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THE FRENCH REVOLUTION

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THE FRENCH REVOLUTIONTime Line:1715-1774-The reign of King Louis XV1774-1792- The reign of King Louis XVI1788- King Louis XVI summons the Estates General- last met in 1614)1789:  The Third Estate proclaims itself to be the National Assembly –June 12, 1789 A Paris mob storms the Bastille on July 14,1789 The Great Fear sweeps the French countryside as the attacks on the nobility spread The National Assembly the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen as an introduction to the new constitution. The King refused to sign1790-The National Assembly enacts the Civil Constitutional of the Clergy. The King signed against his will. It was opposition to the Pope.June, 1791-The Flight toVarennes: a desperate attempt to escape from France to AustriaSeptember, 1791 establishes a constitutional Monarchy- a moderate form of representative government. Note the continued tolerance of the King but without despotic powers.1792- The Legislative Assembly deposes King Louis XVI and calls for the election of the National Convention. The Convention abolishes the monarchy1792-1797-The war of the First Coalition1793-King Louis XVI is executed. The reign of terror begins1794- The end of the reign of terror1795—The National Convention drafts the Constitution of 1795-the Directory begins to rule France1799- Napoleon Bonaparte sizes powerGENERAL INTRODUCTIONAlthough the French revolution took place in1780s, factors leading to it are related to important developments that generally came about gradually from the roots deep in the pastIn history one can never give a definite time when something really happened. Building up ofevents leads to an explosion caused by a single factor in history. Consider the saying, ”We are sitting on a time bomb”. Examples are: 1st World War, 2nd World War, civil wars and military coups.1France was not unique; there were similarities all over Europe. Ideas of the French Revolution spread fast leading to other revolutions and changes in various countries. Two major groups emerged: liberals who supported the revolutionary ideas and conservatives whowanted the pre 1789 world. This resulted in the conflict between the old and the new. THE CAUSES OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION1. THE POLITICAL SITUATION BY 1780S /THE SYSTEM OF THE “ANCIEN REGIME”The pre-revolutionary political period in France and Europe is referred to as the “Old Regime” or “Ancien Regime”. Major characteristics of the old regime that contributedto the revolution included:a) Lack of uniform system of government/governanceb) Different systems of taxationc) Different systems of law/lack of uniform laws. The French were not equal before law; there were different laws for different classes in the societyd) Different custom duties between the provincese) The King had absolute power. Ministers chosen by the king had no powers. They were responsible to the king alonef) The king was hereditary, thus could not be removed easily. Why?g) All political functions such as legislative were centred in the king. Louis IV said, “L’etat c’est moi”( the state is me)h) The king chose the Royal council membersi) The Estates General (there was no parliament):- This comprised the three estates in the society. These were the Nobility, the Clergy and the commoners- The king used to summon them for meetings. The last time they were summoned was in 1614 by Louis XIV( almost 200 years)- There was no machinery then that could ensure that the kings acted in accordance with the wishes of their subjects. Kings did what they wanted.For example: Louis XIV made wars without consulting anybody Louis XV was often idle, lazy, and always amusing himself Louis XVI spent most of his time hunting, eating and entertaining There was no machinery through which changes could be introducedj) Local government (communes):- There were parish meetings mainly involved in maintaining law and order,but there were many restrictions - Efficiency depended on the strength of the particular king/monarchk) The French society before 1789 was not politically free. People had no role in electing anybody. A revolution was necessary to introduce freedom.l) By 1789, the king’s inefficiency led to chaos; order was needed.m) The underlying motives behind the revolution were political liberty and the rule of law22. SOCIAL CLASSESBefore the revolution, France was a society grounded in the inequality of rights or the idea of privilege. Its population of 27 million was divided as it had been since the middle ages into three major orders or estates. Every person was born into a particularsocial class and usually remained in it for life. Children were brought up in a particular way; each class had its customs, dress, manners and eating habits. A few would manage to rise above the station of their birth, but because of lack of opportunities, these were rare.a) FIRST ESTATE-NOBILITY- the most privileged class( aristocrats): about 1.3% of the population(350,000)- Great Nobility: about 1000 families. They were the wealthiest. They included ambassadors, court officials at Versailles, commanders in the army and navy- Nobility of the Robe: derived their title from office holding suchas administrative offices and law. - Lesser Nobility (modest wealth but still claimed superiority): about 99000 families who inherited the status: By 1789 they had become too many. Later some supported the revolution.Characteristics of the nobility:- Though the minority group they owned 30% of the land-the largest proportion. Nobility considered their own interests- Talked of “noble blood/birth”. They inherited the title, the wealth and insignia of the family or coat of arms which would be displayed on the carriage or the door of the house- Surrounded the kings- Contributed very little or nothing to the cost of government. They were usually exempted from taxation, yet they receivedtaxes from the commoners.- Had right of entry into certain professions. Had monopolistic control over positions in the government, the military, law-courtsb) SECOND ESTATE-THE CLERGY-also privileged : about 0.5% of the population(130,000) They owned 10% of the land:i) High Clergy: from aristocratic families- Exempted from taxes. Recipient of tithes from the commoners- Treated like the nobility and shared same interests.- Controlled tax free land and other wealth of the church.- Had political powers especially bishops. Some ranked above nobles- Dominated education; Supervised


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