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French Revolution

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disagree about the political and socioeconomic nature of the Revolution. Traditional Marxist interpretations, such as that presented by Georges Lefebvre,[1] described the revolution as the result of the clash between a feudalistic noble class and the capitalist bourgeois class. Some historians argue that the old aristocratic order of the Ancien RÐ"©gime succumbed to an alliance of the rising bourgeoisie, aggrieved peasants, and urban wage-earners.

Yet another interpretation asserts that the Revolution resulted when various aristocratic and bourgeois reform movements spun out of control. According to this model, these movements coincided with popular movements of the new wage-earning classes and the provincial peasantry, but any alliance between classes was contingent and incidental.

However, adherents of most historical models identify many of the same features of the Ancien RÐ"©gime as being among the causes of the Revolution. Among the economic factors were:

• Louis XV fought numerous wars bringing France upon the verge of bankruptcy, while the support provided by Louis XVI to the colonists during the American Revolution further exacerbated the precarious financial condition of the government. The national debt amounted to almost 2 billion livres. The social burdens caused by war included the huge war debt, made worse by the monarchy's military failures and ineptitude, and the lack of social services for war veterans.

• An inefficient and antiquated financial system unable to manage the national debt, both caused and exacerbated by the burden of a grossly inequitable system of taxation.

• The Roman Catholic Church, the largest landowner in the country, which levied a tax on crops known as the dÐ"®me. While the dÐ"®me lessened the severity of the monarchy's tax increases, it nonetheless served to worsen the plight of the poorest who faced a daily struggle with malnutrition.

• The continued conspicuous consumption of the noble class, especially the court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette at Versailles, despite the financial burden on the populace.

• High unemployment and high bread prices, causing more money to be spent on food and less in other areas of the economy;

• Widespread famine and malnutrition, which increased the likelihood of disease and death, and intentional starvation in the most destitute segments of the population during the months immediately before the Revolution. The famine extended even to other parts of Europe, and was not helped by a poor transportation infrastructure for bulk foods. (Some researchers have also attributed the widespread famine to an El NiÐ"±o effect [2], or colder climate of the little ice age combined with France's failure to adopt the potato as a staple crop[3])

The Ideals: Declaration of Human Rights.

• No internal trade and too many customs barriers[citation needed]

In addition to economic factors, there were social and political factors, many of them involving resentments and aspirations given focus by the rise of Enlightenment ideals:

• Resentment of royal absolutism;

• Resentment by the ambitious professional and mercantile classes towards noble privileges and dominance in public life, many of whom were familiar with the lives of their peers in commercial cities in The Netherlands and Great Britain;

• Resentment by peasants, wage-earners, and the bourgeoisie toward the traditional seigneurial privileges possessed by nobles;

• Resentment of clerical privilege (anti-clericalism) and aspirations for freedom of religion, and resentment of aristocratic bishops by the poorer rural clergy;

• Continued hatred for Catholic control and influence on institutions of all kinds, by the large Protestant minorities;

• Aspirations for liberty and (especially as the Revolution progressed) republicanism;

• Anger toward the King for firing Jacques Necker and A.R.J. Turgot (among other financial advisors), who each possessed a popular image as representatives of the people.[4]

Finally, perhaps above all, was the almost total failure of Louis XVI and his advisors to deal effectively with any of these problems.

Estates-General of 1789

Main article: Estates-General of 1789

The immediate trigger for the Revolution was Louis XVI’s attempts to solve the government’s worsening financial situation. In February 1787, his finance minister, LomÐ"©nie de Brienne, convened an Assembly of Notables, a group of nobles, clergy, bourgeoisie, and bureaucrats selected in order to bypass the parlements. The Controller-General of Finances, Charles Alexandre de Calonne, asked this group to approve a new land tax that would, for the first time, include a tax on the property of nobles and clergy. The assembly did not approve the tax, instead demanding that Louis XVI call the Estates-General. On 8 August 1788, the King agreed to convene the Estates-General in May of 1789. By this time, Jacques Necker was in his second turn as finance minister.

As part of the preparations for the Estates-General, cahiers de dolÐ"©ances (books of grievances) were drawn up across France, listing the complaints of each of the orders. This process helped to generate an expectation of reform of some kind.

There was growing concern, however, that the government would attempt to gerrymander an assembly to its liking. In order to avoid this, the Parlement of Paris proclaimed that the Estates-General would have to meet according to the forms observed at its last meeting. Although it would appear that the magistrates were not specifically aware of the "forms of 1614" when they made this decision, this provoked an uproar. The 1614 Estates had consisted of equal numbers of representatives of each estate, and voting had been by order, with the First Estate (the clergy), the Second Estate (the nobility), and the Third Estate (the remainder of the population) each estate receiving one vote.

Almost immediately the "Committee of Thirty", a body

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