Before the French Revolution, France was divided into three groups, or estates with their own status and role to play in the country. The First Estate involved religious people in the country. The Second Estate involved all the nobles. These two estates had many privileges, and were the wealthiest group, but were only a small piece of the entire population. The Third Estate was everyone else in the country: the peasants, poor city dwellers, and the “middle class”. The Third Estate was the largest group, and had little to no power, even though it was the largest group. In order to pay off national debts, Louis XVI increased taxes in the Third Estate, which impacted many of their lives. Because of the taxes, industry started to lag, and there were bread shortages in many places. People of the Third Estate relied on bread as their primary source of food, and when the bread ran out or the price increased, many people went hungry and riots broke out.
When Louis XVI inherited the throne in 1774, he also inherited many problems left behind by the previous king, King Louis XV. The country had been involved in the Seven Years War, also known as the French and Indian War, and was left with many debts of the war.
In order to pay off debts, Louis tried to impose a tax on all landowners, not just the Third Estate. The parliament of Paris claimed that only a special assembly could approve a tax, an assembly that hasn’t been called in over 170 years, the Estates-General. The Estates-General was an assembly where representatives of the three Estates could discuss what to do. Through May and into June 1789, the representatives argued about how many votes each Estate should have. The First and Second Estates bent the rules to their advantage, saying that each Estate should have only one vote, ensuring that they would win any conflict two to one. The Third Estate wanted a system of majority votes, since it would give it the most say. On Jun 17, the Third Estate broke away and declared itself the National Assembly, which was a direct offence to the people in power, including King Louis XVI.
The National Assembly created a new law that gave only it the power to decide on taxes. Louis XVI banned the National Assembly from its meeting hall upon hearing this. However, on June 20, 1789, the National Assembly responded by moving to the Versailles tennis court across the street and swore the “Tennis Court Oath.” The representatives swore that they would not break apart until they had drafted a constitution for the people of France, guaranteeing rights to the French people. Many lower-ranking clergy and a number of nobles broke away from the First and Second Estates to join the National Assembly. Louis feared the combined strength of this group, and could see that people were rising up against him. In order to show the French his power, Louis hired foreign soldiers to go to Versailles and Paris, and fired the popular minister Jacques Necker. However, with the public and numbers from the other two Estates on its side, the Third Estate stood strong. The king, not wanting an outright revolt, ordered the representatives from the First and Second Estates to join the National Assembly to show that he accepted the change in mood, which then changed its name to the National Constituent Assembly.
As a precaution, Louis XVI and the Royal Family were removed from Versailles to Paris. The King attempted, but failed, to flee…