Chapter 3 - Chapter 3 Causes The French Revolution began...

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Chapter 3 Causes The French Revolution began with the collapse of Louis XVI’s government in the face of financial insolvency; this governmental failure turned into a political revolution and then, under the weight of environmental forces, became a social revolution as well. The collapse of the French government by 1788 was a consequence of weaknesses inherited from the policies and practices of Louis XIV. As we learned in Chapter 1, Louis XIV broke the power of the aristocracy by creating new bureaucratic offices that existed side by side with but superseded those held by the nobility in their local areas. He had recruited into those offices middle-class men who were dependent upon him for their wealth and status; they could be counted on to follow Louis XIV loyally. The aristocracy retained their privileges and positions in the countryside, but they did little in the way of administration. Because they were required to be present at Versailles in order to be considered for the considerable patronage Louis XIV might dole out to them, the countryside was left without its traditional leaders. Louis’ government might not be terrifically efficient, but it worked, in large part because he kept his eye on virtually every aspect of his administration. His successors, Louis XV and Louis XVI, were not as able or as keen as Louis XIV to oversee their governments. Without the strong central leadership that the Sun King had established, the administration of France became confused and even chaotic. Louis XIV left his successors a number of problems, but the worst were those involving government expense. First, the nobility that Louis XIV had removed from administrative functions but had left intact in the countryside still needed to be paid. This was a very expensive prospect -- salaries, land, and tax exemptions had to be granted if the nobility were to be kept acquiescent. The expense of maintaining Versailles and of providing entertainment to the nobility resident there was also significant, amounting to something like five percent of total government expenditures. The greatest expense incurred by the French government related to war. Under Louis XIV, France was engaged in war almost continuously between 1688 and 1713. Those wars were followed by the War of the Austrian Succession, from 1740 to 1748, and the Seven Years’ War, from 1756 to 1763 during the reigns of both Louis XV and Louis XVI. France’s participation in the American War for Independence would ultimately bankrupt the royal treasury, setting the scene for the political collapse that would follow. The government’s ability to replenish the treasury was limited by the privileges enjoyed by the aristocracy and the church. Noble- and church-owned properties were exempt from the tax on land, the taille , by far the greatest revenue generator in the kingdom. Some 45% of the land of France went untaxed by virtue of this privilege. The method of tax collection, moreover, reduced the amount that the royal administration actually received. Under a system known as tax farming,
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This note was uploaded on 03/18/2009 for the course HIST 1020 taught by Professor Vavara during the Fall '07 term at Colorado.

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Chapter 3 - Chapter 3 Causes The French Revolution began...

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