The French Revolution
In the second half of the eighteenth century three major revolutions shaped the polity and the economy of the modern world. The American Revolution, as we have seen, helped end the pre-capitalist feudal past.
The Industrial Revolution, to be discussed in the next lesson, laid the foundations for capitalism. The French Revolution affected the life and society in the whole of continental Europe. Its ideals inspired democratic movements across the world even centuries later.
The French Revolution exploded in 1789. The French monarchy of the ancien regime (political and social system that prevailed in France before the Revolution of 1789) had enjoyed unchallenged power for 140 years. Louis XIV and his great palace at Versailles had symbolized royal absolutism and the greatness of France. Yet, in the summer of 1789, that power suddenly begun to shake. Louis XVI had summoned the Estates General in May 1789. This body consisted of the representatives of three classes or “estates,” as they were called: the clergy (men and women ordained for religious duties), the nobles and the commons (comprising lawyers, rich merchants, bankers and businessmen and wealthy landowners). But the representatives of the third estate, namely the commons had refused either to bow to the nobles or to obey the orders of the King. They proclaimed themselves a National Assembly and gathering on a tennis court after the King had cleared them out of their hall, swore on oath not to disperse until he gave them a constitution. Thus began the revolution of 1789 in France.