V. The Modern Period, 1789–1914 > B. The French Revolution and Europe, 1789–1914 > 1. Overview > 2. The French Revolution, 1789–1799
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  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
 
(See 1787)
 
2. The French Revolution, 1789–1799
 
The period of the French Revolution and French Empire can be divided into several subperiods based on political regime and relationship to the rest of Europe. (1) Estates General and Constituent Assembly, May 1789–Sept. 1791. Formative period, leading toward constitutional monarchy. (2) Legislative Assembly, Oct. 1791–Sept. 1792. New lower-class unrest; beginnings of foreign wars. (3) National Convention, Sept. 1792–Oct. 1795. Most radical phase of revolution: end of monarchy, new constitutional measures, and growing impact outside France. (4) Directory, Oct. 1795–Nov. 1799. Undid the most radical measures; consolidation efforts. (5) Consulate, Dec. 1799–May 1804. Napoleon's coup led to one-man rule though nominally republican forms. New wars. (6) Empire, May 1804–June 1815. Napoleon installed new regime, consolidated some revolutionary gains, concentrated on wars. Major period of change in other parts of Europe.  1
 
a. Causes of the Revolution
 
(1) Intellectual currents of the Enlightenment proposed governments based on contracts or constitutions rather than divine authority. Such ideas were discussed in the salons organized by women in Paris and by the philosophes (reform-minded intellectuals) surrounding Diderot's encyclopedia. (2) Economic developments expanded a middle class that, although often involved in the royal bureaucracy, had little access to formal politics. This middle class was concerned with obstructions to economic development and commerce, such as the guild system, internal tariffs, and the lack of common weights and measures and adequate roles for professionals. (3) A social contest had developed between the emerging middle class (especially the bureaucracy) and the old aristocracy. The aristocracy had many privileges, including exemption from many of the taxes levied against the middle classes. After 1750 the aristocracy discouraged middle-class entry and increased its own monopoly over upper church offices (the aristocratic resurgence, probably a response to population growth, which angered the middle class). At the same time, these aristocratic landowners attempted to collect their full manorial rights from a peasantry already heavily burdened by taxes. Although most peasants were free, many had little land, and surviving manorial dues were galling. (4) A financial crisis within the government resulted from an increasing deficit. This deficit was the result of costly wars of territorial aggression in the 17th and 18th centuries and was worsened by the policy of selling offices, with tax-exempt status, to raise additional revenues. When the king and his advisers tried to levy new taxes through parlement, they were forced to call the Estates General. (5) Revolution was triggered by efforts by the aristocracy to wring concessions from the king (Assembly of Notables, 1787), and bad harvests and unemployment (1787–88) helped stir urban and rural rioters.  2
 
 
 
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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