The Peasants and the French Revolution
Examines the role of the large population of French peasants in the French Revolution of 1789.
This essay examines the role of the farming peasantry of France in pushing forward the French Revolution. What grievances and suffering had the peasants endured that led to open revolt in 1789, and what revolutionary responses did they take? While not representative of the political or intellectual strength that provoked the French Revolution, the peasant’s role in toppling the old regime cannot be ignored. This essay describes and evaluates that role.
It should be said before beginning that during the initial struggle between the status quo and the other classes (aristocracy, bourgeoisie, workers), the peasants had played little or no role. In fact, they had literally no part in provoking the first responses and revolts, and before July, 14, 1789 there was scarcely any question of the peasants. Their grievances and complaints were of little interest to the National Assembly, in which they had no members (Lefebvre 131). Yet, if one examines the story of the French peasantry and evidence provided by Georges Lefebvre, it can be argued that they had had been suffering longer and had more to complain about than any of the other classes of French society and that their actions in July and August, 1789 were utterly crucial ones. In the end, it was the mass peasant uprising of 1789 that pushed forward the revolution, destroying the remnants of the manorial and feudal system, and finally bringing all the non-aristocratic social classes in France fully together in their efforts to topple the status quo.