The King Speaks to the "National Assembly": Royal Session of 23 June 1789

On 17 June, the deputies of the Third Estate, locked out of the Estates–General meeting hall in Versailles, convened in an empty tennis court, where they swore an oath. In it, they expressed their commitment to drafting a written constitution and proclaimed again that collectively, the deputies represented not three separate orders but a single French nation. In response, the King addressed the deputies in a "royal session" on 23 June; he rejected the claim of the Third Estate that it could constitute a "National Assembly" and reiterated that each deputy represented only the order that had elected him. As a compromise, however, Louis allowed that to consider matters concerning all three orders, especially the pressing issue of royal fiscal policy, all the deputies should debate in common, tacitly accepting some of the Third Estate’s arguments.


The King wishes that the ancient distinction of the three orders of the state be preserved in its entirety, as essentially linked to the constitution of his Kingdom; that the deputies, freely elected by each of the three orders, forming three chambers, deliberating by order, and being able, with the approval of the sovereign, to agree to deliberate in common, can alone be considered as forming the body of the representatives of the nation. As a result, the King has declared null the resolutions passed by the deputies of the order of the Third Estate, the 17th of this month, as well as those which have followed them as illegal and unconstitutional.

His Majesty having exhorted the three orders, for the safety of the state, to unite themselves during this session of estates only, to deliberate in common upon the affairs of general utility, wishes to make his intentions known upon the manner of procedure.

There shall be particularly excepted from the affairs which can be treated in common, those that concern the ancient and constitutional rights of the three orders, the form of constitution to be given to the next Estates-General, the feudal and seigniorial rights, the useful rights and honorary prerogatives of the first two orders.

The especial consent of the clergy will be necessary for all provisions which could interest religion, ecclesiastical discipline, the régime of the orders and secular and regular bodies.

Declaration of the Intentions of the King. 23 June 1789.

No new tax shall be established, no old one shall be continued beyond the term fixed by the laws, without the consent of the representatives of the nation.

The new taxes which will be established, or the old ones which will be continued, shall hold only for the interval which will elapse until the time of the following session of the Estates-General.

As the borrowing of money might lead to an increase of taxes, no money shall be borrowed without the consent of the Estates-General, under the condition, however, that in case of war, or other national danger, the sovereign shall have the right to borrow without delay, to the amount of one hundred millions [livres]: for it is the formal intention of the King never to make the safety of his realm dependent upon any person.

The representatives of a nation faithful to the laws of honor and probity, will make no attack upon the public credit, and the King expects from them that the confidence of the creditors of the state will be assured and secured in the most authentic manner.

When the formal dispositions announced by the clergy and the nobility, to renounce their pecuniary privileges, shall have become a reality by their deliberations, it is the intention of the King to sanction them, and there will no longer exist any kind of privileges or distinctions in the payment of taxes.

The King wishes that to consecrate a disposition so important, the name of taille be abolished in the Kingdom, and that this tax be joined either to the vingtièmes, or to any other land tax, or finally that it be replaced in some way, but always in just and equal proportions and without distinction of estate, rank and birth.

The King wishes that the tax of franc-fief be abolished from the time when the revenues and fixed expenses of the state exactly balance.

All property rights, without exception, shall be constantly respected, and His Majesty expressly understands under the name of property rights, tithes, rents, annuities, feudal and seigniorial rights and duties, and, in general, all the rights and prerogatives useful or honorary, attached to lands and fiefs or pertaining to persons.

The King, desiring to assure the personal liberty of all citizens in the most solid and durable manner, invites the Estates-General to seek for and to propose to him the means that may be the most fitting to conciliate the orders known under the name of lettres de cachet, with the maintenance of public security and with the precautions necessary in some cases to guard the honor of families, to repress with celerity the beginning of sedition or to guarantee the state from the effects of criminal negotiations with foreign powers.

The Estates-General shall examine and make known to His Majesty, the means most fitting to reconcile the liberty of the press with respect due to religion, custom, and the honor of the citizens.

Independently of the objects of administration with which the provincial assemblies are charged, the King will confide to the provincial-estates the administration of the hospitals, prisons, charity stations, foundling homes, the inspection of the expenses of the cities, the surveillance over the maintenance of the forests, the protection and sale of the wood, and enterprise, alone I will assure the well being of my people, alone I will consider myself as their true representative; and knowing your cahiers, knowing the perfect accord which exists between the most general wish of the nation and my kindly intentions, I will have all the confidence which so rare a harmony ought to inspire and I will advance towards the goal that I wish to attain with all the courage and firmness that it ought to inspire in me.

Reflect, gentlemen, that none of your dispositions can have the force of a law without my special approbation. So I am the natural guarantee of your respective rights, and all the orders of the state can depend upon my equitable impartiality. All distrust upon your part would be a great injustice. It is I, at present, who am doing everything for the happiness of my people, and it is rare, perhaps, that the only ambition of a sovereign is to come to an understanding with his subjects that they may accept his kindnesses.

I order you, gentlemen, to separate immediately, and to go tomorrow morning, each to the chamber allotted to your order, in order to take up again your sessions. I order, therefore, the grand master of ceremonies to have the halls prepared.

Source: Frank Maloy Anderson, The Constitutions and Other Select Documents Illustrative of the History of France, 1789–1907, 2d ed. (Minneapolis, Minn.: H. W. Wilson, 1908), 11–15.