THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
Q.1 – Describe the circumstances leading to the outbreak of revolutionary protest in France. Ans.1 – The causes responsible for the outbreak of revolutionary protest in France are: 1) Political Causes – Louis XVI of the Bourbon family was an inexperienced, weak ruler who failed to control the clergy and nobility. 2) Economic Causes – Upon his accession, the king found an empty treasure. Long years of war had drained the financial resources of France. Added to this was the cost of maintaining an extravagant court at the palace of Versailles. Under Louis XVI, France helped the 13 American colonies to gain their independence from the common enemy – Britain. The war added more than a billion livres to a debt that had already risen to more than 2 billion livres. Lenders who gave the state credit began to charge 10% interest on loans. So, the French government was obliged to spend an increasing percentage of its budget on interest payments alone. To meet its regular expenses, such as the cost of maintaining an army, the court, running government offices and universities, etc. the state was forced to increase taxes. The increase in population led to subsistence crisis. 3) Social Causes – The French society was divided into 3 estates. The clergy and nobility belonged to the upper class and the commoners belonged to the third estate. Peasants made up about 90% of the population. About 60% of the land was owned by the nobles, the church and other rich members of the third estate. The members of the first two estates – the clergy and the nobility, enjoyed certain privileges by birth. The most important of these was exemption from paying taxes to the state. The nobles further enjoyed feudal privileges. These included feudal dues, which they extracted from the peasants. The peasants were obliged to render services to the Lord, to work in his house and fields, to serve in the army or to participate in building roads. The Church too extracted its share of taxes called ‘tithes’ from the peasants and finally, all members of the third estate had to pay taxes to the state. The burden of financing activities of the state through taxes was borne by the third estate alone. 4) Role of philosophers – Ideas envisaging a society based on freedom and equal laws and opportunities for all were put forward by philosophers such as John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau and Montesquieu. The ideas of these philosophers were discussed intensively in saloons and coffee – houses and spread among people through books and newspapers. The news that Louis XVI planned to impose further taxes to be able to meet his expenses of the state generated anger and protest against the system of privileges.
Q.2 – Name 3 important social thinkers of France in the 18th century. What were their ideas? Ans.2 – The three famous social thinkers of France in the 18th century are John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau and Montesquieu. They believed in a society based on freedom, equal laws and opportunities for all.
Q.3 – What role did Louis XVI play in bringing about the revolution in France? Ans.3 – 1) Louis XVI engaged France in constant wars.
2) He was responsible for draining the financial resources of France. 3) He burdened the people (commoners) with more taxes.
4) Louis, being a weak ruler, failed to limit the powers of clergy and nobility and reformed the French society.
Q.4 – Explain the subsistence crisis during the 18th century. Ans.4 – The population of France rose from about 23 million in 1715 to 28 million in 1789. This led to a rapid increase in the demand for foodgrains. Production of grains could not keep pace with the demand. So, the price of bread which was the staple diet of the majority rose rapidly. Most workers were employed as labourers in workshops whose owner fixed their wages. But wages did not keep pace with the rise in prices. So, the gap between the poor and rich widened. Things became worse whenever drought or hail...
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