The Tennis Court Oath and The Fall of the Bastille

In 1789, the Absolutist King of France (Louis XVI) summoned his supplemental governing body, The Estates General, for the first time in almost 200 years. One of the primary and major things brought up in this meeting was the unequal voting system that France used. The Third Estate was always alienated in the way their government allowed one vote per estate instead of one vote per each head that comprised the estate. Due to the overlap in interests between the First and Second estates their political agendas were always the ones met and the Third estate was left to suffer. The king’s resistance to changing the system of voting created the immensely important event in history that is soon to be divulged.

The account on the Tennis Court Oath in the Essex Journal on June 21st defines the French people’s actions against their stubborn king that was so resistance to reform their country’s political. The article writes of an event, the day prior, when the people of the Third Estate seeking reform were denied entrance to the June 20th session of the Estates General. This group of people that were systematically discriminated against and represented the product of inequality in France, relocated to the tennis courts of Versailles and made an oath to never separate from the governing body they had just founded, the National Assembly. They also promised to not conclude their session until there was a constitution for their kingdom written. This succession of events is important to news stories that would headline later on that month. The Tennis Court Oath was the first expression of dissent against the crown and paved the way for the events on July 14th, The Fall of the Bastille, or in other words, the siege and capture of the royal jail. The king was hesitant and vague about accepting the constitution that the National Assembly had drawn up, in response the people took physical action against the king even though they loved him so.

The people of France discussed the events of their nation, especially the Tennis Court Oath, everywhere from pamphlets, to newspapers to through the sending of personal letters that would later on be published. Due to the fact that this event, like stated above, figuratively “got the ball rolling” on the revolution it can be argued that it was an event covered until the turn of the century. This oath maintained a major theme throughout the entirety of the French Revolution but come July 14th, the topic of the newspapers was directly about the next big thing that was going on, that being The Fall of the Bastille.

Despite its short time in the limelight, the tone infused in the literature written about the Tennis Court Oath was increasingly positive. Newspapers spoke in favor of this event because the fight for freedom in France was not that different than what was trying to be sought out by the American Revolution. What freedom was to be for each of these nations was very different, as we see through looking at each of their histories, but the premise of a nation being ruled by the people with a constitution to guide the way of the nation was a commonality between their struggles. France actually had a constitution before America did and of course based on their circumstances their constitutions were instilled differently. For these reasons, it would make sense why there was such a high level of circulation around this topic. In the year 1789 alone there were almost 400 hits in the American Historical Newspaper database for “Tennis Court Oath”. While serving the interest of the printer, with talking about the most interesting thing in France at the time, it was also preaching an American interest, to fight for equality. In Colonial America the frequency of printed French News is a perfect example of how, as political vernacular developed partied systems, newspapers became the major peddler of opinions about the public sphere.


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