revolution up to the summer of 1794.
Revolutions have for a long time been a fundamental pillar in many
countries history. In fact, the history of many countries is founded in
revolutions especially considering that the political landscapes of many
countries were characterized by monarchies, colonialism and other forms
of oppressive regimes. Revolutions, in these countries, could be violent
or nonviolent. It goes without saying that the revolutions caused
fundamental changes in the governance of the countries, and their
effects continue to be felt even today. This is the case for the French
The French Revolution took place between 1789 and 1799, and was marked
by radical political and social upheaval that had long-term effects on
the history of France, as well as the entire world at large (Kates, 23).
France had been under the rule of absolute monarchy for centuries,
something that changed with a period of three years in which the society
had epic transformations characterized by the elimination religious,
aristocratic, as well as feudal privileges under persistent assault from
peasants, radical political groups, as well as masses. This period also
witnessed the elimination of old ideas pertaining to hierarchy and
tradition of aristocracy, monarchy, as well as religious authority
(Kates, 43). These were replaced by entirely new enlightenment
principles that touched on inalienable rights, citizenship and equality
Needless to say, the French Revolution was triggered by varied long-term
and short-term events or causes. On the same note, the revolution
emanated from a myriad of causes spanning economic, social and political
aspects. However, the most fundamental causes were political and
Part one: Long term causes to 1789.
The French revolution had its roots in the strenuous fiscal deficits
that weighed heavily on the peasants and a large part of the French
society at the time. Varied major wars had occurred in about four
decades prior to the revolution. It is worth noting that France took
part in these wars, something that weighed heavily on the economic
conditions of the country as King Louis was required to invest enormous
amounts of money in weaponry and the wars (Neely, 26). Needless to say,
this money was derived from taxes that were paid by the peasants or the
3rd estate as it was called at the time (Kates, 54). For instance,
France had fought alongside America against the British in 1756
something that reduced the amount of money at its disposal at a time
when inflation was extremely high. The peasants were extremely outraged
as they were overburdened by the country’s economic conditions. The
situation was aggravated by the poor harvests in 1787 and 1788, which
had resulted from severe, cold winters. Numerous people suffered from
starvation and malnutrition, leading to widespread protests as people
demanded that the king avail bread to the masses (Kates, 65).
One of the most fundamental causes of the revolution was the taxation
system. The nobles and clergy were exempted from tax while the 3rd
estate bore the entire tax burden. This became unbearable especially
after King Louis XVI increased the taxes to keep the economy afloat.
Poor peasants had no way of changing this considering that they did not
have a voice (Neely, 23).
In addition, the revolution was triggered by years of fiscal management
and feudal oppression. Acknowledging that the country was undergoing a
downward or negative economic spiral in the later part of 18th century
King Louis XVI asked varied financial advisors to carry a comprehensive
review of the French treasury. The advisors concluded that France was in
dire need of radical change in the taxation of the public (Hunt, 33).
Unfortunately, the king kicked the advisors out. The king, ultimately
realized that the tax problem had to be addressed, in which case he
appointed Charles de Calonne as the controller general of finance in
1783. Charles suggested that France had to begin taxing the nobility,
who were previously exempt. The nobility could hear none of this in
which case financial ruin and a revolt were imminent.
On the same note, King Louis XVI had convened an Estates General meeting
in Versailles where they were to discuss, as well as approve a new tax
plan. The Estate General was a representatives’ gathering from the
three estates. In this meeting, there were about 1100 members who had
been divided into three groups including the nobles, the clergy, and the
3rd estate. The third estate represented a large part of the French
society but could not be considered a force to reckon with as it made up
only half the deputies. The king hoped that new tax policies would be
approved (Taylor, 45). The clergy and the nobles were exempt from paying
taxes, in which case they hoped to control the affairs so as to continue
having their privileged lifestyles. On the other hand, the middle class
wanted the introduction of English style democracy while the peasants
hoped that new policies would be made to solve their problems. The
aspirations of the 3rd estate could not be attained as each estate was
considered as having one vote (Hunt, 33). This means that its proposals
could not succeed as they were often conflicting with the likes and
preferences of the other two estates. This was irrespective of the fact
that the 3rd estate represented the larger part of the population
(Chartier, 54). This disparity led to feuds that proved irreconcilable,
after which the 3rd estate declared itself as the sovereign national
assembly as it realized that it had automatic advantage thanks to its
numbers. This announcement triggered numerous members of the other
estates to switch allegiance to the new revolutionary assembly (Taylor,
1789- August 1792- the moderate phase
The conflict or revolution at this time was more or less political in
nature. The various factions at the time were divided about the reforms
that were taking place in France. After the formation of the National
Assembly, the king refused to allow the formation of a constitution
(Hibbert, 45). This led to a power struggle in which the National
Assembly took the Tennis Court Oath, vowing not to breakup and forced
the king to allow reforms in France, the elimination of the old system,
as well as the making of a new constitution and the Legislative
Assembly. The reforms divided France as they legislated against the
church while also declaring war on countries that had supported king
(Hunt, 43). While the constitution had brought relative calm, a rift
grew between the moderate and radical members of the assembly. The
workers and common laborers, on the other hand, started feeling
overlooked. However, the fundamental root of the conflict was the issue
on whether to retain the constitutional monarchy. The moderates favored
its retention while the radicals favored its elimination (Hibbert, 65).
A second revolution occurred in 1792 with sanculottes and Jacobins
forcing the Assembly to change itself into National Convention that
abolished the monarchy and declared the country a republic. The palace
was also attacked, and numerous guards killed while the king and queen
were captured in August (Chartier, 67).
The revolution, at this time, also took a social nature. The peasants
had expressed considerable hostility to the noble landlords, who then
sent armed brigands to attack the villages and the peasants ( HYPERLINK
http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/366/ ). This triggered the peasants to
form armed groups to protect their villages and fields (Hunt, 54). This
led to the 4 August decrees that cemented the peasants and commoners to
the path of revolution.
1793-1799: The Radical Phase to the Beginning of the Directory
The revolution in this period was political as it was triggered by the
inability to lead or protect the country, as well as abuse of power by
the various bodies and individuals who governed the country. In December
1792 King Louis was tried for the violation of the liberty of his
subjects and eventually executed in January 1793. However, the National
convention was overthrown after foreign forces started entering the
French territory (Hibbert, 76). Maximilien Robespierre-led Jacobins took
control. For some time, the economy and the country at large seemed to
stabilize. However, Robespierre grew increasingly paranoid about
possible counterrevolutionary forces leading to the Reign of Terror of
the late 1793. While the execution of dissidents appeared justifiable at
the time, it could not be justified after the foreigners had been
eliminated from France (Chartier, 98). Robespierre was eventually
captured and executed in 1794. This reinstated the National Convention,
with a group called the Directory controlling the executive appointments
and responsibilities. Unfortunately, the Directory immensely abused
power leading to immense upheavals. French armies led by Napoleon
Bonaparte came back to Paris and overthrew the Directory in 1799.
Napoleon became the first consul and leader of the republic, ending the
revolution. The country remained under military rule for 15 years.
Liberty, Equity Fraternity. 4 August Decrees. Retrieved 12th January
2013 from HYPERLINK “http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/366/”
Hibbert, Christopher. The Days of the French Revolution. New York:
William Morrow, 1999. Print.
Chartier, Roger. The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution. Durham,
N.C: Duke University Press, 1991. Print.
Kates, Gary. The French Revolution: Recent Debates and New
Controversies. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print
Neely, Sylvia. A Concise History of the French Revolution. Lanham:
Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. Print.
Hampson, Norman. A Social History of the French Revolution. London:
Routledge, 1995. Print.
Taylor, David. The French Revolution. Oxford: Heinemann, 1997. Print.
Hunt, Lynn. Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. Print.
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revolution up to the summer of 1794.