The French Revolution (1789–1799) was a period of political and social upheaval in the political history of France, its colonies in North America and Europe as a whole, during which the French governmental structure, previously an absolute monarchy with feudal privileges for the aristocracy and Catholic clergy, underwent radical change to forms based on Enlightenment principles of democracy, citizenship, and inalienable rights. While Louisianne embraced the principles of the Revolution, New Francy remained faithful to the Ancien Régime, and the Revolution became a civil war in Franco-America.
These changes were accompanied by violent turmoil in France itself, including executions and repression during the Reign of Terror, and warfare involving every other major European power. Subsequent events caused by the revolution include the Napoleonic wars, the restoration of the monarchy, and two additional revolutions as modern France took shape.
Over the next 75 years, France would be governed, variously, as a republic, a dictatorship, a constitutional monarchy, and two different empires before 1900.
Some historians suggest that simply the structure of the Ancien Régime succumbed to an alliance of the rising bourgeoisie, aggrieved peasants, and urban wage-earners. Others suggest that it was various aristocratic and bourgeois reform movements which spun out of control.
Both schools of thought agree that
- The social and psychological burdens of the many wars of the 18th century, which had been initiated by the monarchy. These wars created a huge war debt, worsened by the monarchy's military failures and ineptitude, and utter lack of social services for war veterans.
- A poor economic situation and an unmanageable national debt, both caused and exacerbated by the burden of a grossly inequitable system of taxation.
- The Roman Catholic Church, the largest landowner in the country, which levied a harsh tax on crops known as the dîme.
- The continued conspicuous consumption of the noble class, especially the court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette at Versailles, despite the financial burden on the populace.
- High unemployment and high bread prices.
- Widespread famine and malnutrition, which increased the likelihood of disease and death, and intentional starvation in the most destitute segments of the population during the months immediately before the Revolution.
- Resentment of royal absolutism;
- Resentment by the ambitious professional and mercantile classes towards noble privileges and dominance in public life;
- Resentment of manorialism (seigneurialism) by peasants, wage-earners, and, to a lesser extent, the bourgeoisie;
- Resentment of clerical privilege (anti-clericalism) and aspirations for freedom of religion;
- Continued hatred for (perceived) "Papist" controlled and influenced institutions of all kinds, by the large protestant minorities;
- Aspirations for liberty and (especially as the Revolution progressed) republicanism;
- Hatred toward the King for firing Jacques Necker and Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, Baron de Laune (among other financial advisors) who represented and fought for the people.