French Revolution exam question: economic conditions

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Exam task

Section A Question 1/2 – French Revolution


“How did food shortages, inflation and other economic concerns contribute to the development of the French Revolution between 1781 and 1789?”

Student response

“The lack of fiscal reform and the food shortages of the late 1780s were short-term crises that exacerbated the longer term problems and grievances in the ancien regime, leading to the growth of revolutionary sentiment. France was one of the highest taxing nations in Europe, yet despite this its national debt had reached dangerous levels by the start of the 1780s. This was largely due to the government’s ineffective revenue collection and its involvement in several foreign wars, the last being the American Revolutionary War. The dire fiscal state of the nation was concealed by Necker’s misleading statement of finances (‘Compte Rendu’, 1781) which suggested a surplus rather than a perilous deficit. The Third Estate, which bore an unequal weight of the taxation burden, sought both fiscal reform and greater participation in government. The lower classes were more directly impacted by food shortages and price inflation. There had been several harvest failures prior to the late 1780s, then the 1788 harvest was decimated by hailstorms, leaving granaries only partly full during the bitterly cold winter of that year. The price of bread almost doubled in Paris, worsening the public mood and contributing to the unrest of mid 1789. The combination of these structural problems and incidental shortages placed the Bourbon regime under acute pressure to find solutions and reform, and by the convocation of the Estates-General the economic crisis had developed into a political crisis.”

Teacher feedback

This is a relevant and effective response to the question. The student has started strongly, addressing the question with his/her first sentence. The answer contains three separate points, though signposting could be more clear. There is a good level of detail and specific knowledge, such as dates, events and policies. It could be strengthened with a little more of this, for example, inflation figures in 1789. The answer finishes strongly by explaining that economic problems developed into a political crisis for the king and his ministers. This answer would score in the region of 9 out of 10.

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