Causes, short term and long term impacts of the French Revolution
The Causes, Short-term and Long-term Impacts of the French Revolution
The French Revolution, which was an event that shaped European history, occurred from 1787 to 1799. This period was characteristic of the power and riches of the French monarchy under the authoritarian rule of King Louis XVI. The regime’s rule was typical of a feudalism system with the nobles and clergy, specifically, the Catholic Church enjoying preferential treatments while the peasants languished in an arbitrary social structure. Even so, the revolution demolished this system of government and was vital in institutionalizing a representative government, a constitution, and democratic space for all individuals. The modern world and many other revolutions traced their foundation on the French Revolution as it had a far-reaching consequence in Europe and America. For this reason, the causes, notable events, and impact of the revolution are vital in understanding its influence on the French History.
The monarch system of government in France was increasingly becoming unpopular among the population because of its arbitrary use of power and exponential privileges. The individuals in the King’s inner circle such as the nobility and clergy received preferential treatment unlike the rest of the population and this aspect breed resentment. There was also an increase in wealthy and prosperous commoners such as the manufacturers, professionals, and merchants who gradually weakened the feudal system and aspired to be politicians.
The peasants also were not left behind in the clamor for equality in the social structure, as many of them had improved their standards of living and attained education (Furet 8). This development inclined their desire to detach from the bondage of feudalism through acquiring the full rights to own land and freedom to increase their wealth. The higher standards of living among the population led to a massive reduction in adult mortality rate that ultimately reflected in the unprecedented increase of population that surpassed most European nations. Consequently, this created a high demand for food and problems of food scarcity became eminent. This shortage was coupled with high prices of consumer goods and massive crop failure that exposed the regime to a discontent and hungry population in dire need of a solution.
An emerging class of enlightened philosophers such as Voltaire, Turgot, Diderot Spinoza, Locke and Descartes through their intellectual writings catalyzed social, economic, and political reform arguments (Neely 62). The educated class piggybacked on this wave and spread the radical theories that criticized the feudal regime and pushed for an abolishment of prerogatives of the clergy and the nobles. Additionally, the aggrieved population demanded freedom of speech and a democratic government. The commoners also shouldered unbearable taxation through internal tariffs to generate income to an extent where France was categorized into regions that prevented the development of a unified market. For instance, the infamous Gabelle tax saw private collectors collect more tax than the government.
The collectors exploited this unequal tax system with more outrageous taxes such as the seigneurial and royal taxes imposed of the labors leading to serious opposition (Ross 13). The fact that this tax system excluded the clergy and nobles was enough justification for wage earners, peasants, and professionals to cause unrest. As with any system of government that does not apply austerity measures, the French monarchy mismanaged their finances, with Kings imposing arbitrary tax system that exploited the commoners.
Even worse, the Kings borrowed heavily and to some extent sold noble privileges and titles that barred the holders from future taxation. Extravagant expenditures on luxuries were characteristic of Kings such as Louis XIV, a trend that immersed France in heavy debt (Frey and Marsha 3). These factors coupled with the inability of the of the monarchy to contain the societal and political pressures made the majority of the aggrieved population disdain the regime and set the foundation for the bloody French revolution that dethroned the monarch system in France.
A notable event during the French Revolution was the Estates General meeting of 1789 that King Louis unwillingly summoned. The meeting was aimed at solving the dire financial crisis caused by the monarch. The Estates General each had one vote and comprised of the nobles, Catholic clergy, and the Third Estate, who represented the commoners. However, the Catholic clergy and nobility often annulled the Third Estate. The Third Estate did not attend the meeting because they feared the ruling class would forcefully turn the narrative of the financial crisis against them thus held a separated meeting where they took the famous Tennis Court Oath, never to relent on their clamor for social justice until a new constitution was written (Ross 17).
Another remarkable event was the fall of Bastille that housed political prisoners and symbolized the inhuman nature of King Louis XIV. The aggrieved majority, who were unemployed and angry Parisian, meted out their resentment and frustrations that led to the capture of the fortress and freeing of prisoners (Neely 75). The march to King Louis’s Palace was also a noteworthy event that pitted restless and hungry civilians, mostly women, against the ruling class. The crowd invaded Queen Maries Antoinette’s quarters, demanded food, and the King’s presence in Paris to witness the peoples’ suffering.
King Louis XIV and his family conceded to the crowd’s demands and accompanied the crowd back to Paris where they were condemned for their affluent lifestyle while letting the majority of the population anguish in poverty. The flight of King Louis XIV and his family to Austria was also a notable event but was received with anger and disgust because he had previously denounced the revolution. Unfortunately, they were recognized at Varennes thus the escape never materialized. The attempt to escape came on a backdrop of the new constitution that limited the King’s power, much to King Louis XIV disgust (Furet 64). This made the king very unpopular among the people he once ruled.
The impacts of the French revolution comprised of both long-term and short-term impacts. The short-term impacts included the Declaration of Rights of the citizen, the execution of King Louis XIV and Antoinette, the Reign of Terror, and Napoleon’s rise. In 1789, the National Assembly approved the Declaration of the Rights of the Citizen that upheld human rights of the citizens (Ross 23). This document was instrumental in promoting national cohesion in France. France abolished the monarchical system of government and was declared a republic by the National Convention on September 21, 1792.
This glory led to the arrest of Louis, who was found guilty of treason and guillotined in 1973 and consequently, led to Antoinette’s execution in the same year. From 1973 to 1974, the Reign of Terror, which was led by Maximilien Robespierre, executed radicals of the Revolution. Robespierre was at the helm of the National Convention that comprised the Committee of Public Safety tasked with implementing policies for economic growth and military might. Robespierre, however, arbitrarily institutionalized reforms that threatened the foundation of the National Convention and he was finally guillotined (Neely 24).
France, through the National Convention, saw the implementation of a new constitution in 1975 after Robespierre fall. The Directory was the ruler of the new government, but soon became mired in political conflict, financial and corruption problems. France needed a ruler and in 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte, a successful military leader, deposed the Directory, established the Consulate and became the First Consul. On the other hand, the long-term impacts of the French revolution were centered on the feelings of nationalism in the national state.
Napoleon established a fairer legal system for the clergy, peasants and wealthy, unlike previous regimes that implemented an unequal system (Frey and Marsha 73). Napoleon was seen as a Nationalistic leader and thinker of this era. Other European radicals questioned their systems of governments such as the monarch in Austria, and many conflicts and revolutions swept Latin America and Europe. The revolution also led to the emergence of the middle class that greatly influenced the French lifestyle and culture.
The French Revolution notably influenced and changed the French history with the events that saw the monarchical system of government replaced with a representative government. Some of the major causes of the revolution were the social conflicts between the peasants and the ruling class, the philosophical and political enlightenment, arbitrary taxation system, the debt crisis, and an ineffective King. Notable events in the revolution predominantly pitted the commoners who were unemployed, and angry against the ruling regime of King Louis XIV. Consequently, Louis and Antoinette were dethroned and later executed, and the country went through radical reforms both politically and socially. As with any revolution, many individuals lost their lives, but ultimately, a new democratic government, founded on justice for all, was established that would shape France’s history.
Frey, Linda, and Marsha Frey. The French Revolution. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2004. Print.
Furet, François. Interpreting the French Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981. Print.
Neely, Sylvia. A Concise History of the French Revolution. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. Print.
Ross, Stewart. The French Revolution. Austin, Tex: Raintree Steck-Vaughn Publishers, 2003. Print.