The French Revolution: Crash Course European History #21

Hi I’m John Green and this is Crash Course
European History. It’s 1789 and Europe has been through an
endless number of wars. Territory has changed hands, hundreds of thousands
of people have died, and crop yields have been bad lately. War is bad for agriculture, for one thing,
but also the weather hasn’t been too cooperative. Reformers across the Dutch states and the
Habsburg Netherlands want to be more like the new United States, while Poles are demanding
that the partition of their country be undone. And one kingdom had emerged a hero from all
the overseas revolutions because of its support for the rebels in the thirteen North American
colonies. France has stood up for liberty and democracy
and fraternity–in North America, anyway. At home, it remained an absolute monarchy,
and was virtually bankrupt from all the warring. Its countryside was full of beggars–as was
much of the European countryside even as aristocrats grew ever wealthier. And the poor and middle-class paid virtually
all the tax collected to support these ceaseless wars. All of which is to say that in 1789, France–the
strongest and most populous country on the continent–was in crisis. [Intro]
In 1789 Louis XVI ruled France. He loved to hunt and tinker with mechanical
objects, especially locks. His wife Marie Antoinette was the daughter
of Maria Theresa of the Habsburg Empire and the sister of Joseph II, its current ruler. In a world where the marriage of two powerful
royal families had long been seen as key to stability and prosperity, what could go wrong? Marie Antoinette was a big spender who had
trouble relating to the poor of which France had many. As bad harvests made the price of bread soar,
more families couldn’t afford to eat, or else were eating bread that was cut with up
to 50% sawdust. In response to unaffordable bread, Marie-Antoinette
reportedly said, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche,” which is a great opportunity to trot out my
amazing French accent. And also, to talk about brioche, which is
in the center of the world today. IIn English, the line is usually translated
“let them eat cake,” but as you can see, brioche isn’t cake exactly. It’s just a different fancier more delicious
kind of bread. Mmm! It’s delicious. Fluffy, eggy, quite light. I don’t understand why the peasants couldn’t
just eat this stuff… Stan says I’m hopelessly out of touch, to
which I say, can I have some more of that brioche? At any rate, France as a whole was broke. Now, its reform-minded ministers tried to
revise the tax system so that the church and the aristocracy would have to pay at least
some taxes. But you’ll recall, there was a group of
appellate judges, the Parlement, who had to register royal decrees, and they refused to
register this one. Bankers, meanwhile, refused to provide the
Crown with additional loans. Which led to a proper financial crisis. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. 1. In response to this crisis, Louis XVI was
forced to summon the Estates-General 2. —that is, a group of representatives of
the clergy (the first estate), 3. the aristocracy (second estate), 4. and ordinary people (third estate). 5. In cities, towns, and villages across the
kingdom, people met to set out their grievances in cahiers or register books 6. for their representatives to take to this
historic meeting. 7. Meanwhile, discontent was rising as Marie-Antoinette
played at being a shepherdess 8. in a pretend farm that was built for her
on the grounds of Versailles 9. so she could imbibe the air of nature and
play at the work so many were forced to do. 10. On May 5, 1789 members of the Estates-General
paraded in great ceremony through Versailles to begin deliberations. 11. Louis XVI wrote of the events that day “Nothing
happened. Went hunting.” 12. Which just goes to show you that history is
about perspective. 13. Members of the Third Estate, meanwhile, immediately
protested that their one vote as a group would always be beaten by the two votes of the first
two estates. 14. So members of the third estate retreated to
a nearby tennis court, declaring themselves the National Assembly 15. and claiming to represent all French people
better than the Estates General did. 16. These representatives swore (in the so-called
Tennis Court Oath) that they would not disband until they had constructed a nation of individual
citizens instead of a kingdom of servile subjects. Thanks, Thought Bubble. So, the National Assembly’s moves toward
enacting a reform program were backed by the muscle of ordinary people—many of them furious
about injustice and poverty. On July 14, the people of Paris seized the
Bastille fortress—a prison full of weapons and a symbol of the monarchy’s ability to
imprison anyone arbitrarily. And in the countryside peasants took over
chateaux and destroyed aristocratic titles to land and peasant services. Terrified aristocrats met on August 4, 1789,
and surrendered their privileges as feudal lords. The National Assembly then elaborated in a
series of decrees declaring feudal society had come to an end. That same month the Assembly passed the Declaration
of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen—a document that protected property, ensured
trial by jury, and guaranteed free speech. It read, in part: “Men are born and remain
free and equal in rights.” And that included freedom of religion. It’s hard to overstate how radical a change
that was from a France in which, just months earlier, peasants were seen as neither free
nor equal, and Catholicism was the kingdom’s official religion. On October 5, market women from Paris marched
to Versailles in the so-called Women’s March to bring the king and royal family to Paris,
where they could be monitored by the people. Although the family was unharmed, some members
of the royal circle, including the queen’s best friend, were violated, murdered, and
mutilated. Their heads and genitals were displayed on
pikes. And aristocrats began fleeing the country. Critically, the Declaration of the Rights
of Man also stated that the power of the monarch flowed not from some divinity, but from the
nation. And to that end, the Assembly proceeded to
draw up a constitution, making the monarchy a constitutional one. then in 1790, they adopted the Civil Constitution
of the Clergy, ultimately confiscating church property and mandating the election of priests
by their parishioners. And then in 1791, the royal family was like,
“we should try to get out of here.” And they tried to flee but were caught. Meanwhile, war broke out between the revolutionary
government in France and Austria and Prussia, who were intent on crushing the revolution
and putting the royals back in full control. Partly because they, you know, had a vested
interest. Their relatives were on the French throne,
but also, as a general rule, monarchs like monarchy. As the republic began to take shape, so did
political parties. They arranged themselves in the assembly hall
so that republicans, who wanted to do away with monarchs entirely, sat on the left and
monarchists sat on the right. An array of others grouped themselves as parties
across the hall. And from this arrangement, we got the modern
idea of politicians’ ideas being left, center, or right. The Jacobin club, a rising political party,
was to the left. But it soon broke into several factions that
were on the center, left, and radical left of the political spectrum. Ah, politics, where the left has a right and
the right has a left and they both have centers that no one listens to. Amid these tremendous changes, women were
claiming their rightful place as citizens to match the official expressions of equality
and rights for all. In 1791, Olympe de Gouges, author and daughter
of a butcher, published the Declaration of the Rights of Woman, stating explicitly women’s
equality with men. Women participated in political clubs and
successfully pushed for laws that ended men’s power over the family and also ended the practice
of men getting a larger percentage of inheritances than women. As war advanced, women also lobbied for the
right to serve in the army. And was war ever advancing! In 1792 the Parisian masses, threatened by
the approach of foreign royal armies, took extreme action. They invaded the Parisian palace where the
royal family lived—and forced new elections for a National Convention. Then in the fall of 1792, further violence
produced the abolition of the French monarchy and a call for every other kingdom to do the
same: “All governments are our enemies, all people our friends,” the Edict of Fraternity
read. Once the Convention had declared France a
republic, in January 1793, Louis XVI was executed after a narrow vote. A new instrument of execution called the guillotine
carried out what would soon become a bloodbath against many supposed enemies of the people. Because it killed so swiftly and allegedly
painlessly, the guillotine was considered an enlightened form of execution. And that brings us to Maximilien Robespierre. With the king dead and the church legally
abandoned, the Jacobins under Robespierre’s leadership, committed the nation to a so-called
reign of virtue and complete obedience to Rousseau’s idea of the general will of the
people—despite all those freedoms agreed upon in the Declaration of the Rights of Man. The Jacobins transformed culture: festivals
celebrated patriotic virtue; churches were turned into temples of reason; dishware carried
patriotic mottos; a new “rational” calendar was created; and clothing was in red, white,
and blue—the colors of the revolutionary flag. Meanwhile the Committee of Public Safety,
with its Orwellian name and Orwellian mission, presided over the “Terror” in which people
from all classes and walks of life—at least 40,000 of them—were executed in the name
of supporting the nation through purges of enemies of the general will. Among these in the autumn of 1793 were Queen
Marie-Antoinette, Olympe de Gouges, former mistresses of Louis XVI’s grandfather, and
other well-known women. Spies and traitors were said to be lurking
everywhere, especially in women’s political clubs and anywhere women congregated. Women seen in public were said to be threats
to the revolution. But as French soldiers began to win their
wars abroad, people tired of revolutionary bloodshed and mounted an effective opposition. Counterrevolutionary uprisings in the Vendée
region of France and activism by moderates led to the overthrow and execution of Robespierre
and several of his closest allies. And by 1795 new factions headed a conservative
government called the Directory. It inspired the French army to spread revolution
to other parts of Europe. That army was enthusiastic for good reason:
the revolution’s anti-aristocratic spirit allowed for ordinary soldiers to become officers—positions
that were formerly allotted exclusively to noblemen. One such commoner was named Napoleon Bonaparte. He was extraordinarily charismatics, not particularly
short, and with other ambitious newcomers, took revolution across the low countries,
German states, and even into Italy. But even without French armies advancing it,revolution
was erupting. During the French Revolution, Poles had revised
their constitution, for instance, in 1791 and granted rights to urban people. But a far different outcome from that in France
awaited: while the French pursued revolution, the other continental powers–Russia, Austria,
and Prussia–finished divvying up Poland among themselves so that it no longer existed. But Enlightenment ideas of freedom continued
to spread. They spread in Spanish colonies in South America,
and also in the rich French sugar colony of St. Domingue. The French Revolution, or maybe more properly,
the French Revolutions helped people in Saint Domingue understand that they, too, could
seek freedom. And the ensuing Haitian Revolution inspired
slave activism in other places, which you can learn much more about in an episode of
Crash Course World History on that topic. So when we think about why The French Revolution
is so important, one of the big reasons is that it consolidated the idea that the nation
is composed of citizens. Mostly citizen men at first—a fraternity
or brotherhood that replace a kingdom in which a monarch ruled his subjects. And this was a huge change for Europe, and
eventually the world, because it helped usher in the idea of nation-states, and the idea
that the most important people within those nation-states are the citizens. And so enthusiasts for freedom flocked to
France from all corners of Europe—if not in person then at least in their imaginations. “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,”
wrote poet William Wordsworth. In contrast, opponents like the British statesman
and thinker Edmund Burke deplored the rapid change and attacks on traditional institutions
and the abandonment of accumulated wisdom from past ages. Burke’s theories launched conservative political
ideology in the revolution’s aftermath. And we should be clear that the revolution
was extremely violent, and in many cases replaced poverty with poverty, and injustice with injustice. History, again, is as much about where you
sit as it is about what happened. But for the moment, however, revolutionary
ferment remained alive, exemplified in the writings of English journalist Mary Wollstonecraft,
who witnessed the revolution first-hand by going to Paris. She defended the quote “rights of man”
in a 1791 book and in 1792 she published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. This enduring work compared the women of her
day to the aristocracy–little educated, simpering and ignorant. Lacking any rational, developed skills, women
in Wollstonecraft’s formulation were, like aristocrats, conniving and manipulative instead
of being forthright, skilled, and open like Emile in the eponymous Rousseau novel. To end this debased condition, women needed
education and legal protection of their person and their property. That is, legal equality. In the long run, the French Revolution had
many important outcomes; as we’ve discussed, a nation formed by consensus of legally equal
citizens came to replace a kingdom of subjects ruled by a king. The nation’s bedrock was a set of values
including the rule of law, the right of free speech, and the ownership of property. Rather than the nation’s bedrock being a
king, or a religion. This idea of individual rights, which would
later be called human rights, of course becomes extremely important in the 20th century and
beyond. Yet in the French Revolution and in many other
revolutions, as we’ll see, the nation in times of stress could jettison this consensus
about the rule of law and rights and become dictatorial, searching out enemies within
and relying on force instead of consensus building. After 1795, further big changes lay ahead
for France and Europe as Napoleon Bonaparte came to play an outsized role on the world
stage, and the new republic became a dictatorship once more. But we’ll get to that shortly. Thanks for watching. And yes, that was a Napoleon joke.

100 thoughts on “The French Revolution: Crash Course European History #21

  1. Alright i'm four minutes in to the video right now and I can already say it has been dissapointing. This video failed to mention multiple aspects of the lead up to the french revolution as well as perpetuating some myths about it. The journal that the King wrote merely said "nothing today" not nothing happened, went hunting. And the reason it said nothing today was not because he was out of touch but because he was writing a hunting journal. Marie Antoinette also never said the let them eat cake line.

  2. Could've given a shout out to the Geneva revolution a few years earlier

    Well tbf idk how much it impacted or inspired the french especially that it was repressed by France Bern and the Dauphiné. But the spirit of camaraderie and equality lived on even after the old order was restored. Apparently

  3. Hey, CC team, I have a HUGE ask: could you please cross reference (in the Doobley-Doo) ALL the CC episodes across ALL CC channels that are relevant or related to the current episode? I know that's insane. But it would be AWESOME. Especially for those of us who teach in extremely non-traditional education programs. ❤️❤️❤️

  4. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

  5. And this is the lesson when “let them eat cake” is the mysterious line whether or not Marie Antoinette actually said during the ends of the revolution

  6. Thank you for explaining why Napoleon went to war with the rest of Europe after coming to power. I never quite understood that.

  7. There are multiple things in this video that are disappointing:
    1: Marie Antoinette NEVER said "let them eat cake", that's stupid
    2: You didn't go into very much detail about the actual causes of the revolution
    3: Napoleon Bonaparte was NOT a common man, he was always wealthy
    4:When you were talking about France's declaration of independence, you didn't say "sorry ladies" when it said that all men are created equal
    I must say, this video was kinda crappy, I love Crash Course, though, just do some better research
    k bye!

  8. Dude did not look excited to talk about the French Revolution or Napoleon, kind of a letdown for me cuz its one of the coolest parts of history

  9. To all the people yelling about the Marie Antoinette quote not being from her, they already covered that in world history, and most people alive today know she didn't say that. The reason it stays in the popular imagination is it perfectly encapsulates how much the monarchy could not relate to or help the people, which was the the cause of the revolution. No need to Ummmm actually them for something they've already said.

  10. Hmmm, no mention of William Godwin, and the ideas which were more radical than had been suggested. Especially since, you know, he was married to Mary Wollstonecraft, she probably had some affinity with his ideas. You'd think his ideas would be of some import and might give some retrospect to the whole ordeal of liberty and equality, but apparently not

  11. For all of those who are quick to point out that Marie Antoinette never actually said “Let them eat cake/brioche” Two things. 1. He mentioned that she never actually said that in his World History episode on the subject and 2. Even though she never said that, that quote does a good job summarizing how she saw the world.

  12. For the record, Marie Antoinette MAY have said something like,"let them eat cake" but she then immediately dragged the starving handmaid that told her of the nationwide famine to her pantry. That day her servants left with bundles of food. Soon, regular donations were started from the palace to Paris and other areas. It just wasnt enough. Mismanagement meant there wasnt enough food, period. Sharing it would've helped but hoarding by nobles wasnt the root issue. It was that there wasnt enough food grown for years on end. Antoinette tried to help but had no power or time to fix the institutions that caused the problem. She was still wasteful and decadent but once she knew she felt compelled, like any human, to help as much as she was able. It just, mathematically, could never have been enough. So she probably meant it almost in a kind of righteous jest, as if to say,"remember that bad joke that other noblewoman told? I'm gonna live that joke and shove her attitude down her throat". She was trying to say, if she said it, that she had her peoples backs despite the impression other nobles might give. She saw and was compelled to help as she knew how, imperiously. We're lucky to have that story because during the terror people would've been executed for telling this story as it paints the queen in a sympathetic and reasonable light. This attitude of hating her was national policy when this story happened so of course it was crazy slanted against her. John green, you are repeating propaganda that was disproved half a century ago. I expect better from a man claiming to know the power of speaking truth to lies.

  13. I know you don't usually focus much on the military side, but the concept of changing France into a nation of citizens is a huge factor in France's military success both before and during Napoleon's reign. Other countries would field royal, professional armies, but France mobilised its people into huge armies that could more easily weather defeats or casualties compared to its rivals. So everyone looked at the French armies and said "Oh wow, they can just recruit anyone? We have to do that too!" and thus, by necessity, the other European countries at the time also had to change, arguably even democratise, their military mindset.

  14. As a Frenchman, I agree 100% with this episode. However, I must explain some of the preconceived ideas about this period.

    Terror was not just a period of indiscriminate violence. Just imagine the American civil war but with Canada, England and Mexico on the Confederation side. Well, that was the French Revolution: A civil war with all the European countries allied against France – 8 coalitions in 20 years. The country was invaded to the east by Prussia, the Piedmont and the Austrians, to the south by England and to the west by the royalist armies in Vendée and Brittany. In this context, hunting the internal enemy was essential and necessary for the survival of the Revolution. Terror was an exceptional response to an exceptional situation.

    Unlike the American Revolution, the French Revolution never had the objective of founding a democracy, but a constitutional monarchy – and then a republic. It has made France a country where all its citizens are equal in rights, where every man has access to the same opportunities and can rise to the highest positions. But the citizens did not directly rule the country (whereas in the United States it was possible – for the richest)

    For the next episode, I look forward to how Napoleon will be presented. It is very simplistic to present him as the despot who destroyed the French Revolution, because in many ways he consolidated and extended the principles of the revolutions and fundamental human rights in Europe. It has also generated nationalism in Europe: from now on, people no longer fight for the will of a sovereign but for a nation and its values (which a century later will plunge Europe into horror).

  15. Fun fact: the Jaden Smith Studio is actually named after that Jaden Smith, who is apparently a fan of Crash Course.

  16. Wait I didn’t think Marie Antanet said “let the mom eat cat or sweet bread” that was from a satirical work by Rousseau.

  17. I really hope crash course talks about the backlash to the French Revolution and the creation of conservatism

  18. Napoleon was not a commoner, but from an aristocratic Corsican family. He went to military school where spots were reserved for the nobility. He was a poor nobleman, but a still not a commoner.

  19. It's sad to see what happened to the ideology of nationalism. The idea that a nation was defined by its people instead of its monarch, and an earnest desire for brotherhood with one's neighbors and fellow man, instead of dominion of certain groups over others.

    Somehow racists go a hold of the concept and twisted it into grotesque facsimile, using it as a bludgeon to establish racial supremacy and segregation, "othering" those not perceived as being fellow citizens, or even fellow humans.

  20. Next up: can you make a video about Algeria's history starting from early Roman and bezentine colonisation till the independence

  21. hoo boy where do we start with your french, john. maybe with cahier? ier is more “ear” than ey. and why did you not even try with états général?

  22. Forgive my ignorance, but why did the Third Estate even exist? How did it form, how and why was it formalised? Was that power seized by the people in a previous time of unrest, or was it granted to the people by another power structure (and if so, why would they ever do that, what did they want to gain from it).

  23. I think the world would be a somewhat better place if France had won the wars and not Britain. Still far from ideal.

  24. “The right has a left, and the left has a right, and they both have a center that no one listens to”

    Preach it man, preach it

  25. I stopped the video when John talked about the brioche. That is a lie. That is a big effing lie. Get better sources.

  26. I don't often downvote videos people have gone through a huge effort to make, but for perpetuating the 'let them eat cake' myth which has been solidly debunked this video gets a downvote on account of deliberately spreading misinformation.

  27. The desire to impose 'equality' seems to become diverted to imposing terror and control via reducing the numbers of heads. Who says history can not teach us anything about today!

  28. Considering the speed in which you needed to talk to fit all of this into 15 minutes, I guess you realized when you said "or rather revolutionS" that this should have been more than one video, didn't you?

  29. The Guilotine was humane compared to its predecessors – breaking at the wheel, drawing and quartering. These punishments are what is meant by 'cruel and unusual' – not painless injections!

  30. "Ah, politics, where the left has a right and the right has a left and they both have centers that no one listens to"

  31. It's possible she meant oat cakes when she said "can't they eat cake?" because apparently even when there was a bad wheat harvest there would usually be oats for the poor to eat. She may not have been as ignorantly heartless as her comment makes her seem at first glance.

  32. Napoléon wasn't a commoner, he was of low rank nobility. That would have limited his career prospects, but he was an officer before the Revolution iirc.

  33. I hate that you talk about the "french middle class of 1789"… The middle class is not a very useful concept even to analyse todays society, you can imagine how it is completely inexistant at the time. It's just not a thing.

  34. When the revolution tried to "rationalize" everything according to the decimal system (ten months, ten-day weeks, metric measurements), they ended up hurting the poor even more. The Catholic calendar had one rest day for six workdays, Sunday, while the new calendar had one rest day for nine workdays. A reminder that people in charge of the revolutionary government were never the poorest of the poor, but rather disgruntled middle-class idealists.

  35. One of the big players in the anti-royalist movement in France and one of Napoleons main men was Jean Baptiste Bernadotte. He wrote open letters to the major newspapers of Europe declaring "Being a republican both by principle and by conviction, I want to fight all royalists to my death.".
    He is later known as Charles XIV John (Karl XIV Johan) King of Sweden. Founder of the current royal family of Sweden, the Bernadottes.

  36. Jayden Smith bought you guys a studio, or paid for upgrades on one, so you can keep giving out knowledge for free? That’s pretty awesome.

  37. I am very disappointed in this episode. There's so many things that are just plain… Wrong. And so many that portray too simplistic a view of the French Revolution. You're Complexly. This isn't a responsible way to cast the French Revolution.

  38. In a Nutshell, they had so much fun beheading those in Power, they didn't stopped, when they were in Power.

  39. What do you mean the Netherlands wanted to be more like the US? The country was already a Republic and all that. Aside from being conquered a few times.

  40. "Is it to be thought unreasonable that the people, in atonement for wrongs of a century, demand the vengeance of a single day?" – Maximilien Robespierre

  41. Wasn't the entire world in what was known as a "Little Ice Age"? And the colder, wetter climate was not condusive for growing crops like wheat, rye, and barley.

  42. I was always taught that “Left/Right” comes from radicals living on the left bank of the Seine. (River that flows through Paris.)

  43. I find it ironical that the French Revolution gave rise to the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which also gives freedom of speech, and was followed by the Reign of Terror which was like: "Freedom of speech is great as long as it doesn't criticize us, otherwise of with their heads"

  44. All they had to is say, "You know what, the commoners are rather justified in being upset at this unfair system. We should pay a bit more taxes to improve their conditions." and the whole thing might've been avoided. But they didn't, and for that they paid dearly.

    Will they listen to us this time?


  46. You better cover next the Greek revolution and the rest of the Balkan countries about their fight for freedom against the ottomans.

  47. Let's see what crash course get's wrong about the french revolution… I remember when I used to think you were a well informed channel.

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