THE FRENCH REVOLUTION (1789-1799) | Essay for CSS and PMS
THE FRENCH REVOLUTION (1789-1799) | Essay for CSS and PMS
The French Revolution 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 Terutis 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 rise of Maximilien Robespierre and the Jacobins and virtual dictatorsl1ip by the Committee of Public Safety during the Reign of Terror from 1793 until 1794 during which between 16,000 and 40,000 people were killed. After the fall of the Jacobins and the execution of Robespierre, 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.
Following are the causes
Economic factors included hunger and malnutrition in the most destitute segments of the population, due to rising bread prices (from a normal 8 SQUS for a four-pound loaf to 12 sous by the end of I 789), after several years of poor grain harvests. The combination of bad harvests (due to abnormal/severe weather fluctuations) and rising food prices was further aggravated by an inadequate transportation system which hindered the shipment of bulk foods from rural areas to large population centres, contributing greatly to the destabilization of French society in the years leading up to the Revolution.
Another cause was the state’s effective bankruptcy due to the enom10us cost of previous wars, particularly the financial strain caused by French participatIOn in the American Revolutionary War. The national debt amounted to some I 000-2000 million lives. The social burdens caused by war included the huge war debt, made worse by the loss of France’s colonial possessions in North America and the growing commercial dominance of Great Britain. France’s inefficient and antiquated financial system was unable to manage the national debt, something which was both partially caused and exacerbated by the burden of an inadequate system of taxation. To obtain new money to head off default on the government’s Joans, the king called an Assembly of Notables in I 787.
Meanwhile, the royal court at Versailles was seen as being isolated from, and indifferent to, the hardships of the lower classes. While in theory, King Louis XVl was an absolute monarch, in practice he was often indecisive and known to back down when faced with strong opposition. While he did reduce government expenditures, opponents in the parliament successfully thwarted his attempts at enacting much-needed reforms. Those who were opposed to Louis’ policies further undermined royal authority by distributing pamphlets (often reporting false or exaggerated information) that criticized the government and its officials, stirring up public opinion against the monarchy.
Many other factors involved resentments and aspirations given focus by the rise of Enlightenment ideals. These included resentment of royal absolutism; resentment by peasants, labourers and the bourgeoisie toward the traditional seigniorial privileges possessed by the nobility; resentment of the Church’s influence over public policy and institutions; aspirations for freedom of religion; resentment of aristocratic bishops by the poorer rural clergy; aspirations for social, political and economic equality, and (especially as the Revolution progressed) republicanism; hatred of Queen Marie-Antoinette, who was falsely accused of being a spendthrift and an Austrian spy; and anger toward the King for firing finance minister Jacques Necker, among others, who were popularly seen as representatives of the people.
The French Revolution, though it seemed a failure in 1799 and appeared nullified by 1815, had far-reaching results. In France, the bourgeois and landowning classes emerged as the dominant power. Feudalism was dead; social order and contractual relations were consolidated by the Code Napoleon. The Revolution unified France and enhanced the power of the national state. The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars tore down the ancient structure of Europe, hastened the advent of nationalism, and inaugurated the era of modern, total warfare.
Although some historians view the Reign of Terror as an ominous precursor of modem totalitarianism, others argue that this ignores the vital role the Revolution played in establishing the precedents of such democratic institutions like elections, representative government, and constitutions. The failed attempts of the urban lower middle classes to secure economic and political gains foreshadowed the class conflicts of the 19th cent. While major historical interpretations of the French Revolution differ greatly, nearly all agree that it had an extraordinary influence on the making of the modern world.
The disorder became a common scene after the storming of the Bastille in 1789. After a few years, the French intellectuals who rode the banner of liberalism as the forerunners of the revolution issued the Declaration of the Rights of Man. 1brough this document they aimed at shifting the authority of issuing basic human rights from the Church, or God so to say, to the state government. The King’s crown that was a symbol of Catholic Christianity was replaced with a red liberty cap that represented the state as the authority.
In the same year, the National assembly of the new parliament seized all the Church lands to further suppress religion and enrich itself. Furthermore, an end was put to all kinds of religious orders and monastic vows. Through the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, the government took direct control over all religious proceedings and took the authority of selecting Pastors and Bishops who were to take oath under the new government. All those priests who refused to take oath under the new government were arrested and banned from operating underground chapels.