The French Turmoil: Vive la France Part 3: The Estates-General of 1789

Why did the old regime collapse in 1789? Why were attempts to reform the Old Regime unsuccessful? Which of the grievances of the Third Estate in France in 1789 were the most important? Why did the summoning of the Estates-General in 1789 not solve the problems of the Old Regime? All these questions and more will be answered in this wonderful addition to The French Turmoil: Vive la France!

With France’s third estate raging about tithe payments and the second estate’s generals being exiled for revolting, King Louis XVI called The Estates-General together to meet. Lol, let’s talk about why this idea pretty much backfired and showed how bad of a leader Louis was.

Well, maybe the first thing I should mention is that the last time the Estates-General got together to meet and vote was 175 years beforehand. That is a very long intermission. Now, before we get too far into the other reason, let’s talk about another figure in Revolution History. Last week, we talked about Jacques Necker. This week, the man of the hour is Immanuel Kant.

As stated before in whenever it was stated before, another major reason for the decline of the Old Regime and the uprising of the revolution would be the spread of enlightenment. Now, many people wrote about the Enlightenment and its ideas, including a man named Immanuel Kant, and these ideas spread throughout the world. You, Kant, make these things up…hahahaha….no? Ok.

Screen Shot 2013-09-17 at 7.27.06 PMMoving forth, one of the men at the Estates-General assembly was Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, a French Clergyman and political theorist. He wrote pamphlets for the Third Estate, and even said “What is the Third Estate? Everything. What has it been hitherto in the political order? Nothing. What does it desire to be? Something.” He also helped transform the Estates-General into the National Assembly in June 1789, but that’s a beast of a topic for another day. K? Let’s see how the Qu’est-ce que le tiers-état? (What is the Third Estate?) pamphlet works out.

The single quote mentioned above concerning “Everything, Nothing, Something” remains famous to this day, and the pamphlet in general played a key role in shaping the revolution that launched France into it’s…well….eventual explosion of ideas and rulers.

Now, back to the reasons of why the Estates-General failed. It was very unorganized due to the fact that they hadn’t called a


meeting in 175 years. King Louis had hoped to have the second class agree to taxes, but that failed. There were 300 representatives from each class, and the third representative was unhappy. Why? Well, remember that the third class was 97% of the population. It didn’t seem fair that the largest class still had the same amount of representatives as the 1% and 3% of the other two classes.

Rage, rage, and more rage occurred. Eventually, the Third Estate was told they could double the amount of representatives from their estate. This made everyone in the Third Estate happy. But…can we back up a second. It doesn’t freaking matter how many representatives you have sense each estate only gets one freaking vote. Now the third estate rages again, and now they can’t figure out how to vote. Because, of course the first and second estate are going to vote against the idea of adding taxes to the second estate, making the third estate’s vote OVERRULED.

Now, why did all of this backfire on Louis XVI? He couldn’t keep any estate really happy, or use his Absolute Veto (which we will cover in a future addition) to make a decision. The estates saw that perhaps their King wasn’t a good leader.

Now, another thing in this era of France was grievances, which were basically complaints sent to the king. However, many of these things (when read) make you question the intelligence level of some of these people, with one person complaining that “sheep flatulence is the worst thing in France.” Many of these grievances, when recorded in cahiers, talk about taxes, church corruption, and…of course…the Estates. Although there were several grievances during the Old Regime, including but not limited to taxes and unfair voting, the most important would have to be the lettres de cachet – which allowed the higher classes to arrest any one at anytime for no reason. This will lead to many weird arrests.

With the people mad, the Estates-General turned into the National Assembly, an assembly “not of the estates, but of the people.” They invited anyone who wanted to join to come, but made their intentions clear that they will conduct with or without them. The number of people who joined the National Assembly skyrocketed, and King Louis XVI was a very unhappy monarch.

Now we get to a very controversial topic in French…maybe even World History. Did King Louis XVI lock the doors to the assembly hall where the National Assembly was going to meet? While a majority of historians agree that King Louis was afraid of loosing the First and Second Estate’s support, causing him to order the doors to be locked before they could assemble, there is another theory.

King Louis XVI’s son had just recently died, and it’s kind of a royal thing that all government buildings be shut down while the king grieves. Now, the building they were going to meet in was a government building. However, it is mostly agreed that it was locked on purpose to stop the second and first estates from joining the assembly. However, if that is the case, it backfired heavily. The National Assembly pretty much freaked the hell out, and ran to a Tennis Court. Yeah, the new government of France meets in an indoor tennis court. Nothing wrong there, right? Ok.

Now, the National Assembly began thinking that they would be killed. So, they took the Tennis Court Oath, in which they swore to keep fighting and not disband until they had won, and the old regime was gone.  (No, they weren’t doing things like swearing to play tennis, although that’d make history much more interesting). Thus, the National Assembly changed its name once again, and became the National Constituent Assembly. Was the Tennis Court Oath really necessarily? Not really.

Tennis Court Oath

Now, with the National Constituent Assembly consisting of a majority of the first estate and most, if not all, of the third estate demanding claims and calling themselves the government, what will happen next? We’ll look into the Storming of the Bastille and much much more in the upcoming additions to The French Turmoil.

Vive la France!



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