World History (A)

Chapter 7: The French Revolution and Napoleon, 1789–1815


The gap between rich and poor in France was vast. The inequalities of the economy of France were a major cause of the French Revolution. Driven by the example of the American Revolution and such Enlightenment ideas as liberty, equality, and democracy, the French ousted the government of Louis XVI and established a new political order. After seizing power in 1799, Napoleon conquered a huge empire that included much of Western Europe. His attempt to conquer Russia, however, led to his downfall.

Concepts from AP European History

The French Revolution and Napoleon

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.