The French revolution (1789-1791)
No country felt the consequences of the Americans Revolution more directly than France. Hundreds of French officers served in America and were inspired by the experience. Yet the French revolution did not mirror the American example. It was more radical and more complex, more influential and more controversial, more loved and more hated. It wasthe great revolution of the 18th century, “the revolution that opened the modern era in politics.
There are three major interpretations of the French Revolution: the social, the economic and the political causes of this liberal Revolution.
⇒ ECONOMIC CAUSES:
Like the American Revolution, the French Revolution had its immediate origins in the financial difficulties of the government. Thus, themost immediate causes of French Revolution are related to the fact that France was not doing well economically. Indeed, before revolution, the French government was unable to collect taxes from people in order to be able to cover their debts. In addition, the French were involved in different places at that time as helping the US in Revolution. This made France to spend a lot of money and lead toan economic crisis. Ministers had to deal with this but failed doing it. They failed to convince aristocracy and the church to pay. Since the ones who had money refused to pay, it was the others, the citizens that had to pay. Less than 20% of the entire national budget was available for the productive functions of the state, such as transportation and general administration. This was an impossiblefinancial situation. By 1780’s, the French monarchy became too weak because of lack of money and an army of aristocratic ‘and bourgeois’ creditors was holding the French debt.
⇒ POLITICAL CAUSES:
The French Revolution has not been interpreted only as having economical causes but also political ones. Indeed, France’s 25 million inhabitants were still legally divided in 3 orders or estates(états généraux): the Roman Catholic clergy, the nobility, and everyone else.
As nation’s 1st estates, the clergy numbered about 100 000 and had important privileges. It owned about 10% of the land and paid on a “voluntary gift”, rather than regular taxes, to the government every 5 years.
The second legally defined estate consisted of some 400 000 noblemen or noblewomen. The nobility owned about 25 %of the land and were taxed very lightly. Moreover, nobles continued to enjoy certain privileges of lordship (manorial rights) that allowed them to tax the peasantry for their own profit.
Everyone else was a commoner, legally a member of the 3rd estate. A few commoners were well educated and rich and might even buy up manorial rights as profitable investments. Many more commoners were urbanartisans and unskilled day labourers. The vast majority of the 3rd estate consisted of the peasants and agricultural workers in the countryside. Thus, the 3rd estate was a conglomeration of vastly different social groups united only by their shared legal status as distinct from the nobility and clergy.
At that time there was a debate on how to organize the estates, especially how to vote in theestate. The 1st and 2nd estate wanted to vote collectively, since they have common goals; then it is always them that win. But on the other side the 3rd estate wanted each one to vote individually and knew that they could win with the help of some members of the clergy and some members of the nobility. Indeed, the clergy included 2 categories the young and the older clergy. The young members of theclergy were sympathising with the 3rd estate and had many in common with them. On the other side, the nobility was also divided into 2 categories, the new nobility that are called the “annobli” (the ones that became noble by paying) and the old nobility. The new nobility was also sympathising with the 3rd estate. Thus, politically speaking, the 3rd estate is the one who could make the change.
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