The French Revolution was a civil rebellion for political and social agitation in France between 1789 and 1799.The French society was divided into Three Estates which had diverse economical, social and political privileges. The inequality among these Estates brought resentments among the lowly placed Third Estate which comprised of the peasants who were underprivileged, and whose rights were looked upon by the First Estate and Second Estate. The latter controlled majority of asserts including land, higher office ranks in the government and privileges of exemption from paying taxes. There was unfair representation in politics due to the fact that the Third Estate class had no political powers and freedom. The Revolution culminated in the “overthrow of the Bourbon monarchy in France and in the formation of the First Republic” (Bulliet et al 589).
It came about from a complex series of causes, the most significant of which were the unfitness of the ruling classes of clergy, noblesse and middle class to come to terms with the troubles of state, the extortionate taxation of the peasants despite the rampart increase in the cost of living, the “indecisive nature of the monarch, impoverishment of the workers and the example of the American War of Independence” (590). Most theories tend to emphasize the cultural, political, personality and ideological factors in the unfolding and the advent of the conflict, but downplay the struggle by the social class. The revolution produced a vast set of repercussions. This paper outlines the major highlights of the French Revolution.
Historical Causes of the Revolution
The French government had been going through periods of economic crises for over one century before the 1774 rise to power of Louis XVI. These crisis resulted form the mismanagement of the national affairs and excessive political powers by the royal. They occupied the highest ranks in the government offices and they were exempted from paying taxes hence thwarting generation of revenue for government expenditure and this extended the burden of tax paying to the working class people (Major 149). Taxation was the major source of government revenue because France was not active in trading to singly rely on tariffs but rather on its citizens. Fraud systems of collecting taxes became a major blow to the France government in that it even collected more than it should in order to pocket the rest.
They even contracted unpopular salt tax from farmers but never handed it in to support government projects. This became a burden for the Third Estate as they were the major tax payers. People were never happy but had no where to direct their grievances as the French administration did not have a parliament to voice the people’s needs. The financial constrains also came as a result of the emergence and dominance of Britain as a financial power outweighing France and its subsequent loss of its colonial possession in North America.
Long wars during the reign of Louis XIV led to the increase in debts resulting from the American War of indecency, in which King Louis spent extravagantly besides his luxurious mode of life at the expense of poor tax payers. This led the country to bankruptcy and ended up seeking refugee in loans in order to cover the losses incurred during the wars. Due to this, people lived expensively to attain a fair living as prices of commodities had shot up. These made the Third Estate commoners resent the government. Agitation for governmental, social and fiscal reforms became increasingly popular during the rule of Louis XIV. Luis appointed Anne Robert Jacques as the liberal controller general in 1774. Anne introduced a policy of strict of economy in the government. Two years latter, most of the reforms that he instituted were withdrawn and was forcefully dismissed. His dismissal produced a reaction from the members of clergy, the nobility and supporters of Queen Marie Antoinette.
During the following years, the French financial crisis worsened because Louis XVI failed to improve the economic mayhem left by his predecessor but also fired those who tried to bring in any financial reforms. Demands for convocation of the Estates-General became popular, and in 1788 Luis XVI was forced to authorize elections which had been adjourned since 1614. In the campaign that followed, censorship was suspended, and ideas for enlightenment became popular throughout the country. Necker, the reinstated controller general in 1788 by Luis, gave support to the king in his decision that the commoners (the third states) would be given many representatives in the Estates-General same as the clergy (First Estate) and the nobility (the second estate). However both the king and the Luis did not make a ruling on the voting method.
Despite the general agreement among the estates that National cohesion and stability was required changes in the status quo. In an attempt to arrive at an agreement, an Estates-General meeting was convened on May 5th, 1789 in Versailles. The delegation of the first estate challenged the proposals by the third estate rejecting its voting proposal. The proposal by the third estate advocated for a simple majority rule. The first Estate did not by into this idea given the numerical power of the first estate. At this juncture, the ranks in the upper class became seriously split and many representatives of the liberal nobles and the lower clergy broke off and joined forces with the National Assembly in order to join hands to raise alarm over their plight which seemed of less concern to the upper clergy and the nobility.
Food insecurity posed another puzzle to the third Estate who had more than enough challenges to tackle. The poor harvest due to crop failure as a result of bad climate led to food shortage agitating many residents to resent against high bread prices, which was the major nutritional food for the peasants making. This increased the cost of living coupled with high taxes, extraordinary dues and the high rents imposed on them by land owners (Soboul 69). The government also failed in providing a good transport system for transportation of bulky foods from rural areas to largely populated urban centers. This prompted the Third Estate citizens to move into Paris trying to seek greener pastures but all in vain as this led to overcrowding in the city while hungry and idle hence revolted easily.
The awakening and realization of Enlightenment Ideals by the Third Estate sought into resentments and aspiration for social equality and freedom among other contentious issues among the peasants (Sutherland 145). The kings through their ministers and local officials ruled absolutely in that they had complete authority over France. Royal Absolution came as a result of hundreds of years and the success of the France kings to nearly conquer all the powers from the nobility and the fact that there was no parliament but representatives from the Three who Estates who met once in 1614 hence ineffective in voicing the peoples’ grievances.
The France administration governed people through bureaucracy that grew and became corrupt and inefficient hence the need do away with the seigneurial privileges enjoyed by the nobility to pave way for equality. Likewise they resented against the influence of the Catholic Church on national policies and institution besides the privileges it enjoyed. They as well needed to enjoy the freedom of religion .All these aimed at an equal balanced republic where the citizens enjoyed equal rights. Peoples became also furious with the firing of Jacques Necker the finance minister by the king who people perceived as their representative.
The failure by the France government to make and adapt major reforms under the leadership of King Louise XV (1715-1774) and Louis XVI (1774-1792) to cope up with the high living standards provided a loop hole for revolts from the citizens (Bulliet, et al 592). The attempt by ministers like Turgot and Necker to revise the system of taxation in order to include the nobles as taxpayers was not adopted by due to resistance from the parlements which was a provincial court of appeal.Necker tried to control the lavish spending of the king but in vain and after him came Charles Alexandre de Calonne who reinstated the lavish spending of the king. All the finances were drained to luxury as the poor experienced hardship to have their daily bread.
In conclusion, the French revolution was triggered by an uprising among the peasantry in agitation for social, economical and political equality. Owing to the rise in the plight of the peasants and other Third Estate commoners, there came the need to break the entire social, political and economic barriers in order to contain all the French citizens at bar. There was need to have efficient representation of all the people through a common forum besides having a clear system of taxation in order to raise government revenue collectively as a republic, but not as a burden to the common citizens.