Causes and Phases of the French Revolution

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1. Why did a revolution break out in France?

A. The impact of the Enlightenment and the American Revolution

  • Enlightenment principles and the American Revolution gave the bourgeoisie new ideas to confront absolutism and the stratified systems of society.
  • The bourgeoisie proposed new forms of social organization and government.
  • All of this led to the revolutionary cycle that began in France in 1789 (French Revolution).

B. The social and economic crisis

  • Revolution was caused by discontent among the population and the arrival of two major crises in 1789:
  • Economic crisis: A series of poor harvests. The rise in the price of food.
  • Financial crisis: It was caused by the monarchy’s lack of money. To resolve it, Louis XVI’s ministers proposed that the privileged begin to pay taxes.
  • They refused to accept this and demanded Louis XVI convened the Estates-General, the only body that could approve tax reform.

C. 1789: A Revolution breaks out.

  • The Estate-General met in Versailles in May 1789.
  • Estates-General: A meeting of representatives of the clergy, the nobles, and the common people (third estate), called and chaired by King Louis XVI to propose solutions to the financial crisis (1789).
  • Third Estate representatives left the meeting when the privileged classes (nobility and clergy) refused to allow them greater representation and insisted on one vote per estate.
  • The representatives of the Third Estate met in a pavilion in Versailles (Jeu de Paume) and proclaimed themselves the National Assembly (representatives of the nation).
  • They pledged to draft a constitution that reflected the will of the majority of French people.
  • Paris people supported the Assembly's proposals and they stormed the Bastille (Autumn 1789).
  • The Bastille: It was a fortress used as a prison. It was a symbol of the King’s absolute power.
  • The revolution spread to the countryside where noble’s homes were burnt (the Great Fear).
  • Louis XVI, frightened by the countryside, accepted the National Assembly (autumn 1789) which made France a constitutional monarchy and ended the Ancient Regime.

D. Phases of the revolution

  • The Constitutional Monarchy (1789-1792)
  • The Social Republic (1792-1794)
  • The Conservative Republic (1794-1799)

2. The development of the French Revolution.

A. The Constitutional Monarchy.

  • Moderate bourgeoisie: Tried to reach an agreement with the King to make France a constitutional monarchy. To do this: +National Constitution Assembly: Abolished feudalism. Approved Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen, recognized rights, individual freedoms, and equality. Drew up a constitution (1791): Separation of powers. National sovereignty. Legal equality. The king reserved the right of veto. Census suffrage (only the people with a certain level of wealth can vote). By the creation of the constitution, the Legislative Assembly was formed and made new laws to implement Liberalism. It forced the nobility to pay taxes and created a new army to defend the Revolution (the National Guard).
  • Solution of the financial crisis was to confiscate and sell Church property.
  • A Constitutional Monarchy was established in 1791.
  • Constitutional Monarchy: It is a form of monarchy in which the sovereign exercises authority in accordance with a written or unwritten constitution. Constitutional monarchy differs from absolute monarchy in that constitutional monarchs are bound to exercise powers and authorities within the limits prescribed within an established legal framework.

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