French Revolution

Throughout the years, many historians have attempted to find a pattern to the revolutions that occur throughout the world. One set pattern that includes eight steps matches closely with the French, Chinese, and Russian revolutions.

The French revolution fit in perfect cohesion with the outlined steps of a revolution. The first step of a revolution occurs when the government fails to meet the needs of the people, denies political power to powerful groups, and has lost the support of its intellectuals. The roots of the French revolution begin with France in a severe economic crisis. To counter the crisis, King Louis XVI attempts to tax the nobles. The nobles did not desire to be taxed, and felt that the burden of supporting the government should lie with the lower classes. After this fell through, the king summoned the Estates General to meet, in hopes of gaining support for his economic reform programs. The third estate desired that the individual members of the state vote separately, instead of casting one vote as an estate. The king then insisted that the estates meet separately and cast one vote. After this case, the Third Estate declared itself to be the National Assembly, and began to write a new constitution. The King then banned them from meeting, but that didn't stop them. They met on a tennis court, and swore not to disband until they had drawn up a constitution. Finally the king gave in, and had the other estates meet with the third estate in the national assembly. The National Assembly failed to create the immediate relief that the peasants were expecting. Then, the kings concentration of troops near the capital led to further unrest. The peasants, fearing further unrest and harms from the king stormed the political prison, the Bastille. This dramatic act marked the beginning of the French revolution, and also satisfied point number two of the pattern of a revolution (The revolution starts with one dramatic act which demonstrates the governments inability to control the course of events) The peasants also began to uprise against their landlords, and further distrust for the government mounted.

As a result of the increasing violence, the National Assembly sprang into action. They passed moderate reforms limiting the rights of nobles, and increasing the power of the peasants. This helps to satisfy point three which states that a moderate government will come to power. The adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Men, which declared equality for all, and was to be the basis of the French law. This method of moderate reform encountered some opposition. Many of the nobles fled the country. The king also tried to flee, but he was caught. Some of the nobles that left the country aroused the attention of foreign powers, and encouraged Austria and Prussia to attack France. This met step four in the revolutionary cycle. Step four stated that the moderate reform program arouses opposition and violence from citizens and foreign countries.

Step five occurs when the radicals in the revolution seize control, and employ force and terror against their enemies in the name of the country. France had one of the best examples of the terror of the radical activities. The threats to the country that occurred inside and outside caused France to but its newly drawn up moderate constitution aside, and start the Committee of Public Safety. Maximilien Robespierre as the leader of this organization, and led France through the Reign of Terror. During this period of time he guillotined anyone who he suspected of being against the cause of the French republic. He held many trials every day, and eventually had to find other means to execute people because the guillotine was too slow. Robespierre executed anyone who was even suspected of being a traitor. He eventually killed some of his closest friends. The public eventually became sick of all the bloodletting, and had Maximilien executed under his own system. This caused the end of the Reign of Terror, and also met step 6 of the steps of a revolution which states that the public tires of the terror, and it eventually comes to an end.

Finally, after the Reign of Terror has come to an end, the government gets back to work and finishes a constitution. The constitution established a new ruling body known as the Directory. The Directory was ineffective in solving the problems of France, and soon a new constitution was written, in which Napoleon was named the First Consul. He soon named himself First Consul for life, and later Emperor of the French. Both of these advances in power were done with widespread public approval. Napoleon ruled as a dictator and established a new French law code, the Napoleonic code, which is similar to the law of ancient Rome. He continued many other reforms of the revolution. He also set up schools for the French citizens. He also made peace with the church. He had widespread public support for his moves and reforms. France was still constantly at war during Napoleons time. The French army was the most powerful in the world during this time, and carved out a large empire for Napoleon. At the height of this empire, Napoleon had control of almost all of Europe. The rise of Napoleon as dictator and the public's support of him meet steps seven and eight in a revolution which state that in the period of domestic instability, a leader will arrive in the country, and proclaim himself dictator. The public's acceptance of the dictator will then be based on his ability to preserve some of the gains of the revolution, while at the same time providing political stability.