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The French Revolution began as a conflict between the new merchant class or bourgeoisie and the established aristocratic class which did not want to give up any of its political powers over French society. In addition to the political conflict between the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy there were also economic causes due to the financial debt of the French government of Louis XIV.

Before the French Revolution, France was governed by the nobility and clergy while the new merchant class was forced to pay for a corrupt and inefficient government which imposed unfair taxes to pay for foreign wars and royal extravagance. The peasants or agricultural class were primarily small landholders and tenant farmers. Most of France’s agricultural land was held by the Church or the aristocracy. There were many food shortages in the years before the Revolution due to archaic farming practices and over taxation by the Church and the government of the peasant class.

In addition to the political and social causes of the Revolution, there were also intellectual origins. The foundations of liberalism and enlightenment were based on liberty, human rights, the sovereignty of the people and equality of all men under the Law. There were the reasons for the American revolt against British rule as well as the revolt by the peasants, the bourgeoisie, and the urban poor against the French royalty and the King.

The final event which precipitated the revolution was economic. The French government became bankrupt because it could not service or pay the interest or principal of the huge government debts accumulated over many years. The many attempts to raise taxes by taxing the nobility as well as the merchant and peasant class was rejected so the government was forced to print money to service debt causing inflation and riots in Paris and the beginning of the end for the aristocracy as a political force in French history.