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Many assumed the Estates-General would approve future taxes, and Enlightenment ideals were relatively rare. Pamphlets by liberal nobles and clergy became widespread after the lifting of press censorship. What is the Third Estate? He asserted: "What is the Third Estate? What has it been until now in the political order? What does it want to be? The Third Estate demanded that the credentials of deputies should be verified by all deputies, rather than each estate verifying the credentials of its own members, but negotiations with the other estates failed to achieve this. The commoners appealed to the clergy, who asked for more time.

Necker then stated that each estate should verify its own members' credentials and that the king should act as arbitrator. They proceeded to do so two days later, completing the process on 17 June. They invited the other orders to join them, but made it clear they intended to conduct the nation's affairs with or without them.

Weather did not allow an outdoor meeting, and fearing an attack ordered by Louis XVI, they met in a tennis court just outside Versailles, where they proceeded to swear the Tennis Court Oath 20 June under which they agreed not to separate until they had given France a constitution. A majority of the representatives of the clergy soon joined them, as did 47 members of the nobility. By 27 June, the royal party had overtly given in, although the military began to arrive in large numbers around Paris and Versailles. Messages of support for the Assembly poured in from Paris and other French cities.

By this time, Necker had earned the enmity of many members of the French court for his overt manipulation of public opinion. Marie Antoinette , the King's younger brother the Comte d'Artois , and other conservative members of the King's privy council urged him to dismiss Necker as financial advisor. On 11 July , after Necker published an inaccurate account of the government's debts and made it available to the public, the King fired him, and completely restructured the finance ministry at the same time. Many Parisians presumed Louis' actions to be aimed against the Assembly and began open rebellion when they heard the news the next day.

They were also afraid that arriving soldiers — mostly foreign mercenaries — had been summoned to shut down the National Constituent Assembly. The Assembly, meeting at Versailles, went into nonstop session to prevent another eviction from their meeting place.

Interpreting the French Revolution

Paris was soon consumed by riots, chaos, and widespread looting. The mobs soon had the support of some of the French Guard , who were armed and trained soldiers. On 14 July, the insurgents set their eyes on the large weapons and ammunition cache inside the Bastille fortress, which was also perceived to be a symbol of royal power. After several hours of combat, the prison fell that afternoon. The King, alarmed by the violence, backed down, at least for the time being.

Jean-Sylvain Bailly , president of the Assembly at the time of the Tennis Court Oath , became the city's mayor under a new governmental structure known as the commune. Necker was recalled to power, but his triumph was short-lived. An astute financier but a less astute politician, Necker overplayed his hand by demanding and obtaining a general amnesty, losing much of the people's favour.

By late July, the spirit of popular sovereignty had spread throughout France.


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In addition, wild rumours and paranoia caused widespread unrest and civil disturbances that contributed to the collapse of law and order. On 4 and 11 August the National Constituent Assembly abolished privileges and feudalism numerous peasant revolts had almost brought feudalism to an end in the August Decrees , sweeping away personal serfdom , [58] exclusive hunting rights and other seigneurial rights of the Second Estate nobility. Historian Georges Lefebvre summarises the night's work:. Other proposals followed with the same success: the equality of legal punishment, admission of all to public office, abolition of venality in office, [61] conversion of the tithe into payments subject to redemption, freedom of worship, prohibition of plural holding of benefices Privileges of provinces and towns were offered as a last sacrifice.

Originally the peasants were supposed to pay for the release of seigneurial dues; these dues affected more than a fourth of the farmland in France and provided most of the income of the large landowners. Thus the peasants got their land free, and also no longer paid the tithe to the church. They destroyed aristocratic society from top to bottom, along with its structure of dependencies and privileges.

For this structure they substituted the modern, autonomous individual, free to do whatever was not prohibited by law The Revolution thus distinguished itself quite early by its radical individualism [65]. The old judicial system, based on the 13 regional parlements , was suspended in November , and officially abolished in September The main institutional pillars of the old regime had vanished overnight. On 26 August the Assembly published the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen , which comprised a statement of principles rather than a constitution with legal effect.

The Declaration was directly influenced by Thomas Jefferson working with General Lafayette, who introduced it. The National Constituent Assembly functioned not only as a legislature, but also as a body to draft a new constitution. Necker, Mounier, Lally-Tollendal and others argued unsuccessfully for a senate, with members appointed by the crown on the nomination of the people. The bulk of the nobles argued for an aristocratic upper house elected by the nobles. The popular party carried the day: France would have a single, unicameral assembly. The King retained only a " suspensive veto "; he could delay the implementation of a law, but not block it absolutely.

Amid the Assembly's preoccupation with constitutional affairs, the financial crisis had continued largely unaddressed, and the deficit had only increased.

Fuelled by rumours of a reception for the King's bodyguards on 1 October , at which the national cockade had been trampled upon, on 5 October , crowds of women began to assemble at Parisian markets. They also demanded an end to royal efforts to block the National Assembly, and for the King and his administration to move to Paris as a sign of good faith in addressing the widespread poverty.

Getting unsatisfactory responses from city officials, as many as 7, women joined the march to Versailles, bringing with them cannons and a variety of smaller weapons. Twenty thousand National Guardsmen under the command of Lafayette responded to keep order, and members of the mob stormed the palace, killing several guards. On 6 October , the King and the royal family moved from Versailles to Paris under the "protection" of the National Guards, thus legitimising the National Assembly.

The Revolution caused a massive shift of power from the Roman Catholic Church to the state. Resentment towards the Church weakened its power during the opening of the Estates General in May The Church composed the First Estate with , members of the clergy.

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A Social History of the French Revolution (Study in Social History)

When the National Assembly was later created in June by the Third Estate, the clergy voted to join them, which perpetuated the destruction of the Estates General as a governing body. Legislation sanctioned on 4 August abolished the Church's authority to impose the tithe. In an attempt to address the financial crisis, the Assembly declared, on 2 November , that the property of the Church was "at the disposal of the nation".

Thus, the nation had now also taken on the responsibility of the Church, which included paying the clergy and caring for the poor, the sick and the orphaned. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy , passed on 12 July , turned the remaining clergy into employees of the state. This established an election system for parish priests and bishops and set a pay rate for the clergy.

Many Catholics objected to the election system because it effectively denied the authority of the Pope in Rome over the French Church. In October a group of 30 bishops wrote a declaration saying they could not accept that law, and this protest fueled also civilian opposition against that law. Priests swearing the oath were indicated as 'constitutional', those not taking the oath as 'non-juring' or ' refractory ' clergy. Widespread refusal led to legislation against the clergy, "forcing them into exile, deporting them forcibly, or executing them as traitors".

A new Republican Calendar was established in , with day weeks that made it very difficult for Catholics to remember Sundays and saints' days. Workers complained it reduced the number of first-day-of-the-week holidays from 52 to During the Reign of Terror , extreme efforts of de-Christianisation ensued, including the imprisonment and massacre of priests and destruction of churches and religious images throughout France.

An effort was made to replace the Catholic Church altogether, with civic festivals replacing religious ones. The establishment of the Cult of Reason was the final step of radical de-Christianisation. These events led to a widespread disillusionment with the Revolution and to counter-rebellions across France. Locals often resisted de-Christianisation by attacking revolutionary agents and hiding members of the clergy who were being hunted. Eventually, Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety were forced to denounce the campaign, [81] replacing the Cult of Reason with the deist but still non-Christian Cult of the Supreme Being.

The Concordat of between Napoleon and the Church ended the de-Christianisation period and established the rules for a relationship between the Catholic Church and the French State that lasted until it was abrogated by the Third Republic via the separation of church and state on 11 December Historians Lynn Hunt and Jack Censer argue that some French Protestants, the Huguenots , wanted an anti-Catholic regime, and that Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire helped fuel this resentment.

Factions within the Assembly began to clarify. The "Royalist democrats" or monarchiens , allied with Necker , inclined towards organising France along lines similar to the British constitutional model; they included Jean Joseph Mounier , the Comte de Lally-Tollendal , the comte de Clermont-Tonnerre , and Pierre Victor Malouet, comte de Virieu. Almost alone in his radicalism on the left was the Arras lawyer Maximilien Robespierre. In Paris, various committees, the mayor, the assembly of representatives, and the individual districts each claimed authority independent of the others.

The increasingly middle-class National Guard under Lafayette also slowly emerged as a power in its own right, as did other self-generated assemblies.

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The electors had originally chosen the members of the Estates-General to serve for a single year. However, by the terms of the Tennis Court Oath , the communes had bound themselves to meet continuously until France had a constitution.

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Right-wing elements now argued for a new election, but Mirabeau prevailed, asserting that the status of the assembly had fundamentally changed, and that no new election should take place before completing the constitution. In late the French army was in considerable disarray. The military officer corps was largely composed of noblemen, who found it increasingly difficult to maintain order within the ranks. In some cases, soldiers drawn from the lower classes had turned against their aristocratic commanders and attacked them.

This and other such incidents spurred a mass desertion as more and more officers defected to other countries, leaving a dearth of experienced leadership within the army. This period also saw the rise of the political "clubs" in French politics. Foremost among these was the Jacobin Club ; members had affiliated with the Jacobins by 10 August The Jacobin Society began as a broad, general organisation for political debate, but as it grew in members, various factions developed with widely differing views.

Several of these factions broke off to form their own clubs, such as the Club of ' Meanwhile, the Assembly continued to work on developing a constitution. A new judicial organisation made all magistracies temporary and independent of the throne.