French Revolution

French Revolution

"Revolutions evolve in definite phases.

At first they are moderate in scope, then they become radical to excess
and finally they are brought to abrupt conclusions by the emergence of
a strong man to restore order." Discuss this statement with specific references
to the French Revolution.

The French Revolution brought about great
changes in the society and government of France. The revolution, which
lasted from 1789 to 1799, also had far-reaching effects on the rest of

Europe. "It introduced democratic ideals to France but did not make the
nation a democracy. However, it ended supreme rule by French kings and
strengthened the middle class." (Durant, 12) After the revolution began,
no European kings, nobles, or other members of the aristocracy could take
their powers for granted or ignore the ideals of liberty and equality.

The revolution began with a government
financial crisis but quickly became a movement of reform and violent change.

In one of the early events, a crowd in Paris captured the Bastille, a royal
fortress and hated symbol of oppression. A series of elected legislatures
then took control of the government. King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie

Antoinette, were executed. Thousands of others met the same fate in a period
known as the Reign of Terror. The revolution ended when Napoleon Bonaparte,
a French general, took over the government.

At the beginning of the revolution, events
seemed minor and proceeded in a logical fashion. One of the reasons the
revolution originated was the discontent among the lower and middle classes
in France. By law, society was divided in to three groups called estates.

The first estate was made of up clergy, nobles comprised the second and
the rest of the citizens, the third estate.

The third estate resented certain advantages
of the first two estates. The clergy and nobles did not have to pay most
taxes. The third estate, especially the peasants, had to provide almost
all the country\'s tax revenue. Many members of the middle class were also
worried by their social status. They were among the most important people
in French society but were not recognized as such because they belonged
to the third estate.

"Financial crisis developed because the
nation had gone deeply into debt to finance the Seven Years War (1756-1763)
and the Revolutionary War (1775-1783)." (Durant, 22) The Parliament of

Paris insisted that King Louis XVI could borrow more money or raise taxes
only by calling a meeting of the States-General. The States-General was
made up of representatives of the three estates, and had last met in 1614.

Unwillingly, the king called the meeting.

The States-General opened on May 5, 1789,
at Versailles. The first two estates wanted each estate to take up matters
and vote on them separately by estate. The third estate had has many representatives
as the other two combined. It insisted that all the estates be merged into
one national assembly and that each representative had one vote. The third
estate also wanted the States-General to write a constitution.

The king and the first two estates refused
the demands of the third estate. In June 1789, the representatives of the
third estate declared themselves the National Assembly of France. Louis
the XVI them allowed the three estates to join together as the National

Assembly. But he began to gather troops around Paris to break up the Assembly.

Meanwhile, the masses of France also took
action. On July 14, 1789, a huge crowd of Parisians rushed to the Bastille.

They believed they would find arms and ammunition there for use in defending
themselves against the king\'s army. The people captured the Bastille and
began to tear it down. Massive peasant uprisings were also occurring in
the countryside.

The king\'s removal led to a new
stage in the revolution. The first stage had been a liberal middle-class
reform movement based on a constitutional monarchy. The second stage was
organized around principles of democracy. The National Convention opened
on September 21, 1792, and declared France a republic.

"Louis XVI was placed on trial for betraying
the country. The National Convention found him guilty of treason , and
a slim majority voted for the death-penalty. The king was beheaded on the
guillotine on January 21, 1793. The revolution gradually grew more radical-that
is more open to extreme and violent change. Radical leaders came into prominence.

In the Convention, they were known as the mountain because they sat on
the high benches at the rear of the hall during meetings. Leaders of the

Mountain were Maximilien Robespierre, Georges Jacques Danton, and Jean

Paul Marat. The Mountain dominated a powerful political club called the

Jacobin Club.

"Growing disputes between the Mountain
and the Gironde led to a struggle