L'Assemblee Nationale, Paris, France
N 48° 51.738 E 002° 19.158
31U E 450074 N 5412371
Quick Description: The lower house of the French national parliament is housed in the building called the Palais Bourbon in a prominent location off the place de la Concorde.
Date Posted: 10/15/2006 9:49:21 AM
Waymark Code: WMV9H
The Palais Bourbon was built at the beginning of the eighteenth century by Louise Françoise de Bourbon, the legitimized daughter of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. The work was entrusted to the Italian architect Giardini and approved by Hardouin Mansart; construction started in 1722. After Giardini's death in 1724 work was continued under Jacques Gabriel and finished in 1728. The palace was enlarged and transformed in 1765 by the prince de Condé, grandson of the duchesse de Bourbon. Soufflot, who directed the work, introduced a degree of austerity into the original plans of Mansart and Gabriel.
At the Revolution the palace was declared national property. It was little used at first but in 1795 was assigned to the Council of the Five Hundred, which met there from 1798. The chamber built for the Council was the first in France to be used for a legislative assembly on a long-term basis. It was occupied by the Legislative Body during the Consulate and the Empire. Fontanes, President of the Legislative Body, had the present north front of the palace built in the style of the church of the Madeleine.
At the time of the Restoration, the Chamber of Deputies rented a large part of the palace from the prince de Condé upon his return to the country. The palace was bought from his son in 1827. The Chamber of Deputies was then able to undertake major work - reconstruction of the chamber, rearrangement of access corridors and adjoining rooms, installation of the library in a suitable setting. The decoration of the library and one of the salons was entrusted to Delacroix.
While this work was going on the Chamber of Deputies met provisionally in the Salle de Bois. This was where Louis Philippe swore to uphold the Constitutional Charter on 9 August 1830.
Since the new chamber was inaugurated in 1832 all of France's first parliamentary assemblies have sat there except under the Second Republic (when the members of the Constituent Assembly were so numerous that a temporary chamber had to be set up in the main courtyard), from 1871 to 1879 (when the Palace of Versailles was preferred), and during the Second World War.
The history of France's parliament over the last two centuries is closely linked with the history of democracy and the chequered path it has followed before finding its culmination in today's institutions.
The French have regularly elected their representatives since 1789, but how they have elected them and what powers they have given them have varied considerably over time: periods in which parliament was in decline generally coincided with a decline in public freedoms.
The names given to parliament are not without significance. `National Assembly' was the name chosen in the fervour of 1789, but it failed to reappear (apart from the short episode of 1848) till 1946. In the intervening years, designations of varying degrees of dilution (`Chamber of Representatives', Legislative Body', `Chamber of Deputies') reflected the reticence-hostility even-of those in power towards the principle of the sovereignty of the people.
On 17 June 1789, one month after the Estates-General met at Versailles, the members of the third estate declared themselves to be the `National Assembly', since they represented at least 96% of the nation. They took sovereign powers in respect of taxation and decided to frame a constitution restricting the powers of the king. Henceforth, sovereignty was to reside not in the person of the monarch but in the nation, which would exercize it through the representatives it elected. This revolutionary idea was expressed in the 1791 and 1795 constitutions.
Under the 1791 Constitution the Legislative Assembly was elected for one year by restricted suffrage and was empowered to enact laws and raise taxes, determine public expenditure, ratify treaties and declare war. It sat as of right and could not be dissolved. The king held executive power but could block statutes enacted by the Assembly for no more than two years.
After the suspension of Louis XVI on 10 August 1792 a new assembly was elected by universal suffrage. It was called a `Convention' on the American model and was required to draw up a republican constitution. The first constitution was passed in 1793 but never came into operation.
Under the Constitution of the Year III (1795) legislative power was shared by two chambers, elected for three years by restricted suffrage (a Council of Five Hundred, which had power to initiate laws, and a Council of Ancients), with an executive of five, the Directory.
After four years of severe political instability the coup de grâce came on 18 Brumaire Year VIII (9 November 1799), when Bonaparte took power and parliament was eclipsed for many years.
By the Constitution of the Year VIII (1799) France's legislature under the Consulate and the First Empire was divided into four assemblies (Conseil d'Etat, Tribunat, Corps législatif and Sénat), none of them elected by direct suffrage. This furthered the omnipotence of the executive, concentrated in the hands of Napoleon.
The Charter granted by Louis XVIII in 1814 restored royal sovereignty, slightly attenuated by the existence of a bicameral parliament-a Chamber of Deputies elected for five years by restricted suffrage and a Chamber of Peers (hereditary or life). But the chambers could be convened and adjourned as the king wished; they had no power of initiative or any means of influencing the Government. They had only a semblance of power.
After the 1830 revolution a new notion of sovereignty became clear: the Charter was not granted but was passed by the Chamber and accepted by the king, who pledged loyalty to it. This meant that there was a pact between the representatives of the nation and the monarch: they exercised sovereignty together.
The right to initiate legislation was restored to the two chambers. And the principle of ministerial responsibility before parliament was first established.
The republican constitution established after the 1848 revolution opposed a Legislative Assembly of 750 members to a President of the Republic, both elected by universal suffrage but neither capable of influencing the other. This excessive separation of powers resulted in the coup d'état of 2 December 1851: Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the Assembly and, by plebiscite, arrogated to himself the power to promulgate a new constitution.
The 1852 Constitution resorted again-in order to weaken national representation-to the methods tried and tested under the First Empire: an all-powerful executive (ministers appointed by the Emperor and accountable to him alone) opposed by an elected Legislative Body sharing diminished powers with a Council of State (made up of civil servants) and a Senate (whose members were appointed for life). These institutions failed to survive the defeat of 1870. After the fall of the Empire the Assembly elected on 8 February 1871, meeting first in Bordeaux and then in Versailles until 1879, passed the constitutional acts of 1875 which were to govern France for sixty-five years and provide the true foundation for the nation's parliamentary system.
By the constitutional acts of 1875 legislative powers were shared by the Chamber of Deputies, elected by direct universal suffrage for four years, and the Senate, elected by indirect suffrage for nine years. The two houses had extensive powers both in initiating legislation and in supervising the Government, which was accountable to Parliament. In practice this latter power was exercised mostly by the Chamber of Deputies. The President of the Republic could dissolve the Chamber, but this power was no longer used after 1877. The Third Republic was marked by much ministerial instability and, paradoxically, between the wars, by frequent delegations of legislative power to the Government.
On 10 July 1940 the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate met as the National Assembly at Vichy and granted full powers to Marshal Pétain (though eighty members voted against). There was no organization representing the will of the nation from then until August 1944, when the Provisional Government set up a Consultative Assembly. An elected Constituent Assembly then determined the institutions of the Fourth Republic.
Fourth and Fifth Republics
The Constitution of 27 October 1946, like its predecessor, established parliamentary sovereignty and the pre-eminence of the legislature.
The National Assembly, elected by proportional representation, had more extensive powers than the Council of the Republic. It could determine how long it could sit and its order of business, and it alone could overturn the Government. On the other hand, the Government could dissolve the Assembly, but this was subject to particularly strict conditions which were met only once, in 1955, under the Edgar Faure administration. Helped by an electoral system that militated against homogeneous political majorities, ministerial instability was again to be the rule until General de Gaulle returned to power in May 1958 and institutions were put in place that determined parliamentary powers much more strictly.
Type of Capitol: National
126 rue Universite
Dates of Construction: 1728
Hours: Best visited during the Journées du Patrimoine in mid-September
Capitol Web Site: [Web Link]
Major Renovations: Not listed
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