During the French Revolution, Paris started to be a modern city of world importance.


The French Revolution in Paris (1789-1799):

 On the 14th July 1789, an insurrection broke out in Paris. The Bastille, a fortress symbolic of the arbitrary power of the King, was taken by an armed mob. It was the beginning of the Revolution, which comprised three phases:

-From 1789-1792 the movement was controlled  by the elite who wanted to reform the kingdom. The king remained at the head of the regime, but he had, nevertheless, to accept a constitution and an Assembly which voted on the laws. The Parisian mob went to Versailles to seek him and to install him in the Tuileries in Paris. They wanted to keep a watch on him. Thus the monarchy returned to Paris.

During this period utopian ideas reigned. In a frenetic atmosphere, everyone understood that power had passed from the hands of a single man – the absolute monarch – to the entire population. The representatives of the people, united in the Assembly, adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the abolition of the privileges of the nobility and suppression of the wealth of the clergy. It was planned that the State would pay the clergy.

But the armies of the monarchies of Europe invaded the country to crush the Parisian revolt. In September 1792, after a massacre of suspected Royalists, a group of revolutionaries seized power.

-From 1792-1794, these revolutionaries led the country with a rod of iron to save the Revolution.  The French monarchy was abolished. Louis XVI, who had attempted to flee the capital in 1791, was executed in January 1793. The foreign armies were all defeated, but the regime governed by terror. The most  intransigent of the revolutionaries, such as Robespierre had the moderates executed, under a pretext of accusations of treason. They went too far, and were executed in their turn in 1794. During this period, the people of Paris often made and remade decisions without taking into account the rest of France.

-1795-1799 was the period of the Directories. The executions ceased and the revolution ran out of steam. In order to avoid further drift towards an authoritarian regime, the new leaders adopted other institutions. They wanted to avoid all pressure from the Parisians over the Assembly.  For example, a text had to be read three times before being voted on.  The leaders did not have time to become dictators because the rule lasted too short a time.  The result was that the regime was ungovernable. Only a coup d`Etat could advance matters.

Another problem arose later: the Assignat – the paper money issued by the State – collapsed.  Poverty increased, which meant that the Directory lost popular support. Corruption became the rule at the summit of the State: everybody stole. To retain power, the regime leant more and more on the forces of arms. It was one of these which was to put right the situation.

In 1799 General Napoléon Bonaparte seized power during a coup d`Etat. That was the end of the revolution.

Despite this, the Revolution constituted a significant event in the history of the world.  It inspired, for good or ill, other movements. The adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Man by the Assembly was an important symbolic act for the defenders of liberty. It could be compared with the adoption of Habeas Corpus by the British Parliament, or the creation by Congress of the American Constitution.


Text:  PJ - Director History Department of 

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