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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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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?”

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.