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Storming the Bastile

The Revolution began when the Estates-General met on May 5, 1789. Many Nobles and some of the clergy followed the Third Estate, in starting the long revolution. They changed the name of their gathering from Estates General to the National Assembly, which represented all of the people of France, thus doing away with representation by class.

When the king shut them out from their usual place of meeting, they took the famous Oath of the Tennis Court (June 20, 1789), pledging their selves not to separate until they had given France a constitution. When the king sent a messenger to remove them from their hall, the fiery Mirabeau cried out: "Go tell your master that we are here by the will of the people, and that we shall be removed only at the point of the bayonet."

Meanwhile on July 14, the people of Paris, alarmed about rumors of troops assembling at Versailles, stormed and captured the Bastille. For it was here that generations of kings and ministers had imprisoned men and women at will. Soon after this storming, the walls were torn down.

The date of its capture became the French "Fourth of July". When the king heard what had happened, he exclaimed: "Why, this is a revolt!" "No, sire," was the reply, "it is a revolution."

After the fall of the Bastille, a revolutionary committee of middle-class citizens governed Paris. A national guard composed mainly of citizens was organized. It was commanded by General Lafayette. Then the provinces followed the lead of Paris and formed revolutionary governments.

The peasants in many places burned the castles of the lords in order to destroy the papers that contained the records of the lords' manorial rights. There was anarchy in many country districts.

Nobles Give up Their "Privileges"

Upon hearing a report of the peasants rioting and other outbreaks, some liberal nobles in the National Assembly, set the example of giving up their feudal rights. This would touch off a wild enthusiasm among the other nobles present, who would one after another gave up some exclusive privilege. As these men did so, they were meet with wild enthusiasm and weeping from the assembled men.

Finally, a decree was passed which aimed at abolishing the entire feudal system. The date Aug. 4, 1789 marked the beginning of equality for all Frenchmen. However it was not until 1793, that remnants of feudal dues were abolished. These remnants, kept the peasants uneasy.

Work continued on the constitution that the Assembly had promised to prepare for France. It was finally finished in 1791. Nobility was abolished. France was made a limited monarchy, with a one-house legislature. The immortal part of the document was Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789).

It included the following points: 
1. All men were born free with equal rights. 
2. All citizens have the right to take part in electing representatives to make the laws. 
3. Every person shall be free to speak, write, or print his opinions provided he does not abuse this privilege. 
4. The amount of taxes that a person is called upon to pay shall be based on the amount of wealth that he possesses.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man came to be regarded as the charter of democracy. The equality of all men in the eyes of the law is its essence. Property was inviolable, for the chief supporters of the new order owned property or desired to own it.