Overview

French Revolution


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(1789)

The political upheaval that ended with the overthrow of the Bourbon monarchy in France and marked a watershed in European history. Various groups in French society opposed the ancien régime with its privileged Establishment and discredited monarchy. Its leaders were influenced by the American Revolution of the 1770s and had much popular support in the 1780s and 1790s. Social and economic unrest combined with urgent financial problems persuaded Louis XVI to summon the States-General in 1789, an act which helped to set the Revolution in motion. From the States-General emerged the National Assembly and a new Constitution which abolished the ancien régime, nationalized the church's lands, and divided the country into departments to be ruled by elected assemblies. Fear of royal retaliation led to popular unrest, the storming of the Bastille, and the capturing of the king by the National Guard. The National Assembly tried to create a monarchical system in which the king would share power with an elected assembly, but after the king's unsuccessful flight to Varennes and the mobilization of exiled royalists, the Revolutionaries faced increasing military threats from Austria and Prussia which led to war abroad and more radical policies at home. In 1792 the monarchy was abolished, a republic established, and the execution of the king was followed by a Reign of Terror (September 1793–July 1794). The Revolution failed to produce a stable form of republican government as several different factions (Girondins, Jacobins, Cordeliers, Robespierre) fought for power. After several different forms of administration had been tried, the last, the Directory, was overthrown by Napoleon in 1799.

Subjects: literature.


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