What Was the Significance of the French Revolution?

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The primary significance of the French Revolution was that it removed power from a small group of elite rulers and established a democratic leadership representing the French citizenry. Much like the American Revolution that shortly preceded it, the French Revolution was focused on eliminating imperial rule.

The French Revolution erupted in 1789 in response to attempts to raise taxes on citizens to cover debts incurred by the government. France had invested heavily in the American Revolution, and King Louis XVI greatly mismanaged the country’s finances. As a result, France was on the brink of bankruptcy and desperate for ways to raise revenue. The offending tax was slated to apply to all citizens. To dampen public outrage, the government called a meeting of representatives from the “three estates” of France: the clergy, nobility and middle-class.

When this meeting convened, the Third Estate was denied the right to vote on proposals. However, this group represented nearly 98 percent of France’s population. The representatives held a meeting on a nearby tennis court and made the Tennis Court Oath, in which they denounced the current governmental system. This led to revolts and outright civil war.

The war centered on the lower classes insisting on equal representation in the government. This revolution was exceptionally bloody, and public executions of government officials became commonplace. Despite widespread discord and often conflicting objectives, eventually a new democratic government was formed and a new constitution was drafted and ratified.