Why was there a French Revolution? This is a
question of continual interests not only to professors
and philosophers, but to everybody who takes an
interests in the history of the world. Genuinely,
therefore, it is also a subject of much contention. The
statement citing the fundamental cause of the French
Revolution as the collision between a powerful rising
Bourgeoisie and an ingrained aristocracy, defending its
privileges it had for centuries, has great relevance in
reiterating the great conflict of 1789. However, it was
the financial debt of the government, and the financial
crisis it caused, which was at root of the actual course
to revolution. Many factors played a role in the
economic decline such as unequal and under taxation,
excessive borrowing, military over expenditures, and the
lavish lifestyle of the Royal Court at Versailles.

France, in the Old Regime, was characterized by
three estates. First, the clergy, numbered only about a
hundred-thirty thousand. Although their number seems
insignificant to France’s population of about
twenty-five million, they had great influences
numbers. The church had its own administrative body,
vast lands, and court of laws. The church was very
this time. It had a great income from the crops of the
land, donations and gifts from the nobles, and fees for
registrations of birth and deaths.
The second estate consisted of the born nobles, who
owned a great deal of France’s vast lands. They
constituted a small portion of the population, only
about three-hundred thousand, but they also held the
bulk of the nations wealth, the King being the
wealthiest in all the land. In addition to their wealth
and power they enjoyed important privileges. They could
hold high positions in civil administration, military,
and diplomatic services. They had the right to
ascendancy on public occasions, the right to exercise
seigniorial rights over most of the lands they did not
own, the right to wear a sword in public, and, most
importantly, the exemption from taxes.
The third estate could have been broken down into
two categories. One was a new middle class that emerged
during the Louis XVI era, called the Bourgeoisie. The
rest of the estate were poor peasants and artisans that
made up about ninety-six percent of France’s entire
population. The Bourgeoisise were highly educated
bankers and investors, or other business elites. They
made their money in refining and processing plants,
finance and insurance, and other advanced industries.
A good share of the nation’s debt was due to the
uneven taxation of the estates. The nobles were exempt
from the main direct tax, or taille, as were the clergy.
That meant most of the burden lay on the third estate,
who also possessed the least amount of wealth. The
Bourgeois were wealthy and were able to afford such
taxation, but nonetheless, their aim was civil equality
and to destroy the tax privileges of the nobility and
clergy. The peasants, too, were laden with extensive
amounts of taxation that was nearly impossible for them
Burrowing France deeper into debt and economic
crisis was the persistent drought followed by massive
storms, ravaging the harvests of 1788. This accident of
nature had immeasurable consequences for France and
therefore, the rest of the world. About every economy in
eighteenth- century Europe was dominated by agriculture1.
Agriculture was needed to produce breads and cereals,
the population’s staple diet, as well as for jobs of the
land was the only source of wealth at this time; it
affected everyone. In the years before the revolution,
production, prices, and rents rose continually2. The
insufficient harvests did not always spark disaster for
the land owners and growers because it levitated prices,
and therefore awarding producers with better profits
than the years when there was an abundance of crop. But
the effect of the unpredictable harvests averaged out
and overall lowered the agricultural profits. In the
mid seventeen-eighties, there was also a shortage of
hay, making it difficult to obtain food for livestock at
affordable prices. This resulted in an upsurge of sales
of cattle, sheep, and hogs in a nimietied market. Wages
did not remain constant with inflation, infact, they
decreased by 1789. In normal times, food as well as
clothing were the two largest constituents of their
expenditure. But by the brink of the revolution, bread
alone, was consuming up to ninety percent of an average
worker’s wages, leaving very little left to be spent on
clothing3. The direct result: less was spent on
clothing, and weavers were laid off at a time when the
price of bread was tautening their minimal wages.
War, and essentially military costs, were the
greatest contributors to the ever-increasing national
debt. The wars of Louis XIV had imposed a mangled
benefaction of debt on France’s finances. Four major
overseas and European wars against its longtime rival,
Britain, ceased to help matters. France had also been
involved in the American Revolution, helping to ensue
independence for the Americans. France successively
failed to pay on its debt while Britain reformed to
incur enough taxes during times of peace to finance its
debts while at war. France, on the other hand had
designed to coerce the King’s income and borrow more
money for its cost overseas, and domestically. When
King Louis XVI ceded the throne in 1774, the national
deficit was already forty million livres. The total
revenues for 1786 amounted to about four hundred
seventy-five million livres, but the total expenditures
were about five-hundred eighty-seven million, leaving a
deficit of a hundred-twelve million livres4. The
primary reason for this decadence was that the nation
persistently increased borrowing, and therefore,
consequently increasing the interest and reimbursements.
A number of makeshifts were open to France as it lay
in financial disaster. Decreasing the armed forces was
one resort, but it would cost jeopardizing France’s
international position at a moment when the Eastern
Europe’s instability made the situation forbidding. A
second recourse could have been to increase taxes, and
begin levying them on the nobility. France was already
perceived to have the highest taxes in all of Europe,
but because of the separation of estates, there was
great taxing diversity. The mid 1700’s seemed most
costly to France due the period of the Seven Years War,
and thereupon introduced a new tax, the vingtieme, on
property in the amount of five percent. The tax was
tripled in the event that it would be diminished after
the war, and peace was concluded. These new taxes were
not an ample burden on the nobility, especially compared
to the taxes that the third estate was oppressed with.
Nevertheless, the new taxes were a fairly substantial
increase in what they were accustomed to paying, so they
were best determined to protest against the upturning
strain. They were already exempt from paying the
taille, a tax for military purposes, because their duty
was to wage war. Consequently, the government’s costs
rose, because they could not levy an adequate sum of
funds to provide for its expenditures. This compelled
the government to use borrowing as another means of
funds, usually from its own citizenry.
A third remedy France could use to abdicate its
overwhelming debt was to declare bankruptcy. Countries,
earlier in time, have often adopted this resort, but it
was becoming less popular and less respectable. The
nation’s credit would be distraught as investors would
conclude their money not safe in its hands. France had
no publicly supported bank as did the English and Dutch,
so they had no means in which its credit could be
cheaply conveyed. Since France acquired its borrowed
money from its citizens, usually the bankers of the
Bourgeois class, bankrupt would have led to utter and
complete disaster. It would mean great embarrassment of
itself to its people and to the rest of Europe, not to
mention agitate its domestic investors.

We will write a custom essay sample on

The French Revolution1 specifically for you

for only $13.90/page

Order Now

Another fairly big component of the national debt
was the life of the Royal, and essentially, the great
Palace at Versailles. Versailles began to fascinate from
the first day it was open. It has also been described at
the an act of enormous self-forbearance and an tumescent
ego. Its cost, in essence, bankrupted the nation.

Versailles symbolized the eminence of the powerful
monarchy, but was also the mark of its decline. Its cost
to the country is assessed not only by its original
construction, and by the extravagant lifestyle of the
the boundary it lay between the Court of Royals and the
Louis XVI understood the royal financial problem. It
had been traced back to his grandfather, Louis XIV and
Louis XV, both leaving a tremendous debt in Louis XVI’s
hands at the beginning of his reign. His brother, Comte
d’Artois and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were quite
chaotic spenders. Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were
married by arrangement in order to stop the years of
wars between France and Austria. She lived a rather
lonely life after she left her home country. It seemed
spending money was the only way to amuse her. She spent
money insanely on lavish clothing, diamonds, almost
desires. The King, too, could never refuse the Queen
anything and he always gave way to her whims.

The palace had never been more expensive to operate
than when Louis XVI took hold of the throne. His
exquisite tastes, his spending habits for himself and
his Queen, and his entertainment of the nobility all
added to be the highest expenditure the palace had ever
seen. His unnecessary extravagant life and those of the
nobility at Versailles consumed over ten percent of the
budget, about a fifth of the national budget that was
not conducted to pay existing loans and interests.

In 1789, the Bourgeoisie overthrew the vestiges of
the aristocracy which withheld social preponderance, and
established a new regime which reflected a more equal
distribution of economic power. The Bourgeoisie were
able to overthrow the aristocracy because the political
authority of the monarchy collapsed5. It collapsed
because the monarchy was unable to pay its way. It was
unable to pay its way because the nobility and clergy
evaded giving up their exemptions and privileges. Had
these two estates not clung so firmly to these
concessions, the King would have had the power to make
necessary reform to pull the nation from debt. After
all, the country had been in debt because it lacked most
of the crucial taxes it needed from two of three
estates. Yes, the military expenses of war, as well as
the tremendous cost of Versailles did, essentially,
drive France into a hole of debt it could not pull
itself out of. But France could have afforded to
reimburse its due had it started taxing the nobility and
clergy. Instead of constantly borrowing money and
falling behind with immense interest dues, had it the
money from taxes, it could have paid on the principle
and never have fallen into deeper debt. In essence, it
the stiffened nobility and clergy that led the country
to economic trifle, which enraged the Bourgeois, and
which in turn led the country to revolution.
Bernier, Olivier. Louis XVI, A Royal Life. New York: Double
Day. 1987
Blanning, T.C.W. The Rise and the Fall of the French
Revolution. Chicago. 1996.

Davidson, Marshall B. France. New York: American Heritage
Publishing Co. 1971.

Forster, B., and Tackett, T. The Origins if the French
Revolution: a Debate. 1990.

Gershoy, Leo. The French Revolution and Napoleon.
New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc. 1933.

Gildea, Robert. The Past in French History. New Haven: Yale
University Press. 1994.

Hardman, John. French Politics, 1774-1789. New York: Longman
House. 1995.

Levron, Jacques. Daily Life at Versailles. Trans. Claire
Eliane Engel. New York: The Macmillan Company. 1968.

Mettam, Roger., and Johnson, Douglas. French History and
Society. Harper and Row Publishers.

Sargent, Thomas J., and Velde, Francois R., “ Microeconomic
features of the French Revolution.” Journal of
Political Economy.June 1995: V103: p474.

Temple, N. The Road to 1789. From Reform to Revolution in
France. New York: Cardiff. 1992