Pre-revolutionary France was very significant in the History of the country, France prior to the revolution was a very complex and elaborate country. France was split into thirty-six divisions knows as “generalities” and these generalities were further divided for each level of the church. The laws of the country varied from different provinces and caused controversy due to the lack of universality including different tax measures. Under the reign of King Louis XVI, French society was categorized into three different groups, the clergy, the nobility and the third estate. Due to the costly involvement in the American Revolution and not to mention the excessive spending by King Louis XVI, France was close to bankruptcy. During this time, the age of reason or the enlightenment was a movement taking place in Europe. The people of France appealed to the ideas of the enlightenment and eventually, this led to the end of the monarchy. Although there were numerous causes for the French revolution, including financial strain and leadership of the king, ultimately the idea of the enlightenment and philosophers were key in sparking a revolution.
The French revolution began in 1789 and ended in the late 1790s. The French revolution was led by Napoleon Bonaparte, he assisted French people with removal of the absolute monarchy. Napoleon worked his way up the ranks of the military during the French Revolution, he was a very powerful and significant figure throughout the revolution. Though the revolution was not as successful as the American revolution and did not fulfill its goals, the revolution did help shape the principles and ideas of the people into the country. It showed the monarchy how powerful the citizens of their country truly were. Similar to the American Revolution, the French Revolution was influenced by the ideas of the enlightenment and in particular the social contract. The social contract was a theory formed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in 1762 and stated that the priority of the government should be trying to attain freedom equality and justice for all citizens regardless of the majority. The social contract was created prior to the French Revolution and was a foundation for the people to rely on, it outlined their beliefs and gave the French people a goal to fight towards. The social contract states “Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains” this quote suggested that humans have free will and were meant to equals, therefore, no man has the power in him to govern another. Rousseau implies what seems very similar to a form of a democracy, where each man has the power to change the laws that were set by the citizens, however, this is only effective in small society’s, unlike France at the time. This influenced the people of France’s ideas and values in order to make them appeal to a more direct form of government. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was an avid supporter of revolutions when he initially released the social contract people were outraged and demanded that he censor his work. His work was controversial to the point were he became classified as a criminal in France.
Rousseau was not the only philosopher during the period of the French Revolution, there were two prominent philosophers known as the philosophes, Baron de Montesquieu and Voltaire. Montesquieu thought the government would be most efficient if divided into three separate bodies of power legislative, executive, and judicial power in which all of these three bodies were considered part of the law. Montesquieu also believed that there were three types of government republican governments, monarchies and despotism. He stated that a monarchy was corrupt when the monarch no longer rules fairly or rules on the basis of personal whim, he believed that in order to provide people with freedom there must be a certain type of government that is put in place that will have certain elements of liberty as well. Montesquieu wanted to improve human life and decided this was only possible if the government was made up of rules and laws that could reduce the problems of society. He wrote in his work “When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty” therefore, in his opinion no branch should be able to intimidate the freedom of the people. Voltaire was famous for three of his occupations he had done which were philosophy, history, and writing.Voltaire views very liberal and provided the French with ideas of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. During this period of time, there was a huge amount of religious intolerance in France causing many to lose their lives. Voltaire hated the French government as he saw how they favoured the noble yet hated democracy due to the fact that he believed it made the lower class conclude they had rights. He called for the separation of the church and state, one of the most controversial acts to propose at the time. Voltaire did not believe in any single religion and did not believe that one was needed to believe in God. Both of these philosophes directly influenced the people of France’s morals and ideas with their separate beliefs.
After the chaos of the French revolution, the monarchy was removed from power. The king and the queen at the time were executed and the government constantly tired to find a stable foundation in which they could please their people. France tried to rebuild itself into something new, the prior ideology of the “three estates” were abolished and nobility ceased to exist. After the French Revolution Napoleon Bonaparte became the leader of France and France entered a fifteen-year period of military rule. The French revolution increased the amount of French Nationalism that was present and set the foundation for the upcoming democratic France. It also allowed for religious freedom to be present in France contrary to before where the Catholic Church had maintained all the power. Though the French Revolution could not solve the predicament among the classes it did cause the middle class to emerge. The citizens of France completely transformed the monarchy after the revolution took place. The French revolution led to the formation of a republic and allowed French citizens to claim their natural rights. The French revolution though not completely useful to the lower class did allow them to claim land ownership rights and even let them expand their estates. Finally, The French revolution gave the people of France their basic human rights, it allowed them to be represented in a society where they were oppressed by those with more power typically the clergy.
In conclusion, the ideas of the enlightenment and the philosophes were key in sparking a revolution. The enlightenment was key in sparking a revolution as the citizens of France began to believe in the ideas of these thinkers, in essence giving them the power to overthrow their government. Sadly, the revolution was not planned to the best extent and made France into chaos due to the fact that many people who were against the revolution were guillotined. Overall, the French Revolution had many short term and long term effects on France. The citizens of France were influenced particularly by the concepts of sovereignty and human rights, through the works such as The Spirit of the Laws and The Leviathan. One of the best outcomes of the war the fact that the prior ideology of the “three estates” were abolished and nobility ceased to exist. The enlightenment allowed the people of France to understand the concept of bettering their own society by taking matters into their own hands. It allowed French citizens to become more knowledgeable about their own government making it possible for them to revolt. Which is why although there were numerous causes for the French revolution, including financial strain and leadership of the king, ultimately the idea of the enlightenment and philosophers were key in sparking a revolution.