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Beginnings of the French Revolution


Louis XVI
Louis XVI

Elections were held in late 1788 and early 1789, and lists of grievances were drawn up to guide the delegates in their deliberations. The compiling of these lists contributed to the politicization of the nation. In September 1788 the Paris parlement decided that voting in the forthcoming meeting of the Estates-General would proceed by estate, not by head. (The Estates-General was divided into three estates, or legally defined social classes: the clergy, who made up the first estate; the nobility, who made up the second estate; and the rest of the people, who made up the third and largest estate.) The decision was probably made to prevent the king from tampering with the procedures of the Estates-General. But members of the third estate considered the decision a sellout because it gave disproportionate power to the clergy and nobles. The issue of voting dominated the Estates-General when it met in May 1789, leaving the financial crisis unresolved.

After weeks of bickering, the third estate acted on its own. It established itself as the National Assembly in June and invited the clergy and nobility to join it and vote by head. The king at first opposed the new arrangement, then reluctantly accepted it.

But already a major break with past practice had occurred, and the king appeared to want to reverse a process over which he had lost control. Further deepening the crisis was the first major famine in France since 1709. Bread prices skyrocketed, and vagrancy increased as the poor searched for food. Many saw these vagrants as paid agents of the nobility intent on attacking the peasantry, resulting in new waves of panic. When Louis called for military reinforcements in and around the capital and dismissed Necker, the hungry people of Paris rose in revolt. On July 14, 1789, they stormed the Bastille, an old fortress-prison that many critics of justice in the Old Regime had made the symbol of despotism. Revolt had turned into revolution. "France" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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