Jack ReidMs. ElliottWorld History II A11 December 2017Causes of the French Revolution On July 14th 1789, the French Revolution officially began. When discussing the French Revolution it is important to evaluate the causes which set these events in motion. These causes include philosophical influences, financial government corruption, and lack of government sympathy; while there were many events and ideas that contributed to the start of the French Revolution, the primary cause was a fiscal crisis caused by excessive government spending. In an 18th century period known as the Enlightenment, politics, science, literature, ideas of government, and philosophy were radically modernized. This message spread through The Enlightenment was not one single event or philosopher who changed the way Europe thought, but instead a culmination of critical thinkers and philosophers who captained discovery and encouraged philosophical dialogue between people. One of the most influential thinkers of the time was an English philosopher named John Locke. Locke believed that all people were born equal and should be afforded the opportunity to be equal and independent from their government(Enlightenment). This message resounded particularly strongly with the people of France, as they had very little power and voice within France’s government(Cumo). While the people of France sympathized with this message, it is doubtful that this was the primary reason for the French Revolution. It is apparent that the Enlightenment played a role in the Revolution, but it was in no way a direct cause of the French Revolution. Firstly, Enlightenment thinkers were for the most part not revolutionaries. There are exceptions to this rule such as Abbe Sieyès, who took Enlightenment ideas and applied them to the Revolution. Most Enlightenment thinkers sought not to radicalize their society, but to further the pursuit of knowledge to benefit the common people. Additionally, much of the French population was motivated primarily by poverty and their inability to thrive under the current system. While Enlightenment ideals were apparent after the Revolution was underway, the people were motivated by more simple desires – that of food and freedom from poverty(Cropper). Revolutions often stem from a deep- rooted discontent with the current government system rather than a surge of new ideas, which was certainly the case in the French Revolution. Before the Revolution, France was divided into three “Estates” – the nobility, the clergy, and the common people. The Third Estate represented an estimated 98% of the French population, yet their power equaled that of the other 2% of the French population(Third). The Estates had a mutual veto power, meaning that any two Estates could veto the other. As the concerns of the clergy and nobility often aligned with each other, this meant that the clergy and nobility held nearly all the power. They could freely control the government and manipulate prices and taxes to benefit themselves. This often came at the detriment of the Third Estate, as the clergy and nobility sought to increase their wealth by taxing the poor. The common people saw this unfair, as did the Estate members who represented them. This resulted in the Third Estate splitting from the Estates Assembly and creating their own assembly called the National Assembly. The National Assembly was finally recognized by King Louis XVI in 1789 after they declared that they would continue meeting until they were declared a formal government structure. This began the transition of France from a monarchy to a republic. This action caused Louis XVI to appear weak and made it seem as though he was yielding to the people. The Siege of Bastille followed soon after, suggesting that his submission prompted the revolution to gain traction. The Siege of Bastille is considered by many to be the formal start of the French Revolution(Revolutionaries), and it was motivated by an angry mob who stormed the prison of Bastille in order to gain access to government munitions(Tennis), which would allow them to more effectively fight back against the tyrannical monarchy. The French people resented their lack of power and representation, however this was only important to them because it meant that they could not fight back against the increased food prices and taxes that their government imposed upon them. In the 17th century, France faced countless financial issues and food shortages. These predicaments were caused by excessive spending by both Louis XVI and his predecessors. The roots to these financial issues reached as far back as the seven years war, also known as the French-Indian War. The French-Indian War was a war fought between Britain and France which started due to a dispute over a portion of land, specifically the Upper Ohio River Valley(French-Indian). The war took place when King Louis XV was still the king of France, and he spent excessive amounts of money in order to maintain his luxurious lifestyle during times of war. This trend of excessive spending carried on into the rule of King Louis XVI, who attempted to resolve the pressing financial deficits; however, he was unwilling to sacrifice his wealth and luxury in order to solve France’s debt crisis. Exorbitant financial pleasures were justified in the eyes of monarchs, as they had “divine right” and thus any money spent on personal pleasures could be considered money spent on a divine figurehead(Pre- Revolutionary). The fact that King Louis XVI placed his financial security over the lives of his people made it seem as though their struggles meant nothing to him. This also meant that the solution for this debt often fell upon the shoulders of the common people. In order to avoid sacrificing this lifestyle, King Louis XVI called the Estates General Assembly to vote on solutions to France’s financial crisis, likely counting on the power imbalance tipped towards the clergy and nobility, whose interests generally aligned with his own, to further tax the poor common people. The French people resented Louis, because he failed at every turn to provide them with the financial means to survive. Not only did the French commoners have to contend with a lack of food, they also had to deal with an increase in population. This meant that the little food that they already had was spread even more thinly between their increasing population(Napoleonic). By the beginning of the 18th century, France had twenty million citizens living within its borders(Social). This number composed of one fifth of Non- Russian Europe’s population, meaning that France had an extremely high concentration of people(Social). Not only did they have to share food with millions of people, this meant that many French people had to tend other’s crops, relying on payment that was afforded to them rather than being able to feed their family consistently with crops they had grown themselves. With the people of France already in deep poverty and hunger, they could not withstand any further tax increases. This meant that the French people had two choices: rebel, or fall deeper into poverty, and possibly die. Because the French people were forced to rebel in order to survive, financial crisis was the largest contributing factor to the French Revolution. The French Revolution was a war for equality which caused a ripple effect through the world, inspiring revolutions in many far- away countries. It had countless factors which contributed to it, the primary causes being the enlightenment, lack of representation within the government, and French financial crisis. Historians still hotly debate over which of these was the primary motivator, and we will likely never reach a concrete conclusion on the subject. While there is no true right answer, for all the above reasons I believe that financial crisis was the primary cause of the French Revolution.