National Assembly of the French Revolution
King Louis XVI, aware of the injustices of the French tax policy, tried to reform the tax code to make it more fair, but was repeatedly thwarted by the overrepresented nobles and clergy. This angered the Third Estate, which refused to vote in the Estates General, and formed instead the National Assembly. In 1798, the Bastille was successfully stormed by a group of revolting peasants, which caused a diversion that distracted the government from dealing with the National Assembly. The French middle and lower classes joined together and established a new government , which quickly reformed the tax code, declared merit-based officers, eliminated serfdom, drafted the Declaration of the Rights of Man, seized the lands that belonged to the church, and eliminated the feudal rights of the aristocracy. Unfortunately, there was soon dissension within the Third Estate, resulting in the furtherance of radicalization of the revolution.
King Louis XVI realized that was unfair and tried to change it, but because the nobles and clergy made up two thirds of the vote in the Estates General, he kept being overruled. The third estate, which was made up of the lower-class citizens, the common people, middle-lower class peasants, anyone that wasn’t a noble or a clergyman, was furious. This third estate was furious and refused to vote in the Estates General anymore.
That makes sense, since the nobles and clergy are almost always going to outvote you, because what the third estate wants is not probably going to be in the best interest of the nobles and clergy. The nobles and clergy would always band together and outvote the third estate. Finally, the third estate said, “We’re not even going to vote in the Estates General anymore.”
Instead, prominent members of the middle class who would have been members of the third estate, they banded together to form the National Assembly, which claimed to represent this interest of common Frenchmen. The National Assembly was supposed to represent the interests of common Frenchmen. Anyone who would have been in the third estate.
Supposed to represent the interests of the middle and lower classes. At the same time that all this is going on within the Estates General, the peasants were in full revolt. You have members of the middle class revolting against the Estates General and saying, “We’re going to form the National Assembly and we’re going to form our own little government here, because we don’t like the way that all this is working. The peasants were also in full revolt.
On July 14th, 1789, they stormed the Parisian prison known as the Bastille, and they were successful. The success of this riot inspired more peasants to clamor for representation. Peasants wanted to be represented. They wanted to not be the ones forced to pay all the taxes for the country. More peasants joined onto this bandwagon. They wanted to be a part of this revolt and try to reform the government.
The diversion that it caused kept the government from dealing with the National Assembly. Middle class citizens banded together who would have been in the third estate to form the National Assembly. Peasants who also would’ve been from the third estate went into full revolt and actually attacked a Parisian prison. Since they were successful, this inspired and more peasants to join the revolt and it diverted the government’s attention, so they didn’t try to deal with the National Assembly right away.
That gave them a longer chance to gain a foothold. After the storming of the Bastille and the formation of the National Assembly in 1789, the French middle and lower classes, who would have both been part of the third estate of this Estates General, they joined together and established a new government with the slogan “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” This is still a form of the National Assembly, but now it includes the lower classes as well.
The peasants and the lower class citizens joined with those middle class citizens who originally started the National Assembly and they came up with their own government whose slogan was “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” This government quickly reformed the tax code. They wanted it to be fair for everybody and they declared that government offices would be filled based on merit only from then on. Instead of government offices being given based on if you were friends with people in politics or based on if they were paying money for that office, that wouldn’t happen anymore.
Now the people filling the government offices were going to be people who were qualified for the job and were only getting the job based on their merit and not on how much money or land they could pay to the government to have that position. The National Assembly also eliminated serfdom, which was when people would have to work for lords of a manner. You had people working for the lord and they didn’t actually own any land of their own.
They would be considered serfs and they would be made to work that land in exchange for protection from the lord of that manor. They didn’t actually have any land for themselves and they were required to work that land. There wasn’t another option for them. The National Assembly eliminated that, saying that these people were free to go where they wanted. They didn’t have to work that land anymore. They also drafted the Declaration of the Rights of Men, which was similar to the American Bill of Rights.
It was basically just a list of the rights that every man was born with. These are natural rights that people are born with and that everyone should get. The Declaration of the Rights of Man just basically declared what the rights were that every man was entitled to just based on being alive in France. The National Assembly then seized the lands that belonged to the church.
The clergy, who had been warned of their somewhat enemies in the Estates General, they seized the land that belong to the church, a lot of which had been gained with the church saying, “Okay, we’ll give you a position in the church office or we’ll knock some time off your time in Purgatory or let you go straight to heaven if you pay us money or you give us some land.” A lot of that land had come to the church through some shady ways.
Now the National Assembly just seized that land for its new government and it eliminated the feudal rights of the aristocracy. The nobles were your aristocracy. They were the ones who were the lords, who had these serfs working for them. If you take away their serfs and you told them the feudalism policy isn’t going to be in place anymore, you’ve basically taken away their power. You took away the land from the church, and that took away a lot of power from them.
This all was going to make the National Assembly a little bit stronger and give them an actual voice against the rest of the Estates General. However, there was soon dissension with the third estate, which was what the National Assembly was made up of. The revolution became more radical and violent. You had problems in the Estates General.
The first two estates, the nobles and the clergy, ganged up against the third estate, made up of the middle and lower classes, and would always outvote them, made them pay all the taxes, and they just weren’t listened to. The third estate broke off and formed the National Assembly. Peasants joined in. Then, they had their own government, but eventually the National Assembly, which is made up of the third estate, began to have dissension within itself, which was going to weaken them. This revolution just became more radical and more violent after this point.