The French Revolution (1789-1799) was a pivotal period in the history of France, Europe and Western civilization. During this time, republicanism replaced the absolute monarchy in France, and the country's Roman Catholic Church was forced to undergo a radical restructuring. While France would oscillate among republic, empire, and monarchy for 75 years after the First Republic fell to a coup d'état, the Revolution is widely seen as a major turning point in the history of Western democracy—from the age of absolutism and aristocracy, to the age of the citizenry as the dominant political force.
The causes of the French Revolution, the uprising that brought the regime of King Louis XVI to an end, were manifold. France in 1789, although facing some economic (and especially fiscal) difficulties, was one of the richest and most powerful nations in Europe; only in Great Britain and the Netherlands did the common people have more freedom and less chance of arbitrary punishment. At the time Louis XVI called the Estates-General of 1789, he himself was generally popular, even if the nobility and many of the king's ministers were not.
Nevertheless, the ancien régime was brought down, partly by its own rigidity in the face of a changing world, partly by the ambitions of a rising bourgeoisie, allied with aggrieved peasants and wage-earners and with individuals of all classes who were influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment. As the revolution proceeded and as power devolved from the monarchy to legislative bodies, the conflicting interests of these initially allied groups would become the source of conflict and bloodshed.
Among the direct causes of the French Revolution was a massive financial crisis caused by France's enormous debt, the government's lavish spending, and an archaic system of taxation which brought little money to the national coffers by placing the greatest tax burden upon the Third Estate (in theory, all of the commoners; in practice, the bourgeoisie), while virtually ignoring the First Estate (the Clergy) and the Second Estate (the Nobility). Successive attempts at reforming the system had proven fruitless in the face of opposition from the First and Second Estates.
On February 22, 1787, Charles Alexandre de Calonne, the minister of finances, convened an Assembly of Notables to deal with the financial situation. On July 13, the assembly demanded that Louis XVI call the Estates-General, and on December 18, the king promised to do so within five years. By this time, Calonne had been succeeded as finance minister by his chief critic, Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne; In turn, Brienne was succeeded by Jacques Necker, a former finance minister who was sympathetic to the Third Estate. With Necker once again in charge of the nation's finances, the King, on August 8, 1788, agreed to convene the Estates-General in May of 1789.
During the French Revolution, the National Assembly (French: Assemblée nationale) was a transitional body between the Estates-General and the National Constituent Assembly that existed from June 17 to July 9 of 1789.
On May 28 1789, the Abbé Sieyès (author of "What is the Third Estate") moved that the Third Estate, now meeting as the Communes (English: "Commons"), proceed with verification of its own powers and invite the other two estates to take part, but not to wait for them. They proceeded to do so, completing the process on June 17. Then they voted a measure far more radical, declaring themselves the National Assembly, an assembly not of the Estates but of "the People." They invited the other orders to join them, but made it clear they intended to conduct the nation's affairs with or without them.
Louis XVI shut the Salle des États where the Assembly met. The Assembly moved their deliberations to the king's handball court, where they proceeded to swear the Tennis Court Oath (June 20, 1789), under which they agreed not to separate until they had given France a constitution. A majority of the representatives of the clergy soon joined them, as did forty-seven members of the nobility. By June 27 the royal party had overtly given in, although the military began to arrive in large numbers around Paris and Versailles. Messages of support for the Assembly poured in from Paris and other French cities. On July 9, the Assembly reconstituted itself as the National Constituent Assembly, which was to last until its dissolution in September 30 1791.
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