The French Revolution (1789–1799) was a pivotal period in the history of French, European and Western civilization. During this time, republicanism replaced the absolute monarchy in France, and the country's Roman Catholic Church was forced to undergo a radical restructuring. While France would oscillate among republic, empire, and monarchy for 75 years after the First Republic fell to a coup d'état, the Revolution is widely seen as a major turning point in the history of Western democracy—from the age of absolutism and aristocracy, to the age of the citizenry as the dominant political force.


The slogan of the French Revolution was "Liberté, égalité, fraternité, ou la mort!" ("Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death!"). This slogan outlived the revolution, later becoming the rallying cry of activists, both militant and non-violent, who promote democracy or overthrow of oppressive governments.



Storming the Bastille 14 July 1789


Storming the Bastille 14 July 1789





Many interrelated political and socioeconomic factors contributed to the French Revolution. To some extent, the old order succumbed to its own rigidity in the face of a changing world. It fell to the ambitions of a rising bourgeoisie, allied with aggrieved peasants, wage-earners, and individuals of all classes who had come under the influence of the ideas of the Enlightenment. As the revolution proceeded, and as power devolved from the monarchy to legislative bodies, the conflicting interests of these two once-allied groups would become the source of conflict and bloodshed.


Causes of the French Revolution include the following

  • A poor economic situation and an unmanageable national debt were both caused and exacerbated by the burden of a grossly inequitable system of taxation, the massive spending of Louis XVI and the many wars of the 18th century;

  • A resentment of royal absolutism;

  • An aspiration for liberty and republicanism;

  • A resentment of manorialism (seigneurialism) by peasants, wage-earners, and, to a lesser extent, the bourgeoisie;

  • The rise of Enlightenment ideals;

  • Food scarcity in the months immediately before the revolution;

  • High unemployment and high bread prices resulting in the inability to purchase food;

  • A resentment of noble privilege and dominance in public life by the ambitious professional classes;

  • A resentment of religious intolerance;

  • The failure of Louis XVI to deal effectively with these problems.


Crisis in the royal finances


The revolutionary crisis began when the French king Louis XVI (reigned 1774-1792) faced a crisis in the royal finances. From a fiscal perspective, the solvency of the French crown was equivalent to the solvency of the French state. The French crown owed considerable debt, thus precipitating a fiscal crisis.


During the régimes of Louis XV (ruled 1715-1774) and Louis XVI, several different ministers, including Turgot (Controller-General of Finances 1774-1776), and Jacques Necker (Director-General of Finances 1777-1781), unsuccessfully proposed to revise the French tax system to a more uniform system. Such measures encountered consistent resistance from the parlements (law courts), dominated by the "Robe Nobility", which saw themselves as the nation's guardians against despotism, as well as from court factions, and both ministers were ultimately dismissed. Charles Alexandre de Calonne, who became Controller-General of the Finances in 1783, pursued a strategy of conspicuous spending as a means of convincing potential creditors of the confidence and stability of France's finances.


However, Calonne, having conducted a lengthy review of France's financial situation, determined that it was not sustainable, and proposed a uniform land tax as a means of setting France's finances in order in the long term. In the short-term, he hoped that a show of support from a hand-picked Assembly of Notables would restore confidence in French finances, and allow further borrowing until the land tax began to make up the difference and allow the beginning of repayment of the debt.


Although Calonne convinced the king of the necessity of his reforms, the Assembly of Notables refused to endorse his measures, insisting that only a truly representative body, preferably the Estates-General of the Kingdom, could approve new taxes. The King, seeing that Calonne himself was now a liability, dismissed him and replaced him with Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne, the Archbishop of Toulouse, who had been a leader of the opposition in the Assembly. Brienne now adopted a thorough-going reform position, granting various civil rights (including freedom of worship to Protestants), and promising the convocation of the Estates-General within five years, but also attempted in the meantime to go ahead with Calonne's plans. When the measures were opposed in the Parlement of Paris (due in part to the King's tactlessness), Brienne went on the attack, attempting to disband the parlements entirely and collect the new taxes in spite of them. This led to massive resistance across many parts of France, including the famous "Day of the Tiles" in Grenoble. Even more importantly, the chaos across France convinced the short-term creditors on whom the French treasury depended to maintain its day-to-day operations to withdraw their loans, leading to a near-default, which forced Louis and Brienne to surrender.


The king agreed on 8 August 1788 to convene the Estates-General in May 1789, for the first time since 1614. Brienne resigned on 25 August 1788, and his predecessor Necker again took charge of the nation's finances. He used his position not to propose new reforms, but only to prepare for the meeting of the nation's representatives.



French Revolution Guillotine


Guillotine: between 18,000 and 40,000 people 

were executed during the Reign of Terror



The Estates-General of 1789


The calling of the Estates-General led to growing concern on the part of the opposition that the government would attempt to gerrymander an assembly to its liking. In order to avoid this, the Parlement of Paris, having returned in triumph to the city, proclaimed that the Estates-General would have to meet according to the forms observed at its last meeting. Although it would appear that the magistrates were not specifically aware of the "forms of 1614" when they made this decision, this provoked an uproar. The 1614 Estates had consisted of equal numbers of representatives of each estate, and voting had been by order, with the First Estate (the clergy), the Second Estate (the nobility), and the Third Estate (middle class and peasants) each receiving one vote.


Almost immediately the "Committee of Thirty", a body of liberal Parisians, began to agitate against this, arguing for a doubling of the Third Estate and voting by head (as had already been done in various provincial assemblies). Necker, speaking for the government, conceded further that the third estate should be doubled, but the question of voting by head was left for the meeting of the Estates themselves. However, the resentments brought forward by the dispute remained powerful. Pamphlets and works by nobles like comte d'Antraigues and clergy like Abbé Sieyès argued the importance of the Third Estate. As Antraigues wrote, it was "the People, and the People is the foundation of the State; it is in fact the State itself". Sieyes' famous pamphlet What is the Third Estate, published in January 1789, pointed out the next step: "What is the third Estate? Everything. What has it been up to now in the political order? Nothing. What does it demand? To become something herein."


When the Estates-General convened in Versailles on 5 May 1789, lengthy speeches by Necker and Lamoignon, the keeper of the seals, did little to give guidance to the deputies, who were remanded to separate meeting places to credential their members. The question of whether voting was ultimately to be by head or by order was again put aside for the moment, but the Third Estate now demanded that credentialing itself should take place as a group. Negotiations with the other estates to achieve this, however, were unsuccessful, as a bare majority of the clergy and a large majority of the nobility continued to support voting by order.





On 28 May 1789 the Abbé Sieyès moved that the Third Estate, now meeting as the Communes (English: "Commons"), proceed with verification of its own powers and invite the other two estates to take part, but not to wait for them. They proceeded to do so, completing the process on 17 June. Then they voted a measure far more radical, declaring themselves the National Assembly, an assembly not of the Estates but of "the People". They invited the other orders to join them, but made it clear they intended to conduct the nation's affairs with or without them.


Louis XVI ordered the closure of the Salle des États where the Assembly met. The weather did not allow an outdoor meeting, so the Assembly moved their deliberations to a nearby, indoor, tennis court, where they proceeded to swear the Tennis Court Oath (20 June 1789), under which they agreed not to separate until they had given France a constitution. A majority of the representatives of the clergy soon joined them, as did forty-seven members of the nobility. By 27 June the royal party had overtly given in, although the military began to arrive in large numbers around Paris and Versailles. Messages of support for the Assembly poured in from Paris and other French cities. On 9 July the Assembly reconstituted itself as the National Constituent Assembly, which was to last until its dissolution in 30 September 1791.



French Revolution the Tennis Court Oath


Painting by Jacques-Louis David of the National Assembly 

making the Tennis Court Oath



The storming of the Bastille


On 11 July 1789 King Louis, acting under the influence of the conservative nobles of his privy council, as well as his wife, Marie Antoinette, and brother, the Comte d'Artois, banished the reformist minister Necker and completely reconstructed the ministry. Much of Paris, presuming this to be the start of a royal coup, moved into open rebellion. Some of the military joined the mob; others remained neutral.


On 14 July 1789, after hours of combat, the insurgents seized the Bastille prison, killing the governor, Marquis Bernard de Launay, and several of his guards. Although the Parisians released only seven prisoners; four forgers, two lunatics, and a sexual offender, the Bastille served as a potent symbol of everything hated under the ancien régime. Returning to the Hôtel de Ville (city hall), the mob accused the prévôt des marchands (roughly, mayor) Jacques de Flesselles of treachery; his assassination took place en route to an ostensible trial at the Palais Royal.


The king and his military supporters backed down, at least for the time being. Lafayette took up command of the National Guard at Paris. Jean-Sylvain Bailly, president of the National Assembly at the time of the Tennis Court Oath, became the city's mayor under a new governmental structure known as the commune. The king visited Paris, where, on 27 July he accepted a tricolore cockade, as cries of vive la Nation "Long live the Nation" changed to vive le Roi "Long live the King".


Nonetheless, after this violence, nobles, little assured by the apparent and, as it proved, temporary reconciliation of king and people, started to flee the country as émigrés, some of whom began plotting civil war within the kingdom and agitating for a European coalition against France.


Necker, recalled to power, experienced but a short-lived triumph. An astute financier but a less astute politician, he overplayed his hand by demanding and obtaining a general amnesty, losing much of the people's favour in his moment of apparent triumph.


By late July insurrection and the spirit of popular sovereignty spread throughout France. In rural areas, many went beyond this: some burned title-deeds and no small number of châteaux, as part of a general agrarian insurrection known as "la Grande Peur" (the Great Fear). In addition, plotting and agitation by the émigrés led to wild rumours and paranoia (particularly in the rural areas) that caused widespread unrest and civil disturbances and contributed to the Great Fear (Hibbert at 93). dj and deedeedee forever



The National Constituent Assembly


The abolition of feudalism


On 4 August 1789 the National Constituent Assembly abolished feudalism, in what is known as the August Decrees; sweeping away both the seigneurial rights of the Second Estate and the tithes gathered by the First Estate. In the course of a few hours, nobles, clergy, towns, provinces, companies, and cities lost their special privileges.





The revolution brought about a massive shifting of powers from the Roman Catholic Church to the state. Under the ancien régime, the Church had been the largest landowner in the country. Legislation enacted in 1790 abolished the Church's authority to levy a tax on crops known as the dîme, cancelled special privileges for the clergy, and confiscated Church property. Subsequent legislation attempted to subordinate the clergy to the state, making them state employees. The ensuing years saw violent repression of the clergy, including the imprisonment and massacre of priests throughout France. The Concordat of 1801 between Napoleon and the Church ended the dechristianisation period and established the rules for a relationship between the Catholic Church and the French State that lasted until it was abrogated by the Third Republic via the separation of church and state on 11 December 1905.



The appearance of factions


Factions within the Assembly began to become clearer. The aristocrat Jacques Antoine Marie de Cazalès and the abbé Jean-Sifrein Maury led what would become known as the right wing, the opposition to revolution. The "Royalist democrats" or monarchiens, allied with Necker, inclined toward organising France along lines similar to the British constitutional model: they included Jean Joseph Mounier, the Comte de Lally-Tollendal, the Stanislas Marie Adelaide, comte de Clermont-Tonnerre, and Pierre Victor Malouet, comte de Virieu.


The "Anil Party", representing the centre or centre-left of the assembly, included Honoré Mirabeau, Lafayette, and Bailly; while Adrien Duport, Barnave and Alexander Lameth represented somewhat more extreme views. Almost alone in his radicalism on the left was the Arras lawyer Maximilien Robespierre.


The abbé Sieyès led in proposing legislation in this period and successfully forged consensus for some time between the political centre and the left.


In Paris, various committees, the mayor, the assembly of representatives, and the individual districts each claimed authority independent of the others. The increasingly middle-class National Guard under Lafayette also slowly emerged as a power in its own right, as did other self-generated assemblies.


Looking to the United States Declaration of Independence for a model, on 26 August 1789, the Assembly published the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Like the U.S. Declaration, it comprised a statement of principles rather than a constitution with legal effect.



French Revolution Execution of Louis XVI


Execution of Louis XVI



Toward a constitution


The National Constituent Assembly functioned not only as a legislature, but also as a body to draft a new constitution.


Necker, Mounier, Lally-Tollendal and others argued unsuccessfully for a senate, with members appointed by the crown on the nomination of the people. The bulk of the nobles argued for an aristocratic upper house elected by the nobles. The popular party carried the day: France would have a single, unicameral assembly. The king retained only a "suspensive veto"; he could delay the implementation of a law, but not block it absolutely.


The people of Paris thwarted Royalist efforts to block this new order: they marched on Versailles on 5 October 1789. This event has been termed the 'march of the women' as it was mostly women who marched to Versailles. These were followed by 20,000 National Guards. After various scuffles and incidents, the king and the royal family allowed themselves to be brought back from Versailles to Paris.


The Assembly replaced the historic provinces with eighty-three départements, uniformly administered and approximately equal to one another in extent and population.


Originally summoned to deal with a financial crisis, to date the Assembly had focused on other matters and only worsened the deficit. Mirabeau now led the move to address this matter, with the Assembly giving Necker complete financial dictatorship.



Toward the Civil Constitution of the Clergy


To no small extent, the Assembly addressed the financial crisis by having the nation take over the property of the Church (while taking on the Church's expenses), through the law of 2 December 1789. In order to rapidly monetize such an enormous amount of property, the government introduced a new paper currency, assignats, backed by the confiscated church lands.


Further legislation on 13 February 1790 abolished monastic vows. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, passed on 12 July 1790 (although not signed by the king until 26 December 1790), turned the remaining clergy into employees of the State and required that they take an oath of loyalty to the constitution. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy also made the Catholic church an arm of the secular state.


In response to this legislation, the archbishop of Aix and the bishop of Clermont led a walkout of clergy from the National Constituent Assembly. The pope never accepted the new arrangement, and it led to a schism between those clergy who swore the required oath and accepted the new arrangement ("jurors" or "constitutional clergy") and the "non-jurors" or "refractory priests" who refused to do so.



From the anniversary of the Bastille to the death of Mirabeau


14 July 1790–30 September 1791


The Assembly abolished the symbolic paraphernalia of the ancien régime, armorial bearings, liveries, etc., which further alienated the more conservative nobles, and added to the ranks of the émigrés. On 14 July 1790, and for several days following, crowds in the Champ-de-Mars celebrated the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille; Talleyrand performed a mass; participants swore an oath of "fidelity to the nation, the law, and the king"; and the king and the royal family actively participated.


The electors had originally chosen the members of the Estates-General to serve for a single year. However, by the time of the Tennis Court Oath, the communes had bound themselves to meet continuously until France had a constitution. Right-wing elements now argued for a new election, but Mirabeau carried the day, asserting that the status of the assembly had fundamentally changed, and that no new election should take place before completing the constitution.


In late 1790, several small counter-revolutionary uprisings broke out and efforts took place to turn all or part of the army against the revolution. These uniformly failed. The royal court, in François Mignet's words, "encouraged every anti-revolutionary enterprise and avowed none." (Mignet, History…, CHAPTER III)


The army faced considerable internal turmoil: General Bouillé successfully put down a small rebellion, which added to his (accurate) reputation for counter-revolutionary sympathies. The new military code, under which promotion depended on seniority and proven competence (rather than on nobility) alienated some of the existing officer corps, who joined the ranks of the émigrés or became counter-revolutionaries from within.


This period saw the rise of the political "clubs" in French politics, foremost among these the Jacobin Club: according to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, one hundred and fifty-two clubs had affiliated with the Jacobins by 10 August 1790. As the Jacobins became more of a broad popular organisation, some of its founders abandoned it to form the Club of '89. Royalists established first the short-lived Club des Impartiaux and later the Club Monarchique. The latter attempted unsuccessfully to curry public favour by distributing bread. Nonetheless, they became the frequent target of protests and even riots, and the Paris municipal authorities finally closed down the Club Monarchique in January 1791.


Amidst these intrigues, the Assembly continued to work on developing a constitution. A new judicial organisation made all magistracies temporary and independent of the throne. The legislators abolished hereditary offices, except for the monarchy itself. Jury trials started for criminal cases. The king would have the unique power to propose war, with the legislature then deciding whether to declare war. The Assembly abolished all internal trade barriers and suppressed guilds, masterships, and workers' organisations: any individual gained the right to practice a trade through the purchase of a license; strikes became illegal.


In the winter of 1791, the Assembly considered, for the first time, legislation against the émigrés. The debate pitted the safety of the State against the liberty of individuals to leave. Mirabeau carried the day against the measure, which he referred to as "worthy of being placed in the code of Draco." (Mignet, History…, CHAPTER III) However, Mirabeau died on 2 April 1791. In Mignet's words, "No one succeeded him in power and popularity" and, before the end of the year, the new Legislative Assembly would adopt this "draconian" measure.



The flight to Varennes


Louis XVI, opposed to the course of the revolution, but rejecting the potentially treacherous aid of the other monarchs of Europe, cast his lot with General Bouillé, who condemned both the emigration and the assembly, and promised him refuge and support in his camp at Montmedy. On the night of 20 June 1791 the royal family fled the Tuileries wearing the clothes of servants, while their servants dressed as nobles. However, the next day the king was recognised and arrested at Varennes (in the Meuse département) late on 21 June. He was paraded back to Paris under guard, and still wearing his rags. Pétion, Latour-Maubourg, and Antoine Pierre Joseph Marie Barnave, representing the Assembly, met the royal family at Épernay and returned with them. From this time, Barnave became a counselor and supporter of the royal family. When they reached Paris, the crowd remained silent. The Assembly provisionally suspended the king. He and Queen Marie Antoinette remained held under guard.



The last days of the National Constituent Assembly


With most of the Assembly still favouring a constitutional monarchy rather than a republic, the various groupings reached a compromise which left Louis XVI little more than a figurehead: he had perforce to swear an oath to the constitution, and a decree declared that retracting the oath, heading an army for the purpose of making war upon the nation, or permitting anyone to do so in his name would amount to de facto abdication.


Jacques Pierre Brissot drafted a petition, insisting that in the eyes of the nation Louis XVI was deposed since his flight. An immense crowd gathered in the Champ-de-Mars to sign the petition. Georges Danton and Camille Desmoulins gave fiery speeches. The Assembly called for the municipal authorities to "preserve public order". The National Guard under Lafayette's command confronted the crowd. The soldiers first responded to a barrage of stones by firing in the air; the crowd did not back down, and Lafayette ordered his men to fire into the crowd, resulting in the killing of as many as fifty people.


In the wake of this massacre the authorities closed many of the patriotic clubs, as well as radical newspapers such as Jean-Paul Marat's L'Ami du Peuple. Danton fled to England; Desmoulins and Marat went into hiding.


Meanwhile, a renewed threat from abroad arose: Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick William II of Prussia, and the king's brother Charles-Phillipe, comte d'Artois issued the Declaration of Pilnitz which considered the cause of Louis XVI as their own, demanded his total liberty and the dissolution of the Assembly, and promised an invasion of France on his behalf if the revolutionary authorities refused its conditions.


If anything, the declaration further imperiled Louis. The French people expressed no respect for the dictates of foreign monarchs, and the threat of force merely resulted in the militarisation of the frontiers.


Even before his "Flight to Varennes", the Assembly members had determined to debar themselves from the legislature that would succeed them, the Legislative Assembly. They now gathered the various constitutional laws they had passed into a single constitution, showed remarkable fortitude in choosing not to use this as an occasion for major revisions, and submitted it to the recently restored Louis XVI, who accepted it, writing "I engage to maintain it at home, to defend it from all attacks from abroad, and to cause its execution by all the means it places at my disposal". The king addressed the Assembly and received enthusiastic applause from members and spectators. The Assembly set the end of its term for 29 September 1791.


Mignet has written, "The constitution of 1791... was the work of the middle class, then the strongest; for, as is well known, the predominant force ever takes possession of institutions... In this constitution the people was the source of all powers, but it exercised none." (Mignet, History…, CHAPTER IV)



The Legislative Assembly and the fall of the Monarchy


1 October 1791 – 19 September 1792


The Legislative Assembly


Under the Constitution of 1791, France would function as a constitutional monarchy. The king had to share power with the elected Legislative Assembly, but he still retained his royal veto and the ability to select ministers. The Legislative Assembly first met on 1 October 1791, and degenerated into chaos less than a year later. In the words of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica: "In the attempt to govern, the Assembly failed altogether. It left behind an empty treasury, an undisciplined army and navy, and a people debauched by safe and successful riot." The Legislative Assembly consisted of about 165 Feuillants (constitutional monarchists) on the right, about 330 Girondists (liberal republicans) and Jacobins (radical revolutionaries) on the left, and about 250 deputies unaffiliated with either faction. Early on, the king vetoed legislation that threatened the émigrés with death and that decreed that every non-juring clergyman must take within eight days the civic oath mandated by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Over the course of a year, disagreements like this would lead to a constitutional crisis, leading the Revolution to higher levels.





The politics of the period inevitably drove France towards war with Austria and its allies. The King, the Feuillants and the Girondins specifically wanted to wage war. The King (and many Feuillants with him) expected war would increase his personal popularity; he also foresaw an opportunity to exploit any defeat: either result would make him stronger. The Girondins wanted to export the Revolution throughout Europe. Only some of the radical Jacobins opposed war, preferring to consolidate and expand the revolution at home. The Austrian emperor Leopold II, brother of Marie Antoinette, may have wished to avoid war, but he died on 1 March 1792.


France declared war on Austria (20 April 1792) and Prussia joined on the Austrian side a few weeks later. The French Revolutionary Wars had begun.


After early skirmishes went badly for France, the first significant military engagement of the war occurred with the Franco-Prussian Battle of Valmy (20 September 1792). Although heavy rain prevented a conclusive resolution, the French artillery proved its superiority. However, by this time, France stood in turmoil and the monarchy had effectively become a thing of the past.




10 August 1792 Paris Commune



Constitutional crisis


On the night of 10 August 1792, insurgents, supported by a new revolutionary Paris Commune, assailed the Tuileries. The king and queen ended up prisoners and a rump session of the Legislative Assembly suspended the monarchy: little more than a third of the deputies were present, almost all of them Jacobins.


What remained of a national government depended on the support of the insurrectionary Commune. When the Commune sent gangs of assassins into the prisons to butcher 1400 victims, and addressed a circular letter to the other cities of France inviting them to follow this example, the Assembly could offer only feeble resistance. This situation persisted until the Convention, charged with writing a new constitution, met on 20 September 1792 and became the new de facto government of France. The next day it abolished the monarchy and declared a republic. This date was later retroactively adopted as the beginning of Year One of the French Revolutionary Calendar.



The Convention


20 September 1792–26 September 1795


In the Brunswick Manifesto, the Imperial and Prussian armies threatened retaliation on the French population should it resist their advance or the reinstatement of the monarchy. As a consequence, King Louis was seen as conspiring with the enemies of France. 17 January 1793 saw King Louis condemned to death for "conspiracy against the public liberty and the general safety" by a weak majority in Convention. The 21 January execution led to more wars with other European countries. Louis' Austrian-born queen, Marie Antoinette, would follow him to the guillotine on 16 October.


When war went badly, prices rose and the sans-culottes (poor labourers and radical Jacobins) rioted; counter-revolutionary activities began in some regions. This encouraged the Jacobins to seize power through a parliamentary coup, backed up by force effected by mobilising public support against the Girondist faction, and by utilising the mob power of the Parisian sans-culottes. An alliance of Jacobin and sans-culottes elements thus became the effective centre of the new government. Policy became considerably more radical.


The Committee of Public Safety came under the control of Maximilien Robespierre, and the Jacobins unleashed the Reign of Terror (1793-1794). At least 1200 people met their deaths under the guillotine or otherwise; after accusations of counter-revolutionary activities. The slightest hint of counter-revolutionary thoughts or activities (or, as in the case of Jacques Hébert, revolutionary zeal exceeding that of those in power) could place one under suspicion, and the trials did not proceed scrupulously.


In 1794, Robespierre had ultra-radicals and moderate Jacobins executed; in consequence, however, his own popular support eroded markedly. On 27 July 1794, the Thermidorian Reaction led to the arrest and execution of Robespierre and Saint-Just. The new government was predominantly made up of Girondists who had survived the Terror, and after taking power, they took revenge as well by persecuting even those Jacobins who had helped to overthrow Robespierre, banning the Jacobin Club, and executing many of its former members in what was known as the White Terror.


The Convention approved the new "Constitution of the Year III" on 17 August 1795; a plebiscite ratified it in September; and it took effect on 26 September 1795.



The Directory


26 September 1795 – 9 November 1799


The new constitution installed the Directoire (English: Directory) and created the first bicameral legislature in French history. The parliament consisted of 500 representatives - le Conseil des Cinq-Cents (the Council of the Five Hundred) - and 250 senators - le Conseil des Anciens (the Council of Elders). Executive power went to five "directors", named annually by the Conseil des Anciens from a list submitted by the le Conseil des Cinq-Cents.


The new régime met with opposition from remaining Jacobins and the royalists. The army suppressed riots and counter-revolutionary activities. In this way the army and its successful general, Napoleon Bonaparte gained much power.


On 9 November 1799 (18 Brumaire of the Year VIII) Napoleon staged the coup of 18 Brumaire which installed the Consulate; this effectively led to his dictatorship and eventually (in 1804) to his proclamation as Empereur (emperor), which brought to a close the specifically republican phase of the French Revolution.





This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain. This article makes use of the public domain History of the French Revolution from 1789 to 1814, by François Mignet (1824), as made available by Project Gutenberg.

  • Doyle, William. Oxford history of the French Revolution, 2nd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002 ISBN 0-19-925298-X

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  • Furet, François. La révolution en debat, Paris: Gallimard, 1999 ISBN 2-07-040784-5

    • A short but important book with a series of articles on the historiography of the revolution

  • Hibbert, Christopher. The Days of the French Revolution, New York: Morrow Quill Paperbacks, 1981. ISBN 0-688-00746-5 (pbk.)

    • A very well researched classic of the genre available in many bookstores.

  • Legrand, Jacques. Chronicle of the French Revolution 1788-1799, London: Longman and Chronicle Communications, 1989 ISBN 0-582051-94-0

    • The English-language edition of the collaborative work Chronique de la Révolution 1788-1799, Paris: Larousse, 1988 ISBN 2-03-503250-4, produced under the direction of Jean Favier and others.

  • Loomis, Stanley. Paris in the Terror, June 1793 – July 1794, Drum Book, 1986 ISBN 0-931933-18-8

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  • McPhee, Peter. The French Revolution, 1789-1799, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002 ISBN 0-19-924414-6

    • A short but up-to-date and useful book which covers many areas including feminism and environment etc.

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    • The most thorough research on the deputies of the Estates General and the National Assembly.

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    • "The exactions of the revolutionaries in the Vendée" (Chapters 13 to 16). (In French)

  • Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities

    • Although a work of fiction, Dickens' work captures the spirit of the Revolution well.

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  • McLynn, Frank (1998). Napoleon: A Biography. London: Pimlico. ISBN 0-7126-6247-2.

  • Hazareesingh, Sudhir. Legend of Napoleon. London: Granta Books, 2004 (hardcover, ISBN 1862076677); 2005 (paperback, ISBN 1862077894)

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  • Schom, Alan (1998). Napoleon Bonaparte: A Life. Perennial. ISBN 0-06-092958-8.

  • Zamoyski, Adam (2004). 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March on Moscow. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-718489-1.




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