The French Revolution was an exciting, dramatic, and violent episode in western history. The rise of the middle class, the use of the guillotine, the fall of monarchy, the outbreak of European warfare, the growing role of women, and the harsh realities of mob violence all contributed to making this episode truly significant and memorable.
By 1789 the French Government of Louis XVI was in trouble. Significant discontent was evident throughout the country. (Just like in England) Intellectuals were dissatisfied with the scope of absolutist controls, the bourgeoisie ( the middle class) was antagonized by the excessive financial burdens that fell upon them, the peasants decried the various feudal obligations that remained, and the urban workers struggled to survive amidst inflating prices and stagnant wages. It was the financial issues that forced the King to call a meeting of the Estates General, a national assembly that had not met since 1614. Needless to say there was tremendous excitement about that meeting as hopes for change arose from all sides. France would never be the same again.
Historians have offered many causes for the French Revolution. The revolution by the French was the major focus of World History from 1789 to 1815. All the people of the Western world closely watched the developments in France. Would monarchy prevail? Or would the trend found in the English revolution and the American revolution, government by the people, prevail?
The French Revolution falls into two major historical eras. The first era contains the attempts of the French to create a Constitutional Government patterned after the United States. This lasted from 1789 to 1799. During this time other European powers declared war against France to prevent the spread of the ideals of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.”
The Second era involves the reign of Napoleon who stepped into the void caused by the chaos of the political events within France. Following the execution of King Louis XVI, France underwent a period of instability, a reign of terror, and continued war from the monarchs of Europe who wanted to maintain the feudal system of absolutism. In order to bring order to the government of France, the people turned to a dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon led France into a period of constant warfare and was eventually defeated. Nevertheless, his conquests, like that of Alexander the Great, spread the ideas of the French Revolution throughout Europe and to lands far away.
Background to the Conflict
Why did revolution break out in France? In looking at the backgrounds to the English Revolution and the American Revolution and comparing the reasons for revolution in France, one common element stands out. They all had to do with the principle of taxation and representation. The right of government to take their citizens money without their consent. There were also several complex causes within French society causes that were unique to France.
Ø Government—France was an absolute monarch with no tradition of representative government Louis XVI like kings before him, ruled alone.
Ø The Three Estates- Legally, France was divided into three classes of citizens, each defined before the law. The First Estate was the clergy, which enjoyed special privileges from the French government. The Second Estate was the nobility, which also enjoyed special privileges from the Government. The Third Estate consisted of everyone else-from professional people, wealthy merchants, financiers, trades people, artisans, and peasants.
Ø Unequal Tax Burdens- By custom the First and Second estates were exempt from most taxes, so that the burden of taxation fell on the Third Estate.
Ø Legal Inequality-There was also inequality before the law. A noble was tried only by special courts, the king appointed all judges. Instead of one legal system there existed several of them through out France.
Ø France faced bankruptcy. Much of Frances’s financial problems were caused from a century of warfare with Britain including helping the United States gain its independence.
Ø General discontent- the peasants hated their burden of taxes, wealthy members of the Third Estate were frustrated in the privileges of the First and Second estate.
Louis XVI’s inability to solve France’s financial problems. Despite several attempts by Louis’ finance ministers to offer solutions to the problems facing France, none were accepted by the king. |
|Assignment 3.07 - Comparing Revolutions|
Use the information from this module and the sites provided to compare the English, French, and American Revolutions. In a short essay (600-750 words) note the similarities and/or differences in three areas:: political, economic, and social. Use the rubric provided to ensure that you submit a high quality essay. · For information comparing the American and French Revolutions click on