Analysis of the French Revolution

 

 What were the causes and the effects of the French Revolution? 
The major cause of the French Revolution was the disputes between the 
different types of social classes in French society. The French 
Revolution of 1789-1799 was one of the most important events in the 
history of the world. The Revolution led to many changes in France, 
which at the time of the Revolution, was the most powerful state in 
Europe. The Revolution led to the development of new political forces 
such as democracy and nationalism. It questioned the authority of 
kings, priests, and nobles. The Revolution also gave new meanings and 
new ideas to the political ideas of the people.

 The French Revolution was spread over the ten year period 
between 1789 and 1799. The primary cause of the revolution was the 
disputes over the peoples' differing ideas of reform. Before the 
beginning of the Revolution, only moderate reforms were wanted by the 
people. An example of why they wanted this was because of king Louis 
XIV's actions. At the end of the seventeenth century, King Louis XIV's 
wars began decreasing the royal finances dramatically. This worsened 
during the eighteenth century. The use of the money by Louis XIV 
angered the people and they wanted a new system of government. The
writings of the philosophes such as Voltaire and Diderot, were 
critical of the government. They said that not one official in power 
was corrupt, but that the whole system of government needed some 
change. Eventually, when the royal finances were expended in the 
1780's, there began a time of greater criticism. This sparked the 
peasants notion of wanting change.

 Under the Old Regime in France, the king was the absolute 
monarch. Louis XIV had centralized power in the royal bureaucracy, the 
government departments which administered his policies. Together, 
Louis XIV and the bureaucracy worked to preserve royal authority and 
to maintain the social structure of the Old Regime.

 At this time in French history, the social classes played an 
important role in the lives of the people. The social structure of
France was divided among three groups: the First Estate, the Second 
Estate, and the Third Estate. Each social group had a varied type of 
people within their structure, which presented the different views of 
the people.

 The First Estate was the Church. During the ancien regime, the 
church was equal in terms of its social, economic, and spiritual
power. The First Estate owned nearly 10 per cent of all land in 
France. It paid no taxes but, to support church activities such as
school running and caring for the poor, they collected a tithe, or a 
tax on income. About one-third of the entire clergy in France served 
as parish priests. Also included in this estate were the nobles. Some 
of the nobles lived in luxury in major cities in France, such as 
Versailles or Paris. Parish priests usually lived a hardworking life. 
This Estate was the minority of the people in France, having 
approximately 1 to 2 per cent of the population.

 The Second Estate in French life was the nobility. They enjoyed 
extensive rights and privileges. They made up less than 2 percent of 
the population. They, like the First Estate, paid hardly any taxes. 
Economically, the nobility was characterized by great land wealth. 
Nobles were generally the richest members of the society. Typical 
sources of income were rents and dues for the use of their farms or 
estates. The First and Second Estates were grouped together because 
they had similar political beliefs.

 The Third Estate consisted of the commoners. It included the 
bourgeoisie, peasants and city workers. The bourgeoisie, or the
middle class, were by far, the wealthiest. In the bourgeoisie, there 
were the merchants and manufacturers, lawyers, doctors and others 
similar to those types of professions. Peasants made up the largest 
group within the Third Estate. They were forced to pay hefty taxes, 
tithes to the church, and rents to their landlords for the land that 
they lived on. The last group within the Third Estate were the city 
workers. They were servants, apprentices, and household maids.

 The major cause of the Revolution were the differences these 
three groups had. However, there was another important factor during 
these times. France suffered from harsh economic problems. Poor farm 
harvests by farmers hurt the economy, and trade rules from the Middle 
Ages still survived, making trade difficult. However, the most serious 
problem was the problem facing the government during this time. The 
French government borrowed much money to pay for the wars of Louis 
XIV. Louis still borrowed money to fight wars and to keep French power 
alive in Europe. These costs greatly increased the national debt,
which was, at the time, already too high.

 When King Louis XVI came into power, he realized that these 
problems existed. At first he did not know what to do, until he
found a man by the name of Robert Turgot. He eased the financial 
crisis of France, but he had difficulties when he tried to introduce a 
major reform, that of taxing the nobles. He had such difficulties 
because the king could not tax the nobles unless the Parliament 
approved of the new tax laws. The people in the courts that voted on 
these laws were the nobles, called nobles of the robe, and therefore 
rejected Turgot's reform. After Turgot was rejected, the king fired 
him from his office. This led Louis XVI to summon the Estates General 
in 1789.

 The Estates General was the place where representatives from 
each social class could be represented. Here, many issues would be 
discussed, and at this time in French history, it would be centered 
around the economic crisis.

 When the Estates General met in 1789, the deputies, or 
representatives, from the Third Estate demanded that the three estates
meet together, with each deputy having an equal vote. That way, the 
First and Second Estates could outvote the Third Estate. When the king 
heard of this, he demanded that the three estates meet separately. 
This caused anger within the Third Estate. The deputies from the Third 
Estate declared themselves the National Assembly. Louis XVI quickly 
rejected these deputies from the meeting hall. After a while, Louis 
XVI decided that it would be best if the three estates met together. 
He ordered the other two estates to join the Third Estate in the 
National Assembly.

 Although now the three estates met together, there were 
divisions among them. Some wanted to protect their rights, while
others wanted to establish a limited, constitutional monarchy. This 
sparked some change in the French people.

 Immediately after the National Assembly secretly began working 
on a constitution, the peasants and workers expected relief from taxes 
and other dues that they paid. Little happened, and they still faced 
their same problems of unemployment and inflation. Then there were 
reports that Louis XVI was bringing troops to Paris. This increased 
the peoples' fears.

 When Louis brought troops to Versailles, many citizens feared 
that he wanted to get rid of the National Assembly. As a result, they 
stormed the Bastille. Other disturbances also broke out. People were 
caught up in what was called the "Great Fear". Rumors passed from 
village to village that robbers were destroying homes all over France. 
When no robbers showed up, the peasants turned to their landlords. 
They destroyed grain towers, and destroyed tax records, showing that 
they will never pay any taxes, fines or dues ever again.

 These events forced Louis to summon the National Assembly on 
August 4th. They people discussed possible reforms. On this day, the 
National Assembly ended serfdom. Towards the end of August, the 
National Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man. It 
stated that democratic principles would be the basis for French 
government. The job of turning these ideas into a constitution still 
remained.

 While the constitution was in the process of being made, an 
angry crowd in Paris rioted, forcing the National Assembly to 
recognize their demands. Some of these rioters were women. They were 
angry about food prices. They also thought that the king and queen 
were going against the National Assembly. They demanded that Louis 
return to Paris where they could watch him. To prevent any further 
uprisings, he agreed.

 Throughout France, all ancient customs were thrown away by the 
revolution. The National Assembly called for freedom of worship and 
abolished all special activities and privileges of the Catholic 
Church. To raise money that was needed, the government began selling 
off church lands, which angered many Catholics.

 In 1791, the National Assembly brought forward a new const 
itution. It made France a limited monarchy and established a system of 
separation of powers. Under the constitution, the old distinctions 
between the clergy, nobles, and commoners disappeared.

 Few people were satisfied with the constitutional monarchy. 
Louis XVI was frightened at the actions of the National Assembly. He 
fled the country with his wife, but he was later arrested and brought 
back to accept the constitution. After this action by the king, 
moderate revolutionaries still wanted to preserve the constitutional 
monarchy, while the radicals distrusted the king and wanted a 
republic.

 These were the causes of the French Revolution. Many peoples' 
lives were changed during this time. Peoples' ideas also changed.
After the war between France and Austria and Prussia, prices increased 
dramatically, and food shortages occurred. When Louis XVI and his wife 
fled to the Legislative Assembly, they were imprisoned. They called 
for a national convention to write a new constitution. The National 
Convention met in September. The National Convention tried and 
convicted Louis XVI of treason. He was sentenced to death.

 News of his death spread all throughout Europe. Monarchs of 
European nations feared that the Revolution would spread. By 1793, the 
French armies occupied the Austrian Netherlands and were about to 
invade Prussia. But, in 1793, Great Britain, the Dutch Netherlands, 
and Spain went along with Prussia and Austria in a war against France. 
With these five powerful nations fighting against France, the French 
were outnumbered and outmatched. This one war was very hard for 
France. This war caused many deaths at home due to starvation. At this 
point in the Revolution, some people thought that the Revolution had
gone too far and should be put to an end.

 In the effort to restore temporary peace in the society, the 
National Convention made a constitution that created a Committee
of Public Safety. It campaigned against people who were considered 
enemies of France. Maximilien Robespierre led the Committee of Public 
Safety. He wanted to create a "Republic of Virtue". The Committee went 
all over France to help other groups find traitors to France. During 
the Reign of Terror, trials for the people were held often. Many 
people were brought to the guillotine and killed. Most of the victims 
were commoners. This time of terror had scared the people, and their 
revolts towards the government ended.

 The Committee of Public Safety organized new and powerful armies 
to protect itself from foreign invasion. The Committee also set limits 
on prices and salaries. By early in 1794, the French armies were 
winning battles again, but supporters were asking if these executions 
of the people were still needed in society. The National Convention 
then arrested Maximilien Robespierre, and executed him, which ended
the Reign of Terror. 

 Between the years of 1789 and 1794, French life had changed 
dramatically. There were changes in the lifestyle of the people,
as well as in clothes and art. The monarchies were gone, and the king 
no longer ruled. Te National Convention abolished all feudal customs 
and ended all slavery. Revolutionary leaders also established the 
metric system. They wanted to set up free public schools, but that 
never came about, due to the economic problems.

 In 1795, after the total ending of the Reign of Terror, the 
National Convention established another constitution. It established a
new system of government called the Directory. This Directory, 
however, faced many problems. The legislative deputies begged and 
"bought" political votes, and prices rose sharply, something which the 
poor classes of society didn't like. Along with these problems, it 
still followed a foreign policy. It built the largest army in Europe 
during this time. This army were headed by a great military leader, 
Napoleon Bonaparte.

 In 1793, Napoleon won many battles against the British, and at 
this time, he was a general. He next won battles over Italy, and in 
1798, he invaded Egypt. He defeated Egypt's army, but he had to pay 
for his victory. At sea, the Egyptian Navy, led by Horatio Nelson, 
destroyed the French fleet at the Nile river. This loss meant that the 
fleet could not take the soldiers back to France, so, Napoleon left 
them there and he went back to France. Unbeknownst to the people of 
France about the tragedy in Egypt, he was still welcomed as a hero. 
When talking to the people at home, he found that many people were not 
satisfied with the Directory. With the help of troops, he overthrew 
the government in 1799. Under this new government, Napoleon was called 
the First Consul. His military talents helped him to win popular 
support. With his support, he was named the dictator of France.

 This time in French History was important to the people of 
France because of the different types of government they had. 
Socialism, liberalism and nationalism all were results of the French 
Revolution. It gave people the idea that if they tried, they could 
reorganize a society whenever it was needed. The greatest legacy of 
the French Revolution, however, was that people could change anything 
that they wanted with political ideas, words and laws.