By Michael Johnathan McDonald
Little Ice Age, did this have anything to do with
• The French revolution is like none other.
There are three types of Revolutions
1. Coup d'etat, where authority changes hands violently but without greatly
altering the nature of the government.
2. National revolution, where a region or colony fights to detach itself from
authority of an outside political center without usually altering the internal
3. The big social revolution, where a complete breakdown of the old institutions
occurs, government and social control are altered decisively. Followed by a
distinctive process of violent and painful events lasting some 10 to 20 years
before adequate authority and order are restored. E. g. English, French,
Russian, Chinese, Poland and Iranian revolutions.
Most believed that revolutions are caused by suppression of the people. Not
great social revolutions. They are not caused by misery, but hope fro progress.
As for France this was the case. People believed that France was starving at the
time of the revolution, this is not the whole truth. It is true that there was a
famine, but there was enough food at the time to feed the people.
All revolutions have causes. Many have started for a long time before violence
breaks out. Sometimes revolutions brew for 100 years before the breakout.
Usually festering problems persist, persist, and persist. People want change and
a chance to progress and old ways are outdated and a facing off of change is
• There are two timeframe causes of revelations: The long term and the short
The long term causes
To begin, the long term causes that propelled France to the reign of terror, we
first look back to King Louis XIV extravagant lifestyle, as an idea—a mindset--
that placed France into extreme debt. We call this the a national debt.
The other main key is that people outlived the need for separate classes. To
understand this two classes did not pay taxes and only one class foot the front
of al the national tax. This is unfair and shows inequality - a thought process
encompassing Europe at the time of the Enlightenment age.
Another key is that the government is ineffectual to solving its problems. For
France, it was how the government needed to address the national debt. It cam to
a point that if the king dd not address the problem, then France would go into
bankruptcy. Also, when you do not pay down the debt, it doesn't solve anything,
the debt only becomes bigger. This was the case for the king who followed Louis
There were three stages of classes of the French: 1. The Clergy who made up 2%
of the population, The Nobles who made up 2% of the population and the commoners
who made up 96% of the population. There were two branches of the clergy. the
higher class, the sons of the nobility. The other branch, the lower clergy, were
the perish priests.
In light of the rest of Europe moving into the enlighten age, France was the
last one to give up the old ways. France held on to old medieval culture (
Feudalism) longer than other countries - the pot literally boiled over.
We will look at the noble sons who inherited all the plush land ( The best of
the farming land). The first born son of a noble gets these plush lands. The
second son gets the plush higher-clergy job, and the next sons get higher-
clergy jobs etc...So the nobles are born into wealth and do not pay any taxes
and play and do not work all the time. At the time of the philosophe [spelled
correctly]were creating the new thoughts of equality of men and women and the
right to private ownership of land for everyone.
Churches owned about 10% of the land, yet it was the best land in France. The
Clergy did not get paid by the Church, they just got large bulks of land and
supported by the taxes of those lands from the commoners. They made big bucks.
Nobles got plush jobs in government. Both the clergy and the nobles did not pay
taxes. On the other hand the commoners have no private land and pay all the
taxes. This was a triad of population that can still be remembered by the three
stripes on the modern French flag. For instance India had a similar class
This mid evil social system was unfair. These philosophes made the other
countries around France perceive the changing social tides. They moved slowly in
the direction of giving the commoners more and more personal control over their
own destinies. France did not. This was the pot boiling and boiling til it burst
- the French Revolution.
The commoners hade no privileges. They were the privilegeless class. The break
up of the 96% population of the common middle class was 5% were the traders and
merchants and business owners who could make more money than a few nobles, but
the bulk of 91% were living in poorer circumstances. It was the middle class
that was most progressive of France. They wore good clothes and had good houses.
Also, there were nobles and clergy who were interested in the Enlightenment.
In political life, the nobles and clergy could have their say (vote) it was the
commoners who did not have a voice. More reason that this was unfair. The
reforms came out of the Enlightenment period and thus fueled the flames for
progress. In feudal society’s progress is almost non existent as proven in the
South America's 200 years of feudal control by the Church who looked that way
for money and control of money as Europe changed later on.
All these causes will become more aggravating as England and other countries
slowly change and France remains that same.
The monetary sides of France were dealing with a mountain of debt and as well
were over in North America trying to stake claim to all of the western United
States. From the west of the Mississippi westward the French built fortresses.
In the Caribbean Islands they built trading colonies to sell sugarcane and
tropical products for a good profit. This helped out bring in money to slowly
pay off the debt. But the English were in contention with France who also had
trading colonies in India. The conflict brew until England declared war on
France and this was the start of the Seven Years War. In America we call it the
French Indian American war. In 1757-63 the whole world knows this significance
of this war. It was the first world war, not because it fought by almost every
country, but, in that it was fought on all sides of the Earth. In India, Europe,
Caribbean, Canada and N. America. This war of France and Britain was a big war
and the French Lost adding more troubles to their economy. France lost the war
in all areas of the world. France had to give up all their Caribbean colonies,
but were allowed to hold on to two small colonies. In India, France had to give
up all its trading colonies and business with the Indians and were aloud to keep
one small seaport town. Both sides used Indian Mercenaries. The English were
better at navigating the oceans and had advanced equipment that could tell them
exactly were they were on the planet.
1763 was the Peace agreement that France had to recognize its defeat. Another
place they were aloud to keep was a rocky coastline off of New Finland Island
for fisherman; otherwise they were out of the global game. France lost its
pride. They lost in America as well, and would join the Americans in their fight
for independence many years later as a type of revenge on the British. Also in
the mix was that France lost its prestige. They wanted it back and helping
American patriots did it for them.
One thing about all of France loosing their monitory gains was that the war
itself cost them allot of money. All of this aggravation gears the wheels of
revolution, spinning fast and faster at home for them to seek reforms. America
makes independence and the French see this as an opportunity to do something in
their own place.
When America proclaimed independence it was the people who were enlightened that
help out in the reforms. It was the troops who recognized this the most.
In 1778 Lious XV dies (The one who didn't want to pay the debt down created by
Louis XIV) who parties all the time. Louis the XVI takes over and he was not
very aggressive. He was not Brutal, but he believed in Absolute Monarchy. Yet,
he didn't push the absolute thing to the level that the Stuarts did in England.
He was not hated by the people at this point. Not when he first came into
office. He was not an effective leader. This is one of the key issues on keeping
your public happy so they d not rebel against you. One of the major mistakes
that Louis had was when the revolution first breaks out he was hesitant to do
anything and the people saw this as a weak leader (Capet).
The Short Term Causes
Commoners see Louis XVI indecisiveness in ruling, They start to look down upon
him. Louis finally says " Lets pay down the national debt." He did this at a
time when it was a little too late. He finds a Swiss banker named Necker, and
makes him a noble ( Only nobles could hold positions of governmental offices).
He becomes the minister of finance. He comes up with a proposal and says that
the only way to pay down the national debt is the nobles would have to start
paying their fair share of the taxes. The French national Product was greater
than Britain at this time but the money was just mismanaged. Louis tells Necker
to come up with a different solution. So he does but says if commoners pay
anymore taxes now then they already are they will start a rebellion.
The Noble French men here about Necker and say “No way are we going to pay
taxes. It is our heritage not to pay them." Necker say, “Well just pay a
moderate tax and everything will be fine." In history if the nobles did this
they would have saved their class. This would not happen as hardheaded people do
these silly things. At first Louis tells Necker he has a great idea. After a
leak to all the Nobles about this plan they up rise against the king. The nobles
were about to deep six the king. The King has to fire Necker and hires a French
nobleman to figure out a way to down the debt. at first (1787) he does nothing.
After traveling all over Europe and making an investigation on what he can do,
he comes back and reports to the King saying Necker was right. "This is the only
way to pay down the debt. You know what ... Necker was right." Now the nobles
see that if they make an outcry it the bankruptcy would be blamed on them. So
they figure out a way to play a trick on the commoners. They say " we will pay
our taxes as long as the French people vote on it. You would think this is a
done deal, being that the commoners have 96% of the population of France.
“Lets call an Estates General" Here at the Estates General each of the estates
gets a vote. Clergy gets one and the nobles get one and the commoners get one.
Now seeing that the Clergy and Nobles do not pay taxes and would vote against
the measure, the commoners cry out. Now the commoners got two votes. They get no
where. So they all decided to elect representatives like England did for their
parliament and have them vote. The idea of this proposal was that the Estates
General would represent the people. Lets ask the people " should we pay or not?"
The Estates General played the representative risk. Louis agrees and the people
see the unfairness, and this means he was stupid. In 1614 is the last time the
Estates General met during Henry of Navarre reign, who himself earlier was a
Huguenot . Estate General gathering, in which he dismantled it, was the last
time they met. So for 200 years France did not see this system. Things had to be
worked out. 1788 elections were held and all the three branches get their people
in. Commoner vote for the middle class people who some were cosy with the
nobles, yet some of the clergy that were voted in were attuned the enlightenment
and so were some of the nobles. Still the "X" number of votes were worked out
giving the commoners about the same degree of latitude as the clergy and nobles.
So the clergy tried to buy off some of the middle class commoner votes and so
did the clergy. These were political technicalities.
1788 elections are held and a hall is built at Versailles. The discussion of
taxing the nobles begins and everything is calm. In the spring of 1789 delegates
start arriving to get lodging and to get ready. " Its a golden opportunity to
reform France," some said.
Its a different atmosphere as the commoners meet with nobles and clergy all at
once and ones who were deep into the enlightenment made some marks on the
unbelievers. So sympathies range from one class to the commoners (Clergy/Nobles
to Commoners). Now the discussion of seating and votes were the main sticking
point. It was obvious who was going to vote for what. So nothing happened. Then
the Nobles said lets all vote separately and come back and compare votes. This
way each group comes out with a yes or a no. Thus the nobles and clergy would
win because they had a 2/1/ margin. But commoners said lets all vote together
and count each vote individually. This way the vote would be closer. So, all in
all, nothing came of it. No one could agree on the procedures. So a deadlock
happened in May. No one agrees and this spills into the first half of June.
Still deadlocked. Louis is frustrated and the delegates of the commoners pull a
rabbit out of the hate. They decide to issue the public a notice of what is
going on. This shows the two higher classes in a bad light. " We representatives
of the French people, claim we are the national assemble of France." This blew
away the nobles and clergy who saw this as treason. The commoners just took the
rug out from under the arrogant nobles and clergy. In a compensation move the
commoners said that any clergy and noble wants to come into their group can.
This was insult to injury.
This was the first revolution move.
“We want a new constitution," commoners said. The nobles said “let’s march them
to the guillotine. Louis held back and does not order the troops and waits.
Joseph Ignace Guillotin: French physician and politician, born May 28, 1738,
built a device for execution. Louis XVI said before that there would no more be
tortures before death. So he was looking for a cleaner faster way to execute
people. At first the blade of the device was rectangle. It did not do the job
correctly as the blade did not go through the persons neck the first drop from
up high. So the body was in pain and wiggling and it took about two minuets to
reattach the position of the weighted blade to drop and finish the job. Louis
XVI , the ineffectual king, was a good engineer. He was the one to fix the
problem by slanting the angle of the blade to its form now seen in books. Louis
said, " The blade should not look like chop, but like a slicing blade." This did
the job the first time. This was defined as a "machine that beheads painlessly".
This uniform method of executing was to replace the inhumane methods such as
burning, mutilation, drowning, and hanging.
The Revolution Begins
The old regime tries to balance the budget with no success. This leads to the
Estates General which leads to the Commoners declaring their group is in Frances
June 17, 1789; Delegates of the third estate (Commoners) say join us to write
the constitution. This was a revolutionary step. Louis still doesn't do
anything. The third estate takes the authority for themselves in creating a new
France. Louis waits three days as the nobles hound him to take military action
against the third estate. The National assembly (Commoners new title fro group)
call for a meeting at a well known place in Paris. When they get their the kings
guards are waiting there and locked them out of the building. The gather in the
street. They express surprise and irritability all at the same time. They insist
on having their meeting. So they see a tennis court across the street and decide
to go over there and have the meeting.
June 20, 1789 Tennis Court Oath
With hands over their hearts and pledging oaths the commoners declare to
themselves " we will meet and continue until we get a new constitution." They
were not joking around either. Now Louis is in trouble and people are against
him. Then the nobles tell Louis, send in the troops. But Louis does not want to
cause trouble. Louis still thinks like most of the middle are dysfunctional
illiterates and cannot form rational thoughts. The nobles and clergy think the
commoners cannot think and are stupid. “I know commoners can't think like kings
and nobles," Louis said. " They will bog down in total disagreement and they
will see that the absolute Monarchy is the best government to have."
Meanwhile, no riots have started yet and summer is coming on and it is hot and
there is hope in the air. At this time there are about one million people in
Paris. There were about 600,000 of them were day laborers. Those of them stood
out in the street and looked for jobs. It is like the illegal aliens who stand
out in the streets of America. With this in mind, there are all kinds of
political agitators out in the street and they are on their soapbox. July 14 a
mob forms. “Political prisoners need to be released and are healed in the
Bastille." This was a common place to hold political dissenters, who were held
without warrant. It was a hated place. It was place of oppression and it was
wrong. "Let them all out," screamed the crowed to the guards. But the commander
of the Bastille stood firm. He waited for the troops from the king. Louis hears
that the place is besieged. "What shall we do," said the messenger to the king.
“Take troops and break the crowed up," the king said. Now there is a real
confrontation. When the troops arrive they see the crowed and pause. “No way I
can fire on my own French people." said many of the troops. Some troops joined
the rebellion (Commoners). After the head commander see this he raises the white
flag and the total of seven people being held in the Bastille come out.
Ironically the people that were held there, at that time, were not political
dissenters, but thieves, robbers, and safe crackers. It didn't matter it was the
spirit of the operation. This symbolized the old regime. The commoners made this
day the National Independence Day of France ( July 14th). They changed their
calendar and counted year one after this day. This is 10 days after the
Americans celebrate their national day of independence.
Now the spirit spreads to the countryside and commoners take up burning down
noble’s houses and things and put them on the run. Some nobles went to the
notary and denounced their privileges and became a commoner. Some nobles were
killed. Other nobles saddled their horses and fled to other countries to garner
support by their kings to mount a counter-revolution on the commoners. Some
nobles take horses to the coastline and jump on ships headed for England.
The nobles that fled to other countries and tried to stop the French Revolution
were called "émigrés".
Meanwhile the commoners are working on a new constitution, but first they
understand that they need a declaration of independence. Just like America who
had their Declaration of Independence stating the reasons why they are changing
governments, so had France to go through the same procedures. They called theirs
"The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen." Most of the content was
based on Locke and fraternity. You see the commoners wanted the nobles and
clergy to be brothers instead as enemies in the feudal ways. This document
called for Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, because they had class separation.
1. This document was created, accepted, and then published.
2. The formal (in December) was doing away of all feudal rights.
3. Many nobles take fancy names, but give up titles.
4. By October the Assembly comes up with major reforms.
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