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French Revolution

(M. Aamir Sultan)

The French Revolution (French: Rvolution franaise; 178999) was a period of radical social and political upheaval in French and European history. The absolute monarchy collapsed in three years. French society underwent an epic transformation as feudal, aristocratic and religious privileges evaporated under a sustained assault from liberal political groups and the masses on the streets. The French Revolution (1789-99) violently transformed France from a monarchical state with a rigid social hierarchy into a modern nation in which the social structure was loosened and power passed increasingly to the middle classes. Condition of France before Revolution Peasants were victimized by heavy taxation - taxes were necessary to pay for the costs of war, something that had already consumed the French government for an entire century. So, the peasants paid taxes to the king, taxes to the church, taxes and dues to the lord of the manor, as well as numerous indirect taxes on wine, salt, and bread. Furthermore, the peasants also owed their lord a labor obligation. And throughout the 18th century, the price of rent was always increasing, as did the duties levied on goods sold in markets and fairs. By 1789, the plight of the French peasant was obvious. Taxes were increased as was rent. Peasants continued to use antiquated methods of agriculture. The price of bread soared and overall, prices continued to rise at a quicker rate than wages. To make matters worse, there was the poor harvest of 1788/89. The urban workers or artisans, as a group, consisted of all journeymen, factory workers and wage earners. The urban poor also lived in poverty, a poverty that was intensified by 1789. By that time, wages had increased by 22% while the cost of living increased 62%." The causes of the Revolution: 1. Economic factors included hunger and malnutrition in the most destitute segments of the population, due to rising bread prices. (50%) Another cause may have been France's near bankruptcy as a result of the many wars fought by previous rulers, as well as the financial strain caused by French participation in the American Revolutionary War. The national debt amounted to almost 2 billion livres. The social burdens caused by war included the huge war debt, made worse by the loss of France's colonial possessions in North America and the growing commercial dominance of Great Britain. France's inefficient and antiquated financial system was unable to manage the national debt, something which was both partially caused and exacerbated by the burden of an inadequate system of taxation. To obtain new money to head off default on the government's loans, the king called an Assembly of Notables in 1787. France's government under King Louis XVI secretly provided supplies, ammunition and weapons to the revolutionaries starting in 1776, and the Continentals' capture of a British army in 1777 led France to openly enter the war in early 1778. French involvement proved decisive, with a French Naval victory in the Chesapeake (Battle of the Capes) leading at Yorktown in 1781. (after the Siege of Yorktown. The major consequence of Cornwallis's surrender was the beginning of negotiations that eventually resulted in peace and British recognition of the independent United States of America.)

France sent large land and naval forces, to help the Americans. French aid proved decisive in forcing the main British army to surrender in 1781. The Americans gained their independence, and the war ministry rebuilt the French army. The war cost 1,066 million livres, a huge sum, that was financed by new loans at high interest rates, but no new taxes were imposed. Necker concealed the crisis from the public by explaining only that ordinary revenues exceeded ordinary expenses, and by not mentioning the loans at all. King Louis XVI was an absolute monarch, in practice he was often indecisive and known to back down when faced with strong opposition. Those who were opposed to Louis' policies further undermined royal authority by distributing pamphlets (often reporting false or exaggerated information) that criticized the government and its officials, stirring up public opinion against the monarchy.

Causes of the French Revolution

Political and Social Inequalities France still practised feudalism in the 18th century. The nobles and clergy enjoyed special privileges. They did not have to pay taxes. The common people did not have power and freedom in politics. They worked hard and had to pay heavy taxes. The nobles and clergy made up the First and Second Estates in the Estates General. The common people (i.e. the middle class (bourgeoisie), peasants and artisans) made up the Third Estate. The nobles and clergy could outvote the common people easily though the Estates General was always not called by the king, who ruled as an absolute monarch. The common people became discontented with the privileged classes. Bankruptcy of the Government Louis XIV had spent too much. His successors did not cut down expenses. Louis XVI also failed to improve the financial situation. He dismissed ministers who tried to introduce financial reforms. By 1789, the government was bankrupt. Influence of the Enlightenment and the American Revolution The ideas and writings of Enlightenment thinkers like Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau became widespread. The French people were inspired to go against their king. The suucess of the Americans to overthrow British rule encouraged the French to fight for their freedom. Outbreak of revolution 1789 When Louis XVI finally called the Estates General to solve financial difficulties, the Third Estate did not agree with the unfair system of the Estates General. They formed the National Assembly to make a constitution. People were afraid that the king would suppress the National Assembly. They were also discontented that the king dismissed Necker, the popular Finance Minister. The hungry Parisians, who suffered from bad harvest, burst out their anger by attacking the Bastille prison (for political prisoners). The Fall of Bastille started the French Revolution. It spread out to other parts of France.

Estates-General of 1789

The Estates-General was organized into three estates, respectively: the clergy, the nobility, and the rest of France. On the last occasion that the Estates-General had met, in 1614, each estate held one vote, and any two could override the third. in the province of Dauphin the provincial assembly agreed to double the number of members of the third estate, hold membership elections, and allow one vote per member, rather than one vote per estate. The "Committee of Thirty," a body of liberal Parisians, began to agitate against voting by estate. This group, largely composed of the wealthy, argued for the Estates-General to assume the voting mechanisms of Dauphin. They argued that ancient precedent was not sufficient, because "the people were sovereign." Necker convened a Second Assembly of the Notables, which rejected the notion of double representation by a vote of 111 to 333. The King, however, agreed to the proposition on 27 December; but he left discussion of the weight of each vote to the Estates-General itself. Elections were held in the spring of 1789; suffrage requirements for the Third Estate were for French-born or naturalised males only, at least 25 years of age, who resided where the vote was to take place and who paid taxes. Strong turnout produced 1,201 delegates, including: "291 nobles, 300 clergy, and 610 members of the Third Estate." To lead delegates, "Books of grievances" were compiled to list problems. The books articulated ideas which would have seemed radical only months before; however, most supported the monarchical system in general. Many assumed the Estates-General would approve future taxes, and Enlightenment ideals were relatively rare. Pamphlets by liberal nobles and clergy became widespread after the lifting of press censorship. The Abbe Sieyes, argued the importance of the Third Estate in the pamphlet What is the Third Estate?, published in January 1789. He asserted: "What is the Third Estate? Everything. What has it been until now in the political order? Nothing. What does it want to be? Something." 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 basic strategy of the Third Estate was to make sure that no decisions of the Estates-General should be reached in separate chambers, but instead should be made by all deputies from all three estates together (in other words, the strategy was to merge all three estates into one assembly). Thus they demanded that the verification of deputies' credentials should be undertaken in common by all deputies, rather than each estate verifying the credentials of its own members internally; negotiations with the other estates failed to achieve this. The commoners appealed to the clergy who replied they required more time. Necker asserted that each estate verify credentials and "the king was to act as arbitrator." Negotiations with the other two estates to achieve this, however, were unsuccessful.

National Assembly (1789)

On 10 June 1789 Abb Sieys moved that the Third Estate, now meeting as the Communes (English: "Commons"), proceed with verification of its own powers and invite the other two estates to take part, but not to wait for them. They proceeded to do so two days later, completing the process on 17 June. Then they voted a measure far more radical, declaring themselves the National Assembly not of the Estates but of "the People." They invited the other orders to join them, but made it clear they intended to conduct the nation's affairs with or without them. In an attempt to keep control of the process and prevent the Assembly from convening, Louis XVI ordered the closure of the Salle des tats where the Assembly met, making an excuse that the carpenters needed to prepare the hall for a royal speech in two days. Weather did not allow an outdoor meeting, so the Assembly moved their deliberations to a nearby indoor tennis court, where they proceeded to swear the Oath of the Tennis Court (20 June 1789), under which they agreed not to separate until they had given France a Constitution. A majority of the representatives of the clergy soon joined them, as did 47 members of the nobility. By 27 June, the royal party had overtly given

in, although the military began to arrive in large numbers around Paris and Versailles. Messages of support for the Assembly poured in from Paris and other French cities.

National Constituent Assembly (17891791)

Storming of the Bastille
By this time, Necker had earned the enmity of many members of the French court for his overt manipulation of public opinion.Marie Antoinette the King's younger brother the Comte D Artois and other conservative members of the King's privy council urged him to dismiss Necker as financial advisor. On 11 July 1789, after Necker published an inaccurate account of the government's debts and made it available to the public, the King fired him, and completely restructured the finance ministry at the same time. Many Parisians presumed Louis's actions to be the start of a royal action against the Assembly and began open rebellion when they heard the news the next day. They were also afraid that arriving soldiersmostly foreign mercenarieshad been summoned to shut down the National Constituent Assembly The Assembly, meeting at Versailles, went into nonstop session to prevent eviction from their meeting place once again. Paris was soon consumed by riots, chaos, and widespread looting. The mobs soon had the support of some of the French Guard who were armed and trained soldiers. On 14 July, the insurgents set their eyes on the large weapons and ammunition cache inside the ,Bastille, which was also perceived to be a symbol of royal power. After several hours of combat, the prison fell that afternoon. Despite ordering a cease fire, which prevented a mutual massacre, Governor Marquis Bernard de Launay was beaten, stabbed and decapitated; his head was placed on a pike and paraded about the city. Although the fortress had held only seven prisoners (four forgers, two noblemen kept for immoral behavior, and a murder suspect), the Bastille served as a potent symbol of everything hated under the king. Returning to the Hotel d ville (city hall), the mob accused the mayor Jacques de Flessele of treachery and he was butchered by the mob. The King, alarmed by the violence, backed down, at least for the time being. La Fayette took up command of the National Guard at Paris. Jean Sylvain Bailly, president of the Assembly at the time of the Tennis Court Oath, became the city's mayor under a new governmental structure known as the commune. Necker was recalled to power, but his triumph was short-lived. An astute financier but a less astute politician, Necker overplayed his hand by demanding and obtaining a general amnesty, losing much of the people's favor. As civil authority rapidly deteriorated, with random acts of violence and theft breaking out across the country, the nobility began to leave France as emigres, some of whom started plotting civil war and agitating for a European alliance against the Revolution. By late July, the spirit of popular sovereignty had spread throughout France. In rural areas, many commoners began to form militias and arm themselves against a foreign invasion: some attacked the Chataux of the nobility as part of a general agrarian insurrection known as "la Grande Peur" (the great feat). In addition, wild rumours and paranoia caused widespread unrest and civil disturbances that contributed to the collapse of law and order.

Working toward a constitution

On 4 August 1789 the National Constituent Assembly abolished feudalism (although at that point there had been sufficient peasant revolts to almost end feudalism already), in what is known as the

August Decress, sweeping away both the special rights of the Second Estate and the Tihes gathered by the First Estate. In the course of a few hours, nobles, clergy, towns, provinces, companies and cities lost their special privileges. On 26 August 1789, the Assembly published the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen which comprised a statement of principles rather than a constitution with legal effect. The National Constituent Assembly functioned not only as a legislature, but also as a body to draft a new constitution. Necker, Mounier, Lally-Tollendal and others argued unsuccessfully for a senate, The popular party carried the day: France would have a single, unicameral assembly. The King retained only a "suspensive veto"; he could delay the implementation of a law, but not block it absolutely. The Assembly eventually replaced the historic province with 83 departments, uniformly administered and roughly equal in area and population. Originally summoned to deal with a financial crisis, by late 1789, the Assembly had focused on other matters and only increased the deficit. Honore Mirabeau now led the move to address this matter, and the Assembly gave Necker complete financial dictatorship.

Women's March on Versailles

Fueled by rumors of a reception for the King's bodyguards on 1 October 1789 at which the national cockade had been trampled upon, on 5 October 1789 crowds of women began to assemble at Parisian markets. The women first marched to the Hotel de Ville, demanding that city officials address their concerns. The women were responding to the harsh economic situations they faced, specially bread shortages. They also demanded an end to royal efforts to block the National Assembly, and for the King and his administration to move to Paris as a sign of good faith in addressing the widespread poverty.7,000 women joined the march to Versailles. Twenty thousand National Guardsmen under the command of La Fayette responded to keep order, and members of the mob stormed the palace, killing several guards. La Fayette ultimately convinced the king to accede to the demand of the crowd that the monarchy relocate to Paris. On 6 October 1789, the King and the royal family moved from Versailles to Paris under the protection of the National Guards, thus legitimizing the National Assembly.

Royal flight to Varennes

Louis XVI, opposed to the course of the Revolution, but rejecting the potentially treacherous aid of the other monarchs of Europe, cast his lot with General Bouill, who condemned both the emigration and the Assembly, and promised him refuge and support in his camp.. On the night of 20 June 1791 the royal family fled the Tuileries Palace wearing the clothes of servants, while their servants dressed as nobles. However, late the next day, the King was recognised and arrested at Varennes. He and his family were brought back to Paris under guard, still dressed as servants. Representatives of the Assembly, met the royal family and returned with them. When they reached Paris, the crowd remained silent. The Assembly provisionally suspended the King. He and Queen Marie Antoinette remained held under guard.