Causes of the French Revolution
There is no doubt that the French Revolution has had a profound effect on the world. The cause or causes of it have been greatly disputed. Clearly the Revolution's primary cause was the presence of a weak monarchy and a lack of a stable system of government.
France's absolute monarchy had many changes toward the end of the eighteenth century. Louis XIV, in his attempts to centralize his authority and also lessen the power of the aristocrats, had planned out an intendant system. The intendants were like governors. They would oversee one region of the country. These intendants did not govern the region in which they lived and were chosen from other than the aristocracy. This insured that their loyalty was pledged to the king and not to their own region.
This system caused great disturbances among the aristocrats who felt that the regions should rule them, which in fact, would take away the power from the monarchy. Unfortunately for Louis XVI, this system had been corrupted by the time he had come to power. The intendants had been replaced by nobility and they had no loyalty to the monarchy.
Everybody was trying to be more independent from the monarchy. The Parliaments, who before Louis XIV, had the right to veto the king's legislation, all changed when Louis XIV had made it illegal to veto. This had diminished any kind of check or balance that had existed in France.
This decision by Louis XIV made the Parliaments rebel against Louis XVI. Louis XVI, who had not been a very strong king to begin with, sat idle while the Parliaments reduced his power. France, who had been in debt, could not raise taxes because the Parliaments would not pass it. Nothing was accomplished because the government could not agree on anything.
While all of this was going on, there were many problems escalating between the social divisions in France. There were three divisions or classes in France. These classes were called estates. The first estate which was composed of church officials, had great power and obtained enormous salaries. Church officials obtained their salaries via taxes collected from church property. Therefore, since the officials received their salaries from the church property, they did not have to pay taxes.
The second estate was mainly composed of nobility. They too were exempt from paying taxes. This left the tax burden upon the third estate. The third estate consisted of some merchants and entrepreneurs; however, the majority were peasants. Corruption of the estates was causing much frustration among the common people who composed 70 percent of the population.
The monarchy tried to make an attempt to give the third estate power. The monarchy established the Estate's General. This too, was corrupted. Unlike most legislative bodies, the Estate's General did not vote by each person having a single vote. Rather, they let each estate have one vote each. Since...