Taxation And Equality: Examining The Foundations Of The French Revolution

1268 words - 5 pages

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.
In considering the factors that lead to France’s debt crisis, the most significant of these factors could be categorized into three categories: war, domestic aid, and class privileges. In regards to war, the most novice historian can attribute a lot of France’s debts to the money they put into fighting both of the major wars in the American continent: the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. In these wars, a lot of money was spent to ship the soldiers and their artillery to the Americas in order to fight for their allies – both native and colonial. On top of these wars, however, was the costly loss they made fighting against their rivals England, Austria, and Prussia in the Seven Years' War, which according to historian Jeremy Popkin, was “the eighteenth century's most extensive conflict.”2 Second, the French spent a lot of money in helping their nation through various domestic projects, including road maintenance, farm relief, building academies, and subsidizing a myriad of different vocations from writers to veterinarians, while also spending extra money building Versailles.3 However, while France's domestic and international expenditures displayed some frivolity in their spending, the most vital factor that played into France’s economic disparity came through the privileges that were given to the different classes of society. While the first and second estates of the French state (the Monarchy, Clergy, and Nobility) did not pay taxes, the third estate – which included the peasants and later on the workers who weren't noblemen – had to pay.4 This resulted in the French government gaining very little through taxation, and thus showed the major dilemma that the French needed to solve: How can the government raise more money while not placing all of the burden on the third estate?
As King Louis XIV tried to fix the fiscal nightmare in the French government, two of his financial advisers, Jacques Necker and Charles Alexandre de Calonne, provided reforms...

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