The French Revolution in 1789 was unmanageable for both Louis XVI and the revolutionaries themselves. Events, which took, place prior and during the revolution could not be stopped or their courses altered. The conduct of the French government with their unfair distribution of wealth, the hardships of the Third Estate and the Enlightenment thinkers helped to spark the French revolution.
Louis XVI could have helped to lessen the revolution if he had not put a large financial burden on his country. He should have curbed his extravagant spending as well as not investing heavily in the American’s revolution against England. France was in huge debt and could no longer borrow money to help resolve their situation. The burden of more taxes pushed upon the people, mainly the Third Estate, fueled the revolution. The parasitic nobles and clergy were exempt from almost all taxes leaving the Third Estate (peasants and middle class) to pay for everything. This inefficient tax system cultivated resentment with the nobles and clergy not contributing.
The one cause of the revolution Louis XVI was not in control of was the weather. The brutal weather of 1788 caused crop failure, which led to the 1789 increase in grain prices. The grain prices soared so high that hunger spurred protests and violence. Bread was the staple for most families in France at the time. Starvation was a huge motive, as the masses had nothing to lose. The starving population had placed their trust in the minister of financier Necker to help improve their conditions. Much to their dismay the King dismissed the minister dashing the hopes of relief for the people.
The First and Second Estates (church, clergy, and nobility) were angry with the King over their dwindling privileges but their hatred was nothing compared to the Third Estate. The Third Estate populated the majority of France’s people. The burden they felt paying for the national debt, as well as the extravagances of the King and the upper class, caused hostility. In the French system the Third Estate did not have proper representation in government. France’s citizens were ranked first-Church and clergy, second- Nobility, and third- everyone else. Citizens, which made up the Third Estate, now represented 98 percent of the people but could still be outvoted by the other two other Estates. The two text that changed history “What is the Third Estate” and The Cahiers de doleances “Catalogs of Complaints” were soon to be answered by the King. Louis XVI convened the estate general in 1789 to hear the grievances however he failed to act which enraging his country further. The Third Estate would no longer sit back and not be heard. Reform was long overdue as far as the citizens of France were concerned.
Enlightenment and its thinkers provided the philosophy of the revolution. Enlightenment followers favored freedom of speech, equality, and a limited monarchy. Their ideas were brought to the public who then began to question the hierarchal society and its organization. Kings were not put on the throne by God and should rule by helping their subjects not exploiting them. Inspired by the American Revolutions, France felt they could achieve the same freedoms. Revolutionaries such as Robespierre who led the Jacobins put their inspirational ideas into motion. These enlightened ideas turned into long-brewing grievances. At first they were representing the Third Estate protecting their basic human rights but this soon turned to violence to achieve their goals. The Jacobins called for King Louis XVI to be put on trial for treason. After the King’s execution, on January 21, 1793, Robespierre was elected to the Committee of Public Safety to protect France against its enemies both foreign and domestic. He oversaw the government. His party was there to control prices and seize food but violence was their way to achieve their means. The “Reign of Terror” would soon rebound on them.
The French revolution was said that it “ate its own children”. This was true for the Jacobins. Revolutions breed counter-revolutions. The same people who assumed power from the King were now fighting each other for power. The same techniques they used to justify their killings were now being used upon them. The Law of Suspects passed September 17, 1793 authorized the revolutionaries to try those suspected of treason against the Republic. The trials were unfair with no legal aid and limited results, either acquittal or death. The Jacobins with their leader Robespierre executed over 1400 people in their reign of terror. Their brutal trials proved destructive for the revolution. The revolution then swung in different directions now proving that the Jacobins and their leaders, Robespierre, were now the ones committing treason against France. They then were placed on trial and executed. The revolution was essentially eating its own children. The citizens followed leaders who could not make swift changes for the country. The changes in leadership from one leader to another were adverse giving the country no stabilization. Those who supported a change in 1789 were swept up in the waves of devastation. The movement of the revolution could not stop. The Revolution failed to produce a constitutional Monarchy (such as in England) or a representative government of the people.
The French government and their unfair distribution of wealth and leadership were out of touch with the people leading to the revolution. The Third Estate, with the aid of enlightened thinkers, kept the movement moving. The King, although a weak leader, could not have stopped the revolution as well as its revolutionaries could also not stop themselves from destroying each other. By 1799 France was ready for a new person to lead the country. In a coup d’état General Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew the republic and crowned himself the new French Emperor, ending the French revolution.