Becoming a Revolutionary: The Deputies of the French National Assembly and the Emergence of a Revolutionary Culture (1789-1790)

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Becoming a Revolutionary: The Deputies of the French National Assembly and the Emergence of a Revolutionary Culture (1789-1790). By Timothy Tackett. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 1996. Pp. xvi, 355. $39.95.)

For two hundred years, historians have vigorously debated a basic enigma of the French Revolution: how a group of men without a preconceived goal, divided in their intentions as well as their backgrounds, managed to come together in an undertaking that ultimately led to the overthrow of the Old Regime. In this meticulously documented and convincingly argued study,Timothy Tackett has made a major contribution to this historical debate. Focusing on the first year of the Revolution,Tackett has conducted extensive research on the revolutionary experiences of the specific individuals who participated in the Revolution, examining their contemporary diaries, letters, and memoirs, as well as newspaper accounts and reports produced by the National Assembly. Information gleaned from these sources provides insight into the transformation in the deputies' values and modes of thinking which enabled them to adapt to the process of democracy and representative government.

The value of this approach is vividly apparent in Tackett's analysis of the transformation within the Third Estate which culminated in the crucial decision to proceed with a joint verification of credentials. (The significance of this pivotal moment in the Revolution's history has been mistakenly overshadowed by the more dramatic Tennis Court Oath and the storming of the Bastille.) Tackett cites four major factors contributing to this psychological transformation: the growing group consciousness and self-confidence of the deputies, the persuasive arguments of radical orators, the enthusiastic support of the crowds, and the Nobility's unwillingness to compromise.

Tackett provides particular insight into the mindset of the parish priests, depicting the internal conflict a number of them experienced initially between ardent sympathy for the viewpoints of the Third Estate deputies and longengrained habits of deference to the higher clergy.This deference rapidly frayed for some as the revolutionary dynamic progressed, and the assemblies of the clergy became the most contentious and acrimonious of the three Estates.Tackett traces yet another psychological transformation among the clerical deputies as many became disillusioned in the wake of decrees on church property and the failure of the Dom Gerle motion, which called for Catholicism to be declared the state religion. …