The Four Stages Of The French Revolution

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France entered into its first stage of revolution (The Incubation Stage) in the early to mid-1780s. It did so for multiple reasons, the first and prime reason being the huge issue of deficit in the country. Most of the deficit was caused by King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette’s unnecessary and extravagant spending of money. Combined with the rising bread prices, cattle diseases, famine, and poor harvests that many peasants were suffering from, it gradually began to create a huge economic downfall. When King Louis XVI was finally made aware of this impending problem, he made the fatal decision to raise and further taxes on peasants. The majority of peasants were starving and had empty pockets, so naturally, when Louis imposed heavy taxes on them, they were enraged and dissension erupted. Louis called for the Estates-General – a meeting including all three estates of France – on May 5th, 1789 at Versailles as an attempt to relax peasants and prevent them from revolting. However, the meeting was unfair considering the fact that the two upper-class nobility estates could outvote the other biggest estate. Instead of reaching a consensus, the peasants demanded that they have more votes, and when they weren’t given them, they rebelled by meeting in a nearby indoor tennis court and vowed not to disperse until constitutional reform had been achieved. This vow was called the Tennis Court Oath, and the Third Estate would from then on be known as the National Assembly (history.com).

Shortly after the Tennis Court Oath, the National Assembly took action against the French government and stormed the city’s largest prison at the time, Bastille. This attack marked the beginning of the Symptomatic Stage of the revolution, where protests against the government arose and people began to divide into political factions with differing views from each other. Out in the countryside, peasants were beginning to revolt against their landlords and taking over whole manors. The National Assembly raided Versailles and captured the king and queen of France, and with the country in its hands now, it released a new judicial code for the French people, called the Declaration Of The Rights Of Man And Of The Citizen. Despite the new constitution, peasants continued to raid and storm various places. This era of France that lasted until 1792 was dubbed the “Great Fear” (sparknotes.com).

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Although the Moderates, the faction that favored a constitutional monarchy, were mostly in control of France in 1791, another group began to rise in power. The Jacobins, radical members of the National Assembly who sought for the end of the monarchy, did not agree with France’s new constitution. France declared war on Prussia and Austria in April 1792 by the newly elected Legislative Assembly, a group of people who wanted Louis dethroned and trialed. On August 10th, 1792, the Jacobins arrested King Louis XVI. Following his arrest, an execution machine called the guillotine was introduced to the Assembly. Maximilian Robespierre, the influential leader of the Assembly at the time, liked the idea of the guillotine and decided to put it to good use. The Legislative Assembly was replaced by the National Convention, the new government that brought upon the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of the French Republic (schoolhistory.co.uk). Thus, the French Revolution was launched into its third stage: the Crisis Stage.

Any Moderates and other members of the Assembly that opposed Robespierre or his new set of beliefs were forced to either obey or die by the guillotine. On January 21st, 1793, Louis was given a trial and found guilty of high treason. He was sentenced to the guillotine, where he was publicly executed for all to see and be warned of the coming era that was about to fall upon them, that is, “the Reign of Terror”. This era was ushered in by the influential Robespierre, who gave in to extremist beliefs and principles throughout his time of political rule. He created the Committee of Public Safety in March of 1793, a 12-member government that he spearheaded. Though this committee was said to be created for the good of the people, in reality, it symbolized Robespierre’s power in France and allowed him to sentence 40,000 people to death. This radical form of rule, used fear as a way to ensure that people strictly followed laws and regulations. However, as the deaths continued to stack up in number, political officials and even members of the Committee of Public Safety began to fear for their safety, as a slight hint of opposition towards Robespierre could result in an immediate sentenced to death (ironic right?). On July 28th, 1794, Robespierre was arrested and executed, which ultimately brought an end to the Reign of Terror and brought upon the fourth and final stage of the revolution: the Recovery Stage.

After Robespierre’s death, the guillotine was put away and the executions stopped. In 1795, moderate leaders in the National Convention created the Directory, a two-house legislature, and an executive body of five men from the upper-middle class. Although some of these men were corrupt and made ill-advised decisions, it generally relaxed people and gave the country a period of order. It would eventually lead to a certain soldier’s arise – Napoleon Bonaparte (World History 1314). 

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