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View count:630,483
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Dislikes:109
Comments:2,440
Duration:05:35
Uploaded:2010-11-05
Last sync:2018-11-22 23:10
Designed by the amazing Karen Kavett: http://www.youtube.com/xperpetualmotion
In which John discusses the causes of the French Revolution and its initial events, including the French debt crisis under King Louis XVI, the convocation of the estates general, the rise of the third estate, the formation of the National Assembly, the tennis court oath at Versailles, the storming of the Bastille, the women's march, and the moving of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to Paris.

This is part of a four-video series designed to see whether we can make genuinely educational videos--the kind of videos that could actually help people learn the big and important things they have to learn in school. Nerdfighters gave us permission to make the videos longer than four minutes, so....no punishment. Let us know how we're doing.


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A Bunny
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Good morning, Hank.

It's Friday. Today I share with you a story about guns, indoor tennis courts, guillotines, humorous outfits and competing historical narratives. That's right!

It's time to learn about "The French Revolution." OK, so quick background: This is France, France is in Europe, French people like to eat food, and one other thing, in the 18th century, there was this movement called the Enlightenment wherein people including French people like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire were starting to argue that rational thought should be the source of truth and authority instead of the interpreted will of an omnipotent God. That was a slightly troubling thought to the French monarchy, which, after all, derived its authority, and therefore its ability to purchase humorous outfits, from the supposed will of that aforementioned omnipotent God. OK, so it's 1789, the US has just won its Revolutionary War, which by the way, would have been impossible without the support of France.

Meanwhile, France has racked up tremendous debts supporting the American Revolution and also fighting the Seven Years' War; like to give you a sense of France's debt, a lot of people in the US worry about our national debt, but in 2009, the United States spent 5% of its federal budget servicing its debt. In 1789, France spent 50% of its federal budget servicing its debt. So France was completely broke, but the King of France, Louis XVI, was not broke; as evidenced by his well-fed physique and fancy footwear.

Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette had a pretty comfortable life in the rather nice palace at Versailles, which is the kind of thing that will annoy you if you are a peasant who is starving. As I mentioned earlier, French people, like a lot of people, enjoy eating. So in 1789, in additions to France's debt crisis, there was a famine.

The price of bread rose 50% in one year but wages didn't go up at all. So the peasants are hungry, the intellectuals are beginning to question whether power should be centered in the church and the monarchy, and the nobility is dithering about, failing to make meaningful financial reform. So in May of 1789, Louis XVI, recognizing the crisis, calls the Convocation of the Estates General, a meeting of the three estates of France.

The First Estate is the clergy; the Second Estate, the nobility; and the Third Estate, everyone else. Which is to say, about 98% of the population. The Third Estate is paying all the taxes, producing all the wealth, fighting in all wars.

Meanwhile the First Estate, the clergy, pay absolutely nothing in taxes - I mean, they have to be celibate, but still, no taxes! And then the Second Estate, the nobility, spends most of each day playing an increasingly high-stakes game of who can develop the most humorous costumes. So the Third Estate shows up with about 600 representatives, the First and Second Estates have about 300 representatives each.

The Third Estate wants the representatives from all the Estates to meet together in one assembly, which would basically become a governing parliament in which the Third Estate would have a very slight majority. But the First and Second Estate[s] won't agree to this, so the Third Estate is like, "Fine, you don't wanna come to our party? Forget you guys!

We, the representatives of the Third Estate, are now the National Assembly of France! We are your parliament!" This does not please King Louis XVI. So when the Third Estate people leave the room for a break, Louis XVI locks the doors, and says, "Ah, sorry, you can't go in there.

And if you can't assemble, you can't be an assembly." At which point, the Third Estate representatives were like, "Mmm, I think we may have a solution to this problem." The Third Estate representatives, surprisingly, are able to find a different room in France, an indoor tennis court at Versailles. And in that room, the new National Assembly swears the famous Tennis Court Oath, in which they agree that they will not stop until they have written a French constitution. At this point Louis XVI sees the writing on the wall, he backs down, he says, "OK, you guys can be a national assembly." But, at the same time, Louis XVI is flooding the city of Paris with troops who are loyal to him.

So people naturally start to think that Louis XVI might intend to destroy the National Assembly by force, at which point the revolutionaries, get a bright idea. So on July 14th, 1789, the revolutionaries storm the Bastille Prison, not so much because they wanted to free the seven prisoners who remained there, but because wanted guns. And there were a lot of them in the Bastille.

And this marked a big turning point in the French Revolution: The governor of the Bastille negotiated a ceasefire, which saved a lot of lives on both sides. And that would've been a great time for everyone to say, "You know what? If we start shooting at each other, this is probably gonna get worse." But instead, they killed the governor of the Bastille, decapitated him, put his head on a pike, a paraded it around.

The next month, the National Assembly released the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the French equivalent to the American Declaration of Independence. The Declaration declared that all men - sorry ladies - had the right to liberty, property, and security, rights that, the French Revolution, in the end, would do an exceptionally poor job of protecting. Meanwhile, back at Versailles, Louis XVI was still King of France, and it was looking like France might be a constitutional monarchy.

Which might've meant that the royal family could hang on to their awesome house, but then, in October of 1789, a rumor started that Marie Antoinette was hoarding grain somewhere inside the palace. And in what became known as the Women's March, a bunch of armed peasant women stormed the palace and demanded that Louis and Marie Antoinette move from Versailles to Paris. Which they did, because everyone is afraid of armed peasant women.

So between May and October of 1789, France went from a stable, if somewhat broke, monarchy, to a country where a bunch of armed peasant women could functionally put the King under house arrest. A country where no one quite knew who was running the show and everyone had guns. This problem will soon get better, and then worse, and then a little bit better, and then much worse, and then better, and then Napoleonically worse, so stay tuned for that next time.

Hank, I look forward to you teaching me something on Monday. By the way, with permission from Nerdfighteria, we have temporarily suspended the four-minute rule, just to get us through this week of educational videos. So those of you who are commenting on how punished I am, clearly did not watch 'til the end of the video.

Which means that you missed out on me proving that my suit (jumps) isn't all business.