How was the U.S. divided regarding the French Revolution around 1789?

How was the U.S. divided regarding the French Revolution around 1789?

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How was America divided regarding the French Revolution during the early going (1789-1791, when the French hero of the American War of Independence, Lafayette, was one of its leaders)? What side of the French Revolution would have the U.S. fought for had that decision been based upon a national vote?

America supported the crown of France, the Bourbons, who had provided them huge amounts of money and other support during the American Revolution. When the French revolutionaries deposed and executed the King of France, the United States refused paying any debts to France on the grounds that the money had been lent by the King and only would we repay the King. Because of this the French Republicans attacked the United States on the high seas, causing a brief war, called the Quasi War.

After and during the French Revolution, people in America were split among the decisions, especially along the party lines. One party supported it, mainly the Democratic-Republicans, and one party was against the revolution, the Federalists, so it would depend on who had more power in the congress on how they would intervene. (Source: Prentice Hall, United States History, history textbook)

Vive La Révolution: Comparing U.S. Inequality with 1789 France

Picture a country plagued with financial struggle, unaffordable food, looting and rioting due to heavy disdain for the current regime, the wealthy exempt from paying taxes, and an expanding urban poor.

Thinking of the United States during the good year of our Lord 2020?

Think again. We’re talking late 18th century France.

Here’s a bit of context:

Lavish leaders and affluent aristocrats ran the country, owning a proportionally vast majority of the property in the nation and controlling a massive amount of wealth in the state. And of course, none of the nobility paid any taxes. Nor did clergy. The burden of public funding fell straight on the Third Estate: the lower 97% of the population that encompassed the upper working class and peasants.

There’s one problem though: that same lower 97% only held about 65% of the land in France. We’ll come back to this figure soon.

Not only was a burden of taxation upon the lowest earners, but loads of other problems ensued as well.

Because the French Revolution of 1789 didn’t have a single cause, it’s crucial for me to note here that income inequality wasn’t the only reason for tension. But it’s definitely an important factor to mention.

It’s also crucial to give an honorable mention to these factors when we’re working through a comparative study between 1789 France and 2020 U.S.A:

  • Astronomical costs for Versailles’ upkeep
  • Growing division between social classes
  • Poor harvests
  • Famine
  • Absolute monarchy
  • Incompetent leadership under Louis XVI, the king of France at the time.


When the nobility looked like this:

French aristocrats, c. 1774 Antoine-Jean Duclos – Le bal paré, via Wikipedia Commons.

Members of the working class were hardly able to feed themselves and their families.

And all of that mess led to a history-altering revolution.

Sound familiar? In a country with citizens like Jeff Bezos — and with more transparency regarding others’ wealth (or lack thereof) than ever — it’s almost impossible to ignore the absolute inequality of it all. At the moment, the United States is a place where a pandemic is hardly being taken care of. Where millions are out of work. Where our president acts like a toddler and is still somehow a billionaire. Where a hospital visit might bankrupt us. We’re feeling some of the exact same tension that was apparent in France over 200 years ago.

Inequality is definitely here. But is it really that bad?

Let’s Break Our Wealth Inequality Down.

Below, you’ll see a graphic representing wealth distribution in late 18th century France, with data provided by an article entitled “The Income Inequality of France in Historical Perspective” by Christian Morrisson and Wayne Snyder.

A couple of notes on this data: these are estimates. I’ve decided to use the author’s low estimates just to illustrate the best case scenario of income inequality during the late eighteenth century in France. In this graph, and the graph to follow, each quintile represents 20% of the population. The first quintile is the lowest-earning 20% of society, where the fifth quintile is the highest.

So, at this point, the lowest 40% of earners held about 14% of the wealth in France, where the top 20% of earners held a whopping 60%.

With me so far? Now, let’s take a look at wealth distribution in the United States in 2018, when the distribution was last recorded by the Census Bureau.

According to the Census Bureau’s 2018 report on Income and Poverty in the United States, and represented by my lovely graph, the lowest 40% of earners in the U.S. were worse off than 18th century French peasants. They held just 11.4% of wealth. And our top 20% of earners held 52% of it.

Not looking too good, right? Let’s take another measure of inequality into consideration.

The Gini Coefficient

According to our Lord and savior Investopedia, which can always interpret economic jargon better than I can, the Gini coefficient is “a measure of the distribution of income across a population. It is often used as a gauge of economic inequality, measuring income distribution or, less commonly, wealth distribution among a population. The coefficient ranges from 0 to 1, with 0 representing perfect equality and 1 representing perfect inequality.”

Basically, the closer a state’s Gini coefficient is to 1, the more unequal its income distribution.

Let’s get into the numbers:

In 1789 France, the Gini coefficient of the nation was 0.59. Quite far from perfect equality, which is at 0.

In 2018, the United States had a Gini coefficient of 0.49. We’re definitely catching up, and still far from perfect equality.

Not a numbers person?

Just take a look around. Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the United States (and in the world) could potentially afford to end world hunger. The recently revamped White House rose gardens made headlines and drew outrage for costing $400 million. Members of Congress (not mentioning names, ahem, Nancy Pelosi) are flaunting $13 dollar tubs of ice cream inside of a fridge worth tens of thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, farm workers are struggling, food banks are overwhelmed, and loads of Americans are dealing with the perilous repercussions of COVID-19.

We’ve seen that income distribution in the U.S. is dangerously approaching a level of inequality that helped lead to one of the most revolutionary, well, revolutions in modern history. But there’s one small problem:

Americans Just Can’t Overthrow the System.

We love to joke about it. Just look at these protestors who put a guillotine in front of Jeff Bezos’ home.

Protesters assembled outside of @JeffBezos‘s DC home have constructed a guillotine.

— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) August 27, 2020

But we won’t do it. It’s just not within our good American souls to collectively question the systems that have led us to this point. Questioning the validity of the American system is certainly, in my humble opinion, not something we’re really brought up to do.

But maybe, as a little treat — and for legal reasons this is a joke — are we storming the White House and busting out the guillotines or what?

There is something unique about the Revolution. Much more than a change of the political regime, it turned the French society upside-down in all its dimensions.

Since the beginning of the Revolution, the contemporaries tried to understand what happened, which actors and movements were to praise or to blame.

It is important to know that the causes of the Revolution are still a complex and much debated question today among historians.

The answers of the historians differ according to their political orientation but also depending on what they consider the most important drive for historical change: social, economic or political factors.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, for the Revolution or any historical event, nothing was written and nobody could have foreseen the outcome. It was not the accomplishment of a plan.

One example: in 1789 nobody wanted to get rid of the king. In 1793 the majority of the deputies sentenced him to the guillotine.

Different groups with different motives made a variety of actions and reactions and with hazard and luck, it turned into a reality that nobody expected.

Here, I will only briefly introduce you to the main explanations that have been given by contemporaries and historians over time.

I narrowed the question to what caused the events of the first year of the Revolution: 1789.

I think that what happened in the years that follow, and especially the Terror of 1793-1794, have more to do with what happened during the Revolution than with what happened before.

The Social Causes

The French society before 1789 is referred to as the Ancien Régime. The society was strongly divided by the status of the individuals and groups. There were 3 orders in the society.

On top, the nobility. The king could give to someone a title of nobility but this status was usually acquired by birth.

The nobles had all kind of privileges. The most important are that they would not pay taxes and they were given top-jobs in the army, the administration and the royal courtyard.

The nobles usually felt superior to the commoners and would let them know it.

The duke of Orléans, cousin of the king. Painted by Callet, sourced from Wikipedia

The other privileged order was the clergy. The Catholic church was the official religion and occasionally persecuted religious minorities or deviant individuals.

There was the secular clergy in contact with the rest of the population and the regular clergy, the monks living in autonomy and quite secluded. Both were financed by a religious tax imposed on the commoners.

The clergy did not pay taxes while the church was the main landowner of the country. Each year, the church gave a financial gift to the state. The church chose the amount which was small compared to its richness.

The clergymen themselves were very divided between the high-clergy, whose members were coming from the nobility and the low-clergy, whose financial situation and everyday occupation made them feel close from the commoners.

The Cardinal de la Rochefoucauld, son of a high-noble. Painted by Drouais, sourced from Wikipedia

The third order were the commoners, or the Third Estate (Tiers-Etat) as they were called at that time. They represented more than 90% of the population.

The majority of the commoners were peasants that had to pay the feudal rights to their lord like the right to use the ovens of the castles to bake their bread.

There were also many urban workers: craftsmen and workers in what we call today the services.

The resentment that many felt about the situation can be summarized in this anonymous caricature of 1789 where you can see a commoner supporting a noble and a clergyman. It is written “Let’s hope that this game will end soon”.

Caricature of 1789. The third estate supporting the clergy and the nobility. Sourced from Wikipedia

In the eighteenth century, the bourgeoisie had developed. Many urban families had a good education, were sometimes richer than the nobility but were denied access to the top-jobs. They felt humiliated to be considered inferiors to the nobles.

This organization of the society started to be criticized from the middle of the eighteenth century. The European philosophical movement called the Enlightenment started to challenge what has been unquestioned so far.

There was no apparent justification to the privileges given by birth to the nobles. The philosophers of the Enlightenment believed every man was born equal and had natural rights, what became men’s right. The equality with women was not mentioned.

An example of this critics can be found in a very successful play of 1786: Le Mariage de Figaro. Written by Pierre de Beaumarchais it featured a servant telling his noble master:

“Because you are a great lord, you believe that you are a great genius! You took the trouble to be born, no more. You remain an ordinary enough man!“

The cover page of Le Mariage de Figaro. Sourced from Wikipedia

Some philosophers like Voltaire also undermined by their writings and political campaigns the moral and intellectual prestige of the Catholics church. Even if Atheism was very uncommon, some started to equate religion with superstition and intolerance.

The nobility and the monks were increasingly seen as parasites. As groups that had no social utility, no contribution to the richness of the country but cost a lot to the country.

The bourgeoisie was eager to access a political power corresponding to its economic power and the education level of their members.

Some parts of the working-class of the cities and the countryside were receptive to these critics. They mixed it with their own demands about the abolition of feudal rights and a right to be preserved from hunger.

This social factor created an intellectual atmosphere with many people turning angry against the privileges and a demand for rapid changes.

It explains why the deputies elected in the Assembly of 1789 went much further than what they were asked: to solve a financial problem.

In the summer 1789, the privileges of the church and the nobility were abolished and human rights were proclaimed. The monasteries were closed in 1790 and Catholicism was even forbidden in 1793, the church lost most of its economical power during the Revolution.

The bourgeoisie became dominant but with no significative improvement on the lives of the poorest.

The Economic Causes

The French monarchy was financially in trouble since the end of the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun-King, in 1715. The wars against many powerful European countries had left the country in a great debt that was even increased by the expenses of the crown.

The kings Louis XV and Louis XVI did not manage to stop the wars campaigns despite of their proclaimed will of peace.

In 1778, Louis XVI decided to support the American Revolution. This was a terrible blow to the old enemy of France, England, but also to the finances of the country.

The last years before the Revolution were marked by the attempts of Louis XVI to resolve this financial problem. The obvious solution was to make the nobility and the church to pay taxes but, as we will see, the king failed to obtain this from them.

Another very problematic issue was the bad harvests in the years that preceded the Revolution. In a rural country where the majority of the population has just barely enough to survive, any shortage of food could create famines.

Big cities like Paris, that relied on food supply from the countryside, were very vulnerable to these shortages or to the inflations of the prices.

Desperate people would riot against the people they consider responsible for the situation: the speculators, the local and national authorities. It could be easy for opportunistic politicians to direct the anger of the crowd against their opponents.

Many historians argued that this economic situation is the main reason to explain the start of the Revolution. They point out the correlation between increase in the prices of wheats and the start of revolts throughout French history.

Do most because are ready to risk their lives in rioting for high ideals about liberty and equality? Or, are they pushed into action because they are starving?

In April 1789, one month before the start of the Revolution, a big riot started in Paris. A manufacturer called Réveillon was rumored to wish a decrease of the wages. Starving Parisians riot while some claimed slogans like “Liberty!”.

Hundreds of workers were killed in the repression that followed. It is considered a sort of rehearsal of the riots of the Revolution.

Repression of the Reveillon’s riot, by Abraham Girardet, sourced from Wikipedia

The Political Causes

In theory, France lived in what was called an absolute monarchy. There was no Constitution or deputies to limit the power of the king. Louis XVI and the governments he chose were the only law-makers.

Louis XVI painted by Caillet in 1779. Sourced from Wikipedia

In practice, Louis XVI was expected to conform to Christian values and to respect the political traditions and privileges of the many separated territories that constituted the kingdom of France.

More importantly for him, Louis XVI had to deal with some rebellious local Parliaments. The parliamentarians were not elected deputies but judges belonging to the nobility. They were meant to assist and advise the king as his delegates and to register his bills, transforming them into laws.

These Parliaments turned into the only places where the policies of the government could be contested. The advices of the parliamentarians turned into reproaches and they refused to register the financial reforms decided by the king.

The parliamentarians presented themselves as the spokespersons of the nation and managed to obtain the support of many people. However, they were assemblies of nobles that defended their privileges and blocked the necessary financial reforms of Louis XVI.

The king was conscious of the necessity to make the privileges pay taxes in the interests of the country. He was not credited for his efforts in front of the public opinion. Instead he appeared as a weak king who could be easily defeated by an open opposition.

Some writers were paid by different groups of oppositions to write pamphlets against the ministers but also against the queen Marie-Antoinette. These personal attacks undermined the prestige and the popularity of the monarchy even if the king was still beloved by his people.

When Louis XVI acknowledged his impotence to reform the country by legal means, he turned into a risky solution. He summoned the General Estates (Etats-Généraux), a traditional assembly composed of deputies of the 3 orders that had not been summoned since 1694.

Legally, these deputies had only a representative role: they were meant to be the spokesperson of the localities where they had been elected.

Of course, there was a risk that these deputies claimed to represent the nation and give themselves the power of the deputies of the British Parliament or the American Congress.

Before the organization of the vote and the first meeting of this assembly planned in May 1789, the king took a radical initiative. He asked all the local assemblies electing the deputies to write the lists of their grievances in books called the Cahiers de Doléances.

Cahier des doléances from Bastia in Corsica. Sourced from Wikipedia

All the French men received an unprecedented opportunity to express themselves directly to the king. This move from the king was very democratic and modern: it was well received as a sign that he cared about his people and valued their voices.

However, this was also risky. These people expressing their views expected to be listened and they had a very strong hope that the king will do the necessary changes to improve their conditions. These hopes turned later into frustration and anger when these changes did not come.

In June 1789 Louis XVI lost the control of the General Estates: the deputies declare themselves the National Assembly.

In July 1794, after the storming of the Bastille fortress, Louis XVI showed that he was at the mercy of the Parisians riots. His impotence resulted in the collapse of the royal administration and the election of local powers at every level: the Revolution had started.

As you can see, the explosive cocktail of the Revolution has different ingredients intertwined: a criticized social order, widespread ideas and hopes of change in a context of economic difficulties.

Some of these factors are long-term trends, some related to what happened shortly before the Revolution. There is also room for the actions and reactions of the groups and individuals involved.

It is likely that the Revolution could have been avoided if the duel between the king and the Parliaments had turned differently.

If the king had been firmer and more efficient or if the privileges had understood the necessity to give up some of their privileges, the political system might have evolved slowly and gradually like the British system.

If you want to get a more concrete understanding of the causes of the Revolution, I suggest a tour in Le Marais. Many of the buildings of this district were built in the XVIIIth century. You will feel the contrast between the luxurious private mansions of the nobles, the magnificent churches and the narrow streets and buildings were the commoners lived.

To know more about the Revolution itself you can visit the Conciergerie which holds a permanent exhibition about it.

Or you can ask for your private tour of the Revolution to see the places where history was made!

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Mathieu got to experience all the sides of Paris: born in the island of Notre-Dame, he was a student in the Left Bank and is currently living in the Right Bank. He is a history teacher and a certified guide in Paris. His passion is history and he loves to live it by walking in old areas, looking at traces and clues of the past.

What the French Revolution teaches us about the dangers of gerrymandering

The word “gerrymander” is American,

While gerrymandering may be uniquely American, the dynamics underlying the practice — in which purportedly representative political institutions are, in fact, anything but — have been found throughout history. The resulting political inequality can be more destabilizing to a government than outright repression or economic misery. Nowhere do we see this more clearly or profoundly than in France, where the practice provoked a revolution.

While we don’t usually connect the French Revolution or Bastille Day to American gerrymandering, we should. If political institutions come to be seen as unfair, and lose their legitimacy as they did in 18th-century France, change will come about by other, more dramatic, means. Today, as Americans lose faith in their political institutions and democracy, the prospect of more revolutionary change should loom large in compelling us to reform our institutions before it is too late.

In 17th- and 18th-century France, the king enjoyed absolute rule. While a structure for political representation — the so-called Estates-General — existed, that body had not met since 1614. Kings theoretically ruled on the basis of “Divine Right,” or the idea that they were appointed by God, but their power in this period practically depended on weakening the nobility who, historically, exercised enormous local influence. Building a modern, centralized government, and especially the standing army and navy that were its key attributes, was costly — a problem when these noblemen were exempt from paying nearly all taxes.

Throughout the 18th century, France’s kings attempted (and largely failed) to tax the vast wealth of this class. In the 1770s and 1780s, aristocrats effectively resisted the monarchy’s latest plan for universal taxation by dismissing it as “despotism."

Thwarted in attempts to tax the rich and facing both a budget shortfall and political standoff, King Louis XVI agreed to convene the Estates-General. All across France, assemblies of the country’s three social “estates” (status groups into which France’s population was divided) met to select their representatives. The First Estate — as Roman Catholic clergymen were called because they were closest to God — chose a combination of bishops, archbishops and parish priests. The Second Estate, or nobility, was overwhelmingly represented by its wealthiest, titled members such as princes and dukes. Everyone else from landless peasants to urban artisans and wealthy merchants fell into the Third Estate.

The king and his advisers insisted the Estates-General follow the format and the procedures established in 1614, which were badly out of date. It was the equivalent of the U.S. House of Representatives deciding today to elect members on the basis of laws from 175 years ago — which would mean women not voting California, Michigan, Florida and 23 other states having no representatives, and race being legal grounds for denying suffrage.

This structure would be badly out of sync with social realities and Americans would howl — which is what happened in France in 1789. A famous pamphlet called “What is the Third Estate?” argued for more fair representation to reflect the current conditions. But reactionary aristocrats replied “all these new proposals should be forever outlawed and time-honored arrangements maintained” — as if nothing had happened over the previous 200 years.

Amid this activism, the monarchy grudgingly agreed to double the number of representatives elected by the Third Estate. But this concession did little to dilute the outsized power of the two more privileged groups, representing at most 5 percent of France’s population. They could always join forces to outvote the commoners. While many ordinary parish clergy had as much in common with the Third Estate as they did with ecclesiastical elites, it was widely expected that the Church’s tax-exempt status meant the First and Second Estates would always vote together.

Many of those elected as delegates of the Third Estate therefore simply refused to take part in this rigged system. Sent to their separate meeting room to verify membership, elect a presiding officer and begin their discussions of how best to raise funds and revive France, they stalled. One morning, they found they had been locked out of their usual meeting place. Certain this was a sign the whole body was about to be dissolved with military force, they hastily met instead at an

The delegates quickly found it is one thing to call yourself a “National Assembly,” another to be recognized as such. The king met with them, but at the insistence of conservative nobles, he still addressed them as “the Third Estate,” and commanded they vote as such.

Several weeks later, on July 14, a crowd in Paris stormed the Bastille Prison. Their concerns were not identical to those of the newly self-styled National Assembly and many assembly delegates were, in fact, initially terrified when they heard of the “uprising” and “mutiny” in Paris. But the reactionaries made a crucial error, responding as they had to the declaration by the Third Estate delegates: with intransigence and hostility. This reaction convinced many of the National Assembly members to embrace the idea that the crowd’s action was a show of “popular sovereignty.”

With the suturing together of these two developments — the demand for legitimate representation and the threat of popular violence — the French Revolution was born.

The men elected to represent the Third Estate in 1789 had been lawyers, merchants, physicians, wealthy farmers, even noblemen and slave dealers — not people with obvious motives for disturbing the status quo. But they became revolutionaries when they saw that supposedly representative institutions were corrupt and reactionaries blocked all efforts to reform them.

The social groups that did most to prompt Louis XVI’s calling of the Estates-General — the aristocrats, magistrates and high ecclesiastical officials who believed their privileged standing should exempt them from taxation — had very little to gain from revolution. In the 1770s and 1780s, they nonetheless had defended their privileges by inviting ordinary French men and women to see them as fellow brave opponents of governmental “tyranny.” Having unleashed the genie of populist politics, they discovered in 1789 that they could not control it.

A revolution is not a single event but a process, one driven in 1790s France as much by opposition to needed reform as it was by demands for a particular ideological system. The French Revolutionaries were not Russian Bolsheviks: They did not dream of revolution in advance and many came to regret their involvement. Nonetheless, in 1789, many comfortable men and women concluded that the society they had always known needed to be overturned and completely transformed. Reactionaries, who would never agree to more incremental changes, played a major part in radicalizing them.

On this Bastille Day, Americans should take note of this history. The Supreme Court’s recent decision that the federal courts cannot adjudicate or limit partisan gerrymandering should give us all pause wielded with modern technical precision, this practice is massively anti-democratic, and apt to leave Americans feeling powerless to change things by working through routine political channels. The entire system is at risk of being discredited. People across the country today have urgent and competing grievances and concerns, but the institutions that are meant to adjudicate those differences are every day losing more and more of their legitimacy. If a way cannot be found to restore trust in our shared institutions, the 18th-century case suggests change will come through other means.


Bolster, W. Jeffrey. Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Dixon, Chris. African America and Haiti: Emigration and Black Nationalism in the Nineteenth Century. Contributions in American History, no. 186. Westport, Conn., and London: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Geggus, David P., ed. The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World: The Carolina Lowcountry and the Atlantic World. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995.

Natural Rights

At the time of writing, the rights contained in the declaration were only awarded to men. Furthermore, the declaration was a statement of vision rather than reality as it was not deeply rooted in the practice of the West or even France at the time. It embodied ideals toward which France aspired to struggle in the future.

In the second article, “the natural and imprescriptible rights of man” are defined as “liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression.” It demanded the destruction of aristocratic privileges by proclaiming an end to feudalism and exemptions from taxation. It also called for freedom and equal rights for all human beings (referred to as “Men”) and access to public office based on talent. The monarchy was restricted and all citizens had the right to take part in the legislative process. Freedom of speech and press were declared and arbitrary arrests outlawed. The Declaration also asserted the principles of popular sovereignty, in contrast to the divine right of kings that characterized the French monarchy, and social equality among citizens, eliminating the special rights of the nobility and clergy.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 by Jean-Jacques-François Le Barbier.

The Declaration is included in the preamble of the constitutions of both the Fourth French Republic (1946) and Fifth Republic (1958) and is still current. Inspired by the American Revolution and also by the Enlightenment philosophers, the Declaration was a core statement of the values of the French Revolution and had a major impact on the development of freedom and democracy in Europe and worldwide.

Ch. – 1- The French Revolution- Extra Questions and Notes

The following page provides you NCERT book solutions for class 9 social science, social science class 9 notes in pdf are also available in the related links between the text.


The French Revolution


1. Why was the Bastille hated by all?

Ans. Because the Bastille stood for the despotic power of the king.

2. What form of government was in practice in France in 1789?

Ans . Monarchy

3. When did the French Revolution break?

Ans. In the morning on 14th July 1789.

4. Who stormed the Bastille, the fortress prison during the last years of the 18th century?

Ans. On the morning of 14 July 1789, the people of Paris stormed the fortress prison, the Bastille’.

5. When was the fortress prison, the Bastille demolished by the people?

Ans. On 14th July 1789.


1. State any three points of significance of storming the Bastille.

What is the significance of the storming of the Bastille? What is meant by people’s militia?

Ans. (1) The significance of the storming of the Bastille is as follows:

(i)Bastille was the symbol of autocracy.

(ii) The Bastille was hated by all because it stood for the despotic power of the king.

(iii) The demolition of this fortress-prison symbolized the end of the era of despotism.

(2) People’s militia means an army of common men.

2. Describe the events of 14th July 1789.

Trace the events which led to the fall of the Bastille.

Describe the incident which took place in the morning of 14 July 1789 in France.

Ans. (1) The city of Paris was alarmed in the morning of 14th July 1789.

(2) The king had commanded troops to move into the city.

(3) Rumours spread all around that the king would soon order the army to open fire upon the citizens.

(4) About 7,000 men and women gathered in front of the town hall and formed a people’s militia. They broke into a number of government buildings in search of arms.

(5) Finally, a group of several hundred people marched towards the eastern part of the city and stormed the fortress-prison, the Bastille.



1.In how many estates was the French society divided in the eighteenth country?

Ans. Three estates namely

(c) Small businessmen, peasants, landler labour and artisans.

2. Name any two classes of people who belonged to the third estate in France.

Ans. Small businessmen and peasants.

3. ‘lb which dynasty was Louis XVI related?

Ans. Louis XVI was related to Bourbon dynasty.

4. Name the tax which was charged by the church from the peasants?

Ans. The tax which was charged by the church from the peasants was Tithe.

5. What were Tithes and Taille?

Ans. Tithe: It was a tax collected by the church from the French peasants.

Tithe: Tax to be paid directly to the State.

6. Who refuted the doctrine of the divine and absolute right of the Monarch?

Ans. John Locke refuted the doctrine of the divine and absolute right of the Monarch.

7. To whom were the taxes called ‘tithes’ payable by the peasants in the eighteenth century France?

Ans. The tithe was a tax levied by the church on the peasants, comprising one-tenth of the agricultural produce.

8. Who wrote the book ‘Two Treatises of Government’?

Ans . John Locke wrote the book ‘Two Treatises of Government’.

9. Who enjoyed certain privileges by birth in the French society during the late eighteenth? Century?

Ans. The members of the first two estates that were clergy and the nobility enjoyed certain privileges by birth.

10. Name the tax which was paid directly to the State in France.

Ans. ‘Taille’ is the name of the direct tax paid to the State.

11. Who wrote ‘The Spirit of the Laws’?

Ans. Montesquieu is the writer of ‘The Spirit of the Laws’.

12. The eighteenth century witnessed the emergence of which social groups in France.

Ans. Middle-class groups.

13. Which book has proposed a division of power within the government?

Ans. The Spirit of the Laws.


1.What role did the middle class play in bringing about social and economic changes France? Explain.

Ans. (1) In the eighteenth century, middle class brought many changes the social-economic life of France.

(2) This class believed that no group in society should be privileged by birth.

(3) A person’s social position must depend on his merit.

(4) The society should be based on freedom and equal laws and opportunities for all.

(5) The government should be based on a social contract between people and their representatives.


1.Explain any five economic conditions of France that led to a revolution

Examine the economic conditions of France before 1789.

Ans. The economic conditions which led to the revolution were as follows:

(1) Long years of war and cost of maintaining an extravagant court had drained the financial resources of France.

(2) The French government was forced to increase taxes.

(3) Moreover, the French society was divided into three estates and only the members of the third estate paid taxes.

(4) The population of France grew rapidly which led to a rapid increase in the demand for foodgrains which was not fulfilled.

(5) The prices of essential things rose more than the wages which led to a subsistence crisis.

2. ‘A growing middle class in France during the 18th century envisaged an end to privileges.’ Analyze the statement.

Ans. (1) In the 18th century, the growing middle class had envisaged an end to the privileges of higher classes in France.

(2) This era witnessed the emergence of social groups termed as the middle class which consisted of small businessmen, professionals such as lawyers or administrative officials.

(3) All of these were educated and believed that no group in society should be privileged by birth. Rather a person’s social position must depend on his merit.

(4) These ideas were envisaging a society based on freedom and equal laws and opportunity for all without any distinction based on caste and creed.

3. How was the taxation policy responsible for the French Revolution?

Ans. (1) The taxation policy played an important role in the French Revolution which was based on the system of estates.

(2) The members of the first two estates that were clergy and the nobility enjoyed the exemption from paying taxes to the State.

(3) On the other hand, peasants had to pay double tax. One ‘Tithe’, a tax levied by the Church, comprising one-tenth of the agricultural produce, second `Taille’, a tax to be paid directly to the State.

(4) This disparity in paying the taxes added fuel to the French Revolution.

4. What was a subsistence crisis that occurred in France during the old regime? Explain.

What does subsistence crisis mean? What led to subsistence crisis in France? Explain.

Why did subsistence crisis frequently occur in France during the Old Regime?

List any five reasons that led to the subsistence crisis in France during the Old Regime.

Ans. (1) Subsistence crisis was an extreme situation where the basic means of livelihood were endangered.

The subsistence crisis frequently occurred in France during the Old Regime due to the:

(1) King Louis XVI and his predecessors of the Old Regime in France did nothing to raise the following reasons: the subsistence level of the Third Estate that paid all the taxes. Instead, they spent huge sums of money on maintaining an extravagant court and a large army.

(2) With the rapid increase in the population of France (23 million to 28 million), the demand for food grains also increased rapidly. The price of bread rose rapidly due to the scarcity of grains. Bread was the staple diet of the majority of the population.

(3) Most workers were employed as labourers on fixed wages. They suffered the most during the periods of bad harvests which occurred frequently. Their wages could not keep pace with the rise in prices.

(4) Things became worse whenever drought or hail hit and reduced the harvest while demand for grains continued to rise. Bakers and hoarders often exploited such a situation.

(5) In addition to bad harvests, scarcity of grain and food riots due to rising food prices, people also suffered and died due to the epidemics occurring frequently during the Old Regime.

5. Describe the ‘middle class’ in three points.

Who constituted the middle class in French society? How did they participate in the French Revolution? Explain.

`The eighteenth century France witnessed the emergence of the middle class’. Who were they and what were their ideas?

Describe any three features of a middle class of France during the 18th Century.

Ans. (1) The middle class was a social group that had earned their wealth through overseas trade and manufacture of goods. It also included professionals like lawyers or administrative officials.

(2) They were educated and believed that:

(i) No group in the society should be privileged by birth.

(ii) person’s social position must depend on his merit.

(3) They believed that a society should be based on freedom and have equal law and opportunities for all.

6. Explain the role of philosophers in the French Revolution of 1789.

How did philosophers influence the thinking of the people of France? Explain.

Analyze the role of the French philosophers in creating awareness among the people to fight for their rights

Highlight the role of philosophers in the French Revolution.

Describe the ideology of any three philosophers who influenced the French Revolution.

What role did the philosophers play in bringing about the French Revolution?

Describe the contribution of the French philosophers in the outbreak of the Revolution of 1789.

Ans. Role of philosophers in the French Revolution:

(1) John Locke wrote ‘Two Treatises of Government’ and criticized the divine and absolute rights of the ruler.

(2) Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote ‘The Social Contract’. He gave the idea of formation of a government based on a social contract between people and their representatives.

(3) Montesquieu wrote ‘The Spirit of the Laws’. He believed in the division of power between three organs of the government.

(4) Philosophers wanted a society based on freedom and equal laws and opportunities for all.

(5) Ideas of philosophers were discussed in salons and coffee houses and inspired them to fight for their rights.

7. “The inequality that existed in the French society in the Old Regime became the cause of the French Revolution”. Justify the statement by giving three suitable examples.

Describe the system of estates in which the French society was organized in the eighteenth century. What was the condition of peasants in this system?

How was the French society organized? What privileges did certain sections of the society enjoy? Describe.

How was the system of Estates in French society organized? Explain.

Explain the composition of French society during the late 18th century.

Ans. This is true that the inequality that existed in the French society in the Old Regime became the cause of the French Revolution.

(1) The French society was divided in the 18th century into three estates. The First and the Second Estates comprised clergy and nobility respectively. The Third Estate consisted of businessmen, traders, merchants, artisans, peasants and servants.

(2) The members of the first two estates enjoyed certain privileges by birth. Their most important privilege was that they were exempted from paying taxes to the State.

(3) The nobles further enjoyed feudal privileges. They extracted feudal dues from the peasants who had also to render services to the lords.

(4) The Church also extracted its share of taxes called `Tithes’ from the peasants.

(5) All the members of the Third Estate had to pay taxes to the State. These included a direct tax, called ‘Faille’, and many indirect taxes.

(6) In this way, the burden of financing the State activities was borne by the Third Estate alone. It created a heavy burden on them and created much discontentment.



1. What did the persons taking oath at the Tennis Court promise to do?

Ans. They swore not to disperse till they had drafted a Constitution for France with limited powers of the Monarch.

2. Who was the king at the time of revolution that took place in France in 1789?

Ans. Louis XVI

3. Which sections of the French society was forced to give up their power after the French Revolution of 1789?

Ans. Monarchy and Church

4. Which sections of society in France got political rights, by the Constitution of 1791?

Ans. Middle Class

5. Who in France, was given the status of active citizens?

Ans. Only men above 25 years of age who paid taxes equal to at least 3 days of a labourer wage were given the status of active citizens.

6. Which term was used in France for the newly elected assembly in 1791?

Ans. National Assembly

7. Name the pamphlet written by Abe Sieyes.

Ans. Abe Sieyes wrote an influential pamphlet called ‘What is the Third Estate’.

8. Why were women disappointed by the Constitution of 1791?

Ans. Women were denied entry to assembly and voting rights in the National Assembly, therefore, they were disappointed.

9. Name the political body to which the three estates of the French society sent the” Representatives.

Ans. National Assembly.

10. Who was given the status of ‘Active Citizens’ of France as per the Constitution of 1791?

Ans. Only men above 25 years of age.

11. Who wrote the book, The Social Contract?

Ans. Rousseau .

12. Who proposed the concept of The Social Contract?

Ans. Rousseau.

13. What was the main object of the National Assembly in France while drafting the Constitution in 1791?

Ans. To limit the powers of the monarch.

14. In which book did Rousseau mention the idea of one person, one vote?

Ans. The Social Contract.


1. Who was entitled to vote in France as per the Constitution of 1791, framed by did National Assembly? State any three rights given to the people by the Constitution.

Ans. (1) According to the Constitution of France framed by the National Assembly, citizens did not have the right to vote. Only men above 25 years of age who paid taxes at least 3 days of a labourer’s wage were active citizens and had the right

(2) The three rights given to the citizens were:

(i) Right to life, (ii) Freedom of speech, (iii) Freedom of opinion and equality of Law

2. On the night of 4th August 1789, a decree was passed by the French National Assembly. Describe the three main changes brought down by the decree.

Ans. On the night of 4th August 1789, the French National Assembly passed a decree. Three changes that were brought down were as follows:

(1) It passed a decree abolishing the feudal system of obligations and taxes.

(2) Members of clergy too were forced to give up their privileges.

(3) Tithes were abolished and lands owned by the Church were confiscated.

1. How were ancient _regime and its crises responsible for the Revolution of 1789 in France?

Ans. (1) In France’s ancient regime inequality existed in the society which became the cause of the French Revolution.

(2) The society was divided into three estates. The members of the first two estates enjoyed certain privileges by birth.

(3) Clergy and nobility and Church were the members of the first two estates. They extracted feudal dues and Tithes from the peasants who belonged to the third estate.

(4) Old Regime did nothing to raise the subsistence level of the third estate that paid all taxes. Instead, they spent huge sums of money on maintaining an extravagant court and a large army.

(5) This inequality existed in the French society in the old regime and became the cause of the French Revolution.

2. Who was the king of France at the time of the French Revolution? Mention the conditions in which he ascended the throne of France.

Ans. ( 1) Louis XVII was the king of France at the time of the French revolution.

(2) (i) In the summer of 1792, the Jacobins planned an insurrection of a large number of Parisians who were angered by the short supplies and high prices of food.

(ii) On the morning of August 10, they stormed the palace of Toiletries, massacred the king’s guards and held the king himself as a hostage for several hours.

(iii) Later the Assembly voted to imprison the royal family.

(iv) Louis XVI was sentenced to death by a court on charges of treason and was executed publically.

3. Give the reason for a walkout from the assembly of Estates-General by the members of 5 May 1789. What two steps were taken by the members of Third Estate Third Estate on after walk out?

Mention the Third Estate on after the walk o reason for a walkout from the assembly of Estate General by the members of 5th May 1789. Explain any two steps taken by the members of the Third Estate out.

Describe the events of 5th May 1789 in France

Ans. (1) (i) On 5th May 1789, the members of Third Estate demanded that voting should be conducted by the assembly as a whole, where each member would have one vote.

(ii) This was one of the democratic principles put forward by philosophers like Rousseau in his book The Social Contract’.

(iii) Louis XVI wanted that the voting should be like past in Estates General according to the principle that each estate should have one vote.

(iv) When the king rejected this proposal, the members of the third estate walked out of the assembly in protest.

(2) (i) They declared themselves a National Assembly.

(ii) They swore not to disperse till they had drafted a Constitution for France that would limit the powers of the monarch.

4. ‘While the National Assembly was busy at Versailles drafting Constitution, the rest of France seethed with turmoil’, Justify.

Give Reasons as to why the National Assembly was formed by the ‘people of the Third Estate’.

Why was the National Assembly formed by the people of the Third Estate? Explain.

Ans. (1) It is absolutely true when the National Assembly was busy at Versailles drafting a Constitution, the rest of France seethed with turmoil.

(2) As a severe winter meant a bad harvest, the price of bread rose.

(3) Often bakers exploited the situation and hoarded supplies.

(4) After spending hours in long queues at the bakery, crowds of angry women stormed into the shops.

(5)At the same time, the king ordered troops to move to Paris. On 14th July, the agitated crowd stormed and destroyed the Bastille.

5. Evaluate countryside condition during the French Revolution.

Ans. (1) In the countryside, rumours spread from village to village that the lords of the Manor had hired bands of brigands who were on their way to destroy the ripe crops.

(2) Caught in the frenzy of fear, peasants in several districts seized hoes and pitchforks and attacked chateaux.

(3) They looted hoarded grain and burnt down documents containing records of manorial dues.

(4) A large number of nobles fled from their homes and many of them migrated to the neighbouring countries.

6. Highlight the political reasons behind the French Revolution.

Describe the political conditions leading to the outbreak of revolution in France.

Ans. (1) The Autocracy of the Kings— The autocracy form of the government w prevalent in France. The kings regarded themselves as ‘Representatives of God on the Earth and ruled over their subjects without any check of restraints. The will of the king was law.

(2) Defective Administration— The French administration was not being properly carried on. It was a hotbed of favouritism and nepotism. The prized posts were reserved for the aristocrats and the nobles.

(3) Extravagancy— The King and the Queen spent a lot on their luxuries. The courtier also followed in the footsteps of their sovereign. Thus, the expenditure of the royal co crossed all limits.

(4) The Power of the Court– On the eve of the French Revolution, there were servant courts of law in France. But no book of the law was available for the guidance of the judges. T laws were made by the will of the king. About 400 different types of laws were in force France.

(5) The burden of Taxes— The general people had to pay 80% of their income in taxation They were not only groaning under the burden of these heavy taxes but also compelled to lead a very miserable life.

7. State the events that led to the formation of the National Assembly.

Ans. Following events led to the formation of the National Assembly.

(1) The Estates General was a political body of France to which the three estates sent their representatives. The voting in it had been conducted according to the principle that each estate had one vote.

(2) This time too when Louis XVI called a meeting of the Estates General, he decided to continue the same old practice.

(3) But, the members of the Third Estate demanded that voting now is conducted on the democratic principle of one person, one vote.

(4) When the king rejected this proposal, the members of the Third Estate walked out of the assembly in protest.

(5) They assembled on 20 June 1789 in the hall of an indoor tennis court in Versailles. These representatives of the Third Estate viewed themselves as spokesmen for the whole French nation. They declared themselves a National Assembly.

8. Explain any five features of the Constitution of 1791, framed by the National Assembly in France.

Explain any three features of the Constitution of France drafted in 1791.

What were the main provisions of the French Constitution of 1791?

List the main five features of the French Constitution of 1791.

Impact of the French and American Revolutions

The French Revolution had important consequences for every major country in Europe. What was particularly remarkable about the impact of the French Revolution on Britain was its profound and abiding influence on the ideological climate and its impact on the development of politics inside and outside parliament.

Throughout Britain the French Revolution was the most important subject of debate in literary, philosophical and political circles. Most of those who took an interest in what was happening across the Channel responded in either a highly positive or a profoundly negative fashion. This increasingly sharp division of opinion provided a major stimulus to extra-parliamentary reformers while also encouraging the growth of popular loyalism, and re-shaped the political fortunes of the two major groups in parliament, led by William Pitt the Younger and Charles James Fox respectively. British opinion thus became polarized between those who thought French principles and actions should set an example to the British people and those who believed that they should oppose everything the French Revolution was seeking to achieve.

The dramatic first months of the French Revolution inspired a positive reaction among men of liberal views both inside and outside parliament. To such men as Charles James Fox, Richard Price and Robert Southey the old world seemed to be passing a way and the regeneration of all human institutions seemed to be at hand. France was seen to be throwing off the shackles of tyranny and leading mankind to a more rational age when liberty, equality and fraternity would improve the human condition forever. Many veteran reformers, who had been campaigning for political change since the 1760s, hailed the outbreak of revolution in a country long regarded as the prime example of absolute monarchy and were galvanized into a renewed debate on what reforms needed to be achieved. By the early 1790s, inspired by French notions on the rights of man, most British campaigners for parliamentary reform had adopted the demand for universal manhood suffrage and for a full democratization of the electoral system. There was widespread agreement that the right to vote should be attached to the person and not to the property of man. To deny any man the franchise was to cast a slur on his moral character and to assert that he was less than a man. The possession of wealth was no proof of moral worth or civic virtue, and nor was poverty any evidence of the lack of these qualities.

In the past many British reformers had maintained that their demand for an extension of the franchise was based on a traditional right based on England’s ancient constitution. Many of the leading radical theorists of the early 1790s however abandoned an appeal to history and stressed instead the natural and inalienable rights of all men. Thomas Paine, for example, deliberately abandoned any appeal to the past and insisted that each age had the right to establish any political system which would fit its own needs. The present age must be free to reject the tyranny of the past and to inaugurate a new age of liberty. All men must be allowed their natural and inalienable rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. The authority of those in power must be limited and must be subject to the sovereignty of the people. A written constitution must place limits on the executive and the legislature, and must clearly set out the civil rights of all subjects. Thomas Paine would have gone further than most parliamentary reformers to democratize the elections to the House of Commons. He condemned all hereditary honours, titles and privileges. He saw no justification for a monarchy or an aristocracy and clearly favoured a democratic republic. Few other British reformers wanted to go as far as this and only a handful (and Paine was not among them) campaigned for votes for women. On the other hand, a few reformers had become interested in a range of social and economic reforms. Quite a number of reformers favoured educational reforms, changes in the legal system, the abolition of church tithes and the repeal of the game laws. Paine argued for a reduction in taxes on the poor and for a property tax on the rich which would fund such social welfare reforms as child allowances, maternity grants and old age pensions. Thomas Spence went further still and wanted to abolish private property and to put all land and natural resources in each parish under the control of and for the benefit of every man, woman and child living in it.

The consequences for the political and propertied elite of reforms such as these, and the alarming example set by the French revolutionaries who used violence and terror to achieve the changes which they desired, stimulated a profound conservative reaction in Britain. Conservative theorists such as Edmund Burke denounced the radical concept of natural rights, all abstract general principles and reforms based on speculative theories as the sure and certain road to political upheaval and social anarchy. They insisted that human beings were so unequal in body, mind, talents and fortune that they could not lay claim to an equal share of political power. Conservative propaganda aimed at a mass readership used more pragmatic arguments than these and adopted simple, direct language and a more impassioned tone. This propaganda sought to convince the middling and lower orders of Britain that French principles and the ideas of British radicals posed a terrible threat to everything that they held most dear. British subjects were warned that they had nothing to gain and everything to lose if they were seduced by radical principles. The French revolutionaries were condemned for rejecting Gods laws and arrogantly putting their trust in human reason. Whereas the British people were secure in their lives, liberty, property and religion, the French were experiencing terror, social anarchy and military dictatorship. This virulent propaganda set out to paint the French in the blackest colours and to accuse them of spreading terror, oppression and desolation across Europe. To restrain them, the British people must be prepared to make enormous sacrifices and to wage a veritable crusade against the French Revolution.

To disseminate their radical ideas far and wide British reformers established dozens of new political societies in most of the urban centres. By far the most important of these was the London Corresponding Society, founded by Thomas Hardy, a humble shoemaker, in January 1792. Branches soon spread across the capital and 3000 or more members were recruited, though it was never a mass society and it failed to attract large numbers of the poor. A radical society in Sheffield attracted nearly as many members, but most radical clubs were much smaller. Nearly all of them were formed by the commercial and professional middle classes and by skilled craftsmen, but their propaganda, public meetings and their petitioning campaigns did raise the political consciousness of large numbers of people.

In its determination to resist the spread of French principles the British government used its legislative and judicial powers to suppress radical activity. Faced with government repression, most radicals did not know how to respond. The majority lost heart or at least moderated their conduct. As a last desperate resort a minority turned to conspiracy and violence as the only means of achieving their political objectives. By the late 1790s a militant remnant of the British radical movement had assumed the conspiratorial, subversive and violent character that the majority had always repudiated. Groups of United Englishmen were formed in London, Lancashire and West Yorkshire, while bands of United Scotsmen appeared in central Scotland. Arms were gathered and secret drilling took place, but these groups lacked numbers, cohesion and a clear strategy. Without French support they had little prospect of success and most of their leaders were arrested in 1798.

In the years after 1789 parliamentary politics in Britain were marked by a rallying behind William Pitt’s government of the vast majority of the propertied elite. Pitt’s determination to oppose both revolution abroad and radical change at home was very popular with the propertied classes represented in parliament and dominant in most parliamentary constituencies. There was widespread backing for his repressive policies which destroyed the radical movement as an effective force.

While events in France increased the parliamentary majority of Pitt’s party of government in the years after 1789, they also played a major role in dividing the parliamentary opposition led by Charles James Fox and condemning it to nearly forty years in the political wilderness. Frequently outmanoeuvred by Pitt, the opposition suffered from divided counsels and erratic judgement and had tied itself closely to the unpopular and irresponsible Prince of Wales. The internal problems facing them, however, were greatly exacerbated by their inability to unite in their response to the French Revolution and the French war. This parliamentary opposition disintegrated between 1792 and 1794 largely because Burke, Portland and other conservative members could no longer accept the Foxite view that French revolutionaries and domestic radicals posed little threat to the political and social order within Britain. The anxiety created by prolonged war proved even more alarming than the political changes within France and it reduced even further the support for the Foxites both within parliament and among the political elite as a whole.

The Foxite view of the French Revolution was dominated by British assumptions and expectations. They mistakenly believed that the French were about to establish a constitutional monarchy on the British model. Even when the French revolutionaries turned to violence, the Foxites claimed that it was the absolutist powers of Europe, aided and abetted by the reactionary Pitt, who were more to blame than the French for the descent into anarchy, terror and dictatorship. The war against France was condemned as unjust and unnecessary. Such attitudes as these, sustained in the teeth of the evidence, ensured that the Foxites would never command a majority among the political elite so long as the French threat remained. At the same time the Foxites failed to enlist the enthusiastic support of radicals and reformers outside parliament because their commitment to parliamentary reform was at best ambivalent and almost invariably lukewarm. They failed to find and extend the middle ground in an age when political opinion was sharply polarized by events in France. Although the Foxites eloquently argued the case for peace and bravely tried to stem the tide of reaction, their efforts were condemned by most of the political elite as defeatist and unpatriotic and were rejected by the radicals as half-hearted and insincere.

In their different responses to the French Revolution and the French war the Pittites and the Foxites were divided more than any other recent governing party and opposition by a yawning political and ideological gulf. Previously divided mainly on the question of the royal prerogative, the two groups now increasingly differed over their attitudes to domestic reform, the French Revolution and the issues of war and peace. These major ideological differences propelled both groups towards greater party organization. Although the Younger Pitt always regarded himself as an independent Whig, his critics increasingly applied the label Tory to his administration because it defended the royal prerogative, supported the privileges of the Church of England, cultivated patriotic sentiment in the nation at large, encouraged militant loyalism, and suppressed radical dissent. As the party which remained critical of royal power, advocated religious toleration, supported a moderate extension of civil liberties and opposed reaction at home, the Foxites succeeded in retaining the old Whig label for themselves.

Britain and the American Revolution

The American Revolution can be regarded as a civil war in which the British people on both sides of the Atlantic disputed about their constitutional interpretations of the past and over their constitutional visions for the future. The people in America and the people in Britain were divided internally on the wisdom of the political arguments advanced by American patriots and British imperialists. In the colonies, there were many Americans who remained loyal to the British empire and the British constitution. In Britain there were many who sympathized with the American patriots and who protested against the policies put forward by the British government in the 1760s and 1770s. Throughout the American Revolution successive British governments secured comfortable majorities to support their imperialist policies towards the American colonies. In recent years however historians have shown that large numbers of people in Britain opposed the government’s American policy.

Faced with an American empire greatly increased in size by 1763 and already burdened by a huge national debt and very heavy taxes, British government ministers tried to revise its imperial machinery. It also tried to reduce the costs of empire while seeking to get the colonists to bear more – but only a part – of the burden of defending this North American empire. The colonists were asked to pay some of the costs for billeting British troops. And a new form of tax – an internal Stamp Tax imposing a duty on published papers and financial and legal documents – was introduced in 1765 in order to meet some of the costs of imperial defence. These government measures were not a conspiracy to deprive the colonies of their rights and liberties. From a British point of view they were legal decisions made by the government and enacted by parliament in order to get the Americans to pay part of the costs of their own defence.

In their opposition to the decisions taken by the British government, the American colonists challenged the right of the British government and the British parliament to pass such legislative acts. They raised the old British slogan of no taxation without consent long used by the British parliament against the British monarch and argued that they did not give their consent to British acts of parliament because they were not represented in the Westminster parliament. In response, the British government and a majority in parliament were determined to defend the constitutional principle of the sovereignty of the Westminster parliament. They were convinced that the British constitution had brought the British people of the whole empire many valuable benefits. This constitution was praised for saving Britain from the evils of absolutism and an authoritarian church. It had produced the rule of law and government by consent, the defence of property and the liberties of all subjects, and an unparalleled period of economic prosperity, military success and imperial expansion. It had, in particular, produced the essential objectives of all good government: liberty and stability under the rule of law and a law based on the consent of the people achieved through representative institutions. These arguments persuaded a majority of the political elite to support the American policies of successive British ministries, but many in Britain were opposed to these policies and to the constitutional principles that underlay them.

There were always British critics of the government inside and outside parliament who warned that British taxes and coercive measures would alienate all the American colonies and that war would be a disaster to all British interests. Critics in parliament condemned the ministers and regarded the drift to war as fatal and ruinous. William Pitt and Edmund Burke made major speeches urging compromise with the American colonists. Outside parliament Adam Smith and Josiah Tucker, the two leading economists of the day, argued that the colonies were beneficial to Britain only because of the trade across the Atlantic. This trade would continue to exist and would continue to benefit Britain even if Britain exercised no political control over the American colonies. As independent states the former colonies would continue to want to sell their raw materials to Britain and to buy British manufactured goods. It was therefore best not to fight, but to let the American colonies go their own way towards political independence. Large numbers of middle class men in London and many provincial cities also believed that the trade links with America were much more important than any political control over the internal affairs of the colonies. These men organized petitions against the Stamp act of 1765, and helped to secure its repeal in 1766, and they did the same in opposition to the coercive acts of 1774 and in favour of compromise with the Americans in 1775-6. Thousands of British people signed these petitions, opposed government policies and urged the need for peace. In March 1776 the Common Council of the City of London condemned the war with America and even tried to block the government’s efforts to recruit men into the army and the navy.

Many British critics of the government’s American policy sympathized with arguments advanced by the American colonists. Some opposition politicians in parliament insisted that the American colonists enjoyed all the liberties of British subjects in Britain, and that included the right to be taxed only by their own colonial legislatures. Radical propagandists such as Richard Price, Joseph Priestley, John Cartwright and James Burgh frequently argued that the government of the colonies must be based on consent and they supported the principle of no taxation without representation. They were critical of attempts to impose an internal tax on the colonies and they condemned coercive measures and opposed the war with the colonies. But these men wished to retain the British empire and to keep the links between Britain and the colonies. They found it difficult however to devise a political system which would maintain the empire, preserve liberty in all parts of it, and yet not have to grant the colonists full independence. Several proposals were made to allow the colonies to elect MPs to the British House of Commons so that colonists would enjoy representation in the imperial legislature. It was soon realised that this was impractical. The colonies were too far away so that colonial MPs could not easily keep in touch with the situation back in the colonies travel would be slow living for months every year in London would be very expensive and no agreement could ever be reached on how many American representatives should sit in the Westminster parliament.

Rather than force the American colonies to remain in the empire, British liberal and radical opinion had concluded by 1778 that the war should be ended and Britain should freely concede American independence. These men hoped that good human and commercial relations would be restored with the former colonies this would be more beneficial for both sides than a military victory for one side. Although they could not persuade the British government and a majority in parliament to accept American independence as early as 1778, Britain did eventually accept that the war was not worth continuing and peace was made in 1783.

The British defeat in the War of American Independence and loss of the American colonies were major disasters for Britain. Many in Europe thought Britain would rapidly decline into a second-rank power. These expectations were not realised however. The worst consequences of defeat were short-lived. Defeat produced government instability for a year or two, but William Pitt led one of the strongest governments in British history between 1784 and 1801. It was widely expected that American independence would destroy all Britain’s Atlantic trade and seriously weaken her economy. In fact, by the 1790s Britain was once more America’s greatest trading partner, buying the vast majority of Americas exports and supplying the vast majority of her imports. The British economy rapidly recovered from the war and industrial innovation very soon made Britain the leading manufacturing nation on earth and the richest power in the world. Britain lost her finest colonies in America in 1783, but she kept Canada and many islands in the West Indies and soon developed a second vast empire in India, Australia and the Far East.

The American Revolution had its most important impact within Britain on men of liberal or radical views who had sympathized with the American arguments during the 1760s and 1770s. The American crisis alerted men to the dangers posed to British liberties by the amount of political patronage controlled by the king and the extent of his influence over parliament. Slowly but surely, during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, royal patronage was cut back and the ability of the crown to influence the membership of the House of Commons was severely limited. The monarch began to play a much less significant role in politics. British failure also encouraged a major revival of radicalism. By 1780 British radicals and already proposed a series of reforms to democratize the House of Commons including votes for all adult males. It took many years to achieve these reforms but it was the American Revolution that taught British radicals what reforms to demand to make parliament accountable to the people and not just to the propertied elite. It was the American patriots who taught British radicals to demand a much more democratic franchise and to strive to increase the political influence of ordinary British subjects. They also taught British reformers how to organize political campaigns and how to achieve reforms without too much domestic upheaval. The lessons which Britain did not learn from the American Revolution was the dangers posed by the sovereignty of parliament and the advantages of a written constitution approved by the people and an extensive Bill of Rights.

The United States and the French Revolution, 1789–1799

The French Revolution lasted from 1789 until 1799. The Revolution precipitated a series of European wars, forcing the United States to articulate a clear policy of neutrality in order to avoid being embroiled in these European conflicts. The French Revolution also influenced U.S. politics, as pro- and anti- Revolutionary factions sought to influence American domestic and foreign policy.

When the first rumors of political change in France reached American shores in 1789, the U.S. public was largely enthusiastic. Americans hoped for democratic reforms that would solidify the existing Franco-American alliance and transform France into a republican ally against aristocratic and monarchical Britain. However, with revolutionary change also came political instability, violence, and calls for radical social change in France that frightened many Americans. American political debate over the nature of the French Revolution exacerbated pre-existing political divisions and resulted in the alignment of the political elite along pro-French and pro-British lines. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson became the leader of the pro-French Democratic-Republican Party that celebrated the republican ideals of the French Revolution. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton led the Federalist Party, which viewed the Revolution with skepticism and sought to preserve existing commercial ties with Great Britain. With the two most powerful members of his cabinet locked in opposition, President George Washington tried to strike a balance between the two.

From 1790 to 1794, the French Revolution became increasingly radical. After French King Louis XVI was tried and executed on January 21, 1793, war between France and monarchal nations Great Britain and Spain was inevitable. These two powers joined Austria and other European nations in the war against Revolutionary France that had already started in 1791. The United States remained neutral, as both Federalists and Democratic-Republicans saw that war would lead to economic disaster and the possibility of invasion. This policy was made difficult by heavy-handed British and French actions. The British harassed neutral American merchant ships, while the French Government dispatched a controversial Minister to the United States, Edmond-Charles Genêt, whose violations of the American neutrality policy embroiled the two countries in the Citizen Genêt Affair until his recall in 1794.

In 1794, the French Revolution entered its most violent phase, the Terror. Under foreign invasion, the French Government declared a state of emergency, and many foreigners residing in France were arrested, including American revolutionary pamphleteer Thomas Paine, owing to his British birth. Although U.S. Minister to France Gouverneur Morris was unable to obtain Paine’s release, Morris was able to intercede successfully on behalf of many other Americans imprisoned during the Terror, including the American Consuls at Dunkirk, Rouen, and Le Havre. Once the Terror ended in late July of 1794, the arrests ended, and Paine, who had been scheduled to be executed, was released.

Although the French Revolution had ended its radical phase, Federalists in the United States remained wary of revolutionary ideology infiltrating the United States. Many French citizens, refugees from the French and Haitian revolutions, had settled in American cities and remained politically active, setting up newspapers and agitating for their political causes. A French spy, Victor Collot, traveled through the United States in 1796, noting the weaknesses in its western border. When a breakdown in diplomatic negotiations resulted in the Quasi-War with France, the Federalist-controlled Congress passed a series of laws known as the Alien and Sedition Acts, intended to curb political dissent and limit the political participation of immigrants by easing deportation and lengthening the time required for citizenship. A number of political radicals were arrested for sedition, including Congressman Matthew Lyon and newspaper editors James Thompson Callendar and William Duane. Many refugees, sensing American hostility, chose to return to France and Haiti since the political situation had temporarily calmed in both places.

The Alien and Sedition Acts, originally intended to prevent a growth in pro-French sentiment, actually backfired for the Federalists. Taken aback by such extreme measures, swing voters in the presidential election of 1800 instead backed the pro-French Thomas Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican Party, instead of the Federalist John Adams, who was running for re-election as President. Adams had also alienated the anti-Revolutionary wing of his party by seeking peace with France, whose revolution had already been brought to a close by General Napoleon Bonaparte.

Despite Federalist warnings that electing Jefferson would bring revolution to the United States, Jefferson instead chose to distance himself from political radicals and win over political moderates. The revolution in France was over, and while many Americans voters sympathized with the revolution in the abstract, they did not want the revolution’s most radical changes put into effect in the United States.

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914

Developments in 19th-century Europe are bounded by two great events. The French Revolution broke out in 1789, and its effects reverberated throughout much of Europe for many decades. World War I began in 1914. Its inception resulted from many trends in European society, culture, and diplomacy during the late 19th century. In between these boundaries—the one opening a new set of trends, the other bringing long-standing tensions to a head—much of modern Europe was defined.

Europe during this 125-year span was both united and deeply divided. A number of basic cultural trends, including new literary styles and the spread of science, ran through the entire continent. European states were increasingly locked in diplomatic interaction, culminating in continentwide alliance systems after 1871. At the same time, this was a century of growing nationalism, in which individual states jealously protected their identities and indeed established more rigorous border controls than ever before. Finally, the European continent was to an extent divided between two zones of differential development. Changes such as the Industrial Revolution and political liberalization spread first and fastest in western Europe—Britain, France, the Low Countries, Scandinavia, and, to an extent, Germany and Italy. Eastern and southern Europe, more rural at the outset of the period, changed more slowly and in somewhat different ways.

Europe witnessed important common patterns and increasing interconnections, but these developments must be assessed in terms of nation-state divisions and, even more, of larger regional differences. Some trends, including the ongoing impact of the French Revolution, ran through virtually the entire 19th century. Other characteristics, however, had a shorter life span.

Some historians prefer to divide 19th-century history into relatively small chunks. Thus, 1789–1815 is defined by the French Revolution and Napoleon 1815–48 forms a period of reaction and adjustment 1848–71 is dominated by a new round of revolution and the unifications of the German and Italian nations and 1871–1914, an age of imperialism, is shaped by new kinds of political debate and the pressures that culminated in war. Overriding these important markers, however, a simpler division can also be useful. Between 1789 and 1849 Europe dealt with the forces of political revolution and the first impact of the Industrial Revolution. Between 1849 and 1914 a fuller industrial society emerged, including new forms of states and of diplomatic and military alignments. The mid-19th century, in either formulation, looms as a particularly important point of transition within the extended 19th century.