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date: 25 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The politics of 1789 cannot be understood without considering the psychology and group dynamics of France’s national legislators. Facing an unexpectedly large power vacuum at Versailles as the Estates-General commenced, Third Estate-led legislators would increasingly assert their own sovereignty and expand an agenda initially centred on financial reform into a thorough revolution of French politics and culture. Operating in dialogue with broader sets of revolutionary actors, both stimulating and reacting to outside changes, legislators forged a new rights-based order which virtually all agreed to support by late 1789. This process inspired a ‘personal revolution’ for many deputies: men who were previously pillars of Old Regime society broke with prior societal and emotional constraints to create the most radical revolution yet seen. Understanding the first National Assembly requires comprehending the backgrounds and experiences of its 1200 members, and the stresses of the complex political and social processes which drove such events forward.

Keywords: Estates-General, National Assembly, politics, emotion, revolution, Tennis Court Oath, abolition of feudalism, Rights of man and citizen

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