Scholars have regarded the French Revolution that spanned from 1789 to 1799 as one of the defining moments of modern history. Its impacts revolved around the liberation of France from restrictive sociopolitical systems and the emergence of democratic values across Europe and the New World. However, it is also important to note that the revolution had unfavorable outcomes that centered on the massive loss of lives.
The Outcomes of the French Revolution in France
Of course, the impacts of the French Revolution were initially almost exclusive to France. After all, the causes of this event originated from political tensions, public clamor for change, cultural awakening, and developments in the different facets of the economy.
1. Overthrowing the French Monarchy and the Dissolution of the Feudal System
One of the immediate outcomes of the French Revolution was the abolishment of the French monarchy and the feudal system. The upheaval initiated the transition of France from the Ancien Régime to a more modern form of governance and political system.
In June 1789, the Commons composed of representatives of the members of the Third Estate or the commoners established and declared the National Assembly while France was in the middle of an internal political conflict between the monarchy and nobility, as well as an economic crisis due to grain shortage.
The National Assembly immediately abolished the privileges of the French nobility, feudal obligations, and the practice of venality observed by the noble class. It also formulated the Declaration of Rights that made the reigning monarch the chief executive deprived of legislative power, thus making France a constitutional monarchy.
However, the National Assembly did not last long due to an ongoing political turmoil. The Legislative Assembly succeeded the National Assembly in October 1791. Internal conflicts remained that forced the Legislative Assembly ordered an election that would put people without distinctions of class as members of a new governing body.
The National Convention emerged in September 1792. Its members came from all classes of society. Following its establishment was the introduction of the French Republic, thus marking the complete abolishment of monarchy in France and a transition to a republic as a form of government.
With the declaration of the republic, Louis XVI was stripped of all of his titles and honors. On 21 January 1793, he was beheaded after the National Convention decided that he was guilty of high treason, especially of associations with foreign powers with an intent to overthrow the government.
Note that the influence of the Roman Catholic Church was also reduced alongside the decline of the French nobility. Some figures of the revolutionary, especially members of the bourgeois class, considered the clergy a burden due to the privileges granted to them by the French monarchy. Borrowing ideals from the Age of Enlightenment, others believed that a state religion was unnecessary. In the later phases of the French Revolution, there were demonstrated efforts to sideline the church, thus leading to the abolishment of Catholicism in France.
2. Emergence of Successive Ineffective Governing Bodies and Political Factions
Although the dissolution of the monarchy and the traditional feudal system signaled a move toward modern forms of governance and political systems, it is important to note that the government bodies that emerged during and immediately after the French Revolution were disastrous due the internal conflicts, as well as a pronounced commitment toward external conflicts with other nations.
For example, albeit the success of the National Convention in introducing a republic in 1792, conflicting factions within the body existed. Such included the military minority Montagnards led by Maximilien Robespierre and the anti-Royalist radical group Jacobins clashed with the Girondins for political and ideological dominance. This clash resulted in an insurgency in 1793 that resulted in the purging and mass execution of Girondins and the domination of the Montagnards through the Montagnard Convention and the Constitution of 1793
The insurgency in 1793 marked the beginning of the Reign of Terror. Because of violent conflicts between internal political factions and insurgencies from Royalist supporters, the French government headed by the Montagnard Convention established a repressive regime. Now popular known as The Terror, the regime used military forces to maintain social order, thus leading to armed skirmishes with and execution of dissidents.
Prominent leaders of the Montagnard were either assassinated or executed, thus leaving Robespierre as the remaining strongman of his faction. Some members of the National Convention eventually denounced Robespierre because of his tyranny. He was later arrested and executed in July 1794 together with his associates. This series of events marked the Thermidorian Reaction of the French Revolution.
In November 1795, a new governing body composed of a five-member committed emerged during the time a violent insurgency was transpiring in Paris. Note that this insurgency began in October 1795. Called as the French Directory or The Directory and headed by Paul Barras who was given full military powers, this body introduced the Constitution of 1795 that included provisions against reversal to monarchy and democratic terror. However, similar to the bodies it succeeded, it remained at war with other nations while dealing with internal insurgencies. France, under the governance of The Directory, remained unstable.
3. The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte to Prominence and His Subsequent Leadership
The emergence of Napoleon as one of the prominent figures in French history is another one of the impacts of the French Revolution. Take note that he did not play a direct role during the formative years of the revolution nor did he initiate one of its many causes. However, during the 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. Nonetheless, he was a hero to many.
In 1799, Napoleon returned home in France while the country was under turmoil and the government headed by The Directory was severely destabilized. He saw an opportunity to launch a coup to overthrow the governing body, thus leading to the establishment of the French Consulate through the Constitution of 1799. Napoleon was the first consul and therefore, the primary head of state of France.
Napoleon used his authority to reorganize France. However, 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. Under his leadership, Napoleon introduced the Napoleonic Code that attempted to replace the patchworks of feudal laws while managing to transform the country into a state with stable finances, strong bureaucracy, and a competent military.
Despite the apparent setback of France to an authoritarian form of government, Napoleon was instrumental in rebuilding France from the remnants of the revolution. He was also the most qualified person to lead France because of his military background. Remember that apart from internal sociopolitical conflict, the country needed to deal with foreign threats, especially considering its long warring history with Britain.
4. Wars with Coalitions of European Nations and the Spread of French Dominance
While the French Revolution was ongoing, France remained in constant armed conflicts with other nations, notably Britain. Note that military figures such as Napoleon were involved in numerous assignments outside France before and during the revolution. The governing bodies that emerged during the revolution had to defend the French Republic against the Holy Roman Empire and its allies, Great Britain, Spain, the Dutch Republic, Portugal, Sardinia, and Naples. Such series of wars were called the War of the First Coalition that spanned from 1792 to 1797.
From 1798 to 1802, European monarchies headed by 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 ensued. This war had a goal of restoring the monarchy in France and containing the expansion of the French Republic.
Take note that other European nations closely monitored the revolution in France. Some of them were alarmed and thus, tried to support Louis XVI to preserve the essence of monarchy in the region. Others saw the situation as an opportunity to destabilize France further. With the introduction of the French Republic in 1792, clear ideological differences emerged between France and the monarchical powers in Europe.
However, when the French Revolution ended in 1799 and after Napoleon became the French Emperor in 1804, external threats remained. To be specific, Britain launched the War of the Third Coalition together with the Austrian Empire and the Russian Empire in 1805. The goal of the collation was to cease France from Napoleon.
France emerged victorious in the War of the Third Coalition due to the military brilliance of Napoleon. This victory reestablished the country as a dominant military power in the region. In addition, France gained new territories that gave Napoleon substantial control over Europe. The country also removed the Holy Roman of Empire and Napoleon tasked his loyalists and relatives to control 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 the Enlightenment. Many scholars have drawn the relationship between these two historical events. To be specific, the ideas about democratic values, as well as equality and liberties were demonstrated and tested in France. Of course, the revolution did not fully embrace the well-meaning ideologies of Enlightened thinkers of that time due to several disastrous occurrences that included bloodbaths and the tyranny of different revolutionaries, including the assumption of Napoleon to the French throne. The French Revolution was very violent. Nonetheless, the drastic occurrences in France simply demonstrated throughout the rest of Europe and the world the inevitable outcomes of poor governance, including the adherence to absolute monarchy, the feudal system, and authoritarian regime. Photo credit: Isidore Stanislas Helman/The Death of King Louis/1794/Public Domain/Adapted