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Katelyn Dudash

Ms. Miller
AP European History
16 January 2019
French Revolution DBQ
Leading up to the French Revolution, the 1700s had been a time of enlightenment for
Europe. The intellectual and philosophical movement challenged many common beliefs
concerning economics, politics, and perhaps most importantly, the view of the individual. The
Enlightenment emphasized the importance of the individual, and promoted civil rights. This
movement, combined with social, political, and economic turmoil in France, would play an
invaluable role in the French Revolution. The Third Estate, which consisted of the common
people, would find inspiration in the idea of individualism that would encourage them to launch
the first phase of the Revolution. Their struggle with unequal taxation and interference of the
government was addressed in the first phase, where the Declaration of the Rights of Man and
first constitution were drafted. While these actions were relatively controlled and well planned
out, they had almost no immediate effect in accomplishing the targeted reform.
The situation in France had been shaky for a number of years leading up to the
Revolution. The government was in incapable hands, the people were starving, and the country
was poor. The common people of France were particularly angry. Document 3 contains an
excerpt from one of the lists of grievances that the 3rd Estate presented, and it says that despite all
the prestigious and important things a nobleman does, he still “pretends that he does not owe
anything to the State.” They felt that the nobles and clergymen held all the wealth and power of
France, but left all the burden on the common people. This same idea is conveyed through the
political cartoon in Document 2, which depicts a clergyman and noble man riding on the back of
an emaciated common man, held by chains. One of these burdens was the high taxes which the
3rd Estate was forced to pay. They were already made up the poorest population of France, and
yet they were forced to contribute the most. This is made evident in Document 1, which is an
excerpt from an Englishman who traveled through France. He comments on the unfairness of the
taxation policy as an outsider, showing how obvious the problems within France had become.
After the 3rd Estate is essentially blocked from their representation in government, they begin to
take the next steps which will define the revolution. They draft the first constitution, as well as
the Declaration of the Rights of Man. These documents were proposed by the people so that they
may see the changes that they deemed necessary. However, it is obvious that this reform is not
accomplished fully. Therefore, we see the later, more radical phases of the revolution.
The government of France played a large part in the development of the Revolution as
well. Louis XVI had come to power, and he was incapable of running an effective government.
The government was so distant from its people, that it did not have a good connection so that it
could make necessary changes and intervene when necessary. Document 6 is an excerpt from a
Petition of Women of the Third Estate, who plead to the king, asking for a better life for their
families, especially their children. This was something that as presented before the Revolution
really began to pick up speed, but it is an example of the people crying for help, for reform, and
the king fails to answer it. Document 7 depicts the Women’s March to Versailles, as they take
the next big step, demanding changes. This shows the progression of the anger of the common
people of France as they begin to rebel against the government. Some of the changes that are
made such as the abolition of feudal practice (Document 5), are positive, and are intended to help
the conditions that the French common people suffer in. However, most of their problems are not
solved with the constitution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and therefore the people
are forced to turn to more extreme measures, as is shown in the later phases of the Revolution.
They would not have been able to achieve the reform that they desired without forceful action,
and the first phase of the Revolution was not forceful enough to change the country as quick as
was necessary.
The French Revolution was not the only major revolution that had been inspired by
Enlightenment ideals. The American Revolution, a revolt in which British colonists rebelled
against their mother country to become the United States of America, came to an end only a few
years before the French Revolution began. The two are considered to be very similar because
they developed from the same Enlightenment ideas. The idea of natural rights of citizens inspired
the Americans to develop the Bill of Rights and carry out a successful revolution. Their success
inspired the French people to make a demand for similar reform, and led to the later development
of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which was very similar to the Bill of Rights. Despite
these similarities in the origins of the Revolution, there were many differences. For example,
while social classes played a huge role in the French Revolution, they played almost no role in
the American Revolution, where the population was largely the same in a social sense. It is
interesting to see how each revolution took the same ideas from the Enlightenment and applied
them to their individual situation.