French Revolution

Outbreak of Revolution

On 5 May 179 Louis XVI called and assembly of the Estates General in order to pass the proposal to raise taxes. The assembly was attended by 300 representatives from each of the first and second estate, and 600 representatives from the third estate. Peasants and labors were not allowed but 40000 letters containing their grievances were carried by representatives of the third estate.

According to principle of the monarch each estate had one vote. But representatives of third estate wanted each of the representatives to have only one vote. Louis XVI rejected this new proposal. As a result, all the representatives of the third estate walked out of the assembly in protest.

On 20th of the June they gathered in an indoor tennis court in Versailles, where they declared them as National Assembly. They took an oath not to disburse till the new drafting of a constitution of France. Merabeau and Abbe Sieyes were given the responsibility of leading the drafting of the constitution. Merabeau belonged to noble family and Abbe Sieyes was a priest to the church. But they believed in the need of a privilege free society.


It was a year of bad harvest. Price of bread had increased. Hoarding by bakers further aggravated the situation. After long hours in queue women became angry and stormed the bakery. Troops were moved to Paris to suppress the turmoil. People retaliated by attacking and destroying the Bastille.

There was a rumor that troops had been given orders to destroy the crops. Peasants attacked the chateaux (manor house in countryside) and looted grains. They burnt the files containing records of manorial dues. Many people died in this agitation. Many noblemen and clergy fled to neighboring countries to save their life.

King Louis XVI finally surrendered against agitation and accepted the recognition of National Assembly. He agreed to have his power checked by constitution. On the 4th of the August 1789 the feudal system of obligations, taxes, privileges to the nobility and clergy were abolished and lands owned by churches were confiscated. This gave an asset of worth about 2 billion livres to the government.


Constitutional Monarchy

The draft of the constitution was completed in 1791. Power divided among legislative, executive and judiciary instead of king. Thus France became a constitutional monarchy.

According to the constitution there were two types of citizens, viz., active and passive citizens. Persons who paid the tax at least equal to wages of 3 days of a labor were categorized as active citizens and others were categorized as passive citizens. Only active citizens above the age of 25 had right to vote. Women were not given the right to vote.

Active citizens had to elect electors. Electors had to elect National Assembly and Judiciary from among them. National Assembly had control over king and group of ministers. But king still had the power of royal veto and the ability to select ministers. A person from the category of highest taxpayers and above the age of 25 was eligible to be chosen as elector and member of National Assembly.

Declaration of Rights to Man and Citizen

Right to life, freedom of speech, freedom of opinion, equality before law, were declared as ‘natural and inalienable’ rights. Every citizen had these rights by birth and no one could be deprived of them. State had duty to protect ‘natural and inalienable’ rights. Majority of people were illiterate. So, symbols were frequently used to explain the constitutional rights to most of the people.


End of Monarchy

Emperors of neighboring countries were worried at developments in France as they were apprehensive similar revolutions in their territories. Louis XVI negotiated with neighboring emperors to suppress the revolt. In April 1792, the National Assembly voted to declare war against Prussia and Austria.

Thousands of volunteers took part in the war because they considered it to be a war against monarchy at all places. They sang the song written by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle. Subsequently, the song got the name ‘Marseillaise’ and is now the National Anthem of France.

The war resulted in heavy loss for France, causing various crises among people. Many people were of the opinion that the constitution of 1791 gave power to only rich class. So, many political clubs began to discuss about government policies and possible forms of government. The most successful club among them was the Jacobins which was named after the convent of St Jacob in Paris. Maximilian Robespierre emerged as the leader of Jacobins.

Jacobins comprised of women, small peasants, labors, artisans, etc. In order to look different from the fashionable society, Jacobins started wearing the dress of dock workers (long striped trousers). The fashionable people wore knee breaches. The Jacobins earned the sobriquet ‘sans-culottes’ which means ‘those without knee breaches’. They also wore a red cap which was the symbol of liberty.

In summer of 1792, Jacobins attacked the Palace of Tuileries and captured the king for several hours. In this attack most of the guards of king were killed. After that election was held, and the newly elected assembly was called the Convention. In the election all men above the age of 21 got the right to vote; regardless of wealth. On 21st of the September 1792 monarchy was abolished and France was declared a republic.

Later king Louis XVI and the queen Marie Antoinette were sentenced to death. They were executed publicly at the Place de la Concorde.



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