The Great French Revolution is the largest social revolution
of the New time. It is a period in history of France from
1789 to 1799, during which a radical turn happened in the
country affecting all the spheres of life. In particular a
monarchy was abolished and a republic was proclaimed.
All in all French revolution is a central event in the cultural
and political life of Western Europe at the end of XVIII and
the beginning of the XIX century that affected the subsequent
development of the European history.
The financial pre-conditions of revolution were connected
with the development of the capitalist mode in the so-called
the old regime, its motive forces were caused to living by
contradictions, accompanying this process. A direct reason
of revolution was a bankruptcy of the state that had no possibility
to pay off huge debts without the rejection of the system
with archaic privileges, based on the exalted station, family
connections and gentility. The unsuccessful attempts of the
royal power to reform this system aggravated dissatisfaction
of noblemen by falling down of their influence and encroachment
upon their native privileges.
Politically, despite the great power and authority of the
monarch, there were also three distinguishable forces which
later comprised the Estates General. To put it more precisely
there were three estates that had political influence. The
first estate constituted of clergy representing Catholic Church
which was traditionally loyal to the monarchy. The second
estate was formed by nobility which traditionally was in a
privileged position, while the third consisted of the middle
class and peasants.
In order to solve the existing problems France needed not
only socio-economic but also political changes for this purpose
the King Louis XVI was forced to make a convocation of the
General states on the 5-th of 1789 that did not have gathered
since 1614 (Levack 2003). Basically, it constituted of the
three estates mentioned above. Remarkably each estate had
one vote that theoretically made them equal. At the same time,
the role of the third estate was still underestimated and
some of the representatives of clergy like Abbe Sieyes as
well as those of nobility criticized the power and rights
the third estate was given. In response their opponents underlined
the injustice and discrimination of the third estate which
actually should be given much more power than both clergy
and nobility since it was representing the people which founded
the state and consequently, it was even possible to estimate
that this estate is the state itself. The increasing role
of the third estate culd not remain unnoticed and Abe Sieyes
pointed out in his famous pamphlet “What is the Third
Estate” in January 1789: “What is the Third Estate?
Everything. What has it been up to now in the political order?
Nothing. What does it demand? To become something herein.”(Clapham
In the situation of the economic crisis, political changes
were needed and the third estate had started to play the dominant
role, refusing to discuss details of the Estates General proposed
by the King and other two estates, on the 17-th of June the
representatives of the third estate proclaimed themselves
the National assembly, allowing the other two estates to join
them. The king naturally ordered the closure of the Salle
des Etats where the Assembly met. In response the deputies
proceeded in a tennis court situated nearby and swore the
Tennis Court Oath, June 20, 1789, refusing to separate until
the constitution would be given to France. On the 23-rd of
Junes on proposal of Mirabo renounced to submit a royal decree
about their dismissal. On the 9-th of July the Assembly named
itself Constituent, proclaiming their purpose of making new
constitutional bases of the new political order.
The threat of dispersal of the Constituent assembly caused
a revolt in Paris. In this respect, it is important to underline
that at this point the urban poor was actively involved in
the further events leading to the revolution. On the 14-th
of July 1789 a fortress-prison Bastille, a symbol of absolutism
was assaulted. This day is considered to be a date of the
beginning of revolution.
After taking of the Bastille the wave of “municipal
revolutions” took place during which the new elected
bodies of local government were created all over the country.
The revolution army (national guard) was formed and Laffayet
became the head of it. Agitations blazed up also in the country:
peasants burned locks, destroyed a lot of documents of feudal
right and liege archives. On the nightly meeting on the 4-th
of Augusts a constituent assembly declared “complete
elimination of feudal order” and abolition of some most
odious liege rights. Other duties of peasants were subjected
to their redemption. To a significant extent, it was the result
of the peasants struggle that was later defined as the ‘Great
Fear’ of Summer 1789.
Principles of new civil society were fastened in “The
Declaration of human and citizen rights” (on August,
26 1789), which was actually significantly influenced by the
US Declaration of Independence (August 26, 1789) that served
as a model.
Obviously, the new order had been establishing but royalists
opposed to this process which they attempted to block. In
the result of this opposition the people of Paris, basically
women, marched on Versailles on 5 October 1789 that was later
called the march of the women. In this respect, it is worthy
to note that many specialists underline the great role of
women in the French Revolution. For instance, Perry Pedden
and Von Laue emphasize that the participation of women in
the French revolution was very significant and they played
an important role due to the activity of such women as Christine
de Pisan whose works had been read during that period for
the sole reason that she was a woman writer, which was almost
an unheard occupation for women of that time. No wonder that,
in 1790, Olympe de Gouge published “The Rights of Women”
in which she underlined the necessity of women having equal
rights to men. in such a way, it was one of the first acclaims
to the equality between men and women which had a profound
impact on the society of that epoch and it also may be viewed
as a precursor of the modern feminism.
As for the “Declaration”, it served as a preamble
to the text of constitution, making of which proceeded by
September 1791. Constitutional debates in the Assembly were
accompanied with the acceptance of decrees, regulating the
major sides of life in France. The new territorial-administrative
division of the country, creating modern departments, was
ratified. The electiveness of sidemen, obligatory oath of
priests of allegiance of constitution deprived the catholic
church of independent political role. Undertaken for satisfaction
of national debt and coverage of current expenses so-called
national property (confiscated church and emigrant lands and
also domains of the crown) resulted in the redistribution
of property. On the first stage of revolution the power was
in the hands of that part of the nobility and bourgeoisie,
which had financial claims against royal power and aimed to
satisfy them by all means. At that time the political managing
a country was carried out by the group or so to say “patriotic
society” called Jacobinic club. Through the ramified
network of branches in province it influenced greatly the
politicization of the greater part of population.
On June, 21 1791 the King, having the status of the head of
the state, but being in Paris actually on the rights of the
hostage, together with his family tried to escape secretly
to Austrian Netherlands, but was identified and detained in
the township of Varenn. This crisis compromised the Constitutional
monarchy. On the 17-th of July on the Champ-de-Mars mass manifestation,
requiring renunciation of Louis XVI, was shot up in Paris.
Trying to rescue a monarchy the Assembly allowed the king
to sign the finally accepted constitution and, exhausting
his plenary powers, divided. That crisis served to be a signal
to a formation of coalition of European powers against revolutionary
From the beginning of 1792 Girondists began the discussion
of measures, preparing disestablishment. On June, 18 and August,
25 the General court abolished buying feudal rights back,
except for those cases, when “primary” documents
were produced, determining the transmission of lands by certain
duties. On the 20-th of April 1792 by initiative of Girondists
France declared war of Austria, on the side of which Prussia
came forward soon.
In the result of the revolution devastation, inflation, growth
of coastlines caused more protests of rural and city population.
The failures of the first months of war were generated by
suspecting of treason. On June, 20 1792 the crowd of Parisian
sans-culottes burst into the palace, but did not obtain from
king the approval on decrees about deportation of the unsworn
priests and about creation of military camp in a neighborhood
of Paris for the rescue of the capital from Austrian and Prussian
In July the General court was declared that the country was
in great danger. The stream of volunteers gushed in a revolutionary
army. On the 10-th of August Parisian sections, territorial
associations, leaning on the support of province, led a revolt.
The overthrow of monarchy became the top of political success
of Girondists. On September, 21 1792 a legislature passed
to Convention in which Montanjars vied with Girondists under
the head of Robespierre.
Before coming to power of montanjars obtained execution of
the king: on the 21st of January 1793 Louis XVI was guillotined
in Paris on the square of Revolution, now Square of Consent
(Image 1). In fact, it was not just a political execution
but it also symbolized the end of the epoch of absolutism
which Louis XVI personified. After that event the progress
of civil rights movement seemed to be inevitable. On the agrarian
legislation of Jacobeans (June-July 1793) communal and emigrant
earths were passed to the peasants for a division; all of
feudal rights and privileges was destroyed fully without every
redemption contributing to the increasing equality of all
citizens. At the same time, people being free from absolute
power of the king, continued to express their negative attitude
to the monarchy. In this respect, it is worthy of mention
the destruction of the statue of Louis XIV (Image 2), another
symbol of absolutism.
Moreover, in the result of the growing power of the civil
right movement a constitution, declaring universal the right
to vote, was accepted in 1793. However the realization of
this principle was set aside to the best times from critical
position of republic. Jacobinic dictatorship, successfully
utillizing initiative of social grounds, showed the complete
denial of liberal principles. Industrial production and agriculture,
finances and trade, public festivals and private life of citizens
were exposed to strict regulation.
Thus, it is possible to conclude that the French Revolution
produced a dramatic impact on the historical development of
France and the whole world. Probably first time in the history,
people really rebelled against oppression and started active
struggle against the privileged classes. At this point the
class consciousness of deprived classes of French society
played the role of the moving force of their struggle for
their rights. At the same time, the French Revolution served
a symbol of struggle for democratic changes and inspired many
revolutionists to use its experience in their activities.
Finally, it was a great historical lesson for the whole world
which taught people to struggle for their future and this
struggle opened new opportunities for millions of people worldwide
and evoked their hope for better life.
1. Carlyle, Thomas. The French Revolution: A History. New
York: The Modern Library, 2002.
2. Clapham, J.H. The Abbe Sieyes. London: P.S. King &
3. The Declaration of human and citizen rights, August, 26
4. Doyle, William. Origins of the French Revolution, 3rd ed.,
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
5. Gouge, Olympe de. The Rights of Women. 1790.
6. Levack, Brian P. The West: Encounters & Transformations,
New York: Allyn and Cooper, 2003.
7. McPhee, Peter. The French Revolution, 1789-1799, Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2002
8. McKay, Hill, Buckler, A History of Western Society 8th
Ed. New York: Routledge, 2001.
9. Packard, Laurence Bradford, The Age of Louis XIV, New York:
10. Perry, Marvin, Joseph Penden, and Theodore Von Laue. Sources
of the Western Tradition. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company,