Written By: Jamie Janczak
Essay - The French Revolution
France's Old Regime was rigidly divided into social classes called estates. The country was ruled by an absolute monarchy, and the regulations of mercantilism governed wages and prices. The Roman Catholic Church also owned one-tenth of France's land. In 1789, a mob in Paris stormed the Bastille, a prison. This marked the beginning of the French Revolution. The French Revolution transformed France by changing France's government, eliminating the special privileges of the social classes, and reducing the power of the Church. After accomplishing these goals, France was changed to a great extent.
The French Revolution led not only to changes in government but to new ideas in government. The National Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which proclaimed all men equal under the law, and assured personal liberty. The Constitution of 1791 allowed for a government with three branches and a one-house legislature. This was the Legislative Assembly. The legislators were separated into three groups - conservatives, moderates, and radicals. This group voted to suspend the office of king. The National Convention voted to execute King Louis XVI. Their representatives also established the Directory, which was France's last government before the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte.
The Revolution also changed France socially. People other than nobles were allowed to hold important positions in the government and army. The National Assembly did away with all the special privileges of the First and Second Estates. The bourgeoisie had more economic freedom with unregulated prices, and peasants had more rights. People of all classes were executed on suspicion of disloyalty during the Reign of Terror.
Revolutionaries also reduced the Church's power. The National Assembly seized land belonging to the Church and offered it for sale to the public. As a compensation for seizing Church lands, the government assumed the expense of paying the salaries of priests and bishops. The National Assembly also issued the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which stated that people in the parishes and dioceses would elect their clergy. The Pope disliked this and ordered priests not to comply. Most obeyed him and either became emigres or helped nobles stir up opposition to the Revolution.
France was forever changed by these events. Their impact was far-reaching across Europe. However, the French people could not keep a stable government. This would set the precedent for France to be ruled by a military dictatorship.