How Did The Enlightenment Influence the American Revolution: Analytical Essay

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“Liberté, égalité, fraternité'' - These were the words spoken by Maximilien Robespierre in December of 1790, which gave the French people hope. On July 14, 1789, the Bastille was invaded. The French Revolution had begun. Many reasons led to this revolution. Seven reasons include the American Revolution and the Seven Years’ War, weather calamities, ideas of enlightenment, the unfair estates system, absolutism, the rising bourgeoisie, and the bad reign of Louis XVI.

Most historians agree that the French Revolution started in 1789 and ended in 1799. The American Revolution in 1775 was when people fought for their independence from Great Britain. The French helped the revolutionaries against Britain because Great Britain was France’s rival at the time. However, the revolution cost France a significant amount of money, and “significant” is understating it. France funded the revolution with an astonishing 1.3 billion livres, equivalent to about 1.7 billion dollars. After the American Revolution, which France had helped and funded, France was in a humongous amount of debt. America was not able to pay France back. The Seven Years’ War, also known as the French and Indian War) also added to France’s debts, when the French were fighting against the British about territorial claims in Northern America. They also lost a great amount of money. They lost land in Canada and Louisiana in the Treaty of Paris. Despite the financial crisis the nation was facing, The nobility was still living lavishly, while the common people were poor, starving from the bread shortage, and were susceptible to disease. A very unfair unequal wealth distribution sparked the start of a fiery revolution that was difficult to quench. Of course, there was more than one reason why a revolution started.

The weather in France took an unfortunate turn in 1788 when one of the most significant hail storms hit the country. The storm had destroyed many of the fields. This led to a widespread bread shortage in the country. In 1775, there was also a massive bread shortage. The 1788 bread shortage, however, was only one of many other causes for the blood revolution alongside many other reasons for why the French Revolution started. In 1770 there was widespread freezing of crops in the North Atlantic, the little ice age being a probable cause. The little ice age was a period of time when temperatures dropped by 0.6 degrees Celsius around the northern hemisphere. In 1783, the Laki volcano erupted, letting out 120 million tons of sulfur dioxide. Sulfur dioxide is a greenhouse gas, which means it traps heat in the atmosphere. The eruption also meant a lot of ash. The ash blocked the sun, which made the temperatures plummet. The 1788 bread shortages meant that France was in a very bad situation economically, politically, and ethically. A rapidly growing population, alongside bad weather in 1788, had caused food (mostly bread) shortages all around France. The bread was the staple food for many people across France at the time. With the high prices and little bread, people started to revolt. People resorted to violence and theft for grain all over the country. The king, who didn’t know what to do, called the three estates together to solve the financial crisis France was in. The Estates General, however, led to an even worse state of affairs, it made the third estate feel worse by proposing to raise taxes. France was in financial ruin, and people were starving. A rumor started that Marie Antoinette was hoarding grain at the palace. So, on October 5, 1789, women gathered up at the Palace of Versailles and started the Women’s March. They stole weapons and marched at the Palace of Versailles. They demanded that the king and his family live in Paris instead of Versailles. So, the king and his family did move to Versailles, in the Tuileries Palace. But, the king would later try to escape in 1791, where he would be caught and accused of treason, then later executed by the guillotine on January 21, 1793.

Also, there was the ideology of the Enlightenment, which opposed the traditional system of an absolute monarch with ideas of democracy, individual freedoms, and liberties. Enlightenment philosophers like Denis Diderot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Guillaume-Thomas Raynal helped spread the ideas of the Enlightenment and encouraged the common people to fight for individual rights and liberty. These types of ideas were radical at the time, and at a time with poor, hungry people, a revolution was just around the corner. On the other hand, the nobility did not like the ideas, because they would lose all their special privileges if the ideas came to fruition.

On May 5, 1789, King Louis XVI called the Estates General to solve France’s financial problems. The Estates General was a meeting between the three Estates, which included the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. He tried to raise taxes (which only applied to the third estate), but of course, it would not work. The common people were not happy about it though. They made up about 98% of France’s population, yet the clergy and nobility could outvote them. The church and nobility were excluded from paying taxes, while the commoners were paying high taxes. The third estate (the common people) wanted one vote for every person, while the clergy and nobility, wanting to keep their privileges, obviously opposed it. And so the first and second estates won. After that, on June 13, 1789, the third estate broke apart and made the National Assembly. On September 3, 1791, the National Assembly wrote the Constitution of 1791, which established a constitutional monarchy. It was very unfair for the third estate (the commoners) because they made up most of the population, yet the first and second estates owned a relatively large amount of land and goods in the country. If you look at statistics about the population in France during the time, you’ll see that the clergy makes up 0.5% of the population, the nobility 1.5%, and the common people 98%. But, the church owned 10% of the land, the nobility owned 25%, and the common people 65%, which is relatively high for the clergy and nobility. The taxes were also burdened by the third estate, with the third estate paying all the taxes, sometimes to the first and second estates themselves, while the clergy and nobility paid no tax at all whatsoever. As you can see, this sparked the start of a revolution even more.

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Absolutism is, in simple terms, like an absolute monarchy, when all power to decide what happens falls to one person. Before the French Revolution, France had an absolute monarchy, with King Louis XVI being the absolute monarch. He had all the power in France to do whatever he wanted, like he said “I am the state.” People wanted to distribute power throughout the people. Democracy is what the French people wanted. The want for equality alongside the enlightenment, fueled a start for revolution.

The bourgeoisie was also one of the reasons for the French Revolution. The bourgeoisie was kind of like the middle class in today’s society, between very rich and very poor. They were the richer people of the third estate. They got wealth by working in a profession, while the nobility inherited their wealth and got tax money from the third estate. The bourgeoisie were the more favorable people of the third estate. The bourgeoisie did not like the first and second estates’ special privileges and positions. They didn’t want to have to pay taxes to the third and second estates. They wanted equal ground, in terms of politics, with the other two estates. They thought it was unfair for them to have their political status.

King Louis XVI was thought to be a terrible king. He was hated by his people for not being “fit to be a king”. He failed to deal with serious matters. He was considered immature, and he usually did leisurely things, which made the public hate him more. He summoned the Estates General, in which he proposed to raise taxes. And, as you know, only the common people were paying taxes. He also fired the popular financial advisor, Jacques Necker. Years of public outcry finally culminated in the Bastille invasion on July 14, 1789. During the French Revolutionary Wars, other European powers sought to take over France to stop the spread of upheavals in Europe. King Louis XVI wanted France to lose against these powers in order to regain his own power. He would be the last king of France. The revolution would completely change the political dynamics of France after it ended.

On July 14, 1789, the Bastille Fortress, a state prison used by the government to hold important people charged with severe crimes, was invaded by a furious mob of people. The Fortress represented the Bourbon Monarchy, and the French people hated it. Seven prisoners were freed. Eight guards were killed, and gunpowder and weapons were stolen. The Bastille was soon dismantled after, and its stones were kept as souvenirs or used in buildings. This event marked the start of the French Revolution. It had begun.

Before the French Revolution, the common people were oppressed and were looking for a better type of government. Because of the weather conditions, ideas of enlightenment, the unfair estates system, the American Revolution and the Seven Years’ War, absolutism, the rising bourgeoisie, the unfair balance between the three estates, the financial crisis in France, the bread shortage, and the bad reign of Louis XVI, the French Revolution came to be. The French Revolution radically changed the lives of the French people for the better.

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