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When Louis XVI accepted the final version of the completed constitution in September 1791, a young and still obscure provincial lawyer and member of the National Assembly named Maximilian Robespiere evaluated the work of two years and concluded, The Revolution is over. (McKay, p. 752) In his statement, Robespiere is both right and wrong. He was correct in that the first phase of the French Revolution with the old intentions of liberty, equality, and representative government had ideally accomplished it s goal. However, the Revolution did not end there, and the second phase gave birth to new intentions that were of the far left of the political spectrum, leading to the Committee of
Public Safety s reign of terror which led to the need for change once more.
The first phase of the French Revolution began as the bourgeoisie s wants of equality with the nobility. The French bourgeoisie eventually rose up to lead the entire third estate in a great social revolution, a revolution that destroyed feudal privileges and established a capitalist order based on individualism and a market economy. (McKay, p. 746) When excluded from the Estates General and sent to the tennis courts, this third class took the Oath
of the Tennis Court, pledging that they would not disband until a new constitution had been written.
At the beginning s of the first phase, only the bourgeoisie and liberal nobility were essentially taking part in the revolution. Grain was the staff of life for the ordinary people in eighteenth century France. Their most important issues were those of economics, and not politics. That is why they had not taken part in the revolution until the rise in grain prices, causing such poverty, combined with the excitement of political crisis caused the people of Paris to enter. Their intentions for the revolution were that the people should have steady work and enough bread at fair prices to survive.
During the year of 1789, many key points of the first phase had taken place. Several hundred people had stormed the Bastille in search of gunpowder. Great fear of peasant revolts had risen in the first and second estate. Thirdly, the National Assembly had issued the Declaration of the Rights of Man. It stated, Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. This was the philosophical basis for which the constitution that Louis XVI accepted, making France a new constitutional monarchy.
A paradigm shift had occurred, and the people of the Revolution experienced a change in ideas. A new legislative body had been formed, the Legislative Assembly. It s members were younger and less cautious than their predecessors. The representatives to the Legislative Assembly were passionately committed to liberal revolution. (McKay, p. 753)
The Legislative Assembly had been closely linked to the political group of the Jacobins. When it disbanded, the National Convention was formed, which consisted of all Jacobins. After the fall of the monarchy which was already lying on its deathbed, a rapid radicalization of the Revolution occurred. The September Massacres followed Louis XVI s imprisonment, and the National Convention had proclaimed France a republic. This republic sought to create a new popular culture to assure its future, which would separate itself from the past and rise in glory of the new order.
While there was a split within the National Convention between the Mountains and the Girondists, it was not quite an equal split, and Louis XVI was convicted of treason and was punished by the guillotine.
The split between the two groups in the National Convention caused tension among the group. Eventually, the Mountains gained power, with Robespiere as their leader. They joined the Committee of Public Safety, which began the reign of terror. This dictorial power had the ideals of the far political left in which there was a planned economy and direct aid to
the poor in an attempt to make everyone equal. At this time, France was concurrently at war with practically the rest of Europe. So while they were in control of their people, they had to deal with problems of facing the rest of the Continent.
This reign of terror had the intentions of ending the lives of counter revolutionaries as to achieve a true revolution. The power and the control the Committee of Public Safety had over the people can cause one to question their attempt to achieve true revolution. They had complete control. The reign of terror had killed 40,000, imprisoned ten thousands of people, and drafted 800,000 peasants to fight the war against Europe. How this was to lead to a true revolution was questionable, and eventually, others began to realize this as well and rose against Robespiere and he was guillotined in July of 1794. With his death, the Committee of Public Safety came to an end, as so their treacherous reign.
Following the end of the reign of terror, a new constitution was formed with the Directory in leadership. In this political system, the universal male suffrage participated in the popular vote in electing their electors. The electors then made the vote of choosing the five
men to be on the Directory. However, the open elections were unstable, and were then questioned. This caused the people to return back to bourgeoisie liberalism, in search of true liberty, equality, and representation.
Robespiere had said the Revolution was over at the end of the first phase. He was correct in that the first phase had ended, and the Revolution s first goals were accomplished. He was incorrect in that new ideals were formed, and thus more action was taken. Interestingly enough, he was a major leader of the phase that continued the Revolution, and forced it to turn once more, back to where it had started in its ideals.
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