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Mar 5, 2019 · Last update 2 mo. ago.

What caused the French Revolution?

The effect that the French Revolution had on the world at large is enormous, with a multitude of nations following France in replacing monarchy with democracy. The French Revolution has become an inspiration to many subsequent revolutions and movements for social change ever since, in what many think of as the beginning of the modern era. But what led up to this monumental change in France, what are the origins of the French Revolution?
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Napoleon – caused the revolution to become influential
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Influence of the American Revolution
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Economic mismanagement
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The enlightenment and growth of the “public sphere”
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Political Mismanagement of the Ancien Régime
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Climate Change
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Catholic Church
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Napoleon – caused the revolution to become influential

The French Revolution was as influential to Napoléon Bonaparte's rise to power as he was himself to spreading of revolutionary ideals, and without doubt Napoleon was the main character in the next chapter in the spreading the ideas of the revolution. The Revolution was a tumultuous time in France, unleashing the Great Terror and lingering violent revolts, alongside this France was engaged internationally in the French Revolutionary Wars with Britain, the Holy Roman Empire, Prussia, Russia, and several other monarchies. The French Directorate and National Assembly took power in November 1795 leading a military success but economic stagnation, corruption, and internal divisions. Throughout the revolution the people of France wanted to improve their economic situation, but France was descending further into corruption and chaos, a situation that allowed the rise of a new autocrat.

Napoleon came of age politically during the French Revolution, and was influenced massively by the energy and possibility of the time. A time of the glorification of war, the revolution honoured effective military men and the newfound egalitarianism of the age meant a soldier could rise through the ranks based on merit alone. At the time Napoleon was engaged in the French Revolutionary Wars on the European continent, providing strong military leadership he was welcomed back to France as a war hero. Napoleon conspired with members of the Directorate and carried out a coup d'état on 9 November 1799, and subsequently routed out corruption and brought stability to the country, albeit at the expense of democracy and freedom. But the coup by Napoleon saw him go on to expand his new French Empire across most of Europe, and is the main cause of the revolution's influence spreading far and wide. Even if it’s not the cause of the revolution itself, Napoleon is why the French Revolution has remained so culturally significant.

thegreatcoursesdaily.com/napoleon-and-the-french-revolution studydriver.com/napoleons-reforms-and-the-principles-of-the-revolution education.seattlepi.com/influence-did-french-revolution-napoleons-rise-power-5917.html

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Influence of the American Revolution

What started as French political, financial and military support for the American colony's declaration of independence from British rule in the American Revolutionary War, ended in a philosophical shift in the French mindset. As France had played a direct role in the American Revolution, French troops had become exposed to ideas of equality, liberty and individual freedom directly. Ideas that American diplomats such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson had discussed freely with French intellectuals during time spent living in Paris also.

Jefferson in particular was taken with France and it had a profound effect on this thinking and writing. Staying in Paris from 1784 to 1789 these years were understood to be the most memorable years of Jefferson's life, and the ideas of the French enlightenment formative in his revolutionary writing. The writing and ideas that figures like Jefferson and Franklin exported to America arrived back in France following the American War of Independence, a war that France sent thousands of soldiers and military strategists to assist American colonists in fighting. In an effort to destabilise a colonial rival, France exposed its people to profound revolutionary ideas which further destabilised the country and lit a match under the smouldering enlightenment ideas of equality, liberty and freedom, changing French society forever.

history.com/news/how-did-the-american-revolution-influence-the-french-revolution monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/paris pbs.org/benfranklin/l3_world_france.html

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What started as French political, financial and military support for the American colony's declaration of independence from British rule in the American Revolutionary War, ended in a philosophical shift in the French mindset. As France had played a direct role in the American Revolution, French troops had become exposed to ideas of equality, liberty and individual freedom directly. Ideas that American diplomats such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson had discussed freely with French intellectuals during time spent living in Paris also.

Economic mismanagement

When Louis 16th came to the throne France was gripped by a financial crisis, due to years of economic mismanagement, coupled with financing the American Revolution and the Seven Years’ War, the French treasury was devastated under spiralling debts. The loss of French colonies to the British Empire, rampant widespread corruption, and excessive aristocratic spending also played a significant role in what evolved into an economic depression in the country. This situation left economists in a difficult position as raising taxes to solve economic deficits would surely build further bitterness for the ruling classes.

However while economic difficulties bred bitter resentment, with the largest burden being forced on France's poorest, it was the advent of a bread crisis that finally heated situation enough to rise to revolutionary heights. Bread is the essence of French life and that was no different in the 18th century, and in the wake of Frances looming debt crisis Louis XVI's economic minister Baron de l'Aulne (commonly known as Turgot) persuaded the king to implement deregulation policies on the grain market. The cost of grain, and therefore bread, soared as supplies were hoarded and bread soon became cost the equivalent of a average monthly wage. This led to widespread hunger and eventual food shortages as poor harvests also took their toll, grain deregulation ultimately undermined the authority of the French crown, and while the upper classes remained unscathed, a much deeper resentment led to Revolution.

articlemyriad.com/frances-pre-revolutionary-financial-crisis elohista.com/bible/french-revolution-the-catholic-church-and-the-fall-of-the-papacy

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http://www.articlemyriad.com/frances-pre-revolutionary-financial-crisis/ https://elohista.com/bible/french-revolution-the-catholic-church-and-the-fall-of-the-papacy/

The enlightenment and growth of the “public sphere”

The ideas that fed into the revolutionary ideology of the French Revolution came largely from the political philosophy of the Enlightenment. The rise of public debate, in newspapers, journals, Masonic lodges, coffee houses, and reading clubs gave a space for intellectual curiosity, political scrutiny, acquiring knowledge through reason, and ideals such as liberty, toleration, fraternity and the separation of church and state, to become popular in the public consciousness. This was responsible for both the indirect and direct push for a revolutionary movement as the monarchy tried to repress such underground literature. But ultimately these ideas led to the feeling of the general public being empowered and in control of the current mood of society, and the growth of a public sphere of discourse.

Many mottos were commonly used to describe the spirit of the age, but none as central as "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité", a phrase that was clearly a legacy of the Age of Enlightenment, and, although contested, became a defining quote of the French Revolution. Enlightenment ideas and the the Revolution were so interwoven these ideals outlasted the political turmoil that followed the revolution and through the formation of three republics, going on to be written into the 1958 French Constitution, becoming an integral part of French heritage. Without the social and philosophical framework of public discourse and the Enlightenment, a revolution of the scale of the French Revolution may not have been realised, as French society would not be able to communicate a public mood and act in the interest of it.

alphahistory.com/frenchrevolution/revolutionary-ideas diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/coming-to-france/france-facts/symbols-of-the-republic/article/liberty-equality-fraternity

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https://alphahistory.com/frenchrevolution/revolutionary-ideas/ https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/coming-to-france/france-facts/symbols-of-the-republic/article/liberty-equality-fraternity

Political Mismanagement of the Ancien Régime

The Ancien Régime or “old regime” describes the pre-revolutionary feudal system ruled over by the Valois and Bourbon royal families brought about an era of political mismanagement in France that became a massive contributor to the abolishment of monarchy in the French Revolution. A failing effort to establish centralised political power in France throughout the period of the 16th century Huguenot Wars saw French nobility struggle to retain regional autonomy, and their capacity to wage war and secure control proved a heavy burden on the French tax system. These internal disputes, ruinous financial and military campaigns such as the Seven Years’ War, and King Louis XVI’s own indecisiveness, helped to feed discontent with the Ancein Régime, and the unpopular system of taxation that funded the wars and decadent lifestyles of nobility ultimately made them the main target of the Revolution.

The Seven Years’ War was a global conflict, a battle for authority mainly between Britain and France, but one the left growth of the French empire halted until Napoleon emergence in the next century, and saw France ceding its North American territories to Britain. Meanwhile France's King Louis XVI, pressured by Enlightenment ideas, instigated market liberalisation that resulted in an increase in the price of bread, while his financial support of the American Revolution led to spiralling debt and a financial crisis in France. Louis's indecisiveness and conservatism saw him, as the face of the Ancein Régime, become a symbol of tyranny of the French aristocracy over the lower and middle classes.

thoughtco.com/origins-french-revolution-ancien-regime-1221874 courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldhistory2/chapter/the-ancien-regime

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The Seven Years’ War was a global conflict, a battle for authority mainly between Britain and France, but one the left growth of the French empire halted until Napoleon emergence in the next century, and saw France ceding its North American territories to Britain. Meanwhile France's King Louis XVI, pressured by Enlightenment ideas, instigated market liberalisation that resulted in an increase in the price of bread, while his financial support of the American Revolution led to spiralling debt and a financial crisis in France. Louis's indecisiveness and conservatism saw him, as the face of the Ancein Régime, become a symbol of tyranny of the French aristocracy over the lower and middle classes.

Climate Change

With anthropogenic global warming currently looming as an ominous threat to mankind, some historians are reanalysing major events of the past through the lens of climate change to see if new light can be shed on human history. The period of the Little Ice Age that led to a global drop in temperature around 1770 is thought to have had a dramatic effect on crop yields in the years leading up to the French Revolution, causing lower crop yields, grain shortages, driving up food prices and even leaving some in a state of famine in France. Furthermore a volcanic eruption in Iceland and the El Niño weather front may have also played a role in this period of sharp climatic variation, but this harsh period of global cooling is increasingly being put forward as a large influence on the political upheaval of the French Revolution.

From June 1783 to February 1784 the Laki volcanic fissure of southern Iceland, spewing a sulphurous dust into the atmosphere that affected much of the northern hemisphere, causing havoc all the way from the US to Egypt and killing a quarter of Iceland's population. In France this was further exacerbated by a major El Nino weather event, causing major temperature fluctuations that made crop failure that much worse. During a time when French agriculture was still barely near a subsistence level, these freak events caused a 50% surge in grain prices, leading to wide-scale strife amongst the poor in France and famine conditions in the years running up to the Revolution. This level of hunger fed the extreme level of social dissatisfaction and resentment for the corrupt aristocracy, which fed into a political pressure that exploded as the French revolution.

hubpages.com/education/Effects-of-Climate-on-the-Origins-of-the-French-Revolution discover.hubpages.com/education/Effects-of-Climate-on-the-Origins-of-the-French-Revolution theguardian.com/world/2010/apr/15/iceland-volcano-weather-french-revolution

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https://hubpages.com/education/Effects-of-Climate-on-the-Origins-of-the-French-Revolution https://discover.hubpages.com/education/Effects-of-Climate-on-the-Origins-of-the-French-Revolution https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/apr/15/iceland-volcano-weather-french-revolution

Catholic Church

While taxation was proving to be a crippling burden on the majority of France, nobility were not the only source of discontent in the run up the French Revolution. With the Catholic Church collecting taxes in the form of a tithe, and owning 6% of the land in France, the wealth of the Church became a major source of disgruntlement. Furthermore the control that the Catholic Church wielded over schools and hospitals saw the organisation being seen as a distinct counter-revolutionary force in the early years of the revolution and the Church became one of the main targets of the violence that played out across France in the coming years. Some 30,000 priests fled and several hundred were executed as the religion was banned in France, something that continued until Napoleon reconciled with Pope Pius VII in 1801.

Historians generally believe that the Church was already in decline in the years before the Revolution, with significant difference between urban elites and the rural provinces. Similarly there was a growing negative sentiment towards the church from the 'philosophes', groups of Enlightenment intellectuals who saw it as their duty to question every aspect of French life, including religion, governance, and society. These philosophes respected reason above all else, and although they valued religion, they saw the excesses of clergymen, who wielded some power and influence even over the royal family, as distinct from the role of nuns and monks who actually cared for the sick and needy. The Church was deemed a counter-revolutionary force for their part in exacerbating social and economic hardship in France, and were met with violence as the Revolution erupted across the country.

elohista.com/bible/french-revolution-the-catholic-church-and-the-fall-of-the-papacy historytoday.com/archive/french-revolution-and-catholic-church

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While taxation was proving to be a crippling burden on the majority of France, nobility were not the only source of discontent in the run up the French Revolution. With the Catholic Church collecting taxes in the form of a tithe, and owning 6% of the land in France, the wealth of the Church became a major source of disgruntlement. Furthermore the control that the Catholic Church wielded over schools and hospitals saw the organisation being seen as a distinct counter-revolutionary force in the early years of the revolution and the Church became one of the main targets of the violence that played out across France in the coming years. Some 30,000 priests fled and several hundred were executed as the religion was banned in France, something that continued until Napoleon reconciled with Pope Pius VII in 1801.
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