Financial And Political Problems Facing The French Government In 1787

1099 words - 4 pages

Financial and Political Problems Facing the French Government in 1787

In 1787, France was in deeply in debt, caused in the main due to the
conflicts in which it had partaken during the earlier years of the
eighteenth century. The conflicts, including the Spanish, Polish and
Austrian Successions, the Seven Years war, and the War for American
Independence, had cost France a massive amount of money, upto
6,000,000 livres. This money was borrowed, mainly from the
bourgeoisie: merchants, manufacturers, businessmen and financiers. The
loans taken out were at high interest rates, leading to over half of
the crowns' budget being spent on interest repayments, and, in order
to balance the books, further loans being taken out to cover the

However, the main reason why France was in such a serious financial
position is probably due to the taxation system that was in use. The
First Estate (clergy) and Second estate (nobility) paid little or no
tax to the government, while the third estate paid by far the most.
Problems stem twofold from this, firstly, that the richer people in
the third estate wanted nothing more than to buy their way into the
second estate, thus avoiding the taxation net, and secondly meaning
considerable distress amongst the poor, who paid a majority of their
wages as tax, some estimates being as high as 65%. The result of high
taxes was the growth of movements in France for change, lead by
writers such as Jean Jack Rousseau, who conveyed his feelings about
the monarchy to the masses.

During the 1780's there was a series of bad harvests, at which point
grain prices would rise. The rise in grain prices meant that bread
prices would also rise, and therefore that more money would be spent
by the peasantry, in order to sustain themselves, on staple goods.
This fall in real income, and the lack of disposable income during the
1780's lead to falling consumer demand, and a collapse in the
manufacturing sector as a whole. For example, in 1787, textile
production fell by two thirds on the previous year, as people did
without new clothing et cetera as they could no longer afford to buy
any. As the 1780's progressed, further strain was placed on the food
supplies available, a growth in the resident population, which meant
that demand was increased, but supply, thanks to a few nobles who made
vast sums of money selling grain at high, over inflated prices, was
static. The general hunger and lack of products that were possibly not
necessary to human existence, but which were notable by their absence,
lead to increased dissatisfaction, and a general acceptance of the
enlightenment ideas.

The decline in manufacturing, the hike in taxes paid by the third
estate (due to governmental debt), and the rise in...

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