The Ancien Regime

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The Ancien Regime

This was the socio-political system in place before the revolution which existed in most of Europe during the 18th Century.

Countries were ruled on the basis of absolutism - the monarch has absolute control over the government.

There were two classes of people - privileged and unpriviledged. The unpriviledged people paid taxes and were treated badly, while the priviledged were treated well and excempt from tax.

France was split into three estates: First Estate (high ranking members of the clergy), Second Estate (nobility) and the Third Estate (everyone else - from peasants in the countryside to the wealthy bourgeoisie merchants in the cities)

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The Three Estates - 1st and 2nd Estates

First Estate: Approximately 130,000 high ranking clergy

  • Priviledges - collected the tithe, press censorship, education control, kept records of birth / death / marriages, owned 20% of land
  • Exemptions - paid no taxes, subject to church law rather than civil law
  • Burdens - moral, rather than legal obligation to assist the poor and needy, support the monarchy and the old regime

Second Estate: Approximately 110,000 nobles

  • Priviledges - collected taxes in form of feudal dues, monopolized military and state appointments, owned 20% of land
  • Exemptions - paid no taxes
  • Burdens - support the monarchy and old regime
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The Three Estates - 3rd Estate

Third Estate: approximately 25,000,000 - everyone else (including many parish priests)

  • Priviledges - None
  • Exemptions - None
  • Burdens - paid all taxes (tithe - church tax; ocrot - tax on goods imported into the city; capitation - poll tax; vingtieme - income tax; gabelle - salt tax; taille - land tax; feudal dues for use of local manor`s winepress / ovens etc); corvee - forced road work
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Economic state of France in the Old Regime

  • Economy largely based on agriculture
  • peasant farmers bore burden of taxation
  • poor harvests meant peasants couldn`t afford to pay regular tax and couldn`t afford to have their taxes increased
  • bourgeoisie often managed to gain wealth but were upset that they paid taxes while nobles did not
  • the King (Louis XVI) lavished money on himself and his residence in Versailles
  • Queen Marie Antoinette was seen as a wasteful spender
  • government found its funds depleted due to wars - including the American Revolution
  • Defecit Spending - a government spending more money than it takes in from tax revenues
  • priviledged classes would not submit to being taxed
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Enlightenment Thinking / The Age of Reason

Philisophe thinking during this time was referred to as the Enlightenment - scientists had discovered laws governing the natural world, while philisophes began asking whether natural laws would apply to humans:

  • In particular institutions such as the government
  • they were secular in thinking, using reason / knowledge, rather than faith, supersitition and religion to answer important questions
  • used reason and logic to determine how governments are formed
  • questioned the Divine Right of Kings
  • Locke - contract between government and governed
  • Rousseau - individual freedom and the corruption of modern civilisation
  • Montesquieu - checks and balances
  • Voltaire - freedom of thought and expression
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Long Term Causes of the French Revolution

Long term - causes stemming back many years, also known as underlying causes

  • Absolutism
  • Unjust socio-political system (Old Regime)
  • Poor harvests leaving peasant farmers with little money for taxes
  • Influence of Enlightenment philisophes
  • System of merchantilism which restricted trade
  • Influence of other successful revolutions (England`s Glorious Revolution 1688-1689, American Revolution 1775-1783
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Short Term Causes of the French Revolution

Short term causes occur the close to the moment the change or action occurs - also known as immediate causes.

Bankruptcy - caused by defecit spending, financial ministers (Calonne, Turgot and Necker) proposed changes but were rejected, assembly of Notables voted down nobility taxation in 1787

Great Fear - worst famine in memory, hungry/impoverished peasants feared nobles at the estates general were seeking greater priviledge, attacks on nobles occurred throughout the country in 1789

Estates-General - Louis XVI had no choice but to call for a meeting of the Estates General to  find bankruptcy solution, the threee estates had not met since 1614 - resulted in a chain of events leading to the downfall of the monarchy and the implementation of a whole new system

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Voting in the Estates General 5th May 1789

  • voting was conducted by order (each estate got one vote) and this meant that the first and second estate could operate as a bloc to prevent the third estate from getting its way
  • Representatives from the third estate wanted voting by head (everyone had a vote), which would give them a great advantage. 
  • Deadlock resulted
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Tennis Court Oath

  • The Third Estate declared itself the National Assembly
  • Louis XVI responds by locking them out of the building
  • The Thid Estate relocated to a nearby tennis court where its members vowed to stay together and create a written constitution for France
  • June 23, 1789 Louis XVI relented. He ordered the three estates to meet together as the National Assembly and vote, by head, on a new constitution for France
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