Revolutions: What is a revolution?



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Past Essay Questions:

‘Revolutionaries were successful in putting their ideas into practice.’ Do you agree with this statement? Argue your case.

(Mainly Area 3 but 4 or both)


To what extent did opposition to the new regimes influence the actions of revolutionary governments? (3&4)
To what extent were the policies of the revolutionaries, once in power, supported by the people?
Revolutionaries found it difficult to consolidate their power because of the divisions between them.’ Assess the validity of this statement.

Year 12 Modern History


Area of Inquiry 4: French Revolution:

The internal and external threats to the revolution and how they were dealt with.

The impact of the revolution upon groups within society; resistance to revolutionary governments, internal and external; impact of civil war on society and government; terror; dictatorship; success of measures taken to preserve the revolution.
There is some overlap with Area of Inquiry 3.

Key points and relevant issues




  1. Period of the Constituent Assembly



Internal unrest

Political Clubs of Paris impatient and dissatisfied with the progress of revolution, especially plight of the poor. Champs de Mars Massacre July 16-17 July 1791. Mass protest by poorer sections of Paris who were fired on by National Guard. Seen as threat to Middle Class control of Paris.


External unrest:

Threat of war by Austria and Prussia. Declaration of Pillnitz

Flight to Varennes

  1. Period of the Legislative Assembly



External unrest

Assembly called for war against Austria. Declared April 1792. Army poor organised and collapsed. Fear of invasion.


Internal unrest:

Fear of counter-revolution. Action taken against those suspected. Food riots, suspicions of Royal Treachery. Insurrectionary Commune formed to gain control pf Paris. Deposition of the King. Raid on the Tuileries Palace. King imprisoned.


September Massacres


Austrian Army driven out of France: September 1792.

  1. Period of the National Convention and the Committee of Public Safety




Internal unrest:


The Monarchy. Source of division. Republicans dominate the Convention. Monarchy abolished, King tried and executed for treason and for being a rallying point for counter-revolution.
External unrest and threats and how the were dealt with.

Encouraged by success against Austria, France declared war on Britain and Spain. Once again France suffered defeat and faced invasion. Girondins’ (Brissotins) position in the Convention weakened by this new threat.


Reaction:

Revolutionary Tribunal established: root out and try suspected counter-revolutionaries.

Committee of Public Safety: set up as watchdog for the government. Becomes a dictatorship.
Fall of the Girondins: June 1793. 80 000 National Guards and sans culottes surrounded the Convention. Robespierre orchestrated the arrest of the Girondins (Purge: leaders executed, others imprisoned)
The Terror: government policy created to remove all enemies of the revolution. Reaction to the threat of invasion, reaction to the fear of Royalist plots to restore the Monarchy.
Internal Unrest:

Civil War in the Vendee SW France and Toulon (SE France)

Federalist Revolt. Anti Jacobin and anti Paris. Took place in the provinces as a reaction to harsh dictatorship of the Convention

De-Christianisation. Led by the Paris Commune



  1. Robespierre



Leader of the Jacobins. Ruled by decree

Levee en masse: total mobilisation for war

Economic Terror: food prices fixed, émigrés confiscated, hoarders executed

Members of Left and Right in the Convention executed

Disbanded Parisian Revolutionary Army and political clubs

Passed Prairial Law: Juries could try people without hearing evidence, imprison without trial

Widespread executions. 85% form old Third Estate.

Power of the sans culottes

Set up Cult of Supreme Being!!?

Moderates within the Convention arrested Robespierre and his Jacobin supporters. They were executed.



E. The Directory 1795-99

The Thermidorean Reaction


The White Terror.
The Establishment of the Directory. A period of moderation

Increased Royalist presence in the Convention by 1796

War, continuing economic crisis

Legacy of the Terror


Directory lost all support by 1799.

Army bought to Paris to seize control and prevent a Royalist restoration.

Napoleon Bonaparte seized power in a military coup.

Issues/themes/concepts addressed in past exams


  • Actions of revolutionary governments in response to opposition.

  • The influence of external threats on Revolutionary government policy and action

  • The effect of foreign intervention on revolutionary governments.


Issues/themes/concepts addressed in past exams

  • Actions of revolutionary governments in response to opposition.

  • The influence of external threats on Revolutionary government policy and action

  • The effect of foreign intervention on revolutionary governments.

  • The effect of the fear of counter-revolution on the actions and decisions of revolutionary governments

There is a lot of overlap between Area 3 and 4. It would be ideal to focus on these two areas. In the exam there may well be one question that covers the two areas or two separate questions on each area of inquiry.


Area of Inquiry Four. The internal and external threats to the revolution and how they were dealt with.
In addition you must refer to the handout “What effect did the war and the Terror have on France, 1793-4” Page 66 of this handout has a handy table of the titles of the various revolutionary governments. You must be familiar with these titles.

The internal and external threats to the revolution and how they were dealt with


American Revolution

French Revolution




For this section the handout “What effect did the war and the Terror have on France?” is essential reading as it PowerPoint ‘End of Monarchy’




Period of Constituent Assembly 1789-1791
Internal threats and how they were dealt with

  • Revolutionary unrest amongst the clubs of Paris about the plight of the poor. Reaction: The Champ de Mars massacre instigated by the National Guard July 16-17 1791. First time the Revolutionary government turned on its citizens

  • Flight to Varennes. Louis ill fated attempt to flee and engage Austrian support leads to his arrest and imprisonment as a traitor. The Revolution takes a radical turn
External threats and how they were dealt with

  • March 1791: King of Austria and King of Prussia (egged on by émigrés) declared war on France, provided Britain joined in.

  • August 27 1791: Declaration of Pillnitz, pledge by Austrian King to restore Louis to the throne.






Period of Legislative Assembly 1791-1792

External threats and how they were dealt with

  • New government called for war in Europe to spread revolution and to expose traitors and counter-revolutionaries

  • Declared war April 1792. Poorly organised and led. Collapsed in defeat. France now feared invasion. Food riots, desertions and Duke of Brunswick’s threat to destroy Paris brought serious and violent outburst and government led reprisals against ‘traitors, émigrés, refractories etc. September Massacres. Defection of Lafayette.

In a major reversal the Austrians are swept out of France September 1792.



Period of the National Convention and the Committee of Public Safety 1792-1795
Malone Chapters 15 & 19 essential reading

Internal threats to the revolution and how they were dealt with.

  • The King was a source of disunity. Monarchy abolished after Jacobins gain control of the Convention, tried and executed for treason. Marie Antoinette follows suit.

  • Republic declared

External threats to the revolution and how they are dealt with

  • France again fearful of invasion from Austria and Prussia. The Revolutionary Tribunal is set up to round up and try (execute) counter-revolutionaries. Beginning of the Terror.

  • The Committee of Public Safety is established and France id effectively rule by a dictatorship with Robespierre in control.

  • The Girondins (formerly Brissotins) who had dominated the Assembly and were the major advocates for war were weeded out of the Convention, tried and executed.

Internal threats to the Revolution and how they were dealt with




  • Terror is the order of the day as a coalition of Britain, Austria, Prussia, Spain and Holland unite to take on France.




  • Rising in the Vendee: Began in Feb 1793. Revolt among peasants over taxation. Led by local royalist nobles. Local constitutional priests and National Guard massacred. Brutally suppressed by 30 000 soldiers from the Republican Army who and to leave the front to deal with rebels

Federalist Revolt: essentially a regional uprising. Not anti Republic but more anti Jacobin and the centralised style of Government ie everything directed from Paris. Crushed by Republican Army: Toulon was retaken by Napoleon in October 1793 and Lyon was flattened after a two-month siege.

  • Terror is the order of the day as a coalition of Britain, Austria, Prussia, Spain and Holland unite to take on France.





Revolutionary France: Robespierre and the Terror




  • Levee en masse: whole country mobilised for war, male conscription, women, children geared in arms and clothing manufacture: first instance at attempt at Total War. Ensured eventual victory

  • Economic Terror: food prices fixed, peasants were freed of debt, émigrés land confiscated, food hoarders and profiteers were executed

THE TERROR to reorganise the country against possibility of treason and military defeat.

  • A time where extremist sans-culottes knocked the revolution off course

  • Their support was necessary to preserve the revolution but they made no gains for themselves or any lasting changes

  • Forced government to adopt policies that were contrary to the liberal reforms of the Constituent Assembly


Role of armée révolutionaries – volunteer sans culottes raised to Round up hoarders, seize grain, and destroy counter-revolutionaries. Convention recognised Paris armee reluctantly but never those raised in the provinces.

Began job in Paris and subs in provinces: targets; refractory priests, deserters, political enemies and hoarders. Paris armee successful in keeping Paris supplied with bread until 1794 –preserving revolution.


New Law of Suspects: 17 September, 1793.

  • Arrest, imprisonment without trial of anyone suspected of being against revolution

  • Brought before Revolutionary Tribunal

  • Harsh justice and violence not new to French society but for first time it was government sanctioned and organised as a matter of policy.

Series of show Trials and subs guillotining of Marie Antoinette,

Activity in provinces was far more savage and unrestrained.

Carried out by watch-committees, representatives-on-mission and the armée revolutionary.
Representatives-on-mission (fanatical Jacobins) were responsible for the worst atrocities and were fully supported by the Government and especially Robespierre. Esp in Nantes and Lyon.

By 1793 most rural communes had a Revolutionary Tribunal, a committee which came to symbolise the Terror


Victims of the Terror? Numbers of those victims hard to judge. One study shows 17000 official executions. 16% in Paris. (52% in the Vendee) 28% were peasants, 31% urban workers esp from Lyon and Marseilles. (Rees p.86) 15% were clergy and Nobles (Waller p.61) Rees p.86 total arguably 200 000.
Terror did not reach all of France and most of country remained unaffected.
DECHRISTIANISATION.

Catholic Church under attack. Campaign to close all churches, destroy religious symbols, force priests to marry and adopt orphans. Paris commune led the way.

Like the abolition of the Monarchy, it was driven by the sans culottes who saw the destruction of the church as another way of destroying everything connected to the ancient régime.

Brutal attempt to uproot centuries of Christian belief was deeply resented in the rural areas and the main aspect of the Terror that affected the peasants the most.


Even after success in the war Robespierre continued to purge the country of all potential opposition.

The Great Terror

took place in Paris. The terror was to continue even if the innocent suffered according to Robespierre.

The Prairial Laws. Juries could try suspects without hearing evidence and citizens could be imprisoned without trial under the Law of Suspects

More people were tired and executed June/July 1794 than in previous 14 months. (1594) Most were nobles and Clergy, half were wealthy bourgeoisie.

Trials were largely to determine liberty or death. Defendants had no rights.


Nobody dared criticise Committee of Public Safety or Robespierre.
The End of Robespierre

Embarks on a series of measures that see his support from sans culottes fall and his control over the Convention fail. He is arrested and executed.



  • Disbanded the Paris revolutionary armee

  • Arrested and executed 19 popular sans culottes leaders who supported the Terror, the Hérbertistes.

  • Turned on those who favoured end to Terror – Danton and Desmoulins who are executed amidst trumped up charges of financial scandal. (April 1794)

  • Closed down clubs and societies like Cordeliers club

  • Announced the cult of the Supreme Being angering the traditional Catholics


After Robespierre

Known as the Coup of Thermidor as it took place in the revolutionary calendar date of 10 Thermidor. Leaders were moderates, combination of men from both committees, ex-supporters of the terror.


Marked the end of revolutionary extremism
Fall of Robespierre did not bring Terror to quick end but gradually the elements of it were phased out.

Key outcomes

Work began on new constitution

Freedom of religion guaranteed

Paris Commune abolished

Jacobin club closed

All restrictive legislation implemented by Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety was overturned.

Post Thermidor

Poor harvests

Massive inflation

Severe winter

Prospect of famine

The rising of Germinal (April 1st)


  • Peaceful march of 10 000 on Convention demanding bread.

Prairal Day 20 May 1794

  • Hunger riots led by women and National Guard.

  • Invasion of National Convention and forced it to agree to a food commission

  • Next day 20 000 National Guards surround Convention

  • 22 may 20 000 loyal Regular Army forced rebels to give up arms and surrender.

  • Severe repression. Some 42 National guards and Montagnards arrested and executed.

This marked the end of the sans culottes as a revolutionary force. They were disarmed, dispirited, their leadership dead.


First time Regular Army had been used against citizens army since the time of Reveillon Riots of 1789.
The White Terror

A reaction against the revolution

Not a royalist reaction

Just those who had persecuted by the revolution

The Royalist Revolt

Violent guerrilla warfare in the Vendee.

An attack on ex-terrorists and those who had done well out of the revolution

Comprises returning émigrés and non-juring priests

Target were those who been members of popular societies and watch committees. People who had provide victims for the Revolutionary Tribunals.

Other targets included constitutional priests, purchasers of state land and gov officials.

Did not cover all of France
The Final Armed Uprising in Paris of Revolutionary period


  • 5 October 1794 25 000 armed Parisians (not only sans culottes) marched on the convention to protest against new constitution.

  • Government troops, of whom Napoleon Bonaparte, was an officer, fought them off killing some 300.



This marked the last attempt to intimidate an elected Assembly until 1830.
From here until the take over by Napoleon, the Convention was led by the Directory; a council of five under the guidance of a new constitution. Its aim was to avoid the extremism of the Jacobins and the sans culottes and the conservatism of the royalists.







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