Beginning of the French Revolution

Beginning of the French Revolution:

On May 5, 1789, the session of the Estates General was held in the magnificent Palace of Versailles. Louis inaugurated the session with great pomp and show. The Estates General consisted of about 1200 members out of whom 600 came from the third chamber. The fact is that the representatives of common people outnumbered other members as out of 300 priests, 200 were elected from among the class of common priests who sympathized with the third chamber. According to the prevalent conventions, the three chambers had separate sittings and took separate decisions. It was imperative that a proposal could be passed only if it had been approved by any two Chambers. The number of members of the third chamber was doubled, but the common people did not get benefit under the old system because every chamber had only one vote and the decision of the third chamber did not have weightage despite its majority. In order to solve this complex problem, the members of the third chamber insisted on having a combined session of all three chambers, so that, a decision might be taken on the strength of the majority of all members. The members of the first and second chambers opposed this demand of the third chamber. On the other hand, the members of the third chamber remained adamant on their demand. In this way, a deadlock developed at the outset of the session. The common people had already expressed their opinion by way of sending their 60,000 chaiers. The clash between the three chambers aggravated. In the meanwhile, a strange problem appeared. It was essential that the credentials of the members be examined. Treating themselves as a separate chamber, the feudal lord completed their investigation by a majority of 188 votes against 47 in their sitting. The chamber of priests also followed the same path but scored a meagre majority of 144 against 133 votes. The third chamber refused to conduct an investigation until the problem of one vote for one member was solved. The third chamber insisted again and again on having a common sitting. Ultimately, the third chamber announced to start of the investigation of credentials on 11 June and invited the other two chambers. The priests representing the lower class joined their hands with the third chamber and forsook the company of the privileged class. After that, the third chamber took a bold step and declared itself to be the national council on June 17, 1789. Actually, it was the first significant revolutionary step. The National Council was declared as the only representative council of the French public.

Compelled by the feudal lords, Louis ordered on 20 June to shut the doors of the council hall to intervene in the affairs of the National Council. The representatives of the National Council became furious when they came to hold the session of the council on June 20 but found the army guarding the closed gates of the council hall. In reply to an inquiry by the representatives, it was stated that the council hall was closed in connection with the preparation for the royal session to be held on 23 June. Everyone was beset by doubts. The common people began to envisage an untimely end to the great expectations they had from the National Council. For a few minutes, the members were perplexed and despondent. But dispelling the fog of dejection, they decided to hold the session of the Council in the tennis court situated in a nearby building. Representatives solemnly pledged on the court as “National Council asserts that we will never separate and would gather together at a time and place as required by circumstances until a constitution is drafted and established on a solid foundation.” This pious pledge was executed by the representatives on the court is famous as the “Tennis Court Oath“. This unprecedented event shook the foundation of the French absolute monarchy. Monier proposed the oath-taking task. All members except one seconded the historical proposal by signing the oath. Regarding the importance of the oath, noted historian Hayes writes, “The tennis court oath was the very start of the French Revolution. Even against the Royal ordinances of the King and without having royal sanction, the simple declaration made by the representatives of the nation converted the old feudal Estates-General into a national council and it was assigned the responsibility of establishing a constitutional rule in France. The Tennis Court Oath was a declaration of the end of the absolute monarchy based on divine rights and the beginning of a limited monarchy based on the public will.”

Perplexed by the aggressive activities of the representatives, the king called a joint session of three chambers on 23rd June and expressed his desire to introduce some improvements. But the king invalidated the declaration made by the third chamber regarding the formation of the National Council and under pressure from the queen ordered that the three chambers would meet and vote separately. With the permission of the King, the members of the three chambers could sit jointly to consider the system of taxation. With it, the King declared that the nobility would enjoy their property rights and privileges as before. Some nobles and lower-class priests opposed this policy of the King.

After the end of the King’s speech, his supporters came out of the council hall but the representatives of the public did not leave the hall. On such a critical occasion, Mirabeau led the way of the representatives by making a courageous declaration. Mirabeau roared out, “We have come here on the will of the public and we will not leave this hall until we are removed at gunpoint.” The President of the session informed the King of Miraubou’s declaration. The King said, “Let them sit there if they want to sit.”

The King fell prey to a great crisis. After two days, several priests and nobles also joined the National Council. Ultimately, the King had to yield to the adverse circumstances and on 27 June permitted the three chambers to sit together. In this way, the National Council won a constitutional sanction. It was the first remarkable victory for the Proletariat. At that time, the sovereign power slipped from the King’s hand and fell into the hands of the National Council.

The importance of the National Council increased with the joint sitting of three chambers. It assumed the task of drafting a constitution. On 9th July, the National Council declared itself to be the constituent assembly. Thus it addressed itself to its duty in connection with the orientation of the new social setup and its constitutional basis. The King had to accept the decision of the National Assembly.

The King and the Assembly were suspicious of each other. The condition of Paris had become very turbulent. Famine, unemployment, and harangues by popular orators contributed greatly to making the condition extremely drastic. The King was being pressed by the queen and nobles. In the end, the King tried to suppress the constituent assembly. It was proof of King’s unforesightedness. Under the pressing influence of the soldiers, the members of the constituent assembly realized that it was not possible for them to work independently. Under such circumstances, Mirabeau advised Louis to recall the military. The King replied that the members should leave Paris in case they were afraid of the military but the representatives did not bow before the King’s intimidation. Necker- the popular Finance Minister was dismissed on 11 July and was ordered to leave the country immediately. The news spread in Paris like wildfire. Kamil Demule- an influential journalist and some furious revolutionaries greatly excited people in Paris and instigated them for armed aggression. On 13 July, wine shops and bakeries were looted. There was a rumor that soldiers were being sent to Paris. It infuriated people too much and they decided to equip themselves with a good stock of weapons and arms. The furious mob looted and snatched weapons from shops in the city.

From the early morning of 14 July, Paris underwent a tense, drastic atmosphere. Administration in the city came to a standstill. People were ferreting about weapons from early morning. It was rumored that the fort of Bastille contained a huge store of weapons, so the great crowd marched towards Bastille. A little away from Paris. The Bastille was a small fort where political prisoners were kept. People hated the fort as an epitome of despotism and cruelties. The administrators of the Bastille tried hard to prevent the crowd at a considerable distance with the help of their soldiers but in the end, they surrendered before the mob. The unruly crowd stormed into the fort, set all prisoners free, and ravaged it. The officers working inside the fort were killed. As a memento, people brought pieces of stones and iron from the Bastille, and the fort was razed. With the demolition of the Bastille, the current of ecstasy swept Paris. The fall of Bastille was not a great event. A violent mob seized an ordinary fort and demolished it but this event was a portent of the advent of great changes. fort and demolished it but this event was a portent of the advent of great changes. On hearing the news of the fall of the Bastille, the King remarked with a great sigh, “Oh, it is a revolt.” A courtier who stood by the King said, “Your Highness, it is a revolution”. Really it sounded the trumpet of revolution. Bastille was not only a fort but also a principle and a symbol of tradition. Its demolition meant the crumbling of that principle and tradition. “During the entire period of revolution, no other event was as remarkable as the razing of the Bastille which had multi-dimensional and far-reaching effects. The destruction of the fort was reckoned as a signal of the rejuvenation of independence not only in France but in the entire world.

14th July was declared a national day. In place of the old national flag, a new tri-color flag having red, white, and blue colors was adopted. The public abolished the old administration and formed a new municipal government known as the “Paris Commune”. The National Guard was organized for the security of the city and Lafayette became the chief of the National Guard. Baille was declared the mayor of Paris. The King was advised to accede to all these changes. The King agreed to call Necker back and to recall the foreign soldiers. On 17 July, Louis came to Paris together with three-fourth members of the National Assembly. The King wore a tri-color medal of revolution. The cheerful crowd hailed the King. Baille was very laconic in his speech and he described the changed condition very precisely and accurately in a few words. “One day in 1589, Henry IV won the people of Paris, and today the public of Paris has won over their King”. The King accepted all changes and stamped his approval over them.

This course of events influenced entire France immediately Communes and National Guards were established at several places in tune with Paris. Even the rural areas of France did not lag behind in the matter of changes. Villagers assaulted their oppressors and consigned the tax records to fire. Forts were razed. The series of destruction continued unremittingly till the last week of July. During such a turbulent period, some unsocial elements unleashed their base intentions and committed great offenses. But during the reign of anarchy, such shameful events generally take place. In this way, the French public practically eliminated the feudal system.

The National Assembly was very much affected by the aggressive activities of the public. On 4 August, the Assembly presented a report on the anarchic condition of the nation. The report petrified the members of the Assembly with great shock. The session was about to end. There was a dramatic situation when a noble Noiya expressed bluntly that the root cause of all social evils was the burden of feudal taxes and the enormous property and privileges enjoyed by feudal lords and nobles, they must be abolished. With this declaration, Noiya relinquished his special rights. At the same time, the highest feudal lord-Duke the Aegio supported the declaration and abandoned his special rights. After some time, the atmosphere became charged with whimsical and emotional reactions. Memebers began to vie with one another in the matter of sacrifice. By and by, all members discarded their privileges. The Bishop of Nancy gave up the prerogatives of his office. The noted historian C. D. Hazen states that “Amidst gushing tears, warm hugs, ecstatic clappings and an extreme delight of patriotic sacrifices, the most exciting show went on throughout the whole night, and about 30 ordinances were issued by eight o’clock in the morning and an extraordinary revolution swept over France as no other country had ever witnessed. This revolution was beyond imagination. Actually, the first gleams of the early morning brought a new dawn for France.”

In this way, the yoke of an oppressive and tyrannical system was thrown away. All proposals passed amidst delightful uproar needed some time to have the stamp of legal sanction. Therefore, when the unprecedented enthusiasm normalized and people awoke from a dream and realized that a lot of difficulties blocked the way of implementing the new changes. Consequently, members became apprehensive lest their magnanimity in the Assembly hall should affect the public. Members were divided into two groups. One group wanted to keep the achievements of the French Revolution intact and the other group was interested in restoring their lost glory. The members of the latter group were called counter-revolutionaries. Some more egoistic and indignant courtiers fled from France with Louis’ brother who was commander of Artois. With it, the exodus went on and because of it, France had to struggle against several states of Europe. The King when pressed by the Queen and the rest of the countries began to harm the interests of the middle class. Louis’ cousin the Duke of Orleans who had an enormous wealth, was hatching a conspiracy with the help of courtiers for usurping the throne.

The resolution passed on 4 August could not have legal force without the King’s approval. The public held the King in suspicion. The current of hot rumors swept the country. People suspected that the King was gathering force in Versailles in order to suppress the revolution. Immense money was being squandered on royal feasts. Rumors infuriated the public suffering from famine and starvation. The public began to bubble over with resentment.

In the meanwhile, thousands of women crowded together in Paris on 5 October and reached Versailles shouting the slogan “Give us bread”. Innumerable other persons joined them. The huge crowd of men and women surrounded the grand palace. The King and the Queen tried to pacify the violent mob through assurance. But in the morning of 6 October, the crowd rushed into the palace through a door and demanded to take the King and the Queen to Paris. Under great compulsion, the King and his family had to go to Paris. When the helpless King Louis was going to Paris, the accompanying crowd was dancing and singing “With us we have the bread-giver and his family.” The royal family was brought to Paris and kept in the palace of Touillery. The King lived like a prisoner there. After that, Louis could never go to Versailles. After Louis’ arrival in Paris, the National Assembly too was brought to Paris on 16 October. The majority of members of the National Assembly came from rural areas but they were influenced by the urban milieu. Such changes in the members accounted for the far-reaching consequences. The French Revolution turned more violent as it was headed by the leaders of Paris.

Important Links:

French Revolution (1789)
Political Causes of the French Revolution
Beginning of the French Revolution
Functions of the Constituent Assembly
Unsuccessful Attempt of the Royal Family to Flee the Country
Phases of the French Revolution
Role of Philosophers in the French Revolution
Nature of the French Revolution
Correlation Between the Objectives and Achievements of the French Revolution
Do you agree that the French Revolution achieved far less than what it intended to achieve?
Importance of the French Revolution
French Revolution of 1848
The Foreign Policy of Louis Philippe
French Revolution– Wikipedia