The Definition of the French Revolution

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The French Revolution was a period of radical social and political change in France from 1789 to 1799. It was sparked by financial crisis and widespread discontent with the monarchy and aristocracy. The revolution led to the overthrow of the Bourbon monarchy, the establishment of a republic, and eventually the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. The revolutionaries aimed to create a more egalitarian society based on the principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity. The French Revolution had a profound impact on France and the world, inspiring other revolutions and shaping modern political ideologies.


A lot of our curious Friends are familiar with Bastille Day. Others might have read about Napoleon Bonaparte. Perhaps you’ve heard the famous words spoken by Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat cake!” These are all significant elements of today’s Wonder of the Day—the French Revolution.

The French Revolution is also referred to as the Revolution of 1789. That’s because there were two more revolutions that shook France in later years. However, the French Revolution did not begin in 1789. That’s merely when it reached its initial climax. The conflict started in 1787.

What caused a revolution in 1787? Like any war, there were multiple causes. One factor was the widespread poverty. In the years leading up to the revolution, France’s population grew, but its food production did not. As a result, the cost of food increased. Many people were unable to feed their families.

France also had a significant national debt. King Louis XVI wanted to raise taxes to help reduce the debt. This angered many nobles. With so many dissatisfied with the government, tensions escalated.

One of the most significant events of the French Revolution occurred on July 14, 1789. On that day, a mob stormed the Bastille, freeing the prisoners inside and seizing weapons to fight against the king’s forces.

Later in 1789, the National Assembly issued the Declaration of the Rights of Man. This granted French citizens freedom of speech, press, and religion, and established a democracy. However, women and enslaved individuals were not considered citizens and were denied these freedoms. They were also unable to vote.

Nevertheless, women and enslaved individuals played a role in the revolution. In October 1789, women in Paris led the March on Versailles, protesting against the rising bread prices. Later, in 1794, revolutionary France abolished slavery.

In June 1791, France’s royal family attempted to flee the country but were apprehended. King Louis XVI was executed in January 1793, followed by Queen Marie Antoinette a few months later.

The execution of the king and queen was followed by the Reign of Terror. During this period, anyone suspected of being against the revolution was sent to the guillotine. This lasted for approximately ten months, resulting in the execution of 14,000 to 40,000 individuals.

The unrest continued for many years. France’s first democracy came to an end in 1799 when Napoleon Bonaparte became emperor. Napoleon led the country into numerous wars and reintroduced slavery in France.

After the Revolution of 1789, France experienced two more revolutions in 1830 and 1848. Many experts also believe that the French Revolution influenced uprisings in Haiti and Russia. Today, France is a democratic republic.

Present-day experts have differing opinions about the legacy of the French Revolution. Many view it as a crucial step in France’s journey towards democracy. However, the Reign of Terror and Napoleon’s rule lead others to criticize the war. What do you think?

Give It a Try

Find an adult who can assist you in trying out the activities below!

What are your thoughts on the French Revolution? Did it play a significant role in France’s path towards democracy? Was the revolution excessively violent? Write a paragraph expressing your opinion, using evidence from this Wonder.

Take some time to explore the Declaration on the Rights of Man and the US Declaration of Independence. How do these two documents compare and contrast? Engage in a discussion with a friend or family member about their similarities and differences.

Delve deeper into the French Revolution by conducting further research. Which events do you believe were the most crucial during this period? Create your own timeline featuring the five most significant dates of the French Revolution.

Sources of Information

  • https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/adams-french-revolution/ (accessed 06 Jan. 2020)
  • https://www.britannica.com/event/French-Revolution (accessed 06 Jan. 2020)
  • https://www.preceden.com/timelines/32587-french-revolution-10-key-events-timeline (accessed 06 Jan. 2020)

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