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

Le Chapelier Law

In the spring of 1791, as the National Assembly worked on political and social reforms, workers in Paris took economic matters into their own hands by staging a series of strikes and demonstrations against their employers.

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Populace Awake

In the view of the most radical commentators, such as those writing for the newspaper Révolutions de Paris, the French Revolution had to be the work of more than just the deputies of the National Assembly; it had to be an effort of the common people.

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Beware the Wealthy Bourgeoisie

The term "bourgeoisie" had many meanings in eighteenth–century France, from the most literal sense of "citizens of a city" to a more sociological meaning of talented and cultivated members of the Third Estate. Some eighteenth–century writers also used the term to refer to merchants.

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Departure of the Three Orders for Versailles

Although 14 July 1790 was a high point in the aspiration for unity during the French Revolution, the preparation for the Estates–General set the stage for later problems. In this image, representatives of each of the three orders depart together in a cart for the 1789 meeting of the Estates–General at Versailles, where they will advise the King on behalf of the nation.

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Cahiers from Rural Districts: Attack on Seigneurial Dues

The petitions from rural communities decried the abuse of seigneurial dues that peasants owed to lords in exchange for which they were supposed to receive protection and supervision.

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Three Cahiers from Orléans

The cahiers de doléances ("list 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 French Revolution.

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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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