History Lesson 05

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Understand how heavy taxes and a lack of representation in government inspired the revolt in France.
Identify the reasons for discontent among the French people during the reign of Louis XVI
Consider ways the situation in France could have been improved
In studying history, information is provided on great leaders, devastating wars, beautiful palaces and art, all of which cost a great deal of money. Who usually pays for these achievements, fights the war or builds the palaces? The vast majority of those responsible are the poor and middle class pay, while the rich enjoy the fruits of the labor. The same can be found in the beginning of the French Revolution. The common people in France worked very hard and had few rights. The glory of the 17th and 18th centuries was built by the common Frenchman for the benefit of the rich and noble class.The daily life of the peasant and middle class was hard and miserable. The common people worked hard every day, wore old and worn out clothes, ate the same food, and lived in streets littered with garbage. They lived within viewing distance of the palaces and manors of the rich, and saw what lifestyles they lived. The life of the upper class was different for each class, and was also very unfair. The French nobility and clergy were ignored the suffering of the common people. During this time period this was perfectly normal. Overtime the middle class was beginning to grow angry toward the nobles and clergy.The government of France before the revolution of 1789 was called the ‘ancient regime’ which means ‘old system of government’. The levels were called ‘estates’.
The first estate was the nobles.The second estate was the clergy.The third estate was everyone else, and was the largest.
Members of each estate were represented in the Parlement. Parlement in French means speaking. Peasants were not fairly represented despite their sizable majority. The third estate was represented by the middle class of bankers, merchants, and businessmen. The middle class spoke the most about changes they believe were needed, but rarely looked outside their own interests.
The French kings were not required to listen to Parlement. The King could request the Parlement to meet whenever he chose, but Parlement could not meet without the King’s approval. Before 1789, the French kings has not requested the Parlement to meet for over 150 years. The kings and France were ignorant to the enormous problems facing France.
As the social structure was unfair to most people, the peasants had no rights at all. The middle class was angry at the nobles and clergy due to the inaction of Parlement. The nobles and clergy were unhappy because they lacked the power and influence to make any changes. The only people happy in the political structure were King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. The reigning king and queen of France were happy to spend the money of France and ignored the pleas of the French people.
Economically, France was ready to collapse. There were not enough jobs, prices on food increased, and goods were in very short supply. The combination of these problems made inflation become a real problem. A drought hit France in 1788, which greatly reduced the amount of food produced. The rarity of goods and the food left France in danger, but yet another would soon emerge.
A key reason for the terrible economy were the money spent to help the American Colonies win independence from England. The French were responsible for sending military aides, weapons and supplies to aid the American revolutionaries. Despite this massive aid, the French did not assist the American Colonies because they believed in the American’s fight. The French supported the Americans because the French hated the English. This hatred was born from the English claiming Canada from the French during the French and Indian War, as well as centuries of war between the two countries. By 1789, the French government was broke. However, being broke did not stop the King and Queen from spending more and more money.
Supplemental Lessons
(These are optional. Please do not submit, as they will not be graded).
1. Describe what you think middle class was like during this time period. How does it compare with today’s middle class?
Lesson 17 Review
1. Describe the situation in France before 1789.
2. Explain the quote, “the glory of eighteenth century France was built on the backs of the common man.”
3. What was the attitude of the French King towards the problems faced by the ordinary French people?
4. Describe the three ‘estates’.
5. Name three reasons for the poor French economy before 1789.

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