Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Naomi. Naomi Wonders, “What was the French Revolution?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Naomi!

Many of our Wonder Friends know about Bastille Day. Others may have read about Napoleon Bonaparte. Maybe you’ve heard that Marie Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake!” These are all important parts of today’s Wonder of the Day—the French Revolution.

The French Revolution is also known as the Revolution of 1789. That’s because two more revolutions shook France in later years. However, the French Revolution didn’t start in 1789. That’s just when it reached its first peak. The war began in 1787.

What happened in 1787 to cause a revolution? As with any war, there was more than one cause. One factor was widespread poverty. In the years before the revolution, France’s population grew. But its rate of food production did not. That made food cost more. Many people couldn’t feed their families.

France also had a large national debt. King Louis XVI wanted to raise taxes to help lower the debt. This angered many nobles. With so many unhappy with the government, things boiled over. 

One of the biggest events of the French Revolution happened on July 14, 1789. That day, a mob stormed the Bastille. They freed the prisoners inside. They also took weapons to fight the king’s forces. 

Later in 1789, the National Assembly issued the Declaration on the Rights of Man. This gave French citizens freedom of speech, press, and religion. It also set up a democracy. However, women and enslaved people were not citizens. They were not given these freedoms. They were also unable to vote. 

Still, women and enslaved people helped the revolution. In October 1789, women in Paris led the March on Versailles. This was a protest against the rising cost of bread. Later, in 1794, revolutionary France made slavery illegal.

In June 1791, France’s royal family tried to leave the country. However, they were caught. King Louis XVI was executed in January 1793. A few months later, Queen Marie Antoinette met the same fate. 

The execution of the king and queen was followed by the Reign of Terror. During this period, anyone believed to be against the revolution was sent to the guillotine. This lasted for about ten months. Between 14,000 and 40,000 people were executed.

The unrest went on for many years. France’s first democracy ended in 1799. That’s when Napoleon Bonaparte became emperor. Napoleon led the country into many wars. He also brought slavery back to France.  

Following the Revolution of 1789, France went through two more revolutions. They were in 1830 and 1848. Many experts also believe the French Revolution helped shape revolts in Haiti and Russia. Today, France is a democratic republic.

Experts today disagree about the legacy of the French Revolution. Many see it as a step in France’s journey to become a democracy. However, the Reign of Terror and rule of Napoleon cause others to criticize the war. What do you think?

Standards: C3.D3.His.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.9, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2

Wonder What's Next?

You might be surprised by how common tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day is!