The French Revolution symbolises possibly the most important political change in early modern Europe. The revolution spanning from 1789 to 1799 saw mass social and political change in France culminating in the abolition of the French monarchy and replacement with a secular and democratic republic. The outcome of the revolution, especially the rise of Napoleon meant that the revolution did not just impact France. The revolution’s significance was felt worldwide.
The events of the French Revolution spanned ten years, stemming from the calling of the Estates General by Louis XVI in 1789 to find a solution to the tax problem, with a solution unlikely and unfair, the Third Estate declared itself as the sovereign National Assembly. The Assembly swore the ‘Tennis Court Oath’; revolutionary efforts would be relentless until a new constitution. This led to the violent events such as Great Fear and the Great Terror. These events culminated in the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a republic.
The French Revolution cannot be attributed to one cause, but a multitude of factors of discontent. Culturally speaking, Enlightenment theory such as the notion of all being born equal coupled with the example of American independence provoked concerns over the legitimacy of the absolutist Ancien Régime. Economically, the national debt was growing as a result of wars fought in by France. Discontent grew as the nobility and clergy could exempt themselves from taxes, the burden of debt fell upon the largest group, the common people that made up the Third Estate. Socially, the French peasantry which made up the masses of the Third Estate who were seeing increasing poverty amongst them and social inequality was growing between the lower and upper classes. This poverty was exacerbated by hunger and discontent created by the deregulation of the grain industry. Regulation was seen by many as a duty of the King to his subjects and it ensured that the peasantry had the bread that made up a majority of their diet, in the light of deregulation many went hungry.
Perhaps the key impact of the French Revolution was the destruction of the Ancien Régime and establishment of a republic. Absolutist monarchy in France was abolished by the National Convention in September 1792, superseded by the execution of King Louis XVI on January 21 1973 then followed by his wife Marie Antoinette’s execution nine months later. Constitutionalism was introduced to replace arbitrary and absolutist rule based upon the will of the monarch, many of the principles adopted in the 1791 constitution were taken from the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man defining the constitution on the will of the revolution and the rights of the people.
Another important impact of the revolution in France was the declining influence of the Catholic Church and secularisation of society. Although Napoleon restored some of the Church’s spiritual roles after a backlash amongst the pious the Church was not returned its power or monetary assets such as land. Economically, the break-up of church and noble control of agricultural land meant that small independent farming became the norm and famers, especially peasants, benefitting from ending of a number of agricultural taxes. Another key impact of the French Revolution was also the emergence of Napoleon Bonaparte. His prominence in military conflict between the Revolutionary government and other European nations including large victories against Austria. He eventually orchestrated a coup against the French Directory eventually establishing an authoritarian and militaristic regime.
The French Revolution’s impacts were not limited to France alone, impacting the wider European continent and the world as a whole. Following the French Revolution there has been a trend in Europe of dwindling importance of monarchs in politics and the wider introduction of democratic political orders. The ideals put forward in the French Revolution were certainly in that sense, imported worldwide. The Revolution was also met antagonistically by some countries, such as in Britain where the majority of the people were opposed to the aims and outcomes of the revolution. Conflict between countries was seen after the French Revolution in both the Revolutionary Wars from 1792 to 1802 which spanned further than just in Europe to Egypt, the Middle East, the Caribbean and beyond. This conflict was followed into the reign of Napoleon with the Napoleonic Wars from 1803 to 1815 which was just as international as the former.