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Origins Of The French Revolution

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Long-term government financial chaos played a lead role in the cause of the French Revolution. This point is supported by William Doyle, in Origins of the French Revolution. Government debt and lack of available funding seriously deteriorated authority and credit, leading to extreme measures in taxation, thereby acting as a catalyst of the French Revolution.
Doyle makes his point by arguing that France was approaching a state of fiscal ruin as far back as August 20, 1786, indicating that “Calonne, comptroller-general of the royal finances, first came to Louis XVI and informed him that the state was on the brink of financial collapse,” at that time. (p.43) Although Doyle enforces the point that there are no concrete records to support the state of the government at that time, there are figures derived by Calonne, after extensive research on his part, that present the dire financial situation of the French government. The evidence shows a debt of approximately a quarter of the annual revenue, steadily rising, through increased short and long term loans. (p.43)
Debt was not a new problem for France around the time of the Revolution. According to Doyle, previous wars and conflict left the government finances in serious trouble. Expenditures grossly outweighed revenue. In an attempt to rectify the situation, proposals were put in place to save money, however, debt reduction was seemingly impossible and reduction in armed forces funding would put France’s stability at risk. Taxation appeared to be the only release from debt, therefore, there were substantial rises in direct and indirect taxation. The problem with that solution was that all that could really be done was to “redistribute the burden so that it fell more equitably and was levied with more accuracy.” (p.46)
Bankruptcy might have been an option for France, but to declare such a thing would put the creditability of the government at risk. In order to maintain the ability to borrow funds and retain the honor of a stable government, Doyle points out that France could not embark upon this option at that time. A banker, Necker, gained control over royal finances in 1777. He was able to raise funds from a variety of sources, and thereby was able to “finance a major war without any new taxation.” (p.49) The problem here ...

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In full agreement with Doyle, I strongly conclude that the financial situation the French royalty found itself in helped to catapult the French Revolution for a multitude of reasons. First, the increase of loans and assistance in the American Revolution put the French economy at a low. Installing increased taxation left the peasantry even more impoverished than ever and insulted the nobility, who refused to assist in the debt reduction effort. By implementing a strong bookkeeping and debt management plan, the king could have prevented a terrible financial ruin. In Necker’s interest to sort out financial difficulties, many loans were established, so that when Calonne gained control, there were no available funds to support government interests. Calonne also took out loans, mainly to pay off older debts, but eventually leading to a formidable financial reputation. By the time of the revolution, the government of France was in a horrific state of disrepair, leaving itself vulnerable and disreputable, and ultimately a major cause of the French Revolution.

Works Cited:
Origins of the French Revolution by William Doyle
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