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Video:Start of the French Revolution

with Christina Hartman

What do you know about the French Revolution of 1798? Watch this About.com video to learn why it was a turning point in French history.See Transcript

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Transcript:Start of the French Revolution

Hi, I'm Christina for About.com and today we're going to talk about the French Revolution of 1798 and why it was a turning point in French History.

Basics: The French Revolution

The French Revolution inherited its ideals from the Age of Enlightenment, a cultural and intellectual movement of the XVIIIth (18th) century. This movement opposed the absolute monarchy, the main political regime in Europe at that time.

Estates-General of 1789

During 1789, France faced a harsh economic crisis: the previous year's harvest was extremely deficient and the French government was close to bankruptcy, leading to strong popular discontent, which led to frequent uprisings.

King Louis XVI was unable to restore order during his rule, and urgently convened the Estates-General in May 1789. This Assembly, composed of the three estates of the realm: the clergy, the nobility and the common people representing the rest of France.

The Constitution of a National Assembly

The Estates-General, reunited in Versailles, brought hope for the common people. But they quickly became disillusioned: the King did not consider them with the same respect as the two other estates and they were underrepresented in the decisions. Thus, on the 17th of June, commoners declared themselves a National Assembly, wholly free of the Estates-General.

On the June 20, 1789, the populace united under an act called The Tennis Court Oath, demanding the King enact a Constitution of rights for the people of France.

Rioters Storm the Bastille

In Paris, the popular discontentment led to riots. King Louis XVI, in turn, responded by sending foreign regiments. On July 14, 1789, rioters stormed the Bastille fortress, a royal prison, which became the de facto seat of revolutionary power. It was also regarded as a turning point in the French Revolution, and the beginning of the end for the monarchy.

From there, the old royal system degraded quickly.  On the night of August 4th, all estate privileges were abolished. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is voted on August 26th.

This document is of major importance and has inspired a lot of other democracies: it states the inalienable natural rights of human beings, as well as the equality of all citizens towards the law and the Nation's sovereignty.

The French Constitution

Finally, the National Assembly creates the first French Constitution, implemented in 1791. The French Revolution officially ends with the Napoleon Coup d'Etat in 1799. But its heritage throughout the world is undeniable: the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is a fundamental document for human rights, and has notably inspired the European Convention of Human Rights of 1950.

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