The French Revolution
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What caused the French Revolution? Many things contributed to it evolving. But only three were the most important. The influence dates back all the way to the Age of Enlightenment, the ideas definitely had an effect on the French citizens. The American Revolution ties with the Enlightenment as well. The political inequality of the three estates played a huge part in the disruption. In addition to that, the Economic inequality also influenced France. The French Revolution is a big and memorable part of history; yet curiosity of the human mind grabs the attention of it evolving in our world history.
One of the most important causes of the French Revolution was the Enlightenment ideas and the American Revolution. Ideas spread widely through the printing press. As historian Albert Mathiez mentions it in Document 4, leadership began to fall to the middle class who was begging to gain knowledge of the ideas of the Enlightenment. The working classes were incapable of staring or controlling the Revolution because they were just beginning to learn to read and write, therefore Mathiez thinks the middle class caused the Revolution. Parts of the Enlightenment ideas were those of Rousseau, Voltaire, and Locke. Rousseau wanted direct democracy. Locke believed that government’s power comes from the consent of the people. Rousseau. Voltaire wanted freedom of speech and religious toleration. The ideas of these Enlightenment thinkers based the Constitution of the United States. Another historian, Lord Acton suggested that the ideas of the philosophs were not directly responsible for the outbreak, but the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson supplied the spark that changed thought into action. He thought that the American example cause the Revolution to break out. However, this wasn’t the only thing thought to have cause the French to revolt.
Political turbulence contributed to the outbreak as well. In the 1770s the system of feudalism left over from the Middle Ages, the Old Regime remained throughout France, as is stated in the 2nd Document. The people of France were divided into three large social classes called estates. The first estate was mostly the clergy, which was only 1% of the population but owned 10% of the land. They didn’t have to pay taxes. The second estate was the nobles, which consisted of 2% people and 35% of the land. They were also excused from taxes. The third estate was the majority and was composed of 97% of the population, and owned only 55% of the land. They third estate was a combination of middle class, peasants, and city workers. This system was clearly unjust because just 3% owned almost half the land. And the third estate was the poorest but paid just about all of the taxes.
France also had a very weak ruler, Louis XVI, whom didn’t care much at all about his country. Document 3 contains excerpts form the cahiers, which is a list of grievances about the king, taxing, and voting in the Estates General that was brought to the Estates General. The third estate demanded changes in the French Government like every tax be granted only for a limited time; that the tax on land (taille) is equal to all classes; the Estates General meeting be scheduled for certain definite dates. The votes in the assembly should also be taken by head in order to assure the third estate the influence it deserves because of its outnumbering. The Storming of the Bastille was the spark of the Revolution. When Louis tried to make peace with the Estates, there were rumors of troops stationed in Paris. There were a lot and enough of political troubles to cause the French Revolution as well.
Economical inequality has played a big part in irritating the French to start revolting. Since France had a weak leader going by the name of Louis XVI its economy collapsed. There was a heavy burden of taxes. The king and his wife Marie Antoinette extravagantly spent the government’s money. The country was in enormous debt. Louis XVI was indecisive and allowed matters to drift. He paid little attention to his government advisers, preferring to spend his time hunting than governing. Rather than cutting expenses and increasing taxes Louis allowed matters to drift until bankruptcy. As Arthur Young wrote in Travels in France in Document 1, lands by the nobility were taxed very little, but the lands held by the common workers were heavily taxed. The children are terribly ragged and skinny looking. There was a terrible lack of bread due to a bad-harvesting season. The cost of bread had risen so much that people couldn’t even afford to buy it anymore. There was great misery. The feudal dues also crushed the people. Document 3 again, mentions the changes wanted in the French Government by the third estate. In Document 2 it is showed that the peasant or third estate greatly outnumbered the first and second estate. But they owned little land vs. their population. The support of American and other Revolutions also drained the French government. Economy played a big role in France.
Enlightenment, Political, and Economical problems caused the French citizens to rebel and cause the French Revolution. When people looked at other successful revolutions, they inspired them. There were also many other minor causes but these are the three most important. They are the causes that should really be considered and blames for. As previously mentioned the French Revolution is a big part of our world history and history wouldn’t be the same without it.