France and the Old Regime Before the revolution France operated on a system known as the Old Regime. In this system there is an absolute monarch and three social class: clergy (first estate), nobility (second estate), and everyone else (third estate). How you are treated depends on what estate you are in. People have no say in the government unless the king asks for it (which is rare).
Tax Break Down Where the governments money comes from First Estate Second Estate Third Estate
Enlightenment Ideas Enlightenment Ideas were spreading and people began to question some of the long standing ideas they had lived by. People heard words such as equality, liberty, and democracy. They began discuss these ideas.
American RevolutionPeople saw the success of the American revolution. Many of the ideas put forth in the American declaration of independence were Enlightenment ideas. It was very inspiring to people to see these ideas put into action.
France’s EconomyFrance used to be very wealthy, but lately there were a lot of problems with their economy.There were several causes for this struggle:1. Heavy taxes to countries who tried to do business with France.2. The cost of living rose for everyone.3. Bad weather in the 1780’s resulted in food shortages.4. The price for bread doubled in 1789 and many people faced starvation.5. France’s King, Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette were very extravagant and spent lots of money. Bankers refused to lend him anymore money and he was in deep trouble.
Louis XVI Louis was not a particularly strong leader and was often indecisive. He wasn’t very interested in leading the country. He let his advisers decide most things while he spent time hunting, playing with locks and spending more money that France didn’t have.
Marie AntoinetteMarie Antoinette was an Austria princess who was married to Louis at the age of 14 (Louis was 15). France and Austria were long time enemies. Many people disliked her because of her Austrian background. She was also disliked by the general population of France for her spending. She got the nickname “Madame Deficit.”
Impending DoomLouis put off dealing with the money issue until France was facing bankruptcy.Louis knew he needed to raise money so he tried to tax the Second Estate. The Second Estate protested wildly and insisted the Louis call together a meeting of the Estates – General an assembly of representatives from all three of the estates to decide what to do on the issue. The Estates – General had not met in 175 years.
The Meeting In the past the clergy (First Estate) and nobility (Second Estate) always voted together and won because of the way the voting system worked – one representative for each estate. The representatives from the Third Estate were bourgeoisie or educated members of the middle class. They knew about Enlightenment ideas and said this way of voting was unfair.
National AssemblyThe Third Estate decided they would form there own group and called themselves the National Assembly. The goal of the National Assembly was to pass laws and reforms in the name of the French people.Three days later when the National Assembly found themselves locked out of a meeting hall they broke into a local tennis court and took a pledge to keep meeting until they had created a new constitution for France. This became known as the Tennis Court Oath.
Storming the Bastille Louis was scared so he hired Swiss Guards to protect him (he didn’t trust his soldiers). People saw the Swiss Guards and thought Louis was going to attack them. On July 14, 1789 angry citizens stormed the Bastille, a prison in Paris, to get gunpowder and supplies to fight back.
Great Fear After the invasion of the Bastille a wave of senseless panic known as the Great Fear spread through out France. In October 1789 approximately 60,000 Parisian women rioted over the rising price of bread. The women marched to Versailles and broke into the palace. They took the king and queen as prisoners.