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Published: Friday 25th of January 2013

The 1789 French Revolution Essay Example

The 1789 French Revolution happened because of various reasons. The prevailing economic, political, and social conditions in France contributed to the displeasure felt by a majority of the French people, especially those who belonged to the third estate. The intellectuals of the Enlightenment had ideas that brought new views to society and government. The French revolution was influenced by the American one. Its (American) philosophies planted the seeds for the French revolution. Their objectives were to expose and put an end to the ancient regime’s inequalities. One of the causes of the French Revolution was political discontent. In the 17th and 18th centuries, France was governed by an absolute government. The king had all the political powers. Any person who dared to criticize the government would be arrested and detained without trial. At the time of the revolution, the king was Louis XVI. His primary interest was hunting rather than governing France. Together with his queen, Marie Antoinette, they lived an extravagant life at the Palace of Versailles. They didn't care about the state of the country. An excerpt taken from the cahiers mentioned in document three reveals that the votes in the assembly weren’t taken by head. The people of the third estate felt they were betrayed when the king supported the block voting instead of head voting. The first two estates joined hands to outvote the large third estate to prevent them from becoming a threat to the existing power. According to English Lord Acton, the monarchy being overthrown was not the spark of the revolution. He states that American Independence was the spark. The French government was corrupt, inept, and unjust. There were many government departments, different laws in various parts of the country, and officials. Many French citizens became furious with how the country was governed. They could not do anything to bring about any change. The French parliament was referred to as the Estates-General. Since 1614, it hadn’t met and could not do it without the king’s consent. Simply, it had no power. Also, there were economic problems created by the rulers that led to the revolution. In the 18th century, the French government spent more money than it collected in taxes. The country was bankrupt by 1788. An Englishman and observer called Arthur Young, who traveled to France from 1787 to 1789, describes in his book ‘Travels in France’ the living conditions of the peasants. The taxes that each person was supposed to pay were unfair. The landholders in the nobility were not taxed heavily. On the other hand, the commoners were heavily taxed. Bread was scarce. Its price was out of reach to many people, thus causing great misery to the French people. Most of the money was spent on funding wars. Out of the previous 100 years, France had been at war for almost 50 years. In the American War of Independence, France supported America. Afterward, it was in financial ruins. A lot of money was also spent on palaces, gifts for the kings of France, and entertainment. The clergy and the nobles hardly paid any taxes. The church owned one-tenth of land in France and it didn’t pay any taxes. The peasants were the ones who bore the brunt of heavy taxation. Louis XVI attempted to reform the taxation system, but the clergy and nobility rejected the new reforms. The king was thus unable to make any changes. The French rulers also levied the salt tax. When Jacques Turgot attempted to introduce the corvee (tax on land property), the nobility opposed him. As a result of this failure, he was dismissed by Louis XVI.
Furthermore, social problems were another key factor that contributed to the French Revolution. France was a country with class divisions in the 18th century. People were classified into three estates. The first one was made up of the clergy, the second was made up of the nobility, and the final estate consisted of the bourgeoisie, city workers, and peasants. The estate one belonged to decided one’s rights and power. 1% of the people made up the first estate and owned 10% of the land in France. The second one was made up of two percent of the citizens and possessed thirty-five percent of the land. The final estate had 97% of the people and was in possession of fifty-five percent of the land. Looking at the number of people in each estate, the people to land ratio was unfair. The privileged classes occupied the first and second estates. The nobility and the clergy did not pay much taxes. They had to pay around four-fifths of their income on tax. They also had to pay the land tax, taxes on property, salt, and roads. The third estate was the most disgruntled group. The bourgeoisie were well educated. The views of Voltaire and Rousseau, who criticized the wrongs of that time, greatly influenced them. According to Rousseau, people are basically good but become corrupted by society. In an ideal society, people would come up with laws and would adhere to them willingly. Possibly the most famous of the philosophers was Francois-Marie Arouet, who adopted the moniker Voltaire. He utilized humor as a way of exposing the injustices that were happening. He targeted the corrupt. He confronted injustice, inequality, and superstition. He hated the slave trade and condemned prejudice. People disliked the privileges of the nobility and wanted a more significant say in state affairs. City workers were angry since their wages weren't sufficient enough to buy goods whenever prices went up. The peasants made up 80% of the total population and were taxed heavily. Albert Mathiez, in his book ‘The French Revolution’, states that the middle class caused the revolution. The working class could not control or start the revolution. They were only beginning to learn how to read. The peasants were subjected to some feudal dues referred to as banalities. The lord could also take a number of days every year of the peasant’s labor. The society targeted the peasants. The peasants could not do anything on their own or even attempt to fight back. The French Revolution was instigated by political, social, and economic problems. People were disgruntled with the king. The first and second estates belonged to the privileged while the third consisted of the unprivileged who were heavily taxed. The third estate was not on the same page with the other two. A lot of money was spent by the French kings on wars. More money was spent than what was made. Time for change was ripe in France.

Outcomes of the French Revolution

  • A stronger, more centralized state with an effective administration.
  • Elimination of internal tariffs. Also, a uniform tax system was created.
  • Extension of new civil rights, for instance, equality before the law and participation in elections based on property qualifications.
  • Social and economic changes like a single commercial code, workers' rights to join unions, peasants became independent proprietors.
  • Popular sovereignty, that is, sovereignty rested with the French people and not the king.
  • A reduction in the influence of the church.
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