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Oath of the Tennis Court

"Let us swear to God and our country that we will not disperse until we have established a sound and just constitutions, as instructed by those who nominated us." -M. Mounier

"The king has no excuse for what he has just done"2, was just one of the disappointed reactions of the enraged Third Estate members who stood knocking violently at the door of the Hotel des Menus when they were locked out on June 20, 1789. The reason the Estates General was going to meet on this day was because of a recent voting conflict between the Estates General that had put the estates in deadlock for days. The Third Estate desired a change in the voting in the Estates-General, from voting by order, which the First and Second Estates wanted, to voting by head.

As the Third Estate stood outside the meeting hall talking about what they would do next, after they had found out that the king had canceled the royal session because his son died and he found out about the formation of the National Assembly, which put him in great mourning, the sky began to rain. Once the rain was poring and drenching the Third Estate members, they sleeked shelter across the street in a nearby indoor tennis court. Inside the tennis court, Bailly, one of the main leaders of the Third Estate, stood on a table and voiced the ideas of Mounier, another leader. This proposal voiced by Bailly was that the Third Estate would not leave Versailles until there was a constitution, which they agreed upon. This idea of Mounier's was taken in favor of a more radical reform plan proposed by Sieyes. Of the 577 members, all but one accepted this oath. This oath, which would change Mother France forever, was known as the Tennis Court Oath.

Another key player in the Tennis Court Oath was Mirabeau. On June 23, 1789 he reminded King Louis XVI of the oath the Third Estate had taken on the 20th and also said that the Third Estate would not leave the meeting hall till the Estates General could vote by head or were forced out by bayonets. The King said to let them sit, but was bluffing, and finally gave way to their proposal, and said that the Estates General would vote by head. Later, on June 27, the King ordered his "loyal clergy and nobility" to join the National Assembly. It seemed as if the Third Estate had won, and everyone at Versailles was yelling "Vive Le Roi", as if the Revolution was over. But what they didn't know was that the King had sent troops to regulate in Paris. These troops would soon, even though they didn't know it, be part of the storming of the Bastille where several soldiers and Parisians would be killed and help promote the French Revolution.

Richard Cobb, General Editor. Voices of the French Revolution, Topsfield, Massachusetts: Salem House Publishers. 1988, 72.