French Revolution in 1789

  • The French Revolution opened a new chapter in the history of Europe and It marked a turning point in the history of humankind.
  • The French Revolution put an end to the age old absolute monarchy, feudal laws and social inequality.
  • It introduced for the first time the idea of republicanism based on “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”.
  • These ideas had influenced the entire continent of Europe and also the world.

Causes of the French Revolution

Political Causes

  • France was ruled by the Louis XVI (Bourbon dynasty) who was the most incompetent ruler and his queen, Marie Antoinette interfered too much into the administration.
  • She was against of of the French people. But she always favored and protected the interests of the French nobles.
  • She did not allow the financial reforms to take place. Because it affected the interests of the nobles and the clergy.

Social Causes

The French society was based on inequality and people were divided into three estate i.e the nobles, clergy and the common people.

1.First estate – Nobles

  • The nobles had no political power but remained loyal to the king.
  • They enjoyed many privileges and led a life of luxury and were exempted from taxation.

2.Second estate – Clergy

  • Again divided into Upper and Lower clergies.
  • The upper clergy owned one fifth of the lands in France and enjoyed several privileges.
  • Their number in France was around only five thousand.
  • They lived in palatial houses and were exempted from taxes.
  • But the lower clergy were denied all these privileges. Therefore, they turned against the higher clergy during the revolution.
  • Both the noble and the higher clergy led a life of ease and pleasure without bothering about the wretched condition of the masses.

3.Third estate – Common people

  • Traders, lawyers, owners of industries, government servants, peasants and workers were in this category.
  • While the nobles and the clergy were exempted from paying taxes, the masses paid all the taxes.
  • Hence it was said : “the nobles fight, the clergy pray and the people pay”.
  • The taille or land tax was entirely paid by the peasants.
  • The gabelle or salt tax was a burden on the common man.
  • The head of each family had to pay the capitation tax. Besides paying these taxes to the king, they have to pay tithe (tax) to the Church.

Economic Causes

  • The financial condition of France was very critical during the reign of Louis XVI.
  • The national debt had increased beyond the limit and the national income was less than national expenditure.
  • Hence, the king tried to mobilize national income by selling important offices of the government.
  • At last, the king appointed financial experts Turgot and Jacques Necker as Director-General of Finances.
  • They tried to curtail royal expenditure and improve the income to the government. But their measures did not receive the support of the nobles.

French Philosophers and their role


  • In his book, The Spirit of Laws advocated the constitutional form government.
  • He introduced the idea of separation of powers into executive, legislative and judiciary to ensure the effective functioning of democracy.


  • He launched a crusade against superstition and attacked traditional beliefs.
  • He wrote many essays, poems and dramas creating awareness among the masses.
  • He advocated the supremacy of reason. He stood for religious toleration.
  • He strongly condemned the corruptions in the church. He stood for a benevolent despotism.


  • He was the author of the famous book, Social Contract, which was considered the Bible of the French Revolution.
  • He said that the real sovereignty rests with the people.
  • His famous statement, “Man is born free and is everywhere in chains” kindled the revolutionary spirit of the masses.
  • Diderot and D’ Alembert published the Encyclopedia. It contained several essays and articles written by revolutionary thinkers.
  • The revolutionary ideas of these philosophers spread throughout France and created awareness among the masses.
  • The French intellectuals gave the motto “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” which became the watchwords of the revolution of 1789.

Events in French Revolution

National Assembly

  • Louis XVI did not actually want a written constitution and he sent troops against
  • When news of his plan to use military force against the National Assembly reached Paris on July 14, 1789, people stormed the Bastille.
  • After Bastille event, the National Assembly started legislating and it adopted the now document of French Revolution, called the Rights of Man and Citizen.
  • The titles of the nobles were abolished. Judiciary was remodeled.
  • The method of torture was abolished; Central and local courts were established. Judges were to be elected.
  • Forceful action was also taken against the church. The monasteries were suppressed.
  • Absolute religious toleration was proclaimed. The collection of tithes by the church was abolished.
  • After drafting the new constitution, the National Assembly dissolved itself in 1791.

Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen:

  • Freedom of religion, speech and press
  • All men are born free and equal
  • Equality before law.
  • All people were eligible to the public offices
  • Right to a fair trial

Tennis Court Oath

  • Third estate demanded a joint sitting and one vote for each member.
  • As the first and second Estates did not concede to this demand, there was a deadlock.
  • On 17th June 1789, the third Estate declared itself as the National Assembly. The king got alarmed and prevented them from entering the hall.
  • But, the members of the National Assembly went to a nearby Tennis Court and took an oath to frame a new constitution. This is known as Tennis Court Oath.
  • On June 23, 1789, Louis XVI relented. He ordered the three estates to meet together as the National Assembly and vote, by population, on a constitution for France.
  • The King was unwilling to use force and eventually ordered the first and second estates to join the new National Assembly. The third estate had won.

Formation of the Jacobin’s club

  • In 1793 Jacobian Club was led by Robespierre, a radical democrat.
  • On 21st jan 1793 Louis XVI was beheaded in Paris along with his wife Marie Antoinette.
  • Peasants were forced to sell their grain at the prices fixed by the government.
  • Churches were shut down and their buildings converted into barracks or offices.
  • Under the Jacobins, France descended into anarchy with little scope for the Rule of Law.
  • Many Jacobins were also executed. Soon the Jacobins themselves turned against Robespierre and the Reign of Terror came to an end with his execution via guillotine.
  • The Bourgeois again came to power and their government was called Directorate.

Results of the Revolution

  • The French Revolution of 1789 inaugurated a new era in the history of the mankind.
  • The ideas of “liberty, equality and fraternity” spread to other parts of the world.
  • At the same time it failed to establish a permanent Republic in France.
  • The French Revolution, after a violent turn led to the emergence of a great dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Napoleon Bonaparte

  • In 1799, Napoleon, brought France under military rule.
  • In 1804, he declared himself the Emperor of France.
  • He set out to conquer neighboring European countries, dispossessing dynasties and creating kingdoms. He saw his role as a modernizer of Europe.
  • He introduced protection of private properties and a uniform system of weights and measures provided by the decimal system.
  • Initially many saw Napoleon as a liberator who would bring freedom for the people.
  • But soon the Napoleonic armies came to be viewed everywhere as an invading force.
  • He was finally defeated at waterloo in 1815.

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