Tennis Court Oath

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For the book of poetry, see The Tennis Court Oath (book). For the unfinished painting by David, see The Tennis Court Oath (David).
Drawing by Jacques-Louis David of the Tennis Court Oath. David later became a deputy in the National Convention in 1792

On 20 June 1789, the members of the French Estates-General for the Third Estate, who had begun to call themselves the National Assembly, took the Tennis Court Oath (French: Serment du Jeu de Paume), vowing "not to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the kingdom is established." It was a pivotal event in the early days of the French Revolution.

The Estates-General had been called to address the country's fiscal and agricultural crisis, but immediately after convening in May 1788, they had become bogged down in issues of representation—particularly, whether they would vote by head (which would increase the power of the Third Estate) or by order.

On 17 June, the Third Estate, led by the comte de Mirabeau, began to call themselves the National Assembly.[1] On the morning of 20 June, the deputies were shocked to discover that the chamber door was locked and guarded by soldiers. Immediately fearing the worst and anxious that a royal attack by King Louis XVI was imminent, the deputies congregated in a nearby indoor jeu de palme court in the Saint-Louis district of the city of Versailles, near the Palace of Versailles.

There, 576 of the 577 members from the Third Estate took a collective oath "not to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the kingdom is established".[2] The only person who did not join was Joseph Martin-Dauch from Castelnaudary, who would not execute decisions not decided by the king.[3]

Significance[edit]

This oath would come to have major significance in the revolution as the Third Estate would constantly continue to protest to have more representation.[4] Some historians have argued that, given political tensions in France at that time, the deputies' fears, even if wrong, were reasonable and that the importance of the oath goes above and beyond its context.[5]

The oath was both a revolutionary act, and an assertion that political authority derived from the people and their representatives rather than from the monarch himself. Their solidarity forced Louis XVI to order the clergy and the nobility to join with the Third Estate in the National Assembly in order to give the illusion that he controlled the National Assembly.[1] This oath would prove vital to the Third Estate as a step of protest that would eventually lead to more power in the Estates General, and every governing body thereafter.[6]

The Oath signified for the first time that French citizens formally stood in opposition to Louis XVI, and the National Assembly's refusal to back down forced the king to make concessions. It was foreshadowed by, and drew considerably from, the 1776 United States Declaration of Independence, especially the preamble. The Oath also inspired a wide variety of revolutionary activity in the months afterwards, ranging from rioting across the French countryside to renewed calls for a written French constitution. Likewise, it reinforced the Assembly's strength and forced the King to formally request that voting occur based on head, not power.[citation needed] The Tennis Court Oath, which was taken in June 1789, preceded the 4 August 1789 abolition of feudalism and the 26 August 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Doyle, William (1990). The Oxford History of the French Revolution. Oxford University Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-0192852212. 
  2. ^ Thompson, Marshall Putnam (1914). "The Fifth Musketeer: The Marquis de la Fayette". Proceedings of the Bunker Hill Monument Association at the annual meeting. p. 50. Retrieved 10 February 2011. 
  3. ^ Hanson, Paul R. (2004). Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 9780810850521. 
  4. ^ John D Ruddy (2015-01-12), French Revolution in 9 Minutes, retrieved 2016-02-29 
  5. ^ Osen, James L. (1995). Royalist Political Thought during the French Revolution. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780313294419. 
  6. ^ John D Ruddy (2015-01-12), French Revolution in 9 Minutes, retrieved 2016-02-29 

Coordinates: 48°48′3.64″N 02°07′26″E / 48.8010111°N 2.12389°E / 48.8010111; 2.12389