The Estates-General gathered at Versailles on May 5, 1789. They were immediately separated over a fundamental subject: should they vote by the head, giving the power to the Third Estate, or by the estate, in which the two privileged orders of the realm could outvote the third? On June 17, the bitter conflict over this legal argument finally drove the deputies of the Third Estate to name themselves the National Assembly; they cautioned to proceed, if necessary, without the other two orders. They were supported by numerous of the parish priests, who significantly outnumbered the aristocratic upper clergy between the church’s deputies. When royal representatives locked the deputies out of their usual meeting hall on June 20, they invaded the monarch’s indoor tennis court (Jeu de Paume). They vowed an oath not to separate until they had granted France a new constitution. The king grudgingly gave in and requested the nobles and the remaining clergy to join the assembly, which received the official title of National Constituent Assembly on July 9; at the same time, however, he started assembling troops to dissolve it.
These two months of prevarication, while the problem of maintaining food supplies had reached its peak, provoked the provinces and the towns. The gathering of troops around the capital and the dismissal of Necker began a rebellion in Paris. On July 14, 1789, the Parisian crowd took over the Bastille, which served as a symbol of royal despotism. Repeatedly the king had to yield; visiting Paris, he pointed to his recognition of the sovereignty of the citizens by wearing the tricolor cockade.
Declaration of the Rights of Man
In the regions, the Great Fear of July led the peasants to rebel against their lords. The bourgeois and the nobles were now frightened. The National Constituent Assembly could recognize only one way to check the peasants; on the night of August 4, 1789, it decreed the cancellation of the feudal regime and the tithe. Then on August 26, it organized the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, proclaiming freedom, the inviolability of property, equality, together with the right to counter oppression.
The decrees issued on August 4 and the Declaration represented such innovations that the king refused to approve them. Consequently, the Parisians rose again, and on October 5 marched to Versailles. The next day they led the royal family back to the capital. Followed by the court, The National Constituent Assembly, and resumed to work on the new constitution.
The French people participated actively in the new political culture shaped by the Revolution. Dozens of uncensored newspapers kept residents abreast of events, and civic clubs enabled them to voice their views and beliefs. Public ceremonies like the planting of “trees of liberty” in little villages and the Festival of Federation, took place in Paris in 1790 on the very first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, were symbolic confirmations of the new order.