Chapter 16: The French Revolution and Napoleon (1789-1815) The Three Estates



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Chapter 16: The French Revolution and Napoleon (1789-1815)

  • The First Estate consisted of the clergy and numbered about 130,000 people.

These people owned approximately 10 % of the land.

  • They were exempt from the taille, France’s chief tax. The clergy were radically divided.

  • The higher clergy, members of aristocratic families, shared the interests of the nobility.

  • The parish priests were often poor and from the class of commoners.

  • The Second Estate, the nobility, included about 350,000 people.

  • Nobles owned about 25 to 30% of the land.

  • They played an important, and even a crucial, role in French society in the eighteenth century.

  • They held many of the leading positions in the government, the military, the law courts, and the higher church offices.

  • Moreover, they possessed many privileges, including tax exemptions.

  • The Third Estate, or the commoners of society, made up the overwhelming majority of the French population.

  • The peasants, who constituted 75 to 80% of the total population, were by far the largest segment of the Third Estate.

  • As a group, they owned about 35 to 40% of the land.

  • The bourgeoisie, or middle class, was another part of the Third Estate.

  • This group included merchants, bankers, and industrialists, as well as professional people- lawyers, holders of public officials, doctors, and writers.

  • By 1789, France was on the verge of bankruptcy because of the Monarch’s expenses.

  • On the verge of a complete financial collapse, the government of Louis XVI was forced to call a meeting of the Estates-General to raise new taxes.

  • This was the French Parliament, and it had not met since 1614.

  • The Estates-General was composed of representatives from the three orders of French society.

  • The First and Second Estates had about 300 delegates each.

  • The Third Estate had almost six hundred delegates, most of whom were lawyers from French towns.

  • To fix France’s financial problems, most members of the Third Estate wanted to set up a constitutional government that would abolish the tax exemptions of the clergy and nobility.

  • The Third Estate demanded that each deputy have one vote.

  • With the help of a few nobles and clerics, that would give the Third Estate a majority.

  • The king, however, declared he was in favor of the current system, in which each Estate had one vote.

  • On June 17, 1789, the Third Estate called itself a National Assembly and decided to draft a constitution.

  • Louis XVI prepared to use force against the Third Estate.

  • The common people, however, saved the Third Estate from the King’s forces.

  • On July 14, a mob of Parisians stormed the Bastille, an armory and prison in Paris, and dismantled it. Paris was abandoned to the rebels.

  • At the same time, popular revolutions broke out throughout France, both in the cities and in the countryside.

  • A growing hatred of the entire land holding system, with its fees and obligations, led to the popular uprisings.

  • On August 26, the National Assembly adopted the Declaration of Rights of Man and the citizens.

  • This charter of basic liberties began with a ringing affirmation of “the natural and imprescriptibly rights of man” to “liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.”

  • Lois XVI refused to accept the National Assembly’s decrees on the abolition of feudalism and the Declaration of Rights.

  • On October 5, however, thousands of Parisian women marched to Versailles and forced the King to accept the new decrees.

  • Because the Catholic Church was seen as an important pillar of the old order, it too was subject to change.

  • Because of the need for money, the National Assembly seized and sold the lands of the Church.

  • The National Assembly completed a new constitution, the Constitution of 1791, which set up a limited monarchy.

  • According to the constitution, there would still be a King, but a Legislative Assembly would make the laws.

  • Over time, some European leaders began to fear that revolution would spread to the countries.

  • The rulers of Austria and Prussia even threaten to use force to restore Louis XVI to full power.

  • Insulted by this treat, the Legislative Assembly declared war on Austria in the spring of 1792.

  • By spring 1792 radical political groups rose in Paris.

  • This mob attacked the royal palace and Legislative Assembly.

  • They took the King captive and call for a National convention on the nation’s future form of government.

Sec. 2 Radical Revolution and Reaction

  • The Move to Radicalism

  • In September 1792, the newly elected National convention began its sessions.

  • The convention was dominated by lawyers, professionals, and property owners.

  • Two-thirds of its deputies were under the age of 45.

  • Almost all had had political experience as a result of the revolution.

  • Almost all distrusted the King.

  • It was therefore no surprise that the National Convention’s first major step on September 21 was to abolish the monarchy and establish a republic, the French Republic.

  • The National Convention passes a decree condemning Louis XVI to death. On January 21, 1793 the King was beheaded on the guillotine.

  • A foreign crisis also loomed large.

  • The execution of Louis XVI had outraged the royalty of most of Europe.

  • An informal coalition of Austria, Prussia, Spain, Portugal, Britain, and the Dutch Republic took up arms against France.

  • The French armies began to fall back.

  • To meet the crisis, the National Convention gave brood powers to a special committee of 12 known as the Committee of Public Safety. One of their main leaders was Maximilian Robespierre.

  • To meet the crisis at home, the National Convention and the Committee of Public Safety set in motion an effect that came to be known as the Reign of Terror.

  • Revolutionary courts were set up to persecute internal enemies of the revolutionary republic.

  • During the course of the Reign of Terror, close to 40,000 people were killed.

  • Most executions were held in places that had openly rebelled against the authority of the National Convention.

  • People from all classes were killed during the Terror.

  • Clergy and nobles made up about 15% of the victims, while the rest were from the bourgeoisie and peasant classes.

  • The committee of Public Safety held that all this bloodletting was only temporary.

  • Once the war and domestic crisis was over, the true “Republic of Virtue” would follow, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizens would be fully realized.

  • A Nation in Arms.

  • In less than a year, the French revolutionary government had raised a huge army.

  • By September 1794, it was over one million.

  • The Republic’s army was the largest ever seen in European History.

  • It pushed the allies invading France back across the Rhine and even conquered the Austrian Nether lands.

  • By the summer of 1794, the French had largely defeated their foreign foes.

  • There was less need for the Reign of Terror, but it continued nonetheless.

  • However by July 28, 1794 the National Convention decided to condemn and kill the leader of the Committee of Public Safety, Maximilian Robespierre.

This officially ended the Reign of Terror.

  • With the terror over, the National Convention reduced the power of the Committee of Public Safety.

  • Churches were allowed to reopen for public worship.

  • In addition, a new constitution was created in August 1795 that reflected the desire for more stability.

  • The Constitution of 1795 established a national legislative assembly consisting of two chambers: a lower house, known as the council of 500, which initiated legislation; and upper house, the council of elders, which accepted or rejected the proposed laws.

  • The council of Elders elected five directors to act as the executive committee or Directory.

  • The Directory, together with the legislature, ruled.

  • The Directory (1791-1799) was an era of corruption and graft.

  • Increasingly, the Directory relied on the military to maintain its power.

  • In 1799, a coup d’état, a sudden overthrow of the government, led by the successful and popular general Napoleon Bonaparte, toppled the Directory.

  • Napoleon seizes power.

Sec. 3 The Age of Napoleon

  • The Rise of Napoleon

  • Napoleon Bonaparte dominated French and European history from 1799 to 1815. In a sense, he brought the French Revolution to an end in 1799, but he was also a child of the Revolution.

  • The French Revolution made possible his rise, first in the military and then to supreme power in France.

  • Napoleon won the confidence of his men with his energy, charm, and ability to make quick decisions. These qualities, combined with his keen intelligence, ease with words, and supreme confidence in him, enabled him to influence people and win their firm support.

  • In Paris, Napoleon took part in the coup d’état that overthrow the government of the Directory.

  • He was only 30 years old at the time.

  • With the coup d’état of 1799. A new government-called the consulate was proclaimed.

  • Although theoretically it was a republic, in fact Napoleon held absolute power.

  • As first consul, Napoleon controlled the entire government.

He appointed members of the bureaucracy, controlled the army, conducted foreign affairs, and influenced the legislature.

  • In 1802, Napoleon was made consul for life. Two years later he crowned himself Emperor Napoleon I.

  • Napoleon’s Domestic Policies

  • One of Napoleon’s first moves at home was to establish peace with the oldest enemy of the Revolution, the Catholic Church.

  • Napoleon himself had no personal religious faith. He was an eighteenth-century believer in reason who regarded religion at most as a convenience.

  • In 1801, Napoleon made an agreement with the pope.

  • The agreement recognized Catholicism as the religion of a majority of French people. In return, the pope agreed not to ask for the return of the church lands seized in the revolution.

  • With this agreement, the Catholic Church was no longer an enemy of the French government.

  • Napoleon’s most famous domestic achievement was his codification of the laws.

  • The Civil Code or Napoleonic Code preserved most of the gains of the revolution by recognizing the principle of the equality of all citizens before the law, the right of the individual to choose a profession, religious toleration, and the abolition of serfdom and feudalism.

  • Property rights continue to be carefully protected, and the interests of employers were safeguarded by outlawing trade unions and strikes.

  • The Civil Code made it more difficult for women to obtain divorces. Women were now “less equal than men” in other ways as well.

  • When they married, their property was brought under the control of their husbands. In lawsuits, they were treated as minors, and their testimony was regarded as less reliable than that of men.

  • Promotions, whether in civil or military offices, was to be not on rank or birth but on ability only. Opening government careers to individuals based on their ability was one change the middle class had wanted before the revolution.

  • The Civil Code preserved the equality of all citizens before the law. The concept of opening government careers to more people was another gain of the revolution that he retained.

  • Napoleon’s Empire

  • When Napoleon became consul in 1799, France was at war with a European coalition of Russia, Great Britain, and Austria

  • Napoleon realized the need for a pause in the war.

  • Napoleon achieved a peace treaty in 1802, but it did not last long. War was renewed in 1803 with Britain.

  • Gradually, Britain was joined by Austria, Russia, Sweden, and Prussia. In a series of battles at Ulm, Austerlitz, Jena, and Eylau form 1805 to 1807, Napoleon’s Grand Army defeated the Austrian, Prussian, and Russian armies.

  • From 1807 to 1812, Napoleon was the master of Europe.

  • His Grand Empire was composed of three major parts: the French Empire, Dependent States, and Allied States.

  • Within his empire, Napoleon sought to spread some of the principles of the French Revolution, including legal equality, religious toleration, and economic freedom.

  • In the inner core and dependent states of his Grand Empire, Napoleon tried to destroy the old order.

  • The nobility and clergy everywhere in these states lost their privileges.

  • Napoleon decreed equality of opportunity with offices open to talents, equality before the law, and religious toleration.

  • The spread of French revolutionary principles was an important factor in the development of liberal traditions in these countries.

  • The European Response

  • Napoleon hoped that his Grand Empire would last centuries. However, it collapsed almost as rapidly as it had formed. Two major reasons help to explain this: A) the survival of Great Britain and B) The force of nationalism.

  • Britain’s survival was due primarily to its sea power.

  • As long as Britain ruled the waves, it was almost invulnerable to military attack.

  • Napoleon turned to his Continental System to defeat Britain.

  • The aim of the Continental System was to stop British goods from reaching the European continent to be sold there.

  • By weakening Britain economically, Napoleon would destroy its ability to wage war.

  • The Continental System failed because allied states resented being told by Napoleon that they could not trade with the British.

  • Furthermore, new markets in the Middle East and in Latin America gave Britain new outlets for its goods.

  • A second important factor in the defeat of Napoleon was nationalism.

  • Nationalism is the unique culture identity of a people based on common language, religion, and national symbols.

  • Napoleon’s spread of principles of the French Revolution beyond France indirectly brought a spread of nationalism as well.

  • The French aroused nationalism in two ways. A) First they were hated as oppressors. This hatred stirred the patriotism of others in opposition to the French. B) Second, the French showed the people of Europe what nationalism was and what a nation in arms could do.

  • The fall of Napoleon

  • The beginning of Napoleon’s downfall came in 1812 with his invasion of Russia.

  • The Russians had refused to remain in the continental system, leaving Napoleon with little choice but to invade.

  • Napoleon’s hopes for victory depended on a quick defeat of the Russian armies.

  • The Russian forces retreated for hundreds of miles. As they retreated, they burned their own villages and countryside to keep Napoleon’s army from finding food.

  • When the Russians did stop to fight at Borodino, Napoleon’s forces won an indecisive and costly victory.

  • When the remaining Grand Army arrived in Moscow, they found the city ablaze.

  • Lacking food and supplies, Napoleon abandoned Moscow late in October and began the “Great Retreat” across Russia.

  • The retreat proceeded in terrible winter conditions.

  • This military disaster led other European states to rise up and attack the crippled French army.

  • Paris was captures in March 1814. Napoleon was soon sent into exile on the island of Elba, off the coast of Tuscany.

  • A new king was restored in France but he had little support, and Napoleon slipped back to France.

  • The power that had defeated Napoleon pledged once more to fight this person they called the “Enemy and Disturber of the Tranquility of the World.”

  • At Waterloo in Belgium on June, 1815, Napoleon met a combined British and Prussian army under the Duke of Wellington and suffered a bloody defeat.

  • This time, the victorious allies exiled him to St. Helena, a small island in the South Atlantic.


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