Causes of the French Revolution

The Causes Of The French Revolution
In the 17th and 18th centuries, France was ruled by an absolute government. The king had
all the political power. And the kings who came after him were despots. For example, anyone
who criticized the government could be arrested and put in prison without trial. Louis XIV at l
east ruled this country efficiently. Last French kings were not good rulers. Louis XIV (1774-
1793) was king at the time of the French Revolution. He was more interested in hunting than
governing France. He and his Austrians queen, Marie Antoinette, lived an extravagant life at the
Palace of Versailles. They did not really care about the state of their country. The government
was inefficient, unjust and corrupt. There were too many government departments, different laws
in different parts of the country and officials. Many people became angry about the way France
was governed. They could do nothing to change it. The French Parliament was called the Estates-
General. It was made up of the First Estate- churchmen or clergy, the Second Estate- nobility, the
Third Estate- commoners. The Estate- General had not met since 1614. It could not meet without
consent of he king. It had no political power.
During the 18th century, the French government spent more money than it collected in
taxes. By 1788, the country was bankrupt. Because the government spent a lot of money, taxes
were high. The tax system was unjust. The nobles and the clergy paid hardly any taxes. The
Church owned one-tenth of the land in France. It did not pay taxes. The peasants paid most of the
taxes. Yet, they were the people least able to afford them.

In the 18th century, France was a feudal country with class division. People were divided
into three estates or classes. The First Estate consisted of the clergy. The Second consisted of the
nobility, and the Third included the bourgeoisie, the city workers and the peasants. The estate to
which he belonged decided a personpower and rights. The peasants suffered most. Over 80 per
cent of the population were made up of peasants. They had to pay heavy taxes.
How The Revolution Changed Between 1789 and 1799
In 1789 the king called the estates to a meeting to form a National Assembly where all
estates would join as one. This was known as the “Oath of the Tennis Court”. The third estate
asked for a constitution but was refused by the king and the other two estates. Later the king
ordered the troops to break up the assembly. Then the Parisians and the peasants tore down the
Bastille, and out of fear the nobles decided to flee France. The people saved the National
Assembly from being done away with by the king.
In August of 1789, the Decree of August 4 and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and
of the Citizen were adopted by the Assembly. The declaration gave some basic rights to the
people. Later the assembly drafted a constitution of limited monarchy, and France was divided
into 83 regions called departments, but the right to vote was limited to people who paid a certain
amount of taxes. Then later the assembly took over the Roman Catholic Church, and then
extended it to take in the Protestants and Jews. In 1791 the Assembly believed that the revolution
was over and started the Legislative Assembly.
The Legislative Assembly soon faced challenges that depended on the stability of the
government between the legislature and the king. The public became divided and the revolution’s
religious policy angered many Catholics and others against the Catholics or any other opponents.
The government also had to face Austria and Prussia in battle. Those countries wanted the
king back in power and of course the king wanted them to win. The invaders won, and because of
that they demanded the king be dethroned. His being dethroned ended the constitutional
monarchy. After this event new stages occurred in the revolution. The first stage led to the liberal
middle class reform movement, and the second under democracy. In 1792 the National
Convention declared France a republic.
Louis XVI (the king) was beheaded in 1793 by the National Convention for treason. The
revolution grew violently. Two political groups, the Mountain and the Gironde grew and became
rivals for power, and the Mountain won. In 1793 the convention arrested the leading Girondists,
and their supporters rebelled against the Convention. A Girondist supporter named Charlotte
Corday assassinated Jean Paul Marat in July of 1793. Later the Girondists were defeated by the
Convention. The Jacobin leaders built an army to rebel against France and others in Europe. Their
government was based on dictatorship. The actual rule of France was taken over by the
Convention, which took over the army, local governments, and other institutions. The Convention
declared a policy of terror against opposers to their policy. In time the jails filled, and 1,800 death
sentences were sent down. This period later known as the “reign of terror.” The Jacobins also
followed democratic principles and believed in the benefits of the middle class, peasants, and
farmers and got to participate for the first time in a political event. The Convention abolished
slavery. Many of these reforms were never carried out because of changes made later in the
Many people of France wanted the “reign of terror”, the Jacobin’s dictatorship, and the
democratic revolution to end. The Convention finally attacked Robesspiere in 1794, and he was
executed the following day. The “reign of terror”,had finally ended. The Conservatives drove the
Jacobins out of power. They replaced the Democratic constitution with the Directory. They
started to meet in 1795, but they were troubled by war and economic problems. Bonarpartec a
French general, later seized control of France in November 9, 1799, which ended the revolution.
The French Revolution brought much discussion into which kind of government was best
for their country. Despite all the conflicts, the revolution did create a unified state and a strong
central government.

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