The Beginning of the French Revolution

By Pedro

Causes of the Revolution

Back in the 18th century, France began having large amounts of social, economic, and political problems all at the same time. Since the nation was based on feudalism, many of the French had little freedom, for example, Jews and protestants weren’t free to worship as they wanted even though there weren’t any other religions in the country. At the same time, the country had to deal with a financial crisis. It was spending much more money than it received in income, forcing it to take out loans to cover the difference. Prices in foods (especially bread) rose causing people’s wages to fail to keep up with the rise. This led to starvation to thousands of French people and families breaking up because the parents couldn’t provide for their children. During this period, over 40,000 children were abandoned. The French demanded change, and they wanted it soon.

The French were already trying to come up with new ideas for ways of living in their society. Britain’s industrial revolution was putting people out of work. Unemployment was one of the country’s most serious issues, and it happened a lot during the large breakdown France was facing. The peasants were also taxed, having nothing to contribute were forced to contribute even more although a number of social groups and institutions did not pay any taxes at all. Events from the past had also contributed to France’s economic slump, such as a large palace built by Louis XIV in Versailles, which cost France a lot of money. France was still paying debts incurred by the wars of Louis XIV, which was until they could no longer pay them at all. Both Louis XIV and Louis XVI greatly affected France’s economy in a negative way. France ended up going bankrupt by 1789.

Picture Above: People of France rioting over the high prices of bread.

The Revolution Begins

The revolution began quietly in 1789. Riots began by the French people to show their unhappiness with the government. Rioting began to break out across much of the country as the army was placed on permanent standby. The Paris mob was violent, and when they rioted about the high prices of bread, Louis XVI’s troops shot dozens of people, lowering his popularity. When he had begun his reign, people had hope for France but now he had no solutions to offer. He disappointed even his supporters.

As France faced breakdown, Louis XVI was just as desperate for money and ideas as the people of France, so the government made a call for a session of the estates general in May 1789. The king hoped that this meeting of the representatives from the three states would resolve the country’s problems. The Estates General was made up of members from the first, second, and third estates. They met at Versailles. On June 17, the third estate broke up from the estates general and drew up their own constitution, dubbing themselves as the “National Assembly”. However, they got locked out of their regular meeting place on June 20, 1789. The members then gathered in a nearby tennis court and vowed that they would continue to meet until they had established a new constitution in France. This event is known as the Tennis Court Oath, and it was all the first step to the revolution.

Picture Above: The Tennis Court Oath in 1789.

Meanwhile, Louis XVI was worried about the third estate’s actions and threatened to dissolve the estates general after the events of the tennis court oath.

The growing mob acts later resulted in the creation of a permanent committee to keep order. That popular force broke into a royal armory and took weapons before storming in the Bastille (prison in Paris). The Parisian mob freed the only seven prisoners from the bastille. The fall of the prison in July 14, 1789 marked the end of Louis XVI’s authority.

 Picture Above: The fall of the Bastille in July 14, 1789.

A Revolution Devours its own Children

Near the end, the French revolution started turning on its own leaders. Any leaders who wanted anything less than a full revolutionary republic fell under suspicion by everyone who took part. As the revolution entered a deadly phase, those leaders were both executed and arrested. Since democracy was a new thing for France, People joined political clubs who published pamphlets. They held meetings, then eventually they led the revolution. Two of the most important clubs is the Jacobins and the Girondists. Both of these clubs started out averagely moderate until the two got involved with a violent and unpleasant competition for power, leading to a loss for the Girondists. This sent most of the members to the guillotine.

The sans-culottes (translates to “without breeches”) were led by Jean-Paul Marat, the most violent of the three radical leaders of the revolution. The other two leaders were Jacques Danton and Maximilien Robespierre. The sans-culottes guillotined Madame Roland, the leader of the Girondists, in November 8, 1793. Jean-Paul Marat, Jacques Danton, and Maximilien Robespierre were reported to bring the king Louis XVI to trial and execution. These three men and their groups attacked anyone who had any sympathy for the old French system.

In 1793, Jean-Paul Marat was murdered during his bath time by a Girondist called Charlotte Corday. At this time, other European governments were worried about France’s situations. The country was clearly not far from being invaded by forces who wanted the king’s power restored. The king of France, Louis XVI, later declared war on Austria in Spring 1782. The leaders (Marat, Danton, and Robespierre) made patriotic speeches advising people that the foreign troops would wreck the country and destroy its rights. The French army returned victorious from Valmy. The National Convention, the newly elected body, suggested that the king needed to be executed for his crimes against France. He had already lost his position from the royal palace, which was actually previously burned down by the Paris Mob, and he was finally guillotined January 21, 1793. His spouse, Marie Antoinette, was guillotined in October.



McGowen, Tom. Robespierre and the French Revolution in World History. Berkeley Heights, NJ, USA: Enslow, 2000. Page 8-10, 17. Section: “A Troubled Nation”

Gilbert, Adrian. “Causes of the Revolution.” The French Revolution. Mankato, MN: Sea-to-Sea Publications, 2005. N. pag. Page 8.

Cranny, Michael William. “The French Revolution.” Crossroads: A Meeting of Nations. Scarborough, Ont.: Prentice Hall Ginn Canada, 1998. N. pag. Page 72-80

Kreis, Steven. “The Origins of the French Revolution.” The History Guide. N.p., 2000. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.

Schwartz, Robert. “The Tennis Court Oath.” History 255. N.p., 10 May 1999. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.

Schwartz, Robert. “Fall of the Bastille.” History 255. N.p., 1999-2000. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.

Houël, Jean-Pierre. Prise De La Bastille. 1789. France.

David, Jacques-Louis. The Tennis Court Oath. 1792. N.p.

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