The French Revolution
Essay written by AR
During the late 1700 s, France followed in America s footsteps towards their own revolution. A major shift in power would be seen within the short time period of 1789-1799, and with it a large advancement away from the absolutist government of France. During the late 1700 s France was the most powerful estate in the world. The effects of the country s revolution would soon spread from France to the rest of Europe and finally result in a continental war.
The French Revolution was based mostly on the Third Estate s desire to obtain liberty and equality. France s social system was set up in such a way that it was only a matter of time before a revolution took place. The economic classes of France were set in three estates. The first estate was the church, or clergy, the second estate was the nobles, and the third estate consisted of peasants and the uneducated. France s economic system allowed for the highest taxation of the third estate while the clergy members were exempt from taxes, and the nobles paid little or no taxes at all. People who are starving and can barely afford to survive can only pay so much before they refuse to pay anymore. It is not suprising that the third estate was driven to immediate action with Louis XVI s demand for higher taxes. Ideas of liberty and equality sprang up with the onset of the American Revolution and paved a way for the third estate to change France s system of government. Philosophes such as Voltaire spread ideas of reform that excited the peasants to believe there was a chance for a better life.
Along with the social causes of the revolution, economic and political events brought about the desire for change as well. Economic conditions such as poor harvests made the price of food rise to such high prices that half a worker s wages were spent on trying to feed the family alone. The taxation system took money from the peasants, yet they did not reap any of the benefits that were supposed to come from their money. For Example, King Louis XVI lived such and extravagant life that three percent of the nation s GNP was spent on royal family lifestyle. Wars also played a major role in depleting the nation s funds. The cost of maintaining a standing army exceeded half of France s expenditures. The taxes were not used however to improve infrastructure, health facilities, schooling, or general life of the third estate from which all the money was being generated. These economic hardships set the stage for some major changes in France. Louis XVI did try, but was unsuccessful in reforming the political system of France. When King Louis XVI came into power, he realized that these problems existed. Louis appointed a man by the name of Robert Turgot ease the financial crisis of France, but he had difficulties when he tried to introduce a major reform. Turgot could not establish a change in the taxation policies of France. He was unable to introduce a higher tax to the second estate 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. With the economic problems of France ever increasing, Louis XVI summoned the Estates General in 1789. The Estates General was a council where each social class could be represented. Louis convened the Estates General with the intent on raising taxes even higher within the third estate. However, the third estate thought that they would finally be able to express their ideas about a national change that would promote liberty and equality. When the Estates General met in 1789, the representatives from the third estate outnumbered the representatives of the first and third estates (reflecting the social class pyramid of the time). When the king realized this, he closed the doors to the third estate members. Outraged by the unwillingness to hear their views, the third estate convened in an indoor tennis court, declared themselves the National Assembly and made an oath not to leave until they had established a reformed government. This became the famous tennis court oath.