ON WHAT PINCIPLES DID THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY SEEK TO RESTRUCTURE FRENCH GOVERNMENT AND SOCIETY IN THE YEARS 1789-91?
When the National Assembly established a dominant position in the running of the French state in 1789, they needed to move quickly to reform the old state around them into one that corresponded to the political views held within the new Assembly members. A principle or origin from which all remodelling could take form from, and that would justify the actions of the Assembly to the people as they began reconstructing the state into a uniform, decentralised, representative and humanitarian system was needed. The question being asked is for us to define this principle used by the Assembly to remodel French society and government, a question that can only be answered by studying the declarations of the Assembly to discover the point at which they declare the main principles of their new system openly in a bid to justify further actions.
When the newly gathered members of the National Assembly met on the royal tennis court on the 20th June 1789, they declared a vow that was to be remembered as the Tennis court oath. This vow was to never rest until they provided France with a constitution, a basses that the Assembly could remodel France around. However, constitutions were new to this time in history and the constitutional writers needed time to discover the art of preparing such a document considering the lack of knowledge they had in the field. They may have been aided by information from the recent events in America and the benefits from studying their new American Constitution, but the Assembly still needed time to insure success, and this meant they needed a temporary base of principles to work from.
The starting point in the history of the Assemblys actions to change France can be seen in the 4th August August Decrees. The Assembly had drawn up this set of principles after the pressure created by the Great Fear had forced action to be taken for the safety of French society. The assembly had wanted to calm down the peasant rising in the country and at the time this meant abolishing the feudal system, a system that hung around the shoulders of the peasantry mass. This action would provide the country with a freedom from personal servitude along with the removal of the dues that restricted the peasantry from day to day. However, the consequences of such a decree were far reaching into the old society of order, institutions like the provisional estates had been swept away to pave a path for a national, uniform system of administration.
The August Decree had given the Assembly the chance to construct the constitution on fresh ground, but firstly they needed to devise a collection of principles on which the constitution could begin to be formed around. However, to come to a conclusion on what to include in such a revolutionary document would be the hardest task for the Assembly. They had once again come to a task that had not yet been attempted in their countries history, their knowledge had to be based around what they believed to be right at the time, and from the study of such documents as the list of cahiers and American Declaration. The result was the declaration of the rights of men and the citizen that stated that men are free and equal in their rights, those rights are more of liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression, and tax should be born equally by all citizens. A set of idealistic views that corresponded to the wants of the various members of the organisation in the view that they were heirs of the enlightenment and sought to end conflict, cruelty, superstition and poverty by the establishment of change on the principles of uniformity, decentralisation, representation and humanitarianism. Ideas that could be clearly seen to be different from the ancient regime, the fact that the King Louis xv1 refused to pass the August Decrees shows this. However theyre appeared to be no regret by the members to pass on the Ancien regime, Ferrieres (a noble deputy) stated that