Q: If you had to identify the most significant causes of the Revolution, what would theybe?A: First and foremost, it would be most important to analyse the political situation ofFrance before the Revolution. The long reign of Louis the XIV (1643-1715) markedabsolute monarchy at its peak in France. When Louis XIII died the next in line to take thethrone was only 5 years old, Louis XIV. His mother ruled for him along side the newChief Minister, Mazarin, who had been trained by Richelieu. Mazarin was easily hatedbecause of his overbearing attempts to raise taxes. In the 1640’s a group of courageousnobles backed by peasants led a series of revolts against the crown. The revolts alarmedthe young king into believing that only a country with absolute monarchy could preventcivil war. Louis believed that his power came from God and no one should question itsince he had the ?divine right.? After Mazarin’s death in 1661, Louis XIV ruled as anabsolute monarchy. “L’etat c’est moi” in French, meaning “I am the state”, was Louis’description of his power, which shows just how insane France was becoming. Louisworked hard to build up France’s glorious monarchy while his people suffered fromoppression. Because of his reign’s splendor, he was called the “Sun King.” Louis spentfortunes on lavish palaces and opulent city buildings. The most magnificent was Versailles,near Paris, where the royal family resided. Louis ordered many officials to live with him.Those who were against him spent their time pampering King Louis XIV in hopes that hewould give them pensions or higher positions in his court. In 1665 Louis the XIV namedJean Baptiste Colbert as his minister of finance to strengthen France’s economy. Colbertimproved taxation, supported shipbuilding and the navy, and helped industry. These timesdid not last very long, though. Louis’ luxurious lifestyle and France’s frequent wars drainedthe treasury. France, unlike England, had no law that could halt the amount of money thatthe king could spend. Another reason for the decline was Louis’ religious intolerance.Louis was worried that the “Huguenots” would cause rebellion, so he forced them toconvert to Catholicism. When that did not work he reverted to persecution. Many of theHuguenots fled to Protestant countries and North America. After the end of the ThirtyYears War Louis wanted to expand French lands to the north and east to give France aborder that was easier to defend. To make this wish a reality Louis reorganised the Frencharmy. Other European states, afraid of what his actions would be, formed alliances toresist him. Between 1667 and 1714 France went to war 4 times. The most destructive ofthese was the “War of the Spanish Succession”. The war went poorly for France, but thewar ended before France suffered great losses, which resulted in more oppression of theFrench people. The Peace of Utrecht, made up of several treaties, restored the balance inEurope. By the end of Louis the XIV’s reign, the treasury was almost empty. Wars andcareless spending had left France in debt. These troubles were made worse by the warsduring the reign of Louis XV. Financial problems helped weaken the monarchy and bringon the French Revolution in 1789. Another significant reason of conflict was the incredibly stupid Three Estatessystem. In France, preceding the Revolution, the citizens of the country were split up intothree groups or estates. The first estate was divided into two groups: the lower clergy andthe higher clergy. The higher clergy came from wealthy families and the lower clergyconsisted of parish priests. In the second estate were the nobles. They held the highestoffices in government and paid little or no taxes. The third estate, which was the largest,consisted of peasants, city workers, and the middle class. The people in the third estatewere the merchants, bankers, lawyers, doctors, & government workers. Of the threeestates, the first, second, and third, the first two of these groups had all the politicalpower, though they were a mere two percent of the total population. They also hadcontrol over the majority of the land. To add to this the nobles, the second estate, forcedthe peasants of the third estate to do labor and give goods to them, at no charge. Thisabuse of power against the lower class gave the peasants a reason to despise their”superiors.” And to top it all off, the taxes which were inforced on the peasants wereoutrageously high. In some parts of the country taxes took almost half of a peasantsalready inadequate salary, while the rich nobles and clergy did not have to pay taxes. Toadd to this the peasants were also forced to pay fees to the manor lord. These injusticescaused the peasants to want a fairer taxing system and an end to payments of fees to themanor lord. Another major influence was the rising spirit of criticism, which began to takeshape among a brilliant group of writers, the philosophes. These astonishing men, within aspan of a few decades, produced a body of writings rarely, if ever equalled for so muchchallenging thought concentrated in such a time period. In many respects, the homeland ofthe philosophes was France. France was graced with the presence of such great writers asCharles de Montesquieu, whose satirical works against existing institutions and hisexamination of laws and politics acted as a vital importance to the drive behind theRevolution. It was in Paris that Denis Diderot, the author of numerous philosophicaltracts, began the publication of the Encyclop?die, which was meant to serve as both asource of knowledge and as a weapon. Yet, the most influential French writer and apersonal hero of mine, was undoubtedly Voltaire, who is best depicted through hisnumerous pamphlets, essays, satires, and short novels, which popularised the science andphilosophy of his age. And who could forget to brilliant madness of Rousseau, whoseSocial Contract, Emile, and Confessions are destined to create a lasting impression. TheEnlightenment was to be a European rather than a uniquely French phenomenon and hadits roots in an earlier age. But now France had occupied the “center stage.” Althoughunexpected, ideas were being accepted in important circles, including even to some extentmembers of the privileged classes, that were incompatible with the assumptions andpractices of the Bourbon monarchy. In the sense the mid-century decades were of criticalimportance.
Q: Could you familiarise me with some of the highlights from the French Revolution?A: Why yes, of course I can. I would have to say the initial stages of the actualRevolution began during the rioting in Paris in April of 1789. Yes, I remember, it was aFriday, and the people were ready to stand up and fight for their FREEDOM. Ah yes,where was I, oh, the next event of the Revolution occurred in 1789 on June 17, when theThird Estate assumed the title of the National Assembly. And the next important eventwas probably the “Tennis Court Oath,” which happened as a result of the Third Estatebeing locked out of the meeting place at Versailles, so they moved into the palace’s indoortennis court. Many clergymen and a few nobles also moved to the tennis court. Theydemanded a constitution for France and for delegate to have a vote. To accomplish this,they all swore not to leave until their demands were met. Perhaps the next major eventwas the Fall of Bastille, which occurred n July 14, 1789, when the people of Paris weremassed outside of the Bastille, a stone prison. Finally, the people marched in to retrieveguns and gunpowder. The guards not knowing what to do, fired on the people. In the endabout a hundred people were shot and killed, but the huge crowd had taken over thetroops. The people killed the commander and the mayor and stuck their heads on a poleand paraded in the streets of Paris. The next major event happened on August 4, 1789,when the age of Feudalism in France was brought to an end. This stopped the Churchfrom collecting taxes and most importantly, stopped the forced labor from the poorpeasants. This also allowed positions in Church, government, and army to be open to allcitizens of France. After the fall of feudalism, the next highlight was probably when theking fled to Varennes on June 20th, 1791. They wanted not to leave France, but to be neara large military strong-point in case of attack on their land. Few townspeople noticed theroyal coach, but the ones who did were quickly arrested, so as not to spread the word.This stunt caused the King to lose much support from his once loyal subjects. The”people” called private meetings and called for changes in the government of France. Ayear later, during the summer of 1792, France proceeded to declare war on Austria.Prussia decided to back Austria so the two countries invaded France. A new governmentcalled the Commune imprisoned the king and took over power. The Commune held anelection to choose representatives for the new assembly, later called the NationalConvention. And definitely the most significant highlight of the Revolution occurred inSeptember of 1792, when the Nation Convention decided to kill both Louis ?themalformed? XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette- ?the foreigner?.
Q: What was it like after Louis XVI?s death?A: While we had won our independence, France now entered into the Reign ofTerror. The Reign of Terror was, in essence, the government against its opponents. Theleader of the Committee of Public Safety was named Robespierre. He believed thateverything that he did was for the good of France. In his ideal world everyone would befree, equal, and well educated. Robespierre launched a program that was to silence peoplewho criticised the government in any way. There were special courts that tried peoplearrested for being “enemies” of the republic. During the period between September of1793 and the July of 1794, there were between twenty and forty thousand people executedby means of the guillotine and others. Most of the men who were executed wereclergymen, aristocrats, and common people. This finally ended when Robespierre wasarrested in July 27, 1794. The very next day he was escorted to the guillotine and wasexecuted. This was the day that finally ended the Reign of Terror. The death ofRobespierre let the moderates take charge. They removed price controls and limited thevoting rights. A brand new Constitution, in 1795, created a republic. The new republicwas headed by the “Directory,” a group of five men. This new government did not do verywell and soon fell apart. The Directory’s loss of power, in 1799, marked the end of theFrench Revolution.
Q: What kind of short term effects and long term effects did the Revolution have?A: Well, I can give you some short term effects, but since I will be dead by the timeany long term effects occur I can only speculate. The Old Regime was completelyoverturned which was one of the primary goals of the Revolution. The absolute monarchydisappeared and the church and nobility lost their special privileges. This decline of thepower of nobles and clergy’s contributed to the steady rise in the power of thebourgeoisie. The want and need for individual liberty and rights will be spread throughoutthe world. And the French Revolution will bring about the idea of nationalism, which willsteadily spread throughout Europe.