Monthly Archives: December 2016

The French Revolution


Louis XVI: the king of France from 1774-1792 who was overthrown and eventually executed during the French Revolution

Jacques Necker: the royal director general of finances under Louis XVI whose financial report revealed that a large portion of royal expenditures went to pensions for aristocrats

Estates General: a medieval legislative assembly of the different estates of French society that was called in 1789 to address the financial crisis

First Estate: the social class in Old Regime France that was made up of the clergy

Second Estate: the social class in Old Regime France that was made up of the nobility

Third Estate: the social class in Old Regime France that was made up of wealthy members of the commercial and professional middle classes as well as peasants and the urban poor

Cahiers de doleances: lists of grievances that were brought by representatives of the estates to the Estates General; included criticisms of government waste, indirect taxes, and church corruption

National Assembly: the new legislative body created by the members of the Third Estate and eventually joined by the Second Estate and some priests

Tennis Court Oath: the pledge that the members of the National Assembly took to continue to meet until they had a written constitution for France

Bastille: the medieval fortress and political prison in Paris that was stormed by angry protesters on July 14, 1789

The Great Fear: the name of the event in which peasants in the countryside destroyed the property of the nobility and attempted to take possession of the land

The Night of August 4, 1789: the name of the event in which members of the nobility and clergy rose in the National Assembly and renounced their rights and privileges; afterwards, all French citizens were subject to the same and equal laws

Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen: a statement of broad political principles issued by the National Constituent Assembly in August 1789; these included the natural rights of liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression, as well as equal rights under the law, due process of law, and freedom of religion

Parisian Women’s March on Versailles: the name of the event in October 1789 in which thousands of Parisian women marched to Versailles and demanded that the king and queen move back to Paris

Chapelier Law: a law passed by the Assembly in June 1791 that banned worker’s associations

Civil Constitution of the the Clergy: a law passed by the Assembly in July 1790 that transformed the Roman Catholic Church into a branch of the secular state and provided for the election of pastors and bishops, who became employees of the state

Emigres: the name for aristocrats who left France during the French Revolution and sought to encourage counterrevolution

Jacobins: the radical political group during the French Revolution that drew their political language from the most radical thought of the Enlightenment, including Rousseau’s thoughts on equality and civic virtue; they called for a republic rather than a constitutional monarchy

Girondists: a less radical offshoot of the Jacobins that sought war with Austria in order to preserve the revolution and decrease the king’s power

Sans-Culottes: the radical political group made up of urban shopkeepers, artisans, and wage earners that sought economic relief and a radical republican form of government

Edmund Burke: the British statesman who condemned the French Revolution and predicted much of the turmoil and violence that was yet to come in France

Reign of Terror: the phase of the French Revolution in which thousands of people from all walks of life were arrested and executed in an effort to protect the revolution and silence dissent

Committee of Public Safety: the revolutionary committee that saw its job as saving the revolution from enemies at home and abroad; the committee came to be dominated by Robespierre, who enjoyed almost dictatorial powers

Maximilian Robespierre: the person who emerged as the dominant figure on the Committee of Public Safety and who oversaw the Reign of Terror and the executions of thousands of French citizens in the name of defending the revolution

Law of 22 Prarial: the revolutionary law that permitted the revolutionary tribunal to convict suspects without hearing substantial evidence against them

Thermidorian Reaction: the phase of the French Revolution in which the Reign of Terror was brought to an end and those responsible for it were removed from power and the Jacobin club was closed

5 Person Directory: the executive body that was created by the Constitution of the Year III


How was the Estates General transformed into the National Assembly?

The Estates General transformed into the National Assembly because of the cahiers de doleances. For many weeks, the Third Estate held a standoff because they did not want to be a separate order. On June 1, the Third Estate brought several nobles and priests with them to form a new legislative body called the National Assembly. On June 19, the Second Estate also voted to join the Assembly.

How does the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen reflect the social and political values of the 18th-century Enlightenment?

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen reflects the 18th-century values of the Enlightenment through its political language. Rousseau believed that women and men should inhabit different spheres. The Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen clearly outlined that men were made for citizenship and women were destined for motherhood and the domestic life. The Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen drew directly from Rousseau’s Enlightenment ideas of different jobs for each gender.

Why has the Civil Constitution been called the major blunder of the National Constituent Assembly?

The Civil Constitution of the Clergy was the major blunder of the National Constituent Assembly. The Constitution transformed the Roman Catholic Church of France into a secular state and made bishops salaried employees of that state. The number of bishops drastically decreased. It worsened relations between the French Church and the new secular state. The Assembly required all the clergy to obey the constitution but only 7 bishops and less than half of the clergy did so. The Assembly removed those who did not from their positions.

What was the revolution of 1792 and why did it occur?

The revolution of 1792, or more commonly the Second Revolution, was a series of riots and uprisings by the bourgeoisie. On the 10th of August, 1792, the crowds ran over the Swiss Guards guarding the Tuileries Palace and nearly killed Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. The uprisings were caused because of the outrageous food shortages, the ongoing political conflict, and the monarchy’s neglect for their people.

Who were the sans-culottes and how did they become a factor in the politics of the period?

The sans-culottes were shopkeepers, artisans, wage earners, and factory workers. This group was more radical than the Jacobins and the Girondists. Their already difficult lives became harder because of the constant food shortages and the revolutionary inflation. They were anti-monarchy and strongly republican. Their influence was most important in Paris where they gained experience in the meetings of the Paris sections. Their work eventually overthrew the monarchy.

Why did the sans-culottes and the Jacobins cooperate at first?

The Jacobins and the sans-culottes cooperated at first because they wanted to overthrow the monarchy. These extreme Jacobins were called the Mountain because their seats were high up in Assembly Hall. They were more willing to cooperate with these popular forces than the Girondists were.

Why did France go to war with Austria in 1792?

Revolutionaries believed that war would unify France and was an effective way to spread the ideas of revolution throughout France. The Legislative Assembly declared war on Austria in 1792. They did poorly at first but became successful as the war progressed.

What were the drawbacks and benefits for France fighting an external war in the midst of a domestic political revolution?

France was not prepared for such a quick and unexpected war. Their unprepared French forces proved to be too weak for the Austrian military. Louis XVI was believed to be a part of a conspiracy with Prussia and Austria.

What were the causes of the terror?

The Terror was caused by fear. The French people understood that the new social order put the achievements of the revolution in danger. To stop the fight from going to waste, the politicians silenced the people through terror.

Kagan, Donald, Steven Ozment E., Frank Turner M., and A. Frankforter Daniel. The Western Heritage. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004. Print.


This study guide was contributed by Sofia K.

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