French Revolution, a revolution by the people of France that lasted from 1789 to 1799. The original goals, to create a constitutional monarchy and reform the financial and political structure of the nation, soon developed into a move to overthrow the king and establish a republic. In the course of the revolution the immense land holdings of the Roman Catholic Church as well as of the feudal lords were taken over by the government and sold to the bourgeoisie (middle class) and peasants. The First Republic was established and thousands of persons accused of opposing a republican form of government were put to death.
The revolution was followed by the dictatorship of Napoleon and, in 1815, by a return of the monarchy. But the French people had learned that inequality did not have to be borne, and they were never again dominated as before by the privileged class. The success of the American Revolution helped influence the French people to revolt. In turn, the French Revolution, in spite of its excesses, spread ideas of freedom and equality throughout Europe.