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The French Revolution 5 Essay, Research Paper
THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
There was a loud thunk as the blade hit, and then a roar of the crowd as another nobleman s head was raised, after being cut off. The French Revolution (1789-1795) was one if not the most bloodiest revolutions ever in history. There were three social classes in France known as the Estates-General. The French revolutionists took the phrase Liberty, Equality, Fraternity as their slogan into battle (Compton s Interactive Encyclopedia). They were out to win equality, even if it meant sacrificing their own lives for it. Stands between King Louis XVI and the Estates-General are what caused the revolution. Despite their efforts to bring France to a new form government, one, which would serve the common people, France still fell into a state of corruption.
The Estates-General were made up of the clergy, nobles, and the common people. It was known to have been around since 1302 (Compton s Inter. Encyclopedia) but wasn t really used again until 1788 when King Louis XVI was forced to call the almost forgotten body together again. Most all of the taxes were paid by the common people (third estate), very little were paid by the other two estates. This was one of the reasons that caused the treasury to go dry, which made Louis XVI call the Estates-General together.
King Louis XVI greeted the Estates-General warmly on May 5 1789. Sirs, this day which my heart awaited since a long time has finally arrived and I see myself surrounded by the representatives of the nation which I am honored to command. The debt of the state, already immense on my coming to the throne, has accumulated during my reign. The increase in tax has been the unavoidable result and had been rendered more painful by their unequal distribution. (The Fr. Rev. and the Estates-Gen.pg.2) Louis decided to start making the first and second estates pay some taxes, still not as much as the third estate. This did however strengthen his ideals for equality in a society, but still wasn t enough.
Finally, the day of reckoning came. The national treasury had been exhausted by the wars of King Louis XIV, and by that of King Louis XVI. The two hundred fifty million dollars it cost France (Compton s Interactive Enc.) to help the Americans fight for their independence was the last straw. Jacques Turgot and Jacques Nector, ministers of finance, had tried to ward off bankruptcy by cutting court costs. The overspending court, led by the extravagant Queen Marie Antoinette, would not listen to the word economy (The Old Regime and the Revolution pg.63). This led to the dismissal of Turgot and Nector. Finally the foreign banks refused to lend France any more money.
On June 17, 1789, the third estate broke off and became the National Assembly. They took the The Tennis Court Oath on June 20, which Decrees that all members of this Assembly shall immediately take a solemn oath not to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of France has been established. (The French Revolution pg.105) This clearly was a sign that a revolution was about to take place.
On July 13, 1789, the people of Paris stormed the prison of St. Lazare, where they got some arms. On the next day the National Assembly who were joined by some clergy and many nobles, stormed and old royal prison called the Bastille where for years generations of Kings and ministers had imprisoned men and women at will. That day in history is now a French Holiday. Not only did the National Assembly storm the Bastille, they also beheaded the governor and lieutenant governor of the latter as well as the Prevost des Marchands (The French Revolution and The Estates-General pg.4). After the fall of the Bastille a revolutionary committee of middle-class citizens governed Paris. A National Guard composed mainly of citizens was organized; it was headed by General Lafayette. The provinces followed the lead of Paris, and formed a revolutionary government. The peasants in many places burned the castles of the lords in order to destroy the papers in which contained the records of the lords manorial rights.
Word leaked out to all about the many peasant outbreaks, this was a sign of strengthening by the National Assembly. Some nobles, out to set an example for others, gave up many of their feudal rights. Amid all the enthusiasm, many men were seen weeping tears of joy, along with embracing each other, as noble after noble were seen giving up their feudal rights (Compton s Interactive Enc.). That night of August 4,1789, marked the beginning of equality, which was one of the reasons why the revolution was taking place. Meanwhile work continued on the constitution for which the National Assembly promised to prepare for France. It was finally finished sometime in 1791. It stated that nobility was to be abolished, and that France was to be made a limited monarch, with a one-house legislature. The immortal part of the document was the Declaration of the Rights of Man. It included that all men were born free with equal rights. All citizens have the right to take part in electing representatives to make the laws. Also it included that every person shall be free to speak, write, or print his opinions provided that he does not abuse this privilege. As well it stated that the amount of taxes which a person is called upon to pay, will be based upon the persons wealth and possessions (The French Revolution pg.147). The National Assembly disbands after the document was written; the rise of the Legislative Assembly emerges.
Louis XVI was a weak and indecisive king. At first he said that he would obey the new constitution that was forced upon him in 1791, even though it gave him limited power. Unfortunately for him, he began to listen to his evil counselors, who changed his mind, and told him to go against the new constitution. The nobles that fled to other countries were pleading to the princes of Europe for them to stop the Revolution in France, for they saw there feudal rights and power going down.
The people of France were losing trust in their King, along with Queen Marie Antoinette. A mob of people, which included the Assembly, brought the King and Queen back to Paris from Versailles so they could be more closely watched.
In June of 1791, the suspicion grew against Louis and Marie. The suspicion became certainties for the people of France as the King, Queen, and their children were captured in Varennes, near the French border trying to escape. They were brought back to Paris, and imprisoned. From that day on the monarchy appeared doomed. The attempted escape helped divide the revolutionists into two parties, the Constitutional Royalists and the Republicans. The Legislative Assembly still wanted to keep the monarchy. The Republicans sentiment, however, increased rapidly as they saw the King becoming less powerful.
On September 21, 1791, a decree was passed that royalty is abolish in France, (The Old Regime and The Revolution Pg.127) and a republic was proclaimed. A day later, the Legislative Assembly goes out of power and becomes the National Convention. The National Convention is divided up into two sides. The Girodists hopes were to keep monarchy and nobility, but they did not stand a chance against the Jacobins, who took the revolution in more harmful direction. The Jacobins were a club led by Georges Danton and Maximilien Robsespeirre. Robespeirre was one of the original members of the Estates-General who were called to order by the King. The Jacobins were formed so that there would be no advances in the revolution (Compton s Interactive Enc.). This led to the Reign of Terror, which only lasted a year (1793-1794) during the National Convention. The Jacobins were the reason for the King and Queen being executed. The Jacobins influenced the French more than any of the assemblies did during the revolution.
Four months later King Louis XVI is sent to the Guillotine, a machine that was created by Dr. Guillotin (The Shadow of the Guillotine pg.12). This device was used for more than forty thousand deaths during the Revolution.
The overthrow of the monarch was not entirely because of the King. Affairs generally in France seemed to be going from bad to worse. The clergy and many devout Roman Catholics had withdrawn their support from the Revolution because of the laws against the church. The churches land was being taken away for financial purposes, along with the Priests and Bishops were being forced to take an oath to support the government. This aggravated many of the clergy which led to their withdraw.
Danton and Robespierre were still in power at this time. They had agents and spies called deputies on mission (The French Revolution pg.208) spread out all over France to put down any Royalist uprisings. Tens of thousands were killed during the reign of terror, including Danton, because he urged moderation. Most of the killings had mock trial if that. The calendar was also changed due to the first year of the France being a republic. The revolution under Robespierre was taking a step back in time as the revolutionary regime was going back to the policies of King Louis XIV.
Finally the people of France were sick of the terror. When Robespierre was showing no signs of stopping or slowing down the bloodshed, the rest of the convention decided to take the matter into their own hands. Danton had predicted Robespierre will follow me down (The French Revolution pg.261). Maximilien Robespierre was arrested and sent to the Guillotine on July 28, 1794. Many people afterward put the blame solely on him for the reign of terror. Many say the death of Robespeirre was the ending to the French Revolution.
More moderate men now governed France. The Convention wrote it s third constitution since 1789, the second to be put in power. The Directory came to power in 1795. A young artillery officer, Napoleon Bonaparte, came to power to protect the new Directory. France was becoming stable once again.
The Revolution helped France become a republic, and helped the peasants in many ways. Women had more rights than ever before, along with the fact that people were more free. The people of France could choose their own life styles instead of being what their parents were. Overall few events have so powerfully influenced the political and economic development of the modern world as the French Revolution.
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