That fount of all knowledge Wikipedia served me well this morning for some distilled French Revolution facts so all quotes are from the compilation there:
And yes, I understand that the articles/sources on wiki can have a certain tweak or bent according to the source and the poster.
The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France that lasted from 1789 until 1799, and was partially carried forward by Napoleon during the later expansion of the French Empire. The Revolution overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, experienced violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon that rapidly brought many of its principles to Western Europe and beyond. Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Through the Revolutionary Wars, it unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.
The causes of the French Revolution are complex and are still debated among historians. Following the Seven Years' War and the American Revolutionary War, the French government was deeply in debt and attempted to restore its financial status through unpopular taxation schemes. Years of bad harvests leading up to the Revolution also inflamed popular resentment of the privileges enjoyed by the clergy and the aristocracy. Demands for change were formulated in terms of Enlightenment ideals and contributed to the convocation of the Estates-General in May 1789. The first year of the Revolution saw members of the Third Estate taking control, the assault on the Bastille in July, the passage of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in August, and a women's march on Versailles that forced the royal court back to Paris in October. A central event of the first stage, in August 1789, was the abolition of feudalism and the old rules and privileges left over from the Ancien Régime. The next few years featured political struggles between various liberal assemblies and right-wing supporters of the monarchy intent on thwarting major reforms. France rapidly transformed into a democratic and secular society with freedom of religion, legalization of divorce, decriminalization of same-sex relationships, and civil rights for Jews and black people. The Republic was proclaimed in September 1792 after the French victory at Valmy. In a momentous event that led to international condemnation, Louis XVI was executed in January 1793.
Globally, the Revolution accelerated the rise of republics and democracies. It became the focal point for the development of all modern political ideologies, leading to the spread of liberalism, radicalism, nationalism, socialism, feminism, and secularism, among many others. The Revolution also witnessed the birth of total war by organizing the resources of France and the lives of its citizens towards the objective of military conquest. Some of its central documents, like the Declaration of the Rights of Man, expanded the arena of human rights to include women and slaves, leading to movements for abolitionism and universal suffrage in the next century.
Many other factors involved resentments and aspirations given focus by the rise of Enlightenment ideals. These included resentment of royal absolutism; resentment by peasants, labourers and the bourgeoisie toward the traditional seigneurial privileges possessed by the nobility; resentment of the Catholic Church's influence over public policy and institutions; aspirations for freedom of religion; resentment of aristocratic bishops by the poorer rural clergy; aspirations for social, political and economic equality, and (especially as the Revolution progressed) republicanism; hatred of Queen Marie-Antoinette, who was falsely accused of being a spendthrift and an Austrian spy; and anger toward the King for dismissing ministers, including finance minister Jacques Necker, who were popularly seen as representatives of the people.
Freemasonry played an important role in the revolution. Originally largely apolitical, Freemasonry was radicalised in the late 18th century through the introduction of higher grades which emphasised themes of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Virtually every major player in the Revolution was a Freemason and these themes became the widely recognised slogan of the revolution. Historian Margaret C. Jacob argues:
We can relate freemasonry to the French Revolution because in the lodges of the 1770s and 1780s some of its eventual promoters and opponents can be heard discussing how society and government should be, before each would be simultaneously changed forever.
The Revolution caused a massive shift of power from the Roman Catholic Church to the state. Under the Ancien Régime, the Church had been the largest single landowner in the country, owning about 10% of the land in the kingdom. The Church was exempt from paying taxes to the government, while it levied a tithe—a 10% tax on income, often collected in the form of crops—on the general population, only a fraction of which it then redistributed to the poor. The power and wealth of the Church was highly resented by some groups. A small minority of Protestants living in France, such as the Huguenots, wanted an anti-Catholic regime and revenge against the clergy who discriminated against them. Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire helped fuel this resentment by denigrating the Catholic Church and destabilising the French monarchy. As historian John McManners argues, "In eighteenth-century France throne and altar were commonly spoken of as in close alliance; their simultaneous collapse ... would one day provide the final proof of their interdependence."
This resentment toward the Church weakened its power during the opening of the Estates General in May 1789. The Church composed the First Estate with 130,000 members of the clergy. When the National Assembly was later created in June 1789 by the Third Estate, the clergy voted to join them, which perpetuated the destruction of the Estates General as a governing body. The National Assembly began to enact social and economic reform. Legislation sanctioned on 4 August 1789 abolished the Church's authority to impose the tithe. In an attempt to address the financial crisis, the Assembly declared, on 2 November 1789, that the property of the Church was "at the disposal of the nation." They used this property to back a new currency, the assignats. Thus, the nation had now also taken on the responsibility of the Church, which included paying the clergy and caring for the poor, the sick and the orphaned. In December, the Assembly began to sell the lands to the highest bidder to raise revenue, effectively decreasing the value of the assignats by 25% in two years. In autumn 1789, legislation abolished monastic vows and on 13 February 1790 all religious orders were dissolved. Monks and nuns were encouraged to return to private life and a small percentage did eventually marry.
As most of the Assembly still favoured a constitutional monarchy rather than a republic, the various groups reached a compromise which left Louis XVI as little more than a figurehead: he was forced to swear an oath to the constitution, and a decree declared that retracting the oath, heading an army for the purpose of making war upon the nation, or permitting anyone to do so in his name would amount to abdication.
However, Jacques Pierre Brissot drafted a petition, insisting that in the eyes of the nation Louis XVI was deposed since his flight. An immense crowd gathered in the Champ de Mars to sign the petition. Georges Danton and Camille Desmoulins gave fiery speeches. The Assembly called for the municipal authorities to "preserve public order". The National Guard under La Fayette's command confronted the crowd. The soldiers responded to a barrage of stones by firing into the crowd, killing between 13 and 50 people. The incident cost La Fayette and his National Guard much public support.
In the wake of the massacre the authorities closed many of the patriotic clubs, as well as radical newspapers such as Jean-Paul Marat's L'Ami du Peuple. Danton fled to England; Desmoulins and Marat went into hiding.
In the Brunswick Manifesto, the Imperial and Prussian armies threatened retaliation on the French population if it were to resist their advance or the reinstatement of the monarchy. This among other things made Louis appear to be conspiring with the enemies of France. On 17 January 1793 Louis was condemned to death for "conspiracy against the public liberty and the general safety" by a close majority in Convention: 361 voted to execute the king, 288 voted against, and another 72 voted to execute him subject to a variety of delaying conditions. The former Louis XVI, now simply named Citoyen Louis Capet (Citizen Louis Capet) was executed by guillotine on 21 January 1793 on the Place de la Révolution, former Place Louis XV, now called the Place de la Concorde. Conservatives across Europe were horrified and monarchies called for war against revolutionary France.
When war went badly, prices rose and the sans-culottes – poor labourers and radical Jacobins – rioted; counter-revolutionary activities began in some regions. This encouraged the Jacobins to seize power through a parliamentary coup, backed up by force effected by mobilising public support against the Girondist faction, and by utilising the mob power of the Parisian sans-culottes. An alliance of Jacobin and sans-culottes elements thus became the effective centre of the new government. Policy became considerably more radical, as "The Law of the Maximum" set food prices and led to executions of offenders.
This policy of price control was coeval with the Committee of Public Safety's rise to power and the Reign of Terror. The Committee first attempted to set the price for only a limited number of grain products but, by September 1793, it expanded the "maximum" to cover all foodstuffs and a long list of other goods. Widespread shortages and famine ensued. The Committee reacted by sending dragoons into the countryside to arrest farmers and seize crops. This temporarily solved the problem in Paris, but the rest of the country suffered. By the spring of 1794, forced collection of food was not sufficient to feed even Paris and the days of the Committee were numbered. When Robespierre went to the guillotine in July of that year the crowd jeered, "There goes the dirty maximum!"
Main article: Reign of Terror
Queen Marie Antoinette on the way to the guillotine on 16 October 1793 (drawing by Jacques-Louis David).
The Committee of Public Safety came under the control of Maximilien Robespierre, a lawyer, and the Jacobins unleashed the Reign of Terror (1793–1794). According to archival records, at least 16,594 people died under the guillotine or otherwise after accusations of counter-revolutionary activities. As many as 40,000 accused prisoners may have been summarily executed without trial or died awaiting trial.
A major aspect of the French Revolution was the dechristianisation movement, a movement strongly rejected by many devout people. Especially for women living in rural areas of France, the closing of the churches meant a loss of normalcy.
When these revolutionary changes to the Church were implemented, it sparked a counter-revolutionary movement among women. Although some of these women embraced the political and social amendments of the Revolution, they opposed the dissolution of the Catholic Church and the formation of revolutionary cults like the Cult of the Supreme Being. As Olwen Hufton argues, these women began to see themselves as the "defenders of faith". They took it upon themselves to protect the Church from what they saw as a heretical change to their faith, enforced by revolutionaries.
Counter-revolutionary women resisted what they saw as the intrusion of the state into their lives. Economically, many peasant women refused to sell their goods for assignats because this form of currency was unstable and was backed by the sale of confiscated Church property. By far the most important issue to counter-revolutionary women was the passage and the enforcement of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy in 1790. In response to this measure, women in many areas began circulating anti-oath pamphlets and refused to attend masses held by priests who had sworn oaths of loyalty to the Republic. These women continued to adhere to traditional practices such as Christian burials and naming their children after saints in spite of revolutionary decrees to the contrary.
Two thirds of France was employed in agriculture, which was transformed by the Revolution. With the breakup of large estates controlled by the Church and the nobility and worked by hired hands, rural France became more a land of small independent farms. Harvest taxes were ended, such as the tithe and seigneurial dues, much to the relief of the peasants. Primogeniture was ended both for nobles and peasants, thereby weakening the family patriarch. Because all the children had a share in the family's property, there was a declining birth rate. Cobban says the revolution bequeathed to the nation "a ruling class of landowners."
In the cities entrepreneurship on a small scale flourished, as restrictive monopolies, privileges, barriers, rules, taxes and guilds gave way. However the British blockade virtually ended overseas and colonial trade, hurting the port cities and their supply chains. Overall the Revolution did not greatly change the French business system, and probably helped freeze in place the horizons of the small business owner. The typical businessman owned a small store, mill or shop, with family help and a few paid employees; large scale industry was less common than in other industrializing nations.
The Revolution meant an end to arbitrary royal rule, and held out the promise of rule by law under a constitutional order, but it did not rule out a monarch. Napoleon as emperor set up a constitutional system (although he remained in full control), and the restored Bourbons were forced to go along with one. After the abdication of Napoleon III in 1871, the monarchists probably had a voting majority, but they were so factionalized they could not agree on who should be king, and instead the French Third Republic was launched with a deep commitment to upholding the ideals of the Revolution. The conservative Catholic enemies of the Revolution came to power in Vichy France (1940–44), and tried with little success to undo its heritage, but they kept it a republic. Vichy denied the principle of equality and tried to replace the Revolutionary watchwords "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" with "Work, Family, and Fatherland." However, there were no efforts by the Bourbons, Vichy or anyone else to restore the privileges that had been stripped away from the nobility in 1789. France permanently became a society of equals under the law.
The Jacobin cause was picked up by Marxists in the mid-19th century and became an element of communist thought around the world. In the Soviet Union, "Gracchus" Babeuf was regarded as a hero.
The Revolution deeply polarized American politics, and this polarization led to the creation of the First Party System. In 1793, as war broke out in Europe, the Republican Party led by Thomas Jefferson favored France and pointed to the 1778 treaty that was still in effect. Washington and his unanimous cabinet, including Jefferson, decided that the treaty did not bind the United States to enter the war. Washington proclaimed neutrality instead. Under President Adams, a Federalist, an undeclared naval war took place with France from 1798 until 1799, often called the "Quasi War". Jefferson became president in 1801, but was hostile to Napoleon as a dictator and emperor. However, the two entered negotiations over the Louisiana Territory and agreed to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, an acquisition that substantially increased the size of the United States.