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To what extent did the aims and ideals of the French Revolution affect the following century?

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The French Revolution occurred from the 20th June 1789 with the Tennis Court Oath and lasted until 1799 when Napoleon became the first console. It all resulted in the outworking of a new, democratically political philosophy and this had a huge influence on other parts of the world as they realized that they to could have this liberty.

A new school of thought was developing amongst the Bourgeoisie. This was further aided by the transmission of Revolutionary thoughts from America back into France.

Many French Troops (mainly the Bourgeoisie) came back encouraged by the revolution to introduce a revolution in France. These ideas included that:

* It is right to take up arms against tyranny

* There should be no taxation without representation

* All men should have liberal freedoms

* A Republic is superior to a monarchy.

People throughout France were generally unhappy with the King Louis 16th. Although it was the middle classes that were the main cause of the unrest, it is believably the peasants and 3rd estates that suffered the most.

The peasants had many grievances. One of the main grievances was the seigniorial system. This system allowed for greater income disparity in France and a real separation of classes. Daily life in the countryside was extremely dire, particularly on small family farms. Their owners and workers were known as peasants, although they differed considerably in wealth and status. Many were day labourers desperate for work in exchange for a place to stay and food to eat. The landowners demanded excessive rent and often confiscated some of their produce for themselves.

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In the middle were others, including independent farmers, sharecroppers, and renters. Historians have estimated that in these lean years, 90 percent of the peasants lived at or below the subsistence level, earning only enough to feed their families. As can be seen from the Paris Mob (also known as the sans-culottes) and the March for Bread, people were desperately unhappy with the price of bread and other such food shortages. Bread constituted the staple of most urban diets, so sharp price increases were felt quickly and were loudly protested. The women marched to Versailles in demand for bread and more importantly for protection from the law and food to eat

The 3rd and 2nd classes main desire to achieve from the French Revolution was fairer taxes. At this time, the clergy paid no taxes and the nobles paid either little or none. Examples of these taxes were the taille and the gabelle (a tax for salt). Arthur Young, a man who travelled throughout France prior to the revolution said that ‘the rolls of the taille, capitation, vingtiemes, and other taxes, were distributed among districts, parishes, and individuals, at the pleasure of the intendment, who could exempt, change, add, or diminish at pleasure’. They also wanted to remove the custom barriers, as this would allow them the right to free commerce. Read about the nationalism is an infantile disease

The peasants also desired to remove the monarch from French society as they theorized that he neither cared nor bothered for. They felt that a constitutional government would permit them their say as the monarchy denied them this privilege. An elected government would grant them the freedom to vote as well as the freedom of speech. In April 24, 1793 in the ‘Declaration des droits de l’homme’, Robespierre declared that “Any law which violates the inalienable rights of man is essentially unjust and tyrannical; it is not a law at all.” The ideals of the new constitutional government were to provide equality before the law, allow commonplace rights (liberty, property acknowledgement, security and resistance to oppression).

The Nobility was long discouraged by their loss of rights. The special concern of the nobles was to see that the King did not introduce tax reform. They wanted more political power to make sure events like this did not happen. While they denounced the monarchy’s absolutism they wanted to set up their own form of it.

An additional objective that was hoped to have sprung from the Revolution was when French revolutionaries drew up the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen in August 1789. They aimed to topple the institutions surrounding hereditary monarchy and establish new ones based on the principles of the Enlightenment, a philosophical movement gathering steam in the eighteenth century. Growth of new ideas amongst the Bourgeoisie reflected their high education levels

Revolutionary thinkers such as Voltaire and Rousseau combined with economic theorists allied with new theories. They presented an idea of a liberal society that flourished with free commerce. This appealed especially to the businessman in the ranks of the Bourgeoisie. The thinkers also challenged the absolute right to rule and presented ideas of equal rights and the abolition of the class system. All of this appealed to Bourgeoisie grievances. Liberty meant freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom from unreasonable government (torture, censorship, and so on).

The Revolution led to many changes in France, which at the time of the Revolution, were the most powerful state in Europe and one of the most influential. The Revolution led to the development of new political forces such as democracy and nationalism. It questioned the authority of kings, priests, and nobles. The Revolution also gave new meanings and new ideas to the political ideas of the people. But to what extent did the French Revolution influence Europe over the next century?

Ideals such as Liberalism, nationalism and democracy sprung out of the French Revolution as people began to believe that it was possible to have their own elected government.

Liberalism is the political and economic philosophy that emphasizes freedom, equality and opportunity. The roots of Liberalism were founded mainly during the French Revolution and from there it spread across Europe. Liberal revolutions led to establish many governments based on rule by law and by the consent of the governed. The people were allowed more freedom of speech, the press, the assembly and religion. People in other parts of Europe felt attracted to this new form of equality and slowly they began to feel more pride for their country and resentment for the other that had influence over them. In a country such as Germany, which was oppressed largely by Austria, Prussia and France, who couldn’t help but agree with the liberal ideas of the French Revolution – in which they could be one united country instead of the many states?

Nationalism is the sense of strong patriotism towards the country. Nationalism existed pre-1815 during the Reformation of England and France. But it was only during the 19th century that people actually began to exert their identity against other groups. This was brought mainly through the French Revolution. Here, the Jacobin concept of the sovereign of the people implied that all people should have a say in politics. At first, throughout Europe, nationalism expressed itself as resistance to foreign invasion unlike that of the French Revolution. One good result of this was that particular attention was paid to culture, local customs and language.

Cavour once said that ‘Nationalism has become general; it grows daily; and it has already grown strong enough to keep all parts of Italy united despite the differences that distinguish them’. But, this was against the ideals of the Enlightenment – which was the thinking of a cosmopolitan and universalistic world. So, it can be seen here that the French Revolution did not influence very much nationalism except to merely spark it of.

An example of two countries which unified out of the ideals of nationalism based on the French Revolution were Germany and Italy. Mazzini once said that ‘A nation is the universality of citizens speaking the same language”.

Italy had recently been freed of Napoleon and his rule in 1815 where they had experienced political and social reform. These reforms allowed nationalists to realize that there was the chance of a unified Italy. This hope assembled the Risorgimento. This was a vast national revival, which led to the creation of a united Italian Kingdom. As I have previously mentioned, Napoleon brought reforms (e.g. – territorial rationalization, legal uniformity, a representative government, etc) and these sparked of hopes of a united Italy. The Declaration of the Rights of Man (which I have also previously mentioned) spread across Europe and to Italy and people became very interested that such ‘Utopia’ was actually possible.

At this time (1814 -), Austria dominated Italy and regarded it as a ‘mere geographic expression’ (Victor Emmanuel, King of Austria) and many people wanted them to withdraw. For example, Cavour (Prime Minister of the independent Piedmont-Sardinia) had arranged a meeting with Napoleon 3rd to ask for aid to remove the Austrians of Italy. Cavour once said that ‘If we so ardently desire the emancipation of Italy…it is not only that we may see our country glorious and powerful but that above all we may elevate her in intelligence and moral development up to the plane of the most civilized nations.’

The Italian unification obtained a great many of their ideals from the French Revolution and its success. They believed that if France was able to change their country in such a radical way, then it was possible for them as well. The French had gained a constitution and the Italians desired that above all – a government free of Austria in which they could vote their own Italians into power.

Giuseppe Mazzini was a leading figure in the Italian unification and was desperate to have a united Italy. He is recognized as the force, which brought the seeds of unification into bloom. He became a member of the secret group, the Carbonari [1830], working for the freedom of Italy from foreign powers. He was an ardent liberal who advocated republicanism and insurrection against the foreign rulers. He also founded the ‘Young Italians’ in 1832. He hoped to form a liberal government like the one in France but on the whole, he generally failed, as he was too extreme.

In the end, when Italy got her final unification in 1870, it is debated whether or not she got her ideas from the French Revolution or not. It should be remembered that a vast number of her ideas did come from it. They did create a Constitutional Republic like that of the government after the French Revolution. In it they were allowed the freedom to vote and speak.

Germany united in 1870 as a result of the removal of Austrian influence and Prussia uniting along with them. Bismarck (chancellor of the new Germany) was a traditionalist although he did want to see Germany unite. As a traditionalist, however, he did not approve of liberals, democrats and nationalists. These three parties played a vital role in the French Revolution but here Bismarck thought that they were a menace. He also disagreed with the Enlightenment and its modern ideas and was no where near a ‘radical’. By looking at this, it can be said that Bismarck disregarded the ideals of the French Revolution and obtained his unification independently. Also, they crowned an emperor to rule over Germany and this is the opposite of France who was fighting against the monarchy. And so, the French Revolution had little, or no impact on the German unification. This was unlike the Italian Revolution which relied heavily on the aims and ideals of the French Revolution.

Napoleon was somewhat a ‘messenger’ for spreading the aims and ideals of the French Revolution. He provided Italy with many of the characteristics of the revolution as well as other countries that he conquered.

Victor Hugo summarises the works of Napoleon and his foreign policies in the following. ‘Each year, he moved back the borders of his Empire…He has built his State with centre of Europe like a citadel, giving it for bastion and for work ten advanced monarchies that he had made enter at the same time in his Empire and in his family. All in this man was disproportionate and splendid. He was above Europe like an extraordinary vision.’

Napoleon seemed to be the man of the Revolution; after all, it was the revolution that he had climbed at so early an age to the highest place in the State. He was also a man of the 18th century, the most enlightened of the enlightened despots and a true son of Voltaire.

In all the new kingdoms created by the emperor, the Code Napoleon was established as law. Feudalism and serfdom were abolished, and freedom of religion established (except in Spain). Each state was granted a constitution, providing for universal male suffrage and a parliament and containing a bill of rights. French-style administrative and judicial systems were required. This Code also gave a permanent form to the great gains of the Revolution: individual liberty, freedom to work, freedom of conscience and equality before the Law. It also protected property, gave greater liberty to employers (although it showed little concern to the employees). These were all included in the aims and ideals of the French revolution and Napoleon obtained the bulk of his ideas from them.

Schools were put under centralized administration, and free public schools were envisioned. Higher education was opened to all that qualified, regardless of class or religion. Every state had an academy or institute for the promotion of the arts and sciences. Incomes were provided for eminent scholars, especially scientists. These agree with the principles of the Enlightenment, which encouraged scientific and educational revolution in France. In France, people felt that education was very important, as everybody should have the same chances to get the most out of their future.

In Italy, he had a huge impact on the unification as he gave the ideas of what a unified could be like. He welded the peninsula into a more coherent unit. For example, he rationalized territory and reduced the number of states – from 11 to 3. He also introduced legal uniformity and by this he introduced the French Legal codes to standardize the practice of law throughout Italy. He created a constitutional government (although this was only a promise); improved communications (this allowed Italy to talk to each other more, information got around a lot quicker but also, people felt more connected) and improved commerce (internal trade barriers were dismantled). He also altered the social structure of the country – a commercial middle class began to develop and the influence of the church was reduced.

But to what extent did Napoleon obtain his ideas from the French Revolution. An example of this can be seen in the constitutional governments. This was one of the aims of the French Revolution. They desired to create a government in which there was an elected group of people and this came about in France in the form of a Republic.

Also, Napoleon shared the views of Voltaire that people needed a religion. During the French Revolution, the sans-culottes and other such rebels were determined to reduce the power of the church and religion. Napoleon didn’t mind religion (in fact, in Egypt, he declared that he wanted to become a Muslim). Napoleon also recognised the need to restore religious peace in France. In March 1800, he fabricated a concordat with the Pope, Pius 6th that reconciled the church with the Revolution. The concordat, in fact, admitted freedom of worship – which the Enlightenment disagreed with (they believed that Man, in some ways was more important than God).

Although the Reign of Terror discredited a lot of nationalism in France, Napoleon revived it and by 1815, nationalism was a much livelier force in Europe than democracy. The main countries that were affected by nationalism were Germany and Italy (the two countries that unified as a result), Spain, Poland, Belgium and Russia. And so, unwittingly, Napoleon opened the doors for nationalism but the nationalism in these European countries was not really ‘I am proud to be…’ but ‘I am proud that I am not…’. But in Italy and Germany particularly, French administration brought unification one step closer and the French Empire then became a ‘jumping-off point’ for unification and nationalism in general.

But it should be remembered that there were other factors which influenced the next century other than the French Revolution. The 1848 Revolutions are a good example of this. They were caused by a huge increase in the population as a result of Industrialisation. During this period, many people moved to the urban areas in order to find work in the factories. This resulted in the large towns and cities to become extremely crowded and living conditions were very poor. There was also a shortage of food throughout Europe caused by the many famines. People got annoyed with the governments and soon they revolted and demanded reforms. These revolutions were not inspired by the French Revolution as they were directed against the neglect that the governments put upon them and not because they wanted to change the government. But, liberal ideas were still going strong throughout Europe and these ideas were held very strongly by the rising middle classes. There was also a lot of nationalism in the Hapsburg Empire during this era as Hungary did want independence form Austria and they were protesting for it.

In conclusion, I would say that the French Revolution did have an impact on the following century as it allowed the Italian Unification to take place as well as the forces for change (liberalism and nationalism) to spread. But should be taken into account that it did not bring about the German unification or most of the 1848 revolutions as it was not needed for what they were trying to achieve. But, on the whole it did have a huge impact on the following century.

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To what extent did the aims and ideals of the French Revolution affect the following century?. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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