The French Revolution

1789-1815

By: Erin Weiner, Jacob Isaacs, & Ellie Deane

The Declaration of Independence (1776)

Inspired the French to seek their own liberties through revolution. As the Americans grew successful, in part due to the aid of the French, symptoms of revolution began to take hold in France as well. The French masses took up America's cries of liberty. The French government also incurred massive war debt in its sponsorship of the American colonies, which led to increased tax burdens on the increasingly resentful middle class.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789)

Based on the American Declaration of Independence, French revolutionaries developed this document to force King Louis XVI to recognize their rights. It marked the beginning of organized idealistic opposition against the ruling class. It also influenced later ideas of natural rights and human rights, which would be critical to the development of republicanism across the world.

The Storming of the Bastille (1789)

The rising fever of revolution took hold in France as the middle classes were required to pay more in taxes to finance the government's debt from the Seven Years' War, all while not being represented among the authorities of the state.  This growing dissatisfaction of the middle class toward the French gentry culminated in the storming of the Bastille, the prison where many French radicals were being kept. This attack was more symbolic than it was effective—it showed just how far the citizens were willing to go to secure their liberty.

Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794)

A French lawyer and politician, Robespierre came to power during the crisis point of the French Revolution, when radicals had come to hold the most power, with the intent of enacting radical reform and punishing the deposed French nobility. Under his leadership, France entered a period of instability known as the Reign of Terror. Towards the end of this period, Robespierre was arrested and guillotined on the preface that he was leading France into tyranny and dictatorship.

The Reign of Terror (1793-1794)

This period, during which Robespierre came into and lost power, was characterized by executions and persecution of the aristocracy and their sympathizers. Tens of thousands of French citizens deemed enemies of the revolution were executed by guillotine. King Louis XVI would be the first victim of the Reign of Terror.

L'Ami du Peuple (Friend of the People) by Jean-Paul Marat

This radical newspaper was written by one of the most vocal advocates of the working class revolutionaries. His extremely progressive ideals gained support among the revolutionaries but also branded him an enemy of the state, supporters of whom murdered him in 1793. His death was emblematic of the growing tensions and conflict between the ruling classes and the peasant fighters.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)

From 1804 to 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte reigned as emperor of the French and most of continental Europe. He first seized power in the anarchy following the Reign of Terror and the deposition of Robespierre. His rule represented the convalescence of France in the aftermath of its revolution. While he preserved some liberalizing reforms of the revolution, in general his rule represented a return to France's previous authoritarianism.

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