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Essay/Term paper: Analysis of the french revolution

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Political Science

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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


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


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.


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