The French Revolution lasted for the ten year period of 1789-1799. It started on what is now known as Bastille Day, July 14, 1789, when the people stormed the Bastille prison in protest.
The revolution was an overthrow of a government that operated so that only the wealthy, including church leaders and nobles, benefited while the poor paid higher and higher taxes and lived in poverty.
The Division of Estates
Prior to the revolution, the people were divided into “estates” which were social groups established for the purpose of identification, taxes, opportunities, luxury and wealth distribution and high-ranking jobs.
The First and Second estates received the most rewards whereas the commoners were all in the Third estate, and received very little.
There are a number of reasons that led up to the French Revolution and each one on its own wouldn’t be enough. But when they are combined it led to the people having had their fill and they overthrew the government.
King Louis XV and XVI were both financially supporting the American Revolution and in doing so, the French government was overburdened. Costs for everything had spiraled out of control while the average wage kept the commoner in poverty and the rich continued to be well off.
The Roman Catholic Church owned a majority of the land in the area and they placed their own taxes on the crops, thereby hurting those that were the poorest.
The people in general were watching as other countries such as the United States were becoming liberated, while they were under the rule and thumb of nobility and royalty that didn’t have the interest of the people at heart. There was no freedom of religion like there was in other countries.
The Reign of Terror
King Louis XVI and his family lived in lavish estates, spending enormous amounts of money. These practices led to his execution by the guillotine in 1793. Of all of the times of the revolution, the darkest was known as the Reign of Terror that lasted for a full year.
This occurred when a man by the name of Robespierre wanted to crush any opposition to the revolution and he called in legislation for a rule of “Terror”. These were laws that stated that if anyone was suspected of treason, they would be arrested and get an execution by the guillotine.
It was at this time that thousands of people were arrested and taken to the guillotine, including many of the rivals of Robespierre and Queen Marie Antoinette.
Politics in Clubs
A majority of the new political alliances as well as ideas regarding the French Revolution were created in what was referred to as “political clubs.”
These were gatherings of like-minded people in a single location and were given names such as the Feuillants Club, the Cordeliers, the Pantheon Club, and Robespierre’s Jacobin Club. It was here that they made plans, talked government policies, and tried to establish a new order.
Good Changes for France
Once the French Revolution occurred it totally changed the political and social structure of France. The areas that drained the country were stopped including, the French monarchy and the feudal lords and it removed all power from the Catholic Church.
The French Revolution opened the doors to new ideas of liberty, got rid of slavery, and gave women their rights. The revolution ended with the entrance of Napoleon in 1799, but the ideas that were created continued to be contributed to the France of the future.
Facts about the French Revolution:
- One of the reasons that the French Revolution was launched had to do with the eruption of the Laki volcano in Iceland in 1783. It spewed so much ash that it lowered the temperatures for almost two years, which affected the crop yields and harvests.
- The Cathedral of Notre Dame is one of the oldest churches in Paris. During the French Revolution, the cathedral was seized and then renamed the “temple of liberty”. Sadly, many of the artworks that were in the cathedral were destroyed.
- The salt tax or “gabelle” tax was one of the most hated taxes. Salt was important to the French people to preserve their food as well as add flavor. This hit the poor hard as they had little money and a very bland diet.
- During times of low grain production, the poor peasants of France would have to eat spoiled grain that was infected with a fungus that caused hysteria and hallucinations. This is thought to possibly be one of the causes for the French Revolution to be triggered.