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Following economic despair, King Louis XVI calls for a meeting of French representatives. During the meeting, the National Assembly is founded and the Revolution began.

Following the heavy losses of the French and Indian War, as well as France’s involvement in the American Revolution, the country found itself in a massive financial crisis. Debt, inflation, a lack of food, King Louis XVI’s lavish spending practices and an archaic taxation system. The First Estate of the Clergy and the Second Estate of the Nobility was not required to pay taxes, leaving the commoners in the Third Estate with the duty of filling the national coffers.

Under massive amounts of political pressure, King Louis XVI agreed to a meeting with the Estates-General on May 5, 1789. This assembly would comprise of representatives from the First and Second Estates, which accounted for three percent of the population, and the Third Estate, which accounted for 97 percent. However, both the First and Second Estate could override the Third Estate in decision making. In response to this, the Third Estate demanded twice as much representation as the other estates. Again, under political pressure, the king granted the double representation. Ultimately, elections were held and 270 nobles, 291 clergy and 578 commoners were convened in Versailles.

Initial Proceedings of the Estates-General

The only precedence for the Estates-General was a similar event held in 1614 and despite the revolutionary addition of the Third Estate, strict etiquette established during that meeting was enforced. The First and Second Estates appeared in full regalia, while the Third Estate attempted to stay with the protocol. However, despite the additional representation to the commoners, King Louis XVI explained that the Nobles and Clergy would retain their veto power over the proceedings, meaning the Third Estate would effectively have no power.

Establishing the National Assembly

As the proceedings continued, it was apparent that an impasse was reached. Each estate began to meet separately until May 27, discussing the organization of the legislature rather than the issue of taxation. At this time, the Third Estate renamed itself the “Communes” and invited the other two estates to join them in a new legislature. As neither the First nor Second Estate joined, the Communes moved to establish its own process of verification. On June 17, the delegates voted to rename themselves the “National Assembly,” based not on estates, but of the people. Again, they invited the other representatives to join them, revealing to the king that they were going to be the official legislative body of the country.

Despite resistance, the king found himself relatively powerless. He ordered the meeting location, the Salle des Etats, closed. The delegates met in secret at the king’s tennis court and swore allegiance to the people of France. The Tennis Court Oath promised that the National Assembly would continue meeting until a constitution was established. On July 9, 1789, the group voted to rename itself the National Constituent Assembly and claimed itself the full authority of the nation. Member of the nobility and the clergy joined the Assembly.

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