Top Ten Grievances on the Eve of Revolution

Image right: the cahier of the parish of Saint-Forget (1789). Source: Conseil Général des Yvelines.



Rural Parishes

1. Regular Meetings of the Estates-General 1. Taxation in general 1. Taxation in general
2. Taxation in general 2. Provincial Estates 2. Salt tax (gabelle)
3. Veto on taxation for the Estates-General 3. Regular Meetings of the Estates-General 3. Tax on alcoholic beverages
4. Provincial Estates 4. Vote by head at the Estates-General 4. Salt monopoly
5. Censorship 5. Veto on taxation for the Estates-General 5. Tax on legal acts
6. Personal liberties  6. Customs duties 6. Compulsory labor services on roads
7. Allocation of taxes 7. Tax on legal acts 7. Provincial Estates
8. Government pensions 8. Censorship 8. Direct taxes (taille)
9. Authorizations for arrest 9. Government pensions 9. Praise of Louis XVI
10. Customs duties 10. Lack of career opportunities in the military 10. Tax exemptions and privileges enjoyed by the clergy

This chart lists the "top ten" themes contained in the cahiers de doléances, sorted according to the social group to which the signatories belonged. The cahiers were lists of concerns or grievances compiled in the spring of 1789 and were to serve as mandates for representatives elected to the Estates-General of France, which convened the following summer. Approximately 40,000 cahiers were composed during the spring months. This chart is based on a representative sample of them.

The first column describes the 10 most frequent themes in doléances presented by the French nobility in the summer of 1789; the second column shows the top ten presented by local "general assemblies" of the Third Estate, which usually indicates a majority of city-folk; the third column reflects a sample of doléances composed by rural parishes, which we can assume reflect the concerns of the French countryside. Several things about this comparison stand out:

Oddly absent from these lists are references to the rights of nobles as landowners to levy taxes and to administer justice on their properties. Not even the rural population included complaints against these rights among their grievances. Instead, the powers of the monarchy were at the focus of attention for all groups.

Source: John Markoff, The Abolition of Feudalism: Peasants, Lords, and Legislation in the French Revolution (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), 30-32.