The Estates General
The first phase of the French Revolution
The Estates General was split up into three estates or social classes. This system divided 25 million people into these estates very disproportionately. The first estate contained only one hundred thousand people, which was only a fraction of a percentage of the population. These people were referred to as the “clergy”. These people were part of the church. They weren’t even taxed really. They only had to give some sort of a gift to the government every five years, and they owned ten percent of the land in France. The second estate was composed of the “nobles”. The second estate composed of only four hundred thousand people, which was 1.6 percent of the population. These noblemen and noblewomen were the descendants of those who supposedly fought for France during the middle ages and these people owned about ? of the land. They too were hardly taxed at all. Then there was the third estate. They were essentially the leftovers. They were the people who weren’t nobility or part of the church. They ranged from the upper-middle class, the bourgeoisie, to peasants. They were the remaining 24.5 million Frenchmen. They were taxed the most, infact, they were Louis’s financiers. Almost all of the tax money came from the third estate, which is also, overall, the poorest estate. The third estate had trouble getting laws passed because when something was put to a vote, each estate only got one vote. This left the first two estates in clear power, which is why the third estate is taxed the most. This system was terrible and eventually failed due to the shortage of tax income for Louis and the growing anger from the third estate for more equality.
2) Main actors
- Louis XVI – He was the creator of the Estates General. This was his system of government that he set up to keep him in power. To do this he had to stay in favor, and to stay in favor he to be able to tax what was later known as the third estate, simply so he could stay in the favor of what was later known and the first two estates, and that was very important due to the fact that the first two estates own 35 percent of the land.
- Abbe Emanuel Joseph Sieyes– He spent much of his time examining the third estate and he is now famous for his writings on, “What is the Third Estate?” His work even influenced the estates general and how many delegates each estate had. He was definitely a fan of the third estate. He was disgusted with how the third estate was cheated and neglected.
3) Major Events:
- June 1789 – The Third Estate declares itself the National Assembly ending the Estates General
Due to the constant need for money, Louis XVI had no other option other than to place a tariff on all of the land. This meant that even the nobles and the clergy would be taxed the most. This did not keep him in favor with them. The nobles and the clergy then tried to change the power over governmental spending to be granted to other provinvial assemblies, however their attempt to gain more control over the tax moner failed and they were denied. Meanwhile, the voting
The National Assembly
The National Assembly was a result of a few of things. First, the third estate was not at all happy with the way they were overpowered, and in combination with that, Louis XVI was not making very much money off taxes. He was going bankrupt and France was in an economic depression. Also, the third estate had already broken off from the estates general and taken the tennis court oath, which assured that everybody would fight for more rights at any cost. He had no choice but to allow the third estate to break off and form the National Assembly. The third estate was now the National Assembly, the only representative body of this time. They knew that the first thing that they had to do was to write a new constitution that would prevent what has been happening. They were at war with tyranny.
- Women of France were getting tired of the unemployment problems and the high food prices, so they grouped together and formed the march to Versailles. They went and fought and some died. They even forced Louis out of his abode. The only thing they wanted was bread to put on their tables.
- Louis XVI was constantly dealing with money shortage, and he was trying hard to stay in favor so that he could stay in power, but at the same time he needed a lot more money. So he again tried to get more money from the poor, and not the rich. By raising grain prices and others, he only caused himself to be driven out of his home by his own people.
Bastille could not hold them off.
- Nov 1789 – National Assembly takes all of the churches land
- July 1790 – Constitution written, and accepted by Louis XVI
Louis XVI was essentially going bankrupt because he wasn’t making enough tax money because the peasants weren’t paying their taxes and were taking to the forests. Meanwhile, the Great Fear is sweeping over France and rioting and revolting begins. Then the National Assembly declares the rights of man. This was to ensure that another situation like the one of the Estates General. This guaranteed freedom and equality among men. Now almost bankrupt, Louis makes another attempt at making more money so he raises the taxes on grain only causing more problems than it was solving. The commoners were sick of the taxing and the low employment, so the women marched to Versailles simply to get grain and bread to put on the table. They attacked the royalty and forced the king and queen to return back to Paris. Also, others were taking action and went to Bastille to get gunpowder. They knew that he would do anything that he could to stay in power even if he has to use his military, so they had to defend themselves because it was apparent that so long as there is a monarch, tyranny is always a distinct possibility. Finally the constitution was written. Louis was still king, but all of the political power was in the hands of the National Assembly. Then the Declaration of Pilnitz was made and Prussia, Austria, and the Netherlands showing their plans to intervene in the revolution. France took this very lightly and focused more on the economic problems.
This was the first step to change. They were able to write a new constitution and somewhat take over France. They were able to go from being in little to no power to holding all of the power. This was a big step in the revolution.