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7.2 Course of the Revolution

The Estates General, an assembly of the three estates was summoned by the king on May 5, 1789 at Versailles, to save France from bankruptcy. It was called after an interval of 150 years. In the past, each Estate sat separately. However this time the Third Estate demanded that all the three Estates should sit together as a "National Assembly", but the first two estates rejected this demand.

The Third Estate found the entrance of their meeting place blocked by the royal army on June 20, 1789 as a royal session was to be held there. Hence they rushed to a nearby place that was originally a tennis court and took the famous ‘Tennis Court Oath’ "Never to separate and to reassemble wherever circumstances shall require, until the constitution of the kingdom shall be established."

The Royal Session on June 23, 1789 was attended by all the three estates. The king passed an order that the three estates should sit separately and vote by order. However Count Mirabeau sent a message to the king that "We are here by the will of the people, and that we shall not leave except at the point of the bayonet."

Finally, the king was forced to yield and on June 27, 1789 permitted the clergy and the nobility to sit with the Third Estate as a "National Assembly" and to vote "by head".

When the National Assembly began its work, the royal soldiers moved towards Paris and Versailles, causing the hunger stricken people of Paris to revolt against authority. During the revolt that lasted three days, shops were looted, the houses of the nobles and the clergy were burnt along with the feudal title deeds. July 14, 1789 saw the fall of the Bastille, a royal fortress and symbol of Bourbon autocracy. C. D. Hazen aptly sums up, "The seizure of the Bastille was everywhere regarded in France and abroad as the triumph of liberty."

An army of women marched from Paris to Versailles shouting "Bread! Bread! Bread!" This happened on October 5, 1789. The royal palace was invaded by the mob, which killed several soldiers and servants of the palace. The king was forced to move to Versailles with his family. After ten days, the National Assembly shifted from Versailles to Paris.

The work done by the National Assembly was significant.

(i) Feudalism and serfdom was abolished in August 1789 by the National Assembly, which wiped out feudal obligations, dues, privileges, and titles.

(ii) The church was nationalized by the National Assembly. The church property was confiscated and the number of clergy was reduced, so as to solve the problem of raising money. The clergy were declared to be government officers, whom the government paid and whom the people elected. A civil constitution was drawn up for the clergy, in order to reorganize the church of France.

(iii) The ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen’ was chalked out. It became the preamble to the constitution of 1791 and is as important a document as the English Magna Carta (1215) and the American Bill of Rights (1776). It contained 17 Articles and included the following fundamental rights:

  1. "Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. These (rights) are liberty, security and resistance to oppression."

  2. "Law is the expression of the general will. Every citizen has a right to participate personally or through his representative, in its formation. It must be the same for all."

  3. "No person shall be accused, arrested or imprisoned except in the cases and according to the forms prescribed by law."

  4. "Private Property is an inviolable and sacred right."

  5. "Sovereignty resides in the nation."

  6. "All officials of the state are responsible."

Dr. J.E. Swain states that "The entire world acclaimed it as a victory for democracy."

iv) The church property was confiscated to save the state from financial ruin, and a paper currency known as assignats, was issued on the backing of its property.

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7.0 Introduction
7.1 Causes of the French Revolution
7.2 Course of the Revolution
7.3 Napoleon Bonaparte
7.4 Consequences of the Revolution
7.5 Dates & Events
7.6 Points to Remember

Chapter 8


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