Legislative Assembly (France)

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Legislative Assembly

Assemblée législative
Legislative Assembly Medal.png

Medal of the Legislative Assembly

EstablishedOctober 1, 1791
DisbandedSeptember 20, 1792
Preceded byNational Constituent Assembly
Succeeded byNational Convention
Meeting place
Salle du Manège, Paris

The Legislative Assembly (French: Assemblée législative) was the legislature of the Kingdom of France from October 1, 1791 to September 20, 1792 during the years of the French Revolution. It provided the focus of political debate and revolutionary law-making between the periods of the National Constituent Assembly and of the National Convention. It was characterized by the struggle over the direction of the revolution, either towards a constitutional monarchy or a republic without a monarch. Among its legislative accomplishments was making clerics who failed to register with the state under the controversial Civil Constitution of the Clergy of 1790 liable to be stripped of their pensions and homes.



The National Constituent Assembly, formed in July 1789 after the Estates General of 1789 failed to reach an agreement with King Louis, dissolved itself on September 30, 1791. Upon Maximilien Robespierre's motion, it had decreed that none of its members would be eligible to serve in the next legislature. Its successor body, the Legislative Assembly, operating under the liberal French Constitution of 1791, lasted until September 20, 1792. It was dissolved after the Insurrection of August 10, 1792 and replaced with the National Convention.

While their were not political parties in the contemporary sense, there were factions such as The Mountain and the Girondins. While fluid in their politics their positions split over the role of King Louis and monarchy, with the more "radical" revolutionaries arguing in favor of republic while the more "conservative" revolutionaries generally supported a constitutional monarchy.

The August 27, 1791 Declaration of Pillnitz already threatened France with attack by its neighbors. King Louis XVI favored war hoping to exploit a military defeat to restore his absolute power. The Assembly, driven largely by Brissot and the Girondins, was also leaning toward war to spread the ideals of the Revolution.[1] This led in April 1792 to the first of the French Revolutionary Wars.

Elections and Assembly make-up

The elections of 1791, held by census suffrage, elected 745 members.

The Legislative Assembly was composed of various groups. The most conservative representatives within the assembly consisted of about 260 Feuillants, whose chief leaders, Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette and Antoine Barnave, remained outside the House because of their ineligibility for re-election. They were members of the bourgeoisie (merchants and professionals in the Third Estate) that favored a constitutional monarchy. They felt that the revolution had already achieved its goal,[2] and were firm in their defense of the king against the popular agitation.

The more radical faction, for whom the king could no longer be trusted, were represented by the new members of the Jacobin Club[3] that claimed that more revolutionary measures were necessary.[4] They numbered 136 delegates. At this point in the revolution, Jacobins still included the faction later known as the Girondins or Girondists) and Cordeliers. Its most famous leaders were Jacques Pierre Brissot, the philosopher Condorcet and Pierre Victurnien Vergniaud. This faction drew its inspiration from the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the more radical tendency of the Enlightenment. They regarded the émigré nobles as traitors and espoused anticlericalism. They were suspicious of Louis XVI, some of them, like Brissot and the Girondins, favored a general European war, both to spread the new ideals of liberty and equality and to put the king's loyalty to the test.

The remainder of the House, 345 deputies, generally belonged to no definite party. They were called The Marsh (Le Marais) or The Plain (La Plaine). They were committed to the ideals of the Revolution, hence generally inclined to side with the Left, but would also occasionally back proposals from the Right.

Immediately there was a great deal of dissension between the Feuillants and the Jacobin faction from changes made to the Constitution and the Flight to Varennes. The latter felt that the influence of the majority of the populace was minimized because of census suffrage.[4]


The king vetoed many of the Assembly's bills throughout its existence such as:

  • Legislation declaring the émigrés guilty of conspiracy and prosecuted as such was passed on November 8, 1791, but vetoed by Louis.
  • Enforcement of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy: on November 29, 1791, the Assembly decreed that every non-juring clergyman who did not take the civic oath within eight days would lose his pension and—if any troubles broke out—he would be deported. Louis vetoed the decree as a matter of conscience.

Louis XVI formed a series of cabinets, veering at times as far-left as the Girondins. However, by the summer of 1792, amid war and insurrection, it had become clear that the monarchy and the now-dominant Jacobins could not reach any accommodation. On July 11, 1792, the Assembly formally declared the nation in danger because of the dire military situation.

Legislative Reforms

There were numerous reforms passed by the Legislative Assembly that addressed various topics including divorce, émigrés and the clergy.

The Legislative Assembly implemented new reforms to help create a society of independent individuals with equal rights.[5] These reforms included new legislation about divorce, government control over registration and inheritance rights for children. The registration of births, marriages and deaths became a function under the government instead of the Catholic Church. The new laws introduced adoption and gave illegitimate children inheritance rights equal to those of legitimate children.[6][7]


Before 1791, divorces could only be granted for adultery and other violations of the marriage contract,[5] but under the new reform a couple could also get divorced if they met one or more of the following:

  • If there was mutual consent of both spouses
  • If there was a unilateral incompatibility of character
  • If the couple had been formally separated before and needed a legalized divorce
  • If there was dissolution of marriage due to "insanity, condemnation to an infamous punishment, violence or ill-treatment, notoriously dissolute morals, desertion for at least two years, absence without news for at least five years, and emigration."[6]

The new divorce laws were not discriminatory. Both the man and woman had the right to file for a divorce, and women petitioned for the most divorce decrees.


The émigrés, mainly members of the nobility and public office who fled France after the events of the Revolution turned violent, were a major focus of the Legislative Assembly. In their decree on November 9, 1791, the Legislative Assembly established a three-class hierarchy of émigrés as well as the punishments that would correspond with each class. The first class was composed of the princes and other people of high birth who "formed [emigration’s] rallying point and controlled both its recruiting in France and its organization abroad."[8]

The second class was composed of officials in public office, soldiers and other members of society with less organizational clout than members of the nobility yet more influence than the common people. The third and final class of recognized émigrés encompassed the average French citizens who left France yet commanded little to no direct influence over emigration proceedings.[8]

In twelve articles, the decree outlined the economic and political punishments of the first and second classes—particularly assigning deadlines by which time emigration would be classified as an act of treason. Article 3 dictated that first class émigrés still abroad after January 1 would be "impeached for treason and punished with death." Articles 6 through 10 imposed a loss of position, salary, and even citizenship for second class émigrés still abroad after September 14.[8] Along with the declaration that emigration could result in the loss of active citizenship, article 6 established the Assembly's right to sequester first class émigrés' revenues and article 11 classified émigré soldiers as deserters.[8]

As the Legislative Assembly considered third class émigrés to be faultless victims of trickery and seduction by the other two classes, the legislators' decree explicitly avoided issuing punitive measures against third class émigrés—whereas the other classes were to be financially and socially punished, third class émigrés were to be treated with "sympathy and understanding".[8] The émigrés decree was vetoed by the king three days later.


The laws regarding the clergy were mostly made in response to a reform passed by the National Assembly in July 1790, known as the Civil Constitution of the Clergy.[5] In this decree, the National Assembly took the power to appoint bishops and curés away from the king. Many members of the Catholic clergy objected to this ruling. In response, the National Assembly required a public oath of fidelity from the clergy if they wanted to retain their positions in the Catholic Church.[5]

This decision was not well received by a substantial portion of the clergy. Those unwilling to take the oath were known as non-juring members.[5] On November 29, 1791 the Legislative Assembly decreed that any who refused to take the oath were committing a political crime and were liable to punishments including loss of pension and expulsion from their homes in the event of religious disturbances.[9]


On August 9, 1792 a new revolutionary Commune took possession of Hôtel de Ville and early on the morning of August 10 the insurgents stormed the Tuileries, where the royal family resided. Louis and his family sought asylum with the Legislative Assembly.

The Assembly stripped Louis, suspected of intelligence with the enemy, of all his royal functions and prerogatives. The king and his family were subsequently imprisoned in the Temple. On August 10, 1792 a resolution was adopted to summon a new National Convention, to be elected by universal suffrage.

Many who had sat in the National Constituent Assembly and many more who had sat in the Legislative Assembly were re-elected. The Convention met on September 20, 1792, becoming the new government of France.


The Legislative Assembly entrenched the perceived left–right political spectrum that is still commonly used today. The terms left and right refer to where the factions sat in the Legislative Assembly and succeeding National Convention.


Political parties

██ Independent ██ Feuillants Club ██ Jacobin Club

Portrait Name
Term of office Political party Department Legislature
1 Hippolyte Delaroche - Marquis de Pastoret - Google Art Project.jpg Claude-Emmanuel de Pastoret
October 3, 1791 October 30, 1791 Feuillants Club Seine I
2 AduC 132 Vergniaud (P.V., 1758-1793).JPG Pierre Victurnien Vergniaud
October 30, 1791 November 15, 1791 Jacobin Club Gironde
3 No image.png Vincent-Marie Viénot
November 15, 1791 November 28, 1791 Feuillants Club Seine-et-Marne
4 AduC 196 Lacépède (B.G,E. de Laville, comte de, 1756-1825).JPG Bernard Germain de Lacépède
November 28, 1791 December 10, 1791 Feuillants Club Seine
5 Pierre-Édouard Lémontey.jpg Pierre-Édouard Lémontey
December 10, 1791 December 26, 1791 Feuillants Club Rhône
6 AduC 227 François de Neufchateau (N.L., 1750-1828).JPG François de Neufchâteau
December 26, 1791 January 22, 1792 Jacobin Club Vosges
7 AduC 051 Guadet (M.E., 1758-1794).JPG Marguerite-Élie Guadet
January 22, 1792 February 7, 1792 Jacobin Club Gironde
8 AduC 018 Condorcet (J.A.N., 1743-1794).JPG Nicolas de Condorcet
February 7, 1792 February 19, 1792 Jacobin Club Seine
9 No image.png Guillaume-Mathieu Dumas
February 19, 1792 March 4, 1792 Feuillants Club Seine-et-Oise
10 AduC 182 Guyton de Morveau (L.B., baron, 1737-1816).JPG Louis-Bernard Guyton de Morveau
March 4, 1792 March 19, 1792 Jacobin Club Côte-d'Or
11 AduC 049 Gensonné (A., 1758-1793).JPG Armand Gensonné
March 19, 1792 April 15, 1792 Jacobin Club Gironde
12 AduC 273 Bigot de Préameneu (F.J.J., 1747-1825).JPG Félix-Julien-Jean Bigot de Préameneu
April 15, 1792 April 29, 1792 Feuillants Club Ille-et-Vilaine
13 No image.png Jean-Gérard Lacuée
April 29, 1792 May 13, 1792 Feuillants Club Lot-et-Garonne
14 No image.png Honoré Muraire
May 13, 1792 May 27, 1792 Feuillants Club Var
15 No image.png François-Alexandre Tardiveau
May 27, 1792 June 10, 1792 Feuillants Club Ille-et-Vilaine
16 No image.png François-Alexandre Tardiveau
June 10, 1792 June 24, 792 Independent Loire-Atlantique
17 Girardin, Stanislas.jpg Louis Stanislas de Girardin
June 24, 1792 July 8, 1792 Jacobin Club Oise
18 AduC 140 Aubert de Bayet (J.B.A., 1759-1797).JPG Jean-Baptiste Annibal Aubert du Bayet
July 8, 1792 July 22, 1792 Feuillants Club Isère
19 No image.png André-Daniel Laffon de Ladebat
July 22, 1792 August 7 1792 Feuillants Club Gironde
20 No image.png Jean-François Honoré Merlet
August 7, 1792 August 20, 1792 Jacobin Club Maine-et-Loire
21 AduC 139 Lacroix (J.F. de, 1754-1794).JPG Jean-François Delacroix
August 20, 1792 September 2, 1792 Jacobin Club Eure-et-Loir
22 AduC 156 Hérault de Séchelles (M.J., 1760-1794).JPG Marie-Jean Hérault de Séchelles
September 2, 1792 September 16, 1792 Jacobin Club Seine
23 Pierre-joseph-cambon-estampe.jpg Pierre-Joseph Cambon
September 16, 1792 September 16, 1792 Jacobin Club Hérault

Journal of Debates


  1. Thomas Lalevée, "National Pride and Republican grandezza: Brissot's New Language for International Politics in the French Revolution", French History and Civilisation, Vol. 6, ed. Julie Kalman, The George Rudé Society, 2015, 66–82. Retrieved September 29, 2023.
  2. Albert Mathiez, La Révolution française. (Paris, FR: Librairie Armand Colin, 1922), 170. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  3. Bernardine Melchior-Bonnet, Les Girondins (Paris, FR: Tallandier, 1989, ISBN 9782235018371), 52. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Jean-Paul Bertaud, La Révolution française (Paris, FR: Tempus Perrin, 2004, ISBN 978-2262023058), 81–133.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Jeremy Popkin, A Short History of the French Revolution, 6th ed. (Hoboken, NJ: Pearson Education, INC, 2015, ISBN 978-0205968459), 43–61.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Roderick Phillips, "Women and Family Breakdown in Eighteenth-Century France: Rouen 1780–1800," Social History 1(2) (1976): 197–218. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  7. Nicolas Boring, "France: Inheritance Laws in the 19th and 20th Centuries," Library of Congress.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 C.J. Mitchell, "Emigrés and the Refractory Clergy," in The French Legislative Assembly of 1791 (Leiden, ND: E.J. Brill, 1988, ISBN 9789004089617), 43-60. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  9. Sophia MacLehose, From the Monarchy to the Republic in France: 1788–1792 (Glasgow, U.K.: University of Glasgow Press, 1904), 366.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bertaud, Jean-Paul. La Révolution française. Paris, FR: Tempus Perrin, 2004. ISBN 978-2262023058
  • Boring, Nicolas. "France: Inheritance Laws in the 19th and 20th Centuries," Library of Congress.
  • Lalevée, Thomas. "National Pride and Republican grandezza: Brissot's New Language for International Politics in the French Revolution", French History and Civilisation, Vol. 6, ed. Julie Kalman, The George Rudé Society, 2015, 66–82. Retrieved September 29, 2023.
  • MacLehose, Sophia. From the Monarchy to the Republic in France: 1788–1792. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 1904.
  • Mathiez, Albert. La Révolution française. Paris, FR: Librairie Armand Colin, 1922, 170. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  • Melchior-Bonnet, Bernardine. Les Girondins. Paris, FR: Tallandier, 1989. ISBN 9782235018371
  • Mitchell, C. J. Google Books "Emigrés and the Refractory Clergy," Chap. 4 in The French Legislative Assembly of 1791. Leiden, The Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1988, 43–60. Retrieved September 29, 2023.
  • Phillips, Roderick. "Women and Family Breakdown in Eighteenth-Century France: Rouen 1780–1800." Social History 1, no. 2 (1976): 197–218. Retrieved from JSTOR.
  • Popkin, Jeremy. A Short History of the French Revolution. 6th ed. Hoboken, NJ: Pearson Education, INC, 2015. ISBN 978-0205968459

Further Reading

  • Potofsky, Allan. "The 'Non-Aligned Status' of French Emigres and Refugees in Philadelphia, 1793–1798," Transatlantica American Studies Journal 2(1) (2006).
  • Proctor, Candice E. Women, Equality, and the French Revolution. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press, 1990. ISBN 978-0313272455
  • Schroeder, Paul. The Transformation of European Politics, 1763–1848. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1994. ISBN 978-0198221197


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