How did the slogan "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" sum up the goals of the French Revolution?

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ophelious eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If trying to compare the slogan "liberty, equality, and fraternity" to the goals of the revolution, it is best to look at each of those terms individually.

  1. Liberty--kind of saying the freedom from oppression and the ability to make one's own choices in life.  This ties in with the revolution because that is a major reason it was fought...to have the ability to self-govern without being told what to do by a king and parliament that was across the ocean.  It was also freedom from things the colonists found to be offensive, such as rules regarding the ability of the government to obtain "blanket warrants" to search houses on little more than suspicion.
  2. Equality--this is a tricky one because it is a broad word.  Equality sounds like it would mean "for everyone" but that is not necessarily true.  Women and slaves, for example, were not held to be equal.  Men without property were not necessarily equal. In the sense of the revolution, it is probably taken to mean that men are "equal" to each other and that no one should have a royal title and think they are "better" than everyone else or have special privileges.  That was a goal of the revolution, to take the monarchy out of the equation and institute a semi-democracy.
  3. Fraternity--this usually means "brotherhood" or camaraderie. This occurs between soldiers fighting in a war, but in the sense of the revolution as a whole it more likely refers to a fraternity between the colonies...that the separate colonies were now going to operate much more closely and with a common interest in mind instead of acting like a lot of different little states.  That was another goal of the revolution, to tie together the separate colonies and form one stronger entity.
teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A major cause of the French Revolution was the severe economic stress the country faced near the end of the eighteenth century. France was heavily in debt due to foreign wars, including its support of the American colonies in the Revolutionary War. It also had bad crop harvests for several years and suffered a severe economic depression. Because of a regressive tax system that increased the taxes more on the poor than the rich in order to help pay off the country's debt, the poor were squeezed when the depression hit. Often, they were not even able to afford sufficient food. Meanwhile, an unequal feudal system meant the rich and the clergy were exempt from some of the taxes the poor had to pay, and they continued to live in wealth and splendor as masses of people suffered hunger and want.

Additionally, the prestige of the court at Versailles was waning, and a growing popular press increasingly criticized the excesses of the ruling classes.   

Finally, the situation hit the boiling point. People were tired of living in an unequal system where the rich seemed to get far more than they needed, and the poor received nothing. The middle and lower classes wanted to enjoy more freedom from repressive social norms, and the hierarchy in which the upper classes lorded over the lower classes was increasingly resented. The phrase "liberty, equality and fraternity" encapsulated in three words the dream of a free and equal society in which people treated each other as brothers, rather than the few lording over the many. 

zumba96 | Student

Liberty included freedom from the King and the estate. 

Equality mean no more aristocracy and Estate Classes. Everyone should be equal with no other standing.

Fraternity was the slogan to unity between all of the French people