Homework for Tuesday September 13
: Actively read the article below and answer the questions on the right.
Chapter 18 Section 1:
The French Revolution Begins
Background to the Revolution
French society had changed little since medieval times. Feudalism
established the privileges and obligations of the three main social
classes. Although there were clergy and wealthy landowners in the
American colonies, there were no laws giving them special status, unlike
the class system in France. This social injustice caused unrest in
France's Three Estates
Since the Middle Ages, France's population had been divided by
law into one of three status groups, or estates. The First Estate consisted
of the clergy, the Second Estate the nobles, and the Third Estate
everyone else. Thus the Third Estate included anyone from the lowliest
peasant to the wealthiest merchant.
The First Estate, or clergy, numbered about 130,000 out of a total
population of 27 million and owned about 10 percent of the land. The
clergy were radically divided. The higher clergy-cardinals, bishops, and
heads of monasteries-were from noble families and shared their outlook
and interests. The parish priests were often poor and from the class of
The Second Estate, or nobility, numbered about 350,000 and
owned about 25 to 30 percent of the land. They played a crucial role in
society in the 1700s. They held leading positions in the government, in
the military, in the law courts, and in the Roman Catholic Church.
Despite controlling most of the wealth of the kingdom, neither the clergy
nor the nobles had to pay the taille, France's chief tax.
Unlike the First and Second Estates, the Third Estate was
divided by vast differences in occupation, level of education, and wealth.
Peasants made up 75 to 80 percent of the Third Estate and owned about
35 to 40 percent of the land; middle-class members of the Third Estate
owned the rest. At least half of the peasants had little or no land to live
All peasants owed certain duties to the nobles, which were a
holdover from medieval times when serfdom was widespread. For
example, a peasant had to pay a fee to grind his flour or press his grapes
because the local lord controlled the flour mill and wine press. When the
harvest time came, the peasant had to work a certain number of days
harvesting the noble's crop. Peasants fiercely resented these duties.
Another part of the Third Estate consisted of urban craftspeople,
shopkeepers, and workers. These people, too, were struggling to survive.
In the 1700s, the price of consumer goods increased much faster than
wages, which left these urban groups with decreased buying power. The
struggle for survival led many of these people to play an important role
in the revolution, especially in Paris.