GENERAL CAUSES OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
1. Large gap between the rich and the poor.
2. Heavy tax burden on the Third Estate (including the poor). Peasants lost about half of
their income to taxes. The first two estates were exempt from taxes.
3. Large number of poor and unemployed in the cities.
4. Growth of a strong middle class (Bourgeoisie) in France. The middle class had wealth but
lacked the political and legal rights of the nobility.
5. Refusal of the nobility to share in the tax burden.
6. Development of Enlightenment ideas of; freedom, natural rights, social contract and
7. Weak leadership of Louis XVI.
8. Lavish lifestyle of Louis XVI and Maria Antoinette. She was Austrian (France’s longtime
9. French Government was deeply in debt. Louis XVI had borrowed to help American
SPECIFIC EVENTS LEADING TO THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
1. Louis XVI calls a meeting of the Estates-General to raise money.
2. Louis XVI sided with the first and second Estates and said that each Estate would meet
by itself and then have one vote.
3. The Third Estate declares itself to be the National Assembly. In effect declaring an end to
absolute monarchy and the beginning of representative government. This was the first
deliberate act of revolution.
4. Louis XVI orders Swiss mercenaries (soldiers for hire) to march toward Paris.
5. Storming of the Bastille. Parisians wanted the gun powder in the Bastille to defend the
National Assembly against the Swiss troops.
FRENCH REVOLUTION OUTLINE
PHASES OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
I. 1789-92 Establishment of a Constitutional Monarchy.
II. 1792-93 Jacobin Revolt and Establishment of a Republic.
III. 1793-95 Reign of Terror
IV. 1795-1799 Establishment of the Conservative Directory
I. Phase One of the French Revolution Establishment of a Constitutional Monarch 1789-92
A. In France at the end of the 18th century there were three estates or Social Classes.
B. Because France needed money Louis XVI called a meeting of the Estates-General
in 1789. The Estates-General had not met since 1614.
C. All three estates were represented by delegates in the Estates-General.
D. The upper two estates wanted each estate to have one vote, giving them power
over the Third Estate. The Third Estate wanted each delegate to have a vote giving
them the power. (they had many more delegates)
E. When Louis XVI refused the Third Estate’s request for a mass meeting (voting as
delegates). The Third Estate declared themselves to be the National Assembly.
F. Members of the National Assembly swore that they would remain in session until a
constitution was completed. This was called the Tennis Court Oath.
G. Louis XVI ordered all three estates to negotiate together in the National Assembly.
H. Because of mob violence and the threat of anarchy the clergy and nobility joined
Third Estate to produce significant reforms.
I. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen guaranteed freedom of
speech, press and religion. (No mention was made of the rights of women)
J. Many people were unhappy with the constitution. Some thought it went to far, some
thought it did not go far enough.
1. The extreme radicals who demanded “true democracy” were called Jacobins.
K. The National Assembly declared war on Austria in 1792. Austria is joined by
Prussia and Sardinia.
1. At first the French fought poorly but as the enemy forces approached Paris
they rallied around the cry Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.
2. They halted the enemy advance.
II. Phase two of the Revolution; Jacobin Revolt and the Establishment of a Republic 1792-93
A. Because of the war the Jacobins (Radicals) were able to seize control of the
assembly and remove the King from office.
B. Jacobins killed over 1000 people they claimed were counter-revolutionaries.
C. Radicals called the National Convention to rewrite the Constitution.
D. The National Convention abolished monarchy and declared France a Republic.
E. The National Convention convicted Louis XVI of treason and executed him in
III. Phase Three of the French Revolution; The Reign of Terror; 1793-1795
A. Britain, Spain, and Portugal joined Prussia and Austria in an alliance against
France. (The First Coalition)
1. These countries feared the democratic revolution might spread to their own
2. France suffered a string of defeats.
B. Counter-Revolutionaries also plotted against the National Convention.
1. Peasants were upset by the beheading of the King.
2. Priests would not accept control of the church by the government.
C. The National Convention formed the Committee of Public Safety.
1. Because of threats from without and within. (A & B)
2. The Committee of Public Safety formed an emergency government with the
power of dictatorship.
3. Maximilian Robespierre a Jacobin became head of the committee.
4. To stop the counter-revolution the committee began the Reign of Terror. a. 500,000 arrested.
b. 40,000 executed on the guillotine.
5. The Committee used Mass Mobilization (the whole society helps defeat
the enemy) to deal with the invading armies.
a. France drives out their enemies.
b. By 1794 France is taking the offensive.
D. Fall of Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety.
1. When the Republic seemed out of danger some members of the convention
called for an end to the bloodshed.
a. Robespierre had those members sent to the guillotine.
2. Other members of the National Convention began to fear for their own
a. They turned on Robespierre he and many of his followers were
3. Jacobins lost control and the Reign of Terror came to an end.
E. Members of the wealthier bourgeoisie took control of the National Convention.
IV. Phase four of the French Revolution; Establishment of the Conservative Directory 1795-99
A. In 1795 the National Convention was controlled by the Bourgeoisie.
B. The Convention put into effect the Constitution Year III. 1795
1. The Constitution gave the middle and upper classes control of the
2. Voters (had to own property and be taxpayers) selected electors. Electors
selected the legislative assembly. The legislative assembly selected the
a. The Directory was a 5 man executive body.