The Oath was a pledge signed by 576 out of the 577 members from the Third Estate and a few members of the First Estate during a meeting of the Estates-General on 20 June 1789 in a tennis court building near the Palace of Versailles. A 35th anniversary edition of a classic work from a celebrated American poet who has received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. John Ashbery's second book, The Tennis Court Oath, first published by Wesleyan in 1962, remains a touchstone of contemporary avant-garde poetry.
The King had declared the activities of the Third Estate illegal and refused to recognize the "National Assembly." Meeting in defiance at an indoor tennis court at Versailles, the Third Estate swore not to separate until a constitution had been written for France. Only one delegate dissented. Their oath is known as the Tennis Court Oath.
Hearing of the oath, the King called a meeting of all three orders. At the end of the meeting he ordered the Third Estate to disperse. They refused. One of the delegates declared that "We are here at the will of the people, . . . and . . . shall not stir from our seats unless forced to do so by bayonets." The King was unwilling to use force and eventually ordered the first and second estates to join the new National Assembly. The Third Estate had won.