The Causes of the French Revolution--DBQ

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The Causes of the French Revolution

The French revolution overthrew the country’s ancient monarchy, proclaimed Liberty, Equality and Fraternity and fought off a hostile Europe. It ushered in a new age, but at a terrible price in blood and human suffering. There were many causes of the Revolution. The French Revolution appears to have been the outcome of both long term and short term factors, which arose from the political, social, and economic conditions and conflicts of the ancient regime. The long standing grievances of the bourgeoisie; the frustrations of rising hopes among wealthy and ‘middling’ bourgeoisie and peasants; the distress and breakdown of government; a real (or at least perceived) ‘feudal reaction’; the stubbornness of a privileged aristocracy; the creation of radical ideas among wide sections of the people; a sharp economic and financial crisis; and the successive triggers of state bankruptcy, aristocratic revolt and popular revolution: all these factors played a part. The middle and lower class were becoming more conscious of their increased social importance and because the peasants were becoming more independent, more literate and prosperous that the old feudal freedoms and aristocratic privileges appeared all the more burdensome and intolerable for the struggling discontents of France. The effects of the French Revolution were widespread, both inside and outside France, and to this day, rank as one of the most important events of European history. The French Revolution was caused by the political, social, and economic discontent of the French people because they had a poor king and wanted a democratic government, had an unfair tax system, and society was divided into three different estates.

The French Revolution was caused by the political, social, and economic discontent of the French people because they had a poor king and wanted a democratic government, had an unfair tax system, and society was divided into three different estates. France was tired of an absolute monarchy and was ready to become a democratic government. As Document 4 suggests, the French were inspired by the Americans and also wanted a revolution to achieve their democratic government and among other requests. France had an unfair tax system. In Document 1, it reads, “Lands held by the nobility are not taxed but lands held by commoners are taxed heavily…” As well as in Document 6, the political cartoon implies that the 1st and 2nd estates were too good for taxes and were above them, but the 3rd estate was not. It shows the 3rd estate being crushed by the 1st and 2nd estates, and taxes. These documents help to represent the idea of France’s unfair tax system. France’s was divided into three estates. The first estate consisted of the clergy; the second estate was made up of the nobility, and the third estate was the bourgeoisie, better known as everyone else. Again, referring to the cartoon in Document 6, it shows that the 1st and 2nd estates were of higher class than the 3rd estate, not having to pay the heavy taxes the 3rd estate had to.

The French Revolution was caused by the political, social, and economic discontent of the French people. If the taxes were spread equally among the three estates, then the third estate wouldn’t have revolted. The third estate revolted which consisted of the time known as the Great Fear. During this time, peasants attacked the Bastille for arms and women charged the Palace of Versailles looking for bread that Queen Marie Antoinette was allegedly hiding. How would France be today if the taxes were spread equally among the three estates in 1789?

For more than one hundred years before the accession of Louis XVI, France was the most powerful country on the European continent. She had held this position for over 150 years, thanks to her fertile land, large population and many resources. However, the government had under gone periodic economic crisis, resulting from long wars, royal mismanagement, losses incurred in the French and Indian War and Seven Years’ War, and increased debt arising from loans to the American colonies during the American Revolution. The governmental system had worked reasonably well under Louis XIV but had become impossible under his weak successors. Under the system, there was a lot of overlapping authority and a great inefficiency in the provincial governments. The only people who could obstruct the royal government in an attempt to save the country were the Parliament of Paris. Unfortunately, its members were only concerned about their own welfare rather than the members of the country. The greatest government weakness was the lack of consistency and order. By 1788, the government was almost bankrupt. These conditions led to the political discontent of the French people.

The French social pyramid was riddled with contradictions both within and between its constituent parts. Today we believe everybody is treated equally in a system of law. This was not the case in France before the revolution. The French people belonged to one of three classes or estates. The First Estate was made up of members of the Church, also known as the clergy. It owned about one tenth of the land and some of its members played an important part in government. With the 130,000 clergy in France, the Church was very important in an age where most people believed in heaven and hell. In return for praying for the King and the people, the first estate was allowed privileges. Its members didn’t have to pay taille, or main tax; they were not called for military service and if they broke the law they were tried in their own courts. The Second Estate was made up of nobles. In 1789, there were about 400,000 nobles in France in which they owned one third of land. The older noble families had served the King for centuries either in government, battle or at court. Rich or poor, the nobility was expected to serve the King in war and in return, they were given privileges, including exemption from most governmental taxes. The Third Estate comprised of most of the population, ranging from rich businessmen to poor peasants, better known as the bourgeoisie. These members had no privileges and played no part in government and running the country. They had a hard life and most didn’t own the land they farmed on. As well as paying rent, they had to work free of charge for the local landowner on certain days of the year. They had to pay taxes to the government, like the taille and the tithes to the church. They were also expected to fight whenever France went to war.

In 1789 a crisis over finances, resulting in a temporary weakness on the part of the royal government of France, led to the sudden and violent breakthrough of the forces of change and to the overthrow of the old regime of privilege and inequality in the most powerful state in Europe. France having stretched its resources in the war was left financial crippled and this was the first flames of revolution in France. The economic problems created by the French kings 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. The amount of tax each person must pay is unfairly placed. Landholders found in the nobility weren't taxed much; however the landholders found in the commoners were taxed heavily. There was also lack of bread. The price of bread went up 50% during the revolution, which 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. A large sum of money was also spent on palaces, entertainment and gifts by the kings of France. The government spent a lot of money which put forth high taxes. Louis XVI tried to reform the taxation system but the nobility and the clergy refused to accept the new reforms. Therefore, the king was unable to make any financial reforms. These conditions led to the economic discontent of the French people.

The political, social, and economic discontent of the French people led to the French Revolution because they had a poor king and wanted a democratic government, had an unfair tax system, and society was divided into three different estates. People were dissatisfied with the king. The first two estates were privileged; however, the third was very unprivileged and had to pay heavy taxes. French kings spent a lot of money on wars. They spent more money than they made. It was time for a change in France. During the French Revolution, the people executed King Louis XVI; the people were fighting for a better economy, equality, and freedom. Louis XVI became king in 1774 but he did not follow under the “leadership” category but instead he was a weak leader, he was very depended on his advisors, out of touch with his population and he did not have real power in the Estates General. Louis XVI was not making any changes to the government even when the people brought attention to him regarding the problems in France. Today in Syria, the people have been complaining about their society and are looking for a change by the leader of Syria, Bashar al- Assad. He is not listening to the people and he is not trying to solve the problems that are going on in Syria right now. The people have asked Bashar al- Assad for equal rights, a better economy, and better working conditions but the leader instead of listening, calls the military to shoot into crowds of protesters. These two situations are both very similar, as a society, we can only hope that they won’t end the same way- with bloodshed and nothing to show for it.

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