French Revolution

The French Revolution spanned a decade in France from 1789 to 1799. This conflict had profound influence on France as well as Europe. Within three years the centuries-old monarchy fell and the governance of the nation was replaced by liberal groups that subscribed to philosophical tenets of the Enlightenment which promoted the freedom of man. Partly influenced by the successful revolution in America a few years before, the leaders of the French Revolution were committed to bringing these ideals of freedom to France. As members of France’s former privileged classes were sent to the guillotine in large number, the French Revolution’s reputation for gross injustice began to grow.

Scholars date the start of the French Revolution to 1789 at the convening of the Estates-General. Two months later revolutionaries stormed the Bastille and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was passed by late summer of this year. By fall the royal family was taken from Versailles to Paris. In 1792 France was declared a republic and King Louis XVI was put to death. Over the next two years a period known as the Reign of Terror ensued under the leadership of Maximilien Robespierre who was executed by guillotine toward the end of this period. Queen Marie Antoinette was also guillotined during this period of the Revolution.

Scholars site various causes which led to the overthrow of the French monarchy. Famine and the rising cost of bread was a major cause of the Revolution. Many of the nation’s poorest suffered starvation and severe malnutrition. Wars had also brought the nation disastrously close to bankruptcy. The lavish lifestyle of royals and aristocrats during this financially trying period also hastened the dawning of the conflict. These factors coupled with the growing fervor for Enlightenments ideals of freedom are often regarded as the major causes of the French Revolution.

As the Revolution spiraled ever more toward radicalism, it began to lose credibility in the eyes of many throughout France and Europe for what was termed revenge for centuries of privilege instead of true justice. Even after the Thermidorian Reaction and the execution of Robespierre, the governing Directory was largely mistrusted. During the last years of the Revolution Napoleon Bonaparte gained great power in the army as he effectively stopped riots and prevented counter-revolutions from occurring. He staged a coup in 1799 which is viewed as the end of the French Republic. He ruled essentially as dictator of France and was eventually crowned its emperor.