The event most commonly associated with the beginning of the French Revolution is the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. Instigated by rumors that the King had begun to organize military forces for a counterattack against government reformers, a crowd of urban Parisians converged upon the Bastille with the intent of staging a preemptive strike against the monarchy. A state prison and military armory, the Bastille had been seen by the mob as representative of the King's dictatorial rule. The pubic's dissent upon the Bastille, which ultimately ended as a success for the mob, has been seen as a symbolic marker in the beginning of the French Revolution, deposition of the monarchy, and the eventual establishment of a new French republic.
However, to begin discussion of the French Revolution with the storming of the Bastille negates a number of important factors that had influenced the publics' actions on July, 1789. As France emerged from the Middle Ages, the nation had maintained archaic social and governmental systems. Prolonged use of the feudal system had allowed for the development of a French society divided into three castes, known as the Three Estates. With the first two estates drawing its membership from the noble elites and clergy, wealth and power was poorly distributed throughout France, with approximately two percent of the population holding a position of privilege over the Third Estate. Socially disenfranchised, the Third Estate, comprised of France's rural and urban peasantry; and the wealthy, but not noble, bourgeoisie, also suffered political underrepresentation.
As an absolute monarch, King Louis XVI was granted total authority over the French government. Ascending to the throne in 1774, Louis had inherited a nation that had long been in the throws of a financial crisis. Decades of exorbitant expenditure, compounded with the expensive military involvement in the American Revolution and Seven Years' War, had pushed France to the edge of financial bankruptcy. In the spring of 1789, Louis called the Estates General to Versailles in hopes of developing a plan the repayment of France's mounting debts.
Initially, Louis had planned to increases taxes as a means of increasing the state's revenue. Although this strategy had been used many times before, approved without consultation from the Estates General, representatives from the Third Estate were now able to...