The French revolution was a crucial historical event that began in 1789 and ended in the late 1790’s. Influenced by the enlightenment era, it played a critical role in shaping the nations of today by showing the real power of the people and the social change that can arise from public action. Whilst often chaotic, bloody, and unsuccessful, it played a pivotal part in political history.
Before the revolution, France was in economic crisis. King Louis XVI was an extravagant spender and the country was on the brink of bankruptcy. Together with decades of poor harvests and huge inflation in food prices, the people of France were resentful and angry. This was not helped by the heavy taxation, and a huge division between the poor and the rich. The formation of “les états généraux” (the general estates) was Charles Alexandre de Calonne’s attempt at a financial reform, yet things were not working out. As tensions rose over the voting system, an imminent danger was obvious. Whilst most orders shared common desire for financial and judicial reform and a more representative form of government, the higher classes were reluctant to give up their power and privileges.
By the time the Estates-General met at Versailles, the argument over the voting process (voting by head rather than by status) had been derailed and had become messy and unorganized. On June the 17th, the third estate met again and renamed themselves the National Assembly. A week later, 47 nobles had joined them, and as Louis XVI reluctantly accepted to absorb all three orders into the new assembly, they vowed to not split until constitutional reform had been achieved.
Meanwhile, fear and violence was taking over in the capital, as rumours were released of a military coup. With all the secretive meetings taking place, Parisians grew panicked, and on June the 14th rioters stormed the bastille fortress to secure weapons. Many say this even marks the beginning of the French revolution, and is commemorated in France as a national holiday to this day. The fear and hysteria spread over the countryside in no time. Years of oppression and exploitation were suddenly released in an angry revolt, looting and burning of the elite members of French society took place and peasants would steal and burn the houses of those who once oppressed them. This outburst of anger was called “la grande peur” (the great fear). This even lead the national constituent assembly to sign what is now known as the “death certificate of the old order”, as named by Georges Lefebvre. This “great fear” is incredibly significant in the French revolution due to the speed that it spread. From the simple fear of an military coup, this riot spread right the way through the countryside – a national scale event that would go down in history. It can be said that this is where the power of the people was first really shown, and was a precursor to the later events of the revolution.