Tennis Court Oath

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Drawing by Jacques-Louis David of the Tennis Court Oath. David later became a deputy in the National Convention in 1793. Le Serment du Jeu de paume.jpg
Drawing by Jacques-Louis David of the Tennis Court Oath. David later became a deputy in the National Convention in 1793.

On 20 June 1789, the members of the French Third Estate took the Tennis Court Oath (French : Serment du Jeu de Paume ), vowing "not to separate and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the kingdom is established". It was a pivotal event in the French Revolution. The Estates-General had been called to address the country's fiscal and agricultural crisis, but they had become bogged down in issues of representation immediately after convening in May 1789, particularly whether they would vote by order or by head (which would increase the power of the Third Estate, as they outnumbered the other two estates hugely).

Estates General (France) Consultative assembly in France, 1302 to 1789

In France under the Old Regime, the Estates General or States-General was a legislative and consultative assembly of the different classes of French subjects. It had a separate assembly for each of the three estates, which were called and dismissed by the king. It had no true power in its own right—unlike the English parliament it was not required to approve royal taxation or legislation—instead it functioned as an advisory body to the king, primarily by presenting petitions from the various estates and consulting on fiscal policy. The Estates General met intermittently until 1614 and only once afterwards, in 1789, but was not definitively dissolved until after the French Revolution.

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

French Revolution Revolution in France, 1789 to 1798

The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France and its colonies beginning in 1789. The Revolution overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, catalyzed violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon who brought many of its principles to areas he conquered in Western Europe and beyond. Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Through the Revolutionary Wars, it unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.

Contents

On 17 June, the Third Estate began to call themselves the National Assembly, led by Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau. [1] On the morning of 20 June, the deputies were shocked to discover that the chamber door was locked and guarded by soldiers. They immediately feared the worst and were anxious that a royal attack was imminent from King Louis XVI, so the deputies congregated in a nearby indoor jeu de paume court  [ fr ] in the Saint-Louis district  [ fr ] of the city of Versailles near the Palace of Versailles. There 576 of the 577 members from the Third Estate took a collective oath "not to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the kingdom is established". [2] The only person who did not join was Joseph Martin-Dauch from Castelnaudary, who would only execute decisions that were made by the king. [3]

National Assembly (French Revolution) assembly during the French Revolution

During the French Revolution, the National Assembly, which existed from 4 June 1789 to 9 July 1789, was a revolutionary assembly formed by the representatives of the Third Estate of the Estates-General; thereafter it was known as the National Constituent Assembly, though popularly the shorter form persisted.

Palace of Versailles French palace on the outskirts of Paris

The Palace of Versailles was the principal royal residence of France from 1682, under Louis XIV, until the start of the French Revolution in 1789, under Louis XVI. It is located in the department of Yvelines, in the region of Île-de-France, about 20 kilometres southwest of the centre of Paris.

Joseph Martin-Dauch French politician

Joseph Martin-Dauch, was a French politician who represented Castelnaudary as a member of the Third Estate in the Estates-General of 1789. He is remembered as the only member not to vote in favor of the Tennis Court Oath on the grounds that he could not faithfully execute any decisions that were not sanctioned by the king.

Background

Before the Revolution, French society—aside from royalty—was divided into three estates. The First Estate comprised the clergy; the Second Estate was the nobility. The rest of France—some 98 percent of the population—was the Third Estate, which ranged from very wealthy city merchants to impoverished rural farmers. The three estates met from time to time in the Estates General, a legislative assembly. [4]

French nobility privileged social class in France during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period to the revolution in 1790

The French nobility was a privileged social class in France during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period to the revolution in 1790. The nobility was revived in 1805 with limited rights as a titled elite class from the First Empire to the fall of the July Monarchy in 1848, when all privileges were permanently abolished. Hereditary titles, without privileges, continued to be granted until the Second Empire fell in 1870. They survive among their descendants as a social convention and as part of the legal name of the corresponding individuals.

The third Estate comprised the overwhelming majority of the French population but the structure of the Estates-General was such that the Third Estate comprised a bare majority of the delegates.[ citation needed ] A simple majority was sufficient—as long as delegates' votes were cast together. The First and Second Estates preferred to divide the vote; a proposal might need to receive approval from each Estate or there might be two "houses" of the Estates-General (one for the first two Estates, and one for the Third) and a bill would need to be passed by both houses. Either way, the First and Second Estates could exercise a veto over proposals enjoying widespread support among the Third Estate, such as reforms that threatened the privileges of the nobility and clergy.[ citation needed ]

Oath

The deputies' fears, even if wrong, were reasonable and the importance of the oath goes above and beyond its context. [5] The oath was a revolutionary act and an assertion that political authority derived from the people and their representatives rather than from the monarchy. Their solidarity forced Louis XVI to order the clergy and the nobility to join the Third Estate in the National Assembly to give the illusion that he controlled the National Assembly. [1] This oath was vital to the Third Estate as a protest that led to more power in the Estates General, and every governing body thereafter. [6]

An English-language translation of the oath reads:

The National Assembly,

Considering that it has been called to establish the constitution of the realm, to bring about the regeneration of public order, and to maintain the true principles of monarchy; nothing may prevent it from continuing its deliberations in any place it is forced to establish itself; and, finally, the National Assembly exists wherever its members are gathered.

Decrees that all members of this Assembly immediately take a solemn oath never to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require until the constitution of the realm is established and fixed upon solid foundations; and that said oath having been sworn, all members and each one individually confirms this unwavering resolution with his signature.

We swear never to separate ourselves from the National Assembly, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require until the constitution of the realm is drawn up and fixed upon solid foundations. [7]

Significance and aftermath

The Oath signified for the first time that French citizens formally stood in opposition to Louis XVI and the National Assembly's refusal to back down forced the king to make concessions. It was foreshadowed by and drew considerably from the 1776 United States Declaration of Independence, especially the preamble. The Oath also inspired a wide variety of revolutionary activities in the months afterward, ranging from rioting in the French countryside to renewed calls for a written constitution. It reinforced the Assembly's strength and although the King attempted to thwart its effect, Louis was forced to relent and on 27 June 1789 he formally requested that voting occur based on head counts, not each estates' power. [8] The Tennis Court Oath (20 June 1789) preceded the abolition of feudalism (4 August 1789) and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (26 August 1789).[ citation needed ]

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References

  1. 1 2 Doyle, William (1990). The Oxford History of the French Revolution. Oxford University Press. p. 105. ISBN   978-0192852212.
  2. Thompson, Marshall Putnam (1914). "The Fifth Musketeer: The Marquis de la Fayette". Proceedings of the Bunker Hill Monument Association at the annual meeting. p. 50. Retrieved 10 February 2011.
  3. Hanson, Paul R. (2004). Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. ISBN   9780810850521.
  4. Estates-General in Encyclopædia Britannica
  5. Osen, James L. (1995). Royalist Political Thought during the French Revolution. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN   9780313294419.
  6. John D Ruddy (12 January 2015), French Revolution in 9 Minutes , retrieved 29 February 2016
  7. "The Tennis Court Oath, June 1789" (PDF). Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  8. Hanson, Paul R. (2015). Historical dictionary of the French Revolution (Second ed.). Rowman & Littlefield. p. 118. ISBN   9780810878914.

Coordinates: 48°48′04″N2°07′26″E / 48.8010°N 2.1239°E / 48.8010; 2.1239