Background of the French Revolution: the Need for Reform.

By the 1780´s, many people were unhappy with the way France was governed.

France was the birthplace of the Enlightenment in which many educated people began to question the old way of doing things, asking questions about religion, science and how countries were governed. Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Voltaire, were some of the most important writers from the Enlightenment. They were particularly concerned with the way countries like France were governed. They argued that:
  • the king´s power should come from the people, not from God;
  • governments should be based on reason, science and a respect for humanity;
  • no group in society should have privileges, all people should be treated in the same way.
These ideas had influenced the Americans when they revolted against the British. The French soldiers who returned from America came back to a country very different from the new place they had just left and they began to ask themselves questions about the way their own country was governed.

On the other hand, the tax system in France was very unfair. The nobility and the clergy, who were rich, paid almost no taxes, while the poor paid a lot. Peasants paid the most. It was calculated that out of every 100 francs peasants earned, they paid 85 francs in taxes. One of the most hated taxes was the gabelle. It was a tax on salt. Salt was essential to preserve food through the winter. The gabelle made food much more expensive, which was especially hard on the poor.external image threeestates.jpg
This image shows how the taxation system felt only on the Third Estate. The clergy and the nobles ride an exhausted commoner.

Still, these taxes were not enough, especially after all the wars in which France had been involved during the second half of the 18th century. The French government was almost bankrupt. Louis XVI and his ministers wanted to make the nobles pay taxes. However, in order to do that, Louis needed the French Parlianment to agree. The French Parliament was called the Estates General. When Louis XVI called a meeting of the Estates General in 1789, it was the first time in well over a century that the French Parliament had met. The king was convinced that this new taxes would be approved because the voting system in the Estates General was unfair and rigged. On the other hand, the nobles were convinced that they could control the vote and use it to reduce the king´s power.

external image revdeuda.jpg

At the same time, the luxury in which the royal family, specially Queen Marie Antoinette, lived was hatred by the people.