The French Revolution

Late 18th century France, under Louis XVI, faced acute financial crisis. French society comprised Three Estates, with only the Third Estate (majority) paying taxes. The Subsistence Crisis aggravated the economic situation. The middle class was inspired by philosophies of John Locke, Rousseau and Montesquieu. To increase taxes, Louis XVI called a meeting of all estates (Estates General) in 1789. The Third Estate demanded the principle of individual vote, which was rejected. So they walked out, and formed a National Assembly on 20th June. On 14th July, the Parisians destroyed the Bastille fortress-prison. Louis XVI recognized the National Assembly, which established a Constitutional Monarchy in 1791.

After this, the National Assembly fought against Prussia and Austria who planned to suppress revolutionary France. Political clubs were established to discuss government policies, of which the Jacobins, under Maximilian Robespierre, were most successful. In 1792, they held the king hostage. After this, the monarchy was replaced by a republic. The period of 1793-94 was a Reign of Terror, in which those suspected as the Revolution’s enemies were guillotined. It ended with Robespierre’s arrest and execution. After this, a Directory ruled France, which was overthrown by Napoleon.

Women were key participants during the French Revolution. They had many demands, most of which were fulfilled by the revolutionary government. Women also established political clubs, which were closed down during the Reign of Terror, and many women were executed. Slave trade began in French colonies in 17th century, wherein slaves were transported from Africa to the Caribbean. Slavery was abolished in 1794, re-introduced by Napoleon, and finally abolished in 1848. After 1789, press censorship was abolished in France. Later, Napoleon, who became emperor in 1804, conquered most of Europe, where he introduced uniform laws, before his defeat in 1815.

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