Even though France was the largest, wealthiest country in Europe, its government was broke. This was simply because it raised too little in taxes. The nobles and clergy paid few taxes, so that left the peasant farmers to pay full taxes. This meant that food prices were high and pay was low. The kings before King Louis XVI were also a reason the government was on the verge of bankruptcy. They had spent money recklessly on wars. They were also the ones to give the nobility more privileges.
Bastille on July 14, 1789
In 1789, King Louis XVI was forced to call a meeting of the special assembly, the Estates-General which was made up of three groups, or estates. The First Estate was the clergy, the Second Estate the nobility, and the Third Estate was the common people. The King hoped that the Estates would vote for more taxes, so the government would start to have its profits go up. However, the lawyers and businessmen of the Third Estate refused to accept the old rules. The Estates and the King decided to meet at the royal palace at Versailles. The members of the Third Estate refused to meet as a separate group.
Declaration of the Rights of Man
At an indoor tennis court on the palace grounds, the Third Estate declared themselves the National Assembly of France. The members also swore the Oath of the Tennis Court in which they promised to write a constitution for France. Now the revolution had begun. The members of the National Assembly were still hopeful that the King would join their side. However, the nobles and clergy reminded him that the National Assembly was talking as if he was not the rightful ruler of France.
King Louis XVI is beheaded
In Paris, the news of the National Assembly had come on top of bad economic news. Many working people were out of work and others were on strike. Riots had broken out about working conditions and the price of bread. So, on July 14, one group set off for the Bastille, a fortress and prison in Paris. There, they demanded that the governor give them his cannons and other guns. In the confusion during the event, a battle broke out. The enraged crowd killed the governor, soldiers, and officials and freed the seven prisoners in the fort.
Later in August, the National Assembly passed the Declaration of the Rights of Man. This document was a statement of the principles of the revolution in which the assembly declared that all people had rights of freedom and equality. The words of the Declaration were,"liberty, equality, fraternity (brotherhood)," which became the battle cry during the revolution.
During the Revolution, French people were turning against each other. To protect themselves, many of them left France. The leader of the nobles was the King's brother, Count of Artois. King Louis XVI tried to flee in secret. He tried to join his brother and the noble. His carriage was stopped at the German border nad he was returned back to Paris. Everybody now considered him a traitor. He was tried and convicted of treason, or attempting to overthrow the government. The next day, King Louis XVI courageously faced the guillotine where he met his death in front of a large crowd.