The French Revolution Essay

2071 words - 8 pages

The French Revolution has gone down in history as an inglorious, unfruitful rebellion, but if one were to trace the actions of the Third Estate, however perplexing and malignant, it is easy to see that everything was stemmed from the—then radical—mantra of liberty, equality, and fraternity. A line from Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, says it best “though this be madness, there is method in’t” (9). The French Revolutionists’ fundamental causes for usurping absolutist political powers and providing basic rights to all men appears all for naught and a paradox in itself; the Third Estate was effective in changing the class, economic and political structures of eighteenth century France.
Until the eighteenth century France was an absolute monarchy—a monarchy in which the king and queen could govern the nation without abiding to any state laws or regulations. Through this absolute monarchy, the traditional French class system of ‘Estates’ was born. The First Estate was composed of bishops and archbishops of the Roman Catholic Church. According to Lin’s diagram, no more than 130,000 Frenchmen were in this class. Though this class amounted to approximately 1% of those living in France, their rewards were most bountiful. Bishops and archbishops were exempted from land taxes, because church property could neither be taxed nor sold, and clergymen also had the right to collect tithes—most of which was pocketed for personal gain. Though some simple parish priests sympathized with peasants, sadly it was apparent that those working for the church were more concerned with monetary and power gain, than their spiritual duties. The Second Estate was the noble class, consisting of the Royal family, the lords and ladies of the courts, and those in government positions. The Second Estate was the most luxurious and most sought after class in France. Nobles were grotesquely wealthy, were exempt from most taxes, and military services. The Third Estate, containing a staggering 27 million people, was over-flowing with the less fortunate. The Third Estate was made up of the bourgeois (lawyers, merchants, and other professions) and peasants. They were given no special rights and, though most lived meagerly, some were hardly able to survive (1). By gazing at this vast divide, it is very evident that there was no unity between the class systems, for the wealth and living arrangements were widely disparate. Though the musical Les Miserables, based on the work of fiction of the same name by Victor Hugo, was about the June Revolution of 1832, Alain Boublil and the other writers of the song Paris / Look Down depicted perfectly the aforementioned divide. The beggars and urchins cry to the nobles and clerics to look down, and see the beggars at your feet. Look down, and show some mercy if you can. Look down, and see the sweepings of the street. Look down; look down, upon your fellow man. By the summer of 1789, the Third Estate had enough of begging for equality; something had to be...

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