Describe the circumstances leading to the outbreak of
revolutionary protest in France.
Circumstances leading to the outbreak of revolutionary
protest in France:
A society of estates, and the plight of the third estate
French society was divided into three distinct estates: the first
estate comprising the clergy, the second estate composed
of the nobility, and the third estate made up of tradesmen,
merchants, court officials, lawyers, peasants, artisans, landless
labour and servants. It was only the third estate that was made
to pay taxes. The clergy and the nobility were exempt from this
rule. In addition to the taxes that were to be paid to the state,
peasants had to pay taxes to the Church and feudal dues to the
noble lords. It was an unfair situation which led to the growth
of a feeling of discontent among the members of the third estate.
At this time, there was a greater demand for foodgrains. Due
to greater demand than supply, the price of bread (the staple
diet of the majority) rose. Due to rising prices and
inadequate wages, most of the population could not even
afford the basic means of livelihood. This led to a crisis
of subsistence, and an increase in the gap between the rich
and the poor.
A stronger middle class, and popularisation of
democratic and social ideals
The middle class emerged educated and wealthy during the
eighteenth century. The system of privileges as promoted by
the feudal society was against their interests. Being
educated, the members of this class had access to the various
ideas of equality and freedom proposed by
the French and English political and social philosophers.
These ideas got popularised amongst the masses as a result
of intensive discussions and debates in salons and coffee-houses,
and through books and newspapers.
The assembly of the Estates General, and the proposal to
In order to pass proposals for increasing taxes, the French
monarch Louis XVI called together an assembly of the Estates
General on 5 May, 1789. Each estate was allowed one vote in this
assembly. The third estate protested against the unfairness of
the proposal. They proposed, instead, that each member should
have one vote. The king rejected this appeal, and the
representative members of the third estate walked out of the
assembly in protest.
The National Assembly, and the revolting subjects
These representative members, led by Mirabeau and Abbe
Sieyes, declared themselves a National Assembly, and took an oath
to not disperse until they had drafted a constitution for France
that would limit the powers of the monarch and do away with the
unjust feudal system of privileges. While this organisation was
busy drafting a democratic constitution, there were numerous
localised rebellions that sought to displace the feudal lords.
Meanwhile, the food crisis worsened and the anger of the masses
spilled onto the streets. On 14 July, the King ordered
troops to move into Paris. In response, several hundreds of
agitated men and women formed their own armed groups. One
such people's militia stormed and destroyed the Bastille
fortress-prison (representative of the
despotic power). This is how the French Revolution came about.
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