When Louis XVI ascended the throne, the national loans increased a lot. The state treasury was in deficit of Francs two crore annually. On the other hand, the peasantry was burdened with taxes.
Louis XVI was much worried to see this miserable condition of the people and he wanted to improve it. He appointed several financial ministers but all of them failed to make any improvement.
The following finance ministers were appointed by the king to improve the economic condition of France:
Louis XVI, after his accession, first of all appointed Turgot to the post of Finance Minister. He chalked out a detailed programme to improve the economic condition of France. He wanted to minimise the state expenses.
He also intended to impose taxes on the nobles and the priests who were hitherto exempted from all taxes. But the queen and the nobles along with priests opposed him vehemently and he was removed by the king.
Necker was the second Finance Minister who wanted to bring about reform in the economic condition of France. But in the meanwhile France took part in the American War of Independence, and this told upon the state treasury.
Consequently, Necker also followed the path of Turgot and proposed equal taxation on all classes.
Queen Antoinette criticised him as a miser because she did not want to curtail her expenses. The king had to remove him due to the excessive influence of the queen.
Calonne was appointed to the office of Finance Minister after Necker. He did not wish to displease the royal family. So he took huge loans to compensate the deficit for which he had to pay heavy interest.
But soon he realised that the administration could not work efficiently on the basis of this policy and arranged for a meeting of the Assembly Notables to be called and the king was compelled to accept his proposal.
Assembly of Notables
The nobles, priests and the magistrates were the members of the assembly who were appointed by the king himself, so it lacked t representation of the general public.
When Calonne proposed for equality of taxes for all the classes, the members of the assembly along with other nobles opposed it outright.
They also pressed the king to suspend Calonne and the king had to agree to their proposal due to weakness.
Brienne was the last man to be appointed as Finance Minister but he, too, did not succeed in solving the economic problems. His newly proposed taxes were opposed by the Parliament of Paris and it stressed that the right of imposing taxes lay with those only who paid the taxes.
So a meeting of Estates General was summoned for the approval of new taxes. People welcomed this idea and passed resolution in favour of this proposal.
Seeing the revolutionary spirit of the public, the king and ministers were terrified and the king called the meeting of Estates General in May 1789 in Versailles. As Turgot had breathed his last that time, Necker was appointed the Chief Minister.
The Estates General
It was not a new institution but no meeting of this assembly had been held since 1615. Actually it was formed during the reign of Philip the Fair in 1302. The chief function of this assembly was to advise the king.
It had three houses which were represented by the nobles, priests and the commoners, respectively. The king doubled the number of members the third house so that the nobles and the priests might not do injustice to the commoners. Philip the Fair once said about the duties of this assembly:
“The duty of its members is to hear, receive, approve and perform what should be commended of them by the king.”
Some of the eminent historians are of the opinion that calling of the meeting of Estates General was an invitation to the revolution, as enabled the people to know about their rights and duties.
The economic condition of France was going from bad to worse day by day. The king used to spend the money lavishly for his comforts and luxuries.
The nobles and upper class clergymen also led a life of pleas while the commoners paid the price of their luxuries and gave away 80 of their income in taxes to the government.
It not only embittered the with regard to their present position but also instigated them to revolt and do away with the privileges of the nobles and the priests once and for all.
System of Taxes
The system of taxation in France was highly unjust and impractical. The peasantry had to pay the following taxes while the nobles and priests, the wealthiest in the French society, were exempted from all the taxes. The system was as follows:
(i) The serfs had to work on the fields of the farmers three days in a week.
(ii) The independent farmer had to pay quit money as the price of forced labour.
(iii) The farmers used to pay one-tenth of their income to the church.
(iv) The tailed was realised from the farmers according to their economic condition. It being an indefinite tax was realised in great quantity.
(v) The farmers also paid income tax.
(vi) Gabelle Tax was also extracted from them.
(vii) The farmers had to work for the repairs of the roads without any payment. It was known as curve.
(viii) The peasantry used to pay taxes at the time of war.
All these taxes were realised by the contractors who tortured and tormented the poor farmers according to their own will. After paying about 80% of their income in taxation the peasantry was leading a life below subsistence level.
They could hardly save much to meet the daily necessities of their family due to the cruel nature of the contractors, who were less interested in the realisation of the state taxes than in enriching their own coffers.
Undoubtedly, some of the historians have rightly observed that the economic conditions were fully responsible for the outbreak of this revolution.