Revolutionary Ideals Spread, European Map Redrawn
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Beginning of French Revolution (1789): A meeting of the First Estate (the clergy), Second Estate (nobility) and Third Estate (everyone else) failed to produce any reform, leading to riots throughout Paris. An angry mob marched on the King’s palace, essentially making him a prisoner of the Revolutionary Government (National Constituent Assembly), which became the ruling force in France after anarchy replaced royal rule.
(Timeline Continued Below)
New French Constitution (1791): The Revolutionaries succeeded in creating a new constitution that limited monarch powers to the point where the king was primarily a figurehead.
Haiti Revolution Against French Rule (1791–1804): The French Revolution, and particularly the ideals regarding individual rights and abolitionism, spark revolution in the French Caribbean colony of Haiti. The black African slaves won independence, the only slave revolt in history to result in a sovereign nation. The loss caused Napoleon to reconsider the importance of France's American colonies.
End of French Monarchy (1792): The National Convention replaced the National Constituent Assembly, declaring France a republic, dissolving the monarchy altogether.
Beginning of French Revolutionary Wars (1792):Revolutionary France declared war on Austria, beginning the French Revolutionary Wars. Austria's emperor and other monarchs (cooperating with French nobles) threatened severe consequences if the king was not restored. Other kings and emperors throughout Europe were alarmed at the potential implications the movement could have in their own lands if left unchecked. This was seen as seen as a direct threat against France and its new government by extremist revolutionaries, many of whom desired to spread the revolution beyond the borders of France. France unsuccessfully attempted to invade the Austrian Netherlands, due to an untrained and disorganized army. Prussia invaded in response, galvanizing the French as they withstood the Prussians. This invasion strengthened the resolve of the army, which would quickly develop into an unstoppable fighting force, conquering most of Europe by 1812.
Further Understanding: Causes of the French Revolution
Bankruptcy: French kings had engaged France in a variety of expensive wars and conflicts, some of which proved to be ill-conceived, such as the French & Indian War (1754–63), which was devastating to the French colonial empire, its national psyche and its economy. The role of the French in the American Revolutionary War was also financially crippling. Plus, the king and his court continued to spend lavishly. Even during times of economic crisis, the spending continued. Especially in the years preceding the Revolution, France was no longer a trading power, compared to UK, Netherlands, Spain or Portugal, since it had lost most of its colonial empire. It had to rely on generating revenues internally, so it had to increase taxation. The non-aristocratic class (peasants, bourgeoisie, those in un-inheritable positions) carried the tax burden, as nobles/aristocrats had generally purchased their positions of privilege, and could not be legally taxed under their then-current system. The king was unwilling and unable to reform the system which heavily taxed the poor majority, while ensuring privilege for the aristocrats. As a result of this limited tax base, the government became bankrupt, and could no longer secure loans, as it had defaulted several times in recent decades.
Starvation: A colder weather pattern struck during the economic melt down, causing food to become even more scarce.
Social Inequity: France had a parliamentary system, which advised the king on governance, but it was still an absolute monarchy in practice. The king and aristocracy lived a life of great privilege, while the majority in the middle and lower classes were overtaxed, and even faced food shortages and starvation. During this age of enlightenment, and with the influence of the American Revolutionary War, the lower and middle classes were far from willing to accept of such an outdated and oppressive fate. The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) was also a target, since they successfully imposed their influence upon the king, maintaining Catholicism as the state religion. The RCC was highly favored, not subject to taxes, while collecting a required 10% from the non-aristocracy (adding to their excessive tax burden). Clergy also led a fairly lavish life compared to the middle/low classes, a fact not lost upon the general public.
Lack of Action: Despite the desperation of the situation, no effective measures were ever put into place to solve the worsening economic shipwreck which was France in the late 18th century.