French Revolution

The Reign of Terror (From 1793 to 1794)

The period from 1793 to 1794 is known as the Reign of Terror. Maximilian Robespierre sentenced to death all those persons who he considered as enemies of the republic, whether they were ex-noble, clergy, and members of any political parties; including Jacobins. The execution were completed after trial by revolutionary tribunal. At that time Robespierre followed a policy of severe control and punishment.

Guillotine, a device, named after inventor Dr. Guillotin, was used to behead a person at that time. It consists of two poles and a blade. Guilty persons were beheaded using guillotine.

Government led by Robespierre issued many laws among which ceiling maximum wages and price and rationing were main. Foods, such as meat and bread were rationed. Peasants were forced to sell their grains on fixed price in cities. Citizens were forced to eat equality bread, white flour which was costlier was forbidden. Use of Citoyen and Citoyenne for men and women citizen started instead of the traditional Sir (Monsieur) and Madam (Madame). Churches were shut down and their buildings were converted into offices and barracks. Practice of equality was sought everywhere.

Because of forcible implementation of laws, even supporters of Robespierre started the demand for change. Finally, Robespierre arrested and guillotined in July 1794. Reign of Terror ended with the end of Robespierre.

A Directory Rules France

After the fall of Jacobins a new constitution was introduced and power was again seized by wealthier middle class. According to new constitution;

These new provisions were brought to prevent the concentration of power in one-man executive; as happened in the reign of Jacobins.

The clash between Directory and member of councils led to political instability, which opened the door of military dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon Bonaparte became the emperor of France in 1804.


In spite of revolution, women did not get right to vote and their position in the society remained unchanged. To get their notable position in society, about 16 women clubs were started in different cities in France. The Society of Revolutionary and Republican Women was the most famous among them. Their main demands were to enjoy the same political rights as men. The constitution of 1791 made them disappointed as they were pushed to the category of passive citizen in that.

Most of the women were deprived of education. Daughters of nobles or wealthier persons of third estate could study in convent. After that they were married by their families even against their will. Women who belonged to third estate had to work hard. They sold flowers, fruits, vegetables and employed as servant in house hold. After work they had to cook and look after for their families. During the Reign of Terror women’s clubs were closed and many women were put in jail.

In due course of time, revolutionary government came and introduced laws to improve the lives of women. For example - Many state schools were created, schooling was made compulsory for all girls, marriage against the will of girl was prohibited, divorce was made legal and could be applied for by both women and men, they could train for jobs, could run businesses, could become artists. But to get the voting rights women had to struggle for about next two hundred years in many countries including France. Finally, women got right to vote in the year of 1946 in France.

The Abolition of Slavery

In the system of slavery, people were forced to work, treated as properties and hence sold, bought and forced to work against their will. The trade of slave started in seventeenth century. French merchants bought slave mainly from Africa. The branded and shackled slave were then packed tightly into ships and after two to three month of voyages they were sold in the Caribbean to plantation owners. The extensive demand of sugar, coffee and indigo in European market was fulfilled by the exploitation of slaves as labours. Many port cities like Bordeaux and Nates got economic prosperity by the trade of slaves and many of the merchants were increasing their wealth by trade of slavery.

However, the slavery began to be criticized in France. But even National Assembly could not pass any law to end of slavery in the fear of repercussion from businessmen who were mainly in slave trade.

By coming in power, Jacobins abolished the system of slavery in the French colonies, which was one of the greatest social reforms in their reign. But Napoleon again introduced the slavery system. And finally slavery was abolished in French colonies in 1848.


The French Revolution is a watershed development in the modern history. French Revolution not only had a long lasting impact on the French society but also on the whole world. The modern ideas of popular democracy had its roots in France. Similarly, the idea of nation states; as we know them; began with French Revolution. The national movements in various colonies; including India, Indo-China and South Africa were greatly influenced by the developments in French Revolution.

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