The french revolution
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The French Revolution. Why did millions of French people suddenly revolt against institutions that their ancestors accepted for hundreds of years?. A Breakdown of the causes. Discuss. Formation of Classes. Since Middle Ages people divided into three large social classes (estates)

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The French Revolution

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The French Revolution

Why did millions of French people suddenly revolt against institutions that their ancestors accepted for hundreds of years?

A Breakdown of the causes


Formation of Classes

  • Since Middle Ages people divided into three large social classes (estates)

    • The political system before the revolution was known as the Old Regime

    • 1st = Roman Catholic Clergy

    • 2nd =Nobles

    • 3rd = Commoners

  • Collectively they met as the Estates General

1st Estate

  • Held about 10% of the land

  • Archbishops, bishops and abbots enormously wealthy

  • Parish priests were poor

  • Paid no direct taxes - gave a “free gift” of about 2% of income to the government

2nd Estate

  • Made up less than 2% of the population

  • Owned about 20% of the land

  • Held all of the highest positions in the church, army, gov’t, and courts

  • Had no tax burden for centuries

3rd Estate

  • 98% of France’s population

  • 3 Groups

    • Bourgeoisie - city dwelling middle class

      • Wealthy - desperate for social status

    • Urban lower class

      • Hard working sans-culottes (those without knee breeches)

      • Ate about 3 pounds of bread a day

      • 1788 grain harvest were small

    • Peasant farmers

      • 4/5 of 20 million

      • 1/2 of income to tax & courvee (unpaid labor (as for the maintenance of roads) required by a lord of his vassals in lieu of taxes)

Discontent in France

  • Population pressures

    • Population increased in the 1700s - need to supply more for a larger family

  • Financial Crisis

    • Landowners pressed peasants for higher rents

    • Inflation - prices increase while _____ remains unchanged = hatred between the rich and poor

    • King is blamed for the economic situation

(financial continued-)

  • Louis XV - the Well-Beloved king ruled for 59 years

    • “It will survive for my time, After me the deluge” (Louis XV )

    • Borrowed heavily from banks to keep the government running

    • Handed a nation in financial trouble over to his heir

  • Louis XVI -

    • Inherits a bankrupt nation with no one willing to lend him money

    • Many advisors suggest taxing the 2nd estate

      • Calls the Estates General to gain approval for his plan

Weak Leadership

  • Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette

    • Louis financed a very expensive American Revolution ----- Why?

    • Was indecisive and let things drift

    • Marie Antoinette was from the royal family of Austria - France’s longtime enemy

    • She spent a fortune on gowns and jewels

  • Louis wants to tax the nobility - must meet the demands of calling the Estates General --- Versailles May 1, 1789

    • Why would he want to call the E.G. after 175 years?

    • Read Abbey Sieyes (handout)

The Estates General

The Number of Representatives


1st Estate



2nd Estate




3rd Estate

The Estates General & Controversy

Voting by Chamber


1st Estate



2nd Estate



3rd Estate


  • The 3rd estate sees that it represents the entire nation, & decides to reform unilaterally:

    • Calls itself the “National Assembly”

    • Louis closes down the meeting and members flee to a nearby tennis court

  • Tennis Court Oath

    • Pledge to stay in service until a constitution is written.

      • That constitution must limit king’s powers, and must require regular sitting of an elected legislative assembly with power to budget and create law

The Great Fear and the constitution

  • While the urban masses supported National Assembly

    • Peasants did not know what to think

      • They were afraid that removing power from the king would …

      • Began attacking aristocratic homes looking for documents & destroying homes & property

    • This convinced the N.A. that …

  • 3rd Estate ---- “National Assembly”

  • To end the Great Fear and Violence

    • Abolished the special privileges of the First and Second Estates

    • Declaration of Rights of Man & Citizen

      • Born and remain equal before the law

      • Freedom of speech, press, religion

      • Equal to hold public office

      • Fair trial

      • “liberty, equality, fraternity”

    • Adopted France’s first Constitution

      • Set up an elected Legislative Assembly

  • In what way was the Declaration a sham?

    • Women Excluded

      • Olympe de Gouges “ A Declaration of the Rights of Women and Citizenesses”

Legislative Assembly Continued

  • Constitution

    • Divided into 3 Branches (Montesquieu)

    • Weak executive

      • Unable to make or block laws

    • Tax paying males elect members of the legislative branch

  • How might this arrangement fail the new government and France?

Legislative Assembly

  • King tries to flee France and is captured

    • What does this do to the people’s confidence in the new government?

    • Whose voice grows in strength?

  • Legislative Assembly

    • Conservatives, Moderates, Radicals

    • Foreign Matters

      • Declaration of Pillnitz - (Leopold II & Frederick William II)

        • Invited European rulers to help Louis XVI restore the monarchy

      • Success in war would legitimize the new government

      • L.A. declared war on Austria

      • Forces invade France

        • Mass uprising in Paris

        • Commune calls for the abolition of the Monarchy and arrest Louis XVI and his family

  • Legislative Assembly

    • Suspends the monarchy

    • Needs a new constitution

      • Voted itself out of existence

      • Any adult male could vote for officials to National Convention - no property requirements (universal manhood suffrage)

  • National Convention

    • Girondists - S.W. France, middle class, feared domination by Paris

    • Jacobins - republicans who favored domination by Paris - Danton & Robespierre

    • Sans-culottes - extreme radicals who wanted reforms to benefit all class -- Jean Paul Marat

  • N.C. first order of business

    • Proclaim the end of the monarchy

    • Suppress revolts

    • Fight off foreign invaders

    • Kings Trial - execution

    • Decide to export the Revolution and liberate all of Europe

  • Successes

    • Executed Louis XVI (plotting against the nation)

    • Army fought off foreign invasion

    • Invaded Austrian Netherlands

      • 1st Coalition (G.B., Neth, Spain, Sardinia, Aust, Pr)

        • Created in response to the success

    • Set up Committee of Public Safety

      • Direct army in crushing foreign forces

      • Turned on the domestic opposition to the Revolution

      • Started the Reign of Terror - a program to silence the critics of the Revolution

        • The Law of Suspects defines in broad terms enemies of the state

Reign of Terror - a program to silence the critics of the Revolution

  • The Law of Suspects defines in broad terms enemies of the state

  • The Program was led by Georges-Jacques Danton and Maximilien Robespierre

  • The violence eventually will turn inward and the Reign of Terror will come to an end with the death of Robespierre

Reign of Terror

  • Carried out by the Jacobin Dictatorship

    • Robespierre and Danton

    • The Law of Suspects defines in broad terms enemies of the state

    • Committee of Public Safety and Revolutionary Tribunal

    • Lasted about 10 months

    • Execute those disloyal to the revolution regardless of class

      • Twice as many bourgeoisie as nobles and three times as many from peasants and laborers

    • Ends with Robespierre execution

      • How did his trial go against the ideals of the Declarations of the Rights of Man and Citizen

        • No freedom of speech or equality before the law

Napoleon Bonaparte

The Napoleonic Era



  • 3 Primary Goals

    • Win peace by military victory

    • Achieve steady government

    • Create economic prosperity

Institutional Changes

  • Created:

    • The Consulate

      • He was first Consul

      • Later became Emperor after a referendum

    • The Napoleonic Code

      • Organized all French laws into one code

      • Instituted the code on all conquered lands

    • Established a Centralized financial institution

    • A public school system

      • Create common ideals

    • A meritocracy

    • Signed the concordat

      • Acknowledged Catholicism as the religion of most French

      • Retained the religious freedoms granted in the D.R.M

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