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French Revolution-  In any country, the seeds of revolution are embedded in the socio-economic and political conditions, coupled with the prevailing sentiments of the population. When the state or society starts deteriorating, discontent begins to brew among its residents or members. The circumstances giving rise to discontent set the stage for a revolution, motivating the intellectual awakening of the masses to seek liberation from those conditions. Historians argue that the French Revolution of 1789, for instance, was a consequence of intellectual awakening and economic hardships faced by the populace.

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French Revolution-1789 AD- What were the Main Reasons for the Revolution?

Causes of the French Revolution in 1789

A- Political Causes

1- Absolute Rule of the Monarch

  • King Louis XVI was an arbitrary ruler, indifferent to governance and government affairs.
  • His queen, Marie Antoinette, was extravagant and spent money lavishly on festivities, contributing to financial strain.
  • All powers of governance were concentrated in the king, who believed in divine rights.

2- Non-Convening of the National Assembly

  • Since 1614, there has been no convocation of the National Representative Assembly.
  • This absence of regular assemblies left the king’s authority unchecked.

3- Unrestrained Power of State Officials

  • Not only the king but his favored officials also exploited and oppressed the people.
  • Any official with a lettre de cachet could imprison anyone without trial, undermining civil liberties.

4- Discontent in the Military

  • Soldiers received minimal wages, making it difficult for them to meet basic needs.
  • Promotions were based on royal favor rather than merit, causing dissatisfaction in the army.

Economic Causes

1- Financial Strain on the State

  • Excessive spending by the monarchy, particularly on wars, led to a severe financial crisis.
  • The state’s debts were exacerbated by the support extended to the American Revolution.

2- Corruption of State Officials

  • Officials could arbitrarily designate individuals for imprisonment using the lettre de cachet, undermining civil liberties.
  • The system lacked transparency and contributed to widespread corruption.

Social Causes

1- Social Injustice and Class Disparities

  • The monarchy’s system of awarding positions lacked meritocracy, favoring nobility and royal cronies.
  • The gap between the privileged and the common people widened, fostering social inequality.

2- Discontent Among the Military

  • Low wages and lack of basic amenities caused dissatisfaction among soldiers.
  • Promotion in the military was more a result of royal favor than merit, leading to unrest.

3- Chaotic Governance

France’s administrative system was corrupt, disorderly, and fraught with flaws.
Appointment to official positions was not based on competence, exacerbating mismanagement.

Table of Contents

4- Flawed Legal System

Diverse Laws in Different Regions:

  • Various regions had different sets of laws, causing confusion and inconsistency.
  • Frequent modifications further complicated the legal landscape.

Incoherent Legal Framework:

  • The legal system lacked a standardized structure, making it difficult to establish a coherent legal code.
  • Laws underwent continuous changes without a stable foundation.

The multiplicity of Laws:

  • Approximately 400 different laws prevailed across various regions of France.
  • The lack of a unified legal code added to the complexities of the legal system.

Achievements in the 17th Century:

  • France attained political glory in the 17th century through numerous victorious wars.
  • King Louis XIII and Louis XIV significantly enhanced France’s political standing.

Louis XV’s Incompetent Rule:

  • Louis XV, however, proved to be an inept ruler, squandering the achievements of his predecessors.
  • His reign was marked by cowardice, extravagance, and foolish decisions.

Louis XVI’s Weak Leadership:

  • Louis XVI continued the trend of weak leadership, displaying incompetence, financial mismanagement, and lack of foresight.
  • The monarchy lost its political credibility.

Corrupt Judicial System

Limited Judicial Infrastructure:

  • France had only 17 courts at the time, leading to a shortage of judicial resources.
  • Judicial positions were often acquired through purchase.

Role of Local Nobility:

  • Local nobility predominantly occupied judicial roles, creating a biased and corrupt system.
  • These judges, known as “Choge Vale Samant,” engaged in nepotism and bribery.

Ineffective Legal Proceedings:

  • Judicial appointments were susceptible to buying and selling.
  • The justice system lacked integrity, with judges making decisions based on bribery and partiality rather than legal principles.

B- Social Causes of the 1789 French Revolution

1. Widespread Social Inequality

Class Division:

  • French society was divided into three classes with stark inequalities.
  • The privileged class, including nobility and clergy, enjoyed extensive rights and levied taxes on peasants.

2. Privileged Class Exploitation

Economic Disparities:

  • The privileged class, consisting of nobles and clergy, possessed 40% of the state’s total income.
  • They were exempt from most taxes, placing the burden on peasants who faced exploitation and forced labor.

3. Middle-Class Support for Revolution

Role of Bourgeoisie:

  • The middle class, engaged in commerce and professions, lacked special privileges.
  • During the revolution, the bourgeoisie sought support from the common people and played a pivotal role.

4. Struggles of the Common People

Plight of the Working Class:

  • The lower class, comprising laborers, peasants, and craftsmen, endured difficult conditions.
  • Excessive levies and exploitation fueled discontent among the common people.

(C) Intellectual Causes

1. Influence of Enlightenment Thinkers


Author of ‘The Spirit of Laws,’ Montesquieu challenged the divine rights of kings and advocated that rulers derive authority from the people.

Critique by Voltaire
Voltaire’s Opposition:
Voltaire criticized the monarchy and the church through his writings, fostering skepticism among the population.
Exposed the luxurious and decadent lifestyles of the clergy and nobility.

Rousseau’s Impact

Rousseau’s Ideals:
Rousseau’s works, including ‘Emile’ and ‘Social Contract,’ inspired revolutionary zeal.
Emphasized individual rights, and equality, and envisioned a democratic governance system.

Advocacy for Economic Freedom
Economist Quesnay supported liberating trade from restrictions, aligning with the revolutionary sentiment for economic freedom.

Diderot’s Encyclopedic Knowledge

Diderot’s Encyclopedia:
Diderot compiled a comprehensive ‘Encyclopedia’ across 17 volumes, exposing prevalent societal injustices to the common people.

Economic Causes and the Influence of the American Revolution

D- Economic Causes

Extravagance of the Royal Court:

  • The royal court’s extravagant lifestyle, especially King Louis XVI’s residence in the Versailles Palace, incurred significant national expenditure.
  • The construction of Versailles Palace alone cost around 10 billion dollars, contributing to financial strain.

Enormous Expenses in Wars:

  • Louis XIV’s involvement in wars, such as the War of Spanish Succession and the Seven Years’ War, exacerbated France’s financial difficulties.
  • Participation in the American Revolution further burdened France with considerable war expenses.

Faulty Tax System:

  • France’s tax system was highly unjust, burdening the common people with exorbitant taxes while exempting the privileged classes.
  • The tax system and its implementation resulted in dissatisfaction and resentment among the general populace.

Rampant Government Expenditure:

  • The royal bureaucracy’s excessive expenditure drained the national treasury.
  • Mismanagement of finances and inefficient tax collection further contributed to economic instability.

E- Influence of the American Revolution

Financial Strain Due to Support:

  • France’s support for the American Revolution against British rule strained its finances.
  • The financial aid provided to the American colonies added to the mounting debt of the French monarchy.

Inspirational Impact:

The American Revolution served as an inspiration for the French people, encouraging them to seek liberty and challenge oppressive monarchies.
It fueled the belief that a nation could successfully revolt against tyranny and establish a more democratic system.

Professor Mahajan’s Analysis- Professor Mahajan notes, “Participation in the American War of Independence completely shattered France’s economy. It cannot be denied that France’s involvement in the American Revolution was the cause of economic turmoil, leading to the explosion of the revolution.”

F- The character of the King and Queen

King Louis XVI:

  • Louis XVI exhibited extreme weakness of character and an unstable nature.
  • Unlike his predecessors, who faced public discontent due to their policies, he could not rectify the situation.
  • He spent most of his time in hunting, entertainment, and luxurious activities, aggravating public dissatisfaction.
  • His indecisiveness and lack of wisdom were evident in removing ministers like Turgot and Necker under pressure from nobility and courtiers.
  • Louis XVI neither possessed the qualities to alleviate public discontent nor the courage to bring about change.

Queen Marie Antoinette:

  • Despite being intellectually sharp, Queen Marie Antoinette had a frivolous and luxurious disposition.
  • Her influence on the king was profound, but she compelled him to adhere to incorrect policies.
  • Instead of offering appropriate advice to her husband, she often insisted on pursuing erroneous policies.
  • Despite her intellect, the queen exhibited a fickle and indulgent nature.
  • These various reasons contributed to the French Revolution in 1789.

Perspectives on the Revolution

  • According to Loz, “The French people were more aware of their difficulties. The root cause of the revolution was the people’s unwillingness to endure the evils of the ancient regime without the severity of their sufferings.”
  • Categorically, Kautsky wrote that “compared to various evils, French civilization’s high level was more helpful in the explosion of the revolution.”
  • Lord Elton concurred, stating that “the French Revolution was primarily a movement against disorder rather than a movement for establishing order.”
  • These factors underscore the multifaceted causes of the French Revolution and its eruption in 1789.


Q- What was the French Revolution?

Answer: The French Revolution was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France from 1789 to 1799, leading to the end of the monarchy and the rise of democracy.

Q- What triggered the French Revolution?

Answer: The revolution was triggered by economic hardships, social inequality, and political discontent, exacerbated by France’s financial crisis and the influence of Enlightenment ideas.

Q- Who were the key figures in the French Revolution?

Answer: Key figures included Maximilien Robespierre, Jean-Paul Marat, and Georges Danton, leading revolutionary figures, along with King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette.

Q- How did economic factors contribute to the revolution?

Answer: Economic issues, such as high taxes, food scarcity, and a burgeoning national debt, fueled public resentment and played a crucial role in sparking the revolution.

Q- What were the Estates-General and its significance?

Answer: The Estates-General was a representative assembly that convened in 1789. Its significance lies in being a catalyst for the revolution, as it highlighted class disparities and led to the formation of the National Assembly.

Q- What was the Reign of Terror?

Answer: The Reign of Terror (1793-1794) was a period marked by extreme political violence, mass executions, and suppression of dissent, orchestrated by radical revolutionaries, notably Robespierre.

Q- What role did external influences play in the French Revolution?

Answer: External factors, such as support from the American Revolution and France’s involvement in wars, strained its economy and contributed to the revolution’s intensity.

Q- How did the French Revolution impact society and culture?

Answer: The revolution led to the end of feudalism, the rise of nationalism, and significant cultural changes, including the spread of revolutionary ideals and the metric system.

Q- What was the significance of the Napoleonic era?

Answer: The Napoleonic era (1799-1815) saw Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise to power, bringing stability to France but also spreading revolutionary ideals across Europe through military conquests.

Q- What lessons can be learned from the French Revolution?

Answer: The French Revolution teaches us about the consequences of social inequality, the power of public discontent, and the complexities of transitioning from autocracy to democracy.

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