1789: The Start of the French Revolution

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Jacques Necker, the Finance Minister of France during 1789. Also the inventor of “job security”.

The French Revolution was a historic change in France that began in 1789 with the creation of the National Assembly.   The country was experiencing a financial crisis and famine under King Louis XVI, most notably due to expenditures as a result of the American Revolution.  In order to resolve this situation, the king summoned the Estates-general, a general assembly of representatives from the three classes, or estates, of the country. These three estates consisted of the clergy, the First Estate, the nobility, or the Second estate, and the common people, or the third estate. The assembly, half of whom belonged to the third estate, convened in May 1789 in order to propose solutions to the Monarchy to solve the crisis, but any potential for that stalled on the first vote, which was to decide whether to vote by estate, or by representative. The king and the nobility favored the former, as it weighted the power into the hands of the first two estates, while the Third estate preferred the latter, as it would divide power more proportionately. This divide eventually caused the Third estate to reorganize itself into a group they called the National Assembly, an assembly not of the estates, but of the people, much to the chagrin of the king. He attempted to dismiss the assembly under the pretense of having their meeting place be closed, but the delegates, undeterred, convened at a nearby tennis court and swore not to dissolve until they had established a constitution.  This became known as the Tennis Court Oath and is considered one of the most important moments in the early revolution.

Within a week, the entirety of the clergy, as well as 47 of the second estate, were on board with the National Assembly, and it appeared the royal party had all but resigned themselves to the former’s will. Two weeks later, France’s finance minister, Jacques Necker, is fired, which inadvertently causes a riot in Paris. On July 14, the Bastille fortress, a weapons stockpile as well as a symbol of royal power, is stormed and its governor, Bernard de Launay, was beaten and beheaded, with his head being paraded around the city on a pike afterwards. As a result of the loss of this fortress, as well as the deteriorating situation, Louis reinstated Necker, and even accepted a tricolor cockade in an attempt to appease the revolutionaries, but to no avail. In August the National Assembly abolishes feudalism in France, and in October, after a women’s march ends up storming the royal palace in Versailles, the Bourbon monarchy is relocated to Paris, under the ‘protection’ of the National guard, both legitimizing the assembly and crippling Louis’ independence. By the end of the year, both monarchy and the clergy, which had lost its property as of November, were at the mercy of the National Assembly.

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