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The French Revolution

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. All of the sub-factors relate with one-another, but are separate
in their own ways.


For centuries, the French noble was well set in society. He found
prosperity and security in the old regime, and all he had to do was pay homage
to the king, and provide the king with his services. This all came to a gradual
stop, however beginning with the loss of the noble’s power over their own land
at the hands of Louis XIV.1 This was the foundation of the revolte nobiliaire
in the fact that it formed a basis of mistrust, and anger for the monarch.2 In
that time the feudal system was still being practiced, so social status was
based on the amount of land you could attain. With no land, the nobles saw
themselves to be as common as the common folk. Even in their arrogance they saw
that they were losing power. The next blow to the pride of the nobles came from
Louis XV, who passed a bill to let wealthy commoners purchase prominent spots in
political and social positions. This event shows how corrupt and money hungry
the government had become, by letting anyone get high up in the political chain
just by feeding the gluttonous king. The next king, Louis XVI saw that the
majority of France (75%) was peasants and serfs. Consequently, to try to ensure
their happiness (and prevent the Revolution), he had the Estates-General
abolish the feudal system, in which they held no ranking.4 This made the
nobility extremely unhappy. With no feudal system, they no longer were much
higher up politicly than the commoners. The next noble atrocity came with Louis
XVI making the nobles pay taxes. Ever since the foundation of the monarchy, the
nobles and the clergy were exempt from paying taxes. The burden was left to the
commoners. But, with the deficit being so high and France supporting the
Americans in their war, something had to be done.5 This proved to be
unfortunate for the king, however, this proved to the straw that broke the
camels back. The nobles were sick of being treated like low-class peasants so
they formed their revolt. Now would be a good time to explain that the
Revolution was not just one Revolution, it was a “series of revolutions, very
different in their aims…”6 and subsequently the revolte nobiliaire began in
1787. It was a revolt limited to the aristocrats, however, because they wanted
to get all the power of France. It should also be said that not all the nobles
were against the king. The young nobles, and some of the old ones, who had not
yet gotten obscene on their own power still supported the king. These people
were called Royalists, and were beheaded for their faith. Before their own
selfish revolution, the nobles had lost so much power, that their economic and
political situation affected the other people in France, and led to the French
Revolution and remotely, the rise of the middle class.


In the obsolete practice of feudalism there is no middle class. The
simplicity is beautiful; there are the extravagantly rich and the woefully poor.

In the eighteenth century, the rise of a middle class (bourgeoisie) in France
proved to be too much change at one time. The middle class were the wealthy
land owners, the lawyers, the scientists, the writers and other such people in
society. Politically, the system had to change to accommodate them. The growth
of the middle class was originally stimulated by the commercial prosperity of
the post 1776 era, and it threatened the traditional established aristocraticy.7
They were getting more power in government, allowed to buy seats in legal
standings and generally getting as powerful as the nobles. Along with the
peasants, the bourgeoisie felt the burden of poor economic times in pre-
revolutionary France. Prices were rising but wages were not, taxes were steep
and this left the bourgeoisie angry toward Louis XVI whom they left responsible.

This led the middle class to gather up the less educated peasants on a quest for
a better government, which they wanted to be a major factor of. Unlike the
American Revolution where everyone was fighting for a noble cause, everyone in
France had there own reasons for sticking their neck out. This includes the
bourgeoisie who fought because of economic difficulties and hope for a better
political standing, but the only group that could be partially excluded from
this rule are the peasants.


The peasants had their own simple, non-deceptive reasons for fighting.

That had terrible economic and somewhat political problems. Heavy grape
harvests meant bad times for wine making, and since wine was made throughout the
country, this was devastating. The price of wine fell by 50%, and therefore the
peasants got less money and subsequently poorer.8 The next to fall was grain
prices. Combine the fact that grain was scarce in France at the time and there
were heavy tariffs for imports, and you get a bad grain economy. The grain
harvests in France had collapsed a few years earlier and that is why the
situation was so desperate. All of this meant that the French common person had
nothing to fall back to when there was no income. The standard of living
dropped and there was a consequent famine. Also, to contribute to the massive
famine the population was growing faster that the food supply. Combine all
these factors with the fact that the peasants (like everybody) were being
heavily taxed, and you get people who are going to easily manipulated by a more
ambitious group: namely the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie would use the peasants
as little puppets in their game for more power and control over the aristocrats.

The peasants were suffering political problems as well. For hundreds of years,
they were being represented in parliament by one vote. That doesn’t look bad
when there are only three votes, but then you see that the country is made up of
a 75% peasant population. The result is an outcry for better representation
that would make the peasants more eager to revolt if the time should happen to
come. Mostly, in the eighteenth century, all peasants really had to worry about
was the farm crops, or other such things, but at the time of the French
Revolution the peasants were affected by economic and political factors; and
also a changing, weakening monarchy.


In the feudal system, a kingdom is only as strong as its king.

Unfortunately for eighteenth century France, Louis XVI wanted a more equal and
democratic nation. He would see that people would not be swayed from tradition
easily, however. When they saw that he gave up much of his power in the name of
equality, they pounced on him. In the beginning, Louis XVI was an absolute
ruler, he was the highest authority.9 But, as the years progressed he saw that
the rights and privileges were to be retained by the provinces, towns, corporate
bodies and the nobility. This equal spread of power left himself out of the
equation. Additionally, the legal and administrative system could be brought to
question by anyone. It used to be that the monarch was untouchable. Seeing as
how Louis was to get his head chopped off, that resolution may not have been a
good idea. To make things even more equal and just, the commoners had one of the
three votes his Estates-General. This meant fair representation, but it also
meant that the nobles were upset with their decline of power and the commoners
wanted more of their new-found power. All of these ideas seem to be good ones,
but ones that would, and did harm his position. One evidently bad move was to
heavily tax everyone. The peasants were already heavily taxed, so they were then
brought to famine, the nobles were never taxed before and consequently
disgruntled and the middle class just did not like it. If Louis XVI were alive
today he would probably be a good politician-too bad the people were not ready
for him in 1789.


Historians have argued for centuries over what started the French
Revolution: some say economics, some say politics some say the change of social
structure. The only logical answer, then is that it was a little (or a lot) of
all three, resulting in the decline of nobility, the rise of the middle class,
the anger of the peasants and the fall of monarchy.