The French Revolution was a period of political upheaval that occurred in France during the latter half of the 18th century. This revolution marked an end to the system of feudalism and absolute monarchy in France and a rise to democracy and new Enlightenment ideas. By 1789, when the revolution began, France was in a deep financial crisis due to the debt they had obtained over many years of reckless spending and France was nearly bankrupt. These financial issues fell almost completely on the bottom social class or the Third Estate which made up a majority of the country. Because of this financial trouble the common people were heavily taxed leaving many of them in poverty. In addition to the economic issues, France also held an Estate System that led to heavy social inequality. This oppression of the Third Estate along with the financial problems that fell on the common people would lead to the French Revolution. Overall, the people of France revolted against the monarchy because of the unsuccessful estate system and the inequality it led to, because of the new enlightenment ideas that inspired them, and because of the failures of the monarchy.
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First, the French Revolution was a result of the failed estate system and the extreme economic and social inequality it led to. Under the rule of Louis XVI, the people of France were divided into three main social classes or estates as they are called. The First Estate featured wealthy members of the Church such as Bishops and Priests who held great political power due to their influence on government affairs. The Second Estate was a class comprised of the wealthy nobles and political officials who held all power in government affairs. These two estates made up only 3% of the French population and yet owned a good portion of the land and held all the political and social power. The Third Estate is the last of the estates and makes up 97% of the population. The Third Estates includes the Bourgeoisie or the middle class, the common workers, and the peasants. Despite being the largest of the three Estates, it held no political power and was forced to pay 50% income tax and an additional 10% of tax to the Church. Because the people were losing 60% of their overall income they were barely surviving and many were starving and destitute. Because of the heavy taxation of the largest population of people France’s economy was not allowed to grow because of the heavy taxes on the working class. This led to widespread impoverishment and hunger among the common people. The Bourgeoisie was able to get by due to their minor wealth being at the top of the Third Estate but the workers and peasants did not have the money to support themselves. The people of France began to starve and could not pay to feed themselves or their families. This lack of food can be attributed to not only the drought that hit France but the Estate System which let the rich retain all their wealth while the poor lower class who needed the money the most was taxed leaving them almost penniless. The Estate System also led to heavy resentment by the Third Estate against the First and Second Estate. This resentment would play a large role in the outcome of the Revolution. In addition to being taxed heavily and the widespread economic inequality there was also social inequality because the Third Estate held no political power. The Third Estate had no say in political affairs and had no votes. This lack of representation in government led people to resort to the violent tactics of the French Revolution. The people revolted against Louis XVI because of the Estates System’s heavy taxes that led to the destitution and starvation of the French people and the lack of political power they enjoyed in France’s political sphere.
Second, the French Revolution can be attributed to the rise in Enlightenment ideas in France and the new views it led to. The Ideas represented in the Enlightenment were popular amongst the Third Estate and began to spread like wildfire. They took the ideas of Locke and Voltaire and put them to use by demanding more power and representation in government affairs. They began to questions the system of government that had ruled over them for hundreds of years and demanded the ideals given to them by great political thinkers of the enlightenment. Quoting Rousseau and Voltaire, they began to demand equality, liberty, and democracy.(pg. 652) They took the beliefs and ideals of freedom and democracy and began to demand them which led to calling of the Estates-General. They looked at the American Revolution as a model for their revolution and what they should demand from the government. As these ideas spread amongst the majority of the population the thought of revolution grew nearer until it culminated in the Court House Oath where the National Assembly officially declared their revolution against Louis XVI. In complete, the ideas born in the enlightenment from political thinkers such as Locke and Rousseau inspired the Third Estate to rebel against the monarchy by giving them a model for a better system of government and a new outlook on what government should be.
Lastly, the French Revolution occurred because of the failures of the monarchy. The French King at the time, Louis XVI, was a weak, indecisive leader who despite his benign intention failed to lead France due to his incompetence. Louis XVI ran up a hefty amount of debt during his support of the American Revolution and his military campaigns in the West Indies which were intended to regain territory lost in the Seven Year’s War. Although Louis XVI inherited a good amount of debt from previous rulers his reckless spending and failure to address the financial issue at hand led to even greater debt and economic turmoil. The King’s wife Marie Antoinette only aggravated the financial situation with her reckless spending on jewelry, gowns, and irresponsible gambling. She racked up so much debt that she was given the nickname, Madame Deficit by the people of France. Furthermore, Marie Antoinette gave poor advice to her husband Louis XVI that he would take heed to over his official advisors. Louis XVI solution to France’s economic troubles was taxing the Third Estate heavily at almost 50% income tax. Comte D’Antraigues said, The Third Estate is the People and the People is the foundation of the state. (pg. 652) This quote gives insight into how if a leader taxes heavily the working class then the economy of that country will suffer because the Third Estate is the majority of the French economy. By taxing the common people business cannot grow and the economy begins to decline. Louis XVI’s taxation of the Third Estate seriously hurt the French economy and only helped the debt on a small level. But by 1789, not even taxing the Third Estate was enough to help France’s economic issues and Louis XVI summoned the Estates-General to vote on a new tax on the nobles. This last ditch effort to fix France’s economic turmoil was too little and too late and would incite the revolution. In the years leading up to the French Revolution drought was widespread in France leading to famine in the Third Estate. Louis XVI was unable to provide the people with food that they badly needed and instead taxed them further to pay for France’s financial debt. All of this led to anger amongst the Third Estate because they were starving and still being taxed above the wealthy First and Second Estate. The people were fed up with living in poverty and constantly being hungry and so they revolted in order to ensure a more fair system of government. Overall, the people revolted against the monarchy because they were unable to provide food and financial stability to the majority of the people and were unable to limit reckless spending and instead heavily taxed the poor Third Estate.
In conclusion, the French Revolution was a result of the failures of Louis XVI’s rule, the estate system, and the enlightenment ideas. The Third Estate were oppressed and subject to economic and political injustice which led them to yearn for a better system of government and a better life supplied by the enlightenment ideas. Many of them were impoverished and starving, caused by the Estate System and the failures of the monarchy which led them to revolt for a better life. Overall, Leading issues that led to the French Revolution were the issues with the Estate System, the inspiration by the ideas of the enlightenment, and the failure of the monarchy to provide for the common people.
Was the French Revolution Worth It?. (2019, Jun 26).
Retrieved November 26, 2022 , from
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