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(1789 – 1799)
The Revolution Begins
Main Idea
Problems in French society led to a revolution, the formation of a new
government, and the end of the monarchy.
Reading Focus
• What caused the French Revolution?
• What happened during the first events of the Revolution?
• How did the French create a new nation?
Background to the Revolution
 For centuries, the quality of life in Europe had been determined by
the status that one held. This status could not be attained, but was
instead determined by the family to which someone was born. If
you were born to a poor family, your life would be one of poverty.
No matter how hard an individual worked, it was impossible to rise
above this fate.
 The wealthy enjoyed a life of ease, comfort, and recreation. Day
after day, they pursued the pleasures of European society, while
97% of Europe’s people struggled just to survive.
 This gap between the wealthy and the poor created resentment.
Those at the bottom saw the wealthy grow increasingly richer,
while they got nothing.
1776 – America Rebels
 Then in 1776 something unthinkable happened. A
group of people at the bottom of society rebelled
against those who were at the top, and what was
more remarkable, they won. The British Colonies in
America declared their independence and then
enforced it by beating back the most powerful
military on Earth.
 This sent shockwaves throughout Europe. And gave
hope to many poverty stricken peasants, who
wanted to see the powerful aristocracies of Europe
fall. If America could do it, why couldn’t they. Why
couldn’t they rebel, and create a new, more fair
Interactive Map of the French
Revolution and Napoleon
Causes of the Revolution
Long-standing resentments against the monarchy
 Inequalities in society
 Existing social and political structure
 Called the Old Order, or ancient régime
 King at the top and estates under him
 King Louis XVI, shy and indecisive
 Unpopular, self-indulgent queen, Marie-Antoinette
 Rest of French society divided into three classes, called
The French Estates
Nowhere was the divide between the wealthy and poor greater, than in
France. The French Aristocracy were among the wealthiest individuals in
all of Europe. They controlled vast tracts of land, huge amounts of
money, and had power that was unchecked by a Parliament as in Great
The poor in France were suffering greatly. They had been abused,
mistreated, and ignored. They had been forced to work on the estates of
the wealthy, with very little pay, and in terrible conditions. They were
starving, sick, dirty, tired, and growing more resentful with each passing
French society was divided into three separate castes known as estates.
The first estate was made up of priests, and religious leaders. Those
belonging to this estate occupied the highest level in French society.
The second estate was made up of the nobility.
The third and lowest estate consisted of everyone else, over 97% of the
population of France.
The Three Estates
Varied widely in what they contributed in terms of work and taxes
First Estate
Second Estate
•Roman Catholic clergy
•One percent of the
•Less than 2 percent of
the population
•Exempt from taxes
•Paid few taxes
•Owned 10 percent of the
– Collected rents and
fees from the land
– Bishops and other
clergy grew wealthy
•Controlled much wealth
•Held key positions
– Government
– Military
•Lived on country estates
Third Estate
•Largest group—97% of
the population
•Bourgeoisie—citydwelling merchants,
factory owners, and
•Sans culottes—artisans
and workers
•Peasants—poor with
little hope, paid rents
and fees
Turmoil And Unrest In France
 In 1774 Louis XVI a 19 year old prince came to the throne as
the King of France. His 18 year old wife was named Marie
King Louis XVI inherited a massive amount of debt from his
He further increased the debt of the French Government by
supporting the American Revolution in its fight against
France’s bitter rival, Great Britain. King Louis XVI became
desperate to raise funds to pay off the debts of France.
In order to pay of these debts, he decided that we would
tax the first and second estates, which had always been
exempt from paying taxes before.
These estates refused to pay the new taxes.
Estates – General
 In 1789 King Louis XVI summoned a group known as the
Estates-General to meet in Versailles to discuss the
matter of taxes.
 The Estates-General was a body of people representing
each of the three social estates in France. They had not
been called together since 1610.
 King Louis XVI hoped that by calling them together they
could solve the problems of debt facing the nation.
 The Estates-General had other plans however. They
wanted to use the meeting to take power from the King,
and address the social ills that they felt were plaguing
King Louis XVI and Marie
Further Causes
Enlightenment Ideas
• Inspiring new ideas from
Enlightenment philosophers
• Great Britain’s government limiting
the king’s power
• American colonists rebelled
successfully against British king
• New ideas changed government and
society in other countries
A Financial Crisis
• Severe economic problems affected
much of the country
• France in debt, spending lavishly,
borrowing money, and facing
• Hailstorm and drought ruined harvest;
harsh winter limited flour production
• People hungry and angry; clergy and
nobility no help
Causes of the Revolution
What were the causes of the French
 Answer(s): inequalities in society,
Enlightenment ideas, poor leadership,
financial crisis, hunger and cold
First Events of the Revolution
By 1789, no group happy
• Clergy and nobility lost power to
• Bourgeoisie resented regulations
• Poor worse off
Estates General meets
• Desire for reforms
• Voting process a problem
• Third Estate proclaimed themselves
National Assembly
• Tennis Court Oath
Storming of the Bastille
• King brought in troops
• People of Paris armed themselves
• Searching for weapons, a mob
stormed the Bastille
Great Fear spread
• King to punish the Third Estate with
foreign soldiers
• Rumors of massacres
• Peasants destroyed records and burned
nobles’ houses
A French Constitution
 Members of the Estates-General representing the third
estate outnumbered representatives from both the first
and second estates combined. If each representative were
to be given one vote, the third estate would have more
votes, and would be able to get their wishes passed. In
order to insure this did not happen King Louis XVI locked
representatives of the third estate out of the meetings.
 Outraged, they met at a nearby indoor tennis court, where
they gave themselves the name of The National Assembly.
Here representatives took an oath that they would not
leave until they had written a new constitution for France.
 King Louis XVI worried about the form this constitution
would take, if it were to be written strictly by members of
the third estate. He ordered representatives from the first
and second estates to join the National Assembly.
A Revolution Begins
 As the National Assembly met to write a new constitution, their
debates often spilled out into the streets of Paris. Soon everyone
in the Capital was debating the social ills of France, and what
form a new government should take.
 Fearing the feeling of unrests that was quickly expanding
throughout the capital, King Louis XVI placed troops throughout
the capital city, as well as around the palace.
 Seeing this troop build up, many of the supporters of the
National Assembly worried that the King planned to use these
troops to put an end to the National Assembly, and to the
reforms they were making.
 In order to defend the National Assembly, rioters attacked the
Prison of Bastille, where weapons and ammunition were stored.
In this battle, a number of rioters, and soldiers were killed. The
rioters were able to gain control of the prison, and establish a
new radical government in Paris.
The Great Fear
 Rumours were spread that the feudal lords had hired
robbers to murder peasants. This rumour was not
true, but it flamed fear, that lead to the peasants
uprising against their local lords.
 Between June and the beginning of August there
were riots in the countryside.
 Peasants broke into manor houses, killed many of
the nobles, and took possession of their properties.
They burned monasteries and buildings which
housed public records. They particularly targeted
documents which contained records of their feudal
 This wave of violence is known as The Great Fear.
The Great Fear
burning chateaux as the peasants riot in the
Identify cause and effect
What was the connection between the
fall of the Bastille and the Great Fear?
 Answer(s): the fall of the Bastille, people
were terrified that the king would punish
The Declaration of Rights
 As violence continued to spread throughout the countryside,
members of the third estate demanded equality for all citizens of
France. Members of the first and second estates held out,
refusing to grant equal rights, and refusing to give up the special
privileges that they had enjoyed for so many centuries.
 The continued violence finally convinced them that they had no
choice but to give up, and submit to the will of the much larger
third estate. On August, 4th, 1789 the National Assembly passed
a number of important reforms that abolished feudal dues, and
established taxes on members of the first and second estates.
 The National Assembly then turned their attention towards
creating a bill of rights for their people. This Declaration of Rights
included the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, and
the freedom of religion. It also protected citizens from being
falsely arrested. This Declaration of Rights remains in the French
Constitution to this day.
King Louis XVI Moves To
 The National Assembly presented their new reforms,
along with the Declaration of Rights to the king, who
refused to acknowledge them. This lack of support
from the king greatly angered many of the people in
France, who were anxious to see a new era in
freedom and equality. These people demanded that
the king not only acknowledge these new laws, but
also that he move to Paris, with his family in order to
show his support for the National Assembly.
 In October of 1789 King Louis XVI finally consented
to move to Paris from Versailles, after having his
palace surrounded by an angry mob, threatening to
A New French Government Is
 After passing a new reforms, and forcing the king of France to
accept them, the National Assembly began the process of setting
up a new government, including writing a constitution.
 By 1791 this constitution was ready. It kept the monarchy, but
limited its royal powers. It also established a legislature, which
would be elected by the people. This new constitution granted
equal rights to all men, who could vote, so long as they paid a tax.
 In order to pay off the national debts which had been
accumulated by earlier kings, they confiscated the lands owned
by the Catholic Church, and sold them. They demanded that
Catholic priests take an oath of loyalty to the French
government, and that priests be elected by local parishes, and
not appointed by the Church. These actions angered Pope Pius VI,
and caused him to condemn the revolution
Royal Family Flees France
 In June of 1791 King Louis XVI, fearing for the
lives of himself, and his family, attempted to
escape into Austria. Marie Antoinette’s brother
was the emperor of Austria. They hoped that
once in Austria, they would be safe.
 Their attempt failed however, when they were
recognized along the road by a passerby, who
called for soldiers to have them arrested.
Returned to Paris the king, and his family had no
choice but to accept any demands put upon
them by the people, and to remain in his home
as a prisoner.
France Declares War On
 In 1792 France declared war on Austria. They worried that
Austria would attempt to reinstate King Louis XVI on the
throne, and felt that they had to act to defend their new
 Austria was soon joined in the war by Prussia, and Sardinia.
This war had devastating effects on France. Food
shortages, and poverty ran rampant throughout France,
and threatened to tear the country apart.
 Just as it looked like the armies of Prussia and Austria would
defeat France, the French armies pulled off a stunning
victory at Valmy, a city less than 100 miles away from Paris.
 This victory boosted the morale of French troops, and
turned the tide of the war.
A Republic Is Born
 From 1792 through 1795 a National Convention met in
Paris to further define the new form the French
Government would take. They decided to completely
do away with the monarchy, and establish a republic.
They also granted the right to vote to all men,
regardless of whether they could pay their taxes or
 In 1792 King Louis XVI was tried before the National
Convention, where he was found guilty of having
conspired against the liberty of the nation. In January
of 1793 he was put to death by the Guillotine.
 News of the death of the king was received with great
joy and celebration throughout Paris, and throughout
France. This was seen as a great moment, and as a
guarantee that the revolution would now go forward.
Creating a New Nation
Legislating New Rights
Restrictions on Power
• Feudal dues eliminated
• Louis tried to protect his throne
• Declaration laid out “liberty, equality,
• Angered the common people
• Inspired by the English Bill of Rights,
American Declaration of
Independence, and the writings of
Enlightenment philosophers
• Men are born equal and remain equal
under the law
• The rights did not extend to women
• Prices still high; mob broke into the
palace demanding bread
• Royal family seized; National
Assembly took bolder steps
• Passed laws against the church,
clergy, and public employees
• Some outraged by actions
Formation of a New Government
In 1791, the Legislative Assembly is formed. Citizens gained broad voting rights, but
rights were not universal. Constitution restricted power of king and ended
distinctions of birth. King and queen feared they would be harmed.
Foreign Powers
End of Monarchy
• Austria and Prussia warned against
harming monarchs
• August 10, 1792 royal family
imprisoned by mob
• Austrian army defeats French
• Radical faction took charge with
National Convention
• Financial strain of war, food
shortages, and high prices
• King blamed; action demanded
• Monarchy abolished; France declared
a republic
French revolutionary troops won the Battle of Valmy. New French republic held
ground against Europe’s Old Order.
What steps did National and
Legislative Assemblies take to create
a new nation?
 Answer(s): National Assembly completed
constitution and created Legislative
Assembly; Legislative Assembly—created
a new legislature, the National
Convention, which abolished the
monarchy and declared France a republic
A Revolution In Trouble
Monarchs throughout Europe were concerned about the events that had
taken place in France. The natural order that had existed for centuries had
been disrupted. They worried that the same thing could happen in their own
nations, and that their own thrones, and even their lives might be at risk.
To avoid the revolution spreading into their own nations, these monarchs
joined together to fight against France. Soldiers were sent from Great
Britain, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sardinia to fight against the
revolutionaries in France.
This war made life very difficult in France. In order to fight these large
armies, the new French government established a draft, and called up all
men between the ages of 18 and 45 to fight for their liberties. This draft
touched off a civil war in Western France, where royalists who had
supported the king were angry that their sons had been forced to fight in a
way that they did not support.
Within the National Convention, fierce debate and a growing divide among
different political parties threatened to tear the young fragile government
The Reign of Terror
Seeing the turmoil that was both within and surrounding France the leading
political party known as the Jacobins determined that they would crush any
resistance within their new nation. They established neighbourhood
watches that were intended to find anyone who was not loyal. These
watches would turn in suspected traitors, who would often be put to death.
This period of time is known as The Reign of Terror, and lasted from July of
1793 until July of 1794, during which approximately 17,000 individuals were
After the reign of terror ended, the Jacobins lost their power in France. The
National Convention continued to rule as the government, however, a new
constitution was written, which once again denied the right to vote to those
who could not afford to pay a vote tax. This constitution established the
office of five directors, known as the directory, who ruled France.
The directory ruled from 1795 until 1799. During this time they used the
army to put down a number of disputes within France. Once again, the rich
began to grow wealthier, while the poor had very little. The same old
problems that had begun the revolution once again began to creep into
France. The new government was also running out of money to pay their
civil employees, and to carry on the process of governing the nation.
Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte
During the revolution in France one general in particular began to
outshine all the others. This general was a 26 year old by the name of
Napoleon Bonaparte.
Napoleon’s skilful leadership helped to crush rebellions within France,
and also greatly expand the territories of France, including a surprising
victory over the more powerful Austrian army.
In October of 1799 Napoleon returned to Paris, after having been in
Egypt with his armies, to take part in a coup d’ etat, or an overthrow of
the government.
In 1804 Napoleon named himself as emperor of France, and had himself
anointed as such by the Pope.
Napoleon was a masterful ruler. He established a number of reforms
that brought peace and stability back to France. He also rewrote the old
French feudal laws, which were confusing, creating a new Napoleonic
Code of laws that were much clearer. Many of these laws remain in
France to this day.
Revolution Key People