Political Cartoon (1815)

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The French Revolution unfolded in the late 1780s and what started as a disagreement over proposed tax reforms would quickly evolve into a movement for political reform. The revolution was fueled by greedy royals, extravagant aristocrats, food shortages, rising taxes and prices, impoverished peasants, corruption and violence. The nobility wanted sovereignty and a share of royal power; the wealthy middle-class wanted political representation; the urban working classes wanted more food at lower prices; the peasants wanted relief from feudal bonds and restrictions. The king, Louis XVI, sat center of this quandary of competing interests unsure of what to do and what he wanted. “The people under the Old Regime” political cartoon (1815) gives a graphic representation of the Third Estate under the old regime during a time of uncertainty, change and chaos of the revolution. In order to understand the hierarchy that is represented in the political cartoon, one must understand the breakdown of the Estates General. The Estate General is composed of three estates (orders) in France: the clergy (First Estate), the nobility (Second Estate) and the common people (Third Estate). The Third Estate, “the people” are depicted in the cartoon as an emaciated naked, reined, blindfolded and shackled man being crushed under the overbearing weight of the rich, including both the clergy and nobility. The Third Estate represented at least “95 percent of the nation with 75 percent of the population middle-class of the cities and peasants”. It included the wealthy merchants, doctors and lawyers, shopkeepers, and the peasants who worked the land. “The People” were, in fact, the nation of France and they (the Third Estate) took on the debt of France through taxes due to wars and had no real representatives within the nation. The shackles, reins and blindfold on the man in the political cartoon
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