French Pre Revolutionary Government Essay

1163 words - 5 pages

French Pre-Revolutionary Government

The ancien regime was an expression used to describe the system of
government, laws and institutions which preceded the French Revolution
of 1789. The system relied heavily on the 'seigneurial system', based
largely on the medieval feudal system by which the monarch had
absolute power, most of the clergy (first estate) and the nobility
(second estate) were very wealthy, and the peasants (third estate)
were oppressed by heavy taxation and made to work as virtual slaves
for their landlords. It was this system which was an important
contributing factor to the resentment which developed between the
poor, who made up three quarters of France's population at the time,
and the nobles, and eventually led to the uprising of the lower
classes and revolution in 1789. The ancient regime was an outdated
system which ignored the demands of social and economic progress in
favour of keeping the third estate in check and attempting to ensure
that France was a dominant power in Europe. In most European countries
the system of feudalism had died out in the Middle Ages. Although
there were still clear boundaries between rich and poor, this no
longer played a practical role in the political system. However in
France the rigid system which dictated the social and economic
standing of all the country's citizens, from the King to the poorest
peasant, was still very prominent. The King was second only to God,
while the clergy and nobles, many of them very wealthy, paid no taxes
and the peasants lived in poverty serving the landlords and carrying
the weight of the rest of France through the heavy taxes they were
forced to pay.

France did not experience an agricultural or industrial revolution
during the eighteenth century, and in many ways it was very backward
in comparison with other European nations, especially Britain, whose
industry and agriculture had noticeably advanced during the 1800s due
to landlords being willing to put money into developing new
technology. French landlords had no interest in improving the output
of their domain land since they were already comfortably well off, and
the peasants who worked the land had too little capital and security
to take risks on innovations. No one was willing to put money into
machinery for improving output, such as seed drills. Peasants owned
only one third of French land, even thought they cultivated almost
half of it. The church, bourgeoisie and nobility who owned the rest
were unwilling to put money into it. For this reason France made
little to no progress in agriculture during the eighteenth century.
The peasants began to resent their landlords because although they
were living in poverty they were not being offered any prospects of
improvement.

Instead of having a national judicial system which controlled...

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