Understanding the Political System Before the French Revolution: Key Insights

Understanding the Political System Before the French Revolution: Key Insights

The French Revolution of 1789, a pivotal event in global history, marked a tumultuous shift from the enduring Ancient Regime to a modern era. Its origins stemmed from a deeply entrenched feudal regime, where the social structure of the West was characterised by a stark division between the privileged wealthy commoners (bourgeoisie) and oppressed peasants. It impacts their standard of living. Influenced by Enlightenment ideals propagated by philosophers like Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It was inspired by the successes of the American Revolution, economic crises and burdensome taxes on the nobles and clergy fueled the fire of dissent.

Enlightened despots’ works fueled rebellion against the established order, leading to the Estates-General. Events like Jacques Necker’s policies, Cahiers de doléances, and the National Assembly created the Great Fear of July 1789 and the Storming of the Bastille. This historic turning point changed history by abolishing the feudal system and establishing the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.

Historical Context: Origins of the Revolution and the Social Structure of the West

The tight feudal system and the glaring inequality between the rich and the poor defined the socioeconomic landscape of the era, which laid the groundwork for the French Revolution. The bourgeoisie, or affluent commoners, and the oppressed peasants were two of the several classes that made up stratified French society. The bourgeoisie enjoyed a far higher level of living than the latter. The theories of philosophers like Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau sowed the seeds of political consciousness and discontent among the masses as the Enlightenment swept through Europe.

Influence of the Enlightenment and External Factors

The monarchy and the aristocracy’s established power were put to the test by the Enlightenment’s emphasis on reason, liberty, and equality. It also took inspiration from the American Revolution, which proved that a people could effectively oppose and topple repressive institutions. The French political scene was about to undergo a significant upheaval amid economic woes and growing unhappiness over high taxes levied against the nobility and clergy.

Rise of Dissent and Challenges to Authority

The general populace’s discontent was exacerbated by the rise of enlightened despots who tried to enact reforms but frequently failed to address the underlying disparities. Tension in French society increased at the same time as an aristocratic uprising, driven by the upper classes’ mounting complaints. The Estates-General were called to order in an effort to quell the growing unrest as a result of the desire for political representation.

Role of Jacques Necker and the Cahiers de Doléances

The Director-General of Finance, Jacques Necker, made suggestions for fiscal reforms in an effort to lessen the financial crisis. But his attempts were not successful in winning over the clergy and nobility, which fueled the already roiling unrest. The nation-wide discontent was brought to light and the public’s calls for revolutionary change were poignantly reflected in the Cahiers de Doléances, a compilation of complaints and recommendations.

The Revolution Unfolds: National Assembly and the Great Fear

A turning point in the Revolution was reached when the National Assembly was established, signifying the people’s desire to reshape the political system. The need for significant reform was further highlighted by the Great Fear of July 1789, a time of widespread terror and unrest among the rural populace. The historic Storming of the Bastille, a symbolic action that reverberated as a loud cry for the overthrow of the feudal order and the dawning of a new era, was the culmination of the commoners’ discontent.

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen: A Turning Point

The spirit of the Revolution was captured in the landmark Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which upheld the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity. It announced the end of the autocratic rule that had long characterised the political scene and established the fundamental rights of every individual. The foundation for a more democratic and egalitarian French society was created by the dissolution of the feudal system and the reinterpretation of cultural standards.


Looking back, the French Revolution of 1789 is a reminder of the strength of unity in action as well as the never-ending pursuit of equality and justice. It was the result of long-simmering unrest stoked by Enlightenment ideals, political disenfranchisement, and socioeconomic disparities. This critical moment left a lasting legacy that is still felt today all across the world, acting as a powerful reminder of the transformational power that can occur when a society comes together to pursue liberty and justice.



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