French Revolution

The Outbreak of the Revolution

In order to pass the proposal to raise taxes Louis XVI called an assembly of the Estates General. On 5 May 1789, 300 representatives from each of the first and second estate and 600 from the third estate, a total 1200 representatives, gathered in a splendid hall for the assembly. Representatives of first and second estates were seated in two rows while representatives of third estate had to stand at the back. Representatives of third estate were educated and more prosperous and they believed to represent the whole people of France. Peasants and labours were not allowed in that assembly; however about 40000 letters regarding their grievances were carried by representatives of third estate.

According to principle of the monarch each estate had one vote. Louis XVI wanted to apply the same practice this time also. But representatives of third estate did not agree on this, they wanted voting assembly as a whole and 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 and took an oath not to disburse till the new drafting of a constitution of France under the leadership of Merabeau and Abbe Sieyes. Merabeau belonged to noble family and Abbe Sieyes was a priest to the church. Inspite of that they believed in the need of a privilege free society. There, they delivered powerful speeches regarding the need of new constitution and equal opportunity to all.

That very year harvest was badly affected because of severe winter. This increased the price of bread. Hoarding of supply by bakers made the situation more critical. One day after long hours in queues, anger broken into women and they stormed the bakery. At the same time troops moved to Paris to suppress the turmoil. In retaliation, crowd destroyed the Bastille.

A rumor spread that an order had been given to troops to destroy the crops. Because of fear, peasants attacked the chateaux and looted the hoarded grains. Records of manorial dues were sat on fire. Many people were killed in this agitation. Many noblemen and clergy fled to neighbouring countries to save their life.

King Louis XVI finally surrendered against agitation and accepted the recognition of National Assembly and agreed that his power would be 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.

France Became a Constitutional Monarchy

The draft of the constitution was completed in 1791. Powers were spread among legislative, executive and judiciary instead of king. This made France a constitutional monarchy.

There were two types of citizens according to constitution :– active citizen and passive citizen.

Persons who paid the tax at least equal to wages of 3 days of a labour were categorized as active citizens and who did not, 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.

Qualification for member of elector and National Assembly: A person who belonged to bracket of highest taxpayers and above the age of 25 could be chosen as elector and member of National Assembly.

Constitution began with a 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.

Symbols of Rights to Man and Citizen:

There were many person did not know the reading or writing in eighteenth century in France. Thus many symbols were used frequently to explain about the rights to man and citizen, so that illiterate person could understand them easily.

France Abolishes Monarchy and Becomes a Republic

Developments in France set the emperors of neighbouring countries in worry as they got feared of inevitable similar revolution there also. Louis XVI negotiated with the emperors of neighbouring countries in order to put down the events that had been taking place in France. He did that in order to regain power. But, in April 1792 National Assembly voted to declare war against Prussia and Austria. They considered the war as people against monarchy in all over Europe.

Thousands of volunteers took part in the war. They sang a patriotic song before going to the war from Marseilles, and the song got the name as ‘Marseillaise’ after that. Marseillaise is now the National Anthem of France.

France had to face heavy loss because of war which brought many types of crisis among the people of France. Many people were thinking that constitution of 1791 gave the power to only richer class and many political clubs started to discuss about government policies and they started planning of their own form of government.

Jacobins was the most successful club among them. It was named after the convent of St Jacob in Paris. Maximilian Robespierre emerged as the leader of Jacobins.

Jacobins comprised of women, small peasants, labours, artisans, such as shoemaker, pastry cooks, watch makers, etc. They started wearing long striped trousers so that they could look different from those who wore knee breaches (persons belonging to fashionable society). They also wore a red cap also which was the symbol of liberty. They began to be called ‘sans-culottes’ which means ‘those without knee breaches’. However, women were not allowed to do so.

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, 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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