Opening of Estates-General of 1789

Estates General

The Estates General of 1789 was the first meeting since 1614 of the French Estates General. This general assembly consisted of representatives from all but the poorest segments of French citizenry. The independence it displayed from the crown paved the way for the French Revolution.


The cause of the French revolution was a massive financial crisis caused by enormous debt, a shortage of food and their outrageous prices, the government's over spending, and an archaic system of taxation. This taxation system brought little money back to the government because most of the tax burden was placed on the third estate (the commoners), while almost completely ignoring the second (nobility) and first estate (clergy). Attempts to correct the system had proved to be a failure when with opposition from the first first and second estates.


According to the model of 1614 the estates general would consist of equal numbers of representatives from each estate. The third estate demanded cdouble representation because they made up 97% of the population while the first and second only made up 3%. It owuld not be until 1788, that the third estate would finally get double representation.


When the estates general convened in 1789 in versaille, many in the third estate viewed the newly formed double representation as a peaceful revolution at its start. When Louis XVI and Charles Louis Francois Paul de Barentin, the Keeper of the Seals, addressed the deputies on 6 May, the Third Estate discovered that royal decree granting double representation was something of a sham. Though the Third Estate had more representatives than the other two Estates combined, voting was to occur "by orders": the 578 representatives of the Third Estate, after deliberating, would have their collective vote weighted exactly as heavily as that of each of the other Estates. The apparent intent of the King and of Barentin was for everyone to get directly to the matter of taxes. The larger representation of the Third Estate would remain merely a symbol, while giving them no extra power.