French Revolution – History, causes and consequences

We explain what the French Revolution was and its main events. Also, its various causes and consequences.

French Revolution
The French Revolution took place in the then Kingdom of France in 1798.

What was the French Revolution?

It is known as the French Revolution to a political and social movement that occurred in the then Kingdom of France in the year 1798, which shook the foundations of the absolutist monarchy of Louis XVI and led to the establishment of a republican and liberal government in its place.

This event is almost universally regarded as the historical event that marked the beginning of contemporary times in Europe and the West. The French Revolution and the Bonapartism that followed shocked the whole world and spread the ideas of the French Enlightenment, summed up in the revolutionary slogan of “liberty, equality, fraternity.”

The French Revolution began when the impoverished and submissive citizen masses opposed feudal power, disobeyed the authority of the monarchy, and lit the fuse of historical change.

Thus, they overthrew the aristocratic government and undertook the chaotic construction of a society based on the fundamental rights of all human beings.

However, not everything ended that same year, but it lasted about ten years (1789-1799) of violent changes and popular organization, during which the first universal rights of the human being were dictated, much of the Catholic Church was taken away from it. power held and the first republican constitution in Western history was written.

So many events, of course, did not occur without a significant margin of violence, both by the crown troops, who fired at the insurgent people, and by revolutionary ranks that guillotined the kings and their aides, along with those loyal citizens to the monarchy or to those later found guilty of being counterrevolutionaries, during a period known as “The Terror” (1792-1794).

Furthermore, the nascent French republic had to face the intervention of foreign enemies such as the armies of Austria and Prussia, who came to the defense of the monarchy, fearful that something similar would happen in their own countries.

The french revolution came to an end with the seizure of power by Napoleon Bonaparte, a revolutionary general who staged a coup to restore order to the troubled French Republic, shortly after proclaiming his own Empire and setting out to conquer Europe.

Characteristics of the French Revolution

French Revolution
The republican stage was anarchic and difficult, with many internal confrontations.

The Revolution took place quickly, but the following years were one of complex reorganizations and internal confrontations between the different revolutionary factions that aspired to power. In general lines, three stages of the French Revolution are distinguished:

  • Monarchical stage (1789-1792). During the first stage, an attempt was made to coexist with the monarchy, placing limits on it and limiting its power, through a National Assembly in which the common people had representation.
  • Republican stage (1792-1804). The failure of the previous stage led to the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of the Republic through popular political organization and the debate on how to govern the new model. It was an anarchic and difficult stage, with many internal confrontations.
  • Imperial stage (1804-1815). The closing of the Revolution occurs with the rise of Bonaparte to power, who paradoxically had himself proclaimed emperor and returned to France to a monarchical, albeit modern, scheme.

Causes of the French Revolution

The causes of the French Revolution were:

  • The rigor of absolutism. Absolutism gave the kings all the political, legal and economic power, without being able to contradict them in any way, which also made them responsible for the economic disasters that occurred, whether or not it was really their responsibility.
  • The inequalities of the feudal regime. It is estimated that of the 23 million inhabitants of France at the time, only 300 thousand belonged to the privileged classes of the aristocracy or the clergy. The great remaining mass was common people with fewer rights and possibilities.
  • The misery and marginalization of the common people. The living conditions of the common people were extremely poor: hunger, marginalization, disease, slave labor and no prospect of social advancement or improvement.
  • The ideas of the Enlightenment. The ideas regarding equality between men and the faith in reason of philosophers and writers such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot or Montesquieu, greatly influenced the mentality of the time, forging aspirations to a more modern social system and less influenced by the Church and religion.

Consequences of the French Revolution

French Revolution
The motto of liberty, equality and fraternity led to the first human rights law.

The consequences of the French Revolution were:

  • End of the feudal order. It ended the monarchy and the separation of society into fixed and immovable classes: aristocracy, clergy and serfs. Thus, the republic was reborn as a system of government in the West.
  • First proclamation of universal human rights. The motto of liberty, equality and fraternity led to the drafting of the first human rights law without distinction of race, creed or birth.
  • Influence in the American colonies. The colonies American women from Europe saw in the French Revolution an example to follow and their ideals marked their own independence processes.
  • Rise of Bonapartism. The rise of Napoleon Bonaparte and his French empire, as well as the European wars that followed, put an end to this historical period.