What Events Led to the French Revolution?
Multiple factors, including international turmoil, economic hardship, class disparity, more education and ineffective leadership, led to the French Revolution.
Many factors led to the French Revolution, but some were more important than others. A key trigger of the Revolution was France’s involvement in foreign wars in the years before. The Revolution followed the Seven Years’ War, which lasted between 1756 and 1763 and resulted in victory for England. Consequently, France’s debt increased. The government faced an even tighter financial situation when it gave financial support to the American Revolution. Taxes subsequently increased, and the population responded with anger.
The causes of the French Revolution are similar to the events that caused other revolutions in 18th century Europe. At that time, international turmoil plagued many European nations. Governments’ financial problems coincided with a surge in population growth that stemmed from higher standards of living and education. This phenomenon emerged around 1730. Between 1715 and 1800, the population size of Europe nearly doubled. This growth affected France more than any other country, as it had over 26 million residents by 1789. The larger, more educated population demanded more basic necessities, primarily food and consumer goods. The population growth put a tremendous strain on the country’s natural resources and ultimately led to the agrarian crisis of 1788-1798, which resulted in a food shortage and the population’s growing discontent.
With its larger and wiser population, the French government faced tremendous pressure to satisfy its citizens’ needs. At the time, social classes were divided into the commoners, the bourgeoisie and the noble or aristocratic class, which also included clergymen. Marking a drastic change from the past, commoners found prosperity and new power as they acquired land and assumed professional jobs as bankers, tradesmen, merchants and manufacturers. This group earned the title of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie expressed strong dissatisfaction for the French government, especially its tax reforms, which put the burden on them to pay more. While the commoners accepted tax reform without opposition, the bourgeoisie took issue with the fact that the French government excused its noble and clerical citizens from taxes.
Education also played a role in the French Revolution. The Revolution coincided with the rise of several great 18th century philosophers, whose strong ideas on empowerment of the people sparked discussion among French citizens over the need for social change. France’s educated classes formed “societies of thought” that met in masonic lodges, reading rooms and agricultural societies to discuss ways to improve their societies based on social, economic and political grounds.
Lastly, weak leadership contributed to the rise of the French Revolution. France’s leader at the time was Louis XVI, who was by nature shy and indecisive. His inability to make decisions led to him to dodge France’s pressing problems, which only made them worse. Louis XVI’s hesitancy to take out loans, for instance, led to his country nearly going bankrupt before the Revolution. In response to the impending bankruptcy, Louis XVI was forced to impose heavy taxes that enraged the population and led to its revolt.