The French Revolution was a period of political and societal change in France which began with the Estates General of 1789 and ended with the formation of the French Consulate in November 1799. The war ended with the ascent of Napoleon Bonaparte. During the period, French Citizens radically altered their political landscape and pulled up institutions such as the monarchy and the feudal system.

The underlying causes of the French Revolution are generally seen as arising from the failure of the Ancien Régime to manage social and economic inequality. At the same time, discussion of these issues and political dissent had become part of wider European society, rather than confined to a small elite. The period from October 1789 to spring 1791 is usually seen as one of relative tranquility when some of the most important legislative reforms were enacted. While certainly true, many provincial areas experienced conflict over the source of legitimate authority, where officers of the Ancien Régime had been swept away, but new structures were not yet in place. The Legislative Assembly is often dismissed by historians as an ineffective body, compromised by divisions over the role of the monarchy which were exacerbated by Louis’ resistance to limitations on his powers and attempts to reverse them using external support. From about 1701 to 1801, the population in Europe grew from 118 million to 187 million. It was combined with new mass production techniques, which allowed the belligerents to support large armies, requiring the mobilisation of national resources. Newspapers and pamphlets played a central role in stimulating and defining the Revolution. The Revolution abolished many economic constraints imposed by the Ancien Régime, including church tithes and feudal dues, although tenants often paid higher rents and taxes. The impact of the Revolution on French society was enormous and led to numerous changes, some of which were widely accepted, while others continue to be debated. Two-thirds of France was employed in agriculture, which was transformed by the Revolution. With the breakup of large estates controlled by the Church and the nobility and worked by hired hands, rural France became more of a land of small independent farms. The Revolution meant an end to arbitrary royal rule and held out the promise of rule by law under a constitutional order, but it did not rule out a monarch. The history of the French Revolution has generally been written with three strong biases: the white one, the French one, and the Jacobin one. Also, prior to the French Revolution, Catholicism had been the official religion in France and the French Catholic Church was very powerful. It owned around 10% of the land. In addition to that, the Feudal System was dismantled after the Revolution. 

The main ideas behind the French Revolution were to bring equality, freedom, and democratic rights to individuals and put an end to Feudalism. Also, another aim of the French revolutionaries was to create a sense of collective identity amongst the French people. The French Revolution inspired numerous revolutions in other European countries. 

Jessica Heo

Member of European Languages Society


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