The French Revolution was a political and social upheaval in France from 1789 to 1799 that brought about changes especially by overthrowing the French monarchical government and eventually resulting in establishing people republic in France.
Before the French Revolution, French social system was based on three social classes, that is the First Estate which comprised the clergy, the Second Estate which comprised the nobility, and the Third Estate which comprised 90% of the rest of the French citizens. In this system, the First and the Second Estate enjoyed social privileges such as exempted from paying taxes, while the Third Estate enjoyed no social privileges and paid all the taxes.
However, between the late 17th to 18th century, there was an intellectual revolution in France which historically tagged as the “Age of Reason” in which different intellectual scholars theorized and taught people intellectual issues about civil liberty and the ideal forms of government. Therefore, French and other people in Europe became enlightened about their social as well as political freedoms, and in turn made them earger for change. Therefore, by 1789, change in French people’s thinking about civil liberty have coupled with the deterioration of French economy which resulted in hardship among the citizens specifically the common citizens. Combingly, these issues made people despaired and willing to change the status quo.
Thus, in July 14, 1789, hundred members of the Third Estate stormed the Bastille Prison, hence the commencement of the French Revolution.
Causes of the French Revolution
Many scholars have confirmed the French Revolution to be solely caused by three main reasons as follows :
- Social Factor
For a very long time, French society was divided into three main social classes, which were the First, Second, and the Third Estate. In this system, the First Estate which members were the clergy, the Second Estate which members were nobles have possessed nearly all the land in France and also do not paid taxes. But, the lowest class which was the Third Estate comprised about 90% of French population were left with the burden of paying taxes to the King. Therefore, this brought about social resentment and enmity by the Third Estate towards the members of the First and the Second Estate.
2. Political Factor
In the French political system, the First and the Second Estates held much of the government and military top positions, and also have the higher number of representatives in the French Eststes-General Assembly more than what the Third Estate have. Therefore, members of the Third Estate became resentful of this and sought for change.
3. Economic Factor
By 1789, France as one of the richest countries in Europe became bankrupted. And the reason for the bankruptcy was due to its unnecessary expenditures of past wars which she engaged in as well as the cost of helping the Americans in their war of independence against Britain. These, coupled with the King Louis XVI’s luxurious lifestyle have emptied the French Government treasury. Therefore, this necessitated the King to increase the tax on the Third Estate.
Again, between 1787 to 1788, there was a poor harvests which caused reduction in food output, and this led to the inflation which worsened the economic situation. Also, despite this problem, King Louis XVI continued to demand full payments of taxes in order to cover his government expenses.
Therefore, these 3 main reasons have coupled with other social, political, as well as economic reasons forced the French common citizens to necessarily find a solution to their fates.
The Outbreak of the Revolution
The above aformentioned factors, made the members of the Third Estate to convened at the Versailles area on 20 June, 1789 and declared that they would not left until they drawn a constitution for France. But, the King sent army and dispersed them. Therefore, angered by the King’s action of dispersing them. On 14 July, hundreds of French common citizens in Paris stormed the Bastille prison and freed the prisoners inside. This incident became the starting point of the French Revolution.
From the incident of the Bastille prison onwards there was growing anarchy and disorder in France. Between 1789 to 1791, the members of the clergy and the nobility surrendered nearly all of their powers in order to cool the temper of the French Revolunaries, but it doesnt work, as they established new national Legislative Assembly in 1791 and the peoples Republic by abolishing the monarchy.
In 1793, King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette were captured and beheaded by revolutionaries. After King’s beheading, the French Revolution started taking shape into new dimension. Because, Revolutionaries were divided into 3 groups called the Gerondists, the Jacobins, and the Dantonists who disagreed on several issues until 1799, when a French army General called Napoleon Bonaparte seized the power. Napoleon Bonaparte established himself as the French Emperor at the expense of the Revolutionaries hardwork.
Even though, the French Revolution did not gave the French people a democratic government, but, it made the French people and other Europeans more conscious about their civil liberties and the sense of working together to achieve common goals.
French Revolution also, as the struggles for the emancipation of humanity, have played a significant role in given people their civil liberty not only in France, but in other parts of Europe. And became the plartform through which other subsequent civil struggles in Europe and other parts of the world were inspired by.