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Class notes
What were the causes of the
French Revolution?
legislative body of the ancien regime
limited in power but could approve or veto any
new or increases in taxes
recalled by Louis XIV in 1789 as the country was
on the verge of bankruptcy
First Estate
Second Estate
Nobility (upper or aristocratic
Third Estate
Commons (middle and lower
Pamphlets such as “What Is the Third
Estate?” (Sieyes) and notebooks of
complaints (cahiers de doleances) expresses
grievances and called for change.
Discussion clubs, in the tradition of salons,
popped up in major French cities.
Calls for a constitutional monarchy were
more typical than an all-out revolution of the
existing political structure.
The meeting produced at deadlock among
the three estates.
The first and second estates, with one vote
each, could outvote the third estate, with one
When the third estate met in protest, Louis
XIV locked the meeting hall, which was
guarded by soldiers.
David believed
that it was the
artist’s moral
duty to choose
subjects. He
wanted to inspire
thus, the painting
is a part of
during the French
Three Roman
brothers swear an
oath to their father
before entering a
battle. The sisters
weep to the side.
The themes of selfsacrifice and nobility,
which fit into neoclassical interests,
attracted David.
The third estate swore an oath, known as the
Tennis Court Oath, stating that they were the
National Assembly of France.
They refused to disband without a
constitution, even when Louis XIV asked
them to disperse.
“The national is assembled here,
and receives no orders.”
A week after the proclamation of the National
Assembly, a Parisian crowd of craftsmen,
journeymen, shopkeepers and some higher-placed
leaders attacked the Bastille, a state prison.
The Bastille held
special prisoners who
were sent there
without trial and at the
whim of authorities.
The prison was a symbol of
the oppressive order of the
ancient regime.
Reality Check:
The Bastille held only seven prisoners who were
treated much better than common criminals.
Peasants were increasingly dissatisfied with and
vocal about the economic power of the
seigneurs (feudal lords) in outdated medieval
land system.
 Peasant attacked castled and tried to burn
records of feudal dues, rents payable, and
 The National Assembly abolished feudal rights
while commoners began viewing the nobility as
enemies of social change.
Parisian women, scared of bread shortages,
march to Versailles to protest high food
The crowd returned to Paris with the royal
family in the royal carriage.
When the Estates-General became the
National Assembly, the king was no longer
the central authority, though his approval
was legally required under a constitutional
The Assembly renewed the French legal
system and wrote a constitution.
It confiscated church estates and abolished
the obligation of the French Church to obey
the pope.
Mirabeau, a member of a noble family, who wrote
pamphlets in favour of constitutional monarchy, was a
leader in the Assembly until his death in 1791. He was the
voice of conservative radicalism and was against the more
radical left-wing Jacobins.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they
are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these
are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights,
Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the
consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes
destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and
to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and
organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect
their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long
established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly
all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils
are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are
accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing
invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute
Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to
provide new Guards for their future security.
The representatives of the French people, organized in National
Assembly, considering that ignorance, forgetfulness or contempt
of the rights of man, are the sole causes of the public miseries and
of the corruption of governments, have resolved to set forth in a
solemn declaration the natural, inalienable, and sacred rights of
man, in order that this declaration, being ever present to all the
members of the social body, may unceasingly remind them of
their rights and their duties; in order that the acts of the legislative
power and those of the executive power may be each moment
compared with the aim of every political institution and thereby
may be more respected; and in order that the demands of the
citizens, grounded henceforth upon simple and incontestable
principles, may always take the direction of maintaining the
constitution and the welfare of all.