Who Started The French Revolution?


Advanced Placement European History


2 January 1997


The Revolution was unavoidable. Whether the government and the population of France saw it approaching or not, the country could no longer function subordinate to the Old Regime. So although it was maybe unanticipated, the insurrection was not unwarranted or in any way escapable. The motives that arose over centuries were also perpetuated by negligence, class antagonism and, when the effort was there, ignored efforts to restore the economy, and as the French moved by inertia came to the close of the eighteenth century, all this culminated in one big explosion. “On the debated question of who ‘started’ the Revolution, whose provocation it was which justified the subsequent tumult, Lefebvre answers that a;; the classes were in one way or another responsible; that the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, the urban masses and the peasants, each independently and for reasons of its own, initiated revolutionary action.” (Lefebvre, viii) Perhaps that is why he is known as the worlds most eminent authority on the French Revolution. Although a great deal of historians argue that the French Revolution was clearly a Bourgeois Revolution the actuality remains that the uprising was caused by all the classes working simultaneously and also in this case, against each other, whether out of stubbornness, absolute wrath and fury, and lack of adequate information on the subject, or just economically egocentric reasons.



The aristocracy, the most politically influential class of the time (which also in itself included the upper standing clergy), was slowly retrogressing into feudalism and the seigniorial system. It permeated the majority of legislation and institutions and because of its puissance could not be shaken. The nobility opposed royal absolutism and yearned to do away with it desperately. Their reason was as translucent as can be-power, all to themselves. They drew up strength from such doctrines as the records that proclaimed that the patrician classes are the descendants of the Francs which vanquished the Galo-Romans centuries before and that kings were always elected and that there was no divine right or power involved when it came to monarchy. In February 1787 Callone called the Assembly of Notables to deal with the economic crisis. After months of deliberation the Assembly came up with no feasible resolution. This caused even more animosity towards the crown because of its indecisiveness. Also the aristocracy in itself was becoming quite a futile class. It collected taxes and consumed what the others produced, but gave nothing back to the world around them. “Within the upper strata of the aristocracy, the minority tended to gravitate towards the bourgeoisie, drawn by the pull of money, business enterprise, ideas and manners. Most nobles, however, remained untouched by this movement of renewal, sticking stubbornly to their privileges and traditional outlook.” (Soboul 9) As this happened, the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie became like two forces stretching on an already taut rubber band of the French government. For the blue-blooded the only answer was counterrevolution and they put their best efforts to it . The highborn did everything within their limitations to keep the country as backward as possible, as long as it was to their advantage.



The Crown, through its negligence, indifference and spinelessness only caused more discord. The wars that had gone on in the past left a considerable deficit behind, a debt for which the people were taxed. Louis XV, during his reign tried to impose a tax on the gentry. The nobles would not stand for it and used their voting power to veto the law. After this Louis appointed Maupeau to fix this issue. Maupeau did so by finding a series of parlements to end the judicial oligarchy. These parlements (called the Maupeau Parlements, after their creator) were to get rid of inherent positions in courts and make all offices wage earning jobs and to take away the power of vetoing the royal decrees. Maupeau only succeeded for a little while and later the situation reverted to its original state. Under Louis XVI the same was attempted. This time the man in charge was Turgot. His struggle ended just as fruitlessly as Maupeau’s. As far as the king was concerned, the revival of the judicial oligarchy was final and irrevocable, at least not in his power. He saw the aristocracy as