The French Revolution was an attempt to change society and transform the political landscape using liberal principles. The French monarch, Louis XVI had corrupt and outdated taxation systems, targeting the poorest of society (the Third Estate). In addition to this, France was bankrupt due to it's assistance with the American revolution and other wars. King Louis' indiscriminate spending only made his appearance worse when society caught wind of it.
The Estates General was an advisory body in which each of the three classes had separate representation, although the Third Estate comprised 98% of the country's population and could have their vote vetoed by nobility. Basically the Third Estate had no power, and wanted some. When the Estates General was called into session in 1788, the representatives of the Third Estate were not happy with the King's commitment, so they split and began to revolt against authority. On July 14, 1789, rioters stormed the Bastille (a stockade/prison where the King could lock anyone up without question or reason) in search of weapons and gunpowder - an event commonly referred to as the start of the revolution. Catching wind of this event, peasants in the country side began revolting, burning down houses of corrupt tax collectors.
On August 4, 1789, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was adopted by the National assembly. The document outlined the Assembly's commitment to replace the current political system for one based on equal opportunity, freedom of speech, popular sovereignty and representative government. Although not all the principles in the document were followed, and the freedoms outlined applied only to men, this provided a newfound baseline of rights and freedoms to expand and build upon. This document gave the Third Estate hope of becoming equal with the other 2 classes, both in terms of political power and in basic human rights.
The photograph below portrays the storming of the Bastille, the event that began the revolution. This would have been a very empowering event for the revolutionaries, taking hold of a major weapons stock and secret prison.