Revolutionary French Peasants Thinking Research Paper

Length: 7 pages Sources: 4 Subject: Healthcare Type: Research Paper Paper: #73111961 Related Topics: French Indian War, Monarchy, Age Of Enlightenment, French Revolution

Excerpt from Research Paper :

¶ … French Revolution

The final crisis of the French Monarchy occurred in 1789, with the official beginning of the French Revolution. Although this was the year in which the first official battle of this martial encounter was fought, it is vital to realize that the monarchy had been floundering for some time prior. There were numerous factors that contributed to the disfavor the monarchy found itself in at the end of the 18th century. Some of the more eminent of these political, financial, and environmental causes helped to weaken the French Monarchy's hold over its subjects, as judged by the standards of the present 1. Concurrently, there were military woes that accompanied these factors and which contributed to the mounting unpopularity of this government. However, an analysis of these factors reveals that the most prominent cause of the French Revolution pertained to the zeitgeist of the time in with Enlightenment ideals prevailed and a new way of life, socially, was desired by those who had the most to gain from it. Ultimately, those who had the most to lose from that way of life was the various members of the monarchy, and King Louis XVI in particular.

Prior to discussing the other factors that caused the French Revolution, it is necessary to understand the age of the Enlightenment and how the thoughts and sentiments during this time period both directly and indirectly caused this overthrow. The Enlightenment was many things: part spiritual, religious, practical, scientific, social, and political. The focus of this movement was ultimately on man 2. Moreover, that focus was on the common man, and a contrast with the prowess of mankind which had hitherto been subject to God. During this epoch man's own prowess was emphasized over that of God; instead of the religious ideals that humbled and claimed men were flawed, during this time the sentiment arose that man could control his own destiny 3. This feeling had substantial political connotations and denotations, as the American Revolution -- which took place scant years before the French Revolution -- certainly demonstrated.

The Enlightenment ideals that actuated the American Revolution showed that there was a political and social foundation for those ideals. There has always been a relationship between kings, monarchs, and God, in which there has been a belief (either implicit or explicit) that the monarchy has the right to govern people based on its relationship and favor with God. The American Revolution was the first major instance in which this conception was overridden and supplanted by one based on equality, democracy, and a parity of power amongst the people to govern themselves. By overthrowing the British crown's grip on the colonies, the fledgling nation in American helped to provide a political and social framework for the sort of Enlightenment ideals that would soon enough take root in France 4. Many of those who partook in the French Revolution were inspired by the Enlightenment notion of the assertion of the common man and his volition over that of centuries old religious ties and their political counterpart -- governmental and monarchical ties.

If the Enlightenment was responsible for the intellectual and social climate of the French Revolution, it is equally important to realize that there were some key facets of the French Monarchy that provided the political groundwork upon which to base this insurrection. Specifically, the feudalism system which had been in place in France had a longstanding history of imbalance in which the labor, land, and efforts of the people were readily displaced and appropriated by the very vassals and lords that the Monarchy both represented and embodied. Many peasants in France wanted to abolish this system 5. Again, it is pivotal to understand that the Enlightenment's principles and the American Revolution established a precedent for a dearth of tolerance of the feudalist system that benefited the French crown. This intolerance for feudalism, after years in which such a system was not only tolerated but also undesired among the peasant class, was one of the chief causes of the French Revolution. This fact is corroborated by the reality that one of the quickest consequences of this revolution was an abolition of the feudalism within France 6. Additionally, the annulment of feudalism was spurred by other developments other than the Enlightenment zeitgeist that was popular at the time, and which will be discussed subsequently. Nonetheless, the Enlightenment and the desire for new social and political systems...


In detailing this and the other causes of the revolution, one must remember that although they are listed distinctly here, these causes were very much interwoven. The Enlightenment itself was responsible for the thoughts and feelings that led to the French Revolution: it was also responsible for contributing to the unpopularity of feudalism, and was further fueled by the environmental issues that plagued the monarchy. These environmental issues became manifested most saliently in the form of agricultural woes in the years leading up to the inception of the revolution. It is necessary to contextualize those bad harvests with the issue of feudalism and the resentment for the monarchy 7. In a feudal society, the peasants are tasked with the farming and tilling of the land, and must contribute copious quantities of their harvests to the ruling class. Therefore, there were a number of critical turns of the seasons in which the peasants did all they could to work the land the farm animals, got poor yields, and in turn received even poorer yields after the monarchy and the nobles took their cut. This sort of frustration certainly contributed to the martial encounter that soon followed, simply because it emphasized the unjust realities of feudalism and its warped . In this respect feudalism is perhaps even worse than capitalism in its displacement of labor and disproportionate allotment of the yields of that labor and its "property rights" 8 to those who did very little to create them. These sort of disparities, when contextualized with the general principles of the Enlightenment and the other factors that led to growing dissatisfaction with the French Monarchy, helped to place this regime in a tenuous position at the end of the 18th century.

One may view the notions of the Enlightenment as the theoretical basis for the cause of the French Revolution. By the same token, one can conceive of France's "remnants of feudalism" 9 as the practical application of that theory, or perhaps of the need for such a theory. The most demonstrative aspects of those pragmatic realities, then, were both the poor harvests that preceded the revolution as well as some of the financial woes that typified the monarch. Predictably, those woes resulted in the peasant and working class having to pay for them, which simply aggregated some of the Enlightenment sentiment that actually fueled this insurrection. What is one of the most interesting facets about this monetary or financial cause of the French Revolution is that it is directly linked to external political ones. The crux of the matter is that in the years following the American Revolution, the French Monarchy was in need of "economic growth" 10. Its chief way of obtaining them was through the extremely unpopular practice of exacting taxes. Furthermore, in the years leading up to the revolution the French crown levied more taxes than it typically had to account for the political climate at the time. Again, those taxes directly represented the injustices of feudalism and of the political situation in place in France, and helped to spread the feeling of unrest that eventually culminated in the French Revolution.

The political situation that spawned the financial cause of the French Revolution is in itself another cause of the French Revolution. The monarchy that was in position in France was losing popularity for a number of reasons, including the fact that after the American Revolution, there were alternatives to monarchies that were seen as viable to those that would benefit from them. The republic and eventual democracy that the United States erected after overthrowing Britain promised what the peasants never had under the monarchy in France -- input in the government. Politically, the ability to assert some sort of influence on governmental affairs is much more desirable than a monarchy that enforces a feudalist state and in which people are simply born into what must have seemed like an immutable caste system. The example of the new nation of America simply increased the intolerance that the French peasantry had for their monarchy, because it offered an alternative that yielded more involvement and benefits for the peasants. In hindsight, it is necessary to realize that prior to the American revolution, there were few examples…

Sources Used in Documents:


Acemoglu, Daaron, Cantoni, Davide, Johnson, Simon, Robinson, James. "The Consequences of Radical Reform: The French Revolution." NBER Working Paper Series. Retrieved 4/3/2016.

Davies, Norman. The History of Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Doyle, William. The Oxford History of the French Revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press,1990.

Langer, William. The Encyclopedia of World History. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1972.

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