The French Revolution lasted from 1789 to 1799. Although there were several factors that made the French Revolution possible, such as population growth, the expansion of the middle classes, and the rise of an informed public, there were three immediate causes of the Revolution. One was the diminished authority of the royal government. Another was the revolt by the nobility, who sensed a weakening monarchy. The third cause was the crop failure.
The government of France was in a financial crisis. The country was deeply in debt from the financing of the wars of Louis XIV. To deal with the nation's economic problems, Louis XVI called for a meeting of the Estates General in 1789. The Estates General was made up of representatives from each of the three social classes, or Estates. The First Estate consisted of the clergy, the Second Estate consisted of the nobility, and the Third Estate consisted of the commoners. The Third Estate, which made up 98 percent of the population of France, was underrepresented.
Since the Estates General had to vote separately and by order, the Third Estate would almost always be outvoted by the First Estate and the Second Estate who would get to vote first. Because of this, the Third Estate wanted its traditional number of representatives to be doubled so that it matched the other two orders put together. When Louis XVI refused their demand, the Third Estate, led by Abbe Emmanuel Sieyes, changed its name to the National Assembly. The National Assembly sought to give France a constitution. Louis's threat to dissolve the National Assembly ignited the masses of France into action.
As he stationed his army in and around Paris, crowds of Parisians stormed the Bastille on July 14, 1789. There they hoped to find weapons and other ammunition to use in resisting and fighting the troops of the king. The Bastille was captured and torn down. This event and numerous other tumultuous events made Louis realize the urgent need for reforms.
The National Assembly met in August of 1789 and considered. By the end of the month, the Constituent Assembly (the name the National Assembly renamed itself) adopted the 'Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen' as a preamble for the new constitution. In 1791, a new constitution was written by the Constituent Assembly. It left the monarchy with little control of France, and put into effect a separation of powers.
The monarchy was powerless against the Constituent Assembly, which had power over the government. Louis and his family's attempt to flee the country made it clear that the king was not loyal to his country. When the National Convention, the new Assembly, met on September 21, 1792, it proclaimed France a republic, and Louis was put on trial for treason and for being a member of the monarchy. He was found guilty of treason and other crimes, and died under the guillotine on January 21, 1793.
The death of the king opened the revolution to more tumultuous change led by the radical groups. The radical leaders, Maximilian Robespierre, Georges Jacques Danton, and Jean Paul Marat, dominated a powerful political club called the Jacobin Club. Eventually, the desire for power among the radicals led to what was known as the Reign of Terror. Anyone who went against the Convention, whose leaders included Robespierre, was given a death sentence under the guillotine. The Gironde, a radical group, rebelled against the convention, and Robespierre had them put to death. To end the Reign of Terror, the Jacobin dictatorship, and the democratic revolution, Robespierre was attacked by his rivals in the Convention as a tyrant on July 29, 1794.
Hew as put to death the following day, and the Reign of Terror was finally over. A new constitution, adopted in 1795, replaced the one that had been adopted in 1793. Under it, a new government was formed and was called the Directory. The Directory began meeting in October 1795. In October 1799, a number of political leaders plotted to overthrow the Directory. They needed military support and turned to Napoleon Bonaparte, a French general who had become a hero during a military campaign in Italy in 1796 and 1797.
Bonaparte seized control of the government on November 9, 1799, ending the revolution. Napoleon would restore order to the French people with such great achievements ash is Code Napoleon. The French Revolution followed the course typical of revolutions. It evolved in definite phases where it at first was moderate in scope, then became radical, and then finally ended abruptly by the emergence of a powerful leader to restore order. In contrast, the American Revolution did not follow the typical course of revolutions because it was not put to an end by the rise of a powerful leader.