|Causes of the French Revolution (1789)
Bankruptcy: French kings had engaged France in a variety of
expensive wars and conflicts, some of which proved to be ill-conceived,
such as the French & Indian War (1754–63), which was devastating to the
French colonial empire, its national psyche and its economy. The role of
the French in the American Revolutionary War was also financially
crippling. Plus, the king and his court continued to spend lavishly.
Even during times of economic crisis, the spending continued. Especially
in the years preceding the Revolution, France was no longer a trading
power, compared to UK, Netherlands, Spain or Portugal, since it had lost
most of its colonial empire. It had to rely on generating revenues
internally, so it had to increase taxation. The non-aristocratic class
(peasants, bourgeoisie, those in un-inheritable positions) carried the
tax burden, as nobles/aristocrats had generally purchased their
positions of privilege, and could not be legally taxed under their
then-current system. The king was unwilling and unable to reform the
system which heavily taxed the poor majority, while ensuring privilege
for the aristocrats. As a result of this limited tax base, the
government became bankrupt, and could no longer secure loans, as it had
defaulted several times in recent decades.
Starvation: A colder weather pattern struck during the economic
melt down, causing food to become even more scarce.
Social Inequity: France had a parliamentary system, which advised
the king on governance, but it was still an absolute monarchy in
practice. The king and aristocracy lived a life of great privilege,
while the majority in the middle and lower classes were overtaxed, and
even faced food shortages and starvation. During this age of
enlightenment, and with the influence of the American Revolutionary War,
the lower and middle classes were far from willing to accept of such an
outdated and oppressive fate. The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) was also a
target, since they successfully imposed their influence upon the king,
maintaining Catholicism as the state religion. The RCC was highly
favored, not subject to taxes, while collecting a required 10% from the
non-aristocracy (adding to their excessive tax burden). Clergy also led
a fairly lavish life compared to the middle/low classes, a fact not lost
upon the general public.
Lack of Action: Despite the desperation of the situation, no
effective measures were ever put into place to solve the worsening
economic shipwreck which was France in the late 18th century.
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