Revolutions: What is a revolution?



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Year 12 Modern History

French Revolution
MCO








Background


Revolutions: What is a revolution?

Writing an essay? Define a revolution.

Historians tended to focus on one class overthrowing another: redistribution of power.

Liberal democratic revolution: not class related

Coup. One group takes over another ruling group. One group of same class replacing another.
Get a sense of what kind of revolution is it.


Elements of revolutions


  • Poverty

  • Besieged by radical ideas

  • Economic problems

  • Miserable conditions (not always catalyst for revolution)

  • Radical ideas and a new ideology to lead the way

Some if not most of these elements evident in both American Revolution and French Revolutions


The bottom line with is the French Revolution arrives almost suddenly and completely changes France forever. Prior to 1788 there were no real indications of deep unrest or any movement from within a particular class, that revolution was imminent. When it came, the revolution was violent, destructive, complex and turbulent. The revolution in France had four distinct phases in 1788-89 but then proceeded to heave, twist and turn and evolve over the next five years as successive governments battle internal and external forces that threaten the revolution. A moderate government finally restored order in 1795 but it too proved unstable and was overthrown by Napoleon who continued to uphold the revolutionary values that were first revealed in 1789. He became Emperor and the self titled ‘Child of the Revolution.


Thematic Study : Area of Inquiry One:

The nature of pre-revolutionary society and government: The French Revolution



The nature of pre-revolutionary society and government.

The nature of pre-revolutionary society and government





French Revolution

Ruled by a hereditary King

The ancient regime

It was a term used by 1790 to describe the French system of government, laws and institutions, which preceded revolution of 1789.

Louis XV1 king from 1774 (aged 19). Head of social hierarchy. Ruled under an absolute monarchy.


  • Rule by almost complete personal authority

  • Unaccountable to parliament

  • Responsible ‘only to God’.

  • Believed to have received his power directly from God.

Lettre de cachet: the royal order ordering imprisonment without trial.

Adcock Ch.1

Political, Economic, Social and Cultural order





French Revolution




King not supposed to be a despot (harsh dictator).

  • Expected to rule fairly and to protect his subjects

  • Many independent bodies like clergy that King could not interfere with.

  • King made laws after consulting with his ministers. Controller General most important (finances). No Parliament or Cabinet.

  • In provinces king’s appointed 36 intendants governed for him – police, justice, finance.

  • There were 13 parlements of which Paris, covering over a third of France was most powerful. They were law courts. Limited the King’s power. Magistrates who sat in the courts were all Nobles. They bought their positions and could not be dismissed unless King repaid them purchase price of office.

Adcock Chapter 1 re parlements




The Social Order: Adcock Chapter 2

18th century France divided into three Estates. People of ancien régime accepted the inherent inequality as right and natural. (Adcock, p.15)

Key concept of Old Regime, was that of privilege. Special deals with the King meant legal or fiscal arrangements could be made. Certain groups negotiated to pay little or no taxes. Result: deeply entrenched inequality (Adcock op.cit)
French society based on old Middle Ages notion of social classification : estates – based on a definition of what roles people were supposed to play in society culture of deference.

The Social Order

18th century France divided into three Estates. People of ancien régime accepted the inherent inequality as right and natural. (Adcock, p.15)

key concept of Old Regime, was that of privilege. Special deals with the King meant legal or fiscal arrangements could be made. Certain groups negotiated to pay little or no taxes. Result: deeply entrenched inequality (Adcock op.cit)


French society based on old Middle Ages notion of social classification : estates – based on a definition of what roles people were supposed to play in society culture of deference.
See Appendix One A for descriptions. Also Adcock Chapter 2.

Third Estate had few privileges.



  • Pay direct tax to the King: taille and the gabelle

  • Forced to do unpaid labour (corvee royale) on the King’s roads although you could buy way out of obligation.

  • Peasants had considerable feudal dues, the incidence if which vary greatly over France. Heaviest burden on peasants was rent. See Adcock p.19

Decline of Old Order, Forces for Change, Causes of Crisis, Attempts by Rulers to Solve Problems before the outbreak of Revolution

French Revolution


French Economy bankrupt or near bankrupt due to succession of expensive wars.

Tax collection and the entire tax system was inefficient and failed to produce the revenue necessary to keep France from economic collapse

The system no longer supported the three estates:

When the King attempted to introduce reform (introduce tax for 1st and 2nd Estates, those who stood to loose the most, the Clergy, but especially the aristocracy blocked Louis XV1 at every turn.

Massive overseas loans were taken out, as Louis could put no more tax burden on the Third Estate.

See Adcock p.42 for attempts by Louis and his successive Controller Generals attempts at tax (fiscal) reform.
Don’t underestimate the importance of the Enlightenment in this Area of Inquiry. It is explain in Area of Inquiry 2 in more depth. The Enlightenment led many to question the divine right of the King to rule and the whole notion of an absolute monarchy. Remember the Enlightenment was a movement of bourgeoisie and noble intellectuals whose ideas were adopted as moral principles by those who sought to consolidate the Revolution during and after 1789. The Enlightenment was not a revolutionary ideology that kicked started the revolution.

Refer Adcock Chapter 3


Conflicts or tensions between rulers and the ruled





French Revolution



Refer to Appendix One B: Sources of discontent in pre-revolutionary France.





Summary:
France under Louis XV1 was a lumbering, financially crippled throw back to medieval times. Its society was structured to guarantee economic and social inequality. Financial difficulties brought about by a deeply entrenched inefficient and unequal taxation system were brought to a head by a succession of wars. Louis was indecisive and weak willed. He was very much more of a casualty of the system than an incompetent. However, the failure of the economy was seen as his failure and his attempts at tax reform heightened the tensions between his Monarchy and the rights and privileges of the Nobility and the Clergy. Crop failures and poor harvests, cities crowded with starving

peasants and urban workers living in squalor, provided ready fuel for the revolution. This was kicked started by the Nobles in 1788 culminating in the calling of the Estates General: Stage 1 of the Revolution.




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