The French Revolution actually began in the spring and summer of 1789, when food riots erupted throughout France. However, the traditional date marking the start of the Revolution is July 14, 1789, when revolutionaries stormed and seized the royal prison, the Bastille, in Paris. The next month, the National Assembly issued the Decrees Abolishing the Feudal System and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
On August 26, the National Assembly of France approved the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a document that ended the ancien régime in France. The term ancien régime refers to the old society before the outbreak of the French Revolution that year. As a society, it was characterized by an absolute monarch as ruler, a hierarchical social structure with each social class having a set of privileges, and a restrictive labor system controlled by the guilds (associations of tradesmen). In composing the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the representatives of the French people organized as the National Assembly borrowed heavily on the writings of Marie-Joseph du Motier, marquis de Lafayette. In July 1789 Lafayette wrote a preamble to a future constitution of France, proclaiming that the principle of all sovereignty resided in the nation. This preamble provided a model for the version of the preamble written by the liberal Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, also known as Abbé Sieyès. This later preamble, expanded in August 1789, was based on the motto of the French Revolution—“liberty, equality, and fraternity”—and was inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence (1776). Strongly influenced by Enlightenment ideas, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was accepted by the French king Louis XVI on October 5, 1789, and was promulgated on November 3, 1789.
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