Abstract Title

The Role of Rumors in Sparking the French Revolution in 1789

Abstract

The French Revolution has many widely-accepted causes that range from discontent with an absolutist monarchy to a series of economic hardships that led up to the late 1780s. This paper examines another influence on the revolution’s inception in 1789: rumors. Much of the current historiography concerning rumors and the French Revolution studies the role of rumors during the middle of the revolution—especially around the mid-1790s—rather than addressing their significance in the beginning of this period. Thus, this paper addresses the role of rumors in 1789 by examining the causes of the French Revolution, the rumors that arose from said causes, and how these rumors drove France’s commoners to revolt in 1789. This paper’s argument is that rumors were not necessarily a cause of this uprising, but they did build upon the tensions created by the aforementioned causes to drive France’s lower orders to revolution. The support for this assertion derives from a series of journals and letters of contemporaries who witnessed the behavior of the revolutionaries in France during 1789. The evidence found in these sources not only demonstrates people’s preoccupation with rumors during this period but also rumors’ role in pushing them towards the violence that is often associated with the French Revolution. This research helps one understand the fear-driven mindset of the revolutionaries and can provide a precedent for the emphasis on violence and paranoia that occurred later in the French Revolution.

Modified Abstract

This paper examines the often-neglected role of rumors in the inception of the French Revolution in 1789. It argues that rumors were not necessarily a cause of this uprising, but they did build upon the tensions created by the revolution’s causes, driving France’s descent into a frenzied period that lasted for—at least—the next ten years. A series of contemporary journals and letters are used to provide evidence that the revolution’s causes spawned various rumors, which spurned commoners into revolutionary action, in turn. This research helps one understand the fear-driven mindset of the revolutionaries and can provide a precedent for the emphasis on violence and paranoia that occurred later in the French Revolution.

Research Category

Political Sciences/Philosophy/History

Primary Author's Major

History

Mentor #1 Information

Dr. Matthew

Crawford

Presentation Format

Oral

Start Date

April 2019

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Apr 9th, 1:00 PM

The Role of Rumors in Sparking the French Revolution in 1789

The French Revolution has many widely-accepted causes that range from discontent with an absolutist monarchy to a series of economic hardships that led up to the late 1780s. This paper examines another influence on the revolution’s inception in 1789: rumors. Much of the current historiography concerning rumors and the French Revolution studies the role of rumors during the middle of the revolution—especially around the mid-1790s—rather than addressing their significance in the beginning of this period. Thus, this paper addresses the role of rumors in 1789 by examining the causes of the French Revolution, the rumors that arose from said causes, and how these rumors drove France’s commoners to revolt in 1789. This paper’s argument is that rumors were not necessarily a cause of this uprising, but they did build upon the tensions created by the aforementioned causes to drive France’s lower orders to revolution. The support for this assertion derives from a series of journals and letters of contemporaries who witnessed the behavior of the revolutionaries in France during 1789. The evidence found in these sources not only demonstrates people’s preoccupation with rumors during this period but also rumors’ role in pushing them towards the violence that is often associated with the French Revolution. This research helps one understand the fear-driven mindset of the revolutionaries and can provide a precedent for the emphasis on violence and paranoia that occurred later in the French Revolution.