The first phase of the Revolution was marked by moral and physical violence. The National Assembly established a new legal structure by abolishing privileges, venality, and "feudal" obligations (August 4); formulating a Declaration of Rights (August 26); and specifying basic constitutional principles that left the king as the chief executive officer but deprived him of any legislative power except a suspensive veto. In 1789-91, a comparatively peaceful period, the National Assembly did much to modernize France. Despite the Declaration of Rights, the reformed franchise still excluded the poor; but the public maintained its faith in freedom and unity. In 1791 the call for a clerical oath of loyalty crystallized the conflict between the new sovereignty and traditional loyalties and split the whole country. In 1791-92 the hard-won constitution collapsed. On Apr. 20, 1792, the new Legislative Assembly declared war on Austria, which it believed to be instigating counterrevolutionary agitation and thus launched the French Revolutionary Wars. Born of this second revolution and briefly favored by military victory, the National Convention horrified Europe by establishing a republic (Sept. 22, 1792), inaugurating a policy of revolutionary war, and sendin...
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...utions were nonetheless steadily eroded until the creation of the First Empire (1804-15) ended the revolutionary period.
The most concrete results of the French Revolution were probably achieved in 1789-91, when land was freed from customary burdens and the old corporate society was destroyed. The great reforms of 1789-91 nevertheless established an enduring administrative and legal system, and much of the revolutionaries' work in humanizing the law itself was subsequently incorporated in the Napoleonic Code. Politically, the revolution was more significant than successful. Since 1789 the French government has been either parliamentary and constitutional or based on the plebiscitary system that Napoleon inherited and developed. The Revolution nevertheless freed the state from the trammels of its medieval past, releasing such unprecedented power that the revolutionaries could defy, and Napoleon conquer, the rest of Europe. Moreover, that power acknowledged no restraint: in 1793 unity was imposed on the nation by the Terror. Europe and the world have ever since been learning what infringements of liberty can issue from the concepts of national sovereignty and the will of the people.
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