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Causes of the French Revolution

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Historians have long debated the causes of the French Revolution. Perhaps this is because it was a result of a multitude of factors as opposed to just a single one. A combination of several social, political and economic causes led to upheaval of the Ancien Régime, the system of law and government in France prior to the French Revolution in 1789.

During the eighteenth century, French society was divided into three classes, or estates: the clergy, nobility and the common people. The clergy came to be called the First Estate while the nobility and the common people came to be called the Second and Third Estates, respectively. This social system in France was so corrupt that the few, the First and Second Estates, held all the power while the majority, the Third Estate, was left to suffer. The first two estates had many privileges over the Third Estate, the most important of which was that they paid fewer taxes. The intendants who were in charge of collecting taxes from the administrative districts that France was divided into often bent the rules at will for family or friends because of the enormous power they had. As a result, those who did not have much to begin with were burdened with even more taxes (Young). In addition, they had certain expenditures, such as the one which prevented peasants from killing animals that destroyed their crops simply so that they could be preserved as game for the nobles. Moreover, they also controlled the courts and the local government (Young). Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes, a French clergyman and political writer at the time, described the government as “the patrimony of a particular class, it has been distended beyond all measure ; places have been created not on account of t...

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...). In addition, France experienced bad weather and poor harvests during the year 1788 and, in turn, caused prices and unemployment to rise. This was followed by a harsh winter when many starved and this led to food riots and only increased public dissent towards the crown.

The French Revolution was caused by inherent problems within France like the social inequality, inefficient monarchy and the financial crisis and was fueled by the Enlightenment ideas. Perhaps it could have been entirely avoided if the monarchy worked harder to reform the country before it was too late or perhaps this would have just postponed the revolution. Either way, it is undeniable that the French Revolution had far-reaching effects. It inspired later revolutions and gave birth to a host of new ideas about an individual’s rights and a country’s obligations to its citizens.