Revolutions: What is a revolution?

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Past Essay Questions:

  • How successful were pre-revolutionary governments in their attempts to reform? (1)

  • ‘The main feature of pre-revolutionary societies was the alienation of the rulers for the ruled.’ Do you agree with this statement? Argue your case. (1)

  • ‘Pre-revolutionary governments provided stability in society.’ How far do you agree with this statement?

Year 12 Modern History 2011
Thematic Study
Area of Inquiry Two:
The role of internal and/or external forces in the collapse of the old order and in the seizure of power.

Area of Inquiry Two:

The role of external and/or external forces in the collapse of the old order and in the seizure of power.

Revolutionary Ideology

The ideas, wants and needs of those who sought change.

The American Revolution

The French Revolution

The Enlightenment.

A traditional and popular explanation of revolution was that it was caused by changes in public perception created by this intellectual movement.

See p.23 Adcock for names.

  • Generally emphasised using Science, progress and reason to create a more human world.

  • More ‘critical thinkers’ than philosophers. Used human reason to suggest a more enlightened way of organising human existence.

  • The critical thinker or philosophes had a common critique of the church. Their ideas generally were critical of divine monarchy but did not call for revolution, or suggest alternatives. Adcock p.24.

  • Rejected religious orthodoxy, condemned religious intolerance,

  • Did not accept liberal interpretation of the bible and rejected anything that could not be explained by reason.

  • Main object of attack were Catholic church and despotic rule (Rees p.6)

  • Only Rousseau questioned the institution of the monarchy.

  • Revisionists feel that the philosophes were not opposed to Old Regime, just its excesses.

  • Readers of the philosophes were small, groups of nobles and bourgeoisie. Very few if any of their ideas would have filtered through to peasantry. Adcock, p.28

The effect of the enlightenment on revolution is widely debated. Rees concludes that it was only after collapse of ncient régime that the ideas of Enlightenment produced a revolutionary ideology.

This is clear in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the actions and policies adopted by the Assembly.

Subsequent ideally of the revolution was to reduce the power of the monarchy and remove all privilege from society

Revolutionary Groups,

Leaders and their skills

French Revolution

No real political parties as such

Popular Clubs and Societies emerged in Paris and some of the larger provincial cities. Some were liberal ie moderate change; some were radical, calling for end of the Monarchy.

Political Clubs first formed after Estates-General of May 1789

Jacobin club – founded 1789. Wealthy liberal-constitutional monarchists. High entrance fee. Originally called the Breton Club

Robespierre led more radical branch of Jacobins.

By end of 1793 over 2 000 branches over France, mainly in SE

Cordeliers Club – founded 1790. More radical. Unlimited membership. Led by members of bourgeoisie. Against notion of active and passive citizens. Large working class following.

Leaders, Danton and Desmoulin. Main spokesperson, Marat and Hérbert through newspapers.

Example of these clubs led to formation of many ‘popular’ or ‘fraternal societies’. Soon found in every district in Paris.

Marquis de Lafayette

A French aristocrat

Served in American war of independence

Admired by Parisian crowd.

First commander of National Guard

Wrote Declaration of the Rights of Man

See Adcock pp.79-81


Popular hero of the Revolution. Great speaker, natural leader of National Assembly. In favour of constitutional monarchy.

Abbe Sieyès

Priest. Intellectual, wrote pamphlets especially ‘What is the Third Estate’

Instrumental in setting up of National Assembly

See Adcock p.57-58

Other Groups

Sans-culottes and the Parisian Crowd

Workers in the towns. Not a class. Included artisans and workers.

Fundamental group in the revolutionary events of 1789.

  • Storming of the Bastille

  • Bringing Royal Family and the Assembly from Versailles to Paris

  • Often victim of inflation, food shortages especially bread.

  • Rioted often

  • Drove the revolution on a radical path

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