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Chapter-1 The French Revolution Class Notes

T h e F r e n c h R e v o l u t i o n


1.     Political causes (or) Louis XVI and his problems

  1. Louis XVI came to power in 1774 at the age of 20.
  2. Long years of war had drained the financial resources of France. So the French treasury was empty.
  3. LouisXVI helped the thirteen American colonies to gain their independence from the common enemy, Britain.
  4. France had taken 3 billion Livres loan from moneylenders who began to charge 10% interest.
  5. To meet its regular expenses, such as the cost of maintainingan army, the court, running government offices or universities, the ruler was forced to increase taxes.

2.     Social causes(or) Division in the French Society

  1. French society in the eighteenth century was divided into three estates- Clergy, Nobility and Common People.(I, II and III Estates)
  2. Clergy and Nobility were 10% of the population but possessed 60% of lands. III Estate was 90% of the population but possessed 40% of the lands.
  3. Clergy and Nobility enjoyed many privileges based on birth. The church collected taxes from people.
  4. They were exempted from paying taxes. Nobles collected feudal dues from III Estate people.
  5. Peasants were obliged to render services to the Clergy and Nobility to work in their houses, fields, servein the army or to participate in building roads.

3.     Economic causes (or) The Struggle to Survive

  1. The population of France rose from 23 million to 28 million in 1789.
  2. This led to a rapid increase in the demand forfood grains.
  3.  Production of grains was less because drought or hail reduced the harvest.
  4. Most workers were employed as labourers in workshops. Owners of the workshopsdid not increase the wages of workers.
  5. This led to a subsistence crisis (scarcity of food grains) which occurred frequently in France.

4.     Growth of Middle Class and influence from USA

  1. The eighteenth century witnessed the emergence of social groups, termed the middle class, who earned their wealth through trade and professions.
  2. They were influenced by declaration of independence of the USA.
  3. They were also influenced by fundamental rights given to the citizens of the USA.
  4. All of these were educated and believed that no group in society should be privileged by birth
  5. They also believed that French society should be based on freedom, equality and equal opportunities for all.

5.     Role of Philosophers in the French Revolution

  1.  John Locke, in his book the Two Treatises of Governmentcriticizedthe doctrine of the divine and absolute right of the monarch.
  2. Jean Jacques Rousseau, in his book Social Contractproposed aform of government based on a social contract between peopleand their representatives.
  3. Montesquieu in his bookThe Spirit of the Laws,proposed a division of power within the government betweenthe legislative, the executive and the judiciary.
  4. The ideas of these philosophers were discussed intensively in salons and coffee-houses and spread among people through books andnewspapers. The news thatLouis XVI planned to impose further taxes generated anger and protest against the ruler and system.

Outbreak of the French revolution
1.       Louis XVI called a meeting of the Estates General to pass his proposals to increase taxes. The Estates General was a political body to which the three estates sent their representatives. The first and second estates sent 300 representatives each and III estate sent 600 representatives. III estate representatives demanded individual voting right but king refused to grant so they walked out.
  1. On 20 June they assembled in the hallof an indoor tennis court in the grounds of Versailles and declaredthemselves a National Assembly and swore not to disperse till theyhad drafted a constitution for France that would limit the powers ofthe monarch. Mirabeau,a noble and Abbé Sieyès,a priest joined with III estate representatives
  2. While the National Assembly was busy at Versailles drafting a constitution, the rest of France was in tension.After spending hours in longqueues at the bakery, crowds of angry women stormed into theshops and looted the stock.
  3.  At the same time, the king ordered troops to move into Paris. People of Paris organized a militia and broke many buildings in search of weapons. On 14 July, the agitated crowd stormed and destroyed the Bastille.
  4. In the countryside rumours spread from village to village that thelords of themanorhad hired bands of brigands who were on theirway to destroy the ripe crops. Common people attacked nobles’ houses, looted hoarded grain and burnt down documents containing records of manorial dues. A large number of nobles were killed and many fled to other countries.

France Becomes a Constitutional Monarchy
  1. Louis XVI finally recognisedthe National Assembly and accepted theconstitution. On the night of 4 August 1789, the Assembly passed adecree (law) abolishing the feudal taxes, privileges of Nobles and Clergy, Tithes and confiscation of church properties.
  2. The National Assembly completed the draft of the constitution in 1791. Its main object was to limit the powers of the monarch. These powers were separated and assigned to different institutions-the legislature, executive and judiciary. This made France a constitutional monarchy.
  3. The Constitution of 1791 vested the power of making laws to theNational Assembly, which was indirectly elected by active citizens. Active citizens, who were above 25 years of age and paying taxes worth of 3 days wages of a worker were given voting right. They voted for a group of electors, who in turn chose the members of the National Assembly.
  4. The Constitution began with a Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. Rights such as the right to life, freedom of speech,freedom of opinion, equality before law, were established asnatural and inalienable rights. These rights were granted to only men.

France Abolishes Constitutional Monarchy and Becomes a Republic
  1. Louis XVI had signed the Constitution but he entered into secret negotiations with the King of Prussia and Austria to put down the revolution. The NationalAssembly voted to declare war against Prussia and Austria.Thousands of volunteers joined the army and it was a war of the people against kings and aristocracies.
  2. The revolutionary wars brought losses and economic difficulties to the people. As the Constitution of 1791 gave political rights only to the richer sections Common people established Political clubs. The most successful of these clubs was that of the Jacobins. . Their leader wasMaximilian Robespierre.
  3.  The members of the Jacobin club belonged mainly to the less prosperous sections of society. They included small shopkeepers,artisans such as shoemakers, pastry cooks, watch-makers, printers,as well as servants and daily-wage workers. Jacobins start wearing long striped trousers so they came to be known as thesans-culottes, literally meaning those without knee breeches.
  4. In the summer of 1792 the Jacobins planned an insurrection. Parisians who were angered by the short suppliesand high prices of food stormedthe Palace of the Tuileries, massacred the king`s guards and heldthe king himself as hostage for several hours. Later the Assemblyvoted to imprison the royal family.
  5. Elections were held. The newly elected assembly called the Convention. On 21 September 1792 it abolished the monarchy and declared Francea republic.

 The Reign of Terror
  1. The period from 1793 to 1794 is referred to as the Reign of Terror because Robespierre followed a policy of severe control andpunishment. Ex-nobles, clergy, members of other politicalparties, even members of his own party who did not agree with his methods were arrested, imprisoned and guillotined.
(The guillotine is a device consisting of two poles and a blade with which a person is beheaded. It was named after DrGuillotin who invented it).
  1. Robespierre`s government issued laws placing a maximum ceiling on wages and prices. Meat and bread were rationed.
  2. Peasantswere forced to transport their grain to the cities and sell it atprices fixed by the government. The use of more expensive whiteflour was forbidden; all citizens were required to eat the equality bread.
  3. Equalitywas also sought to be practiced through forms of speech andaddress. Instead of the traditional Sir and Madameall French men and women were addressed as Citizen.
  4. Churches were shut down and theirbuildings converted into barracks or offices. Finally Robespierre wasconvicted by a court in July 1794, arrested and on the next daysent to the guillotine.

A Directory Rules France
  1. The fall of the Jacobin government allowed the middle classes to seize power. A new constitution was introduced which denied the vote to non-tax paying men.
  2. It provided for two elected legislative councils. These then appointed a Directory,an executive made up of five members. This was meant as a safeguardagainst the concentration of power in a one-man executive as under Robespierre.
  3. The Directors often clashed with the legislativecouncils, who then sought to dismiss them. The political instabilityof the Directory paved the way for the rise of a military dictator,Napoleon Bonaparte.

Did Women have a Revolution?(OR) Role of women in French revolution
  1. Most women did not have access to education orjob training. . They worked asseamstresses or laundresses, sold flowers, fruits and vegetables at themarket, or were employed as domestic servants in the houses ofprosperous people. Their wages were lower than those of men.
  2. From the very beginning women were active participants in the events of revolution. They hoped that their involvement in revolution would provide equality and basic rights as men. But women were not provided basic rights and voting right in the new constitution.
  3. In order to discuss and voice their interests women started their ownpolitical clubs and newspapers. About sixty women`s clubs came upin different French cities. The Society of Revolutionary andRepublican Women was the most famous of them. Their main demands were equal political rights, right to vote, right to be elected to the Assembly and to hold political office.
  4. The revolutionary government introduced lawsthat helped improve the lives of women.Education was made compulsory for all girls. Their fathers could no longer force them into marriage against their will. Marriage was made into a contract entered into freely and registered under civil law. Divorce was made legal, and could be applied for by both women and men.
  5. During the Reign of Terror, the new government issued laws orderingclosure of women`s clubs and banning their political activities. Manyprominent women were arrested and a number of them executed.It was finally in 1946 that women in France won the right to vote.

The Abolition of Slavery
  1. The slave trade began in the seventeenth century. French merchants sailed to the African coast where they bought slaves from local chieftains. Slaves were branded, shackled and packed tightly into ships for the three-month long voyage across the Atlantic and sold to plantation owners in America. So this was known as a triangular slave trade between Europe, Africa and the Americas.
  2. Throughout the eighteenth century there was little criticism of slavery in France. The National Assembly held long debates about whether the rights of man should be extended to all French subjects including those in the colonies. But it did not pass any laws, fearing opposition from slave traders who paid huge tax to the French government.
  3. One of the most revolutionary social reforms of the Jacobin regimewas the abolition of slavery in the French colonies. Robespierrepassed a Convention according to which in 1794 all slaves were freed in the French colonies.
  4. Ten years later, Napoleon reintroduced slavery.Slavery was finally abolished in French colonies in 1848.

Use of Revolutionary ideas in Everyday Life
  1. The revolutionary governments took initiative to pass laws that would translate the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity into everyday practice. In 1789 the revolutionary government abolished censorship and introduced press freedom.
  2. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen proclaimed freedom of speech and expression to be a natural right. Newspapers, pamphlets, books and pictures were printed in the towns of France and they travelled to the villages.
  3. The revolution brought changes in dress they wear, food they eat and language they speak.
The rise of Napoleon
  1. In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor of France. He conquered many neighbouring countries and placed members of his family on the crownNapoleon was seen as a moderniser of Europe.
  2.  He introduced manylaws such as the protection of private property and a uniform system ofweights and measures provided by the decimal system.
  3. Initially, manysaw Napoleon as a liberator who would bring freedom for the people.But soon the Napoleonic armies came to be viewed everywhere as an invading force.
  4. He was finally defeated at the battle of Waterloo in 1815. He was taken to St Helena where he died.
Legacy of the French Revolution
  1. The ideas of liberty, equality & fraternity and the democratic rights were the most important legacy of the French Revolution.
  2. These ideas spread from France to all the parts of Europe during the nineteenth century, where feudal systems, aristocracy and monarchy were opposed by the people. Even these ideas spread to India and used for freedom struggle.
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