By Teddy Walker
The French Revolution happened between 1787 and 1799. It’s often referred to as the Revolution of 1789 to distinguish it from later revolutions in France. Over the course of the revolution, the French feudal system was destroyed and Napoleon became the ruler of France.
The revolution, like all great political change, had many driving factors. Among them included the rising price of bread, high taxes, national debt, and poor harvest. Much of France’s problems with money were due to their support of the American revolution. The support of the United States left France on the verge of bankruptcy and caused the Monarchy to increase taxes on the nation. This largely affected those who were not of noble birth, of which there was a massively increasing number.
Between 1715 and 1800, the european population had doubled in number. This, combined with a growing commoner merchant class and better education and living conditions, caused a significant degree of political unrest as the lower classes sought to remove the last vestiges of the feudal system from their lives. While this problem was prevalent throughout Europe, it was much more of an issue in France as it had the largest population of any european nation and a crippled economy.
In 1789, the period known as the Great Fear began. On July 14, Parisian rioters took the Bastille (a large fortress in Paris) to secure weapons in an effort to prevent an aristocratic conspiracy. In the days that followed, the estates of the wealthy were attacked and many feudal documents proving nobility and the like were destroyed.
In 1792, France declared war on Austria. The monarchy hoped that the war would either enforce the power of the crown or allow another nation’s army to save the king from his own people. A few months latter, the kingdom of Prussia joined with Austria against France and battles largely resulted in french defeat for the rest of the year.
In early 1793, the french king was put on trial before the national convention ( a proto-senate/parliament of sorts) and sentenced to death for treason. Latter in the year, the reign of terror began. The reign started on 19 Fructidor, year 1 and ended on 9 Thermidor, year 2. If you don’t know when that is it’s because revolutionary France decided to use a stupid calendar that didn’t work very well because time doesn’t fit into a metric system. From mid 1793 to mid 1794, about 300,000 people were arrested by revolutionaries. About 17,000 were tried and executed while many more were killed without trial or died in prison.
Following a victory over Austria and the reoccupation of Belgium, the reign of terror was ended. This led to another, albeit smaller, wave of unrest across France. During this time, royalist revolutionaries attempted the “white terror” and tried to seize control of Paris. They were crushed by the armies of Napoleon and were unsuccessful in reinstalling the monarchs.