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For the Want of a Change: The Quest for a Republic Essay

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The social unrest in France allowed for Enlightenment ideals of democracy to instigate revolt and eventually, a revolution. The Enlightenment thinkers significantly influenced France and their ideas regarding a democratic state flourished during a time of turmoil because the people of France were dissatisfied with the current administration. This led to revolt and revolution.

The events occurring in France during the late eighteenth century forever altered the nation. One of the most crucial changes in France was that it was no longer an absolutist state, but instead a republic. “it was the great revolution of the eighteenth century, the revolution that opened the modern era in politics (McKay 615). The French Revolution also had many repercussions that would tremendously affect the whole of Europe. One of these repercussions the ideals established by these events would transform the way Europeans thought of ruling themselves.

The Enlightenment preceded the revolution. The main thought behind the Enlightenment was that society should be governed by reason instead of faith. Enlightened thinkers believed that the government of France should be reformed. These thinkers disapproved of absolutism as a way to govern (France). “no political system could claim divine sanction” (France). In their eyes, divine right was not a viable rationale for sovereignty. They wished for France reformed into a freethinking democracy.

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Social unrest among the people was aroused after the financial crisis. The royal government was unsuccessful in its attempt to reform the tax system. Consequently, they were forced to fund the American Revolution with borrowed money, which culminated in debt (615). A poor grain harvest for the common people also resulted in an economic depression. The economy was unfortunate and people fell on hard times. Demand collapsed and thousands of people were dismissed from their jobs. Hundreds of thousands of people were unemployed. French people under this economy were exceedingly poor and oppressed (616).

The political tension among the nobility and the bourgeoisie added to the strife. The Estates-General consists of the Three Estates. The Three Estates include the clergy (1st Estate), the nobility (2nd Estate), and everyone else (3rd Estate) (Estates-General).The nobility had special privileges that came with their position. The bourgeoisie were the more affluent members of the population who did not possess a title (612). “it was becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish clearly between the nobility and the bourgeoisie” (France). The bourgeoisie were similar to the nobility in wealth and influence expect for the fact that they did not have the privileges that the nobility possessed and they were part of the Third Estate.

The Third Estate had the most members because it included most of the population of France and it comprised of double the representatives of the first two estates; yet they still only had one vote (each Estate had one vote). The first two estates would always conspire to outvote the third estate. This rendered the Estates Assembly meaningless and the people of France who were not nobility were outraged at their lack of power (612). “an emerging elite that included both aristocratic and bourgeois notables were frustrated by a bureaucratic monarchy that continued to claim the right to absolute power” (613). Even though there was tension between the classes, all of them were opposed to an absolutist monarchy.

Naturally the dissent of the people could not be stifled. “no monarch, however brilliant, could have met the rising liberal and nationalist expectations of tens of thousands of dissatisfied and vocal people, steeped in Enlightenment thought, who were committed to becoming the empowered citizens of a fraternal state” (France). The Enlightenment had greatly influenced the people of France. They held the ideals of the Enlightenment in their heads. They were also malcontented at their current administration. They yearned for a more just establishment. They wanted change. They wanted an individualist democracy.

The first stirrings of change were beginning to happen. People were revolting and a revolution was soon underway. “Against this background of political and economic crisis, the people of Paris entered decisively onto the revolutionary stage” (616). The turmoil in France arrived at the point where the people resolved to do something about it. The rebellion was a protest against the King and it was successful. It was when the Third Estate refused to convene the Estates-General and created the National Assembly.

They had their assembly and they swore an oath to not come out until they had made a new constitution. The King decided to mobilize troops and dismiss his ministers. The only thing that saved this National Assembly and stopped the King was mobilization of the people. The National Assembly devised the “Declaration of the Rights of Man”, which wrote down the rights of French citizens and derived inspiration and ideas from the Enlightenment thinkers (616-617).

The Enlightenment didn’t necessarily lead to the French Revolution, but the conflict within the country allowed for its ideas to come to fruition. The turmoil brought about a desire for change. People wanted a democratic and just nation. Something the Enlightened thinkers of the eighteenth century were acutely keen on (French). Naturally, this led to revolt and a revolution of the people. The French Revolution didn’t proceed as planned, but France still ended up with a republic at the end.

Sources

1. “Estates-General.” World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, 2012. Web. 5 Dec. 2012.

2. “France.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 05 Dec. 2012.

3. “French Revolution.” World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, 2012. Web. 4 Dec. 2012.

4. “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity (Overview).” World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, 2012. Web. 4 Dec. 2012.

5. McKay, John P., Bennett D. Hill, John Buckler, Patricia Buckley Ebrey, Roger B. Beck, Clare Haru Crowston, and Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks. A History of World Societies. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988. Print.

6. Schwartz. “The French Revolution: Causes, Outcomes, Conflicting Interpretations.” Mtholyoke.edu. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2012.

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