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The French Revolution 1789-1815. Historiography of the French Revolution. Historiography: French Revolution. R. R. Palmer The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800 (1959 & 1964) Fr. Rev. just one of many Atlantic Revolutions of era.

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Historiography: French Revolution

  • R. R. Palmer
      • The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800 (1959 & 1964)
      • Fr. Rev. just one of many Atlantic Revolutions of era.
      • Age of revs. began in Low Countries (late 16th c.)
  • Eric Hobsbawm
      • The Age of Revolution: Europe, 1789-1848 (1962)
      • “dual revolution”  Fr. & Industrial Rev.
      • Twin events which propelled bourgeoisie into lead class; reshaped social & econ. institutions
  • Simon Schama
      • Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (1989)
      • Focuses on how aristocrats were seeking dramatic change prior to 1789 & played key part in initiation of the rev.
      • Emphasizes the violence from its early stages

Crane Brinton’s Anatomy of a Revolution

  • American political scientist
  • Written in 1938
  • Compared a revolution to a disease:
    • Revolutionary “fever” begins w/ appearance of “symptoms”
    • Proceeds to a crisis stage – “delirium”
    • Crisis ends when “fever” breaks
    • Period of recovery follows w/ a relapse or two before it is complete

Crane Brinton: Stages of a Revolution

  • Fall of the Old Order
      • Ruler becomes weak
      • Weakness results in problems (starvation, heavy taxes, etc.)
      • Anger builds; people see need for change
  • Rule by Moderates
      • Reform gov’t established; people relax
      • Original problems persist
      • Foreign or Civil War results
  • Radicalization of the Revolution
      • Fear creates divisions among revolutionaries
      • Radicals take control; push for extreme changes
      • Violence & repression

Crane Brinton: Stages of Rev. (cont.)

  • Turn from Radical Rule
      • Threat of war or war itself turns/ends
      • Violence sickens people; terror ends
      • Former radicals adopt gradual plan for change
  • Military Rule
      • People begin to doubt revolutionary ideals
      • Power vacuum exists; most effective rulers are dead
      • Military leader grabs power; becomes dictator
  • Restoration
      • Dictatorship ends; power vacuum reemerges
      • Old order (one that existed before the rev.) is restored

The French Monarchy:1775 - 1793

Marie Antoinette & Louis XVI


The Old Regime in France


1st Estate

0.5% of pop.


2nd Estate

1.5% of pop.


3rd Estate

98% of pop.

Louis XIV insisted that the ancient distinction of the three orders be conserved in its entirety.


Financial Crisis of 1789

  • French gov’t went bankrupt ($ 4 billion in debt) due to uncontrolled spending on wars & luxuries
  • Queen Marie Antoinette (“Madame Deficit”) spent millions each year on gowns, jewels, gambling & gifts.
  • King Louis XVI was a weak leader; ignored problem until it was too late

Louis XVI’s Response:



Convening the Estates General May 5, 1789

Last time it was called into session was 1614!


The Suggested Voting Pattern:Voting by Estates


1st Estate



2nd Estate




3rd Estate

Louis XIV insisted that the ancient distinction of the three orders be conserved in its entirety.


The Number of Representativesin the Estates General: Vote by Head!


1st Estate



2nd Estate




3rd Estate


French Social Order: Political Cartoon

What message does this cartoon send about the causes of the French Revolution?


Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes

1stWhat is the Third Estate?Everything!

2nd What has it been heretofore in the political order? Nothing!

3rd What does it demand? To become something therein!

Abbé Sieyès1748-1836


Storming the Bastille, July 14, 1789

  • A rumor that the king was planning a military coup against the National Assembly.
  • Royal armory
  • Attacked by Parisian mob in search of weapons
  • Force prison governor & royal garrison to surrender

The Great Fear: Peasant Revolt(July 20 – August 4, 1789)

  • Rumors that the feudal aristocracy [the aristos] were sending hired brigands to attack peasants and pillage their land.

Night Session of August 4, 1789

  • Before the night was over:
    • The feudal regime in France had been abolished.
    • All Frenchmen were, at least in principle, subject to the same laws and the same taxes and eligible for the same offices.

Equality & Meritocracy!


National Constituent Assembly1789 - 1791




August DecreesAugust 4-11, 1789

(A renunciation of aristocratic privileges!)


The Tricolor (1789)

The WHITE of the Bourbons + the RED & BLUE of Paris.



The Tricolor is the Fashion!

Bonne Rouge: “Liberty Cap”

Revolutionary Playing Cards


Revolutionary Symbols



La Republic

Revolutionary Clock


The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

August 26, 1789

  • Liberty!
  • Property!
  • Resistance to oppression!
  • Thomas Jefferson was in Paris at this time.

Olympe de Gouges (1745-1793)

  • Women played a vital role in the Revolution.
  • But, The Declaration of the Rights of Man did NOT extend the rights and protections of citizenship to women.

Declaration of the Rights of Womanand of the Citizen (1791)


Women’s March on Versailles,October 5-6, 1789

A spontaneous demonstration of Parisian women for bread.

We want the baker, the baker’s wife and the baker’s boy!


The “October Days” (1789)

The king was thought to be surrounded by evil advisors at Versailles so he was forced to move to Paris and reside at the Tuileries Palace.


The French Constitution of 1791:

A Bourgeois Government

  • Established a Constitutional Monarchy
    • King is just head of state
  • Permanent, elected, single chamber National Assembly
    • Elected by Active Citizens (50% of male pop.)
    • Power over taxation
    • Reorganized France into 83 depts.
    • Standardized weights & measures
    • Banned guilds, workers’ organizations & monopolies
  • A newly elected LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY.

GOAL Make sure that the country was not turned over to the mob!


How to Finance the New Govt.?1.Confiscate Church Lands (1790)

One of the most controversial decisions of the entire revolutionary period.


The Civil Constitution of the Clergy

July 12,1790


The oath of allegiance permanently divided the Catholic population!


2. Print Assignats

  • Issued by the National Constituent Assembly.
  • Interest-bearing notes which had the church lands as security.

The Royal Family Attempts to Flee

  • June, 1791
  • Helped by the Swedish Count Hans Axel von Fusen [Marie Antoinette’s lover].
  • Headed toward the Luxembourgborder.
  • The King wasrecognized atVarennes, nearthe border

Opposition from Abroad

  • Other kings & nobles from other countries tried to intervene to protect the French monarchs
  • Declaration of Pillnitz (August 27, 1791)
      • Austria & Prussia join forces and threaten to invade France
      • Invited other monarchs to join them
  • Legislative Assembly declares war on Austria (April 20, 1792)
      • “War of People vs. Kings!”

French Soldiers & the Tricolor:ViveLe Patrie!

  • The French armies were ill-prepared for the conflict.
  • ½ of the officer corps had emigrated.
  • Many men disserted.
  • New recruits were enthusiastic, butill-trained.
  • French troops often broke ranks and fled in disorder.

Attitudes & actions of monarchy& court

Fear ofCounter-Revolution


The Causes of Instability in France1792 - 1795



War w/ Austria (later the 1st Coalition)


The “Second” French Revolution

  • The National Convention:
    • GirondistRule: 1792-1793
    • Jacobin Rule: 1793-1794[“Reign of Terror”]
    • ThermidorianReaction: 1794-1795
  • The Directory  1795-1799

The Jacobins

Jacobin Meeting House

  • They held their meetings in the library of a former Jacobin monastery in Paris.
  • Membership mostly middle class.
  • Created a vast network of clubs

The Sans-Culottes:The Parisian Working Class

  • Small shopkeepers.
  • Tradesmen.
  • Artisans.

Fighting for economic revolution, making demands that would benefit the urban poor!


The Storming of the Tuilieres:August 9-10, 1792

This was triggered in part by the publication in Paris of the August 3 Brunswick Manifesto, which confirmed popular suspicions concerning the king’s treason.


The September Massacres, 1792(The dark side of the Revolution!)

  • Rumors that the anti-revolutionary political prisoners were plotting to break out & attack the French army from the rear, while the Prussians attacked from the front.
  • Buveurs de sang [“drinkers of blood.”] over 1000 killed!
  • It discredited the Revolution among its remaining sympathizers abroad.

The National Convention(September, 1792)

  • Its first act was the formal abolition of the monarchy on September 22, 1792.
    • The Year I of the French Republic.
    • Members elected by universal manhood suffrage
  • The Decree of Fraternity
    • it offered French assistance to any subject peoples who wished to overthrow their governments.

When France sneezes, all of Europe catches cold!


The Politics of the National Convention (1792-1795)



  • Power base in Paris.
  • Main support from the sans-culottes.
  • Saw Paris as the center of the Revolution.
  • Would adopt extreme measures to achieve their goals.
  • More centralized [in Paris] approach to government.
  • Power base in the provinces.
  • Feared the influence of the sans-culottes.
  • Feared the dominance of Paris in national politics.
  • Supported more national government centralization [federalism].

Louis XVI’s Head (January 21, 1793)

  • National Convention voted 387 to 334 to execute the monarch
  • “I die innocent of all the crimes laid to my charge; I Pardon those who have occasioned my death; and I pray to God that the blood you are going to shed may never be visited on France.”

Response to Crises: The Committee of Public Safety (1793-1794)

  • Created by the National Convention to defend France from foreign & domestic threats:
  • Met the demands of the sans-culottes
  • Pursued a radical, socialist economic & military program
      • Est. max prices of key products (esp. bread)
      • Rationed bread & regulated its production
      • Nationalized small workshops (war production)
      • Requisitioned materials & grain

Leaders of the Committee of Public Safety

Jean-Paul Marat (1744-1793)

Maximilian Robespierre


Georges Danton



The Reign of Terror

Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible.Let terror be the order of the day!- Robespierre

  • Goal  crush opposition at home
  • Revolutionary courts arrested & tried 300,000 “enemies” w/o due process.
  • The Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris alone executed 2, 639 victims in 15 months.
  • The total number of victims was b/t 16,000-50,000

Religious Terror:De-Christianization (1793-1794)

  • The Catholic Church was linked withreal or potential counter-revolution.
  • Religion was associated with theAncien Régime and superstitiouspractices.
  • Very popular among the sans-culottes.
  • Therefore, religion had no place in arational, secular republic!

A New Republican Calendar Year

The Gregorian System returned in 1806.


The “Temple of Reason”

Come, holy Liberty, inhabit this temple, Become the goddess of the French people.


The Festival of Supreme Being

A new secular holiday


The Levee en Masse:An Entire Nation at Arms! – 1,000,000 Soldiers

An army based on merit, not birth!


The “Cultural Revolution”Brought About by the Convention

  • It was premised upon Enlightenment principles of rationality.
  • The metric system of weights and measures
  • The abolition of slavery within France in 1791 and throughout the French colonies in 1794.
  • The Convention legalized divorce and enacted shared inheritance laws [even for illegitimate offspring] in an attempt to eradicate inequalities.

The Revolution ConsumesIts Own Children!

Robespierre Lies WoundedBefore the Revolutionary Tribunal that will order him to be guillotined,

July 28,1794.

Danton Awaits Execution,

April 1794


Churches reopened; freedom of worship for all cults

Terror ended; Jacobin clubs closed in Paris

Laissez-faire economic policies adopted

Thermidorian Reaction


New Constitution written; more conservative republicanism

Poor suffer; rise in prices & shortages of goods

Self-indulgence  frivolus culture; salons return; wild fashions


The Government Structure of the New Directory

  • 5-man executive committee or oligarchy [to avoid a dictatorship].
  • Tried to avoid the dangers of a one-house legislature.
    • Council of 500 initiates legislation.
    • Council of Elders [250 members]  married or widowed males over 40 years of ageaccepted or rejected the legislation.
    • Both houses elected by electors who owned or rented property worth 100-200 days’ labor, were males over 21, & paid taxes [limited to 30,000 voters].
  • Goal  continue wars against France’s enemies
    • Weak gov’t relied on military to maintain power & put down uprisings

18 Brumaire Year VIII (Nov. 9, 1799)

  • Coup d’état by Napoleon.
  • Approved by a plebiscite in December.
  • AbbeSieyès: Confidence from below; authority from above.