The French Revolution

The Enlightenment refers to the intellectual developments of the eighteenth century. Those men and women who were a part of this movement were called philosophes. Their work set the stage for much of our thinking today about personal freedoms and the reform of existing conditions and institutions. France was the heart of the movement. The reforming ideas of the Enlightenment found expression in the American and French Revolution (Keough, 2010). The French Revolution represents a culmination of the eighteenth century ideas and economic transitions.

It was a direct response to the obvious abuses of the French absolute monarchy or the “old regime”. The Enlightenment was a significant factor in bringing on the French Revolution but the financial crisis of the monarchy was the spark. This was the result of economic problems due to wars of Louis XIV and Louis XV, the upkeep of Versailles and its hangers-on, poor harvests, and inequitable taxes. Louis XVI’s decision to convene the Estates-General led to the revolution. The nature of the French Revolution was not immediately radical nor a movement of the masses.

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By 1791 the radicals began to take control of the revolution. The character of the revolution was also changed by foreign threats. By accepting the radical rule, the French people chose to save the revolution in fear of foreign domination. The Reign of Terror which was a part of the radicalization of the revolution was ended with the “Thermidorian reaction”. The corruption of the Directory resulted with the coup of 1799 and the establishment of the First Consulate under Napoleon who proclaimed himself Emperor in 1804 (Keough, 2010).

The Enlightenment not only changed the way the people viewed religion, but it also changed the way people viewed the government and its political and social policies. Citizenship, democracy, and human rights were all important aspects of the Enlightenment. As a result, the phrase “liberty, equality, fraternity,” became a popular slogan of the French Revolution. Revolutionists fought for a government for the people by the people. They wanted a government where all men had a right to vote and all citizens were equal before the law. Revolution offered a chance to make these ideas a reality (Elton, 2007).

The most meager effects of the French Revolution can be displayed in the category of culture. The French Revolutionary government adopted the use of the metric system, which spread to other countries. Now only three countries: the USA, Myanmar, and Liberia do not use the current metric system. A more significant effect of the French Revolution was the spread of French culture by Napoleon through the Great French War. Napoleon would “appropriate all of Western Europe culture as French. ” This can be seen primarily in fashion as well as customs.

The Great French War allowed the spread of French fashion throughout Europe. French fashion has a profound effect of the runway even in a modern sense. The world of contemporary fashion is ruled by most French (mostly Parisian) clothiers including: Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, Hermes, and Yves Saint-Laurent. Also during the revolution citizens began dressing more modestly. Men and women began cutting their hair closer to their scalps and some wealthy men began wearing beggar clothing, while women wore “fashions which imitated the thin gowns of the ancient Pagan Greeks. The peasants were dressing poorly as ever. Human customs changed dramatically: men no longer raised their hats to the ladies, obscene graffiti appeared everywhere on walls and within the reformed calendar (10 days), and men began shaving more infrequently (Wannamaker, 2007). A more profound social and political effect of the French Revolution was the birth of Nationalism, not only in France, but in many neighboring countries. The revolution aligned with the Declaration of Rights of Man in harboring a fervor that France belonged to its people, not Louis XVI.

The people started taking great pride in their country, language, heritage and history. There were no longer disputes of wars between kings; however, the struggles between nations increased. The opposition to the French bred nationalism in other countries of Europe. Following Napoleon’s occupation, both Italian and German states began unification movements. Ethnic groups within empires began to view independence as an answer. A nation was no longer represented by a single person or a monarch, but by every citizen living within its boundaries (Wannamaker, 2007).

Despite being at the beginning of the French Revolution, the signing of the Declaration of Rights of Man was a very important effect. France’s new constitution was revolutionary in France. It gave French men rights and freedoms with the slogan “liberty, equality, fraternity” epitomizing the intent of the document. Many other social changes followed. Feudalism abolished during the Revolution and returned to France. The pre-revolution society disappeared as well. It was no longer assembled by layers, with each layer possessing different rights and freedom.

Occupations were opened to all applicants allowing the most ambitious and successful to rise and putting no emphasis on class. The revolution also provided us with the most influential model of the popular insurrection against the Monarchy (Wannamaker, 2007). Not only was the French Revolution period of history filled with personal liberties, freedoms, and challenges, it was also an age when innovative technological advances were also occurring in rapid succession – the millennium clock was a symbolic timekeeping invention of the mid-1700s.

The clock was able to keep track of the leap year through the addition of a special wheel. It could also successfully complete the turn of the century and changing of the millennium. In essence, the clock was a masterpiece of mechanical function and design, whose numerical tracking ability signaled the world, was quickly entering a new era of higher technological achievement (Bauholz, 2006). Steam. Since the beginning of the 18th century, many inventors and designers had been hard at work trying to get steam to function as an industrial power source.

Many technical problems stood in the way, but one inventor, James Watts, took the bull by the horns and developed a condenser, a double-acting engine and governor to make the steam engine practical as a new energy source (Bauholz, 2006). Machine Boring. Only a decade before the French Revolution began, an English iron worker by the name of John Wilkinson found a way to precision bore a smooth cylinder into cast iron to create a much improved cannon barrel. This advancement had an immediate impact on the accuracy of many types of military armaments, but the discovery did not stop there.

It was possible to apply this new technology to many machine applications. The Industrial Revolution was just beginning (Bauholz, 2006). Lastly, the spinning jenny. In the middle of the 18th century, an English spinner found a way to rotate eight spools of cotton at one time, instead of just one. At first this operation was entirely a hand-powered operation, but it did not take long before innovative entrepreneurs start harnessing water power to turn large numbers of spinners at the same time.

At this point, the textile industry was booming, but cotton growers had a difficult time keeping up with demand. As the French Revolution was raging in Europe, across the Atlantic, a new invention called the cotton gin was about to make American cotton available to European markets (Bauholz, 2006). As you can see, the Enlightenment was a significant factor in bringing on the French Revolution but the financial crisis of the monarchy was the spark (Keough, 2010).


Bauholz, H (2006). Types of Technology from the French Revolution. Demand Media, inc: eHow. Retrieved February 11, 2013 from Elton, M (2007). The Enlightenment and the French Revolution. San Francisio, CA: Scribd. Retrieved February 11, 2013 from Keough, S (2010). The Enlightenment. Helena, AR: Phillips Community College. Retrieved February 11, 2013 from Wannamaker, J (2007). Effects of the French Revolution. Retrieved February 11, 2013 from

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