With the ruling by Louis XVI that the three classes shoud meet as one body the National Assembly convened. Months had gone by since the first meeting of the Estates General. The Assembly now appointed a committee on the constitution and adopted the title of the Constituent Assembly because of the character of the work it intended to do.
Yet no sooner was the crisis of three chambers vs. one over than another began to develop.
A second attempt was made by the King – again inspired by the Court – to suppress the Assembly or to effectively intimidate it, to regain the ground which had been lost.
Considerable bodies of soldiers began to appear at Versailles and around Paris. They were chiefly foreign mercenaries or troops from frontier stations supposedly less responsive to the popular feelings in the streets.
On July 11, 1789 Necker was dismissed by the King as well as his colleagues favorable to reform. Necker was ordered to leave the country immediately. Reaction and repression were coming – were things going to be put back the way they were?
The Assembly was in great danger yet it possessed no physical force if troops were sent against it. The violent intervention of the city of Paris saved the day and gave the Assembly the protection which the nation’s representatives lacked, assuring its continuance.
The storming of the Bastille seized instantly the imagination of the world.
The Bastille was a fortress commanding the eastern section of Paris. It was used as a state prison and had many distinguished occupants, among others Voltaire and Mirabeau, thrown into it by the lettres de cachet without charge or trial.
It was the odious symbol of arbitrary government and was also a strong fortress which the newly arriving troops might use.
There was a large, discontented and miserable class in Paris and also a lively class of radicals and liberal men in favor of reform. They were alarmed and indignant at every rumor that the Assembly upon which their hopes were pinned was in danger.
When the news of Necker’s dismissal arrived Paris took fire. Rumors of the most alarming character spread rapidly. The people began to pillage shops where arms could be found.
Finally they attacked the Bastille and after a confused and bloody battle of several hours, the fortress was in their hands. They had lost about 200 men killed or wounded. The crowd savagely murdered the commander of the guard and several of the Swiss guards.
Not withstanding the acts of barbarism, the taking of the Bastille was everywhere regarded, in France and abroad as the triumph of liberty. July 14 became a national holiday and a new flag, the tricolor, was adopted.
Paris adopted a new form of government and organized the National Guard.
Three days later the King came to Paris and formally ratified these changes. Similar changes were made all over France. Municipal governments on an elective basis were formed and national guards were created even in rural areas. Peasants took things in their own hands impatient to suppress feudal dues making violent “war on the chateaux” distroying the records of feudal dues if they could find them If not, they burned down the chateaux.
During the closing week of July, 1789 the destructive and incendiary process went on and by this method feudalism was abolished – not legally but practically. It remained to be seen what the effect of this victory of the people would be on the National Assembly.
The effect was immediate and sensational.
On August 14, a committee on the state of the nation made a report, describing the incidents which were occurring throughout the length and breathe of the land, chateaux burnings, tax collectors assaulted, millers hanged, lawlessness triumphant. It was the night before the report was finished.
Suddenly at eight o’clock in the evening when the session was about toclose. a nobleman. the Viscount of Noailles, took to the platform. He stated that the only reason the people had burned the chateaux was because of the heavy burden of feudal dues, odious reminders of the past.
These, he said, must be swept away. Instantly another noble, the Duke d’Aiguillon, next to the King, the greatest feudal lord in France, seconded the motion. A frenzy seized the Assembly with noble after noble joing the renunciations.
The Bishop of Nancy renounced the privileges of his order. Parish priests renounced ttheir fees. Judges discarded their distinctions. Rights of tithes went by the board. Cities and provincses gave up their privileges. A veritable delirium of joys went over the assembly, swept in wave after wave.
All night long the excitement continued amid tears, embraces annd rapturous applause and by morning thirty decrees had been passed and the most extraordinary social revolution that any nation has known had been voted.
The feudal dues were dead. Tithes were abandoned; guilds with their narrow restrictions were swept away. No longer were offices to be purchasable, for henceforth all Frenchmen were to be equally able to hold public positions. Justice was to be free. Provinces and individuals were to be on the same plane. Distinctions of class were abolished. The principle of equality was to be the basis of the state.
In closing, a service was held at the chapel of the royal palace, and Louis XVI, who had no more to do with this than you or I was officially proclaimed by the assembly as the “Restorer or French Liberty.”
Now none of these rapturous resolutions were law but that fact was ignored by the people as a whole, who regarded them as real legislation, not a program merely sketched. So when they awoke and saw no real change, there was disappointment, impatience.
For example, just because some nobles and bishops had renounced their privileges did not ensure that their deeds would be ratified by their orders and apply to all. Indeed it was likely that the opposite would prove true. Even those who had shared the night of enthusiasm might change their minds in the morning.
And indeed it was true. Soon two parties emerged – those who supported the revolution and what it had thus far accomplished and the counter-revolutionaries who wanted to recover their lost privileges. Many stiff necked nobles, including the brother of the King. the Count of Artois began leaving France. Those nobles who stayed, lead by the Queen pressured and played upon the weak willed monarch.
Thus were planted the seeds of future trouble and the general sense of anxiety and insecurity. Two months went by yet the King did not accept or ratify the decrees of August 4 which, without his acceptance lacked legal force. Several articles of the new constitution had also been submitted without royal response.
Was the King plotting something or were the plotters about him getting control of him once more? The people were suspicious while thousands upon thousands were at the point of starvation.
In October rumor reached Paris that the Queen had hosted a banquet for some crack regiments which had been sent to protect Versailles and at the affair the tricolor had been stomped upon and threats made against the assembly.
Out of wretched conditions this rumor sparked “the march of the women.” On October 5 several thousand women began a march to Versailles, dragging cannon, ostensibly to demand a reduction in the price of bread and punishment of those who had insulted the national flag. They were followed by several thousand unemployed men and the Marquis de Lafayette leading a number of guardsmen he had gather up. That evening the crowd bivouacked in the vast courtyards of the palace.
In the morning the crowd forced the gates, killed several of the guards and invaded the palace. Reaching the entrance to the Queen’s apartments it was discovered she had fled to the King’s apartments for safety.
The King finally appeared on the balcony, addressed the crowd and promised them food. By the end of this humiliating day, the King was “persuaded” to come to Paris “to live among his subjects”
At two o’clock the grim procession began. The entire royal family, 8 persons packed into a single carriage started for Paris, drawn at a walk surrounded by women and men who carried on pikes the heads of the guards killed at the entrance to the palace.
“We are bringing back the baker, the baker’s wife and the baker’s son!” shouted the women.
The National Assembly Hall at Tuileries
That night Louis XVI was in the Tuileries. Ten days later the Assembly followed. The King and the Assembly were now under the daily supervision of the people of Paris. In reality they both were prisoners.
Versailles was abandoned. From this moment dates the great influence of the capital. A single city was henceforth always in a position to dominate the assembly. The people took to the gallery of the hall which held over a thousand on-lookers now free to hiss unpopular speakers and shout their wishes. Thousands more gathered outside ensuring the members of the assembly could hear them when hey disapproved.
And the Kings and Queens of Europe began to seriously listen.
to be continued.