What was the French Revolution?

Neoclassical Art Read more from
Chapter Baroque and Beyond C. 1600–1850

The French Revolution, which lasted from 1787 to 1799, was over a decade of bloody political upheaval that saw the overthrow (and beheading) of the longstanding French monarchy, the end of feudalism in France, and the establishment of the First Republic, forever changing French society. Inspired by the American Revolution and Enlightenment philosophies, the new National Assembly adopted the Declaration of Rights of Man and the Citizen, which gave power to the people of France rather than the monarchy, establishing social programs such as public education and welfare. There were two main political parties in the French government, the Girondins and the Jacobins, led by the revolutionary politician Maximilien de Robespierre, under whose leadership King Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, were convicted of treason and condemned to death by beheading. Robespierre oversaw the Reign of Terror, so-called because seventeen thousand people were officially convicted and condemned to death for treason, as the revolutionary government sought to weed out any perceived threats to the new order. Robespierre himself fell victim to “La Terreur,” and was executed in 1794. In 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte staged a military coup and established himself as dictator of France, temporarily ending the hard-fought republicanism of the Revolution.


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