French Revolution

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French Revolution was an influential period of social and political upheaval in France that lasted from 1789 until 1799.

The causes of the French Revolution are complex and are still debated among historians.

Following the Seven Years War and the American Revolutionary War, the French government was deeply in debt and attempted to restore its financial status through unpopular taxation schemes.

Years of bad harvests leading up to the Revolution also inflamed popular resentment of the privileges enjoyed by the clergy and the aristocracy.

Demands for change were formulated 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 taking control, 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 women’s march on Versailles that forced the royal court back to Paris in October.

A central event of the first stage was the abolition of feudalism and the old rules, taxes, courts and privileges left over from the age of feudalism on the 4th of August 1789.

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.

In the fall of 1786, Louis XVI’s controller general, Charles Alexandre de Calonne (1734-1802), proposed a financial reform package that included a universal land tax from which the privileged classes would no longer be exempt.

To garner support for these measures and forestall a growing aristocratic revolt, the king summoned the Estates-General an assembly representing France’s clergy, nobility and middle class–for the first time since 1614.

By the time the Estates-General convened at Versailles, the highly public debate over its voting process had erupted into hostility between the three orders, eclipsing the original purpose of the meeting and the authority of the man who had convened it.

On June 17, with talks over procedure stalled, the Third Estate met alone and formally adopted the title of National Assembly; three days later, they met in a nearby indoor tennis court and took the so-called Tennis Court Oath, vowing not to disperse until constitutional reform had been achieved.

Revisionists destroyed this view, treating the revolution as the triumph of a new political culture instead of a new social class and whose main outcome was the realization of the absolutist dream of a strong centralized state rather than a complete break with the past.

The revisionists’ denial of social class as an important factor in the revolution opened the field to cultural studies and a focus on marginalized groups such as women and slaves.

But the revisionist interpretation has failed to achieve consensus, and scholars continue to dispute the revolution’s legacy.

According to the neo-democratic view, the declaration of universal human rights, abolition of slavery, and pattern of modern democratic politics give the revolution a foundational place in the struggle for a better world.