There is a consensus among scholars that the French Revolution that spanned from 1789 to 1799 was one of the defining moments of modern history. Its impacts included the liberation of France from a restrictive sociopolitical structure and the emergence of democratic values across Europe and the New World. However, despite these accomplishments, it is also important to underscore the fact that the French Revolution had unfavorable outcomes that centered on massive casualties due to the reign of terror that prevailed and extensive civil wars.
Understanding the Outcomes of the French Revolution in France
The impacts of the French Revolution were initially exclusive to France. It is worth mentioning that the causes of this event originated from political tensions, public clamor for change, cultural awakening, and developments in the different facets of the French economy. Hence, considering these facets, its immediate outcomes affected France but later spread across the country.
1. Overthrowing the French Monarchy and the Dissolution of the Feudal System
One of the immediate and most important outcomes of the French Revolution was the abolition of the French monarchy and the French nobility along with the feudal system. The longstanding upheaval initiated the transition of France from the Ancien Régime to a more progressive form of governance that affected the political system and economic system.
To be specific, in June 1789, the House of Commons that was composed of the representatives of the members of the Third Estate or the commoners established the National Assembly while the country was in the middle of an internal political conflict between the monarchy and the nobility and a hard pressing economic crisis due to widespread grain shortage.
One of the major declarations of the National Assembly was the immediate abolishment of the rights and privileges of the French nobility, the feudal duties of the peasants, and the practice of venality observed by the noble class. It also formulated the Declaration of Rights that removed legislative power from the monarch and made France a constitutional monarchy.
The National Assembly did not last long because of the ongoing political turmoil. It was replaced by the Legislative Assembly in October 1791. Internal conflicts still persisted. The assembly was compelled to hold an election that made ordinary people without social distinctions or those who were not part of a higher social class become members of the new governing body.
The National Convention emerged in September 1792. Its members came from all classes of the French society. This became one of the main impacts of the French Revolution because it led to the introduction of the French Republic. It also marked the complete abolishment of the French monarchy and a transition to a republic form of governance.
Louis XVI was stripped of all of his titles and honors. He was later beheaded on 21 January 1793 after the National Convention decided that he was guilty of high treason due to his associations with foreign powers with intentions to overthrow the French Republic. Note that the influence of the Roman Catholic Church and the French nobility was reduced.
Some French Revolution figures considered the clergy a burden due to the privileges granted to them by the monarchy. Furthermore, based on the ideas from the Age of Enlightenment, others believed that a state religion was pointless. The later phases of the revolution involved efforts to sideline the church. This led to the abolishment of Catholicism in France.
2. Emergence of Successive Ineffective Governing Bodies and Political Factions
The dissolution of the monarchy and feudal system did signal a transition to a more modern form of governance but the subsequent government bodies that were formed and emerged during and after the revolution French were disastrous. This came from pervasive internal political conflicts and a commitment to pursue external conflicts with other nations.
Several factions with conflicting interests emerged. These included the La Montagne that was led by Maximilien Robespierre and the anti-royalist radical faction Jacobins that collided with the Girondins for political and ideological dominance. This conflict resulted in an uprising in 1793 that resulted in the purging and mass execution of the Girondins.
La Montagne and its Montagnards became the dominant group. It also formed the Montagnard Convention and declared the Constitution of 1793. However, because of the violent conflicts and insurgencies from other political groups, including the royalists during and even after the 1793 uprising, the Montagnard Convention established a repressive regime.
The insurgency in 1793 marked the beginning of the Reign of Terror. The regime used military forces to maintain social order. This also came with the execution of dissidents. Other political factions fought back. Prominent Montagnards were either assassinated or executed. This left Robespierre the remaining strongman in the La Montagne faction.
Several members of the National Convention eventually denounced Robespierre because of his tyranny. He was later arrested and executed together with his associates in July 1794. The series of events marked the Thermidorian Reaction of the French Revolution. Nevertheless, in 1795, a new governing composed of a five-member committee emerged.
The committee was called the French Directory or The Directory. It was headed by Paul Barras who was given full military powers. The committee also introduced the Constitution of 1795 which included provisions against reversal to monarchy and democratic terror. It still had to deal with armed conflicts with other nations and internal insurgencies.
3. Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte to Prominence and His Subsequent Leadership
It is important to underscore the fact that France still endured instability under the leadership of the French Directory. One of the prominent figures that emerged under this novel sociopolitical landscape was Napoleon Bonaparte. His rise to prominence has also been considered one of the notable consequences or impacts of the French Revolution.
Take note that he never had a direct role during the formative years of the revolution nor did he initiate one of its many causes. However, during the entire span of the revolution, he became a reliable military leader that helped France defeat its external enemies, while also helping the government control internal discords. He was even regarded as a hero.
Napoleon returned home to France in 1799 after his various military campaigns in Italy. France was under turmoil around this time. The French Directory was already destabilized. He saw this as an opportunity to launch a coup to overthrow the governing body. Take note that his military leadership had earned him loyal followers from the French military.
He succeeded in overthrowing the French Directory. This resulted in the establishment of the French Consulate through the Constitution of 1799. Napoleon was specifically named the first French consul and the primary head of state of France. He used this newfound political power and social influence to reorganize the French government.
The institutions of the First Republic gradually eroded with the establishment of the First Empire in 1804 and the ascension of Napoleon as the Emperor of France. He introduced the Napoleonic Code that attempted to replace the patchwork of feudal laws and transformed France into a state with stable finances, a strong bureaucracy, and a competent military.
Napoleon rebuilt France from the remnants of the revolution. The people also considered him the most qualified person to lead the country because of his strong military background. This came from the fact that the country had to deal with foreign threats which included its warring history with Britain on top of pervasive internal sociopolitical conflicts.
4. Wars with Coalitions of European Nations and the Spread of French Dominance
France remained in constant armed conflicts with other nations while the French Revolution was ongoing. French military figures such as Napoleon were involved in several military assignments and campaigns outside France before and during the revolution. One of the most notable parties to the external armed conflicts of France was the British Empire.
The governing bodies that emerged during the revolution specifically had to defend the French Republic against the Holy Roman Empire and its allies which included Great Britain, Spain, the Dutch Republic, Portugal, Sardinia, and Naples. This series of wars was called the War of the First Coalition. It specifically spanned from 1792 to 1797.
Furthermore, beginning in 1798 and lasting until 1802, the monarchies of Britain, Austria, and Russia, and with the participation of the Ottoman Empire, Portugal, Naples, Sweden, and various German monarchies, launched the War of the Second Coalition. The purpose of this war was to restore the French monarchy and contain the expansion of the French Republic.
European nations were monitoring the French Revolution. Some acted to support Louis XVIA to preserve the essence of monarchy in the region. Others saw it as a prospect to destabilize France and snatch its territories. The establishment of the French Republic in 1792 also marked a clash of ideologies between the French and the monarchial powers in Europe.
However, when the French Revolution ended in 1799 and further after Napoleon was named the French Emperor in 1804, external threats remained. The British Empire initiated the War of the Third Coalition together with the Austrian Empire and the Russian Empire in 1805. The purpose of this war was to destabilize France and cease it from Napoleon.
France emerged victorious in the War of the Third Coalition under the leadership of Napoleon. This victory reestablished the country as a dominant power in the region. France also gained new territories that expanded the influence of Napoleon. The country also removed the Holy Roman Empire and controlled Holland, Italy, Naples, Spain, and Sweden.
A Note on the Impacts of the French Revolution Elsewhere in the World
The French Revolution left a lasting legacy that centered on a paradigm shift that coincided with the Age of Enlightenment. Several scholars have drawn the relationship between these two key historical events. Ideas such as democratic values and liberties were demonstrated and tested in France. The country did not embrace in full the well-meaning ideologies of various Enlightened thinkers due to several disastrous and counterproductive occurrences which included bloodbaths, the totalitarianism of different revolutionaries, and the later ascension of Napoleon to the French throne. Nonetheless, despite its shortcomings, the events in France demonstrated throughout the rest of Europe and the world the inevitable outcomes of poor governance, the adherence to the monarchial government system, the irrelevance of the feudal system, and the consequences of authoritarian regimes and the oppression of the common people. Photo credit: Isidore Stanislas Helman/The Death of King Louis/1794/Public Domain/Adapted