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The American and French Revolutions

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The French Revolution had many causes. The main causes were due to political, social, and economic conditions in France that contributed to the discontent felt by many French people-especially those in the third estate. The ideas of the intellectuals of the Enlightenment brought new views to government and society. The American Revolution also influenced the coming of the French Revolution. The philosophies planted the seeds for th French Revolution. Their goals were to expose and destroy the inequalities of an ancient regime and both revolutions did just that. The American and French Revolutions were caused by political, social, and economic factors.

The political discontent seen in France was one of the causes of the Revolution. In the 17th and 18th centuries, France was ruled by an absolute government. The king had all the political powers. Anyone who criticized the government could be arrested and put in prison without trial. Louis XVI was king at the time of the French Revolution. He was more interested in hunting than governing France. He and his queen lived an extravagant life at the Palace of Versailles. They did not really care about the state of their country. The third was largely ignored when it came to political elections. The first two estates worked together to outvote the large third estate to keep them from becoming a threat to the power. American Independence sparks this French Revolution. The American Revolution also originated from political discontent. However, the America’s discontent stemmed largely from misrepresentation and not over taxation. The Stamp Act was merely a way for the colonist’s to pay for their own defense. Colonists simply felt that they had no voice in Parliament, which was no different from the rest of Britain’s colonies.

The economic problems created by the absolutist French monarchy also contributed to the Revolution. During the 18th century, the French government spent more money than it collected in taxes. By 1788, the country was bankrupt. To make matters worse, landholders in the nobility still weren’t taxed much. Rather, the landholders found in the commoners were taxed heavily. There was lack of bread and the price of bread was a lot higher then one’s ability to pay which caused great misery for the people of France. Most of the money was spent on wars. France had been at war for nearly 50 years out of the previous one hundred years. France supported the Americans in the American War of the Independence. After that, France was in financial ruins due to its ever-increasing debt. The economy also had a big impact on causing the American Revolution. The Boston Tea Party occurred because the colonists were throwing off the yoke off their parent country and refused to recognize Britain’s companies as their own monopolies. Rather, the colonists wanted to create and international spirit of competition for business practices. The economic coercion felt by the colonists caused them to rebel.

Social problems and issues facing society were another major cause of the French Revolution. In the 18th century, France was a feudal country with class divisions. People were divided into three estates. The First Estate consisted of the clergy. The Second consisted of the nobility, and the Third included the bourgeoisie, the city workers and the peasants. The state you belonged to decided your power and rights. The first estate was made up of 1% of the people and owned 10% of the land in France. The second estate consisted of 2% of the people and owned 35% of the land. The third estate held 97% of the people who owned 55% of the land. The people-to-land proportion was unjust looking at the amount of people in each estate. The third estate held very little land compared to the amount of people it had. It was overcrowded. The first and the second estate were the privileged classes. They clergy and the nobility were exempt from many taxes. The third estate was the most discontented class.

Philosophers such as Voltaire and Rousseau had a large effect on this class and thus helped usher in the Revolution. Rousseau believed that people are basically good but become corrupted by society. In an ideal society, people would make the laws and would obey them willingly. Voltaire battled inequality, injustice, and superstition. He resented the privileges of the nobility and wanted the common people to have a larger role in state affairs. Peasants were targeted by society and could do very little to defend themselves. It is only with the prospect of starvation do they take action. The American Revolution was not based on the rise against social and class injustice. Rather the American Revolution proposed that Americans knew what was best for them and Britain did not. Britain did commit some minor injustices but that is nothing compared to starving in the streets. However, for the colonists of the time period it was a war based on principle. They felt independent and wanted to be recognized as a separate nation with the ability to create its own social systems and economic prosperity.

Both the French Revolution and the American Revolution were caused by social, political and economic problems. For the French, people were discontented with the king. The first two estates were privileged and the third was very unprivileged and had to pay heavy taxes. The third estate did not get along with the first two. France was in economic turmoil and was on the verge of collapse. The American Revolution was a caused by a feeling of injustice towards the colonies. This breed unwelcome taxes and economic sanctions which would cause the inevitable break from the parent country.


Smitha, Frank E. “French Revolution.” MacroHistory : World History. 2002. 05 Mar. 2009 .

“Causes of the French Revolution.” TheCorner. 2008. 05 Mar. 2009 .

“French Revolution – Causes.” Spiritus-Temporis.com – Historical Events, Latest News, News Archives. 2008. 05 Mar. 2009 .

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