Impact Of French Revolution On Europe
The French revolution might have only lasted a decade 1789-1899. However, its impact was unfathomable. It could be argued that it was the single seed that grew into a modern democracy. It questioned how the old world was governed by challenging the feudal system of France, the power of the church and the monarchy (Anirudh 2018). The French revolution was bloody- about forty thousand lives were lost including King Louis XVI and his Queen Marie-Antoinette (‘French Revolution | Causes, Facts, & Summary’ 2019). It empowered individuals to unite and questioned the role of the monarchy and the church. It was always assumed in those times that the king had a divine right to rule. This divine right was believed to have been bestowed upon the monarch by God (‘The Seven Years War Begins’ 2010). Defying the monarch was in its essence defying God (Berdine 2019). Although the American revolution happened before the French Revolution, it was not as impactful (‘A Timeline of The American Revolution From 1763 – 1787’ 2016). It occurred so far away that Europe did not really feel its effect. This essay aims to address the various reasons that resulted in the French revolution, such as the Ancien Régime, the enlightenment, food shortage, the impact of previous wars and the wrong decisions of an incapable King. The essay will argue that social inequality was the most significant cause of the Revolution (Goodwin and Popkin 2019).
During the 17th and 18th centuries, France just like many European countries, was ruled by a monarch with absolute power. Criticizing the monarch was considered treason and anyone who did criticize the king would be imprisoned without trial. The Bastille was one of the most important prisons in France in this period (Goodwin and Popkin 2019). It was a symbol of the monarchy’s power. Louis XVI (1754-1793) was the king during the French revolution. He married the Austrian Marie Antoinette in 1770. She was the daughter of the emperor and empress of Austria. He became king after succeeding his grandfather King Louis XV (Schultz 2019). The seven-year war and French involvement during the American revolution were the early events that led to the French revolution (Goodwin and Popkin 2019). The French lost most of their land in the new world to the British. The British borrowed lots of money to win the war. At the end of the war, Britain was the dominant superpower. When the naïve King Louis inherited the throne, he was still immature, austere in manners, lacking in self-confidence due to a physical defect and much more, he lacked interest in his subjects and was more focused on foreign policies. This blinded his sight on the issues developing in his own country. King Louis lacked the foresight to make decisions to combat the influence brewing in the court factions, or the necessary supports needed to reform the ministers. Most historians agree that he was a character who had inadequate strength and was, in consequence, a bad king.
It could be argued King Louis XVI’s involvement in the American Revolution helped his citizens realize the similarity in their conditions of living and the now independent USA, although the complexity isn’t the same (Marks 2018) (‘BBC – History – King Louis XVI’ 2014). Losing the seven-year war against the British might have short-sighted the King. He would have realized that unequal rights, royal absolutism, and economic struggles were catalysts for the American revolution and connected these to the situation of his country (Llewellyn and Thompson 2018). Helping the colonies resulted in the gradual bankruptcy of France. This bankruptcy fueled the crisis and led to an uproar followed by protests which caused the French people to lose faith in the King. (Bloy 2018), (‘French Revolution | Causes, Facts, & Summary’ 2019). Compared to the American Revolution, the French Revolution was more complex, more violent, and far more radical in its attempt to reconstruct both a new political and a new social order (feudal system).
In the late reign of King Louis, the economy was hanging by a thread. France was the most populous country in Europe. France was a society stuck in an archaic world. It had a population of approximately 27 million dived into three groups called the estates. In 1789 the king summoned the estates-general through desperation. This form of governance was in place since the middle ages. The first estate, also referred to as the clergy, was made up of about 130,000 individuals. (Bloy 2018), There were two types of clergies. The 1st one, the higher clergy, stemmed from the aristocratic families and as a result, had more in common with the nobility and they were exempted from paying tax. The 2nd clergy was made up of parish priests who mostly came from the third estates and chose to live a humble life for God, therefore, most of them were more sympathetic towards the commoners (‘French Revolution | Causes, Facts, & Summary’ 2019). The second estates were the nobilities (knights and some royals) and the third estate (commoners) were made up of the rest of the population. 98% of the population were in the third estate however one vote was given to each estate. The third estate declared itself the sovereign national assembly because they realized they could not properly represent all the people they needed to represent If each estate only got one vote (‘French Revolution | Causes, Facts, & Summary’ 2019). The members took the tennis court oath, swearing not to disperse until a new constitution had been made. Their decisions stimulated the French public. They began to fear the king will use the royal military to attack them. This led to the break-in of the Bastille prison. It was filled with prisoners who spoke against the Royals. The prison had a large supply of ammunition and gunpowder which the peasants required to protect themselves. The declaration of rights of men was proclaimed three weeks after: ‘All men are created and born equal.
The Enlightenment was a 17th/18th century intellectual and social movement emphasizing reason, humanism, religious tolerance, scepticism toward established authority, democracy, and other ”modern” themes. Enlightenment thinkers encouraged challenging traditional religious and political institutions. It was one of the leading causes of the French revolution. Not all of the people in the third estates were poor. There was a group of people called the bourgeoisie. They were moderately rich men and women who made their money by being entrepreneurs. They wanted to be on the same pedigree as the other two estates. The bourgeoisie helped spread the publications of the enlightenment thinkers. It began to challenge the dogma of the Catholic church. John Locke, an Enlightenment thinker, said that no king should have absolute power. He believed in a constitutional monarchy, which meant he thought that any ruler should have rules to follow too. He also believed in a social contract: the people give a little of their freedom to their ruler in return for protection and good leadership in general. The French liked these ideas. Baron de Montesquieu believed in a separation of powers into three branches (executive, legislative, and judicial). He said they should hold equal power, so it did not become a despotism (tyranny). His ideas were influential in many countries, including America. Voltaire, an Enlightenment writer, thought that people should have the right to free speech and religious freedom, which they did not really have. This idea became an important part of all Enlightenment thinking and many governments. Mary Wollstonecraft and Olympe de Gouges believed in equal rights for everyone, including women. De Gouges, a French woman, was executed for her beliefs (Llewellyn and Thompson 2019).
There were a lot of reasons that led to the French revolution such as social inequality in France due to the estates system, tax burden on the third estate, the rise of the bourgeoisie, ideas put forward by the enlightenment philosophers, financial crisis caused due to costly Wars (American revolution and the seven war), drastic weather and poor harvests in the preceding years, the rise in the cost of bread, the ineffective leadership of Louis XV and Louis XVI, parliaments successful opposition to reforms as they represented the nobility and the extravagant lifestyle of the French monarchy amidst the suffering of the French public(Schwartz 2019). People tend to take part in things that influence them personally. The French revolution was bound to happen with or without most of these causes. Human beings are naturally wired to seek fulfilment in their lives. This could be observed from the earliest of our ancestors. The inequality among the three estates set a time bomb that only needed a minuscule spark to explode. Most of the catalysts that led to the French revolution could be found in Britain, however, Britain did not have the right sparks needed to cause such an impactful revolution. Other countries in Europe did not have those sparks either but France did. Thus, one of the most influential revolutions in history happened in France.
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