Historical Context

France after the Revolution
Inspired in part by the American Revolution the French Revolution in 1789 overthrew the oppressive class and economic structures of the old order. Absolute monarchy, unchallenged power, and privilege of the ruling class, or aristocracy were swept away by the revolution. Though they enlisted the help of the rural peasantry and the urban artisans in the challenge to the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie rather than the poor were the beneficiaries of the revolution. Contemporary historians like Roger Magraw point out, however, that the ‘‘triumph of the bourgeoisie was both incomplete and precarious.’’ Much of the land and power that the aristocracy and the church conceded, was regained in subsequent years of governmental change and instability. In Magraw’s words: ‘‘Yet if the nobles were, along with the clergy, the clear losers from the revolution, French history in the nineteenth century is incomprehensible if one fails to appreciate the strength which they retained.’’

Though the Revolution accomplished the goal of social change and increased economic opportunity (at least for some), political stability remained elusive. Since the goal of the revolution was to destabilize and decentralize power, revolutionary leaders found it difficult to decide on and install alternative systems of government. Though they had in mind the British model of a constitutional government controlled by a parliament,...

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