Unheard Calls for Political Reform Led to the French Revolution


From 1789 to 1799, the people of France led their country in a revolution that marked a huge turning point in European history and led to the end of the French Monarchy. The period included the Reign of Terror which lasted for from 1793 to 1794.

By 1789, many French people were upset with their government. The rich and powerful aristocracy and churchmen had an unfair advantage in society. The middle class had to pay high taxes, while the poor starved. King Louis XVI rose to the throne in 1774, but he failed to solve his country’s problems.

On July 14, 1789, the common people had had enough. After hearing a rumor that the French Army was going to attack Paris, the Parisians decided to arm and protect themselves. They attacked and captured the French royal fort and prison, the Bastille, in search of gunpowder. Their decision to retaliate against the government started the French Revolution.

In October, poor women went to demand bread for their hungry families at the French castle in Versailles. The King agreed to their demands, but before he could fulfill them, revolutionaries started to fight, forcing the King to return to Paris. Four years later, he was executed by the revolutionaries.

The Reign of Terror followed, a period in which revolutionaries murdered many civilians. At first, the fighters only killed aristocrats. But after overthrowing the inequitable government, the revolutionaries turned on each other. During the year-long period, they killed about 40,000 people using a guillotine, a large wooden frame with a blade raised by a large rope that decapitates victims quickly. At the time, the revolutionaries considered the guillotine a humane form of execution.

In 1795, Napoleon Bonaparte, a commoner and soldier, restored order in France by creating a five-person group called the Directory. The revolution was effectively over, but it would not be the last tumultuous period in French history. In 1799, Napoleon took power for himself, once again sending France down a path to war.

[Sources: e.encyclopedia; World History Encyclopedia]

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