Starting from the beginning of the 17th century, people all over Europe have been questioning the traditional forms of government. One by one, countries all over the world convert from absolute monarchy to different, more radical forms of government. The start of the overthrow of monarchy, which eventually led to the beginning of the French Revolution, began with the overthrow of the English monarchy by the Parliament of England in 1649. The American Revolution of 1776 soon followed, and finally, France started their own Revolution; the French Revolution of 1789.
Of course, there are many political, economic, and social causes leading to this sudden political advancement in France. For example, King Louis XVI was unprepared for his role as king, and with the growing population of over 30 million citizens, the economic position of France could only get worse. In conclusion, there are not one, but numerous causes that led to the start of a new era in France, the French Revolution. Enlightenment ideas opened the minds of the people of France, providing new views about power and authority in government. Lecture 11: The Origins of the French Revolution section 8) France’s underprivileged Third Estate very eagerly accepted these new ideas. “18th century philosophy taught the Frenchman to find his condition wretched, unjust and illogical and made him disinclined to the patient resignation to his troubles that had long characterized his ancestors . . . . The propaganda of the philosophes . . . . accounted for the fulfillment of the preliminary condition of the French Revolution,” (Henri Peyre, “The Influence of Eighteenth Century Ideas on the French Revolution,” Journal of the History of Ideas vol. 0, No. 1 (January 1949). Philosophes add onto the fire of revolution, with ideas on what government should be. Comte D’Antraigues, a French diplomat and political adventurer, summarized the general population’s idea on what government should be. “The Third Estate is the People and the People is the foundation of the State. It is in the People that all national power resides and for the People that all states exist. ” (Comte D’Antraigues , “Dissertation on the Estates-General” 1788) This illustrates the dissatisfaction of the Third Estate towards their role in government.
Unlike the other two Estates, the Third Estate generally had no position in government and very limited political power. Before 1789, the system of government in France was an absolute monarchy, a rule by a single monarch, usually a king or a queen whose actions are restricted neither by written law nor by custom. The French people were encouraged to believe that the king was all-powerful. I do not believe that this system itself was one of the causes for revolution, or that the people of France actually had a problem with the system. However, an absolute monarchy requires a strong monarch in order to become successful.
For example, King Louis XIV was the strongest king of his time and allowed France to become the leading economic, political, and cultural country in the world. On the other hand, King Louis XV and Louis XVI Both took part in long, costly wars and suffered brutal defeats. The French army was crushed by the Prussians and in the Seven Years War against Britain, 1756-63. Absolute monarchy began to show weakness in the years leading up to 1789, when French farmers suffered a series of awful harvests and the country had acquired huge debts to foreign creditors. The economic state of France was starting to show signs of weakness.
The failing economic state of France during King Louis XVI’s rule was one of the most important reasons for the outbreak of the revolution. Without wheat and flour from the farmers, bread was becoming scarcer and more expensive to buy. This was another one of the factors that helped to start the revolution, as there were rumors flying around France that members of the First and Second Estates were hoarding grain and bread in order to starve the Third Estate. With bread as one of the main foods on the French diet, the members of the Third Estate were starving. Many people faced a daily struggle with malnutrition.
This period was known as the Great Fear, as it caused peasants to go about the country side attacking and burning the estates of nobles. After King Louis XV’s rather impulsive spending on his passion in war, France was left with a heavy burden of debt. The King of France loved war and spent colossal amounts of money funding the American Colonists in their war against Britain. Louis XVI’s wife Marie Antoinette also added to the debt by wasting money on jewelry, gowns, and gambling to such an extent that she earned herself the title, “Madame Deficit” from her large contribution of debt.
At one point, her gambling debts had grown so large that she had lost about one and a half million dollars from gambling in a single year. In an attempt to pay off France’s outstanding debt, the King taxed the Third Estate heavily with taxes on items such as salt. Along with these taxes, the Third Estate, which comprised of workers, beggars, and the bourgeoise labored countless hours to earn enough income to support their families, only to have to pay fifty percent of it as tax to wealthy landowners.
Together, the first and second classes paid close to no taxes, controlled about thirty percent of the land, and accounted for only about 3 percent of the population. The hungry and discontented Third Estate was eager for change. The citizens of France looked to the newly established United States of America for inspiration. The success of the American colonists in separating themselves from Britain led French citizens to begin questioning long-standing notions about the structure of their own government (Lecture 11: The Origins of the French Revolution section 9).
French soldiers returning from the Revolutionary War in America returned to France with new American ideas about liberty, popular sovereignty and the notion of republicanism. (http://www. mapsofworld. com/american-revolution/impact-other-nations. html). Without the American example, the people of France might not have ever found the inspiration to begin their own revolution. As if the poor rule of King Louis XVI wasn’t enough, positions in government were sold for money and given to the highest bidder. Members of the Third Estate generally had no chance of acquiring roles in government.
Instead, corrupt Second Estate members would take over the positions and work for their own personal benefit. Finally, The meeting of the Estates-General was called by Louis XVI in Versailles to discuss and approve the new tax plan. The Third Estate declared themselves to be the National Assembly and took the Tennis Court Oath, one of the first events marking the beginning of the French Revolution. This lead to the first violent event of the French Revolution, the storming of the Bastille. The French Revolution had officially begun.