The French Revolution's National Assembly was instrumental in urging along constitutional reform during the early days of the revolution, and for quelling peasant rebellion. Additionally, the assembly was responsible for widespread reforms of the French Catholic Church, particularly through legislation called the Civil Constitution of the Clergy.Continue Reading
The National Assembly's reforms began in 1798, when French King Louis XVI tried to lock out members of the Third Estate from the convened Estates-General. In response, the Third Estate renamed itself the National Assembly and swore its famous Tennis Court Oath, vowing to continue meeting, despite the lockout, until a substantive new constitution was written. In the ensuing days, unrest continued to escalate following the assault on the Bastille, peasant agitation in the countryside and the march of several thousand women on the king's palace at Versailles itself. To allay fears and quell possible all-out rebellion, the National Assembly offered the August Decrees, abolishing traditional feudal obligations owed to the nobility by the peasantry. Later the same month, the Assembly released the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, a document formalizing the implementation of due process in French judicial matters and conferring state sovereignty to the people.
In one of its most important reform initiatives, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy of 1790, the assembly dismantled monastic orders in France and brought the election and control of bishops, other clergy and their dioceses under state oversight. However, despite its attempts at reform, the National Assembly was unable to remain tenable, and was succeeded by the National Constituent Assembly, the Legislative Assembly and, finally, the National Convention, the incarnation of revolutionary government that ultimately presided over the Reign of Terror.Learn more about French Revolution