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The French Revolution is usually dated in three phases or sections. Often people consider the start of the French Revolution as 14 July 1789, as this is the day angry citizens stormed the Bastille. Bastille Day is still a national holiday in France. However, circumstances prior to that day were also part of the ongoing uprising of the people against the French nobility.
Some date the French Revolution as beginning in 1788. In June and July of that year an important rebellion at Grenoble took place. This was a mass refusal to pay taxes, which resulted in violence. Some historians date this insurrection as the real start of the French Revolution because it was the first organized effort to repel the efforts of the will of the king.
The French Revolution is often dated in three phases. The first phase of the French Revolution also included the people’s rejection of the monarchy, the emancipation of all black citizens, and the lift on restrictions regarding people who practiced Judaism.
Phase Two of the French Revolution is considered to be between 1792-1794. Both the King and Queen of France were executed during this period. As well, this time constitutes what many refer to as “The Reign of Terror.” Numerous other noblemen and anyone who opposed the new regime were executed at this time.
“The Reign of Terror” is considered to have ended with the execution of the revolutionary leader Robespierre and approximately 150 of his followers in July of 1794. A calmer period followed where churches were re-opened. However, the French people still needed leadership, and like many with destabilized governments following a revolution, choice of leader became the dictator Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799.
Most consider the end of the French Revolution as 1799 when Bonaparte was named “First Consul.” However others date the end of the French Revolution and the third phase as 1804 when Napoleon became the Emperor of France.
Though more freedom was now accorded to the people under Napoleon, really the initial goals of liberty and democracy were not met until Napoleon was finally displaced after Waterloo. Some date the beginning of democracy as the death of Napoleon in 1821.
To make matters more confusing, the initial forces of the revolution established a new calendar. In 1792, the Gregorian calendar was dispatched and the French dated the New Year as beginning in September. So dates regarding occurrences during the next several years may be inaccurate, especially when they relate to small details. The French returned to the Gregorian calendar in 1806.
The French revolution seems to be similar yet strikingly different than the American revolution. The French revolution resulted in anarchy and massacre, whereas the American revolution was much more tame. Perhaps the biggest difference was that the French were reacting to an even greater level of contempt from the aristocracy than the British Americans. It probably also had to do with the ethical nature of the American revolution which preceded the French revolution.
Some compare Napoleon's seizing of leadership after immense social turmoil to be similar to the case of Hitler. Hitler stepped in during a time of German national depression to bring the people up with wild hopes driven by a delusional charisma. Napoleon also led his country on a Continent-wide spree of domination which ended in utter defeat.