The French Revolution threw the Old French Society from its very foundation. The Tennis Court Oath declared the Third Estate to be the true representative of France and confirmed the sanctity of the ideals of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. The leaders of the Third Estate also declared the establishment of a constitutional monarchy with Louis XVI as constitutional head of state, and a general assembly as the lawmaking body of France. Louis XVI reluctantly accepted the new position as crowds waved in the streets for the new ideals of the French state.
The rulers of Austria, Prussia, and England were all but stunned by the developments in France. They immediately sent a combined army to France under the command of a Prussian duke. Louis was restored to his former position. Many of the revolutionaries were either imprisoned or killed by the foreign army. But this was temporary. The leaders of the revolution rallied the people in nearby urban centers and created a powerful army which drove the invaders from France. Louis was imprisoned (together with his wife and chief officials). After two years, both the king and queen were guillotined in a public square.
After the dissolution of the French monarchy, the Assembly enacted laws which represented the ideals of the French Revolution. Every person in the state, regardless of his/her position in the social ladder, was declared citizens of the French Republic. Election was institutionalized. The clergy was nationalized; that is, put under state control (Catholic priests received salaries from the state). A system of education was proposed which embodied the core principles of democracy. A goddess of liberty was erected in Paris to symbolize the new social order. Royalists in provincial councils were arrested.
Those of aristocratic blood swore loyalty to the French Republic. In a matter of five years, the Old France was suddenly abolished. To the monarchs of Europe, the ideals of the French Revolution were dangerous and contemptuous of the doctrine of absolutism. From the start, they sought every possible means to prevent the spread of the Revolution, and failed. The spreading of the ideals of the Revolution was due to one person, Napoleon Bonaparte. After his appointment as junior general, he was ordered to march to Italy to spread the ideals of the Revolution.
Napoleon defeated the Austrians and claimed Italy to the French Directory. While in Italy, he instituted reforms that would shock the monarchs of Europe. A new system of law and education was implemented, incorporating in detail the principles of the Revolution. States within Italy were asked to send their representatives to a national convention (the pope opposed this move as it would diminish his authority over central Italy). Napoleon unconsciously planted the seed of Italian unity. The ideals of the Revolution were the necessary ingredients for this unity.
When Napoleon left Italy, he had founded a united Italy under the guidance of revolutionary France. Some of the long-lasting contributions of Napoleon were as follows: 1) the Civil Code of 1804, 2) the adoption of the metric system, 3) the emancipation of Jews in Western Europe, and 4) new tactical maneuvers. The Civil Code of 1804 was designed to grant freedom of religion to all inhabitants of the French Empire. The Code also arranged for the public regulation of Lutheran and Calvinist communities in France and assigned the state the full responsibility for the salary of Protestant pastors.
In 1799, the metric system was introduced as the new unit of measurement. Although it was relatively unpopular, it made headway in the United States three years later. Today, the metric system is the official unit of measure used in most countries. Napoleon also passed laws which emancipated Jews. Rights to property and worship were extended to the Jews. Laws restricting Jews to the ghettos were abolished. Most of Napoleon’s military strategies were adopted by a new generation of military commanders.
Lee for example modified many of Napoleon’s maneuvers to create more powerful military moves (as exemplified in his performance in the US Civil War). The French Revolution and Napoleon altered Europe in four respects. First, they were responsible for the spread of nationalism in many countries in Europe. In Spain for example, the appointment of Napoleon’s brother as king of Spain enraged the Spanish people. In their nationalistic outraged, they withdrew to the mountains and swore to drive the French from their country. Napoleon’s dual pragmatic approach to both nationalism and absolutism was evident in the Peninsular Campaign.
Napoleon was attracted both to the idea of nationalism and absolutism, yet he failed to grasp the fact that his actions created nationalistic enthusiasm on the conquered peoples. Second, the Holy Roman Empire (which stood for a thousand years) was abolished and replaced with the so-called ‘Confederation of the Rhine. ’ Later this would evolve into the state of Germany. In short, the creation of the ‘Confederation of the Rhine’ was the initial step towards German unity. Third, both the French Revolution and Napoleon laid the ideas of democracy to the mindset of the Europeans.
After Napoleon’s demise, democracy spread like wildfire in Europe. This led to the 1848 Revolution which forced Prince Metternich to resign as Austria’s prime minister. And lastly, both the French Revolution and Napoleon showed the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity are long-lasting concepts. It is true today. Liberal democracies often echo the ideals of the French Revolution as the beginning of democracy. Reference Hunt, Lynn et al. 2006. The Making of the West: Peoples And Cultures, A Concise History, Volume II: Since 1340. New York: Bedford Books.