Saturday, July 2, 2011

Louis XVI

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Before the French Revolution, life was just bad. Almost all of the population was either peasants or city-workers. They had basically nothing, no food, no money, no warmth, etc. The other three- percent of the population had power and wealth. Life was considerably livable for the nobles. The clergy had the best life and the most wealth. King Louis the XVI made life miserable for these people and they wanted change, and they wanted it now! The only way to get what they wanted was to rebel, and rebel they did! The government they soon introduced was the best alternative to the tyranny of absolute monarchy that they could have developed.


King Louis the XVI was a weak leader. He was born into debt and also borrowed quite heavily in order to help the American revolutionaries against Great Britain. King Louis did not pay much attention to his government advisers. They told him to stop asking for money or he would get himself and his wife Marie Antoinette into more trouble than they already were in. Instead of raising taxes, he put it off until France was almost bankrupt. The king tried to tax the aristocrats and from there the Second Estate forced him to call a meeting with the Estates-General to get approval for the tax reform. The members of the Third Estate were eager to make changes in the government. The bourgeoisie called themselves the National Assembly. They voted and by an overwhelming majority, established the National Assembly in effect. Thus, ending the absolute monarchy and the beginning of the representative government. Louis ordered his nobles and clergymen to join the Third Estate in the National Assembly. However, at the same time he sent Swiss troops to Paris since he did not trust his French soldiers any longer. The citizens heard many rumors that Louis’ foreign army was going to kill the French people. In fear, French mobs ‘stormed the Bastille,’ trying to get gunpowder. They overwhelmed the king’s troops and the prison fell into control of the French citizens. At this time the French became ruthless and felt no boundaries. They rebelled against their king and were semi-violent. They demanded that Louis and Marie Antoinette go to Paris. The king finally agreed and fled with his wife, children, and servants. They never returned to Versailles signaling the change in power and radical groups. The royal family tried to escape from France completely but were captured near the Netherlands’ border and brought back to Paris.


As the radicals became more powerful, the nobles fled France in fear. The monarchs and nobles in nearby European countries also feared the changes happening in France. The radicals wanted to spread their ideas of revolution to neighboring countries thus beginning the war with Austria. By going to war with France many European leaders believed that they would help Louis the XVI back to the thrown and ensure their reigns. Louis’ Swiss army was defeated and the Parisians imprisoned Louis’ family in a stone tower. The Parisian radicals frightened the Legislative Assembly and they got rid of the limited monarchy in fear of their lives. They needed a new assembly and called themselves the National Convention. The Jacobin Club, violent radicals, wanted to remove the king and create a republic in his place. The National Convention abolished the monarchy; guided by the Jacobins found the ex-king guilty of treason. King Louis the XVI was sentenced to death by guillotine by a very close vote. The radicals were now in control.


The Jacobins had many followers but at the same time many, many enemies within French boundaries. The peasants were horrified with the beheading of their king; priests could not accept the government controlling the church, and non-radical leaders were just appalled. The radicals then began to think of a way to control their enemies. Maximilien Robespierre and his followers wanted to create a ‘republic of virtue.’ He wanted to completely eliminate France’s past of monarchy and nobility. Families changed their names to something less political, card decks were changed to figures that were more revolutionary, and many strong believers changed the calendar to be more scientific. Robespierre became the leader of the Committee of Public Safety. As leader, he decided who was considered enemies of the republic or in other words, did not have the same strong beliefs as he did.


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Robespierre governed France almost like a dictator, and his years of power were known as the Reign of Terror. Since he was the leader of the Committee of the Public Safety, he many times tried people and had them beheaded that very afternoon. Maximilien Robespierre justified the Reign of Terror by saying it let the French be true to the ideals of the French Revolution. “Virtue which without terror is murderous, terror w which without virtue is powerless.” -Robespierre. Robespierre sentenced many leaders that had helped the republic to death simply because they were less radical as he was. Robespierre started to get very critical. He and his followers sentenced many to death for simply injustice reasons. Two reasons were, a young youth was sentenced to death by guillotine for sawing down a tree that represented liberty, and a tavern owner was killed for selling sour wine to the “defenders of the country.” The National Convention became afraid that they were next. They turned on him and had Robespierre arrested. They shouted, “Down with the tyrant!” The next day Maximilien Robespierre was executed by means of guillotine. After Robespierre’s death, the French opinions shifted dramatically to the right. The moderate leaders from the National Convention drafted a new constitution that was lead mainly by the upper middle classes with a two-house legislature and a Directory. The five directors were moderates not radicals.


The French became very conscience after the Terror. The Directory found a suitable general to lead France; his name was Napoleon Bonaparte. The legislature abolished the Directory and voted to establish three consuls one of whom was Napoleon. Napoleon at this time was still in war against Britain, Austria, and Russia. At the head of his troops, they won and the countries eventually signed peace agreements with France. Napoleon was then voted the first consul, which contained all power. Napoleon did not try to change many things back to the time of Louis the XVI. Instead, he kept many of the things the Revolution brought. Napoleon set up a fairer tax code, national bank, secured currency for the economy and it finally made it stable. For the government and society, Napoleon appointed officials by means of merits only, fired the corrupt officials, set up public school and invented the Napoleonic Code. On the religion side of things, Napoleon restored captured churches, signed an agreement with the pope, and said that Catholicism was the ‘faith of the Frenchmen.’ Almost everything that Napoleon did worked out successfully.


However, when Saint Domingue heard of the new privileges France had received, they demanded the same. The slaves in the colony wanted their rightful freedom. Napoleon decided to keep the French control of the island, but the former slaves were ready for his attack. Thousands of Napoleon’s soldiers died from yellow fever. The U.S. said that they wanted to buy the New Orleans port. Napoleon decided to sell it so he could cut back on his losses in America. During this time, Britain, Austria, Russia, and Sweden joined together to form the Third Coalition against France. After the battle of Austerlitz, the rulers of Austria, Prussia, and Russia all signed the peace treaty. In the Battle of Trafalgar, during the war against the Third Coalition, he lost to Horatio Nelson a British admiral. His idea to defeat his enemies across the English Channel would lead to his own undoing. In 181, Napoleon invaded Russia. His army was not made up of all French men. Some were drafted and felt no loyalty towards him. Russian troops torched their fields so Napoleon’s troops would have nothing to eat. They entered Moscow, but they found it in flames. He stayed there for five weeks thinking Alexander the I would make a peace treaty, but it never came. As Napoleon retreated, the Russians attacked mercilessly. Napoleon’s Grand Army of 600,000 men had died leaving only 8,000 left to fight. Once again Britain, Prussia, Sweden, and Russia joined together to form the Fourth Coalition against Napoleon. He managed to raise another army in only a few months, but the Coalition pressed forward towards Paris. Napoleon wanted to keep fighting, but his generals did not. In Elba, Louis the XVIII, Louis the XVI’s brother, was appointed the king of France. He was quickly rejected and Napoleon wanted to retrieve his power. In days, Napoleon was emperor again. He attacked the British once again in Belgium, but they remained strong all day. The British and Prussians then attacked Napoleon’s soldiers and were chased from Belgium. The British kidnapped Napoleon and left him on an island called St. Helena. There he spent six years until he died of a stomach ailment. The tyrant emperor who had led his troops to die was finally gone.


In the years of the French Revolution, all three of these men were considered tyrants in some way. Louis the XVI was an unfair man who led his people to a life of misery and injustice. Louis’ reign was the beginning of the revolution. Robespierre was a horrible man who wanted everything to go his way, if not, you were to be executed. He had his good moments. He almost wiped out the French monarchy completely, and that’s what everyone wanted right? Not the way he did it though. People are supposed to have different opinions when it comes to government. He just didn’t know that yet. He was the most radical of the radicals. Napoleon, on the other hand, was the one ruler of the three that ruled the most successfully. Then, his head got too big and he thought that he could win all the wars he faced. He was a dictator that did great things in the beginning but ruined it in the end. “He was great as a man can be without virtue.” � Alexis de Tocoqueville. It was all about the virtue in the end.





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