French Revolution Outline (1789-1799) | Student Handouts
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French Revolution Printable Outline
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This free printable outline is great for teachers and students studying the French Revolution (1789-1799) in a World History, Global Studies, or European History (AP or general education) course.  Scroll down for a printable version (.pdf file).  Note: Proper indentations are seen in the printable version.
French Revolution Printable OutlineI. The Old Regime—Ancien Regime
  a. Old Regime—socio-political system which existed in most of Europe during the 18th century
  b. Countries were ruled by absolutism—the monarch had absolute control over the government
  c. Classes of people—privileged and unprivileged
    i. Unprivileged people—paid taxes and treated badly
    ii. Privileged people—did not pay taxes and treated well

II. Society under the Old Regime
  a. In France, people were divided into three estates
    i. First Estate
      1. High-ranking members of the Church
      2. Privileged class
    ii. Second Estate
      1. Nobility
      2. Privileged class
    iii. Third Estate
      1. Everyone else—from peasants in the countryside to wealthy bourgeoisie merchants in the cities
      2. Unprivileged class

III. Government under the Old Regime: The Divine Right of Kings
  a. Monarch ruled by divine right
    i. God put the world in motion
    ii. God put some people in positions of power
    iii. Power is given by God
    iv. No one can question God
    v. No one can question someone put in power by God
    vi. Questioning the monarchy was blasphemy because it meant questioning God

IV. What the king did
a. Appointed the Intendants, the "petty tyrants" who governed France's 30 districts
  b. Appointed the people who would collect his taxes and carry out his laws
  c. Controlled justice by appointing judges
  d. Controlled the military
  e. Could imprison anyone at any time for any reason (blank warrants of arrest were called letters de cachet)
  f. Levied all taxes and decided how to spend the money
  g. Made all laws
  h. Made decisions regarding war and peace

V. Economic conditions under the Old Regime
  a. France's economy was based primarily on agriculture
  b. Peasant farmers of France bore the burden of taxation
  c. Poor harvests meant that peasants had trouble paying their regular taxes
    i. Certainly could not afford to have their taxes raised
  d. Bourgeoisie often managed to gather wealth
    i. But were upset that they paid taxes while nobles did not

VI. France is bankrupt
a. The king (Louis XVI) lavished money on himself and residences like Versailles
  b. Queen Marie Antoinette was seen as a wasteful spender
  c. Government found its funds depleted as a result of wars
    i. Including the funding of the American Revolution
  d. Deficit spending—a government spending more money than it takes in from tax revenues
  e. Privileged classes would not submit to being taxed

VII. Philosophy of the French Revolution: Enlightenment (Age of Reason)
a. Scientists during the Renaissance had discovered laws that govern the natural world
  b. Intellectuals—philosophes—began to ask if natural laws might also apply to human beings
    i. Particularly to human institutions such as governments
    ii. Philosophes were secular in thinking—they used reason and logic, rather than faith, religion, and superstition, to answer important questions
    iii. Used reason and logic to determine how governments are formed
      1. Tried to figure out what logical, rational principles work to tie people to their governments
    iv. Questioned the divine right of kings

VIII. Long- and short-term causes
  a. Long-term causes
    i. Also known as underlying causes
    ii. Causes which stem back many years
  b. Short-term causes
    i. Also known as immediate causes
    ii. Causes which happen close to the moment the change or action happens
  c. Example: A person is fired from his or her job
    i. Long term cause(s): The person is often late to work and is generally unproductive on the job
    ii. Short-term cause(s): The person fails to show up for work and does not call the employer
  d. Key: One typically does not happen without the other
    i. Events which bring important change (or action) need both long-term and short-term causes

IX. Long-term causes of the French Revolution
a. Everything previously discussed
    i. Absolutism
    ii. Unjust socio-political system (Old Regime)
    iii. Poor harvests which left peasant farmers with little money for taxes
    iv. Influence of Enlightenment philosophes
  b. Also
    i. System of mercantilism which restricted trade
    ii. Influence of other successful revolutions
      1. England's Glorious Revolution (1688-1689)
      2. American Revolution (1775-1783)

X. Short-term causes of the French Revolution
  a. Bankruptcy
    i. Caused by deficit spending
    ii. Financial ministers (Turgot, Necker, Calonne) proposed changes
      1. But these were rejected
    iii. Assembly of Notables voted down taxation for the nobility in 1787
  b. Great Fear
    i. Worst famine in memory
    ii. Hungry, impoverished peasants feared that nobles at Estates-General were seeking greater privileges
    iii. Attacks on nobles occurred throughout the country in 1789
  c. Estates-General
    i. Louis XVI had no choice but to call for a meeting of the Estates-General to find a solution to the bankruptcy problem
      1. All three estates
    ii. Had not met since 1614
    iii. Set in motion a series of events which resulted in the abolition of the monarchy and a completely new socio-political system for France

XI. Preparing for the Estates-General
a. Winter of 1788-1789
    i. Members of the estates elected representatives
  b. Cahiers
    i. Traditional lists of grievances written by the people
    ii. Nothing out of the ordinary
      1. Asked for only moderate changes

XII. Meeting of the Estates-General: May 5, 1789
  a. Voting was conducted by estate
    i. Each estate had one vote
    ii. First and Second Estates could operate as a bloc to stop the Third Estate from having its way
    iii. First Estate + Second Estate > Third Estate
  b. Representatives from the Third Estate demanded that voting be done by population
    i. This would give the Third Estate a great advantage
  c. Deadlock resulted

XIII. Tennis Court Oath
  a. The Third Estate declared itself to be the National Assembly
  b. Louis XVI responded by locking the Third Estate out of the meeting
  c. The Third Estate relocated to a nearby tennis court where its members vowed to stay together and create a written constitution for France
  d. On June 23, 1789, Louis XVI relented
    i. He ordered the three estates to meet together as the National Assembly and vote, by population, on a constitution for France
  e. "The National Assembly, considering that it has been summoned to establish the constitution of the kingdom, to effect the regeneration of the public order; and to maintain the true principles of monarchy; that nothing can prevent it from continuing its deliberations in whatever place it may be forced to establish itself; and, finally, that wheresoever its members are assembled, there is the National Assembly;
"Decrees that all members of this Assembly shall immediately take a solemn oath not to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the kingdom is established and consolidated upon firm foundations; and that, the said oath taken, all members and each one of them individually shall ratify this steadfast resolution by signature."

XIV. Review questions
  a. What was the Old Regime?
  b. How does an absolute monarchy (absolutism) operate?
  c. Describe the size, privileges, exemptions, and burdens of the three estates.
  d. What is deficit spending?
  e. Describe the type of thinking used by the philosophes.
  f. What were the underlying (long-term) causes of the French Revolution?
  g. What were the immediate (short-term) causes of the French Revolution?
  h. Explain the debate over voting which occurred in the Estates-General.
  i. What was the Tennis Court Oath?

XV. Four phases (periods) of the French Revolution
  a. National Assembly (1789-1791)
  b. Legislative Assembly (1791-1792)
  c. Convention (1792-1795)
  d. Directory (1795-1799)

XVI. National Assembly (1789-1791)
  a. Louis XVI did not want a written constitution
  b. When news of his plan to use military force against the National Assembly reached Paris on July 14, 1789, people stormed the Bastille

XVII. Uprising in Paris
  a. People of Paris seized weapons from the Bastille
    i. July 14, 1789
    ii. Parisians organized their own government which they called the Commune
    iii. Small groups—factions—competed to control the city of Paris
  b. Uprising spread throughout France
    i. Nobles were attacked
    ii. Records of feudal dues and owed taxes were destroyed
    iii. Many nobles fled the country—became known as émigrés
    iv. Louis XVI was forced to fly the new tricolor flag of France

XVIII. Goodbye, Versailles! Adieu, Versailles!
  a. Parisian commune feared that Louis XVI would have foreign troops invade France to put down the rebellion
    i. Louis XVI's wife, Marie Antoinette, was the sister of the Austrian emperor
  b. A group of women attacked Versailles on October 5, 1789
    i. Forced royal family to relocate to Paris along with the National Assembly
    ii. Royal family spent next several years in the Tuileries Palace as virtual prisoners

XIX. Changes under the National Assembly
  a. Abolishment of guilds and labor unions
  b. Abolition of special privileges
  c. Constitution of 1791
  d. Declaration of the Rights of Man
  e. Equality before the law (for men)
  f. Many nobles left France and became known as émigrés
  g. Reforms in local government
  h. Taxes levied based on the ability to pay

XX. Declaration of the Rights of Man
  a. Freedom of religion
  b. Freedom of speech
  c. Freedom of the press
  d. Guaranteed property rights
  e. "Liberty, equality, fraternity!"
  f. Right of the people to create laws
  g. Right to a fair trial

XXI. Declaration of the Rights of Women
  a. Journalist Olympe de Gouges argued in her Declaration of the Rights of Woman that women are equal citizens and should benefit from governmental reforms just as men did
  b. Madame Jeanne Roland also served as a leader in the women's rights movement, and was able to heavily influence her husband (a government official)
  c. Women did gain some rights during the French Revolution, but these were designed for purposes other than liberating women
    i. Women could inherit property, but only because doing so weakened feudalism and reduced wealth among the upper classes
    ii. Divorce became easier, but only to weaken the Church's control over marriage

XXII. End of special privileges
  a. Church lands were seized, divided, and sold to peasants
  b. Civil Constitution of the Clergy required that Church officials be elected by the people, with salaries paid by the government
    i. 2/3 of Church officials fled the country rather than swear allegiance to this
  c. All feudal dues and tithes were eradicated
  d. All special privileges of the First and Second Estates were abolished

XXIII. Reforms in local government
  a. The 30 provinces and their "petty tyrants" (Intendants) were replaced with 83 new departments
    i. Ruled by elected governors
  b. New courts, with judges elected by the people, were established

XXIV. Constitution of 1791
  a. Democratic features
    i. France became a limited monarchy
      1. King became merely the head of state
    ii. All laws were created by the Legislative Assembly
    iii. Feudalism was abolished
  b. Undemocratic features
    i. Voting was limited to taxpayers
    ii. Officers were reserved for property owners
  c. This new government became known as the Legislative Assembly

XXV. Legislative Assembly (1791-1792)
  a. Royal family sought help from Austria
    i. In June, 1791, they were caught trying to escape to Austria
  b. Nobles who fled the revolution lived abroad as émigrés
    i. They hoped that, with foreign help, the Old Regime could be restored in France
  c. Church officials wanted Church lands, rights, and privileges restored
    i. Some devout Catholic peasants also supported the Church
  d. Political parties, representing different interests, emerged
    i. Girondists
    ii. Jacobins

XXVI. Opposition to the new government
  a. European monarchs feared that revolution would spread to their own countries
    i. France was invaded by Austrian and Prussian troops
  b. In the uproar, the Commune took control of Paris
    i. Commune was led by Danton, a member of the Jacobin political party
  c. Voters began electing representatives for a new convention which would write a republican constitution for France
    i. A republic is a government in which the people elect representatives who will create laws and rule on their behalf
    ii. Meanwhile, thousands of nobles were executed under the suspicion that they were conspirators in the foreign invasion

XXVII. Convention (1792-1795)
  a. On September 22, 1792, the Convention met for the first time
  b. Established the First French Republic
  c. Faced domestic opposition and strife
    i. Girondists were moderates who represented the rich middle class of the provinces
    ii. Jacobins (led by Marat, Danton, Robespierre) represented workers
  d. Faced opposition from abroad
    i. Austria, England, Holland, Prussia, Sardinia, and Spain formed a Coalition invading France

XXVIII. Abolishment of the monarchy
  a. The Convention abolished the monarchy
    i. As long as the royal family lived, the monarchy could be restored
    ii. Put the royal couple on trial for treason
      1. Convictions were a foregone conclusion
    iii. Louis XVI was guillotined on January 21, 1793
    iv. Marie Antoinette was guillotined on October 16, 1793
    v. Daughter Marie-Thèrése was allowed to go to Vienna in 1795
      1. She could not become queen because of Salic law, which did not allow females to succeed to the throne
    vi. Son Louis-Charles, a.k.a. Louis XVII (lived 1785-1795), was beaten and mistreated until he died in prison

XXIX. Memorable Jacobins
a. Georges Danton – Reign of Terror
  b. Maximilien Robespierre – Reign of Terror
  c. Jean-Paul Marat
    i. Because of debilitating illness, Marat was eventually forced to work from home
    ii. He was assassinated (in the tub while taking a medicinal bath) by Charlotte Corday, a Girondist sympathizer, in July, 1793

XXX. Growing coalition against the French
  a. Convention drafted Frenchmen into the army to defeat the foreign Coalition
    i. These troops were led by General Carnot
    ii. The people supported military operations because they did not want the country back under the Old Regime
  b. Rouget de Lisle wrote the "Marseillaise"
    i. Became the French national anthem
    ii. Inspired troops as they were led into battle
  c. After two years
    i. Coalition was defeated
    ii. France had gained, rather than lost, territory

XXXI. Reign of Terror: September 5, 1793-July 27, 1794
  a. Despite military successes, the Convention continued to face problems domestically
  b. Danton and his Jacobin political party came to dominate French politics
  c. Committee of Public Safety
    i. Headed by Danton (and later Robespierre)
    ii. Those accused of treason were tried by the Committee's Revolutionary Tribunal
    iii. Approximately 15,000 people died on the guillotine
      1. Guillotine became known as the "national razor"
      2. Included innovative thinkers like Olympe de Gouges and Madame Jeanne Roland

XXXII. End of the Reign of Terror
  a. Members of the Girondist political party tried to end the Reign of Terror initiated by the Jacobin political party
    i. This opposition to the Committee of Public Safety caused many Girondists to be tried and executed for treson
  b. Eventually, even Georges Danton wanted to end the executions
    i. This resulted in Danton being tried and executed for treason
  c. Maximilien Robespierre became leader of the Committee of Public Safety
    i. He continued the executions
    ii. Convention came to blame Robespierre for the Reign of Terror
  d. Thermidorean Reaction
    i. July 27, 1794 – ended the Reign of Terror
    ii. Convention sent Robespierre and other members of the Committee of Public Safety to the guillotine
      1. Robespierre was guillotined on July 28, 1794

XXXIII. Constitution of the Year III of the Republic (1795)
  a. With the foreign invaders vanquished and the Reign of Terror at an end, the Convention was finally able to inaugurate its new constitution
  b. Constitution of the Year III of the Republic (1795) created the Directory

XXXIV. Government under the Directory
a. Executive
    i. 5 directors appointed by the legislature
  b. Legislature
    i. Lower house (500 members) proposed laws
    ii. Upper house (250 members) voted on these laws
    iii. 2/3 of the legislature would initially be filled by members of the Convention
  c. Qualifications
    i. Girondists (middle-class party) had defeated the Jacobins (working- and peasant-class party)
    ii. Girondists' constitution stated that suffrage (the right to vote), as well as the right to hold office, were limited to property owners

XXXV. Other parting reforms passed by the Convention
  a. Adopted the metric system
  b. Dealt the final blow to feudalism by abolishing primogeniture (the system whereby the oldest son inherited all of his father's estate)
  c. Drew up a comprehensive system of laws
  d. Ended debt imprisonment
  e. Ended slavery in France's colonies
  f. Established a nationwide system of public education

XXXVI. Directory (1795-1799)
  a. The Directory suffered from corruption and poor administration
  b. The people of France grew poorer and more frustrated with their government
  c. Despite, or perhaps because of, these struggles, the French developed a strong feeling of nationalism—they were proud of their country and devoted to it
  d. National pride was fueled by military successes
  e. It would be a military leader—Napoleon Bonaparte, coming to power through a coup d'état (military overthrow of the government)—who would end the ten-year period (1789-1799) known as the French Revolution

XXXVII. Review questions
  a. What Paris building was stormed on July 14, 1789?
  b. What human rights were established in France by the Declaration of the Rights of Man?
  c. How did Olympe de Gouges fight for women's rights?
  d. What were émigrés, and why did French revolutionaries view them as a threat?
  e. Name and describe the two political parties that competed for power in revolutionary France.
  f. What was the Committee of Public Safety?
  g. Describe the Reign of Terror and explain how it eventually came to an end.
  h. Were the "excesses" of the French Revolution justified? Why or why not?
  i. Looking back at the first half of 1789, could the French Revolution have been avoided? If so, how?
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