Parliamentary body for France



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Parliamentary body for France

  • Parliamentary body for France

  • Had not met since 1614

  • King Louis XVI only called them in session due to France being on the verge of bankruptcy.

  • Met separately by Estate & voted as a Block & not by head.





King & his ministers had attempted a few reforms like ending forced labor & establishing judicial reforms.

  • King & his ministers had attempted a few reforms like ending forced labor & establishing judicial reforms.

  • Jacques Necker, the economic minister, wanted to tax everyone & needed the approval of the Estates-General for it.

  • King tried to get the regional Parlements to cooperate with reforms.

  • They were in the hands of the nobility and opposed any threat to their privileges or tax-exempt status.

  • Louis was frustrated by the lack of nationalism and disobedience on the nobles’ part to his reforms.

  • Nobility insisted that only a national assembly, the Estates-General, could authorize new taxes.





Winter of 1788-1789

  • Winter of 1788-1789

    • Members of the estates elected representatives
  • Cahiers

    • Traditional lists of grievances written by the people
    • Nothing out of the ordinary
      • Asked for only moderate changes


During winter of 1788 & spring of 1789, elections were carried out.

  • During winter of 1788 & spring of 1789, elections were carried out.

  • Qualifications were based on wealth & property.

  • Tax-paying men 25 years or older were allowed to vote for their representatives, but each Estate handled the elections differently.



All the clergy was eligible for election & were elected directly by other clergy in their district.

  • All the clergy was eligible for election & were elected directly by other clergy in their district.

  • The noble delegates were also elected directly.

  • The Third Estate voters first chose village representatives who then elected the delegates to the Estates-General.



Most of the Third Estate delegates were lawyers.

  • Most of the Third Estate delegates were lawyers.

  • 25% of the Third Estate delegates were businessmen & civil servants.

  • Rest were soldiers, scholars, & land-owners.

  • Only 1 peasant attended as a delegate for the Third Estate.





Each estate had 300 delegates voting as a bloc.

  • Each estate had 300 delegates voting as a bloc.

  • Each estate had 1 vote.

  • Thus, the First & Second Estates could easily outvote & block any reforms of the Third Estate.

  • The Third Estate was upset over this, so the King allowed them to have 600 delegates.

  • But they still had only 1 vote.

  • The Third Estate wanted to vote by head, since they could outnumber the First and Second Estate delegates with their size & the support of the poor parish priests & liberal nobles.



Voting was conducted by estate

  • Voting was conducted by estate

  • ◊ First Estate + ◊ Second Estate - vs. - ◊ Third Estate

  • Representatives from the Third Estate demanded that voting be by population

    • This would give the Third Estate a great advantage
  • Deadlock resulted









Several delays to the meeting, because the King’s supporters hoped to postpone the meeting indefinitely.

  • Several delays to the meeting, because the King’s supporters hoped to postpone the meeting indefinitely.

  • Finally convened on May 5, 1789

  • Great ceremony: King in finery, First Estate in rich scarlet robes, Second Estate in satin, silks, plumed hats, and swords, but Third Estate ordered to wear plain black suits.

  • This was to make the social class distinction clear.









Weeks of endless, empty debate.

  • Weeks of endless, empty debate.

  • June 16, 19 poor parish priests joined the Third Estate delegates. Renamed it the National Assembly.

  • Two days later, National Assembly realized meeting separately from the First & Second Estate delegates made them powerless.

  • Rumors began to circulate that the King, Queen, and other nobles were going to dissolve the Estates-General and fire Necker.

  • Jean Sylvain Bailly was elected the National Assembly’s president.







June 20-National Assembly arrived to find the doors to their meeting hall locked on orders of the King.

  • June 20-National Assembly arrived to find the doors to their meeting hall locked on orders of the King.

  • 500 delegates then moved into the indoor tennis courts of Versailles, soaking wet from the rain, and took the Tennis Court Oath.

  • The oath stated that they would “never leave until a constitution for the kingdom” had been drawn up.

  • After this, they still shouted Long Live the King. This showed they had not given up on him yet.







The Tennis Court Oath was a result of the growing discontent of the Third Estate in France in the face of King Louis XVI's desire to hold onto the country's history of absolute government.

  • The Tennis Court Oath was a result of the growing discontent of the Third Estate in France in the face of King Louis XVI's desire to hold onto the country's history of absolute government.

  • The deputies of the Third Estate were coming together for a meeting to discuss the reforms proposed by Necker, the Prime Minister.

  • These reforms called for the meeting of all the Estates together, and to hold a vote by head instead of by estate.

  • This would have given the Third Estate, at least nominally, a stronger voice in the Estates General.

  • The men of the Third Estate were ardent supporters of the reforms, and they were anxious to discuss these measures.

  • When the members of the Third Estate arrived at their assigned meeting hall, Menus Plaisirs, they found it locked against them.

  • The deputies believed that this was a blatant attempt by Louis XVI to end their demands for reform and they were further incensed at the King's duplicity.

  • Refusing to be held down by their King any longer, the deputies did not break up. Instead they moved their meeting to a nearby indoor tennis court.





A debate quickly ensued as to how the Third Estate could protect themselves from those in positions of authority; those who wanted to destroy them.

  • A debate quickly ensued as to how the Third Estate could protect themselves from those in positions of authority; those who wanted to destroy them.

  • Some deputies believed that they should retreat to Paris where the people would be more likely to protect them from the King's army.

  • Mounier warned that such a step would be blatantly revolutionary and politically dangerous.

  • Therefore, Mounier proposed that the Third Estate adopt an oath of allegiance.

  • The proposed oath was to read that they would remain assembled until a constitution had been written, meeting wherever it was required and resisting pressures form the outside to disband.

  • The proposal was a success.

  • It was promptly written and signed by 577 members of the Third Estate. Later, the document was named the Tennis Court Oath.













“The National Assembly, considering that it has been summoned to establish the constitution of the kingdom, to effect the regeneration of the public order, and to maintain the true principles of monarchy; that nothing can prevent it from continuing its deliberations in whatever place it may be forced to establish itself; and, finally, that wheresoever its members are assembled, there is the National Assembly;

  • “The National Assembly, considering that it has been summoned to establish the constitution of the kingdom, to effect the regeneration of the public order, and to maintain the true principles of monarchy; that nothing can prevent it from continuing its deliberations in whatever place it may be forced to establish itself; and, finally, that wheresoever its members are assembled, there is the National Assembly;

  • “Decrees that all members of this Assembly shall immediately take a solemn oath not to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the kingdom is established and consolidated upon firm foundations; and that, the said oath taken, all members and each one of them individually shall ratify this steadfast resolution by signature.”









The Tennis Court Oath was an assertion that the sovereignty of the people did not reside with King, but in the people themselves, and their representatives.

  • The Tennis Court Oath was an assertion that the sovereignty of the people did not reside with King, but in the people themselves, and their representatives.

  • It was the first assertion of revolutionary authority by the Third Estate and it united virtually all its members to common action.

  • Its success can be seen by the fact that a scant one week later, Louis XVI called for a meeting of the Estates General for the purpose of writing a constitution







The National Assembly began demanding a constitution that had freedom of press & end to unfair taxation.

  • The National Assembly began demanding a constitution that had freedom of press & end to unfair taxation.

  • The King was pissed over the actions of the Third Estate & reamed them out.

  • The King agreed to ask their consent for new taxes & to take some limited steps towards freedom of speech.

  • But the King denied the commoner’s claim to separate status, refused to change any of the privileges of the First & Second Estates, & would not let the public attend the sessions.





This turned the National Assembly against the King. They refused to leave & said “We are here by the will of the people and will be removed only by the force of bayonets.”

  • This turned the National Assembly against the King. They refused to leave & said “We are here by the will of the people and will be removed only by the force of bayonets.”

  • When the King heard about their refusal to leave, he shrugged his shoulders & said “They want to stay? Well, dammit, let them.

  • The King then called for his royal troops to arrive in Versailles & Paris get ready to put down any rebellions.

  • He then fired the popular finance minister, Jacques Necker, who wanted reform.

  • This outraged the people of Paris. The stage for revolution was set.



Louis XVI did not actually want a written constitution

  • Louis XVI did not actually want a written constitution

  • When news of his plan to use military force against the National Assembly reached Paris on July 14, 1789, people stormed the Bastille





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