The French Revolution By Serenity OttGen

In the 1780's, and estimated decade of social and political conflict occurred in France known as the French Revolution. Important people that played significant roles during this time were Maximilian Robespierre, Marie Antoinette, and King Louis XVI of France. The source of the conflict had started when the French people began to hold anger and resentment towards their monarchy due to inequalities in society. The causes that were primarily responsible for the upbringing of the French Revolution were the rise of enlightenment ideas, national debt caused by an inadequate system of taxation, and food scarcity during cold winters.

During the time of social inequalities, new ideas were emerging from Enlightenment. Members of the bourgeoisie were aware of writings from the great philosophers, and used these ideas to create a changes in the government and society. American colonists were also inspired by these new ideas, and used them to successfully rebel against Britain's wealthy king.

After King Louis XVI had failed to tax the Second Estate, he backed down from his leadership position. The country fell into bankruptcy, and half the taxes collected were just enough to pay for the debt. A pattern of spending and borrowing is what led to the financial crisis. France had also borrowed huge sums of money to spend in the previous wars.

At the same time the country was dealing with economic problems, nature was causing even more issues. In 1778, the country faced a hailstorm followed by a drought ruining the harvest. Frozen rivers prevented waterwheels from powering the mills while food and firewood were scarce. People's misery soon turned to anger toward their king.

One might think that the French Revolution was a failure due to the given results at the Congress of Vienna, but the revolution was in fact a success. Although, the rights of citizens were restricted followed by an increase of power from the ruling monarchy, there were many benefits that came from this event. European nobles would never be in their privileged positions again because, they knew that the Enlightenment ideas about human dignity, personal liberty, and the equality of people would never go away. During the revolution, workers and peasants had gained control over their lives because, they now understood that they could make changes in the world. People gained hope during this time, and new ideas continued to inspire people for the next few centuries. After Napoleon's empire ended, massive revolutions traveled all the way from France to Latin America followed by Asia and Africa.

The Reign of Terror was an especially bloody time during France where thousands of people were executed by guillotine for being accused of not being a "believer in the revolution." It started when outside countries including France became concerned about the course of the revolution which led to leaders fearing they would lose control. They took drastic measures to avoid a counterrevolution (revolution against the government) by creating a wave of fear throughout the country. A series of mass accusations, trials, and executions began that became known as the "Reign of Terror."

In 1795, the National Convention created a new government after the Reign of Terror had finally ended. It put restrictions on voting rights so that only men who owned property could vote. After the new constitution was established, a new government called the Directory consisting of five members was created. These director leaders passed financial reforms to help farmers and improve trade, but this form of government proved to be inefficient later. France's problems continued because, the board members were weak and corrupt. The result was a power vacuum because, the arguing board members began to fall back into the rules of the Old Order - high prices, bankruptcy, unhappy citizens. No one was really in control of France anymore so changes were soon given to the worn down country.

After the death of Napoleon at 51 years of age, the Congress of Vienna had restored some of the monarchies that Napoleon destroyed. Monarchies were later established in Portugal and the small island of Sardinia. Metternich was a reactionary who believed in absolute monarchy, and wanted Europe to return back to the years of the 1780's. The areas he had strong influence in were Austria, Germany, and northern Italy. After Napoleon's empire was destroyed, mass revolutions began in Italy and spread to Romania. The Enlightenment ideas had crossed the Atlantic to Latin America where people were inspired to reject colonial rule. These same ideals also inspired political changes in different places of Asia and Africa.

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Serenity Ottgen
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