Last Updated 01 Nov 2022

The French Revolution and Napoleon 1789-1804

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The start of the French Revolution was regarded by many as a new beginning and full of hope. People felt that it represented an age of equality and freedom, however, this event was actually marked by violent events and injustice. Rise of a new dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte, those who took part this event only expected a moderate change, their attempts actually lead to a severe and dramatic conclusion with the king’s execution and France’s formation of a republic. Changes were to occur within the revolution and within the life of France altogether. The overthrowing of the government leads to a decline of upper classes, middle class acquired wealth and influence, peasants. Freed from troubles, during this time, the Roman Catholic Church lost most of its power. This event was commonly divided into three stages

First stage (1789-1795) – Rapid development from medium to severe conflict to the ruling classes.

Second stage (1795-1799) – return to caution and conservatism.

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Final stage (1799) – Napoleon takes the title of ‘first consul.

The Aims and Domestic problems of French politicians (1789-91), long Term Causes of the French Revolution-Before the Revolution, Louis XIV also known as the “Sun King’’ (1638-1715) and Louis XV (1710-74) had ruled the country for over 130 years. France had been a monarchy for most of its time, the Power of the King, the Nobles and the Church Power of the throne was passed to King Louis XVI who happened to be more enlightened than previous generations, king kept his authority with few limitations. Certain classes had more privilege than others Nobles had considerable privileges which included low taxes, Middle classes only existed in small percentages and had some privileges. Peasants suffered the most as the burden of taxes mainly fell upon them Church supported the monarchy using its power and defy anyone that would go against and challenge them, Regional Divisions and Financial Troubles Diverse regions made France a challenging country to rule and govern.

This created distinction between the north and south of France as these regions differed in language, culture, and law. Some places strongly guarded their traditional rights Local institutions had to record issued laws by the king The most serious problem, however, was the country’s financial debt. The ongoing wars were proven to be expensive to pay of  High taxes were imposed upon the rich Was defeated by the upper class and the Church who used their privileges to defend against the reform In the end, tradition prevented the king’s taxation. To make situations worse, France depended hugely on agriculture. Poor harvests over time impacted the country greatly resulting in food shortages and inflation. This resulted in many falling into poverty and starvation The particular situation influenced and contributed significantly to the outbreak of the French Revolution. The queen who disfavored at that time, was accused and viewed as uncaring for the people suffering.The EnlightenmentThe Age of Enlightenment was a philosophical movement in the 17th and 18th centurie This influential movement supported many new ideas about the government and the people Lead by intellectuals and philosophers Challenged and questioned the idea of monarchy and motivated the revolution, Short-term.

Causes of the French RevolutionRefusal and denial of the nobilities to accept reforms was the central cause for the Revolution To be specific, problems arose within the French’s tax system which basically benefited the wealthy and fell heavy on the poor Country failed to raise any form of revenue without taxing the upper classesThis angered many people as France’s economy was nearing towards bankruptcy due to warsFinally the King decides to take action by calling upon a meeting in attempt to fix the country’s economic problems The assembly was composed of three estates; The First Estate: 10,000 the clergy, high leveled in Church hierarchy, chosen informally by other clergy (1%) The Second Estate: 400,000the nobility, informally elected, some chose to support the third estate, however most refused (2%)The Third Estate: 500,000,000 everyone else, (also known as Bourgeoisie). Ideas represented concerns of the middle classes, hoped that their demands would change the ways of how the tax system worked Each estate had an even amount of votes They could join together to outvote the other estate. The Start of the RevolutionDuring the meeting, King Louis XVI suggested each Estate to compose a list of their grievancesAll agreed upon a need for a constitution, liberty of the press, and an end to internal trade barrier However, the upper classes refused to give up their tax privileges due to tradition. The King himself was hesitant to act leading to indecisiveness The meeting ended in a failure due to the issues that occurred. The National Assembly and the Tennis Court OathAs a result of the king’s lack of leadership and the refusal of the upper classes to give in their privileges, the Third Estate decides to leave the Estate Generals. They decide to go independent and leave from the Estates General to form their own assembly.

Some upper classes that agreed with reform had joined the assembly as well. This independent group was called the, National Constituent Assembly. This angered the King as he took it as a challenge to his powers He had commanded that the assembly was to be shut down and locked away, he ended up using his powers to repeal all the acts and decisions made in the Assembly First act against the king Honore Gabriel Riquetti, Count of Mirabeau was an example to this. Was a nobleman who decided to join the, third Estate and agreed with themLocked out of their own assembly, members instead, turn over to a new place at a tennis court to further uphold their meetings. There, 576 participants had sworn an oath stating that they will never separate until a new France constitution had been established. This was known as the, Tennis Court Oath’The Storming of the BastilleMany feared what the King would do They thought that the king would gather troops to put down the unofficial meeting.

This leads to one of the first major events of the Revolution the storming of the Bastille Many travel to the center of Paris looking in support for the movement July 14, 1789 violence eventually breaks out and one of the first major events of the revolution occurs Crowds in Paris broke and stormed in Bastille, seeking to seize the weapons along with the ammunition stored. Wanted to use the stolen guns against the King’s soldiers. Everyone that tried defending the building was slaughtered and killed The Sans-Culottes was the name of a radical group that appeared throughout the revolution. Composed of working-class revolutionaries that protested the rights of citizens They demanded equality and democracy Eventually turned to physical action and violence in order to achieve what they wanted They seized property, stole food, and destroyed records This struck fear to some nobles as the revolution progressedRequested help to other European monarchies to put down the revolution.

The August Decrees and the Declaration of the Rights of ManAs a result of all this, the August Decrees was issued by the National Assembly. The August Decrees was a sequence of new laws that brought an end to feudalism Granted more rights to the workers and peasants Also abolished law courts that were run by noblesThe nobility also had agreed to abolish mandatory service by peasants including unpaid work like road repair and the taxes they were required to pay their landlords.The Church had also given up their right to collect payments given to them by othersOn August 26, 1789 the Declaration of the Rights of Man was issued by the assembly Based on American Declaration of Independence Stated that: All men are born free with rights of equality, liberty, security, and propertImprisonment without trial would be bannedTaxation was to be fairly distributed to everyone based on wealth No individual or group is to be allowed to make decisions that interfered with the will of people.

Louis XVI believed the issues were temporary and was open to changes to further meet the needs of the people. Unrest continued, however Greeted upon return to Paris along with his wife Had acknowledge reforms by the assembly Foreign ambassador stated that, France was now governed and ruled by the Paris mob. The Situation by the End of 1789Paris at this point was the center of revolutionary enthusiasm. The king, the royal family, most of the nobility, and higher clergy were counter revolutionaries (or the people who went against the revolution) Other governments were afraid of rebellion breaking out in their countries tooHowever, divisions existed among the counter revolutionaries The most demanding counter revolutionaries believed that the king should restore its former ways or ancien regime. Moderate counter revolutionaries believed that some reforms or ideas were acceptable and thought some, limitations to the king was reasonableKing Louis XVI was always indecisive and was never firm on his decisions.

This results in a disorganization among the counter revolutionaries as they had no idea how to keep the revolution under controlThe revolutionaries also did not have a solid leadership or agenda compared to the lower classesIt was unclear on details and meaning on what the people of France wante Revolution became an uncertainty This situation continued on for the first months of the revolution. It required an ambassador to act between the king and the revolutionaries Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette was suggested for this role, however, he showed no interest. The Civil Constitution 1790 The Church became a natural target as the symbol of the ancien regime. The Church’s power to raise taxes was abolished and monasteries were destroyed In July 1790, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (a law passed putting the Church in the State’s control) was introduced by the Assembly.

The authority of the pope was limited in the Church where the state officials elected bishops and parish clergy instead. The number of bishoprics (districts commanded by the bishop) was lowered, some church offices were abolished. The Church was required to pay the clergy rather than the state and their rank was to be specifically religious However, even with all these limitations, clergymen still supported and favored the reforms and the Civil Constitution was accepted  But things turned differently after a requirement was proposed for the clergy to sign an oath of loyalty. Many thought this took it too far  The pope had condemned both the. Civil Constitution and all revolutionary reforms that had taken place.  As a result, the French was split between two opinions those who believed in the. Civil Constitution and those who still followed the Church’s traditions. The Flight to Varennes 1791 Rumors spread of the king’s escape from the country in hopes to reach safety. The king initially denied this idea and refused to do so for two reasons: Believed that a king should not abandon his duties during a time of trouble. He was afraid that someone else would replace him on his throne if he ever did leave. By 1791, the pope’s disapproval stirred up more violence in which the king could not control. Foreign monarchs had disapproved of the reforms taking place in France however no one wanted to get involved As a result on June 20 1791, Louis XVI and his family escaped to Paris Believed that he could gather more support. Travelled to the town of Montmedy, on the border with Luxemborg. But, the escape plan was disorganized and they were caught, the coach was halted at Varennes and the king and queen were arrested. They were taken back to Paris where they stayed until their executions in 1793.

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