Coming of the French Revolution of 1789 and the Conflict between the Bourgeoisies and the Aristocracy
“The essential cause of the French Revolution was the collision between a powerful, rising bourgeoisie and an entrenched aristocracy defending its privileges.” French Revolution starting in 1789, in the very surface seems like a revolting movement by the peasant class in conquest for their political rights. However, in depth, it can be analyzed that it was in specific the bourgeoisies that contributed the most to the coming of it due to inequalities that they faced at every aspect when it can be also argued that it is in fact not the class conflict that was necessary for the triggering of the French Revolution, countering the quote, because bourgeoisies were not everyone who had oppositions to the governmental system.
Financial and economic crisis that France experienced was one of the major reason for the coming of the French Revolution on 1789. In the process, the class conflict between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie was imminent. In Louis XV’s reign, France had to undergo numerous military expeditions ranging from the War of the Austrian Succession from 1740 to 1748 and the Seven Year’s War from 1756 to 1763. Additionally, Louis XVI’s international policy to help the American Revolution expanded France’s annual military expenditure. Along with this, France’s national finance was failing due to inefficient management shown in cases like the Mississippi Bubble. These series of events placed France under large debt crisis far beyond monarch’s reach. French monarchs since then tried countless fiscal reforms to rescue France’s economy. These reforms included the increased taille, the land tax, the vingtième, the income tax, and the internal tariffs. These increased tax targeted the Third estate which included the farming peasants, city laborers as well as the growing bourgeoisie. French taxation system in late eighteenth century, considerate of the income level of the subjects, required the most earning to pay more tax. This property chained the high earning bourgeoisies. It is not to say that farmers or other laborers were not burdened by the tax, they were also in economic crisis. However, the bourgeoisies were the most affected by the national debt and the most suffered. Furthermore, the bourgeoisies consisted of merchants and artisans had to pay extra taxes such as patents and tariffs besides the main income tax and church tax as the new Controller-General suppressed guild system. On the other hand, the second estate, consisted of aristocracies were mostly exempt from tax.
The political and social discrimination that the bourgeoisie class had to face also triggered the French Revolution of 1789. Bourgeoisie class was an economically growing social group. However, given their position being the Third Estate, they were never treated equal to the nobles or the priests. This is very well illustrated with the famous quote by Marie-Antoinette, “Let them eat cake!” As the famine in France continued throughout the late 18th century and the government supported liberal economic policies, France suffered great inflation. Grain price as well as the bread price soared up the sky. Ironically, with the inflation, the wage of the workers stagnated. Because of this economic phenomenon, peasants did suffer. However, the most suffered were the city laborers, the artisans, and the merchants. They, living in cities, had to pay for the bread with a price 50% more than what it was before. The merchants had to suffer the high inflation barriers when trading with foreign countries as well as within France and the artisans had to suffer the decrease in demand for their works. This hardship that the Third Estate city residents had to bear was undermined by the nobles. Linking back to Marie-Antoinette’s quote, regardless of whether it was actually said or not, a nobility uttering such things shows how inconsiderate nobles in general were towards the third estate. Furthermore, their constant desire for political suffrage shows the class conflict that bourgeoisies had to endure. Louis XV was considered to be an enlightened despot for his legislative reforms: creation of Maupeou Parlement. This form of Parlement, more so than Parlement of Paris was subservient, creating central judicial system and merit based bureaucracy which in turn suppressed the hereditary nobles. However, during Louis XVI’s reign the Maupeou Parlement was abolished and the prior Parlement of Paris was reinstated. As a result, the talented bourgeoisies’ benefits were confiscated, enlarging the power of the hereditary aristocrats. Also, the Declaration of Rights of Men and Citizen directly shows the ideals that bourgeoisies wanted, grant of citizenship and political freedom according to payment of tax.
However, it was not only the class conflict between the bourgeoisie class and the aristocracy that was essential for the coming of the French Revolution of 1789. Given that France during the 18th century was financially and politically unstable due to the past monarchs, not only the bourgeoisies but also political groups from other social classes expressed their opposition towards the government. At the midst of the establishment of political inequality between the estates, it was at the Assembly of Notables that the idea of calling for the assembly of the Estate-General was first thought of. This shows how not only the third estate and the bourgeoisies themselves but also the nobles of the second estate were in some way aligned to make political equality. It is not to say that they expanded the concept of equality to their general lives, but they made efforts to include the third estate members at deciding over a major issue, taxation. Furthermore, a lot of individuals from the second estate took part in radical reforms and revolutions itself. Marquis de Lafayette was a French general commonly known for his accomplishments in the American War of Independence. However, when he returned from the battle field, he dived into another one by leading the march towards Versailles in 1791. Although it is does not directly show the cause for revolution, it elaborates on the spirit of the revolution of 1789, that the third estate is not the single entity that broke out into war: nobles in opposition to the government’s policies revolted actively. Additionally, numerous clergies were in line with the revolution. For example, Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, a priest, expressed his political and social values through his book, What is the Third Estate, by stating that the third estate should claim their right both politically and socially.
To conclude, the class conflict between the bourgeoisie class and the aristocracy was an essential component in causing the French Revolution of 1789. The social, political inferiority that the bourgeoisies endured created the long fuse triggered by the economic burden. However, viewing from another perspective that many activists were from other classes, show how the class conflict might not have been a necessity. Yes, of course, even if there weren’t a class conflict, there would have been other triggers to start the fire of revolution. However, it was the bourgeoisies that contributed the most to the coming of the revolution of 1789 which can be analyzed that, for the specific revolution of 1789 to happen, the class conflict was necessary.