The French Revolution Begins

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Issue Number 3- The third estate felt that it was unfair that they had to pay the majority of their income to taxes while the other two estates barely paid any. Couple this with the successful American Revolution, and emotions for change within France escalated.

Due to the major problems within France, King Louis XVI called a meeting of the Estates General, an assembly of representatives from all three estates to approve a new tax on the 1st two estates. (This was the 1st meeting in 175 years!!) The Estates General had delegates from each estate meet in separate halls to vote on the issue. Each estate, under medieval rules, was allowed one vote. This was highly unfair, due to the fact that the 1st and 2nd estate could always outvote the 3rd. The 3rd estate proposed that all estates meet together to discuss, and that each delegate should have a vote, which would make the 3rd estate more equal to the 1st two estates. The King ordered that the Estates General follow medieval rules which put the third estate at an overwhelming disadvantage. The 3rd estate, eager for change, renamed themselves the National Assembly and wanted to pass laws and reforms in the name of French people. On June 17, 1789 the 3rd estate voted to establish the National Assembly, which in effect ended the absolute monarchy in place and restored it with a representative government. Three days later the 3rd estate delegates found themselves locked out of their meeting room. They broke down the door of a nearby indoor tennis court and vowed to stay in there until they created a new constitution. This became known as the Tennis Court Oath. Shortly after the 3rd estate met, nobles and members of the clergy who favored reform joined the 3rd estate delegates. King Louis XVI made a costly mistake and decided to station his mercenary army of Swiss guards around Versailles as a precaution. Many people took this as an act of trying to use military force to dismiss the National Assembly. Others thought the foreign troops were there to massacre French citizens. The people of France took action and people began to gather weapons to defend the city. On July 14th a mob of people searching for gunpowder stormed the Bastille, a Paris prison. They then proceeded to seize the building, and hacked prison commanders and guards to death. The mob then paraded around the streets with the guard’s heads on pikes. This day is now known as Bastille Day, and is a French National Holiday. Rebellion continued to occur and spread from Paris to the countryside. The “Great Fear” spread through France as peasants were fearful for their lives. Armed with pitchforks and farm tools, they broke into manor houses and destroyed papers that bound them to pay feudal dues. In October 1789, thousands of women rioted over the rising price of bread. They turned their anger on the King and Queen and they killed many of their guards and demanded that the couple return to Paris. A few hours later, the King, his family, and servants, left Versailles and were never again to see the magnificent palace. Their exit signaled the change of power and reforms about to overtake France. The Revolution had started and major bloodshed was about to ensue, but what would the final outcome be?

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