The French Revolution of 1789 had many long-range causes. Political, social, and economic conditions in France mad many French people discontented. Most disaffected were merchants, artisans, workers, and peasants. The ideas of the Enlightenment thinkers brought new views of government and society. The American Revolution also influenced the coming of The French Revolution. Therefore, The French Revolution of 1789 had several causes not only due to political, but also due to social and economic issues and problems as well that made France ripe for revolution. The most important long-range causes of this revolution, however, were the ideas of the Enlightenment, the unfair taxes, the gap between the rich and poor, and the American Revolution and Declaration of Independence.
The ideas of the Enlightenment influenced the French Revolution. The third estate, or the poorest social group, held very little rights socially or politically. But some of them, such as doctors and lawyers, were educated and could read the new ideas of government from philosophers. For example, philosophers like John Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau. “The Revolution had been accomplished in the minds of men long before it was translated into fact… The middle class…was sensitive to their inferior legal position. The Revolution came from then-the middle class. The working classes were incapable of starting or controlling the Revolution. They were just beginning to learn to read.” (Document 4) The Third Estate studied these ideas; They had used ideas like Equality, Liberty, and Democracy. The Third Estate inspired The French Revolution. (ROI) These men spoke of democratic governments, with certain freedoms and natural rights. Eventually, the people of the third estate began to question their government in France, and by the standards of these philosophers, demanded change.
The cahiers reflect the ideas of the Enlightenment such as democracy and equality. “That the king forced to reform the abuses and tyranny of lettre de cachet [a letter allowing a person to be jailed without trial]. That every tax … be granted [by the Estates General] only for a limited time. That the taille [a tax on land] be borne equally by all classes…. The meetings of the Estates General … shall be scheduled for definite times…. In order to assure the third estate the influence it deserves because of its numbers,…its votes in the assembly should be taken and counted by head.” (Document 3) August 27th, 1789 the National Assembly adopted “A Declaration Of The Rights Of Man and of the citizen.”. The National Assembly guaranteed citizens equal justice, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. The National Assembly took over church lands and sold them to pay debt. September 1791, National Assembly completed a constitution that made France a constitutional monarchy. (ROI)
As an economic cause, the unfair taxes also proved a cause for the French Revolution. Again , the third estate, composed of merchants, doctors, lawyers and peasants, were taxed very heavily on many things; “In the south of France there is a taille [tax on the land and its produce]. There is an injustice in levying the amount each person must pay. Lands held by the nobility are taxed very little. Lands held by commoners are taxed heavily…. September 5, 1788: The poor people seem very poor indeed. The children are terribly ragged. June 10,1789: The lack of bread is terrible. Stories arrive every moment from the provinces of riots…. The price of bread has risen above people’s ability to pay. This causes great misery. July 1789:….I was joined by a poor woman who complained of the hard times. ‘The tailles and feudal dues[rents owed the lords] are crushing us,’ she said.” (Document 1) Peasants also paid taxes to the clergy, nobles, and government. However, the richest estates, the clergy and nobles, paid little taxes or none at all despite their excess money, large land plots, and position and interaction with the government. This unfair system angered the third estate, and prompted revolution. (ROI)
As a social cause, in France there was a large gap between the rich and poor. There are very few members in the first and second estates, yet they owned the most land, while the third estate made up most of the population, yet owned very little land. “First: Clergy – 1% of the people owned 10% of the land. Second Estate: Nobles – 2% of the people owned 35% of the land. Third Estate – Middle class, peasants, city workers 97% of the people owned 55% of the land.” (Document 2) There were high prices, high taxes, and people were listening to enlightenment ideas. Louis XVI decided to tax the Second Estate. They called a meeting of the Estates-General – an assembly of representatives from all three estates. (ROI) In addition, as a political
cause, the third estate had no privileges or say in the government,while both the clergy and nobles did. As mentioned before, the inequality of taxes proved another gap in the social classes. “The Revolution had been accomplished in the minds of men long before it was translated into fact…. The middle class…was sensitive to their inferior legal position. The Revolution came from them-the middle class. The working classes were incapable of starting or controlling the Revolution. They were just beginning to learn to read.” (Document 4) Estates- General was the first such meeting in 175 years. Met on May 5th,1789 in Versailles. In the Estate- General each estate had one vote. (ROI)
Finally, the influence of the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence help spur the French Revolution. Lord Acton stated, “The condition of France alone did not bring about the overthrow of the monarchy….For the sufferings of the people were not greater than they has been before….The ideas of the philosophes were not directly responsible for the outbreak…. [T]he spark that changed thought into action was supplied by the Declaration of American Independence….[T]he American example caused the Revolution to break out.” (Document 5) By the colonists’ influence, the French learned that if a small group of people could take on and defeat England, a very powerful country, they could do the sam. The Americans helped encourage the Frenchman’s desire for freedom and democracy. (ROI)
In Conclusion, the French Revolution had its beginnings on many areas, but mostly in the inequalities felt by the common people, the new ideas of democracy and personal rights, and the examples of other revolutionists around them.