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Did the French Revolution Improved the Lives of the French People?
Between the year 1789 and 1794 France coped with several problems, which lead to change it from an absolute monarchy to a new constitutional government. The cause of that great change was a Revolution that took place between Paris and the palace of Versailles from the end of summer 1789 to the winter of 1794. The cause of a revolution can come from a want of change, from someone who is not satisfied of the conditions in which they live. In 1789, this “someone” was the third Estate: the San-Culottes, or lower classes, commanded by the Bourgeoisie also known as the middle class. Consequently, there would be a group, which would benefit from the revolution and another who would not, ultimately losing power.
To let a revolution take place the leader of the reign should not be strong and powerful. That is what happened in France from the year 1774 when Luis XVI succeeded to the throne. Luis was an insecure man who lacked confidence in his ability to be king; in addiction, he was indecisive. He found it very difficult to make important decisions. Next to him, as a support, there was the Queen who tried to help him in his choices. Before the revolution the king was powerful, rich and everything depended on him. But, unfortunately, he took the wrong judgment more than once, which conducted to a disorder. For example he was convinced by the Church and the Nobility to convene the Estates General, a gathering of representatives from all the three estates (First formed by the church, Second by the nobility and Third the rest of the population). Once he summons the Estates General he officially admitted he was not able to handle the situation by himself. Luis was not able to reign on his own; he was not able to be an absolute king. A second example was when he later tried to escape France, understanding that he had completely lost his power over his reign, and he was also in danger to be killed by the Third Estate who was winning on the Revolution. Thus, after the Revolution was done, the king was soon killed. His head was cut off. He had been humiliated. The queen did not have anymore power too. Their children died soon for diseases, but one was killed after being jailed during the Revolution. The royal family was not anymore at the top of the caste.
Like the Royal Family, also the Church was in a high position. The Church before the Revolution was very wealthy. It occupied 0.5% of the total population and it owned 10 % of the land of France. It did not pay any taxes, in contrast, the church collected taxes from everyone who belonged to the Third Estate, weather they were Christians or not. As the official religion of the kingdom was Christianity, the church was even more powerful: priests and bishops were always needed. In 1790 the National Assembly, a gathering of the most powerful nobles and clergy in the kingdom, produced the Civil Constitution of the Clergy that restricted the power of the church. First of all they did not collect taxes anymore and they would start being paid a salary by the government; they were confiscated the land property by the government for all the taxes they had never paid; Christianity was not the only religion allowed in the state, thus the church did not have all the power it had before; priests and bishops were elected by people, so, not everyone would have an appointed position by inheriting it. Another important issue is that all the priests and bishops had to take an oath of loyalty to the state, otherwise they will not be allowed to say the Mass anymore. Hence, the Church lost all the privileges it had before.
1.5 % of the population of France was occupied by the rich Nobility, which owned 30% of the total land of France. They were extremely wealthy because they did not pay any taxes, but taxed their peasants. They were the only ones who had the privilege to hunt and to fish; they did not pay the Taille that was the property tax, even thought they owned a vast amount of property. The nobles traditionally filled the officer positions in the army, the high clergy positions in the Church, and they served as ministers in the King’s government and judges in the royal courts. As they were very close to the court, they received more clement sentences than the middle and lower class did. The Nobility was very cling to all their privileges. During the Revolution, when the sans-culottes had definitely took advantage and became too powerful, the nobility began fearing to lose their privileges and they soon tried to escape. Later on, they were imposed to come back, being humiliated by the order of a lower class. Consequently, after the Revolution, they had to face a great list of changes. Now they were as all the other citizens, they were at the same level of the King, at the same level of a priest and at the same level of a San-Culotte, a lower class-man. Now they were not anymore the only ones to own lands; they were not the only ones to be allowed to hunt and fish; they were not the only one to vote and be elected.; they were not the only ones to have privileges at the court and being helped with corruption. The Nobility, now, had to pay taxes according to their means, as the opposite of a few years before when the peasants, who worked for them, paid them taxes. There were no more privileges for the caste of the Nobility, probably there would not be anymore the so-called Nobility caste. The Third Estate, furthermore, understood that the presence of it would only cause disorder and they tried to get rid of them sending them away with the King. Then the Nobility, that already knew there was nothing remained for them in France, convinced itself that the best thing to do was to leave.
The wealthiest castes lost power, lost their traditional privileges and lost the great domination they had over all the lower classes before the Revolution. In addiction, the classes who benefited were the lowest ones. The lowest classes of the society consisted in the Third Estate, who was divided into two main groups: the middle class and the lower classes. The middle class, also known as Bourgeoisie, was a well-educated class. For example, there were layers, teachers and other instructed people who could not appoint to high positions even if they had all the knowledge for it. The middle class had to pay heavy taxes to avoid the fact that the church and the nobles did not pay anything. This class was much more wealthier than the lower classes but they were always lumped together with them, in this way they were consider a little more than nothing. Part of this class was Camille Desmoulins, the one who encouraged the san-culottes on July 13, 1789, to attack the Bastille after the king put an army on the way between Paris and Versailles. Maximilien Robespierre was another bourgeoisie man who was a member of the Committee of Public Safety, which was formed by 12 members whose job was to coordinate the war effort. They were actually working with the Revolution; they commanded the army they formed during the revolution. Georges Danton, a dedicated revolutionary, was a third man who belonged to the middle class that worked in the revolution; he was part of the Committee of Public Safety too. Hence, the middle class took advantage in the situation by coordinating the Peasants and the Sans-Culottes, which were the lowest classes. The Peasants occupied about 75% of the population and lived in bad conditions: they had to pay heavy taxes, one to the church and one to their nobles landlords. Furthermore they did not have any privileges such as hunting and fishing. A rebellion in France took place, as ¾ of the population was not satisfied with their conditions. The actual fighters during these years of turmoil were the Sans-Culottes. They were actually fighting for their bread, the high taxes imposed and the consideration they had in the state, that was equal to nothing. On June 20, 1789, the representatives of the Third Estate gathered in an indoor tennis court at Versailles, the so-called Tennis Court Oath. That was the first sign of a Revolution. They wanted a written Constitution that in 1790 was created and it turned into truth their desires. The National Constitution made the king subject of the law: definitely stopped the king being an absolute monarch; ended the power owned by the king. All citizens would have the same rights. All citizens would pay the taxes. Only the citizens who owned substantial amount of property were entitled to vote because men who owned property would be more helpful to the state than men who owned a little. Thus the middle class gained a lot more of privileges: they did not have to pay to many taxes as they did before and they could finally appoint to high positions. The Sans-Culottes and the peasants lived in better conditions too but they still weren’t able to appoint to high positions as they were not enough instructed.
The French Revolution was led by the Third Estate, the final result was supposed to be a big change in the social system. The king lost all his power; he was killed. The rest of the government hated the royal family as it was seen as a negative presence in the reign. Church and Nobles entered the Revolution with privileges and power, and then they became normal citizens, at the same level of a San-Culotte. The Third Estate fought for its rights. The middle class basically transformed the lowest classes, especially the San-Culottes, in an army against the kingdom and they commanded it what to do, where to act and how to act. In conclusion, the one who left the Revolution with the better results was the Bourgeoisie, followed by the rest of the Third Estate. Now, when French people watch the French flag they see three colors: blue, white and red. The colors of Paris, of the population, are now unified with the white, the color of the King. The change was well displayed.