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In the article on the French Revolution Wikipedia says:

"The Estates-General convened in the Grands Salles des Menus-Plaisirs in Versailles on 5 May 1789 and opened with a three-hour speech by Necker. The Third Estate demanded that the credentials of deputies should be verified by all deputies, rather than each estate verifying the credentials of its own members; but negotiations with the other estates failed to achieve this. The commoners appealed to the clergy, who asked for more time. Necker then stated that each estate should verify its own members' credentials and that the king should act as arbitrator."

This conflict, as far as I can see, is the very beginning of the French revolution. However, I don't understand what that process of verification of deputies credentials was all about. What exactly were the deputies verifying? What kind of credentials were to be verified then? Why were they not verified prior to the meeting? And why was it so important for The Third Estate that the credentials be verified by all deputies?

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    As with most questions of the French Revolution, I would cite the Revolutions Podcast as a superlative source. I can't remember which episode covered this question (3.9 or so), but it is well worth your while to listen to all of them. – Mark C. Wallace Dec 21 '14 at 20:26
  • @MarkC.Wallace - Thank you! Very nice podcasts. – brilliant Dec 22 '14 at 2:08
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In theory, the "credentials" were only important so far as to ensure the deputy had a legal right to be in the assembly. In practice, however, the "checking of credentials" was effectively an election, because the estates voted on them, kind of like the way the Senate votes on executive appointments in the United States. If the commoners and clergy were allowed to vote on noble credentials, they could basically kick out of the assembly any noble deputy they did not like.

A secondary, non-political issue was the nobles undoubtedly resented the idea of presenting their credentials to commoners--an outrage and humiliation.

  • Can you, please, elaborate a bit on what those credentials in fact would be? Were they something like a list of personal achievements of some sort? Or some good reports from others? And, another thing that I don't get here, hadn't they already been elected (I mean chosen somehow) to be the deputies in that convocation? If yes, why then there were still suspicions on whether or not each deputy had the legal right to be in the assembly? What constituted the legal right for each deputy to be the member of that assembly? – brilliant Dec 22 '14 at 2:01
  • @brilliant The national assembly of the Estates Generale was convoked in 1789 by the king to raise money. No such assembly had been called before since 1614. The command to assemble is called the "Reglement". For commoners, each tax district elected one guy. For clergy and nobles, each judicial district elected one deputy each. The "credentials" would be documents from the electoral board in the district certifying that the person in question had, indeed, been elected and did represent the district. – Tyler Durden Dec 22 '14 at 2:47

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