During the 1700s, many people thought of France as the most advanced as it seemed large, prosperous, and was the center of the Enlightenment. However, this was only an illusion and there was great unrest created by bad harvests, high taxes, and political trouble due to the Enlightenment ideas.

  • The Old Order

    During the 1770s, the Old Regime (3 estates) was still in place.

    • The Privileged Estates
      • Two of the 3 estates were privileged, consisting of Church Clergy (1) and rich nobles (2)
      • They only consisted of 2% of the population. These people paid almost no taxes and scorned Enlightenment ideas because they threatened their status.
    • The Third Estate
      • The other 97% of government were in the Third Estate, a group composed of 3 sub-groups.
        • The first group was the middle class (bankers, factory owners, merchants, etc.) This group strongly believed in Enlightenment ideas.
        • The workers in the cities formed the 2nd, poorest group. They were tradespeople, apprentices, laborers, and servants. They were paid low wages and were often out of work.
        • The final group was the largest, composing 80% of France’s population. They paid half their income to the Church, Nobles, and Kings. They resented the clergy and nobles. They were eager for change.
  • The Forces of Change

    New ideas about government, economic problems, and weak leadership helped people start to demand change.

    • Enlightenment Ideas
      • The success of the American revolution helped inspire people in the Third Estate. The new views spread and they began to question the structure of society. They started demanding equality, liberty, and democracy.
    • Economic Troubles
      • In the 1780s, France’s economy began to collapse. Despite the outward appearance of expansion, the heavy taxation made it difficult to make money from business in France.
      • Also, bad weather lead to crop shortages and prices soared, forcing many people to face starvation.
      • The extravagant spending of Louis XVI and the war debts against Britain caused a serious problem. The government’s debt became too heavy and the bankers refused to lend any more money.
    • A Weak Leader
      • With strong leadership, the France government could have kept control. However, Louis XVI’s indecisive actions made the system worse as he began taxing the upper classes.
  • Dawn of the Revolution

    The upper classes started a “Estates-General”, an assembly of representatives from all the estates. (in Versailles)They would meet and vote. However, the 2 privileged estates often outvoted the lower estate.

    • The National Assembly
      • The 3rd estate voted for a National Assembly, which would pass laws and reforms for the French people.
      • Soon, these delegates were locked out of their room. The found a tennis court and pledged to create a new constitution. This pledge was the “Tennis Court Oath”. Soon, nobles and other clergy who favored reform joined them. This caused Louis to call his mercenary of Swiss guards around the city of Versailles.
    • Storming the Bastille
      • Paris citizens were threatened by the Swiss mercenaries and began to gather weapons. Soon, a mob stormed the Bastille, a prison. This mob killed the guards, put their heads on pikes, and declared the day a national holiday for revolution – Bastille Day.
  • A Great Fear Sweeps France
    • This rebellion soon spread into the countryside. This wave of panic spread throughout France and the fighting began. They invaded Versailles and took the king and his family.