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The Enlightenment laid the foundations of the French Revolution

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Contention: The Enlightenment laid the foundations of the French Revolution, but it was the political ambitions and dissatisfactions of the bourgeoisie combined with the violent outbursts of protests from the neglected and downtrodden peasants that truly set the Revolution in motion and allowed for change. It is 1789 and the French peasants are deeply unhappy. Famine plagues them, the tyranny of their oppressive landlords keeps them tied to the land as secondary citizens, and crop production has been poor. The urban poor are suffering from a faltering economy and steadily depreciating wages. The middle class bourgeoisie are in the meanwhile unsatisfied with the current state of taxation and the immense privileges that their noble counterparts enjoy. Events come to head in a violent eruption as grievances are aired with the storming of the Bastille and the more diplomatic yet still volatile Oath of the Tennis Court. The seeds for the Revolution had long before been sown with the ideas of the Enlightenment, yet the theories and ideas developed during that period had yet to be put into action for they lacked a driving passion and force behind them. The middle class's frustration over the antiquated class distinctions that dictated society led to diplomatic rebellion, and when a deadlock occurred in the National Assembly, the violent demonstrations favored by the starving and struggling peasant and urban poor help to keep the momentum of the movement going, thus the actions of the middle class play off of one another, combining to set in motion a chain of events only to end with the glorious French Revolution. "The Enlightenment was the belief that men would live with greater happiness and dignity if their social institutions were determined by what was considered reasonable or scientific rather than regulated by prescription" (Norman Hampson 195). This Enlightenment, or belief, challenged many of the traditional aspects of French society, rejected the ideas of religious persecution, and assumed many natural rights such as freedom of speech, and freedom from arbitrary arrest. ...read more.


So, they tried to improve their status by becoming land owners themselves. By 1789, the bourgeoisie controlled 20% of all the land. They were upwardly mobile, but they felt frustrated and blocked by the aristocracy, an aristocracy whose only interest was that everyone maintain their place in society (Waldman). By 1789, the bourgeoisie had numerous grievances they wished addressed. They sought a Parliament that would make all the laws for the nation. They desired a constitution that would limit the king's powers. They also desired fair trials, religious toleration and vast administrative reforms. They wanted all Church, army and government positions open to men of talent and merit, as politics and the upper offices of the clergy were a closed arena to the frustrated upper crust of the middle class who dreamed of political power and sweeping legislation that would finally break down the now obsolete legal class distinctions that curbed their every desire (Waldman). When Louis the XVI's financial advisors tried to pass new legislation, which would tax the nobles in order to save the country from financial ruin, the nobles vetoed the taxes and proclaimed that in order for such new measures to be allowed the King must call for a meeting of the Estates General. With the planned meeting the bourgeoisie saw a chance to finally have their voices heard as they would refuse to revert back to the old manner of seating when it came time for the Estates General to meet, instead vowing that all should sit together as one house (Palmer and Colton 368). However, the Parlement of Paris paid no mind to the plan of the bourgeoisie when it ruled in September that the Estate's General would in fact sit as it had before, in separate houses. This unexpected action gave rise to an angry bourgeoisie who immediately blamed the aristocracy for this rather unfavorable turn of events. ...read more.


In this legislation, France asserted its right over Rome to appoint its own bishops and priests. As expected, the action angered Pope Pius VI, who denounced the revolution as godless (Palmer and Colton 370). In September, a Constitutional Monarchy was established in France. The King remained the head of state, but all law making power was placed in the hands of the National Assembly which was to be elected by the upper half of all French males. When Maximilien Robespierre, a then obscure provincial lawyer and member of the National Assembly read the constitution he declared, "The Revolution is over." And so it was. The Revolution that followed the dissolvation of the Consituent Assembly, formerly the National assembly was a different Revolution, driven by different ideals and passions than it's predecessor. The first liberal Revolution began with the ideals of the Enlightenment, progressed through the Bourgeoisie Oath of the Tennis Court fueled by discontent within the middle class, gained momentum from the various uprisings of the masses, and ended with the Constitution of 1791. Even in such a short time period, the revolutionaries were able to achieve much while striving to fulfill their ideals of liberty and equality. Feudalism and serfdom were abolished, the church was nationalized, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, called the "embodiment of the Revolution" by Georges Lefebvre was issued, the church property was seized to save the country from financial ruin, the Constitution of 1791 was drawn up and a unicameral legislature was set up, and France was divided into 83 departments to make for easy governance. (Pink Monkey). Robespierre was correct in proclaiming, "The Revolution is over, " for the "most constructive and lasting reforms were in place, and nothing substantial in the way of liberty and equality would be gained in the next generation" (McKay 707). The ideals of the liberal revolution with their foundation in the Enlightenment had expired, and the passion of the discontented members of the third estate had done all it could to further the concepts of liberty and equality. . ...read more.

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