The French revolution was linked to the American revolution. It was at a nascent stage while the American Revolution was going on but it had a wider impact than the French revolution.
Reasons for the French Revolution
The French society was oppressed by the rule of an extravagant king. The workers had no rights, the landless peasants could hardly sustain themselves, and the middle class was burdened with high taxes like salt tax.
Structure of the French Society
The French society was divided into three estates:
First Estate – Clergy
Second estate – Nobility
The two estates were about 5% of the population and were in control of 40% of the land. They were exempt from almost all taxes. They received tributes from the king and they considered work to be beneath them. All top posts of the army and administration belonged to them. However, there were members of these two estates who weren’t as prosperous and blamed the other members of their estates for their misery.
Composition of the Third Estate
The oppression and misery were present but unless supported by an intellectual movement that would awaken the people and unite them on the basis of common ideals, it would have been just a violent resistance.
The outbreak of the Revolution
The Monarch called a meeting of the three estates for raising taxes and loans. Each estate met separately. Since the third estate represented 96% of the population it declared itself the National Estate. The king allowed each estate to have only one vote. The members of the third estate found that the guards didn’t allow them to enter the meeting hall and so they assembled at the royal tennis court and took the Tennis court oath to form the constitution.
The king sent the royal guards to break up the assembly but rumors spread that the leaders of the assembly were to be arrested. The people were enraged and joined the assembly the guards too revolted. Bastille prison was a place where political prisoners were kept it was a sign of the king’s oppression. The protestors broke the prison and set the handful of prisoners free.
The fall of the Bastille was an important event of the Revolution.
The aftermath of the Fall
The National assembly enacted laws and removed all discrimination. It adopted the Declaration of Rights of Man and citizen. Freedom of speech, equality, and other political rights were given. To the middle class, the right to private property and equitable distribution of taxes were given. forced labor was removed along with feudalism and serfdom.
The land of the nobles and clergy was confiscated. The privileged class fled the country and appealed to foreign rulers to intervene and restore the old order. The king and queen to tried to flee the country. But were brought back as traitors.
The Kingdoms of Prussia, Austria, and Savoy started to gather forces to fight the Revolutionaries and restore the old order. But the French revolutionaries had founded new institutions based on “Fraternity and equality” and appealed to all to unite to remove the old order.
The National Assembly became the legislative assembly. The king and queen were executed and the war was declared on England, Spain, Holland and Hungary. The French were fighting for a new order and others were for restoring the monarchy. Jacobin a radical group came to power and they unleashed a reign of terror in France. They wanted to preserve the revolution and they started executing “Traitors”. In the end, the leader of Jacobin Robespierre was executed and the reign of terror ended.
Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte
The French Revolution failed and the army rose to power. Napoleon declared himself to be the Emperor of France. Under his rule, France fought continuous wars from 1792-to 1815. These were the Napoleonic wars with France on one side fighting for the republic and the Rest of Europe on the other hand fighting to maintain the old order.
The French defeated Prussia, Austria, Malta, and Spain but couldn’t regain Italy. The mighty British navy dominated the North Sea. Soon an alliance of the entire Europe fought the French and defeated them and ousted Napoleon from Paris. His return was foiled at the Battle of Waterloo. A congress in Vienna decided to restore the monarchy in France.
However, the monarchy was ousted again in 1830 and reemerged to exit in 1848. Then after a brief return finally in 1871 France became a republic.
Impact of the French Revolution on France and the World
The French revolution gave the world the ideals of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”. The idea of a republic came into being that had people as its pillars.
The workers, farmers, and peasants were recognized as important in society.
Declaration of Rights was a template to be followed by other nations.
French removed slavery from its colonies. Also, the occupation of Spain and Portugal was a boon for South and Central America as the colonies of Spain and Portugal were cut off from the mainland and soon became independent.
Workers were the mainstay of the revolution and soon a new form of economic order was to emerge that recognized worker’s rights.