Trail of Events in French Revolution
Historians have blamed King Louis XVI to have laid the groundwork of the French Revolution. The period of ‘Ancien Regime’ which began in Middle Ages and lasted till 1792 was the time of Kings and feudal lords, this phase is considered as the time when the framework of the revolution was built. Besides the ‘Ancien Regime’, there were other reasons too.

Ancien Regime
Monetary Crunch: When Louis XVI came to the throne France was already going through monetary problems. The nearing bankrupt situation of country was because of its involvement in the Seven Years War and then the American Revolution. Anne Robert Jacques Turgot who was the then finance minister of France was dismissed when he was unable to ratify restructurings in the financial structure of France. Jacques Necker was given the position of Comptroller General of Finance the following year after Turgot’s dismissal.

Necker understood that the tax system of the country was too harsh and the lower classes were unable to bear it. The clergy and nobility however enjoyed several exemptions. He disputed the tax exemptions for the clergy and nobility should be abridged. He suggested that borrowing money would solve the monetary problems of the country. At an occasion he also said that the powers of the ‘parlement’ should be restricted. The king’s ministers did not appreciate his actions. Necker wanted to take the position of a minister but the king refused and removed Necker. The new Comptroller appointed was Charles Alexandre de Calonne. Calonne was not serious about his work initially but he soon understood that the financial position of the country was in a bad state which required immediate action – a new tax code.

In the new proposal Calonne added a steady land tax which meant that the clergy and aristocrats would have to pay tax. Nobody was willing to agree to Calonne’s proposal and there was much opposition. Calonne called for the Assembly of Notables who did not approve his offer and instead his position was at stake. The King called for the Estates General for May 1789. The Estates General hadn’t been called for since 1614. Summoning the Estates General signalled that the Bourbon of Monarchy was in trouble.

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Estates General of 1789: The Estates General is a general assembly which represents the French Estates of Realm (a method of division of the society from the Ancien Regime times). There were three estates which comprised of the clergy, the nobility and remaining France. Elections were conducted in 1789. All French born males of Third Estate with a minimum age 25 who paid taxes and lived in the place where the elections were about to be held had the right to vote. There were around 100,000 Catholic clergy in the First Estate. The Second Estate had 400,000 women and men and most of them were nobles. The Third Estate represented local officers and lawyers, land owners and some were in industry or different types of trades. Around 1201 representatives came up which comprised of 291 nobles, 610 Third Estate members and 303 clergy. The ‘cahiers de doleances’ was compiled which was the ‘Book of Grievances’ and the book consisted of many thoughts which were to support the monarch government. In the beginning people thought the Estates General would help in improving the taxes.

Verification of powers was the first on the list of the Estates General. But all the three estates failed to have a successful discussion together. The discussion diverted from taxes to organizing a legislature separately. A Catholic clergyman and theorist, Abbe Sieyes said that the Third Estate who were now addressed as ‘Communes’ should continue with the verification and ask the other two estates to take part too. They should however not wait for them.

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June 13, 1789 was the date selected for the verification of the powers. They invited the First two Estates. The Three Estates could failed to come together so the Third Estate completed the procedure of verification. They proclaimed themselves as National Assembly of the people. The others were invited to join them and they also made it quite clear that the affairs of the state would be ran by them, they could choose to stay or leave. They slowly increased on their count and now had the power to dictate any combined assembly. The courtiers of the king suggested that he take action against the National Assembly. On June 20, 1789 the hall where the National Assembly met was closed, the participants moved their gathering to a tennis court. They took the ‘Tennis Court Oath’ which they decided not to separate till they had done something about fall of France. The tennis court was also closed for them and they met in Church of Saint Louis, several clergy joined the National Assembly.

The Third Estate had necessitated that all the deputies should verify the credentials of a deputy instead of an estate examining the credentials of their own members, however the other estates did not agree to this. It was said by Necker that the credentials should be verified by self- estates and the king should be the judge.

National Assembly: The National Assembly played an important role in the French Revolution. Formed by the Third Estates, the Assembly was formed on June 13, 1789 and lasted less than a month till July 9, 1789 and later on the Legislative Assembly (National Constituent Assembly) took its place on September 30, 1791. The King addressed all the representatives of the three Estates on June 23, 1789. The members chose not to speak throughout the speech of the king and when he concluded and asked them to leave all the clergy and nobles left but the deputies of the common people did not go. Honore Gabriel Riqueticomte de Mirabeau said that the assembly was surrounded by a military force (the armies belonged to the king) and questioned whether the enemies were at the gate. He necessitated that an investigation done. He added that the king was bound with an oath and unless a constitution formed the king couldn’t leave. The deputies were fixed on their thoughts. The assembly was joined by 47 more members of the nobility along with Duke of Orleans. The Estates General was now the National Assembly but the deputies remained the same. Versailles and Paris was surrounded by the troops. The National Constituent Assembly which was the reconstituted from National Assembly requested the king to remove the troops which had surrounded the cities. King Louis said that the troops were for safety measures and he alone had the authority to judge whether or not troops were required in the city. The people got angry because of the presence of the armies in the cities and triggered the Storming of Bastille which marked French Revolution.
Would you like to read more about this topic? This book might interest you: French Revolution.