How did the French Revolution affect the people?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The French Revolution produced historical and monumental changes for the French people. 

After the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 (which was mainly a symbolic gesture since it represented the oppression of the King), the French Revolution began. In August of 1789, the National Assembly produced la Declaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen (The Declaration of the Rights of Men and Citizens). This document declared that all men are equal, religious and personal freedom belongs to everyone, and laws express the will of the people. 

The Revolution marked the end of the absolute power of a monarchy and the end of feudalism. In place of a monarchy, there was a republic. The Republic was proclaimed in September 1792, and King Louis XVI was executed. With the end of the monarchy, the power of the Catholic Church was also significantly limited, and the country was divided into départements (regions, each of which has a unique number). The Convention ( September 20, 1792, until October 26, 1795), was governed by the Girondins, a moderate faction. However, this faction was replaced by the more radical Montagnards. Theirs was the period of "La Terreur" [the Terror], characterized by arbitrary arrests, numerous executions, and brutal repression. The main figure of this period was Robespierre. In 1794 there was a coup against Robespierre, and a more moderate government was again established. Then, in 1795 the Directory was created. This was a council of five members. This Directory ruled for five years until Napoléon Bonaparte organized a coup d'état, and the Directory was replaced by the Consulate. 

Despite its excesses, the Revolution formed the basis of the modern French government. For example, a republic was established; the goal of the government was the security and happiness of its citizens; a national anthem was created; the country was divided into departments, and the old system of provinces was abolished; the tri-colored flag was adopted; the Natural History Museum was established; and, finally, publicly funded higher education was established.

Napoléon's empire exerted a tremendous influence upon France. The Napoleonic Code was established, a code which organized the entire country. It also established a civil legal system, ridding the country of old feudal laws. In fact, this code has influenced the legal systems of many countries. Further, Napoléon Bonaparte organized education throughout the country, and he refined the judicial system, limiting the powers of judges. In fact, the entire legal system was reframed. Napoléon established a military code, a criminal code, and a commercial code. These codes were so effective that many of Napoléon's changes remain today.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Before the French Revolution, French society was divided into three "estates": the clergy, the nobility, and the peasants. Most important positions were reserved for the nobility. The state religion was Roman Catholicism, and anyone not a member of the church in good standing was subject to various civil disabilities. 

An important slogan of the French Revolution was "liberté, égalité, fraternité" (liberty, equality, and brotherhood), which emphasizes how the Revolution removed not only the hereditary monarchy but also many class distinctions, allowing people from all ranks of life to participate in government and be educated. 

Another major effect of the French Revolution was the principle of laïcité (secularism) which not only separated state from church but which made secularism a pillar of civil society, and religion a purely private matter. This entailed freedom of religion and an end to many of the privileges enjoyed by the clergy. It meant that you would be free to choose your own religion (or atheism), have a civil marriage, and be educated either in the religious tradition of your choice or in no religion at all.

Personal freedom was also significantly increased after the Revolution, and the nobility could no longer act with impunity towards peasants; all people were equal under the law. 

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The French Revolution

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