2. How the French Revolution Worked.honors.docx - How the...

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How the French Revolution WorkedBased on an article byCandace KeenerSince the Middle Ages, France had been divided into a three-class system. The nobility made upthe first class, the clergy the second and the peasantry the third. There was no room for socialclimbing:Kings gave birth to kings, paupers gave birth to paupers. For centuries, theOldRegimeheld all the power in France. Thenobilityandclergymade up only 3 percent of theFrench population, but governed the entire country.By the 18th century, theEnlightenmentphilosophers like Voltaire and Rousseau promoted theideas of equality and reason. Meanwhile, the American colonies had gone to war to claim theirrights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. While French nobles pondered the universe,peasants went hungry in the streets of Paris.A small part of the enlightened equal rights movement sweeping through France was theinvention of theguillotine. From medieval times, common criminals were brutally executed:burned, drowned, tortured and maimed while the French nobility were entitled to execution bydecapitation. While it seems a grisly way to die, decapitation is relatively swift, a realgentleman's death. Dr. Joseph Guillotin proposed that all criminals sentenced to death bedecapitated, and in 1791, the guillotine was appointed France's national death-sentencemachine.While Guillotin advocated for equality in death, the French people were fighting for equality inlife. But what turned a group of loyal subjects into a bloodthirsty mob? The movement thatbegan as a reformation steadily developed into a full-fledged revolution, lasting 10 years, from1789 to 1799.Once Upon a Time at Versailles: Before the French RevolutionThe Palace of Versailles was built by Louis XIV in 1682, 12 miles away from the squalor of Paris.The reign of Louis XIV was one of extravagance, followed by the reign of Louis XV, when Francegot into some serious financial trouble and nearly drained the treasury. The population wasgrowing and clamoring for food. The cost ofbreadincreased more than tenfold.When Louis XV died in 1774, the crown went to Louis XVI and his young wife, Marie Antoinette,two royal teenagers.While the court ofVersaillesate to excess, the people ofFrancewenthungry. Food shortages sent mobs into the streets, lynching bakers and looting precious loavesfrom their shops.Louis appointed a finance minister who set out to reform government finances. His boldestmove was to call a meeting of theEstates General,a legislative body made up ofrepresentatives from each of the three estates: The clergy, the nobles, and the commoners.MaximilienRobespierre, lawyer and incendiary speaker, went to Versailles in 1789 to serve atthe Estates General. He incited unrest when he proclaimed thatallestates, including the
nobility and clergy, should paytaxes. At that time the clergy and nobility didnotpay taxes. (In

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Term
Fall
Professor
woods
Tags
French Revolution, Marie Antoinette, National Assembly, Maximilien Robespierre

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