Autobiography by Thomas Jefferson


Hitherto no acts of popular violence had been produced by the struggle for
political reformation. Little riots, on ordinary incidents, had taken
place, as at other times, in different parts of the kingdom, in which some
lives, perhaps a dozen or twenty, had been lost, but in the month of April
a more serious one occurred in Paris, unconnected indeed with the
revolutionary principle, but making part of the history of the day. The
Fauxbourg St. Antoine is a quarter of the city inhabited entirely by the
class of day-laborers and journeymen in every line. A rumor was spread
among them that a great paper manufacturer, of the name of Reveillon, had
proposed, on some occasion, that their wages should be lowered to 15 sous a
day. Inflamed at once into rage, & without inquiring into it's truth, they
flew to his house in vast numbers, destroyed everything in it, and in his
magazines & work shops, without secreting however a pin's worth to
themselves, and were continuing this work of devastation when the regular
troops were called in. Admonitions being disregarded, they were of
necessity fired on, and a regular action ensued, in which about 100. of
them were killed, before the rest would disperse. There had rarely passed a
year without such a riot in some part or other of the Kingdom; and this is
distinguished only as cotemporary with the revolution, altho' not produced
by it.

The States General were opened on the 5th. of May 89. by speeches from the
King, the Garde des Sceaux Lamoignon, and Mr. Necker. The last was thought
to trip too lightly over the constitutional reformations which were
expected. His notices of them in this speech were not as full as in his
previous `Rapport au Roi.' This was observed to his disadvantage. But much
allowance should have been made for the situation in which he was placed
between his own counsels, and those of the ministers and party of the
court. Overruled in his own opinions, compelled to deliver, and to gloss
over those of his opponents, and even to keep their secrets, he could not
come forward in his own attitude.

The composition of the assembly, altho' equivalent on the whole to what had
been expected, was something different in it's elements. It has been
supposed that a superior education would carry into the scale of the
Commons a respectable portion of the Noblesse. It did so as to those of
Paris, of it's vicinity and of the other considerable cities, whose greater
intercourse with enlightened society had liberalized their minds, and
prepared them to advance up to the measure of the times. But the Noblesse
of the country, which constituted two thirds of that body, were far in
their rear. Residing constantly on their patrimonial feuds, and
familiarized by daily habit with Seigneurial powers and practices, they had
not yet learned to suspect their inconsistence with reason and right. They
were willing to submit to equality of taxation, but not to descend from
their rank and prerogatives to be incorporated in session with the tiers
etat. Among the clergy, on the other hand, it had been apprehended that the
higher orders of the hierarchy, by their wealth and connections, would have
carried the elections generally. But it proved that in most cases the lower
clergy had obtained the popular majorities. These consisted of the Cures,
sons of the peasantry who had been employed to do all the drudgery of
parochial services for 10. 20. or 30 Louis a year; while their superiors
were consuming their princely revenues in palaces of luxury & indolence.

The objects for which this body was convened being of the first order of
importance, I felt it very interesting to understand the views of the
parties of which it was composed, and especially the ideas prevalent as to
the organization contemplated for their government. I went therefore daily
from Paris to Versailles, and attended their debates, generally till the
hour of adjournment. Those of the Noblesse were impassioned and
tempestuous. They had some able men on both sides, and actuated by equal
zeal. The debates of the Commons were temperate, rational and inflexibly
firm. As preliminary to all other business, the awful questions came on,
Shall the States sit in one, or in distinct apartments? And shall they vote
by heads or houses? The opposition was soon found to consist of the
Episcopal order among the clergy, and two thirds of the Noblesse; while the
tiers etat were, to a man, united and determined. After various
propositions of compromise had failed, the Commons undertook to cut the
Gordian knot. The Abbe Sieyes, the most logical head of the nation, (author
of the pamphlet Qu'est ce que le tiers etat? which had electrified that
country, as Paine's Common sense did us) after an impressive speech on the
10th of June, moved that a last invitation should be sent to the Nobles and
Clergy, to attend in the Hall of the States, collectively or individually
for the verification of powers, to which the commons would proceed
immediately, either in their presence or absence. This verification being
finished, a motion was made, on the 15th. that they should constitute
themselves a National assembly; which was decided on the 17th. by a
majority of four fifths. During the debates on this question, about twenty
of the Cures had joined them, and a proposition was made in the chamber of
the clergy that their whole body should join them. This was rejected at
first by a small majority only; but, being afterwards somewhat modified, it
was decided affirmatively, by a majority of eleven. While this was under
debate and unknown to the court, to wit, on the 19th. a council was held in
the afternoon at Marly, wherein it was proposed that the King should
interpose by a declaration of his sentiments, in a seance royale. A form of
declaration was proposed by Necker, which, while it censured in general the
proceedings both of the Nobles and Commons, announced the King's views,
such as substantially to coincide with the Commons. It was agreed to in
council, the seance was fixed for the 22d. the meetings of the States were
till then to be suspended, and everything, in the meantime, kept secret.
The members the next morning (20th.) repairing to their house as usual,
found the doors shut and guarded, a proclamation posted up for a seance
royale on the 22d. and a suspension of their meetings in the meantime.
Concluding that their dissolution was now to take place, they repaired to a
building called the "Jeu de paume" (or Tennis court) and there bound
themselves by oath to each other, never to separate of their own accord,
till they had settled a constitution for the nation, on a solid basis, and
if separated by force, that they would reassemble in some other place. The
next day they met in the church of St. Louis, and were joined by a majority
of the clergy. The heads of the Aristocracy saw that all was lost without
some bold exertion. The King was still at Marly. Nobody was permitted to
approach him but their friends. He was assailed by falsehoods in all
shapes. He was made to believe that the Commons were about to absolve the
army from their oath of fidelity to him, and to raise their pay. The court
party were now all rage and desperate. They procured a committee to be held
consisting of the King and his ministers, to which Monsieur & the Count
d'Artois should be admitted. At this committee the latter attacked Mr.
Necker personally, arraigned his declaration, and proposed one which some
of his prompters had put into his hands. Mr. Necker was brow-beaten and
intimidated, and the King shaken. He determined that the two plans should
be deliberated on the next day and the seance royale put off a day longer.
This encouraged a fiercer attack on Mr. Necker the next day. His draught of
a declaration was entirely broken up, & that of the Count d'Artois inserted
into it. Himself and Montmorin offered their resignation, which was
refused, the Count d'Artois saying to Mr. Necker "No sir, you must be kept
as the hostage; we hold you responsible for all the ill which shall
happen." This change of plan was immediately whispered without doors. The
Noblesse were in triumph; the people in consternation. I was quite alarmed
at this state of things. The soldiery had not yet indicated which side they
should take, and that which they should support would be sure to prevail. I
considered a successful reformation of government in France, as ensuring a
general reformation thro Europe, and the resurrection, to a new life, of
their people, now ground to dust by the abuses of the governing powers. I
was much acquainted with the leading patriots of the assembly. Being from a
country which had successfully passed thro' a similar reformation, they
were disposed to my acquaintance, and had some confidence in me. I urged
most strenuously an immediate compromise; to secure what the government was
now ready to yield, and trust to future occasions for what might still be
wanting. It was well understood that the King would grant at this time 1.
Freedom of the person by Habeas corpus. 2. Freedom of conscience. 3.
Freedom of the press. 4. Trial by jury. 5. A representative legislature. 6.
Annual meetings. 7. The origination of laws. 8. The exclusive right of
taxation and appropriation. And 9. The responsibility of ministers; and
with the exercise of these powers they would obtain in future whatever
might be further necessary to improve and preserve their constitution. They
thought otherwise however, and events have proved their lamentable error.
For after 30. years of war, foreign and domestic, the loss of millions of
lives, the prostration of private happiness, and foreign subjugation of
their own country for a time, they have obtained no more, nor even that
securely. They were unconscious of (for who could foresee?) the melancholy
sequel of their well-meant perseverance; that their physical force would be
usurped by a first tyrant to trample on the independance, and even the
existence, of other nations: that this would afford fatal example for the
atrocious conspiracy of Kings against their people; would generate their
unholy and homicide alliance to make common cause among themselves, and to
crush, by the power of the whole, the efforts of any part, to moderate
their abuses and oppressions.

When the King passed, the next day, thro' the lane formed from the Chateau
to the Hotel des etats, there was a dead silence. He was about an hour in
the House delivering his speech & declaration. On his coming out a feeble
cry of "Vive le Roy" was raised by some children, but the people remained
silent & sullen. In the close of his speech he had ordered that the members
should follow him, & resume their deliberations the next day. The Noblesse
followed him, and so did the clergy, except about thirty, who, with the
tiers, remained in the room, and entered into deliberation. They protested
against what the King had done, adhered to all their former proceedings,
and resolved the inviolability of their own persons. An officer came to
order them out of the room in the King's name. "Tell those who sent you,
said Mirabeau, that we shall not move hence but at our own will, or the
point of the bayonet." In the afternoon the people, uneasy, began to
assemble in great numbers in the courts, and vicinities of the palace. This
produced alarm. The Queen sent for Mr. Necker. He was conducted amidst the
shouts and acclamations of the multitude who filled all the apartments of
the palace. He was a few minutes only with the queen, and what passed
between them did not transpire. The King went out to ride. He passed thro'
the crowd to his carriage and into it, without being in the least noticed.
As Mr. Neckar followed him universal acclamations were raised of "vive
Monsr. Neckar, vive le sauveur de la France opprimee." He was conducted
back to his house with the same demonstrations of affection and anxiety.
About 200. deputies of the Tiers, catching the enthusiasm of the moment,
went to his house, and extorted from him a promise that he would not
resign. On the 25th. 48. of the Nobles joined the tiers, & among them the
D. of Orleans. There were then with them 164 members of the Clergy, altho'
the minority of that body still sat apart & called themselves the chamber
of the clergy. On the 26th. the Archbp. of Paris joined the tiers, as did
some others of the clergy and of the Noblesse.

These proceedings had thrown the people into violent ferment. It gained the
souldiery, first of the French guards, extended to those of every other
denomination, except the Swiss, and even to the body guards of the King.
They began to quit their barracks, to assemble in squads, to declare they
would defend the life of the King, but would not be the murderers of their
fellow-citizens. They called themselves the souldiers of the nation, and
left now no doubt on which side they would be, in case of rupture. Similar
accounts came in from the troops in other parts of the kingdom, giving good
reason to believe they would side with their fathers and brothers rather
than with their officers. The operation of this medicine at Versailles was
as sudden as it was powerful. The alarm there was so compleat that in the
afternoon of the 27th. the King wrote with his own hand letters to the
Presidents of the clergy and Nobles, engaging them immediately to join the
Tiers. These two bodies were debating & hesitating when notes from the Ct.
d'Artois decided their compliance. They went in a body and took their seats
with the tiers, and thus rendered the union of the orders in one chamber

The Assembly now entered on the business of their mission, and first
proceeded to arrange the order in which they would take up the heads of
their constitution, as follows:

First, and as Preliminary to the whole a general Declaration of the Rights
of Man. Then specifically the Principles of the Monarchy; rights of the
Nation; rights of the King; rights of the citizens; organization & rights
of the National assembly; forms necessary for the enactment of laws;
organization & functions of the provincial & municipal assemblies; duties
and limits of the Judiciary power; functions & duties of the military

A declaration of the rights of man, as the preliminary of their work, was
accordingly prepared and proposed by the Marquis de la Fayette.

But the quiet of their march was soon disturbed by information that troops,
and particularly the foreign troops, were advancing on Paris from various
quarters. The King had been probably advised to this on the pretext of
preserving peace in Paris. But his advisers were believed to have other
things in contemplation. The Marshal de Broglio was appointed to their
command, a high flying aristocrat, cool and capable of everything. Some of
the French guards were soon arrested, under other pretexts, but really on
account of their dispositions in favor of the National cause. The people of
Paris forced their prison, liberated them, and sent a deputation to the
Assembly to solicit a pardon. The Assembly recommended peace and order to
the people of Paris, the prisoners to the king, and asked from him the
removal of the troops. His answer was negative and dry, saying they might
remove themselves, if they pleased, to Noyons or Soissons. In the meantime
these troops, to the number of twenty or thirty thousand, had arrived and
were posted in, and between Paris and Versailles. The bridges and passes
were guarded. At three o'clock in the afternoon of the 11th July the Count
de la Luzerne was sent to notify Mr. Neckar of his dismission, and to
enjoin him to retire instantly without saying a word of it to anybody. He
went home, dined, and proposed to his wife a visit to a friend, but went in
fact to his country house at St. Ouen, and at midnight set out for
Brussels. This was not known until the next day, 12th when the whole
ministry was changed, except Villedeuil, of the Domestic department, and
Barenton, Garde des sceaux. The changes were as follows.

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