The Age of George III

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A very brief history of the causes and course of the French Revolution

Causes of the French Revolution

  1. The despotic power of the King

  1. The Privileged Classes

  1. The Grievances of the Lowest Classes

  1. The Teaching of Voltaire and Rousseau

  1. Financial Embarrassment was the immediate cause

The Course of the Revolution

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The Constitutionalists: June 1789 -June 1791

  1. Louis XVI, who was a strong supporter of the Roman Catholic Church and the Royal Authority, refused to come to an agreement with a party which had made the Church dependent on the State and aimed at limiting the power of the Crown. His unsuccessful flight to Varrennes on 20 June 1791, increased the opposition to the monarchy.
  2. The Paris mob, maddened by hunger and by hatred of Marie-Antoinette, was growing more powerful, and refused to agree to any plans that aimed at preserving the monarchy.

The Girondins: October 1791 - June 1793

The Girondins aimed at establishing a democratic republic. Fearing foreign intervention on behalf of Louis XVI, they resolved 'to tell Europe that if Cabinets engage Kings in a war against peoples, we will engage peoples in a war against Kings'.

20 April 1792 War declared against Austria. French failures against Austrian Netherlands.
24 July 1792 Prussia, in alliance with Austria, declared war on France.
27 August 1792: Allies captured Longwy.
2 September 1792 Allies captured Verdun, but obliged to retreat
October 1792 French captured Nice and Savoy.
6 November 1792 French defeated Austrians at Jemappes.
16 November 1792 French abolished Treaty rights of the Dutch to control the River Scheldt.
19 November 1792 Edict of Fraternity. France offered military aid to any country wishing to overthrow its king.
The refusal to recognise the obligations of Treaties and the offer to assist rebellion, constituted a grave danger to all European countries.
21 January 1793 Execution of Louis XVI.
1 February 1793 War declared against Britain and Holland.

The Fall of the Girondins

Their power collapsed because:

The Jacobins: June. 1793 - July 1794

The Jacobins, led by Marat and Robespierre, were disciples of Rousseau, and preached the doctrine of the Sovereignty of the people. They owed their power to their

Their government, the 'Reign of Terror' was ferocious and in seven weeks, 1368 people were guillotined at La Place de la Revolution. In December 1795 a royalist rebellion in La Vendée was put down with great severity. They tried to suppress the Christian religion and enthroned a Goddess of Reason in Notre Dame; they also reorganised the calendar. Their gross cruelty and persistent interference with the rights and property of individuals in the interests of the sovereign people led to reaction.

The Directory and Consulate

After the fall of Robespierre, the National Convention held power between September 1792 and October 1795. Although unpopular, it continued to govern France. On 5 October 1795 it was defended against a Paris mob by a young army officer called Napoleon Bonaparte. The Convention appointed five Directors as the Executive government, and a new Legislative body gave it support.

The Directory made peace with Austria at Campo Formio in 1797 but continued the war against England. Its only raison d'ętre was the military support of Bonaparte

The Consulate replaced the Directory in 1799 and comprised three Consuls. The First Consul held the power: he was Napoleon Bonaparte who became Emperor of the French in 1804. The Revolution had come full circle, and the earlier democratic ideals would be sacrificed in the quest for Empire, under a military despotism.

Results of the Revolution

The Assertion of the Principle of Nationality

French nationalism was promoted by the removal of old class privileges, the abolition of provinces dividing France and a common danger from foreign foes. Likewise, nationalism was stimulated in other countries in Europe. This was to play a decisive role in nineteenth Century European history.

The assertion of the Sovereignty of the People.

The new democratic principle of 'government of the people for the people' led to the Nineteenth Century struggle in Europe for "popular" government.

The Assertion of Individual Liberty

Despite the Jacobins and Napoleon, personal liberty was extended. The old feudal distinctions were abolished, press freedom was extended and, except for Russia, serfdom was abolished in Europe. The basis was laid, however, for the class antagonisms of the Nineteenth Century.

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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