Vivre La Révolution

Louis XVI

The last king of France, Louis XVI was overthrown and executed during the French Revolution, ending over a thousand years of monarchy. Under the pressures of debt and growing unrest over taxation, he called the last Estates-General of France in 1789, bringing together the aristocracy, the clergy, and the people. The third estate of the people broke off and formed the National Assembly. Through a series of political blunders that made Louis XVI, though he tried to bring Englightenment-era reform to France, seem like a worse leader. It was too little, too late, and soon the king was overthrown and put to the guillotine for high treason. His mismanagement of France began the symptoms that would become a fever and revolution of the middle class.

L'Ouverture des États Généraux à Versailles/"Opening of the Estates-General in Versailles"-Isidore-Stanislaus Helman

At the Estates General of 1789, all good relations between the powerful and the people broke down. The meeting failed to accomplish anything, as the three estates squabbled over the first issue of the Estates General-how the estates would vote. With the First and Second Estates trying to force a vote "by estate," rather than "by head," negating and ignoring the massive size of the Third Estate of the people, the Third Estate instead broke off, forming the National Assembly. This was one of the major symptoms that caused the revolution, as the bumbling of the powerful estates caused the alienation of and angered the middle-class and the people in general. The formation of the National Assembly would prove to be the beginnings of the revolution.

The Storming of the Bastille

The Bastille was a medieval French fortress and prison. It was seen as a symbol of royal authority in the center of Paris and a symbol of all of the monarchy's abuses of the people. When the Bastille was destroyed by Parisian rioters, the French Revolution had truly began, as the greatest symbol of the monarchy had been broken, and now the people could fight back against the regime. This was the beginning of the rising fever phase of the revolution, as the middle classes saw that they could fight back, and they would, overthrowing the Ancien Regime.

Maximilien Robespierre

"Robespierre is an immortal figure not because he reigned supreme over the Revolution for a few months, but because he was the mouthpiece of its purest and most tragic discourse" -François Furet, Interpreting the French Revolution

Robespierre was a major revolutionary leader who became extremely radical in his motives throughout the revolution. He was the primary leader of the Reign of Terror, the crisis phase of the French revolution. Seeing himself as extremely righteous, he executed everyone he saw as an enemy of the revolution- which included other radicals as well as royalists- and even began executing former allies he believed had betrayed the revolution. Eventually, so many people had come to hate him that he himself was executed and the Reign of Terror was brought to an end.

The Reign of Terror was the crisis phase of the revolution, with the self-righteous and paranoid Robespierre murdering everyone he felt was dangerous to the Republic.

"Terror is only justice prompt, severe and unflexible... a natural consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing wants of the country"

"The first maxim of your policy ought to be to lead the people by reason and the people's enemies by terror" -Robespierre

Robespierre's Execution

This is a painting of Robespierre's own execution. In his paranoia and his ferocious battles with both radicals and royalists, he made enemies out of all the French people, leading to his own execution by guillotine, ironically just how he had killed so many others during the Reign of Terror. Robespierre's death finally ended the Reign of Terror, and with it the crisis of the revolution, but also ended the period of reforms that took place after the overthrow of the monarchy. After Robespierre's death, many reformist ideas died off, and the convalescence phase of the revolution began, with the end of liberal policies and Napoleon's coup.


Napoleon was the emperor of France after the revolution, having taken control through a coup. A very successful general from his time protecting the nascent Republic, he led massive imperial expansion of France throughout Europe. While he believed in the revolutionary ideas of fraternity/nationalism and equality, he didn't care much for liberty, and was a dictator. Still, he was well-loved by his people, and an important revolutionary figure.

The Napoleonic Code

The Napoleonic Code proclaims the eqaulity of all people of France. Written by Napoleon following the French Revolution, this document provides the basis for not only the modern French society, but many other nations in the world. It was made during the convalescence phase of the revolution, when Napoleon had taken control of the nation and had kept the radical ideas of fraternity and equality, but not liberty.

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