Abbe Sieyes, French revolution, statesman
[Mirabeau, Tennis Court Oath]
Tennis Court Oath, National Assembly

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Mirabeau biography
Tennis Court Oath

  Mirabeau, (Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau), was born in Bignon near Nemours on 9th March 1749. When he was three years old Mirabeau was lucky to survive a virulent attack of smallpox but was also unfortunate in that it left him with a badly pock-marked face.

  Mirabeau was educated at a military school in Paris subsequently entering a cavalry regiment. He was, however, inclined to get into amorous scrapes and was even imprisoned, at the request of his own father, because of such adventures. In this times it was possible for aristocrats to apply for Lettres de Cachet under the authority of which a person who had incurred an aristocrat's displeasure could expect to be confined. In 1772 Mirabeau married an heiress but his subsequent continued extravagance led his father to arrange a period of exile in the country for his spendthrift son.

  There were further amorous scrapes and further terms of imprisonment at the request of Mirabeau senior. Before long Mirabeau met a young woman with whom he had a deeply felt affaire prompting him and her to seek exile in Switzerland and in Holland. This effective desertion of his wife, and adulterous affaire, left Mirabeau open to very serious charges and he was even sentenced to death.

  In May 1777 Mirabeau was arrested and, whilst in confinement, spent some of his time in literary and philosophical pursuits. After his release in August 1782 Mirabeau managed to get the sentence of death overturned but continued to get into amorous, and other, scrapes that brought with them the practical necessity of a period of exile. Mirabeau's places of exile in these times included Holland and England (where he became involved in literary and political circles).

  Mirabeau returned to Paris where he tried to secure a diplomatic or political employment but continued personal and literary indiscretions tended to greatly detract from his credibility as person who could honorably fulfil such a role.

  In the later 1780's the French Royal State experienced an acute financial crisis largely due to recent vastly expensive involvements in wars. In efforts to achieve a resolution King Louis XVI conceded that delegates could be returned on behalf of the three Estates of French society (Aristocratic, Clerical and commoner "Third Estate") to an Estates General that would convene before the Royal Presence at the Palace of Versailles in the early summer of 1789.
  In 1788 Mirabeau was rejected as a potential delegate by his fellow aristocrats in his home district of Aix (Aix-en-Provence) but was elected as a Third Estate, (or commoner) delegate to the Estates General for two districts - Aix and Marseille. As Mirabeau could not take up both he decided to take up duties as a delegate for Aix.

  The Estates General eventually convened amidst much debate as to whether its proceedings were to be in line with the longstanding tradition where the three Estates would each meet and reach agreed positions separately before making submissions about their meetings to the King or whether the three Estates should instead convene jointly. This whole debate being associated with radical ideas of the "Sovereignty of the Nation" that were being promoted by the Abbé Sieyès and others. Any joint meeting of the three Estates would be somewhat open to being presented as a meeting of a "Sovereign" French Nation.

  On June 17th, 1789, Mirabeau together with the Abbé Sieyès, led a move where the Third Estate delegates to the Estates General withdrew and sought to instead compose themselves as the National Assembly of France.

  In the early days of its efforts to convene as a National Assembly a situation arose where the would-be Assembly believed that it had been deliberately locked out of its adopted meeting place (the Hotel des Menus) on the King's authority. Mirabeau led the delegates to a near-by Tennis Court where he participated prominently in the drafting of the so-called Tennis Court Oath whereby the Assembly refused to disband before the framing of a constitution for the governance of France.

  On June 23rd, when advised of the displeasure of King Louis XVI with the turn of events, Mirabeau replied, "If you have orders to remove us from this hall, you must also get authority to use force, for we shall yield to nothing but to bayonets." The King on hearing this declined to use force and eventually supported the Aristocratic and Clerical Estates' joining in the proceedings of a National Assembly.

  Mirabeau was a supporter of a constitutional monarchy and tried to reconcile the reactionary court of Louis XVI with the increasingly radical forces of the Revolution of 1789 and 1790. With the effective overthrow of Absolute Monarchy in June-July 1789 and the effective abandonment of feudalism in August French society had changed forever. It happened that many of Mirabeau's efforts to achieve a reconciliation between the conflicting aspirations of conservatives and radicals often involved proposals that seemed way too extreme to some interests and way too moderate to others.
  Mirabeau's was partly successful in efforts to establish a system of constitutional monarchy by securing for the Crown the right of declaring peace and war, he also fought hard, if largely unsuccessfully, to maintain the absolute royal veto.

  In efforts to provide for the financing of the French State a Bishop named Talleyrand proposed, on 10th October 1789, that the vast landholdings of the Catholic church in France should be taken up by the Assembly. In early November Mirabeau was prominent in securing a somewhat more onerous taking-up of church lands than Talleyhand had perhaps intended.

  Mirabeau proposed the establishment of a citizen guard, out of which grew the National Guard, and was also prominent in the debates about the Civil Constitution of the Clergy whereby revolutionary France sought to establish a Catholic church in France that was moreso under the supervision of the new France than that of the Pope.

  Mirabeau's health had been greatly compromised by the excesses of his youth and his recent strenuous efforts as a politician and, although elected as president of the National Assembly (January 30th, 1791), only survived to perform his duties until 2nd April 1791.

  At the time of his passing Mirabeau greatly feared for the future of any constitutional Monarchy in France recognising that many powerful and radically inclined interests would not give such arrangements their support.

Ralph Waldo Emerson's Essay "History"
Emerson's "Transcendental" approach to History



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Mirabeau biography
Tennis Court Oath