The “Night of 4th August”, 1789



In my childhood History lessons about the French Revolution, the only moment that created in my young soul not fright or even horror, but rather an enthusiastic amazement, still deeply imprinted in my being, has been the moment, so important by its consequences, which was called “the Night of the 4th of August”, and every year I celebrate this date for myself with an inner intensity so close to fervor that I suspect a direct participation in this Event, experienced by another self of mine at that time.

This year, I do not know why, I wanted to do more than a personal celebration, and here I am presenting on this Blog of Research the account of this great moment that historians of great renown, such as Jules Michelet, later gave, through the article (which I quote almost completely, with all my gratitude) from Wikipedia, dedicated to this event: 


Night of 4 August 1789

Date of 4 (6 pm) to 5 August 1789 (2 h)
Venue Hotel of the Menus Plaisirs in Versailles

“Reform of various feudal rights and tithe. August 11, 1789. “

(Illustration: Anonymous caricature of 1789, with a caption.
A man of the Third Estate: “Hey, still take this, Monsieur le Cure, such a gift from a hand that would like to hold on to it with the other – but this is the last time. “)

The Night of the 4th of August, 1789, or the “Night of August 4″, is the sitting of the National Constituent Assembly, during which the suppression of the feudal privileges was voted. Begun on the 4th of August, 1789, at six o’clock in the evening, it continued, after midnight, until two o’clock in the morning. This was a fundamental event of the French Revolution, since the Constituent Assembly put an end to the feudal system during the sitting. It was the abolition of all feudal rights and privileges as well as all the privileges of classes, provinces, cities and corporations, on the initiative of the Breton Club, the future Jacobin Club.


Since the capture of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, a wave of revolts called the Great Fear had developed in France, particularly in the countryside. In some regions, peasants attacked the lords, their property and their archives, especially the terrier books used to establish seigneurial rights. 

The Night of August 4 is a response to this insurrection. The Constituent Assembly is in the process of elaborating the future constitution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen when it receives disturbing tales about the instability in France. Faced with this crisis, two solutions are envisaged. The first wants to reassert the values ​​of property, and thus control the revolt. This solution was soon rejected, as it would only reinforce the peasants’ opposition to the feudal system. The second solution envisages setting up a network of rescue offices, which would help the poorest. But this solution does not respond to the urgency of the situation. 

The idea of ​​the abolition of seigneurial rights, which was probably conceived at a meeting of the Breton Club, a small group of deputies who had become accustomed to discussing between themselves.

The excitement of events

(Illustration: Night of the 4th of August, high relief in bronze of Leopold Morice, monument to the Republic, place of the Republic, Paris, 1883.)

On August 3, 1789, the Duke of Aiguillon proposed the idea of ​​abolition of seigneurial rights to the Breton Club.

The next day, at the end of the evening, the Viscount de Noailles proposed to the National Assembly that the privileges should be abolished in order to restore calm in the provinces.

The Duc d’Aiguillon proposes the equality of all before the tax and the redemption of feudal rights. In reply, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours demands measures of rigor against the peasantry, which makes the historian Albert Mathiez say: “The nobles were open to pity, the bourgeois blamed the inaction of the authorities and wanted to send severe orders to the courts “.

In turn, in an indescribable atmosphere, Guy Le Guen of Kerangal, the Viscount of Beauharnais, Lubersac, the Bishop of La Fare, will outbid by suppressing banalities, untitled pensions, seigneurial jurisdictions, hunting rights, Ecclesiastical privileges.

The Marquis de Foucault made a “vigorous motion against the abuse of military pensions,” and demanded that “the first of the sacrifices should be that which the great should make, and that portion of the nobility which is very opulent by itself, The eyes of the prince are on the already rich, and on which he pours out without measure and accumulates gifts, largesses, excessive treatments, provided by and taken from the very survival substance of the countryside. ”
The Viscount of Beauharnais proposes “the equality of penalties over all classes of citizens and their eligibility in all ecclesiastical, civil and military posts.”

Cottin calls for the extinction of seigneurial justices as well as “all the remnants of the feudal regime which crushes the poor”.
The Bishop of Nancy, Bishop de La Fare, taking the floor, after having disputed it with one of his colleagues, asked, in the name of the clergy, that the ecclesiastical funds should be declared redeemable. And that “their redemption does not turn for the benefit of the ecclesiastical lord, but that it be made useful investments against indigence.”
The Bishop of Chartres, presenting the exclusive right of hunting as “a scourge for the campaigns ruined for more than a year by the elements “, demands its abolition, and in fact the abandonment for himself,” Happy”, he says, “of being able to give the other owners of the kingdom this lesson of humanity and of justice”.
De Richer, returning to the extinction of seigneurial justices, demanded the gratuitousness of justice throughout the kingdom, “except the precautions tending to extend the spirit of chicanery and the indefinite length of trials.”
The Duc du Chatelet then proposes that a tax in money be substituted for the tithe, “except to allow the redemption, as for the seigniorial rights”.
Everything seemed finished. A scene no less great began. After the privileges of the classes, came those of the provinces. Those who were called Countries of State, who had privileges of their own, various advantages for liberties and for taxation, blushed at their selfishness; they wished to be France, whatever might be the cost to their personal interest, to their good old memories.
The Dauphine, as early as 1788 (see Vizille after the Day of the Tiles), had offered it magnanimously concerning itself and advised the other provinces. to do the same. It renewed this offer. The most obstinate, the Bretons, though bound by their mandates, bound by the ancient treaties of their province with France, nevertheless manifested a desire to join. Provence says the same, then Burgundy and Bresse, Normandy, Poitou, Auvergne, Artois. Lorraine, in touching terms, says she would not regret the domination of her worshiped sovereigns who were fathers of the people, if she had the happiness of meeting with her brothers, to enter with them into this maternal home of France, in this immense and glorious family!
Then it was the turn of the cities.
Finally, Lally-Tollendal ended the session in apotheosis by proclaiming Louis XVI “restorer of French liberty.” (Jules Michelet, History of the French Revolution, Flammarion, 1897-1898.)
In one night, the foundations of the system by Orders collapsed.
The following days, the clergy attempted to reconsider the abolition of tithing, but the President of the Assembly, Isaac Le Chapelier, having accepted only discussions on the form, the decrees of August 4 were definitely drafted on the 11th.
On the morrow, Louis XVI. wrote to the Archbishop of Arles: “I will never consent to deprive my clergy, my nobility.” I will not give my sanction to decrees which will deprive them; It is then that the French people could accuse me of injustice and weakness. Monsieur the Archbishop, you submit to the decrees of Providence; I believe I submit to it by not giving way to that enthusiasm which has taken possession of all Orders, but which merely slips onto my soul. If force compelled me to sanction, then I would yield, but then there would be no monarchy or monarch in France. “
Louis XVI. does not give his sanction on these decrees, until he is compelled and forced on the 5th of October.
Thus the privileges of the ecclesiastics, the nobles, the corporations, the cities, and the provinces disappeared.
However, the feudal rights were declared redeemable on the 15th of March, 1790, and their bearers are not bound to prove their origin. In practice, this leads to their maintenance. However, faced with the refusal of many peasant communities, the Legislative Assembly abolished the redemption, save for presentation of the original title, of casual rights, on June 18, 1792, and then for all rights on August 25 of the following year. Finally, on 17 July 1793, the Convention voted for their complete abolition, without compensation, and the burning of feudal titles.
It is not to say that the fact of having participated in this magnificent enthusiasm that Night has constituted a guarantee for the members of the Nobility or the Clergy to be spared in the later days of the Revolution :
As a proof, it seems, my vague but yet certain recollection of having been, in the same other life, guillotined in spite of everything under the “Terror” that came about later. Yes, “Terror” indeed, with the extreme and blind excesses of this “Revolutionary Tribunal” whose name alone in the History class was enough to fill me with terror in this lifetime.

In me no regret though for having participated in this voluntary sacrifice of our numerous Privileges under the Feudal System still in force until then. It is only the joy and pride of having had such a courage, out of pure compassion for the peasants, in this miraculous fraternity of the Night of the 4th of August, that still vibrate in my deep being. Fraternity too short, certainly, but which undoubtedly foreshadowed the Brotherhood of the whole Humanity that we will one day know thanks to the New Step of our earthly evolution, to a higher degree, New Step already in progress …

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