French Revolution -Liberty Equality and Fraternity

The French Revolution 1789


– Renaissance had introduced enlightenment ideas like natural rights of a man and rational thought was promoted and hence authorities could now be questioned.
– USA : a nation with democratic political system had emerged.
• France was an absolute monarchy.
• The divine rights of the king were recognized.
• Bourbon dynasty was ruling in France.
• Due to the competition encouraged by the industrial revolution and the desire to acquire large number of colonies for raw material and market for their exports pushed the government to fight wars leading to huge expenditure.

Causes of the French revolution


Absolute monarchy +weak monarch ,Incapable of decision making, Influenced on  king by his wife , Support to Americans in  American Revolution ,Huge amount of debts on them ,  Expenditure  on wars e.g. Seven year war, Preferred personal interests over court interests, Spread of revolutionary ideas to France ,Lavish spending by the rich class to maintain its lifestyle, No representation to the  common people, Estates General meeting had not taken place.


-Society was divided into three classes and inequality prevailed.

Clergy  : First Estate -the Church leaders 

Enjoyed the wealth and land 

–  and Paid no taxes to the State .

Nobility : Second Estate
-Royal class
-government officialsPaid no taxes to the state
Commons : Third Estate
Peasants + Bourgeoisie(upper working class)

– Bourgeoisie : lawyers, doctors, professors, merchants etc.

– Poor members : servants ,laborers etc 



Imposition of taxes on the Third Estate so there is a Huge Debt Burden on them .there are two types of tax paid by the third estates :

1.TITHE : Tax imposed by the Church
2.TAILLE : Tax imposed by the King .

No tax was paid by the clergy and nobles .


• Estates General was like a parliament. It was meant to be representative of all the three classes.
• But the representation was not equal.
• The meeting was last called in 1614 and now meeting was scheduled in 1789 to decide on uniform taxation, establishment of constitutional rule. They met on 5th May, 1789 in the palace of Versailles.
• Third estate wanted to change the voting procedure.
CLERGY-300 members : 1 vote
NOBILITY-300 members : 1 vote
COMMONERS-600 members : 1 vote
Peasants, artisans and women were not allowed.


• Third Estate demanded for a combined session so that decision could be taken based on the strength of the majority of all members.
• Other two estates opposed it and a deadlock was created.
• Third Estate walked out in protest and declared itself to be an independent NATIONAL ASSEMBLY as the only representative of the French public. This was the beginning of the Revolution !!
• King Louis denied the entry of Third Estate in the council hall.
• Thus the members led by Mirabeau and Abbey Sieyes met in the hall of a Tennis Court and swore not to separate until the constitution is drafted.
• It was the declaration of the end of absolute monarchy based on the divine rights and hence set on the beginning of a limited monarchy based on the pubic will.
• The situation became embarrassing for the king and he called the session of the Estates General.
• He agreed for the formation of National Assembly and later it was declared as the  Constituent Assembly.


• The rumor spread that fortress of prison in Paris : Bastille contained huge store of weapons and the king was planning to launch attack on the people.
• The unruly crowd moved towards Bastille and stormed into the fort.
• They set all the prisoners free and soldiers had to surrender in front of the mob.
• 14th July was declared as the National Day.
• New municipal government known as “Paris Commune” was formed thus establishing new administrative system. Other areas of France also started forming communes on the lines of Paris.
• After the act the National Assembly realized that the root cause of all the social evils was the burden of taxes and the privileges enjoyed by the upper classes.
• Thus It decided to pass certain laws but their resolution could not have legal force without the King’s approval.
• Meanwhile another incident took place.


• Rumors swept across that king was gathering force in Versailles.
• On 5th August 1789 : thousands of women reached there shouting ‘GIVE US BREAD’.
• People stormed in fort of Versailles and demanded the King and Queen to come to Paris. They came and were kept in the palace of Tuileries (Paris). They lived like prisoners there.


• The assembly members were divided into two groups : those interested in restoring the achievements of revolution and other in restoring the lost glory.
• 1789 : National Assembly completed the draft of the Constitution.
• King accepts the Constitution and the Constitutional Monarchy.
• The National Assembly completed framing of the constitution in 1791 with an aim to limit the powers of the king.
• Separation of powers in the legislature, executive and judiciary was introduced.
• The power to make laws was instituted in the National Assembly by the constitution that was indirectly elected.
• Only people who belonged to high tax bracket could get elected.
• People who did not pay much taxes and all the women were not entitled to vote.
• The constitution began with a Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens.
• Declaration of Man and Citizens included rights such as right to life, freedom of speech, freedom of opinion, equality before law were established as‘natural and inalienable rights’.
• LIBERTY, EQUALITY AND FRATERNITY were the ideals stressed upon by this declaration.
• Law making, tax collection, decision on issues of war and peace were now taken by the New
Legislative  Assembly .This assembly was going to have a term of two years
• Foreign policy was handled by the king but executive had the right to make final decision in the matter of war and peace.


– Freedom of religion was granted to the public.
– French catholic church was placed under the state and property of the church was confiscated.
– The clergy was paid the salaries in cash by the government.


• No equal rights of voting
• Could not solve economic problems
• Lacked administrative experience
• The Constituent Assembly was dissolved with a declaration that it had achieved its objectives and now a new legislative assembly to be constituted based the on the constitution framed.
• A resolution was also passed that members of the Constituent Assembly will not be
elected as members of the legislative assembly or council of ministers.
• In this way the constitutional matters were handed over to those immature persons who had not contributed to its formation.
• New Legislative Assembly was elected in October 1791.


• The first session held in October 1791.
• People had big expectations from this assembly that it will bring happiness and prosperity by strengthening the monarchy in this new set up.
• But the period of one year was very disturbing for the assembly and it could not even complete its term of two years. It was dissolved in September 1792.
• Majority members were young revolutionaries belonging to middle class and had not much experience of politics but were active in the communes (municipal government).
• There were three factions in the assembly : violent revolutionaries also called ‘Jacobians’. This was a radical group Monarchists Constitutionalists Republicans favored limited rights of the king.
Supporters of the King ‘Rightist’ because sat in the right side ‘Leftist’ because sat on the left side.
They were also called as ‘Sans-culottes’
• Sans-culottes mean without Knee-Breaches.
• A term used for lower class people based on their clothing.
• They usually wore pantaloons – full length trousers.
• Higher class used to wear Culottes which were silk Knee Breaches.


• The idea of limited monarchy was soon given up and Jacobins took the control in their hands with the aim of establishing republic.
• They were already ruling in the Paris Commune (municipal government) and thus were successful in maintaining their influence on the people of Paris. Since they did mot enjoy majority in the assembly so this was one of the way to win the support of the public.
• Major opponent of Jacobins was Girondist Party (belonged to a place named Gironde).
• Reason : difference of opinion and desire for power amongst Jacobins.
• Although both wanted to establish Republic in France but Jacobins wanted the king to be hanged too and Girondist did not have a clear policy on this so Jacobins declared that the Girondists are anti-revolutionary.
• Thus they started exterminating Girondists and a bloody struggle between them started in the coming months.


• The Legislative Assembly started issuing warrants against the enemies of Revolution, corrupt princes and aristocrats but the king vetoed. Hence public lost confidence in him.
• Other European countries feared the spread of the revolution in their territories and hence they started opposing France .The possibility of war seemed near.
• The Jacobins did not support war because they wanted to concentrate on the internal matters of France. All others started preparing for war.
• The cabinet pressurized the King to declare war against Austria. Through this King would regain his lost glory in front of the French republic as well as some economic burden could be shed off.
• Girondists favored the king in the hope that after the will get some position in the government after the win.
• France was defeated in the war. Reason : treachery of its army officers.
• Now people were against King ; Jacobins also protested against the king in public. The public finally realized that they could not win the revolution without removing the King.


• People demanded for dethronement of the King.
• On 9th August 1792 : A revolt was led by Jacobins and people rushed in the Palace of Tuileries inducing a sense of terror amongst the members of the Assembly.
• The King was dethroned on 10th August, 1792 and both king and queen were imprisoned in an old castle in Paris.
• Same day the Legislative Assembly declared the system of franchise was expanded for the coming elections to all men above 21 years of age.
• Robespierre was a member of Commune & President of the Jacobin club. He took power in his hands. The legislative Assembly was dissolved and elections were declared.


• First session was held on 20th September, 1792.
• 3 groups :
– Girondists – sit on left — ‘leftist’
– Jacobins – sit on right — ‘rightist’
– Members who sit on central benches had no specific principles of their own; leaned towards left or right
• 21st September 1792 : unanimously declared the elimination of Monarchy in France.
• France was made a republic though it was not declared formally.
• A new constitution was to be drafted (but it would not be possible due to struggle between Jacobins and Girondists).


guillotine scene

• After the completion of trial he was convicted of treason.
• It was decided through voting to give death sentence to the King. (Girondists too voted in favor of death sentence as now the wave was against the King.)
• The King was guillotined on 21st January, 1793 and the queen shortly after.


• King was eliminated.
• Girondists feared the supremacy of Paris Commune i.e. Jacobins
• They wanted decentralization of power.
• The Commune supported the Jacobins.
• A public revolt was ignited demanding the expulsion of Girondists.
• France came under the control of Paris Commune.
• A battalion of 80,000 soldiers surrounded the Assembly of National Convention and Girondists were arrested.
• The Assembly (National Convention) was dissolved.
• Jacobins became the lords of Convention.
• This incident is known as coup d’état of 2 June (1793)



A new draft of the constitution was presented before the public and was accepted by majority.
• A powerful temporary government was established under the leadership of Jacobins. As there was fear of external invasion so such a step was necessary.
• They established “the rule of terror based of force”.
• Two committees were formed
– Public security Committee : headed by Robespierre
– General security Committee
• Whosoever opposed them was ruthlessly killed.
• Hence 1793 proved to be murderous era.
• Robespierre assumed supreme authority of administration.
• Massive number of killings became the reason of his downfall.
• People rose against him. The Convention passed a proposal to arrest him. He was guillotined on 28th July 1794
• The control of Convention went into the hands of liberalists now.
• New Constitution was adopted in 1795

Significant features

– property based franchise (introduced to lessen the influence of Paris) ;
– bicameral legislature (that is two houses);
– executive body of five members – called The Directory. The directors were elected by the Legislature. The directors appointed the ministers that handled the of enforcement of the laws.
– The government was headed by the Directory.
• In October 1795, the Convention was dissolved and its three-year period.


• 5-member executive body (called the Directors) : meant to not safeguard the concentration of power in the hands of one-man executive (like Jacobins).
• During this time people were facing problems like hunger, poverty, unemployment.
• The directory was invested with immense executive powers.
• The people hoped for rule that was peaceful after end of violent and oppressive rule.
• The problem it faced was the continuation of wars with England, Austria, Piedmont (Italy) etc. Though France achieved successes later under Napoleon Bonaparte which gained him immense popularity and respect in France.
• Eventually the directory became corrupt. The directory tried to keep the some intellectual people out of the system which in turn affected the performance and hence led to its downfall in 1799.
• It did not hesitate to use army to suppress the disputes within France.
• Due to huge expenditure on army, wars and the rising corruption, the government was once again on the verge of bankruptcy.
• It was a time when Napoleon Bonaparte became an influential personality by gaining immense popularity in public due to victory in wars with nations and later became the dictator of France in 1804 and thus ending the Republic in France.


 The Revolution rejuvenated the political, social and economic systems of France.
• The ideals of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity reached the entire Europe.
• It inspired the struggle for Independence in many countries in the coming years.
• It improved the lives of the people :
– Government was run efficaciously.
– Rights of people were recognized.
– The conditions of farmers started improving.
– Taxation became more rational.
• Influence of the religion in politics was controlled.
• It gave way to imagination and thoughts in the majority of the population.

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