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The main cause of 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.

Source: Essay UK - http://www.essay.uk.com/coursework/the-main-cause-of-the-french-revolution.php



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