The National Assembly played a major role in the French Revolution. It represented the common people of France (also called the Third Estate) and demanded that the king make economic reforms to insure that the people had food to eat. It took over control of the government and ruled France in some way for around 10 years.
How was it first formed?
In May of 1789, King Louis XVI called a meeting of the Estates General to address France's financial crisis. The Estates General was made up of three groups the First Estate (the clergy or church leaders), the Second Estate (the nobles), and the Third Estate (the commoners). Each group had the same amount of voting power. The Third Estate felt that this wasn't fair as they represented 98% of the people, but could still be outvoted 2:1 by the other two estates.
When the king refused to give them more power, the Third Estate created its own group called the National Assembly. They began to meet on a regular basis and run the country without the help of the king.
Over the course of the French Revolution, the powers and the name of the revolutionary assembly changed. Here is a timeline of the name changes:
National Assembly (June 13, 1789 - July 9, 1789)
National Constituent Assembly (July 9, 1789 - September 30, 1791)
Legislative Assembly (October 1, 1791 - September 20, 1792)
National Convention (September 20, 1792 - November 2, 1795)
Council of Ancients/Council of Five Hundred (November 2, 1795 - November 10, 1799)
Trial of King Louis XVI by the National Convention by Unknown
Although the members of the revolutionary assembly all wanted a new government, there were many different factions within the assembly that were constantly fighting for power. Some of these groups formed clubs like the Jacobin Club, the Cordeliers, and the Plain. There was even fighting within the clubs. The powerful Jacobin Club was divided into the Mountain group and the Girondins. When the Mountain group gained control during the Reign of Terror, they had many of the Girondins executed.
Left and Right Politics
The terms "left-wing" and "right-wing" politics originated with the National Assembly at the start of the French Revolution. When the assembly met, the supporters of the king sat to the president's right, while the more radical revolutionaries sat on the left.
Interesting Facts about the National Assembly during the French Revolution
The members of the assembly were called deputies. They didn't really represent all the people. They were generally wealthy commoners elected by other wealthy commoners.
The assembly passed the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in August of 1789. Thomas Jefferson and Lafayette both influenced the document.
There were 745 members of the Legislative Assembly.
When the king ordered the National Assembly to disperse, they met at a tennis court where they swore an oath (called the Tennis Court Oath) to keep meeting until the king met their demands.