chapter  4
Revolution and the long path to democracy in France
Pages 24

To resolve the government‘s bankruptcy, the decision to recall the Estates-General, for the first time since 1614, produced crucial debates about both the composition and the process of election to the Third Estate, the Estate supposed to represent those who were neither aristocracy (First Estate) nor clergy (Second Estate). The decision to recall the Estates-General also provoked a campaign for a ‘National Assembly’ in opposition to the resuscitation of the old system. The campaign for a National Assembly, which took place from 1788 to 1789, was carried out by a group, the ‘patriots‘, largely composed of aristocrats who supported the idea of a new assembly something along the lines of the English parliament or the state legislatures in America (Wick 1996). Six of these patriots, most prominent among them Lafayette, had fought in the American War of Independence and ‘picked up notions of individual rights, contract theories of government and the rhetoric of popular sovereignty’ (Sutherland 1985: 34). The recalling of the Estates-General to preserve privileges provoked, therefore, the opposite of that intended. In place of the reassertion of the traditional absolutist system, aspects of democracy were in the air: ideas of representation for the common people, of a new representative debating chamber, and, not least, of elections.