The French revolution, some say, was long overdue. The ten years of the revolution (1789 to 1799) was marked by a violent force that overturned a century-old monarchy and embarked on a journey for liberty and equality. But this need for freedom was not born in a day, it was a pent up feeling that was overtly suppressed by a greedy, self-centered monarchy and a power hungry Catholic clergy. A need for a better life and to be equal participants in the nation's prosperity that was so ruthlessly denied to the common man led to the birth of the French revolution. Although this was one of the basic causes, there were more.
French Revolution Causes and Effects
The period between 1715 and 1771 saw French trade and commerce at its peak. Its exports of sugar, coffee, and indigo was second only to Great Britain. But its fortune was not meant for its masses, who worked tirelessly to ensure its steady growth. France was completely enveloped into opportunistic feudalistic arrangements causing much distress to its general populace. With the advancement of technology, other European nations were marching ahead in trade, leaving behind a hurt French economy and unemployment. Paucity of ideas and a will to regenerate the economy on part of its government can also be seen as one of the causes of this revolution.
Financial Stress and Political Inequality
It was during Louis XVI's reign that the French populace began its fight against an unmanageable national debt and an indiscriminate inequitable system of taxation. France was in financial crisis because of its participation in the Seven Years War and the American Revolution. Although France had a parliament in place, the king was unable to rein in the power and prerogatives of the nobility and the clergy, along with his own exorbitant expenditures. Compounded with a high unemployment ratio, the middle and lower class citizens wanted a way out.
Food scarcity was at the center of the French revolution. Crop failure, harsh winters, and famine led to high prices of bread, which was the main source of nutrition for poor peasants, and an increased death toll. The government's failure to help its citizens while enjoying privileges by the way of increased taxes angered many peasants. This anger fueled their need to overpower and get rid of social inequity and put an end to the food shortage. Economic and agricultural problems, combined, evolved into a central cause of the French Revolution. Louis XVI failed to improve the financial situation and did not take kindly to ministers who wanted to bring in financial reforms. The government went bankrupt by 1789.
Years prior to the revolution, France was being intellectually depraved as new ideas and reforms were seen as a threat to the monarchy. However, a large number of French citizens (nobles and peasants included) took to the ideas of equality and freedom as preached by philosophers of the Enlightenment; Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Turgot, etc. These ideas became more pronounced when the French citizens who were actively involved in the American revolution (French navy and troops were sent to aid the Americans) saw results of the American uprising.
The French revolution resulted in the attack on the nature of an undemocratic government, repudiating royal absolutism, and a rising bourgeoisie, spreading the spirit of revolution, which it did come close to losing under the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte. The France we see today is firmly democratic and republican in spirit, which is the result of the French revolution.