The origins of the French Revolution can be traced back to four revolutionary movements in the latter part of the 18th century. These movements shook French society and royal power to their foundations.
The French government became bankrupt due to the very expensive wars it had been involved in for 20 years, such as: The Austrian War of Succession, The 7 year war and The American War for Independence. Financial failure was evidenced by a deficit of almost one-quarter of the total income of the crown. This deficit led to an increase in national debt, caused by large loans.
Very soon, the sources of loans for France dried up. Calonne, the general director of finances, had to begin a reform of the fiscal system. He proposed replacing taxes such as poll tax and vingtieme with a standard property tax, which must be paid by everyone, even by nobles and the clergy.
The Parisian Parliament upheld the fundamental laws of the kingdom. According to these, the Estates-General was the only body with the right to vote on taxation. According to the same laws, French citizens could not be sent to prison without a fair trial, and the king could not modify the privileges and customs of the provinces. As a result, Lamoignon reduced the rights of the parliaments, especially the right to register royal decrees and to protest against them. The result of this act of force was the aristocratic revolt.
The Parisian Parliament returned. But it quickly lost its popularity when it declared that it was calling a meeting of the Estates-General in the same conditions as in 1614. This meant that the clergy and nobility retained their privileges.
Before the meeting of the Estates-General, the electorate of the three states wrote books of grievances and suggestions for reform. Through these, they were petitioning the king to make reforms which would serve their interests.
When the Estates-General met, the government could have taken control of the situation. However, it didn’t propose a single program and it didn’t mention the constitution which all the books of grievance asked for. Thus, the government missed its opportunity to reestablish its footing.
When the first two estates joined the meetings of the Third Estate, the National Assembly was formed. They requested sovereignty, considering themselves to be the representatives of the nation.
King Louis the 16th promised that taxes would no longer be imposed without the agreement of the nation’s representatives. Les lettres de cachet would be abolished and there would be freedom of the press. Internal taxes, la gabelle and la corvee would be done away with. But the Third Estate was not satisfied. So, the king ordered the deputies to meet separately.
Journalists and followers of duke d’Orleans established a permanent general headquarters at Palais Royal. Here, thousands of people gathered every evening to hear the speeches of the revolutionaries. The popular Parisian movement was directed from Palais Royal.
The Bastille was a medieval fortress in Paris, which had become the symbol of royal despotism. It was used as a state prison and a place of detention for important people.
The conquest of the Bastille had major consequences, since the king lost control of Paris. Here, the electors instituted a new form of government called a Commune, and appointed La Fayette as commander of the National Guard.
The municipal revolt refers to one of the consequences of the Paris revolt.
The peasants did not play a role in the events leading up to the revolution. They were mobilized because of the consequences of the poor harvest, and the poverty and suffering in the country regions.
The leaders of the patriots’ groups came up with a plan in which the liberally-minded nobles would propose the abolition of the feudal system. Viscount de Noailles and Duke D’Aiguillon, one of the richest landowners in France, proposed that the obligations pertaining to personal servitude be abolished without compensation, including serfdom and la corvee. Other rights, such as champart and lods et ventes, were considered forms of property which must be redeemed, with peasants paying for them.