AP European History
Key Concept 2.1: Different models of political sovereignty affected the relationship among states and between states and individuals.


The French Revolution was the most formidable challenge to traditional politics and diplomacy during this period. Inspired in part by Enlightenment ideas, the Revolution introduced mass politics, led to the creation of numerous political and social ideologies, and remained the touchstone for those advocating radical reform in subsequent decades. The French Revolution was part of a larger revolutionary impulse that, as a transatlantic movement, influenced revolutions in Spanish America and the Haitian slave revolt. Napoleon Bonaparte built upon the gains of the revolution and attempted to exploit the resources of the continent in the interests of France and his own dynasty. Napoleon’s revolutionary state imposed French hegemony throughout Europe, but eventually a coalition of European powers overthrew French domination and restored, as much as possible, a balance of power within the European state system. At the same time, the conservative powers attempted to suppress the ideologies inspired by the French Revolution.

Supporting Concepts and Examples

The French Revolution posed a fundamental challenge to Europe’s existing political and social order.

The French Revolution resulted from a combination of long-term social and political causes, as well as Enlightenment ideas, exacerbated by short-term fiscal and economic crises.
The first, or liberal, phase of the French Revolution established a constitutional monarchy, increased popular participation, nationalized the Catholic Church, and abolished hereditary privileges.

Actions taken during the moderate phase of the French Revolution:
  • Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen
  • Civil Constitution of the Clergy
  • Constitution of 1791
  • Abolition of provinces and division of France into departments
After the execution of the Louis XVI, the radical Jacobin Republic led by Robespierre responded to opposition at home and war abroad by instituting the Reign of Terror, fixing prices and wages, and pursuing a policy of de-Christianization.

Radical Jacobin leaders and institutions:
  • Georges Danton
  • Jean-Paul Marat
  • Committee of Public Safety
Revolutionary armies, raised by mass conscription, sought to bring the changes initiated in France to the rest of Europe.
Women enthusiastically participated in the early phases of the revolution; however, while there were brief improvements in the legal status of women, citizenship in the republic was soon restricted to men.
Revolutionary ideals inspired a slave revolt led by Toussaint L’Ouverture in the French colony of Saint Domingue, which became the independent nation of Haiti in 1804.
While many were inspired by the revolution’s emphasis on equality and human rights, others condemned its violence and disregard for traditional authority.

Claiming to defend the ideals of the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte imposed French control over much of the European continent that eventually provoked a nationalistic reaction.

As first consul and emperor, Napoleon undertook a number of enduring domestic reforms while often curtailing some rights and manipulating popular impulses behind a façade of representative institutions.

Domestic reforms under Napoleon:

Curtailment of rights under Napoleon:

Reading 1: Pages 563-570

The American Revolution:
     The War for Independence
     Forming a New Nation
     Impact of the Revolution on Europe
Background to the French Revolution:
     Social Structure of the Old Regime
     Other Problems Facing the French Monarchy

Reading 2: Pages 570-577

French Revolution:
     From Estates-General to National Assembly
     Destruction of the Old Regime

Reading 3: Pages 577-586

French Revolution:
     The Radical Revolution
     Reaction and the Directory

Reading 4: Pages 586-590

The Age of Napoleon:
     The Rise of Napoleon
     The Domestic Policies of Emperor Napoleon

Reading 5: Pages 590-593

The Age of Napoleon:
     Napoleon’s Empire and the European Response
     The Fall of Napoleon

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