A number of major wars had taken place in the forty years leading up to the revolution. France used to always participate in the war and King Louis had to invest a lot of money in wars and the weapons. All this money came from the taxes paid by the 3rd estate. For example: the war with British: in 1756 the French fought with the Americans against British. This caused the government run low on money at a time when prices were high. This contributed to the overall causes leading up to the revolution because it outraged the peasants to be so burdened that they could not afford to eat. On top of that they had failed crops which further increased the price of the essential commodities. All this lead to unrest and food riots.
In 1700, the price of essential things increased so much that the wages of the workers could not match with the price of the commodities. So the families could not afford food and other basic necessities with such low incomes. This is long term causes which lead to French revolution as there was a lot of discontentment among the masses.
In 1787-88, the harvests were very bad due to very severe cold winters. Thousands of people suffered because there was not enough food. Angry mobs gathered in the streets. The women played an important role in the French revolution as these poor women of Paris marched to the king’s palace at Versailles to demand bread for their hungry children. This is one of the short term economical causes of revolution.
Burden of New Taxes:
In order to create funds for the war and to buy the weapons, the King Louis XVI kept on increasing the taxes which further added burden on the third estate as discussed in the other section. This lead to French revolution as the poor peasants could not cope up with theses taxes and could not do anything about it as they had no voice. They wanted to have a say in as to how the country should be run.
Estates of Realm
The First Estate:
the first estate mainly consisted of clergy. This was the Roman Catholic Church. They were the 0.3% of France’s population and owned about 10% of the land. On top of that, they didn’t pay taxes even thought they were one of the wealthiest people of France. The peasants paid 10% of their salary only to the Archbishops, Bishops and Abbots. The leaders of the clergy, bishops lived like nobles. The first estate contributed to the revolution but it was a short term cause. The Clergy took advantage of the fact that the king was so indecisive and non-judgmental. They thought that they could gain power by helping and advising the king when he would reach a dilemma. The greed for power contributed to the revolution because then the other estates wanted power as well.
The Second Estate:
The second estates were aristocrats. They made up 1.5% of the population and owned 20% of the land. They didn’t pay taxes either. They often ordered peasants to work on their land and made them pay to use the mills. They were given control over other villages. They were hated by both the estates. They were hated by the first estate because the aristocrats had control over more land. They were well of and wealthy and on top of that they didn’t have to pay any taxes. Aristocrats were hated by the peasants because they used to be used as slaves. The second estate contributed to the revolution because they refused to help King Louis by not paying the taxes especially during 1787 when the money was needed to fund the war against the British. The second estate did not help King Louis XVI to bring about reforms in the taxation system. In 1783, Charles de Calonne (Controller General of Finance) suggested that the nobility should also pay the taxes. The nobility refused to cooperate which further increased the economic problems of France.
Unfair taxation and the Third Estate:
The 3rd estate made up 98.2% of the population. The 3rd estate consisted of middle class and peasants. There were lawyers, doctors, bankers, soldiers, merchants, priests, artisans, urban workers and peasants. The majority of the third estates were the peasants. They owned little land. They used to be abused by the first and the second estates. They used to call the poorest members of the third estate sans-culottes. It was a term created by the French in 1790 to describe the poorest members of the thirst estate because they wore pantaloons instead of the more in fashion clothes. The taxation system prevalent in France was faulty as the poorest were forced to pay the maximum taxes. The 3rd estate comprising of mainly the peasants had to pay 1/10 of their salary to the church. This was known as “tithe’. There were many other taxes that they also had to pay. They paid the “taille” which was a sort of income tax. They had to pay “Seigneurial’ to the local landlord, or lord of the manor.
These taxes were known as “feudal dues”. For example; the landlord would charge peasants heavily to use his mill to grind corn. Corvee (work tax) was paid for few days each year. Peasants had to work hard for the upkeep of local roads. Gabelle was a tax on salt. There was tax on salt since it helped to preserve food and “Aide” was a tax on bottle of wine. The third estate weren’t paid sufficiently and they had to pay so many different taxes. The revolution took place because there was unfair taxation. The poorest community of France was paying high taxes for multiple reasons. They paid taxes so that the aristocrats can live a lavish life. They paid taxes to fund the war. They paid taxes to save the economy of the country.They are the real heroes of the French revolution because they were the ones who took the first action which was known as the beginning of the French revolution. Because the peasants wanted new constitution, the trigger took place. They wanted power that’s why they took over the king and gained power.
Population increase lead to the French revolution although it was a short term cause. The population increased dramatically in the 18th century. This caused peasants to become landless . This also meant that there was shortage of resources as they didn’t have surplus due to the poor harvest. Due to this reason the capable families worked really hard in order to feed their families and be capable of paying the taxes. This caused the revolution because it made the peasants want more land, money and power.
Influence of the Enlightenment on the French Revolution
The enlightment was a period of revolution; a time where there was a major shift in the way the people thought. People began to question, investigate, reason and find the logic behind the theories. They were confident as they were going against the church / questioning the church, and who ever did that was executed. The enlightment affected areas like POLITICS, ARTS, LITERATURE, SCIENCE and last but not the least RELIGION. People started having secular thoughts. People started becoming open-minded and were ready to accept the change. They made their own laws and customs and adapted reality. Due to this the people became more knowledgeable New political ideas were evolved which lead to a new view of a government. The government system changed. People wanted to have representatives government not one person ruling the country. They wanted to change their form of government form absolute monarchy to democracy. All the citizens wanted to share power. More universities and book were made. This also gave people a better sense of equality. There was a desire to change the society. The philosophers often gathered in Paris and other European cities. They discussed politics, science and society. They changed their ideology. They believed in secular thoughts, “SOCIAL CONTACT “and the “GENERAL WILL”. Social contact was a deal with people for the good, the right to elect, impeaching a president (anyone who has power) and general will was that people should have a right to choose their ruler. These ideas and thoughts lead to the French revolution as the people of France became more aware of their rights and freedom and liberty.
Tennis Court Oath
Demands and The tennis court oath:
This was the trigger and led to the revolution. Louis XVI tried to prevent the national assembly from writing a new constitution by locking them out of their meeting rooms. However, they gathered in an indoor tennis court. There they took an oath not to disband until they had written the constitution. This was a major event which started the revolution because we can see that the people have gone against the king because he didn’t let the people make laws and regulations. This also indicates that the citizens desired change badly that is why they took this action and took the oath that they will make a new constitution. The third estate declared themselves as the national assembly. There were three main demands of the peasants. The first one was that the peasants wanted Necker to return and become the finance minister as they knew that he would sort out the monetary issues. Secondly, they wanted new constitution, rules that would give the king less power and give the third estate a voice in the running of France. Their last demand was that they wanted to rule the country as they made the majority of the population.
In conclusion, we can say that there were numerous causes which lead to the French Revolution out of which, most of them were economical. The revolution was imminent because the third estates were treated badly since they were abused, treated like slaves and paid heavy taxes when they couldn’t afford it. They didn’t have power either. The French revolution brought a sense of equality among the citizens of France and everybody shared power. All the causes of the French revolution are interconnected because one issue leads to a anther and piles up. And when all the causes pile up it becomes a burden and there is no way out, hence the majority wins and there is a new beginning. Like in this case, all the causes just piled up. When king Louis had no way out the wheel turned causing the majority to win, in this case the peasants and there was a new beginning. There was a new form of government, sense of equality and everybody had equal power. The political factors lead to the economical factors.