On the morning of 14 July 1789, the city of Paris was in a state of
alarm. The king had commanded troops to move into the city. Rumours
spread that he would soon order the army to open fire upon the citizens.
Yet the Bastille was hated by all,
because it stood for the despotic power of the king.
The days that followed saw more rioting both in Paris and the
countryside. Most people were protesting against the high price of bread.
ultimately led to the execution of the king in France, though most people at the time did not anticipate
To meet its regular expenses, such as the cost of maintaining
an army, the court, running government offices or universities, the
state ...view middle of the document...
The Estates General was a political body to
which the three estates sent their representatives. However, the
monarch alone could decide when to call a meeting of this body. The
last time it was done was in 1614.
On 5 May 1789, Louis XVI called together an assembly of the Estates
General to pass proposals for new taxes. A resplendent hall in
Versailles was prepared to host the delegates. The first and second
estates sent 300 representatives each, who were seated in rows facing
each other on two sides, while the 600 members of the third estate
had to stand at the back. The third estate was represented by its more
prosperous and educated members. Peasants, artisans and women
were denied entry to the assembly. However, their grievances and
demands were listed in some 40,000 letters which the representatives
had brought with them.
Voting in the Estates General in the past had been conducted according
to the principle that each estate had one vote. This time too Louis
XVI was determined to continue the same practice. But members of
the third estate demanded that voting now be conducted by the
assembly as a whole, where each member would have one vote. This
was one of the democratic principles put forward by philosophers
like Rousseau in his book The Social Contract. When the king rejected
this proposal, members of the third estate walked out of the assembly
On 20 June they assembled in the hall
of an indoor tennis court in the grounds of Versailles. They declared
themselves a National Assembly and swore not to disperse till they
had drafted a constitution for France that would limit the powers of
the monarch. They were led by Mirabeau and Abbé Sieyès.
While the National Assembly was busy at Versailles drafting a
constitution, the rest of France seethed with turmoil. A severe winter
had meant a bad harvest; the price of bread rose, often bakers exploited
the situation and hoarded supplies. After spending hours in long
queues at the bakery, crowds of angry women stormed into the
Faced with the power of his revolting subjects, Louis XVI finally
accorded recognition to the National Assembly and accepted the
principle that his powers would from now on be checked by a
constitution. On the night of 4 August 1789, the Assembly passed a
decree abolishing the feudal system of obligations and taxes. Members
of the clergy too were forced to give up their privileges. Tithes were
abolished and lands owned by the Church were confiscated.
The National Assembly completed the draft of the constitution in
1791. Its main object was to limit the powers of the monarch. These
powers instead of being concentrated in the hands of one person,
were now separated and assigned to different institutions – the
legislature, executive and judiciary. This made France a constitutional
That is, citizens
voted for a group of electors, who in turn chose the Assembly. Not
all citizens, however, had the right to...