Reforms of the French Constitution 1791


Basic Facts of the Constitution

  • It was a liberal document (tolerant and free thinking). 
  • It was written by and in the interests of the bourgeiosie (middle class). 
  • It established a Constitutional Monarchy which replaced the   Absolute Monarchy of the Ancien Regime. 
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The Role of the King

  • Louis was now subject to the law of France, like everyone else. 
  • Louis was now the 'King of the French' as opposed to his former status 'King of France'.
  • Louis was given a 'civil list' which gave him access to a financial allowance, replacing his unlimited access to money before the Constitution. 
  • Louis could still choose his ministers, but they had to be chosen from men who were not part of the National Assembly. 
  • Louis could no longer start or end a war without the permission of the National Assembly. 
  • Louis had a 'Suspensive Veto' - meaning he could reject a new law passed by the National Assembly, but only for a finite period of time. The veto excluded financial and constitutional laws. 
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Local Government Reforms

  • The old system of generalities and intendents was abolished. 
  • France was divided into 83 departments of equal size. 
  • Each department was governed by a local elected council. 
  • Paris was divided into 48 sections and had its own Municipal Council to make decisions concerning the city. 
  • Power had been decentralised and essentially passed into the hands of the local bourgeoisie. 
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Reform of the Legal System

  • Specialised courts such as ecclesiastical courts, seigneural courts and Parlements were abolished. 
  • A Tribunal System replaced the specialised courts, which could be used by anyone. 
  • At the head of the legal system were the Court of Appeal and the High Court. 
  • Juries were elected and Judges were elected from lawyers. 
  • Every citizen was given the right to a court trial within 24 hours of their arrest, the right to a lawyer and the right to a public judgement. 
  • Venality was abolished (the selling of jobs and titles). 
  • The Guillotine replaced all other forms of execution. 
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Abolition of Nobility

  • The National Assembly declared that the nobility was to be abolished in 1790. 
  • As a result of this, the nobility lost all their titles, privileges and tax exemptions. 
  • The aristocracy ceased to exist and all men were now equal as active or passive citizens. 
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Religious Reforms - Civil Constitution of the Cler

  • The religious reforms caused more problems than any other reforms made by the National Assembly. 
  • The Civil Constitution of the Clergy (CCC) is said to have started the 'Counter Revolutionary Movement'. 
  • On the Night of the 4th of August (1789) all Tithes were abolished, church land was nationalised and clergymen were to receive fixed salaries. 
  • The CCC was released by the Assembly in 1790. 
  • The CCC meant that there was to be one bishop in each Department. 
  • The CCC stated that members of the clergy would be elected by their superiors in the clerical hierarchy. 
  • Whereas before, the Pope had the power to choose bishops and priests, now he had no control over positions within the clergy, and as a result, he condemned the revolution. 
  • In November of 1790, the National Assembly declared that all members of the clergy must take an oath of loyalty to the CCC - agreeing to the reforms it made.
  • Those who took the oath were seen to agree with the revolution. 
  • Those who refused to take the oath were known as refractory priests and were associated with the 'Counter Revolutionary Movement'.
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Financial Reforms

  • The financial system of the Ancien Regime was abolished in 1789. This included indirect taxes (Gabelle, Taille, Aides), customs barriers and tax exemptions.
  • The 3 new taxes of the Constitution were property tax, trade/commerce tax and land tax. 
  • Collection of taxes was to be carried out by local councils. 
  • The National Treasury was set up to store and handle money. 
  • The 'assignat' was introduced to save the National Assembly from financial difficulties. The 'assignat' was a form of paper money or bond. 
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