In the Old Regime, there were three estates, or social classes. The First Estate (1% of the population) was made up of the church clergy, and the Second Estate (2% of the population) consisted of the nobility. The Third Estate was made up of everyone else. Some people in the Third Estate were in the middle class or worked in the cities, but a majority of the Third Estate was made up of peasants. The Third Estate did not have as many privileges as members of the first two estates did. The middle class, or bourgeoise, largely led the French revolution, but there were many people in the lower classes who also agitated for change.
The Third Estate had to "carry" the other two estates.
There were many causes of the French Revolution. The Third Estate was not given equal representation in government, and the Third Estate was the only estate that could be taxed. Also at the time, the French economy was in a really bad state. The country was in debt from the Seven Years War and funding the American Revolution. Due to the country's debt, the Third Estate was heavily taxed. There was also a famine in France and many people were struggling to put food on the table.
New ideas, like the right to revolution, spread in the 1700's.
Also at this time, the Enlightenment was taking place and ideas of freedom and equality were spreading. The ideas of John Locke were especially influential in the French Revolution because Locke wrote that the government should protect the citizens' natural rights of life, liberty, and property, and if it doesn't, then the people have a right to overthrow the government. The ideas of equality and self-rule became instrumental in the revolution.
The French revolution was not planned for a very long time; it was more of a spontaneous decision when all the estates met at the Estates General in the late 1780's. The Third Estate decided to break off from the current government and make their own legislative body called the National Assembly. They wanted more political voice and the end of the absolute monarchy.
The Bastille was a symbol of the monarchy's control, jailing some influential thinkers and political threats like Voltaire.
Some of the actions taken by the revolutionaries were peaceful, such as the peaceful gathering at a tennis court to protest for more rights. However, other actions were organized in a violent manner, including the Storming of the Bastille, an armory and prison. The Bastille had gunpowder, which the Third Estate desperately wanted so that they could arm themselves.
While some members of the Third Estate remained peaceful, many others turned to violence, such as the storming of the Bastille. After the Bastille was stormed, a Great Fear swept across France as peasants broke into and burned nobles' houses . They tore up documents that had forced them to pay fees to the nobles.
The Great Fear sweeps through France.
"Declaration of Rights of Man"
Still, there were many moderates in France who didn't want to dismantle the system altogether, they just wanted more rights. One significant, but peaceful, action taken to assert their rights, was the writing of the Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a document expressing the citizens' fundamental human rights.
Some of the leaders of the French Revolution were Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, Marquis de Lafayette, Georges Danton, and, arguably the most famous, Maximilien Robespierre. Robespierre was initially against the death penalty, but as his power grew, he became one of the biggest advocates of killing the king and queen and anyone who challenged his power.
After King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were overthrown, and later killed, Robespierre and a small group took total power in France.