In 1789, France was the most populated nation in Europe and had been growing continuously since the reign of Louis XIV. However, the people of France were still struggling in other aspects of life. They struggled socially because it was still divided into the Three Estates; the First Estate being the clergy, the Second the nobles, and the Third the peasants, city workers, and the bourgeoisie; the middle class. They also struggled politically because they were still governed by absolute monarchs who ruled through the belief of divine right. The French Revolution was an uprising in France against this monarchy which resulted in the establishment of France as a republic. There were many reasons as to why the French Revolution occured. Three of these reasons include inequality of taxation based on social status, the middle class’ knowledge of the ideas of the Enlightenment, and the tense relationships between the Three Estates.
The first important cause of the French Revolution was inequality of taxation based on social status. The First and Second Estates remained unencumbered by the heavy tax burden that the peasants faced, and these peasants had the least amount of money to begin with. The peasants became angered that they, possessing such little money, were being taxed so heavily. Because of this, they were unable to provide basic necessities, such as bread, for themselves and their families. For example, in Document 1, Arthur Young says; ” There is an injustice in levying imposing the amount each person must pay. Lands held by the nobility are taxed very little. Lands held by commoners are taxed heavily…the price of bread has risen above people’s ability to pay. This causes great misery.” Many peasants died as a result of a lack of money and because of a famine that swept across the country. Meanwhile, the two privileged classes, the First and Second Estates, managed to avoid most if not all taxation. Desperation set in as many peasants began to realize that they would all die if something wasn’t done. This was a driving force behind the peasants revolting.
“The Revolution came from them-the middle class. The working classes were incapable of starting or controlling the Revolution. They were just beginning to learn to read.” (Document 4) The success of the American revolution caused French citizens to believe that the same thing could happen in their country. French citizens, especially the middle class, began thinking about things like a democracy, equality for everyone and a society free of segregation based on social status. As people started thinking about these ideas, they began to desire them. The middle class’ knowledge of the ideas of the Enlightenment allowed them to be the ones to start and control the revolution. The ideas of Voltaire, such as freedom of speech, began making people angry that their own ideas were being suppressed by the corrupt government.