Prior to the French Revolution, France was ruled by what is now known as the Old Regime. The Old Regime was a legacy of the Middle Ages, for it was a feudalistic form of government characterized by aristocratic privilege. At this time, the social structure of France was divided into three primary caste systems, known as estates. The First Estate was made up of clergy. The Second Estate consisted of the French nobility. The nobles held most of the important positions in the government, military, courts, and high church offices, while also controlling much of the heavy industry of France. As a result of this feudal system of government, both of these estates had many privileges. Most notably, they were both exempt from paying taxes. The Third Estate was the commoners, and they were, by far, the largest segment of the French population. While most of them were peasants, a few were wealthy and well educated.
By the late 1700's, the French government encountered a severe financial crisis. Louis XVI, the King of France, was forced to call a meeting of the Estates-General in order to get permission to raise taxes. The Estates-General was a representative intuition, which consisted of around 1200 delegates: 300 from each of the First and Second Estates and 600 from the Third Estate. However, the Estates-General could not agree on how to weigh the votes of the delegates from each estate. As a result of this impasse, the Third Estate decided to split from the other two and establish a National Assembly. The National Assembly, believing that they were the true representatives of the French people, set out to create a constitution. This act is considered to be the beginning of the French Revolution because the Third Estate had no legal authority to act as the National Assembly.
Unhappy with this turn of events, Louis XVI tried to dissolve the Estates-General by force. This, in turn, led to a series of uprisings by the common people.