Thesis: The inequality between estates, the rising prices in bread, and the creation of the Tennis Court Oath were all main causes of the French Revolution.
One of the leading causes of the French Revolution was the inequality between estates. In 1789, King Louis XVI called a meeting of the Estates- General. There, the third estate expressed discontent with their current political and social standings in comparison to the other estates. They did this through a list of grievances. One change the third estate asked for in that list was “that votes in the assembly should be taken and counted by head” (Document A). The third estate felt that even though they were the largest of the three estates, taking up ninety seven percent of the population, their ideas and well being was not being taken into account. The votes were taken per estate, not taking into account the number of people in the estate. This limited the third estates power and influence in the government greatly. The third estate felt as if they were being taken advantage of by the first and second estate as well as the monarchy. Especially when it came to taxes, the third estate was getting taxed more than the first and second estate, even though they were making much less money. These problems with taxes got to the point that the third estate could no longer afford there own necessities, such as bread. The third estate was essentially paying for France to be run, and without them, France would collapse. This is depicted in a political cartoon called “The people under the Old Regime” (Document B). This cartoon was drawn a year prior to the French Revolution in 1788. The cartoon illustrates three men sitting on top of another man. The man on the bottom represents the third estate. This man is muscular, and on his knees. He is much thinner than the other men, showing that he cannot afford food, and his muscles show that he most likely has a laborious job. His is unable to free himself due to his wrists and ankles being gruesomely chained together and his eyes being covered with a blindfold. He also has what appears to be a bit in his mouth, with reigns that the man atop of him is holding tightly, enabling the men on top of him to have complete control of his every move. The man representing the third estate is being ridden like an animal. As he crawls forward on his bloody hands and knees, the first man on top of him representing the monarchy, is pressing him forward with sharp spurs and carrying a whip. The man on the bottom representing the three men representing the monarchy as well as the first and second estate, just as the third estate is going in France. The third estate is carrying France on their backs by paying the high government taxes. The second man represents the Priest of the Church. His tall golden grown rests on his plump face, and his arm is extended holding paperwork. The third man represents what appears to be a lawyer. This image purposely exaggerates the social divisions of the estates in France before the Revolution. The painting had a wide spread affect on the people of the third estate, encouraging negative thoughts about the current government. These negative views and opinions on the monarchy were magnified as the people watched their government treat them poorly. This painting brought the social division into the eyes of the people of the third estate, making them think about the way the government was being run, and how they were being treated. The third estate realized that without them, France had no funding and would collapse. These ideas portrayed by the painting caused many negative feelings towards the government and gained support for the Revolution. The rising price in wheat was another leading cause of the French Revolution. In a graph representing the average price of a Hectoliter (100 liters) of Wheat in France from the years 1726 to 1790, it shows that the price of wheat more than doubled from the year 1780 to the year 1790 (Document C). The French relied heavily on bread in their daily diet, most families ate three to four loaves of bread every day. With each loaf weighting about four pounds, that is about 16 pounds of bread every day. Bread was the staple of every French families diet, but with the decline in the French’s economy, mixed with bad weather, the price of bread skyrocketed. Combining the high taxes from the government and the rising price in bread, the third estate could no longer pay for their food or taxes. In a table called the Wage Earners Budget, it shows that in 1789 many people in the third estate working in certain occupations could not even come close to affording bread. Someone that worked as a laborer in Rebellion wallpaper works made only fifteen sous a day, while bread cost fourteen and a half sous (Document D). That is 97 percent of this person’s daily income. With prices in bread so high, rebellions broke out across France. People broke into bakeries, commoners were not even safe walking down the street with a piece of bread in their hands. Many governments in the late 1700’s recognized the correlation between high food prices and public disorder. Even though King Louis XVI recognized this problem within his people, he did not take action. In the people’s eyes, this was their king and government putting his own personal happiness and comfort before the third estates food, and well being. Some of the people already had ideas of enlightenment in their heads, these problems and negative public opinion about their government was just wood to the fire. The rising prices of wheat led to riots, which then led to the beginning of the people rebelling against the government.
A third leading cause of the French Revolution was the creation of the Tennis Court Oath. After the meeting of the Estates- General in 1789, the third estate was frustrated and not confident in their government’s ability to fulfill their needs, so the people of the third estate formed the National Assembly. The third estate was then locked out of their meeting place, but determined to proceed, they gathered in a tennis court and each member took an oath. In the oath, they promised “nothing can prevent it from continuing its deliberation”(Document E). The people of the National Assembly were determined to stand up for their rights as French citizens and they would do whatever it took to accomplish their goals. In a painting done by Jacques- Louis David called “The Tennis Court Oath”(Document F), the artist, David, does a remarkable job of portraying the emotions behind the characters in the painting. In the painting there are hundreds of men, all with their arms high in the air and a few even throwing their hats in the air in celebration for their cause. They were able to establish new goal for the National Assembly. The Tennis Court Oath was a statement that the control of the people did not reside with the King, but instead, in the group of people making up 97 percent of France, the third estate. The Oath was the first assertion of authority by the National Assembly. This action united all of the members of the National Assembly with a common goal.