The Estates General was greeted by Louis XVI in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles on May 2, 1789. On May 5 the meeting convened with an opening speech from the king.
The Third Estate was locked out of its meeting room as preparations were being made for a royal session of all three estates. Confused and angry, the delegates met instead at an indoor tennis court on the palace grounds and signed an oath not to disband until they had drawn up a new, fair constitution for France.
The Great Fear spread across the country. Once the revolutionary spirit seized control of the people of Paris, people in surrounding areas began to demand cheaper bread and suspension of feudla dues. Civil unrest grew in the countryside, with many peasants attacking manor homes. Aristocratic property was destroyed by the peasantry. From July 20 to August 5, 1789, hysteria spread across the country, but was gradually put down by militias that imposed law and order.
The panic of the Great Fear showed the peasants anger with the old, outmoded system of feudal obligations. Landed aristocracy in the National Assembly seized on the idea that the only way to stop the tide of violence in the countryside was to renounce feudal privileges. The aristocracy stripped themselves of their feudal rights and privileges. On August 11, 1789, the Assembly abolished serfdom.
Just three weeks later, on August 26, 1789, the assembly issued the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a document that guaranteed due process in judicial matters and established sovereignty among the French people. Influenced by the thoughts of the era’s greatest minds, the themes found in the declaration made one thing resoundingly clear: every person was a Frenchman—and equal. Not surprisingly, the French people embraced the declaration, while the king and many nobles did not. It effectively ended the ancien régime and ensured equality for the bourgeoisie. Although subsequent French constitutions that the Revolution produced would be overturned and generally ignored, the themes of the Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen would remain with the French citizenry in perpetuity.
Although King Louis XVI maintained a supportive front toward the Revolution, he remained in contact with the rulers of Austria, Prussia, and Sweden, asking for their help in restoring his family to power. In late June 1791, Louis XVI and his family attempted to escape to the Austrian border, where they were supposed to meet the Austrian army and arrange an attack on the revolutionaries. However, the runaway party was caught just before reaching the border and brought back to Tuileries in Paris.