Prior to the revolution, individuals living in France were afforded rights and privileges based on a legal, three-tiered class system that took into consideration race and religion and was determined largely through heredity. In the mid- to late-1700s, writers, philosophers, and clerics worldwide began to debate the purpose and desirability of such a society. By 1788, regional revolts and the growth of activist groups led King Louis XVI to call for a 1789 meeting of the Estates-General, a representative body comprised of members from each class: clergy, nobility, and everybody else (the Third Estate). The clergy and nobility outnumbered and traditionally voted against the latter; however, Louis XVI eventually agreed to an enlargement of the Third Estate. In June, after taking the famous "Tennis Court Oath," the Third Party declared itself the National Assembly, and joined by a few liberal nobles and many clergy, rejected a request from Louis XVI that the remaining members of the Estates-General retain their representative powers.
The storming of the Bastille in Paris, and the following “Reign of Terror,” in which the guillotine was liberally employed, remain potent symbols of French rebellion in the public mind today. Yet these symbols not only circulated in France, but gained currency in the New World as well. The revolution in Haiti in may be as powerful a reminder of local organization against unjust political practices as the French Revolution ever was. Taking cues from the thinkers behind the French constitution and the Third Estate’s ultimate rise to power, the Haitian revolution epitomizes the popular demand for basic human rights like liberty and equality.