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Causes of the French Revolution
1) Absolutism vs. the Enlightenment
During the 1600s and 1700s, French kings gained
total power over the country’s government
This conflicted sharply with the Enlightenment
philosophy of a government whose purpose was to
protect individual rights
2) Social and Political Stratification
Power in French society was concentrated in the
the First and Second Estates
No matter how wealthy a commoner became,
he could never move up the social ladder
First
Estate
Second
Estate
Third Estate
Causes of the French Revolution
3) Severe Economic Crisis in the 1770s and 1780s:
a) Rapid Inflation and High Taxes  decrease
in trade and an economic slowdown
b) A series of Bad Winters led to Crop Failures
 bread prices skyrocket; peasants face a real
possibility of starvation
c) High Public Debt  caused by Wars and the
opulent royal court
The Estates General Meets
-Desperate for money, King Louis XVI attempted to
impose a new tax on the nobles and clergy
-Nobles: force Louis to call a meeting of the Estates
General (the French “legislature”)
-Spring, 1789: King Louis caves in to the nobles’ demand,
and calls the Estates General to meet for the first time in
175 years
Voting Rules
1) Representatives of each Estate meet separately
and decide on their vote
2) Each Estate gets one vote
The Estates General
The Third Estate Revolts
-Immediately after the Estates General
opened, the delegates of the Third Estate
withdrew and formed the National
Assembly
-National Assembly—declared themselves
the legitimate representatives of the French
People, and began passing laws in their
name
-The Tennis Court Oath—the Third Estate
delegates were locked out of the Estates
General meeting;
-They met by themselves in an indoor
tennis court, and swore an oath to not
disband until they had written a French
Constitution
Revolution in Paris
-Word of the events at Versailles quickly reached the
capital city of Paris
-The urban poor took to the streets, staging
demonstrations in support of the National Assembly
-Some people/mobs began to arm themselves
-July 14, 1789—a mob storms the Bastille Prison;
killing guards, freeing prisoners, and taking weapons
and ammunition
-”Bastille Day” is the symbolic beginning of the
French Revolution
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