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How did the French Revolution impact French society?

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The French Revolution had a huge impact on society, though often in ways that were unintended. In its early days, the Revolution brought about greater equality between the classes. The old distinctions between the Estates were abolished; now France was one nation, in which everyone was a citoyen, or citizen. Even King Louis XVI entered into the new spirit of egalitarianism—albeit reluctantly—openly wearing the Phrygian cap of liberty in response to the demands of the mob that stormed the Tuileries Palace.

This public gesture of solidarity with the Revolution wasn't enough to save Louis's life, however. After his execution and the subsequent establishment of the Republic, the Revolution took a more radical turn. In political terms, this involved a concerted effort by the Jacobins to bring about greater social and economic equality. Radical measures such as controls on the price of bread were put in place to ensure that the nation's economic wealth was distributed more equally.

There were limits to the Jacobins' radicalism, however. For instance, they forbade workers from organizing themselves to agitate for higher wages and better conditions. Despite their radical, egalitarian rhetoric, the vast majority of French Revolutionaries, including the Jacobins, were men of the professional middle classes. Robespierre and Danton were lawyers; Marat had worked as a scientist and society physician.

As such, the political and economic interests of the Third Estate—who, after all, had originally led the Revolution—were those that tended to prevail. It was the Third Estate that had been the driving force behind the French Revolution, and it was the Third Estate that benefited the most. The wealth and political power previously enjoyed by the old aristocracy was now in the hands of a new social elite. After the dust had settled, after all the massive convulsions had finally died down, French society remained as unequal as before, only now it was a different class in charge, its power more secure on account of widespread loyalty to the new nation and the political order it had engendered.

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ellyanne024 | Student

To appreciate the impact we need to look at society prior to the Revolution. There weren't established classes like we see today (i.e upper, lower, middle). Instead, the nation was separated into "estates"; Clergymen, Nobles, and commoners. The clergymen (first estate) only made up about .5 percent of the population and the nobles (second estate) made up about 1.5 percent. The remaining 98 percent of the population was the third estate, the commoners, and were the only group required to pay taxes. Clergymen and nobles got their status by birth the majority of the time unless you were particularly wealthy and able to purchase land. This leaves people of all kinds, from doctors and lawyers to ranchhands and shoemakers, all in the same class, making the same money and paying all the taxes of France.

The divine right of kings kept full power in the king's hands (no pun intended). After the Revolution, France's ways of living and ideals were completely upturned and rearranged. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was written, declaring free men having natural rights, the government's obligation to protect said rights, the freedom to choose religion and worship for themselves, and fairness in taxation was established. Absolute monarchy was abolished, replaced by a much less powerful monarch to be checked by a newly implemented Parliment. Definition of upper, lower and middle classes was much more prominent.

Depending on the historian, the French Revolution did not end until after the Napoleon era, which had an even bigger impact on France. Others insist the French Revolution ended after the Terror when the Directory was established and governmental reconstruction was underway. The Napoleonic era had a massive impact not just on France, but the entire Western world. Personally, I would include the Napoleonic era as part of the French Revolution and look into its own impacts on France, but prior 1799 is more proper.