The French Revolution was a watershed event in modern European history that began in 1789 and ended in the late 1790s with the ascent of Napoleon Bonaparte. During this period, French citizens razed and redesigned their country’s political landscape, uprooting centuries-old institutions such as absolute monarchy and the feudal system. This article discuss about Causes of the French Revolution.
Causes of the French Revolution:-
We examined in the preceding chapter the background of revolutions. The French Revolution did not break out suddenly. Tho leaders of the people appealed to the rulers repeatedly for justice, and when all efforts failed, a revolution was inevitable. We may now analyses briefly the causes of the French Revolution, which broke out in 1789 in the time of Louis XVI.
Bankruptcy of French Monarchy:
Louis XIV had left the French treasury on the verge of bankruptcy by his extravagance and wasteful wars. The financial position became worse in the time of Louis XV (1715-1774) and Louis XVI (1774-1792). Bankruptcy freed Louis XVI to tax the people more heavily and borrow more heavily. This made him very unpopular.
French monarchs ruled arbitrarily without the least consideration for the rights and welfare of the people. They and the nobles rolled in luxury: and did little for the good of their subjects. The people had no hope of having their grievances redressed. The only way out seemed to be the path of revolution. People were arrested without adequate reason, and kept in prison without being given a fair-trial, Freedom of religion was not given, and the Huguenots were ill treated: The people patiently and silently watched the arbitrary ways of their kings. The press was strictly censored, and hooks and papers criticizing the government were burnt. People not only suffered from poverty, but were also denied basic liberties.
Injustice, Inequality and Exploitation:
Injustice, inequality and exploitation prevailed. All people in France were not on the game footing in the eyes of law. The nobles were highly privileged and lightly taxed. The ordinary people were denied rights and were heavily taxed. The nobles made common cause with the king to exploit the people. Such a state of affairs could not go on continuously. But, how could the position be changed.Were the king and the nobles prepared to be just and fair to the people and reduce the burden of their misery. It was clear that no positive answer came from the government, and the only hope lay in a violent revolution.
An evil legacy of the medieval period in France was social inequality. The higher clergy and the nobles owned most of the extensive lands, and were very lightly taxed. They were the privileged people, who invariably misused their privileges and increased the sufferings of the people. They treated the people with contempt, even though the latter were working hard and were bearing the brunt of heavy taxes. Farmers, craftsmen, traders, lawyers, teachers and people of other professions were handicapped by denial of social rank and social justice. The higher clergy and the nobles monopolized all good things, but refused to have even a small share of the hardships of the people. The song of inequality, injustice and exploitation could not be sung for ever. It had to be stopped sometime.
Revolutions in England and America:
The revolutions in England and America had a profound effect on the minds of the French people. England had a Bloodless or Glorious Revolution in 1688, and America had won complete independence in 1783 by staging a great revolution. If the British and the Americans could put an end to arbitrary rule and injustice, why not the French?
Thought Provocation by Great Writers.
The people of the middle class, the bourgeoisie, who were treated with contempt by the first two estates (clergy and nobles), were educated. They were deeply hurt, as they were denied rights political, social and economic. The people in the towns and cities, who became conscious of their disabilities, were seething with discontent. Their minds had been provoked by great writers and philosophers. The most important writers, who roused the minds of the people in France, were Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot and Thomas Paine.
Charles Montesquieu (1689-1775) emphasized the need to reorganize society. Unless there was social reconstruction. there could be no freedom and justice. In his famous writing of the Laws he and that the British Constitution was worth emulating, as it was an excellent blinding of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. While in England people enjoyed rights and liberties, people in France suffered from humiliation and oppression. Montesquieu loving people like the English. His relentless condemnation of the French monarchy awakened the minds of the people.
Francis Aronet Voltaire (1694-1778) | was another great writer, who had original thoughts, which he spelt out boldly and clearly. We lashed out mercilessly against the oppressive kings and the members of the two estates in France. People fully agreed with him that the French people were suffering from ruthless tyranny, ridiculous inefficiency and cruel religious persecution. Like Erasmus, Voltaire made ironical, satirical and sarcastic attacks on the luxury-loving do-nothing kings and the equally idle clergy and the nobles. Voltaire words carried great weight, as he was a great thinker and prolific writer with essays, drama biographies and poems to his credit. He was highly influential, and was friendly with Frederick the Great of Prussia, Joseph II of Austria and other European kings.
Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) exerted an influence, which was more profound than that of any other philosopher, and it was he who created a sure intellectual background for the French Revolution. Napoleon praised his greatness by saying that Rousseau’s thoughts inspired the French revolutionaries, and without Russo, revolution would have been impossible.
Rousseau put forward the social contract theory in his famous book The Social Contract. He put it very clearly and sharply that kings would forfeit their right to rule, if they neglected the welfare of the people. He was the first great philosopher to speak of popular sovereignty and of the people’s right to revolt against a tyrannical government, The French people would not be wrong, according to Rousseau, if they rose against their oppressive monarchy and brought it down. Rousseau’s views were much clearer and more powerful than those of an earlier thinker, John Locke (1632-1704), who had expressed similar views but in a milder form. But Locke had not, championed the cause of popular sovereignty as Rousseau did later. As the readers went through the social Contract, they came across the three magic words, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, which were to find a great place in the battle cry of the French revolutionaries.
Denis Diderot (1713-1784) was a great French scholar, who wrote novels, drama, satire and criticism and was editor-in-chief of the 17-volume Encyclopaedia. The first volume had been released in 1751. It contained thought-provoking ideas of Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau and other great contributors known as the Encyclopaedia. It was a rich fund of the latest knowledge, which, if propagated, was sure to undermine the foundations of a society based on injustice, inequality, exploitation and slavery Its readers were sure to feel the impact of revolutionary ideas.
Thomas Paine (1737-1809), an English writer and radical political theorist, who had participated in the American Revolution, wrote a famous book The Rights of Man containing revolutionary ideas. This book had a wide circulation in England, but Paine was, prosecuted by the British Government for sedition, and he fled to France, where he took part in the French Revolution.
The Course of the Revolution:
The French Revolution broke out in 1789 in the time of Louis XVI (1774-1792). Louis XV had correctly prophesied in his remark After me the deluge.
Conditions in 1789:
We may have a glance at the conditions tn the country on the eve of the French Revolution. The country was filled with discontent owing to political, social economic and other causes,
Louis XVI, the grandson of Louis XIV, Was well-meaning, gentle and pious no doubt, but he was too young and dull witted to shoulder the heavy burdens of royalty. He came to the throne in 1774 at the young age of 20, and fifteen years later the Revolution broke. He wanted to lead an easy, carefree life of luxury and enjoyment. He had no firm will and was easily influenced by the nobles. He failed to read the writing on the wall, and perhaps believed that he, his queen and his courtiers could go on merrily in the old way, and nothing was likely to happen to monarchy by the writings of the great thinkers. The masses were heavily taxed, but Louis XVI was always in want. If he was fully successful in anything, it was in putting France firmly on the road to complete financial bankruptcy.
The stupidity and carelessness of Louis XVI was fully matched by those of his queen Marie Antoinette, the daughter of Maria of Theresa of Austria. She loved all the good things of life and enjoyed in the gay court at Versailles. She was whimsical and asked the king to follow her ways. She had neither commonsense nor sympathy and understanding for the people, who were heavily burdened by the government. She wasted public money like water, and defeated all efforts to balance the budget. So she was called Madame Deficit. Pride blinded her, and she insulted the hungry people of France by advising them to eat t cakes, a bread was not available.
The economic condition of the common people, who belonged to the third estate, was bad, as very little was left in their pockets after meeting their feudal obligations, and paying religious tithes, taxes and tolls. The-clergy and the nobles, who formed the first and the second estate respectively; were by and large free from taxes. Forced labor was exacted for public works, and landlords demanded boon work. The nobles had many privileges including the right for their pigeons and game to stray into the fields of farmers and damage their crops. The common people worn out and emaciated could have little rest for life with all their heavy burdens and cares.
The people of France were divided into three estates. The clergy belonged to the first estate, the nobles to the sound estate, and the ordinary people to the third estate. All church and did not come in the first estate. Only the higher clergy had all comforts and luxuries ran and respect. The lot of the ordinary did not have the Privileges of the first estate. The member of the third estate were singled out for bad treatment, socials degradation and unrestrained exploitation. They had no voice in the government and had to bear their hardships a silently and patiently. If at all they had any Tight? we was to carry the burdens of the first two estates. A cartoon in 1789 showed a poor peasant with a human load of a churchman and a nobleman.
Though Louis XIV began his reign well, and introduced good reforms, conditions did not improve as the reforms remained only on paper without being actually put into force. Turgot, who was-appointed as finance minister,took effective steps to introduce economy and stabilize finance. But Marie Antoinette instigated the king to dismiss Turgot in 1776. Since then financial conditions moved from bad to worse, and the king went on multiplying his debts. The public debt mounted so high that it was no more possible to raise loans. When France was dangerously sinking in near bankruptcy, the queen pretending that everything was all right took active steps to increase extravagance were and waste.
The precarious financial condition and the desire to avoid a complete financial break-down forced Louis XVI to summon the French Parliament known as the Estates-General on 5th May 1789 at Versailles. This body had not been convened by the haughty, arrogant and arbitrary kings, who were raising taxes and spending public money without the consent of the Estates General.
The Estates general had 1,200 members, 600 representing the The first two and the remaining 600 the third estates and the remaining 600 the third estate. As observed earlier, the higher clergy and the estates, and the representatives of the common people, farmers,lawyers, traders, townsmen and the members of the professions to the third estate. The members of the third estate were in an angry and aggressive mood, fully determined to compel the king to introduce urgent reforms. Any wrong move of the king was likely to provoke them to rebel.
Estates Met Separately:
According to custom and tradition, representatives of the three estates met separately, and the decision of each estate was regarded as one vote. Every time the first two estates had a majority, as their interests were identical and opposed to those of the third estate.
Demands of the Third Estate:
The members of the third estate were not in a mood to remain subservient to the first two estates and vote grants as desired by the king. They demanded that the three estates should constitute and meet as a single body representing the entire country. Instead of the representation of separate estates, the whole nation should be represented. They further wanted every member to have an individual vote. These demands were fair and reasonable, but they were rejected by Louis XVI and members of the first two estates, as the common people would win the upper hand. Then the members of the third estate felt suspicious of the intentions of the king. If these demands were not conceded, there was no hope of having significant reforms in favor of the common folk.
Proposal of Abbe Sieyes:
Abbe Sieyes, an important leader of the third estate, suggested that the third estate should convert itself into a National Assembly. This was too much for the king, who posted soldiers on 20th June 1789 at the door of the meeting place of the third estate.
National Assembly Meeting at the Tennis Court:
The members of the third estate felt deeply humiliated at the thoughtless action of the king, who had alienated their sympathy and support. But undeterred, the members held their meeting in the neighborhood at a place, which was once used as 8 Tennis Court. Here on June 23, 1789, they took a momentous oath, which was to change the course of French history. It was the famous Oath of the Tennis Court expressing the determination of the members not to disperse of rest till they had hammered out a new constitution for France.
Common Meeting of Three Estates:
The king then badly iv need of money was unable to quell the new spirit of that third estate, He was compelled to pocket his pride and instruct the first two estates to join the third estate in the National Assembly, At that time, Mirabeau made his mark as a great leader of the third estate in the Assembly.
Work of Assembly Hampered:
The king wag vacillating, but scheming,and was incapable of taking any wise statement decision. Like George III of England, he firmly believed that could have his own way and of the army to crush the people revolt, in case it broke out. While the National Assembly was carrying on its deliberations, rumors spread like fire that the king had gone back on his word and was contemplating the dismissal of the assembly sense of deep frustration, disappointment and anger gripped the members of the third estate in the Assembly. They all felt that Louis XVI could not be trusted, as he and his queen had decided to take stern action on the people.
Troop Movement and Riots:
The people felt more suspicious and alarmed, when soldiers started moving between Versailles and Paris. The king refused to withdraw troops, who, it was feared,were likely to be used against the Assembly. Riots and lawlessness brolly out. Crazy crowds looted shops, assaulted Officers, set fire to, the mansions of the rich and the title deeds, and began searching for arms, ,The situation was going out of hand, and the Country seemed to be on the brink of a revolution.
Outbreak of Revolution with Storming of the Bastille:
The Bastille the grim-looking French prison, was the symbol of decaying, oppressive, irresponsible and terribly unpopular monarchy. The mob, which was running amuck, stormed and razed the Bastille on July 14, 1789. Surprisingly there were only seven prisoners, who were now set free. But arms and ammunition were also stored in it. The Bastille was a fortress built in Paris in 1309. In the later days, it was converted into a prison and famous men like Richelieu and Voltaire were imprisoned in it. The fall of the Bastille was a great event not only in French history, but also in the entire history of mankind. It signaled the commencement of a great revolution, which rocked France, put an end to the old and degenerated order and ushered in a new era of liberty, equality and fraternity. It was now clear that a determined nation was roused to react violently against a tyrannical king, who would not respond to reasonable appeals.
The Bastille Day 18 celebrated every year on July 14 as the chief national day in France.
Whole Country Engulfed by Revolutionary Fever:
The revolutionary fever was not restricted to Paris and Versailles only. It spread everywhere and engulfed the whole nation. The higher elegy and the nobles suffered much in the renewed violence, looting and arson. The flood-gates had heen opened, and the mob could not be held in cheek. The princes, courtiers and other powerful men took to their heels and sought shelter in foreign countries. Law and order broke down completely, government officials deserted their, places of duty, courts ceased functioning, and the collection of taxes came to a stand-still, Anarchy spread as the government machinery came to a grinding halt.
Reforms by the National Assembly:
The impact of the violence and bloodshed all round was felt by the National Assembly. The nobles were now panicky and being anxious to restore peace, they thought it advisable to climb down. With their consent, the National Assembly introduced revolutionary measures on August 4 and 3 in 1789. The following were the effects of these measures:
- Feudalism was done away with. All feudal, privileges of the clergy and the nobles were abolished.
- Equality was established among the citizens of France.
- Tithes and tolls were removed.
- The principle of equal taxation was introduced, and the clergy and the nobles were to be taxed like the common people.
These changes were sudden, and what could not be done in centuries even by able ministers like Colbert and Turgot was done by the National Assembly overnight.
March of the Royal Family to Paris:
Even though Louis XVI had approved of the measures passed by the National Assembly on August 4 and 5, in 1789 the people entertained doubts, about the seriousness of the king to implement radical measures. Their adults were confirmed, when rumors were afloat in Paris that the king was planning to undo what the National Assembly and the revolutionaries had done. On October 1, 1789 people heard that the troops were enjoying in Versailles, when the people in Paris were in the grip of starvation. Therefore, on October 5 a procession of angry and hungry women and men disguised as women with sticks and clubs in their hands marched to Versailles crying for bread. The next day an unruly crowd stormed the royal palace and murdered several soldiers and servants of the palace. The mob refused to disperse until the royal family agreed to accompany them to Paris. In the palace of Tuileries, the royal family was practically imprisoned. Ultimately the king yielded, and the crowd returned to Paris along with the king, queen and the prince shouting. We have the baker, the baker’s wife and the little cook boy now we shall have bread. Even at this stage Louis XVI could have prevented the further degeneration of the condition, but he chose to commit more serious mistakes, which ultimately cost him his throne and life.
Administrative Measures and Constitution Making:
The National Assembly, which had shifted its headquarters to pairs, continued its important work of introducing radical changes in the country. It had converted itself into a Constituent Assembly, thus undertaking the great task of framing a new constitution for France.
The National Assembly took immediate administrative steps to solve the new problems facing the land i in the light of the new ideas and plans.
- Administrative units were changed. Their boundaries were redrawn so that they were all put more or less on the footing of equality with reference to size and population.
- Power was decentralized, and the country was divided into 83 departments.
- Papal control over the Church was removed, and the Church was nationalized. The property of the Church was confiscated, and the number of churchmen was reduced.
- Paper currency was introduced and the seized Church property backed this currency. Unfortunately the property could not fully back the currency notes, which were issued in plenty. This resulted in inflation, which assumed Frankenstein proportions.
The most important achievement of the. National Assembly (which, as stated earlier, converted itself into a Constituent Assembly) was the framing of a new constitution in 1791 entirely changing the structure of government and the status of the individual.
Constitutional Monarchy :
An absolute and irresponsible monarchy was converted into a constitutional or limited monarchy.
Monarchy was hereditary.
Ministers were to be appointed by the king, but he had no power to appoint members of the Legislative Assembly, The king was given suspension veto that is, the power of holding up the execution of a measure passed by the Legislative Assembly.
This was a clear proof to show that the king still commanded tome respect and sympathy, and the revolutionary constitution makers did not, at that stage, think of abolishing monarchy unceremoniously. The king had to blame himself, if later, the revolutionaries took extreme steps, one of which was to get rid of monarchy altogether and finally executed the king and the queen.
The Legislative Assembly (the unicameral legislature) was to have 745 members indirectly elected on high property franchise for two years by all active citizens. It was to effectively control every governmental branch.
The system of electing all judges and trial by jury in criminal cases were introduced.
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen:
An important feature of the French constitution of 1791 was a 17 Article Preamble containing a grand declaration of rights, which was inspired by the great philosopher of the age. This was known as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. This can be regarded as a great contribution of the National Assembly. Like the British, who gave the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights and the Americans who gave the American Bill of Rights, the-French gave this great document. To all those who value liberty and cherish democracy, this document is written in letters of gold. Its tremendous Significance has to be observed.
- It created an entirely new political. France by precisely stating human rights and liberties, and the limitations on royal power.
- It upheld in clear and unambiguous terms the three democratic principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, which profoundly influenced the other democratic constitutions of the world.
- It guaranteed freedom of person-and property, freedom of speech and writing, freedom to hold religious beliefs, and freedom to express political opinion.
- It guaranteed the principle of equality by establishing equality of all citizens before the law, and the principle, of equal eligibility for all citizens to public office.
- Law was not to be arbitrary. It was to be the expression Thus popular sovereignty was upheld, Laws were to be made either personally by the citizens or by their representatives.
Election of New Assembly : –
According to the provisions of the new constitution a new Assembly known as the Legislative Assembly was elected. It seemed that the French Revolution had taken adequate steps to enable the country to go ahead in peace. But unfortunately it was not to be so.
New Constitution Unpopular:
The new Constitution satisfied the hopes of a relatively small number of people. Different sections of the population were displeased with the new constitution for different reasons, and it was bound to fail. The royalists were unwilling to support it, as the king’s wings of power were drastically clipped. The clergy were annoyed, as Papal control was overthrown, church property was confiscated, and the privileges of the clergy were abolished. The nobles were angered, as they found the radical changes unbearable. Many revolutionaries felt that the constitution had not gone far enough and was totally inadequate, as it had failed to introduce radical reforms. The king and the queen were highly disgruntled, and they began hatching fresh plots to revive the old order and suppress the revolutionary forces.
King’s Foolish Effort to Escape:
A dramatic development which took place was the foolish effort made by the king to escape from the palace of Tuileries on June 20, 1791 with the objective of joining his loyal army on the northern frontier of the country. The king should have avoided such a precipitate step and should have entered into some kind of compromise with the leaders of the revolution. At least commonsense should have made him realize that he had to live in his own country and rule in the midst of the people; and in his own interests he should not have antagonized the whole nation. Nothing was so harmful to monarchy as the abortive escape bid of the king, which alienated even the support and sympathy of the moderates in the country. It was obvious that Louis XVI was trying to secure the support of the French nobles, who had fled abroad and of King Leopold II of Austria, the brother of Marie Antoinette, and other kings. The country clearly stood in danger of a foreign invasion.
Evidently the king was under an evil star, as the royal family in disguise was discovered and caught at the border village of Varennes, The family, which now stood fully exposed as anti-people, was taken back to Paris. Louis XVI was blind to the fact that the whole country except the aristocrats of the old order was against him.
Constituent Assembly Dissolved:
To save the skin of his teeth, the king, who had suffered further humiliation after he was caught red-handed, took an oath to support the constitution. The National Assembly, which had completed its task of constitution-making, now dissolved itself on September 30, 1791.
Declaration of War on Austria and Prussia:
When the revolutionaries heard that Louis was expecting help from Leopold II of Austria, who had appealed to various countries for military aid there was anger, and alarm in the country. The king of Prussia also wished to interfere. These kings wished that the revolutionary forces should be localized in France itself and should not be allowed to spread their tentacles in other countries. As the Austrian king had declared his intention to invade. France to put down the revolutionaries, the Legislative Assembly declared war on Austria, and Prussia on April 20,1792.
Leadership Seized by Extremists:
The threat of foreign in vision and all kinds of wild rumors were fully exploited by the extremist elements among the revolutionaries, who now captured the leadership. Extremists formed the evolutionary Jacobin. Clubs, which wanted the abolition of monarchy, removal of property franchise and several other drastic measures.
France was now getting ready to witness a new scene on the stage. It was a pity that the revolutionaries gave up moderation and indulged in awful atrocities. Frenzied mobs stormed on August 10, 1792 the palace of Tuileries and imprisoned the whole royal family. On September 20, 1792, the French army defeated the Prussian, Austrian and some 2 royalist troops, which had invaded.
The fear that the presence of the king was dangerous to the country, and the threat, potential and real, of foreign invasion suddenly changed the course of the revolution.
Massacres and Deposition of the King:
The: radicals formed a National Convention for drafting a new constitution, which was ready in 1793, This constitution could not be put into force owing to the unexpected and quick developments. In the meantime on 2nd and 3rd September 1792 the radicals killed hundreds of men and women on the streets, as they were suspected to be royalists or counter-revolutionaries.
The king was deposed, and on September 23, 1972, France was proclaimed as a republic.
Execution of Louis:
Maximilian Robespierre, Danton and other leading radicals of the National Convention condemned Louis XVI to-death on the charge of high treason. His head was cut off on January 21, 1793 by the mechanical device invented by Joseph Ignace Guillotine (1788-1814), a physician. The device, which is itself known as guillotine, consists of two upright post a between which an oblique edged knife operates. On its release, the knife falls decapitating the condemned man instantaneously. Mary Antoinette was guillotined in October 1798. The guillotine by quick action gives less pain to the victim than an axe. Even now it is used in France and Belgium for executing criminals.
Reign of Terror:
A Committee of Public Safety consisting of 12 members was authorized by the National Convention to take all necessary executive action to deal with the dangerous situation which pad risen. The nations of Europe had formed a coalition and declared war on France after the execution of Louis XVI. In the meantime, revolts had broken out against the radicals in many towns.
The Committee took drastic steps to deal with the dangers with in the country and outside. At home it let loose a ten-month reign of terror (September 1793 to July 1794) in which all those who were believed to be the enemies of the revolution were guillotined. Every life seemed to be in danger, as even the least criticism of the excesses of the Committee was regarded as a capital offense. Among those who were the victims of the guillotine, there were. persons who were genuinely interested in the establishment of peace and the exercise of moderation. According to estimates, in Paris 2,500 persons were beheaded and nearly 10,000 in other parts of the country.
Among the noteworthy persons executed were Danton himself (an important leader of the Revolution and a member of an earlier Committee of Public Safety), Marie Antoinette and Madame Roland. The terrific reign of terror ended only when Robespierre himself, who had instigated the use of the guillotine and who presided over the death of thousands, was guillotined. By strange coincidence, he was executed in 1794 in the month of July (in which the Bastille had fallen). Robespierre, the bloodthirsty dictator, had become very unpopular, and a revolt had risen against him With his execution the reign of terror ended.
The Committee of Public Safety dealt effectively with tie danger posed by foreign powers. It introduced compulsory military service for those between the ages of 18 and 25. It succeeded in destroying the coalition against France consisting of England, Holland, Spain, Sardinia, Austria and Prussia. The credit for the brilliant Victories against foreign armies and for the annexation of territory in Holland and West Germany went to the military commander Carnot. Exhilarated by victory, France declared war on England in 3793.
The New Constitution in 1795; After the reign of terror ended the National Convention drafted a new constitution for France known as the Constitution of the Year Third (1795). This constitution worked for about four years (1795-1799). It set up a bicameral legislature and 8 committee of five Directors (known as Directory) to wield executive power.
While the Committee of Public Safety overreached itself and shed blood, the Directory was too weak to function properly.
The Nature of the Revolution:-
Violence and Lack of Statesmanship:
The French Revolution took a very violent turn owing to the obduracy of the king, the selfishness of the nobles, and threat of foreign invasion. The, king and queen, a large number of nobles and people suspected to be counter. revolutionaries perished. Many fell victims to the guillotine, and many died on the streets or elsewhere. Many lives were unnecessarily sacrificed without doing any good to anybody. In the name of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, terrible excesses were committed. The reign of terror (1793-1794) created more problems than it solved, and brought revulsion and disgust to right thinking people. The revolutionaries, who established the reign of terror,brought about a setback to the wholesome spirit of a true revolution (as distinguished from committing crimes and murders) and showed a woeful lack of constructive thinking and statesmanship.
The people of France had to pay an unexpectedly and unusually high price for the tragic happenings, particularly after the king made an abortive bid to escape. Instead of true Liberty, Equality and Fraternity striking deep roots in French soil, anarchy set in, and no constitution, however good it might be, could get a fair trial. The country shifted quickly from one constitution to another. The first constitution had praiseworthy features, but unfortunately, the circumstances took a tragic turn to implement its provisions properly. Finally Napoleon seized power and ruled dictatorially over France all in the name of the French Revolution.
Lack of Experience:
A contrast can be struck between England and France. The English middle classes had gained much experience in the course of centuries and they showed a sense of moderation and truly constructive statesmanship. The French middle classes did not have the requisite opportunities to gain as much experience as their counterparts in Britain. In America also the leaders of the War of Independence had much political and constitutional experience in running their own political institutions before the rupture between England and the Colonies took place: she British made a success of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and moved from strength to strength in parliamentary democracy. They did not like to have all rights and liberties at once, but in small doses, Therefore, the British could consolidate from time to time what they pad gained earlier. In America, the great leaders like George Washington did not introduce complete democracy all at once, because they were realistic and knew the pitfalls of a nascent democracy.
England and America had leaders of great stature, foresight, wisdom and moderation. They could guide the people properly and lead them ultimately to victory. The French did not have comparatively speaking very good leaders of the caliber of George Washington, and they were incapable of controlling the revolutionaries and holding them in leash. In France thousands perished, because anarchy set in, and no leader could prevent the establishment of a reign of terror. Instead of constructive statesmanship, violence won the upper hand, and finally, the land came under the heavy heel of Napoleon. In the later stages, the revolutionaries lost what they had originally gained.
The French Revolution began as bourgeoisie movement, but later power fell into the hands of bloodthirsty extremists. Though it was a bloody revolution, it was a contrast to the Russian Revolution of 1917, which was engineered by communist leaders.
Revolutionary France Enemy of Europe:
Revolutionary France committed aggression on other countries under Napoleon’s leadership. He led France to a destination which was different from the one the leaders originally had in mind, when the first constitution was drafted.
Importance of the Revolution and Its Effects:-
The French Revolution is one of the greatest landmarks in the history of the world. The great effects of the Revolution bring . Out its tremendous importance.
Changed Course of History:
It changed the course of the history of France, and inspired the peoples of other countries to change the course of their history. In France the conditions after the Revolution were quite different from what they were before it. The whole attitude of the people towards the government under Went a great change.
Destruction of the Old Order:
It destroyed the old order, in which the higher clergy and nobles only had privileges and rights, and the common people were cruelly exploited and denied right, At first the revolutionaries introduced limited monarchy; but when they found that Louis XVI and his queen were scheming and planning for mischief, they put an end to monarchy and executed the royal couple. The country came to have new constitutions based on revolutionary principles. During 1791-1799, France had three constitutions. In all these constitutions, principles of & new social order were drafted. The old order, in which the people were kept down and cruelly treated, ended. Instead of arbitrary government, there was to be government according to a written constitution. The fall of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 is a red letter day for France, and it is en as a national holiday.
Inspiration to Other Countries:
Like the people of England, who staged the Glorious Revolution (1688) and the people of America, who waged a war of independence (1776-1783), the French Revolutionaries (1789) inspired the exploited and downtrodden masses of people in other countries. During 1800-1825, several revolutions: took place in Latin American countries. In the 19th century, many small revolutions took place in Europe on, the basis of the ideas of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity given by the French Revolution. In the Oriental countries, a new awakening was created among the oppressed millions. In their fight against British imperialism, Indian nationalists frequently referred to the glorious achievements of the French Revolution. Its importance as a great event in the world cannot be overemphasized.
The Declaration of the Rights of Man:
Among the documents drafted by the French Revolutionaries, the most important was the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Every democratic country today refers to this momentous document, which clearly says that the individual has certain basic rights, which are inalienable and Shall not be violated. In the Constitution of India (1950) the list of Fundamental Rights carries the spirit of the Declaration of the Rights of Man. In France the individual secured a status with basic rights attached to his person.
Nationalism and Democracy:
The French Revolution created national awakening and built the foundations of democracy. France, which was originally held as a land of three estates represented separately in the Estates General, became a nation, which was collectively represented in the National Assembly. The representatives of the nation drafted in 1791 a constitution in which limited monarchy was established, and the rights of the people were clearly put in black and white. Later in 1792 a republican constitution was framed. Another Constitution was framed in 1795.
Though Napoleon exercised power which was more absolute: than that of Louis XVI, he claimed to give expression to nationalism and democracy. Wherever Napoleon’s army went, it said its main aim was to liberate people from the old order. In the Napoleonic era, the twin powerful forces that manifested themselves in almost every European country were nationalism and democracy.
The study of the effects of the French Revolution will be incomplete unless a reference is made to the evil effects of the French Revolution.
- Every revolution takes a heavy toll of human life and property. But in the case of the French Revolution, the toll was more than what the results warranted. Here a reference may be made to the reign of terror during which many crimes were committed in the name of liberty.
- The Revolution took an undesirable turn, and as observed earlier, its course in the later days was guided more by those who loved power than by those who had & genuine desire to uphold Tights and liberties.
- The Revolution created anarchy, which was favorable to the rise of Napoleon, who covered his lust for power by the cloak of revolutionary ideals. It was strange to see France, which had overthrown absolute monarchy, suffering under Napoleon’ s heavy jackboot
The Revolution unified France and enhanced the power of the national state. The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars tore down the ancient structure of Europe, hastened the advent of nationalism, and inaugurated the era of modern, total warfare.