The French First Republic (1792-1799): From Revolution to Napoleon's Rise

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The Birth of the French Republic (1792-1793)

Following the insurrection of August 1792, a National Convention governed France from September 1792. This assembly, elected by all adult males, abolished the monarchy and established the French Republic. Initially, the Girondins, or moderate republicans, held control.

The Convention condemned Louis XVI for treason, leading to his execution by guillotine in January 1793. This event sparked international outrage and the formation of the First Coalition, with Britain and the Dutch Republic joining forces against France.

The Reign of Terror (1793-1794)

With the revolution facing threats, the radical Jacobins, supported by the sans-culottes, seized power from the Girondins in June 1793. Jacobin leader Maximilien Robespierre assumed control, establishing a dictatorship.

The Reign of Terror, a ten-month period of violent repression, saw the establishment of the Committee of Public Safety, led by Robespierre. This tribunal tried and executed suspected opponents of the Republic, with the guillotine becoming a symbol of the revolution. Around 50,000 people, including political leaders, nobles, and clergymen, were executed.

Robespierre attempted to address the economic crisis by setting price controls on essential goods and limiting salaries. A new calendar with season-based month names was also introduced. However, Robespierre's support dwindled, and in 1794, moderate revolutionaries arrested and executed him and his followers.

The Directory (1795-1799)

Following the execution of the radical revolutionaries, a new Constitution in 1795 established limited suffrage and a moderate government led by a five-member Directory, with legislative power held by two chambers.

The Directory faced numerous challenges:

  • Radical opposition: The Conspiracy of the Equals, led by Babeuf, sought to overthrow the government.
  • Royalist resistance: Royalists staged revolts and counter-revolutionary activities aiming to restore the Bourbon dynasty.
  • European conflicts: While France initially achieved victories against its enemies, with General Napoleon Bonaparte conquering much of Italy, the formation of the Second Coalition led by Britain resulted in the recapture of many French-occupied territories.

In November 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte executed a coup d'etat, marking the end of the Directory and the beginning of a new chapter in French history.

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