from Palmer, A History of the Modern World,
The Liberal Revolution (1789-92)
- The French
Government in 1788 was unable to balance its budget because of the tax
exemptions and tax evasions of the privileged classes, especially the
Estates-General were called for the first time in a century and a half
so that the King could get legislation passed which would reorganize
the tax system.
- The Third
Estate, representing the bourgeoisie (the middle class), demanded that
the three estates meet as one. On June 20, 1789 the Third Estate
declared itself a National Assembly and swore an oath (on a local
tennis court) that they would not disband until a new constitution had
King initially refused to recognize the National Assembly as legitimate.
- July 14,
1789: An angry crowd of common workers in the city of Paris approached
the Bastille, demanding weapons. When the warden of the prison fired on
the demonstrators, the crowd stormed the citadel, murdered the warden
and paraded his head on a pike in the streets.
- (The Great Fear) In the
countryside, peasants armed themselves and in many cases attacked the
manor houses, killing the noblemen who had tyrannized them for
- On the night
of August 4th, a few liberal
noblemen rose in the National Assembly and surrendered their
aristocratic privileges, inspiring the Assembly to ban all aspects of
- August 26th:
The National Assembly affirmed “The Declaration of the Rights of Man”
which declared that every person possesses the natural rights to life,
liberty and property. It also declared that every citizen owns equal
rights before the law.
- On October 4th
a mob of poor market women marched from Paris to Versailles complaining
of the high price of bread and calling for social reforms. They were
accompanied by fighters who attacked the palace and forced the King to
return with them to Paris. From then on, the Parisian workers played an
important and on-going role influencing the decisions of the government.
Constitution of 1791 was ratified by the National Assembly. It
gave all power to the legislative assembly itself. The Executive branch
was only awarded a ‘suspensive veto’ which could postpone but not
eliminate legislation. Only property owners were given the right to
- June 1791:
The King and his family disguised themselves and attempted to flee by
stagecoach to Austria to join with forces there rallying to form an
army to overthrow the revolution. The King was captured at Varrenes,
returned to Paris and forced to accept the new constitutional monarchy.
- To cope with
the fiscal crisis left to them by the King, the National Assembly
confiscated the property of the Church and sold bonds, called assignats, which
were regarded as currency. These lands were sold to the highest
bidders, so poor peasants did not get to participate in this land
reform. This decision led to constant quarrels with the Catholic
Church. In the Civil Constitution of the Clergy in 1791, the Assembly
put the church under the administrative control of the state.
- August 1791:
In the Declaration of Pillnitz, the Kings of Austria and Prussia
declared war against the French revolutionary government. The Liberals
in power responded by declaring their goal of spreading the revolution
The Radical Revolution (1792-94)
- April 20,
1792: The National Assembly declares war on Prussia and Austria.
- Summer 1792:
The Jacobins, led by Marat, Danton, and Desmoulins, whip up nationalist passion against foreign enemies and
rally workers and peasants with promises of a republic (a government
without a king). "The Marseillaise" becomes the new national Anthem: a call to war against tyranny. The
Girondists (Condorcet, Brissot, Roland, Thomas Paine) argue that the
revolution must be exported to the rest of Europe if it is to survive:
- August 10,
1792: Storming of the Tuileries Palace: a violent demonstration by
Parisian workers organized by Danton results in the imprisonment of
Louis XVI and his family.
- The “Commune
of Paris” sets new elections for a National Convention with universal
- The National
Convention meets and creates a new calendar with 1792 as Year One. The
first order of business of the new republic is the trial of the King,
- September Massacres: Jacobins led by Danton organize assaults on aristocrats and
priests held in Paris prisons.
the French army scores a military victory at Valmy.
the National Convention radical memebers of the Jacobins,
the Montagnards (led by Marat, Robespierre and Danton), emerge
1792: the trial of Louis XVI ends with a unanimous guilty verdict, but
the vote to execute the King carries by only one vote The Girondist
leaders of the Jacobins had argued for clemency.
1793: Louis XVI executed.
- Spring 1793:
The war against the Austrians and the Prussians is going badly. The
ultra-radical working class enragees clamor
for a true social revolution (i.e. land reform and income re-distribution) The Jacobins drive the Girondists from the
Convention aided by threats from the sans-cullotes,
members of the Parisian working class.
Revolution: a peasant revolt breaks out in the Vendee province and resistance
to Parisian control emerges in Lyon, Bordeaux and Marseilles. Many
counter- revolutionaries are also motivated by loyalty to the Catholic
Convention, despite its republican constitution, arrogates its powers
to an emergency government: The Committee of Public Safety, led by
Marat, Robespierre and Danton. To repress counter-revolution and
revitalize the war effort, they form a police
administration with extra-legal authority and order the levee en masse: a
universal draft. They set wage and price controls and nationalize the
1793: Marat is assassinated (in his bath tub) by the Girondist
Hebertists organize the ultra-radicals (sans-cullottes and enragees) to issue demands that the revolution become a true social
revolution: wage and price controls, end to property rights,
De-Christianization, new Republican calendar (with its ten day work
week), cult of Reason,
blocks the Hebertist socialist revolution, and in March 1794 they are
- To pacify
the left, Robespierre also moves against the Dantonists, and in April 1794 they are executed.
military victories during the early summer of 1794, Robespierre is
overthrown and executed on July 27, 1794.
Thermidorean Reaction and The Directory (1794-1799)
August 1795: Constitution of the Year III establishes a new government
led by The Directory, a five member executive branch, with a bi-cameral
republican legislature: the Council of 500 and the Council of Elders.
Suffrage is based on property rights. Voters elect a
of ‘electors’ who then choose representatives.
- In 1795
street protests against the Directory were put down with artillery fire
by a young general who had happened to be in Paris: Napoleon Bonaparte.
(He gave them a 'whiff of grapeshot.')
Directory was opposed by monarchists from the right who sought to
restore the Old Regime and punish the revolutionaries. The Directory
was also opposed on the left by survivors of the Hebertist working
class movement: Gracchus Babeuf sought the abolishment of private
property and parliamentary government. (He was guillotined in 1797.)
Napoleon’s army drives the Austrians from Northern Italy, and he
establishes his own country, The Cisalpine Republic, which is
independent of France. From that moment forward, he was able
to supply his armies independent of Paris.
- March 1797:
The first really free election in French history. Unfortunately, the
constitutional monarchs and royalists won.
1797: The Coup d’état of Fructidor: The Directory annuls the free
elections with Napoleon’s support, and the Directory assumes complete
control of the government. But problems continue: guerilla activity
continues in the Vendee as well as the repression of the refractory clergy,
amid complaints from left and right.
Napoleon invades Egypt, alarming the British who depend on supply
routes from the Red Sea, and the Russians who have their own designs on
the Middle East.
1799: One of the Directors, Abbe Seiyes, invites Napoleon to form a
government, and in the Coup d’état of Brumaire, Napoleon closes the
Council of 500 and declares a ‘Consulate’. Napoleon holds a general
referendum on his move, and, surprise, he wins by 3,010,007 to 1,562.
The new Parliament is elected by universal male suffrage, but electors
can only choose representatives from a list of notables supplied by….
Napoleon. Even these handpicked legislators have no power of their own.
They can only enact or reject laws formulated by the Tribunate. In
reality, the first consul, Napoleon, is making all the decisions.
picks ministers from across the political spectrum who serve him
loyally. He puts down any dissent with violence. He even concocts
‘traitors’ to punish in order to demonstrate his power.
put an end to religious rebellion, Napoleon signs a concordat with the
Vatican which enables the refractory clergy, which had led the counter
revolution in many provinces, to return to their parishes.
consolidates his power by naming agents of government to lead the state
bureaucracy. All military and civil appointments are made based on
merit. Taxes are collected by professionals employed by the central
government. No one gets tax exemptions. The government’s
rationalization of the state bureaucracy enables Napoleon to stabilize
the economy and secure the national debt.
codifies national law in the Code Napoleon.
The codes made France legally and judicially uniform. The codes are
based on reason not precedent. The right to property is strengthened.
Labor unions are banned.
Napoleon makes peace with Great Britain.
Napoleon is made consul for life in a new plebiscite.
Napoleon names himself Emperor. (hereditary)
had created an incomparably formidable state. The most populous, the
most wealthy country in Europe had eliminated all of the barriers of
privilege, tax exemption, localism, and caste. The new France could tap
the wealth of its people and put able men into positions of
responsibility. This principal of civic equality proved to have a
powerful ideological appeal…. when Napoleon decided to liberate the
rest of Europe.
Impact on Europe:
Reforms of Napoleonic Code
against French influence leads to nationalist movements, particularly
during WWII, the great powers of Europe (Great Britain, Austria, Russia
and Prussia) did not take the field together against Napoleon until
1813 (after the disastrous French invasion of Russia). Why? They all
had their own ambitions: Austria wanted to expand into the Balkans, as
did Russia. Prussia
sought the unification of Germany. England wished to avoid being drawn
into infantry clashes on the Continent and sought instead to
consolidate its mastery at sea.
- 1803: The
English refuse to vacate Malta and declare war on France.
Napoleon sells Louisiana to the Americans.
- 1805: Great
Britain and Russia form the Third Coalition.
- 1805: Fear
of French invasion of England
1805: Lord Nelson destroys the combined French and Spanish fleets at
1805: Napoleon defeats the Austrians and Russians at Austerlitz.
Napoleon dissolves the Holy Roman Empire and creates the Confederation
of the Rhine.
Napoleon smashes the Prussians at Jena.
Napoleon defeats the Russians at Friedland.
Alexander I makes peace with Napoleon during a meeting on a raft on the
Nieman River. Napoleon promises Russia an empire in the East if they
will tolerate a French empire in the West.
Napoleon engages economic warfare with England by creating the
Continental System (The Berlin Decree), an embargo on all British
refuses to go along with the Continental System, and France invades the
Iberian Peninsula. (The Peninsular War becomes Europe’s first guerilla
war and drags on until 1813. France lost.)
Napoleon names his brother Joseph the King of Spain.
Austria declares war against France and is defeated at Wagram. Napoleon
takes control of vast central European territories.
Napoleon divorces his wife Josephine, who has not borne him a son.
Napoleon marries Princess Marie Louise of Austria, the eighteen year
old niece of Marie Antoinette. (Technically, that made the dead Louis
XVI Napoleon's uncle.)
Furthest extent of French Empire
1810-11 France controls the entire European mainland except for the
Balkan peninsula. The Empire was divided into three parts:
- The French
Empire included Belgium and Holland, the left bank of the Rhine, the
coastline from Germany in the North to Rome in the South. These
territories were governed directly by departamental prefects reporting
directly to Paris.
- The Grand
Empire included the Swiss Confederation and the Illyrian Provinces on
the Dalmatian Coast, Poland had become the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. The
German states had been organized into the Confederation of the Rhine.
Napoleon made his brother Jerome the King of Westphalia, his brother
Louis the King of Holland, and his sister Caroline the Queen of Naples.
Prussia and Russia became “Allied States” whom Napoleon required to
obey the Continental economic system centered in France.
Spread of the French Revolution:
considered himself a reformer and a man of the Enlightenment. He said
that he was a liberal who believed in constitutions, but the
legislative assemblies in the empire held no power. For Napoleon,
liberalism meant ‘constituting’ a state rationally.
- He asserted
that the rule of law (the Code Napoleon) be applied universally. The
idea that a country might have its own set of unique laws was foreign
to his thinking.
believed that his code of laws was politically expedient: the people
would welcome the new freedoms offered all citizens and be grateful to
of the Code Napoleon:
- The old
aristocratic privileges were ended, including tax breaks, hereditary
offices, and military commands. Manorial fees and tithes were
abolished, but peasants still had to pay the nobility compensation for
their freedom, so basically, they exchanged lords for landlords.
- Society was
thereafter composed of legally equal individuals. All government jobs
were ‘opened to talent’.
courts were abolished and the Inquisition outlawed. Church property was
toleration became the law. (For the first time in European history,
Jews received civil rights.)
- The state
was wholly secular.
came with the new order, but unlike during WWII, there were no vast
concentration camps. The dependent states were required to supply
Napoleon with money and soldiers. These monies defrayed the expense of
maintaining Napoleon’s military machine, so taxes in France itself were
War with England: The Continental System
British who had won out in the 18th century
struggle for overseas wealth and empire were disliked in most of
Europe. British war vessels held it to be their right to stop neutral
vessels anywhere on the high seas, inspect their cargoes and confiscate
‘contraband’. England was denounced as a ruthless mercantile power
exploiting a monopoly on exported shipments into Europe. Napoleon
called England a ‘nation of shopkeepers’ and sought to starve the
British economy by embargoing all import of British goods into Europe.
To accomplish this goal, Europe would need to develop a self-sufficient
economy. (Mercantilist economists argued that a country which produces
all of its necessary goods would be the strongest. Adam Smith argued
the opposite: he believed that a free market without restrictions on
any trade should be allowed to determine prices.)
British navy sought to prevent the import of any goods of military
value into Europe, but they were eager to export products from the
Americas into Europe: sugar, coffee, tea, tobacco, chocolate, drugs,
spices and dye stuffs. They also sought a market for the cotton cloth
that had begun to spill from their new factories equipped with steam
Continental System proved to be very unpopular throughout Europe and
ultimately proved impossible to enforce. Without railroads, which would
not come along for another twenty to thirty years, Europe did not
possess the infrastructure to maintain a blockade against all British
goods. The British empire enabled their merchants to make up for the losses they
experienced during the blockade by increasing trade with Latin America
and the US.
Invasion of Russia (1812)
1810: Russia formally withdraws from the Continental System, and
Napoleon resolves to crush the tsar. He concentrates a Grand Army of
more than 700,000 soldiers, the largest army ever assembled for a
single military operation.
- June 1812:
Napoleon leads the Grand Army into Russia. The Russians under General
Kutuzov refuse to meet Napoleon’s armies head on, instead engaging in
hit and run tactics while retreating towards Moscow. They burn
everything in their path leaving the invading army nothing with which
to live off the land.
finally engages the Russian Army at Borodino, and the Russians fight
him to a stalemate before retreating. General Kutuzov chooses not to
1812: Napoleon enters the city, and a week later the Russians burn it
to the ground.
1812: Napoleon orders a retreat. The Russian winter sets in early, and
the Grand Army is decimated by starvation, cold and harassment as they
retreat to Europe. Of the 700,000 soldiers who entered Russia, 400,000 die and 100,00 were taken prisoner.
1813: After raising a new army, Napoleon is defeated again at Leipzig.
1813: Metternich, the Austrian foreign minister, offers Napoleon the
chance to remain emperor and retain France’s original boundaries.
- March 1814:
Russia, Prussia, England and Austria sign Treaty of Chaumont forming a
quadruple alliance against France.
- April 1814:
Napoleon abdicates and is exiled to the island of Elba.
1814: The Great Powers meet at the Congress of Vienna to carve up the
French empire and determine a way to prevent one country from ever
dominating Europe again.
- March 1,
1815: The 100 Days: Napoleon escapes from Elba, raises a new army and
marches on Belgium. His army is defeated by Wellington in command of
the allied armies at Waterloo.