French Revolution Essay

The French Revolution broke out party because of the dire economic situation in France. The price of food had risen, but wages had not, and there was high unemployment, the price of bread was ats highest ever in July 1789. Also there was increasing demand by the Third Estate (the common people) for a say in the governemnt of the country. All power was in the hands of the King, the aristocracy and the church. There was a sort of parliament called the Estates, General, but it was only called very seldom, when the King wanted something,a nd basically it was just supposed to do what the King told it to.

Under pressure from the members of the Third Estate, the King agreed to convert the Estates General into a National Assembley charged with framing a new constitution for France. However, Louis tried to organise a coup d’etat to dismiss the Estates general, which caused a riot in Paris, and the storming of the Bastille. The National Assembley drew up a new constitution. A constituitonal monarchy was set in place. The ancinet provinces of France were divided up into eighty-three departments, which constituted the basis of all forms of administration. Careers within the administaration were open to all.

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A system of election was extended to the clergy and judiciary as well as those in political life. High offices of state were no longer reserved for an exclusive caste. Tithes (taxes paid to the church) and seigneurial dues (taxes paid to the lords who owned the land farmed by tghe peasants) were abolished. The vote was restricted to property-owners, which favoured the borugeoise (middle classes) and the bigger peasants. Church property – between 6 and 10 percent of cultivatable land – was nationalized, and sold off in lots. Religious tolerance was permitted, its extension to Jews made France a world pioneeer of Jewish rights.

Imprisonment without trial was made illegal, the freedom of the press and freedom of speech upheld. The leaders of the revolution split into the Jacobins, who were more radical, and the girondins, who were more conservative and against giving too much power to the ‘sans-culottes’ (the poor working class), and this eventually led to the Jacobins seizing control of the government. they introduced a wide range of radical measures, slavery was abolished, radical divorce legislation was confirmed, and an embryonic welfare state was sketched out.

Resistance by the Girondins to radical reform led to the Terror, during which all opposition was wiped out, anyone even suspected of having sympathy with the girondins were executed. Fewer than 3,000 individuals were executed in Paris, but the national figure ran to hundreds of thousands. Perhaps half a million individuals were also imprisoned as ‘suspects’ during the Reign of Terror in 1793/4. Robespierre and his followers intensified repression, even executing former allies such as Danton. A Revolutionary calendar was set up, the metric system was devised, and new forms of popular religion were developed.

It all proved too mcuh for the solid phalanx of bourgeoise deputies in the convention who rebelled. On 27July 1794 Robespierre an dhis allies were overthrown by a conspiracy. The new government swung away from the radical ideas of the Jacobins, and a new constitution was devised By the late 1790s a group of politcal generals were gaining power, and Napoleon Bonaparte eventually seized power in 1799. He stamped out many of the radical reforms of the revolution, and re-imposed absolute rule on the French people.

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