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The French Revolution, which was essentially class warfare, resulted in major changes in the political structure of France, as well as the development of military power.
Before the Revolution, France was ruled by a monarchy. In this First Estate was also the aristocracy with its seigneurs, who owned the land on which the peasants worked and lived a dire existence. These people, along with the merchant class were part of the Third Estate, which had no voice in the government. The Second Estate was composed of the powerful clergy, who together with the First Estate were able to override the vote of the Third Estate and control the country.
As the oppression of the two Estates became more and more oppressive, the Third Estate demanded that it be made part of the National Assembly which would soon convene. By the time that this Estate, which was composed of 98 per cent of the population was given voice, along with the destruction of grain by a fungus, which led to starvation, people had become desperate and were fomented to riot.
After the monarchy and clergy were removed of their power, this ancien régime was replaced by a system based upon ideas from the Enlightenment: freedom of speech, popular sovereignty, and a government that represented all the people. Unfortunately, some of the more radical men such as Maximilien de Robespierre and Georges Danton who promoted a more republican form of government and the trial of Louis XVI. In 1793 Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were sent to the guillotine, as well. Shortly after this, the Reign of Terror began, a period in which thousands of aristocrats were executed.
In 1795 after more moderate authorities survived the Reign of Terror, the Directory was formed. However, the rule of the five members required a strong military to assist it. So, a successful general named Napoleon Bonaparte was appointed to silence dissenters.
After his successful control of the dissenters, Napoleon staged his own coup d'etat in 1799 and abolished the Directory, establishing himself as France's "first consul." Napoleon began to expand his empire by conquering several countries, dominating much of Europe and parts of other continents. However, "Napoleon never really rooted his regime and thus remained vulnerable to military conspiracies," one historian writes. Also, all Napoleon's wars greatly depleted France's male population.
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