French Revolution Essay, Research Paper
What were the Causes and consequences of the period of the terror in the French Revolution?
The period of terror within the French Revolution was initiated by the resentment of a powerful bourgeoisie towards the ways of an unequal and discriminate social hierarchy. For too long, the majority of the French population was underfed, underpaid and overtaxed. This, in combination with a united drive to extinguish the outlandish privileges of a stubborn aristocracy, were the foundations of the French Revolution, a nationwide movement that would, in effect, be felt around the globe.(Rude, 1988; 32) ( Doyle, 1989; 8) The aim of this essay is to outline the main causes of the French Revolution and how they led to the stage known as the period of terror, and what were its implications in French society.
The financial crisis that plagued France in the eighteenth century was a major factor contributing to the revolution. In short, the misappropriation and mismanagement of funds at the hands of the French government allowed the nation to reach considerable financial debt. ( www.angelfire.com/va/frenchrev/) ( Cobb, 1998; 60-77) (Bosher, 1986; 30 ) This was ignited by a fervent participation by King Louis XIV in wars during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which hampered the economy. ( Hibbert, 1980; 35 ) The aristocracy was keen to rid Britain of world dominance. Furthermore, the revolt of American colonists against Britain served as a pathway for French intrusion. However, the economic and military support given to the colonists in America, was a considerable backlash on the financial well-being of the nation. ( Forrest et al , 1991; 67 ) These costs greatly increased the national debt, which was, at the time, already to high. Moreover, agriculture, the economies backbone, was suffering due to poor harvest and trade laws which reflected the times of the middle ages and disadvantaged income flow. Because of this outpour of aid to America and Europe, the aristocracy needed new sources of revenue to pay for that war effort. ( Forrest et al, 1991; 56 ). After neglecting an original plan, introduced by Robert Turgot, which proposed tax reforms on all levels of French society, the aristocracy further enhanced Third estate grievances by laying the tax burden on them. However, the First Estate ( Clergy ) and the Second Estate (Nobility ) were paying comparatively little. ( Koeller, 1998) Continual pressure to make the nobility a vital part of the tax agenda, were rejected by the courts who were made up primarily of nobles themselves. Because of a continual descent of government wealth, Louis XIV called for a meeting of the Estates General in 1789. This meeting amounted to nothing except disagreements between all levels of social class. With a dire financial crisis looming, the inability of the peoples to come to an agreement, further swayed the nation towards hostile conflict.
The unequal distribution of power and the reluctance for the French nation to reform, fuelled the Estates divisions and caused revolution. The Third Estate comprised the vast majority of the nation. It was made up of peasants, urban workers and the bourgeoisie. ( Cobb; 56 ) This group of commoners felt the wrath of economic problems the most and sought liberation and reform on a large scale. This was the group with the most grievances. They paid most of the tax, owned the least land and were under oppressive conditions at the hands of greedy nobles. In contrast, the clergy, collected a church tax ( tithe ), paid no taxes despite owning one-fifth of the land, and could not be tried in civil law courts. ( Best; 23 ) Likewise, the Second Estate, the nobility, monopolized appointments in state and military service, owned one-fifth of the land but still avoided tax. And to add to this, collected a feudal due from the middle class and peasantry. ( Best ; 25 ) When the three estates met, at the request of King Louis, the Estates General of 1789 was born. This meeting, unfortunately, reiterated that the leading estates were unwilling to give up their rights and privileges for the good of the nations economic health, however, the suggestion of a limited constitutional monarchy, triggered some thoughts of change. ( Koeller, 1998 ) When the deputies met from each estate, the condition was that each estate had an equal vote. This allowed the First and Second Estates to vote against the sweeping reforms of the Third estate. As a consequence, the Third estate left the Estates General and formed the National assembly. ( www.angelfire.com ) This exemplified a growing power within the massive middle class and signified the seriousness of the Third Estates reforms. Too add to this, the King ordered the other Estates to join the National Assembly. The formation of the National Assembly, signalled the first phase in combating the inequality and privileges of the nobility. It paved the way for a constitution that would ignite the French and their revolution.
The formation of the National Assembly, and a constitution signposted the beginning of the French Revolution and the shift towards free society. ( Faret, 1981 ) From this point in French history, events progressed like a domino effect, with the bourgeoisie uniting to overthrow the power and privilege of the upper classes and furthermore, implant an ideal for the new society. The storming of the Bastille was a major highlight of the campaign, exemplifying such progress. ( Rude; 37 ) As a consequence to continued economic problems, citizens raided the national assembly in fear that Louis was plotting to suppress the revolutionaries. Citizens, furthermore, destroyed landlord capital, land and tax records. Widespread revolution had broken out due to the inability of a feeble government to reform the nation. ( Rude; 40 ) Stemming from this outburst, the national assembly was forced to change. Consequently, the declaration of the Rights of Man, which stated that democracy was now the system in France was introduced, as well as the end to serfdom. ( Sutherland, 1985; 48-58 ) It was a period of great change in France, with a united involvement of the people against a system that had caged them for centuries. The constitution, put in place the new wave of French society.1791 marked the forthcoming of the constitution, which quelled the old distinctions between the three estates. It placed drastic limits on the monarchy and diverted power to the people. ( Sutherland; 54 ) Louis XVI escaped the country in the wake of such change, however, he was captured and forced to return and accept the constitution.
Though some were happy with what the original constitution stood for, it was the radicals that pushed the revolution to a whole new level. A republic was demanded and thus the reign of terror began.
The poor financial state of the country, coupled with an unequal class system culminated in the execution of Louis XVI for treason. The reign of terror had thus, begun. Despite the Kings acceptance of the original constitution in 1791, grim financial woes continued for the nation and a war with many allied European nations hurt the country. ( Bronislaw, 1989; 16 ) Furthermore, King Louis was found to be working against the constitution. On January 21, 1793, he was executed on the guillotine for the awful crime of treason. The beginning of a murderous reign that would seek to rid fellow traitors, consequently began. ( Hibbert; 80 )France, before the reign of terror was in a state of turmoil, considering the ill-state of the economy and the loss of major wars. ( Bosher;71) ( Cobb; 103) To restore stability to the country, a new constitution was made and this included the creation of the Committee for Public Safety. This committee injected fear throughout the nation as its task was to expose and execute the many traitors to the new constitution. ( Cobb; 108 ) Beheadings at the guillotine, was now the common practice in the hearts of urban France. Headed by Maximilien Robespierre, it was a reign of terror that suppressed many commoners and traitiors but more importantly, improved the nations military and economic state of well being. ( Bosher; 90 ) In 1799, after ten years of the revolution, the reign of terror, and for that matter, the French Revolution died with the execution of Robespierre himself. The French had finally achieved their goal in reforming the country and destroying the monarchy.
The reign of terror was a result of a financial crisis and the grievances of the Third Estate, tired of the inequality of social hierarchy. It culminated in the search and execution of opposition to the constitution of 1793. It marked the end of monarchy rule in the country and ignited the beginnings of democracy. It signalled the new found power and strength of a government, in contrast to a former domination of military and economic incompetency. The reign of terror was a climax of the Revolution itself. The French Revolution was a step towards replacing traditional aristocratic forms of government with more open , elective systems. Along with the American Revolution, it inspired reformers throughout the world.