The French Revolution: Failed Democracy and Napoleon


The French revolution started in 1789 with the summit of the state generals in the month of May of the same year. On 14th July, 1789 the storming of Bastille took place. Then in October of the same year the Royal Family together with Louis XVI was moved to Paris from Versailles. In June 1791, the King tried to escape to Varennes from Paris but never succeeded. The King was later arrested and tried on 17th December 1792, upon conviction he was executed in January 1793 and thereafter a revolutionary government was established; the government started warfare against the British people. The war was described a war for the dominion of the world, it went on for the next twenty two years (Furet 88). The years that followed entailed a reign of horror in which the government brutally eliminated all the perceived potential enemies (started in the month of September 1793). The elimination of potential enemies went on without regards to sex, age or status. The reign of terror went on and only stopped in 1794 after the reign of Robespierre became incapacitated. During that period, about one thousand four hundred people were murdered in Paris only. In May 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte became emperor of France (De Bourrienne 14).

The reality of French Revolution

In the nineteenth century, the French Revolution was deemed in the perspective of the Western history and also a singular most critical influence on the political, idealistic, and rational life in the nineteenth century. In its preliminary stages, the French Revolution depicted itself as an accomplishment of the powers of reason over those of false notion and privilege (Carlyle 31). Because of what it was perceived to be, it got favor amongst the English fundamentalists who typically considered it a symbolic act which foreshadowed the arrival of civilization to the state of perfection from which it had plummeted. The revolution in France began due to two crises which surfaced between 1750s and 1780s. One of the crises was financial and the other was constitutional. It was the financial crisis that provided a seed point for the revolution that followed some frantic interventions by the government which failed. So the revolution was initially a reaction against the old regime. Moreover, during the crises there was growth in the number of bourgeoisies, they had a social arrangement whose new beliefs and influences challenged the older feudal social system in France. The bourgeoisies particularly became vital of the pre-revolutionary regime. From the beginning of 1750s, the people of France realized that the constitutional basis of a totalistic Monarchy style of leadership could no longer work (Hibbert 305-317).

The main concern was the numerous government failures including defeats in warfare. The demand by the bourgeoisies to have administrative voice and enlightenment philosophy which progressively demoralized the oppressive monarchs partly contributed to the pre-revolutionary concerns. The plan to have public opinions, nationalism, and citizenship came up and developed alongside the sagacity that the authority of the state should be frame-worked and given legitimacy in a novel broader outline which emphasized more on recognizing the people of France rather than just reproducing the notions of the monarch (Hibbert 329). Marquis de Lafayette epitomized the people’s anger against the government when he said,” When the government violates the people’s rights, insurrection is, for the people and for each portion of the people, the most sacred of the rights and the most indispensable of duties.”

The emphases that the French Revolution placed on emancipation, parity, and sorority placed it in comparison to the 1688 Glorious Revolution. It paved way for a reign of terror thereby raising suspicion even amongst those who had supported it. Before revolution France’s social system was in total apathy. The system was divided into three distinct estate estates. The first estate was composed of the members of the clergy; these were the Catholic Church leaders who, in spite of their very small population, owned large tracts of land, never paid taxes and had little representation in the government and therefore, they also demanded more power in the French government. They participated in the revolution solely to achieve this but unfortunately never succeeded. The second estate was for the noble of France; these were awfully affluent and like the clergy of the first estate they also possessed large trails of land and were also tax exempted. The noble also never had any influence in the French government. Unlike the clergy who only wanted more powers in the government, they wanted to use the revolution to set up a constitutionally recognized monarchy. Their political powers were restricted by the people’s representatives in parliament. France was declared a republic in 1792 after the execution of King Louis XVI thereby making the plans of having constitutional monarchy by noblemen impossible. But still the noblemen of the second estate ended up getting more influence in the French government and also gained voting rights (Carlyle 5-48). This did not go well with the third estate. The third estate was instituted by the bourgeoisies, proletariats, and the peasants. The bourgeoisies were more affluent than the rest of the third estate members though they never enjoyed the privileges of both the first and the second estates. Like the noblemen, the bourgeoisies also wanted the establishment of constitutional monarchy, though they were later forced to kill the King the angry mob helped create the republic of France. Both the first and the second estates enjoyed a great deal of civil liberties and virtually no regulations applied to them; contrarily, the members of the third estate never enjoyed any form of privileges. They paid very high taxes to both the King and the church (Asprey 58). The third estate was characterized by lack of proper enlightenment which impacted negatively on them. The lack of enlightenment and unequal payment of taxes were the main sources of social sickness in France. The unbearable situation in France led to the outburst of revolution which for a long time became orgy and reflected hell for the innocent people.

Women and children were killed alike, irrespective of age or their innocence. The soldiers were ordered by the revolutionary government to carry out operations which included the crashing of the children to death by use of horses and merciless slaughtering of women under the pretext that they would never contribute to influx of rebellious soldiers by giving birth. The women and young girls were stripped naked and raped in public before they were executed; worse was the fact that the revolutionary government soldiers also defiled the corpses of dead women and female children. A group of people who called themselves colonies infernales enjoyed roasting women and children. They placed their casualties into cold ovens which they heated and as the victims gradually got burnt the colonies infernales derived some pleasure in that. Pregnant women had their fetuses extracted from their wombs and chopped to pieces; the women were then abandoned to bleed to death. The quest for spilling blood was so strong that Grignon, the commander, commanded the soldiers to kill everyone they came across irrespective on which side they supported. The soldiers never lacked any imagination so long as there appeared a hint. They also burnt people in churches and houses (Asprey 74).

The French revolution also affected Santo Domingo which is now Haiti. Haiti is considered to be the first amongst the many nations freed due to revolts by slaves. It is one of the most deprived countries located in the Western Hemisphere. One of the contributions to the depravity in Haiti is the total political disorders that followed the French Revolution; this was seen as an effect of the political void from the Revolution and the efforts of the forces of Napoleon fighting to reunite Haiti with France. The action resulted into political and economic disarray and the annoyance of self-proclaimed emperor and tyrants most of whom became assassins’ victims. There were also series of coups and many of the politicians ran into exiles (Geggus 15). The chaos created by the French Revolution also got interference from the United States of America between the periods beginning from 1915 to 1994 under the pretext of protecting human rights. During the economic and political disorder in Haiti many were massacred most of whom were the ex-slaves of France. The whites also suffered a great deal in the hands of their former slaves. Many of them lost their lives and property. The effects of the Revolution left Haiti poor to date (Geggus 1-23).

The French Revolution lost focus on its objectives. The popular revolution lost a sense of direction and started destroying its own self. The new revolutionary government was now becoming equally as hated as the old regime which was brought down by the revolution. The revolutionary government, after clinging to power, started series of political assassinations which culminated in the death of political orators who had participated zealously during the total overhauls of the perverted old regime. The Revolutionary heroes who expressed their success in attaining liberty were mercilessly executed. The political deaths resulted into the ghastly wave of violence in which the Public Safety Committee was fully involved. Instead of bringing in the new era of freedom people fought to achieve during the Revolution, the new regime mirrored the practice of the old regime. Danto, who was the leader of the revolution had the intention of setting free the people who had been oppressed by the tyrannical monarch regime, however, he later abused the essence of the revolution and instead he used it to meet his personal ends. He became overwhelmed with the prestige of power he acquired hence forgetting about the people he fought for.

The revolution itself was doomed in several levels. The preventable carnage which resulted from revolutionary terror was one of them. The main aim of the terror was based on containing any form of rebellion against the Revolutionary government; however, it also executed its own leaders thereby loosing the support it had gained. During the terror period more than four hundred thousand people, some of whom were supporters of the Revolution, were sentenced to death. Another failure of the French Revolution, which is seen as the simplest amongst what it was to achieve, was giving food to the people. The revolutionary delegates lived in packed circumstances with other conventional men, Danton, who was supposed to be responsible for them, lived in an expensively painted and luxurious mansion. It is said that Danton became so engrossed in pleasures that he had a wife as trophy, and still courted others while he enjoyed admirable lifestyle. The economic and the power void created by the collapse of both the first and the second estates resulted into grand corruption that provided many men with opportunity to enrich themselves. It can be argued that the French Revolution provided its proponents with great chances of enriching themselves and subsequently forgetting about the mission of the Revolution; they could no longer care for the people of France. The indulgences of the revolutionists in personal economic enrichment can be explained partly by the fact that they belonged to the third estate. The members of estate comprised of those who were economically deprived and exploited and lacked certain political authorities.

The entry of Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon was born in 1769 at a place called Corsica. He was never a native French citizen. In fact, it is recorded that his spellings of French words were wanting. The Corsicans had fought for a better part of the 18th century to free themselves from the Genoa’s rule. When the people of Genoa could not control Corsica they decided to sell it to France in 1769, the year Napoleon Bonaparte was to be born. That was how Napoleon became the citizen of France. His father got a position with the French government. This offered him a good opportunity to arrange for his two sons, Napoleon and his elder brother, to have their education in France (Asprey 1-27).

10 In the year 1799 ruling Directory members entered into a conspiracy with Napoleon, who was the then military leader, to oust the French government through coup detat. Napoleon had been interested and quickly accepted; they launched their coup and were successful in ousting the incumbent regime. Napoleon swiftly declared his own power over the rest. He gained full power in the year 1802 and in 1804 proclaimed himself the Emperor Napoleon I. Napoleon had a military career which he started at age fourteen when he joined military training. He is considered to be one of the supreme commanders in history. He has also been portrayed as power hungry subjugator (Asprey 89). Through his military abuse and his hardnosed efficiency he rose to become the France’s Emperor and it is argued that his martial conquest was a major threat to the world. Some of the changes he made when he became emperor included creation of a new constitution, ended feudalism, fostered many aspects of education, initiate law codes and created governments which worked with efficiency. Napoleon demonstrated that he was an exceptional civil administrator, he believed in completing the mission of the revolution, this was emphasized when he said, “A revolution can be neither made nor stopped. The only thing that can be done is for one of several of its children to give it a direction by dint of victories. “. Amongst his greatest accomplishment was the management of the adjustment and compilation of French laws into codes. The law codes integrated the freedoms and privileges gained from the French Revolution. These included tolerance of religion and obliteration of serfdom. Power was also centralized where various officers were assigned (segmented) departments. However, napoleon was not all-round a good leader. He ruled France with totalitarian tactics. He used spies and secret police and his government controlled the media in all aspects; he sanctioned everything that went to the media. French people and those he conquered. He achieved this by use of rudimentary propaganda in conjunctions with arbitrary arrest and execution and use of secret agents to check on any activities against his regime. This made it impossible for dissenter to rise up against his government. As much as these tactics were meant to help him consolidate his unshakeable power, these portrayed him to being conservative on certain achievements of the French Revolution. He managed to put in place numerous economic reforms and consolidated the achievements made from the classes of land owning. After bringing back the French society into new order, Napoleon Bonaparte started to institute reforms in the France’s legal system. There was a vacuum left by the putting to an end the system feudalism and needed to be filled. The feudalism had lots of privileges setout on traditional customs. On 21st March of 1804, four jurists instituted the Napoleonic code. The code was the basis on which the society of France was to be anchored. The code consequently got revised (i.e. in 1808) leading to the establishment of criminal issues code that centered on justice.

The code established by Napoleon had its basis on the declaration that recognized the right of man as well as those of the citizens. It was mandatory for all laws to be put in print and not even a single one could exist as a secret law. The ex post facto statutes were brought to an end and it became illegal for judges to come up with legislations from their bench; the judges were henceforth expected to interpret and appropriately use the already enacted and existing legislations. Profanities, witchcraft, and unorthodoxy were religious crimes that were never to be tolerated. The Napoleonic code gave hope to the French citizens in the rule of law. In fact, the code recognized the citizens of the nations he subjugated to be considered on equality grounds together with the French citizens. The countries which were conquered by Napoleon used the Napoleonic code as the prototype to their written laws. During the 1880s Napoleon was engaged in various clashes with nations on the entire European continent. His army managed to conquer many countries in Europe. Army alter encountered some challenges related to both weather and resources. At the end of April 1814 he resigned from power and immediately went into exile in Elda Island. He came back to power in 1815 through the help of his soldiers. He went into battle again; his final battle was that of Waterloo in which his army was defeated. He personally gave himself to the British who later exiled him to St. Helen Island he died in the year 1821.


The poor people who have always occupied the lower social classes have always supported all the courses that promise them a better life and improved welfare. The French Revolution was one of the most drastic reactions by the poor and privileges ever found on the surface of the earth. The French Revolution was staged by the members of the third estate who felt dissatisfied with the way the French government was operating. It was therefore meant to completely overhaul the whole French societal system. It sought to get rid of Catholic Church, destroy the supremacy of feudalism, and put an end to aristocracy; this hope was given by Georges Jacques Danton when he bravely said, “At last I perceive that in revolutions the supreme power rests with the most abandoned.” It was also meant to abolish hereditary rule, and to set all people of France free from economic and political discriminations that characterized the totalitarian style of monarchy rule. In the process of the Revolution, the revolutionary leaders lost focus on the objectives of the Revolution; they instead got concerned with amassing of wealth and power and neglecting the very people they represented in the struggle. Many people, mostly women and children suffered and lost their lives brutally and mercilessly. After the revolutionary government was established and functional, the revolutionary leaders now turned against themselves. A wide spread political assassinations ensued, the government lost support of the people who had zealously sanctioned the Revolution. The French revolution left a big vacuum which needed to be filled as soon as possible. The vacuum was to be filled by the despotic Napoleon.

The revolution set a basis on which Napoleon Bonaparte would seek to transform the society of France and give people hope of order and equality amongst all citizens. When Napoleon Bonaparte rose to proclaim himself the Emperor of France he brought in reforms that cleared the ills of the French Revolution. He introduced a Napoleonic code which set every French citizen free from oppression and made everybody equal before the laws. He also conquered some European countries and ruled them using the Napoleonic code. As much as Napoleon had great achievements for French people, especially after the heinous Revolution, he adopted a totalitarian method of rule. He changed France into a police state where anybody could be arrested any time and killed by the police. He used spies to check on any possible dissidence and deal with them; also his government had a full control of all the media.

Works Cited

Asprey, Robert. The reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. Michigan: The University of Michigan, 2001.

Carlyle, Thomas. A history: The French revolution. New York: The Colonial press, 1899.

De Bourrienne, Fauvelet. The Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte. The Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte Vol. 2. Forgotten Books, Undated.

Furet, François. Interpreting the French Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Geggus, David. The impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic world. Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

Hibbert, Christopher. The Days of the French Revolution. New York: William Morrow Publishers, 1999.

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