The French Revolution was one of the most significant events in the modern history of Europe. The events kicked off in 1789 but lasted for up to ten years. It was the fight against the so-called ancien-regime.
In the late 18th century, the monarchy’s treasury was going bankrupt. Besides, the feudal system was in retreat as the Industrial Revolution changed society. Hence, radical change was imminent.
On May 5th, 1789, King Louis XVI called for a meeting of the Estates-General. The three estates were clergy, nobility, and commoners. The first two always outvoted the commoners. Since the commoners represented over 90% of the population, they were infuriated. Hence, on June 17th, they formed a National Assembly.
The clergy and nobility joined the Assembly within a week. The goal was to draft a new constitution. However, Louis XV sent the army to Versailles and Paris. On July 14th, the outraged citizens charged and conquered the Bastille fortress and prison. Soon, riots broke out all over the country.
The National Assembly enforced equality before the law and canceled many privileges of the nobility. It further published the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.” It was inspired by the American constitution thanks to the influence of Marquis de La Fayette.
The Second and Third waves
For some radicals, the new constitution from 1791 was too moderate. Hence, further protests broke out, and in 1792, they forced Louis XVI to step down. The monarchy was no more. In September of that year, the First French Republic became a reality. In January 1793, the regime executed the king by guillotine.
But, the Girondins who were in power were unpopular and weak. Thus, the aggressive Jacobins led by Maximilien Robespierre overturned them. Two years of terror and executions began.
However, a new opposition formed due to Robespierre’s Messiah complex. They successfully discredited, prisoned, and in July 1794, executed him.
Between 1795 and 1799, the Directory (a committee of five) governed the French republic. The country was still unstable and, in 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew the Directory. Thus, the ten-year period of constant change, fights, and terror ended.
It greatly changed Europe as it inspired the nationalist movements of 1848 and 1871.