French Revolution

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French Revolution
Anonymous - Prise de la Bastille.jpg
Date 1789–1799
Location France
Participants French society
Part of a series on the
History of France
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The French Revolution (French: Révolution française) was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France from 1789 to 1799 that profoundly affected French and modern history, marking the decline of powerful monarchies and churches and the rise of democracy and nationalism. Popular resentment of the privileges enjoyed by the clergy and aristocracy grew amidst an economic crisis following two expensive wars and years of bad harvests, motivating demands for change. These were couched in terms of Enlightenment ideals and caused the convocation of the Estates-General in May 1789. 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 a 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 closely shaped the course of the Revolution. The Revolutionary Wars beginning in 1792 ultimately featured 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, caused up to 40,000 deaths inside France,1 abolished slavery in the colonies, and secured the borders of the new republic from its enemies. The Reign of Terror ended with the overthrow and execution of Robespierre and the other leading Jacobins in the Thermidorian Reaction. The Directory assumed control of the French state in 1795 and held power until 1799. In that year, conventionally seen as the conclusion of the Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew the Directory in the coup of 18 Brumaire and established the Consulate. The First Empire under Napoleon emerged in 1804 and spread French revolutionary principles all over Europe during the Napoleonic Wars. The First Empire was militarily defeated by an anti-Napoleonic coalition that in 1815 brought about the restoration of the Bourbons, albeit under a constitutional monarchy, and the reversion to France's traditional frontiers.

The modern era has unfolded in the shadow of the French Revolution. French society itself underwent a transformation as feudal, aristocratic, and religious privileges disappeared and old ideas about tradition and hierarchy were abruptly overthrown under the mantra of "Liberté, égalité, fraternité". Globally, the Revolution accelerated the rise of republics and democracies, the spread of liberalism, nationalism, socialism and secularism, the development of modern political ideologies, and the practice of total war.2 Some of its central documents, like the Declaration of the Rights of Man, expanded the arena of human rights to include women and slaves.3



The French government faced a fiscal crisis in the 1780s, and King Louis XVI was blamed for mishandling these affairs.

Adherents of most historical models identify many of the same features of the Ancien Régime as being among the causes of the Revolution. Historians until the late 20th century emphasized class conflicts from a largely Marxist perspective. Its central theme was the Revolution was caused by the rising bourgeoisie, with support from the sans-culottes, who fought to destroy the aristocracy.4

By the 1990s the Marxist class interpretation had largely been abandoned among scholars. However, historians continue to emphasize the economic and fiscal crises of the Old regime. The economy was not healthy; poor harvests, rising food prices, and an inadequate transportation system made food even more expensive. The sequence of events leading to the revolution included the national government's fiscal troubles caused by an inefficient tax system and expenditure on numerous large wars. The attempt to challenge British naval and commercial power in the Seven Years' War was a costly disaster, with the loss of France's colonial possessions in continental North America and the destruction of the French Navy. French forces were rebuilt and performed more successfully in the American Revolutionary War, but only at massive additional cost, and with no real gains for France except the knowledge that Britain had been humbled. France's inefficient and antiquated financial system could not finance this debt. Faced with a financial crisis, the king called an Assembly of Notables in 1787 for the first time in over a century.

Meanwhile, the royal court at Versailles was isolated from, and indifferent to the escalating crisis. While in theory King Louis XVI was an absolute monarch, in practice he was often indecisive and known to back down when faced with strong opposition. While he did reduce government expenditures, opponents in the parlements successfully thwarted his attempts at enacting much needed reforms. Those who were opposed to Louis' policies further undermined royal authority by distributing pamphlets (often reporting false or exaggerated information) that criticized the government and its officials, stirring up public opinion against the monarchy.5

Many other factors involved resentments and aspirations given focus by the rise of Enlightenment ideals. These included resentment of royal absolutism; resentment by peasants, laborers and the bourgeoisie toward the traditional seigneurial privileges possessed by the nobility; resentment of the Catholic Church's influence over public policy and institutions; aspirations for freedom of religion; resentment of aristocratic bishops by the poorer rural clergy; aspirations for social, political and economic equality, and (especially as the Revolution progressed) republicanism; hatred of Queen Marie-Antoinette, who was falsely accused of being a spendthrift and an Austrian spy; and anger toward the King for firing finance minister Jacques Necker, among others, who were popularly seen as representatives of the people.6

Ancien Régime

Financial crisis

Caricature of the Third Estate carrying the First Estate (clergy) and the Second Estate (nobility) on its back.

Louis XVI ascended to the throne amidst a financial crisis; the state was nearing bankruptcy and outlays outpaced income.7 This was because of France’s financial obligations stemming from involvement in the Seven Years' War and its participation in the American Revolutionary War.8 In May 1776, finance minister Turgot was dismissed, after he failed to enact reforms. The next year, Jacques Necker, a foreigner, was appointed Comptroller-General of Finance. He could not be made an official minister because he was a Protestant.9

Necker realized that the country's extremely regressive tax system subjected the lower classes to a heavy burden,9 while numerous exemptions existed for the nobility and clergy.10 He argued that the country could not be taxed higher; that tax exemptions for the nobility and clergy must be reduced; and proposed that borrowing more money would solve the country's fiscal shortages. Necker published a report to support this claim that underestimated the deficit by roughly 36 million livres, and proposed restricting the power of the parlements.9

This was not received well by the King's ministers, and Necker, hoping to bolster his position, argued to be made a minister. The King refused, Necker was dismissed, and Charles Alexandre de Calonne was appointed to the Comptrollership.9 Calonne initially spent liberally, but he quickly realized the critical financial situation and proposed a new tax code.11

The proposal included a consistent land tax, which would include taxation of the nobility and clergy. Faced with opposition from the parlements, Calonne organised the summoning of the Assembly of Notables. But the Assembly failed to endorse Calonne's proposals and instead weakened his position through its criticism. In response, the King announced the calling of the Estates-General for May 1789, the first time the body had been summoned since 1614. This was a signal that the Bourbon monarchy was in a weakened state and subject to the demands of its people.12

Estates-General of 1789

The Estates-General was organized into three estates: the clergy, the nobility, and the rest of France.13 On the last occasion that the Estates-General had met, in 1614, each estate held one vote, and any two could override the third. The Parlement of Paris feared the government would attempt to gerrymander an assembly to rig the results. Thus, they required that the Estates be arranged as in 1614.14 The 1614 rules differed from practices of local assemblies, where each member had one vote and third estate membership was doubled. For example, in the Dauphiné the provincial assembly agreed to double the number of members of the third estate, hold membership elections, and allow one vote per member, rather than one vote per estate.15

Prior to the assembly taking place, the "Committee of Thirty," a body of liberal Parisians, began to agitate against voting by estate. This group, largely composed of the wealthy, argued for the Estates-General to assume the voting mechanisms of Dauphiné. They argued that ancient precedent was not sufficient, because "the people were sovereign."16 Necker convened a Second Assembly of Notables, which rejected the notion of double representation by a vote of 111 to 333.16 The King, however, agreed to the proposition on 27 December; but he left discussion of the weight of each vote to the Estates-General itself.17

Elections were held in the spring of 1789; suffrage requirements for the Third Estate were for French-born or naturalised males only, at least 25 years of age, who resided where the vote was to take place and who paid taxes.

Pour être électeur du tiers état, il faut avoir 25 ans, être français ou naturalisé, être domicilié au lieu de vote et compris au rôle des impositions.18

Strong turnout produced 1,201 delegates, including: "291 nobles, 300 clergy, and 610 members of the Third Estate."17 To lead delegates, "Books of grievances" (cahiers de doléances) were compiled to list problems.13 The books articulated ideas which would have seemed radical only months before; however, most supported the monarchical system in general. Many assumed the Estates-General would approve future taxes, and Enlightenment ideals were relatively rare.1419

Pamphlets by liberal nobles and clergy became widespread after the lifting of press censorship.16 The Abbé Sieyès, a theorist and Catholic clergyman, argued the paramount importance of the Third Estate in the pamphlet Qu'est-ce que le tiers état? ("What is the Third Estate?") published in January 1789. He asserted: "What is the Third Estate? Everything. What has it been until now in the political order? Nothing. What does it want to be? Something."1420

The meeting of the Estates General on 5 May 1789 in Versailles.

The Estates-General convened in the Grands Salles des Menus-Plaisirs in Versailles on 5 May 1789 and opened with a three-hour speech by Necker. The Third Estate demanded that the verification of deputies' credentials should be undertaken in common by all deputies, rather than each estate verifying the credentials of its own members internally; negotiations with the other estates failed to achieve this.19 The commoners appealed to the clergy who replied they required more time. Necker stated that each estate should verify its own members' credentials and that "the king was to act as arbitrator."21 Negotiations with the other two estates to achieve this, however, were unsuccessful.22

National Assembly (1789)

The National Assembly taking the Tennis Court Oath (sketch by Jacques-Louis David).

On 10 June 1789, Abbé Sieyès moved that the Third Estate, now meeting as the Communes (English: "Commons") proceed with verification of its own powers and invite the other two estates to take part, but not to wait for them. They proceeded to do so two days later, completing the process on 17 June.23 Then they voted a measure far more radical, declaring themselves the National Assembly, an assembly not of the Estates but of "the People." They invited the other orders to join them, but made it clear they intended to conduct the nation's affairs with or without them.24

In an attempt to keep control of the process and prevent the Assembly from convening, Louis XVI ordered the closure of the Salle des États where the Assembly met, making an excuse that the carpenters needed to prepare the hall for a royal speech in two days. Weather did not allow an outdoor meeting, so the Assembly moved their deliberations to a nearby indoor real tennis court, where they proceeded to swear the Tennis Court Oath (20 June 1789) under which they agreed not to separate until they had given France a constitution.25

A majority of the representatives of the clergy soon joined them, as did 47 members of the nobility. By 27 June, the royal party had overtly given in, although the military began to arrive in large numbers around Paris and Versailles. Messages of support for the Assembly poured in from Paris and other French cities.25

Constitutional Monarchy

National Constituent Assembly (1789–1791)

Storming of the Bastille

By this time, Necker had earned the enmity of many members of the French court for his overt manipulation of public opinion. Marie Antoinette, the King's younger brother the Comte d'Artois, and other conservative members of the King's privy council urged him to dismiss Necker as financial advisor. On 11 July 1789, after Necker published an inaccurate account of the government's debts and made it available to the public, the King fired him, and completely restructured the finance ministry at the same time.26

Many Parisians presumed Louis's actions to be aimed against the Assembly and began open rebellion when they heard the news the next day. They were also afraid that arriving soldiers – mostly foreign mercenaries – had been summoned to shut down the National Constituent Assembly. The Assembly, meeting at Versailles, went into nonstop session to prevent another eviction from their meeting place. Paris was soon consumed by riots, chaos, and widespread looting. The mobs soon had the support of some of the French Guard, who were armed and trained soldiers.27

On 14 July, the insurgents set their eyes on the large weapons and ammunition cache inside the Bastille fortress, which was also perceived to be a symbol of royal power. After several hours of combat, the prison fell that afternoon. Despite ordering a cease fire, which prevented a mutual massacre, Governor Marquis Bernard de Launay was beaten, stabbed and decapitated; his head was placed on a pike and paraded about the city. Although the fortress had held only seven prisoners (four forgers, two noblemen kept for immoral behavior, and a murder suspect) the Bastille served as a potent symbol of everything hated under the Ancien Régime. Returning to the Hôtel de Ville (city hall) the mob accused the prévôt des marchands (roughly, mayor) Jacques de Flesselles of treachery and butchered him.28

The King, alarmed by the violence, backed down, at least for the time being. The Marquis de la Fayette took up command of the National Guard at Paris. Jean-Sylvain Bailly, president of the Assembly at the time of the Tennis Court Oath, became the city's mayor under a new governmental structure known as the commune. The King visited Paris, where, on 17 July he accepted a tricolore cockade, to cries of Vive la Nation ("Long live the Nation") and Vive le Roi ("Long live the King").29

Necker was recalled to power, but his triumph was short-lived. An astute financier but a less astute politician, Necker overplayed his hand by demanding and obtaining a general amnesty, losing much of the people's favour.

As civil authority rapidly deteriorated, with random acts of violence and theft breaking out across the country, members of the nobility, fearing for their safety, fled to neighboring countries; many of these émigrés, as they were called, funded counter-revolutionary causes within France and urged foreign monarchs to offer military support to a counter-revolution.30

By late July, the spirit of popular sovereignty had spread throughout France. In rural areas, many commoners began to form militias and arm themselves against a foreign invasion: some attacked the châteaux of the nobility as part of a general agrarian insurrection known as "la Grande Peur" ("the Great Fear"). In addition, wild rumours and paranoia caused widespread unrest and civil disturbances that contributed to the collapse of law and order.31

Working toward a constitution

On 4 August 1789, the National Constituent Assembly abolished feudalism (sufficient peasant revolts had almost already ended feudalism) in the August Decrees, sweeping away both the seigneurial rights of the Second Estate and the tithes (a 10% tax for the Church) gathered by the First Estate. During a few hours nobles, clergy, towns, provinces, companies and cities lost their special privileges.

On 26 August 1789, the Assembly published the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which comprised a statement of principles rather than a constitution with legal effect. The National Constituent Assembly functioned not only as a legislature, but also as a body to draft a new constitution.

Necker, Mounier, Lally-Tollendal and others argued unsuccessfully for a senate, with members appointed by the crown on the nomination of the people. The bulk of the nobles argued for an aristocratic upper house elected by the nobles. The popular party carried the day: France would have a single, unicameral assembly. The King retained only a "suspensive veto"; he could delay the implementation of a law, but not block it absolutely. The Assembly eventually replaced the historic provinces with 83 départements, uniformly administered and roughly equal in area and population.

Amid the Assembly's preoccupation with constitutional affairs, the financial crisis had continued largely unaddressed, and the deficit had only increased. Honoré Mirabeau now led the move to address this matter, and the Assembly gave Necker complete financial dictatorship.

Women's March on Versailles

Engraving of the Women's March on Versailles, 5 October 1789

Fueled by rumors of a reception for the King's bodyguards on 1 October 1789 at which the national cockade had been trampled upon, on 5 October 1789 crowds of women began to assemble at Parisian markets. The women first marched to the Hôtel de Ville, demanding that city officials address their concerns.32 The women were responding to the harsh economic situations they faced, especially bread shortages. They also demanded an end to royal efforts to block the National Assembly, and for the King and his administration to move to Paris as a sign of good faith in addressing the widespread poverty.

Getting unsatisfactory responses from city officials, as many as 7,000 women joined the march to Versailles, bringing with them cannons and a variety of smaller weapons. Twenty thousand National Guardsmen under the command of La Fayette responded to keep order, and members of the mob stormed the palace, killing several guards.33 La Fayette ultimately persuaded the king to accede to the demand of the crowd that the monarchy relocate to Paris.

On 6 October 1789, the King and the royal family moved from Versailles to Paris under the "protection" of the National Guards, thus legitimizing the National Assembly.

Revolution and the Church

In this caricature, monks and nuns enjoy their new freedom after the decree of 16 February 1790

The Revolution caused a massive shift of power from the Roman Catholic Church to the state.34 Under the Ancien Régime, the Church had been the largest single landowner in the country, owning about 10% of the land in the kingdom.35 The Church was exempt from paying taxes to the government, while it levied a tithe—a 10% tax on income, often collected in the form of crops—on the general population, only a fraction of which it then redistributed to the poor.35 The power and wealth of the Church was highly resented by some groups. A small minority of Protestants living in France, such as the Huguenots, wanted an anti-Catholic regime and revenge against the clergy who discriminated against them. Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire helped fuel this resentment by denigrating the Catholic Church and destabilizing the French monarchy.36 As historian John McManners argues, "In eighteenth-century France throne and altar were commonly spoken of as in close alliance; their simultaneous collapse ... would one day provide the final proof of their interdependence."37

This resentment toward the Church weakened its power during the opening of the Estates General in May 1789. The Church composed the First Estate with 130,000 members of the clergy. When the National Assembly was later created in June 1789 by the Third Estate, the clergy voted to join them, which perpetuated the destruction of the Estates General as a governing body.38 The National Assembly began to enact social and economic reform. Legislation sanctioned on 4 August 1789 abolished the Church's authority to impose the tithe. In an attempt to address the financial crisis, the Assembly declared, on 2 November 1789, that the property of the Church was "at the disposal of the nation."39 They used this property to back a new currency, the assignats. Thus, the nation had now also taken on the responsibility of the Church, which included paying the clergy and caring for the poor, the sick and the orphaned.40 In December, the Assembly began to sell the lands to the highest bidder to raise revenue, effectively decreasing the value of the assignats by 25% in two years.41 In autumn 1789, legislation abolished monastic vows and on 13 February 1790 all religious orders were dissolved.42 Monks and nuns were encouraged to return to private life and a small percentage did eventually marry.43

The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, passed on 12 July 1790, turned the remaining clergy into employees of the state. This established an election system for parish priests and bishops and set a pay rate for the clergy. Many Catholics objected to the election system because it effectively denied the authority of the Pope in Rome over the French Church. Eventually, in November 1790, the National Assembly began to require an oath of loyalty to the Civil Constitution from all the members of the clergy.43 This led to a schism between those clergy who swore the required oath and accepted the new arrangement and those who remained loyal to the Pope. Overall, 24% of the clergy nationwide took the oath.44 Widespread refusal led to legislation against the clergy, "forcing them into exile, deporting them forcibly, or executing them as traitors."41 Pope Pius VI never accepted the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, further isolating the Church in France.

A new Republican Calendar was established in 1793, with 10-day weeks that made it very difficult for Catholics to remember Sundays and saints' days. Workers complained it reduced the number of first-day-of-the-week holidays from 52 to 37.45

During the Reign of Terror, extreme efforts of de-Christianization ensued, including the imprisonment and massacre of priests and destruction of churches and religious images throughout France. An effort was made to replace the Catholic Church altogether, with civic festivals replacing religious ones. The establishment of the Cult of Reason was the final step of radical de-Christianization. These events led to a widespread disillusionment with the Revolution and to counter-rebellions across France. Locals often resisted de-Christianization by attacking revolutionary agents and hiding members of the clergy who were being hunted. Eventually, Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety were forced to denounce the campaign,46 replacing the Cult of Reason with the deist but still non-Christian Cult of the Supreme Being. The Concordat of 1801 between Napoleon and the Church ended the de-Christianization period and established the rules for a relationship between the Catholic Church and the French State that lasted until it was abrogated by the Third Republic via the separation of church and state on 11 December 1905. The persecution of the Church led to a counter-revolution known as the Revolt in the Vendée, whose suppression is considered by some to be the first modern genocide.47

Intrigues and radicalism

Factions within the Assembly began to clarify. The aristocrat Jacques Antoine Marie de Cazalès and the abbé Jean-Sifrein Maury led what would become known as the right wing, the opposition to revolution (this party sat on the right-hand side of the Assembly). The "Royalist democrats" or monarchiens, allied with Necker, inclined toward organising France along lines similar to the British constitutional model; they included Jean Joseph Mounier, the Comte de Lally-Tollendal, the comte de Clermont-Tonnerre, and Pierre Victor Malouet, comte de Virieu.

The "National Party", representing the centre or centre-left of the assembly, included Honoré Mirabeau, La Fayette, and Bailly; while Adrien Duport, Barnave and Alexandre Lameth represented somewhat more extreme views. Almost alone in his radicalism on the left was the Arras lawyer Maximilien Robespierre. Abbé Sieyès led in proposing legislation in this period and successfully forged consensus for some time between the political centre and the left. In Paris, various committees, the mayor, the assembly of representatives, and the individual districts each claimed authority independent of the others. The increasingly middle-class National Guard under La Fayette also slowly emerged as a power in its own right, as did other self-generated assemblies.

The Fête de la Fédération on 14 July 1790 celebrated the establishment of the constitutional monarchy

The Assembly abolished the symbolic paraphernalia of the Ancien Régime— armorial bearings, liveries, etc. – which further alienated the more conservative nobles, and added to the ranks of the émigrés. On 14 July 1790, and for several days following, crowds in the Champ de Mars celebrated the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille with the Fête de la Fédération; Talleyrand performed a mass; participants swore an oath of "fidelity to the nation, the law, and the king"; the King and the royal family actively participated.48

The electors had originally chosen the members of the Estates-General to serve for a single year. However, by the terms of the Tennis Court Oath, the communes had bound themselves to meet continuously until France had a constitution. Right-wing elements now argued for a new election, but Mirabeau prevailed, asserting that the status of the assembly had fundamentally changed, and that no new election should take place before completing the constitution.citation needed

In late 1790, the French army was in considerable disarray. The military officer corps was largely composed of noblemen, who found it increasingly difficult to maintain order within the ranks. In some cases, soldiers (drawn from the lower classes) had turned against their aristocratic commanders and attacked them. At Nancy, General Bouillé successfully put down one such rebellion, only to be accused of being anti-revolutionary for doing so. This and other such incidents spurred a mass desertion as more and more officers defected to other countries, leaving a dearth of experienced leadership within the army.49

This period also saw the rise of the political "clubs" in French politics. Foremost among these was the Jacobin Club; 152 members had affiliated with the Jacobins by 10 August 1790. The Jacobin Society began as a broad, general organization for political debate, but as it grew in members, various factions developed with widely differing views. Several of these fractions broke off to form their own clubs, such as the Club of '89.50

Meanwhile, the Assembly continued to work on developing a constitution. A new judicial organisation made all magistracies temporary and independent of the throne. The legislators abolished hereditary offices, except for the monarchy itself. Jury trials started for criminal cases. The King would have the unique power to propose war, with the legislature then deciding whether to declare war. The Assembly abolished all internal trade barriers and suppressed guilds, masterships, and workers' organisations: any individual gained the right to practice a trade through the purchase of a license; strikes became illegal.51

Royal flight to Varennes

The return of the royal family to Paris on 25 June 1791, after their failed flight to Varennes

Louis XVI was increasingly dismayed by the direction of the revolution. His brother, the Comte d'Artois and his queen, Marie Antoinette, urged a stronger stance against the revolution and support for the émigrés, while he was resistant to any course that would see him openly side with foreign powers against the Assembly. Eventually, fearing for his own safety and that of his family, he decided to flee Paris to the Austrian border, having been assured of the loyalty of the border garrisons.

Louis cast his lot with General Bouillé, who condemned both the emigration and the Assembly, and promised him refuge and support in his camp at Montmédy. On the night of 20 June 1791, the royal family fled the Tuileries Palace dressed as servants, while their servants dressed as nobles.

However, late the next day, the King was recognised and arrested at Varennes and returned to Paris. The Assembly provisionally suspended the King. He and Queen Marie Antoinette remained held under guard.52 To flee to the enemy was to be a traitor.

Completing the constitution

As most of the Assembly still favoured a constitutional monarchy rather than a republic, the various groups reached a compromise which left Louis XVI as little more than a figurehead: he was forced to swear an oath to the constitution, and a decree declared that retracting the oath, heading an army for the purpose of making war upon the nation, or permitting anyone to do so in his name would amount to abdication.

However, Jacques Pierre Brissot drafted a petition, insisting that in the eyes of the nation Louis XVI was deposed since his flight. An immense crowd gathered in the Champ de Mars to sign the petition. Georges Danton and Camille Desmoulins gave fiery speeches. The Assembly called for the municipal authorities to "preserve public order". The National Guard under La Fayette's command confronted the crowd. The soldiers responded to a barrage of stones by firing into the crowd, killing between 13 and 50 people.53 The incident cost La Fayette and his National Guard much public support.

In the wake of the massacre the authorities closed many of the patriotic clubs, as well as radical newspapers such as Jean-Paul Marat's L'Ami du Peuple. Danton fled to England; Desmoulins and Marat went into hiding.54

Meanwhile, a new threat arose from abroad: the King's brother in law Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, Frederick William II of Prussia, and the King's brother Charles-Philippe, comte d'Artois, issued the Declaration of Pillnitz, which proclaimed the cause of Louis XVI as their own, demanded his absolute liberty and hinted at an invasion of France on his behalf if the revolutionary authorities refused its conditions.55 Although Leopold himself sought to avoid war and made the declaration to satisfy the Comte d'Artois and the other émigrés, the reaction within France was ferocious. The French people expressed no respect for the dictates of foreign monarchs, and the threat of force merely hastened their militarisation.56

Even before the Flight to Varennes, the Assembly members had determined to debar themselves from the legislature that would succeed them, the Legislative Assembly. They now gathered the various constitutional laws they had passed into a single constitution, and submitted it to the recently restored Louis XVI, who accepted it, writing "I engage to maintain it at home, to defend it from all attacks from abroad, and to cause its execution by all the means it places at my disposal". The King addressed the Assembly and received enthusiastic applause from members and spectators. With this capstone, the National Constituent Assembly adjourned in a final session on 30 September 1791.57

Legislative Assembly (1791–1792)

Failure of the constitutional monarchy

Under the Constitution of 1791, France would function as a constitutional monarchy. The King had to share power with the elected Legislative Assembly, but he still retained his royal veto and the ability to select ministers. The Legislative Assembly first met on 1 October 1791, and degenerated into chaos less than a year later. In the words of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica: "In the attempt to govern, the Assembly failed altogether. It left behind an empty treasury, an undisciplined army and navy, and a people debauched by safe and successful riot."58 The Legislative Assembly consisted of about 165 Feuillants (constitutional monarchists) on the right, about 330 Girondists (liberal republicans) and Jacobins (radical revolutionaries) on the left, and about 250 deputies unaffiliated with either faction.citation needed Early on, the King vetoed legislation that threatened the émigrés with death and that decreed that every non-juring clergyman must take within eight days the civic oath mandated by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Over the course of a year, such disagreements would lead to a constitutional crisis.citation needed

Constitutional crisis

On 10 August 1792 the Paris Commune stormed the Tuileries Palace and massacred the Swiss Guards

On the night of 10 August 1792, insurgents and popular militias, supported by the revolutionary Paris Commune, assailed the Tuileries Palace and massacred the Swiss Guards who were assigned for the protection of the king.59 The royal family ended up prisoners and a rump session of the Legislative Assembly suspended the monarchy; little more than a third of the deputies were present, almost all of them Jacobins.60

What remained of a national government depended on the support of the insurrectionary Commune. With enemy troops advancing, the Commune looked for potential traitors in Paris. The Commune sent gangs of National Guardsmen and fereres into the prisons to kill 10 or more victims, mostly nonjuring priests. The Commune then sent a circular letter to the other cities of France inviting them to follow this example, and many cities launched their own massacres of prisoners and priests in the September massacres." The Assembly could offer only feeble resistance. In Ocvtober, however , there was a counterattack accusing the instigators, especially Marat, of being terrorists. This led to a political contest between the more moderate Girondists and the more radical Montagnards inside the Convention,with rumor used as a weapon by both sides. The Girondists lost ground when they seemed too conciliatory. But the pendulum swung again and after Thermidor, the men who had endorsed the massacres were denounced as terrorists,6162

Chaos persisted until the Convention, elected by universal male suffrage and charged with writing a new constitution, met on 20 September 1792 and became the new de facto government of France. The next day it abolished the monarchy and declared a republic. The following day – 22 September 1792, the first morning of the new Republic – was later retroactively adopted as the beginning of Year One of the French Republican Calendar.63

War and Counter-Revolution (1792–1797)

The politics of the period inevitably drove France towards war with Austria and its allies. The King, many of the Feuillants, and the Girondins specifically wanted to wage war. The King (and many Feuillants with him) expected war would increase his personal popularity; he also foresaw an opportunity to exploit any defeat: either result would make him stronger. The Girondins wanted to export the Revolution throughout Europe and, by extension, to defend the Revolution within France. The forces opposing war were much weaker. Barnave and his supporters among the Feuillants feared a war they thought France had little chance to win and which they feared might lead to greater radicalization of the revolution. On the other end of the political spectrum Robespierre opposed a war on two grounds, fearing that it would strengthen the monarchy and military at the expense of the revolution, and that it would incur the anger of ordinary people in Austria and elsewhere. The Austrian emperor Leopold II, brother of Marie Antoinette, may have wished to avoid war, but he died on 1 March 1792.64 France preemptively declared war on Austria (20 April 1792) and Prussia joined on the Austrian side a few weeks later. The invading Prussian army faced little resistance until checked at the Battle of Valmy (20 September 1792) and forced to withdraw.

The French Revolutionary Army defeated the combined armies of Austrians, Dutch and British at Fleurus in June 1794.

The new-born Republic followed up on this success with a series of victories in Belgium and the Rhineland in the fall of 1792. The French armies defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Jemappes on 6 November, and had soon taken over most of the Austrian Netherlands. This brought them into conflict with Britain and the Dutch Republic, which wished to preserve the independence of the southern Netherlands from France. After the king's execution in January 1793, these powers, along with Spain and most other European states, joined the war against France. Almost immediately, French forces faced defeat on many fronts, and were driven out of their newly conquered territories in the spring of 1793. At the same time, the republican regime was forced to deal with rebellions against its authority in much of western and southern France. But the allies failed to take advantage of French disunity, and by the autumn of 1793 the republican regime had defeated most of the internal rebellions and halted the allied advance into France itself.

The stalemate was broken in the summer of 1794 with dramatic French victories. They defeated the allied army at the Battle of Fleurus, leading to a full Allied withdrawal from the Austrian Netherlands. They followed up by a campaign which swept the allies to the east bank of the Rhine and left the French, by the beginning of 1795, conquering Holland itself. The House of Orange was expelled and replaced by the Batavian Republic, a French satellite state. These victories led to the collapse of the coalition against France. Prussia, having effectively abandoned the coalition in the fall of 1794, made peace with revolutionary France at Basel in April 1795, and soon thereafter Spain, too, made peace with France. Of the major powers, only Britain and Austria remained at war with France.

The French national anthem La Marseillaise was written during the revolution in 1792.

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It was during this time that La Marseillaise was first sung. Originally titled Chant de guerre pour l'Armée du Rhin ("War Song for the Army of the Rhine") the song was written and composed by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle in 1792. It was adopted in 1795 as the nation's first anthem.

War in the Vendée

The War in the Vendée was a royalist uprising that was suppressed by the republican forces in 1796.

In Vendée, peasants revolted against the French Revolutionary government in 1793. They resented the changes imposed on the Roman Catholic Church by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (1790) and broke into open revolt in defiance of the Revolutionary government's military conscription.65 This became a guerrilla war, known as the War in the Vendée.66 North of the Loire, similar revolts were started by the so-called Chouans (royalist rebels).67

The revolt and its suppression, including both combat casualties and massacres and executions on both sides, are thought to have taken between 117,000 and 250,000 lives (170,000 according to the latest estimates).68 Because of the extremely brutal forms that the Republican repression took in many places, certain historians such as Reynald Secher have called the event a "genocide". This description has become popular in the mass media,69 but has largely been rejected by mainstream scholars.70 Furet concludes that the repression in the Vendee "not only revealed massacre and destruction on an unprecedented scale but also a zeal so violent that it has bestowed as its legacy much of the region's identity."71

Facing local revolts and foreign invasions in both the East and West of the country, the most urgent government business was the war. On 17 August, the Convention voted for general conscription, the levée en masse, which mobilized all citizens to serve as soldiers or suppliers in the war effort.

First Republic

10 August had seen Paris and the provinces united in an attack upon the Parliament and the throne. All the hopes of the country were now placed in a National Convention, the re-embodiment of the absolute power of the sovereign people. The king of the French had been suspended; but France was not a republic.72

The election of the National Convention took place from 2 to 6 September 1792 after the election of the electoral colleges by primary assemblies on 26 August. Owing to the abstention of aristocrats and anti-republicans and the fear of victimization the voter turnout in the departments was low — 11.9% of the electorate, compared to 10.2% in 1791 elections in spite of that the number of eligible to vote has doubled. Therefore the impact of the universal suffrage had very little effect. On the whole, electorate had returned the same sort of men that the active citizens had chosen in 1791.73

The first session was held on 20 September 1792. The following day, amidst profound silence, the proposition was put to the assembly, "That royalty be abolished in France" and was carried with cheers. On the 22nd came the news of Valmy. On the same day it was decreed that "in future the acts of the assembly shall be dated First Year of the French Republic". Three days later the corollary was added, to guard against federalism, that "the French republic is one and indivisible". A republic had been proclaimed, but it remained to enact a republican government. The country was little more republican in feeling or practice than it had been before at any time since Varennes. But it must now be a republic, because it no longer had a king.74

Jacobin Republic (1792–1794)

The Assembly began harmoniously enough, but within a few days the Girondins launched a bitter attack on their Montagnard opponents and conflict continued without interruption until the expulsion of the Girondin leaders from the Convention on 2 June 1793. The Girondins could at first rely on the votes of a majority of the deputies, many of whom were alarmed as well as scandalized by the September massacres. But their insistence on monopolizing all positions of authority and their shrill attacks on the Montagnard leaders soon irritated men who regarded party as faction. One by one able deputies such as Couthon, Cambon, Carnot, Lindet and Barere began to gravitate towards the Montagnards, while the majority — the Plain, as it was called — held itself aloof from both sides.

Girondins and Montagnards

Girondin had been a geographical expression, and Jacobin the name of a club. Now a group of deputies from the Gironde gave their name to a party, and a non-party club began to identify itself with the political opinions of a group of Paris representatives. The Jacobin leaders were men little different from their opponents in origin and up-bringing. They believed, as the Girondins did, in the war, the republic, and the Convention. They were no less idealistic, and no more humanitarian. But they had a greater regard for the interests of the common people, they had less respect for political shibboleths, and they had an extra capacity for realistic, and if necessary ruthless experimentation.75

Three questions dominated first months of the Conventions: revolutionary violence, the trial of the king and Paris dominance in the politics.

Antagonism between Paris and the provinces was a friction that served as a propaganda and combat weapon. The resistance of the departments to centralization was symbolized by the desire to reduce the capital of the Revolution to its one-eighty-third share of influence. Much of the Gironde wished to remove the Assembly from a city dominated by "agitators and flatterers of the people", it did not at the time encourage an aggressive federalism that would have run counter to its political ambitions.76

Trial of the king

Execution of Louis XVI in what is now the Place de la Concorde, facing the empty pedestal where the statue of his grandfather, Louis XV, had stood.

From the opening of the Convention the Girondins showed no interest in bringing the king to trial. They were more interested in discrediting Paris and its deputies. And their decision to hound the Jacobins was not merely a choice of priorities; they genuinely wanted to spare the king.77 But in reality the Convention had to declare him guilty if it wanted to avoid damning 10 August 1792, its own existence, and the proclamation of the Republic. "If the king is not guilty, then those who have dethroned him are" — as Robespierre has reminded on 2 December. Once the Convention recognized Louis's guilt it could hardly refuse to pronounce the death penalty against a person who had summoned the aid of foreign powers and whom the sans-culottes considered responsible for the ambush at the Tuileries.78

The discovery of the iron cupboard in the Tuileries 20 November 1792 made the trial inevitable. Documents found in this secret chest proved without any doubt the treachery of Louis XVI.

The trial began on 10 December. The Montagnards put the debate on the ideological level. Louis XVI was classified as an enemy, alien to the body of the nation and as "usurper". Balloting began on 14 January 1793. Each deputy explained his vote at the rostrum. The vote against the king was unanimous. There was to be no popular referendum as Girondins hoped. The fatal vote started on 16 January, and continued until the next day. Of the 721 deputies present, 387 declared themselves for the death penalty, 334 were opposed. Twenty-six deputies voted for death on condition that he was reprieved. On the 18 January the question of reprieve was put to vote: 380 votes were cast against; 310 for. Each time the Girondins had split.79

On the morning of 21 January the Convention ordered the entire National Guard to line both sides of the rout to the scaffold. The former Louis XVI, now simply named Citoyen Louis Capet (Citizen Louis Capet) was executed by guillotine on 21 January 1793 on the Place de la Révolution, former Place Louis XV, now called the Place de la Concorde.

With few exceptions the French people accepted the deed in silence, but it made a profound impression. Execution of the king aroused pity and exalted royalist convictions, yet it seems undeniable that monarchical sentiment was dealt a severe blow — a king had been put to death like any ordinary man; royalty lost, never to recover, the supernatural quality that even the Revolution had not yet eradicated. Within the nation, "voters" and "appellants" swore undying hatred of each other; abroad, the rest of Europe decreed a war of extermination against regicides.80

Fall of the Gironde

Girondins were convinced that their opponents were aspired to a bloody dictatorship, while the Montagnards believed that Girondins were ready for any compromise with conservatives, and even royalists, that would guarantee their remaining at power. The bitter enmity soon reduced the Convention to a state of vociferous paralysis. Debate after debate degenerated into verbal brawl from which no decision emerged. The political deadlock, which had repercussions all over France, eventually drove men to accept dangerous allies, royalists in case of Girondins, sans-culottes in that of the Montagnards.81

Thus the struggle within the Convention continued without results. The decision was to come from outside.

Journées des 31 Mai 1er et 2 Juin 1793

Ever since the king's trial the sans-culottes had been constantly assailing the "appealers" (appelants), and quickly came to desire their expulsion from the Convention. If this were achieved, the government could recover the energy to enable it to deal with the aristocratic plot by arresting suspects and establishing a revolutionary tribunal.82 Military setbacks from the First Coalition, Dumouriez's treason and the war of Vendée, which began in March 1793 was used as an argument by Montagnards and sans-culottes to picture Girondins as soft and demand exceptional measures which Girondins were reluctant to adopt. The Girondins were forced to accept the creation of the Committee of Public Safety and Revolutionary Tribunal. Social and economic difficulties exacerbate tensions. The final showdown was precipitated by Marat's trial and arrest of sectional activists.

On 25 May the Commune demanded that arrested patriots to be released. In reply, Isnard, who was presiding over the Convention, launched into a bitter diatribe against Paris which was infuriatingly reminiscent of the Brunswick Manifesto: "If any attack made on the persons of the representatives of the nation, then I declare to you in the name of the whole country that Paris would be destroyed". On the next day the Jacobins declared themselves in the state of insurrection. On 28 May the Cite section called the other sections to a meeting in order to organize the insurrection. On 29 May the delegates representing thirty-three of the sections formed an insurrectionary committee of nine members.83

On 2 June 80,000 armed sans-culottes surrounded the Convention. After an attempt of deputies to exit collided with guns, the deputies resigned themselves to declare the arrest of 29 leading Girondins. In this way the Gironde ceased to be a political force. It had declared war without knowing how to conduct it; it had denounced the King but had shrunk from condemning him; it had contributed to the worsening of the economic crisis but had swept aside all the claims made by the popular movement.84

Revolutionary Government

The summer 1793 saw sans-culotte disturbances reach the peak, under a double banner: price-fixing and terror. On top of this came the news of unprecedented treason: Toulon and its squadron had been handed over to the enemy.85 In the name of the wretched poverty of the people, the leaders of the Enraged, Jacques Roux at their head, called for a planned economy from a Convention which had no liking for the idea. But the revolutionary logic of the mobilization of resources by national dictatorship was infinitely more powerful than economic doctrine. In August, a series decrees gave the authorities virtually discretionary powers over production and circulation of grain, accompanied by ferocious punishments for fraud. "Granary of plenty" were prepared, to stock corn requisitioned by authorities in each district. On 23 August the decree on the levee en masse turned able bodied civilians into soldiers.

On 5 September Paris tried to repeat 2 June. Armed sections again encircled the Convention to demand the setting up of an internal revolutionary army, the arrest of suspects and a purge of the committees. It was probably the key day in the formation of the revolutionary government: the convention yielded, but kept control of events. It put Terror on the agenda on 5 September, on 6th elected Collot d'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne to the Committee of Public Safety, on the 9th created the revolutionary army, on the 11th decreed the Maximum for grain and fodder (general controls for prices and wages on the 29th), on the 14th reorganized the Revolutionary Tribunal, on the 17th voted the law on suspects, and on the 20th gave the local revolutionary committees the task of drawing up lists of them.86

The dictatorship of the Convention and the committees, simultaneously supported and controlled by the Parisian sections, representing the sovereign people in permanent session, lasted from June to September. It governed through a network of institutions set up haphazardly since spring in March, the Revolutionary Tribunal and representatives on missions in the departments; followed the next month by Convention's representatives to the armies, also armed with unlimited powers; enforce acceptance of assignat as the sole legal tender, price controls for grain and the forced loan of billion livres from the rich.87

At last France saw a government take shape. Danton resigned from it on 10 July. Couthon, Saint-Just, Jeanbon Saint-Andre, and Prieur of the Marne formed a nucleus of resolute Montagnards who rallied Barrere and Lindet, then successfully added Robespierre on 27 July, Carnot and Prieur of Cote-d'Ore on 14 August, and Collot d'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne on 6 September. They had a few clear ideas to which they clung: to command, to fight, and to conquer. Their work in common, the danger, the taste of and pride in power created solidarity that made the Committee an autonomous organism.88

The committee was always managed collegially, despite the specific nature of the tasks of each director: the division into "politicians" and "technicians" was a Thermidorian invention, intended to lay the corpses of the Terror at the door of the Robespierrists alone. Many things, however, set the twelve committee members at loggerheads; Barrere was more a man of the Convention than of the committee, and was a link with the Plaine. Rober Lindet had qualms about the Terror which, by contrast, was the outstanding theme of Collot d'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne, latecomers to the committee, forced on it by the sans-culottes in September; unlike Robespierre and his friends, Lazare Carnot had given his support only provisionally and for reasons of state to a policy concessions to the people. But the situation which united them in the summer 1793 was stronger than those differences of opinion.89 The Committee must set itself above all, and choose those popular demands which were most suitable for achieving the Assembly's aims: to crush the enemies of the Republic and dash the last hopes of the aristocracy. To govern in the name of the Convention, at the same time controlling it, and to restrain the people without quenching their enthusiasm — this was a gamble.90

The ensemble of institutions, measures and procedures which constituted it was codified in a decree of 14 Frimaire (4 December) which set the seal on what had been the gradual development of centralized dictatorship founded on the Terror. In the center was the Convention, whose secular arm was Committee of Public Safety, vested with immense powers: it interpreted the Convention's decrees and settled their methods of application; under its immediate authority it had all state bodies and all civil servants (even ministers would disappear in April 1794); it directed military and diplomatic activity, appointed generals and members of other committees, subject to ratification by the Convention. It held responsibility for conducting war, public order and the provisioning of the population. The Commune of Paris, famous sans-culotte bastion, was neutralized by coming under its control.86

The economy

Administrative and economic centralization went hand in hand. The stage of siege forced France into autarky; to save the Republic the government mobilized all the nation's productive forces and reluctantly accepted the need for a controlled economy, which it introduced extemporaneously, as the emergency required.91 It was necessary to develop war production, revive foreign trade, and find new resources in France itself; and time was short. Circumstances gradually compelled it to assume the economic government of the country. Along with organization of the army, this was the most original feature of its work.92

All material resources were subjected to requisitioning. Farmers surrendered their grain, fodder, wool, flax, hemp. Artisans and merchants gave up their manufactured products. Raw materials were carefully sought out — metal of all kinds, church bells, old paper, rags and parchments, grasses, brushwood, and even household ashes for manufacturing of potassium salts, and chestnuts for distilling. All businesses were placed at the disposal of the nation — forests, mines, quarries, furnaces, forges, tanneries, paper mills, large cloth factories and shoe making workshops. The labor of men and the value of things were subject to price controls. No one had a right to speculate at the cost of Patrie while it was in danger. Armaments caused more concern. As early as September 1793 efforts were made to create a large factory in Paris for rifles and sidearms.93 A special appeal was made to scientists. Monge, Vandermonde, Berthollet, Darcet, Fourcroy perfected metallurgy and manufacture of arms.94

Only to the wage earners did the Maximum seem thoroughly advantageous. It increased wages by one-half in relation to 1790, and commodities by only one-third. But since the Committee did not ensure that it was respected (except for bread), they would have been duped had they not been benefiting from the favorable conditions that a great war always offers the labor force.95 Still Paris became calmer, because the sans-culottes were gradually finding ways to subsist; the levy en masse and the formation of the revolutionary army were thinning their ranks; many now were working in arms and equipment shops, or in the bureaux of the committees and ministries, which were expanded enormously.96

The army of the Year II

During the summer the requisition of the levy was completed and by July the total strength of the army reached 650,000. The difficulties were tremendous. The war production just started in September. The army was in the middle of the purge. In the spring of 1794 the amalgamation was undertaken. Two battalions of volunteers joined one battalion of regulars to constitute a demi-brigade, or regiment. At the same time the command was reconstituted. The purge ended with most of the nobles excluded. The new generation reached the highest ranks, and the War College (Ecole de Mars) received six young men from each district to improve the staff. Army commanders were to be appointed by the Convention.97

What gradually emerged was a military command unequaled in quality: Marceau, Hoche, Kleber, Massena, Jourdan, and a host of others, backed by officers who were sound both in their abilities as soldiers and in their sense of civic responsibility.98

For the first time since antiquity a truly national army marched to war, and for the first time, too, a nation succeeded in arming and feeding great number of soldiers — these are the novel characteristics of the army of the Year II. The technical innovations resulted chiefly from its very mass as well the strategy was developed from it. Old system of cordons lost its prestige. Moving between the armies of the Coalition, the French could maneuver along interior lines, deploy part of their troops along the frontiers, and take advantage of inaction of any one of their enemies to beat the others. Acting in masses, and overwhelming the foe by sheer numbers — such were Carnot's principles. They were still untried, and not until Bonaparte appeared did they enjoy any great success.99

The Terror

Though the Terror was organized in September 1793, it was not really introduced until October, and that as a result of pressure from the popular movement. New chapter of the Revolutionary Tribunal was opened after 5 September: it was divided in four sections; the Committees of Public Safety and General Security were to propose the names of judges and jurymen; Fouquier-Tinville stayed as public prosecutor, and Herman was nominated president.100

The great political trials began in October. The queen was guillotined on October 16. A special decree stifled the defense of 21 Girondins, including Vergniaud and Brissot, and they perished on the 31st.96

At the summit of the apparatus of the Terror sat the Committee of General Security, the state's second organ, consisting of twelve members elected each month by the Convention, and vested with security, surveillance and police functions, over civil and military authorities as well. It employed a large staff, headed the gradually constituted network of local revolutionary committees, and applied the law on suspects by sifting through the thousands of local denunciations and arrests which it then had to try.101

It struck down the enemies of the Republic whoever and wherever they were. It was socially indiscriminate and politically perspicacious. Its victims belonged to the classes which hated the Revolution or lived in the regions where rebellion was most serious. "The severity of repressive measures in the provinces," wrote Mathiez, "was in direct proportion to danger of revolt."102

Thus deputies sent as "representatives on mission" by the Committee of Public Safety, armed with full powers, reacted according to both local situation and their own temperaments: Lindet pacified the Girondin west in July without a single death sentence; in Lyon, some months later, Collot d'Herbois and Joseph Fouche relied on frequent summary executions by shooting because the guillotine was not working swiftly enough.103

Fall of the factions

As late as September journees there were clearly emergence of two distinct wings among revolutionaries. First was those who later called Hebertists — although Hebert himself was never the leader of a party — were preaching a war to the death and adopted program of the Enragés, because the sans-culottes approved it. If they preferred agreement with the Montagnards, so long as they could hope to control the Convention through them. They dominated the Cordeliers, filled Bouchotte's bureaux, and could carry the Commune with them.104 Another arose as a response to increasing centralization of the Revolutionary Government and dictatorship of the Committees — Dantonists; and centered around deputies of the Convention: Danton, Delacroix, Desmoulins as most notable among them.

Putting the needs of national defense above all other considerations the Committee of Public Safety had no intentions of giving in to the demands of either the popular movement or the moderates. For the claims of the popular movement would be jeopardized revolutionary unity, while the demands of the moderates would have undermined both the controlled economy, so essential if support were to guarantee to the war effort, and the Terror which ensured the obedience of all to its decrees. But how could they obtain a balance between the contradictory demands? The policy of Revolutionary Government was that of maintaining a position half-way between moderates ( citras ) and the extremists ( ultras ).105

But at the end of the winter 1793 the shortage of foodstuff took a sharp turn for the worse. The Hebertists incited sans-culottes to demand stringent measures and at first the Committee did prove conciliatory. The Convention voted 10 million for relief, on 3 Ventose Barere presented new general Maximum and on the 8th Saint-Just obtained a decree confiscating the property of suspects and distributing it among the needy (Ventose decrees). The Cordeliers Club felt that if it increased the pressure, it would triumph once and for all. It was talk of insurrection, though it was, probably, as a new demonstration like the one in September. But the Committee decided on 22 Ventose. Year II (12 March 1794) to have done with the Hebertists. To Hebert, Ronsin, Vincent, and Momoro it added the refugees Proli, Cloots and Pereira, so as to present them as parties to the "foreign plot". All were executed on 4 Germinal (24 March).106 Then the Committee turned to the right, several members of which were implicated in financial corruption. The Convention was bullied into lifting parliamentary immunity of nine deputies. On 5 April Danton, Delacroix, Desmoulins, Philippeaux were executed.107

The trials of germinal transformed the whole political situation. The sans-culottes were stunned by the hebertists' execution. All their positions of influence fell one after another: the Revolutionary Army was disbanded, the inspectors of food-hoarding were dismissed, Bouchotte lost the War Office, the Cordeliers Club was reduced to frightened impotence and the Government pressure brought about closing 39 popular societies. The Commune was purged and filled with Committee nominees. With the execution of the Dantonists for the first time the majority of the Assembly went in terror of the Government which it had created.108

By losing its source of power the committees found itself at the mercy of the Convention. Having compelled the Convention to deliver the Girondins and Dantonists, it believed it had a safe majority. It was wrong. The Convention never forgave it these sacrifices. The Committee was as mediator between the Assembly and the sans-culottes from which it had acquired its strength. By breaking with the sans-culottes it freed the Assembly, and to complete its destruction, it had only to split internally.109


9 Thermidor

The Jacobin dictatorship could only hope to remain in power so long as it was dealing successfully with a national emergency. So long as it remained united The Committee was virtually invulnerable, but it had scarcely attained the apogee of its power before signs of internal conflict appeared.110 The Committee of Public Safety had never been a homogeneous body. It was a coalition cabinet. Its members were kept together less by comradeship or common ideals than by calculation and routine. The press of business which at first prevented personal quarrels also produced tired nerves. Trifling differences were exaggerated into the issues of life and death. Small disputes estranged them from one another.111

These capable and honest men were authoritarians. Carnot, in particular, was irritated by the criticisms directed at his plans by Robespierre and Saint-Just, who, exhausted by work and over-excited by the danger, restrained themselves with difficulty. Robespierre, whose health was weakening, proved irritable, and did not forgive easily. Being amiable and gentle among friends, but cold and distant elsewhere. Dispute followed dispute.112 Bickering broke out on the Committee of Public Safety, with Carnot describing Robespierre and Saint-Just as "ridiculous dictators" and Collot making veiled attacks on the Incorruptible. From the end of June until 23 July Robespierre ceased to attend the Committee.110

Realizing the danger of fragmentation they attempted a reconciliation. Saint-Just and Couthon favored it, but Robespierre doubted sincerity of his enemies. It was he who brought about the fatal intervention of the Convention. On 8 Thermidor, Year II (26 July 1794), he denounced his opponents, and demanded that "unity of government" be realized. When called upon to name those whom he was accusing, however, he refused. This failure destroyed him, for it was assumed that he was demanding a blank cheque.112 This night uneasy alliance was formed from threatened deputies and members of The Plain. On the next day, 9 Thermidor, Robespierre and his friends were not allowed to speak, and their indictment was decreed. The men of extreme left played the leading roles: Billaud-Varenne, who attacked, and Collot d'Herbois, who presided.

On hearing the news the Paris Commune, loyal to the man who had inspired it, had called for an insurrection and released the arrested deputies in the evening and mobilized two or three thousand militants.113 The night of 9 — 10 Thermidor was one of great confusions in Paris, as Commune and Assembly competed for the support of the sections and their troops. The Convention proclaimed that the rebels were henceforth outlaws; Barras was given the task of mustering an armed force, and the moderate sections gave this their support. The National Guardsmen and artillerymen assembled outside the Hotel de Ville were left without instructions and little by little they dispersed and left the square deserted. Around two o'clock in the morning column from Gravilliers section led by Léonard Bourdon burst in the Hotel de Ville and arrested insurgents.

On the evening of 10 Thermidor (28 July 1794), Robespierre, Saint-Just, Couthon and nineteen of their political allies were executed without trial. On the following day it was the turn of a large batch of seventy-one men, the largest mass execution in the entire course of the Revolution.114

Thermidorian Regime

The execution of Robespierre on 28 July 1794 marked the end of the Reign of Terror.

On the 9 Thermidor, France had been under a revolutionary regime, namely the dictatorship of the Committee of Public Safety. The question of the day was whether this regime would outlast Robespierre. Now that the Committee, in splitting up, had called the Convention in to arbitrate, it had seized power by outlawing the Robespierrists, its first thought could only be to defend its authority jealously, not only against the Jacobins of the clubs and the sans-culottes of the street, but against such of its own members as it might appoint to govern in its name. At this moment it was unthinkable that the Committee of Public Safety should be allowed to retain its stability and omnipotence, and with them the very essence of revolutionary government disappeared.115 It was decreed that no member of governing committees should hold office for more than four months. Three days later the Prerial Law was repealed and Revolutionary Tribunal shorn of its abnormal powers. Commune was replaced with commission des administrateurs civils from the ranks of the Conventions. In November the Jacobin club was closed.116

Thus the stability of the government was undermined. Next came the concentration of power, another revolutionary principle. Identification of Committee of Public Safety with executive was carved up on 7 Fructidor (24 August), restricting it to its former domain of war and diplomacy. The Committee of General Security kept its control over the police. There was now to be a total of sixteen committees. Conventionnels, while aware of the dangers of fragmentation, were even more worried by its experience of monopoly of powers. In few weeks Revolutionary Government was dismantled.117

These measures affected, finally, the instruments of the Terror. Once Robespierre had fallen, a tremendous movement of public opinion immediately turned against Terror. The Convention could not forgive the Committee for having decimated it, and Robespierre's colleagues themselves, by using it to blacken his memory, were the first to encourage a reaction. "Down with the terrorists!" immediately became the rallying cry of the Thermidorians, and countless voices repeated it.118 A few public trials were staged — including those of Carrier, held responsible for the mass-drowning at Nantes, and Fouquier-Tinville, notorious as the public prosecutor of the Great Terror of the late spring and summer of 1794 — after which the Revolutionary Tribunal was quietly put aside.119 The reactionaries revived the sections and organized the jeunesse doree into armed bands filled with draft dodgers (insoumis), deserters, shop-boys, and law clerks encouraged by their employers. These bands were the law in the sections. They took over the streets and attacked the patriots with cudgets under the complacent eyes of the police. The Jacobines succumbed.120 The Montagnard ranks in the Convention were thinned by the defections and soon reduced to what was called the Crest (la Crête de la Montagne).

The destruction of the system of revolutionary government eventually brought about the end of the Economic Terror. Maximum was relaxed even before 9 Thermidor. Now nobody any longer believed in it. Because black market was plentifully supplied, the idea took hold that price control equaled scarcity and that free trade would bring back abundance. It was generally supposed that prices would rise but that then they would fall as a result of competition. This illusion was to be shattered in the winter. Formally the Convention put the end to the maximum on 4 Nivose Year III (24 December 1794).121 The abandonment of the controlled economy provoked a frightful catastrophe. Prices soared and the rate of exchange fell. The Republic was condemned to massive inflation and its currency was ruined. In Thermidor, Year III, assignats were worth less than 3 percent of their face value. Neither peasants nor merchants would accept anything but cash. The debacle was so swift that economic life seemed to come to standstill. The crisis was greatly aggravated by famine. The government continued to provision Paris, but was unable to supply the promised rations. In provinces local municipalities resorted to some sort of regulations, provided not direct coercion in obtaining provisions. Inflation ruined creditors to the advantage of debtors. It unleashed an unprecedented speculation.122

The sans-cullotes, who had unprotestingly permitted the Jacobins to be proscribed, began to regret the regime of the Year II, now that they themselves without work and without bread. But this time almost all the republicans and the partisans of the Old Regime were solidly against the popular movement. Thus the journees of 12 Germinal and 1 Prairial, Year III (May 20, 1795) proved to be more violent without reaching any political aim. For the first time since 1789, troops entered Paris and undertook to fight the rebellious people. On the 3 Prairial the army surrounded the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, which starved and unarmed, surrendered the following day without a fight. This is the date which should be taken as the end of the Revolution. Its mainspring was now broken.123

In the wake of excesses of the White Terror, the Convention approved the new Constitution of the Year III on 22 August 1795. A French plebiscite ratified the document, with about 1,057,390 votes for the constitution and 49,978 against. The results of the voting were announced on 23 September 1795, and the new constitution took effect on 27 September 1795.124

The Directory

The new Constitution of the Year III created the Directory (Directoire) and the first bicameral legislature in French history.125 The parliament consisted of two houses: the Council of the Five Hundred (Conseil des Cinq-Cents) with 500 representatives, and the Council of Elders (Conseil des Anciens) with 250 senators. Executive power went to five "directors", named annually by the Conseil des Anciens from a list submitted by the Conseil des Cinq-Cents. Furthermore, the universal male suffrage of 1793 was replaced by limited suffrage based on property.126

The success of the Directorial policy of stabilization depended upon finding the solution for the fundamental problems inherited from the Thermidorian period; the war abroad and the domestic economic and financial problems. Confined to the narrow limits of a republic with a restricted suffrage that excluded both the popular classes and the aristocracy, the Thermidorians had multiplied precautions against the omnipotence of the state; it left no alternative but governmental impotence or an appeal to force.

The Failure of stabilization (1795–1797)

First Directory

On 6 Brumaire 741 deputies were called upon to take their seats; 243 of them, chosen by lot from among those over 40 years old, made up the Council of the Elders, and the others formed the Council of the Five Hundred. The members of the Convention had, thanks to Two-Thirds decree, avoided a debacle, but they were clearly the losers. It was significant that only 394 of themhad been elected by virtue of the Two-Thirds decree. As had been foreseen, another 105 of them had to be "retrieved". Moreover the new third included only four outgoing deputies. The main losers were the survivors of the Montagne. The were no more than 64 "advanced" deputies including Audoin, Poultier (fr) and Marbot. The right's advance was on the other hand spectacular: 88 deputies displayed frankly counter-revolutionary views, and 73 others were moderate Royalists. Finally, the crashing defeat of the outgoing deputies was matched by the triumph of the ghosts from the past: former members of the Constituent and Legislative Assembly.127

The supporters of the constitution were the moderate Republicans and Thermidorians consisted of 381 deputies. Firmly opposed to a new Terror as to restoration, they succeeded in holding power and intended to keep it. The regime set up in Year III was not a parliamentary one, but, without a wide base, the perpetual members ultimately risked forfeiting their hegemony.

The Five Hundred drew a list of fifty names including those of Sieyes, Barras, Reubell, La Revelliere, Letourneur and fourty-five undistinguish deputies. But Sieyes refused to serve and Carnot was chosen instead. The Directors divided up their tasks according their wishes and their experience. The five Directors, all regicides, belonged to the clique which monopolised power for the previous year. But their different temperaments and political ambitions meant that coexistence promised to be difficult.128

The Impossible Task

Just as the Directory was being installed, inflation was reaching its final stages: the 100-franc assignat was worth 15 sous, and prices rose hourly. In four months the issue of paper money doubled to reach 39 billions. Paper was printed each night for the following day. On 30 Pluviose, year IV (19 February, 1796), assignats were discontinued. The government resolved to return once more to specie. The result was to squander most of the remaining national property for the benefit of the speculators.129

The winter had been frightful, the more so since the peasants no longer fulfilled requisitions and markets remained deserted. In the countryside the brigandage spread to such extent that even mobile columns of the National Guard and threat of the death penalty were to no avail. In Paris many would have died of hunger if the Directory had not continued the distribution of food; as it was, in the Year IV more than 10,000 deaths were recorded in the department of Seine. Poverty produced endemic agitation from the Jacobins. This time they resorted to conspiracy, and the Thermidorian policies began all over again.130

It was against this background that Babeuf launched his Conspiracy of the Equals (Conjuration des Égaux). Babeuf had, since 1789, been drawn to the Agrarian law, or sharing goods in common, as means of achieving economic equality. By the time of Robespierre's fall he had abandoned this as an impractical scheme and was moving towards a more complex plan of collective ownership and production. This, in essence, was still his ultimate aim when, in winter of 1795–96, he conspired with a group of former Jacobins, club-men and terrorists to overthrow the Directory by force. The movement was organised in a series of concentric sircles: there was an inner insurrectionary committee, composed of a small body of intimates who alone were fully informed of the conspiracy's aims; beyond it, a group of sympathizers, ex-Jacobins and others, including Robespierre's old opponents, Amar and Lindet; and finally, on the fringe, the Paris militants who had been won over, reckoned by Babeuf at some 17,000 men. The plan was original and grievance was rife, but the sans-culottes, cowed and silenced since Prairial, failed to respond.131

The conspirators were betrayed by a police spy to Carnot, now a Director and fast moving to the right. On the night of 23-24 Fructidor (9-10 September 1796) their partisans attempted to win over the soldiers of the camp of Grenelle. Carnot was aware of their plan and they were surprised by the cavalry. One hundred and thirty-one were arrested and thirty shot out of hand; the principal Babeuf associates were brought to trial; Babeuf and Darthé were guillotined a year later.132

Once more the pendulum swung to the right, this time supported by a massive influx of royalists into the Assembly.

18 Fructidor

When the Directory held its first elections in Germinal (March–April 1797) in order to find replacement for the first third of the deputies, including the so-called "perpetuals" members, the Directorials were crushed in all but a dozen departments. Only eleven former deputies from the Convention were reelected, several of whom were royalists.133 Republican majority maintained by the Two-Thirds law disappeared. Royalists took control of the assemblies, General Pichegru presided over the Five Hundred and Barbé-Marbois over the Ancients. They voted for the abolition of the law of 3 Brumaire Year IV repressing refractory priests; emigres had started to return, taking advantage of being struck off the lists which made them liable to the death penalty under Convention's laws.134

Meanwhile emboldened by Directorial passivity the Right resolved to emasculate it by depriving it of all its financial powers. The conflict between the Directory and the Councils entered a crucial phase when majority of the directors made their mind and abandoned their stance of watchful caution. Number of resolute appointments were made including Hoche to War Ministry. It was especially revealing since for ten days the Sambre-et-Meuse Army under Hoche's command had been marching on Paris.135

In the absence of any provisions in the Constitution of the Year III on the matter of such a conflict, it could be resolved in one of two ways: either by having recourse to the people along the lines of Year II, or else by calling on the army. By its very nature the regime opposed to the former. Bonaparte and Hoche were sounded out and agreed to undertake the task. The Councils realized the danger and attempted to form crack companies of the National Guard from the Paris rich neighborhoods. Bonaparte dispatched Augereau to take command of the Directory's forces.

On 18 Fructidor Year V (4 September 1797), Paris was placed under a military occupation. There was no resistance, and a decree stated that all those who wished to bring about the reestablishment of the monarchy would be shot on the spot. The elections were annulled in 49 departments, 177 deputies were removed and 65 were sentenced to "dry guillotine" — deportation to Guiana, 42 newspapers were suppressed and repressive measures against emigres and priests were re-implemented.136

The End of Republic (1797–1799)

18 Fructidor marked a break in the history of the regime established by the Thermidorians; it put an end to the constitutional and relatively liberal experiment. The Second Directory, as it has come to be called, resorted to extraordinary repressive measures and reduced its opponents to silence. If the dictatorship of the Directory maintained itself by terrorist methods, these were never as extensive as those of 1793, because the threat from abroad was not as acute and civil war was tamed. With the establishment of Continental peace, it was able to devote more attention to administration, but did not succeed in winning public approval.137

18 Brumaire Year VIII
Napoléon Bonaparte in the coup d'état of 18 Brumaire, which marked the end of the revolution.

It was in this atmosphere of alarm that the Brumairians, as they were named later, among them Sieyes, Fouche and Talleyrand, planned another, more decisive, coup d'ètat. Once more, as in Fructidor, the army must be called in to force the hand of the Assembly — but, this time, an Assembly with a Republican majority.138 What the plotters needed was a "sword". They approached number of generals. Bernadotte was not to be trusted; Augereau and Jourdan were eliminated because of their Jacobin leanings; Moreau was approached but declined and Joubert had been killed at Novi. At this moment the news came of Bonaparte's arrival in France.

From Frejus to Paris Bonaparte was acclaimed as a savior. At each stage of his journey the constituted authorities took pains to pay homage to him; fervent crowds greeted the general who would save France from invasion. Arriving in Paris on 16 October 1799, he was immediately approached from all quarters.139 The Brumairians turned to the man of the hour who was well suited by his popularity, his military record, his ambition and his Jacobin past to play the part assigned to him.138

By playing on the fears of a "terrorist" plot, they persuaded the Councils to meet on 10 November 1799 outside Paris at Saint-Cloud under the protection of Napoleon's grenadiers. The Elders were soon won over, but Five Hundred were less easy to persuade and, when Bonaparte entered uninvited to address them, there were shouts of "Outlaw him! Down with the dictator!" The general lost his nerve, but his brother Lucien saved the situation by calling in the guards. 140

The Five Hundred were driven from their Chamber, the Directory was dissolved, and full authority was vested in a provisional Consulate of three — Sieyes, Roger-Ducos and Bonaparte. Power was for the taking: on the evening of 19 Brumaire the rumors which came from Saint-Cloud did not surprise Paris. The military reverses which had only belatedly been stemmed, the economic crisis, the return of civil war — all these represented failure. Bonaparte would set about to reverse all of it. It would fall to Bonaparte to "terminate the Revolution", to heal the nation.141 What was not generally realized at the time that it was the end of the Republic and that the power passed into the hands of a military dictator.142

Symbolism in the French Revolution

In order to effectively illustrate the differences between the new Republic and the old regime, the leaders needed to implement a new set of symbols to be celebrated instead of the old religious and monarchical symbolism. To this end, symbols were borrowed from historic cultures and redefined, while those of the old regime were either destroyed or reattributed acceptable characteristics. These revised symbols were used to instill in the public a new sense of tradition and reverence for the Enlightenment and the Republic.143

The guillotine as a symbol

The guillotine became the symbol of a string of executions. Louis XVI had already been guillotined before the start of the terror; Queen Marie Antoinette, Barnave, Bailly, Brissot and other leading Girondins, Philippe Égalité (despite his vote for the death of the King) Madame Roland and many others were executed by guillotine. The Revolutionary Tribunal summarily condemned thousands of people to death by the guillotine, while mobs beat other victims to death.

The Festival of the Supreme Being on 8 June 1794.

At the peak of the terror, the slightest hint of counter-revolutionary thoughts or activities (or, as in the case of Jacques Hébert, revolutionary zeal exceeding that of those in power) could place one under suspicion, and trials did not always proceed according to contemporary standards of due process. Sometimes people died for their political opinions or actions, but many for little reason beyond mere suspicion, or because some others had a stake in getting rid of them. Most of the victims received an unceremonious trip to the guillotine in an open wooden cart (the tumbrel). In the rebellious provinces, the government representatives had unlimited authority and some engaged in extreme repressions and abuses. For example, Jean-Baptiste Carrier became notorious for the Noyades ("drownings") he organized in Nantes;144 his conduct was judged unacceptable even by the Jacobin government and he was recalled.145

Another anti-clerical uprising was made possible by the installment of the Republican Calendar on 24 October 1793. Against Robespierre's concepts of Deism and Virtue, Hébert's (and Chaumette's) atheist movement initiated a religious campaign to dechristianize society. The climax was reached with the celebration of the flame of Reason in Notre Dame Cathedral on 10 November.146

The Reign of Terror ultimately weakened the revolutionary government, while temporarily ending internal opposition. The Jacobins expanded the size of the army, and Carnot replaced many aristocratic officers with soldiers who had demonstrated their patriotism, if not their ability. The Republican army repulsed the Austrians, Prussians, British, and Spanish. At the end of 1793, the army began to prevail and revolts were defeated with ease. The Ventôse Decrees (February–March 1794) proposed the confiscation of the goods of exiles and opponents of the Revolution, and their redistribution to the needy. However this policy was never fully implemented.147

In the spring of 1794, both extremist enragés such as Hébert and moderate Montagnard indulgents such as Danton were charged with counter-revolutionary activities, tried and guillotined. On 7 June Robespierre, who had previously condemned the Cult of Reason, advocated a new state religion and recommended the Convention acknowledge the existence of the "Supreme Being".148

Three approaches attempt to explain the Reign of Terror imposed by the Jacobins in 1793-94. The older Marxist interpretation arguing the Terror was a necessary response to outside threats (in terms of other countries going to war with France) and internal threats (of traitors inside France threatening to frustrate the Revolution.) In this interpretation, as expressed by the Marxist historian Albert Soboul, Robespierre and the sans-culottes were heroes for defending the revolution from its enemies. François Furet has argued that foreign threats had little to do with the terror.149 Instead, the extreme violence was an inherent part of the intense ideological commitment of the revolutionaries – their utopian goals required exterminating opposition. Soboul's Marxist interpretation has been largely abandoned by most historians since the 1990s. Hanson (2009) takes a middle position, recognizing the importance of the foreign enemies, and sees the terror as a contingency that was caused by the interaction of a series of complex events and the foreign threat. Hanson says the terror was not inherent in the ideology of the Revolution, but that circumstances made it necessary.150


The unofficial but common National Emblem of France is backed by a fasces, representing justice.

Fasces, like many other symbols of the French Revolution, are Roman in origin. Fasces are a bundle of birch rods containing an axe. In Roman times, the fasces symbolized the power of magistrates who could order the beating of a criminal, representing union and accord with the Roman Republic.143 The French Republic continued this Roman symbol to represent state power, justice, and unity.143

During the Revolution, the fasces image was often used in conjunction with many other symbols. Though seen throughout the French Revolution, perhaps the most well known French reincarnation of the fasces is the Fasces surmounted by a Phrygian cap. This image has no display of an axe or a strong central state; rather, it symbolizes the power of the liberated people by placing the Liberty Cap on top of the classical symbol of power.143

Liberty cap

Early depiction of the tricolour in the hands of a sans-culotte during the French Revolution.

The Liberty cap, also known as the Phrygian cap, or pileus, is a brimless, felt cap that is conical in shape with the tip pulled forward. The cap was originally worn by ancient Romans and Greeks.151 The cap implies ennobling effects, as seen in its association with Homer’s Ulysses and the mythical twins, Castor and Pollux. The emblem’s popularity during the French Revolution is due in part to its importance in ancient Rome: its use alludes to the Roman ritual of manumission of slaves, in which a freed slave receives the bonnet as a symbol of his newfound liberty. The Roman tribune Lucius Appuleius Saturninus incited the slaves to insurrection by displaying a pileus as if it were a standard.152

The pileus cap is often red in color. This type of cap was worn by revolutionaries at the fall of the Bastille. According to the Revolutions de Paris, it became "the symbol of the liberation from all servitudes, the sign for unification of all the enemies of despotism."143 The pileus competed with the Phrygian cap, a similar cap that covered the ears and the nape of the neck, for popularity. The Phrygian cap eventually supplanted the pileus and usurped its symbolism, becoming synonymous with republican liberty.143

Liberty Tree

The Liberty Tree, officially adopted in 1792, is a symbol of the everlasting Republic, national freedom, and political revolution.143 It has historic roots in revolutionary France as well as America, as a symbol that was shared by the two nascent republics.153 The tree was chosen as a symbol of the French Revolution because it symbolizes fertility in French folklore,154 which provided a simple transition from revering it for one reason to another. The American colonies also used the idea of a Liberty Tree to celebrate their own acts of insurrection against the British, starting with the Stamp Act riot in 1765.155

The riot culminated in the hanging in effigy of two Stamp Act politicians on a large elm tree. The elm tree began to be celebrated as a symbol of Liberty in the American colonies.155 It was adopted as a symbol that needed to be living and growing, along with the Republic. To that end, the tree is portrayed as a sapling, usually of an oak tree in French interpretation.156 The Liberty Tree serves as a constant celebration of the spirit of political freedom.


The symbol of Hercules was first adopted by the Old Regime to represent the monarchy.157 Hercules was an ancient Greek hero who symbolized strength and power. The symbol was used to represent the sovereign authority of the King over France during the reign of the Bourbon monarchs.158 However, the monarchy was not the only ruling power in French history to use the symbol of Hercules to declare its power.

During the Revolution, the symbol of Hercules was revived to represent nascent revolutionary ideals. The first use of Hercules as a revolutionary symbol was during a festival celebrating the National Assembly’s victory over federalism on 10 August 1793.159 "Federalism" was a movement to weaken the central government.160 This Festival of Unity consisted of four stations around Paris which featured symbols representing major events of the Revolution which embodied revolutionary ideals of liberty, unity, and power.161

The statue of Hercules, placed at the station commemorating the fall of Louis XVI, symbolized the power of the French people over their former oppressors. The statue’s foot was placed on the throat of the Hydra, which represented the tyranny of federalism which the new Republic had vanquished.159 In one hand, the statue grasped a club, a symbol of power, while in the other grasping the fasces which symbolized the unity of the French people.162 The image of Hercules assisted the new Republic in establishing its new Republican moral system.161 Hercules thus evolved from a symbol of the sovereignty of the monarch into a symbol of the new sovereign authority in France: the French people.163

This transition was made easily for two reasons. First, because Hercules was a famous mythological figure, and had previously been used by the monarchy, he was easily recognized by educated French observers.158 It was not necessary for the revolutionary government to educate the French people on the background of the symbol. Additionally, Hercules recalled the classical age of the Greeks and the Romans, a period which the revolutionaries identified with republican and democratic ideals. These connotations made Hercules an easy choice to represent the powerful new sovereign people of France.

During the more radical phase of the Revolution from 1793 to 1794, the usage and depiction of Hercules changed. These changes to the symbol were due to revolutionary leaders believing the symbol was inciting violence among the common citizens.164 The triumphant battles of Hercules and the overcoming of enemies of the Republic became less prominent. In discussions over what symbol to use for the Seal of the Republic, the image of Hercules was considered but eventually ruled out in favor of Marianne.164

Hercules was on the coin of the Republic.164 However, this Hercules was not the same image as that of the pre-Terror phases of the Revolution. The new image of Hercules was more domesticated. He appeared more paternal, older, and wiser, rather than the warrior-like images in the early stages of the French Revolution.164 Unlike his 24 foot statue in the Festival of the Supreme Being, he was now the same size as Liberty and Equality.164

Also the language on the coin with Hercules was far different than the rhetoric of pre-revolutionary depictions. On the coins the words, "uniting Liberty and Equality" were used.164 This is opposed to the forceful language of early Revolutionary rhetoric and rhetoric of the Bourbon monarchy. By 1798, the Council of Ancients had discussed the "inevitable" change from the problematic image of Hercules, and Hercules was eventually phased out in favor of an even more docile image.164

Role of women

Club of patriotic women in a church

Women had no political rights in pre-Revolutionary France; they could not vote or hold any political office. They were considered "passive" citizens; forced to rely on men to determine what was best for them in the government. It was the men who defined these categories, and women were forced to accept male domination in the political sphere.165

Women were taught to be committed to their husbands and "all his interests… [to show] attention and care… [and] sincere and discreet zeal for his salvation." A woman’s education often consisted of learning to be a good wife and mother; as a result women were not supposed to be involved in the political sphere, as the limit of their influence was the raising of future citizens.166 The subservient role of women prior to the revolution was perhaps best exemplified by the Frederican Code, published in 1750 and attacked by Enlightenment philosophers and publications.167

The highly influential Encyclopédie in the 1750s set the tone of the Enlightenment, and its ideas exerted influence on the subsequent Revolution in France. Writing a number of articles on women in society, Louis de Jaucourt criticized traditional roles for women, arguing that "it would be difficult to demonstrate that the husband's rule comes from nature, inasmuch as this principle is contrary to natural human equality... a man does not invariably have more strength of body, of wisdom, of mind or of conduct than a woman... The example of England and Russia shows clearly that women can succeed equally in both moderate and despotic government..."167

When the Revolution opened, some women struck forcefully, using the volatile political climate to assert their active natures. In the time of the Revolution, women could not be kept out of the political sphere. They swore oaths of loyalty, "solemn declarations of patriotic allegiance, [and] affirmations of the political responsibilities of citizenship." De Corday d'Armont is a prime example of such a woman; engaged in the revolutionary political faction of the Girondists, she assassinated the Jacobin leader, Marat. Throughout the Revolution, other women such as Pauline Léon and her Society of Revolutionary Republican Women supported the radical Jacobins, staged demonstrations in the National Assembly and participated in the riots, often using armed force.168

Even before Léon, some liberals had advocated equal rights for women including women's suffrage. Nicolas de Condorcet was especially noted for his advocacy, in his articles published in the Journal de la Société de 1789, and by publishing De l'admission des femmes au droit de cité ("For the Admission to the Rights of Citizenship For Women") in 1790.

Feminist agitation

The March to Versailles is but one example of feminist militant activism during the French Revolution. While largely left out of the thrust for increasing rights of citizens, as the question was left indeterminate in the Declaration of the Rights of Man,169 activists such as Pauline Léon and Théroigne de Méricourt agitated for full citizenship for women.170 Women were, nonetheless, "denied political rights of ‘active citizenship’ (1791) and democratic citizenship (1793)."169

Pauline Léon, on 6 March 1792, submitted a petition signed by 319 women to the National Assembly requesting permission to form a garde national in order to defend Paris in case of military invasion.170 Léon requested permission be granted to women to arm themselves with pikes, pistols, sabers and rifles, as well as the privilege of drilling under the French Guards. Her request was denied.171 Later in 1792, Théroigne de Méricourt made a call for the creation of "legions of amazons" in order to protect the revolution. As part of her call, she claimed that the right to bear arm would transform women into citizens.172

On 20 June 1792 a number of armed women took part in a procession that "passed through the halls of the Legislative Assembly, into the Tuilleries Gardens, and then through the King’s residence."173 Militant women also assumed a special role in the funeral of Marat, following his murder on 13 July 1793. As part of the funeral procession, they carried the bathtub in which Marat had been murdered as well as a shirt stained with Marat’s blood.174

The most radical militant feminist activism was practiced by the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women, which was founded by Léon and her colleague, Claire Lacombe on 10 May 1793.175 The goal of the club was "to deliberate on the means of frustrating the projects of the enemies of the Republic." Up to 180 women attended the meetings of the Society.176 Of special interest to the Society was "combating hoarding [of grain and other staples] and inflation."177

Later, on 20 May 1793, women were at the fore of a crowd that demanded "bread and the Constitution of 1793." When their cries went unnoticed, the women went on a rampage, "sacking shops, seizing grain and kidnapping officials."178

Most of these outwardly activist women were punished for their actions. The kind of punishment received during the Revolution included public denouncement, arrest, execution, or exile. Théroigne de Méricourt was arrested, publicly flogged and then spent the rest of her life sentenced to an insane asylum. Pauline Léon and Claire Lacombe were arrested, later released, and continued to receive ridicule and abuse for their activism. Many of the women of the Revolution were even publicly executed for "conspiring against the unity and the indivisibility of the Republic".179

Women writers

While some women chose a militant, and often violent, path, others chose to influence events through writing, publications, and meetings. Olympe de Gouges wrote a number of plays, short stories, and novels. Her publications emphasized that women and men are different, but this shouldn’t stop them from equality under the law. In her "Declaration on the Rights of Woman" she insisted that women deserved rights, especially in areas concerning them directly, such as divorce and recognition of illegitimate children.180

De Gouges also expressed non-gender political views; even before the start of the terror, Olympe de Gouges addressed Robespierre using the pseudonym "Polyme" calling him the Revolution’s "infamy and shame." She warned of the Revolution’s building extremism saying that leaders were "preparing new shackles if [the French people’s liberty were to] waver." Stating that she was willing to sacrifice herself by jumping into the Seine if Robespierre were to join her, de Gouges desperately attempted to grab the attention of the French citizenry and alert them to the dangers that Robespierre embodied.180 In addition to these bold writings, her defense of the king was one of the factors leading to her execution. An influential figure, one of her suggestions early in the Revolution, to have a voluntary, patriotic tax, was adopted by the National Convention in 1789.181

Madame Roland (aka Manon or Marie Roland) was another important female activist. Her political focus was not specifically on women or their liberation. She focused on other aspects of the government, but was a feminist by virtue of the fact that she was a woman working to influence the world. Her personal letters to leaders of the Revolution influenced policy; in addition, she often hosted political gatherings of the Brissotins, a political group which allowed women to join.182

While limited by her gender, Madame Roland took it upon herself to spread Revolutionary ideology and spread word of events, as well as to assist in formulating the policies of her political allies. Unable to directly write policies or carry them through to the government, Roland influenced her political allies and thus promote her political agenda. Roland attributed women’s lack of education to the public view that women were too weak or vain to be involved in the serious business of politics. She believed that it was this inferior education that turned them into foolish people, but women "could easily be concentrated and solidified upon objects of great significance" if given the chance.182

As she was led to the scaffold, Madame Roland shouted "O liberty! What crimes are committed in thy name!" Witnesses of her life and death, editors, and readers helped to finish her writings and several editions were published posthumously. While she did not focus on gender politics in her writings, by taking an active role in the tumultuous time of the Revolution, Roland took a stand for women of the time and proved they could take an intelligent active role in politics.183

Though women did not gain the right to vote as a result of the Revolution, they still greatly expanded their political participation and involvement in governing. They set precedents for generations of feminists to come.

Counter-revolutionary women

A major aspect of the French Revolution was the dechristianisation movement, a movement that many common people did not agree with. Especially for women living in rural areas of France, the demise of the Catholic Church meant a loss of normalcy. For instance, the ringing of Church bells resonating through the town called people to confession and was a symbol of unity for the community.184 With the onset of the dechristianisation campaign the Republic silenced these bells and sought simultaneously to silence the religious fervor of the majority Catholic population.184

When these revolutionary changes to the Church were implemented, it spawned a counter-revolutionary movement, particularly amongst women. Although some of these women embraced the political and social amendments of the Revolution, they opposed the dissolution of the Catholic Church and the formation of revolutionary cults like the Cult of the Supreme Being advocated by Robespierre.185 As Olwen Hufton argues, these women began to see themselves as the “defenders of faith”.186 They took it upon themselves to protect the Church from what they saw as a heretical change to their faith, enforced by revolutionaries.

Counter-revolutionary women resisted what they saw as the intrusion of the state into their lives.187 Economically, many peasant women refused to sell their goods for assignats because this form of currency was unstable and was backed by the sale of confiscated Church property.186 By far the most important issue to counter-revolutionary women was the passage and the enforcement of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy in 1790. In response to this measure, women in many areas began circulating anti-oath pamphlets and refused to attend masses held by priests who had sworn oaths of loyalty to the Republic.187 This diminished the social and political influence of the juring priests because they presided over smaller congregations and counter-revolutionary women did not seek them for baptisms, marriages or confession.188 Instead, they secretly hid nonjuring priests and attended clandestine traditional masses.189 These women continued to adhere to traditional practices such as Christian burials and naming their children after saints in spite of revolutionary decrees to the contrary.190

It was this determined resistance to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and the dechristianisation campaigns that played a major role in the re-emergence of the Catholic Church as a prominent social institution. In fact, Olwen Hufton notes about the Counter-Revolutionary women: “for it is her commitment to her religion which determines in the post-Thermidorean period the re-emergence of the Catholic Church…”.191 Although they struggled, these women were eventually vindicated in their bid to reestablish the Church and thereby also to reestablish traditional family life and social stability.192 This was seen in the Concordat of 1801, which formally reinstated the Catholic Church in France.193 This act came after years of attempts at dechristianisation or state-controlled religion, which were thwarted in part due to the resistance of religiously devout counter-revolutionary women. After the upheaval of the revolutionary period, the reestablishment of the Church was seen by many people as a welcome return to normalcy.citation needed

Economic policies

Early Assignat of 29 Sept, 1790: 500 livres
The value of Assignats (1789-1796)

The French Revolution abolished many of the constraints on the economy that had slowed growth during the ancien regime. It abolished tithes owed to local churches as well as feudal dues owed to local landlords. The result hurt the tenants, who paid both higher rents and higher taxes.194 It nationalized all church lands, as well as lands belonging to royalist enemies who went into exile. It planned to use these seized lands to finance the government by issuing assignats. It abolished the guild system as a worthless remnant of feudalism.195 It also abolished the highly inefficient system of tax farming, whereby private individuals would collect taxes for a hefty fee. The government seized the foundations that had been set up (starting in the 13th century) to provide an annual stream of revenue for hospitals, poor relief, and education. The state sold the lands but typically local authorities did not replace the funding and so most of the nation's charitable and school systems were massively disrupted.196

The economy did poorly in 1790-96 as industrial and agricultural output dropped, foreign trade plunged, and prices soared. The government decided not to repudiate the old debts. Instead it issued more and more paper money (called "assignat") that supposedly were grounded seized lands. The result was escalating inflation. The government imposed price controls and persecuted speculators and traders in the black market. People increasingly refused to pay taxes as the annual government deficit increased from 10% of gross national product in 1789 to 64% in 1793. By 1795, after the bad harvest of 1794 and the removal of price controls, inflation had reached a level of 3500%. The assignats were withdrawn in 1796 but the replacements also fueled inflation. The inflation was finally ended by Napoleon in 1803 with the franc as the new currency.197

Napoleon after 1799 paid for his expensive wars by multiple means, starting with the modernization of the rickety financial system.198 He conscripted soldiers at low wages, raised taxes, placed large-scale loans, sold lands formerly owned by the Catholic Church, sold Louisiana to the United States, plundered conquered areas and seized food supplies, and levied requisitions on countries he controlled, such as Italy.199

Long-term impact

The French Revolution had a major impact on Europe and the New World.200201 Historian François Aulard writes:

From the social point of view, the Revolution consisted in the suppression of what was called the feudal system, in the emancipation of the individual, in greater division of landed property, the abolition of the privileges of noble birth, the establishment of equality, the simplification of life... The French Revolution differed from other revolutions in being not merely national, for it aimed at benefiting all humanity."202

Otto Dann and John Dinwiddy report, "It has long been almost a truism of European history that the French Revolution gave a great stimulus to the growth of modern nationalism."203 Nationalism was emphasized by historian Carlton J. H. Hayes as a major result of the French Revolution across Europe. The impact on French nationalism was profound. For example, Napoleon became such a heroic symbol of the nation that the glory was easily picked up by his nephew, who was overwhelmingly elected president (and later became Emperor Napoleon III).204 The influence was great in the hundreds of small German states and elsewhere, where it was either inspired by the French example or in reaction against it.205206


The changes in France were enormous; some were widely accepted and others were bitterly contested into the late 20th century.207 Before the Revolution, the people had little power or voice. The kings had so thoroughly centralized the system that most nobles spent their time at Versailles, and thus played only a small direct role in their home districts. Thompson says that the kings had:

ruled by virtue of their personal wealth, their patronage of the nobility, their disposal of ecclesiastical offices, their provincial governors (intendants) their control over the judges and magistrates, and their command of the Army.208

After the first year of revolution, this power had been stripped away. The king was a figurehead, the nobility had lost all their titles and most of their land, the Church lost its monasteries and farmlands, bishops, judges and magistrates were elected by the people, the army was almost helpless, with military power in the hands of the new revolutionary National Guard. The central elements of 1789 were the slogan "Liberty Equality ,and Fraternity' and the "The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen", which Lefebvre calls, "the incarnation of the Revolution as a whole."209

The long term impact on France was profound, shaping politics, society, religion and ideas, and polarizing politics for more than a century. Historian François Aulard writes:

From the social point of view, the Revolution consisted in the suppression of what was called the feudal system, in the emancipation of the individual, in greater division of landed property, the abolition of the privileges of noble birth, the establishment of equality, the simplification of life.... The French Revolution differed from other revolutions in being not merely national, for it aimed at benefiting all humanity."202

Religion and charity

The most heated controversy was over the status of the Catholic Church.210 From a dominant position in 1788, it was almost destroyed in less than a decade, its priests and nuns turned out, its leaders dead or in exile, its property controlled by its enemies, and a strong effort underway to remove all influence of Christian religiosity, such as Sundays, hold days, saints, prayers, rituals and ceremonies. The movement to dechristianize France not only failed but aroused a furious reaction among the pious.211212 Napoleon found a compromise that restored some of the Catholic Church's traditional roles but not its power, its lands or its monasteries. Priests and bishops were given salaries as part of a department of government controlled by Paris, not Rome. Protestants and Jews gained equal rights.213 Battles over religion, and closely related issues such as church-controlled schools, raged into the 20th century. By the 21st century angry debates exploded over the presence of any Muslim religious symbols in schools, such as the headscarves for which Muslim girls could be expelled.214

The revolutionary government seized the charitable foundations that had been set up (starting in the 13th century) to provide an annual stream of revenue for hospitals, poor relief, and education. The state sold the lands but typically local authorities did not replace the funding and so most of the nation's charitable and school systems were massively disrupted.196

In the ancien regime new opportunity for nuns as charitable practitioners were created by devout nobles on their own estates. The nuns provided comprehensive care for the sick poor on their patrons' estates, acting not only as nurses, but took on expanded roles as physicians, surgeons, and apothecaries. During the Revolution, most of the orders of nuns were shut down and there was no organized nursing care to replace them.215 However the demand for their nursing services remained strong, and after 1800 the sisters reappeared and resumed their work in hospitals and on rural estates. They were tolerated by officials because they had widespread support and were the link between elite male physicians and distrustful peasants who needed help.216


Two thirds of France was employed in agriculture, which was transformed by the Revolution. With the breakup of large estates controlled by the Church and the nobility and worked by hired hands, rural France became more a land of small independent farms. Harvest taxes were ended, such as the tithe and seigneurial dues, much to the relief of the peasants. Primogeniture was ended both for nobles and peasants, thereby weakening the family patriarch. Because all the children had a share in the family's property, there was a declining birth rate.217218 Cobban says the revolution bequeathed to the nation "a ruling class of landowners."219

In the cities entrepreneurship on a small scale flourished, as restrictive monopolies, privileges, barriers, rules, taxes and guilds gave way. However the British blockade virtually ended overseas and colonial trade, hurting the port cities and their supply chains. Overall the Revolution did not greatly change the French business system, and probably helped freeze in place the horizons of the small business owner. The typical businessman owned a small store, mill or shop, with family help and a few paid employees; large scale industry was less common than in other industrializing nations.220


The Revolution meant an end to arbitrary royal rule, and held out the promise of rule by law under a constitutional order, but it did not rule out a monarch. Napoleon as emperor set up a constitutional system (although he remained in full control), and the restored Bourbons were forced to go along with one. After the abdication of Napoleon III in 1871, the monarchists probably had a voting majority, but they were so factionalized they could not agree on who should be king, and instead the French Third Republic was launched with a deep commitment to upholding the ideals of the Revolution.221222 The conservative Catholic enemies of the Revolution came to power in Vichy France (1940–44), and tried with little success to undo its heritage, but they kept it a republic. Vichy denied the principle of equality and tried to replace the Revolutionary watchwords "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" with "Work, Family, and Fatherland." However there were no efforts by the Bourbons, Vichy or anyone else to restore the privileges that had been stripped away from the nobility in 1789. France permanently became a society of equals under the law.223


The Jacobin cause was picked up by Marxists in the mid-19th century, and became an element of Communist thought around the world, especially in the Soviet Union. "Gracchus" Babeuf, became a special hero.224



Britain saw minority support but the majority, and especially the elite, strongly opposed the French Revolution. Britain led and funded the series of coalitions that fought France from 1793 to 1815, and then restored the Bourbons. Edmund Burke was the chief spokesman for the opposition.225226

In Ireland, the effect was to transform what had been an attempt by Protestant settlers to gain some autonomy into a mass movement led by the Society of United Irishmen involving Catholics and Protestants. It stimulated the demand for further reform throughout Ireland, especially in Ulster. The upshot was a revolt in 1798, led by Wolfe Tone, that was crushed by Britain.227


German reaction to the Revolution swung from favorable to antagonistic. At first it brought liberal and democratic ideas, the end of gilds, serfdom and the Jewish ghetto. It brought economic freedoms and agrarian and legal reform. Above all the antagonism helped stimulate and shape German nationalism.228


The French invaded Switzerland and turned it into an ally known as the "Helvetic Republic," (1798–1803). The interference with localism and traditional liberties was deeply resented, although some modernizing reforms took place.229230 Resistance was strongest in the more traditional Catholic bastions, with armed uprisings braking out in spring 1798 in the central part of Switzerland. The French Army suppressed the uprisings but support for revolutionary ideals steadily declined, as the Swiss resented their loss of local democracy, the new taxes, the centralization, and the hostility to religion. There was little long-term impact.231


The French invaded and controlled Belgium, 1794-1814, imposing all their new reforms and incorporating what had been the "Austrian Netherlands" and the Diocese of Liege into France. New rulers were sent in by Paris. Belgian men were drafted into the French wars and heavily taxed. Nearly everyone was Catholic, but the Church was repressed. Resistance was strong in every sector, as Belgian nationalism emerged to oppose French rule. The French legal system, however, was adopted, with its equal legal rights, and abolition of class distinctions. Belgium now had a government bureaucracy selected by merit.232

Antwerp regained access to the sea and grew quickly as a major port and business center. France promoted commerce and capitalism, paving the way for the ascent of the bourgeoisie and the rapid growth of manufacturing and mining. In economics, therefore, the nobility declined while the middle class Belgian entrepreneurs flourished because of their inclusion in a large market, paving the way for Belgium's leadership role after 1815 in the Industrial Revolution on the Continent.233234


The Kingdom of Denmark adopted liberalizing reforms in line with those of the French Revolution, with no direct contact. Danes were aware of French ideas and agreed with them, as it moved from Danish absolutism to a liberal constitutional system between 1750-1850. The change of government in 1784 was caused by a power vacuum created when King Christian VII took ill, and power shifted to crown prince (who later became King Frederik VI) and reform-oriented landowners. In contrast to Old Regime France, agricultural reform was intensified in Denmark, serfdom was abolished and civil rights were extended to the peasants, the finances of the Danish state were healthy, and there were no external or internal crises. That is, reform was gradual and the regime itself carried out agrarian reforms that had the effect of weakening absolutism by creating a class of independent peasant freeholders. Much of the initiative came from well-organized liberals who directed political change in the first half of the 19th century.235

United States

The Americans did not adopt any of the reforms of the French Revolution since few applied to the new republic. However, the Revolution deeply polarized American politics.236 Despite official neutrality, Americans were deeply involved and their polarization shaped the First Party System. In 1793, the first Democratic-Republican Societies were formed. They supported the French Revolution in the wake of the execution of the king. The word "democrat" was proposed by French Ambassador Citizen Genet for the societies, and the Federalists led by Alexander Hamilton ridiculed the friends of Thomas Jefferson as "democrats." Genet began mobilizing American voters using French money, and for that he was expelled.237 After President Washington denounced the societies as unrepublican, they faded away. In 1793, as war broke out in Europe, the Jeffersonian Republican Party favored France and pointed to the 1778 treaty that was still in effect. Washington and his unanimous cabinet (including Jefferson) decided the treaty did not bind the U.S. to enter the war; instead Washington proclaimed neutrality.238 Under President Adams, a Federalist, an undeclared naval war took place with France in 1798-99, called the "Quasi War". Jefferson became president in 1801, but was hostile to Napoleon as a dictator and emperor. Nevertheless, he did seize the opportunity to purchase Louisiana in 1803.239


The French Revolution has received enormous amounts of historical attention, both from the general public and from scholars and academics. The views of historians, in particular, have been characterized as falling along ideological lines, with disagreement over the significance and the major developments of the Revolution.240 Alexis de Tocqueville argued that the Revolution was a manifestation of a more prosperous middle class becoming conscious of its social importance.241

Other thinkers, like the conservative Edmund Burke, maintained that the Revolution was the product of a few conspiratorial individuals who brainwashed the masses into subverting the old order—a claim rooted in the belief that the revolutionaries had no legitimate complaints.242 Other historians, influenced by Marxist thinking, have emphasized the importance of the peasants and the urban workers in presenting the Revolution as a gigantic class struggle.243 In general, scholarship on the French Revolution initially studied the political ideas and developments of the era, but it has gradually shifted towards social history that analyzes the impact of the Revolution on individual lives.244

Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in history. It marks the end of the early modern period, which started around 1500 and is often seen as marking the "dawn of the modern era".245 Within France itself, the Revolution permanently crippled the power of the aristocracy and drained the wealth of the Church, although the two institutions survived despite the damage they sustained. After the collapse of the First Empire in 1815, the French public lost the rights and privileges earned since the Revolution, but they remembered the participatory politics that characterized the period, with one historian commenting: "Thousands of men and even many women gained firsthand experience in the political arena: they talked, read, and listened in new ways; they voted; they joined new organizations; and they marched for their political goals. Revolution became a tradition, and republicanism an enduring option."246

Some historians argue that the French people underwent a fundamental transformation in self-identity, evidenced by the elimination of privileges and their replacement by rights as well as the growing decline in social deference that highlighted the principle of equality throughout the Revolution.247 The Revolution represented the most significant and dramatic challenge to political absolutism up to that point in history and spread democratic ideals throughout Europe and ultimately the world.248 Throughout the 19th Century, the revolution was heavily analyzed by economists and political scientists, who saw the class nature of the revolution as a fundamental aspect in understanding human social evolution itself. This, combined with the egalitarian values introduced by the revolution, gave rise to a classless and co-operative model for society called "socialism" which profoundly influenced future revolutions in France and around the world.

See also

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Political clubs during the French Revolution


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Further reading

see also Historiography of the French Revolution

Surveys and reference

  • Aulard, François-Alphonse. The French Revolution, a Political History, 1789-1804 (4 vol. 1910); famous classic; volume 1 1789-1792 online; Volume 2 1792-95 online
  • Ballard, Richard. A New Dictionary of the French Revolution (2011) excerpt and text search
  • Bosher, J. F. The French Revolution (1989) 365pp
  • Davies, Peter. The French Revolution: A Beginner's Guide (2009), 192pp
  • Furet, François. The French Revolution, 1770–1814 (1996) excerpt and text search
  • Furet, François and Mona Ozouf, eds. A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution (1989), 1120pp; long essays by scholars; conservative perspective; stress on history of ideas excerpt and text search
  • Gershoy, Leo. The French Revolution and Napoleon (1945) 585pp
  • Gershoy, Leo. The Era of the French Revolution, 1789-1799 (1957), brief summary with some primary sources
  • Gottschalk, Louis R. The Era of the French Revolution (1929), cover 1780s to 1815
  • Hanson, Paul R. The A to Z of the French Revolution (2013)
    • Hanson, Paul R. Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution (2004)
  • Jones, Colin. The Longman Companion to the French Revolution (1989)
  • Jones, Colin. The Great Nation: France from Louis XV to Napoleon (2002) excerpt and text search
  • Lefebvre, Georges. The French Revolution: From its Origins to 1793 (1962), famous French classic excerpt and text search v 1
    • Lefebvre, Georges. French Revolution from 1793-1799 (1964)
  • McPhee, Peter, ed. (2012). A Companion to the French Revolution. Wiley. ISBN 9781118316412. 
  • Paxton, John. Companion to the French Revolution (1987), 234pp; hundreds of short entries.
  • Popkin, Jeremy D. A Short History of the French Revolution (5th ed. 2009) 176pp
  • Scott, Samuel F. and Barry Rothaus, eds. Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 1789–1799 (2 vol 1984), short essays by scholars vol 1 online; vol 2 online
  • Sutherland, D.M.G. France 1789–1815. Revolution and Counter-Revolution (2nd ed. 2003, 430pp excerpts and online search from
  • Thompson, J. M. The French Revolution (1943), British viewpoint

European and Atlantic History

  • Brinton, Crane. A Decade of Revolution 1789-1799 (1934) the Revolution in European context
  • Desan, Suzanne, et al. eds. The French Revolution in Global Perspective (2013)
  • Fremont-Barnes, Gregory. ed. The Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars: A Political, Social, and Military History (ABC-CLIO: 3 vol 2006)
  • Goodwin, A., ed. The New Cambridge Modern History, Vol. 8: The American and French Revolutions, 1763-93 (1965), 764pp
  • Palmer, Robert R. The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760–1800. (2 vol 1959), highly influential comparative history; vol 1 online
  • Rude, George F. and Harvey J. Kaye. Revolutionary Europe, 1783–1815 (2000), scholarly survey excerpt and text search

Politics and wars

  • Andress, David. The terror: Civil war in the French revolution (2006).
  • Baker, Keith M. ed. The French Revolution and the Creation of Modern Political Culture (Oxford, 1987–94) vol 1: The Political Culture of the Old Regime, ed. K.M. Baker (1987); vol. 2: The Political Culture of the French Revolution, ed. C. Lucas (1988); vol. 3: The Transformation of Political Culture, 1789–1848, eds. F. Furet & M. Ozouf (1989); vol. 4: The Terror, ed. K.M. Baker (1994). excerpt and text search vol 4
  • Blanning, T.C.W. The French Revolutionary Wars 1787–1802 (1996).
  • Desan, Suzanne. "Internationalizing the French Revolution," French Politics, Culture & Society (2011) 29#2 pp 137–160.
  • Doyle, William. Origins of the French Revolution (3rd ed. 1999) online edition
  • Englund, Steven. Napoleon: A Political Life. (2004). 575 pages; emphasis on politics excerpt and text search
  • Fremont-Barnes, Gregory. The French Revolutionary Wars (2013), 96pp; excerpt and text search
  • Griffith, Paddy. The Art of War of Revolutionary France 1789–1802, (1998); 304 pp; excerpt and text search
  • Rothenberg, Gunther E. (Spring 1988). "The Origins, Causes, and Extension of the Wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon". Journal of Interdisciplinary History 18 (4): 771–793. JSTOR 204824. 
  • Schroeder, Paul. The Transformation of European Politics, 1763–1848. 1996; Thorough coverage of diplomatic history; hostile to Napoleon; online edition

Economy and society

  • Anderson, James Maxwell. Daily life during the French Revolution (2007)
  • Andress, David. French Society in Revolution, 1789-1799 (1999)
  • Kennedy, Emmet. A Cultural History of the French Revolution (1989)
  • McPhee, Peter. "The French Revolution, Peasants, and Capitalism," American Historical Review (1989) 94#5 pp. 1265–1280 in JSTOR
  • Tackett, Timothy, "The French Revolution and religion to 1794," and Suzanne Desan, "The French Revolution and religion, 1795-1815," in Stewart J. Brown and Timothy Tackett, eds. The Cambridge History of Christianity vol. 7 (Cambridge UP, 2006).

Women and gender

  • Dalton, Susan (2001). "Gender and the Shifting Ground of Revolutionary Politics: The Case of Madame Roland" Canadian Journal of History. ISSN 0008-4107. 
  • Desan, S. “The Role of Women in Religious Riots during the French Revolution.” Eighteenth-Century Studies. Vol. 22, No. 3, Special Issue: The French Revolution in Culture (Spring, 1989), pp. 451–468.
  • Hufton, Olwen (1992). Women and the Limits of Citizenship in the French Revolution. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press. 
  • Hunt, Lynn. The Family Romance of the French Revolution. (1992)
  • Hufton, Olwen. “In Search of Counter-Revolutionary Women.” The French Revolution: Recent debates and New Controversies. Ed. Gary Kates. New York, NY. Routledge (1998).
  • Levy, Darline Gay and Harriet B. Applewhite. "Women and Militant Citizenship in Revolutionary Paris," in Rebel Daughters, ed. Sara e. Melzer and Leslie W. Rabine (New York: Oxford University Press 1992).
  • Marquise de Maintenon "Instruction to the Nuns of St. Louis," in Writings by Pre-Revolutionary French Women. ed. Anne R. Larsen and Colette H Winn. (New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 2000), 321.
  • Mousset, Sophie (2007). Women’s Rights and the French Revolution. Joy Poirel. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 0-7658-0345-3. 
  • Scott, Joan Wallach. "A Woman Who Has Only Paradoxes to Offer," in Rebel Daughters, ed. Sara e. Melzer and Leslie W. Rabine (New York: Oxford University Press 1992).
  • Walker, Leslie H. "Sweet and Consoling Virtue: The Memoirs of Madame Roland" Eighteenth-Century Studies, French Revolutionary Culture (2001): 403–419.
  • "Women." The Encyclopedia of Diderot and d’Alembert. University of Michigan Library, n.d. Web. 29 October 2009. <>.

Historiography and memory

  • Andress, David. "Interpreting the French Revolution," Teaching History (2013), Issue 150, pp 28–29, very short summary
  • Censer, Jack R. "Amalgamating the Social in the French Revolution." Journal of Social History 2003 37(1): 145–150. online
  • Desan, Suzanne. "What's after Political Culture? Recent French Revolutionary Historiography," French Historical Studies (2000) 23#1 pp 163–196.
  • Furet, François and Mona Ozouf, eds. A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution (1989), 1120pp; long essays by scholars; strong on history of ideas and historiography (esp pp 881–1034 excerpt and text search
  • Furet, François. Interpreting the French revolution (1981).
  • Germani, Ian, and Robin Swayles. Symbols, myths and images of the French Revolution. University of Regina Publications. 1998. ISBN 978-0-88977-108-6
  • Geyl, Pieter. Napoleon for and Against (1949), 477pp; summarizes views of major historians on controversial issues
  • Kafker, Frank A. and James M. Laux, eds. The French Revolution: Conflicting Interpretations (5th ed. 2002)
  • Kaplan, Steven Laurence. Farewell, Revolution: The Historians' Feud, France, 1789/1989 (1996), focus on historians excerpt and text search
  • Kaplan, Steven Laurence. Farewell, Revolution: Disputed Legacies, France, 1789/1989 (1995); focus on bitter debates re 200th anniversary excerpt and text search
  • Kates, Gary, ed. The French Revolution: Recent Debates and New Controversies (2nd ed. 2005) excerpt and text search
  • Lewis, Gwynne. The French Revolution: Rethinking the Debate (1993) online; 142 pages
  • McPhee, Peter, ed. (2012). A Companion to the French Revolution. Wiley. ; 540pp; 30 essays by experts; emphasis on historiography and memory
  • Reichardt, Rolf: The French Revolution as a European Media Event, European History Online, Mainz: Institute of European History, 2010, retrieved: December 17, 2012.

Primary sources

External links

Preceded by
The Old Regime
French Revolution
Succeeded by
French First Republic