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Why did the French Revolution take place in 1789?

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There are a number of reasons why the French Revolution took place when it did. First and foremost, the country was in the grip of a serious financial crisis, with the French state on the brink of bankruptcy. Attempts at fiscal reform by ministers such as Necker failed due to the strong resistance they provoked among the First Estate (the clergy) and the Second Estate (the aristocrats). The first two Estates of the realm didn't pay any direct taxes and were fiercely resistant to any proposals that suggested they should. Inevitably, this meant that the burden of taxation became heavier on the rest of society, which caused widespread bitterness and resentment.

The Third Estate, generally consisting of the bourgeoisie, were better educated and more politically clued-in than ever before. Many of the Third Estate were very wealthy—indeed wealthier than many aristocrats. And yet they had no direct say in how the country was run, which they felt to be unfair, especially at a time of national crisis. The creaking French political system was no longer able to accommodate the wishes of the common people, and so it became almost inevitable that demands for political change could only come about through some kind of revolution.

To make matters worse, life became especially harsh for people in rural areas, many of whom were reduced to destitution and starvation by devastating crop failure in the years leading up to the Revolution. The widespread misery this caused only added to the already dangerous levels of discontent in the French countryside.

During that fateful summer of 1789, it seemed that just about everyone was ranged against the system of royal absolutism, which seemed to be cracking under the strain. And as there were no established peaceful means of expressing such widespread discontent, it was almost inevitable that people across the length and breadth of France would resort to more direct action to drive home their anger and desperation.

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