What led to the French Revolution?


Quick Answer

The massive debt of the French state, the resistance of the nobility and clergy toward any tax increases, the growth of Enlightenment philosophy, and a rise in food prices led to the French Revolution. All of these factors destabilized the Ancien Régime and increased the power of commoners.

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What led to the French Revolution?
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Full Answer

One major cause of the French Revolution was the huge debt that the French monarchy had taken on to fight foreign wars. The Seven Years' War, which took place between 1756 and 1763, ended in victory for France's enemy, England, causing more debt for the French. The French incurred even more debt to support the American Revolution. This debt weakened the financial power of the government and forced it to ask for higher taxes.

Though the commoners were willing to accept tax reform, the nobility and the clergy opposed them. Nobles and churchmen enjoyed exemption from taxes, and because of the structure of the French government at the time, they were able to stop the commoners from implementing the changes in tax structure. This stubbornness enraged the commoners, who constituted the vast majority of the population, and eventually led to the French Revolution.

The philosophies of the Enlightenment also spurred the revolutionary mindset. Thinkers such as Montesquieu and John Locke were writing about the importance of balanced government and the will of the people, ideas at odds with the absolute monarchy of the king of France. Also, a series of bad harvests had increased food prices, inflaming anger at the wealthy nobility.

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