The French Revolution Research Papers Examples
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As it is with any notable historical event, there exists a causal and effect representation of everything pertaining to the periods before and after said development based on authentic records on the era. The French Revolution is no different because the sole purpose of an upheaval is to voice grievances and even take up arms to bring the necessary changes, France underwent such modifications. Accordingly, the intentions of the French Revolution were to fight against the ruling of the existing Monarch, making its causes mainly political, cultural, economic, and social. Commoners instigated the revolution to destroy the existing social hierarchies that guaranteed other people with more privileges at their expense. As it was, peasants and ordinary workers toiled heavily only to pay exuberant taxes that catered for the lives of the rich and authoritative figures in the state. Therefore, to curb such instances and promote genuine equality, those of the inferior class had to destroy the powers held by the middle class and the monarch. Hopes of progressing up the social ladder from their pitiful states fueled the people's determination to revolutionize the country and its ideals in all spheres of interaction. For this reason, the people sought to disband the existing monarch and penetrate the government to influence change from the peak of the society. A good illustration is the fact that the taxation system needed renovations to ensure all working class persons paid tax and in the production sector, profits were to go to rightful owners. Only those in the government could impose such changes. Nonetheless, such facts make it apparent that the revolutionists realized the unfair treatment of the government-imposed policies that only served to benefit the elite at the expense of the majority poor. For that reason, the French Revolution was not an issue of the poor seeking to gain fast riches, but rather, one in which the people fought for equality among all citizens. Thus said, this paper aims to determine the conditions that prompted the French Revolution and the outcomes of the era before comparing it to the American Revolution.
Prior the French Revolutionary War, King Louis XIV was in power and his antics, especially participating in wars that did not involve France, cost his realm a lot of money. Poverty had long existed among most of the French populace, but the increasing demand for funds because of the Monarch’s incompetence angered the people who were steadily considering overthrowing the rulers. The wars were unnecessary and only served to increase the poverty margin. The most affected were of the lower class while the rich and powerful still lived in luxury. A good illustration is Queen Marie Antoinette whose lavish expenditures did not suffer from the increasing national debt. In fact, the reigning queen earned the name “Madame Deficit" by the people because of her costly love for "gowns, jewels, gambling, and gifts" amid her peoples' suffering. Hence, amid talks of other countries fighting for social and political change, particularly the newly formed United States of America, the French followed suit. In tandem, France established associations with other countries that introduced a new set of doctrines that combined, initiated thoughts of revolting
The deplorable situation of France’s economy did not happen overnight; rather, the decline of its finances and the increase of its national debt took place gradually. Foremost, Louis “inherited a considerable debt from previous kings” and, as mentioned above, he was an incompetent leader meaning the financial insecurities only increased. Secondly, the French borrowed a lot to aid the Americans in their Revolutionary War, an action that not only reinstates the king's failures but the unfairness of the situation to the commoners. The circumstances were not always as bad, on the contrary, as of 1730; the country’s financial system was doing well because of foreign trade and the increase in productions by the people. An excellent example of the good fortunes is the “free trade in corn proclaimed in September 1774” to allow farmers the right to sell their produce privately without interference from the Lord of the Manor. However, by 1778, the tide changed with the introduction of consumerism. Apparently, the people adopted different habits that later became a necessity within the households, Parisians alone consumed two and a half million pounds of coffee per year. Consequently, more products became a necessity for the French and with time, inability to purchase any of them automatically dictated poverty. In other words, the people no longer gauged poverty based on the lack of basic needs alone but considered luxury as well.
While all that was happening, social classes emerged, and people began regarding each other based on wealth statuses, a fact that encouraged social mobility with a majority aiming for the middle or higher classes. Expectedly, not all of the citizens managed to acquire enough wealth for the desirable rankings, leaving most in poverty with peasantry lifestyles. In the late 1780s, the country’s economy suffered a devastating blow after failing rains that caused poor harvests. Corresponding with the same notion is Whittock, who reckons that between "1788–89 the price of grain was very high due to a bad harvest, and there was a shortage of food.” Consequently, the people were finally aware of the dire situation in which the country was because of the tactless rulers. Although the economy did not outrightly cause the revolution, it certainly played a significant role in the same.
As mentioned above, social mobility redefined the French societies and, as a result, bitterness ensued among those that could not acquire a high status for one reason or another. Under the French regime, “the people of France were divided into three broad social classes or estates.” The First Estate encompassed the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church while the Second and Third Estates were for the noble born and the poor respectively. Expectedly, the Third Estate held a majority of the citizens who wallowed in poverty while the two upper Estates belonged to a mere three percent of all the people. Otherwise dubbed the Privileged Estates, the two upper classes held rights to offices and did not pay taxes but gave two percent of their total earnings to the government. On the other hand, there existed the third class holding ninety-seven percent of the total population in which was the bourgeoisie and the destitute. The bourgeoisie were the principal proprietors of the revolution because, despite being learned and even wealthy, they still lacked privileges and paid high taxes to the government. Accordingly, government offices became family properties and only available to the privileged lot in the societies. People that quickly possessed offices or statuses of nobility angered the commoners who depended on hard work for survival. In addition, there were instances of the bourgeoisie shunning the rest of the Third Estate because of their higher learning and naturally better financial states. The insistence of maintaining social classes worked well for those within the upper ranks, however, among the peasants their bitterness escalated in the years leading to the Revolution. Hence, at the dawn of the revolution, the conditions played a significant role in their stand against the monarch.
The peoples' culture in France transitioned to adopt new ideologies from the countries with which they interacted through trade, tourism, war, and even literature. Through trade, extravagant goods made their way into French markets and quickly became part of the peoples' traditions. The most prominent imported merchandise was coffee from America and the opened cafés that served the hot beverage became a customary point of socialization. On the other hand, a saleable form of culture made its way into the markets written on paper. From periodicals to written plays, France underwent a “reading revolution” where the people got see a different world through the eyes of the authors. Apparently, just as “regular troops are much more dangerous than a militia to the independence of nations” the writings introduced a depravity to public opinion. Evidently, during speeches, facts are a necessity for proving made points. However, when written and distributed on paper, the authors can make baseless claims that the people will readily believe. If current societies are anything to go by, one can safely argue that the cafes and written depictions against the monarch provided an avenue for discussions among the disgruntled French people. Hence, such spheres aided in gathering the masses and provided an avenue through which the public finally decided on a revolution. Religion was also part of the French’s culture, and controversies over religious elders and trials ignited talks of social injustices. Again, by 1789, the people already knew the side for which they fought and were undoubtedly ready for the revolution because of their dissatisfaction with the monarchy.
Finally, yet importantly, when the people began to question the country’s political order and the powers held by the upper social classes, those in authority faced a crisis following a division of ideologies. Enlightenment encouraged the population to question hierarchies and powers that had long existed in France. Apparently, the enlightenment "was a movement of criticism, whose advocates believed that nothing was beyond rational improvement"; the politics were in need of reformations throughout the offices. Notably, as a means for equality, thoughts of democracy finally appeared among the populations. A new order was inevitable, and the people readily disputed the church because its leaders did little to curb their problems. Simultaneously, the French monarch saw its control over the people loosen before disappearing entirely as talks of liberty undermined the existing leaders. Within the governing powers, "the concept of politics was no more unanimous than it is in the twentieth century" and the mounting pressure from the people did not aid the situation. Unbeknownst to the inhabitants the country was nearing the revolutionary period when the National Assembly met to determine the way forward for the indebted country. Constituting delegates from all three Estates, the meeting parties sought to "pass laws and reforms in the name of the French people." Expectedly, a majority of those present was the bourgeoisie category of the upper Third Estate, and they were all supporting enlightenment that was gaining momentum in the country. The reform targeted ridding the country of all sovereign rules in favor of representative government with emphasis on the needs of the voiceless. In retaliation, the king attempted to disband the National Assembly but instead, managed to bring forth the Tennis Court Oath that advocated a new constitution. Such actions marked the disparity between the Estates and finally ignited the fires of the French Revolution.
The next sequence of events after the Tennis Court Oath quickly saw the fall of the monarchy, complete revolts by the commoners, and a mass execution of the royals and some of the noble families. Foremost, King Louis made the mistake of dispatching his army to surround the city of Versailles, and when the citizens learned of the King's actions, they panicked and took up arms to defend themselves. Their first act was to access more weapons and in Paris, the people stormed Bastille prison for the stored gunpowder and firearms. The success of their actions marked the beginning of the French Revolutionary War on July 14, 1789.
The aftermath of the French Revolution was not immediately observable as the country sought to revive itself after 1799, although Napoleon Bonaparte's influential powers were definite. In addition, it was unmistakable that the learned bourgeoisie people were the dominating power while landowners held second place. Napoleon implemented a Code of Governance to uphold fair treatment and justice within the reviving French societies. Otherwise called the Civil Code of 1804, the stipulated rules sought to “guarantee the essentials of revolutionary principles and to consolidate a social order based on wealth and patriarchy.” To some extent, the man proved himself a radical leader, ruthless and determined to succeed. A good illustration of his character is apparent in the reversal of the "Jacobin abolition of slavery" as a means to reestablish the economy of the country. Economically, rules of taxation changed and all people paid government imposed taxes based on their wealth and not social classes as before. The economy of the country suffered greatly however, and it was years before France regained its position as one of Europe’s superpower countries. Again, Napoleon implemented what he thought to be a boost to the nation's financial system, the concept of "laissez-faire, laissez-passer." Accordingly, the legalized practice exempted all forms of trade from multiple laws and any other possible restrictions, including cultural norms. Socially, all people emerged equals before the eyes of the law, a fact boosted immensely by the fact that the whole Revolution was by the people and was not only successful, but also invigorating. In other words, having taken down a monarchy, oppressing the majority was no longer an option for the leaders. In fact, as Peter McPhee points out, whatever properties the people acquired during the revolution became theirs regardless of the source or previous owners. The political changes were most significant as France was no longer a monarchy. The church no longer held any office of power as the Estates did not exist anymore. Overall, the people met the aims of the revolution; in fact, one can argue that the execution of the oppressive King and insensitive Queen marked the sole victory of the people.
As mentioned in the introductory paragraph, there are similarities between revolutionary wars, made clearer by existing causal and effect representations of the same. The same phenomena exist with the French Revolution and that of the United States; after all, Americans provided part of the enlightenment towards better ruling. On that note, education played crucial roles in both eras as the people became increasingly aware of their oppressions. In the United States, the people toiled for the conquering Britons who, based on their ownership of the American colonies, imposed unfair laws on the people. On the other hand, the French Monarch showed complete disregard for the people and instilled laws that limited their rights to liberty and property ownership.
Foremost, the causes of each revolution prove to be very similar, particularly when one considers the economy of the United States and France prior the Revolutionary War of each country. With the taxation emerging as a leading economic cause, Americans paid all forms of absurd revenues to the British government at the expense of their prosperity. For instance, the Stamp Act required the people to pay taxes for any official papers including academic documents. For the French, taxations went to the luxurious lives of the elite few while the rest of the people wallowed in poverty.
Secondly, bloodshed marked the beginning of each revolution. For the French there is the storming of Bastille where the revolting citizens beheaded prison guards before parading their mutilated heads in the streets. In the events leading to the American Revolution, the Boston Massacre saw British soldiers opening fire on unarmed American civilians and a trial ensued to persecute the murderers. Hence, the spontaneous rioting in Paris and the unexpected sense of patriotism experienced by Americans at the bloodshed of fellow Americans provide another similarity between the two periods.
Conclusively, each era ended with drafted document, although the fact that each served a different purpose provides the disparity between the two revolutionary wars. At the end of the American Revolution, the United States signed the Declaration of Independence as a sign of unity. Napoleon’s Civil Code of 1804 resembles rules and regulations for the people who were to follow his ruling. Nonetheless, it is acceptable that more similarities exist between the two periods as one played a significant role in the existence of the other.
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Chartier, Roger. The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution. Durham: Duke University Press, 1991.
Doyle, William. The Oxford History of the French Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Kropotkin, Pëtr. "The Great French Revolution, 1789-1793." An Online Research Center on the History and Theory of Anarchism. February 27, 2000. http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/anarchist_archives/kropotkin/frenchrev/frontpiece.html (accessed March 9, 2015).
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Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005.
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