Causes and Consequences of the French Revolution

The French Revolution (French: Revolution francaise; 1789–1799) was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France that had a fundamental impact on French history and on modern history worldwide. Experiencing an economic crisis exacerbated by the Seven Years War and the American Revolutionary War, the common people of France became increasingly frustrated by the ineptitude of King Louis XVI and the continued decadence of the aristocracy. This resentment, coupled with burgeoning Enlightenment ideals, fueled radical sentiments and launched the Revolution in 1789 with the convocation of the Estates-General in May.

The first year of the Revolution saw members of the Third Estate proclaiming the Tennis Court Oath in June, the assault on the Bastille in July, the passage of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in August, and an epic march on Versailles that forced the royal court back to Paris in October. The next few years were dominated by struggles between various liberal assemblies and right-wing supporters of the monarchy intent on thwarting major reforms. A republic was proclaimed in September 1792 and King Louis XVI was executed the next year. External threats shaped the course of the Revolution profoundly.

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The Revolutionary Wars began in 1792 and ultimately featured spectacular French victories that facilitated the conquest of the Italian Peninsula, the Low Countries and most territories west of the Rhine – achievements that had eluded previous French governments for centuries. Internally, popular agitation radicalized the Revolution significantly, culminating in the rise of Maximilien Robespierre and the Jacobins. The dictatorship imposed by the Committee of Public Safety during the Reign of Terror, from 1793 until 1794, led to anywhere from 16,000 to 40,000 deaths. 1] After the fall of the Jacobins and the execution of Robespierre, the Directory assumed control of the French state in 1795 and held power until 1799. In that year, which marks the traditional conclusion of the Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew the Directory in the Brumaire coup and established the Consulate. The primary successor state of the Revolution, the First Empire under Napoleon, emerged in 1804 and spread the new revolutionary principles all over Europe during the Napoleonic Wars.

The First Empire finally collapsed in 1815 when the forces of reaction succeeded in restoring the Bourbons, albeit under a constitutional monarchy. The modern era has unfolded in the shadow of the French Revolution. French society itself underwent an epic transformation as feudal, aristocratic, and religious privileges evaporated under a sustained assault from various left-wing political groups, the masses on the streets, and peasants in the countryside. [2] Old ideas about tradition and hierarchy regarding monarchs, aristocrats, and the Catholic Church were abruptly overthrown under the mantra of “Liberte, egalite, fraternite. Globally, the Revolution accelerated the rise of republics and democracies, the spread of liberalism and secularism, the development of modern ideologies, and the adoption of total war. [3] The fallout from the Revolution had permanent consequences for human history: the Latin American independence wars, the Louisiana Purchase by the United States, and the Revolutions of 1848 are just a few of the numerous events that ultimately depended upon the eruption of 1789.