General Knowledge

What is the French Revolution? What were the Reasons Behind and Impact?

The French changed into a revolution in France and called the French Revolution, it happened from 1789 to 1799.

It caused the stop of the monarchy and plenty of wars. King Louis XVI began this in 1793. The revolution came to an end when Napoleon Bonaparte got power in November 1799.

Causes for the French Revolution

1) Divided France:

France was divided into three classes or three estates. The clergy was the first estate, the nobles were the second estate, the middle class, the artisans, the city workers, and the peasants formed the majority of the population formed the third estate.

a) The clergy was the largest landowner in per capita terms; the clergy and the nobles did not pay any taxes and did no productive work.

b) The peasants formed 80% of the population.

c) Although the economically large middle classes were important, they enjoyed very little social prestige and political rights in society.

d) The third estate did not have voting rights, on the other hand, the clergy and the nobles did not pay any tax and the tax burden was solely borne by the third estate.

This was a major source for the grievance of the people which led to a reason for the French Revolution.

2) Unpopular monarchy and weakening exchequer:

King Louis 16 was an inefficient ruler with poor intelligence. The people hated his wife who interfered in the appointments of officials.

  • Costly wars like the seven-year war. The American revolution had driven France into bankruptcy.

3) Enlightenment thinkers:

The revolutionary enlightenment thinkers stressed on rationalism, secularism, the doctrine of nature brought the clergy under attack by the thinkers.

a) The principles of Laissez-Faire and no taxation without representatives were stressed which brought the nobility under criticism.

b) The thoughts of Democracy have been propounded by way of thinkers like Montesquieu and Jean Rousseau.

French Revolution Facts

a) In 1789, King Louis 16 called a meeting of estate’s general, which was the old feudal assembly of the three estates, to get the consent of additional funds.

b) When the additional funding debate reached a dead end, the third estate representatives declared themselves the national assembly, an assembly of the people rather than an assembly of the estates (like estates general).

c) An important event during the early days of the French revolution, on June 20th, 1789, when the representatives of the third estate reached the palace of Versailles, they founded closed on all sides, they held their meeting in a tennis court near the palace where Mirabeau delivered the fiery speech.

In this court, the people took a pledge to continue their movement until a new constitution was drafted. This event is known as the tennis court oath.

d) The national assembly adopted the famous document of the French Revolution, called the rights of man and citizen, which stressed equality before the law, gender equality, right to private property, people’s eligibility to public offices, etc.

e) In 1793, the radical Jacobins came to power in France, they made the right to vote unconditional by removing the income clause.

f) Robespierre, the leader of the Jacobins was the man behind, what came to be known as the Reign of Terror, where the regime sought to execute via guillotine all those who opposed the revolution. The king and the queen were executed in 1793.

g) Under the Jacobins, France descended into anarchy with little scope for the rule of law. Soon the same Jacobins turned against Robespierre and the reign of terror ended with his guillotine execution.

h) The Bourgeois again came to power and their government was called directorate.

i) In 1799, Napoleon, in a coup brought France under military rule, he declared himself the emperor a few years later and the monarchy was restored in France.

j) The years between 1803 are known for Napoleonic wars, wherein the French fought against the rest of Europe and brought the ideas of the French revolution to the conquered territories.

k) Napoleon’s forces abolished serfdom and modernized the administration of the conquered territories in Europe.

l) After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, the monarchies in the rest of Europe helped the old dynasty to come to old power in 1815.

But the old monarchy could never restore its control to the level witnessed prior to the 1789 revolution and soon France four waves of revolutions to finally become a republic in 1871.

Impact of the French Revolution

Positive Impact of the French Revolution

i) The war with France weakened the European colonial powers like Spain and Portugal and their colonies in the south and central America who declared themselves as independent republics.

ii) It led to the abolition of slavery in Britain and the USA.

iii) It led to the destruction of feudalism in France as all laws of the old feudal regime were repealed and lands of the nobles and church were confiscated and redistributed.

iv) The privileged classes, that is, the first and the second estates were abolished.

v) It ushered in the new economic system of capitalism as against the prevalent feudalism.

vi) Under napoleon’s rule, the Napoleonic code as a civil code for France was introduced and some of its provisions like merit-based recruitment to government jobs, focus on clearly written law continue to be in effect in the present legal system in France and other nations.

vii) The French revolution in later years inspired movements against colonialism in colonies around the world, while movements for democracy and self-rule rose in the whole of Europe.

Negative Impact of the French Revolution

i) Post –French Revolution regime failed to resolve the grievances of the workers, who were the main force during the uprising of 1789, and only the peasants benefited as they have become owners of land confiscated from the privileged classes.

ii) The revolution failed to bring in democratic rule and the reign of terror under the Jacobins was a mass slaughter characterized by nothing but brute force and the breach of rule of law.

iii) Napoleon due to his continuous warfare resulted in rising of nationalism in the invaded territories and he came to be perceived, not as a liberator, but an aggressive agent of empire building.

The nationalism was to prove advantageous to the unification of Germany and Italy in the 1870s.

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