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The Ancien Régime and the Revolution

Drafting a formal constitution proved much more of a challenge for the National Constituent Assembly, which had the added burden of functioning as a legislature during harsh economic times. For instance, who would be responsible for electing delegates?

The French Revolution

Would the clergy owe allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church or the French government? Perhaps most importantly, how much authority would the king, his public image further weakened after a failed attempt to flee the country in June , retain? This compromise did not sit well with influential radicals like Maximilien de Robespierre , Camille Desmoulins and Georges Danton, who began drumming up popular support for a more republican form of government and for the trial of Louis XVI.

On the domestic front, meanwhile, the political crisis took a radical turn when a group of insurgents led by the extremist Jacobins attacked the royal residence in Paris and arrested the king on August 10, The following month, amid a wave of violence in which Parisian insurrectionists massacred hundreds of accused counterrevolutionaries, the Legislative Assembly was replaced by the National Convention, which proclaimed the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of the French republic. On January 21, , it sent King Louis XVI, condemned to death for high treason and crimes against the state, to the guillotine; his wife Marie-Antoinette suffered the same fate nine months later.

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In June , the Jacobins seized control of the National Convention from the more moderate Girondins and instituted a series of radical measures, including the establishment of a new calendar and the eradication of Christianity. They also unleashed the bloody Reign of Terror la Terreur , a month period in which suspected enemies of the revolution were guillotined by the thousands. Many of the killings were carried out under orders from Robespierre, who dominated the draconian Committee of Public Safety until his own execution on July 28, Executive power would lie in the hands of a five-member Directory Directoire appointed by parliament.

Royalists and Jacobins protested the new regime but were swiftly silenced by the army, now led by a young and successful general named Napoleon Bonaparte. By the late s, the directors relied almost entirely on the military to maintain their authority and had ceded much of their power to the generals in the field.

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Hazan is simply wrong to characterise it as, in large part, a legend concocted by the Thermidorians and repeated by grasping successors "who have governed and taught us ever since". By writing his book in this way, he has turned the story of the French revolution into a simple morality play.

Even if we pass over the distortions of the historical record at work here, the interpretation gives us no real way to understand the events of the revolution. What was it that motivated the revolutionaries to seek "to change material inequities, social relations and ways of life", as Hazan summarises their goals?

Where did the ideas come from? How did the ideas change in the course of events? A serious discussion of political ideas, and of the Enlightenment, is entirely absent from the book.

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There is much that remains genuinely inspiring in the history of the French revolution. But, well over two centuries later, we can do so without having to take sides, and without needing to insist that the revolution's tragic failures were due mostly to the "social fear" of its enemies.

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Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All. Threads collapsed expanded unthreaded. This law was designed to give the Committee of Public Safety even more control over the whole of France by providing a structured 'chain of authority' under the revolutionary government and to keep everything highly centralized. The Committee was now the supreme executive and nobody further down the chain was supposed to alter the decrees in any way, including the deputies on a mission who became increasingly sidelined as local district and commune bodies took over the job of applying the law.

All unofficial bodies were shut down, including provincial revolutionary armies. Even the departmental organization was bypassed for everything bar tax and public works. In effect, the law of 14 Frimaire aimed to institute a uniform administration with no resistance, the opposite of that to the constitution of It marked the end of the first phase of the terror, a 'chaotic' regime, and an end to the campaigning of the revolutionary armies who first came under central control and were then closed on March 27th, Meanwhile, factional infighting in Paris saw more groups go to the guillotine and sansculotte power began to wane, partly as a result of exhaustion, partly because of the success of their measures there was little left to agitate for and partly as a purging of the Paris Commune took hold.

By the spring and summer of , Robespierre, who had argued against dechristianization, had tried to save Marie Antoinette from the guillotine and who had vacillated over the future began to form a vision of how the republic should be run. He wanted a 'cleansing' of the country and committee and he outlined his idea for a republic of virtue while denouncing those he deemed non-virtuous, many of whom, including Danton, went to the Guillotine.

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French Revolution for Kids

So began a new phase in the Terror, where people could be executed for what they might do, not had done, or simply because they failed to meet Robespierre's new moral standard, his utopia of murder. This included closing all provincial courts for conspiracy and counter-revolutionary charges, which were to be held at the Revolutionary Tribunal in Paris instead. Parisian jails soon filled with suspects and the process was speeded up to cope, partly by scrapping witnesses and defense. Furthermore, the only punishment it could give out was death. As with the Law of Suspects, almost anyone could be found guilty for anything under these new criteria.

Executions, which had tailed off, now rose sharply again. The Terror was now almost class-based rather than against counter-revolutionaries. In addition, the Paris Commune was altered to become docile to the Committee of Public Safety and proscribed wage levels were introduced. These were unpopular, but the Paris sections were now too centralized to oppose it. Dechristianization was reversed as Robespierre, still convinced that faith was important, introduced the Cult of the Supreme Being on May 7th, This was a series of Republican themed celebrations to be held on the rest days of the new calendar, a new civic religion.

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Robert Wilde is a historian with a focus on early medieval Europe who has 15 years of freelance writing experience. Updated February 06, Continue Reading.