The Causes and effects of the French revolution
The French revolution of 1789 – 1799
A revolution is a gradual or sudden change that takes place in the societies politically, economically and social setup. A revolution occurs not because people are just interested in changes but their certain factors on the ground that forces them to stage a revolution.
The French revolution of 1789 marked a turning point in the political history of France. It destroyed a well established monarchy and replaced it with a republican government.
Causes of the French revolution
The financial crisis was the most immediate and paramount cause of the French revolution. In 1789, the French national treasury ran bankrupt to the extent of failing to pay workers. The bankrupt was due to the frequent wars which France fought example the seven years war with Britain (1756 – 1763) over colonies in India and Canada, and American war of independence. The bankrupt was also caused by the luxury life at the king’s palace. This crisis worsened the problems of the French thus contributing to the revolution.
The French aristocracy was despotic; all French kings right from Louis XIV, XV and XVI were despotic kings, whose powers could not be questioned. They possessed all political powers like making all important political decisions and policies. There was no written constitution to check the powers of the king.
There was also no written laws to control the actions of the king, this meant that, the king’s word was the law, example; king Louis the XVI ones remarked that “something is legal because i wish it” this kind of despotism made the revolution inevitable by 1789.
Character of King Louis XVI.
There was a weak administration in France especially that of Louis XVI. He was corrupt, inefficient and inconsistent in his policies, that is he could at times show signs of helping the peasants but shortly thereafter he withdraws his good intention.
Besides the above the king was under the strong influence of his wife Marie Antoinette, she was an Austrian princess who was hated by the French people because she was not ready to help peasants.
French class structure.
The maintenance of discriminative classes contributed to the outbreak of the French revolution. The French population was divided into three discriminative classes namely the first estate, second estate and third estate. The first estate consisted of the nobility who enjoyed the highest salaries and key positions in the government and the military.
The second estate comprised of the clergy (Bishops and Priests). This grouped lived in urban areas and owned large estates of land and were exempt from paying taxation. The last class consisted of the peasants who paid all taxes both direct and indirect. The problems of the third estate forced them to stage a revolution in 1789.
These intellectual movements especially those of philosophers played a significant role in enlightening the French people about the political and economic crisis in France. They exposed the abuse of power by the government philosophers such as Voltaire advocated for fair taxation policies. Montesquieu advocated for separation of power in the government. The enlightenment of the French people about their political forced them to stage a revolution in 1789.
American war of independence.
The American war of independence led to both economic and political effects which were exploited by the rich middle class and the peasants to stage a revolution. Politically this war failed them with a strong desire for establishment of a democratic and constitutional government. Economically, the war partially worsened the financial crisis because it was expensive to maintain soldiers abroad.
During the 18 th C, France experienced a rapid growth in her population and yet the agricultural and industrial production remained low thus leading to food shortage. There was also another problem of unemployment which affected the living standards of the people. Amidst this growing population and unemployment, there was also persistent inflation. These severe conditions forced the French to stage a revolution in 1789.
Dismissal of financial controllers.
The dismissal of financial controllers had a role to play in the outbreak of the French revolution. Turgot and Necker had been appointed by the king to oversee the economic condition of France, but these were later dismissed following the advice of the queen. The financial controllers revealed the heavy cost incurred by the king and his members.
The march of the women.
The marching of the women at Versailles demanding bread, land and equality sparked off the French revolution. Marie Antoinette provoked the demonstrators by saying that “If you cannot afford bread, go and buy cakes” this statement made both the king and the queen more unpopular in France.
In conclusion by 1789 there was enough material for combustion, what was lacking was a spark to see the materials ablaze. People had enough grievances; all they needed was a leader, thus the mobilization and organization of the middle class made the revolution.
The effects of the French revolution
Elimination of feudalism
The French revolution contributed to the elimination of feudalism and the consequent rise of capitalism. The new government that was established after the revolution was abolition of feudalism and introduced capitalist relations of production, whereby the major means of production were controlled by the private sectors.
Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte.
The French revolution contributed to the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte to power. It destroyed the discriminative classes that had made it difficult for anyone in the third estate to rise to power. Following the French revolution, promotion was based on merit and not birth. Napoleon was able to display his skills during the revolution which helped him to rise to power.
Development of social infrastructure.
After the election of Napoleon Bonaparte, he improved the social infrastructure system by building more roads and railways and various financial institutions. These changes played a great role in the rise of capitalism in France.
Introduction of unity.
The French revolution introduced unity in France, whereby all people were equal before the law. People were free to conduct any type of business of their choice; this is what contributed to the rise of capitalism.
Development of nationalism.
The French revolution inspired the spirit of nationalism among the French people. The revolution which advocated for equality, fraternity and liberty became a lesson to the French to fight against absolute monarchies like that of Louis XVI. These ideas were able to spread beyond the French borders.
Establishment of a republican government.
The French revolution contributed to the destruction of the bourbon monarchy and put in place a republican government in 1792. This was the government that played a crucial role in the abolition of feudalism and the consequent rise of capitalism.
Control of the church.
One of the most important changes of the French revolution was the control of the church. The Bishops were to be paid by the state like any other civil servants, the church was also not supposed to levy taxes. It was completely detached from state affairs.
Abolition of slave trade.
The French revolution contributed to the abolition of slave trade in French colonies. The French claimed that slave trade was not in line with its slogan of the revolution thus it had to be abolished.