Causes of the French Revolution of 1789

August 3, 2017 | Author: Rohan P Sahay | Category: French Revolution, American Revolution, Taxes, France, Natural And Legal Rights
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The French Revolution of 1789 had many long-range causes. Political, social, and economic conditions in France contributed to the discontent felt by many French people-especially those of the third estate. The ideas of the intellectuals of the Enlightenment brought new views to government and society. The American Revolution also influenced the coming of the French Revolution. The Philosophers planted the seeds for the French Revolution. Their goals were to expose and destroy the inequalities of the ancient regime (old order). The political discontent of France was one of the causes of the Revolution. In the 17th and 18th centuries, France was ruled by an absolute government. The king had all the political powers. Anyone who criticized the government could be arrested and put in prison without trial. Louis XVI was king at the time of the French Revolution. He was more interested in hunting than governing France. He and his Austrian queen, Marie Antoinette, lived an extravagant life at the Palace of Versailles. They did not really care about the state of their country. The excerpt from the cahiers mentioned in document 3 shows that the votes in the assembly were not taken by head. The people of the 3rd estate felt a sense of betrayal when the king supported the block voting over the head voting. The first two estates worked together to outvote the large third estate to keep them from becoming a threat to the power. Lord Acton, an Englishmen, states that the monarchy being overthrown wasn't the spark of the Revolution. He recognizes the American Independence as the spark of the French Revolution. The French government was inefficient, unjust and corrupt. There were numerous government departments, different laws in different parts of the country and officials. Many people became livid at the way France was governed. The people couldn't do anything to bring about a change. The French Parliament was called the Estates-General. It had not met since 1614 and couldn't without the consent of the king. It basically had no power. The economic problems created by the French kings also contributed to the Revolution. During the 18th century, the French government spent more money than it collected in taxes. By 1788, the country was bankrupt. Arthur Young, an Englishmen and observer, who traveled to France from 1787 to 1789 angrily describes the living conditions of the peasants in his book Travels in France. The amount of tax each person must pay is unfair. Landholders found in the nobility weren't taxed much. The landholders found in the commoners were taxed heavily. There was lack of bread. The price of bread was a lot higher then one's ability to pay which caused great misery for the people of France. Most of the money was spent on wars. France had been at war for nearly 50 years out of the previous one hundred years. France supported the Americans in the American War of the Independence. After that, France was in financial ruins. A large sum of money was also spent on palaces, entertainment and gifts by the kings of France. The government spent a lot of money which put forth high taxes. The tax system was unjust. The nobles and the clergy hardly paid any tax. The Church owned one-tenth of the land in France and did

not pay any taxes. The peasants were the victims of the heavy taxation. Louis XVI tried to reform the taxation system but the nobility and the clergy refused to accept the new reforms. Therefore, the king was unable to make any financial reforms. The gabelle, salt tax, was also levied by the French Kings. When Jacques Turgot tried to impose the corvee, tax on land property, he was opposed by the nobility. He failed to pass the corvee and was dismissed by Louis XVI.. Social problems were also a major factor that brought about the French Revolution. In the 18th century, France was a feudal country with class divisions. People were divided into three estates. The First Estate consisted of the clergy. The Second consisted of the nobility, and the Third included the bourgeoisie, the city workers and the peasants. The state you belonged to decided your power and rights. Document 2 shows the social class distinctions. The first estate was made up of 1% of the people and owned 10% of the land in France. The second estate consisted of 2% of the people and owned 35% of the land. The third estate held 97% of the people who owned 55% of the land. The people-to-land proportion was unjust looking at the amount of people in each estate. The third estate held very little land compared to the amount of people it had. It was overcrowded. The first and the second estate were the privileged classes. They clergy and the nobility were exempt from many taxes. They had to pay about four-fifths of their income on tax. They also needed to pay the land tax: also the taxes on property, roads, and salt. The third estate was the most discontented class. The bourgeoisie were well educated. They were strongly influenced by the ideas of Voltaire and Rousseau who attacked the injustices of the time. Rousseau believed that people are basically good but become corrupted by society. In an ideal society, people would make the laws and would obey them willingly. Probably the most famous of the philisophes was Francois-Marie Arouet who took the name Voltaire. He used biting wit as a weapon to expose the abuses of his day. He targeted corrupt officials and idle aristocrats. With his pen, he battled inequality, injustice, and superstition. He detested the slave trade and deplored religious prejudice. They resented the privileges of the nobility and wanted a larger role in state affairs. City workers were angry because their wages were not enough to buy goods when prices were going up rapidly. The peasants made up 80% of the population and had to pay heavy taxes. In his book The French Revolution, Albert Mathiez states that the Revolution was caused by the middle classes. The working classes weren't able to control or start the Revolution. They were just starting to learn how to read. French peasants were subject to certain feudal dues, called banalities. These included the required used-for-payment of the lord's mill to grind grain and his oven to bake bread. The lord could also require a certain number of days each year of the peasant's labor. Peasants were targeted by society. They couldn't do anything on there own or try to fight back. The French Revolution was caused by social, political and economic problems. People were in discontent with the king. The first two estates were privileged and the third was very unprivileged and had to pay heavy taxes. The third estate did not get along with the first two. French kings spent a lot of money on wars. They spent more money then they made. It was time for a change in France.

Causes of French Revolution Wars: A number of major wars had taken place in the forty years leading up to the revolution. France used to always participate in the war and King Louis had to invest a lot of money in wars and the weapons. All this money came from the taxes paid by the 3rd estate. For example: the war with British: in 1756 the French fought with the Americans against British. This caused the government run low on money at a time when prices were high. This contributed to the overall causes leading up to the revolution because it outraged the peasants to be so burdened that they could not afford to eat. On top of that they had failed crops which further increased the price of the essential commodities. All this lead to unrest and food riots. Price increase: In 1700, the price of essential things increased so much that the wages of the workers could not match with the price of the commodities. So the families could not afford food and other basic necessities with such low incomes. This is long term causes which lead to French revolution as there was a lot of discontentment among the masses. Poor Harvest: In 1787-88, the harvests were very bad due to very severe cold winters. Thousands of people suffered because there was not enough food. Angry mobs gathered in the streets. The women played an important role in the French revolution as these poor women of Paris marched to the king’s palace at Versailles to demand bread for their hungry children. This is one of the short term economical causes of revolution. Burden of New Taxes: In order to create funds for the war and to buy the weapons, the King Louis XVI kept on increasing the taxes which further added burden on the third estate as discussed in the other section. This lead to French revolution as the poor peasants could not cope up with theses taxes and could not do anything about it as they had no voice. They wanted to have a say in as to how the country should be run. The First Estate: the first estate mainly consisted of clergy. This was the Roman Catholic Church. They were the 0.3% of France’s population and owned about 10% of the land. On top of that, they didn’t pay taxes even thought they were one of the wealthiest people of France. The peasants paid 10% of their salary only to the Archbishops, Bishops and Abbots. The leaders of the clergy, bishops lived like nobles. The first estate contributed to the revolution but it was a short term cause. The Clergy took advantage of the fact that the king was so indecisive and non-judgmental. They thought that they could gain power by helping and advising the king when he would reach a dilemma. The greed for power contributed to the revolution because then the other estates wanted power as well. The Second Estate: The second estates were aristocrats. They made up 1.5% of the population and owned 20% of the land. They didn’t pay taxes either. They often ordered peasants to work on their land and made them pay to use the mills. They were given control over other villages. They were

hated by both the estates. They were hated by the first estate because the aristocrats had control over more land. They were well of and wealthy and on top of that they didn’t have to pay any taxes. Aristocrats were hated by the peasants because they used to be used as slaves. The second estate contributed to the revolution because they refused to help King Louis by not paying the taxes especially during 1787 when the money was needed to fund the war against the British. The second estate did not help King Louis XVI to bring about reforms in the taxation system. In 1783, Charles de Calonne (Controller General of Finance) suggested that the nobility should also pay the taxes. The nobility refused to cooperate which further increased the economic problems of France. Unfair taxation and the Third Estate: The 3rd estate made up 98.2% of the population. The 3rd estate consisted of middle class and peasants. There were lawyers, doctors, bankers, soldiers, merchants, priests, artisans, urban workers and peasants. The majority of the third estates were the peasants. They owned little land. They used to be abused by the first and the second estates. They used to call the poorest members of the third estate sans-culottes. It was a term created by the French in 1790 to describe the poorest members of the thirst estate because they wore pantaloons instead of the more in fashion clothes. The taxation system prevalent in France was faulty as the poorest were forced to pay the maximum taxes. The 3rd estate comprising of mainly the peasants had to pay 1/10 of their salary to the church. This was known as “tithe’. There were many other taxes that they also had to pay. They paid the “taille” which was a sort of income tax. They had to pay “Seigneurial’ to the local landlord, or lord of the manor. These taxes were known as “feudal dues”. For example; the landlord would charge peasants heavily to use his mill to grind corn. Corvée (work tax) was paid for few days each year. Peasants had to work hard for the upkeep of local roads. Gabelle was a tax on salt. There was tax on salt since it helped to preserve food and “Aide” was a tax on bottle of wine. The third estate weren’t paid sufficiently and they had to pay so many different taxes. The revolution took place because there was unfair taxation. The poorest community of France was paying high taxes for multiple reasons. They paid taxes so that the aristocrats can live a lavish life. They paid taxes to fund the war. They paid taxes to save the economy of the country.They are the real heroes of the French revolution because they were the ones who took the first action which was known as the beginning of the French revolution. Because the peasants wanted new constitution, the trigger took place. They wanted power that’s why they took over the king and gained power. Population increase: Population increase lead to the French revolution although it was a short term cause. The population increased dramatically in the 18th century. This caused peasants to become landless. This also meant that there was shortage of resources as they didn’t have surplus due to the poor harvest. Due to this reason the capable families worked really hard in order to feed their families and be capable of paying the taxes. This caused the revolution because it made the peasants want more land, money and power. The age of Enlightment: The enlightment was a period of revolution; a time where there was a major shift in the way the people thought. People began to question, investigate, reason and find the logic behind the theories. They were confident as they were going against the church / questioning the church, and who ever did that was executed. The enlightment affected areas like POLITICS, ARTS, LITERATURE, SCIENCE and last but not the least RELIGION. People started having secular thoughts. People started becoming open-minded and were ready to accept the change. They made their own laws and customs and adapted reality. Due to this the people became more knowledgeable New political ideas were evolved which lead to a new view of a

government. The government system changed. People wanted to have representatives government not one person ruling the country. They wanted to change their form of government from absolute monarchy to democracy. All the citizens wanted to share power. More universities and book were made. This also gave people a better sense of equality. There was a desire to change the society. The philosophers often gathered in Paris and other European cities. They discussed politics, science and society. They changed their ideology. They believed in secular thoughts, “SOCIAL CONTACT “and the “GENERAL WILL”. Social contact was a deal with people for the good, the right to elect, impeaching a president (anyone who has power) and general will was that people should have a right to choose their ruler. These ideas and thoughts lead to the French revolution as the people of France became more aware of their rights and freedom and liberty. Demands and The tennis court oath: This was the trigger and led to the revolution. Louis XVI tried to prevent the national assembly from writing a new constitution by locking them out of their meeting rooms. However, they gathered in an indoor tennis court. There they took an oath not to disband until they had written the constitution. This was a major event which started the revolution because we can see that the people have gone against the king because he didn’t let the people make laws and regulations. This also indicates that the citizens desired change badly that is why they took this action and took the oath that they will make a new constitution. The third estate declared themselves as the national assembly. There were three main demands of the peasants. The first one was that the peasants wanted Necker to return and become the finance minister as they knew that he would sort out the monetary issues. Secondly, they wanted new constitution, rules that would give the king less power and give the third estate a voice in the running of France. Their last demand was that they wanted to rule the country as they made the majority of the population. In conclusion, we can say that there were numerous causes which lead to the French Revolution out of which, most of them were economical. The revolution was imminent because the third estates were treated badly since they were abused, treated like slaves and paid heavy taxes when they couldn’t afford it. They didn’t have power either. The French revolution brought a sense of equality among the citizens of France and everybody shared power. All the causes of the French revolution are interconnected because one issue leads to another and piles up. And when all the causes pile up it becomes a burden and there is no way out, hence the majority wins and there is a new beginning. Like in this case, all the causes just piled up. When king Louis had no way out the wheel turned causing the majority to win, in this case the peasants and there was a new beginning. There was a new form of government, sense of equality and everybody had equal power. The political factors lead to the economical factors.

Chapter – 1 The French Revolution Q.1: Describe the circumstances revolutionary protest in France.





Ans: On the eve of the French Revolution, that is in 1789 A.D. France presented a dismal look. Following were the conditions on the

eve of the French Revolution. In other words we can say that following were the chief causes of the French Revolution: (a) Social Causes - On the eve of the revolution, the French society was ridden with several inequalities. The clergy and the nobles led a life of luxury and enjoyed numerous privileges. On the other hand, the peasants and workers lived a wretched life. They groaned under heavy taxes and forced labour. The middle-class comprising of lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc also suffered humiliation at the hands of the clergy and the nobles. This state of social inequality was the chief cause of the French Revolution. (b) Political Causes - Emperor Louis XVI of France was an empty headed despot. He and his queen, Marie Antoinette, squandered money on their luxurious living and wasteful festivities. The high posts were often auctioned, so inefficiency reigned supreme. The whole administration was corrupt and each department had its own laws. In the absence of any uniform system there was confusion all around. The people were tired of such a rotten system of administration and wanted a change. (c) Economic Causes - France had been continually involved in wars which had broken her economy. The luxurious life led by the French King Louis XVI and his queen had made the matter still worse. The people groaned under heavy taxes. The system was so faulty that only a fraction of the taxes could be realized as the people were too poor to pay the taxes while nobles and the clergy who could pay, were completely exempted from all the taxes. The economy became so bad that the French Government had almost reached a state of bankruptcy. Thus the shattered economy of France proved a major cause of the Revolution. (d) Immediate Cause - Forced by financial bankruptcy, Emperor Louis XVI was compelled to call a meeting of the Estates General in 1789 A.D. after a lapse of 175 years. It generated much excitement as the members of the Third Estate were determined to put forth their problems. But when the first two Estates i.e. the Clergy and the Nobility refused to have a common meeting with the Third Estate, the people lost their temper. They had already suffered much in the severe famine in 1788 - 1789. In this way the calling of the Estates General in 1789 A.D. proved to be the immediate cause of the French Revolution. Q.2: Which groups of French society benefitted from the revolution? Which groups were forced to relinquish power? Which sections of

society would have been disappointed with the outcome of the revolution? Ans: Groups of French society which benefitted from the revolution All the groups of French society which formerly formed a part of the Third Estate were benefitted from the revolution. These groups included the peasants, workers, petty-officers, lawyers, teachers, doctors and traders. Formerly they had to pay all the taxes and they were humiliated both by the Clergy and the Nobles at every point but after the revolution they began to be treated equal with the upper sections of the society. Groups of French society which were forced to relinquish power People belonging to the upper classes - the First Estate and the Second Estate, which enjoyed all the privileges has to relinquish power. Such people were the Clergy and the Nobles. The special privileges of these higher sections were abolished as a result of the French Revolution. Now the French society was organized on the basis of social equality. Sections of society which would have been disappointed with the outcome of the revolution - Naturally the erstwhile privileged classes i.e. the Clergy and the Nobles would have been disappointed with the outcome of the revolution because everybody is disappointed when privileges are taken away from them. Q.3: Describe the legacy of the French Revolution for the people of the world during the 19th and the 20th centuries. Ans: The French Revolution was one of the most significant events in the World History. It gave to the world the three main ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Its main achievements and effects on the modern world were as follows: 1. The French Revolution put an end to the arbitrary rule and developed the idea of People’s Republic in Europeand subsequently in other parts of the world. 2. It inspired the people throughout the world with the ideals of freedom and liberty which subsequently formed the basis of the national sovereignty. 3. The French Revolution preached the concept of equal rights for all the

citizens, which subsequently became the concept of equality before law for all people. 4. It spread the idea of human fraternity which is one of the chief attributes for promoting the ideals of love, unity and co-operation among the different sections of the society. 5. The French Revolution gave the term ‘Nation’ its modern meaning and promoted the concept of ‘nationalist’ which inspired the people in Poland, Germany, Netherlands and Italy to establish Nation-States in their countries. 6. The French Revolution had a great salutary effect on the ruling monarchs who took several measures to ensure people’s welfare introducing many reforms. Q.4: Draw up a list of democratic rights we enjoy today whose origin could be treated to the French Revolution. Ans: We in India enjoy the following Fundamental Rights. 1. Right to Equality 2. Right to Freedom 3. Cultural and Educational Right 4. Right to Religious Freedom 5. Right against Exploitation 6. Right to Constitutional Remedies If we closely study the impact of the French Revolution, we can easily find that many of them have their origin in the French Revolution. I. Right to Equality - The Right to Equality has its origin in the French Revolution. Equality was one of the main principles of the French Revolution, which led to special rights and privileges of the common classes and established political, economic and social equality. II. Right to Liberty or Freedom - The origin of this right can also be traced to the French Revolution. The Declaration of Rights of Man laid emphasis on the personal liberty and right of the common peoples.

III. Inspiring the Spirit of Democracy - The French Revolution inspired the spirit of democracy which ensured all other rights which we enjoy today. It stressed on the principle that the government should not be only for the people but also by the people. IV. Encouraging the Spirit of Fraternity - By breaking all shackles of high and low the French Revolution helped in the growth of the spirit of Fraternity and Social Welfare. Directly or indirectly the origin of all Fundamental Rights can be traced to the French Revolution. Q.5: Would you agree with the view that the message of universal rights was beset with contradictions. Explain. Ans: There are two opinions on this point whether the message of universal rights was beset with concentrations or not. Most of the authors feel that the message of universal rights, as explained in the last question was quite clear and there should be no contradiction to such principles. The Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen was perhaps the first attempt in the world to draw an outline of the universal rights on such a wider scale. It was a laudable attempt. It laid emphasis on the three fundamental principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Such principles have been adopted by all the democratic countries. Contradictions, if any, are only vague and need not be taken so seriously. Some criticize only for the sake of criticism and so they should be ignored. The French Revolutionaries must be congratulated for heralding the great principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Q.6. How would you explain the rise of Napoleon? Ans: After France became a republic in 1792, the then ruler, Robespeirre, gave more privileges to the wealthier section of society. Further, he was a sort of autocrat himself. This led to reign of terror for the following many years. After Robespeirre’s rule came to an end a directory was formed to avoid concentration of power in one individual. Members of the directory often fought among themselves leading to total chaos and political instability. This created a political vaccum in France. This was a conducive situation and Napoleon Bonaparte took the reign of power as a military dictator

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