Ancient history

French Revolution (1789)

The French Revolution , started on June 17, 1789, was a movement driven by the bourgeoisie and had the participation of peasants and urban classes that lived in poverty.

On July 14, 1789, Parisians took over the Bastille prison, triggering profound changes in the French government.

Historical context

At the end of the 18th century, France was an agrarian country, with production structured on the feudal model. This meant that there were taxes and licenses that were only valid for certain regions. Political power was concentrated in the king and a small number of auxiliaries.

Therefore, for the bourgeoisie and part of the nobility, it was necessary to end the absolute power of King Louis XVI.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the English Channel, England, its rival, was developing the process of Industrial Revolution.

Phases of the French Revolution

For study purposes, the French Revolution is divided into three phases:

  • Constitutional Monarchy (1789-1792);
  • National Convention (1792-1795);
  • Directory (1795-1799).

Causes of the French Revolution

The French bourgeoisie, concerned with developing the industry in the country, wanted to do away with the barriers that restricted the freedom of international trade. In this way, it was necessary to adopt in France, according to the bourgeoisie, economic liberalism.

The bourgeoisie also demanded the guarantee of their political rights, since it was they who supported the State, since the clergy and the nobility were free to pay taxes.

Despite being the economically dominant social class, its political and legal position was limited.


Enlightenment spread among the bourgeoisie and propelled the beginning of the French Revolution.

This intellectual movement harshly criticized mercantilist economic practices, absolutism, and the rights granted to the clergy and nobility.

Its best-known authors were Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Diderot and Adam Smith.

Economic and political crisis

The critical economic situation, on the eve of the 1789 revolution, demanded reforms, but generated a political crisis. This worsened when ministers suggested that the nobility and clergy should pay taxes.

Pressured by the situation, King Louis XVI summons the Estates General, an assembly made up of the three estates of French society:

  • First State - composed of clergy;
  • Second State - formed by the nobility;
  • Third State - composed of all those who did not belong to the First or Second Estates, in which the bourgeoisie stood out.

The Third Estate, which was more numerous, pressed for votes on the laws to be individual and not by state. Only in this way could the Third Estate pass rules that favored them.

However, the First and Second Estates rejected this proposal and voting continued to be carried out by State.

In this way, gathered in the Palace of Versailles, the Third Estate and part of the First Estate (low clergy) separate from the Assembly. Then they declare themselves the legitimate representatives of the nation, forming the National Constituent Assembly and swearing to remain together until the Constitution is ready.

Constitutional Monarchy (1789-1792)

On August 26, 1789, the Assembly approved the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.

This Declaration upheld the principles of liberty, equality, fraternity (“Liberté, égalité, fraternité ” - motto of the Revolution), in addition to the right to property.

King Louis XVI's refusal to approve the Declaration provoked new popular demonstrations. Clergy assets were confiscated and many priests and nobles fled to other countries. The instability in France was great.

The Constitution was ready in September 1791. Among the articles we can highlight:

  • the government was transformed into a constitutional monarchy;
  • executive power would rest with the king, limited by the legislature, constituted by the Assembly;
  • the deputies would have a term of office of two years;
  • instituted the census vote (only those with a minimum income would be voters);
  • privileges and old social orders were suppressed;
  • the abolition of serfdom and the nationalization of ecclesiastical goods were confirmed;
  • slavery continued in the colonies.

National Convention (1792-1795)

The Legislative Assembly was replaced, through universal male suffrage, by the National Convention, which abolished the monarchy and established the Republic. The Jacobins were the majority in this new parliament.

King Louis XVI was tried and convicted of treason, sentenced to death by guillotine and executed in January 1793. Months later, Queen Marie Antoinette would have the same fate.

Internally, the divergent opinions on how the revolution should be conducted began to cause division among the revolutionaries themselves. There were basically two groups:

The girondins - representatives of the upper bourgeoisie, defended moderate positions and the constitutional monarchy.

For their part, theJacobins - representatives of the middle and petty bourgeoisie, constituted the most radical party, under the leadership of Maximilien Robespierre. They wanted the installation of a republic and a popular government.

The Terror (1793-1794)

Within the period of the National Convention there is an extremely violent year, where people suspected of being counter-revolutionaries were sentenced to the guillotine. This period became known as "terror".

This was possible thanks to the passing of the Suspects Law which authorized the arrest and death of those considered anti-revolutionaries. At the same time, churches were closed and religious were forced to leave their convents. Those who refused to swear to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy were executed. In addition to the guillotine, the suspects were drowned in the Loire River.

The Jacobin dictatorship introduced novelties in the Constitution such as:

  • universal and non-census voting;
  • end of slavery in the colonies;
  • price freeze on staples like wheat;
  • institution of the Revolutionary Tribunal to try the enemies of the Revolution.

The executions became a popular spectacle, as they took place several times a day in a public act. For the dictators they were a fair way to end the enemies, but this attitude caused fear in the population that turned against Robespierre and accused him of tyranny.

In that sequence, after being arrested, Robespierre was executed and this fact became known as “Coup of 9 Thermidor”, in 1794.

See also:Terror in the French Revolution

Directory (1794-1799)

The Directory phase lasts five years and is characterized by the rise of the high bourgeoisie, the Girondins, to power. It receives this name because there were five directors who governed France.

Enemies of the Jacobins, their first act is to revoke all the measures they had taken during their legislation. However, the situation was delicate. The Girondins attracted the public's antipathy by lifting the price freeze.

Several countries, such as England and the Austrian Empire, threatened to invade France in order to contain revolutionary ideals. Eventually, the nobility itself and the exiled royal family sought to organize to restore the throne.

Faced with this situation, the Directory resorts to the Army, in the figure of the young general Napoleon Bonaparte, to contain the enemy's spirits.

In this way, Bonaparte takes a coup - the 18th Brumaire - where he installs the Consulate, a more centralized government that would bring peace to the country for a few years.

Consequences of the French Revolution

In ten years, from 1789 to 1799, France underwent profound political, social and economic changes.

The aristocracy of the Ancien Régime lost its privileges, freeing the peasants from the ties that bound them to the nobles and the clergy. The feudal ties that limited the activities of the bourgeoisie disappeared and a market of national dimension was created.

The French Revolution was the lever that took France from the feudal to the capitalist stage and showed that the population was capable of condemning a king.

Likewise, it installed the separation of powers and the Constitution, a legacy left to several nations of the world.

In 1799, the upper bourgeoisie allied itself with General Napoleon Bonaparte, who was invited to be part of the government. His mission was to restore the country's order and stability, protect the wealth of the bourgeoisie and save them from popular demonstrations.

Around 1803, the Napoleonic Wars began, revolutionary conflicts imbued with the ideals of the French Revolution that had Napoleon Bonaparte as its protagonist.

French Revolution - All Matter

Read more :

  • The Fall of the Bastille in the French Revolution
  • Napoleonic Empire

Exercises on the French Revolution

Question 1

(UFSCar) The fall in cereal production, on the eve of the French Revolution of 1789, triggered an economic and social crisis, which manifested itself:

a) the rise in food prices, the reduction of the consumer market for manufactured goods and the increase in unemployment.
b) the increase in French exploitation of its colonial empire, the reaction of the colonial elite and the beginning of the independence movement.
c) the slowing down of the manorial exploitation of the serfs, the division of the lands of the emigrant nobles and the suspension of constitutional rights.
d) in the enactment, by the absolutist king, of the law of the maximum price of cereals, in the French territorial expansion and in the wars between European countries.
d) the intensification of French foreign trade and the increase in the export of fabrics to England, which was compensated by the purchase of English wines.

Alternative to:the rise in food prices, the reduction of the consumer market for manufactured goods and the increase in unemployment.

Question 2

(Vunesp) "Terror is understood (...) a particular type of regime, or rather, the emergency instrument that a government resorts to to maintain itself in power." (N. Bobbio, POLICY DICTIONARY.)

The aforementioned "instrument of emergency" - the "terror" - was applied in its typical form, in the French Revolution:

a) during the aristocratic reaction of 1787-1788.
b) by Napoleon Bonaparte, in the Directory phase.
c) in the period of the dictatorship of the Committee of Public Safety.
d) by the Girondins against the Bonapartists.
e) by Louis XVI against the peasants of the Vendée.

Alternative c:in the period of the dictatorship of the Committee of Public Safety.

Question 3

(PUC-SP) The English Revolutions of the 17th century and the French Revolution are often compared. About such comparison, it can be said that:

a) is pertinent, as they are examples of processes that resulted in the defeat of monarchical absolutism; however, there are many differences between them, such as the important presence of religious issues in the English case and French military expansionism after the end of the revolution.
b) it is wrong, because, in England, the republican project won and, in France, the monarchic proposal; however, both were initiated by the military action of Napoleonic troops who invaded England, breaking the traditional British rule of the seas.
c) is pertinent, as they are examples of Marxist-inspired proletarian social revolution; however, radical popular projects were defeated in England (the “levelers”, for example) and victorious in France (the “sans-culottes”).
d) it is wrong, because in England, the revolutions had an exclusively religious character, and, in France, they represented the definitive victory of the anticlerical republican proposal; however both were anti-absolutist movements.

Alternative a:it is pertinent, as they are examples of processes that resulted in the defeat of monarchical absolutism; however, there are many differences between them, such as the important presence of religious issues in the English case and French military expansionism after the end of the revolution.

See also :

  • Questions about the French Revolution
  • French Revolution (summary)
  • People's Spring