The Struggle to Survive in French Revolution – Class 8 Notes

Let us learn about the struggle to survive in French Revolution. The population of France rose from about 23 million in 1715 to 28 million in 1789. This led to a rapid increase in the demand for foodgrains. The production of grains could not keep pace with the demand. So the price of bread, which was the staple diet of the majority, rose rapidly.

Most workers were employed as laborers in workshops whose owner fixed their wages. But wages did not keep pace with the rise in prices. So the gap between the poor and the rich widened. Things became worse whenever drought or hail reduced the harvest. This led to a subsistence crisis, something that occurred frequently in France during the Old Regime.

The Struggle to Survive: A Growing Middle Class Envisages an End to Privileges.

In the past, peasants and workers had participated in revolts against increasing taxes and food scarcity. But they lacked the means and programs to carry out full-scale measures that would bring about a change in the social and economic order. This was left to those groups within the third estate who had become prosperous and had access to education and new ideas.

The eighteenth-century witnessed the emergence of social groups, termed the middle class, who earned their wealth through expanding overseas trade and from the manufacture of goods such as woolen and silk textiles that were either exported or bought by the richer members of society.

In addition to merchants and manufacturers, the third estate included professions such as lawyers or administrative officials. All of these were educated and believed that no group in society should be privileged by birth. Rather, a personís social position must depend on his merit.

These ideas envisaging a society based on freedom and equal laws and opportunities for all were put forward by philosophers such as John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau. In his Two Treatises of Government, Locke sought to refute the doctrine of the divine and absolute right of the monarch. Rousseau carried the idea forward, proposing a form of government based on a social contract between people and their representatives.

In The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu proposed a division of power within the government between the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary. This model of government was put into force in the USA after the thirteen colonies declared their independence from Britain.

The American constitution and its guarantee of individual rights were an important example for political thinkers in France. The ideas of these philosophers were discussed intensively in salons and coffee-houses and spread among people through books and newspapers.

These were frequently read aloud in groups for the benefit of those who could not read and write. The news that Louis XVI planned to impose further taxes to be able to meet the expenses of the state generated anger and protest against the system of privileges.

Read More: How Did France Become a Constitutional Monarchy? French Revolution

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