French revolution summary/detailed description

The French Revolution was a major movement that overthrew the absolutist regime in France and established a republic in the country . It took place in the 18th century, between 1789 and 1799. French revolution summary

Despite having been a movement with a simple objective, the French Revolution had great events throughout its 10 years, which influence world politics and society to the present day.

It was from this movement that the ideals of equality, liberty and civil rights of the people began to emerge, at a time when the great monarchies still prevailed.

We consider that the French Revolution began in 1789, with the Fall of the Bastille, and ended in 1799, when Napoleon Bonaparte carried out a coup d’état and took power in France.

Summary of the French Revolution

To understand the causes of the French Revolution, it is necessary to know how France was politically and socially before the movement actually took place. French revolution summary

Before the Fall of the Bastille, the country lived an absolutist monarchy, led by King Louis XIV, author of the famous phrase “I am the State”.

In an absolutist regime there are no laws, much less a Constitution that can direct the government and the people. Therefore, the king held the 3 powers: legislative, executive and judiciary.

French society was considered a status society, that is, it was divided into classes: the nobility, the clergy (church) and the third estate (people).

In this status society, people who were born into a certain class, live forever within the conditions they were born in, with no propensity to have a rise or decline in their social level.

This means that a child who was born a peasant would die as a peasant. Just as one who was born into the nobility would die a noble. French revolution summary

In addition to this political and social structure, economically France was experiencing a very serious situation, with episodes of hunger and severe drought in the national territory.

This situation was recorded with each passing year, since the French nobility and clergy were considered parasitic, that is, they did not work to move the economy and lived off the taxes paid by the people.

The then King Louis, wanting to be an enlightened despot, bringing Enlightenment ideas, began to try to calm the situation as the French people were revolted by the country’s precarious economic issues.

It was then that in 1797 the Assembly of Notables took place , a meeting between the king, the nobility and the clergy, with the aim of convincing the nobility and clergy to pay taxes.

Unsuccessful in this Assembly, the king decided to make a new assembly, in 1798, this time convoking the 3 states. At this meeting, the vote was not counted per person, but per class. In other words, even though they were in greater numbers, the people were still at a disadvantage. French revolution summary

The clergy, together with the nobility, decided together their votes so that the situation would remain the same: tax exemption for these 2 classes and the people would continue to pay all the tax.

It was then, with the general revolt of the people after this decision, that the third estate decided to take the Oath of the Room of the Game of Péla , a typical French game. They went to a court and from Péla and declared that they would only leave that place with a constitution that could stop the king.

Years later this event was considered the first constituent assembly.

In the midst of all this revolt of the people, the Great Fear emerged, a period when many nobles fled their homes in fear of the peasants who began to burn and break all the belongings of their lords.

The Fall of the Bastille and the Beginning of the French Revolution

The Bastille was the tower of a disused prison that was used as a meeting point for peasants revolted against the government, even during the era of the Great Fear. French revolution summary

The possession of this prison was symbolic, because it was a great monument of absolutism in France. It was then that the peasants overthrew the Bastille, in 1789, as a way of demonstrating that they had affronted and overthrown a part of the absolutist regime.

It was from that moment that a great struggle against absolutism in France began.

It was from this fall and the Great Fear that many changes began to take place. The people who participated in the constituent assembly of the Oath of the Sala do Jogo da Péla managed to abolish feudal rights and began to make reforms in the economic area, in addition to approving the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen .

These reforms are not only important for politics in France, but also because they mark the beginning of civil rights in the country and around the world. French revolution summary

This Declaration of freedom of expression to individuals, in addition to ensuring their right to come and go. It also managed to divide power into the legislative, executive and judiciary.

One of the most present guidelines at the beginning of the French Revolution was that all people should be treated equally before the law. This is even one of the principles of our 1988 Constitution.

The flag of France is the result of the 3 pillars of the French revolution. Their colors mean:

  • Blue:  (Liberty)
  • White: (Equality)
  • Red:  (Fraternity).

Another important event, still in 1790, was the creation of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. This Constitution aimed to start the process of secularization of the State, that is, to separate the Church (clergy) from the State, making France a secular country free from any religious commandment. French revolution summary

The First Constitution of France

The first Constitution of France was established in 1791, inaugurating the constitutional monarchy. Now, King Louis XIV continued with his reign, but he had to obey a set of laws, like any citizen.

This Constitution brought, among other things:

  • the division of powers;
  • the right to private property;
  • the census vote : only those who could prove a certain income could vote.

It is from the implementation of this constitution that the bourgeoisie begins to fight for their rights, since in the Old Regime, despite having wealth, they could not have any control over political decisions.

During the creation of this constitution, King Louis initiates a conspiracy process to regain his absolute power in France. To apply the coup, he enters into agreement with two countries: Prussia and Austria. French revolution summary

The death of King Louis XIV and the proclamation of the republic

At this point in the Revolution that French society began to understand the real differences between the Girondins and Jacobins.

The Girondins were the part of society constituted by the upper bourgeoisie and that wanted to avoid a greater participation of urban and rural workers in politics.

This part of the population aspired for fewer reforms in France and advocated the limitation of many popular conquests, in addition to being liberal.

The Jacobins were the poorest part of the population, like the petty bourgeoisie, peasants and the general population. This part of the people was considered more radical and aspired to proclaim the republic in France, kill the king, demand the rights of the general population and even the universal vote.

These two divisions in French society were also divided in support of King Louis. While the Girondins wanted to try to compromise and make the king remain in power, even in a constitutional monarchy, the Jacobins wanted to extinguish any kind of monarchy in the country. French revolution summary

In 1792 Prussia and Austria declared war against France, not only because they were in agreement with King Louis, but also because they felt their own monarchies were threatened by the Revolution that was taking place.

France fights both countries, wins the war and discovers that the king was conspiring against the country itself to try to regain absolute power.

King Louis is then condemned and killed for high treason and the republic is proclaimed in the country, still in 1792.

the period of terror

With the Girondins in power after the king’s death, the Revolution began to undergo major radicalizations. It is at this moment that the Jacobins seize power in France, in 1793. French revolution summary

During this period, many important events took place in the country:

  • Vendee Revolt , an opposition to the French Revolution. This revolt took place when the artisans and peasants were against the revolution and the bourgeoisie of the big cities and in favor of the Catholic Church and the monarchical system, receiving the support of the aristocracy;
  • The new Constitution of 1793 , which finally brought universal suffrage , where everyone could vote (women were not yet included in the votes).
  • Agrarian reform : the Jacobins sanction the Law of the Maximum, making the law of the maximum, which guaranteed that everyone had financial access to food, without restrictions;
  • Slavery is abolished in the colonies that France had in America and Africa.

Even with all the conquests made by the Jacobins, one of the bloodiest periods of the revolution was beginning.

Maximilien Robespierre was the great leader of the French Revolution, alongside the Jacobins, also being the greatest protagonist of the period of terror in the country.

In a constant struggle to bring about major reforms and give equal rights to individuals, Robespierre became concerned about those who did not follow French law.

It was out of this concern that he began a hunt for anyone who might be anti-revolutionary and killed many people, including six friends.

In a bloody attempt to wipe out anyone who might be breaking the law, Robespierre lost the support of the population and was killed by the people themselves in 1793.

The Directory period and the end of the French Revolution

With the death of the greatest leader of the Jacobins, the Girondins seize power and begin to rule France.

Upon assuming power, the Girondins returned with the census vote and it was known for a period when the bourgeoisie took over and put laws that benefited their own social class.

During this government, there was a great movement called the Conspiracy of Equals, led by Grago Babeuf, with the aim of achieving effective freedom among men. However, the movement did not go forward.

The French Revolution ended in 1799 when Napoleon Bonaparte staged a coup called the Eighteenth Brumaire, where he seized power in France.

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