June 23, 1789: Louis XVI at the Royal Session of the Estates General

  • Paul H. Beik
Part of the The Documentary History of Western Civilization book series (DHWC)


The royal session of June 23, 1789, was of utmost gravity in the history of the revolution. It represented a position taken formally and in detail on the great issues of the time, and taken freely, by Louis XVI. As the last uncoerced decision on the part of the king, it became the rallying point of the counterrevolution, justifying in his own mind and the queen’s their subsequent behavior and remaining for more than a quarter of a century the ideal of the aristocracy: what they would have attained if the revolution had been stopped at the first stage below absolutism. The June 23 documents are perhaps the best evidence of what such a victorious aristocratic revolution would have meant. Later, after years of anger and frustration, there was to be a revival of absolutism as a political idea, and the aristocratic position in favor of representative government keyed to the old society of Estates was to lose favor in official circles of the counterrevolution. June 23 represented a defeat for Necker, who until the council meeting of the previous evening had hoped that the king would remain above the struggle between the aristocracy and the commoners and impose a solution that would protect aristocratic social distinctions and property rights while giving representatives of the Third Estate real political power at least equal to that of the aristocracy. The royal session took place in the meeting room of the Estates General at Versailles and lasted not much longer than half an hour. Louis XVI first read a short speech, following which a declaration containing fifteen articles having to do with future conduct of the Estates General was read on his behalf. Then the king spoke again briefly at the start and after the conclusion of a reading of~a reform program of thirty-five articles. The account which follows is from Recueil de documents, Vol. I, Part II, pp. 274–284. The king’s opening remarks have been omitted.


Reform Program Council Meeting Formal Intention Estate General Respective Order 
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© Paul H. Beik 1970

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  • Paul H. Beik

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