French Revolution

History M01B - Krister Swanson - Moorpark College

Causes of the FR

  • economic (can’t service debt, sluggish economy)
  • political (weak monarch, noble resurgence, Bourg interest in Enlightenment)
  • social (oppressed poor, Bourg. Resentment of nobility)
  • Growing population, rising prices, stable wages, subsistence farming
  • Growing Bourg. threat to nobility
  • Lessening distinctions between classes
  • Weakness of Louis XVI

Problems with Debt

  • 7 yrs. War & Amer. Rev.
  • Can’t tax nobility - claim “only EG can tax”
  • Nobles demand original rights (resurgence)
  • N+B, N vs. B, & conditions suck for poor (unemployment hunger)

Estates General (1789)

  • 1st=Clergy, 2nd=Nobility, 3rd=All else (Bourgeiosie)
  • 3rd Estate gets pumped up, this is their chance
  • How to Vote? Nobility demands equal representation for each estate & vote by order

Cahiers de Doleances

Grievances of the estates: Gov’t waste, indirect taxes, corruption, Church taxes, etc.

  • Want local admin., more meetings of the EG, free press (Basic equality)
  • grievances must wait on voting issue

National Assembly

  • 3rds refuse to sit separately, so they break off with lower clergy & form NA on 6/17
  • Take the Tennis Court Oath: “We’ll meet until we write a constitution”
  • Louis XVI Breaks Down
  • Louis says “desist” causing more clergy & nobility join NA
  • Louis realizes he’s toast, asks 1st & 2nd to officially join NA (6/27)
  • this means Gov’t is no longer by privileged order

Storming the Bastille, 1789

  • Louis XVI wants to regain initiative
  • dismisses Necker, musters troops
  • 7/14: people of Paris form militia, go to Bastille for weapons
  • troops fire on crowd, they storm
  • This event means Poor are starting  to be heard, disturbances spread
  • Louis gives in again, recognizes NCA

Great Fear Spreads

  • Rural uprisings vs. nobility & army
  • opportunity to claim food supply & land, reclaim lost rights, and vent
  • uprisings cause Nobles to renounce rights & privs. (8/4)- decrees make laws same for all
  • Clears way for NCA to write Cons.
  • sets up NCA & popular masses vs. King & Cons. Nobles

Dec. of Rights of Man (8/27)

  • Statement of principles for Rev.
  • Attacks probs. from Old Regime
  • Enlightenment & Dec. of Ind.


  • Equality before law, enter any office or profession, due process, religious tolerance
  • Apportioned taxation, innocence
  • Civic equality & right to property

Impact of Dec. of Rights

  • Women left in separate sphere
  • True end of old regime (civic equality & protection of property)
  • Establishes philosophy for Revolution

March on Versailles

  • Louis stalls on Dec. of R, no food
  • Women march on Versailles (10/5)
  • Louis agrees to Dec. of Rights,  forced back to Paris
  • Popular insurrection works, leads to Constitutional Monarchy
  • Relative peace until 1792
  • Start process of “Reconstruction”

Reconstruction of France

  • Constitutional Monarchy, rational administration, unregulated econ. (some En.)
  • Protect property & limit impact of those without property
  • Civic, not social equality
  • This is not democracy

Constitution of 1791

  • Legislative Assembly makes laws & taxes), Monarch gets veto
  • “Active” citizens get vote (very limited suffrage)
  • indirect elections for Leg. Assembly
  • transfer power from aristocratic wealth to all wealth (good for Bourg.)

Women Get Left Out

  • Cons. forbids women from voting or holding office
  • Olympe de Gouges rewrites Dec. of Man as Dec. of Women
  • Without women & poor the Revolution is incomplete

Departments are Formed

  • Replace provinces, remain today
  • Uniform courts, elected judges & prosecutors
  • parlements & old courts are gone

Economic Reform

  • Support policies of Louis XVI
  • Suppressed Guilds (Chapelier Law)
  • new land taxes insufficient so they, Finance debt by selling Church property


  • Bonds backed by church property
  • Become so popular they’re used like currency
  • This gives lots of people an economic stake in the Revolution
  • Issue too many è inflation

Civil Constitution of Clergy

  • Departments = Dioceses
  • Election of clergy
  • Tension between Church & State
  • NCA forces clergy to sign
  • Resistors are “refractory clergy”
  • Pope condemns Revolution, creates a  crisis for devout Catholics

Counter Revolutionaries

  • emigres flee to border countries
  • Louis’ brother & Marie convince him to split, he flees & gets caught at Varennes
  • Makes it clear Louis is anti-Rev.
  • Dec. of Pillnitz: Leopold II (Au.) & Fred II(Pr.) pledge to protect royal family & Monarchy if necessary
  • Revs. realize they’re surrounded – must unite against outside threat
  • 1st Leg. Assembly’s elected, faces big probs.: divisions in LA, demands of “passive” citizens, outside threats

Start of 2nd Revolution

  • People call for more Rev. (left out, bad economics, no food)
  • Girondins (Mod/Cons. Monarchists) want to keep 1st rev.
  • Jacobins (Rad/Republic) require help of sans-culottes
  • 4/1792: Legislative Assembly declares war on Austria
  • Austria & Prussia invade (crisis-”severe retribution”)
  • wars favor Austria & Prussia early
  • 8/10/92 Paris Insurrection (Tuileries), spurred on by recruits from war
  • Commune takes control of Paris
  • Nat’l Convention takes over gov’t & declares Republic (9/1792)
  • Commune massacres “enemies of Rev.”, imprisons Louis XVI

Mobilize for Conflict

  • 1/93- Convention executes Louis
  • Defending new values and order
  • form Executive committees (General Security & Public Safety) with great power
  • Danton, Robespierre, Carnot must “save the revolution”
  • The Mountain allies with sans-cullottes (who prefer rev. to old regime)

Domestic Support for War

  • 4/93: war with A, P, GB, Sp, & DR
  • 6/93: SCs expel Girondins, Mtn. in control
  • women want right to fight
  • levee en masse=
  • conscript males
  • war production
  • price ceilings
  • squash uprisings in provinces

(starts in 11/93)

  • nation of virtue, not religion
  • change calendar
  • close churches, arrest priests
  • opposition from provinces
  • further alienating the church

Reign of Terror

  • Robespierre & Comm. for Public Safety – terror is necessary to build virtuous society
  • Marat’s execution lays groundwork
  • targeted “enemies of revolution”, definition always changing & expanding
  • Marie, then other royals
  • Girondin, then out into provinces against poor who revolted against revolution
  • Robes axes enrages, then Danton
  • eliminates opposition
  • Law of 22 – makes it quick & easy to execute enemies of the Rev.
  • 25,000 total victims
  • first in chain that includes Hitler & Stalin?!?

Fall of Robespierre

  • Cult of Supreme Being
  • Wild accusations, shouted down & arrested on 9th of Thermidor
  • no support from SC’s or Jacobins
  • destroyed rivals without creating followers

Thermidorian Reaction (7/94)

  • tempers revolution
  • SCs out, Girondin back in
  • continue rev. in moderation
  • Powers of CPS reduced
  • Price controls & regulations removed (shortages)
  • Bourg. emerges triumphant
  • Property=representation
  • Back to old life style (both worship and vice)
  • legal rights & constitution
  • commune outlawed, Jac. Club closed
  • “white terror” execute  “red terrorists”
  • peace with Sp. & Pr., still at war with GB & Au.

Constitution of Year III

  • skip Cons. of 1793
  • Vote for property holders & soldiers (new representation)
  • Leg.= Councils of Elders & 500
  • Exec.= Directory (group of 5)


  • Rev. of the property holder
  • Some peasants become land holders
  • Unregulated economy leads to riots
  • Royalists use poor to restore mon.
  • Put down by army, including young officer named _______
  • Babeuf claims Rev. is incomplete
  • Directory relies on army more than Cons.