National Constituent Assembly


National Constituent Assembly
National Constituent Assembly
Assemblée nationale constituante
Type
Type Unicameral
Timeline
France
Established 9 July 1789
Preceded by National Assembly (French Revolution)
Succeeded by Legislative Assembly (France)
Disbanded 30 September 1791
Members Variable; 1315 in total
Meeting place
Variable
History of France
series
French Revolution
Causes
Estates-General
National Assembly
Storming of the Bastille
National Constituent
Assembly
(1, 2, 3)
Legislative Assembly
and fall of the monarchy
French First Republic
National Convention
and Reign of Terror
Directory
Consulate
War in the Vendée
Chouannerie
Related: Glossary,
Timeline, Wars,
List of people,
Historiography
First Empire
Restoration
July Monarchy
Second Republic
Second Empire
Third Republic
Fourth Republic
Modern France

The National Constituent Assembly (French: Assemblée nationale constituante) was formed from the National Assembly on 9 July 1789, during the first stages of the French Revolution. It dissolved on 30 September 1791 and was succeeded by the Legislative Assembly.

Contents

Background

Le serment de Jeu de Paume. Copper plate by Pierre-Gabriel Berthault after a drawing by Jean-Louis Prieur (1789). The representatives swore not to depart until they had given France a new constitution.

The Estates-General of 1789, which convened on 5 May, had reached a deadlock in its deliberations by 6 May. The representatives of the Third Estate therefore attempted to make the whole body more effective; they met separately from 11 May as the Communes. On 12 June, the Communes invited the other Estates to join them: some members of the First Estate did so the following day. On 17 June the Communes declared themselves the National Assembly by a vote of 490 to 90. Elements of the First Estate, primarily the parish priests who were closer in wealth to the Third Estate compared to the bishops who were closer in wealth to the Second Estate, joined the assembly from 13 June onwards and on 19 June, the whole of the clergy voted to join National Assembly. A legislative and political agenda unfolded.

Following attempts by King Louis XVI and the Second Estate to prevent the delegates from meeting and some misunderstandings on both sides about one another's intentions, the new assembly was forced to relocate to a tennis court on 20 June; there, it swore the Tennis Court Oath, promising that it would not adjourn until it had drafted a new constitution for France. Failing to disperse the delegates, Louis started to recognize their validity on 27 June. The Assembly re-named itself the National Constituent Assembly on 9 July, and began to function as a governing body and a constitution-drafter. However, it is common to refer to the body even after this date as the "National Assembly" or alternatively, "Constituent Assembly."

Structure in the summer of 1789

Following the storming of the Bastille on 14 July, the National Constituent Assembly became the effective government of France. In the words of historian François Mignet:

The assembly had acquired the entire power; the corporations depended on it; the national guards obeyed it... The royal power, though existing of right, was in a measure suspended, since it was not obeyed, and the assembly had to supply its action by its own.[1]

The number of the Estates-General increased significantly during the election period, but many deputies took their time arriving, some of them reaching Paris as late as 1791. According to Timothy Tackett's Becoming a Revolutionary, there were a total of 1177 deputies in the Assembly by mid-July 1789. Among them, 278 belonged to the Nobles, 295 the Clergy, and 604 were representatives of the Third Estate. For the entire duration of the Assembly a total of 1315 deputies were certified, with 330 for the Clergy, 322 nobles and 663 deputies of the Third Estate. According to his research, Mr. Tackett noted that the majority of the Second Estate had a military background, while the Third Estate was dominated by men of legal professions.

Some of the leading figures of the Assembly at this time included:

  • The "National Party," at this time still relatively united in support of revolution and democratization, representing mainly the interests of the middle classes, but strongly sympathetic to the broader range of the common people. In this early period, its most notable leaders included Mirabeau, the Marquis de Lafayette, and Jean-Sylvain Bailly (the first two coming from aristocratic backgrounds). Mignet also points to Adrien Duport, Antoine Pierre Joseph Marie Barnave, and Alexander Lameth as leaders among the "most extreme of this party" in this period, leaders in taking "a more advanced position than that which the revolution had [at this time] attained." Lameth's brother Charles also belonged to this group.

To this list one must add the Abbé Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, foremost in proposing legislation in this period, and the man who, for a time, managed to bridge the differences between those who wanted a constitutional monarchy and those who wished to move in more democratic (or even republican) directions.

Proceedings

For a detailed description of the proceedings in the National Constituent Assembly and related events, please see the following articles:

For a list of presidents of the National Constituent Assembly, see: List of Presidents of the French National Assembly.

For a partial list of members of the National Constituent Assembly, see: Alphabetical list of members of the National Constituent Assembly of 1789.

Dissolution

After surviving the vicissitudes of a revolutionary two years, the National Constituent Assembly dissolved itself on 30 September 1791. The following day the Constitution of 1791 went into effect, granting power to the Legislative Assembly.

References

This article makes use of the public domain History of the French Revolution from 1789 to 1814, by François Mignet (1824), as made available by Project Gutenberg.


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