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
People have no say in the government
unless the king asks for it (which is rare).
Pay 2% of
income in tax
Pay up to 50% of
income in taxes
Tax Break Down
Where the government's money comes
Third Estate Breakdown
98% of the French people are part of the Third
Bourgeoisie – educated citizens who believe
in the ideas of the Enlightenment (artisans &
Workers – lower paid workers who were less
educated (servants, cooks, etc.)
Peasants – 80% of the population, work
directly for a noble typically farming or doing
other manual labor, generally not educated
Enlightenment Ideas were
spreading and people began
to question whether the Old
Regime (an absolute
monarch and the three
estates system), was the
best approach for France.
The bourgeoisie knew about
Enlightenment ideas and
wanted more freedoms and
say in the government.
People saw the success of
the American revolution.
Many of the ideas put
forth in the American
Enlightenment ideas. It
was very inspiring to
people to see these
ideas put into action.
France 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
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
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 was an
absolute monarch who
ruled France before and
during the revolution.
Louis XVI didn’t think the
people should have
more rights and
freedoms, and didn’t
want them to have any
say in the government.
Marie Antoinette was
an Austrian princess
who was married to
She was hated by the
French people for being
from Austria and
spending a ton of
Louis 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 of the Estates -
In the Estates – General
each estate gets one vote.
The Third Estate would
never win because the First
& Second Estate voted
This time the
representatives from the
Third Estate demanded that
they vote by population.
Louis XVI said no, which
made the Third Estate
The 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
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.
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
They took the king and queen
Historical Context: Imagine you are a member of the
bourgeoisie who is leading the French Revolution. You
have to make quick decisions for each crisis. After you
read about each real situation below, then the class
will ask any clarifying questions about it, and then you
will write your own solution to the problems presented.
When you are done, the teacher will tell you what
1789 - The peasants are rebelling, but the bourgeoisie
cannot control them. The peasants think that their right
to freedom means they can do whatever they want
since now they are free from the control of the king.
They don’t know what good rights or bad rights are
and have no understanding of the “social contract”.
This is looking more like the state of nature. What
should you do?