The French Revolution: Crash Course World History #29

Posted By on October 13, 2019

Hi, my name is John Green, this is Crash Course
World History, and today we’re going to talk about The French Revolution. Admittedly,
this wasn’t the French flag until 1794, but we just felt like he looked good in stripes.
As does this guy. Huh? So, while the American Revolution is considered
a pretty good thing, the French Revolution is often seen as a bloody, anarchic mess,
which… Mr. Green, Mr. Green! I bet, like always,
it’s way more complicated than that. Actually no. It was pretty terrible. Also,
like a lot of revolutions, in the end it exchanged an authoritarian regime for an authoritarian
regime. But even if the revolution was a mess, its ideas changed human history – far more,
I will argue, than the American Revolution. [theme music] Right, so France in the 18th century was a
rich and populous country, but it had a systemic problem collecting taxes because of the way
its society was structured. They had a system with kings and nobles we now call the Ancien
Régime. Thank you, three years of high school French. And for most French people, it sucked, because
the people with the money – the nobles and the clergy – never paid taxes. So by 1789,
France was deeply in debt thanks to their funding the American Revolution – thank you,
France; we will get you back in World Wars I and II. And King Louis XVI was spending
half of his national budget to service the federal debt. Louis tried to reform this system under various
finance ministers. He even called for democracy on a local level, but all attempts to fix
it failed and soon France basically declared bankruptcy. This nicely coincided with hailstorms
that ruined a year’s harvest, thereby raising food prices and causing widespread hunger, which really made
the people of France angry, because they love to eat. Meanwhile, the King certainly did not look
broke, as evidenced by his well-fed physique and fancy footwear. He and his wife Marie
Antoinette also got to live in the very nice Palace at Versailles thanks to God’s mandate,
but Enlightenment thinkers like Kant were challenging the whole idea of religion, writing
things like: “The main point of enlightenment is of man’s release from his self-caused
immaturity, primarily in matters of religion.” So basically the peasants were hungry, the
intellectuals were beginning to wonder whether God could or should save the King, and the
nobility were dithering about, eating foie gras and songbirds, failing to make meaningful
financial reform. In response to the crisis, Louis XVI called
a meeting of the Estates General, the closest thing that France had to a national parliament,
which hadn’t met since 1614. The Estates General was like a super parliament made up
of representatives from the First Estate, the nobles, the Second Estate, the clergy,
and the Third Estate, everyone else. The Third Estate showed up with about 600
representatives, the First and Second Estates both had about 300, and after several votes,
everything was deadlocked, and then the Third Estate was like, “You know what? Forget
you guys. We’re gonna leave and we’re gonna become our own National Assembly.” This did not please King Louis XVI. So when
the new National Assembly left the room for a break, he locked the doors, and he was like,
“Sorry, guys, you can’t go in there. And if you can’t assemble, how you gonna be a National
Assembly?” Shockingly, the Third Estate representatives
were able to find a different room in France, this time an indoor tennis court where they
swore the famous Tennis Court Oath. And they agreed not to give up until a French constitution
was established. So then Louis XVI responded by sending troops
to Paris primarily to quell uprisings over food shortages, but the revolutionaries saw
this as a provocation, so they responded by seizing the Bastille Prison on July 14th,
which, coincidentally, is also Bastille Day. The Bastille was stormed ostensibly to free
prisoners – although there were only seven in jail at the time – but mostly to get guns. But the really radical move in the National
Assembly came on August 4, when they abolished most of the Ancien Régime – feudal rights,
tithes, privileges for nobles, unequal taxation, they were all abolished – in the name of writing
a new constitution. And then, on August 26th, the National Assembly
proclaimed the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen, which laid out a system of rights
that applied to every person, and made those rights integral to the new constitution. That’s
quite different from the American bill of rights, which was, like, begrudgingly tacked
on at the end and only applied to non-slaves. The DoRoMaC, as I called it in high school,
declared that everyone had the right to liberty, property, and security – rights that the French
Revolution would do an exceptionally poor job of protecting, but as noted last week,
the same can be argued for many other supposedly more successful revolutions. Okay, let’s
go to the Thought Bubble. Meanwhile, back at Versailles, Louis XVI was
still King of France, and it was looking like France might be a constitutional monarchy.
Which might’ve meant that the royal family could hang on to their awesome house, but
then, in October of 1789, a rumor started that Marie Antoinette was hoarding grain somewhere
inside the palace. And in what became known as the Women’s March,
a bunch of armed peasant women stormed the palace and demanded that Louis and Marie Antoinette
move from Versailles to Paris. Which they did, because everyone is afraid of armed peasant
women. And this is a nice reminder that to many people at the time, the French Revolution
was not primarily about fancy Enlightenment ideas; it was mostly about lack of food and
a political system that made economic contractions hardest on the poor. Now, a good argument can be made that this
first phase of the revolution wasn’t all that revolutionary. The National Assembly
wanted to create a constitutional monarchy; they believed that the king was necessary
for a functioning state and they were mainly concerned that the voters and office holders
be men of property. Only the most radical wing, the Jacobins, called for the creation
of a republic. But things were about to get much more revolutionary – and also worse for
France. First, the Jacobins had a huge petition drive
that got a bit unruly, which led troops controlled not by the King but by the National Assembly
to fire on the crowd, killing 50 people. And that meant that the National Assembly, which
had been the revolutionary voice of the people, had killed people in an attempt to reign in
revolutionary fervor. You see this a lot throughout history during revolutions. What looked like
radical hope and change suddenly becomes “The Man” as increasingly radical ideas are embraced.
Thanks, Thought Bubble. Meanwhile, France’s monarchical neighbors
were getting a little nervous about all this republic business, especially Leopold II,
who in addition to being the not holy, not Roman, and not imperial Holy Roman Emperor,
was Marie Antoinette’s brother. I should note, by the way, that at this point, the
Holy Roman Empire was basically just Austria. Also, like a lot of monarchs, Leopold II liked
the idea of monarchies, and he wanted to keep his job as a person who gets to stand around
wearing a dress, pointing at nothing, owning winged lion-monkeys made out of gold. And who
can blame him? So he and King William Frederick II of Prussia together issued the Declaration of Pillnitz,
which promised to restore the French monarchy. At this point, Louis and the National Assembly
developed a plan: Let’s invade Austria. The idea was to plunder Austria’s wealth
and maybe steal some Austrian grain to shore up French food supplies, and also, you know,
spread revolutionary zeal. But what actually happened is that Prussia joined Austria in
fighting the French. And then Louis encouraged the Prussians, which made him look like an
enemy of the revolution, which, of course, he was. And as a result, the Assembly voted
to suspend the monarchy, have new elections in which everyone could vote (as long as they
were men), and create a new republican constitution. Soon, this Convention decided to have a trial
for Louis XVI, who was found guilty and, by one vote, sentenced to die via guillotine.
Which made it difficult for Austria and Prussia to restore him to the throne. Oh, it’s time
for the open letter? An Open Letter to the Guillotine. But first,
let’s see what’s in the secret compartment today. Oh, there’s nothing. Oh my gosh, Stan! Jeez.
That’s not funny! Dear Guillotine, I can think of no better example of
Enlightenment thinking run amok. Dr. Joseph Guillotine, the inventor of the guillotine, envisioned
it as an egalitarian way of dying. They said the guillotine was humane and it also made
no distinction between rich or poor, noble or peasant. It killed equally. You were also celebrated for taking the torture
out of execution. But I will remind you, you did not take the dying out of execution. Unfortunately
for you, France hasn’t executed anyone since 1977. But you’ll be happy to know that the
last legal execution in France was via guillotine. Plus, you’ve always got a future in horror
movies. Best wishes, John Green The death of Louis XVI marks the beginning
of The Terror, the best known or at least the most sensational phase of the revolution.
I mean, if you can kill the king, you can kill pretty much anyone, which is what the
government did under the leadership of the Committee of Public Safety (Motto: We suck at
protecting public safety), led by Maximilien Robespierre. The terror saw the guillotining of 16,000
enemies of the revolution including Marie “I never actually said Let them eat cake”
Antoinette and Maximilien Robespierre himself, who was guillotined in the month of Thermidor
in the year Two. Alright, so while France was broke and fighting
in like nine wars, the Committee of Public Safety changed the measurements of time because,
you know, the traditional measurements are so irrational and religion-y. So they renamed
all the months and decided that every day would have 10 hours and each hour 100 minutes. And then, after the Terror, the revolution
pulled back a bit and another new constitution was put into place, this one giving a lot
more power to wealthy people. At this point, France was still at war with Austria and Britain,
wars that France ended up winning, largely thanks to a little corporal named Napoleon
Bonaparte. The war was backdrop to a bunch of coups and
counter coups that I won’t get into right now because they were very complicated, but
the last coup that we’ll talk about, in 1799, established Napoleon Bonaparte as the
First Consul of France. And it granted him almost unlimited executive power under yet
another constitution. And when he was declared First Consul of France, Napoleon proclaimed
“Citizens! The revolution is established on the principals with which it began. It is
over.” By which he presumably meant that France’s government had gone all the way from here
to here to here. As with the American revolution, it’s easy
to conclude that France’s revolution wasn’t all that revolutionary. I mean, Napoleon was
basically an emperor and, in some ways, he was even more of an absolute monarch than
Louis XVI had been. Gradually the nobles came back to France, although they had mostly lost
their special privileges. The Catholic Church returned, too, although much weaker because
it had lost land and the ability to collect tithes. And when Napoleon himself fell, France restored
the monarchy, and except for a four-year period, between 1815 and 1870, France had a king who
was either a Bourbon or a Bonaparte. Now, these were no longer absolute monarchs who
claimed that their right to rule came from God; they were constitutional monarchs of
the kind that the revolutionaries of 1789 had originally envisioned. But the fact remains
that France had a king again, and a nobility, and an established religion and it was definitely
not a democracy or a republic. And perhaps this is why the French Revolution
is so controversial and open to interpretation. Some argue the revolution succeeded in spreading
enlightenment ideals even if it didn’t bring democracy to France. Others argue that the
real legacy of the Revolution wasn’t the enhancement of liberty, but of state power. Regardless, I’d argue that the French Revolution
was ultimately far more revolutionary than its American counterpart. I mean, in some
ways, America never had an aristocracy, but in other ways it continued to have one – the
French enlightenment thinker, Diderot, felt that Americans should “fear a too unequal
division of wealth resulting in a small number of opulent citizens and a multitude of citizens
living in misery.” And the American Revolution did nothing to change that polarization of
wealth. What made the French Revolution so radical
was its insistence on the universality of its ideals. I mean, look at Article 6 of the
Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen: “Law is the expression of the general will.
Every citizen has a right to participate personally, or through his representative, in its foundation. It must
be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes.” Those are radical ideas, that the laws come
from citizens, not from kings or gods, and that those laws should apply to everyone equally.
That’s a long way from Hammurabi – and in truth, it’s a long way from the slaveholding
Thomas Jefferson. In the 1970s, Chinese President Zhou Enlai
was asked what the affects of the French Revolution had been. And he said, “It’s too soon
to say.” And in a way, it still is. The French Revolution asked new questions about
the nature of people’s rights and the derivation of those rights. And we’re still answering
those questions and sorting through how our answers should shape society today – must
government be of the people to be for the people? Do our rights derive from nature or
from God or from neither? And what are those rights? As William Faulkner said, “The past is never
dead. It’s not even past.” Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan
Muller, our script supervisor is Danica Johnson, the show is written by my high school history
teacher Raoul Meyer and myself, our graphics team is Thought Bubble, and we are ably interned
by Meredith Danko. Last week’s phrase of the week was “Giant
Tea Bag”; if you want to suggest future phrases of the week, or guess at this week’s you can
do so in comments, where you can also ask questions about today’s video that will
be answered by our team of historians. Thanks for watching Crash Course, and as we
say in my hometown, Don’t Forget To Be Awesome.

Posted by Lewis Heart

This article has 100 comments

  1. This is ALL WRONG. The French Revolution was primarily about enlightenment ideals not food (that was just a catalyst). Napoleon was an enlightenment thinker, but not a protector of democracy. He spread his enlightenment ideals with his army. Meanwhile Ropespierre and his Mountain Jacobins were communists and they were implementing a form of totalitarian terror. And there is no such communist-false-utopian goal of trying to "abolish the idea of being rich." So inequality will always exist to the end of time.

  2. i NEED dates times names etc i'm not getting that grrr oversimplified where are you????? so much more handy lmao

  3. mmmmmhhhhhhh wroong. The Declaration of the Rights of Man was only applied for MEN because RIGHTS OF A MAN!!! since when did the rights of a man apply for slave and woman? TRIGGERD

  4. I never comment on these things but I have to say this is the BEST french revolution crash course video. I have watched 4 so far, and none have been as clear as this one. It fills all the gaps and answers all the questions the other videos left me wondering.

    now I can watch audrey hepburns war and peace with some clue c:

  5. You didn't cover the reason why Napoleon rose to power. France was under attack by most neighboring countries at the time, and Napoleon's military success and protection of revolutionary France made him very important.

  6. The actual inventor of the prototype guillotine was a man named Tobias Schmidt. working with the kings physician Antoine Louis.

  7. Nothing says power to the people like corruption, state initiated reign of terror, an actual reign of terror, and multiple massacres of people including in portion women and children.

  8. A shame that you claimed that Louis XVIII and Charles X (whose coronation you showed twice) didn't claim to rule solely by Divine Right. Louis-Philippe (reign 1830 – 1848) was king of the French, like Louis XVI under the "new stye" monarchy that ended in 1792, rather than king of France, and was followed by President Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, who became EMPEROR (not "King") Napoleon III in 1852. The Second Empire was a democracy in ways that most governments today aren't (except Switzerland), including the right of "ordinary" people to participate in government, and (ironically, but predictably) the "Third Republic" that followed decided to deprive military personnel of their vote, announced that there's "no social question" (Léon Gambetta, to the workers in Le Havre, 1872), and explicitly refused to submit the change of régime to a vote of the people (who still mostly supported Napoleon III). And as part of the backlash among the political "élites" against the Second Empire and its emperor, it wasn't until 1965, under the current Fifth Republic, that the French people actually started electing the president again, or being consulted on government policy, as in 1969.

    Interesting choice of date to post this by the way (anniversary of the massacre of Louis XVI's Swiss Guards, which you showed a painting of, in between the one of Louis XVI & family, and the one of Napoleon as First Consul (crossing the Alps).

  9. I’m here for my upcoming sophomore year in high school. And I hope you upload the cosmetology and pharmacology courses.

  10. so the chapter that my history teacher covered in 15 classes each of 40 minutes and me zoning out in most of them,,,,,,,, I'm done in 12 minutes-
    Thanks crash course I won't fail my exams ksksks

  11. In the interests of people watching I think it should probably be mentioned that the first estate was the clergy and the second estate was the nobility, not the other way around. There used to be an annotation at 2:16 apologizing for the slip-up and confirming this, but since YouTube has kind of thrown video annotations out of the window now it doesn't show up anymore, and if somebody is watching this in preparation for an exam then that's kind of an annoying thing to have done, so I just wanted to give people a heads up.

  12. 1:04 Another reason why France was so much in debt at the time was a failing economy following strict protectionism. Imports were all but forbidden which in return ceased all exports as a counter measure.

    Funny how history tends to copy itself

  13. If you really want to learn lessons from the French Revolution, actually read about it. This is nonsense. No mention of the untold amounts of indiscriminate murders conducted by the revolutionaries who wanted a manageable French population for their socialist utopia.

  14. America has built the largest middle class in the history of civillization. So, Diderot's "fear" in regards to division of wealth in the United States following it's revolutionary beginnings and the development of the free market economic system has been proved to be largely unfounded. It is in fact, socialistic measures and engineering by the far left in the forms of welfare and breakdown of family structure that has actually created the most disparity and cemented certain groups into underclasses. As far as American aristocracy, unlike Europe, our "aristocracy" has historically been self-made. Anyone with the desire to succeed may do so in America, as we have given power to the individual vs the state.

  15. Excuse me, but Dr. Guillotine did not invent it he was only the one who introduced it just like America named after the one who did not discover it.

  16. French Revolution good. American Revolution bad. It would've been better if the Persians beat the Greeks….it would've been better if Americans didn't defeat the British……

    What have you been smoking my man

  17. For me (i'm french) The french révolution is juste a war between upper middle class(trader) and nobility. on the start the peaple would a direct democratie with Jean-jacques rousseau. but it's the upper middle class take a representative democratie for her…
    With yellow jacket we would direct democratie again because we have lot of problem with the upper middle class(trader again…) they have all political power and us (the peaple) we don't have political power we don't think be in a democratie in France …xD.
    Nice vidéo

  18. Wasn't the French and American revolutions built on very similar enlightenment ideas? Also, is it wrong to say that French revolutionisits were largely inspired by the American Revolution?

  19. Joseph Guillotine didn't invent the Guillotine, it was just named after him. The first proper Guillotine was build by a german Piano builder called Tobias Schmidt .

  20. I am so confused about the follow-up to this! what happens after the bourbon restoration?? the second republic under napoleon the 3rd? whats next after that??

  21. I was always under the impression that the first estate was in fact the clergy and the nobles made up the second estate? Am I wrong here?

  22. 🇫🇷 ⚜️ I am French and there are two or three things to correct …
    the French kingdom was not very authoritarian compared to neighboring monarchies
    the majority of the nobility lived without much fortune
    the third state was represented at the national assembly by rich bourgeois, not by peasants
    the state was not rich
    the revolution did not act only in paris (learn about the genocide vendeen …)
    Vive le roy (and french cheese)

    Sorry for the mistakes of your language

  23. Great information and I know it's a 'crash course' but is there any way in future you could slow this down. I as an adult struggle to keep up, so I can only imagine what's it's like for students. ✌🏽


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