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Why Did the French Revolution Divide American Society?

Why Did the French Revolution Divide American Society?


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Although the rivalries between political parties in the colonial United States were fierce and profound they were never really a threat to domestic peace.

By the end of 1792 hundreds of ordinary citizens had become engaged in the party movement, but most citizens were ‘unmoved’ by the political controversy. This was because times were prosperous and leaders of heroic stature occupied seats of power.

The proclamation of the French Republic, followed by the spread of European War, soon changed the national mood.

Dan takes a walk around Colonial New York with Karen Quinones (of Patriot Tours) to explore the great battle and in its original setting.

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American perception of the French Revolution

Through the early years of the French Revolution most American’s had perceived events in France as a product of their own revolutionary ideals, namely, promising the benefits of liberty and a written constitution to all mankind.

But as France edged closer to war with the rest of Europe, the neutrality of the United States was becoming ever more complicated as American citizens began to take sides, urging President Washington to choose between France and Britain.

Claudio Saunt joined Dan on the podcast to discuss the United States' expulsion of Native Americans from the East to territories west of the Mississippi River. Justified as a humanitarian enterprise, the undertaking was to be systematic and rational, overseen by Washington’s small but growing bureaucracy. But as the policy unfolded over the next decade, thousands of Native Americans died under the federal government’s auspices, and thousands of others lost their possessions and homelands in an orgy of fraud, intimidation, and violence.

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The Federalist view

The federalists saw a profound difference between the experience of the French Revolution and American Revolution. In France they saw radicalisation, social anarchy and the destruction of political and religious institutions. While in respects to Britain, they saw stable liberty that did not end in barbaric bloodshed.

The French revolution was more than just a subject of study and revile for many federalists, but a realisation of the potential problems that may one day affect the American Republic.

The continued admiration for the French Revolution and the attacks on the Washington administration raised concerns for the federalists in power that too many Americans were ready to follow in French footsteps.

The Republican counter-argument

Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix (1830) a symbolic depiction of the French revolutionary spirit.

However, Jeffersonian Republicans continued to associate the French revolution with their own cause. The Republicans had already identified the domestic conflict as an attempt to defend America against ‘corrupting English ways’.

Shortly after news had arrived of the European War, Republican writers began to connect the cause of France with the survival of liberty at home. They would claim that if the British succeeded against France, then the Federalists would, with British support, use their influence to establish a monarchy.

Neutrality declared by the Government

A portrait of president George Washington who declined to commit the USA in the French Revolutionary Wars.

On 2 April 1793, when Washington declared a policy of ‘friendly and impartial’ conduct towards the two nations, the Republican press was furious. The National Gazette argued, “the cause of France is the cause of man”- “and neutrality is desertion.”

With the proclamation of neutrality, Republicans everywhere began to link their frustration of foreign policy with earlier ‘condemnations of a domestic conspiracy against liberty’. Mass protests ensued and effigies burned as citizens rallied around the French cause in opposition to the Washington administration.

Attempts to restore stability

In 1798 when John Adams was President his administration passed the Alien and Sedition laws. These were designed by the Federalists to curb the movement and rights of immigrants entering the United States in case they would eventually “swell” a French army in the event of an invasion and the sedition laws were aimed at attacking the Republican and Anti-Federalist press.

Two years later, Jefferson would defeat his old friend John Adams in the Presidential election, effectively killing off the Federalist Party and helping restore a more stable national mood.

What cannot be denied though was the level of anger and fear that existed as two great global powers with strong links to America prepared for war, whilst the United States, a tiny power at this stage, found itself caught in the middle.

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Pre-Revolutionary France

In 1789, the French Revolution began a transformation of far more than just France, but Europe and then the world. It was the pre-revolutionary makeup of France that held the seeds of the circumstances for revolution, and affected how it was begun, developed, and—depending on what you believe—ended. Certainly, when the Third Estate and their growing followers swept away centuries of dynastic political tradition, it was the structure of France they were attacking as much as its principles.


A Growing Middle Class Envisages an End to Privileges

(i) In the 18th century, a new social group emerged who were known as the middle class. They had become rich through expansion of overseas trade.

(ii) In addition to merchants and manufacturers there were lawyers and administrative officials who were educated and believed that no group of society should be privileged by birth but their position should depend on merit. They demanded an end to privileges.

(iii) Philosophers like Locke, Rousseau and Montesquieu believed in a society based on freedom, equal law and opportunities for all Rousseau proposed a government based on a social contract between the people and their representatives.


The role of middle class on the onset of French revolution: The peasants and workers had participated in revolts against increasing taxes and food scarcity in the past. This was left to those groups within the third estate( middle class) who had become prosperous and had access to education and new ideas

In English, the word “bourgeoisie” (a French citizen-class) identified a social class oriented to economic materialism and hedonism, and to upholding the extreme political and economic interests of the capitalist ruling-class. 1774–91), his clergy, and his aristocrats in the French Revolution of 1789–1799.


What are the six causes of French Revolution?

10 Major Causes of the French Revolution

  • #1 Social Inequality in France due to the Estates System.
  • #2 Tax Burden on the Third Estate.
  • #3 The Rise of the Bourgeoisie.
  • #4 Ideas put forward by Enlightenment philosophers.
  • #5 Financial Crisis caused due to Costly Wars.
  • #6 Drastic Weather and Poor Harvests in the preceding years.
  • #7 The Rise in the Cost of Bread.

Very Short Answer Type Questions

Question 1.
Which incident sparked the French Revolution?
Answer:
The attack by the third estate on the Bastille State prison (14th July 1789) and setting free the prisoners was the incident which sparked the French Revolution.

Question 2.
Why was Bastille prison attacked?
Answer:
The revolutionaries attacked the Bastille prison with a hope to find hoarded ammunition for the revolution.

Question 3.
Why was the Bastille hated by all?
Answer:
Bastille was hated by all because it was seen as a symbol of the despotic power of the king.

Question 4.
What did the French Revolution of 1789 stand for?
Answer:
The French Revolution of 1789 stood for the ideas of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

Question 5.
What was the immediate cause of rioting in Paris?
Answer:
The high price of bread was the immediate cause of rioting in Paris.

Question 6.
Which ruler came to power in France in 1774? [CBSE 2012]
Answer:
Louis XVI of the Bourbon family ascended the throne of France in 1774.

Question 7.
What activity of the French monarchy hastened the revolution?
Answer:
The extravagant lifestyle of the monarch brought France on the verge of bankruptcy and hastened the revolution.

Question 8.
How did the American War of Independence add more debt to France?
Answer:
The French army supported thirteen colonies of America in the war of independence against Great Britain. It added one billion livres (currency unit in France) that had risen to more than two billion livres with interest.

Question 9.
Why did the French government increase the taxes?
Answer:
To meet the regular expenses such as cost of maintaining an army, the court and running the government offices or universities, the state was forced to increase taxes.

Question 10.
What was the Old Regime?
Answer:
The term Old Regime is usually used to describe the society and institutions of France before 1789.

Question 11.
Which estate paid taxes out of all?
Answer:
The third estate paid taxes out of all.

Question 12.
How was the society divided before the French Revolution?
Answer:
Before the French Revolution, the society was divided into three estates.
(a) The 1st estate consist of the clergy.
(b) The 2nd estate consist of the nobles.
(c) The 3rd estate included big businessmen, merchants, court officials, lawyers, peasants, landless labourers, servants and artisans.

Question 13.
Who owned the majority of land in 18th century France?
Answer:
The nobels, the Church and the richer members of the third estate owned the 60% of land in France.

Question 14.
What was the most important privilege enjoyed by the first two estates?
Answer:
The most important privilege enjoyed by the first two estates was the exemption from payment of taxes to the states.

Question 15.
Which estate enjoyed the feudal privileges? What were the feudal privileges?
Answer:
The feudal privileges were enjoyed by the second estate i.e., nobels. Nobels collected the feudal dues from the peasants comes under the feudal privileges.

Question 16.
What were the conditions of eighteenth century french peasants?
Answer:
Peasants were obliged to render services to the lord to work in his fields or house to serve in the army or to participate in building roads.

Question 17.
What was Tithe?
Answer:
Tithe was a tax levied by the Church, comprising one-tenth of the agricultural produce.

Question 18.
Which types of taxes were levied by the states?
Answer:
The taxes levied by the state included a direct tax called taille and number of other indirect taxes levied on everyday consumption articles like salt or tobacco.

Question 19.
Why had the peasants and workers had participated in revolts?
Answer:
To protest against increasing taxes and food scarcity, peasants and workers had started participating in revolts.

Question 20.
Which social group emerged in France in the 18th century? [CBSE 20131
Answer:
The middle class emerged in France in the 18th century.

Question 21.
Name the Philosophers who put forward the ideas of freedom, equal laws and opportunities for all in French society.
Answer:
The philosophers were John Locke, Montesquieu and Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Question 22.
What did John Locke write in his book Two Treaties of Government? [CBSE 2011]
Answer:
John Locke sought to refute the doctrine of the divine and absolute right of the monarch in his book.

Question 23.
Which form of government was proposed by Rousseau?
Answer:
Rousseau proposed the form of government which was based on a social contract between people and their representative.

Question 24.
Who wrote The Spirit of the Laws? [CBSE 2016]
Answer:
The Spirit of the Laws was written by Montesquieu.

Question 25.
Mention the ideas proposed by Montesquieu in the book The Spirit of the Laws.
Answer:
Fie proposed a division of power within government between the executive, the legislative and the judiciary.

Question 26.
Where and when did the ideas of division of power within government came into effect?
Answer:
This idea firstly came into effect in USA, after the thirteen American colonies declared their independence from America.

Question 27.
What did become an example for political thinkers in France?
Answer:
The American Constitution and its guarantee of individual rights became an example for political thinkers in France.

Question 28.
Where were the ideas of the philosophers discussed intensively in France?
Answer:
The ideas of the philosophers were discussed intensively in salons and coffee-houses and spread among people through books and newspapers.

Question 29.
Which news enraged the system of privileges in eighteenth century France?
Answer:
The news of imposing more taxes by the king of France i.e., Louis XVI enraged the system of privileges.

Question 30.
What was the Estates General? [CBSE 2014]
Answer:
The Estates General was a political body to which the three estates sent their representatives.

Question 31.
Why was the meeting of Estate General called in France during Old Regime?
Answer:
During Old Regime of France, the King lacks the power to impose taxes. For this purpose, he had to call a meeting of Estate General which further on pass the proposal for new taxes.

Question 32.
What was the representation of the three estates at the Estate General Assembly of 1789?
Answer:
The first and the second estates sent 300 representatives each, who were seated facing each other on two sides. The third estate sent 600 members who had to stand.

Question 33.
When and where did Louis XVI called the assembly of General Estate?
Answer:
On 5 May 1789, Louis XVI called the assembly of General Estate in a resplendent hall in Versailles.

Question 34.
Which principle was followed by Estate General for taking vote? [HOTS]
Answer:
According to the principle, each estate has one vote.

Question 35.
Which proposal of the third estate was refused by King Louis XVI?
Answer:
The third estate demanded that voting should be conducted by the assembly as a whole in which each member had one vote. But the king refused this proposal.

Question 36.
In which book did Rousseau mention the idea of one person, one vote? [CBSE 2014]
Answer:
In The Social Contract, Rousseau wrote about one person, one vote.

Question 37.
What step was taken by the third estate when their demand was refused?
Answer:
The third estate assembled in the indoor tennis court hall which was in the Versailles. They sworned to draft a constitution for France in which would limit the power of monarchs and also declared themselves a National Assembly.

Question 38.
Who was Mirabeau?
Answer:
Mirabeau belonged to a nobel family. He was convinced with the need to do away with the society of feudal privileges and led the representatives of the 3rd estate.

Question 39.
What do you know about Abbe Sieyes? [CBSE 2011]
Answer:
Abbe Sieyes was originally a priest. He wrote an influential pamphlet named ‘What is the Third Estate’?

Question 40.
Define Chateaux.
Answer:
A Chateaux is a castle or stately residence belonging to a king or a nobleman.

Question 41.
What was the decree of the National Assembly of 1789?
Answer:
The decree of the National Assembly of 1789 was to abolish the feudal system of obligations and taxes.

Question 42.
When did the National Assembly completed the drafting of the constitution?
Answer:
In 1791, the National Assembly completed the drafting of the constitution.

Question 43.
What was the objective of the National Assembly’s draft completed in 1791?
Answer:
The National Assembly’s draft of 1791 aimed at limiting the powers of the monarch

Question 44.
What made France a constitutional monarch?
Answer:
Limiting the powers of the monarch and separating the power of administration among different institutions i.e., the legislature, the executive and the judiciary made France a constitutional monarch.

Question 45.
Which section of the French society got political right by the constitution of 1791? [CBSE 2013]
Answer:
Only men above 25 years of age who paid taxes equal to at least 3 days of labourer’s wage got the status of active citizens and also right to vote.

Question 46.
Which document was in the beginning of the French constitution?
Answer:
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was in the begining of the French revolution.

Question 47.
Which rights were the natural and inalienable rights according to the French Constitution?
Answer:
The natural and inalienable rights were the right to life, freedom of speech, freedom of opinion and equality before law.

Question 48.
What was the significance of natural and unalienable rights?
Answer:
These rights belonged to each human being by birth and could not be taken away.

Question 49.
What was the decision taken by National Assembly in April 1792?
Answer:
National Assembly declared was against Prussia and Austria in April 1792.

Question 50.
What was Marseillaise? Who composed it? [CBSE 2014]
Answer:
Marseillaise was one of the patriotic songs sung by volunteers from Marseilles as they marched into
Paris and got its name. It was composed by Roget de L Isle. It is now the national anthem of France.

Question 51.
What were the roles played by people of French when fight took place with Prussia and Austria?
Answer:
The French men were fighting at the front and women were left with the tasks of households and
also earning livelihoods for the family.

Question 52.
Why were the political clubs formed in France?
Answer:
Political clubs were formed by the people in France to discuss the policies of the government which gave the political rights only to the richer sections of the society and to plan their action. Both men and women formed various clubs.

Question 53.
Which was the most successful of the political clubs formed in France? How did it get its name?
Answer:
The most successful of the clubs was that of the Jacobins. It got its name from the former convent
of St Jacob in Paris.

Question 54.
Who were the members of the Jacobin Club? Name the leader. [CBSE 2014]
Answer:
The members of the Jacobin club were from the less prosperous sections of the French society, for
example small shopkeepers, artisans such as shoemakers, pastry cooks, etc. Maximilian Robespierre was its leader.

Question 55.
Who were Sans-culottes?
Answer:
The Jacobins came to be known as Sans-culottes, which literally means those without knee breeches.

Question 56.
What was the name give to newly-elected assembly of the Jacobins? [CBSE 2014]
Answer:
The newly elected assembly of the Jacobins was called the Convention. It abolished the monarchy
and declared France a republic.

Question 57.
Explain the term ‘republic’.
Answer:
Republic is a form of government where the people elect the government including the head of the government. There is no hereditary monarchy.

Question 58.
Define TVeason.
Answer:
Treason means betrayal of one’s country or government.

Question 59.
Why was Louis XVI sentenced to death?
Answer:
Louis XVI was sentenced to death on the charges of treason in January 1793.

Question 60.
Which period in France was known as Reign of Terror? Why?
Answer:
The period of 1793 to 1794 was known as the Reign of Terror because Robespierre followed the policy of severe control and punishment.

Question 61.
Against whom the Robespierre followed the policy of severe control and punishment?
Answer:
Against all those persons whom he considered the enemies of the republic. These included ex-nobels, clergy, other political parties members and also some members from his political party who did not agree within his policies.

Question 62.
What was guillotine?
Answer:
Guillotine was a device consisting of two poles and a blade using which a person was beheaded. It was named after Dr Guillotine who invented it.

Question 63.
Which class came into power after the fall of Jacobin government?
Answer:
The wealthier middle class came into power after the fall of Jacobin government.

Question 64.
To whom the new constitution denied the vote?
Answer:
The new constitution of wealthier middle class government denied vote to non-propertied sections of society.

Question 65.
What was Directory?
Answer:
Directory was an executive body of five members. Directory was appointed by two elected legislative councils.

Question 66.
Why the executive body like Directory was introduced?
Answer:
It was introduced to safeguard against the concentration of power in one-man executive as under the Jacobins.

Question 67.
How did the Napoleon Bonaparte come to power?
Answer:
Napoleon, a military dictator, came to power due to the political instability of the Directory.

Question 68.
What was the status of education among women during French revolution?
Answer:
Most of the women did not have access to education or job-training. Only daughters of nobels or wealthier members of the third estate could study at a convent.

Question 69.
What did the women in France do to discuss and voice their interests?
Answer:
In order to discuss and voice their interests, the women started their political clubs and newspapers.

Question 70.
Name an important political club formed by women in France.
Answer:
The Society of Revolutionary and Republican Women was the famous club formed by women in France.

Question 71.
According to French women, how their interests were presented in new government?
Answer:
According to them, when they got the right to vote, to be elected to the assembly and to hold political office with this step, their interests were presented in new government.

Question 72.
When did the new government issued laws to close down the women’s club?
Answer:
The new government issued laws during the Reign of Terror in 1793-94.

Question 73.
When did French women got the political rights?
Answer:
In 1946, women in France got the political rights.

Question 74.
Who wrote the Declaration of the Rights of woman and citizen? [CBSE 2011]
Answer:
Olympe de Gouges wrote a Declaration of the Rights of woman and citizen in 1791.

Question 75.
What was the most revolutionary reform of the Jacobin regime? [CBSE 2010]
Answer:
The most revolutionary reform of the Jacobin regime was the abolition of slavery in the French colonies.

Question 76.
List four commodities supplied by the French colonies in the Caribbean.
Answer:
The French colonies in the Caribbean were important suppliers of tobacco, indigo, sugar and coffee.

Question 77.
Between which three continents was the slave trade carried out?
Answer:
A triangular slave trade was carried out between Europe, Africa and the Americas.

Question 78.
Name the ports of France from where the slave trade was carried out.
Answer:
The slave trade was carried out from the ports of Bordeaux or Nantes.

Question 79.
Why had the exploitation of slave labour done?
Answer:
The exploitation of slave labour had done to meet the growing demand in European markets for sugar, coffee and indigo.

Question 80.
Why did the National Assembly did not pass any law regarding exploitation of slave labour?
Answer:
They were fearing from the opposition of businessmen whose income was depend on the slave trade.

Question 81.
What the freedom mean in view of plantation owners?
Answer:
In view of plantation owner, freedom included the right to enslave African Negroes in pursuit of their economic interest.

Question 82.
When did the slavery Anally abolished in French colonies?
Answer:
In 1848, slavery was finally abolished from French colonies.

Question 83.
Which law came into effect soon after the incident of Bastille 1789?
Answer:
Abolition of censorship came into effect after the incident of Bastille 1789.

Question 84.
Which document proclaimed the freedom of speech as natural right?
Answer:
The freedom of speech as natural right was proclaimed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.

Question 85.
Who crowned himself as Emperor of France?
Answer:
Napolean Bonaparte crowned himself as Emperor of France in 1804.

Question 86.
What actions proved Napoleon as moderniser of Europe? [HOTSJ
Answer:
He introduced many laws like a uniform system of weights and measures provided by the decimal
system and protection of private property.

Question 87.
How were Napoleon image taken up by the people? What image came later?
Answer:
Napoleon was seen as liberator who might bought freedom for the people but the Napoleon army was seen later as invading forces.

Question 88.
Where was Napoleon defeated?
Answer:
Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo in 1815.

Question 89.
How did the colonised people created the sovereign nation state?
Answer:
They created the sovereign nation state by redefining the idea of freedom from bondage into a movement.

Question 90.
Name the two Indian individuals who responded to the ideas coming from revolutionary France.
Answer:
The two Indian individuals who responded to the ideas coming from revolutionary France, were Raja Rammohan Roy and Tipu Sultan.

Short Answer Type Questions

Question 91.
Describe the events that took place on 14th July 1789 in France. [CBSE 2014]
Answer:
The following events took place on 14th July 1789.
(a) The king had ordered the troops to move into the city. There were rumours that he would soon order the troops to open fire upon citizens.
(b) Around 7,000 men and women formed a militia and broke into a number of government buildings in search of arms.
(c) Then the fortress-prison of Bastille was stormed by hundreds of people with the hope to find hoarded ammunition. Bastille was destroyed completely as it was hated by all.

Question 92.
On ascending the throne of France, Louis XVI found the treasury empty. Why was the treasury empty?
Answer:
The causes for empty treasury at the time of his accession were as follows.
(a) The financial resources of France had drained due to the long years of war.
(b) The high cost of maintaining an extravagant court at the immense palace of Versailles also added to the financial drain.
(c) France had helped the thirteen American colonies to gain their independence from Britain. This increased the debt to more than 2 billion livres.

Question 93.
Describe the divisions of the French society before the French Revolution.
Answer:
Before the French Revolution, the French society was divided into three estates.
(a) The 1st estate was comprised of the Church and the clergy. They enjoyed certain privileges by birth. The most important of these privileges was exemption from paying taxes.
(b) The 2nd estate was comprised of the nobles and other rich people of the society. These were also exempted from paying taxes. They also enjoyed feudal privileges which included collection of feudal dues by the peasants.
(c) The 3rd estate was comprised of big businessmen, merchants, court officials, lawyers, peasants, artisans, landless labourers and servants. Within the third estate, some were rich and others were poor. The peasants obliged the landlords by working on their fields, in their houses, to serve in the army or to participate in the building of roads. They were paying all direct taxes like taille and a number of indirect taxes on salt or tobacco, but had no rights.

Question 94.
Which three causes led to the ‘subsistence crisis’ in France during the Old Regime? [CBSE 2014]
Answer:
The following points show how the subsistence crisis occurred in France during the Old Regime.
(a) The population of France increased from 23 million in 1715 to 28 million in 1789. This led to the increase in demand for foodgrains.
(b) When the production of foodgrains could not keep pace with the growing demand, the price of bread which was the staple food increased rapidly.
(c) On the other hand, the wages could not keep pace with the rise in prices. At the time of drought or hail, harvest reduced and things got worsed. Thus, the gap between the poor and the rich widened and this led to the subsistence crisis.

Question 95.
Describe the middle class in three points. [CBSE 2013]
Answer:
The following points describe the middle class in French society.
(a) The middle class was a social group that emerged in France in the 18th century. This class made money through an expanding overseas trade and by manufacturing goods like woollen and silk textiles.
(b) The middle class, along with merchants and manufacturers, included professionals like lawyers and administrative officials.
(c) All these people were educated believed that no group in society should be privileged by birth and a person’s position in society should be based on his merit.

Question 96.
What was the tennis court oath? [HOTS]
Answer:
The third estate representatives viewed themselves as spokesmen for the whole French nation. They
assembled in the hall of an indoor tennis court in the grounds of Versailles on 20 June 1789. There
they declared themselves as a National Assembly.

Question 97.
Explain the turmoil in France while the National Assembly was busy at Versailles.
Answer:
While the National Assembly was busy at Versailles drafting the constitution, the rest of France seethed with turmoil in the following ways.
(a) A severe winter had meant a bad harvest, resulting in rising price of bread thus, the situation was exploited by bakers and hoarded supplies. Angry women stormed into the shops after standing for long hours in bakery queues.
(b) The army was ordered by the king to more into the city. There were rumours that army would be ordered to open fire upon the citizens. Thousands of agitated people gathered and decided to form a militia.
(c) They broke into a number of government buildings in search of arms. They distroyed the prison of Bastille on 14 July 1789.

Question 98.
How did peasants protest against the feudal lords or nobles of France?
Answer:
Peasants protested against the feudal lords or nobles in the following ways.
(a) In the countryside there were rumours spread from village to village that the lords of the manor had hired hands of brigands who were on their way to destroy the ripe crops. Caught in frenzy of fear, peasants in several districts seized hoes and pitchforks and attacked Chateaux.
(b) They looted hoarded grain and burnt down documents containing records of manorial dues.
(c) A large number of nobles fled from their homes, many of them migrating to the neighouring countries.

Question 99.
How was the National Assembly recognised and how did it start exercising its powers? [CBSE 2010]
Answer:
Faced with revolting people, Louis XVI recognised the National Assembly and accepted that his
powers would from now on be checked by the constitution.
National Assembly started exercising its power in the following ways.
(a) On the night of 4 August, 1789, the Assembly passed the law for abolishing feudal system of obligations and taxes, the clergy members were also forced to give up their privileges.
(b) Tithes were abolished and lands owned by the Church were seized and all this resulted in acquiring assets worth at least 2 billion livres.

Question 100.
Describe how the new political system of constitutional monarchy worked practice in France. [CBSE 2014]
Answer:
The new political system of constitutional monarchy in France worked in the following manner:
The constitution of 1791 had given the power to make laws to the National Assembly, that was indirectly elected by a group of electors voted by the citizens who had chosen the assembly.
The right to vote was given to men above 25 years of age, who paid taxes equal to at least 3 days of a labourer’s wage, were given the status of active citizens, i.e., they were entitled to vote.
The remaining men and all women were classed as passive citizens. To qualify as an elector and as a member of the assembly, a man had to belong to the highest bracket of taxpayers.

Question 101.
Write a short note on national and inalienable rights.
Answer:
The constitution of France began with a Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens. Rights ‘ such as right to life, freedom of speech, freedom of opinion, equality before law were established as natural and inalienable rights i.e., they belong to each human being by birth and could not be taken away. It is the duty of the state to protect each citizen’s natural rights.

Question 102.
List and explain the successful achievements of the National Assembly from 1789-1791. [HOTS]
Answer:
The successful achievements of the National Assembly from 1789-1791 were as follows:
(a) One of the most successful achievements of the National Assembly was the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen which upheld the equality of all before law, eligibility of all for public offices, freedom from arrest or punishment without a proven cause and right to freedom of speech and expression.
(b) It also laid emphasis that the burden of taxation must be borne by all without any distinction and so nobles and clergy were denied special privileges.
(c) A new constitution was formed providing a constitutional monarchy where the powers of the monarch are limited and the legislative powers are given to the National Assembly.

Question 103.
Write a short note on Marseillaise.
Answer:
Marseillaise is the national anthem of France. It was written by Roget de L ‘Isle during the French Revolution. It aroused such enthusiasm that large number of people joined the company. It was first sung in Paris when the Marseilles battalion sang it as they marched into Paris and thus it was named so.

Question 104.
Who were Jacobins? What was their role in emergence of France as a Republic?
Or
Who were the Jacobins? Write about it in three points. [CBSE 2013]
Answer:
Jacobins were the most radical and ruthless of the political groups formed in the wake of the French Revolution. They were the members of a democratic club established in 1789. Jacobins were led by Maximilian Robespierre. Angered by the short supplies and high prices of foodgrains Jacobins stormed the Palace of the Tuileries.
The king’s guards were killed and the king was held hostage for several hours. The assembly later, voted to imprison the royal family. Elections were held in which every man of 21 years and above got the right to vote. The Convention was known as newly elected assembly, which abolished monarchy and declared France a republic.

Question 105.
What do you mean by Directory? Why was it removed from France?
Answer:
The Directory was a five-member committee which governed France when the political power
was passed into the hands of the wealthier middle class. It was meant as a safeguard against the
concentration of power in the hands of one-man executive as under the Jacobins.
The Directors often clashed with the legislative councils who in turn sought to dismiss them. This led to political instability of Directory in France. It paved the way for the rise of a military dictator called Napoleon Bonaparte.

Question 106.
Evaluate the role of women in France before the revolution.
Answer:
Women played a very significant role in France before the French Revolution. They played an active role and brought about important changes. They worked for their living like dress makers, laundry workers, flower vendors, fruit and vegetable vendors. Sometimes they also worked as maid servants for rich people. They cooked food, fetched water and stood in queues for bread. In order to discuss – and voice their interests women started their own political clubs and newspapers. One of the major demand was right to vote. The Society of Revolutionary and Republican Women was one such club formed by women.

Question 107.
How did the women suffer in France during the Old Regime?
Answer:
During the Old Regime, most women worked to earn a living. They worked as seamstresses or laundresses or domestic servants in the houses of rich people. Many sold fruits, flowers and vegetables at the market to earn money.
(b) Most of them were not educated or trained to do any job. Only the daughters of rich people could study.
(c) Working women had to take care of their families too. They had to fetch water, queue up for bread, cook and look after the children.
Therefore, it can be said that women suffered a lot during the Old Regime.

Question 108.
What was the condition of slave trade in the seventeenth century?
Answer:
The conditions of slaves during salve labour was as follows:
(a) As the slave trade began in seventeenth century, the slaves were bought from local chieftians.
(b) After branding and shackling, the slaves were packed tightly into ships for the three-month long voyage across the Atlantic to the Caribbean.
(c) At the African coast, they were sold to plantation owners.

Question 109.
How did storming of Bastille became the main cause of the French Revolution? [CBSE 2014]
Answer:
Storming of Bastille became the main cause of the French Revolution because of the following
reasons.
(a) While the National Assembly was busy at Versailles drafting a constitution, the rest of France faced turmoil. Due to bad harvest, price of bread increased.
(b) This situation worsened when the bakers started hoarding supplies.
(c) Women who stood in queues at the bakery stormed the shops. At the same time the king had ordered troops to move into Paris.
As a result on 14 July the angry crowd stormed and destroyed Bastille. It was hated by all as it stood for the despotic powers of the king.

Long Answer Type Questions

Question 110.
Discuss the main causes of the French Revolution. [HOTS]
Answer:
The following are the main causes of French Revolution:
(a) Despotic rule of Louis XVI. Long years of wars and extravagance of the king led to financial crises in France. This forced king to increase taxes mostly paid by the.third estate. It created chaos in the society.
(b ) Privileges and Burdens of the French Society. First and the second estate had certain privileges by birth. The first two estates were comprised of the clergy and nobility which was 10% of the total population. Rest of the 90% population made up the third estate that paid all the various direct and indirect taxes. This discrimination led to the revolution by the 3rd estate.
(c) Rising prices. The population of France had increased. This resulted into more demand of foodgrains. So, the price of bread rose rapidly, the poor were not able to buy the high-priced bread. So, the gap between the rich and poor widened.
(d) Inspiration by the Philosophers. The philosophers like Locke, Rousseau and Montesquieu spread the ideas of having a society where the people enjoy freedom, equal laws and equal opportunities. They inspired the people of France to realise their dreams.
(e) Role of Middle class. Another major cause was the role of the middle class who earned their wealth through expanding trade of manufactured goods, being exported.
(f) Storming of Bastille prison. During the political turmoil, France experienced severe winters leading to bad harvest. The price of bread increased, as the stocks were hoarded in the market. Angry women attacked the shops. At the same time troops were ordered into Paris. Agitated crowd stormed and destroyed Bastille prison administrative officials, i.e., those who were educated. They believed that no person in the society should be privileged by birth.

Question 111.
Explain the events/incidents which led to the outbreak of French Revolution. [CBSE 2014]
Answer:
The following events/incidents led to the outbreak of the French Revolution:
(a) Meeting of the Estate General. On 5 May 1789, Louis XVI had called a meeting of Estate General to increase the taxes. Representatives of all the three estates came. But the members of the 3rd estate were made to stand while women, peasants, artisans and women were not allowed entry to the assembly.
(h) Demand for one vote one person. The third estate at the meeting of the Estate General demanded one vote for each member. This demand was rejected by the king and the members of the third estate walked out in protest.
(c) Meeting of the newly-formed National Assembly. Since the members of the third estate were more, they considered themselves the voice of the people/whole nation. They assembled in the indoor tennis court of Versailles and declared themselves as the ‘National Assembly’. They believed in removing the feudal privileges of the nobles and clergy.
(d) Winters created worse situation. Harvest declined, prices rose and bakers exploited poor by hoarding supplies. Angry crowd stormed the shops.
(e) Revolt in the countryside by the peasants. There were rumours that their ripe crops would be destroyed by the lords hired bands. The peasants in several districts seized hoes and pitchforks and attacked manors of the lords. They looted the hoarded grains and burnt the documents containing the records of manorial dues.

Question 112.
How did philosophers influence the thinking of the people of France? [CBSE 2012, 2014]
Answer:
The philosophers influenced the thinking of the people of France in the following ways:
(a) Philosophers such as John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau put forward ideas envisaging a society based on freedom and equal laws and opportunities for all.
(b) In Two Treatises of Government, John Locke sought to refute the doctrine of the divine and absolute rights of the monarch.
(c) His ideas were carried forward by Rousseau as he was proposing a form of government based on social contract between the people and their representatives.
(d) In The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu proposed a division of power within the government between the legislative, the executive and the judiciary.
(e) The ideas of these philosophers were discussed intensively in salons and coffee-houses and were spread among people through books and newspapers.

Question 113.
Explain the features of the constitution of France drafted in 1791. [CBSE 2015]
Answer:
(a) The constitution of 1791 was the first written constitution in France, created after the collapse
of the absolute rule.
(b) Its main aim was to limit the powers of the monarch.
(c) Powers were then divided/separated and assigned to different institutions like legislative, executive and judiciary.
(d) According to this, active citizens of France elected electors who inturn voted to elect the National Assembly.
(e) Not all citizens had the right to vote. Only men of 25 years of age who paid taxes equal to atleast three days of a labourer’s wage. They were called active citizens.
(f) The remaining men and all women were called the passive citizens.
(g) The National Assembly controlled the king. France became constitutional monarchy. (any five points)

Question 114.
List down the political symbols of France.
Answer:
Most of the people (i.e. men and women) in the 18th century. France could not read and write. So
images and symbols instead of printed books were used to communicate ideas. These symbols were
used to convey the content of declaration of rights. The important symbols were:
(a) Broken Chains: Chains were used to restrain the slaves from running away. Broken chains signify the act of becoming free.
(b) A bundle of rods: It was used to convey the message that strength lies in unity.
(c) The eye within or triangle radiating light: The all-seeing eye stands for knowledge. The rays of the sun will drive away the dark clouds of ignorance.
(d) Sceptre: It symbolises royal power.
(e) Snake bitting its tail to form a ring: A symbol of eternity. The ring has neither beginning nor end.
(f) Red phrygian cap: It was worn by slaves when they were freed.
(g) Blue-white-red: These are the national colours of France.
(h) The winged woman: Personification of the law.
(i) The law tablet: The law is same for all and all are equal before it. (any five points)

Question 115.
Explain the “Reign of Terror” in brief. [CBSE 2015]
Answer:
The following points explain the Reign of Terror:
(a) The period from 1793 to 1794 is called the Reign of Terror because Robespierre followed a policy of severe control and punishment. Ex-nobles, clergy, members of other political parties and even the members of his own party, who did not agree with his methods, were arrested, imprisoned and guillotined.
(b) Laws were issued by Robespierre’s government lows were issued by placing a maximum ceiling of wages and prices. Meat and bread were rationed.
(c) Peasants were forced to transport their grain to the cities and sell it at prices fixed by the government. The use of more expensive white flour was forbidden all citizens were required to eat the equality bread.
(d) Equality was also sought to be practised through forms of speech and address. Instead of the traditional Sir and Madam, French men and women were addressed as citizen.
(e) Churches were shut down and their buildings converted into barracks or offices. Finally, Robespierre was convicted by a court in July 1794, arrested and the next day, sent to the guillotine.

Question 116.
How did the Revolution affect the everyday life of the French people? Discuss. [HOTS]
Answer:
(a) Revolutionary ideas of equality and liberty transformed the clothes people wore, the language they spoke and books they read.
(b) With the abolition of censorship in 1789 and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen in 1791, freedom of speech became a natural right. This led to the growth of newspapers, books, pamphlets and printed pictures.
(c) Freedom of the press enabled voicing of opinions and counter options.
(d) Art flourished in the form of paintings, plays, songs and festive processions.
(e) Visual and oral art form enabled even the common man who could not read and write to relate with the ideas of liberty, equality and justice.

Question 117.
Write a short note on Napoleon Bonaparte.
Answer:
(a) Napoleon came to power as a result of unstable directory that ruled France. Due to weak directory Napoleon got on opportunity to rise to political power. In 1804, he crowned himself as the Emperor of France.
(b) He set out to conquer the neighbouring countries defeating the dynasties and putting his own relatives/members of his family.
(c) He was seen as a moderniser of Europe. He brought out many laws such as protection of private property and a uniform system of weights and measures provided by the decimal system.
(d) He was also seen by many as a liberator who will bring freedom to the people.
(e) Very soon his army came to be viewed everywhere as invading force. He carried out military campaigns and invasion of Russia and Spain. He soon became a threat for the kings in Europe who decided to come together and defeat him. Finally, he was defeated at Waterloo in 1815.

Question 118.
What was the impact of French Revolution on France?
Answer:
(a) French Revolution marked the end of absolute monarchy and paved the way for the republican government.
(b) It also helped to uphold the theory of popular sovereignty and laid the foundations of democratic principles, i.e., to say that the government should be based on the consent of the governed.
(c) The slogans of equality, liberty and fraternity became the watchwords of freedom loving people all over the world.
(d) Feudalism and serfdom were abolished and the power of clergy curbed.
(e) People were given the right to vote during the Jacobins.
(f) New reforms were introduced in education of girls during Jacobins time.
(g) Napoleon also reformed legal system by reorganising it and brought a progressive legal system. He also introduced economic reforms like fair tax system, increased trade and development of French luxury industries fashions, films, perfumes, etc. (any five points)

Question 119.
Three items A, B and C are shown on the outline map of France. Identify these items with the help of following information and write their correct names on the lines marked on the map:
A. A place where fortress-prison was stormed by the people in 1789.
B. A port of France related to slave trade.
C. The National Anthem of France got its name from the name of this place.
D. Center of peasants panic movement.

Answer:
A. Paris
B. Bordeaux
C. Marseilles
D. Nantes

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The Reign of Terror

The period between 1793 and 1794 is known as the Reign of Terror, during which revolutionary fervor, anti-clerical sentiment, and accusations resulted in massacres and executions throughout France. Officially, over 17,000 people were tried and executed, though the number of those who died in prison or without trial is unknown. Robespierre himself was eventually executed on the 28th of July 1794.

In 1795, the Directory was established, which replaced the Committee of Public Safety. This was a committee of five men and held the executive power of the state. During its early days, the Directory sought to end the excesses of the Reign of Terror. The Directory remained in power until 1799.

While the Directory ended the mass-executions carried out by its predecessor, it was far from perfect. During its four years in power, the Directory had to deal with financial crises, discontent among the people, inefficiency, and political corruption.

In order to maintain their grasp on authority, the Directory became increasingly reliant on the military. As a consequence, much power was invested in the generals, one of them being the young and brilliant Napoleon Bonaparte .


The Great Divide: The Ideological Legacies of the American and French Revolutions

Let me take you back to 225 years ago to what were then the suburbs of Paris.

An angry crowd gathered outside an old fortress in search of arms and gunpowder. The Bastille was nearly empty. There were only seven inmates, old men who reportedly were annoyed by all the noise outside their cells: four forgers, two “lunatics,” and a so-called deviant aristocrat by the name of Comte Hubert de Solages. It was a pretty sordid place. Only 10 days earlier, the infamous Marquis de Sade had been removed to another location.

The Governor of the Bastille, Bernard-René de Launay, tried to negotiate with the growing crowd, but they became impatient and stormed the undefended outer courtyard, cutting the chains of the drawbridge to the inner courtyard. A man was crushed in the mayhem. Gunfire broke out. Stories vary on who started it (Thomas Jefferson, who was in Paris, claims the soldiers of the Bastille fired first), but fearing that they had been lured into a trap, people in the crowd became violent, and a full-scale battle ensued as they were joined by deserters from the French National Guard.

Hoping to stop the violence, de Launay called for a cease-fire at 5:00 p.m. and offered terms for surrender. They were refused. Seeing that his troops could hold out no longer, he opened the gates to the inner courtyard and surrendered.

What happened next came to define the French Revolution: De Launay was seized and dragged toward the Hotel de Ville in a storm of abuse. After being badly beaten and crying “Enough! Let me Die,” he was stabbed repeatedly, and his head was sawed off and put on a pike. It was then carried through the streets for all to see. All told, reports of casualties vary, but we know that three officers of the garrison were killed and two other soldiers were lynched.

This is the event celebrated in France as La Fête Nationale—or, as we call it, Bastille Day. It was an incident sparked not by solemn speeches or parliamentary votes, but by the people of Paris violently rising up against the government. Thus began the romantic myth of the French Revolution—the one celebrated over the centuries by politicians and artists—as a great upheaval of the people against oppression.

Now reel back in time 13 years earlier to Philadelphia on July 1, 1776. A very different scene was taking place.

The Continental Congress was meeting in the Pennsylvania State House. The issue at hand was a resolution proposed by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia to sever ties with Great Britain. When a vote was taken, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Delaware came out against. The New York delegation, lacking instructions, abstained. But there were still nine votes in favor, which meant that the resolution was approved by the committee as a whole.

The next day, on July 2, the question was put before the whole Congress. South Carolina reversed itself and voted for independence. Delaware too turned in favor. While New York abstained once again, the Pennsylvania delegation split its vote three-to-two in favor. Thus, the measure passed. Two days later, on July 4, the wording of the official declaration was approved by Congress and sent to the printers for publication.

Thus, independence from Britain was decided not by a dramatic uprising of the people, but as the culmination of a prolonged and deliberate parliamentary procedure. Two different stories. Two different national holidays. Two very different revolutions.

Two Different Revolutions Inspired by the Same Ideas

They were different. That is true. But ironically, these two revolutions were inspired by the same ideas: liberty, equality, and the rights of the people.

Thomas Jefferson no less than Maximilien Robespierre was a fierce lover of liberty. Patrick Henry no less than Abbé Sieyès believed the people were sovereign and had a right to govern themselves. George Washington believed as Saint-Just did that virtue was a republican value upon which the safety of liberty depended. But they meant very different things by these ideas.

I believe the best way to understand the difference between these two revolutions is to understand the difference between these ideas. They are like windows into the souls of the revolutions—spotlights on their hopes and dreams. They also explain why, to this day, so many of us in the West dispute and argue over what is meant by freedom, equality, and human rights.

If I had to zero in on the most fundamental philosophical difference between the revolutionaries in America and France, I would say it comes down to how they viewed the natural order—what is sometimes called the state of nature.

For Americans, the state of nature was very real. It was where individuals were endowed by the Creator with natural rights like life and liberty. Looking largely to John Locke, they believed governments should be instituted to protect those rights.

Freedom already existed naturally, but it had to be protected from potential sources of coercion, mainly from governments or from majorities who would deny people their individual rights. For some, the state of nature was a benign place. For others, like English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, it was where life was “nasty, brutish and short.”

It was an uneasy balance of Enlightenment optimism, with its faith in Reason, mixed in with an old-fashioned Protestant distrust of human nature. Freedom was largely a negative thing, and rights existed in nature to be discovered by Reason, not to be created by philosophers or government committees.

For the French, it was completely different. They imagined a new order in which everyone naturally loved and cared for one another, but only if all the bad laws and customs of the past were completely destroyed.

They got this idea from the Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who believed that mankind, being good by its very nature, would exist in a state of complete social harmony were it not for the corrupting influences of civilization. The people, in this pure state of nature, were absolutely and completely sovereign. They could do no wrong. That’s why you cannot stand against them. To do so would be to stand against goodness itself. Rousseau said it plainly: “Whoever refused to obey the general will [of the people] shall be constrained to do so by the whole body which means nothing else than that he shall be forced to be free.”

Thus, freedom was largely a positive thing to be forced on society. It’s as if the people, ruling through their tribunes, were absolute monarchs who brooked no opposition and were quick to take offense at the slightest questioning of their sovereignty. The old idea of the absolute sovereignty of the king was, in the French Revolution, transferred to the “people,” giving them, in the hands of their revolutionary vanguard, the right of dictatorship.

Now, from these two very different philosophies, all other differences in ideas between the Americans and the French largely spring.

Let’s take the idea of equality. For the Americans, it was largely a matter of equality before the law. When Jefferson wrote in the Declaration, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” he meant that human beings were equal in their possession of legal rights. He did not mean that all people were equal in talent, merit, wealth, or social status. Rather, they were equal, as human beings, in their right to pursue their interests and their dreams without interference by the government or other people.

Writing in the Federalist Papers No. 10, James Madison made it clear that he had no use for the French idea of absolute equality. He wrote, “Theoretic politicians have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would at the same time be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.” For Madison, there was no single or general will in mankind. Rather, there was only a society of individuals with diverse interests and opinions whose natural freedoms needed to be preserved by government.

The French idea of equality, or égalité, is one of the three national mottos of the French Republic, but it is derived from a certain view of freedom. Since freedom is collective—an expression of the general will—and it is not individually determined, then naturally its truest expression is equality of the masses. You can be truly free only if you are in sync with the general will.

But that implies that everyone’s will must be equal otherwise, what’s the use of it being general? If everyone was allowed to have different interests, statuses, opinions, they would not be united in a single will, would they? As Saint-Just put it during the height of the Reign of Terror, “Private happiness and interest are a violence against the social order. You must forget yourselves…. [T]he only salvation is through the public good.”

The “public good” is just another word for collective freedom, which leads us to the third motto of the Revolution, fraternité, or the appeal to national unity. The first celebration of the storming of the Bastille, called the Féte de la Fédération and held on the Champ-de-Mars in 1790, was not a Victor Hugo–like celebration of Les Misérables, but a mass rally celebrating the fraternité of the Revolution and the unity of the French nation. It was the French ideas of liberty and equality all wrapped up in one. Free citizens would come together as equal partners in the unified French nation.

But there was, in the French Revolution, a paradox in this passion for unity. All nations celebrate national unity, even our own, but it can be taken to extremes. The fraternal desire for consensus and accord ended up in violence and discord.

Hearing the guilty verdict at his trial during the Terror, a member of the Girondin party joked that the only way for him and his compatriots to save their skins was to proclaim “the unity of their lives and the indivisibility of their heads.” Exactly! Pushing for agreement to the extreme of violence is the most divisive—and exclusionary—thing you can possibly do.

In the history of ideas and political movements, the legacy of fraternité is twofold: One, it gave birth to the populist nationalisms that would roil Europe and the world for the next two centuries, and two, taken to extremes, it led to the rise of totalitarian democracy in the 20th century.

All these differences in interpreting freedom, equality, and unity led the Americans and the French to very different notions of government.

Radically Different Ideas of Government

In America, the revolutionaries wanted a decentralized but federal government with checks and balances to protect against the potential tyranny of the majority. In France, they wanted a unicameral legislature that was supreme and which, in the extremes, would tolerate no opposition from the courts.

In America, rights were seen as negative things for government—to be protected by the government and in many instances from the government. In France, they were seen as positive—enshrined ideals really—which the government was instituted to create and enforce.

It’s worth pausing a moment over these different approaches to rights. The American Bill of Rights largely declared a citizen’s freedom from government. The declarations in it were about what the government should not do to the citizen. They were about protection against unreasonable search and seizures, double jeopardy, cruel and unusual punishment, religious persecution, and so on.

The French Declaration of the Rights of Man, on the other hand, enshrined the ideals of humanity. Its declarations were not only about what the government is supposed to deliver, but also about the necessary conditions it must impose on the citizenry to reach those ideals. Every right of the citizen was coupled with a responsibility of that citizen to the community.

One of the earliest revolutionaries who was later eclipsed by radicalism—the Comte de Mirabeau—warned of the dangers of this approach. “Restrictions, precautions, and conditions,” he wrote in 1789, “are replacing rights with duties.” In other words, the duty to the community trumped the rights of the individual. Rights were now claims the government had on the people, because the revolutionary government was the equivalent of the people.

I once heard an American claim that absolute obedience was due to the government because “the government is us.” That is precisely how the French revolutionaries saw it, but it was not how the Founders of the American republic saw it at all. To them, the government was not the people, but the servant of the people. The people were the “subject,” while the government was the “object.” Sovereignty resided in the people separately from the object of its desires, the government. For the French revolutionaries, there was no separation between the people and the government. They were united in fraternité, which meant that the government was, like the people, absolutely sovereign.

Different Concepts of Political Morality

What we are witnessing here are two very different concepts of political morality. Both the Americans and the French were struggling to create a just society, but because they had different visions of what that was, they ended up with nearly opposite definitions of democracy and freedom.

Nowhere are these moral differences more pronounced than in how the Americans and the French viewed the idea of virtue.

For the Americans, virtue was on the one level a matter of personal manners and beliefs. It was largely how a gentleman should behave in polite society. But it was also a great deal more than that. As George Washington put it, “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.” It was, quite simply, the idea that political freedom required social and moral restraints. You can’t have a free society where every man is out for himself. There has to be personal responsibility.

The French revolutionaries could not have seen matters more differently. For the more radical ones like Robespierre, the private virtues of the gentleman were associated with the decadent manners of the corrupt aristocracy. To them, the only thing that mattered was public virtues. Virtue was ardor for the Revolution. It was equated with energy, drive, and fanaticism. Robespierre once said, “He who does not pursue crime [in the name of revolution] cannot love virtue.”

Once again, the source is Rousseau. There was a highly sentimental side to this man’s writing. He talked about the noble savage. His novel Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse, celebrated inner authenticity and proclaimed how society had no right to impose its artificial ways on the natural human soul. Thus was born the romantic notion of sentiment, which ironically the French revolutionaries adopted as a passion for the Republic’s “cult of Reason.”

How so? By celebrating and mythologizing the natural virtues of the poor. Rousseau actually believed the highest virtue of all—the super virtue and thus the source of all other virtues—was pity. “In fact, what is generosity, what clemency, what humanity,” he asked, “but pity applied to the weak, to the guilty, or to the human species in general?” (Victor Hugo would immortalize this sentiment many years later in his novel, Les Misérables.)

However, in the hands of some of the French revolutionaries, pity took a dark spin. To them, it demanded inflexible justice in the name of the poor—the blade of the guillotine in some cases. The very goodness of the cause justified the horrible means to pursue it. Vengeance against the enemies of the poor was not only a patriotic duty, but the highest expression of political morality.

Once again, a paradox raised its ugly head. A radical pity for some meant a radical pitilessness for others. Robespierre had little pity for the Girondin. And later, his enemies had little pity for him. Like them, he ended up on the guillotine.

Revolutionary justice during the Terror had come full circle. Because of exaggerated claims of pity—and because absolute unity was pursued in the name of absolute equality—liberty and justice were sacrificed to the point where even trying to offer a defense in court would result in an immediate death sentence.

Like all tragedies, the seeds of the Terror were contained in the original idea “gone mad” of the French Revolution itself—namely, that justice could be achieved only when all the people were one and united in the service of humanity. Out of this utopian dream arose all the excuses to commit inhumane acts in the name of humanity and injustices in the name of justice.

Why Such Different Paths?

So far I’ve dealt with ideas—how different they were—but this discussion begs the question as to why the French and Americans took such different paths. The short answer is they were very different people. They had different histories, cultures, and historical experiences, and because of these, they chose to interpret liberty and equality in different ways.

The majority of the American people were farmers, many of whom owned their own land. By the standards of the day, America was a “middle class” society. Except for slaves, there were not large swaths of society steeped in poverty. The American revolutionaries were the landed and professional elites, many of them lawyers. No starry-eyed radicals here. They were not interested in overturning the old social order, but in preserving it. Their beef was with the laws of Parliament and the arbitrary prerogatives of the King that they believed violated their rights as Englishmen.

In France, the majority of people were either dirt-poor peasants, impoverished by the hundreds of petty encumbrances of the old feudal system, or the equally poor san-culottes in the grimy streets of Paris. The revolutionaries were either liberal aristocrats or, increasingly as the revolution became more radical, middle-class lawyers who were social and political outcasts in the ancien régime. The peasant, the Parisian laborer, and the middle-class lawyer had no real stake in the old society. Traumatized by centuries of brutal inequality, what they cared most about was overthrowing the old social order and creating equality.

Thus, France was ripe for social revolution.

Not so in America. Yes, there were social clashes in our revolution. There always are in any revolt. But by and large, the American Revolution was a political revolt of independence—a war of secession, if you will—and not social revolution at all.

In America, there was a long tradition of rights existing independently of the monarchy. It’s a tradition that goes all the way back to the Magna Carta, the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, and the general primacy of Parliament over the “divine right” of kings. But Americans understood their rights not as abstract ideas invented by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the philosophes, but as legal rights already existing, to be guaranteed by the law.

There was another difference. In America, religion was seen by the revolutionaries as a positive thing. It is true that Jefferson may have been a Deist, and the famous pamphleteer Thomas Paine was certainly no traditional Christian, but most of the revolutionaries were actually religious, and even the less than devout among them saw the social utility of religion as a moral provider of order. And that order, they believed, was necessary for a people to govern themselves freely.

Not so in France. There, not only was Catholicism the official state religion, but the church was actually an official order of the realm. It had its own official place in the Estates General, the parliament of the old regime. The church was like a state within a state, and priests were like privileged aristocrats. It had its own source of revenue, its own property, and was seen by many as a source of oppression.

No wonder that what we today call anti-clericalism—hostility to the power of churches—was, and still is, a burning creed of the French Republic. French secularism (or laïcité), with its tough restrictions on religion, makes our separation of church and state look like a picnic, and that’s because, unlike us, they see little or no value of religion operating inside civil society as a guarantor of freedom.

So there you have it: the story of two revolutions, two different peoples, two different dreams.

The question is, what does it all mean for us today? What are the legacies of these two revolutions in our lives and in the lives of others around the globe today? What lives on? What has faded with time?

Legacy of the French Revolution: The Loss of Restraint

I would be remiss not to start with the darkest legacy of the French Revolution—namely, the Terror. It reverberates to this day through every violent act done by revolutionaries and terrorists, from the Bolsheviks to bin Laden, in the name of the people.

The historian J. L. Talmon argues that the legacy of Jacobinism—the most radical part of the Revolution—is totalitarian democracy. The Messianic ideal born in the French Revolution inspired the totalitarian movements of the 20th century, especially Communism.

But I would argue its influence is not limited to Communism. It is present as well in all illiberal movements that restrict liberty in the name of equality and justice. Such illiberalism exists today in Russia, Venezuela, and Iran where a façade of democracy masks oppression and a corrupt rule. You see it in the populist nationalisms of the world that end up in dictatorship, as the French Revolution did with Napoleon. Plebiscitary “democracy,” where the people are allowed to speak only once and forever hold their peace, is also a legacy of the French Revolution.

The fundamental error in this legacy was the loss of restraint. In their fervor to create a new humanity, the Jacobins in particular committed the cardinal sin of losing their humanity.

To illustrate this point, it is well worth remembering that even Niccolò Machiavelli, who served in a diplomatic mission at the court of one of the cruelest tyrants in European history, Cesare Borgia, saw the necessity of restraint. In writing The Prince, which was modeled on Borgia, Machiavelli believed that sometimes evil had to be done to create the good, but he always understood that it was, after all, still intrinsically evil—it was an exception to the rule, if you will.

That changed with the French Revolution. Now evil acts committed in the name of the good became, in and of themselves, good.

There are few ideas unleashed on the world that have caused more misery. While totalitarianism on the Left and the Right has had different philosophical roots and different aspirations, they were united in this one goal: Nothing could be allowed to stand in their way of totally transforming mankind and societies. This was true equally for Stalin as well as Hitler—for Pol Pot as well as Osama bin Laden.

The direct ideological heirs of the French Revolution—socialism and Communism—of course have had a varied history. Gracchus Babuef (The Conspiracy of the Equals, 1796) was one of the last of the revolutionaries and the first to envision an absolute leveling of society. Marx and others turned socialism into Communism as a critique of the capitalist system. Lenin and others transformed socialism into Communism as a totalitarian movement. But today in the West, the “socialist” idea has been tamed. Socialist ideals have made their peace with elections and the capitalist system, becoming social democracies in Europe and the welfare state in the United States.

Now, lest you think I’m being too hard on the French, let me quickly add that over the centuries, they have redeemed themselves and their Revolution. Yes, they romanticize it and overlook the Terror (much as we sometimes overlook some of the blots on our legacy like slavery) but the French Republic today is a liberal democracy. As far as the West is concerned, its main legacy is not the violence of the Terror but the social democratic welfare state and definitions of positive social and economic rights as matters of equality—ideas we debate but which nonetheless are commonplace in all liberal democracies (including our own).

Legacy of the American Revolution: Ordered Liberty and Rule of Law

What is the legacy of our revolution? Every liberal democracy respects the “negative” rights as we first envisioned them. Today, they are largely called civil rights, but the notion that there are certain things the government should not be permitted to do to us is nearly universal in Western democracies.

So, too, is the notion of the rule of law. The French revolutionaries had no use for an independent judiciary. The Americans made a fetish of it. Today, the American view is gospel in every human rights organization in the world.

The very idea that a republic cannot exist without restraint is today a fundamental premise of modern democracy. No democrat today argues that power must be centralized completely in the hands of the few or that there must be an all-powerful unitary government. That claim is left to dictators and illiberal regimes like Russia.

Truth be told, liberal democracies today are hybrid legacies of both revolutions. From the French we got the welfare state and the propensity to centralization found in social democracy and in America, we got our progressive (communitarian) style of liberalism. From the Americans we get all the protections of liberties I mentioned earlier. The purest form of the Founders’ belief in negative freedoms today can be found in the ranks of constitutional conservatives.

This American–French hybrid exists even at the United Nations. The first 20 or so articles of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights are like our Bill of Rights. They are largely negative rights—things we want to protect people from, like slavery and torture. Nevertheless, at about article number 22 and beyond, the U.N. Declaration slips over into positive rights that could be, in spirit at least, taken directly from the French Declaration of the Rights of Man. They include things like the right to work and the right to just remuneration.

The first half, American the second half, French.

Now, despite all this, I must say that there is instability in this hybrid model. It is pervasive and successful, but it represents more a political compromise than a philosophical one.

You see the instability in our own debates. On one side are progressive liberals who believe in positive rights and the public good that are closer in spirit to the French Declaration of the Rights of Man than to the American Bill of Rights. On the other are American constitutional conservatives who are true believers mainly in negative rights. Between the two is a huge philosophical gap that may be papered over by political compromise, but which actually represents two very different ways of looking at the world.

Conclusion

Thus do the two legacies of the American and French revolutions live on to this very day. Thus do the different dreams inspired by these revolutions shape the hopes and dreams of the entire world.

These were among the most important events in human history. Every time we grapple with a public issue, whether it’s how far the NSA should go in spying or whether the welfare state should be larger or smaller, we are still debating the fundamental concepts that first exploded on the world scene over 200 years ago.

So let’s remember in commemoration of these two revolutions the cheers of their national holidays: Vive la France and God Bless America!

—Kim R. Holmes, PhD, is a Distinguished Fellow in the Center for International Studies, of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, at The Heritage Foundation. This lecture was delivered to commemorate Bastille Day at the Union League in Philadelphia.


The French Revolution Against Caste

In his incendiary essay, What is the Third Estate?, published in successive, increasingly strident editions throughout 1789, Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès sketched a program for the French Revolution. He called for the abolition of the hereditary nobility and the foundation of a new form of government headed by a meritocratic elite. French society, he insisted, should no longer be divided into three Estates (the clergy, nobility, and commoners), but be refashioned around the principle of civic equality, with power and rewards for those who showed themselves the most talented and hard-working. Sieyès offered a critique of legal inequality, conceptualized as “privilege,” and presented egalitarian meritocracy as the most rational and just form of society. This not only provided an orientation for the French public’s diffuse demands for political change in the pivotal year 1789, but also expressed ideas that remain common sense in capitalist liberal democracies today. What is the Third Estate? is one of the founding documents of modern politics. It anticipated the emergence of societies based on a relationship between equality before the law and competition for economic and political power. It also foreshadowed possibilities of mass violence against supposedly backward peoples.

Sieyès’s arguments for revolution depended on a vision of the world and history in which a potentially progressive nation was held back by ‘foreigners’ who reduced it to the status of South Asia’s caste-based society. References to caste and South Asia appear in several key passages in What is the Third Estate?, but have been given little attention in the scholarly literature. Reading Sieyès’ pamphlet with attention to its references to the Subcontinent reveals that in order to attack what was coming to be known as the Old Regime in France, Sieyès had to reimagine his own country through the stereotypes of Orientalism.

What is the Third Estate? was written as part of Sieyès’ efforts to make sense of Louis XVI’s summoning of the Estates General on January 24, 1789. Desperate for support as it grappled with a budgetary crisis, and unable to make headway with traditional institutions like the Parlement of Paris, the French monarchy convened this medieval purposeful body, which had not met since the previous century. But the convocation of the Estates General escalated debates over the government’s financial difficulties into a struggle over the nature of political and social life in France.

Delegates to the Estates General caucused in three different chambers, one for each Estate—a fact that many members of the public, and of the Estates General itself, found an anachronism, and indeed an affront to a self-consciously “enlightened” era. As the Estates General began to meet in the spring of 1789, tensions escalated, leading to a decisive series of events in late June as delegates from the Third, joined by reform-minded allies in the other two Estates, came together and declared themselves a National Assembly.

Although Sieyès was a clergyman, he had been elected as a deputy to the Third Estate, and had been making arguments against the Estates system since the fall of 1788, when he wrote an “Essay on Privileges,” in which he attacked the nobility as a “privileged class.” In his analysis, privilege was an evil that subverted the principles of true society, by which honor and power should flow to those who contributed the most through their work. With the first edition of What is the Third Estate?, however, Sieyès seems to have considered that adopting the language of “caste” might further his goal of treating privilege as a principle alien to France and treating the nobility as a group foreign to the French “nation”. He alternated between the terms “privileged caste” and “privileged class,” writing as well of the “caste of nobles” and the “caste that supplies the Church, Robe and Sword” with members (the Robe and Sword being traditional divisions of the nobility, and the upper ranks of the ecclesiastical hierarchy being reserved for nobles).

The word ‘caste’ was not common in eighteenth-century French, outside of direct references to South Asia—never before had it been used in a sustained way to comment on domestic politics. But Sieyès insisted that caste “is just the word to use. It refers to a class of men who, having no function or any utility, nonetheless enjoy the privileges attached to their person simply by dint of their existence.” He went on, criticizing the practice of reserving certain posts in the French government for nobles, which he saw as an unfair advantage to “all those of the same caste.” This was one instance of a larger pattern of abuses of which examples could also be found in “reports by travelers to India.” In a footnote, Sieyès referred the reader “on the subject of Indian castes” to Guillaume Raynal’s Histoire des Deux Indes, buttressing his polemical use of the term ‘caste’ with a reference to a text in which South Asia, bound by caste and despotism, was said to be incapable of progress. [1]

These references to South Asia have not captured scholars’ attention, likely because Sieyès’ main line of attack against the “privileged caste” was couched in references to European history, not Orientalist stereotypes. He twisted traditional arguments that had been made by defenders of aristocratic privilege, who claimed (in a narrative known in the French historiography as the thèse nobiliaire) that nobles were descendants of Germanic invaders who had conquered France during the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Such arguments presented eighteenth-century nobles’ special status as something earned by an ancestral right of conquest. But, Sieyès noted, they could be turned around to justify violence from below. If the common people of France were the descendants of “Gauls and Romans” who had been tyrannized by foreign enemies, then they should ask themselves: “Why not, after all, send back to the Franconian forests all these families still affecting the insane claim to have been born of a race of conquerors and be heirs to rights of conquests?” [2]

Supporting this (pseudo-)historical argument that nobles, as foreign conquerors, had no place in France, was a broader claim that the division of French society into hereditary categories was essentially foreign. The Estate System in France, Sieyès claimed, was no better than—and in fact identical with—the caste system in South Asia. Both were examples of a common, world-wide “order of things despicable, monstruous, destructive of all industry, inimical to social progress, degrading to the human race in general and intolerable to Europeans in particular.” [3] Linking caste and Estate, Sieyès presented hierarchical social divisions based on birth as offenses against a universal human nature. At the same time, however, he reintroduced a sense of European difference and superiority by claiming that this injustice is especially problematic in Europe, where, presumably, people were or ought to be more enlightened.

Sieyès revolutionary re-appropriation of Orientalist conceptions of caste was something less than coherent. Throughout the eighteenth-century, French thinkers, including Montesquieu and the Abbé Raynal, had described caste as a timeless, unchanging system that had prevented South Asia from making any cultural, social or economic progress for thousands of years. This perspective both simplified the complex realities of caste in the Subcontinent, and imagined South Asia as the reverse-image of a progressive Europe. Thus for Sieyès to claim that French society suffered under the same “order of things” that prevailed in South Asia both familiar (insofar as it linked South Asian caste with stasis and oppression) and radical (insofar as it broke with the tradition of using Orientalist clichés to justify the European status quo). If French Estates were equivalent to castes, this would mean that France was divided into three castes, with the Third Estate forming a caste of its own. But Sieyès only referred to the nobility a caste he never referred to the Third Estate using this term. Instead, he called the Third Estate “the nation”, and suggests that “caste” is something extraneous to, or parasitic upon, the national body.

Although it made little logical sense to pit “caste” against “nation” (when, taking the analogy seriously, all members of Old Regime society would belong to one caste or another) the move was rhetorically effective, launching the term “caste” into the French political lexicon as an insult. It became a generic term of abuse that could target any group, noble or otherwise. Jacobin leader Maximilien Robespierre distinguished between the “privileged caste” of nobles from the “the French people,” while one of his critics, the playwright Jean-Louis Laya (1761-1837), described the Jacobins themselves as a “caste of oppressors” opposed to the French nation. [4] “Caste,” now detached from any reference to the Subcontinent, had become another word for “faction” or “party”, a self-seeking group opposed to the national interest.

While Sieyès was using comparisons between caste in South Asia and the Estates system in France to structure his calls for Revolution, officials in France’s South Asian colonies used caste to justify the exclusion of their South Asian subjects from political participation. When the inhabitants of Pondicherry, France’s largest colony in the Subcontinent, sought the right to vote in local elections and join the new national guard, they were refused. Officials claimed that South Asians were too attached to their caste identities to appreciate equality and fraternity.

Reading the divergent appeals to caste in these colonial documents and in What is the Third Estate? reinforces Srinivas Aravamudan’s claim that the French Revolution was a turning point in the history of Orientalism. Aravamudan argues that 1789 represents a moment when European elites denied the legitimacy of both historical Western societies and contemporary Asian ones. The space for a curious, self-critical European interest in Asia disappeared along with a respect for Europe’s own classical and medieval pasts, as an orientation toward the future and a capacity to nurture economic progress seemed to be the most important criteria for evaluating societies. [5]

There was indeed a connection between the Revolution’s rejection of the Old Regime past and Orientalism’s rejection of the Asian present. Across the second half of the century, and with particular force in the years 1789-1799, a suite of concepts drawn from European encounters with Asian societies were used to make generalizations about various institutions and practices that had organized life in France throughout the early modern period. Imagined as coherent, hegemonic, oppressive systems called “feudalism,” “privilege,” “prejudice,” “the Old Regime”, etc., these diverse ways of doing things came to seem to many thinkers and political figures like alien forms that were oppressing a long-suffering French nation. This vision of French society was an oversimplification. Pre-revolutionary institutions and practices were more diverse, diffuse and fluid than their critics claimed them to be. By attacking the “Old Regime”, French revolutionaries were to some extent fighting an imaginary enemy. Yet they were not merely tilting at windmills their campaign against the “Old Regime” transformed France’s political culture and structures.

Correlative of what we might call “Old Regime-ism” was the intellectual work of Orientalism, by which South Asia, like French society under the monarchy, came to seem as an unchanging, despotic system out of alignment with enlightened values. The processes of elaborating stereotypes of French and South Asian society fed into each other in texts such as Sieyès’s What is the Third Estate?, each stereotype making the other seem more convincing. Yet Old Regime-ism and Orientalism served different ends. The former inspired French revolutionaries to transform their society the latter mobilized French colonial administrators to try to fix South Asia in place, ignoring local demands for change.

Comparisons between caste and Estate in the French Revolution mark the rise of a self-consciously modern and ostensibly egalitarian politics making claims on two conflicting registers: one on behalf of a universal human nature that has been denied its rights, and another on behalf of a particularly enlightened group authorized to expel or dominate others. Insofar as What is the Third Estate? is a programme for modern revolutionary politics, then that politics is from its outset both a promise and a threat, a vision of a liberated humanity shadowed by stereotypes of degenerate others.

Alongside this antinomy of revolutionary politics, which promises universal freedom even as it frames some people and communities as freedom’s necessary enemies, is another contradiction. Sieyès’ global vision, linking diverse forms of hierarchy in a single “order of things” to be exposed and eliminated, was limited not only by his enduring essentialisms (European vs South Asian, Gauls vs Franks) but also by his class politics. As William Sewell has shown in his Marxist interpretation of “What is the Third Estate,” Sieyès’ revolution was meant to create a society in which a minority of ‘talented’ men could rule a nation of productive, docile workers. The triumphant abolition of old hierarchies was to pave the way for the domination of a new class of capitalists and administrators.

Even today, apparently radical critiques of hierarchy in Western democracies turn to South Asian caste, limited by the same essentialisms and meritocratic horizons that characterized “What is the Third Estate?” Isabel Wilkerson, for example, in her recently published Caste: the Origins of Our Discontent (2020) compares race in the United States to caste in India. She finds that both are inegalitarian systems of hereditary inequality founded on “hostility” to groups marked as inferior. Both were founded on conquest, as “people said to be Aryans” invaded North America and South Asia and installed oppressive regimes. “Anyone who truly believes in meritocracy,” she insists, should oppose such a system. [6]

Wilkerson is untroubled by the fact that ‘Aryan’ did not exist as a category in the early modern Atlantic—or that many historians of South Asia no longer subscribe to the ‘Aryan invasion’ narrative, now seen by many as a myth that served the interest of British colonial elites who saw themselves as the successors of this original invasion. Nor does she hesitate to use essentialist race-thinking to describe the 2016 election as a “existential fight for primacy in a country whose demographics had been shifting beneath us all.” Non-white immigration, she claims, will displace the United States’ “historic ruling majority, the dominant caste in an unspoken hierarchy… whites would no longer be the majority.” [7]

It is hardly less flabbergasting to hear that white supremacy in the United States has historically been unspoken as it is to hear that the far-right view of the election as an “existential” clash between races is indeed correct. Like Sieyès, Wilkerson mobilizes her enemies’ vision of a country divided into distinct groups with fixed essences, locked in a struggle for power. She echoes white nationalists’ claims that demographic transformations will endanger a historically constant white essence (as though whiteness were an empirical reality and not a changing category of self-understanding that has expanded or contracted at various moments in our history). However where Sieyès called for violent revolution against the ruling class, Wilkerson appeals to “radical empathy” to overcome “anti-black sentiment.” Where Sieyès called for ethnic cleansing, Wilkerson advocates pseudo-therapeutic solutions. [8]

While Wilkerson’s comparison of caste and race thus differs from Sieyès’ comparison of caste and Estate, the texts share a common horizon, one in which much of our thinking about inequality continues to operate. Within this framework, the various forms of inequality throughout the world are a political problem (only) insofar as they interfere with meritocracy. Resistance to these unmeritocratic inequalities takes the form not of banishing the identitarian divisions that had pitted people against each other in the old “order of things,” but mobilizing them to affirm historically oppressed groups against historical oppressors. Reading “What is the Third Estate” as a founding document of this global vision—riven with contradictions and limitations and productive of modern hierarchies based on ‘merit’ (i.e., social class)—reminds us both of the power of thinking different forms of inequality together, and the danger that such thinking can advance novel forms of domination.

Blake Smith is a Harper-Schmidt Fellow at the University of Chicago. His research on eighteenth-century European interactions with South Asia has appeared in French Cultural Studies, History of European Ideas, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, and other venues. He is the translator of two works of francophone fiction from India: K. Madavane’s To Die in Benares and Ari Gautier’s The Thinnai.

Further Readings:

Srinivas Aravamudan, Enlightenment Orientalism: Resisting the Rise of the Novel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012).

Adrian Carton “Shades of Fraternity: Creolization and the Making of Citizenship in French India, 1790-1792” French Historical Studies, vol. 31, 4, (2008), p. 581-607.

William Sewell, A Rhetoric of Bourgeois Revolution: the Abbé Sieyès and ‘What is the Third Estate’? (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994).

[1] Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, Political Writings, ed. and trans . Michael Sonenscher (Cambridge: Hackett Publishing, 2003), 94-6.

[4] Robespierre, Discours, ed. Marc Bouloiseau, Georges Lefebvre and Albert Soboul (Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1950-58), 117. Jean-Louis Laya, L’Ami des Lois, vol. 6 (Paris: Maradan, 1793), 7.

[5] Srinivas Aravamudan, Enlightenment Orientalism: Resisting the Rise of the Novel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 9.

[6] Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (New York: Random House, 2020), 385-6, 82-3.


Causes for the French Revolution

1) Divided France:

France was divided into three classes or three estates. The clergy was the first estate, the nobles were the second estate, the middle class, the artisans, the city workers, and the peasants formed the majority of the population formed the third estate.

a) The clergy was the largest landowner in per capita terms the clergy and the nobles did not pay any taxes and did no productive work.

b) The peasants formed 80% of the population.

c) Although the economically large middle classes were important, they enjoyed very little social prestige and political rights in society.

d) The third estate did not have voting rights, on the other hand, the clergy and the nobles did not pay any tax and the tax burden was solely borne by the third estate.

This was a major source for the grievance of the people which led to a reason for the French Revolution.

2) Unpopular monarchy and weakening exchequer:

King Louis 16 was an inefficient ruler with poor intelligence. The people hated his wife who interfered in the appointments of officials.

3) Enlightenment thinkers :

The revolutionary enlightenment thinkers stressed on rationalism, secularism, the doctrine of nature brought the clergy under attack by the thinkers.

a) The principles of Laissez-Faire and no taxation without representatives were stressed which brought the nobility under criticism.

b) The thoughts of Democracy have been propounded by way of thinkers like Montesquieu and Jean Rousseau.

French Revolution Facts

a) In 1789, King Louis 16 called a meeting of estate’s general, which was the old feudal assembly of the three estates, to get the consent of additional funds.

b) When the additional funding debate reached a dead end, the third estate representatives declared themselves the national assembly, an assembly of the people rather than an assembly of the estates (like estates general).

c) An important event during the early days of the French revolution, on June 20th, 1789, when the representatives of the third estate reached the palace of Versailles, they founded closed on all sides, they held their meeting in a tennis court near the palace where Mirabeau delivered the fiery speech.

In this court, the people took a pledge to continue their movement until a new constitution was drafted. This event is known as the tennis court oath.

d) The national assembly adopted the famous document of the French Revolution, called the rights of man and citizen, which stressed equality before the law, gender equality, right to private property, people’s eligibility to public offices, etc.

e) In 1793, the radical Jacobins came to power in France, they made the right to vote unconditional by removing the income clause.

f) Robespierre, the leader of the Jacobins was the man behind, what came to be known as the Reign of Terror, where the regime sought to execute via guillotine all those who opposed the revolution. The king and the queen were executed in 1793.

g) Under the Jacobins, France descended into anarchy with little scope for the rule of law. Soon the same Jacobins turned against Robespierre and the reign of terror ended with his guillotine execution.

h) The Bourgeois again came to power and their government was called directorate.

i) In 1799, Napoleon, in a coup brought France under military rule, he declared himself the emperor a few years later and the monarchy was restored in France.

j) The years between 1803 are known for Napoleonic wars, wherein the French fought against the rest of Europe and brought the ideas of the French revolution to the conquered territories.

k) Napoleon’s forces abolished serfdom and modernized the administration of the conquered territories in Europe.

l) After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, the monarchies in the rest of Europe helped the old dynasty to come to old power in 1815.

But the old monarchy could never restore its control to the level witnessed prior to the 1789 revolution and soon France four waves of revolutions to finally become a republic in 1871.

Impact of the French Revolution

Positive Impact of the French Revolution

i) The war with France weakened the European colonial powers like Spain and Portugal and their colonies in the south and central America who declared themselves as independent republics.

ii) It led to the abolition of slavery in Britain and the USA.

iii) It led to the destruction of feudalism in France as all laws of the old feudal regime were repealed and lands of the nobles and church were confiscated and redistributed.

iv) The privileged classes, that is, the first and the second estates were abolished.

v) It ushered in the new economic system of capitalism as against the prevalent feudalism.

vi) Under napoleon’s rule, the Napoleonic code as a civil code for France was introduced and some of its provisions like merit-based recruitment to government jobs, focus on clearly written law continue to be in effect in the present legal system in France and other nations.

vii) The French revolution in later years inspired movements against colonialism in colonies around the world, while movements for democracy and self-rule rose in the whole of Europe.

Negative Impact of the French Revolution

i) Post –French Revolution regime failed to resolve the grievances of the workers, who were the main force during the uprising of 1789, and only the peasants benefited as they have become owners of land confiscated from the privileged classes.

ii) The revolution failed to bring in democratic rule and the reign of terror under the Jacobins was a mass slaughter characterized by nothing but brute force and the breach of rule of law.

iii) Napoleon due to his continuous warfare resulted in rising of nationalism in the invaded territories and he came to be perceived, not as a liberator, but an aggressive agent of empire building.

The nationalism was to prove advantageous to the unification of Germany and Italy in the 1870s.


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