The revolution of France began on 14 July 1789 with the storming of the fortress-prison, the Bastille by the French people. The revolutionaries hoped to find hoarded ammunition (quantity of bullets and shells) in Bastille. The Bastille was a fortress-prison hated by everybody because it stood for the despotic power of king. The fortress was demolished. The beginning of chain of events started by the middle class affected and shook the lower class and led to the execution of the king of France. A society based on privileges gave way to a new system of governance. This revolution gave the world the ideas of liberty, fraternity and equality.
CAUSES OF FRENCH REVOLUTION
1. Social Cause (French society during late 18th century)
The society was divided into 3 Estates:
(a) The members of first 2 Estates i.e., Clergy and Nobility enjoyed certain privileges by birth. They were exempted from paying taxes to the State. Nobles also enjoyed feudal privileges, which included feudal dues extracted from peasants.
(b) The Church extracted its share of taxes called Tithes from the peasants.
(c) A direct tax Taille and a number of indirect taxes were levied on everyday consumption articles like salt and tobacco.
2. Economic Cause (The struggle to survive)
(a) The population of France increased from 23 million to 28 million in 1789 which led to an increase in demand for food grains.
(b) Most workers were employed as laborers in workshops with fixed wages but the wages did not keep pace with rise in prices of food grains.
(c) This led to the Subsistence Crisis (extreme scarcity of basic means of livelihood) in France due to the Old Regime.
3. Political Cause
(a) In 1774, Louis XVI became the king of France and faced an empty treasury due to long years of war which drained the financial resources of France. The discontent within the society was increasing.
(b) He helped 13 American colonies to gain their independence from the common enemy, Britain. This war added more than 3 billion livres of debt and the moneylenders now began to charge 10% interest on the loans.
(c) To meet its regular expenses, such as the cost of maintaining an army, the court, running government offices or universities, the state was forced to increase the taxes.
ROLE OF MIDDLE CLASS
(a) The 18th century witnessed the emergence of social groups termed as middle class who may have means and programs to carry out full scale measures to bring a change in social and economic order. As they were educated they believe that no group should be privileged by birth.
(b) They earned their wealth through an expanding overseas trade, from manufacture of goods like woollen and silk textiles and from professions as lawyers and administrative officials.
(c) They were inspired by the ideas of different philosophers and spread the same through books and newspapers.
ROLE OF PHILOSOPHERS
(a) John Locke – In his Two Treatises of Government, Locke sought to refute the doctrine of the divine and absolute right of the monarch.
(b) Rousseau - Rousseau carried the idea forward, proposing a form of government based on a social contract between people and their representatives.
(c) Montesquieu - In his Spirit of Laws, Montesquieu proposed a division of power within the government between the legislative, executive and the judiciary.
OUTBREAK OF FRENCH REVOLUTION
(a) Louis XVI called an assembly of Estates General (a political body to which the three estates send their representatives to pass to proposal for new taxes) in Versailles.
(b) The first 2 estates sent 300 representatives each, while the third estate had has one had 600 members These members of the third estate were prosperous and educated. However, artisans, peasants & women were denied entry to the assembly.
(c) Voting in the Estate General was conducted according to the past principles of each state – one vote. However, but members of the third estate demanded one vote for each member philosophy.
(d) When the king rejected this proposal they the members of the third estate they walked out of assembly in protest. They assembled in an indoor tennis court and declared themselves a national assembly and drafted a constitution for France to limit powers of monarch. They were led by Mirabeau (a noble) and Abbe Sieyes (a priest).
(e) Due to the power of revolt, monarch finally recognized the national assembly and accepted the constitution.
(f) The assembly passed a law abolishing the feudal system of obligation & taxes (tithes) and the members of clergy were forced to give up their privileges.
FRANCE BECOMES A SOCIAL MONARCHY
(a) The national assembly completed the draft of the constitution in 1791 with its main objective to limit the powers of monarch. The powers were separated and assigned to different institutions-the legislature, executive and judiciary.
(b) The constitution of 1791 gave the power to make laws in the national assembly, which was indirectly elected.
(c) Active citizens that is those entitled to vote were only men above 25 years of age who paid taxes equal to at least 3 days of laborer’s wage. The remaining men and women did not have the right to vote.
(d) The constitution began with a declaration of the rights of man and citizens which included rights such as the right to life, freedom of speech, freedom of opinion, equality before law, etc.
(e) Various political symbols used by illiterate people in 18th century are:
FRANCE ABOLISHES MONARCHY AND BECOMES REPUBLIC
(a) Louis XVI signed the constitution, but he also entered into secret negotiation with the King of Prussia.
(b) Rulers of neighboring countries were worried by the developments of France and made plans to put down the events. The national assembly voted to declare war against Prussia and Austria.
(c) The patriotic song Marseillaise composed by the poet Roget de L’Isle was sung for the first time by volunteers as they marched into Paris. Marseillaise now the national anthem of France.
(d) The revolution wars brought losses and difficulties to the people. The constitution of 1791 gave political rights only to the rich people of the society. Political clubs became important from the rallying point of view in which the most successful club was that of Jacobins. Its leader was Maximilian Robespierre.
(e) Members of Jacobin Club …servants etc. A large number of Jacobins started wearing long striped trousers similar to those worn by dock workers. This was done to set themselves apart from the nobles who wore knee breeches.
(f) In the summer of 1792, the Jacobins planned an insurrection of Parisians who were angered by the high price of food. The Jacobins stormed the Palace of the Tuileries, massacred the king’s guards and held the king hostage.
(g) Later the Assembly voted to imprison the royal family. Elections were held. From now on all men above the age of 21 years irrespective of their wealth got the right to vote. The newly elected assembly was called the Convention. In 1792 it abolished the monarchy and declared France a republic.
(h) Louis XVI was sentenced to death by a court on charges of treason. He was executed publicly on January 21, 1793 at the Place de la Concorde.
REIGN OF TERROR
(a) The period from 1793 to 1794 is referred to as the regime of terror. Robespierre followed a policy of severe control and punishment.
(b) All those whom he saw as being “enemies” of the republic-ex-noble and clergy, members of other political parties even members of his own party who did not agree with his method- were arrested, imprisoned.
(c) If the court found them guilty, they were guillotined. Robespierre’s government issued laws placing a maximum ceiling on wages and prices.
(d) Meat and bread were rationed. Peasants were forced to transport their grain to the cities and sell it at prices fixed by the government.
(e) Robespierre pursued his policies so relentlessly that even his supporters began to demand moderation. Finally, he was convicted by a court in July 1794 and sent to the guillotine.
A DIRECTORY RULES FRANCE
(a) The fall of the Jacobin government allowed the wealthier middle class to seize the power. A new constitution was introduced which denied the vote to non-propertied sections of society.
(b) It provided 2 elected legislative councils which later appointed to a directory (an executive made of 5 members).
(c) The directors often clashed with the legislative council, who then sought to dismiss them.
(d) The political instability of the directory paved the way for the rise of military dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte.
REVOLUTION OF WOMEN
(a) Women were active participants in the events which brought about changes in French society. They hoped that their involvement would pressurize the revolutionary government to improve their lives.
(b) Most women of the third estate had to work for their living. They worked as seamstresses and laundresses, sold flowers, fruits and vegetables at market.
(c) Working women also had to care for their families and children. They were disappointed that the constitution of 1971 reduced them to passive citizens.
(d) The revolutionary government introduced laws to improve their lives by making schooling compulsory for girls, not marrying against their will, making divorce legal etc.
(e) During the reign of terror, the new government issued laws ordering closure of women’s clubs and banning political activities. In 1946 women in France won right to vote.
ABOLITION OF SLAVERY
Fig: The Abolition of Slavery
(a) Slave trade began in 17th century; the colonies in the Caribbean- Martinique, Guadeloupe and San Domingo were important suppliers of commodities like indigo, sugar tobacco and coffee. The slaves were bought from local chieftains. This was met by triangular slave trade between Europe, Africa and America.
(b) The slaves were packed tightly into ships for a 3 month long voyage across the Atlantic to Caribbean and handed over there to the plantation owners.
(c) The national assembly held long debates for the rights of man to be extended to all French subjects. But it did not pass any laws fearing opposition of business men whose income depended upon slave the trade.
(d) Finally slavery was abolished in the French colonies in 1848.
RISE OF NAPOLEON BONAPARTE
(a) In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself as emperor of France. He conquered neighboring countries, dispossessing dynasties and created kingdoms by placing his family members there.
(b) He saw his role as modernizer of Europe. He introduced many laws such as protection of private property and uniform system of weight and measure provided by the decimal system.
(c) Many saw him as a liberator who would bring freedom for the people but soon his armies came to be viewed as an invading force.
(d) Finally Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo in 1815.
LEGACY OF FRENCH REVOLUTION
(a) The ideas of liberty and democratic rights were the most important legacy of French revolution. These spread from France to the rest of Europe during the 19th century, where the feudal system was abolished.
(b) Colonized people re-worked upon the idea of freedom from bondage into their movements to create a sovereign nation state.
(c) Tipu sultan and Raja Ram Mohan Roy are 2 examples of individuals who responded to the ideas coming from revolutionary France.
|1. What were the main causes of the French Revolution?
|2. How did the French Revolution impact France and the world?
|3. What were the major events of the French Revolution?
|4. What were the consequences of the French Revolution?
|5. How did the French Revolution impact women's rights?