The French Revolution

The storming of the Fort of Bastille in Paris on July 14, 1789.
The storming of the Fort of Bastille in Paris on July 14, 1789.

The French Revolution is one of the most important phases in the history of France. This revolution saw the toppling of Bourbon monarchy and the birth of the first republic in Europe. During French Revolution women played a big role in agitating for reforms and just as the men, they fought to bring change. Repression by the state was also a highlight in the period of 1792 to 1797. With the end of the old order that was characterized by a class system, this revolution is seen to have given birth to a classless system dubbed socialism.

Causes of the Revolution

There is no one direct cause of the French Revolution. Instead, the revolution commenced due to several complex factors. Firstly, there was a severe food shortage due to years of poor harvests. The grains did not do well and the shortage meant that the available resources were sold at a high price. The French people could not afford them as there was a regressive taxation that was imposed by the government in response to the unmanageable national debt. This debt arose from the war that France fought for seven years that consumed a lot of money. France was also involved in the American Revolution which further drained its resources. The taxation was unpopular among the citizens as they felt it was unfair as it exempted the upper class and the nobility. A proposal to borrow more money to plug the deficit was rejected in 1789 by King Louis XVI. The King also tried to sabotage a conference held by all the citizens of the country called Estates-General. But the King’s actions were seen as an attack on the Assembly and a report published by Necker made matters worse that it gave the financial position of the country. King Louis XVI fired him on July 11, 1789. The presence of the King’s soldiers plus reinforcements from foreign mercenaries further angered the French in Paris.

How It Started

The riots in Paris in response to the presence of foreign fighters in the town received support from disgruntled elements of the French Guard. Looting and chaos progressed in protest to King Louis XVI's actions of trying to sabotage the assembly by intimidation. On July 14, 1789, the rebels stormed the Fort of Bastille which was a symbol of Royal power. The prison soon fell to the rebels after hours of intense fighting. The Governor, Marquis Bernard Rene de Launey was among the high profile casualties. King Louis XVI tried to appease the rebels by putting new reforms like reinstating Necker to his position. However, they were short-lived as Necker lost favor with the public over his self-centered actions. The violence quickly spread across France and some of the royals fled to other countries later that month. The abolition of Feudalism by the constituent national assembly was followed by a string of reforms that limited the King’s powers and privileges. The King moved to Bastille on October 26, 1789 after a women’s march and a popular call from the masses to compel him. The church was stripped of its influence by the reforms in 1790 and it further deepened the chaos.

Divisions in the Assembly

The King was concerned about the revolution, especially after the divisions in the assembly between those supporting the reforms and those against them. There were right-wing groups and left-wing groups who had different opinions with regards to how the reforms were to be done. The main issue was the choice between a constitutional monarchy and a republican system of government. King Louis XVI had made a pact with General Bouille who was against the assembly and the emigration. The king escaped Paris with his family in disguise but it failed as he was arrested and taken back. An oath was forced on the King that would bind him to a constitution that made him only a ceremonial figure. In the final session of the assembly, King Louis XVI made his address and recognized the new laws. The assembly applauded him for doing so but in neighboring kingdoms, the Kings were not happy with it. The Kings of Prussia and Austria had threatened to invade France to restore King Louise’s power. On April 20, 1792, France declared war and subsequently attacked Austrian Netherlands and conquered it later that month. The new order was faced with various challenges that saw the collapse of the constitutional monarchy. King Louis XVI had refused to cede some of his powers and had mobilized his foreign allies to help him get his full monarchy back. The economic crisis continued which saw small uprisings start to take root and the reforms targeting the Catholic Churches were getting resistance from the faithful. This assembly was in a state of chaos in 1792.

Aftermath of King Louis XVI

With the collapse of the constitutional monarchy, King Louis XVI was deposed and his place was surrounded by hostile forces. The assembly at Salle du Manege was his refuge as from August 1792 when the anti-monarchy protests began. The Prussian army had invaded France and the Parisians went on a killing spree storming the prisons to kill suspected traitors. The convention on September 22, 1792 outlawed the monarchy and declared France a republic. They also did away with the Gregorian calendar and introduced a new republican calendar which marked September 1792 as year one of the calendar. King Louis was executed after the assembly made its decision after a vote on January 17, 1792. Four days later he was put to death by the guillotine. Even after his execution, the economy continued to struggle when the wars went unexpectedly. Counter-revolutionary activities continued and there was a parliamentary coup which marked the beginning of a reign of terror. From 1793 to 1799, this reign was marked by civil war and wars against neighboring kingdoms as the republic sought to export the revolution. Those who opposed the republic were executed in public places and rebellions were crushed mercilessly. The republican government continued to wage war abroad and against dissidents in the country. A final coup on November 10, 1799, marked the end of the republican phase of the French revolution.


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