The French Revolution Essay, Research Paper
Gradually after the American Revolution, France had it?s own Revolution in 1789. The French were very unhappy with their current status, jobs, and living conditions. They saw what the Americans did to achieve liberty, and how successful they were. Many of them had also read the writings of the philosophers and believed that change was necessary. Nevertheless, the main problems that led to the French Revolution were deep debt, competition between social classes, and the unlawful conduct of the king.
Debt was one of the problems that led France toward a Revolution. France was badly in debt after participating in the American Revolution and after Kings Louis XIV?s and Louis XVI?s enormous expenses. In order to save France from bankruptcy, Louis XVI called on the Estates General for help. The Estates General was made up of the First (clergy), Second (nobility), and Third (everyone else) Estate. However there was a lot of conflict within the Third Estate, because it was made up of everyone who was not part of the royal family, clergy, or nobility. The Third Estate was very unsatisfied because although it contained over 80 percent of the population, it still had the same one vote as the other two Estates with fewer people. Thus it re-named itself the National Assembly in June of 1789 and claimed itself the representative body of the people. The Assembly did not aid the King in his financial troubles, yet it demanded many changes to France?s absolute monarchy and legislative system.
Many of the laws that were passed in France had also become extremely burdensome to the common people because they excluded the clergy and nobility from paying taxes. Louis XVI tried to help the economy, by raising taxes in 1786. But this only made matters worse, because peasants were unable to pay. Harvest was also poor and food very expensive. People were enraged of hearing stories of lavish parties at the fine houses and palaces, where a lot of food was served, which was either wasted or given to the dogs afterwards. The demand for manufactured goods fell, and many artisans, traders and farmers were without work. People were angry and began to revolt. In July of 1789, they stormed the Bastille killing many people, and in October of 1789 angry middleclass women marched to Versailles demanding that the royal family move to Paris and action be taken to help feed the people. Bread riots were also common among the hungry poor.
The continuous competition between social classes was another problem that led France toward a Revolution. The nobility wanted to regain their place in society, and the middleclass wanted political power along with their economic power. The peasants were bothered by the constant disrespect from the nobility and other groups. They were annoyed because everything that they had and earned, they owed to their noble landowners. The higher social classes were also very uneasy, because of the spread of the great fear, during which hungry peasants wandered around killing citizens and pillaging homes and businesses. Society was corrupt and dishonest. Even tax farmers who were people used by the French government to collect taxes stole from the income. As a result, while the Tax Farmers profited greatly, the common citizen suffered.
The spread of the ideas of the philosophers also aided the people?s desire for reform. The philosophers criticized and mocked the traditional ideas and order of things. They attacked the most respected institutions and spread doubt everywhere. They questioned all of the established truths of the old age. Many of them also believed that democracy was better than tyrannical monarchy. In 1762, Voltaire declared that the general will, otherwise known as popular government was more righteous and truthful than dictatorial government. In Rousseau?s Social Contract, written in 1762, he stated that man must be forced to be free. He also implied that every individual citizen had to transfer his rights to their community in exchange for civil liberty. All those who refused to obey the general will, had to be obliged to do so. Many people agreed with the ideas of Rousseau and Voltaire, and wanted to reshape France according to them. Even the nobility supported the ideas of the philosophers and read them with great interest. They did not understand however, that their status was at risk by these writings.
Some people such as Alfred Cobban disagreed with the thought that it were the ideas of the philosophers that had prompt the Revolution in France. Cobban believed that the philosophers and their writings had very little to do with the Revolution because they were read by and influenced only a small educated minority. However the Revolution was carried out mostly by the oppressed lower classes which were not affected by the Enlightenment ideas.
The unlawful conduct of King Louis XVI was the ultimate problem that led France toward a Revolution. Louis XVI granted special privileges, licenses and trades to specific individuals. He took away government positions from the middleclass and gave them to the nobility, who were regaining influence in society once again. Nobles, as a result acquired monopolies of manufactured goods and some even demanded that the peasants living in their region purchase their goods only from them. (D8) Thus the unhappiness of the peasants increased, and they were prevented from advancing and were forced to stay at their low level.
The King also permitted noblemen to gather in large groups with dogs and servants, and gallop shamelessly across the peasant fields in search of sport. While hunting, the nobles would destroy the growing crops, and farmers were forbidden from planting or digging in their fields in case that they should disturb the game. However it was a crime punishable by death for a commoner to kill and feed the game to his starving family. Thus, the peasant?s harvest was also ruined, and they were left without any resources to pay their tax. The nobles also sped through the streets of Paris in carriages, unconcerned of the common people who were hard at work on those same streets. In this manner, the nobility showed their disregard to the unfortunate lives of the peasants.
People were also displeased with the corrupt and weak law system. King Louis XVI used royal arrest warrants that did not indicate the reason for arrest. His agents arrested men without following any of the restrictions imposed by law. Men who were only suspected of crimes such as smuggling were taken to a prison, and placed into an absolutely dark dungeon, with only small hollow pillars, which connected these cells to the outside for air. Then they were fastened to the wall by heavy chains, and were supplied with only a little straw, bread, and water. These dungeons were built to obtain treacherous criminals, but men who were simply suspected of smuggling were confined in these places.
In spite of this, citizens of different social classes had similar political opinions. The middleclass and the peasantry wanted more power for themselves. Even the nobles, although pleased with the special treatment they received from the King, were afraid that if one person or even a group of magistrates held legislative and executive powers, than tyrannical laws might be passed and than executed in a tyrannical manner. As a result, the majority of the people of France were against the absolute power of the King.
Eventually, the economic crisis, social chaos, and illegitimate behavior of the government created a Revolution. The strong belief that there could be no liberty, if legislative and executive powers were placed into the hands of a single monarch or a body of magistrates proved to be true. Consequently, the people of France got rid off an absolute monarchy and a dictatorial rule (Robespierre), and entered the stage of the Napoleonic era.