French Revolution, major transformation of the society and political system of France, lasting from 1789 to 1799. During the course of the Revolution, France was temporarily transformed from an absolute monarchy, where the king monopolized power, to a republic of theoretically free and equal citizens. The effects of the French Revolution were widespread, both inside and outside of France, and the Revolution ranks as one of the most important events in the history of Europe.
During the ten years of the Revolution, France first transformed and then dismantled the Old Regime, the political and social system that existed in France before 1789, and replaced it with a series of different governments. Although none of these governments lasted more than four years, the many initiatives they enacted permanently altered France’s political system. These initiatives included the drafting of several bills of rights and constitutions, the establishment of legal equality among all citizens, experiments with representative democracy, the incorporation of the church into the state, and the reconstruction of state administration and the law code. Many of these changes were adopted elsewhere in Europe as well. Change was a matter of choice in some places, but in others it was imposed by the French army during the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1797) and the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815).
To later generations of Europeans and non-Europeans who sought to overturn their political and social systems, the French Revolution provided the most influential model of popular insurrection until the Russian Revolution of 1917 From the beginning of the 20th century until the 1970s, the French Revolution was most commonly described as the result of the growing economic and social importance of the bourgeoisie, or middle class. The bourgeoisie, it was believed, overthrew the Old Regime because that regime had given power and privilege to other classes—the nobility and the clergy—who prevented the bourgeoisie from advancing socially and politically. Recently this interpretation has been replaced by one that relies less on social and economic factors and more on political ones.
Economic recession in the 1770s may have frustrated some bourgeois in their rise to power and wealth, and rising bread prices just before the Revolution certainly increased discontent among workers and peasants. Yet it is now commonly believed that the revolutionary process started with a crisis in the French state. By 1789 many French people had become critical of the monarchy, even though it had been largely successful in militarily defending France and in quelling domestic religious and political violence.
They resented the rising and unequal taxes, the persecution of religious minorities, and government interference in their private lives. They resented the rising and unequal taxes, the persecution of religious minorities, and government interference in their private lives. © "France" © Emmanuel Buchot and Encarta
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