French Revolution Learning Goals• Students will investigate, using their interpretations of primary and secondary sources, how the Enlightenment played a role in developing notions of nationalism and republicanism for the French people.• Students will evaluate the economic, political, social and cultural climate of Old Regime France and explain how this climate was conducive to revolution
More Goals• Students will examine the origins and development of modern democratic forms of government, political equality, and the separation of powers in France.
It’s the 1770’s in France• At this time, France’s citizens are divided up into three different estates • First Estate • This was the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church. • They made up less than 1% of the population, but owned 10% of the land and paid about 2% of their income to the state.
• Second Estate • This was the nobles. • 2% of the population, but owned 20% of the land. Oh, and they didn’t pay taxes. Nice.
• Third Estate • The other 98% of the population. • They too were divided into three different groups. 1. The bourgeoisie were usually merchants and artisans. They could be rich but had to pay taxes and didn’t get the privileges of the nobles. They were into the Enlightenment. 2. The city workers were poor wage-earners. 3. The peasants made up about 80% of the overall population and paid out nearly half their income to various entities.
• So you have about 2% of the population owning 30% of the land and paying almost nothing in taxes while the other 98% is largely poor, disaffected, heavily taxed, shut out of the political process, and is being influenced by Enlightenment ideals of democracy, social contracts, and overthrow of sovereigns.• Not to mention the successful revolution those nice Americans just had. It just needs a spark.
Another part of the problem was the royal family.• The king, Louis XVI, while reasonably popular, was terribly indecisive. Modern scholars think he may have suffered from clinical depression.• During his bouts of depression, his queen, Marie Antoinette, took control. • Marie was very unpopular. She was Austrian, flaunted extravagance, and resisted French social etiquette to the point of shocking the elite. • In her defense, however, Marie was married at age 14 just hours after meeting Louis for the first time (Louis was just 16, painfully shy, ate a lot, and their marriage was reportedly not consummated for seven years) and the French etiquette in the royal court was ridiculous with the royals always on display.
Thrown into this volatile mix was a bad economy• First off, the crown was spending a lot. • Like most kings, Louis 16 was spending a lot on wars, including helping out those nice American revolutionaries. • Louis and Marie were also spending a lot on their own personal luxuries, which was bad enough in itself, but also looked bad to others. Marie actually had no real concept of the value of money.
• The system of taxation, while unfair, was also inefficient and unbalanced.• One finance minister even proposed further spending to inspire confidence in the state’s finances, though he also wanted better taxation.
• Louis tried reforming the tax system, but the noble assemblies resisted him.• Finally, the Estates-General is called in 1789 at Versailles.
Estates-General• This was an assembly of representatives of all three estates.• Each estate met separately and submitted one vote each on proposals. The first and second estates, with similar interests, could defeat the third estate.
• This didn’t sit well with the third estate. Especially, since they thought they had won a victory by getting double representation.• So the third estate demanded to meet as one body with each deputy having one vote, which would swing favor to them. • One of their leaders was the Abbe Sieyes who released a pamphlet asking, “What is the Third Estate? Everything. What has it been up to now in the political order? Nothing. What does it demand? To become something herein.”
• The third estate thus forms itself into the National Assembly, with the power to pass laws for the people. • This was pretty radical in itself and the Assembly declared itself the power in France. • They got locked out of their chamber, barged into an indoor tennis court and took what has become known as the Tennis Court Oath. • The oath: We swear never to separate ourselves from the National Assembly, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the realm is drawn up and fixed upon solid foundations. • Again, revolutionary in that they were declaring power derived from the people and not the king.
Louis tries to make nice with the National Assembly and even orders the other two estates to join them.• He’s also getting paranoid and distrusts his guards and starts using mercenaries who the people distrusted.• Other events take place and the unrest grows.
• Eventually the Bastille is stormed. • The Bastille was a prison and a symbol of the ancien regime. It was also a weapons depot and the mob wanted the weapons and gun powder. • It wasn’t much of an active prison at this point and was slated for closure. At the time, it had only seven prisoners: four forgers, two lunatics, and a pedophile. Vive la revolution! You want some candy?