The French revolution was a significant event in the history of modern Europe. It started in 1789 and ended in the '90s with the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte. French residents realized their rights and thus redesigned their country’s political scenario by taking out the century-old institutions from roots. This left the system with marking out absolute monarchy and the feudal system from France. The discontent of a monarchy ruled by King Louis xvi and the poor economic conditions made by him were also crucial reasons for the revolution. Although there were also many bad consequences to this like the chaotic bloodbath.
In the 18th century, France started getting involved with the American revolution which paid them a high price. Not only this king Louis xvi made his living and spending very costly. They were almost near bankruptcy.
The royal coffers depleted in number, twenty years of poor harvest, drought, cattle disease and increase in bread price were the common problems faced by peasants and the urban poor. And this was not the end the monarchy has imposed high taxes towards them. Many of these people revolted against the monarchy by rioting, striking, looting people.
In 1786 autumn, the control general to Louis, Charles alexander de Calonne suggested a financial reform in which a universal tax would be indulged so that the privileged classes could also suffer from the poor ones. The king Louis xvi summoned the estates-general– in an assembly which involved France’s clergy, nobility and middle class. This was for the first time since 1614.
The further meet up was programmed for May 5, 1789, but in the meantime, the representatives in the three estates from each locality used to organize lists of grievances which would be presented to the king.
Before the proper revolution, peasants and workers were taking part in a revolt against the increase in taxes and the scarcity of food but they didn't have any proper program to cast against the monarchy that would bring a total full-fledged change in the social as well as economic order. The third estate's responsibility was now to find a proper full-scale measured change because they were not only prosperous, but they also had the education and new ideas.
The 18th century saw many emerging groups to recover the social divide, these groups were middle class who used to earn money through the overseas trade or from manufacturing woolen and silk textiles. These manufactured goods were either exported or purchased by the richer members of society. The third estate also included lawyers or administrative officials. The third estate belonged to people who were mostly educated and held the idea of no group being privileged by birth in society. They proposed the idea of an individual's privileges being associated with merit.
Moreover, thoughts over freedom and equal laws and opportunities for all were being put down by john Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau (the famous philosophers) in their two treatises of government, Locke opposed the doctrine of the divine and absolute right of the monarch. While Rousseau brought the idea of introducing a government based on the idea of the social contract between individuals and their following representatives.
When the American constitution started giving an individual a set of rights it inspired many thinkers of France. Ideas of having rights individually were started being discussed in the coffee-houses intensively. The idea grabbed everyone's mind in France, it was going viral everywhere let it be books or newspapers. Reading the ideas aloud was becoming a hobby so that the people who are not able to read and write could understand it. As the news of Louis xvi imposing more taxes spread among people, they turned it into protests the system. (National Council of Educational, 2006)
The Bastille storming and the beginning of the revolt
On July 14, 1789, a storming took place which displayed a popular revolution’s inaugural moment. Bastille de Saint-Antoine had seized its gunpowder which happened to further release a handful of prisoners locked there.
After the claim over the fortress in the revolution, a powerful message was sent to the to the forces of great wealth which nevertheless dominated the kingdom "the upheaval in France would not be a simple legislative reorganization, but rather a social revolution" and from this very point the French revolution became violent and volatile in many ways
"the storming of the bastille is the most famous event in the French revolution and has moreover become its symbol throughout the world. But this glory rather distorts its historical significance. It was neither a moment of miracle, nor a conclusion, nor a culminating point of the ‘good’ revolution before the start of the ‘bad’, that of 1793 and the terror; the storming of the bastille was one shining point on the trajectory of the Paris insurrection, which continued its upward curve…" - Hazan
The storming of the bastille is remembered for masses oppressing Parisians to reform France and giving a challenge to the king's monarchy. The bastille storming attempted to change the becoming period of cautious reform into a major and real revolt. (Walters, 2019)
On the 4th of august, the declaration of the rights of man and the citizen was approved. This was all made through the base given by famous philosophers (Jean-Jacques Rousseau) about political ideas in the context of enlightenment. The ancient regime was no more working, and the assembly made a set of rights which were based on an equal opportunity, freedom of speech, popular sovereignty and representative government.
It was challenging as well as difficult for the national constituent assembly to draft a constitution. Drafting the constitution added a burden of functioning as a legislature during the time of harsh economic crises.
The members of national constituent assembly struggled for months with the questions related to shape and expanse of France 's new political landscape. For example, the questions were who would be responsible enough to become the elected delegate?; the clergy would be owing to the French government or the roman catholic church ?; and the most important question for them was to decide the quantity of power given to the king so that his public image does not get deteriorated.
The constitution was adopted on September 3 in 1791. The first constitution in France developed a constitutional monarchy. In this constitution, the king had the right of one veto vote, and he was able to appoint ministers. Although the radical mindsets of Maximilien de Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins and Georges Danton, made it difficult to run the constitutional monarchy in France. They wanted more republic government.
Due to the demand for radical and republic government in France, the situation was getting worse day by day. Although Louis had signed the constitution he still secretly entered to negotiate with the king of Prussia. Even the neighboring countries were tensed about the gradual development in France about sending troops. (National Council of Educational, 2006)but before any of this could happen war was raised against Prussia and Austria in April 1792. France wanted to spread their ideas to Europe through warfare.
Unfortunately, while the men were away fighting battles, women had to take the responsibility of earning living as well as looking after families. A lot of people started realizing that the revolution has not ended yet because the constitution proclaimed in 1791 is only giving rights to the richer sections. People who wanted to discuss issues related to this were taking part in clubs. The most famous club at this time was of the Jacobins which had emerged from the former convent of St. Jacob in Paris. Women were having their own clubs. (National Council of Educational, 2006) the demands of political rights took a great stance when a number of insurgents motivated by the Jacobins attacked the royal residence in Paris and arrested the king on August 10, 1792.
Violence gradually started in Paris and hundreds of people were accused and massacred. Due to the violent wave generated the legislative assembly turned into a national convention which decided the abolition of the monarchy and settled at the idea of republic France. King Louis xvi met his death through guillotine on January 21, 1793, because of the crimes against the state he made. The same fate was suffered by his wife Marie Antoinette nine months later.
The reign of terror is a period which is known for intense violence led by Robespierre’s Jacobins. At this time the guillotine emerged as the most powerful tool in the hands of the political system. Millions of people lost their lives through their dissident thinkers. Around tens of thousands were killed without any trial or maybe died in jail. Deaths were closer to 40,000 by the guillotine according to the estimate. The relevancy of this period is a topic of debate still, but it could not be denied that the terror emerged was in response to the urgent need for political and military defense.
Robespierre wrote in 1794:
"if the spring of popular government in time of peace is a virtue, the springs of popular government in revolution are at once virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is, therefore, an emanation of virtue; it is not so much a special principle as it is a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our country’s most urgent needs."
Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself as the emperor of France in 1804. Not only France but majorly Europe was under his rule and he wanted to modernize Europe at the best level. For this, he proposed many laws like protection of private property and a uniform system of weights and measures provided by the decimal system.
Many people confused Napoleon as a liberator who would bring freedom, but napoleon armies were very soon invading everywhere. Napoleon was defeated at the waterloo in 1815. But his ideas helped in emerging liberty and other modern laws in various parts of Europe. The most p [prominent ideas were of freedom and democracy and they went viral in the 19th century. (National Council of Educational, 2006)
Women were getting training for jobs, they could become artists or run a small business but somehow or other women’s struggles for equal political rights, was constant.
At the period of the reign of terror, the new ruling government made rules against women's clubs and their political rights. There were cases of famous women being arrested and further being executed. Till the next 200 years, women were fighting for voting rights and equal wages without any break. Finally, in 1946 women in France won and gained the right to vote. (National Council of Educational, 2006). Reference:- history.com