The Last Days of Absolute Monarchy - The French Revolution

In the beginning of May 1789, the deputies of the three Estates, and among them some of the ablest and most accomplished men of France, assembled at Versailles. The third Estate, irritated by the neglect of the court at the opening and during the audience, came to a rupture with the two privileged Estates at the first sitting, when the latter required that the Estates should carry on their debates separately, whilst the former insisted upon a general council and individual votes. After a contest of some weeks, the third Estate, which had chosen the astronomer, the freedom-inspired representative of Paris, for its President, but which was guided by the superior talents of Sieyes and Mirabeau, declared itself a National Assembly, upon which it was joined by portions of the other Estates. The Assembly at once passed the resolution of allowing the levying of the present taxes only so long as the Estates should remain undissolved. This proceeding disturbed the court, and inspired it with the thought of granting a constitution to the nation, and thus rendering the estates unnecessary. For this purpose, a royal sitting was appointed, and the hall of assembly closed for a few days. Upon the intelligence of this, the deputies proceeded to the empty saloon of the Tennis Court, and raised their hands in a solemn vow not to separate till they had given a new constitution to the nation. When this Court also was closed, the meetings were held in the church of St. Louis. The royal sitting took place on the 23d of June. But neither the speech of the king, nor the sketch of the new constitution, afforded due satisfaction, and they were consequently received with coldness. After the termination of the sitting, Louis dissolved the Assembly. The nobility and clergy obeyed, but the citizen class retained their seats, and when the master of the ceremonies called upon them to obey, Mirabeau exclaimed: Tell your master that we sit here by the power of the people, and that we are only to be driven out by the bayonet! The weak king did not venture to encounter this resolute resistance by force, but rather advised the nobility and clergy to join the citizens.

The government of the city was made over to a democratic municipality, at the head of which stood Bailli, as mayor. The court, alarmed at the increasing ferment, determined upon retiring to Versailles with a few regiments of German and Swiss troops. In this proceeding, the leaders of the movement believed they saw the purpose of some act of violence, and made use of it accordingly to excite fresh irritation. The intelligence was spread abroad in Paris, that Necker had been suddenly dismissed and banished from the country, and a favorite of the queen placed in his office. This was interpreted as the first step in the contemplated outrage, and proved the signal for a general rise. Crowds of the citizens, wearing the newly invented national cockade, (blue, white, and red,) paraded through the streets, the alarm-bell was sounded, the work-shops of the gunsmiths plundered tumult and confusion reigned everywhere. On the 14th of July, after the populace had taken 80,000 stand of arms and some cannon from the Hospital des Invalides, took place the storming of the Bastille, an old castle that served as a state prison. The governor, Delaunay, and seven of the garrison, fell victims to the popular rage; their heads were carried. through the streets upon poles; and many men who were hated as aristocrats were put to death. The banished Necker was recalled, and his entrance into the towns and villages of France was celebrated as that of a hero crowned with victory. In this joyous reception of the minister, the people displayed their enthusiasm for liberty and their hatred to the court and the aristocracy. Lafayette, the champion of the liberty of America, was appointed commander of the National Guard, and whilst the king returned to Paris, and exhibited himself to the assembled people from the balcony of the council-house with the cockade in his hat, the count of Artois, and many nobles of the first rank, as Condé, Polignac, left their country in mournful anticipation of coming events.