Revolution and the failure of constitutional monarchy, 1789-93

The Great Fear and the abolition of feudalism

  •  Between July and August 1789, uprisings reported in every province except Alsace, Brittany and Lorraine
  • Peasants took up arms against manors of their lords, target perceived sources of oppression
  • La Grande Peur - a fear of aristocracy conspiracy, rumour had it that nobility were gathering militia forces to suppress peasantry in an attemot to overturn the revolution and defend their power
  • Constituent Assembly increasingly concerned with nationwide turmoil
  • National Guard deployed to defend threatened nobility properties
  • Further attempt to stop unrest, CA began considering abolition of feudalism
  • Duc d'Aiguillon one of French liberal landowners, encouraged noblemen to declare end to feudalism on their hands (4th August 1789)
  • August Decrees (4th-11th Aug): abolished many nobility privileges, eg. venality (purchase of titles and official positions), Church, military and civil service open to all, equality of taxation across the three estates as well as attack on feudal privileges and end to tithe payment
  • Decrees a statement of intent rather than an action, promise to cast aside the noble privileges of the ancien régime and promise a more equal society
1 of 17

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Ci

  • Constituent Assembly issue Declaration on 26 August 1789
  • 'Death-warrant of the system of privilege' - Alfred Cobban
  • Not a constitution, rather a list of principles and core values to underpin a new constitution
  • Mainly attributed to Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson (key author of the American Declaration of Independence in 1776)
  • Ideas of Abbé Sieyès evident fron 'Qu'est-ce que le tiers état?'
  • Article One - 'Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good'
  • Article Three - 'The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation'
2 of 17

The October Days and the march on Versailles

  • 5th August 1789 - King Louis refused to sanction the August Decrees
  • Bread prices hadn't dropped, radicals continued agitating crowds and Lafayette's National Guard struggled to keep law and order
  • Louis voiced objections to DOTROTMAOTC in October
  • Distrust in monarchy compounded when Marat's 'L'ami du peuple' and Camille Desmoulins' 'Les Révolutions de France' reported rumour of Louis' officers trampling a revolutionary cockade at a state banquet, triggered a 6-7,000 strong demonstration led largely by women at Hôtel de Ville, women following an AR tradition of common market women marching to Versailles palace from Paris to present royal family with flwrs, instead sticks and knives
  • Marie Antoinette survived by fleeing to King's private apartment after hers ransacked by protestors, Lafayette with National Guard convinced Louis to agree to move royal court to Paris immediately in attempt to please mob
  • October Days forced royal family to relinquish residence and move to Tuileries, deputies of CA had to move from Versailles as well, increasing influence of the Parisian mob
  • 56 monarchist deputies refused to attend Assembly meetings in Paris out of fear of being attacked, blow to Louis' support in the CA
  • Common people of Paris had taken political matters into their own hands
3 of 17

Monarchial reform under the Constituent Assembly

  • Days of absolute monarchy, although general agreement in the CA that monarchy should remain
  • Hereditary principle of monarchy upheld, retained the right to appoint ministers, ambassadors and military commanders
  • Granted 25 million livres to allow royal family to live in a manner befitting of status
  • Stripped of significant legislative power
  • King could no longer initiate new laws or taxes, had to now be written and sanctioned by elected CA
  • Completely powerless in terms of taxation
  • Given power of a suspensive veto, allowing him to delay or suspend laws created by CA for up to 4 years
  • Power of veto caused serious problems in 1792
4 of 17

Political reform under the Constituent Assembly

  • CA deputies keen to see that those involved in popular protest didn't have direct role in govt and the idea of universal suffrage was dismissed
  • December 1789 law - vote awarded to only male citizens aged over 25 who paid the equivalent of three days' unskilled labour in local taxes (only 61% of men enfranchised)
  • Those who had franchise 'active' citizens, non-voters 'passive' citizens
  • Even most active citizens couldn't elect CA deputies
  • Primary Assemblies determine CA 'electors', a candidate had to pay equivalent of 10 days' labour to stand as elector, electors would vote in secondary assemblies, CA deputies voted once every two years
  • Individual had to pay one silver mark in taxes to stand as deputy
  • Only 50% of male citizens could afford to be an elector and fewer than 10% wealthy enough to stand as CA deputy
  • Far cry from revolutionary priniciple of equality, but reforms a major step forward in context of ancien régime and far wider proportion of population enfranchised than in Britain whose political system had been held in high regard by many of the philosophes including Voltaire
5 of 17

Economic reform under the Constituent Assembly

  • Summer of 1789, CA swept away many unpopular taxes and economic burdens of pre-revolutionary France such as the taille, gabelle, tithes, feudal dues and internal customs duties by end of 1789
  • State monopolies and tax farming also eliminated
  • Particular benefit to peasant landowners who had to pay land tax and bourgeoisie who had suffered effects of custom barriers and monopolies
  • 2 November 1789 - CA nationalised all land belonging to Catholic Church, then proceeded to approve the sale of land belonging to émigrés, resulting in auctioning of 400 million livres' worth of land to treat concerning shortfall caused by tax system transition
  • Half of above lands purchased by bourgeoisie who leased small plots to peasantry, peasants bought significant proportion of land, accumulating greater wealth with tithes and dues abolished
  • In order to purchase biens nationaux, prospective buyers bought bonds called assignats, became used as paper currency, overprinting led to depreciation and inflation
  • January 1791 - new system of taxation: 1) tax on transfer of goods (not payable by passive citizens, protect poorest classes), 2) tax on commericial/business profits and a universal land tax
6 of 17

Religious reform under the Constituent Assembly

  • Bishops condemned CA's decision to sell church lands, denouced buyers as being in league with the devil
  • Church provided only education and healthcare that the less wealthy could afford, as Church wealth waned through land confiscations and the abolition of the tithe, these institutions as a consequence
  • 12th July 1790 - Civil Constitution of the Clergy, put Church under state control, priests and bishops to be paid by the state and to be elected by French citizens, major challenge to the authority of the Pope (God's representative on Earth and therefore only he and those acting with his blessing had the right to appoint priests and bishops) - Pope Pius VI condemned CCC in April 1791, encyclical of condemnation and suspension of all clergy who took the oath
  • 27 November 1790 - CA insisted that all priests swear an oath of allegiance to the Assembly and Constitution, only 7/83 bishops took oath and over half all parish priests refused, those who refused known as 'refractory priests', would find themselves persecuted in coming years, many fled or arrested 
  • Legislative Assembly would ban all refractory priests on 27 April 1792, but many remained in opposition, Protestants (1789) and Jews (1791) granted full civil rights
7 of 17

Other reform under the Constituent Assembly

  • Removal of restricitions on the press and ended press censorship
  • Left Assembly vulnerable to attacks from the radical press
  • Abolition of parlements (August 1790) and much-despised 'lettres de cachet'
  • Judicial institutions replaced by introduction of Justices of the Peace (JPs)
  • France's administrative regions restructured, country being divided into 83 departments
  • Active citizens of each department would elect a JP, JP would oversee law and order for that region
  • All citizens would be tried in the same type of trial, against the same laws and with a jury present
8 of 17

The Jacobin Club and Maximilien Robespierre

  • Most famous political faction of the French Revolution, closely associated with violence and extremism of the radical period
  • Jacobins not originally radical, convened at a former covent of the Jacobin religious order (hence the name)
  • Aimed to preserve gains of the revolution, ensure stability of Paris, in order to protect property and interests of the bourgeoisie
  • Charged high entrance fees and tended to be supported by wealthy liberal constitutional monarchists
  • 1,200 members in Paris and 152 affiliated clubs across France by July 1790
  • In July 1791, significant split in the Jacobin Club following flight to Varennes, Maximilien Robespierre demanded removal of King and seperated from moderate faction (Feuillants)
  • Robespierre elected President of the club in March 1790
  • Had been a man of standing in Arras, driven by a genuine sense of liberal justice, developed craft of a proficient orator, spoke more than 500 times during the life of the Constituent Assembly, believed that CA deputies should dedicate themselves to work for people rather than personal gain, denounced influence of luxuries, drinking and women (rented one room from a Parisian working family's house)
9 of 17

Cordeliers Club and Georges-Jacques Danton

  • Met in a former religious building in the radical Parisian district Cordeliers
  • Established in 1790
  • The club was formed in the belief that the CA reforms fell far short of the prinicples enshrined in the DOTROTMAOTC
  • Opposed distinction between active and passive citizens, called for direct democracy, universal male suffrage shoud determine CA deputies, supported right of popular action including insurrection if the government acted contrary to revolution ideals
  • At only two sols a month, membership fee within reach of most Parisians, barring only the very poor, considerably cheaper than Jacobin club
  • Still attracted wealthier and better-educated members of the public
  • Desmoulins, Marat, Danton and Brissot some of the most notable regular speakers
  • Georges-Jacques Danton enrolled for National Guard in Cordeliers district, rose to become commander
  • Acquired minor position in the Paris Commune
  • More of a local figure than Robespierre, closer ties with the sans-culottes, established the club in Spring 1790 in response to feeling that CA didn't represent lower class interests
  • Renowned for excessive drinking, fine clothes, expensive luxuries, drinking and women
10 of 17

Jacques-Pierre Brissot and the Girondins

  • Brissot son of a pastry chef from Chartres, experienced grinding poverty in younger years and lived hand to mouth as a writer
  • Worked as a pamphleteer, authoring liberal texts, arguing for abolition of slavery , moved to Paris and launched his newspaper, Le Patriote Français, one of most successful in Paris
  • Brissot a committed republican, argued for complete abolition of the monarchy
  • Three of Brissot's close associates came from the Gironde region, hence the name of the loosely-formed faction of 'The Girondins'
  • Brissot was also a leading member of the diplomatic committee of the Legislative Assembly, pushing for war against Austria in late 1791 and early 1792, seeing war as for the good of the French people and humanity at large
11 of 17

Popular protests and the sans-culottes

  • Economic conditions in Paris continued to decline, inflation soared, bad harvest (1791) caused bread prices to rise even higher, resulting in a wave of strikes and riots in 1791 and the deployment of Lafayette's National Guard to maintain order in the city
  • Parisian rioters and demonstrators known as sans-culottes, so-named as they worte a simpler style of trousers to the culottes worn by wealthier bourgeoisie and nobility
  • Essentially workers of the city: craftsmen, tradespeople, shop owners and their employees
  • In local government reforms of 1790, Paris divided into 48 sections and sans-culottes tended to be organised from within these sections
  • Unrest on Parisian streets both a cause and consequece of increasing radicalism of political clubs and men like Danton, Desmoulins and Marat
  • Demonstrators, strikers and rioters fuelled by agitators and radical press who added legitimacy to revolutionary cause (equality not gone far enough was common belief)
  • 1789-95, a distinct Parisian revolutionary culture emerged besides the political clubs and radical press
  • Revolutionary fashion code: bright colours and long, curly hair declined in popularity as associated with aristocracy for red bonnet, striped long trousers and short straight hair
  • 'Citoyen' used as more egalitarian title than traditional 'monsieur'/'madame'
12 of 17

Mirabeau and royalist support

  • Mirabeau and Lafayette strong leaders in support of constitutional monarchy
  • Comte de Mirabeau, Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, had aristocratic blood although had opposed traditions of ancien régime, twice imprisoned through lettres de cachet (attacked arbitrary arrest in 'Of Lettres de Cachet and State Prisons')
  • Avid opponent of both despotism and republicanism: believed monarchy should remain and share power with an elected assembly, worked closely with royal family in trying to reach a compromise between the desires of the more radical deputies and monarchy itself (rumoured to have been paid by the royal family to support its position in France)
  • Mirabeau denounced violence in Paris (civil chaos), opposed 'radical' DOTROTMAOTC
  • Lafayette tried to prevent radicalism and unrest via National Guard
  • Adrien Duport, Antoine Barnave and Alexandre, Comte de Lameth (the 'triumvirate') influential in trying to find compromise the king and lead Assembly in continuing to pursue the cause of moderate constitutional monarchy
  • In 1790, the Monarchy Club was established in Paris, a counter-revolutionary club seeking links with émigrés and producing propaganda to counter left-wing Cordeliers, tried to create a network of affiliated clubs across France
  • By Spring 1792, these clubs ceased to exist due to lack of popularity and Jacobins
13 of 17

The Flight to Varennes

  • 20th-21st June 1791
  • Louis had planned to get to the Belgian border, to a French frontier town called Montmédy: Belgium was ruled as part of the Austrian Netherlands, so family could seek to find protection in the name of his wife's family and from a number of influentual émigrés residing there
  • Had only got as far as 160km to the town of Varennes where they were recognised by a postmaster who reported him to the National Guard
  • The royal family was arrested and escorted back to Paris among procession of military and civillian personnel
  • Key reason - appalled by the CCC especially when couldn't attend Easter Mass as a devout Catholic due to the priest being refractory
  • Also felt that support waning in the CA following Mirabeau's death
  • Posters displayed "Whoever applauds the King shall be flogged. Whoever insults him shall be hanged", ensured immense yet silent crowd
  • "The Flight to Varennes had finally torn off the mask and revealed him in his true colours" - Soboul
14 of 17

The emergence of republicanism

  • The political clubs of Paris intensified their protests, calling for Louis' abdication
  • Jacobins split into Jacobins (radical republicans) and Feuillants (moderate constitutional monarchists)
  • Many within the CA made the case for constitutional monarchy, although the Cordeliers and radical press led the calls for the King's abdication
  • Decided that in return for his pledge to support the new constitution, Louis' powers would be temporarily suspended until that constitution came into force (July-September 1791)
  • The flight had shown that the King himself didn't truly believe in constitutional monarchy
  • On 24 June, 30,000 people marched on the Constituent Assembly, calling for the King's dismissal
  • The King still had his supporters: Barnave led opposition in CA to calls for republicanism
  • 290 deputies had abstained from voting on the proposal to suspend the King's power, in protest at an action that they feared would only further fuel the republican cause
15 of 17

Counter-revolutionary activity

  • Rumours of an 'Austrian Committee', belief of a group of traitors led by the royal family (in particular Marie Antoinette) who sought to restore King's power through Austrian intervention
  • Traitors included refractory priests, émigrés and anyone deemed too royalist
  • Barnave and Lafayette examples of targets of accusations
  • 17 July 1791 - Champs de Mars massacre, between 6-50,000 in support of a Cordeliers petition demanding the King's abdication, 10,000 strong National Guard led by Lafayette brutally attempted to disperse the crowd, claimed the lives of some 60 demonstrators and led to a further 200 arrests
  • Resulted in strong clampdown from CA, Paris Commune declared martial law (suspending civil liberties of Parisians) following pressure from CA. Freedom of press curtailed, printing presses shut down and radical journalists such as Marat and Desmoulins went into hiding alongside Danton who fled
  • Suppression of Cordeliers, republicans and radical press could suggest victory for moderates, although events of June and July 1791 represent increasing gap between CA attitudes and those of popular societies and clubs as well as the sans-culottes
16 of 17

Divisions in the Legislative Assembly

  • New constitution came into force in September 1791 and Constituent Assembly (CA) dissolved to be replaced by the Legislative Assembly (LA), a body that ruled France for just one year and consisted entirely of new deputies
  • Due to a self-denying ordinance proposed by Robespierre in an attempt to undermine his opponents, stating that no deputy who served in the CA could in the LA
  • Of 745 elected deputies, 264 Feuillants and only 136 Jacobins and Girondins
  • Brissot a strong republican elected to LA, undermine moderates by fighting to win over unaligned deputies to his cause
  • Girondins - radical, based on Englightened ideas, denouncing émigrés and supporting anticlericalism
  • Lafayette and Barnave excluded from LA due to self-denying ordinance, so mood of deputies began to move to the left
  • Dominating influence of Girondins exemplified by success in driving forward the argument for war against Austria
17 of 17

Comments

No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all France in revolution, 1774-99 resources »