What was the main purpose of the French Revolution?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is difficult to suggest that there was any one cause of the French Revolution. The purpose, however, was clear: overthrow of the monarchy. The gradual growth of a revolutionary movement was the result of multiple factors, with the financial crises stemming from French involvement in North American conflicts certainly contributing. It would be an injustice to the study of history, however, to conclude that a revolution years in the making was attributable primarily to those financial burdens, considerable though they were. Rather, an argument can be made that the ideals associated with the Age of Enlightenment were the principle causes of the revolution of 1788. Those ideals, including equality, liberty, constitutionalism, and other hallmarks of a liberal society stood in stark contrast to the reigning monarchy, personified by King Louis XVI and his spouse, Queen Antoinette, the latter historically synonymous with autocratic disregard for the welfare of one's subjects.

The ideals of the Age of Enlightenment, or Reason, were certainly not unique to France. They were, however, central to the revolutionary fervor that swept the salons and saloons of Paris and the rural farm lands of a peasantry no longer interested in feudalism. The financial burden that resulted from excessive expenditures on overseas commitments contributed mightily, but if one were to point to a single major factor or purpose in the French Revolution, the ideals of the era constituted the greatest contributor to the revolt that overthrew the monarchy.

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When the French Revolution broke out in 1789, its main purpose was to address the financial problems of the regime. The numerous wars of the eighteenth century in which France was involved, e.g. the French and Indian War, had caused the government to spend more than it received in revenue. Over time, this deficit had turned into a significant debt which required immediate action.

Part of the problem lay in the French system of taxation. The clergy were exempt from paying taxes and King Louis's minister struggled to raise money from the nobles, so this financial burden fell to the people who had the least money - the merchants and the peasants. As the amount of tax increased, to try and appease France's economic problems, these people were stretched to their limits and consequently became very angry with the tax system. To make matters worse, a number of crop failures in the 1780s left many on the verge of starvation. 

The French Revolution, therefore, was sparked by financial problems and the immediate need to improve the economic well-being of the state.