Revolutions: What is a revolution?

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Political, economic, social and cultural actions of the new government to secure the revolution

French Revolution

Adcock Chapter 11.

The work of the Constituent Assembly 1789-91 and the Legislative Assembly.

The period is dominated by the need to reform, change laws and limit/remove the power of the King and the nobility.

Adcock Chapter 12.

Army responsible to the Assembly not the King

New currency introduced

Laws, rights and all aspects of the economy were addressed.

Constitution of the Clergy (Clergy now servants of the state – no longer independent, separate class). Created deep divisions.

New Constitution of France: re – classification of citizenship (passive and active citizens)

New justice system with elected judges (no more Royal Appointments)

Local Government reorganised

Parliamentarians could only sit for one term of office (no more positions in government for life)

By 1790 most thought the revolution was over and this period was relatively peaceful.

Adcock Chapters 11 & 12 cover all of these reforms and there is discussion as to how fair, successful or otherwise these changes were.
See Handout entitled Chapter 4 How did the revolution develop. Area 3 starts on p. 35 and p.38 has excellent reference to economic reform. Also Chapter 5 Why did France become a Republic? as part of this handout is essential reading.

The effects of Constitution and the Constitution of the Clergy discussed in later sections of this chart.

The establishment of a new, revolutionary government and society

French Revolution

The Constitution of the Clergy

No serious conflict with Church until Civil Constitution of the Church of July 1790.

Came about after Assemblies restructuring of church. Democracy was to come to the Church. Church called for National Synod but permission refused as meetings by separate states had been abolished.

November 1790 Assembly demanded Clergy vote on Constitution of Clergy.

Clergy split. Pope condemned C of C.

Juring Priests: Those Clergy who supported constitution on side of revolution. Took an oath of loyalty to the government that employed them.

Refractory Priests: Those who sided with Pope were called ‘refractories’ and deemed against revolution. Refused to take the oath.

While King sanctioned it he was bitterly opposed to it. Created doubts about his sincerity for the revolution.


  • Destroyed revolutionary consensus

  • Created stronger counter-revolutionary movement where before there was none.

  • Sowed seeds for later civil war

  • Large sections of peasantry dismayed by these events

  • Refractory priests and peasants became targets during the Terror

Adcock Chapter 12
The constitution was delivered and formally accepted by the King on September 14, 1791 (under great pressure!) Prior to this there was an enormous amount of conflict and turmoil, which will be covered in the next section.

Details of new Constitution of France

  • A Constitutional Monarchy

  • King retained heredity position, and a limited veto.

  • Constituent assembly dissolved.

  • Elections to take place under new system it created.

The new parliament known as Legislative Assembly (see Appendix Three A)

October 1 1791: Legislative Assembly met for first time

  • 745 members: 264 Feuillant Club, 130 Jacobin Club, 136 loosely affiliated groups who became known as the Girondins and 345 unattached members

See p.123 Adcock

The ancien régime had passed on into history!

Reactions of Individuals, groups and the people to revolutionary government and policies

French Revolution

This section is mainly to do with Louis, the Clergy and the Nobility’s response to changes

Rich Clergy fled France becoming émigrés.

It is Louis’ reaction to the constitutional changes and the involvement of foreign powers in the Revolution that sees him deposed as monarch and a republic established. Violence and radicalisation emerge as key factors in the Revolution.

The Flight to Varennes: June 1791. Louis, so incensed by Constitution of Clergy and the fears he held for his family, secretly escaped with plan to invade France with Austrian help.

He is captured and returned in disgrace to Paris. All support for him evaporates.

Massacre at Champs de Mars July 1791

Declaration of Pilnitz (Aug 27, 1791. King of Prussia’s declaration to restore the monarchy)

Call for War: Newly named Legislative Assembly calls for a revolutionary war across Europe, declaring war on Austria. Louis supports declaration.

September Massacres 1792: acts of violence against suspected revolutionaries.

The fall of Louis: Tried for treason and executed (Jan 1793)

The Establishment of the Republic: 21 September 1792. Government renamed The National Convention.

All of this is covered in detail on the PP: End of the Monarchy.

See Adcock Chapter 13

Growth of Revolutionary Groups

French Revolution

The Girondons: (formerly Brissotons). Held key posts in National Assembly and in favour of the war to root out counter-revolutionaries. Became more moderate as war progressed. Disliked Robespierre intensely.

The Jacobins: against the war and in favour of a Republic. Robespierre a key figure. Had valuable support for sans-culottes.

The focus here is on the increasing rivalry between the Girondins and the Jacobins.
The sans culottes: working people of Paris who comprised a large militant crowd who could quickly assemble, invade buildings and take over whole sections of Paris. There main concerns were bread, food, wages and also national security. During the war and various times of emergency they were a popular movement and powerful one. They saw themselves as defenders of the Revolution.

They despised the nobility and privilege.

Governments, especially the Legislative Assembly, and the National Convention were forced to give in to the demands of the sans culottes such as price fixing. Remember it was they who stormed the Bastille, forced Louis and the Assembly back to Paris, led the Champ de Mars attack in 1791, two marches and attacks on the Tuileries in 1792, the September Massacres in 1792 and the fall of the Girondins in 1793: All key turning points in the Revolution.
The sans culottes prevented the revolution from ending on a moderate note in 1791.

The formation of the National Guard in Paris gave them powerful central organisation. Also had strong attachment to Cordeliers Club.

While Robespierre and the Jacobins influenced the sans culottes, they never controlled them. He did use them to his advantage during the Terror. The Terror moved beyond the control of the sans culottes by 1794. The Committee of Public Safety removed key popular leaders and the revolutionary armies and popular societies in Paris were broken up.
Once Robespierre was removed the influence and power of the sans culottes disappeared. Adcock Chapter 17 essential reading . The Jacobin Club and the Paris Commune were closed and protests by them over bread prices were crushed. They were disarmed , large scale arrests took place and 42 National Guard leaders were executed.

Reactions to foreign governments to revolutionary governments. Relations with foreign governments

French Revolution

Very similar section to previous as foreign governments begin to take an active interest in the revolution and to conclude that their own monarchies might be come under threat. This is dealt with in particular detail in Area of Inquiry 4.

Refer again to PowerPoint ‘End of the Monarchy’ also Adcock Chapter 13.


Summary: Again opinion of MCO. Yours may differ!
They began by writing and laying down a new constitution, which completely overhauled the ancient regime, dismantling it forever. The Constitution of the Clergy created a division in the revolutionary society where before none had existed.

As Louis’s unwillingness to cooperate under the new constitution was revealed, the Paris mob, the sans culottes put pressure on the government to take action against Louis.

Foreign interference and war drove the revolutionary government to adopt more radical measures to preserve the revolution. War was seen as a way to root out traitors and counter revolutionaries. The Girondins who favoured the war clashed continually with the Jacobins who were against the it.

The sans culottes together with 20 000 National Guard attacked the King’s palace and under pressure the Assembly imprisoned Louis in the Temple Prison and called for fresh elections for a new assembly.

The first act of the new National Convention, now dominated by the Jacobins was to establish a republic.

France this point 21 September 1792 was deeply divided and the revolution not consolidated. While substantial political, social and economic changes had taken place, the issue of the King remained a source of division. The events of 1791-92 had driven the revolutionary government on a more radical path, seeking out counter-revolutionaries, émigrés and refractory priests. A deeply divided Convention now turned towards dealing with the internal and external pressures that threatened the stability of the revolution: The King, war, counter-revolution.

The Revolution was consolidated through ever increasing radical measures. The new government went from being in favour of a constitutional monarchy with the King very much a part of the new France to abolishing the monarchy and eventually killing the King.

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