- The philosophical and intellectual movements during the 17th and 18th century enlightened European society.
- The ideas propounded by philosophers and intellectuals instigated people to revolt against the absolutist French Monarch, which led to the French revolution in 1789 after the fall of Bastille.
- The revolution brought an end to a feudal society and replaced Monarchy with Republic.
- In the 18th century, French polity was characterized by Monarchy and society is still Feudalistic.
- The society was divided into three estates (classes):
- First Estate of Clergy or Church
- Second Estate of Nobility
- Third Estate of the Commoners (all people including middle class) such as big businessmen, lawyers, peasantry, city workers and artisans etc.
- The First and Second estates enjoy all privileges by birth including tax exemptions, while the third estate (middle class) was deeply troubled with taxes.
- The church collects tithes (a share of taxes) and the nobles collect feudal duties from commoners.
- Rise of the middle class (Bourgeoisie)- educated middle class including businessmen, lawyers, officers, merchants and trader.
- They believed that the social status of an individual should be determined by his merit and achievement.
- Overpopulation, years of poor crop yield, drought and cattle diseases increased bread prices.
- Neglect of agriculture and lower wages exploded social unrest among peasants and the urban poor.
Intellectuals & Philosophers:
Their teachings and thought inspired masses and more so the middle class educated sections.
- Voltaire: He was critical of superstitions and advocated the supremacy of reason, i.e. rationality.
- Rousseau: He said, “man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains”.
- He proposed the theory of social contract. According to him, government based on the social contract will have the freedom of all its citizens.
- Montesquieu: He advocated the establishment of a democratic government based on the separation of powers between Legislature, Executive and Judiciary in his book “spirit of laws”.
- John Lock: He refuted the concept of the divine authority of Monarch.
The influence of these ideologies expressed in the form of "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity", which later became the guiding principles of the French Revolution.
- The extravagant lifestyle of Monarch, Louis XVI, and his wife, long years of war and financial aid to American war against Britain, exhausted the financial resources, which made the country bankrupt.
- To meet administration expenditure and maintain the army, Louis XVI called Estates-General to impose new taxes.
- Each estate has one vote. 300 representatives from Clergy and Nobles and 600 representatives from Commoners.
- The third estate demanded “one member, one vote”e. abolition of special privileges enjoyed by the first two estates.
- Demanded equality in taxation.
3. Outbreak of Revolution
- Once their demand for equality was rejected, the Third estate walked out of the assembly in protest.
- And the representatives of the Third estate assembled at Tennis Court and declared itself a National Assembly and took over the sovereign power from the Emperor.
- Poor harvest led to uprisings and destroyed the Bastille Prison Fort.
4. New Constitution
- Louise XVI recognised the constitution drafted by the National Assembly at Versailles in June 1791.
- The historic French document, influenced by the U.S. Declaration of Independence, adopted ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen’. It was later embodied as the preamble in the French Constitution of 1791.
5. French Republic
- The National Assembly declared war against Prussia and Austria after Louise XVI entered into secret negotiations with the King of Prussia.
- Reign of Terror and Insurrection and Napoleonic wars which lasted for fifteen years resulted in the formation of the French Republic.
6. Outcome of the French Revolution
- Abolished Tithes and Feudal system
- Equality of all men
- Sovereignty of the people
- Right to liberty, security, property,
- Right to education, to free speech, to be informed, right of the poor to public assistance
- Ban on torture and property, serfdom (Slavery)
- Recognition of the right of the people to choose their government
- Eligibility of all citizens for employment in public offices.
- Denied votes to non-propertied sections
- New ideas of liberalism and nationalism
- France witnessed a complete change in the government, administration, military, society and culture.
- The idea of nationalism from France influenced many European countries like Italy and Germany, countries of South and Central Americas and the Russian Revolution.
- The legacy of the French Revolution, i.e. liberty and democratic rights, became the keystone for democratic movements and formation of the modern state.
- Indian reformists like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and others inspired by the ideals of liberty, and democratic rights. The ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity in our preamble were inspired by French Preamble.