The Tennis Court Oath

  • After splitting from Estates-General, delegates from 3rd Estate (now National Assembly) were locked out of usual meeting hall and convened on a nearby tennis court instead
  • All but one of the members took Tennis Court Oath, which stated simply that they would remain indissoluble until they had created a new national constitution
  • Upon hearing of National Assembly’s formation, Louis XVI held a general gathering in which government attempted to intimidate Third Estate into submission -> National Assembly had grown too strong, and king was forced to recognize the group
  • Parisians had received word of the upheaval, and revolutionary energy coursed through Paris; inspired by National Assembly, commoners rioted in protest of rising prices -> fearing violence,  king had troops surround Versailles Palace

The Bastille

  • Louis XVI dismissed Necker, who was a very popular figure; when word of his dismissal reached the public, hostilities spiked again – amid rising tension, on July 13, 1789, revolutionaries raided Paris town hall in pursuit of arms (they found few weapons but plenty of gunpowder); the next day, citizens supporting National Assembly stormed the Bastille, a medieval fortress and prison in Paris that contained a large armoury
  • Although weapons were useful, storming of the Bastille was more symbolic than it was necessary for  revolutionary cause; the revolutionaries faced little immediate threat and had such intimidating numbers that they were capable of nonviolent coercion -> by attacking a notorious state prison and hoarding weapons, revolutionaries gained a symbolic victory over Old Regime and conveyed a powerful and threatening message

Lafayette and the National Guard

  • As National Assembly secured control over Paris, it seemed that peace might prevail:

o    Previous governmental council was exiled, and Necker was reinstated.

o    Assembly members assumed top government positions, and even king himself traveled to Paris in revolutionary garb to voice support

o    To defend the assembly, Marquis de Lafayette assembled citizens into French National Guard

  • Although blood had been shed, revolt seemed to be subsiding and safely in hands of people

The Great Fear

  • Majority of conflicts erupted in struggling countryside – peasants and farmers alike, who had been suffering under high prices and unfair feudal contracts, began to wreak havoc in rural France
  • After hearing word of 3rd Estate’s mistreatment by Estates-General, and feeding off of revolutionary spirit that permeated France, peasants amplified their attacks over span of a few weeks, sparking a hysteria dubbed the ‘Great Fear’
  • Starting around July 20, 1789, and continuing through first days of August, ‘Great Fear’ spread through sporadic pockets of French countryside -> peasants attacked country manors and estates, sometimes burning them down in an attempt to escape their feudal obligations

The August Decrees

  • Though few deaths among nobility, National Assembly feared that raging rural peasants would destroy all that the Assembly had attained -> to quell destruction, Assembly issued August Decrees, which nullified many feudal obligations that peasants had to landlords and countryside calmed down

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

  • August 26, 1789, Assembly issued Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which guaranteed due process in judicial matters and established sovereignty among French people
  • Influenced by Enlightenment ‘philosophes’, declaration is resoundingly clear – every person was equal
  • French people embraced the declaration, while king and many nobles did not -> effectively ended ancien régime and ensured equality for bourgeoisie
  • Although subsequent French constitutions produced by Revolution would be overturned and generally ignored, the themes of Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen would remain with France in perpetuity

The Food Crisis & Women’s March on Versailles

  • Little done to solve growing food crisis in France – with burden of feeding families, French women stormed Paris city hall on October 5, 1789, amassing a sizable army and gathering arms
  • Several thousand protesters then marched to Versailles, followed by National Guard, which protected the women
  • Overwhelmed by mob, Louis XVI was forced to take responsibility for situation, and sanctioned August Decrees and Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen
  • Following day, royal family accompanied crowd back to Paris where they were ‘imprisoned’ in Tuileries Palace to ensure awareness of woes of Paris and its citizens
  • Though focused on king as figurehead, most revolutionaries were more against nobles than king; common people in France had limited interaction with royalty and instead placed blame for France’s problems on local nobility (a common phrase in France was, “If only the king knew,” as though he were ignorant of plight of people) -> due to this perspective, Assembly attempted to establish a constitutional monarchy, rather than rule nation by itself

The National Assembly and the Church

  • Over two years, National Assembly undertook a number of progressive actions to address failing economy and improve civil administration of France
  • Targeted Catholic Church, one of largest landholders in France -> state confiscated all church lands in February, 1790, and then used it to back new currency called ‘assignat’ which financed Revolution and acted as indicator of economic strength
  • July 1790, French Catholic Church fell prey to Civil Constitution of the Clergy, a decree by National Assembly that established a national church system with elected clergy à France was divided into eighty-three departments, each governed by elected official and represented by elected bishop (voting was open to citizens who met relatively lenient criteria, such as property ownership)

The Assembly’s Tenuous Control

  • Despite Assembly’s progress, weaknesses already exposed within France à Great Fear and  women’s march on Versailles demonstrated Assembly didn’t have as much control as it thought
  • Revolution that Assembly was overseeing in Paris was run almost exclusively by bourgeoisie who were far more educated and intelligent than rural citizens
  • Although August Decrees helped calm peasants’ anger, their dissatisfaction would become a recurring problem -> differing priorities foreshadowed future rifts in revolutionary movement
  • Most notable among Assembly’s controversial priorities was its treatment of church – although France was largely secular, there were large pockets of devoutly religious citizens all over country -> by dissolving authority of churches, especially Catholic Church (a move that greatly angered pope), Assembly seemed to signal to religious French that they had to make a choice: God or the Revolution (although not the case, and not Assembly’s intent, it nevertheless upset many French)

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