The 5th of May, 1789, was fixed for the opening of the states-general. A religious ceremony on the previous day prefaced their installation. The king, his family, his ministers, the deputies of the three orders, went in procession from the church of Notre-Dame to that of Saint Louis, to hear the opening mass. Men did not without enthusiasm see the return of a national ceremony of which France had for so long a period been deprived. It had all the appearance of a festival. An enormous multitude flocked from all parts to Versailles; the weather was splendid; they had been lavish of the pomp of decoration. The excitement of the music, the kind and satisfied expression of the king, the beauty and demeanour of the queen, and, as much as anything, the general hope, exalted every one. But the etiquette, costumes, and order of the ranks of the states in 1614, were seen with regret. The clergy, in cassocks, large cloaks, and square caps, or in violet robes and lawn sleeves, occupied the first place. Then came the nobles, attired in black coats with waistcoats and facings of cloth of gold, lace cravats, and hats with white plumes, turned up in the fashion of Henry IV. The modest third estate came last, clothed in black, with short cloaks, muslin cravats, and hats without feathers or loops. In the church, the same distinction as to places existed between the three orders.

The royal session took place the following day in the Salle des Menus. Galleries, arranged in the form of an amphitheatre, were filled with spectators. The deputies were summoned and introduced according to the order established in 1614. The clergy were conducted to the right, the nobility to the left, and the commons in front of the throne at the end of the hall. The deputations from Dauphine, from Crepi in Valois, to which the duke of Orleans belonged, and from Provence, were received with loud applause. Necker was also received on his entrance with general enthusiasm. Public favour was testified towards all who had contributed to the convocation of the states-general. When the deputies and ministers had taken their places, the king appeared, followed by the queen, the princes, and a brilliant suite. The hall resounded with applause on his arrival. When he came in, Louis XVI. took his seat on the throne, and when he had put on his hat, the three orders covered themselves at the same time. The commons, contrary to the custom of the ancient states, imitated the nobility and clergy, without hesitation: the time when the third order should remain uncovered and speak kneeling was gone by. The king's speech was then expected in profound silence. Men were eager to know the true feeling of the government with regard to the states. Did it purpose assimilating the new assembly to the ancient, or to grant it the part which the necessities of the state and the importance of the occasion assigned to it?

"Gentlemen," said the king, with emotion, "the day I have so anxiously expected has at length arrived, and I see around me the representatives of the nation which I glory in governing. A long interval had elapsed since the last session of the states-general, and although the convocation of these assemblies seemed to have fallen into disuse, I did not hesitate to restore a custom from which the kingdom might derive new force, and which might open to the nation a new source of happiness."

These words which promised much, were only followed by explanations as to the debt and announcements of retrenchment in the expenditure. The king, instead of wisely tracing out to the states the course they ought to follow, urged the orders to union, expressed his want of money, his dread of innovations, and complained of the uneasiness of the public mind, without suggesting any means of satisfying it. He was nevertheless very much applauded when he delivered at the close of his discourse the following words, which fully described his intentions: "All that can be expected from the dearest interest in the public welfare, all that can be required of a sovereign, the first friend of his people; you may and ought to hope from my sentiments. That a happy spirit of union may pervade this assembly, gentlemen, and that this may be an ever memorable epoch for the happiness and prosperity of the kingdom, is the wish of my heart, the most ardent of my desires; it is, in a word, the reward which I expect for the uprightness of my intentions, and my love of my subjects."