The French revolution

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  • 5 augustus 2008
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In our time, many countries have an equal separation of power. All people are treated the same. We have freedom of speech, we can elect the people who we want to rule the country and there are fair tax rules. About 224 years ago that was totally different. I am going to tell you about the situation of France in that time. People didn’t agree with the ruling-system. They wanted it to change, which eventually caused the ‘French Revolution.’
The French Revolution was caused by long- and short-term causes. In this essay I am going to discuss these causes. I will start with the long-term causes. I will discuss the ruling system, the three-estates, the taxation system and Louis XVI with his economic problems. Then I will discuss the short-term causes. The Estates General, the tennis-court oath, the bad harvest of 1788 and the storming of the Bastille. I will explain the causes and what effect they had which helped the revolution to break trough. At last I will you give my opinion of which cause I think was the most important one for the revolution to break trough.

Long-term causes

In those days, France was a monarchy. The kings had absolute power. Because their powers were not limited by other people, they thought that they did not have to answer to the people for what they did. However, they thought they had to answer to God, as they had duties and obligations. They had to respect God, defend his people and make them respect the law. The people expected the king to rule the country according to the rules and laws of the land. (Monarchs who did not do this were called despots)

The people in France were separated in three classes, the three estates. Every estate had its own duties and privileges. Above the three estates was the king. The first estate was called the clergy, it was made up with the members of the church. the second estate were the nobles and the third estate consisted out of the bourgeoisie, the urban workers and the peasants (±80% of population).

This diagram shows the duties and privileges of the three estates:

Duties Privileges
First estate
- Pray for the king and the people
- no tax
- no military serve
- Clergy, tried in their own court

Second estate
- Serve the king
- Nobles had to pay little or no taxes
- held high offices/job

Third estate
- all had to pay tax
- no privileges
- taille, gabelle, tithes Bourgeoisie
- serve in army=> Urban workers
- Peasants=> pay rent

When you ‘read’ this diagram you see that the third estate had the most duties and no privileges. They had to pay much tax while they were quite poor. There were three types of tax, the taille, the gabelle and the tithes. The taille was the tax on land or income, the taille was the tax on salt and the gabelle was the tax of one-tenth of the yearly income or produce paid to the Church. The people (most were members of the third estate) were upset because of that, they wanted it to change, which is one of the long-term causes of the French revolution. Later in this essay I will come back on this.

After Louis XIV and Louis XV came Louis VXI on the throne. His wife was Marie Antoinette. The kings before Louis XVI left the country with some economic problems. They spent a lot of money on the army and on themselves. The king didn’t have a lot of money. Louis XVI didn’t improve this situation but made it even worse. He spent more than he earned. In order to gain money to pay everything he raised the tax, he sold offices, and he borrowed money and paid it back with interest(loan). In this way he earned money for a period of time but when he had to pay back with the interest he was left with less money than he had. When the people sold offices the king earned less money by tax. The king had less and less money. Later Calonne, who was responsible for the king to raise money, came with the idea to have the first and second estate pay tax too. People had to pay tax according to how much land they owned.

The effects

As I told, France was a monarchy and ruled by a king with absolute power. They people were upset, they wanted more power and freedom. They wanted freedom of speech and the right to decide things ‘for’ the country. All people have to be equal, they said. The three estates had to be abolished, no duties and privileges anymore. One of the most important thing which had to be changed was the tax, all people had to pay the same amount of tax. They wanted to get rid of the king, the man who didn’t control his economic problems and who made them even worse. They were upset because they had to pay more tax. Calone’s idea of letting the first and second estate pay tax too, made the people of the first and second estate angry. They had never paid tax before and the king couldn’t decide that from day-to-day. Why did they have to pay tax while they never had to? They said. The main ideas were freedom and equality, this in different areas. These effects (the upset of the people) of the long-term causes lead to the short-term causes. In which people started to come in action.

Short-term causes

The idea of Calonne was to let the first and second estate pay tax. Everyone had to pay tax, depending on how much land they owned. Not everyone agreed with this, especially the first and second estate didn’t, as I told before Calonne called members of the first and second estate for a meeting to explain how bad the situation of the king was. This meeting was called the Assembly of Nobles. They said this could only be decided by members of all three estates, this was called the Estate General. The king couldn’t stand this and replaced Calonne by Brien. Brien went to the parliament of Paris, but again this was not successful.

Finally, in May 1789, the Estate General met. This was because the harvest in 1788 had been very bad. The prices went incredibly high, people couldn’t afford this and they were hungry and became upset. The king was hopeless and called the Estate General for a meeting. Many of the people who came, where in the third estate. They had their own ideas about how the country should be ruled. They made a constitution, these rules said how the country should be run. The king had to accept these rules even tough he, the first and second estate did not agree. The king wanted to stop the meeting but the third estate went to a nearby tennis court. They said they would not go home until France was ruled according to their constitution. These people were called the National Assembly, also called The Tennis Court Oath. This all happened on the 20th of June 1789.

On the 27th of June the king ordered the first and second estate to go in the Estate General. He was afraid, he wanted to get rid of them, the third estate members of the Estate General. But he was afraid it would turn into more problems.

Everyone knew there would happen something, but they did not know what. The third estate was still angry. They demanded more and more and people became selfish. A set of bad events built up aggressions by people.

On July 14, these people marched to the Bastille and captured it. This was the begin of the French Revolution. Although the king ordered his soldiers to stop the people, nobody did something. This day was the begin of great changes in France.

The effects

The bad harvest in 1788 made the people upset, not everyone could afford the food and they were hungry. People need food to survive, people started riots. The EG set up the constitution. This was the first time people ‘said’ what they wanted. This lead to the Tennis Court Oath. The third estate members met and didn’t go home until France had a constitution. This led to the storming of the Bastille. The third estate actually came in action and they captured the Bastille. This was the first time people took real action.


The French Revolution broke out on the 14th of June 1789, but had actually started hundred years before. The separation of the people into three estates was a long-term cause, like the economic causes. People were separated unfair. When the economic problems became real desperate, people started to say their opinions.

The short-term causes like the Estate General and the storming of the Bastille made the real “break through”. The people not only said what they wanted but came in action.

It is hard to say when the Revolution actually started or what the break through was. You can’t really pick one event. Although it is hard to say I think this was mostly the storming of the Bastille. The people really came in action. Before that people said what they wanted but now they took action to ‘win’ what they wanted. The people actually ‘took’ the power.


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