This is an essay I made that we were asked to write on the causes of the French Revolution:
“Starvation was the main cause leading to the storming of the Bastille.” Discuss.
The following essay will develop whether starvation was the main cause leading to the storming of the Bastille.
Firstly, the people felt unheard and treated as inferiors by the king and the First and Second Estate. The storming of the Bastille was a call for attention. At the Estates General, even though the different social classes were able to agree on some terms, many other agreements couldn’t be reached such as the privileges connected to taxation. This angered the Third Estate since at the gathering, one of their objectives was to make this part of the system more fair. Nonetheless, the king’s objective was just the opposite. He summoned the meeting to get approval for a raise in taxes. Therefore, even though the Third Estate was made up of ninety-eight percent of the population, voting was by estate instead of head, which meant that with the clergy and nobility siding, there was no way their wishes would be granted as they wouldn’t give up what benefited them. As a result the National Assembly was formed and started meeting at a different hall. But to make matters worse, Louis XVI ordered to have it locked. This proved his egocentrism and his interest in only his own benefit which caused people to realise that if they wanted to be really heard and taken seriously, they would have to take more extreme measures. Initially, they didn’t even want to overthrow the monarchy, they just wanted their wishes and complaints to be taken into account, but since they didn’t see this happening in the near future, they decided to take matters into their own hands and make a powerful statement by storming into the Bastille.
Secondly, the complaints about the differences in the social system, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, were a cause of people’s discontent as well. There was a huge difference between the average economical position of the people that integrated the Third Estate and the people that integrated the First and Second Estate. The peasants, the bourgeoisie and the artisans were the ones that had to pay taxes, while the clergy gained money by collecting the taxes, and in many cases stealing money, and the nobility gained money by collecting the rent. Considering the agricultural and financial crisis, that we will get into later on, hardship ruled mainly among the lower class. This is why the people started demanding action from the king to be taken and, most importantly, change. There was a great desire of equality and justice. It seemed like a joke that while some people could barely afford to have a roof over their heads, others were roaming around their gigantic castles.
Third of all, as said in Khan Academy’s video: “you can never underestimate what people are willing to do when they are actually hungry”. Starvation became a very big problem for France, but what made it even worse was that the people that suffered from this, were the ones who had to pay the taxes to the ones that were living the luxurious lives. So this adds up to the cause mentioned afore. There was a notable inequality between the Estates which the Third Estate brought up at the Estates General, but were ignored because of the egocentrism of the powerful figures in France, which, again, as mentioned before, caused fury to build up.
Fourth of all, the monarchs’ attitude and poor decision making was what got the people to get fed up. Louis XVI didn’t have a very powerful nor imposing enough personality to defend his position or his beliefs, and it did not help that his wife was spending all of France’s funds while people were lying on the streets begging for food. This angered people and caused them to lose the love and respect they had for their rulers, which the Jacobins took advantage of later on when convincing them that the monarchy should be abolished.
Fifth of all, the rivalry with Great Britain brought France down a spiral hole. This constant competition of trying to be the world power and bringing each other down got France to take part in two conflicts that drained her economically. Both the Seven Years War, which was fought mainly by these two major powers, and the American Revolution, which the French joined to support the Americans to weaken their coloniser, cost France a lot since it got her to lose her position as the world power and it got her to have many debts. As a response to this financial crisis, Louis XVI, decided to raise the taxes which, added to the problems with the crops, eventually led to the starvation of the people and to the building up of anger of the Third Estate, as mentioned before, because of taxation.
Finally, even though historians debate whether it was an actual cause of the revolution or not, during the Enlightenment a mentality very similar to the one of the French at this time emerged. Philosophers came up with new ways of thinking connected to the ideas of criticism, science and reason. For instance, people started thinking that God wasn’t the answer to everything nor the center of the universe, which is connected to the French not giving that much importance to the fact that the king was supposed to have the divine right to rule and had been sent directly by God. They were now criticising his decisions and demanding change from him.
All in all, the causes mentioned last are at the same time causes for the ones mentioned before them. Hence why the discontent of, mainly, the Third Estate is considered the main cause that led to the breaking in of the prison. Because the discontent was inspired by the ideas of the Enlightenment and caused by the unjust social division, by the starvation, by the monarch’s attitude and poor-decision making which was represented in the rivalry with Great Britain.