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Posted: October 24th, 2019

The Case of Absolutism during the French Revolution

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The Case of Absolutism during the French Revolution

The French Revolution (1789-1799) was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France that had a lasting impact on French history and more broadly on the modern world. One of the main causes of the revolution was the resentment of the common people towards the absolutist monarchy that ruled France. Absolutism is a form of government where the ruler has unlimited power and authority over all aspects of society, without any checks or balances from other institutions. In this blog post, we will examine how absolutism contributed to the outbreak and the course of the French Revolution, and what were its consequences for the future of France and Europe.

Absolutism in France before the Revolution

The origins of absolutism in France can be traced back to the 16th and 17th centuries, when the kings of the House of Bourbon consolidated their power over the feudal nobility and the Catholic Church. The most famous example of an absolutist monarch was Louis XIV (1638-1715), who reigned for 72 years and was known as the Sun King. He built the magnificent palace of Versailles, where he centralized his administration and court, and imposed his will on all aspects of French life. He also pursued an aggressive foreign policy, engaging in several wars that expanded his territory and prestige, but also drained his treasury and provoked his enemies.

Louis XIV’s successors, Louis XV (1710-1774) and Louis XVI (1754-1793), continued the absolutist tradition, but faced increasing challenges from both internal and external forces. Internally, they had to deal with the growing discontent of the three estates of French society: the clergy, the nobility, and the third estate, which comprised the bourgeoisie, the peasants, and the urban workers. The third estate was especially dissatisfied with the unequal taxation system, which exempted the clergy and the nobility from paying most taxes, while placing a heavy burden on them. They also demanded more political representation and participation in decision-making, which was denied by the monarchy. Externally, France was involved in several wars that weakened its economy and military strength, such as the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) and the American War of Independence (1775-1783). These wars also exposed France to new ideas of enlightenment, democracy, and nationalism, which challenged the legitimacy and authority of absolutism.

Absolutism during the Revolution

The French Revolution began in 1789 with the storming of the Bastille, a symbol of royal tyranny, by a mob of Parisians. This event sparked a wave of popular uprisings across France, which forced Louis XVI to convene the Estates-General, a representative assembly that had not met since 1614. The third estate declared itself as the National Assembly, and swore to draft a constitution that would limit the power of the king and establish a constitutional monarchy. However, Louis XVI resisted these reforms and tried to dissolve the assembly. He also mobilized his loyal troops and foreign allies to suppress the revolution. This led to a violent confrontation between the revolutionaries and the royalists, which escalated into a civil war and a foreign invasion.

The revolutionaries responded by radicalizing their demands and actions. They abolished feudalism and declared the rights of man and citizen, which proclaimed equality, liberty, and fraternity as universal principles. They also seized church lands and properties, and established a state-controlled religion. They abolished the monarchy and executed Louis XVI by guillotine in 1793. They then established a republic, governed by a committee of public safety that implemented a reign of terror, which aimed to eliminate all enemies of the revolution through mass executions. The revolution also spread beyond France’s borders, as it inspired other movements for national liberation and democratic change in Europe and beyond.

Absolutism after the Revolution

The French Revolution ended in 1799 with a coup d’état by Napoleon Bonaparte, a general who rose to prominence during the revolutionary wars. He established himself as the first consul of France, and later as emperor in 1804. He restored order and stability in France, but also revived some aspects of absolutism. He centralized his power and authority over all branches of government, military, and administration. He also expanded his empire through conquests and alliances across Europe, Africa, and Asia. He imposed his legal code, known as the Napoleonic Code, which standardized civil law and abolished feudal privileges. He also promoted education, science, art, and culture in France and abroad.

However, Napoleon’s ambition also provoked resistance from his enemies, both domestic and foreign. He faced several coalitions of European powers that opposed his hegemony. He also faced rebellions from his subjects in Spain, Italy, Germany, Poland, Russia, Egypt, Haiti, and elsewhere. His downfall came in 1815 at Waterloo when he was defeated by an allied army led by Britain and Prussia. He was exiled to St. Helena, where he died in 1821.

The legacy of the French Revolution and absolutism was mixed and complex. On one hand, it marked the end of the old regime and the birth of the modern era. It introduced new ideas and values that shaped the political and social development of France and the world. It also inspired other movements for freedom and equality, such as the American Revolution, the Latin American wars of independence, the Haitian Revolution, and the 1848 revolutions. On the other hand, it also unleashed violence, chaos, and instability that lasted for decades. It also paved the way for new forms of authoritarianism and imperialism that challenged the ideals of the revolution. It also left a deep divide in French society between those who supported the revolution and those who opposed it, which influenced the subsequent history of France.

References

– Doyle, W. (2002). The Oxford history of the French Revolution (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
– Hunt, L. (2004). Politics, culture, write my essay and class in the French Revolution. Berkeley: University of California Press.
– McPhee, P. (2016). Liberty or death: essy pro The French Revolution. New Haven: Yale University Press.
– Schama, S. (1989). Citizens: A chronicle of the French Revolution. New York: Knopf.

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