The tottering economic structure of France was also one of the reasons for the outbreak of the revolution. Some historians regard that it was the economic causes which fanned the flames of revolution in France.
Louis XVI was fond of waging wars and took active part in many wars. Consequently, the national debt increased beyond limit. He also spent a huge amount over the construction of the royal mansion at Versailles twelve miles away from Paris.
It was famous for its magnificence. C.D. Hazen has written about the grandeur of this palace:
“The palace of Versailles, when completed, amazed the world by its splendour. It was the paradise of spoiled children of fortune.
“A huge amount was spent on its maintenance annually. Louis XIV’s love for war, mismanagement and maladministration also affected the royal treasury otherwise, and the national debts of France had gone quite high.
Louis XV and his successors, tried to control these debts but they did not succeed. Louis XVI wanted to prop the decaying economic structure of France but he too failed because his royal spouse Marie Antoinette was a wastefully extravagant lady.
She, due to her extra vacancy, proved to be a heavy drain on the finances of the State. She was also known as ‘Madam Deficit’ for her spendthrift ways.
The king was only a rubber stamp in the hands of the queen and the nobles. D. M. Ketelbey has observed in this connection:
“Fundamentally Turgot and Necker failed not from their own incidental demerits, but because of the character of the king and strength of the opposing interests.
Had the king supported them firmly, some measure of success would have fallen to them and when in May 1776 he dismissed Turgot, the Revolution became inevitable.”
When France was groaning under heavy debt and deficit, Louis XVI summoned the Council of Notables but the people opposed and suggested that the financial problems could only be tackled by the Estates General.
Hence in 1789 the Estates General was summoned to decide the financial issue of equal taxation on all the classes. Robertson holds the opinion that “the very mention of the estates general was enough to set France ablaze.
It was as if a fraudulent firm, unable to meet its liabilities, had been forced at last to lay its affairs before a meeting of its creditors.”
The taxation system in France was also disorganised and mismanaged. The wealthiest people belonging to the privileged class were free from all taxes while the peasantry had to pay 80% of their income in taxes to the government.
Inequality in taxes had created dissatisfaction and dejection among the masses. Moreover, the method of realising the revenue was also faulty.
The revenue was realised by the contractors who used to realise more than was due from the farmers but deposited in royal treasury only a part of it and thus appropriated a good amount for their own use.
Thus whereas the farmers were exploited, the royal treasury was also being looted by these revenue officers.
No doubt, Louis XVI endeavoured his best to improve the economic condition of France and appointed finance ministers, one after the other, but he did not succeed due to over-much influence of Marie Antoinette, the royal spouse of the king, and the nobles.