requirements for the Third Estate were for French-born or naturalised males only, at least 25 years of age, who resided where the vote was to take place and who paid taxes.

Pour tre lecteur du tiers tat, il faut avoir 25 ans, tre franais ou naturalis, tre domicili au lieu de vote et compris au rle des impositions.


Strong turnout produced 1,201 delegates, including: "291 nobles, 300 clergy, and 610 members of the Third Estate."[14] To lead delegates, "Books of grievances" (cahiers de dolances) were compiled to list problems.[10] The books articulated ideas which would have seemed radical only months before; however, most supported the monarchical system in general. Many assumed the Estates-General would approve future taxes, and Enlightenment ideals were relatively rare.[11][16] Pamphlets by liberal nobles and clergy became widespread after the lifting of press censorship.[13] The Abb Sieys, argued the importance of the Third Estate in the pamphlet Qu'est-ce que le tiers tat? (What is the Third Estate?), published in January 1789. He asserted: "What is the Third Estate? Everything. What has it been until now in the political order? Nothing. What does it want to be? Something."[11][17]

The Estates-General convened in Versailles on 5 May 1789 and opened with a three hour speech by Necker. The basic strategy of the Third Estate was to make sure that no decisions of the Estates-General should be reached in separate chambers, but instead should be made by all deputies from all three estates together (in other words, the strategy was to merge all three estates into one assembly). Thus they demanded that the verification of deputies' credentials should be undertaken in common by all deputies, rather than each estate verifying the credentials of its own members internally; negotiations with the other estates failed to achieve this.[16] The commoners appealed to the clergy who replied they required more time. Necker asserted that each estate verify credentials and "the king was to act as arbitrator".[18] Negotiations with the other two estates to achieve this, however, were unsuccessful.[19]

National Assembly (1789)

Sketch by Jacques-Louis David of the National Assembly taking the Tennis Court Oath

On 10 June 1789 Abb Sieys 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.[20] 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.[21]

In an attempt to keep control of the process and prevent the Assembly from convening, Louis XVI ordered the closure of the Salle des tats 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.[22]

National Constituent Assembly (1789–1791)

Storming 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 from his role as King's financial advisor. On 11 July 1789, 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.[23]

Early depiction of the tricolour in the hands of a sans-culotte during the French Revolution

Many Parisians presumed Louis's actions to be the start of a royal coup against the Assembly 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.[24]

On 14 July, the insurgents set their eyes on the large weapons and ammunition cache inside the Bastille fortress, which was also perceived to be a symbol of monarchist tyranny. 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 fortress had held 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 Rgime. Returning to the Htel de Ville (city hall), the mob accused the prvt des marchands (roughly, mayor) Jacques de Flesselles of treachery and he was shot.[25]

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 17 July he accepted a tricolore cockade, to cries of Vive la Nation [Long live the Nation] and Vive le Roi [Long live the King].[26]

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.[citation needed]

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

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 chteaux, 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.[27]

Working toward a constitution

On 4 August 1789 the National Constituent Assembly abolished feudalism (although at that point there had been sufficient peasant revolts to almost end feudalism already), 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.

On 26 August 1789, the Assembly published the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which 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 dpartements, 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. Honor Mirabeau now led the move to address this matter, and the Assembly gave Necker complete financial dictatorship.

Women's March on Versailles

Engraving of the Women's March on Versailles, 5 October 1789

Fueled by rumors of a reception for the King's bodyguards on 1 October 1789 at 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 Htel de Ville, demanding that city officials address their concerns.[28] The women were responding to the harsh economic situations they faced, especially bread shortages. They also demanded an end to royal 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 cannons 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 several guards.[29] 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

In this caricature, monks and nuns enjoy their new freedom after the decree of 16 February 1790

The Revolution brought about a massive shifting of powers from the Roman Catholic Church to the state. Under the Ancien Rgime, the Church had been the largest single landowner in the country, owning about 10 percent of the land in the kingdom.[30] The Church was exempt from paying taxes to the government, however it levied a tithe - a 10% tax on income, often collected in the form of crops– on the general population.[30] The power and wealth of the Church was highly resented. Non-Catholics and Protestants wanted an anti-Catholic regime and revenge against the clergy in power. Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire helped fuel this resentment by denigrating the Catholic Church and destabilizing the French monarchy.[31] As historian John McManners argues, –In eighteenth-century France throne and altar were commonly spoken of as in close alliance; their simultaneous collapse ... would one day provide the final proof of their interdependence.–[32]

This resentment toward the Church weakened its power during the opening of the Estates General in May of 1789. The Church composed the First Estate with 130,000 members of the clergy. When the National Assembly was later created in June 1789 by the Third Estate, the clergy voted to join them, which perpetuated the destruction of the Estates General as a governing body.[33] The National Assembly began to enact social and economic reform. Legislation sanctioned on 4 August 1789 abolished the Church's authority to impose the tithe. In an attempt to address the financial crisis, the Assembly declared, on 2 November 1789, that the property of the Church was –at the disposal of the nation.–[34] They used this property to back a new currency, the assignats. However, the nation had now taken on the responsibility of the Church, which included paying the clergy, caring for the poor the sick and the orphaned.[35] In December, the Assembly began to sell the lands to the highest bidder to raise revenue, effectively decreasing the value of the assignats by 25 percent in two years.[36] In autumn of 1789, legislation abolished monastic vows and on 13 February 1790 all religious orders were dissolved.[37] Monks and nuns were encouraged to return to private life and 10 percent eventually married.[38]

The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, passed on 12 July 1790, turned the remaining clergy into employees of the state. This established an election system for parish priests and bishops and set a pay rate for the clergy. Many Catholics objected to the election system because non-Catholics could participate in the election of their priests and bishops. Eventually, in November 1790, the National Assembly began to require an oath of loyalty to the Civil Constitution from all the members of the clergy.[38] This led to a schism between those clergy who swore the required oath and accepted the new arrangement and those who refused to do so. Overall 54 percent of the clergy nationwide took the oath.[39] Widespread refusal led to legislation against the clergy, –forcing them into exile, deporting them forcibly, or executing them as traitors.–[36] Pope Pius VI never accepted the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, further isolating the Church in France. During the Reign of Terror, extreme efforts of de-Christianization ensued, including the imprisonment and massacre of priests and destruction of churches and religious images throughout France. An effort was made to replace the Catholic Church altogether, with civic festivals replacing religious ones. The establishment of the cult of Reason was the final step of radical de-Christianization. However, locals often resisted these efforts and even Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety eventually denounced this campaign.[40] The Concordat of 1801 between Napoleon and the Church ended the de-Christianization 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.

Intrigues and radicalism

Satirical cartoon lampooning the excesses of the Revolution as seen from England

Factions within the Assembly began to clarify. The aristocrat Jacques Antoine Marie de Cazals and the abb 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 Honor 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. Abb Sieys 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.

The Assembly abolished the symbolic paraphernalia of the Ancien Rgime–armorial bearings, liveries, etc.–which further alienated the more conservative nobles, and added to the ranks of the migrs. 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 the Fte de la Fdration; 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.[41]

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.[citation needed]

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."[42]

The army faced considerable internal turmoil: General Bouill 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 migrs or became counter-revolutionaries from within.[citation needed]

This period saw the rise of the political "clubs" in French politics, foremost among these the Jacobin Club; 152 clubs had affiliated with the Jacobins by 10 August 1790.[43] 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.[citation needed]

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.[44]

In the winter of 1791, the Assembly considered, for the first time, legislation against the migrs. 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".[42] But Mirabeau died on 2 April 1791 and, before the end of the year, the new Legislative Assembly would adopt this "draconian" measure.[45]

Royal flight to Varennes

The return of the royal family to Paris on 25 June 1791, colored copperplate after a drawing of Jean-Louis Prieur

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 Bouill, who condemned both the emigration and the Assembly, and promised him refuge and support in his camp at Montmdy. On the night of 20 June 1791 the royal family fled the Tuileries Palace wearing the clothes of servants, while their servants dressed as nobles.

However, late the next day, the King was recognised and arrested at Varennes (in the Meuse dpartement). He and his family were brought back to Paris under guard, still dressed as servants. Ption, Latour-Maubourg, and Antoine Pierre Joseph Marie Barnave, representing the Assembly, met the royal family at pernay 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.[46][47][48][49][50]

Completing the constitution

As most of the Assembly still favoured a constitutional monarchy rather than a republic, the various groups 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.[citation needed]

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 responded to a barrage of stones by firing into the crowd, thus killing between thirteen and fifty people.[51]

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.[citation needed]

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 absolute liberty and implied an invasion of France on his behalf if the revolutionary authorities refused its conditions.[52] The French people expressed no respect for the dictates of foreign monarchs, and the threat of force merely caused the militarisation of the frontiers.[citation needed]

Even before the "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.[citation needed]

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."[53]

Legislative Assembly (1791–1792)

Failure of the constitutional monarchy

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 Encyclopdia 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."[54] 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 migrs 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, such disagreements would lead to a constitutional crisis.[citation needed]

Constitutional crisis

10 August 1792 Paris Commune - The Storming of the Tuileries Palace

On the night of 10 August 1792, insurgents, supported by a new revolutionary Paris Commune, assailed the Tuileries. The royal family 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.

War and Counter-Revolution (1792–1797)

The politics of the period inevitably drove France towards war with Austria and its allies. The King, many of 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. The forces opposing war were much weaker. Barnave and his supporters among the Feuillants feared a war they thought France had little chance to win and which they feared might lead to greater radicalization of the revolution. On the other end of the political spectrum, Robespierre 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.[55] 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.[citation needed]

The new-born Republic followed up on this success with a series of victories in Belgium and the Rhineland in the fall of 1792. The French armies defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Jemappes on November 6, and had soon taken over most of the Austrian Netherlands. This brought them into conflict with Britain and the Dutch Republic, who had a strong interest to preserve the independence of the southern Netherlands from France. After the king's execution in January 1793, these powers, along with Spain and most other European states, joined the war against France. Almost immediately, French forces faced defeat on many fronts, and were driven out of their newly conquered territories in the spring of 1793. At the same time, the republican regime was forced to deal with rebellions against its authority in much of western and southern France. The allies failed to take advantage of French disunity, however, and by the fall of 1793 the republican regime had defeated most of the internal rebellions and halted the allied advance into France itself.

The stalemate was broken in the summer of 1794 with dramatic French victories. They defeated the allied army at the Battle of Fleurus, leading to a full Allied withdrawal from the Austrian Netherlands. They followed up by a campaign which swept the allies to the right bank of the Rhine and left the French, by the beginning of 1795, conquering Holland itself. The House of Orange was expelled and replaced by the Batavian Republic, a French satellite state. These victories led to the collapse of the coalition against France. Prussia, having effectively abandoned the coalition in the fall of 1794, made peace with revolutionary France at Basel in April 1795, and soon thereafter Spain, too, made its peace with France. Of the major powers, only Britain and Austria remained at war with France.

National Convention (1792–1795)

Execution of Louis XVI

Execution of Louis XVI in what is now the Place de la Concorde, facing the empty pedestal where the statue of his grandfather, Louis XV, had stood.

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. The former Louis XVI, now simply named Citoyen Louis Capet (Citizen Louis Capet), was executed by guillotine on 21 January 1793 on the Place de la Rvolution, former Place Louis XV, now called the Place de la Concorde[56]. Royalty across Europe was horrified and many heretofore neutral countries soon joined the war against revolutionary France.


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, as "The Law of the Maximum" set food prices and led to executions of offenders.[57] This policy of price control was coeval with the Committee of Public Safety's rise to power and the Reign of Terror. The Committee first attempted to set the price for only a limited number of grain products but, by September of 1793, it expanded the "maximum" to cover all foodstuffs and a long list of other goods.[58] Widespread shortages and famine ensued. The Committee reacted by sending dragoons into the countryside to arrest farmers and seize crops. This temporarily solved the problem in Paris, but the rest of the country suffered. By the spring of 1794, forced collection of food was not sufficient to feed even Paris and the days of the Committee were numbered. When Robespierre went to the guillotine in July of that year the crowd jeered, "There goes the dirty maximum!"[59]

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.[60] A number of historians note that as many as 40,000 accused prisoners may have been summarily executed without trial or died awaiting trial.[60][61]

On 2 June 1793, Paris sections– encouraged by the enrags ("enraged ones") Jacques Roux and Jacques Hbert – 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.[62] 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, undermined by several political reversals, was removed from the Committee and Robespierre, "the Incorruptible", became its most influential member as it moved to take radical measures against the Revolution's domestic and foreign enemies.[63]

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 progressive and radical in several respects, in particular by establishing universal male suffrage. It was ratified by public referendum, but never applied, because normal legal processes were suspended before it could take effect.[64]

In Vende, 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.[65] This became a guerrilla war, known as the War in the Vende.[66] North of the Loire, similar revolts were started by the so-called Chouans (royalist rebels).[citation needed]

After the defeat at Savenay, when regular warfare in the Vende was at an end, the French general Francois Joseph Westermann penned a letter to the Committee of Public Safety stating

–There is no more Vende. It died with its wives and its children by our free sabres. I have just buried it in the woods and the swamps of Savenay. According to the orders that you gave me, I crushed the children under the feet of the horses, massacred the women who, at least for these, will not give birth to any more brigands. I do not have a prisoner to reproach me. I have exterminated all. The roads are sown with corpses. At Savenay, brigands are arriving all the time claiming to surrender, and we are shooting them non-stop... Mercy is not a revolutionary sentiment."[67][68]

However, some historians doubt the authenticity of this document[69] and others point out that the claims in it were patently false– there were in fact thousands of (living) Vendean prisoners, the revolt had been far from crushed,[70] and the Convention had explicitly decreed that women, children and unarmed men were to be treated humanely.[71] It has been hypothesized that if the letter is authentic, that may have been Westermann's attempt to exaggerate the intensity of his actions and his success, because he was eager to avoid being purged for his incompetent military leadership and for his opposition to sans-culotte generals (he failed to avoid that, since he was guillotined together with Danton's group).[72]

The revolt and its suppression (including both combat casualties and massacres and executions on both sides) are thought to have taken between 117 000 and 250 000 lives (170 000 according to the latest estimates).[73] Because of the extremely brutal forms that the Republican repression took in many places, certain historians such as Reynald Secher have called the event a "genocide". This description has become popular in the mass media,[74] but it has attracted much criticism in academia as being unrealistic and biased.[75]

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 leve en masse, which mobilized all citizens to serve as soldiers or suppliers in the war effort.

Guillotine: between 18,000 and 40,000 people were executed during the Reign of Terror

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 household goods and declared the right to set a limit on wages.[76]

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, Barnave, Bailly, Brissot and other leading Girondins, Philippe galit (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.

At the peak of the terror, the slightest hint of counter-revolutionary thoughts or activities (or, as in the case of Jacques Hbert, 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. 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). In the rebellious provinces, the government representatives had unlimited authority and some engaged in extreme repressions and abuses. For example, Jean-Baptiste Carrier became notorious for the Noyades ["drownings"] - he organized in Nantes;[77] his conduct was judged unacceptable even by the Jacobin government and he was recalled.[citation needed]

Another anti-clerical uprising was made possible by the installment of the Republican Calendar on 24 October 1793. Against Robespierre's concepts of Deism and Virtue, Hbert's (and Chaumette's) atheist movement initiated a religious campaign to dechristianize society. The climax was reached with the celebration of the flame of Reason in Notre Dame Cathedral on 10 November.[78]

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 Ventse Decrees (February–March 1794) proposed the confiscation of the goods of exiles and opponents of the Revolution, and their redistribution to the needy.[79]

In the spring of 1794, both extremist enrags such as Hbert and moderate Montagnard indulgents such as Danton were charged with counter-revolutionary activities, tried and guillotined. On 7 June Robespierre, who had previously condemned the Cult of Reason, advocated a new state religion and recommended the Convention acknowledge the existence of the "Supreme Being".[80]

Thermidorian Reaction

Engraving: "Closing of the Jacobin Club, during the night of 27–28 July 1794, or 9–10 Thermidor, year 2 of the Republic"

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.[citation needed]

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.[81] The results of the voting were announced on 23 September 1795, and the new constitution took effect on 27 September 1795.[81]

Directory (1795–1799)

The new constitution created the Directoire (English: Directory) and the first bicameral legislature in French history.[82] The parliament consisted of 500 representatives – the Conseil des Cinq-Cents (Council of the Five Hundred) – and 250 senators – the Conseil des Anciens (Council of Elders). Executive power went to five "directors," named annually by the Conseil des Anciens from a list submitted by the Conseil des Cinq-Cents.[citation needed] Furthermore, the universal suffrage of 1793 was replaced by limited suffrage based on property.[citation needed]

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 the monarchy and the Ancien Rgime by putting Louis XVIII on the throne, 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. 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.[citation needed]

As many French citizens distrusted the Directory,[83] 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,[84] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Napolon Bonaparte in the coup d'tat of 18 Brumaire (detail of an oleo by Franois Bouchot)

The constitutional party in the legislature desired toleration of the nonjuring clergy, the repeal of the laws against the relatives of the migrs, and some merciful discrimination toward the migrs 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.[citation needed]

The new rgime 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) Napoleon Bonaparte staged the coup of 18 Brumaire which installed the Consulate. This effectively led to Bonaparte's dictatorship and eventually (in 1804) to his proclamation as Empereur (emperor), which brought to a close the specifically republican phase of the French Revolution.[citation needed]

Role of women

Women had no political rights in pre-Revolutionary France; they couldn–t vote or hold any political office. They were considered –passive– citizens; forced to rely on men to determine what was best for them in the government. It was the men who defined these categories, and women were forced to accept male domination in the political sphere.[85] The Encyclopdie, published by a group of philosophes over the years 1751–1777, summarized French male beliefs of women. A woman was a –failed man,– the fetus not fully developed in the womb. –Women–s testimony is in general light and subject to variation; this is why it is taken more seriously than that of men– as opposed to men, upon whom –Nature seems to have conferred– the right to govern.– In general, –men are more capable than women of ably governing particular matters–.[86] Instead, women were taught to be committed to their husbands and –all his interests– [to show] attention and care– [and] sincere and discreet zeal for his salvation.– A woman–s education often consisted of learning to be a good wife and mother; as a result women were not supposed to be involved in the political sphere, as the limit of their influence was the raising of future citizens.[87]

When the Revolution opened, some women struck forcefully, using the volatile political climate to assert their active natures. In the time of the Revolution, women could not be kept out of the political sphere; they swore oaths of loyalty, –solemn declarations of patriotic allegiance, [and] affirmations of the political responsibilities of citizenship.– Throughout the Revolution, women such as Pauline Lon and her Society for Revolutionary Republican Women fought for the right to bear arms, used armed force and rioted.[88]

Feminist agitation

The March to Versailles is but one example of feminist militant activism during the French Revolution. While largely left out of the thrust for increasing rights of citizens, as the question was left indeterminate in the Declaration of the Rights of Man,[89] activists such as Pauline Lon and Throigne de Mricourt agitated for full citizenship for women.[90] Women were, nonetheless, –denied political rights of –active citizenship– (1791) and democratic citizenship (1793).–[89]

Pauline Lon, on March 6, 1792, submitted a petition signed by 319 women to the National Assembly requesting permission to form a garde national in order to defend Paris in case of military invasion.[90] Lon requested permission be granted to women to arm themselves with pikes, pistols, sabers and rifles, as well as the privilege of drilling under the French Guards. Her request was denied.[91] Later in 1792, Throigne de Mricourt made a call for the creation of –legions of amazons– in order to protect the revolution. As part of her call, she claimed that the right to bear arm would transform women into citizens.[92]

On June 20 of 1792, a number of armed women took part in a procession that –passed through the halls of the Legislative Assembly, into the Tuilleries Gardens, and then through the King–s residence.–[93] Militant women also assumed a special role in the funeral of Marat, following his murder on July 13, 1793. As part of the funeral procession, they carried the bathtub in which Marat had been murdered as well as a shirt stained with Marat–s blood.[94]

The most radical militant feminist activism was practiced by the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women, which was founded by Lon and her colleague, Claire Lacombe on May 10, 1793.[95] The goal of the club was –to deliberate on the means of frustrating the projects of the enemies of the Republic.– Up to 180 women attended the meetings of the Society.[96] Of special interest to the Society was –combating hoarding [of grain and other staples] and inflation.–[97]

Later, on May 20, 1793, women were at the fore of a crowd that demanded –bread and the Constitution of 1793.–[98] When their cries went unnoticed, the women went on a rampage, –sacking shops, seizing grain and kidnapping officials.–[99]

Most of these outwardly activist women were punished for their actions. The kind of punishment received during the Revolution included public denouncement, arrest, execution, or exile. Throigne de Mricourt was arrested, publicly flogged and then spent the rest of her life sentenced to an insane asylum. Pauline Lon and Claire Lacombe were arrested, later released, and continued to receive ridicule and abuse for their activism. Many of the women of the Revolution were even publicly executed for –conspiring against the unity and the indivisibility of the Republic–.[100]

These are but a few examples of the militant feminism that was prevalent during the French Revolution. While little progress was made toward gender equality during the Revolution, the activism of French feminists was bold and particularly significant in Paris.[citation needed]

Women writers

While some women chose a militant, and often violent, path, others chose to influence events through writing, publications, and meetings. Olympe de Gouges wrote a number of plays, short stories, and novels. Her publications emphasized that women and men are different, but this shouldn–t stop them from equality under the law. In her –Declaration on the Rights of Woman– she insisted that women deserved rights, especially in areas concerning them directly, such as divorce and recognition of illegitimate children. De Gouges also expressed non-gender political views; even before the start of the terror, Olympe de Gouges addressed Robespierre using the pseudonym –Polyme– calling him the Revolution–s –infamy and shame.– She warned of the Revolution–s building extremism saying that leaders were –preparing new shackles if [the French people–s liberty were to] waver.– Stating that she was willing to sacrifice herself by jumping into the Seine if Robespierre were to join her, de Gouges desperately attempted to grab the attention of the French citizenry and alert them to the dangers that Robespierre embodied.[101] In addition to these bold writings, her defense of the king was one of the factors leading to her execution. An influential figure, one of her suggestions early in the Revolution, to have a voluntary, patriotic tax, was adopted by the National Convention in 1789.[102]

Madame Roland (aka Manon or Marie Roland) was another important female activist. Her political focus was not specifically on women or their liberation. She focused on other aspects of the government, but was a feminist by virtue of the fact that she was a woman working to influence the world. Her personal letters to leaders of the Revolution influenced policy; in addition, she often hosted political gatherings of the Brissotins, a political group which allowed women to join. While limited by her gender, Madame Roland took it upon herself to spread Revolutionary ideology and spread word of events, as well as to assist in formulating the policies of her political allies. Though unable to directly write policies or carry them through to the government, Roland was able to influence her political allies and thus promote her political agenda. Roland attributed women–s lack of education to the public view that women were too weak or vain to be involved in the serious business of politics. She believed that it was this inferior education that turned them into foolish people, but women –could easily be concentrated and solidified upon objects of great significance– if given the chance.[103] As she was led to the scaffold, Madame Roland shouted –O liberty! What crimes are committed in thy name!– Witnesses of her life and death, editors, and readers helped to finish her writings and several editions were published posthumously. While she did not focus on gender politics in her writings, by taking an active role in the tumultuous time of the Revolution, Roland took a stand for women of the time and proved they could take an intelligent active role in politics.[104]

Though women did not gain the right to vote as a result of the Revolution, they still greatly expanded their political participation and involvement in governing. They set precedents for generations of feminists to come.


The French Revolution has received enormous amounts of historical attention, both from the general public and from scholars and academics. The views of historians, in particular, have been characterized as falling along ideological lines, with liberal, conservative, communist, and anarchist scholars–among others–disagreeing over the significance and the major developments of the Revolution.[105] Alexis de Tocqueville argued that the Revolution was a manifestation of a more prosperous middle class becoming conscious of its social importance.[106] Other thinkers, like the conservative Edmund Burke, maintained that the Revolution was the product of a few conspiratorial individuals who brainwashed the masses into subverting the old order–a claim rooted in the belief that the revolutionaries had no legitimate complaints.[107] Other historians, influenced by Marxist thinking, have emphasized the importance of the peasants and the urban workers in presenting the Revolution as a gigantic class struggle.[108] In general, scholarship on the French Revolution initially studied the political ideas and developments of the era, but it has gradually shifted towards social history that analyzes the impact of the Revolution on individual lives.[109]

Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history, and the end of the early modern period, which started around 1500, is traditionally attributed to the onset of the French Revolution in 1789.[110] The Revolution is, in fact, often seen as marking the "dawn of the modern era".[111] Within France itself, the Revolution permanently crippled the power of the aristocracy and drained the wealth of the Church, although the two institutions survived despite the damage they sustained. After the collapse of the First Empire in 1815, the French public lost the rights and privileges earned since the Revolution, but they remembered the participatory politics that characterized the period, with one historian commenting: "Thousands of men and even many women gained firsthand experience in the political arena: they talked, read, and listened in new ways; they voted; they joined new organizations; and they marched for their political goals. Revolution became a tradition, and republicanism an enduring option."[112] Some historians argue that the French people underwent a fundamental transformation in self-identity, evidenced by the elimination of privileges and their replacement by rights as well as the growing decline in social deference that highlighted the principle of equality throughout the Revolution.[113] Outside France, the Revolution captured the imagination of the world. It had a profound impact on the Russian Revolution and its ideas were imbibed by Mao Zedong in his efforts at constructing a communist state in China.[114]

See also

Related pages

Other revolutions or rebellions in French history


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  80. ^ Schama 2004, p.706
  81. ^ a b Doyle 1989, p.320
  82. ^ Cole et al 1989, p.39
  83. ^ Doyle 1989, p.331
  84. ^ Doyle 1989, p.332
  85. ^ Scott –Only Paradoxes to Offer– 34–35
  86. ^ Encyclopedia –Woman–
  87. ^ Marquise de Maintenon, –Writings– 321
  88. ^ Dalton –Madame Roland– 262
  89. ^ a b Rebel Daughters: Women and the French Revolution Edited by Sara E Melzer and Leslie W. Rabine pg. 79
  90. ^ a b Women and the Limits of Citizenship in the French Revolution by Olwen W. Hufton pg. 23–24
  91. ^ Rebel Daughters by Sara E Melzer and Leslie W. Rabine pg. 89
  92. ^ Women and the Limits of Citizenship by Olwen W. Hufton pg. 23–24
  93. ^ Rebel Daughters by Sara E Melzer and Leslie W. Rabine pg. 91
  94. ^ Women and the Limits of Citizenship by Olwen W. Hufton pg. 31
  95. ^ Rebel Daughters by Sara E Melzer and Leslie W. Rabine pg. 92
  96. ^ Deviant Women of the French Revolution and the Rise of Feminism by Lisa Beckstrand pg. 17
  97. ^ Women and the Limits of Citizenship by Olwen W. Hufton pg. 25
  98. ^ Gender, Society and Politics: France and Women 1789–1914 by James H. McMillan pg. 24
  99. ^ Gender, Society and Politics by McMillan pg. 24
  100. ^ Deviant Women by Beckstrand pg. 20
  101. ^ De Gouges –Writings– 564–568
  102. ^ Mousset –Women–s Rights– 49
  103. ^ Dalton –Madame Roland– 262–267
  104. ^ Walker –Virtue– 413–416
  105. ^ Rude p. 12-4
  106. ^ Ibid., p. 15
  107. ^ Ibid., p. 12
  108. ^ Ibid., p. 17
  109. ^ Ibid., p. 12-20
  110. ^ Frey, Foreword
  111. ^ Ibid., Preface
  112. ^ Hanson, p. 189
  113. ^ Ibid., 191
  114. ^ Ibid., 193

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopdia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain. This article makes use of the public domain History of the French Revolution from 1789 to 1814, by Franois Mignet (1824), as made available by Project Gutenberg.

Works cited

Further reading

  • Baker, Keith M. ed. The French Revolution and the Creation of Modern Political Culture (Oxford, 1987-94) vol 1: The Political Culture of the Old Regime, ed. K.M. Baker (1987); vol. 2: The Political Culture of the French Revolution, ed. C. Lucas (1988); vol. 3: The Transformation of Political Culture, 1789-1848, eds. F. Furet & M. Ozouf (1989); vol. 4: The Terror, ed. K.M. Baker (1994). excerpt and text search vol 4
  • Blanning, T.C.W. The French Revolutionary Wars 1787-1802 (1996).
  • Censer, Jack R. "Amalgamating the Social in the French Revolution." Journal of Social History 2003 37(1): 145-150. Issn: 0022-4529 Fulltext: in Project Muse and Ebsco
  • Doyle, William. The Oxford History of the French Revolution (1989). online complete edition; also excerpt and online search from
  • Doyle, William. The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. (2001), 120pp; online edition
  • Doyle, William. Origins of the French Revolution (3rd ed. 1999) online edition
  • Dunne, John. "Fifty Years of Rewriting the French Revolution: Signposts Main Landmarks and Current Directions in the Historiographical Debate," History Review. (1998) pp 8+ online edition
  • Englund, Steven. Napoleon: A Political Life. (2004). 575 pages; the best political biography excerpt and text search
  • Fremont-Barnes, Gregory. ed. The Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars: A Political, Social, and Military History (ABC-CLIO: 3 vol 2006)
  • Frey, Linda S. and Marsha L. Frey. The French Revolution. (2004) 190pp online edition
  • Furet, Franois. The French Revolution, 1770-1814 (1996) excerpt and text search
  • Furet, Franois and Mona Ozouf, eds. A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution (1989), 1120pp; long essays by scholars; conservative perspective; stress on history of ideas excerpt and online search from
  • Griffith, Paddy. The Art of War of Revolutionary France 1789-1802, (1998); 304 pp; excerpt and text search
  • Jones, Colin. The Longman Companion to the French Revolution (1989)
  • Jones, Colin. The Great Nation: France from Louis XV to Napoleon (2002) excerpt and text search
  • Kates, Gary. The French Revolution (2nd ed. 2005), 308pp; essays by scholars; excerpts and online search from
  • Lefebvre, Georges. The French Revolution (2 vol 1957) classic Marxist synthesis. complete online edition vol 1; also excerpt and online search from
  • Neely, Sylvia. A Concise History of the French Revolution (2008)
  • Palmer, Robert R. The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800. (2 vol 1959), highly influential comparative history; vol 1 online
  • Paxton, John. Companion to the French Revolution (1987), hundreds of short entries.
  • Rothenberg, Gunther E. "The Origins, Causes, and Extension of the Wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon," Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 18, No. 4, (Spring, 1988), pp. 771-793 in JSTOR
  • Rude, George F. and Harvey J. Kaye. Revolutionary Europe, 1783-1815 (2000), scholarly survey excerpt and text search
  • Schroeder, Paul. The Transformation of European Politics, 1763-1848. 1996; Thorough coverage of diplomatic history; hostile to Napoleon; online edition
  • Schwab, Gail M., and John R. Jeanneney, eds. The French Revolution of 1789 and Its Impact (1995) online edition
  • Scott, Samuel F. and Barry Rothaus. Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 1789-1799 (2 vol 1984), short essays by scholars
  • Schama, Simon. Citizens. A Chronicle of the French Revolution (1989), highly readable narrative by scholar excerpt and text search
  • Sutherland, D.M.G. France 1789–1815. Revolution and Counter-Revolution (2nd ed. 2003, 430pp excerpts and online search from

External links

Preceded by
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French Revolution
Succeeded by
First French Republic

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