This chapter focuses not upon the complex politics of the various groups in the Estates General, which is an enormous task still in need of research, but upon the processes. The Estates General has traditionally been viewed as an inherently revolutionary body, with the members of the Third Estate having arrived inspired by the abbé Sieyès and ready to undertake bold reforms. In fact, the deputies of the Third Estate arrived in Versailles hoping for guidance from the Crown at the opening of the Estates General, and when such direction did not occur they followed a moderate course of action. Indeed, during the first weeks of the Estates General, the majority of deputies of the Third Estate resisted the counsel of Sieyès and the Bretons, and his influence began to emerge only after weeks of stalemate. Even after the transformation of the Estates General into the National Assembly, during the initial period of which deputies continued to sit by order, the men of the National Assembly pursued only a moderate program of reform. The first product of its deliberations, a report by its Committee of the Constitution on July 27, was exceedingly modest in scope, disappointing many contemporaries. Just over a week later, however, the meeting of the night of August 4 completely transformed the scope of the agenda of the National Assembly, as the meeting resulted in the sudden and unanticipated dismantling of French ancien-régime society. In its aftermath, the National Assembly had to reconstruct the French polity in its entirety, but this total restructuring had been thrust upon the Assembly by the meeting of the night of August 4. Ultimately, then, the extraordinary changes instituted by the National Assembly were less a product of pamphlet debates prior to the meeting of the Estates General than they were the outcome of the course of events after the Estates General opened.
Swipe to navigate through the chapters of this book
Please log in to get access to this content
To get access to this content you need the following product:
- From the Estates General to the National Assembly, May 5–August 4, 1789
- Macmillan Education UK
- Sequence number
- Chapter number