What were the most important conflicts between various social groups in eighteenth-century France?

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The major conflicts between classes in the decades leading up to the French Revolution were between the lower classes (proletariat) and the upper class (bourgeoisie), which consisted mainly of the nobles and extremely wealthy. The lower classes were tired of being oppressed and left without any significant share of wealth, and they were also frustrated with the monarchy after observing democracy blossom in the United States

The middle classes, mainly more affluent working-class individuals such as merchants and owners of businesses, wanted the ability to strike it rich and own large plots of land, which were controlled by the wealthy at the time. The lower-income people wanted any sort of improvement in their lifestyle and some ability to share in the country's wealth. Their lives were so impoverished that being able to rent decent housing would be a drastic improvement, let alone owning property.

Meanwhile, the wealthiest individuals did not want to lose their wealth and power. This power struggle led to the lower classes joining together to revolutionize and overthrow the upper-class citizens and nobility.

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The greatest source of conflict between the three classes, or estates, was taxation. Despite their phenomenal wealth, the First Estate (the clergy) and the Second Estate (the aristocracy) didn't pay taxes. This created huge financial problems for the French state, and on the eve of revolution, France was virtually bankrupt as a consequence. Moreover, the tax privileges of the First and Second Estates generated huge resentment among the Third Estate (everyone else in society), which did pay taxes of one kind of another.

Many of the leading members of the Third Estate were quite wealthy—lawyers, bankers, merchants, professional men—and felt themselves entitled to a greater share in political power. They found themselves in a similar situation to the American colonists in that they had taxation but no representation.

When King Louis XVI convened the Estates General in 1789—the first time it had met since 1614—all of the social tensions that had been building up for centuries suddenly burst out into the open. The First and Second Estates treated the Third Estate with haughty contempt and refused to make any concessions regarding the thorny issue of taxation. The Third Estate responded by unilaterally declaring itself the National Assembly. As far as the delegates of the Third Estate were concerned, they, not the clergy, not the aristocrats, made up the French nation. With that, the old society was finished, and a new one, a new revolutionary society, was now firmly established in its place.

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Before the French Revolution, society in France was divided into three estates, the clergy, the nobility, and the masses. The first two estates had a monopoly on political power and land ownership, and were also exempt from many forms of taxation. When French monarchs attempted to raise money, they often levied various forms of duties on the third estate, those who were least likely to be able to afford them. Great economic inequality was a major source of conflict.

As well as conflicts over power and money, there were religious conflicts. Because the Roman Catholic Church was very much part of the structure of the French state, with the Church controlling great wealth, there was little freedom of religion. The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 led to widespread restrictions on and persecution of Huguenots, or French Protestants. Another area of religious conflict was between the peasants who were compelled to tithe to the Church and the rich abbots and bishops who were beneficiaries of their tithes, while clerics who were not of noble birth labored as poor parish priests and did not benefit from tithes.

The growing class of the bourgeoisie, consisting of wealthy merchants, artisans, professionals, and clerks, people we would now call middle class, wanted a share in the power and wealth of the realm, and yet were restricted from participation in many avenues of advancement by not being members of the hereditary nobility.

Another major conflict was the way many of the aristocrats behaved with impunity, not fearing legal punishment when they badly mistreated peasants, including physical abuse and sexual abuse. Although the peasants individually lacked the clout of the better off bourgeois, some groups of peasants did revolt against their widespread oppression.

 

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