Analysis Of The French Revolution Essay, Research Paper
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 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
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
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,
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.