The French Revolution began in 1789. As the result of the bankruptcy of the French Government, King Louis XVI was obliged to summon an Estates-General, a gathering ofrepresentatives of the three legal classes in France: the clergy, aristocrats and commoners, whocomposed the third estate.
There was much indecision regarding procedures, as no Estates-General had met since 1614. Soon the representatives of the third estate began to meet separately and demanded that the other two estates joined them. When the king reluctantly approved this merger, the Estates-General became the National Constituent Assembly. Inspired by the ideals of the Enlightenment, it proceeded to carry out reforms based on Reason and to draw up a constitution. To their dismay, these reforms destabilized the state and provoked reaction.
Already in 1789 there had been several incidents of mob violence, the most notable being the capture of the Bastille on July 14. By the end of 1791, there was open civil war in many parts of the country, a new constitution limited the royal powers, and inflation ran rampant. Under these conditions the Revolution was bound to deepen. By 1792, France was at war with Austria and Prussia. Early the following year, Louis XVI was guillotined and more states joined the coalition against France.
Within France it proved difficult to form stable governments. By 1794 France found itself under the dictatorship of the Jacobins, one of the most radical revolutionary groups. Its collapse and replacement by a weak coalition of moderate revolutionaries allowed ambitious generals like Napoleon Bonaparte to act with great independence.
The events in France were closely followed by educated Italians. Those whose careers tied them to the existing order feared the contagion of French ideas. Those who felt excluded hoped to benefit from the creation of a society based on egalitarian principles, such as those stated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Man and the Citizen, composed by the Constituent Assembly in the summer of 1789. Many for the same reasons would welcome the advance of the French armies, which, in the spring of 1796 followed the young Bonaparte into the peninsula.
This act brought revolutionary turmoil directly into the
peninsula. It is at this point that we can properly begin our course in
modern Italian history.
|Assignments: DiScala, pp. 20-40.
Documents : Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen
Napoleon Bonaparte, "Proclamations"
Joachim Murat, "Proclamation"
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