What Were the Causes of the French Revolution?
It is commonly stated that the attack on Bastille prison started the French Revolution. Bastille was a place where political prisoners were kept in France in the 18th century. When a mob attacked the facility on 14 July 1789, it is perhaps more accurate to say that this event marked the moment that the French Revolution mobilized. The feelings of anger, repression, and hatred for the throne had been growing among the French for a long time. Some of the underlying causes of the French Revolution were an unjust society, financial problems, and food shortages.
There were many things that made life in French society unpleasant for the majority. At least two of the underlying causes of the French Revolution directly involved money. In the 18th century, France was a country ruled by feudalism. One of the consequences of this was that there was no adequate financial control. As a result, France was developing substantial amounts of debt.
French society in the 18th century was divided into three estates. The first estate was composed of clergy, many of whom were rich and powerful land owners. The second estate was another privileged class that catered to the nobility, which usually included people who held the highest positions and levels of influence.
The third estate was composed of the common people. Some of them were wealthy, but they still lacked power and influence. Most of these people, however, were not wealthy. Yet, this estate was heavily burdened with tax, while the other estates often paid little or no taxes. Much of the money that was spent by the government was derived from these taxes paid by people who had no significant stake or influence in society.
The Enlightment can also be considered one of the causes of the French Revolution. The Enlightenment was a period when people began to realize that thought was not a violation of religion. While people were frustrated about the state of finances and other aspects of society, the popularity of philosophers who encouraged people to think about equality and freedom was growing. Those thoughts of freedom led to strong beliefs in liberty and inspired people to fight for those beliefs.
To aggravate matters, many people were hungry, which was one of the causes of the French Revolution. Agricultural problems had resulted in years of food scarcity that, among other things, had forced people to abandon their rural homes and head to Paris in search of food. Even once there, many remained hungry. Eventually, there was a bread shortage. As bread was a staple, for many, this was simply too much to bear.
In light of this, it is interesting to think of what the American Revolution might've been like if we had a similar society to France. Would we have eventually turned to a charismatic ambitious leader like Napoleon? I know that George Washington almost fit the bill, but he refused to be appointed "king" despite people's wishes.
One key difference between French and British/American society was that the latter had a considerable middle class which was free-thinking and influential. When the upper tier of British society slighted the "rustic" Americans by taxing without representation and sending Irish "lobsterbacks" to keep them in line, they naturally reacted strongly, and were enabled to rebel with a relatively short war.
In France, things were much different, and the revolution required a great and bloody societal upheaval.
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