The French Revolution Class 9 History Notes covers the questions like – causes of the French revolution, course of the French revolution, reign of terror, legacy of the French revolution. These comprehensive notes are given with proper headings to help students understand the sequence of events discussed in the chapter ‘The French revolution’.
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Main Events with Dates
- 1774 : Louis XVI became emperor of France.
- 1789 : Convocation of Estates General, Third Estate formed National Assembly, Storming of the Bastille; peasants’ revolt in the countryside.
- 1791 : The Constitution gave political rights only to the wealthy sections of society.
- 1792 : The National Assembly voted to declare war against Prussia and Austria; France became a republic.
- 1793 : Louis XVI was beheaded. Overthrow of the Jacobin republic, A Directory ruled France.
- 1793-94 : The period is referred to as the Reign of Terror.
- 1804 : Napoleon became emperor of France, and annexed large parts of Europe.
- 1815 : Napoleon defeated in the battle of Waterloo.
- 1848 : Abolition of slavery in French colonies.
- 1946 : Women in France won the right to vote
Causes of the French Revolution
What were the causes of the French Revolution?
Storming of Bastille
i. The Bastille was a fortress prison built during the Hundred Year’s War.
ii. It was rumoured that the Bastille was full of prisoners and hoarded ammunition and arms.
iii. It was seen as a symbol of the despotic power of the king.
iv. On the morning of 14 July, some 7,000 men and women gathered in front of the town hall and broke into many government buildings as well as the fortress prison, the Bastille.
v. In the armed fight, the commander of the Bastille was killed and the prisoners were released. The fortress was demolished. The storming of the Bastille set off a chain of events that led to the French revolution and the execution of King Louis XVI.
French Society during the late 18th century
i. In 1774, Louis XVI of the Bourbon family ascended the throne of France.
ii. He found the state coffers empty because of long wars, an extravagant court in Versailles, involvement in the American war of independence and faulty system of taxation.
iii. Under the Ancient Regime (Old Regime), French society was divided into three estates.
The Three estates
i. The clergy formed the first estate. It comprised less than one per cent of the total population of France. The nobility formed the second estate. It comprised approximately two per cent of the total population.
ii. The first and second estates were the privileged classes and exempted from payment of state taxes.
iii. The third estate formed the majority of the population.
iv. It was the unprivileged class with no political rights. It bore the burden of taxes and so was more discontented.
v. Two types of taxes were paid by peasants – tithe and taille. Tithe was levied by the church and comprised one-tenth of agricultural produce. Taille was paid directly to the state.
The struggle to survive
i. French population increased from 23 million in 1715 to 28 million in 1789. So, the demand for food grains increased. But the production of grains could not keep pace with the demand.
ii. The price of bread, which was the principal diet of the majority, increased.
iii. Wages of labourers did not keep pace with the rise in prices. The gap between the rich and the poor widened.
iv. Soon France saw bread riots, especially in urban areas like Paris.
i. Subsistence crisis is an extreme situation where the basic means of livelihood are threatened.
ii. A bad harvest leads to scarcity of food and rise in food prices.
iii. The poorest couldn’t afford to buy food leading to food riots, weaker bodies increased death rates.
Emergence of middle class envisages an end to privileges
i. A social group termed the ‘middle class’ emerged in the 18th century.
ii. Increasing overseas trade and expanding wool trade brought money to this class. They formed the more prosperous and educated section of the third estate.
iii. In addition to merchants and manufacturers, the third estate included professionals such as lawyers or administrative officials.
iv. They believed that no group in society should be privileged by birth.
Ideology of the philosophers
i. The middle class wanted political freedom for itself and was sympathetic to the cause of the peasants.
ii. Enlightenment philosophers like John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, and Montesquieu were instrumental in influencing the rising educated middle class.
iii. They criticised the doctrine of the divine and absolute right of the monarch.
Course of the French Revolution
What was the course of the French Revolution?
The Assembly of the Estates General
i. On 5 May 1789, Louis XVI called an assembly of the Estates General to pass the proposal for new taxes. The assembly, which was organised with the intention of resolving the financial crisis, instead became the spark to the fuel.
ii. The Estates General was a political body to which the three estates sent their representatives. The first and second estates sent 300 representatives each, who were seated in rows facing each other on two sides, while the 600 members of the third estate had to stand at the back.
iii. Until then, voting in the estates general had been conducted according to the principle that each estate had one vote. But members of the third estate demanded that voting be conducted by the assembly as a whole, where each member would have one vote.
iv. When the king rejected this proposal, members of the third estate walked out of the assembly in protest. After rejection of their demands at the assembly of estates, the third estate decided to take matters into their hands.
The Tennis Court Oath
i. On 20 June 1789, the third estate assembled at an indoor tennis court in the grounds of Versailles.
ii. They declared themselves a national assembly and vowed to draft a constitution for France that would limit the powers of the monarch.
iii. They were led by Mirabeau, a noble, and Abbé Sieyès, a priest.
iv. The Tennis Court Oath was taken and signed by all 577 representatives of the third estate.
v. They declared themselves as a National Assembly and set their goal to form a constitution that would restrict the power of the monarchy and sought to assert people’s sovereignty.
Social and Economic crisis
i. While the National Assembly was busy at Versailles drafting a constitution, the rest of France was in crisis.
ii. Severe winter had destroyed the food crops which resulted in increase in bread prices.
iii. Bakers hoarded supplies and raised prices of bread for making greater profit.
iv. After spending hours in long queues at the bakery, crowds of angry women stormed into the shops.
v. At the same time, the king ordered troops to move into Paris. On 14 July, the agitated crowd stormed and destroyed the Bastille. With the storming of the Bastille, the revolution reached its frenzy.
Upsurge of revolutionary zeal
i. Rumours of an impending conspiracy by the lords of the manor to destroy the ripe crops led to the Great Fear of July 1789.
ii. Caught in fear, peasants in several districts attacked chateaux. They looted hoarded grain and burnt down documents containing records of manorial dues.
iii. Faced with fear of revolutionaries, Louis XVI finally gave recognition to the national assembly and accepted the principle that his powers would be checked by a constitution.
iv. The national assembly renamed itself on 9 July 1789 as national constitutional assembly. On 4 August 1789, the assembly passed an order abolishing the feudal system of obligations and taxes.
v. Members of the clergy too were forced to give up their privileges. Tithes were abolished and lands owned by the church were confiscated. Huge property was acquired by the new government.
France Becomes a Constitutional monarchy
i. The national assembly completed the draft of the constitution in 1791. Its main objective was to limit the powers of the monarch.
ii. The powers were separated and assigned to different institutions – the legislature, executive and judiciary. This made France a constitutional monarchy.
Features of the Constitution
i. The Constitution of 1791 gave powers to the national constitutional assembly, which was indirectly elected by the citizens.
ii. Not all citizens, however, had the right to vote. Only men above 25 years of age who paid taxes equal to at least a labourer’s wage for three days were given the status of active citizens, that is, they were entitled to vote.
iii. The rest of the men and all women were considered as passive citizens who had no voting rights.
iv. A unique feature of the 1791 constitution was the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.
v. Rights such as the right to life, freedom of speech, freedom of opinion, equality before law, were established as natural and inalienable rights. It was the duty of the state to protect each citizen’s natural rights.
Significance of political symbols – I
Since a majority of the third estate population was not literate, the revolutionaries created symbols which represented certain notions or meanings.
i. Broken chain: Chains were used to restrain slaves. A broken chain stood for the act of becoming free.
ii. Bundle of rods, or fasces: One rod can be easily broken, but not an entire bundle. A bundle of rods, or fasces, said that strength lies in unity.
iii. An eye within a triangle radiating light: The all–seeing eye represents knowledge. It symbolised that learning will drive away ignorance as sunrays drive away darkness.
iv. Sceptre: It symbolised royal power.
Significance of political symbols – II
i. Snake biting its tail to form a ring: It is a symbol of eternity. This symbol meant the end of each process has the beginning of another.
ii. Red Phrygian cap: It was a cap worn by a slave after attaining freedom.
iii. Blue-white-red: They are the national colours of France.
iv. The winged woman: It was personification of the law. It signified power of law above all.
v. The law tablet: The law signified that every citizen is the same in the eyes of law.
Journey of France from Monarchy to Republic
How did France become a republic nation?
Struggle from monarchy to republic
i. France continued to be in turmoil under the national assembly.
ii. Louis XVI entered into secret negotiation with the King of Prussia. The national assembly declared war on Prussia and Austria.
iii. Thousands of volunteers from different French provinces joined the army of the national assembly.
iv. It was during this war that France chose its national anthem, Marseilles composed by Roget de L’Isle.
The Jacobins and their Activities
i. The revolutionary wars brought losses and economic difficulties to the people. With men on the war fronts, women were left to fend for the children and take care of their families.
ii. A large section of the population wanted to continue with the revolution as the constitution of 1791 gave political rights only to the richer sections of society.
iii. Political clubs were formed where opinions were exchanged and rallies were carried out. One such political club was named after the former convent of St Jacob in Paris.
iv. The members of this club were called the Jacobins. They were mainly from the poorer section of the third estate. Maximilian Robespierre was their leader.
v. To set them apart from the fashionable section of society, they wore long stripped trousers similar to those worn by dock workers.
France Becomes a Republic in 1792
i. The summer of 1792 saw the Jacobins in a violent insurrection in Paris. They stormed the palace of Tuileries and killed the royal guards and held the king hostage for several hours. The assembly voted to imprison the royal family.
ii. Elections were held. All men of 21 years and above, regardless of wealth, got the right to vote. The newly elected assembly was called the convention.
iii. By 1792, it abolished monarchy and declared France a republic.
Execution of Louis VI
Louis XVI was sentenced to death by a court on charges of treason. He was executed on 21 January 1793. His wife Marie Antoinette was executed soon after.
The Reign of Terror
i. The reign of terror started in 1793 and ended in 1794 with the execution of Robespierre.
ii. Maximillan Robespierre went to extremes to punish and control the powers of the Jacobin government.
iii. He considered ex-nobles and clergy, members of other political parties and even dissenting members of his own party as enemies of the republic. Almost all of them were arrested, imprisoned and guillotined if found guilty.
Laws under Robespierre’s government – I
i. Robespierre’s government issued laws placing a maximum ceiling on the wage of a person and on the price of a commodity.
ii. Meat and bread were rationed.
iii. Peasants were forced to sell their produce at prices fixed by the government.
iv. The use of more expensive white flour was forbidden.
Laws under Robespierre’s government – II
i. All citizens were required to eat pain d’égalité (equality bread).
ii. Traditional titles like Monsieur and Madame were discontinued.
iii. All citizens were addressed as citoyen or citoyenne.
iv. Churches were shut down and converted to barracks and offices.
End of the Jacobins
i. Soon, the supporters of Robespierre began to demand moderation of his policies.
ii. Finally, in July 1794 he was convicted by the court and arrested.
iii. The next day, he was guillotined.
iv. With the execution of Robespierre, the Jacobin government came to an end.
Directory Rule in France
i. With the fall of the Jacobin government, the wealthy middle class got the opportunity to seize power.
ii. A new constitution was introduced which gave the right to vote to the non-propertied classes.
iii. It elected the legislative council, which would appoint an executive committee of five members called the directory council.
iv. The directors often clashed with the legislative councils, who then sought to dismiss them.
v. The political instability of the directory paved the way for the rise of a military dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte.
Women During French Revolution
What were the roles and rights of women during and after the French Revolution?
Women and society during the revolution
i. Women were not considered active citizens under any of the governments of the French revolution.
ii. They actively participated throughout the revolution and brought about many changes in society.
iii. They hoped that their involvement would pressurise the revolutionary government to introduce measures to improve their lives.
iv. Women worked as seamstresses or laundresses. They sold flowers, fruit and vegetables. They also worked as domestic servants in wealthy households.
v. Most women did not have access to education or job training. Though women worked as much as men, they were paid less than men.
Voices of women
i. Soon, women formed political clubs to discuss the issues they had to deal with in their daily life.
ii. About 60 women’s clubs came up in different French cities. The Society of Revolutionary and Republican Women was the most famous of them.
iii. Women were disappointed that the constitution of 1791 did not give women the right to vote.
iv. They demanded right to vote, to be elected to the assembly and to hold political office.
Changes in favour of women
i. In the early years, the revolutionary government did introduce laws that helped improve the lives of women.
a. Schooling was made compulsory for all women.
b. Women could no longer be forced into marriage.
c. Women were given the right to divorce.
d. Marriage was made into a legal contract.
e. Women could choose their profession and train for jobs.
ii. All these changes were slow and did not lead to complete legal equality between men and women.
Women’s struggle under reign of terror
i. Women’s struggle for the right to vote continued under the reign of terror.
ii. During the reign of terror, women’s clubs were closed and their political activities were banned.
iii. Many prominent women leaders and thinkers were arrested and executed during the reign of terror.
iv. It was 200 years later that French women gained the right to vote in 1946.
Olympe de Gouges
i. She was one of the most important of the politically active women in revolutionary France.
ii. She protested against the constitution and the declaration of rights of man and citizen as they excluded women from the basic rights that each human being was entitled to.
iii. So, in 1791, she wrote a declaration of the rights of woman and citizen.
iv. She criticised the Jacobin government for forcibly closing down women’s clubs.
v. She was tried by the national convention, which charged her with treason. Soon after this, she was executed.
Abolition of Slavery in France
How did the French Revolution lead to the abolition of slavery?
Slavery in French colonies
i. One of the most revolutionary social reforms of the Jacobin government was the abolition of slavery in French colonies.
ii. French colonies in the Caribbean like Martinique, Guadeloupe and San Domingo supplied commodities such as tobacco, indigo, sugar and coffee.
iii. Europeans were reluctant to go and work in distant and unfamiliar lands. This caused shortage of labour on plantations.
iv. This shortage of labour was met by a triangular slave trade between Europe, Africa and the Americas.
Triangular slave trade
i. The slave trade began in the 17th century.
ii. French merchants sailed from the ports of Bordeaux or Nantes to the African coast, where they bought slaves from local chieftains.
iii. Slaves were branded and shackled to be transported in ships to the Caribbean over a three-month long voyage.
iv. They were then sold to the plantation owners in the Caribbean.
v. The port cities of Bordeaux and Nantes became rich due to the export and import of slaves.
Abolition of slavery in French colonies
i. Throughout the 18th century, there was little criticism of slavery in France.
ii. The National Assembly held long debates about whether the rights of man should be extended to French colonies and its slaves but it did not pass any laws, anticipating opposition of plantation owners where slaves were employed.
iii. In 1794, the National Convention freed the slaves of all French colonies.
iv. This was, however, only a short-term measure as ten years later, in 1804, Napoleon reintroduced slavery.
v. Slavery was finally abolished in French colonies in 1848.
Political and Ideological Legacy of the French Revolution
What was the political and ideological legacy of the French Revolution?
Changes in society
i. Revolutionary ideas of equality and liberty transformed:
- Clothes of the people
- Language of the people
- Books read by the people
ii. With the abolition of censorship in 1789 and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen in 1791, freedom of speech and expression became a natural right.
Growth of Literature
i. From Paris, newspapers, pamphlets, books and printed pictures travelled rapidly into the countryside.
ii. All this printed material described and discussed the events and the changes taking place in France.
iii. It helped political philosophers like Rousseau and Locke to spread their thoughts.
iv. The ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity, which were the pillars of the French Revolution, spread far and wide through a free press.
Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte
i. Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself the emperor of France in 1804.
ii. He conquered neighbouring European countries and appointed his family members to rule them.
iii. Napoleon is credited with the introduction of many modern laws in Europe. For example:
- Protection of private property
- Uniform system of weights and measures provided by the decimal system
Fall of Napoleon Bonaparte
i. During the initial years, many viewed Napoleon as a liberator who was progressive in his approach but soon, his army was viewed everywhere as an invading force leading to a decline in his popularity.
ii. He re-introduced slavery, which had been abolished under the Jacobin government.
iii. He was finally defeated at Waterloo in 1815.
iv. Many of his measures carried his revolutionary ideas of liberty and modern laws to other parts of Europe and had an impact on people long after he left.
Legacy of the French Revolution
i. The most important legacies of the French Revolution were: ideas of liberty and democratic rights
ii. These spread from France to the rest of Europe during the 19th century, where feudal systems were abolished.
iii. It inspired colonised peoples to develop their ideas of freedom.
iv. Tipu Sultan and Raja Rammohan Roy are two examples of individuals who were strongly influenced by the ideas coming from revolutionary France.