French Revolution The French Revolution changed the face of France and all who were associated with it so drastically that it was almost the exact opposite of what it used to be. Most of the people in France at the time were very upset by the way the government had been being run for so long. Many historians believe that the period of increased knowledge and ideas, or The Enlightenment, was the cause of the revolution. In any case, the people wanted change. King Louis XVI ruled France under an absolute monarchy in 1789, but the government also consisted of three estates, or classes, of people who helped govern France.
The first estate was made up of the clergy and Church officials who held much of the power, however they only made up a small percentage of France’s population. The second estate consisted of France’s nobles. The nobles only made up 2% of France’s population, but they owned more than 20% of France’s land. The third estate actually has three separate classes within itself. The first group, the bourgeois, were just as wealthy as the nobles, but had very little power at all.
The nobles didn’t have to pay taxes, so the bourgeois were angry that they had the wealth, but no political stature to go with it. The farmers and lower-class workers were always subject to huge taxes on literally every thing they owned to help pay for wars, and other political money problems. The poor people of France were outraged at the tremendous prices of bread and could no longer afford to feed their families. The third estate made up 98% of France’s population but had less power than the other two estates. The third estate began screaming revolt and Louis XVI was forced to call the first Estates-General since 1614. The Estates-General met at the Palace of Versailles and each of the three estates presented their problems with the way things were being run.
The conference was supposed to be run based on the rules of France’s Old Regime. The Old Regime is a set of governing laws that were established in favor of the nobles and the clergy. For every problem, each estate would vote and then count and then their overall vote would count as one vote. Each estate had one vote, therefore, the third estate would always lose in a vote that the nobles and the clergy didn’t like. The third estate had more members than the first two combined, so the third estate demanded a vote where everyone in the each estate counted as a vote. The third estate basically took over the entire Estates-General, changed their name to the National Assembly, and forced them to vote in this way.
The National Assembly won almost every vote and completely demolished the Old Regime, and almost every taxing law in France. On July 14, 1789, the citizens of Paris stormed the Bastille Fortress. The people were armed with a few guns and some tools, but the soldiers in the fortress had cannons. The citizens were being slaughtered, but then many of Paris’ soldiers felt sympathy for the people and went to help. They took over Bastille, and gained artillery and ammunition.
King Louis XVI was planning on hiring Swedish mercenaries to regain his power and bring peace back to France, but now that the people controlled Bastille, this was impossible. Since King Louis XVI could no longer trust the loyalty of his troops, he fled to the border. He was almost there, when he was recognized by a soldier and brought back to Versailles. He was thrown in jail. The National Assembly stepped down from power now that peace had been achieved.
A new group, The National Convention took power and attempted to establish a democracy. This time in history, between September of 1793 and July of 1794, is known as the Reign of Terror. The National Convention was basically ruled by two men, Georges Danton and Maximilien Robespierre. Robespierre slowly gained more control than Danton. Thousands of suspects against the revolution were executed, by means of the newly invented guillotine, including the king’s wife, Marie Antoinette.
In the early months of 1794, other leaders were beheaded for trying to stop the Reign of Terror. Finally, on July 27, 1794 the National Convention arrested Robespierre. He was beheaded the next day. After this incident, the Convention wanted to make sure this never happened again so they drew up a new constitution, setting up the Directory. The Directory consisted of five members who had basically all power in France. One of the members was Napoleon Bonaparte. After Napoleon was victorious in Italy, he came back as the strongest military leader in France and with approval of many officials, he overthrew the Directory.
Napoleon became dictator of France. Napoleon Bonaparte was born in 1769. He was sent to military school at the age of ten. He was an outstanding student, and received his commission in the artillery in 1785. He first attracted attention with his major role in the removal of the British from Toulon. He was then promoted to brigadier general and he was sent to fight the war with Italy.
He returned to France victorious and as a decorated military leader. In October of 1795, a group of royalists, those who followed the King, uprose against the National Convention in Versailles. The Convention appointed Napoleon to protect Versailles against the mob. Napoleon dispersed the mob and he was given command of the army of the interior. After a series of victories in Italy, he was appointed commander in chief of the army in Italy.
Napoleon then attacked Egypt and eventually India to crush Britain. Since Britain was an island Napoleon decided to blockade all imported and exported goods. All of Europe agreed to this, except for Russia. Napoleon became angry and invaded Russia. Since Moscow was hundreds of miles inland, Russia’s Czar decided to let Napoleon march his troops into Moscow.
He slaughtered all of the livestock so Napoleon’s troops couldn’t eat them, and basically starved his men. This method of warfare is known as the scorched-earth policy. Instead of fighting, the czar burned Moscow, so Napoleon could not get goods. By this time, winter was there, and Napoleon’s troops were freezing and starving to death. With no one to fight, and his forces rapidly depleting, Napoleon had no other choice but to retreat.
With the 400,000 men Napoleon entered Russia with, by the time they reached the border, only 10,000 were fit to fight. After the Russian incident, Napoleon’s empire fell apart. England, Russia, Prussia, and Austria allied together to fight the French. On June 13, 1813, Czar Alexander I, the head of the Russians, joined the Prussians and thus, the War of Liberation started. Lucky for Napoleon, he defeated the Russian and Prussian armies in Lutzen and Bautzen. In a three-day battle at Leipzig, also known as the Battle of the Nations, the French were outnumbered in every way. The French had to retreat.
Then on March 30, 1814 the allies captured Paris. Even Napoleon’s generals realized it was a lost fight and gave up. Napoleon was forced to abdicate the throne on April 6, 1814. Napoleon was exiled from France. He took a few soldiers to his new empire -the small island of Elba, a small island within sight of Corsica. He was allowed to keep his title of emperor and promised to pay two million francs every year to France.
After Napoleon’s Exile, European leaders quarreled over the division of Napoleon’s empire. The work of deciding the fate of Europe was done at the Congress of Vienna. The congress was hosted by Austria and looked over by Prince Klemens von Metternich, the guiding genius of the conference. Meanwhile, Napoleon had been in Elba for 10 months and in the midst of the arguing that the Congress was doing, he escaped from the island set forth back to France. Back in France, the French people met Napoleon with great joy. He was once again in command of France and took an army to meet German forces in the town of Waterloo, in Belgium. Napoleon’s army fought bravely but could not penetrate the city walls. Late in the afternoon, Prussian Troops arrived to aid the Germans.
These new troops sent Napoleon’s army running through the fields and scattering. Napoleon was once and for all defeated. He had lost all of his men and his land. Some say the reason Napoleon was defeated was because he was too cocky, he went up against Russia, and then half of Europe. Others say the French Empire just plainly became too big for one man to control.
Regardless of all these factors, Napoleon was a military genius. He single-handedly reshaped the way the modern world would have turned out. History.