Browse Primary Sources
Primary sources from world and global history, including images, objects, texts, and digitally-born materials – annotations by scholars contextualize sources.

Cahiers—A Parish Cahier

The cahiers de doléances ["lists of grievances"] drawn up by each assembly in choosing deputies to the Estates–General are the best available source of the thoughts of the French population on the eve of the Revolution.

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The Crushed Aristocracy

This image uses the classical figures of an angel and a cherub to celebrate the achievements of Louis XVI on the base of a statue. The words state that he has destroyed the "aristocracy" and established the liberty of the French people. The monarch’s action is equated with the other great reminder of national emancipation and the French Revolution, the Bastille, seen in the background.

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The Welcoming of a Marquis in Hell

Reflecting French Revolutionary sentiments, the image points out the destruction of the nobility, depicting the arrival in Hell of a "marquis" and several other "aristocrats," described in the legend as "conspirators" and "traitors."

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Abolition of Nobility

The major principle underlying the 4 August decree found legislative expression in the decree of 19 June 1790. Situated in the broader context of the French Revolution, this document legally abolished the nobility, all its privileges, and, as the excerpt demonstrates, those aspects that seemed particularly contrary to reason.

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We Must Hope That It Will Soon Be Over

A common complaint of pre-revolutionary rural petitions was the abuse of seigneurial dues owed by French peasants to lords supposedly in exchange for protection and supervision. This image demonstrates the view that peasants envisioned their lords not as protectors, but as exploiters who constantly turned the screws on them to extract ever more rent or other payments.

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Oath of the New Horaces

Social discrimination against old regime elites continued in this parody of a famous painting prior to the French Revolution, The Oath of the Horatii, by Jacques–Louis David which focused on the courage of three brothers who thrust their arms bravely forward to signal their willingness to sacrifice themselves for their country.

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I Was Sure We Would Have Our Turn

Class solidarity was never universal, as this print celebrates the victory of the peasantry over the nobility and clergy. The two defeated orders, linked together to create a horse, support the peasant who with his newly-won freedom, carries the result of a hunt--an activity not legal for commoners under the Old Regime. The peasant also proclaims, “Vive le roi [the King].

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Awakening of the Third Estate

With the Bastille being destroyed in the background, a member of the Third Estate breaks his shackles. Here, the clergy and nobility recoil in fear, thereby emphasizing the conflict between the estates during the French Revolution.

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Reunion

This piece of crockery further demonstrates the sentiments of social unity so prevalent at the 1790 Festival of Federation celebrating the French Revolution. The crossed sword, pike, clerical staff, and bonnet symbolize the union of the nobility, peasants, clergy, and workers, respectively.

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Through Me You Are All Brothers

Reflecting the sentiments of the French Revolution, this image shows the three orders unified by religion. The Virgin standing at right in a cloud holds a cross from which rays emanate to three figures representing the clergy, nobility, and Third Estate.

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