Causes Of The French Revolution Essay, Research Paper
THE CAUSES OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
There is no doubt that the French Revolution has had a profound effect on the world. The cause or causes of it have been greatly disputed. Clearly the Revolution’s primary cause was the presence of a weak monarchy and a lack of a stable system of government.
France’s absolute monarchy had many changes toward the end of the eighteenth century. Louis XIV, in his attempts to centralize his authority and also lessen the power of the aristocrats, had planned out an intendant system. The intendants were like governors. They would oversee one region of the country. These intendants did not govern the region in which they lived and were chosen from other than the aristocracy. This insured that their loyalty was pledged to the king and not to their own region.
This system caused great disturbances among the aristocrats who felt that the regions should rule them, which in fact, would take away the power from the monarchy. Unfortunately for Louis XVI, this system had been corrupted by the time he had come to power. The intendants had been replaced by nobility and they had no loyalty to the monarchy.
Everybody was trying to be more independent from the monarchy. The Parliaments, who before Louis XIV, had the right to veto the king’s legislation, all changed when Louis XIV had made it illegal to veto. This had diminished any kind of check or balance that had existed in France.
This decision by Louis XIV made the Parliaments rebel against Louis XVI. Louis XVI, who had not been a very strong king to begin with, sat idle while the Parliaments reduced his power. France, who had been in debt, could not raise taxes because the Parliaments would not pass it. Nothing was accomplished because the government could not agree on anything.
While all of this was going on, there were many problems escalating between the social divisions in France. There were three divisions or classes in France. These classes were called estates. The first estate which was composed of church officials, had great power and obtained enormous salaries. Church officials obtained their salaries via taxes collected from church property. Therefore, since the officials received their salaries from the church property, they did not have to pay taxes.
The second estate was mainly composed of nobility. They too were exempt from paying taxes. This left the tax burden upon the third estate. The third estate consisted of some merchants and entrepreneurs; however, the majority were peasants. Corruption of the estates was causing much frustration among the common people who composed 70 percent of the population.
The monarchy tried to make an attempt to give the third estate power. The monarchy established the Estate’s General. This too, was corrupted. Unlike most legislative bodies, the Estate’s General did not vote by each person having a single vote. Rather, they let each estate have one vote each. Since the first two estates were always in agreement, the third estate was always out voted.
This is a prime example of how the lack of a stable government had an immensely tragic effect on the people of the country. If the monarchy had tried to make some reform or if Louis XVI had more backbone to institute some tax reform to lessen the burden on the third estate, the Revolution may have been avoided. The government is the backbone of any country. Therefore, as the government goes, so does the country.
Not all the blame can be placed directly on Louis XVI himself. His administrators, though they tried, could not inaugurate a sound solution to lessen their national debt. Louis XVI had not been an exceptional king either. Louis XVI had taken the throne at the age of twenty. He was not smart, but was only of average intelligence. He was not concerned with the management of the country. Louis XVI led a sheltered life for a noble and was taken by surprise when he was given the control of a country that was full of problems.
Louis XVI was supposed to be the absolute ruler of France, but actually the case was that so many rights, or privileges were retained by provinces, towns, corporate bodies, the church, and the nobility, that the king had little freedom to act. Since offices in the legal and administrative system could be obtained by purchasing and therefore give as property a new aristocracy of officials had developed. As a result of this corruption of power, the aristocracy was able to monopolize profitable employment, and they prevented the monarchy from raising taxes to meet the rising costs of government and war. Louis’ XVI power, being so limited, any reforms were unable to be instituted. The first chief financial advisor for Louis XVI was Anne Robert Jacques Turgot. He had many creative ideas to reform the already worsening financial problems that France had been sinking into. Turgot tried to establish a tax on land owners that would ease the guild laws and would let industrial manufacture increase. This reform, in turn, meant a severe cut in the expenses of the monarchy.
These reforms had caused an uprising in the Parliament who consisted of nobility and would, in turn, have the burden of paying most of the new taxes. Even though the Parliament hardly paid any taxes, they used their veto rights to make sure that the new taxes were never established. These are some additional problems that France’s weak monarchy faced. Louis XVI had acted irrationally and fired Turgot after his reformed had failed so miserably.
Jacques Necker was the next director of finances for France. His effective economizing and skilled borrowing, helped finance France’s participation in the American Revolution. To gain confidence in the financial community and to help pay off some of the loans of France, he published “Compte Rendu au Roi”. In this financial report, Necker, chose to ignore the national debt and other extraordinary expenses. This publication was widely circulated and the people were seeing Necker as a hero because he seemed to have saved the government from bankruptcy. Necker’s report was eventually exposed, and he was dismissed shortly afterwards.
Besides the debt caused by the Seven Year Wars, France also supported America in its attempts to win the American Revolution. Half of the country’s budget was used to pay off these debts. Tax collection had been an utter disaster. The taxes were different in each region. Private businesses would collect the taxes. The government would receive a loan from the businesses and, in turn, the businesses would directly collect the taxes. Then the businesses would keep the principal and the interest on the loans and would pay the balance of the money to the government. The businesses were usually corrupt. They would withhold some of the money from the government. The tax payers’ money was not all going to the government. Again, the third estate was being ripped off by the chaotic system of tax collection brought about by an even more chaotic monarchy.
Due to the severe financial crisis in France, there was an inflation in prices. This triggered an effect that was detrimental to the third estate. Most of an average household’s income went to purchasing bread. Also, there was an uprise in unemployment. This inflation might have been favorable for the uprising businesses who had a supply of capital. However, it did not last long.
While the members of the third estate were living in severe poverty because of the heavy taxation, both the members of the first and second estates were enjoying a life of luxury. This was brought about by means of an inefficient and unfair system of taxation. The king and his nobles had no expense spared to them even though the country was virtually bankrupt.
This is an issue concerning the very fiber of humanity itself. The French social structure was based on their heredity or whether or not they were of nobility. This system of government did not treat the people as individuals, but rather part of a class or corporate group. By doing this, it demeans the very existence of a person, and as such, the French Government had failed.
French participation on the rebel’s side in the American Revolution increased government debts and fueled demands for liberty; at home the stage was set for the Revolution. Louis’ XVI financial minister, Charles De Calonne, tried to institute a number of reforms to keep France from complete financial ruin. These reforms required new taxes, but the only way they can initiate new taxes is if the Parliaments grant the authority. The Parliaments wanted something in return. They petitioned the regions to have more independence. Louis himself then tried to institute these reforms but was flat denied by the aristocrats. The aristocrats said that the Estates General had to approve in order for the reforms to be made into law. The Estates General has not been called since 1614.
Louis was between a rock and a hard place and had no choice but to call the Estates General without anybody knowing. Louis was faced with a difficult problem: the third estate. The third estate wanted equal voting rights in comparison with the first two estates. In order to do this, the third estates representatives would have to be doubled. Louis had tried to ignore this, but finally because of the great pressure put upon him he gave in. His decision had come too late though. His indecisiveness and his lack to institute any kind of royal reform, had cost him any support that he had with the wealthy members of the third estate.
Angry at the king and sickened by the efforts of the aristocracy to control the Assembly, all the members of the third estate and some of the clergy of the first estate walked out of the Assembly of the Estates General, in Versailles. They had declared themselves the National Assembly, the only legitimate legislative body in France, on June 17, 1789. Abb? Emmanuel Siey?s declared, “The third estate was everything, had been treated as nothing, and only wanted to be something.” Abb? was a clergyman that was the head of the National Assembly. This statement had summed up the National Assembly’s feelings.
As you can clearly see, the lack of a stable government, which was proved by the greediness of the Parliaments and the aristocrats, and the presence of a weak monarchy in Louis’ XVI indecisive and half-hearted attempt at running the country, had caused the downfall of the French monarchy and an overhaul of the country itself.