October 1, 2023

The French Revolution (may 5, 1789 – nov 9, 1799)


In the late 18th Century, the Kingdom of France was in a turbulent period of unrest due to it being in debt from war as well having an unfair tax system. The King of France, as well as a rich aristocracy, made up what's known as the Nobles, and these incredibly privileged and wealthy group of people were exempt from paying taxes. In addition to this injustice, the Roman Catholic Church owned a considerable portion of land in France and so began to tax crops that were grown there by the poor. By the 1780s, 98% of the French population were ordinary poor people forced to pay money to the Nobles and the Church.

The French citizens living under these conditions saw the American Revolution as a way for the people of a country to have the power, rather than the king. This only fuelled the anti-monarchy attitude and soon the French decided that it was time for a new constitution based on republican ideals.

In the summer of 1789, the King of France, Louis XVI, decided to call an assembly with representatives from each of the three "Estates", that is, the Nobility, the Clergy, and the commoners. This assembly convened in the city of Versailles on 5th May 1789 and thus the commoners began to make their demands, marking the beginning of the French Revolution.

The assembly resulted in the Nobles and Clergy ignoring the pleas of the common people, which only in turn caused the French citizens to form their own National Assembly and begin writing a new constitution. Soon after this, the revolution turned violent when the people attacked Bastille prison in Paris which at the time was a symbol of nobility and the rule of the king. The attack on the prison allowed the citizens to obtain weapons and by the end of July they had completely taken over Paris, and the revolution had spread throughout the whole of France.

Two years later, the new constitution had finally been finished. Although more republican ideas were the basis of the revolution, the majority of the National Assembly still wanted a king on the throne. This led to a form of government similar to that of Britain, whereby King Louis was allowed to remain king but now ruled in unison with their own version of Parliament, known as the Legislative Assembly.

This arrangement on the surface seemed like the solution, but time revealed that it was still an uneasy form of rule. The king frequently disagreed with the decisions of the Assembly and thus kept stopping laws they tried to pass. Eventually in August 1792 the people had turned against the king and suspended him from duty once again.

All of this turmoil caused a number of kings and emperors in surrounding nations to become worried as they did not want revolutions happening in their own countries. The French at this point, anticipated that Austria and Prussia were about to intervene and so declared war on them first. As a result, Prussia and Austria began an invasion into France in the spring of 1792, making Europe once again, the stage for another war.

Over the next seven years, France was a country in chaos. The Legislative Assembly quickly lost all their power leaving France without any form of government or control. This gave rise to a number of revolutionary political factions who not only fought Prussia and Austria but also fought amongst themselves in battles, massacres, and executions.

Individuals such as Maximilien de Robespierre tried to control the nation using a reign of terror, but eventually even he was executed and a new government took his place in an ongoing attempt to write a constitution everyone agreed with.

As the years rolled on, various other countries got involved with the war against France, including that of Portugal, Spain, Great Britain, and the Netherlands. It was towards the end of the 1790s however, when a French general started to become very successful in his military campaigns. His name was Napoleon Bonaparte, and as he curried favour with many of the revolutionists, he was soon appointed to various positions of power within the French army. Napoleon even led a successful invasion into the Italian peninsular, which at the time was a collection of independent states.

Finally, on the 9th November 1799, Napoleon gained enough power and influence that he overthrew the current failing government and made himself First Consul of France. The monarchy was no more, Napoleon was hailed a hero, and the French Revolution was over. The country however, was still at war, and Napoleon had only just begun as he set his sights on a new European empire.

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2 months ago
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may 5, 1789
nov 9, 1799
~ 10 years


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