Q7. What were the consequences of the French Revolution?
A major result of the Revolution was the destruction of feudalism in France. All the laws of the old feudal regime were annulled. Church lands and lands held in common by the community were bought by the middle classes. The lands of nobles were confiscated. Privileged classes were abolished.
After Napoleon seized power the Napoleonic Code was introduced. Many elements of this Code remained in force for a long time; some of them exist even to this day.
Another lasting result of the Revolution in France was the building up of a new economic system in place of the feudal system which had been overthrown. Even the restored monarchy could not bring back the feudal system or destroy the new economic institutions that had come into being.
The French Revolution gave the term ‘nation’ its modern meaning. A nation is not the territory that the people belonging to it inhabit but the people themselves. France was not merely the territories known as France but the ‘French people’.
From this followed the idea of sovereignty, that a nation recognizes no law or authority above its own. And if a nation is sovereign, that means the people constituting the nation are the source of all power and authority. There cannot be any rulers above the people, only a republic in which the government derives its authority from the people and is answerable to the people. It is interesting to remember that when Napoleon became emperor he called himself the ‘Emperor of the French Republic’. Such was the strength of the idea of people’s sovereignty.
It was this idea of the people being the sovereign that gave France her military strength. The entire nation was united behind the army which consisted of revolutionary citizens. In a war in which almost all of Europe was ranged against France, she would have had no chance with just a mercenary army.
Under the Jacobin constitution, all people were given the right to vote and the right of insurrection. The constitution stated that the government must provide the people with work or livelihood. The happiness of all was proclaimed as the aim of government. Though it was never really put into effect, it was the first genuinely democratic constitution in history. The government abolished slavery in the French colonies.
The Revolution had come about with the support and blood of common people— the city poor and the peasants. In 1792, for the first time in history, workers, peasants and other non-propertied classes were given equal political rights.
Although the right to vote and elect representatives did not solve the problems of the common people, the peasants got their lands. But to the workers and artisans— the people who were the backbone of the revolutionary movement—the Revolution did not bring real equality. To them, real equality could come only with economic equality.
France soon became one of the first countries where the ideas of social equality, of socialism, gave rise to a new kind of political movement.