Causes of French Revolution (IEEE Format)
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Causes of the French Revolution Last Name, First Name
Index Terms---Revolution; Ancien regime; Parlement; Danton; Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen; EstatesGeneral; Montagnards; National Assembly; the Republic.
money by Louis XIV angered the people and they wanted a new system of government. The writings of the philosophes such as Voltaire and Diderot were critical of the government. They said that not one official in power was corrupt, but that the whole system of government needed some change. Eventually, when the royal finances were expended in the 1780’s there began a time of greater criticism. This sparked the peasants’ notion of wanting change. The second part of this paper describes the social and political factors, many of which involved resentments and aspirations given focus by the rise of Enlightenment ideals. The Economics which had been greatly disturbed by the misruling of Louis XIV and his advisors have been discussed in the third part. Various aristocratic and bourgeois reform movements spun out of control. The movements coincided with popular movements of the new wage-earning classes and the provincial peasantry, and any alliance between classes was contingent and incidental. Various other factors like Material Conditions which include widespread famine and malnutrition etc. have been discussed in the last part of this paper. Finally, perhaps, above all, was the almost total failure of Louis XVI and his advisors to deal effectively with any of these problems.
II. THE ORIGINS OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
HE significance of this paper is that it attempts to highlight the causes that led to the French Revolution. The French Revolution of 1789-1799 was one of the most important events in the history of the world. The Revolution led to many changes in France, which at the time of the Revolution, was the most powerful state in Europe. The Revolution led to the development of new political forces such as democracy and nationalism. It questioned the authority of kings, priests, and nobles. The Revolution also gave new meanings and new ideas to the political ideas of the people. By examining the social, political, environmental, and economic factors that led to the French Revolution, the reader will develop an understanding of how major political change occurs. As the revolution proceeded and as power devolved from the monarchy to legislative bodies, the conflicting interests of the initially allied groups became the source of conflict and bloodshed. The first part of this paper describes the three different Estates which were present in France. The primary cause of the revolution was the disputes over the peoples' differing ideas of reform. Before the beginning of the Revolution, only moderate reforms were wanted by the people. An example of why they wanted this was because of King Louis XIV's actions. At the end of the seventeenth century, King Louis XIV's wars began decreasing the royal finances dramatically. This worsened during the eighteenth century. The use of the
The statement citing the essential cause of the French Revolution as the "collision between a powerful, rising bourgeoisie and an entrenched aristocracy defending its privileges" has great pertinence in summarizing the conflict of 1789. The causes of the French Revolution are complicated, so complicated that a debate still rages among historians regarding origins, causes and results. In general, the real causes of the Revolution must be located in the rigid social structure of French society during the Ancien regime. As it had been for centuries, French society was divided into three Estates or Orders. The First Estate consisted of the clergy and the Second Estate the nobility. Together, these two Estates accounted for approximately 500,000 individuals. At the bottom of this hierarchy was the vast Third Estate which basically meant everybody else, or about 25 million people. This social structure was based on custom and tradition, but more important, it was also based on inequalities which were sanctioned by the force of law. So, we must have a look at these three Estates more carefully.
Abstract---Ever since the beginning of global history, there have been major political, economic, social, and cultural revolutions. A revolution is the overthrowing if a government or ruler by the governed and then substituting another. This paper examines the issues which can lead to a revolution, and illustrates how these issues were prevailing in France prior to the outbreak of the revolution. The paper outlines the social, economic and political problems in France in the years preceding the revolution which resulted in a change of the whole government perspective in France. The French Revolution (1789–1799) was a period of political and social upheaval in the political history of France and Europe as a whole, during which the French governmental structure, previously an absolute monarchy with feudal privileges for the aristocracy and Catholic clergy, underwent radical change to forms based on Enlightenment principles of nationalism, citizenship, and inalienable rights. The French Revolution brought about great long term changes in the society and government. Throughout global history, the revolutions have had complex causes and left long lasting impacts on people’s lives as well as the nation in general. French Revolution was one of them.
A. The First Estate
2 wealth and arrogance of the upper clergy. The bishops and abbots filled the ranks of the upper clergy, men who regarded their office as a way of securing a larger income and the landed property that went with it. Most of the upper clergy sold their offices to subordinates, kept the revenue, and lived a luxurious life. Their responsibilities included the registration of births, marriages and deaths; they censored books; served as moral police; operated schools and hospitals; and distributed relief to the poor. They also owned 10-15% of all the land in France. This land, of course, was all held taxfree. B. The Second Estate
Fig.1. This figure shows some of the major events which occurred during the French Revolution.
The First Estate was the Church. During the Ancien regime, the church was equal in terms of its social, economic, and spiritual power. The First Estate owned nearly 10 per cent of all land in France. It paid no taxes but, to support church activities such as school running and caring for the poor, they collected a tithe, or a tax on income. About onethird of the entire clergy in France served as parish priests. Also included in this estate were the nobles. Some of the nobles lived in luxury in major cities in France, such as Versailles or Paris. Parish priests usually lived a hardworking life. This Estate was the minority of the people in France, having approximately 1 to 2 per cent of the population. The French Catholic Church maintained a wide scope of powers; it literally constituted a state within a state and it had sustained this position for more than 800 years. The clergy was divided into the lower and upper clergy. Members of the lower clergy were usually humble, poorly-paid and overworked village priests. As a group, they resented the
The Second Estate in French life was the nobility. They enjoyed extensive rights and privileges. They made up less than 2 percent of the population. They, like the First Estate, paid hardly any taxes. Economically, the nobility was characterized by great land wealth. Nobles were generally the richest members of the society. Typical sources of income were rents and dues for the use of their farms or estates. The First and Second Estates were grouped together because they had similar political beliefs. The nobility held the highest positions in the Church, the army and the government. As an order, they were virtually exempt from paying taxes of any kind. They collected rent from the peasant population who lived on their lands. They also collected an extraordinary amount of customary dues from the peasantry. There were labor dues (the corvée), as well as dues on salt, cloth, bread, wine and the use mills, granaries, presses and ovens. Collectively, the nobility owned about 30% of the land. By the 18th century, they were also becoming involved in banking, finance, shipping, insurance and manufacturing. They were also the leading patrons of the arts. It is interesting that the nobility would offer their homes and their salons to the likes of Voltaire, Gibbon, Diderot and Rousseau. After all, these were the men who would end up criticizing the Second Estate. Of course, it must also be that the philosophes could not have existed without their aristocratic patrons. There were, like the clergy, two levels of the nobility (350, 000 individuals in total). The Nobility of the Sword carried the most prestige. The served their King at his court in Versailles. Many members of this order were of ancient lineage - their family history could be traced back hundreds of years. But there were also members of this estate who were relative newcomers. The Nobility of the Robe also had prestige but much less than did the Nobility of the Sword. Numerous members of the Nobility of the Robe had been created by the monarchy in the past. French kings needed money so it seemed logical to offer position and status to those men who were willing to pay enough money for it. But more important, perhaps, was that by giving these men royal positions, the king could keep an eye on their behavior. In many ways, this is one reason why Louis XIV built Versailles in the first place. Originally a vast hunting lodge, Louis built up Versailles in order to house his generals, ministers and other court suck-ups. Some of the lesser nobility were partial to the philosophes of the Enlightenment and during the early days of the
Fig.2. This graph shows the percentage of the total population, total land owned and income paid in taxes by the Three Estates in France in 1789.
Revolution would be considered "liberal nobles." They wished to see an end to royal absolutism but not necessarily the end of the monarchy. These liberal nobles tended to look to France's traditional enemy, England, as a model for what France ought to become, a limited or constitutional monarchy. C. The Third Estate The Third Estate consisted of the commoners. It included the bourgeoisie, peasants and city workers. The bourgeoisie, or the middle class, were by far, the wealthiest. In the bourgeoisie, there were the merchants and manufacturers, lawyers, doctors and others similar to those types of professions. Peasants made up the largest group within the Third Estate. They were forced to pay hefty taxes, tithes to the church, and rents to their landlords for the land that they lived on. The last group within the Third Estate was the city workers. They were servants, apprentices, and household maids. As a class, the bourgeoisie - merchants, manufacturers, bankers, doctors, lawyers, intellectuals - had wealth; in some cases, enormous wealth. But, wealth in the Ancien regime did not mean status or privilege and it should be clear by now that "success" in 18th century France meant status and privilege. Wealth was nothing without status. The bourgeoisie were influenced by the nobility and tried to imitate them whenever possible. So, they tried to improve their status by becoming land owners themselves. By 1789, the bourgeoisie controlled 20% of all the land. They were upwardly mobile, but they felt frustrated and blocked by the aristocracy, an aristocracy whose only interest was that everyone maintain their place in society. By 1789, the bourgeoisie had numerous grievances they wished addressed. They wanted all Church, army and government positions open to men of talent and merit. They sought a Parlement that would make all the laws for the nation. They desired a constitution that would limit the king's powers. They also desired fair trials, religious toleration and vast administrative reforms. These are all liberal ideas that would certainly emerge after the summer of 1789. The peasantry consisted of at least twenty-one million
individuals during the 18th century. Their standard of living was perhaps better than the European peasantry in general. However, the French peasant continued to live in utmost poverty. Collectively, the peasantry owned 30-40% of the available land but mostly in small, semi-feudal plots. Most peasants did not own their land but rented it from those peasants who were wealthier or from the nobility. They tried to supplement their income by hiring themselves out as day laborers, textile workers or manual laborers. Peasants were victimized by heavy taxation - taxes were necessary to pay for the costs of war, something that had already consumed the French government for an entire century. So, the peasants paid taxes to the king, taxes to the church, taxes and dues to the lord of the manor, as well as numerous indirect taxes on wine, salt, and bread. Furthermore, the peasants also owed their lord a labor obligation. And throughout the 18th century, the price of rent was always increasing, as did the duties levied on goods sold in markets and fairs. By 1789, the plight of the French peasant was obvious. Taxes were increased as was rent. Peasants continued to use antiquated methods of agriculture. The price of bread soared and overall, prices continued to rise at a quicker rate than wages. To make matters worse, there was the poor harvest of 1788/89. The urban workers or artisans, as a group, consisted of all journeymen, factory workers and wage earners. The urban poor also lived in poverty, a poverty that was intensified by 1789. By that time, wages had increased by 22% while the cost of living increased 62%. The major cause of the Revolution was the differences these three groups had. However, there was another important factor during these times. France suffered from harsh economic problems. Poor farm harvests by farmers hurt the economy, and trade rules from the Middle Ages still survived, making trade difficult. However, the most serious problem was the problem facing the government during this time. The French government borrowed much money to pay for the wars of Louis XIV. Louis still borrowed money to fight wars and to keep French power alive in Europe. These costs greatly increased the national debt, which was, at the time, already too high. Political disorder: Politics itself was another major cause of the revolution. The political institutions were so bound up with social and fiscal privilege that reform was a dangerous enterprise likely to arouse fierce opposition. A divided political elite whose factional maneuvers undermined reform, was closely identified with the monarchy. The king and queen badly mismanaged the situation, along with their ministers. The Parlements resisted reform on the grounds that it was a despotic extension of central government, and the Paris Parlement blocked loans that might have seen the monarchy through without major reform. Once reform was attempted from 1787, the political crisis snowballed, until cries for the Estates General to meet, as the only body competent to do root and branch reform, were too loud to resist. The ministry had no choice but to capitulate to these calls as the financial crisis was so severe that there was no further room for maneuver. The electoral process in early 1789 certainly helped to politicize the lower orders, if only in an elemental
4 sense that change was about to occur; a more sophisticated politicization occurred among the better off, who also had access to the hundreds of political pamphlets published each month. In this context of evolving opinion, the failure by the monarchy to seize the initiative in the early days of the Estates, in May, was disastrous. An exasperating deadlock developed between the two privileged orders: the nobility and clergy, on the one hand, and the Third Estate with its numerous lawyers, on the other. Although the Third Estate was equal in numbers to the other two orders combined, it feared much-needed reforms of fiscal privilege would be blocked by their having two votes against one. Exasperation led to radicalism, to the declaration of national sovereignty by the Third Estate on 17 June, and after the failure of a royal compromise on 23 June, to an enforced union of the orders into the National Assembly at the end of June. As the country fell into disorder with food riots and increasing peasant attacks on châteaux, a conservative reaction was prevented by popular support which led to the fall of the Bastille on 14 July. In the context of growing internal disorder, the king could not prevent revolution, for such was the force of popular revolution that his officials became powerless and counter-measures became impossible. In this situation, the triumph of the Third Estate led to the almost complete failure of royal power: a political revolution occurred in July 1789. When King Louis XVI came into power, he realized that these problems existed. At first he did not know what to do, until he found a man by the name of Robert Turgot. He eased the financial crisis of France, but he had difficulties when he tried to introduce a major reform, that of taxing the nobles. He had such difficulties because the king could not tax the nobles unless the Parliament approved of the new tax laws. The people in the courts that voted on these laws were the nobles, called nobles of the robe, and therefore rejected Turgot's reform. After Turgot was rejected, the king fired him from his office. This led Louis XVI to summon the Estates General in 1789. The Estates General was the place where representatives from each social class could be represented. Here, many issues would be discussed, and at this time in French history, it would be centered on the economic crisis. When the Estates General met in 1789, the deputies, or representatives, from the Third Estate demanded that the three estates meet together, with each deputy having an equal vote. That way, the First and Second Estates could outvote the Third Estate. When the king heard of this, he demanded that the three estates meet separately. This caused anger within the Third Estate. The deputies from the Third Estate declared themselves the National Assembly. Louis XVI quickly rejected these deputies from the meeting hall. After a while, Louis XVI decided that it would be best if the three estates met together. He ordered the other two estates to join the Third Estate in the National Assembly. Although now the three estates met together, there were divisions among them. Some wanted to protect their rights, while others wanted to establish a limited, constitutional monarchy. This sparked some change in the French people. Immediately after the National Assembly secretly began working on a constitution, the peasants and workers expected
relief from taxes and other dues that they paid. Little happened, and they still faced their same problems of unemployment and inflation. Then there were reports that Louis XVI was bringing troops to Paris. This increased the peoples’ fears. When Louis brought troops to Versailles, many citizens feared that he wanted to get rid of the National Assembly. As a result, they stormed the Bastille. Other disturbances also broke out. People were caught up in what was called the "Great Fear". Rumors passed from village to village that robbers were destroying homes all over France. When no robbers showed up, the peasants turned to their landlords. They destroyed grain towers, and destroyed tax records, showing that they will never pay any taxes, fines or dues ever again. These events forced Louis to summon the National Assembly on August 4th. They people discussed possible reforms. On this day, the National Assembly ended serfdom. Towards the end of August, the National Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man. It stated that democratic principles would be the basis for French government. The job of turning these ideas into a constitution still remained. While the constitution was in the process of being made, an angry crowd in Paris rioted, forcing the National Assembly to recognize their demands. Some of these rioters were women. They were angry about food prices. They also thought that the king and queen were going against the National Assembly. They demanded that Louis return to Paris where they could watch him. To prevent any further uprisings, he agreed. Throughout France, all ancient customs were thrown away by the revolution. The National Assembly called for freedom of worship and abolished all special activities and privileges of the Catholic Church. To raise money that was needed, the government began selling off church lands, which angered many Catholics. In 1791, the National Assembly brought forward a new constitution. It made France a limited monarchy and established a system of separation of powers. Under the constitution, the old distinctions between the clergy, nobles, and commoners disappeared. Few people were satisfied with the constitutional monarchy. Louis XVI was frightened at the actions of the National Assembly. He fled the country with his wife, but he was later arrested and brought back to accept the constitution. After this action by the king, moderate revolutionaries still wanted to preserve the constitutional monarchy, while the radicals distrusted the king and wanted a republic. These were the causes of the French Revolution. Many peoples' lives were changed during this time. Peoples' ideas also changed. These are the social and political causes that acted as a breeding ground for the grievances and passions the Revolution would unleash. But there are a few other causes, equally important, that are also worth our attention. III. ROYAL ABSOLUTISM AND PRIVILEGE By the early 18th century, French kings had nearly succeeded in wresting all power from the nobility. France had
5 no Parlement. France did have an Estates General which was a semi-representative institution in that it was composed of representatives from each of the Three Estates. The last time the Estates General had been convened was in 1614. So, was the Estates General a truly representative body? The answer is: Hardly. The way the French administered the country was through a distended bureaucracy of officials. By 1750, the bureaucracy had overgrown itself - it was large, corrupt and inefficient. Too many officials had bought and sold their offices over the years. Furthermore, despite the efforts of Charlemagne (742-814) in the 9th century, France had no single, unified system of law. Each region determined its own laws based on the rule of the local Parlement. France in 1787 was, at least in theory, an absolute monarchy, an increasingly unpopular form of government at the time. In practice, the king's ability to act on his theoretically absolute power was curtailed by the (equally resented) powers and prerogatives of the nobility and clergy, remnants of feudalism. Similarly, the peasants covetously eyed the relatively greater privileges enjoyed by townspeople. The Absolutist regime was suffering because of a combination of external and internal crises. Externally, France was seen as a weak and ineffectual power by the late 1780s, despite its successful support of American independence. The country was losing diplomatic influence rapidly in central and Eastern Europe, having already lost its major overseas territories in North America and India a generation earlier. All this provoked a sense of crisis among the elites, and widely differing views on how to improve the state of the country arose. The key issue was finance. France’s complex and inefficient systems of taxation could not support the burdens that previous wars had placed on them, and by the 1780s the treasury was spiraling into uncontrollable debt, threatening the literal bankruptcy of the kingdom. It was the irreconcilable differences between the most influential organizations in the country over the possible resolution of this crisis that propelled France into a more thoroughgoing political collapse. Socially, France was undergoing changes and increased tensions during the eighteenth century. Paradoxically, as social mobility and moveable wealth expanded, privilege was on the increase and there were more, and perhaps more often embittering, divisions in society. Those without the relatively easily acquired privileges of offices or nobility felt slighted, and new nobles resented the older nobility’s attempt to remain more exclusive. The bourgeoisie was beginning to feel more self-confident in their own privileges and merits. Artisans resented exclusive and restrictive guild practices, however, while the rural poor displayed mounting antiseigniorial attitudes and behavior. No doubt all this tension was not enough to cause a revolution, but it did shape the choices people made in 1789. IV. ENLIGHTENMENT IDEOLOGY Spread of new ideas at the upper levels of French society created new expectations and possibilities. It provided the intellectual shift away from absolutism. The large and growing middle class, and some of the nobility and of the working class, had absorbed the ideology of equality and
freedom of the individual, brought about by such philosophes as Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Turgot, and other philosophes of the Enlightenment. The example of the American Revolution showed them that it was plausible that Enlightenment ideals about governmental organization could be put into practice. Some of the American revolutionaries, such as Benjamin Franklin, had stayed in Paris, where they were in frequent contact with the French intellectuals; furthermore, contact between the American revolutionaries and the French troops who had assisted them resulted in the spread of revolutionary ideals to the French. Many in France attacked the undemocratic nature of the government, pushed for freedom of speech, and challenged the Roman Catholic Church and the prerogatives of the nobles. There is controversy over exactly how deeply ideals penetrated the various classes, and over the degree to which these ideals were simply cover for bourgeois self-interest. For example, Karl Marx writing in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung shortly after the Revolutions of 1848 wrote that in both the English Revolution of 1648 and in the French Revolution “the bourgeoisie was the class that really headed the movement. The proletariat and the non-bourgeois strata of the middle class had either not yet evolved interests which were different from those of the bourgeoisie or they did not yet constitute independent classes or class divisions. Therefore, where they opposed the bourgeoisie, as they did in France in 1793 and 1794, (that is to say, during the Reign of Terror) they fought only for the attainment of the aims of the bourgeoisie, albeit in a non-bourgeois manner. The entire French terrorism was just a plebeian way of dealing with the enemies of the bourgeoisie: absolutism, feudalism and philistinism.” The effect of the Enlightenment on the French Revolution has created a debate which will not soon be resolved. But, in general, it can be said that there is no causal relationship between the philosophes of the Enlightenment and the outbreak of the French Revolution. Few philosophes, if any, advocated revolution and the reason is fairly clear. No philosophe advocated the violent overthrow of the existing order of things because violence was contrary to human reason. But because the philosophes of the Enlightenment attacked the established order together with authority of any kind, their ideas helped to produce what can only be called a revolutionary mentality. One modern historian has correctly observed that: 18th century philosophy taught the Frenchman to find his condition wretched, unjust and illogical and made him disinclined to the patient resignation to his troubles that had long characterized his ancestors . . . . The propaganda of the philosophes perhaps more than any other factor accounted for the fulfillment of the preliminary condition of the French Revolution, namely discontent with the existing state of things. (Henri Peyre, "The Influence of Eighteenth Century Ideas on the French Revolution," Journal of the History of Ideas vol. 10, No. 1 (January 1949). The Enlightenment’s critique of society and institutions, especially of despotism and the Church, laid the foundations for a new order. Historians of differing political persuasion and different ideas of the nature of the revolution have
Fig.3. The picture shows some of the major works and their authors during the Enlightenment. Their works sent a new wave of ideology among the masses.
singled out several aspects of the eighteenth century ideologies. Ideas of liberty, equality, the fellowship of man against oppression, democracy as an idealized solution, have all been accorded an important role, undermining respect for the traditional elites and order of things. A major issue has been how far such ideas remained those of narrow elite or permeated down the social scale to those artisans and peasants. Culturally, France was undergoing significant changes especially from mid-century onwards. The luxury trades and the availability of commodities from the New World, such as coffee and tea, drunk in cafés that were meeting places, led to a new degree of consumerism. A more commercial culture was developing. The availability of periodicals, what has been termed a ‘reading revolution’, the famous art exhibitions in the Louver from 1737 onwards, the parterre of the theatre, the critical subtexts to paintings and plays, promenades with newsmongers, clandestine pamphleteering, – all were helping to create a public sphere in which discussion took place. Religious controversies over Jansenism also led to a more politically aware Parisian bourgeoisie, and famous trials became a vehicle for public discussion of government and social injustice. Combined with notions of patriotism and citizenship, these changes prepared sections of the population to make new choices when the opportunity arose in 1788–89.
V. ECONOMICS The French monarchy had always had such problems, but the eighteenth century saw a great rise in the cost of warfare. France had insufficient revenue to maintain its international role as a great power, although some historians argue that its
revenue was sufficient but that its credit mechanisms, unlike those of Britain with its Bank of England, were deficient. (If that is the case, then the problem was more political than fiscal, as the reform of institutions would have been the key to survival.) In the event, the American War of Independence involved a costly naval war with Britain and the budgetary problems were so great that a major reform initiative was put before an Assembly of Notables in 1787, who rejected most of it. Attempts to impose the reforms led to a major political crisis in 1787–88 that developed into a revolution in 1789. France in 1789, although facing some economic (and especially fiscal) difficulties, was one of the richest and strongest nations in Europe. The following all comes from [Bairoch 1989]. France had over 28 million inhabitants. In Europe, only Imperial Russia had more (37–41 million) and it was a poor country. All of Europe, outside of Russia, counting France and the British Isles, had a total of about 141–147 million. (p. 941) France was amongst the most urbanized countries in Europe if one considers communities over 2,000 to be urban (and of slightly above average urbanization if one holds to a minimum of 5,000). (p. 942) The population of Paris was second only to London (approximately 500,000 vs. 800,000; p. 941), and the country had six of Europe's 35 largest cities. (p. 943) France had 260,000 square kilometers under cultivation; the entirety of Europe outside Russia — that qualifier will apply unless otherwise noted — had no more than 100 million. (p. 945) France had 5.3 million of Europe's 30 million male peasants. (p. 945) In 1800, the earliest date for which good statistics are available, only the Netherlands and British Isles exceeded France (in its 1789 borders) in agricultural productivity per unit area. (p. 946) France ranked roughly even with Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands and significantly behind only the British Isles in its level of industrialization. (p. 949) Because France would have constituted about 14% of the continental European product (again excluding Russia) at the time. He does not believe that data is available to do a reasonable comparison to Britain. The per capita GDP of France would have been equivalent to about US$200–205 at the 1960 value of the United States dollar, 6–10% above the (non-Russian) European average of the time. (p. 959–963) In short, while not having quite the per capita wealth of the Low Countries and possibly Switzerland, the sheer size of the French economy made it the premier economic power in continental Europe. 1)Debt: The French monarchy had operated for over a century without resorting to a legislature. Since 1614, French kings had managed their fiscal affairs by increasing the burden of the ancient and unequal system of taxes, by borrowing money, and sometimes by selling noble titles and other privileges; however, because noble titles exempted the holder from future taxes, the purchasers of titles were effectively
7 buying an annuity. This led to the long-running fiscal crisis of the French government. On the eve of the revolution, France was so deeply in debt as to be effectively bankrupt. Extravagant expenditures by Louis XVI on luxuries such as Versailles were compounded by heavy expenditures on the Seven Years' War and the American War of Independence. Britain too had a great debt from these conflicts, but Britain had a far more advanced fiscal structure to deal with it. France was a wealthier country than Britain, and its national debt was no greater than the British one. In each country the servicing of the debt accounted for about half the annual expenditure of the government. Where they differed was in the fact that the rate of interest in France was almost double than of across the Channel. This implied a much higher level of taxation and less scope for any increase to deal with a specific emergency. Edmund Burke, no friend of the revolution, was to write in 1790, "...the public, whether represented by a monarch or by a senate, can pledge nothing but the public estate; and it can have no public estate except in what it derives from a just and proportioned imposition upon the citizens at large." Because of the successful defense by the nobles of their privileges, the king of France lacked the means to impose a "just and proportioned" tax. The desire to do so led directly to the decision in 1788 to call the Estates-General into session. 2)Taxation: Disputes over taxation were common place throughout the late 17th and entire 18th centuries. Not being one of the major trading nations, France needed to raise most of its government's revenues internally rather than from external tariffs. While average tax rates were higher in Britain, the burden on the common people was greater in France. Taxation relied on a system of internal tariffs separating the regions of France, which prevented a unified market from developing in the country. Taxes such as the extremely unpopular gabelle were contracted out to private collectors ("tax farmers") who were permitted to rise far more than the government requested. These systems led to an arbitrary and unequal collection of many of France's consumption taxes. Other taxes the peasants were required to pay included a tenth of their income or produce to the church (tithe), a (taille) to the state, a 5% property tax (vingtième) and a tax on the number of people in the family (capitation). Further royal and seigniorial taxes were collected in the form of compulsory labor (the corvée). The peasants also had numerous obligations to their landlords - rent in cash (cens), a payment related to their amount of produce (champari), and taxes on the use of the nobles' mills, wine presses or bakeries (banalités). In good times, the taxes were burdensome; in harsh times, they were devastating. Many public officials had to buy their positions from the king, as well as the right to keep this position hereditary; they of course tried to have these expenses repaid by making a profit out of their appointment. For instance, in a civil lawsuit, judges had to be paid some fees by the parties (the épices); this put justice out of reach of everybody but the wealthy classes.
The system also excluded the nobles and the clergy from having to pay taxes (with the exception of a modest quit ren). The tax burden was thus paid by the peasants, wage earners, and the professional and business classes. These groups were also cut off from most positions of power in the regime, causing unrest. 3)Failure of reforms: During the régimes of Louis XV and Louis XVI (reigned 1774-1792) several ministers, most notably Turgot and Necker unsuccessfully proposed to revise the French tax system to tax the nobles. Focus was often short sighted. The main attention was looking for new revenue which created greater resentment. Turgot who was appointed controller general by Louis XVI attempted laissez-faire reforms and was soundly defeated by guilds, merchants and nobles. Necker created the first accounting of the French Budget and attempted reform through increasing efficiency of the government. The result was creation of both broad support as well as absolute enemies. Such measures encountered consistent resistance from the Parlements (law courts). Members of these courts bought their positions from the king, as well as the right to transmit this position hereditarily (the so-called Paulette tax). Membership in such courts, or appointment to other similar public positions, often led to the elevation into the nobility (the so-called noblesse de robe – "nobility of the robe", as opposed to the nobility of ancestral military origin, the noblesse d'épée, nobility of the sword). While these two categories of nobles were often at odds, they both sought to keep in place their privileges. Because the need to raise taxes placed the king at odds with the nobles and the high bourgeoisie, he typically appointed as his finance ministers, (to use François Mignet's term) "rising men", usually of non-noble origin. Turgot, Chrétien de Malesherbes, and Jacques Necker successively attempted to revise the system of taxation and to make other reforms, such as Necker's attempts to reduce the lavishness of the king's court. Each failed in turn. In contrast, Charles Alexandre de Calonne, appointed finance minister in 1783, restored lavish spending more reminiscent of the age of Louis XIV. By the time Calonne brought together the Assembly of Notables on February 22, 1787 to address the financial situation, France had reached a state of virtual bankruptcy: no one would lend the king funds sufficient to meet the expenses of government and court. According to Mignet, the loans amounted to "one thousand six hundred and forty-six millions... and... there was an annual deficit... of a hundred and forty millions [presumably of livres]." Calonne was succeeded by his chief critic Etienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne, archbishop of Sens, but the fundamental situation was unchanged: the government had no credit. To try to address this, the assembly "sanctioned the establishment of provincial assemblies, a regulation of the corn trade, the abolition of corvées, and a new stamp tax; it broke up on the 25th of May, 1787."
8 H.F. Helmolt argued that the issue was not so much the debt as such, but the way the debt was refracted through the lens of Enlightenment principles and the increasing power of the Third Estate creditors. Properly speaking, the people ought to have been accustomed to the fact that the French government did not fulfill its financial obligations, for since the time of Henry IV, that is, within two centuries, it had failed to meet its obligations fifty-six times. In earlier days such catastrophes had not been announced and publicly discussed. Now all France, which for two generations had been worked upon by the party of rationalism, shared the outcry against the financial situation. The subsequent struggle with the Parlements in an unsuccessful attempt to enact these measures displayed the first overt signs of the disintegration of the Ancien Régime. In the ensuing struggle, Protestants regained their rights and Louis XVI promised an annual publication of the state of finances, and convocation of the Estates-General within five years. Despite Ancien Régime France being, in theory, an absolute monarchy, it became clear that the royal government could not successfully effect the changes it desired without the consent of the nobility. The financial crisis had become a political crisis as well. VII. FAMINE These problems were all compounded by a great scarcity of food in the 1780s. A series of crop failures caused a shortage of grain, consequently raising the price of bread. Because bread was the main source of nutrition for poor peasants, this led to starvation. The two years previous to the revolution (1788-89) saw bad harvests and harsh winters, possibly because of a strong El Niño cycle caused by the 1783 Laki eruption at Iceland. The little ice age was also affecting agriculture: many other areas of Europe had adopted the potato as the staple crop by this time, whereas the French generally refused it as a dirty food or the devil's food. The potato was more resilient to the colder temperatures during the little ice age and also could not be easily destroyed by scorched earth warfare. A normal worker earned anywhere from 15 to 30 sous a day while skilled workers received 30 to 40 sous. A family of four would need about 2 loaves of bread a day to survive. The price of bread rose by 88 percent in 1789, going from 9 sous to 14.5/15 sous. Many peasants were relying on charity to survive. The peasantry became a class with the ambition to counteract social inequity and put an end to food shortages. The 'bread riot' evolved into a central cause of the French Revolution. Mass urbanization coinciding with the beginning of the industrial revolution led residents to move into French cities seeking employment. French cities became overcrowded and filled with the hungry and disaffected. The peasantry suffered doubly from the economic and agricultural problems. VIII. POLITICAL DISCONTENT King Louis XV and King Louis XVI both led extremely extravagant lives. They spent lots of the government's money
on luxuries even though the government had some financial problems. One of the government's main jobs back then was to protect their country and manage wars. In the Seven Years War against England, France spent large sums of money on the war effort but they still lost the war and had to give up their colonies in North America. Many people regarded this loss as a major humiliation. IX. OTHER CAUSES i. American Reforms: France had played a deciding role in the American Revolutionary War, (1775-1783) sending its navy and troops to aid the rebelling colonists. During this time there was much contact between the Americans and the French, and revolutionary ideals spread between the groups. ii. Food Scarcity: These problems were all compounded by a great scarcity of food in the 1780s. Different crop failures in the 1780s caused these shortages, which of course led to high prices for bread. Perhaps no cause more motivated the Paris mob that was the engine of the revolution more than the shortage of bread. The poor conditions in the countryside had forced rural residents to move into Paris, and the city was overcrowded and filled with the hungry and disaffected. The peasants suffered doubly from the economic and agricultural problems.
X. CONCLUSION The French Revolution fundamentally changed the society of France in the late 18th century, impacting the lives of every citizen as revolutionaries worked to rebuild from the old system of tyranny and to create a society based in new principles benefiting the common man. The goals of revolution were taken to the extreme as nearly every aspect of life was changed in attempts to separate the culture from the Old Regime and to do away with a legacy of monarchies and tyranny. The Revolution was not entirely based on the fundamentals of equality and fraternity and did not exist without its own legacy of violence and destruction, but it allowed for a change and an exploration of possibilities that had not been possible until that time. This time in French History was important to the people of France because of the different types of government they had. Socialism, liberalism and nationalism all were results of the French Revolution. It gave people the idea that if they tried, they could reorganize a society whenever it was needed. The greatest legacy of the French Revolution, however, was that people could change anything that they wanted with political ideas, words and laws.
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