What are the key events in the French revolution and achievements of those events?

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paceke eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The key events of the French Revolution can usually be divided into a few large categories:

  • Events that were causes of the Revolution
  • Events that led to the creation of the First French Republic
  • Events designed to maintain the continued existence of the French Republic

As far as causes go, the most common reason given for the start of the French revolution is a financial crisis. This financial crisis was caused by a combination of huge expenses related to waging the 7 Years' War on the North American continent and supporting the colonies in the American Revolution as well as a series of years of poor crop harvest which lead to lower yields of grain and thus lower export income and higher bread prices. The primary result of this crisis was King Louis XVI being forced to call the only political body in France capable of issuing new taxes and thus abating the debt, The Estates General.

The summoning of the Estates General would be one of the first events that lead to the dissolution of the French monarchy and creation of the First French Republic as it is the inability for the Estates General to decided on an equitable method of taxation to stem the financial crisis that leads to the Third Estate, representative of those citizens who were not clergy or nobility and consisting of 98.5% of the population, to declare itself the new National Assembly with the intent of writing a constitution and creating a constitutional monarchy.

When the King responds by sending soldiers to overtake the assembly, the people of Paris respond by storming the Bastille, a fortified prison and symbol of monarchical power. This action spurs much of France into support of the National Assembly and shortly after they create and publish the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, a document with similar intent to the American Bill of Rights.

The constitutional monarchy fails to function effectively and with an attempted escape from France by Louis in 1792, the National Assembly officially abolishes the monarchy, sentences the former king to death via guillotine, and establishes the First French Republic. The results of this action being declarations of war by almost all of the major European powers who are very nervous that rightful monarchs are losing their heads in France.

Finally, there are the events that happened to support the continued existence of the republic, primarily what's known as the Reign of Terror, a series of mock trials and mass executions of anyone deemed subversive or dangerous to the republic and ideals of the revolution. The results of this period are an eventual souring of popularity towards the revolution by the commoners of France and a relatively easy opening for a small general from Corsica named Napoleon Bonaparte to install himself as consulate in 1799. This would eventually result in Napoleon's mass conquest of Europe and the creation of the French Empire. Many give this coup in 1799 as the official end of the French Revolution but arguments are also made that it does not end until 1815 with Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Waterloo.