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French Revolution. Social Hierarchy. America: 2012. France: 1789. Background to the Revolution. Before the revolution, French society was divided into three groups, called Estates.

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French Revolution

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French revolution

French Revolution

Social hierarchy

Social Hierarchy

America: 2012

France: 1789

Background to the revolution

Background to the Revolution

  • Before the revolution, French society was divided into three groups, called Estates.

  • The Estate System was based on inequality, with nearly all of the power in the hands of only 2% of the total population.

  • The country was a monarchy – ruled by a King who was separate from the Estate System.

  • The Enlightenment and the American Revolution encouraged the French people to begin challenging this ancient system.



  • This is an image of the Three Estates. Describe what this image is trying to tell you.

  • Who drew it, and why?

First estate

First Estate

  • The First Estate was made up of the clergy – members of the church.

  • 130,000 people

  • Did not pay taxes

Second estate

Second Estate

  • The Second Estate was made up of Nobles, the traditional land-owning families.

  • 350,000 people

  • Held many of the top government jobs and had special privileges, but wanted more power from the King.

Third estate

Third Estate

  • The common people of France.

  • 98% of the population.

  • Because of its size and diversity, it was divided into groups based on occupation, education, and wealth.

  • Peasants were at the bottom, despite making up 80% of the population. For centuries, they had suffered at the hands of the Nobles.

Third estate cont

Third Estate, cont.

  • Workers, artisans, teachers, merchants, and small land owners were also part of the Third Estate.

  • They were unhappy with the poor economy of France, rising taxes, and the privileges given to Nobles.

  • They were educated people who wanted an equal voice in the government.

Causes of the revolution

Causes of the Revolution


  • Government was running out of money and relied more heavily on taxes.

  • Fifty years of wars, bad harvests, and disasters

  • 1/3 of population lived in poverty, while monarchy raised taxes to support lavish lifestyle and unnecessary wars.

  • Poor lived in squalor, had no food or support, and were getting very angry.

Causes cont

Causes, cont.


  • The poor seemed to be getting poorer

  • The middle class, known as the Bourgeoisie, were sick of financing the lifestyles of the Nobles through heavy taxes.

  • The monarchy seemed oblivious. Stories about their new jewels and big parties fueled the Revolutionary fire.

Marie antoinette

Marie Antoinette

  • The queen of France.

  • She was viewed by the people as an inspiration for the Revolution because of her extravagant lifestyle, paid for by the taxpayers.

  • According to legend, when told that many of the French people had no bread to eat, she responded “Why don’t they eat cake?”

Marie antoinette1

Marie Antoinette

The national assembly

The National Assembly

  • Although it made up nearly all of the population, the Third Estate had only 1/3 of the votes in the government and was usually outvoted.

  • In 1789, the Third Estate decided to break away and form its own government, called the National Assembly.

The tennis court oath

The Tennis Court Oath

  • The members of the National Assembly were not allowed to meet in any public building, so they met on a tennis court, where they decided to write a new French constitution.

  • The king’s forces tried to keep the National Assembly from meeting, but the commoners rose up and defeated them.

The bastille

The Bastille

  • The Bastille was a prison in Paris where the King locked up “enemies of the state.” It was a feared symbol of his power. It was also where he kept most of his weapons.

  • In response to the Tennis Court Oath, the commoners of Paris attacked the Bastille. Prisoners were freed and the building was destroyed.

  • The King’s authority in Paris collapsed, and revolutions broke out all over France.

Bastille day

Bastille Day

  • The anniversary of the storming of the Bastille by the people of Paris is celebrated as a national holiday in France on July 14.

  • It is their “Fourth of July,” with similar celebrations.

Declaration of the rights of man and the citizen

Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen

  • Freedom and equal rights for all men

  • Access to public offices based on talent

  • Everyone pays taxes

  • Freedom of speech and press

Constitution of 1791

Constitution of 1791

  • Limited Monarchy: King stays, but does not make laws.

  • Elected Assembly makes the laws.

  • Tax-paying men over 25 can vote.

King louis xvi

King Louis XVI

  • The King refused to accept the National Assembly and its new laws.

  • A mob of thousands of armed women stormed the royal palace and forced the King to travel to Paris to meet with the Assembly.

  • The royal family brought flour with them to feed the starving masses. This was seen as an empty gesture, which enraged the crowds.

The paris commune

The Paris Commune

  • The National Assembly struggled to improve the conditions in France. People grew impatient.

  • Radicals formed a group called the Paris Commune. They took over the government, took the royal family prisoner, and called for an end to the monarchy.

  • From here, things got very nasty….



  • People who had aided the King or were thought to be against the Paris Commune were arrested. Thousands were executed.

  • A new national government was formed, and it decided to end the monarchy.

  • King Louis XVI was beheaded, using a machine called a Guillotine.



  • The Guillotine was used to execute as many as 40,000 people in France between 1792-1794.

The reign of terror

The Reign of Terror

  • During 1793 and 1794, France was run by groups known as the National Convention and the Committee of Public Safety.

  • Maximilien Robespierre, the leader of the Committee, felt that any person who would not submit to the will of the government should be executed.

  • Any city that rebelled against the government was destroyed and its people were executed, sometimes by mass drowning or by guillotine.

  • Nobles and Clergy were only 15% of the victims. The rest were commoners.

Remaking france

Remaking France

  • The Committee of Public Safety tried to change many parts of French life.

  • The Christian Church was outlawed, and the calendar was changed to have years begin at the start of the French Republic (1792 became Year 1).

  • Children were sent to patriotic schools.

  • A “People’s Army” made up of over a million people was created to defend France.

The directory

The Directory

  • The Committee of Public Safety and its willingness to murder at will to create “The Republic of Virtue” became unpopular.

  • Maximilien Robespierre, the most feared man in France, was beheaded.

  • A new government and new constitution were created in 1795.

  • The new government, known as “The Directory,” struggled to solve the country’s problems. It was overthrown by the military in 1799, which led to the rise of Napoleonic France.

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