Home / Age of Revolution 1765 – 1815

Age of Revolution 1765 – 1815


The American Revolution

1765 The British try to raise money by requiring tax stamps on documents; the colonies protest.

1766 The Stamp Act repealed.

1767 The Townshend Acts impose taxes on imported goods; unrest continues in the colonies.

1770 British troops open fire on a crowd in the Boston Massacre; The Townshend Acts repealed.

1772 A mob burns the British coast guard ship Gaspee; Sam Adams starts the first committee of correspondence in Boston.

1773 Boston patriots dressed as Indians destroy three shiploads of tea in the Boston Tea Party.

1774 In reprisal for the Tea Party the British blockade Boston; the first Continental Congress meets in Philadelphia to consider ways of protesting.

1775 The revolution begins as minutemen fire on British troops at Lexington and Concord; Washington becomes commander-in-chief; British win the battle of Bunker Hill but suffer heavy losses.

1776 British troops evacuate Boston; Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence; Washington crosses the Delaware and defeats the Hessians at Trenton.

1777 The British are defeated in battles at Princeton, Bennington and Saratoga.

1778 France enters the war on the colonists’ side; Lafayette joins Washington’s army.

1781 Washington and a French fleet trap Cornwallis at Yorktown; his surrender ends the war.

1783 Britain recognizes American independence by the Treaty of Paris.

The French Revolution

1787 The Assembly of Notables meets; Lafayette demands that the king call the Estates General.

1789 The Estates General meets but the Third Estate declares itself a National Assembly and begins to write a constitution; Parisians storm the Bastille, arm themselves and force the king to return from Versailles to Paris.

1791 The king is captured while trying to flee Paris and begin a counterrevolution and is returned to his palace in Paris.


1792 Austria and Prussia form an alliance against France; the king is arrested and France declared a republic; the Assembly calls a National Convention.

1793 The king is tried and executed for treason; England, Spain and Holland join the alliance against France; Robespierre gains power; the reign of terror begins.

1794 The Terror continues until a coup by moderates brings about the fall of Robespierre and suppression of the political rights of the Jacobins.

1795 The White Terror against radicals begins; Prussia withdraws from the war against France.

1796-1797 Napoleon Bonaparte leads a French army into Italy and defeats the Austrians.

1798-1799 Hoping to cut England off from India, Napoleon lands in Egypt.

1798 England and Russia form a new alliance against France and are later joined by Austria.

1799 Napoleon returns from Egypt and overthrows the Directory, becoming the first consul and dictator.

1802 Peace with England; Napoleon becomes consul for life.

1803 England again declares war on France.

1804 Napoleon is crowned emperor of the French.

1805 Austria, Russia, Sweden declare war on France; Nelson destroys the French fleet at Trafalgar; Napoleon defeats the Austrian and Russian armies at Austerlitz; Austria makes peace with France.

1808 Napoleon invades Spain and makes his brother king; the Spanish, aided by England, revolt.

1809 Austria declares war on France; Napoleon defeats them and captures Vienna.

1812 Napoleon’s invasion of Russia ends in a retreat in which most of the army is lost.

1813 Prussia and Austria declare war on France.

1814 The allies invade France and capture Paris, exiling Napoleon to the island of Elba.

1815 Napoleon lands in France and raises an army; he is defeated at Waterloo and exiled to St. Helena, where he later dies.

Emperor of the French 1804 -1815


On December 2, 1804, in a ceremony of great pomp and splendour at the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned Napoleon I, Emperor of the French. Pope Pius VII was there. He had come from Rome to offer his blessing and to place the crown on the head of the new emperor but Napoleon did not do what was expected of him. Instead of kneeling, he took the crown from the Pope’s hands and put it on himself. He also placed a crown on the head of his wife, Josephine. Only twelve years had passed since the French had risen in revolt against their king. Now, by popular vote, they had placed Napoleon on the throne and approved a new constitution giving him almost unlimited power. People in other lands wondered if the French were turning their back on the revolution, but the French did not think so. They looked upon Napoleon as the man who had made laws and treaties to protect most of the benefits which they had won during the revolution. Yet the French had changed. They no longer spoke of liberty. They were willing to give up some of their freedom in order to enjoy other things that now seemed just as important and men who had once been great champions of liberty could do little about it. Among them was Lafayette, who had returned to France after several years in Austrian prisons. Not wishing to support a government under which freedom did not exist, he refused to accept any public office and lived the life of a gentleman farmer. Most Frenchmen simply felt that a practical form of government was more important than liberty. They had discovered some frightening things about liberty during the Revolution — too much of it could …

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The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte 1796-1802


In March of 1796, a new commander named Napoleon Bonaparte was placed in charge of the French army on the Italian front. The soldiers and officers were amazed when they first saw him. He was short, thin, pale, only twenty-seven years old and spoke French with an Italian accent. Napoleon was not an unknown. He had first come to public attention as the young artillery officer who drove the British fleet from the harbour at Toulon. Later, as a brigadier general, he had successfully defended the Convention from an uprising in Paris. What most people did not know was that he had been a rebel most of his life. He had been born on the island of Corsica, a rebel stronghold, where fighting for independence from French rule was considered the duty of patriots. His father had been a rebel leader and the boy Napoleon had dreamed of the day when he, too, would lead a Corsican rebellion against the French. He had kept that dream alive during his years in French military school and even after he had become an officer in the French army. During one of his visits to the island, while on leave, he had actually tried to stir up a rebellion in Corsica. The attempt failed and that put an end to his boyhood dream, but he still remained a rebel at heart. Napoleon’s new army was a small one of only 30,000 troops and most of them were suffering for want of food and clothing. This was the army with which he was expected to fight the Austrian troops in Northern Italy. According to French war plans against Austria, the Italian campaign was supposed to keep enemy troops busy on the southern front while the main attacks were launched by two large French armies …

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The Terror 1793 – 1795


The execution of the king stunned the rulers of Europe. They were stunned as well by the French military victories in Belgium and along the Rhine River. Furthermore, the French government was offering to come to the aid of any people willing to fight for their liberty. The revolution threatened to spill over into other countries, becoming a crusade of peoples against kings and nobility. If successful, it could destroy every kingdom in Europe. England and most of the European powers, therefore, joined together in 1793 to crash the revolution and to place another king on the throne of France. The French attempted to raise a large army to defend the country, but rebellion broke out in a region called the Vendée to the west of Paris. The Catholic peasants of the Vendée turned against the government because it had closed monasteries, taken control of the Church, sold much of the Church property and put to death, imprisoned, or otherwise mistreated many of its priests. The civil war in the Vendée and a number of military defeats at the borders of the country were enough to frighten the French people. There was a serious food shortage again. Unemployment was rising. Prices were going up. Food riots broke out in many large cities, including Paris. The government was too weak to cope with such emergencies. To provide stronger leadership, a committee of Public Safety was set up to guide the ministers and to serve as the head of the government. Danton was the first Jacobin leader to dominate this committee. The political group then in power, the Girondins, was blamed for all the ills of the nation. Radical Jacobins demanded the arrest of Girondin leaders. The demand was made again and again without results. The radicals finally stirred up a revolt …

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The Fall of King Louis 1789-1793


“Down with the King!” That cry was heard again and again on the night of August 9, 1792, as restless mobs gathered in the streets of Paris. They had only one purpose in mind and that was to make certain the king was toppled from his throne. The Assembly had been warned to dispose of the king before midnight and that deadline was only hours away. If the Assembly failed to act, the mobs would join forces, march on the royal Palace and seize the king themselves. As the midnight deadline approached, the frightened members of the Assembly were still in session. It was their duty to protect the king, yet, if they sent more troops to the palace, they could be held responsible for starting a civil war. The Tuileries, as the royal palace was called, was already well guarded by a Swiss guard of 900 troops, about the same number of police and 2,000 of the National Guard. The members of the Assembly were troubled by many questions, for France now had a constitution and the members were the elected representatives of the Legislative Assembly. The new government was less than a year old. Since the king served as the head of that government, what would happen to it if the king were dragged from his throne? On the other hand, could the new government survive under the leadership of a king who had lost the trust of the people? King Louis had done a number of things which had turned the people against him. It was his threat to use troops against the people that had brought about the fall of the Bastille three years earlier. Then, on the night of June 20, 1791, he and his family had made an unsuccessful attempt to escape from the …

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“The King to Paris!” 1789


In the towns and cities of the provinces, the news of the fall of the Bastille led to wild celebrations and a series of revolts against local governments. These governments had long been unpopular, since most of them were controlled by nobles and others who had bought their government positions from the king. The town people set up new governments, similar to the one in Paris and organized local units of the National Guard. The revolution spread to the countryside as well. There the peasant uprising had started even before the fall of the Bastille. The peasants made up at least 75 per cent of the population and they had been mistreated and abused by the nobles for many centuries. Due to their poor farming methods and the limited amount of land available to them, these farm people were barely able to support themselves, yet they had been burdened with the heaviest tax load in the country. They paid direct and indirect taxes to the king. They paid the church tax. They also paid various fees and rents to the nobles who owned the land. It was true that many peasants were landowners themselves, but even they had to pay fees to the nobles. Peasants had to serve in the army and they were required to furnish horses and wagons for the army whenever necessary. They were forced to work on public roads without pay. They were not allowed to hunt or gather wood in the forests. Only the nobles could hunt there — but the nobles could also hunt on lands rented or owned by the peasants. Cattle belonging to the peasants had to be kept at home, but cattle belonging to the nobles could wander about at will over the lands of the peasants, sometimes causing considerable damage. …

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The Fall of the Bastille 1789


On Sunday, July 12, 1789, the people of Paris learned that Necker, the popular minister, had suddenly been dismissed by the king. They could only guess at the king’s reasons for wanting Necker out of the way. It seemed clear enough that Necker’s dismissal had something to do with the recent arrival of Swiss and German troops in the Paris area. It was said that more troops were arriving every day. Why? People were almost afraid to guess at the answer. The news of Necker spread quickly and angry crowds gathered in the streets. A young man named Desmoulins leaped to the top of the table and warned the people to arm themselves. He probably repeated many of the ugly rumours then circulating in Paris. The king was bringing in troops to destroy the Assembly at Versailles. The king had entered into a plot with the nobles to smash the revolution, massacre the patriots in Paris and become once again the absolute ruler of France. Desmoulins drew a pistol and waved it above his head. “There is not a moment to lose,” he shouted. “We have only one course of action to rush to arms. . .” A growing crowd followed him through the streets. “Aux armes!” they cried. “To arms!” A regiment of the king’s German cavalry tried to scatter them and some of the people were slightly wounded. They screamed that they were being massacred and the crowd became a maddened mob. People armed themselves with sticks and pipes. They broke into the shops of gunsmiths to snatch up weapons. French soldiers left their barracks and joined them. The German cavalry, forced to retreat, hurriedly withdrew from the city. The police had also disappeared, leaving Paris in the hands of the rioters. Under more normal conditions, the armed …

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The Voice of the People 1789

estates general

The sun had broken through the clouds after a night of spring showers. Dripping leaves sparkled in the golden light, which flooded the gaily decorated streets of Versailles and the broad terraces of the king’s royal palace. It was May 4, 1789, the day of the opening ceremony of the recently elected Estates General. The streets were crowded with visitors, most of them from Paris, only a few miles away. They had come to see the grand procession of the Estates General and were in a holiday mood. The shops were closed. Local citizens watched from windows, crowded balconies and rooftops. This was a day, they felt, that would go down in history as the beginning of a wonderful new age for themselves and their country. The procession moved slowly along the street in the direction of the Church of Saint-Louis, where a mass was to be celebrated. The representatives marched by two’s, each holding a lighted candle. First came the members elected by the ordinary people of France who made up the middle and lower classes. These were the commoners, usually referred to as the Third Estate. There were more than 550 of them, all dressed in black and wearing three-cornered hats. Towering above the other marchers of this group was a man with a large head and an ugly face, a nobleman named Mirabeau, who had presented himself as a candidate for the commoners and had been elected as such. Almost all representatives of the commoners came from the middle class, which was made up of merchants, business and professional men from towns and cities. This middle class was called the bourgeoisie. Next in the procession were the noblemen. They wore wide hats with plumes, Silk capes embroidered with gold, tight breeches and stockings of snowy white, with …

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The French Revolution – Champion of Liberty 1782 – 1789


WHEN THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE returned to France in 1782, after taking part in the American Revolution, he was hailed as a popular hero. It was pleasant to be welcomed as a champion of liberty, but he had been in America so long that he was beginning to see his own country as an American might see it and he was troubled. France was one of the largest and richest countries in Europe and yet the wealth of the nation was in the hands of a few, while the great majority of the people had almost nothing. He found a disturbing emptiness in the faces of the people. On country roads, peasants often stared at him with hollow eyes and blank faces. They seemed to have so little to live for. The nobles and the rich had discovered ways of avoiding taxes and the entire tax burden fell on the poor, who scarcely had enough for themselves and their families. These were the people who now turned to Lafayette, hoping that he might lead them in their fight for liberty. Lafayette was eager to help them. “When one loves liberty,” he explained, “one is not at peace until after having established it in one’s own country.” He and thousands of other Frenchmen believed the people of France could win liberty for themselves if they followed the example set for them by the Americans. Many had read Thomas Paine’s famous pamphlet Common Sense, which had stirred the Americans in their fight for liberty. Many had also studied the rights of man listed in the Declaration of Independence. Writers pointed out in newspapers and books that these rights belonged to all men everywhere and that they had always been denied to ordinary Frenchmen. The French had been cheered by the American victory …

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The Road to Yorktown 1777 – 1781


The big English setter did not look like a stray dag. When it came wandering into Washington’s camp one day in the fall of 1777, a soldier brought it to his officer. The officer took it directly to Washington’s headquarters and pointed out the name on the dog’s collar–“General Howe.” Washington had the dog fed while he wrote a polite note to General Howe. Half an hour later, the dog and the note were sent to the British camp under a flag of truce. The incident was not important, but it gave the Americans something to laugh and joke about for several days. There had not been much cause for laughter in recent weeks. General Howe had taken Philadelphia, America’s capital and its largest city, after defeating Washington at Brandywine and at Germantown. Washington’s losses had been heavy. He was now camped in the hills of Valley Forge, some twenty miles from Philadelphia, in desperate need of supplies of all kinds. In the North, moving down from Montreal, General Burgoyne had captured the fort at Ticonderoga and had continued on to Fort Edwards on the Hudson. Burgoyne, however, was having his troubles, too. He was almost out of food and his supply base at Montreal lay 185 miles north, through almost trackless wilderness. Burgoyne knew that east of him there were large stores of food and many cattle at Bennington, in what is now Vermont. He sent out a detachment of 1,300 men to raid the place and to bring back all the cattle and horses they could find. The detachment marched into a trap which had been set for it by John Stark and his New England militia and when the short battle was over, the British had lost. American losses were thirty killed and forty wounded. The Indians …

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The Old Fox 1776-1777


The cold winter winds howled through the streets of New York, but the houses were filled with warmth, good cheer and the merry crackle of hearth fires. It was late in December of 1776. Six months earlier the city had been the headquarters of General Washington’s ragged army of patriots. Now it was in the hands of the British and they were in a mood to celebrate. Some redcoats were making ready for Christmas. Others were writing long letters home to England, saying that the war was almost over. They told how Washington had been driven out of New York, how the British had stormed Fort Washington just north of the city and captured 2,600 American troops and large stores of military supplies. They told how Washington’s army had crossed the Hudson River and how General Cornwallis, with a large force of redcoats and Hessians, had chased him across the state of New Jersey. At his headquarters in New York, General Howe was preparing to spend a pleasant winter among his loyalist friends. He had many reasons for being cheerful. On December 13th, he had captured General Charles Lee, second in command of the American forces under Washington. The British had met with little resistance as they chased Washington through New Jersey and now some British units were as deep into New Jersey as Bordentown, only twenty-five miles from Philadelphia. Howe was particularly pleased by the fact that thousands of colonists in New Jersey had welcomed the British and had taken advantage of his offer to pardon all who renewed their oaths of allegiance to King George. What was left of Washington’s army had escaped across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. Howe knew that most of the troops under Washington would be free to go home after their term of …

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