Louis XVI, of the Bourbon dynasty, became the ruler of France in 1774. By that time, long years of war, maintenance of the court of the immense palace of Versailles made the treasury empty.
In addition to this, France had helped the thirteen American colonies in the war of independence against the British. The war for American independence resulted in a debt of 10 billion livres. The state was already reeling under a debt of 2 billion livres. The king was thus forced to increase taxes, resulting in resentment among the members of the third estate.
The Struggle to Survive
The population of France was increasing at a healthy pace. This resulted in increased demand of food grains. Poor production of food grains, frequent draught or hail, diseases, epidemics, further worsened the situation. The price of bread (staple diet of people) increased as a result. On the other hand, wages of workers could not keep pace with price rise. So, for most of the poor it resulted in subsistence crisis. A situation in which people are unable to buy even the basic necessities is called subsistence crisis.
Many people of the third estate had earned wealth through overseas trade and manufacturing goods. They were termed as middle class. It was a new social group, which also comprised of court officials, lawyers and administrative officials.
In the past, peasants and labors had started various revolts against high taxes and food scarcity. But they could not bring a change due to lack of means and lack of concrete programme. So, now the responsibility of changing the socio-economic order fell on the middle class.
People of middle class were educated. They were against the privileges on the basis of birth and believed that a person’s merit and effort should decide his position in the society. Philosophers, such as John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau were envisaging a society based on freedom, equal laws and opportunity for all. American war of freedom also influenced the people of France.
These ideas of then philosophers and political thinkers began to spread far and wide among people. People started discussions to bring the change in society as well as government based on those ideas. Such discussions began to take place in salons, coffee house, etc. Many books were published based on new ideas. Some persons used to read those books and newspaper aloud among people at public places for the benefit of illiterates.