Historical Factors Of The French Revolution

1389 words - 6 pages

The three main contributory factors that I am going to focus on are the aristocracy, rising debt levels and inequality amongst the people of France. The role that King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette had before and during the revolution was a key factor in starting the revolution. His attitude towards his role as king was poor. He was shy, indecisive and disinterested in politics from a very early age and this continued throughout his reign. During the years leading up to the revolution, France was in massive debt after the Seven Years War. Combined with this, there was a famine which increased the price of bread and brought a lot of the country to the brink of starvation (Kinser, 1999). Louis and Marie Antoinette's eating habits did not help reassure the French people of Louis' competency as a ruler. They gorged themselves on fine cuisine as their people starved all around the country (Cavallaro, 2001).
Louis' ministers Turgot, Necker and Calonne all agreed that France needed reforming if it was to get out of the massive debt it had accumulated. In February of 1787, Louis called the Assembly of Notables as France was in dire need of tax reform due to its debt. Louis suggested tax reforms to bring government expenditure in line with government income but because he had lost his authority as a king, he could not persuade the first and second estates to agree with a tax reform and they did not wish to bear the burden of increased taxation. This showed Louis to be weak and unable to make decisions about France's future. Shortly afterwards on the 5th May 1789, the Estates General was called and Louis' absolute power over France was all but over. This was one of the main events that led to the start of the French revolution and the third estate declaring themselves the National Assembly.
His lack of authority and disinterest in politics also led to Frances catastrophic debt levels. When Louis became king in 1774, France's debt was around 40 million livres (Zapotoczny, 2009). The main reason for this debt was the seven years war with Britain. However Louis did not try and gain control of the deficit, he increased it dramatically by supporting the US war of Independence against the British. In 1777, Louis started covertly supplying the Americans with supplies and loans (Zapotoczny, 2009). The finance minister at the time Jacques Necker paid for this with international loans instead of government policy. The cost of both wars by 1788 was over 4 billion livres. At this time, France was devoting a quarter of its revenue to maintaining its army and over half to paying off its high interest debts (Cavallaro, 2001).
As well as soaring debts from wars fought overseas, France also had a financial crisis within its own borders. France was not getting out of debt for the simple reason that its revenues fell short of its expenditures. The national poverty was not the reason; it was tax exemptions and evasion by the privileged. Also the lack of a...

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