The year 1789 brought France the biggest period of change she had or would ever experience. During the next ten year period, now known as the French Revolution, saw the overturn of and murder of Louis XVI, a time of chaos and much bloodshed, and the establishment of a new government that would change France forever. Many aristocrats were murdered during the Reign of Terror, and many leaders of the revolution themselves were murdered as the people continued to revolt. A new constitution was written and then another immediately followed as the Declaration of the Rights Man was proclaimed throughout the land. This time period ended when Napoleon Bonaparte became the first consul of France.
France Before the Revolution
Before the revolution, France was divided into three classes, or estates as they were called. The first two, the nobility and the clergy, received many privileges that the other classes did not. The third class was made up of merchants, professional people, the workers, and the peasants. This caused a major division between the classes and the third class was becoming very upset with the way they were being treated.
At this point in French history, the kings of France had believed that they were only responsible to God for the way they chose to rule. However, if they wanted to receive advice, they could ask a legislative body called the Estates General that contained representatives from all three classes. The problem was that the kings were not required to do this and had not done so since 1614.
The royal taxes were very heavy which drained all the money from the third class and was then used by the king to live luxuriously. The nobles also drained all of the money from their estates so that they could continue to live a rich lifestyle.
Causes of the Revolution
The Philosophers. The philosophers were brilliant men who wanted to reorganize the government and society on a basis of reason. They’re were some who thought that the English system of government was better while one man’s writings, Jean Jacques Rousseau, even influenced the writers of the United States Constitution.
Louis XVI Becomes King. Louis XVI became king when he was after his grandfather Louis XV died. The young king meant well for his country, but was inexperienced, immature, and not very intelligent in his dealings with government.
When Louis XVI came to the throne, there were some big problems in France, the main problem being money. He proposed some new government reforms to help raise money, but the nobility and clergy were not happy with them as well as the land tax that was proposed that exempted no one. Because of this, the nobility and clergy demanded that the Estates General meet.
Estates General Meets. The Estates General met in May of 1789. The third estate was given 600 representatives while the clergy and nobility were given 300 each to balance the power, but nothing had been said as to whether they would vote together or separately. In the past, voting had always been done separately between the classes. This had allowed the nobility and clergy to outvote the third estate.
Before the meeting, king Louis asked each body of representatives to send in their own list of complaints that were known as a cahier.
Many historians agree that had King Louis and his ministers proposed a good plan of reform to the meeting, the revolution could have been prevented. 1.The World Book. 1966 ed.
S.V. “French Revolution”
By William F. McDonald
Background and History of the French Revolution
2.The New Book of Knowledge. 1986 ed.
S.V. “French Revolution”
By Dorothy Marshall
History and Background of the French Revolution