The French Revolution The years before the French Revolution (which started in 1789 AD.) were ones of vast, unexpected change and confusion. One of the changes was the decline of the power of the nobles, which had a severe impact on the loyalty of some of the nobles to King Louis XVI. Another change was the increasing power of the newly established middle class, which would result in the monarchy becoming obsolete. The angry and easily manipulated peasants, who were used by the bourgeoisie for their own benefit were another significant change, and finally the decline of the traditional monarchy, that for so long had ruled, were all factors to the main point that the French Revolution was caused by a political base, with social disorder and economic instability contributing to the upheaval.
French Absolutism and the French Revolution During the period between 1589 through 1783, the French Monarchy had risen to its height of absolute power and then was destroyed by the French Revolution. The reigns of Henry IV, Louis XIII, Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI each contributed to the strengthening of the French Monarchy as well as the destruction. Class struggles were a major problem throughout the reigns of each king. France was broken into three estates that were; the clergy, the nobility, and the common people. They were each striving for more power.
Two writers, the first, Peter Kropotkin who was a Russian prince, and the other Simon Schama, a history professor, both had very opposing views on whether the wars fought by France during the Revolution were worth it's human costs. Krapotkin believed that the French Revolution was the main turning point for not only France but for most other countries as well. On the other hand, Schama viewed the French Revolution as unproductive and excessively violent. The French Revolution started in 1787 because the country was going through financial difficulties and there was unrest between the classes of citizens in the country. The differences between the lower class citizens and higher classes, being nobles and the monarchy were great.
The second estate consisted of the 300,000 tax exempt clergy who owned 10% of the land. The third estate consisted of the remaining 23.5 million French people who were 90% peasants. The third estate was the only estate that paid taxes. Their taxes ensured the financial well-being of the clergy, state, and nobles (French Revolution Overview 6). The Enlightenment was a major influence of the French Revolution.
The first of the three groups were the Bourgeocies. The Bourgeocies were mostly bankers, business owners, and artisans. They had the opportunity to get an education and make a decent amount of money. But, they had to pay extremely high taxes which caused them to not make much money. The next group was the low income French workers.
The third estate, especially the peasants, had to provide almost all the country's tax revenue. Many members of the middle class were also worried by their social status. They were among the most important people in French society but were not recognized as such because they belonged to the third estate. "Financial crisis developed because the nation had gone deeply into debt to finance the Seven Years War (1756-1763) and the Revolutionary War (1775-1783)." (Durant, 22) The Parliament of Paris insisted that King Louis XVI could borrow more money or raise taxes only by calling a meeting of the States-General.
It made the people realize what they wanted France to be, eventually causing them to revolt against the government make France a republic. It is evident that these three reasons are the main causes that led to the French revolution and the downfall of the French monarchial system. The ineffectiveness of the King Louis and Marie Antoinette being the main reason since it was because of it that led to the dissatisfaction of the peasants, which led them to seeking better systems and laws in the Enlightenment. It was all these reasons combined together that ultimately led to the destruction of the old regime and the French Revolution.
Not only was taxation a cause of conflict between classes but so was the corrupt monarchy of France. The main causes of the French Revolution were over taxation, class conflict, and corrupt monarchy. Not only was France’s taxation system unethical and dishonorable but it was one of the main causes of the French Revolution. The King not only spent a large portion of France’s money on military expenses but the nobility and the King as well as his family spent money on themselves, just to maintain their luxurious living. Meaning the third, poorest estate was basically paying for everything they couldn’t afford, “…the peasants paid taxes to the king, taxes to the church, taxes and dues to the lord of the manor, as well as numerous indirect taxes on wine, salt, and bread (Kreis, 2000, pg.
They were exempt from taxation. However, the Assembly of the clergy, dominated by bishops, negotiated with the King to make an annual payment to the crown, know as the “don gratuit”. It was always much less than they would have paid in normal taxation and was under 5% of the clerical income. They made up 2% of the population. The First Estate owned nearly 10 per cent of all land in France and therefore was the single largest landowner in France.
This is symbolic of the amount of work the Third Estate was doing compared to how much they were paid and how much they had to pay for taxes. According to Albert Mathiez, the Revolution was started by the middle class of the Third Estate, not the working class. His reason for saying this is that the working class was basically helpless on their own because they were ‘targeted’ by society and even had to pay to do work on a lord’s property. It was hard for them to do anything, so the middle class Third Estate had to step in. The second source is a table of wages and taxes of the Third Estate.