Why did France want a revolution?
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. These philosophers were saying 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.
Where did Europeans get these ideas?
They got some of these ideas from African and Native American speakers. Other ideas came from earlier social movements like the Cathars and the Mazdakites. Some ideas came from Chinese philosophy too.
The English and American Revolutions
The Little Ice Age
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. Many women hoped that the French Revolution would be a way for women to get equality, as well as men.
Smashy-smashy: the Revolution breaks stuff
They created a new calendar and new clocks (which didn’t last) and a new measuring system, the metric system (which did last). Scientists 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. The Revolution took all these rich people’s land, divided it up into small farms, and gave every family its own farm.
The end of the Revolution: Napoleon
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.