I. Causes of the French Revolution
1. International: struggle for hegemony and Empire outstrips the fiscal resources of the state 2. Political conflict: conflict between the Monarchy and the nobility over the “reform” of the tax system led to paralysis and bankruptcy. 3. The Enlightenment: impulse for reform intensifies political conflicts; reinforces traditional aristocratic constitutionalism, one variant of which was laid out in Montequieu’s Spirit of the Laws; introduces new notions of good government, the most radical being popular sovereignty, as in Rousseau’s Social Contract ; the attack on the regime and privileged class by the Literary Underground of “Grub Street;” the broadening influence of public opinion. 4. Social antagonisms between two rising groups: the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie 5. Ineffective ruler: Louis XVI
6. Economic hardship, especially the agrarian crisis of 1788-89 generates popular discontent and disorders caused by food shortages.
1. The Disorder in the Finances
The public (state) debt was large; with a heavy annual interest .The French Monarchy was successful in running deficit budget after deficit budget. This was aided by large costs brought on from previous spending by Louis XV and Louis XIV. This did not stop Louis XVI from adding to the troubles. Instead of implementing tax reform Louis was insistent on not annoying the nobility. Therefore he had to borrow the differences in expenditure and revenue. This led to a constant loan cycle. When Turgot tried to stop this he was overthrown by Marie Antoinette’s hatred of him and the nobility’s wish to see him fired.. The aristocrats were exempt from taxes
When Turgot tried to change this, Necker promptly replaced him as the French financial adviser. This shows the power that the nobility actually held over the King regarding tax concessions. A more powerful and stronger King may have chosen to crush the nobility or to force taxes upon them. Louis did not. Instead France went without tax reform. Necker’s reckless loan policy worsened the situation
Necker refused to recommend tax reform. This is understandable after the demise of Turgot. Necker’s fatal mistake had been in introducing a loans scheme that saw the public debt rise each year. This put the financial situation of the monarchy in a very precarious position. This was all worsened by
2. French Aid to the Americans (1776 – 83)
The expense of sending troops and supplies to America was huge. This is even worse considering France’s already poor financial position. The main reason for sending support to the Americans was to extract revenge against the British after the humiliating Seven Years War. During the last year of support (1783) the government’s financial difficulties reached a state of emergency and still Necker and Louis XVI refused to introduce tax reform.
3. American Revolutionary Ideas and the Spread of Discontent The cost of support to America was not just associated with money. Already in France, a new school of thought was developing amongst the Bourgeoisie. Ideas expounded by Voltaire and Rousseau held the Bourgeoisie captive. They captured the attention of the Bourgeoisie by promising free commerce and more liberal freedom. Thinkers also challenged the dogmas of absolutism. Reason they believed was a higher force than the monarch’s claim to divine right. The brotherhood of men, equal rights and responsibilities should replace privileges. Men should develop through opportunity and education and not because of birth. This all encouraged critical thinking among the Lower classes especially the Bourgeoisie. They became critical of absolutism, the class system, privileges and the lack of liberal rights. The movement towards Revolution was further aided by the transmission of Revolutionary thoughts from America back into France. Many French Troops (mainly the Bourgeoisie) came back to France encouraged by the American...
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