Budget deficits and tax increases caused discontent and a recession in 1810 to 1811 hurt the industry dramatically. France's only source of income was from increasing taxes on everything from houses to playing cards for a population that had no money. Inflation became so bad that Napoleon himself felt unsafe using paper currency. In order to try and stall the economic disaster “Napoleonic innovations were designed to place the French currency on uniform basis. In April 1795, the Directory has established the franc as the national currency and had fixed its metallic composition [...] Napoleon drew a lesson from the disastrous experience of the assignats and refused to issue paper money, basing French currency on metallic currency” (55).
Greater reforms were prevented by the opposition of the upper classes and court. This opposition was so strong that Turgot was forced to resign and was replaced by Jauques Necker. Lengthy wars, the support to the American Revolution and the gross amount of taxes paid and the lavish spending of the court contributed to the huge national debt. The government’s financial problems were made worse after 1740 by the renewal of costly wars (the French revolution, pg. 9).
“How Serious Was The Pre-Revolutionary Financial Crisis Between 1786-88, And How Significant Was The Clash Between The Notables And Calonne In Failing To Solve It?” On the twentieth of august 1786 Charles Alexandre de Calonne, comptroller-general of the royal finances, informed King Louis XVI that the state was on the verge of a financial meltdown. Whilst not having exact details to the financial figures to show the full extent of the problem, it is never the less recognized that France was in serious financial difficulty. What then did Calonne propose to sort this financial mess out? How was he to convince the King and the Notables that France was in financial danger and to give backing to his solutions? This essay will attempt to answer such questions by examining the financial crisis France was in and by looking at Calonne’s proposals in which to solve it.
King Louis XIV: A Disastrous Ruler It is often debated whether or not the reign of King Louis XIV had a positive or negative effect on France. Although there were improvements during his reign in transportation, culture, and national defense, there were far more negative aspects. He depleted the national treasury with his liberal spending on personal luxuries and massive monuments. His extreme fear of the loss of power led to poor decision making, which caused the court to be of lower quality. King Louis XIV’s disastrous rule brought about a series of effects that influenced the French Revolution in the following century.
In discussing how Revolutions begin, French historian Alexis de Tocqueville once stated, “...the most critical moment for bad governments is the one which witnesses their first steps toward reform.”1 There is no greater example of this than the French Revolution. Although the French Monarchy survived for many years, many within the government knew that the structure was growing bankrupt, and knew that the only solution to this would come through reforms which would pay their debts off in a way that would not burden their taxpayers, the Third estate. Ironically, while these reforms could have indeed helped the Third Estate, these individuals chose to revolt. Why? By addressing the causes of France’s debt and the reforms that could have averted this crisis effectively, this paper will show that the third estate in the end expected something more from these reforms than just less taxes and an economically stable government – they wanted to be equal with the higher estates of France.
Causes of the French Revolution The statement citing the essential cause of the French Revolution as the "collision between a powerful, rising bourgeoisie and an entrenched aristocracy defending it's privileges" has great pertinence in summarizing the conflict of 1789. The causes of the French Revolution, being provoked by this collision of powers, was the Financial debt of the government and the long-standing political differences in the government. Over the course of twenty-five years after the Seven Years' War, the government of France--the Bourgeoisie royalty, could not manage it's finances on a sound basis. This was worsened when France aided the American Revolution against Great Britain. The Government had reached great financial debt.
This event shows how corrupt and money hungry the government had become, by letting anyone get high up in the political chain just by feeding the gluttonous king. The next king, Louis XVI saw that the majority of France (75%) was peasants and serfs. Consequently, to try to ensure their happiness (and prevent the Revolution), he had the Estates-General abolish the feudal system, in which they held no ranking.4 This made the nobility extremely unhappy. With no feudal system, they no longer were much higher up politicly than the commoners. The next noble atrocity came with Louis XVI making the nobles pay taxes.
The constitution of 1791 also resulted in dramatic changes to the political structure. It, however, did not bring relief to those who most deserved it, the peasants. These events were the prologue to the French Revolution, the most important event in France’s history. The French Revolution was a direct result of overspending by King Louis XIV and Louis XVI, leaving France a financially unstable nation and ultimately resulting in a revolt by the Third Estate upset by the dwindling social and economic conditions. Drastic overspending by the government of King Louis XVI left the treasury depleted of funds, and with little revenue coming in from taxes, France was experiencing the beginnings of a revolution.
Overall, the weakness and indecisive actions of Frances monarch, King Louis XVI did not make those serving him respect or be loyal to him and his choices. Revolution broke out in France as a result of a weak monarch, operating an unfair system that did not account for the majority of his people. The influence of the revolutionaries and the thinkers during the Age of Enlightenment gave the people new ideas and made them question the Church and absolute monarchy as well as the Ancien Regime. The increasing financial difficulties and the high rise in the price of flour made the Third Estate desperate for food, and the high taxes placed on them in order to fix the financial difficulties prevented the Third Estate from having enough money to feed themselves.
The people of France had been under the rule of an absolute monarch for a long time, so it took a perfect climate of political unrest and the confluence of numerous factors to start the French Revolution. The French Revolution took place in the ideal political, economic, and intellectual climate for a revolution. Short Term Causes Louis XVI had created a large amount of debt through bad tax collection practices and funding american revolution. Bad tax practices included not taxing nobles, which put all of financial burden of France on the middle and lower classes. These classes weren’t able to support the high costs of running a nation in addition to supporting a foreign war that brought no tangible benefit to France.