French Revolution

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From the beginning of the 20th century until the 1970s, the French Revolution was most commonly described as the result of the growing economic and social importance of the bourgeoisie, or middle class. The bourgeoisie, it was believed, overthrew the Old Regime because that regime had given power and privilege to other classes-the nobility and the clergy-who prevented the bourgeoisie from advancing socially and politically. Recently this interpretation has been replaced by one that relies less on social and economic factors and more on political ones. Economic recession in the 1770s may have frustrated some bourgeois in their rise to power and wealth, and rising bread prices just before the Revolution certainly increased discontent among workers and peasants. Yet it is now commonly believed that the revolutionary process started with a crisis in the French state. By 1789 many French people had become critical of the monarchy, even though it had been largely successful in militarily defending France and in quelling domestic religious and political violence. They resented the rising and unequal taxes, the persecution of religious minorities, and government interference in their private lives. These resentments, coupled with an inefficient government and an antiquated legal system, made the government seem increasingly illegitimate to the French people. The royal court at Versailles, which had been developed to impress the French people and Europe generally, came to symbolize the waste and corruption of the entire Old Regime. In this general crisis, revolutionary leaders began to turn on each other. The Girondins who favored federalism, fought a battle to the death with the Jacobins, who denounced the Girondins for lacking revolutionary zeal and for aiding, intentionally or not, counter- revolutionary forces. The Jacobins already dominated the convention, but on June 2, pressured by the sans-culottes, they consolidated their power by arresting 22 Girondin leaders. During the following months, the government put down the federalist revolts, sometimes sevearly. A new democratic constitution was taken up but never implemented. In Robespierre's view, constitutional government would have to wait until fear and repression had eliminated the enemies of the Revolution. The Jacobins operated through the existing convention and agencies responsible to it. They used the Committee of Public Safety, composed of 12 men led by Robespierre, to provide executive oversight and the Revolutionary Tribunal to try political cases. Additionally, the Jacobins sent representatives from the convention with wide-ranging powers to particular areas to enforce Jacobin policies. The most urgent government business was the war. On August 17th, 1793, the convention voted the levee en masse, which mobilized all citizens to serve as soldiers or suppliers in the war effort. To further that effort, the convention quickly enacted more legislation. On

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