The Agricultural Crisis of 1787-1789

The Agricultural Crisis of 1787-1789 is especially important to the beginning of the Revolution. While it is easy to focus on Paris leading up to the Revolution, as it was a political hotspot, the rural countryside was still a pivotal aspect of revolutionary France. Not only did agriculture provide food for the majority of the nation, but it was also the central aspect of France’s economy. In fact, Lavoisier, a French polymath chemist, likened the rural countryside to be “a vast grain factory; stock only being employed to cultivate and to manure the soil” (Jones 39 However, consistently poor harvests beginning in the 1780’s lead to an increasing price in cereals. This made it impossible to feed everyone in rural and urban communities (Vovelle 86). This crisis demonstrated how essential farmers were to pre-revolutionary French economy and society.

The Crisis involved ongoing harvest shortages that spanned nearly 10 years. For example, in 1785 the future President John Adams wrote to President Jefferson “The [French] country is a heap of ashes. Grass is scarcely to be seen and all sorts of grain is short, thin, pale and feeble, while flax is quite dead…I pity this people from my soul…” (Adams). More specifically, in 1787 drought throughout summer led to an overestimation of crop yields. Because of this, the urban population distrusted the farmers, and vice versa. Low yields and poor planning by the government resulted in economic recession and growing distrust between the urban and rural populations, ultimately leading to upheavals and unrest such as the Great Fear of 1789.