History Essay on Causes of French Revolution

Published: 2021-07-02
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Boston College
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Research paper
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The Revolution of 1789, also referred to as French Revolution, was a revolutionary movement that took place in France from 1787 and 1799, and reached its first peak in 1789 (Feldman n.pag.). The French Revolution has been linked to many causes. However, the Revolution is primarily due to deterioration in the economy and financial challenges, social and cultural changes, and Enlightenment.

The economy of France was thriving from 1730 onwards and was characterized by a rising productivity and vibrant foreign trade (Campbell 1). As a result of increasing population at that time, the benefits of the healthy economy was not felt by the citizens. At the same time, France witnessed a spike in consumerism and increased social mobility characterized by a rapidly growing population of affluent middle class. In 1778, the economy took a U-turn, and decreased economic growth began (Campbell 1). The economic downturn rapidly worsened in the late 1780s due to reduced grain and wine harvests and a commercial treaty. The peak of French economic downfall happened in 1789 and is widely accepted by many historians as the primary cause of revolutionary tension at that time (Campbell 1). Other historians believe that the tension was the cause of more political revolution that would not have succeeded without the increased disorderliness and involvement of the crowd (Campbell 1). Moreover, the financial crisis experienced by the French government is also associated with the Revolution. Even though the monarchy had experienced such monetary challenges before, the 18th century was characterized by high costs of wars. The country had a shortfall in revenue to sustain its global leadership as a superpower, even though some historians argue that the country had sufficient revenue but had deficient credit mechanisms (Campbell 2). The evidence is clear: a battered economy, followed by discontent among the citizens led to a revolt against the government.

The Revolution has also been found to have social and cultural roots. During the 18th century, France underwent social changes and heightened tensions. This period was characterized by unexplained expansion in social mobility and moveable assets. Consequently, there was a rise in privilege among the wealthy, which resulted in an increase in the population of the economically disillusioned leading to social divisions in the society. Individuals who lacked privileges of office and nobleness felt hurt, and new aristocrats resented the established nobilitys efforts stay more exclusive. Additionally, the voices of the poor were not heard in the government, while the nobles and the clergy had a big say. Moreover, the upper-class individuals owned most of the land, while the poor own little and were also heavily taxed leading to widening social class inequality. Because of this, the poor did not have a chance to move up the social ladder. The middle class felt more self-assured, especially in their privileges and merits. However, the socio-economically disadvantaged rural population exhibited increasing anti-seigniorial acts as well as attitudes. As a social issue, the widened social gap between the wealthy and the have-nots fuelled the revolution (Campbell 1). A widening gap between the rich and the poor spells doom for a government which does not want to ensure equal distribution of wealth among its citizens.

Cultural changes are also believed to have led to the Revolution. Specifically, a rise in luxury trade and availability of products from the New World, especially coffee and tea, resulted in a new wave of consumerism. The accessibility to an art exhibition, clandestine pamphleteering, periodicals, and walkways with newsmongers, among others, helped increase the public space for discussion of the problems bedeviling the country. Moreover, the Jansenist religious controversy resulted in the more politically enlightened Parisian bourgeoisie, and religious trials led to a public debate on the social injustice driven by the government (Campbell 1).

Lastly, French Revolution was also influenced by the Enlightenment (Hanson 119). The poor economic conditions and seemingly unconcerned government occurred when an intellectual movement, dubbed the Enlightenment, was taking shape. During this period, French philosophers conducted discussions in coffee and tea shops which included philosophical topics of politics and nature as well as those of logic and reason. Because of disgruntlement with poor governance, most of the philosophers and thinkers expressed their dismay towards the French government and leadership in their writing. Additionally, philosophers advocated for civil liberties and individuals rights to property ownership as first championed by John Locke. Towards the end of the 1780s, it became clearly evident that the American Revolution would be successful and was going to result in a democratic and inclusive government that embraced rights and liberties. This apparent American success became a source of motivation for many French philosophers who saw the American Revolution as applicable to their country. Moreover, the Revolution was helped by popular literature which voiced the anger of the general population towards the opulence and ineptitude of French government (Hanson 119). When the enlightened join political activism, the movement is unstoppable.

The French Revolution of 1789 is associated with three primary causes. These factors include the weakening of the economy and financial problems faced by the government, social and cultural shifts, and the growing Enlightenment movement.

Works Cited

Campbell, Peter. The Origins of the French Revolution Dr. Peter Campbell, University Of Sussex Keywords Liberal Democracy, Marxism, Political Cult., University of Sussex, 2006, webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache%3A_B6Dr6eZp1sJ%3Awww.port.ac.uk%2Fspecial%2Ffrance1815to2003%2Fchapter1%2Finterviews%2Ffiletodownload%2C38770%2Cen.pdf%2B&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&client=firefox-b-ab.

Feldman, Michael. Glad You Asked: Intriguing Names, Facts, And Ideas For The Curious-Minded. Chicago, Triumph Books, 2006.

Hanson, Paul. The A to Z of the French Revolution. Lanham, MD, Scarecrow Press, 2007.

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