French Revolution - The Terror - History of France answers questions

French Revolution

French Revolution women
French women revolutionaries march
on the king's palace at Versailles

All through the 1700s, Enlightenment philosophers in France had been figuring out new ways of thinking about the world. Little by little they rejected religion and inherited power. They invented the idea that people should use logic and reason to make choices, that people - both men and women - had natural rights, that everyone should be equal to everyone else, and that people should control their own government. The English revolution of Oliver Cromwell encouraged these ideas, and then the American Revolution in 1776 talked about these ideas too. The French kings tried to change French government to fit these new ideas, but, partly because rich lords stopped them, they didn't change fast enough. Bad harvests caused by the Little Ice Age also left people hungry and angry. By 1789 the French people turned from reform to revolution. Women led many of the riots, because the king's soldiers were less likely to shoot a crowd of women than a crowd of men.

A woman being guillotined (killed)

In the most radical part of the French Revolution, people rejected almost everything about the past. They smashed up churches all over France. They killed priests and monks and nuns. They created a new calendar and new clocks (which didn't last) and a new measuring system, the metric system (which did last). They thought these new systems would be easier to learn, which would help democracy because all the citizens would be educated. The revolutionaries used the newly invented guillotine to cut the heads off thousands of rich men and women, while crowds of poor people cheered.

But by 1794 people were beginning to want to go back to something more familiar and normal. And rich men were beginning to figure out ways of getting power in the new system. They pushed poor people and women out of power, and created a government run by rich men again. By 1796, Napoleon was getting into power as the leader of the new government.

Learn by doing: consider women-led protests as a tactic for your own protests
More about Napoleon
The American Revolution

Bibliography and further reading about the French Revolution:

Ottoman Empire
United States home

Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

Help support! (formerly "History for Kids") is entirely supported by your generous donations and by our sponsors. Most donors give about $10. Can you give $10 today to keep this site running? Or give $50 to sponsor a page?

With the Presidential inauguration this weekend, it's a good time to review the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and all the Constitutional amendments since the Bill of Rights. Also check out our articles on people who have been excluded from power in the United States - Native Americans, people of color, Mormons, Quakers, women...