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French Revolution and
European Reaction
Enlightenment to Congress of Vienna
The Enlightenment as a social and intellectual movement impacted many
segments of society. How did this movement affect women in the elite classes
and the common women during the revolutions?
In England, educated middle-class women purchased and discussed the books and pamphlets
of the era.
In Paris, wealthy women made their homes centers of debate, intellectual speculation, and free
French women faced the difficulties of feeding their familieses while facing high bread prices, and
economic depression hit garment and other small businesses hard.
Women were employed in these hard-hit industries.
Market women organized a crowd of thousands to march to Versailles. Once there, they forced their way
into the National Assembly to demand action.
Therefore, the Enlightenment impacted women of both the elite and the poorer classes.
Women of the elite participated in the debates and dissemination of Enlightenment thought,
whereas poor women took Enlightenment inspiration to organize protests and boycotts.
Their salons brought together philosophers, social critics, artists, and members of the aristocracy and
commercial elite.
Women were powerfully affected by their participation in revolutionary politics, which in part
resulted from Enlightenment thinking.
During the American Revolution, women had led prewar boycotts and during the war had
organized relief and charitable organizations. Nevertheless, they were denied political rights in
the new republic.
During the French Revolution, working-class and poor women were particularly affected by the
prewar economic crises.
Some were also important contributors to the intellectual life of the writers by raising the issue of rights of
Unfortunately, their interest and participation was not recognized by their governments in the aftermath
of the revolutions.
Both elite and common women remain disenfranchised by the new constitutional governments
in France and the United States until the twentieth century.
After defeating the French in North America in 1763, what two major
problems did the British face with respect to the American colonies?
• First, the possibility of armed conflict between colonists and Native
Americans threatened to bankrupt the British government, which was
already heavily in debt from European and colonial wars.
– Britain simply could not afford to defend the American colonies as adequately
as the colonists demanded, if they continued to settle Amerindian land and
provoke wars.
– In response, Britain passed the Proclamation of 1763, which was supposed to
prohibit colonists from crossing the Appalachian Mountains into Indian territory.
– The act was flouted quite openly by colonists, who viewed it as a repressive
• The second major problem directly addressed financial matters—
specifically how to get the colonists to pay more of the expenses of
governing and protecting them.
– many taxes were imposed on colonists toward this end, including the Sugar and
Currency Acts of 1764, the Stamp Act of 1765, and the Townsend duties in
– The result of those acts was the strengthening of colonial resolve, the
unification of the formerly fragmented colonies in their common protest against
perceived British oppression, and ultimately rebellion and revolution.
The armed forces of the American colonists were small, poorly equipped, and
often poorly led. How were those colonists able to defeat Great Britain, which
ranked as one of the foremost military powers in the world at that time?
• A wide variety of factors contributed to the American victory.
– British lines of communication and supply stretched across the ocean, whereas
the colonists were fighting in their own backyards.
– New recruits and supplies for the Americans were close at hand.
– Although the British won most of the battles, the colonists were able to win a
few key victories, such as the battle at Saratoga, New York.
– That victory was important because it brought the French into the conflict on
the Americans’ side.
• Without the French, the Americans probably could not have won the war.
– The French supplied arms, powder, and cannon, in addition to many soldiers,
advisers, and fleets of warships, which turned the tide against the British.
• Also significant was the debate within the British government and among
the British public over the conduct of the war.
• The British received very little encouragement and much hindrance in their
prosecution of the war.
• British indecision and ineptitude often made it difficult to pursue effective
How were the revolutions of the eighteenth century inspired by a body
of new ideas? Discuss Locke and Rousseau in your response.
• The Enlightenment emerged out of the Scientific
– Enlightenment thinkers began to use reason and
rational inquiry to examine the nature of society and
therefore began to question the efficacy of the
leadership of the nobility, monarchy, and the church.
– John Locke as well as Rousseau supported the ideas of
natural rights, government as an instrument of the
people’s will, and the right to rebellion.
– These ideas were made popular in the West due a high
literacy rate and became well-known particularly to the
middle class through essays by these thinkers in
addition to newspapers.
– The popular protest of the eighteenth century was
inspired in large part by these new ideas and the
growing discontent of the population.
Describe the major wars fought among European imperial powers in
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and identify the major
consequences of these wars.
• The colonial wars began in the seventeenth century, when the
Netherlands attacked Spanish and Portuguese colonies worldwide.
Great Britain also raided Spanish and Portuguese colonies, gaining a
foothold overseas.
• The British then attacked the Dutch, whose waning influence drew
Britain and France into a struggle for power and control. In the
eighteenth century, the War of Spanish Succession brought all of the
major powers into conflict, as did the War of Austrian Succession a few
decades later.
• Another series of wars between France and Britain culminated in the
Seven Years War, which ended in 1763.
• When that war ended, Britain had gained control of all the French
holdings in North America and most of French territory in India.
• Even though the economies of European countries were expanding
because of the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, extensive
colonial wars created an enormous fiscal crisis.
• The problems generated by that fiscal crisis helped spark the
revolutionary era.
What were some of the reasons for the failure of the French Revolution to
initiate lasting representative government & for the rise of the new dictatorship?
The French Revolution led to several new constitutions and assemblies of
Rebellious citizens often took over various proceedings to announce their will and
exercise control.
The economy was in terrible condition, and hunger and hardship forced a continuous
cycle of reform and rebellion.
The turning point was the Reign of Terror (1793–1794), led by Robespierre and
– Those most radical Jacobins seemed most sympathetic to the needs of the working class.
– Robespierre’s strength among working people allowed him to eliminate his political
enemies; 40,000 people were killed and another 300,000 imprisoned.
– When French armies defeated foreign invaders, the National Convention arrested
Robespierre and his followers and executed them.
After the Terror, the new government, the Directory, imposed a more conservative
– The Catholic Church regained its influence—if not its wealth—and new voting restrictions
tempered the power of the masses.
– Still, economic problems were rampant, and the nation had grown tired of the constant
struggles and hardships.
– Napoleon stepped into the breach.
By political compromise and promises of stability and peace, backed by the military
strength to enforce them, Napoleon was swept into power.
Napoleon also held out the promise of French superiority in Europe and won support
from the church by instituting the Concordat of 1801
Napoleon declared himself emperor in 1804
What was the nature of the fiscal crisis that triggered the French Revolution?
The expenses of a long series of European wars, beginning with the War of Austrian
Succession (1740-1748), initiated the fiscal crisis.
Imperial and expansionist/mercantilistic issues exacerbated the situation
The Seven Years War (1756–1763) fought in both the Americas as the French and Indian Wars
with the British over control of American territories and in South Asia fought for control of the
resources in both South Asia and Southeast Asia
King Louis XV was rebuffed in his attempts to repeal tax exemptions of some favored groups.
Later, King Louis XVI was warned that the government’s finances were stretched thin, but he plunged
France into the American Revolution anyway.
Renewed attempts to increase the nobility’s taxes met with frustration and political maneuvering
by each side.
When Louis called a meeting of the Estates General for the first time in 163 years, the
opportunity existed for a combined front to resist governmental power and institute a
constitutional monarchy.
Besides the fiscal crisis within the French government, there was a growing crisis within French
The nation’s poor were a large, growing, and troublesome sector. The poverty of peasant families forced
younger children to seek seasonal work away from home and led many to crime and beggary. The urban
streets swarmed with beggars and prostitutes.
The wretchedness of the French poor is best indicated by the growing problem of child abandonment. Unable to
afford decent housing, obtain steady work, or protect their children, the poor periodically erupted in violent protest.
In the countryside violence was often the reaction when nobility and clergy increased dues and fees. In
towns and cities an increase in the price of bread often provided the spark.
A succession of bad harvests propelled bread prices upward and provoked an economic depression as
demand for nonessential goods collapsed.
By the time of the revolution, nearly a third of the Parisian workforce was unemployed.
The rebellion of the French nobility was most immediately responsible for the revolution
because of their greed and unwillingness to submit to higher taxes.
The Third Estate was already overburdened with taxes, and when an economic depression struck in the
1780s, conditions were ripe for joining the revolution.
What was the Congress of Vienna? How does the conservative backlash after
the revolutions of the eighteenth century become the inspiration for widespread
reform movements throughout Europe and North America?
Despite the conservative retrenchment after the French Revolution, popular support for
democratic reform and self determination spread throughout Europe.
The Congress of Vienna took place in 1814–1815 as a response to the upheaval faced by
the monarchies, nobility, and the church.
The objective of the Congress of Vienna was to restore the French monarchy, to repress
nationalist and liberal ideas, and to stem the tide of revolution elsewhere.
Despite these efforts by this “Holy Alliance” of European leaders, the powerful ideas of
liberalism as well as democracy grew mostly as a reaction to the rising tide of capitalism and
the Industrial Revolution conflicts between workers and owners.
Movements for suffrage were usually towards white males and were targeting class
struggles and not racial or gender struggles at this time.
Greek movements were towards independence from the Ottoman Empire as this once great
empire known as the “sick man” of Europe, began to loose its abilities to maintain the vast
Islamic Empire.
Legitimacy and stability were the focus of the reactionary Alliances often supported by the Catholic
These nationalistic movements provided instability and required a reaction from other European
nations eventually leading to treaties such as the Congress of Berlin, Treaty of San Stefano, and
ultimately to the Berlin Conference, ushering in imperialism of the late 1800s.
In the United States voting rights were extended to all white males, and in Great Britain
reformers called Chartists worked for voting reform as well as labor reforms.
Reformers in Italy, Hungary, and Bohemia also pressed for national self determination.
What were the causes of the revolution in Saint Domingue?
• The foundation for the Haitian Revolution lay in the inherent racism and
brutality of slavery and the plantation system.
– Blanc, petite blanc, gens de couleur, slaves and other racial divisions
– Plantocracy or plantation system support of the racial divisions
• The number of African-born slaves, as opposed to those born in Haiti, was
a significant factor as well.
• The event that triggered the revolution was the revolutionary turmoil in
France. Wealthy planters, poor whites, and the gens de couleur sent
representatives to Paris to argue their points of view in the new legislative
• As the struggle for control between those groups within Haiti intensified,
violence broke out.
• Violence first divided gens de couleur and white, and then a separate slave
rebellion broke out in the north.
• Slaves gained strength when the radical National Convention in France
outlawed slavery in 1793.
• The efforts of the plantocracy to continue slavery ensured that the general
melee turned into a struggle of slaves for their freedom.
• This movement was not supported in subsequent governments of France
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