Causes of the French Revolution
In the 1780s, long-standing resentments against the French monarchy fueled anger throughout France. The source of the French people’s ill will could be found in the unequal structure of French government and society. A social and political structure called the Old Order created inequalities in French society. In addition, lands held by commoners were taxed heavily, creating a financial crisis and widespread hunger. While social inequalities were driving poor people toward revolt, new ideas from the Enlightenment were also inspiring the French Revolution. Therefore, these were the main causes of the French Revolution.
Under the Old Order, the king was at the top, and three social groups called estates were under him. These groups varied widely in what they contributed to France, in terms of both work and taxes. Document 2 illustrates the three estates in 1789 and the land each held during the Old Regime. According to this diagram, the First Estate was made up of the Roman Catholic clergy, about one percent of the population. Neither the clergy nor the Roman Catholic Church had to pay taxes. Land belonging to the Roman Catholic Church was also exempt from taxes. Furthermore, the church owned about ten percent of France’s land, which produced vast sums of money in rents and fees. Many people resented the wealth and privileges of the clergy. The Second Estate was made up of the nobility, less than two percent of the population. Although the nobility controlled much of the country’s wealth, they paid few taxes. The Third Estate, by far the largest group of people, was itself made up of the middle class, peasants, and city workers. Although they included about ninety-seven percent of the population, they controlled only fifty-five percent of the land. The Third Estate resented that they had lost power to the monarchy. At the same time, a meeting of the Estates-General was called. In preparation for the event, the representatives...
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