Why did the third estate pay most of the taxes, even though the higher classes had most of the money?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The reason the Third Estate paid all the taxes under the Bourbon monarchy in France is that the kingdom had an inefficient, outdated tax system. Nobles and clergy received many privileges, one of which was that they were exempt from many taxes, in particular the taille, a head tax on each individual. Numerous royal ministers tried to reform this system, but were blocked from doing so by the parlements, courts controlled by nobles. The inefficiencies and injustice of this system helped cause the fiscal crisis of the late 1780s that spiraled into Revolution. We should note, though, that though it is perhaps correct to say that the first two estates, especially the clergy in the First Estate, controlled a great deal of landed wealth, the Third Estate was not only impoverished peasants and urban workers. Rather, it was the lawyers, merchants, and businessmen, the urban bourgeoisie who were just as angry at the tax system. While there was some degree of fluidity and upward mobility, these men, who viewed themselves as the productive class in France, resented (or in some cases aspired to gain themselves) the privileges of the clergy and the nobility, who they viewed as parasites. They were the ones who dominated the National Assembly that emerged from the Estates-General in 1789, and they dominated the early phases of the Revolution.

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