27 Apr 2022


The Background Causes of the French Revolution

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The French revolution began in 1789 and ended in the late 1790s after the ascent of Napoleon Bonaparte. This revolution was by far the bloodiest and the most violent revolution, and one of the greatest causes was the social inequality present in France A significant number of the population relied on agriculture, but few were able to own their pieces of land. Most were forced to take on work in the fields and earned low wages as laborers. Families suffered from a lack of enough money to provide basic needs. The issue of social inequality saw the peasants pay taxes and tithes to tax collectors and parish priests (Spielvogel, 2017). The Catholic Church maintained a high hierarchy with the locals and the members of the clergy were all from wealthy families, and therefore the institution was rich and very powerful. The nobles benefitted from the peasants, and the dislike for them was intense. The upper echelons were not liable to pay taxes but only contributed to the state every five years, and the amount was self-determined. The revolution sought to limit the powers given to the nobles (Spielvogel, 2017).

First, there was enlightenment among the citizens of France, and they attempted to have equality and individual freedom. They borrowed from the American Revolution which had succeeded in showing how a government should be organized and work to the benefit of the nobles and the peasants. There was an extensive interaction between American revolutionaries and the French troops. The ideas were spread in the manner in which a just and fair government was beneficial to the country. The Enlightenment era in the United States began with a refusal to pay the imposed tax by the king of Great Britain. The peasants were becoming aware of their rights and freedoms and were less and less willing to support the French feudal system of governance ( Andress, 1999) 

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Secondly, the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI saw several ministers propose a revision of the tax regime and this included the nobility as part of the tax paying system.This continuously failed. As the nobles sought to have the taxes raised while paying none themselves, it led to the bankruptcy of the French government. The king and his court owed billions in loans to the government coffers, and this brought additional suffering to the citizens who could not access resources or services (Spielvogel, 2017).

Additionally, the French nobility and their lavish lifestyle were unpopular with the people of France. Many of the poor were aspiring to be part of the elite class, but they could not do so since many were burdened with high taxes which went to furnishing the wealthy monarch. The taxes were levied in every boundary from the government to private collectors who were more concerned with growing their holdings (Spielvogel, 2017).

All these factors intertwined leading to the French revolution. The authority exerted by the monarchy and the Catholic church prompted the citizens and philosophers to rise up in arms and demanded better services and more so just leaders. The bankruptcy of the government led to an economic crisis in the country, and this called for a total overhaul of the reigning kingship. The taxation system was burdensome on the working class, given that the nobles were exempt from paying taxes (Spielvogel, 2017).


Andress, D. (1999) French Society in Revolution, 1789–1799. Manchester University Press 

Spielvogel, J J. (2017). Western Civilization: A Brief History; Since 1500 . (9th ed.). Cengage Learning.

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