The History of the Hope Diamond and its Relation to Bar Harbor – Part IV

published march 6, 2024 | written by emily cough | edited by bhhs staff

Part IV – The Beginnings of a  Revolution

The French Revolution, which erupted in 1789, was fueled by a complex exchange of social, economic, and political factors that had been brewing for decades. At its core, the revolution was a response to the oppressive feudal system, rampant inequality, and fiscal mismanagement that had plagued France on and off for centuries.

One of the primary catalysts for the revolution was the dire financial situation of the French monarchy. Years of costly wars, extravagant spending by the royal court, and a regressive tax system had left France burdened with crippling debt. To alleviate the financial crisis, King Louis XVI’s government attempted to impose new taxes on the nobility and clergy, who had long been exempt from taxation (McLean, n.d.). However, exceptions and reductions for the aristocracy were doled out regularly, rendering the attempt futile. So, with resistance from the privileged classes, coupled with widespread discontent among the common people, this led to a breakdown of royal authority.

The revolution was also driven by Enlightenment ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity, which had gained traction among intellectuals and the educated bourgeoisie (“The Long and Short Reasons for Why Revolution Broke Out in France in 1789 – Swansea University,” n.d.). Philosophers such as Voltaire, Rousseau, and Montesquieu critiqued the absolute power of the monarchy and advocated for political and social reform. Their ideas, disseminated through pamphlets, newspapers, and salons, “infused independent thinking among the people,” which inspired ordinary citizens to demand greater rights and freedoms (Kumar 2020).

Social inequality further exacerbated tensions within French society. The vast majority of the population; comprised of peasants and urban workers, faced systemic oppression and exploitation at the hands of the aristocracy and clergy. The feudal system, with its rigid social hierarchy and feudal dues, perpetuated inequality and stifled social mobility.

The economic hardships endured by the French people also played a crucial role in precipitating the revolution. Poor harvests, exacerbated by harsh weather conditions and antiquated agricultural practices, led to widespread famine and poverty (“The French Revolution [1789–1799] – Climate in Arts and History” 2023). Meanwhile, rising bread prices and unemployment fueled resentment towards the monarchy and the aristocracy, who were perceived as indifferent to the suffering of the common people.

The Estates General

A month prior to the outbreak of the revolution, Louis XVI had summoned the assembly of the Estates General, a legislative body in France that represented the three main social classes, or estates, of the Ancien Régime: the clergy (First Estate), the nobility (Second Estate), and the common people (Third Estate).

The Estates General had not been convened since 1614, but King Louis XVI called for its assembly in 1789 to address the financial crisis facing France (“Summoning of the Estates General, 1789” 2018). The monarchy was struggling with debt, largely due to its involvement in various wars and a flawed system of taxation that disproportionately burdened the working class.

The summoning of the Estates General was met with great anticipation and excitement, as many hoped it would provide an opportunity to address long standing grievances and push for reforms. However, tensions quickly arose over the issue of representation and voting procedures within the Estates General.

The Third Estate, which represented the common people, demanded that voting be conducted by head count rather than by estate, as this would give them greater influence in the assembly (McLean, n.d.). When their demands were rejected, they declared themselves the National Assembly on June 17, 1789, signaling a break from the traditional structure of the Estates General.

This defiance ultimately led to the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, and the start of the French Revolution. The summoning of the Estates General in 1789, therefore, marked a pivotal moment in French history, as it set the stage for the collapse of the monarchy and the rise of revolutionary forces.

References

Kumar, Sanjeev. 2020. “Impact of Intellectuals and Philosophers in French Revolution 1789.” International Journal of History 2 (1): 56–59. https://www.historyjournal.net/article/44/2-2-19-652.pdf.

McLean, John. n.d. “The Beginning of Revolution | History of Western Civilization II.” https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldhistory2/chapter/the-beginning-of-revolution/.

“Summoning of the Estates General, 1789.” 2018. Palace of Versailles. August 23, 2018. https://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/history/key-dates/summoning-estates-general-1789.

“The French Revolution (1789–1799) – Climate in Arts and History.” 2023. Climate in Arts and History. June 21, 2023. https://www.science.smith.edu/climatelit/the-french-revolution-1789-1799/.“The Long and Short Reasons for Why Revolution Broke Out in France in 1789 – Swansea University.” n.d. https://www.swansea.ac.uk/history/history-study-guides/the-long-and-short-reasons-for-why-revolution-broke-out-in-france-in-1789/.