The French Revolution was a social movement in France between 1789 and 1799. The aims of the revolution were to violently overthrow the monarchy and establish a republic, but it ultimately resulted in the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte.
After the Seven Years' War, in which France fought against Britain and wound up losing its colonial land in Canada, France was deeply in debt. As the British raised taxes on their colonies to pay for the Seven Years' War, the French raised taxes on their subjects at home for the same purpose. In addition, the French had supported the Americans in their Revolutionary War with money and troops, which further strained the debt.
Several years of harvest failure caused tensions for farmers, who hated the increased taxes. The problems resulted in King Louis XVI calling the Estates-General, a large assembly in which the First Estate (the clergy), the Second Estate (the nobility), and the Third Estate (the common people), met to decide what to do. An impasse on the issues caused the Third Estate to meet separately in something called the National Assembly, stating they would decide the fate of the country with or without the other two. This move was in defiance of the king, and launched the French Revolution.
The king fired financial minister Jacques Necker, for making errors, but he was seen as a representative of the people of France, and people grew worried the king was against the National Assembly. This resulted in mass riots in Paris. The rioters burst into a fort in the center of the city called the Bastille, in an iconic moment in the Revolution called the 'Storming of the Bastille', and raided it for weapons.
They then murdered the governor and mayor, accusing them of treason. The king tried go to Paris and pacify the people. But it was too late. All over the country, peasants were rising up violently, and nobles were fleeing to neighboring countries. Worried that the nobles would come back with mercenaries from other countries, the peasants armed themselves and destroyed the nobility's homes.
In 1789, the National Assembly, who had essentially taken charge of the government, abolished feudalism-or the old system in which peasants were bound to the land of the nobility-as well as many of the old laws of the country, published a Declaration of the Rights of Man, a document inspired by Thomas Jefferson's writing in America, and began to write a new constitution.
In 1791, the king and queen attempted to escape their palace by dressing up as servants, but they were discovered, suspended temporarily from their office, and placed under guard.
The revolution turned ugly in 1793, when French citizens executed the king and queen by guillotine. This led to the Reign of Terror, in which the country collapsed into chaos and the Committee of Public Safety, led by Maximilien Robespierre, rounded up and executed tens of thousands of citizens without trial for supposed counter-revolutionary actions. Robespierre was ultimately executed due to a change of power.
As the new government adopted a new constitution, in which they turned the country into a republic, allowed all men to vote, decriminalized same-sex relationships, gave civil rights to Jews and people of color, and pushed for religious freedom. This was an important moment in history, as it symbolized what was to come-the collapse of monarchies worldwide, and the rise of republics. The new republic didn't last, as Napoleon Bonaparte, a French general, would rise to absolute power just a few years after it formed.
The French Revolution is a very controversial subject. On one hand, it broke a lot of new ground in civil rights, ended serfdom, and led to the rise of republics worldwide. On the other, it was a bloody and tumultuous time-period which started with the murder of a king, continued with systematic executions of thousands of people, and ended with a dictator rising to power.
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