On June 23, 1789, Louis XVI proposed a major overhaul of the financial system. He agreed to seek the consent of the deputies for all-new loans and taxes, and proposed other important reforms. He inspired new fears by surrounding the meeting hall of the deputies with a large number of soldiers. Despite much rejoicing, suspicions of the king's intentions ran high. Royal troops began to thicken near Paris, and on July 11 the still popular French statesman was dismissed.

Crowds began to roam Paris looking for arms to fight off a royal attack. On July 14 these crowds assaulted the Bastille, a large fortress on the eastern edge of the city. They believed that it contained munitions and many prisoners of oppression, but the fortress housed only seven inmates at the time. The storming of the Bastille marked a turning point when attempts at reform had become a full-scale revolution. Faced with this rebellion, the monarchy backed down. The troops were withdrawn, and the French statesman was recalled.

In the year leading up to the storming of the Bastille, the economic problems of many common people had become steadily worse, largely because poor weather conditions had ruined the harvest. As a result, the price of bread-the most important food of the poorer classes-increased. Tensions and violence grew in both the cities and the countryside during the spring and summer of 1789. While hungry artisans revolted in city areas, starved peasants scoured the provinces in search of food and work. These vagrants were rumored to be armed agents of landlords hired to destroy crops and harass the common people. Many rural peasants were gripped by a panic, known as the Great Fear. They attacked the residences of their landlords in hopes of protecting local grain supplies and reducing rents on their land.

Both afraid of and politically benefiting from this wave of popular violence, leaders of the revolutionary movement in Paris began to massively restructure the state. On the night of August 4, 1789, one nobleman after another renounced his personal privileges. Before the night was over, the National Assembly declared an end to the feudal system, the traditional system of rights and obligations that had reinforced inherited inequality under the Old Regime. The exact meaning of this resolution as it applied to specific privileges, especially economic ones, took years to sort out. But it provided the legal foundation for gradually scaling back the feudal dues peasants owed to landlords and for eliminating the last remains of serfdom, the system that legally bound the peasants to live and work on the landlords' estates. This lead to the revolution.

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