Events in the French Revolution, according to Coffin, as compiled by IC 190, Spring 2006

What Happens in a Revolution? (Extrapolations of material in left column)

Phase I: Fall of the Old Regime—up to 1789

The Causes

·        Enlightenment ideas/thinkers

·        Social tensions (3rd estate/nobility)

·        Financial/economic crisis (inflation/bread $/unemployment)

·        Weak monarch (Louis XVI)

·        Absolutism (Louis XIV)

·        New ideas, ideologies

·        Existing authority structure could not handle the new disparities in wealth and power

·        Classes and new elites, tension between groups

·        New centers of economic and social power not represented via politics

·        Flawed tax system- unequal taxation

·        Financial crisis (result of policies, tax system, debt from war)

·        Overall: These issues become the actions of some group.

Phase II: “First French Revolution,” 1789-92, the constitutional, moderate, Lockean, liberal phase.

·        Tennis Court Oath

·        Fall of Bastille

·        The Great Fear

·        Assembly discussions in response—abolition of feudal privileges

·        Declaration of the rights of man

·        October days

·        civil constitution of clergy

·        Abolition of slavery etc.

·        National Assembly divides France into administrative departments, consolidating national government’s power, rationalizing administration

·        Royal Family tries to escape Paris

·        War on Austria and Prussia, led to radical phase


·        Some group(s) asserts a new program

·        Rise of new social elites—but some groups left out (not a wholesale quest for equality)

·        Popular uprisings—the violence changes political and social dynamics, outcomes are unpredictable

·        Major institutions are unstable, even if not the targets of revolutionary groups (churches, economic institutions)

·        An encounter with counter-revolutionary forces

·        External threats may unify country

Phase III:  “Second French Revolution,” 1792-4  Radical Phase

·        First Republic established (Summer 1792)

·        National Convention elected (Sept 1792)

·        Execution of the King (Jan 1793)

·        these lead to Committee of Public Safety (1793)

·        War between Britain, Holland, Spain and France Feb 1793)

·        Reign of Terror (Sept 1793-Jan 1794)

·        Purge of the Jacobins (July 27, 1794)

·        Execution of Robespierre (July 28, 1794)

·        leads into the Reactionary Phase


·        Revolution leads to broader (or, at least, different) scheme of representation

·        A group with an agenda rises to power, their support can lead to exclusion of others, tyranny

·        Leading group invokes an emergency strategy, democratic reforms deferred, they define “enemies of the revolution.”

·        Revolution becomes nationalistic, unifying, helps to organize military

·        The government uses organized political violence as a tool of control

·        Reaction to excesses can lead to a loss of legitimacy for government

Phase IV, 1794-1799, The Directory

·        Committee of Public Safety was failing.

·        Inflation was rising dramatically.

·        Repeal of The Maximum

·        Robespierre was executed.

·        New constitution written in 1795, less direct representation

·        Formation of The Directory

·        First free elections were held (later annulled).

·        Napoleon appointed to "temporary consul" (Directory had asked him, in 1795, to put down an uprising, when he was 26; many historians refer to his free and skillful use of cannon to do so.  His success the following year against the Austrians, and later action against the British in Egypt, made him a hero in France.  He was part of the 1799 coup that got rid of the Directory.)

·        Events result in the loss of legitimacy, and the regime weakens

·        Less democratic, , less radical, more centralized phase

·        In the fight for ideals, possibility of popular acclaim for “man on white horse,” a leader that stands for the ideals of the revolution.  Likely to be a military leader.

Final Phase, Napolionic Era

·        Directory asks Napoleon to assume role of "temporary consul." This allows for strong, popular ruler who isn't a king.

·        Centralization of power

·        Specifically a plebiscite in 1802 requesting Napoleon be named consul for life.

·        reorganization of the state with abolition of privilege, the establishment of a fair taxation system, and the funding of all schools by the state

·        The institution of the Napoleonic Code

·        Wars of expansion

·        Napoleon declares himself Emperor

·        Finally, the stage ends when Napoleon is ultimately defeated at Waterloo.