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What was the French Revolution?

History | 7-14 yrs | Interactive

A revolution means a revolt, mutiny or a powerful change.

Origins of the French Revolution

In the years between 1789 until 1799, France experienced the most violent political turmoil, overthrowing the monarchy of Louis XVI and establishing the French republic, only to end in the dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was involved in the later years of the revolution.

Causes of the French Revolution

For years, in France, there was a vast difference between the poor and the rich. The rich became wealthier and made merry while the poor struggled for day to day living and became poorer. The poor saw the rich grow; while they got nothing. This angered them and finally a group of poor people rebelled against a few rich in the French society.

Who were involved in the French Revolution?

  • The French society prior to the French Revolution, was ruled by King Louis XVI. For years, in France, there was a vast difference between the poor and the rich. The rich became wealthier and made merry while the poor struggled for day to day living and became poorer.
  • The rich of the French society were called the Nobles who they lived in palaces and were gifted large lands by the King.
  • Then there was another class of people called the Church who owned most of the land in France and they levied heavy taxes on crops which were paid by the common man.
  • The Common Man was the third category of people who not only had to work extremely hard but also had to pay heavy taxes, leaving nothing for their savings or family.
  • The French Revolution was fought between the Common men on one side and the Nobles and Church of the French society on the other.

What led to the French Revolution?

The British colonies of America had declared Independence. France’s costly involvement in the American War of Independence had left France bankrupt. Two decades of poverty and difficulties had left the common man absolutely disillusioned and struggling with inflation due to heavy taxation. This was the beginning of a revolt. A revolution started in 1789 when the common men created a group called the National Assembly. The representatives of the National Assembly had taken an oath that they would not leave until a new constitution has been written for France. The members then attacked the Bastille prison, a symbol of power for the nobles and the King, on 14th July, 1789.

Ten Year Long Revolution (1789 – 1799)

Several other regions of France followed this event and a revolutionary movement was started. There was chaos all over. Peasants burned down castles of the nobles; some wealthy people left their privileges and ran away. There was a wave of violence across Europe known as the Great Fear. The violence kept spreading wherein the members of the third class wanted equal rights for themselves, but the members of the first class did not want to give full rights.

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

It was in August 1789, the National Assembly approved the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. This was the document that stated that all people are born free and have equal rights. The National Assembly also said that peasants will no longer farm for the nobles without pay. They took away the property from the Roman Catholic Church. Most male citizens also got the right to vote.

The Reign of Terror

The French Republic had a group called the National Convention which was later taken over by the Jacobins, an extremist group. The Jacobins began a period called the Reign of Terror. They arrested anyone who was against the revolution and killed many, including King Louis XVI in 1793. It was only in 1795 that a less extremist government called the Directory took over. A new constitution declined the right to vote for all those who could not pay taxes.

What was Napoleon Bonaparte’s involvement in the French Revolution?

During the Revolution, a General named Napoleon Bonaparte became famous. He was a skilled leader and helped expand the territories of France, including a victory over the powerful Austrian Army.

It was in 1799 that Napoleon Bonaparte did away with the Directory and the Revolution came to an end. He made himself the leader of a new government called the Consulate. Napoleon brought peace back to France. He rewrote the old French Feudal laws and created a new Napoleonic Code of laws, which remains in France even to this day.

Napoleon declared himself the Emperor of France in 1804. France became a republic in 1871.

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