CHRONOLOGY You will not have to know exact dates. For example, you will not be asked "Did the Bastille fall on July 13th, 14th or 15th?" However, you do have to understand the chronological sequence of events. For example, you might be asked to put the Tennis Court Oath, the Woman's March On Versailles and the Fall of the Bastille into chronological order. Accordingly, you should study your Chronology and the order in which events occurred to know how one led to the next, but don't attempt to memorize dates as such.
CONCEPTS Absolute Monarchy - A government in which all power and all legitimacy descends from the King. Constitutional Monarchy - A government in which the King is the executive but in which his powers are limited by the Constitution, a little like the way the U.S. Constitution defines and limits the powers of the American President. First Estate - The Clergy. Traditionally, their role was to pray for the state and they were therefore exempt from taxation.
Second Estate - The Aristocracy. Traditionally, their role was to fight for the state and since they paid the "blood tax" in war, they were also exempt from taxation. Third Estate - The Commons. Traditionally, their role was to work, primarily by growing food. They were often heavily taxed. Peasants - The bulk of the Third Estate were peasants. Mostly they did agricultural work although there were urban peasants living in cities. Most peasants were poor and badly nourished. Bourgeoise - Members of the Third Estate who were not peasants. They were the "middle class" in the sense that they were between the peasants and the aristocracy, but many bourgeoise were quite wealthy. They were typically skill-based professionals who worked as merchants, lawyers, doctors, business men, etc. Their numbers were growing during the 18th Century but they did not have any political power before the Revolution. The Church - The Catholic Church, to which almost everyone on France belonged and which had great wealth and popular influence. Ancien Regime - The name for the system of French society prior to the Revolution. Counter Revolution - Resistance to the Revolution in an attempt to restore some or all of the Ancien Regime. "Active" Citizen - A distinction in the First Constitution which said that only men who paid a certain amount of taxes were "active" and thus entitled to participate in government and to vote. La Marseillaise- The French National Anthem, it advocates (very) bloody reprisals against foreign invaders. Sans Culottes - Literally "without breeches," these were the poor common people who supported the most radical aspects of the Revolution. Depending on one's perspective, they can be depicted as the salt of the Earth and the true manifestation of The People or as the dregs of society who reveled in horrible, senseless violence. Emigrés - People, typically aristocrats, who fled France during the Revolution because they opposed the Revolution's goals or feared for their safety. Law of Maximum - 1793 law passed by the National Convention establishing maximum legal prices for grain. Intended to solve the chronic food shortages that plagued France, but did not. Law of Suspects - September 1793 law passed by the National Convention allowed for the creation of revolutionary tribunals to try those who were suspected of treason against the Republic and to punish those convicted with death. The Guillotine - Execution device used during the Revolution, it was intended as a humanitarian innovation that would allow all people to be treated equally in death. EVENTS / INSTITUTIONS The Financial Crisis of the Ancien Regime - During the 18th Century, France had taken on huge debts in order to finance several major wars against England. However, because of internal inefficiencies and limits on the government's ability to tax, the country could not pay off those debts. By the 1780s, France was facing bankruptcy. Estates General - (May 1789 - June 1789) The traditional representative body of France in which each Estate would have one vote. Because the concept of the Estates General goes against the ideal of an absolute monarchy, there had not been an Estates General since 1614. However, faced with bankruptcy and unable to raise taxes without popular consent, Louis XVI agreed to call the Estates General in 1789. National Assembly - (June 1789 - September 1791) The Third Estate of the Estates General declared itself the National Assembly and asserted that it represented the entire nation. Liberal representatives of the clergy and aristocracy joined the new National Assembly and the body then went on to abolish privilege and write the Constitution of 1791 which created a constitutional monarchy. Legislative Assembly - (October 1791 - September 1792) The legislative body under the Constitution of 1791. Attempted to deal with foreign invasion, internal starvation and riots. Dissolved when Louis XVI was dethroned following the Storming of the Tuileries. National Convention - (September 1792 - November 1795) The legislative body of the Republic that followed the overthrow of Louis XVI. Tried and executed Louis and wrote the egalitarian Constitution of 1793. The Convention was led by the Committee of Public Safety. The Directory - (November 1795 - November 1799) Conservative governing body that succeeded the National Convention and ruled with the cooperation of the military. Tennis Court Oath - (June 20, 1789) The young National Assembly found itself locked out of its meeting room in Versailles and concluded that the King was attempting to suppress them. The members then convened in an empty tennis court and swore that they would stand together until a constitution was written. Fall of the Bastille - (July 14, 1789) The Parisian mob, fearing that the King was going to use the army to shut down the National Assembly, stormed the Bastille, symbol of Royal power and fear, then killed the mayor of Paris. Critically, the mob was aided by the Paris militia who sided with the people against the King. Louis XVI Takes The Colors - (July 17, 1789) Louis went to Paris and ceremonially accepted the new tricolor symbol (blue and red for the colors of Paris surrounding the white of the King). He was wildly cheered by the crowd. The Great Fear - (Summer 1789) The rural peasantry revolt against feudalism along with a number of urban disturbances and revolts. Many members of the aristocracy flee Paris to become émigrés. August 4th Decrees - (August 4, 1789) In an attempt to control the uprisings in Paris and the Great Fear, the National Assembly dissolves feudal rights and privileges. Declaration of the Rights of Man - (August 27, 1789) National Assembly document that lays out enduring concepts of justice, freedom and equality. Critically, it declares property to be a sacred right. Women's March To Versailles - (October 5, 1789) In response to ongoing hunger and Louis' stalling regarding the August 4th Decrees, a mob from Paris, consisting mostly of women, invade Versailles, disrupt the deliberations of the National Assembly, and force the King and Queen to return with them to Paris. Civil Constitution of the Clergy - (July 12, 1790) Demands priests to take an oath of loyalty to the state, splitting the clergy between juring (oath-taking) and non-juring priests. Flight to Varennes - (June 20, 1791) The royal family attempts to flee the county in order to link-up with the King's émigré brothers and overthrow the Revolution. Constitution of 1791 (Constitutional Monarchy) - (September 1791) Constitution written by the National Assembly, creating a constitutional monarchy. Louis' Acceptance of the Constitution - (September 13, 1791) Louis XVI was compelled to accept the Constitution after he was captured and returned from Varennes. Brunswick Manifesto - (July 25, 1792) Austria warns that should the royal family be harmed by the popular movement, an "exemplary and eternally memorable revenge" will follow. Interpreted by Parisians as proof that Louis XVI was collaborating with the foreign Coalition. Storming of the Tuileries - (August 10, 1792) Mob of sans culottes, enraged by France's continuing defeats against the Austrians and Prussians, storm the King's palace in Paris. Swiss Guard massacred. Louis XVI of France is arrested and taken into custody, along with his family. September Massacres - (September 3-7, 1792) Sans culottes, preparing to leave Paris to fight the foreign invaders, decide to eliminate threat of counter revolution before they go. They butcher ~2000 defenseless prisoners being held in Parisian jails. Battle of Valmy - (September 20, 1792) French citizen troops, crying "Vive la Nation," turn back the professional Prussian army and thereby save the Revolution from foreign invasion. Jacobins - Pro-revolutionary reformers. Named from the Jacobin Club, they are a coalition of like-minded individuals who supported the revolution. There were moderate and radical Jacobins who struggled for control of the club and the Revolution. Trial of Louis XVI - (December 1792) Under heavy pressure from the sans culottes, the National Convention tried, convicted and executed Louis for treason. Committee for Public Safety - A small committee formed in 1793 that dominated and led the National Convention as a kind of executive branch. Eventually dominated by Robespierre. Girondists - A faction of the Jacobins who feared counter-revolution and advocated entry into foreign war in order to smoke out the traitors and unite the country. Politically, they were moderates who distrusted the sans culotte mob and believed the King deserved a fair trial. They were eventually destroyed by Robespierre and the Montagnards. Montagnards ("The Mountain") - A radical faction of the Jacobins who opposed the Girondists. Called "The Mountain" because they sat high up on the back benches of the Convention, they favored the immediate execution of the King and cultivated the sans culottes. In June 1793, they purged the Girondists from the Convention. Revolt in Vendee - (1793 to 1796) was a civil war and counterrevolution in the Vendée between Catholics and Royalists on the one hand and Republicans on the other, during the French Revolution. As many as 200,000 died during the revolt and the incredibly harsh reprisals. Constitution of 1793 (Egalitarian Republic) - (June 24, 1793) Also known as the "The Montagnard Constitution," was the constitution which instated the First Republic during the French Revolution. It was inspired by the Declaration of the Rights of Man and was broadly egalitarian. Due to the external and internal state of war, the Constitution were suspended on October 10, 1793. The Terror - (September 1793 - July 1794) A period of internal violence and repression marked by mass executions of "enemies of the Revolution." It was led by the Committee of Public Safety and Robespierre. As many as 40,000 people were killed as a result of The Terror. De-Christianization - (1793-1794) A movement by some local government officials (but not the Committee of Public Safety) to destroy Catholic religious practice and religion itself. The movement was motivated by the belief that the Church and priests were organizing counter-revolutionary activity. Cult of the Supreme Being - (1794) Robespierre's attempt to create a new deist state religion to replace Catholicism as a unifying institution. Thermidorian Reaction - (July 27, 1794) A revolt against Robespierre and The Terror. It led to a conservative backlash against the excesses and ideals of the Revolution and the Constitution of 1793. Constitution of 1795 (Conservative reduction of suffrage) - (August 22, 1795) More conservative than the abortive democratic French Constitution of 1793. The Constitution of 1795 established a liberal republic with a franchise based on the payment of taxes, similar to that of the French Constitution of 1791; and a five-man Directory. The central government retained great power, including emergency powers to curb freedom of the press and freedom of association. Conspiracy of Equals - (May 1796) Attempt by radicals to overthrow the Directory in favor of a new egalitarian government that would redistribute property to the poor. The Directory discovered the conspiracy and easily suppressed it. PEOPLE / PLACES Versailles - The massive palace of French monarchy and the seat of government. It was about 15 miles outside Paris. Louis XVI - King of France from 1774-1792. Executed January 21, 1793 Marie Antoinette - Louis XVI's wife and Queen of France from 1774-1792. Executed October 16, 1793. Paris - Capital of France and the site of many critical events of the Revolution. Bastille - Feared prison and symbol of royal power in Eastern Paris. The Fall of the Bastille is recognized as the critical event marking the beginning of the French Revolution. Tuileries - The palace of King Louis XVI in Paris where he lived after he was forcibly removed from Versailles in October 1789. The storming of the Tuileries in August 1792 marked the effective end of the monarchy. Robespierre - Leader of the Committee of Public Safety and the chief architect of The Terror. Napoleon - Ambitious general who assisted the Directory to retain power then participated in a coup which overthrew the Directory and took absolute power for himself.
POSSIBLE ESSAY QUESTIONS: 1. Assess the validity of the following statement: the Revolution began by making "a legitimate point about the failure of the ruling class. But they ruined it through their own imprudence, self-righteousness and naïve radicalism." Refer to specific events in your answer.
2. Why doesn't the Revolution end after 1789? When the King ratifies the August Decrees and Declaration of the Rights of Man, aren't the goals of the revolution and reform achieved? If not 1789, why not in January 1793 with the execution of Louis and the establishment of the Republic? Be sure to discuss specific events and evidence rather than just speculate about individuals' state of mind.
3. There are many instances of violence during the Revolution including: the fall of the Bastille, the March on Versailles, the storming of the Tuileries, the September Massacres, the revolt in Vendee and The Terror. Was such violence inherent in the ideology of the Revolution or was it an unfortunate consequence of circumstances (the resistance of the King, counter-revolution and the invasions of foreign powers) that required a response from the revolutionaries? Discuss at least two or three specific instances of violence in your answer.
4. By 1799, did the French finally chose stability/security over liberty and rights? Why?
5. The great motto of the Revolution was "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!" To what extent did it live up to those ideals? In the interest of space, you can confine your essay to one or two of the ideals rather than tackle all three.
6. Assess the validity of this statement: "The French Revolution began with noble ideals and in the name of liberty, equality, and fraternity, it overthrew a corrupt regime. Yet what those fine ideals led to was The Terror and mass murder." Be sure to address the question of whether it was the ideals that caused The Terror.