The French Revolution is one of most important events that moved Europe from the High Middle Ages to the modern era. The key reason for this is the transition of an established monarchy to a government that was selected and supported by the common masses. There were three major reasons why France ended up rebelling against the crown. In no particular order, the first is an oppressive class system. The First Estate consisted of the nobles and clergy. There were about 100,000 people in this class. This group controlled 10% of the land in France and only had to pay taxes if they wanted to in a form of a voluntary gift.
The second class was called the 2nd Estate. This group consisted of 400,000 people and they controlled 25% of the land in France. These people were able to own land and act like landlords towards their tenants. The 2nd Estate could call for a tax of their peasants. This would force the peasants to pay taxes to the government and also their landlords along with their rent. The 3rd Estate consisted of everyone else.
Another reason why France was ready for revolution was the failing economy. The French were directing 49% of their budget to paying off interest and debt owed to other countries. The French budget was directing 25% of their budget towards their military, and 20% to other government operations and programs. The final 6% of the budget was solely directed to the lifestyle of the king.
The last major cause of the French Revolution was the American Revolution. Just like the founding fathers of our United States, the intellectuals and France and Europe wrote, read, and discussed the publishing's of the Enlightenment writers. The American Revolution showed the common people of France that people can stand up and demand a better government. It may be a difficult struggle but they drew inspiration from the Americans. Also, the French supported the American Revolution by sending soldiers to fight against the British. Once these veterans come back to France the relayed their stories and their willingness to achieve what the Americans won over the British Empire.
The seeds of the French Revolution started in 1788 when France experienced a poor harvest. The people knew this because they were in the field. The government also knew this. Both sides knew that during the winter there would be a food shortage. The people were hoping that the government would do something about it, the government didn't. The people held a growing resentment that many had to die because of poor planning and lack of caring.
In May of 1789 and Estates General meeting was called. The Estates General was the assembly of representatives from each of the three estates. During the meeting the 1st and 2nd Estate were shutting out the people and needs of the 3rd Estate. The people of the 3rd Estate broke away and started their own organization called the National Assembly. This organization was created on a tennis court and their pledge to a new French government is referred to as, "The Tennis Court Oath."
The French Revolution is an interesting event because of the extremes and contradictions that occurred during the time frame. The first part of the French Revolution is an organized civil collection of the educated and concerned of the country, called the Estates General. Then an organization was created without violence in the form of the National Assembly. So far the French Revolution was all talk and no violence. Then came the flash point of the French Revolution, the Storming of the Bastille on July 15, 1789. The storming of the Bastille shows the blood lust and violence of the French Revolution. The Bastille was a symbol of hatred and horror in France. This is where political prisoners were kept and many acts of torture and government oppression occurred here. King Louis XVI ordered 30,000 soldiers to surround France for two reasons, the first was to protect France from outside forces, namely other countries; and the be able to control the crowd in case of riot. The people saw this as an attempt to attack them and they prepared themselves by storming the Bastille for their ammunition. This is also when the French developed their new national flag. Each color represented something specific, the Red and Blue represented Paris and the white represented the House of Bourbon.
After the storming of the Bastille, things for the most part calmed down. In August of 1789 the French created the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and by 1791 a new constitution was developed eliminated the power of the king in France. The next phase of the French Revolution started in 1792 when the French declared war on Austria. After this, Louis XVI was essentially eliminated from the power of the government; there came an issue if he should live. Louis XVI was not evil, just average to below average. Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette feared for their lives because Louis XVI was still seen as a symbol of authority in France, and his wife was dislike because she was a princess from the country of Austria. Once Louis and Marie figured out that the people did not want them around anymore they tried to flee the country. They were both caught and branded traitors.
The government of France was fearful that the distractions within the country would jeopardize the well being of the country. Many countries in Europe disliked and desired land from France because of the profitability. The British were always looming because of their rivalry with the French in Europe, and also know in North America in Canada and also with their help in the American Revolution. Austria wished to become a major power because the desired their land, they were essentially landlocked, and Marie Antoinette was from their noble class.
The most famous part of the French Revolution was, The Terror. The Terror started in Sept. of 1793 and ended in 1794. This was the time period when the guillotine was used to stop the insurrection and counter revolutionaries. The Guillotine was seen as a quick, painless, and humane way to execute people compared to hanging or shooting. At first the key leader of the Revolution, Rospierre was against the guillotine, but towards the end Rospierre became a victim of the guillotine when he started to become a dictator and encouraged the use of the guillotine for anybody that disagreed with his policies.
Eventually, the people of France were tired of the blood and the violence. The French Revolution ended in 1799. They found in one man the ability to have stability within the country and also they were able to sustain and also expand their dominance on the continent of Europe. Napoleon moved through the French Revolution, gaining notoriety and power with the people and the government. His rise and dominance was a lot like the rise and power of Julius Caesar.