Why the Ancien Regime Collapsed

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Why did the French ancient regime collapse in 1789? ‘A king is accountable for conduct only to god’ – King Louis XV, based on the ideas of divine right, and absolute monarchy, which was the central feature of the ancient regime and one of its problems. An absolute monarchy, being a form of government in which the leader has an immense amount of power and is able to rule by decree, left France to the rule of the King and the independent bodies, such as the Assembly of the clergy (to which the king consulted before making laws), and gave the people little voice to change. It also allowed the government to impede change to their ways, therefore contributing to the collapse. The ancient regime was under a financial stress and although the economy had grown in the 18th century, especially in overseas trade, it really had only benefited the ports of France. The French financial institutions had not developed enough to keep up with the economic growth. There was no central bank or stock exchange and almost no joint stock companies, and no investment from land or trade being put into the industry. France was also under the pressure of a huge budget deficit caused mainly by the wars of the previous kings, such as the Seven Years War (1756-63) and the American War of Independence (1778-83). By the 1780’s the government was nearly bankrupt, and half of government income was going on paying debts. One of the reasons to explain why there was a money deficit was taxes. The huge anomalies in the taxation system, whereby the richest were not taxed, caused there to not be enough income for the government to do its job properly. The taxes did increase under the rule of Louis XVI; however this only affected the poor even worse. Calonne, the finance minister between 1783 and 1787, introduced a series of reforms to improve the economy, in which the king stood by, but the notables
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