An era of revolutions began with the American Revolution, justified ideologically by Locke’s social contract and natural rights philosophy. The Constitution of 1787, with its Bill of Rights, provided a strong central government with a separation of power between the three branches. Its effect in Europe was immense: Enlightenment ideals could become reality.

But there were other causes for the French Revolution aside from the ideas of the Enlightenment, such as the legal inequality of the three Estates of the clergy, the aristocracy, and commoners, who were the vast majority. In 1788, the government, facing financial collapse, summoned the Estates-General for the first time since 1614. Assembling at Versailles in May 1789, it deadlocked whether to vote as estates or by head. The Third Estate proclaimed itself the National Assembly, an illegal act which Louis XVI failed to repress, in part because of rural and urban uprisings, notably the capture of the Bastille prison in Paris on July 14. In August, the National Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen with its natural rights philosophy, and in O??ob??, the women of Paris walked to Versailles and forced the king to accompany them back to the city.

The constitution of 1791 subordinated the monarch to the Legislative Assembly. All were citizens, but only citizens who paid taxes had the vote. The lands of the Catholic Church were nationalized, and the church placed under civil control. The regime faced opposition from the church, some aristocrats, and conservatives in general, but also from those who demanded even more revolution, such as the Jacobins. Louis’s fellow European monarchs were also opposed, and the result was war in April 1792. In reaction to early military defeats, the revolution entered into a more radical stage, abetted by the Paris Commune of artisans and merchants. A republic was proclaimed and the ex-king, Louis XVI, was executed in January 1793.

To meet the domestic and foreign threats, the Committee of Public Safety was given dictatorial power. Under the leadership of Maximilien Robespierre, it raised an army motivated by national patriotism rather than dynastic loyalties. Revolutionary courts were created to ferret out those not sufficiently supportive of the revolution, and 50,000 were executed during “the Terror.” Price controls were placed upon food and other necessary items, and slavery was abolished. Notre Dame Cathedral was designated the Temple of Reason, and a new revolutionary calendar was adopted eliminating Sundays and church holidays. But in July 1794, the National Convention turned against Robespierre, who was quickly executed. A new government headed by a five-member Directory was established which satisfied neither the radicals nor the royalists, and in 1799, the Directory was overthrown and the Consulate established.

An outsider from Corsica, revolution and war gave Napoleon Bonaparte his opportunity. A controversial figure, he was more the enlightened despot than the democratic revolutionary. He made peace with the papacy on his terms, and his Civil Code guaranteed equality, though less so for women. In 1804 he crowned himself Emperor. His armies conquered much of the continent, but his empire did not last. Great Britain remained undefeated, and French armies on the continent bred nationalistic reactions in many of the conquered areas. In June 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia with 600,000 troops, but ultimately the French were forced to retreat. National revolts, a reaction to French occupation armies, broke out, and Napoleon abdicated in 1814. He briefly returned to power but was defeated at the battle of Waterloo in 1815, and sentenced to exile on the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic, where he died in 1821. His shadow hung over Europe for decades.

At the end, order had triumphed over liberty, and the victors were the propertied classes. However, the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity inspired future generations, and the citizen nationalism created in France led to the development of modern nationalism elsewhere.

  1. Explain the causes, events, and consequences of the French Revolution.
    1. The French Revolution resulted from a combination of long-term social and political causes, as well as Enlightenment ideas, exacerbated by short-term scal and economic crises.
    2. The first, or liberal, phase of the French Revolution established a constitutional monarchy, increased popular participation, nationalized the Catholic Church, and abolished hereditary privileges.
    3. After the execution of 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.
      • Illustrative Examples of opponents of revolution: Edmund Burke
    4. Revolutionary armies, raised by mass conscription, sought to bring the changes initiated in France to the rest of Europe.
    5. 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.
  2. Explain how the events and developments of the French Revolution influenced political and social ideas from 1648 to 1815.
    1. 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.
    2. While many were inspired by the revolution’s emphasis on equality and human rights, others condemned its violence and disregard for traditional authority.
  3. Explain the effects of Napoleon’s rule on European social, economic, and political life.
    1. 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.
      • Illustrative Examples of Reforms: careers open to talent, educational system, centralized bureaucracy, Civil Code, Concordat of 1801
      • Illustrative Examples of Restrictions: secret police, censorship, limitation of women’s rights
    2. Christianity was a stimulus for exploration as governments and religious authorities sought to spread the faith, and for some it served as a justi cation for the subjugation of indigenous civilizations.
    3. Napoleon’s new military tactics allowed him to exert direct or indirect control over much of the European continent, spreading the ideals of the French Revolution across Europe.
  4. Explain the nationalist responses to Napoleon’s rule in Europe.
    1. Napoleon’s expanding empire created nationalist responses throughout Europe.
  5. Explain how the developments and challenges to the political order resulted in change in the period from 1648 to 1815.
    1. Different models of political sovereignty affected the relationship among states and between states and individuals.
      1. The French Revolution posed a fundamental challenge to Europe’s existing political and social order.
      2. Claiming to defend the ideals of the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte imposed French control over much of the European continent, which eventually provoked a nationalistic reaction.
        • Illustrative Examples: Student protest in German states, guerilla war in Spain, Russian scorched earth policy

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