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The revolution began in 1787 when Louis XVI’s ministers, badly in need of finances due to falling tax receipts and a troubled economy, proposed a general tax on all landed property. An assembly of nobles and high ranking clergy were called to support the idea, but they refused to do so. In return for their support, they demanded that all government spending be controlled by the provincial assemblies. When the government refused to do so, they demanded that such sweeping changes in the tax law could only be made by the representative body of all three estates, the Estates General, which had not met since 1614.
Louis XVI was facing bankruptcy, and tried desperate means. He dismissed the assembly and established new taxes by decree; however the Parlement of Paris promptly declared them null and void, stating that there were certain "fundamental laws" which even the King must obey. Louis tried to send the judges into exile, but a furious protest erupted, and frightened investors refused to advance more money to him. In July, 1788, Louis relented and called the Estates General into session.
All three estates agreed on certain things: the need for a constitutional monarchy, abolition of internal trade barriers, and legal protection of individual liberties. However, tradition held that the three estates voted separately, with the support of two branches necessary to take action. This arrangement meant that the nobles and clergy could outvote the commoners every time.
The Estates General met in 1789, and immediately deadlocked. The delegates to the third estate refused to transact business until the King ordered the clergy and nobility to sit with them in a single body. A war of nerves waged for six weeks, until a few parish priests voted with the third estate, and on June 17, the third estate voted to call itself the National Assembly. Three days later, they were locked out of their meeting hall because of "repairs," so they moved to a nearby indoor tennis court, where they took the famous "Tennis Court Oath," that they would not disband until they had written a new constitution.
Poor grain harvests had caused the price of bread to escalate. A common laborer with a wife and three children would have to spend half his wages just on bread alone. This caused an economic depression with food so expensive that the demand for manufactured goods collapsed. Thousands of artisans and workers were suddenly unemployed, such that by the end of 1789, one person in eight was destitute. In Paris, 150,000 of the city’s population of 600,000 were out of work. Angry workers stormed the Bastille, beheaded the governor, and marched through the streets. The revolution was on.
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