Welcome Delegates

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Since 1614, the États-Générals had not been called to meet at Versailles, the residence of the monarchy. After the discovery that Étienne Charles Loménie de Brienne was pilfering through the national treasury, Louis XVI saw no option but to call to order the États-Générals to reform the economy of France. In 1788, the elections for seats were held, and on May 5, 1789 their first meeting since 1614 was held at Versailles. Immediately, the assigned task was pushed aside in order to find some sort of order amongst the representatives. The Premier État was comprised of the clergymen, the men of the church. The Deuxième État was made up of the nobles and the Troisième État was meant for the commoners, but in reality was made up of the bourgeoisie. The Troisième État had actually been granted a “double representation”, or twice as many delegates, because of the amount of people being represented, but because all voting was counted by état and not by head, the double representation meant nothing. The Troisième refused this limitation and met on their own on May 28. They renamed themselves the Communes (Commons) and began verifying their power. Between June 13 and June 17, the Communes were joined by some of the nobility, the majority of the clergy, and peasants.

On June 17, 1789 the Communes, now joined by clergy, nobles, and peasants alike, officially convened under the name of Assemblie Nationale, or National Assembly. They deemed themselves an assembly composed of “the People” and invited the other orders to join them, but made it evident that affairs were to be conducted with or without the other orders.

Immediately the Assembly attached itself to the capitalists, who would be able to fund the national deficit, as well as to the commoners. Public debt was consolidated, all existing taxes were considered illegally imposed, and only provisionally were these taxes voted in, so long as the National Assembly is sitting. This gave the capitalists a better reputation and kept them interested in keeping the National Assembly sitting. Meanwhile, the commoners’ faith in the National Assembly was restored due to the committee of subsistence that was created by the National Assembly to deal with food shortage.

At first, the National Assembly felt (and publicized) that it was acting in the interest of King Louis XVI, as well as the interests of the people. However, the power of the monarchy still reigned, and new laws needed the approval of the king. In order to reel the États back in, Jacques Necker, the finance minister to the king, suggested that a Royal Session be held. While Louis XVI agreed, the three orders were never formally requested to attend the Royal Session. Debates were put on hold until the session was held.

Soon Louis XVI decided that Necker’s advice was not what he wanted, so he instead followed the advice of his privy council. Louis XVI annulled the decrees of the Assembly, commanded the orders to separate, and declared that the reforms be carried out by a restored États-Générals. On June 19, King Louis XVI closed the doors to the Salle des États, the hall where the National Assembly convened.

On June 20, when the representatives went to meet, they wre appalled that the doors were locked and guarded. Fearing a royal coup of the Assembly, they hastily met in the king’s nearby indoor tennis court. Here they collectively took an oath “never to separate, and to meet wherever circumstances demand, until the constitution of the kingdom is established and affirmed on solid foundations.” 576 men signed the oath, which was both an act of revolution and an assertion that political authority was derived from the populous, and not from the monarch.

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