There were numerous causes to justify The French Revolution. There existed problems inside France’s government, society, and economy. Most of these problems were ultimately experienced by the third estate, or the middle class. The third estate was then educated on a better way to live by the results of the Enlightenment philosophers and their philosophies. Certain conditions also led to the revolution, on top of its causes. Living conditions and representation in government are two examples. It is undeniable that the people of the third estate were correct in their campaign for change.
The Revolutionaries had it clear in their minds that change in government was of utmost importance to revolution. According to an excerpt from Diderot’s Encyclopedia, or Classified Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Occupations,” The first state that man acquires by nature and that is esteemed the most precious of all his possible possessions is his state of liberty. ” (Doc. 6) Clearly France’s Monarchy, or even upper classmen, would not agree with this statement. This argument could have been used by the third estate to fight for their representation in government, or even their percentage of property owned in the country.
The event in which the third estate was literally locked out of the Estates General meeting that led to the Tennis Court Oath also was a huge cause for the revolution. Not only were the third estates reasons for revolution domestic, but also foreign. The American Revolution played as a huge confidence booster for the French in their fight against an all-powerful monarchy. According to Lord Acton, “The condition of France alone did not bring about the overthrow of the monarchy . . . but the spark that changed thought into action was supplied by the Declaration of American Independence . . .
American example caused the Revolution to break out . . . ” (Doc. 9) Lord Acton believed the American Revolution was the largest reason for the French Revolution. The French even built and delivered the statue of liberty to America in honor of their revolution, and to thank them for the necessary moral assistance. The actual portion of the Revolution that was not violent was fought by the so called “upper class” third estate. They believed that what their less wealthy counterparts were doing was not going to benefit in their gain of rights. They decided to fight their battle in the Estates General.
In excerpts from the Cahiers, or list of grievances about the king, taxing, and voting in the Estates General, the revolutionaries list their political demands. (Doc. 4) These changes included: any tax granted by the Estates General be effective for a limited time, that the tax on land, or taille, be borne on each estate equally, and that the meetings of the Estates General be scheduled for definite times. These changes, although small individually, would greatly increase the rights of the third estate when compared to their rights prior to the Revolution.
Inequalities in society also bore a tremendous effect on the cause for the Revolution. Because of their heightened taxation and lack of government representation, the middle class for the most part was uneducated. That is why when the middle class began to learn how to read, they became aware of enlightenment thinkers and philosophies. They began to question, to think, causing revelations that would alter their history forever. In The French Revolution, historian Albert Mathiez states that, “The revolution came from them – the middle class. . . They were just beginning to learn to read. ” (Doc. 8) The economy was as perfect as France’s government. Since poverty was widespread and taxes were at an all-time high, people started turning to crime. In a report from the British embassy in France to London, it states that “the distress of the poor is already very great . . . nor is it very surprising that robberies should be frequent. ” Public magazines of wheat would have been broken into and pillaged frequently. Bakers were even obligated to close up shop because of mass shoplifting. Doc. 5) Although it would seem that the French citizens would be held responsible for these actions, but with taxes being the way they were, there was little choice for anyone. Taxes were clearly unevenly distributed. In an excerpt from Travels in France by Arthur Young, “Lands held by the nobility are taxed very little. Lands held by commoners are taxed heavily. ”(Doc. 2) The excerpt later goes on to say that the lack of bread was overpowering, as previously expressed, and that the children of the middle class were dressed in ragged clothing.
This gave the third estate incredible misery and depression. With their economy in ruins, the French citizens of the third estate knew that they had much to change, but it infuriated them how the monarch was wasting money. In a document entitled A High Maintenance King, it states that “as much as $1. 5 billion may have been taken from France’s treasury to build a lavish palace at Versailles”. It goes on to say that the king’s bathtub was carved out of a single piece of Languedoc marble. (Doc. ) This in itself would have probably been enough to set the revolutionaries over the top, but to put the icing on the “cake”, their queen Marie was, for lack of a better term, dumb. When told about the lack of bread in the third estate, it is documented that she said, “Let them eat cake”. Knowing that the King had an extremely blind eye to poverty, the women of France led a march, known as the Women’s march on Versailles. These women led a march on Versailles, and demanded that the King and Queen ventured back to Paris with them and gaze upon the wretched life that the third estae had been living with.
In conclusion, there is really no way of knowing which event was so called “more influential” than another. All events as a whole proved to be enough to ignite the spark of passion that was the French Revolution. After the execution of the King and Queen, and then the execution of Robbespierre, there was a heightened sense of nationalism for the people of the third estate. Without this series of events, who knows how the history of modern day France would have been. Perhaps there would even still be a monarchy to this day.