National Assembly

National Assembly
National Assembly


After some debate over the name, on June 17 this body declared itself the National Assembly: an assembly not of the Estates but of the people. They invited the other orders to join them, but made it clear that they intended to conduct the nation's affairs with or without them.

This newly constituted assembly immediately linked itself to the capitalists and to the common people. They decreased the debt of France and declared all existing taxes to have been illegally imposed, but voted in these same taxes provisionally, only as long as the Assembly continued to meet. This restored the confidence of capital and gave it a strong interest in keeping the Assembly in session. And to befriend the common people, the National Assembly established a committee of subsistence to deal with the food shortages in France.

Initially, the Assembly announced itself to be operating in the interests of King Louis XVI as well as those of the French citizens however, royal authority still prevailed and the process of adopting new laws continued to require the king's consent.

On 17 June 1789, one month after the Estates-General met at Versailles, the members of the third estate declared themselves to be the `National Assembly', since they represented at least 96% of the nation. They took sovereign powers in respect of taxation and decided to frame a constitution restricting the powers of the king.

Table of Contents:

The Estates General
The Tennis Court Oath
  1. Declaration Of Rights Of Man
  2. Civil Constitution of the Clergy
  3. French Constitution of 1791

The Estates General

Each of the three estates—clergy, nobility, and the third estate, or commons—presented its particular grievances to the crown. Innumerable cahiers (lists of grievances) came pouring in from the provinces, and it became clear that sweeping political and social reforms, far exceeding the object of its meeting, were expected from the States-General.

"As Louis XVI wavered, the deputies of the third estate defiantly proclaimed themselves the National Assembly (June 17); on their invitation, many members of the lower clergy and a few nobles joined them. When the king had their meeting place closed, they adjourned to an indoor tennis court, the jeu de paume, and there took an oath (June 20) not to disband until a constitution had been drawn up. On June 27 the king yielded and legalized the National Assembly. At the same time, however, he surrounded Versailles with troops and let himself be persuaded by a court faction, which included the queen, Marie Antoinette, to dismiss (July 11) Necker."
The National Assembly, elected by proportional representation, had more extensive powers than the Council of the Republic. It could determine how long it could sit and its order of business, and it alone could overturn the Government. On the other hand, the Government could dissolve the Assembly, but this was subject to particularly strict conditions which were met only once, in 1955, under the Edgar Faure administration.

The Tennis Court Oath

On June 20, the deputies of the National Assembly were shocked to discover the doors to their meeting hall locked and guarded by soldiers. Immediately fearing the worst and anxious that an attack against them was imminent, the deputies congregated in the king's nearby tennis court, where they took a solemn, collective oath never to separate, and to meet wherever circumstances demand, until the constitution of France is established and confirmed on solid foundations. The deputies pledged to continue to meet until a constitution had been written, despite the royal prohibition. 576 men signed the oath, with only one refusing. The oath was both a revolutionary act and an assertion that political authority derived from the people and their representatives, rather than from the King Louis XVI himself.


Declaration of the Rights of Man

August 26, 1789

Purpose: The new National Assembly believed that because the rights of man were not clearly laid out, the country was experiencing public problems and governmental calamities. By laying out a group of specific guidelines, the National Assembly believed they would cure the country of further problems. The members of the old Third Estate believed that the old social foundation in the French government was inadequate because it was only based on a code that only served the wealthy and powerful while the majority of the nation suffered under unfair taxation and starvation. Many of the principles of this declaration were derived from French philisophe Rousseau as well as the 1688 English Bill of Rights and some aspects of the Bill Of Rights instituted in the United States. Originally, Louis XVI refused to ratify the document because it took away some of the privileges of the aristocracy, but he was forced to change his mind. On October 5th, the famed March to Versailles by angry and starving French women who demanded action. The King reversed his decision, and on the next day the angry mob brought the royal family to Paris.

Key Points: Declaration_of_Human_Rights.jpg
  1. Men were born free and equal. (does not include women)
  2. All men were given rights relating to liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.
  3. Having liberty means having complete freedom to do anything, besides cause injury to anyone else.
  4. If the law doesn't state that an action is wrong, then no person can be accused, arrested, or imprisoned for it.
  5. Punishments laid down by the law are handled justly (handled according to the crime).
  6. All people are innocent until proven guilty.
  7. Someones opinion (including Religious opinion) can not cause that person to be arrested unless their view disrupts the well being of the community.
  8. All people have the right to communicate their ideas and opinions openly. This includes freedom of the press.
  9. Military forces will be established for the safety of the country. These forces are to be created for good and not for the "personal advantage of those to whom they shall be trusted."
  10. Property can not be taken away from any person. It is a "sacred right." No person shall be deprived of their property unless for public necessity.

The Civil Constitution of the Clergy

July 12, 1790

Purpose: This document was an attempt by the National Assembly to unite the State and the Catholic Church. Because Church leaders in France had succumbed to corruption, this document was intended to break major ties with Rome and instead become a French institution that would be controlled by French interests rather than Roman ones. However this attempt backfired, as this new act served as further ammunition for the counter-revolutionaries due to unforeseen factors. The revolutionaries believed that the people would abandon their old culture and ties to the Roman Church overnight, but this was not the case, as that old world view was heavily entrenched in France's past. In April of 179, the Pope publicly condemned the document which in the long run altered many peoples' minds about the revolution, causing some to rethink their ties with the radical revolutionaries.

Key Points:
  1. Title 1 attempts to divide the bishops into different districts of France. All the other bishops no mentioned in the present article were abolished forever.
  2. Also stated in Title 1, is that no bishop operating under a foreign power was allowed to be acknowledged in any French church or by any French citizen.
  3. Also mentioned in Title 1, is that all official names of a church official are to be abolished and forgot. They are "never to be reestablished in any form."
  4. Title 2 attempts to have bishops elected using ballots. Each bishop "running for office" must have "trained" for at least 15 years.
  5. Title 3 explains how these newly elected bishops will be housed and furnished.
  6. Also mentioned in Title 3, is that all new priests and bishops will be given fifty thousand livres (books) for their ceremonial purposes.
  7. Also mentioned in Title 3, is that these clergy will receive a salary every 3 months.
  8. Title 4 explains how these clergy are also bound to their position until their term in "office" expires. They will be observed under the law and not by any means are they allowed to disobey it.
  9. Title 4 says that the only way for a member of the clergy to leave his or her post is to get permission of both their bishop and their directory district.

French Constitution of 1791

Purpose: During the Tennis Court Oath, the newly formed national assembly also agreed upon drafting a new constitution for France. This Constitution was completed in 1791. The new Constitution declared France a constitutional monarchy, and created the Legislative Assembly. The Legislative Assembly was to govern over the country in place of the National Assembly, and was able to enact laws, raise taxes, ratify treaties, and declare war. This act could not be repealed, and although the King still held executive power over the Legislative Assembly, he could not block anything enacted by the Assembly for more than two years.

Key Points:
  1. Concepts first written in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen were adapted into the Constitution. These concepts included the rights to liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.
  2. A legislative body was created and was controlled by the king. This group was named the Legislative Assembly in light of the new laws and governmental form.
  3. The number of representatives and French born citizens was 745.
  4. The king was now forced to obey the laws written down by the National Assembly.
  5. A king can take the crown when he reaches the age of 18 or older.
  6. An heir to the thrown is chosen by royal blood.
  7. "The King is the supreme head of the general administration of the kingdom."
  8. France was established as a Constitutional Monarchy.

The French have regularly elected their representatives since 1789, but how they have elected them and what powers they have given them have varied considerably over time: periods in which parliament was in decline generally coincided with a decline in public freedoms.


  1. National Assembly. Declaration of Rights of Man. 1789. The Avalon Project. 25 Nov. 2007 <>.
  2. National Assembly. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy. 1790. Hanover Historical Texts Project. 2 Dec. 2007 <>.
  3. National Assembly. The French Constitution. 1791. Source Book. 6 Dec. 2007 <>.
  4. "French Revolution: The Estates-General and the National Assembly." The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. 1994, 2000-2006, on Infoplease. 2000–2007 Pearson Education, publishing as Infoplease. 05 Dec. 2007 <>.

"History of the National Assembly." Assemblee- Nationale. 05 Dec. 2007 <>.

  1. Nationale, Assemblée. "History of the National Assembly." National Assembly of France. 6 Dec. 2007 <>.
  2. Hooker, Richard. "The First Revolution." Washington State University. 1996. Washington State University. 6 Dec. 2007 <>.
  3. Cobb, Richard, and Colin Jones, eds. Voices of the French Revolution. Topsfield, Massachusetts: Salem House, 1988.

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