The Estates - General

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					   The Estates - General

  September 1788 – July 1789
        William Doyle,
The Oxford History of the French
     Economic background to the
           events of 1789
 The freak storm which swept northern France on 13
  July 1788, with hailstones so big that they killed men and
  animals and devasted hundreds of square miles of crops
  on the eve of harvest, came half way through a year of
  catastrophic weather.
 Even freakish weather aside the harvest proved poor,
  thanks to a long spring drought which had failed to swell
  the grain.
 Unusually, these conditions affected almost every region
  of the kingdom.
 Summer disasters were followed in the first months of
  1789 by the longest and coldest winters within living
    Economic background to the
          events of 1789
 The whole of Louis XVI’s reign had been a time
  of economic difficulties, with wildly fluctuating
  grain, fodder, and grape harvest causing
  repeated disruption.
 A bumper harvest in 1785 had made grain cheap
  and abundant the year after, but any remaining
  surpluses were dissipated in 1787.
 Grain prices had begun to climb and they went
  on doing so through the winter of 1788-9.
 They peaked in Paris, at their hightest levels
  since Louis XIV’s time, on 14 July 1789.
    Economic background to the
          events of 1789
 Steep rises in the prices of grain, flour, and
  bread posed serious problems for the vast
  majority of Frenchmen who were wage-earners.
 In normal times bread absorbed anything
  between a third and a half of an urban worker’s
  wage, and from landless agricultural labourers it
  might taken even more.
 As prices climed over the spring of 1789 the
  proportion rose to two-thirds for the best-off
  and perhaps even nine-tenths for the worst.
     Economic background to the
           events of 1789
 In these circumstances people had less to spend on other
  foodstuffs, heating, and lighting.
 So bitter was the winter that even for those not thrown
  out of work, life was pretty miserable due frozen rivers,
  blocked roads, and immobilised mills and workshops.
 There was certainly nothing to spare for consumer
  goods; and this produced a dramatic slump in demand
  for industrial products. In some areas production fell by
  up to 50 per cent and there were widespread
  redundancies in textile towns like Rouen, Lyons and
     Economic background to the
           events of 1789
 Between 20,000 and 30,000 silk workers were said to be
  without employment in Lyons; while spinning and
  weaving as an extra source of income for hard-pressed
  country people disappeared as goods became unsaleable.
 People blamed new technology for undercutting the
  products of more expensive traditional products.
 But above all, they blamed Calonne’s 1786 commerical
  treaty with the British manufacturers.
 According to Doyle, however, the agreement only came
  into place in mid-1787, so that British imports, though
  undoubtedly cheaper and of higher quality, scarcely had
  time at all to the damage attributed to them.
    Economic background to the
          events of 1789
 But they clearly aggravated an already serious
  industrial depression, and provided on more
  reason, for the working populace to blame the
 According to Doyle, that over the winter of the
  1788 and the spring of 1789, hardly anyone
  regretted the passing of the old political order.
 Everybody assumed that change could only be
  for the better.
               The calling of the
 There were therefore high expectations when the
  Estates-General was called and according to Doyle
  ‘something like a nation-wide consensus seemed to be
  emerging in favour of ‘doubling the third’ and vote by
 According to Doyle one group of nobles did a good deal
  to consolidate this consensus.
 Throughout September and October of 1788 political
  clubs mushroomed in Paris and in December 1788 a
  particularly distinguished group began to meet at the
  house of Adrien Duport.
Du Club de la Revolution
               The calling of the
               Estates - General
 Later it would be remembered as the Society of
  Thirty, although its membership was nearly
 Drawn from the cream of the capital’s legal,
  literary and social life, it included celebrities like
  Lafayette, the mathematican Condorcet, and
  Target, the leading advocate of the Paris bar.
 There was also Talleyrand and Mirabeau, who
  described the society as ‘a conspiracy of decent
            The calling of the
            Estates - General
 They opposed the form of the Estates –
  General as it appeared in 1614 and
  privileges of all sorts.
 Mirabeau had written in August
  ‘privileges are useful against Kings, but
  are contemptible against Nations and ours
  will never have any public spirit until it is
  rid of them.’
             The calling of the
             Estates - General
 The society bent all of its efforts toward
  whipping up this public spirit by deliberately
  playing on the social anxieties and resentments
  of the bourgeoisie.
 In pamphlets commissioned by the society, and
  distributed in both the capital and provinces at
  the affluent members expense, the middle
  classes, according to Doyle, were assured that
  the forms of 1614 were a plot by the privileged
  orders to keep them down.
                The calling of the
                Estates- General
 Meanwhile the society was also circulating model
  petitions around the provinces on which muncipalities
  could bases appeals to Necker for doubling the third and
  vote by head; and during the course of November a
  national petitioning movement took shape.
 The second Assembly met on the 6 November against
  this background.
 By the end of December the government had received
  800 petitions and on 27 December Necker met with the
  King and they announced that the third Estate in the
  Estates – General would be doubled.
             The Estates-General

 It was also against these circumstances that Sieyes
  pamphlet ‘What is the Third Estate?’ emerged and was
 ‘What is the Third Estate?’ argued that there was no
  place in a properly constituted nation for privileged
  groups of any sort.
 He suggested that the third-estate deputies, once elected
  should set themselves up without further ado as a
  national assembly and have no further dealings with the
  other two orders.
 According to Doyle, it was a commonplace for the third-
  estate cause to be called national; and ‘patriotism’ to
  become known as opposition to despotic government.
           The Estates-General

 According to Doyle, ‘What is the Third Estate?’
  was only unique in that it was the most eloquent
  among hundreds of no less vehement pamphlets
  denouncing the privileged orders appearing over
 These months also witnessed the emergence of
  third-estate leaders.
 Robespierre’s first foray into politics was his
  appeal To the Artesian Nation to abandon the
  archaic and privilege-ridden structure of the
  provincial estates of Artois.
         The Estates-General

 In many districts the cahiers were based
  on models carefully put together and
  circulated by patriotic activists.
 According to Doyle, the first-estate
  deputation represented a clear defeat for
  the established Church hierarchy. Almost
  two-thirds of the 303 clerical deputies
  elected were ordinary parish priests.
             The Estates-General

 In the second-estate liberal minded nobles secured a
  third of the representation.
 Among them were the Duke of Orleans and several
  members of the Society of Thirty such as Lafayette.
 The nobility of the robe, according to Doyle, were
  delivered a disaster in the elections for representation.
  Only twenty-two members of this proud, articulate and
  self-confident section of society secured representation.
  The majority of the 282 deputies were petty provincial
           The Estates-General

 Of the third estate representatives two-thirds of
  those elected had some form or other of legal
 A quarter were advocates or notaries, among
  them people like Robespierre and Barnave.
 The third estate contingent also boasted Abbe
  Sieyes from the clergy and Mirabeau from the
  nobility following a decision by Necker to allow
  electors to choose outside their orders.
            The Estates- General

 And with this combination of representatives, according
  to Doyle the impasse that was to emerge between the
  third estate and representatives of the second estate and
  the king seemed somewhat inevitable.
 And with it began the truely revolutionary struggle.
 According to Doyle if the King had authorised voting by
  head in December, or if the nobility and clergy had
  agreed to common verification when the Estates-General
  had first met, all would have been in order.
 The motion moved by Sieyes that a final appeal should
  be sent to the other two orders to join at once in common
  verification was taken in public – the third estate had
  admitted spectators from the very beginning.
         The Estates-General

 And as the stalemate continued the
  numbers flocking to Versailles from Paris
  steadily increased.
 According to Doyle there was no support
  amongst these onlookers for the nobility or
  clergy and that these unruly crowds at
  Versailles represented a much wider
  public opinion.
           The Estates-General

 Aroused by months of frenzied publicity and
  now by daily newspaper accounts of what the
  Estates-General were doing, or rather not doing.
 Leading this field were Mirabeau’s ‘Letters to his
  Constituents’ in which one of the most prominent
  deputies produced regular and accurate (though
  scarcely unbiased) reports of everything that
  happened in the great assembly.
         The Estates - General

 According to Doyle, no one had trusted
  Mirabeau when the Estates-General
  began; but he soon demonstrated
  oratorical powers, and an unerring talent
  for expressing precisely what his fellow
  deputies were merely groping toward.
             The Estates-General

 Soon he was marshalling the thousands of subscribers to
  his journal behind the ‘patriotric’ causes.
 And although the focus of political attention was
  obviously at Versailles, the ‘forcing-house’ of political
  opinion was in the fashionable west end of Paris, in the
  arcades, cafes and walks of the Palais Royal.
 Thrown open to the public as a pleasure garden in 1780
  by its owner, the Duke d’Orleans, by 1789 it had become
  a centre for rumour,debate and pamphleteering.
            The Estates-General

 Following the Royal Session that was prompted by the
  Tennis Court Oath and rumours regarding Necker’s
  subsequent resignation, some 10,000 people were
  reported to have congregated in the Palais Royal.
 Volatile crowds roamed the streets of Versailles and
  burst into the palace past troops who offered no
 In Paris two companies of the French guards (the same
  regiment that had shot down the Reveillon rioters two
  months beforehand), refused public-order duties.
           The Estates-General

 According to Doyle it was the massive popular
  backing that the National Assembly enjoyed that
  was enough to convine all but a handful of clergy
  to join them.
 On the 25 June, forty-eight of the second estate
  joined them.
 The king capitulated and on 27 June he ordered
  that the remaining of the first and second estate
  join the National Assembly.
          The National Assembly

 According to Doyle, there was now an expectation from
  the deputies on all sides that ‘whole business was over’
  and that they could now get down to business and
  construct a constitution.
 But on June 30 a crowd of 4,000 stormed a prison on the
  left bank in Paris where ten mutinous French Guards
  were awaiting transfer to closer confinement.
 They released them and carried them back in triumph to
  the Palais Royal.
         The National Assembly

 Such incidents, according to Doyle, suggest that
  the ferment was far from over.
 Despite the euphoric scenes of 27 June, suspicion
  of the Court’s motives was still widespread and
  profound and, according to Doyle, it was
 On the 27 June four regiments were ordered
  from the frontiers to the Paris region, and 1 July
  more troops were ordered up, taking the total to
  twenty thousand within a week.
       The National Assembly

 On 8 July Mirabeau moved a motion in
  the Assembly that the King be petitioned
  to withdraw the soldiers.
 The King’s reply was that they were there
  to restore public order.
 On 11 July Necker was dismissed and
  ordered to leave the country immediately.
          The National Assembly

 According to Doyle, Necker’s dismissal could not have
  been more ill timed.
 12 July was a Sunday, nobody was at work.
 The food shortages and prices were reaching their peak.
 Necker had stood for control of the grain trade and
  subsidized bread prices.
 News of Necker’s dismissal reached the Palais Royal in
  the afternoon of the 12 July.
 Crowds immediately flocked to the theatres and forced
  them to close as a sign of mourning.
         The National Assembly

 Later in the day crowds milling around in the
  Tuileries gardens were set upon by German
  cavalry who had been ordered to clear the area.
 It looked like the beginning of the long-dreaded
  military action and, although the troops
  withdrew at nightfall, the city began to arm
 That night they attacked the toll-gates around
  the city and broke down sections of the customs
The Tuileries
Camille Desmoulins
Map of Paris
         The National Assembly

 The next morning they turned their attention on
  where arms where thought to be stored, starting
  with the Abbey of Saint-Lazare.
 Blackest popular suspicions were confirmed
  when substantial stocks of grain wee also found
  there, and the monastery was looted amid
  ominous scenes of sacrilege and anti-clericalism.
          The National Assembly

 On the morning of the 14 July it was the turn of the
  Invalides, the military’s veteran’s hospital, where
  cannon was found as well as small arms.
 They were dragged across the city to the place de Greve,
  in front of the Hotel de Ville.
 From there it was only a few hundred yards to the most
  formidable of all arsenals, the towering state prison of
  the Bastille.
 After long hours of negotiation, open fire from the
  garrison defending the Bastille and the defection of
  French Guards, the Bastille was surrended.
Taking of Weapons at the
Storming of the Bastille
          The National Assembly

 During all this time the Assembly had been sitting at
  Versailles, and as the news from the capital filtered in
  they issued even more anguished appeals to the king to
  pull back the troops. He countered initially that in the
  circumstances the troops were even more necessary than
 But on the afternoon of the 15 July he came to the
  Assembly in person to declare that he was ordering the
  army encamped around Paris to disperse.
 His former war minister and commander of the troops
  had advised the king that he could no longer rely on his
         The National Assembly

 According to Doyle, Louis’s acceptance of that
  advice marked the end of royal authority.
 The monarch recognized that he no longer had
  the power to enforce his will.
 The Estates-General was gone.
 They had been replaced by a single National
  Assembly with no distinction of orders, claiming
  sovereignty in the name of the nation, and a
  mission to endow France with a constitution.
         The National Assembly

 According to Doyle, the government was
  ultimately foiled by a wave of popular support
  for the stand taken by the third estate and
  fellow-travellers in the other two orders.
 The storming of the Bastille, he suggests,
  marked the climax of the movement.
 Challenged by it, Louis XVI drew back, leaving
  the people of Paris convinced that they alone had
  saved the National Assembly from destruction.
Whose revolution?