A complete insight into the French Revolution
The world has an emphatic history of revolts and revolutions that shaped major social and political changes. The modern and liberated world as people know it today was not always the same. It took decades of strong protests and some heart-wrenching sacrifices to overthrow authoritarian reigns across the globe. To continue, in terms of political science, revolution is described as a battle against oppression inflicted by political establishments. Furthermore, revolutions lead to abrupt changes in political power and political organizations in a given country. However, the ambit of revolutions should not only be limited to politics as revolutions curate paradigm overhauls in social structures too. Such an uprising was seen in France in the late eighteenth century when political and social oppression were at their pinnacle in the country. This period witnessed major political and social upheavals in France and made way for a constitutional political reign. This essay elaborates on the background, causes, and timeline of the French Revolution.
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French Revolution Definition and Background
French Revolution was a watershed moment in the modern history of Europe and it further inspired similar revolts elsewhere. The economic policies of the French monarchy under King Louis XVI fetched widespread castigation given the atrocities the people of France were subjected to. This discontent with the political power in 18th century France coupled with other causes and sociopolitical factors paved the way for massive upheaval. Moreover, there was huge discontent among the peasants in France as well as the destitute of urban areas. So, the French Revolution started with the objective of uprooting absolute monarchy in France and hence establishing a constitutional rule.
The French Revolution began in 1789 and it continued till the 1990s till the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte to power. Before 1789 the French society was centered around feudalism and the political structure stood on the absolute monarchy. Feudalism was a system of land ownership that was prevalent in the Middle Ages in Europe. Under this system, the entire land belonged to the king and the common people enjoyed little or no ownership of land. Besides, this absolute monarchy was characterized by hereditary norms and the divine rights of the kings. Before the rise of the French Revolution, kings in France enjoyed complete control over society, economic policies, and political decisions. The idea promoted was that the Monarchs in France derived their power from God so that people cannot question the rule of the king. While such a reign gave the kings and queens unparalleled power, the common people started reeling under tyranny. The king had absolute power to exploit the poor and inculcate discriminatory practices in society.
In this Ancien regime, as it was known, Louis XVI who hailed from the Royal House of Bourbon became the king of France in 1774. Parallel to this Ancien rule in France, the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ that began in the 1700s had started swelling in parts of Europe as it gained more impetus. The ‘Age of Enlightenment’ was a crucial time in medieval Europe and it introduced new ideas of social and political orders. It strongly opposed the feudal system and it was inspired by the ideas of liberty and equality. The uprising of this enlightenment joined hands with other causes to sow the seeds of the French Revolution. In the subsequent section, this essay highlights the prime causes of this highly successful and extraordinary revolution. (Louis XVI, 2020)
Causes of the French Revolution
There were multiple reasons that played active roles in laying the foundation of the French Revolution. Different sections of society had their own vested interests and concerns for which they aligned with this movement. The following are the fundamental causes of the French Revolution.
Widespread social inequality
France in the 18th century was socially divided into three estates that constituted the social order in the country. The first estate was that of the Roman Catholic Clergy while the second estate comprised the French nobility. The third estate which included merchants, peasants, lawyers, and others accounted for 98 percent of the population in France. People of the third estate were excluded from attaining positions of honor and political opportunities. This prejudice against the third estate that was looked down upon by the other two estates served as a major cause of the uprising.
Discriminatory tax structures
The people of the third estate were made to pay heavy taxes and that sowed seeds of major protests in France against the estates’ system. The first estate, Roman Catholic Clergy owned 10 percent of the land and was exempted from paying all the taxes. To continue, the second estate, the nobility owned around 25 percent of the land and was also exempted from paying a wide spectrum of taxes. So, the entire burden of the taxation system was felt by the third estate which then sought relief from it by voicing their concerns and standing up for their rights.
War driven financial losses
In the eighteenth century, France fought many expensive wars against arch-rival Britain. France even participated in the American war of independence against the British and it incurred heavy financial losses. Thus, a series of costly wars exhausted the national treasure and an economic crisis started looming over France. France’s support to America in the war for freedom cost more than 1 million French Livres which was a hefty amount of money proportionate to those times. This financial crisis exerted more pressure on the people of the third estate as there were not many resources left to ensure the welfare of the people.
A poor harvest in the preceding years
In the 1780s, France witnessed a series of turbulent weather conditions and even drought. This led to a poor harvest in the summer following the harsh winter of 1784. Thereafter, there was another series of low harvests in the years 1787 and 1788. This made the impoverished peasants of France even poorer and there was little support from the government. The financial conditions worsened for the third estate and daily survival became a massive tussle for the farmers of France. Further, this coupled with other discriminations in the social and economic orders paved the way for the outbreak of a historic revolution.
Parliament’s resistance to reforms
Several ministers of the king proposed reforms in the tax structure to include members of the other two estates in the taxation laws. These reforms would have played a significant role in lessening the tax burden on the third estate and also in calming down their outrage. However, the Parliament did not approve of any such progressive reforms which further made people more wrathful. These reforms could have prevented the revolution from scaling such heights but that was not the case.
Thus, the above causes combined with the influence of ideas promoted by the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ laid a very strong foundation for the launch of the revolution. People were infuriated by the lavish lifestyles of the King and members of the Roman Catholic Clergy. While the poor peasants and merchants struggled to meet ends on a daily basis, members of the first two estates enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle at the cost of the taxes paid by the common man. Moreover, the following segment of this essay discusses the chronology of the French Revolution. The timeline of the revolution puts forth a detailed analysis of the various imperative events that marked significant changes in the social and political orders of France. ("10 Major Causes of the French Revolution | Learnodo Newtonic", 2020)
French Revolution Timeline
1. Meeting of the Estates-General (5 May 1789)
For the first time after very long, King Louis XVI called for a meeting of all the three estates. This meeting had representatives from all three estates that constituted the social order in France. The financial crisis was expanding to all corners of the country and it forced the king to summon the estates. There were discussions on a new tax structure but this discourse did not please the third estate. They rather decided to take things into their hand and this is what marked the beginning of the historic revolt.
2. The Tennis Court Oath (17 June 1789)
The assembly of the estates offered no fruitful solutions and the financial condition of France had become bleak and grim. On June 17, 1789, the third estates constituted a national assembly after being expelled from the Estates-General. They swore to the tennis court that they are not going to leave until the Constitution of the French Kingdom was established. This was a significant event in the timeline of the revolution. It put forth a strong message that the third estate was keen for a political change and to uproot the absolute monarchy that had long existed.
3. The storming of the Bastille (14 July 1789)
The Bastille was an ancient fortress in Paris that was used as a prison where prisoners were treated with tyranny. On July 14, large congregations of people stormed the Bastille and destroyed it. Furthermore, the protestors took control of the weapons and gunpowder that was kept in the prison. The devastation of the Bastille, a symbol of monarch power sent out a strong message to the tyrannical rulers. This event propelled the revolution further and played a vital role in giving more impetus to the revolt.
4. Declaration of Rights of Man (26 August 1789)
On this day, the Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen was passed by the national assembly. This declaration strongly promoted the idea of equality and was poised against all forms of discrimination in French society. The declaration supported the idea of equality under the law for all citizens of France. This declaration aimed to overhaul the cultural and social behavior of the French civil society. However, this document did not talk about the rights of women and children.
5. The footslog on Versailles (5 October 1789)
Women of the Persian market marched towards Versailles in large numbers to protest against the rising prices of bread. There was a scarcity of bread and the prices of it were touching the sky that anguished the common people of France. The march on Versailles was another display of the immense power that the unity in the third estate held.
6. Publication of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (12 July 1790)
On this day, the Civil Constitution of the clergy was published that allowed the government to take control of the Churches. To make ends meet in the deepening financial crisis, the government started selling the lands of the clergy.
7. Attempts of the Royal family to flee (20 June 1791)
The Royal family of King Louis tried to flee from France but the king was taken into custody at Varennes. After being caught, the king was sent to Paris where was subjected to trial.
8. Execution of the Royal King (21 January 1793)
The trial resulted in the king being awarded a death sentence. On January 21, the king was executed by guillotine and this marked the end of the reign of the Bourbon dynasty in France. Furthermore, this marked a very crucial turning point in the French Revolution as the atrocious king was eliminated and with his death, the pillars of monarchy fell in France.
9. Reign of terror (September 1793-July 1794)
The fall of the monarchy instigated a new political battle in France between the Jacobins and Girondins. There were heavy clashes between these two parties and thousands of people were sentenced to death. This created an air of terror in France. Besides, amid this rule of terror, Maximilien Robespierre, the leader of the Jacobins emerged as the new face of the revolution.
10. Napoleon’s rise to power (1795-1799)
The reign of terror had executed many in France creating complete chaos. On August 22, 1795, the National Convention approved the new Constitution that made way for the first bicameral legislature in France. Also, there were protests against this new regime but all the protestors were silenced by the fine and young leadership of general Napoleon Bonaparte. Furthermore, in November 1799, Napoleon staged a coup and abolished the Directory. He declared himself the ‘first consul’ of France and this put an end to the French Revolution while marking the beginning of the Napoleonic era.
Sample essay on the French Revolution
The French Revolution is one of the most significant events of medieval history and has great importance in academics. This section contains a sample essay on the French Revolution highlighting the achievements and success of this revolution. For any assignments on this topic, you can seek help from this essay that covers the major aspects of the revolution. Also, for any other requirements that you may have for your assignments on various subjects or topics, you can reach out to our Online Assignment Help portal for timely assistance. Our diligent teams are dedicated to provide you with the best services for your academic needs. To add, for assistance with regards to other essay topics, you can go through our wide array of thoughtful Sample Essays spanning across various significant topics.
The success and failures of the French Revolution
Major revolutions in history have shaped the fundamental social and political changes that define the contemporary world. The world has come a long way ahead of the ancient practices and customs that were mostly opposed to the rights and privileges of the common man. Furthermore, the times of history have seen people being ruled by monarch kings who exploited the rights of the commoners. Besides, history has also witnessed the fall of the monarchy in various parts of the world hence resulting in the vibrant democracies of the modern-day. The only thing common in redefining the political and social orders in various parts of the globe was the idea of revolution. Revolutions led by the common people defeated the authoritarian regimes to create a world that is built on the virtues of justice, liberty, and equality. One such uprising overhauled the sociopolitical scenario in France in the eighteenth century. The French Revolution was an overwhelming phase in the modern history of Europe and it popularized the idea of revolutions all across the world. This revolt completely transformed the social, political, and economic spheres of France to create a more inclusive space for all sections of society. This essay illustrates the paramount accomplishments as well as major failures of the historic revolution that reorganized the political order of Europe.
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The French revolution started in the year 1789 owing to a multiplicity of factors and causes. The core idea of all causes that inspired this revolution was the tyranny of the common people. Society in eighteenth-century France was divided into three estates separating the clergy, the nobility of France, and the common people. While the first two estates enjoyed land ownership and all other privileges, the peasants and the merchants in the third estate crumbled under heavy taxes. Moreover, the members of the third estate were not entitled to any honorable positions or political representation. Besides, on the sidelines of such misery faced by the common people of France, the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ was becoming an increasingly popular idea in Europe. This enlightenment was influenced by the notions of liberty, equality, and other modern principles that aimed at ending class distinctions. The third estate that included the poor farmers and merchants was often subjected to oppression under absolute monarchy and feudalism. To add, King Louis XVI rose to power as the king of France in 1774 and he proved to be a miserable leader in controlling the financial crisis growing in the country at that time. This crisis was caused by the costly wars France had fought against the British and was further supplemented by continuous years of poor harvest and droughts. All these factors in an economically weak France joined hands to launch the French Revolution. This revolution was spearheaded by the members of the third estate with the objective of demolishing absolute monarchy and creating a constitutional rule. In the next segments, the essay sheds light on the success and failures of the French Revolution.
Talking about the achievements of the French Revolution, this movement was successful in giving more power to the third estate. The third estate accounted for 98 percent of the population of France in the eighteenth century. It represented the working class of France which was not entitled to any powers before the revolution changed the dynamics. So, the French revolution won rights and privileges for the common people of France. This was a very significant overhaul in the social, political, and economic environments in France. Furthermore, the revolution led to the ultimate fall of the monarchy and created a constitutional rule in the nation. The kind of representation that the members of the third estate had vouched for long was granted to them by the success of this revolt. By the year 1792, France had attained the status of being a radical democratic republic promising the vivid advantages of democratic virtues to the people. It is worth noting, that for the people of the third estate who had seen the tyranny of kings for decades, these changes were imperative and it imparted hope in them. They realized their rights for the first time when the National Assembly passed the Declaration of Rights of Man in 1789. Before that, people could not even imagine such entitlements as they never recognized their potential to topple the monarchy. The events of the French Revolution inspired people to stand up for their rights and if needed even put up a fight for the same. Last but not the least, the movement united the people of France in a way that no other cause ever could.
On the contrary, despite some significant accomplishments, there were certain shortcomings in the revolution. The Declaration of Rights of Man excluded women and children from the ambit of equality under the law. The virtues of equality under this revolution were only concentrated on men and had no room for ending the disparity in gender roles. Besides, the revolution failed to address the issue of rising prices of bread and rice that were parts of the staple diet. The bread riots in the year 1795 saw extensive protests against the National Assembly. Another front where the revolution failed was in preventing corruption from infecting the new political order in the nation. Between 1795 and 1799, 5 administrators called the ‘directory’ had the onus to run the affairs of the nation. The directory failed miserably in protecting the rights of the common man and rather overturned all election outcomes that they did not like. Those in power started manipulating the laws and yet again the impoverished sections were ignored. To continue, the French Revolution failed to give equal rights to slaves despite the abolishment of slavery in the year 1794. Yet another significant failure of the revolution lied in the fact that around 40000 people were sentenced to death to prevent counter-revolution. Thus, there was a reign of terror that branched out of this movement and it took away thousands of lives.
To encapsulate, the French Revolution was detrimental in establishing a democratic rule in France contrary to the imagination of people. Various social, economic, and political causes blended with each other leading to the launch of the revolution. Besides, the revolution garnered significant achievements in restructuring the mannerisms that the nation was run in. However, there were also some failures that marred the revolution as it could not create a system fair for all. Although the revolution helped the third estate to procure massive power, the power could not sustain for long. Also, the movement turned violent in many instances and the protestors of the revolution were given the death penalty. More than thousands of people were executed for confronting the revolution. The revolution could have been steered in a better way to keep terror and bloodshed at bay. However, the revolution was still important for people to realize their capabilities as citizens and to participate in the decision-making process.
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- History Crunch - History Articles, Summaries, Biographies, Resources and More. 2020. Louis XVI. [online] Available at: https: louis-xvi.html www.historycrunch.com [Accessed 8 December 2020].
- 10 Major Causes of the French Revolution | Learnodo Newtonic. (2020). Retrieved 9 December 2020, from learnodo newtonic
When did the French Revolution start?
The French Revolution began in 1789 in Paris with the idea of throwing out the tyrannical Ancien regime. It started as a revolution to overhaul the political scenario and establish a constitutional monarchy in the nation.
Who was involved in the French Revolution?
Jean-Paul Marat, Georges-Jacques Danton, and Maximilien Robespierre were among the key leaders in the course of the French Revolution. The revolution ultimately ended with the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte as the leader who overthrew the Directory.
Was the French Revolution successful?
The French Revolution led to a major transformation in French society. It was successful in granting more power to the lower classes that formed the Third Estate. Before this revolution, the lower class enjoyed no rights and privileges however this completely changed as an outcome of the French Revolution.