The History of French Revolution

Introduction

The French Revolution had been considered one of the most striking revolts that took place during its time and up until now continues to be of interest to various historians. Unlike the English or American revolutions, this has larger effects in the 19th century and is considered more drastic.

The years of feudal domination and financial negligence which were attributed to the French society caused the revolt. During the late 1700s, Louis XVI hired financial advisers to evaluate and assess the condition of French treasury. Consequently, the same conclusion was given by each adviser: there is a need to change the way France taxed its public. On the other hand, it is also believed by some that the revolution was brought about more by political rather than social and economic factors.

No single factor could be attributed to the occurrence of the French Revolution, but the interplay of various political and economic circumstances lead the citizens to revolt against their rulers, leading to a massive change of the system in place during that time.

Causes

At the onset of the revolution, a dictatorial form of government where people could not voice out their rights or question against disparities within the imposed obligations such as taxes and benefits being distributed to them. The government of France at that time was no more autocratic or unjust than it had been in the past. But at this crucial time, the rulers were a huge factor in pushing the people more to fight against the system. Though good-natured, Louis was weak and uncertain with his decisions. He also lacked self-confidence. His young queen was worse. Marie Antoinette was a Hapsburg princess who was frivolous, interfering and indiscreet.

When he took the throne in 1774, Louis XVI tried to make peace with the elite opinion by recalling the sovereign law courts that his father had abolished. This resulted to France’s traditional unwritten constitution to backfire. When protest against him mounted at Versailles and in the Paris Parliament, Louis took the easy way out and dismissed his troublesome minister (Rempel).

The king then sought the assistance of a Protestant banker Jacques Necker from Geneva who had a reputation for financial wizardry. A shrewd man with a strong sense of public relations, Necker gained widespread popularity. To finance the heavy costs of France’s aid to the rebellious British colonies in North America, Necker avoided new taxes and instead floated a series of large loans at exorbitant interest rates as high as 10 percent. Short of a complete overhaul of the tax system, little improvement in royal revenues could be expected, and the public just bitterly resist any additional tax burdens that the monarchy was additionally imposing.

Facing bankruptcy and unable to float any new loans in this atmosphere, the King recalled the Parliaments and reappointed Necker after having tried several other ministers. He agreed to convene with the Estates General in May 1789 (Rempel).

Many considered that financial problems were the prevalent reason for Louis XVI to call a meeting of the Estates General on August 8, 1788. After all, his advisers decided to give in to pressures and summon the old medieval legislative body of the realm, the Estates General, which had not met since 1614. After a complicated and controversial procedure to select delegates, the Estates General convention opened at Versailles on May 5, 1789.

Both men and women all over the countryside drew lists of grievances they wanted their delegates to tackle and explain. After substantial controversy, the Estates General included a double representation of the Third Estate of commoners so that it will be made up of 300 First Estate or clerical representatives, 300 Second Estate or noble representatives, and 600 commoners. Enough delegates did so to force the king to reluctantly declare the National Assembly a reality (Fullerton).

A fight for power soon developed between a resurgent aristocracy and a rising middle class. The two both demanded support from the King. The King however managed to alienate both sides in that environment where peasants were turning against the aristocracy in the countryside and crowds were staging violence in Paris. Following immediately right after was the revolutionary legislation. France became a constitutional monarchy by 1792. This was the time when feudalism was abolished and liberal principles with Enlightenment thought were formally known. Lands belonging to church were confiscated and administration in the government was revamped. The country was absolutely at war internally with counterrevolutionary forces and externally with much of the rest of Europe (Fullerton).

Effects

The revolution put France on a more radical course. Louis XVI was executed so eventually the government was declared a republic. The real power was laid in the hands of the small Committee of Public Safety which attacked internal dissent through the Reign of Terror and external wars. This was done through national mobilization. The period ended with a return to a more moderate course in 1794 and 1795 largely known as Thermidorian Reaction.

A not so easy balance was maintained between forces clamoring for more radical policies and those wishing to return the monarchy until 1799 when the power was in the hands of the well-to-do middle class. This time Napoleon Bonaparte, France’s great military leader, rose to power by means of a coup d’état. He then became an Emperor in 1802 and had been a ruler of most European continent until he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo on June 15, 1815 (Rempel).

One of Napoleon’s most important military accomplishments was the invasion of Spain and Portugal in 1808 based on the outlook of Latin America. With the help of the British, the Portuguese Monarchy moved the seat of the Portuguese Empire to Brazil, setting the stage for Brazil’s political independence from Portugal and its long-term economic dependence on Great Britain (Rempel).

France in the eighteenth century became intellectually fermented as preceded by this political revolt. A lot of philosophers became noted. For decades the philosophers had attacked traditional beliefs, institutions, and injustices. They destabilized the confidence of believing that the traditional ways were the best ways. Nevertheless the philosophers were anything but revolutionaries. They did not question the fact that elites should rule society, but wished only that the elites should be more enlightened and more open.

Certainly, the Enlightenment had become respectable by the 1780s. Diderot’s Encyclopedia, a kind of intellectual establishment which was banned in the 1750s, was again printed in a less expensive format with approval of the government in the 1770s. Most of France’s 30 provincial academies learned societies of educated citizens in the larger towns had by that time been won over to the critical spirit and reformism of the Enlightenment, though not to its extreme secularism at times.

Among the younger generation, Rousseau who was considered a great cultural hero has his Confessions published posthumously in 1781 caused a great controversy. In that confession, he attacked the hypocrisy, conformity, cynicism, and corruption of high society’s salons and other aristocratic ways. Though he had not demonstrated this in his personal life, Rousseau came across in his novels and autobiography as the apostle of a simple, wholesome family life, of conscience, purity, and virtue. By himself, he was the great inspiration to the future generation of revolutionaries, but it never flowed from his pen the word revolution (Rempel).

Napoleon’s was also noted for his invasion of Spain and Portugal in 1808. With the help of the British, the Portuguese Monarchy moved the seat of the Portuguese Empire to Brazil, setting the stage for Brazil’s political independence from Portugal and its long-term economic dependence on Great Britain (Rempel).

Conclusion

The causes of the French Revolution are really difficult to pin down on just one based on the historical evidence that exists. But it was agreed and claimed that the revolution was a turning point that changed Europe forever. Towards the end French Revolution in 1815, Louis XVIII restored the Bourbon dynasty. The revolution had shaped powerful political culture wherein the people become to be the source of independence. However it took almost another century before men forged a working democracy based on universal manhood suffrage. And it was only in 1945 when women in France received the right to vote and remain significantly underrepresented in political institutions (Fullerton).

Reference

Rempel, Gerhard. The French Revolution 1. Web.

Fullerton. The French Revolution. Web.

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