The position that the character of Louis XVI caused the French Revolution of 1789 does not hold much water. On one hand, Louis XVI was incompetent, weak-willed and arrogant thereby incapacitating him from addressing the plights of the Frenchmen. On the other hand, there was a plethora of other factors that contributed to the outbreak of the French Revolution and these include; the system of royal governments, social stratification, selective application of the law, the taxation system, the American War of Independence, a looming financial crisis and the ideas of the philosophers. This paper seeks to show the extent which the French Revolution was a product of the character of Louis XVI.
Louis XVI’s character as an incompetent king was essential in necessitating the French Revolution of 1789. This is because Louis XVI spent most of his time pursuing his own business such as hunting at a time when he was supposed to be on national duty. Moreover, Louis XVI after calling for the Estates-General meeting failed to make use of the platform he had to address the grievances of the Frenchmen by implementing the much needed reforms, instead he left his ministers presiding over the meeting, further exhibiting his incompetence. In addition, Louis XVI’s decision to join the American War of Independence in 1778 without foresight of the effects it would have on France, that is, worsen the rotten financial crisis and enlighten the participating soldiers, proved beyond reasonable doubt his incompetence. Therefore, the incompetence of Louis XVI was key as it agitated the Frenchmen leading to the outbreak of the French Revolution.
Louis XVI’s character as weak-willed sparked the French Revolution of 1789. This is because Louis XVI was indecisive and a victim of negative external influence. This is evidenced by Louis XVI’s failure to back his Controller-Generals Turgot and Necker, who sought to implement reforms that would suppress France’s financial crisis after the clergy and an ambitious nobility revolted against the proposed reforms. More so, Louis XVI’s decisions were often influenced by his Austrian wife, Marie Antoinette who was widely out of touch with the ordinary Frenchmen, as confirmed by her insensitive utterances that if the Frenchmen could not buy bread, why would they not bake cakes amid wheat shortages and food riots. Thus, the character of Louis XVI as a weak-willed man triggered the French Revolution of 1789.
Louis XVI’s character as arrogant was responsible for the French Revolution of 1789. This is because despite his accession to the French thrown at a tender age of 20 in 1774, Louis XVI was full of himself, that is, proud and arrogant. This is clearly portrayed by his failure to consider the advice of his mature Controller-Generals, that in order to revive the rotten French financial state, reforms were supposed to be taken on board. His dismissal of the two technocrats, Turgot and Necker was a clear indication of his arrogance and became a bone of contention for the financially constrained and crippled French citizens. Hence, the arrogance of Louis XVI was significant in stirring up the French Revolution of 1789.
However, there were other factors that significantly led to the outbreak of the French revolution such as the system of royal governments. This is because France during the ancient regime was under the Bourbon monarch, which featured absolutism in monarchy. Under such a system of government, all powers were vested in the King, that is, executive, legislative and judicial powers. The Kings were semi-divine, answerable to none except God. The Frenchmen began to fight for the trimming of the powers of the King as well as the establishment of a Constitutional monarch. To add on, Kingship was on the basis of birthright and not merit. This excluded the Frenchmen from participating in French politics resulting in the Frenchmen irking for meritocracy. Therefore, the system of royal governments in France was critical in precipitating the French Revolution of 1789.
Furthermore, social stratification was another outstanding cause behind the French Revolution of 1789. This is because during the ancient regime, the French society was carefully ordered into three deeply divided estates. The First and Second Estates comprised of the Clergymen and the nobles respectively, while the third estate consisted of the commoners, that is, the peasants, the artisans and the bourgoise. The members of the first and second estates were privileged as they were exempted from paying direct taxes while the commoners in the third estate were unprivileged bearing the heavy tax burden. Not only this, in the first and second estates there were internal divisions of the clergy and nobles who were split into upper and lower clergy as well as upper, lower nobles and nobles of the robe. Those of the upper classes received massive salaries and benefits from the French government causing discontent in other classes. Thus, social stratification was another pivotal cause of the French Revolution of 1789.
To supplement the above point, the selective application of the law was an essential igniter of the French Revolution of 1789. This is because during the ancient regime, France’s laws were selectively applied, taking into account the estate which one came from. The members of the Third Estate were harshly penalized. More to this, laws differed per gènèralitè, that is province. For government critics, the Lettre de Catchet, a royal right would warrant their detention without trial. It was hence, the need for a fair justice system that led to the French Revolution in 1789. Thus, the selective application of the laws in France ignited the French Revolution.
To add on, the taxation system was crucial in causing the French Revolution. This is because the bulk of French citizens in the third estate were subjected to an oppressive regime of taxes. They paid direct taxes such the taille (land tax), vingtième (income tax) and the capitation or poll tax. These were steep considering the fact that the peasants in the third estate were struggling to make ends meet. H.L. Peacock notes that taxes were collected harshly, brutally and forcefully and this further angered the burdened tax payers in the third estate. Hence, the tax system was responsible for the French Revolution of 1789.
Adding on, the looming financial crisis in France also triggered the French Revolution. This is because France prior to the Revolution was stuck in deep financial doldrums with massive internal and external debts. Worsening this was the extravagant tastes of Marie Antoinette who in 1776 bought a pair of diamond bracelets for 400 000 livres. This was worsened by Louis XVI’s decision to participate in the American war of Independence, which demanded massive amounts to finance it. Aggravating circumstances was the bad harvests of 1787 to 1789 which were accompanied with skyrocketing bread prices and a souring inflation. France declared herself bankrupt in 1788, causing a public outcry for financial aid and relief. Hence, the financial crisis in France caused the French Revolution in 1789.
Further, the American War of Independence significantly led to the French Revolution of 1789. This is because the American War of Independence expressed the lack of insight and incompetent nature of Louis XVI who did not foresee the aftermath of the war on the economy. In addition, the American war of Independence led to the exportation of the revolutionary ideas from America hence, invoking the revolution. Thus, the American war of Independence significantly caused the French Revolution of 1789.
Moreover, the ideas of the philosophers led to the French Revolution of 1789. These French philosophers were great thinkers and writers. They exposed France’s political, social and economic ugly states and advocated for liberty, equality and fratenity. For instance, Voltaire was critical of the Roman Catholic Church and its marriage of reason with the state. He wanted its powers to be trimmed. Montesquieau advocated for liberty and criticised France’s uneven justice system while J. J Rosseau was an admirer of British constitutionalism. These ideas of enlightment led to the Frenchmen’s desire for liberty, equality and fraternity. Therefore, the ideas of the philosophers were key in indirectly causing the French Revolution of 1789.
In a nutshell, one can conclude that the French Revolution was a product of multi-facets besides the character of Louis XVI. These include; the system of royal governments, social stratification, selective application of the law, the taxation system, a looming financial crisis, the American War of Independence and the ideas of the philosophers. It can be concluded that this paper agrees to a lesser extent that the character of Louis XVI caused the French Revolution of 1789.