In the year leading up to the storming of the Bastille, the economic problems of many common people had become steadily worse, largely because poor weather conditions had ruined the harvest. As a result, the price of bread—the most important food of the poorer classes—increased. Tensions and violence grew in both the cities and the countryside during the spring and summer of 1789.
While hungry artisans revolted in urban areas, starved peasants scoured the provinces in search of food and work. These vagrants were rumored to be armed agents of landlords hired to destroy crops and harass the common people. Many rural peasants were gripped by a panic, known as the Great Fear. They attacked the residences of their landlords in hopes of protecting local grain supplies and reducing rents on their land.
Both afraid of and politically benefiting from this wave of popular violence, leaders of the revolutionary movement in Paris began to massively restructure the state. On the night of August 4, 1789, one nobleman after another renounced his personal privileges. Before the night was over, the National Assembly declared an end to the feudal system, the traditional system of rights and obligations that had reinforced inherited inequality under the Old Regime. The exact meaning of this resolution as it applied to specific privileges, especially economic ones, took years to sort out. But it provided the legal foundation for gradually scaling back the feudal dues peasants owed to landlords and for eliminating the last vestiges of serfdom, the system that legally bound the peasants to live and work on the landlords’ estates.
At the end of August, the National Assembly promulgated the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Conceived as the prologue to a new constitution that was not yet drafted, the declaration was a short, concise document ensuring such basic personal rights as those of property, free speech, and personal security. It left unresolved the rights of women and the limits of individual rights in relation to the power of the newly emerging state. But by recognizing the source of sovereignty in the people, it undermined the idea that the king ruled by divine right. "France" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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