French Revolution

From Metapedia

Jump to: navigation, search
Unbalanced-scales.jpg
This section or article contains text from Wikipedia which has not yet been processed. It is thus likely to contain material which does not comply with the Metapedia guide lines. You can help Metapedia by editing the article and cleaning it from bias and inappropriate wordings.

The French Revolution, often called the Revolution in France by political scientists to denote the rootless-cosmopolitan nature of the Revolution's ideals, was a period of political and social break in the political history of France and Europe as a whole from 1789 through 1799, during which the French Kingdom, an monarchy with sorted balances of power, underwent betrayal of their subservients who theirself underwent the “humanity” tenets of freemasonic conspiracy.[1]

These changes were enforced by violent turmoil, including executions and repression for instance during the Reign of Terror, and warfare involving every other major European power. Subsequent events caused by the revolution include the Napoleonic wars and two additional so-called revolutions as “modern” France took shape.

Since 1789, France has been governed by various dictatorships which were in fact all plutocracies wirepulled by the freemasonic manipulators.

Contents

Causes

See also: Abolition of the Feudal System in France 1789

Historians disagree about the political and socioeconomic nature of the Revolution. Traditional Marxist interpretations, such as that presented by Georges Lefebvre,[2] described the revolution as the result of the clash between a feudalistic noble class and the capitalist bourgeois class. Some historians argue that the old aristocratic order of the Ancien Régime succumbed to an alliance of the rising bourgeoisie, aggrieved peasants, and urban wage-earners.

Yet another interpretation asserts that the Revolution resulted when various aristocratic and bourgeois reform movements spun out of control. According to this model, these movements coincided with popular movements of the new wage-earning classes and the provincial peasantry, but any alliance between classes was contingent and incidental.

However, adherents of most historical models identify many of the same features of the Ancien Régime as being among the causes of the Revolution. Among the economic factors were:

  • Louis XV fought numerous wars bringing France upon the verge of bankruptcy, while the support provided by Louis XVI to the colonists during the American Revolution further exacerbated the precarious financial condition of the government. The national debt amounted to almost 2 billion livres. The social burdens caused by war included the huge war debt, made worse by the monarchy's military failures and ineptitude, and the lack of social services for war veterans.
  • An inefficient and antiquated financial system unable to manage the national debt, both caused and exacerbated by the burden of a grossly inequitable system of taxation.
  • The Roman Catholic Church, the largest landowner in the country, which levied a tax on crops known as the dîme. While the dîme lessened the severity of the monarchy's tax increases, it nonetheless served to worsen the plight of the poorest who faced a daily struggle with malnutrition.
  • The continued conspicuous consumption of the noble class, especially the court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette at Versailles, despite the financial burden on the populace.
  • High unemployment and high bread prices, causing more money to be spent on food and less in other areas of the economy;
  • Widespread famine and malnutrition, which increased the likelihood of disease and death, and intentional starvation in the most destitute segments of the population during the months immediately before the Revolution. The famine extended even to other parts of Europe, and was not helped by a poor transportation infrastructure for bulk foods. (Some researchers have also attributed the widespread famine to an El Niño effect.).[3]

In addition to economic factors, there were social and political factors, many of them involving resentments and aspirations given focus by the rise of Enlightenment ideals:

  • Resentment of royal absolutism;
  • Resentment by the ambitious professional and mercantile classes towards noble privileges and dominance in public life, many of whom were familiar with the lives of their peers in commercial cities in The Netherlands and Great Britain;
  • Resentment by peasants, wage-earners, and the bourgeoisie toward the traditional seigneurial privileges possessed by nobles;
  • Resentment of clerical privilege (anti-clericalism) and aspirations for freedom of religion, and resentment of aristocratic bishops by the poorer rural clergy;
  • Continued hatred for Catholic control and influence on institutions of all kinds, by the large Protestant minorities;
  • Aspirations for liberty and (especially as the Revolution progressed) republicanism;
  • Anger toward the King for firing Jacques Necker and A.R.J. Turgot (among other financial advisors), who each possessed a popular image as representatives of the people.[4]

Finally, perhaps above all, was the almost total failure of Louis XVI and his advisors to deal effectively with any of these problems.

Estates-General of 1789

The immediate trigger for the Revolution was Louis XVI’s attempts to solve the government’s worsening financial situation. In February 1787, his finance minister, Loménie de Brienne, convened an Assembly of Notables, a group of nobles, clergy, bourgeoisie, and bureaucrats selected in order to bypass the parlements. The Controller-General of Finances, Charles Alexandre de Calonne, asked this group to approve a new land tax that would, for the first time, include a tax on the property of nobles and clergy. The assembly did not approve the tax, instead demanding that Louis XVI call the Estates-General. On 8 August 1788, the King agreed to convene the Estates-General in May of 1789. By this time, Jacques Necker was in his second turn as finance minister.

As part of the preparations for the Estates-General, cahiers de doléances (books of grievances) were drawn up across France, listing the complaints of each of the orders. This process helped to generate an expectation of reform of some kind.

There was growing concern, however, that the government would attempt to gerrymander an assembly to its liking. In order to avoid this, the Parlement of Paris proclaimed that the Estates-General would have to meet according to the forms observed at its last meeting. Although it would appear that the magistrates were not specifically aware of the "forms of 1614" when they made this decision, this provoked an uproar. The 1614 Estates had consisted of equal numbers of representatives of each estate, and voting had been by order, with the First Estate (the clergy), the Second Estate (the nobility), and the Third Estate (the remainder of the population) each estate receiving one vote.

Almost immediately the "Committee of Thirty", a body of liberal Parisians, began to agitate against voting by order, arguing for a doubling of the Third Estate and voting by headcount (as had already been done in various provincial assemblies, such as Grenoble). Necker agreed that the size of the Third Estate should be doubled, but the question of voting by headcount was left for the meeting of the Estates themselves. Fueled by these disputes, resentment between the elitists and the liberals began to grow.

Pamphlets and works by liberal nobles and clergy, including the comte d'Antraigues and the Abbé Sieyès, argued the importance of the Third Estate. As Antraigues wrote, it was "the People, and the People is the foundation of the State; it is in fact the State itself". Sieyès' famous pamphlet Qu'est-ce que le tiers état? (What is the Third Estate?), published in January 1789, took the argument a step further: "What is the Third Estate? Everything. What has it been until now in the political order? Nothing. What does it want to be? Something."[5]

When the Estates-General convened in Versailles on 5 May 1789, lengthy speeches by Necker and Lamoignon, the keeper of the seals, did little to give guidance to the deputies, who were sent to separate meeting places to credential their members. The question of whether voting was ultimately to be by head or by order was again put aside for the moment, but the Third Estate now demanded that credentialing itself should take place as a group. Negotiations with the other two estates to achieve this, however, were unsuccessful, as a bare majority of the clergy and a large majority of the nobility continued to support voting by order.

National Assembly (1789)

On 10 June 1789 Abbé Sieyès 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.[6] Then they voted a measure far more radical, declaring themselves the National Assembly, an 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 États 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 real tennis court, where they proceeded to swear the Tennis Court Oath (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 forty-seven 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. On 9 July the Assembly reconstituted itself as the National Constituent Assembly.

National Constituent Assembly (1789–1791)

Storming of the Bastille

By this time, Necker had earned the enmity of many members of the French court for his support and guidance to the Third Estate. Marie Antoinette, Louis' younger brother the Comte d'Artois, and other conservative members of the king's privy council urged Louis to dismiss Necker. On 11 July, after Necker suggested that the royal family live according to a budget to conserve funds, Louis fired Necker, and completely reconstructed the finance ministry at the same time.

Many Parisians presumed Louis's actions to be the start of a royal coup by the conservatives and began open rebellion when they heard the news the next day. They were also afraid that arriving Royal soldiers had been summoned to shut down the National Constituent Assembly, which was meeting at Versailles, and the Assembly went into nonstop session to prevent eviction from their meeting place once again. Paris was soon consumed with riots, anarchy, and widespread looting. The mobs soon had the support of the French Guard, including arms and trained soldiers, because the royal leadership essentially abandoned the city.

On 14 July, the insurgents set their eyes on the large weapons and ammunition cache inside the Bastille fortress, which also served as a symbol of tyranny by the monarchy. 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 Parisians released 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 Ancien Régime. Returning to the Hôtel de Ville (city hall), the mob accused the prévôt des marchands (roughly, mayor) Jacques de Flesselles of treachery; his assassination took place en route to an ostensible trial at the Palais Royal.

Tennis Court Oath

Main article: Tennis Court Oath

The King and his military supporters backed down, at least for the time being. Lafayette 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. The King visited Paris, where, on 27 July he accepted a tricolore cockade, as cries of Vive la Nation "Long live the Nation" changed to Vive le Roi "Long live the King".

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 favour. He also felt he could save France all by himself, despite having few ideas.

Nobles were not assured by this apparent reconciliation of King and people. They began to flee the country as émigrés, some of whom began plotting civil war within the kingdom and agitating for a European coalition against France.

By late July, insurrection and the spirit of popular sovereignty spread throughout France. In rural areas, many went beyond this: some burned title-deeds and no small number of châteaux, as part of a general agrarian insurrection known as "la Grande Peur" (the Great Fear). In addition, plotting at Versailles and the large numbers of men on the roads of France as a result of unemployment led to wild rumours and paranoia (particularly in the rural areas) that caused widespread unrest and civil disturbances and contributed to the Great Fear (Hibbert, 93).

Toward a Constitution

On 4 August 1789 the National Constituent Assembly abolished feudalism, in what is known as the August Decrees, sweeping away both the seigneurial rights of the Second Estate and the tithes gathered by the First Estate. In the course of a few hours, nobles, clergy, towns, provinces, companies, and cities lost their special privileges.

Looking to the Declaration of Independence of the United States for a model, on 26 August 1789, the Assembly published the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Like the U.S. Declaration, it 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, with members appointed by the crown on the nomination of the people. The bulk of the nobles argued for an aristocratic upper house elected by the nobles. 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 provinces with eighty-three départements, uniformly administered and approximately equal to one another in extent and population.

Originally summoned to deal with a financial crisis, by late 1789, the Assembly had focused on other matters and only worsened the deficit. Honoré Mirabeau now led the move to address this matter, with the Assembly giving Necker complete financial dictatorship.

Women's March on Versailles

Fueled by rumors of a reception by the King's bodyguards 1 October 1789 in 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 Hôtel de Ville, demanding that city officials address their concerns.[7] The women were responding the harsh economic situations they faced, especially bread shortages. They also demanded an end to Royalist 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.

Getting unsatisfactory responses from city officials, as many as 7,000 women joined the march to Versailles, bringing with them pieces of cannon and a variety of smaller weapons. 20,000 National Guardsmen under the command of Lafayette responded to keep order, and members of the mob stormed the palace, killing two guards.[8] Lafayette 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.

Revolution and the Church

The Revolution brought about a massive shifting of powers from the Roman Catholic Church to the state. Under the Ancien Régime, the Church had been the largest landowner in the country. Legislation enacted in 1790 abolished the Church's authority to levy a tax on crops known as the dîme, cancelled special privileges for the clergy, and confiscated Church property. To no small extent, the Assembly addressed the financial crisis by having the nation take over the property of the Church (while taking on the Church's expenses), through the law of 2 December 1789. In order to rapidly monetize such an enormous amount of property, the government introduced a new paper currency, assignats, backed by the confiscated church lands. Further legislation on 13 February 1790 abolished monastic vows. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, passed on 12 July 1790 (although not signed by the King until 26 December 1790), turned the remaining clergy into employees of the State and required that they take an oath of loyalty to the constitution. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy also made the Catholic church an arm of the secular state.

In response to this legislation, the archbishop of Aix and the bishop of Clermont led a walkout of clergy from the National Constituent Assembly. The pope never accepted the new arrangement, and it led to a schism between those clergy who swore the required oath and accepted the new arrangement ("jurors" or "constitutional clergy") and the "non-jurors" or "refractory priests" who refused to do so. The ensuing years saw violent repression of the clergy, including the imprisonment and massacre of priests throughout France. The Concordat of 1801 between Napoleon and the Church ended the dechristianisation period and established the rules for a relationship between the Catholic Church and the French State that lasted until it was abrogated by the Third Republic via the separation of church and state on 11 December 1905.

Appearance of factions

Factions within the Assembly began to clarify. The aristocrat Jacques Antoine Marie de Cazalès and the abbé Jean-Sifrein Maury led what would become known as the right wing, the opposition to revolution (this party sat on the right-hand side of the Assembly). The "Royalist democrats" or monarchiens, allied with Necker, inclined toward organising France along lines similar to the British constitutional model; they included Jean Joseph Mounier, the Comte de Lally-Tollendal, the comte de Clermont-Tonnerre, and Pierre Victor Malouet, comte de Virieu.

The "National Party", representing the centre or centre-left of the assembly, included Honoré Mirabeau, Lafayette, and Bailly; while Adrien Duport, Barnave and Alexandre Lameth represented somewhat more extreme views. Almost alone in his radicalism on the left was the Arras lawyer Maximilien Robespierre. Abbé Sieyès led in proposing legislation in this period and successfully forged consensus for some time between the political centre and the left. In Paris, various committees, the mayor, the assembly of representatives, and the individual districts each claimed authority independent of the others. The increasingly middle-class National Guard under Lafayette also slowly emerged as a power in its own right, as did other self-generated assemblies.

Intrigues and radicalism

The Assembly abolished the symbolic paraphernalia of the Ancien Régime - armorial bearings, liveries, etc., which further alienated the more conservative nobles, and added to the ranks of the émigrés. On 14 July 1790, and for several days following, crowds in the Champ de Mars celebrated the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille; Talleyrand performed a mass; participants swore an oath of "fidelity to the nation, the law, and the king"; and the King and the royal family actively participated.

The electors had originally chosen the members of the Estates-General to serve for a single year. However, by the terms of the Tennis Court Oath, the communes had bound themselves to meet continuously until France had a constitution. Right-wing elements now argued for a new election, but Mirabeau carried the day, asserting that the status of the assembly had fundamentally changed, and that no new election should take place before completing the constitution.

In late 1790, several small counter-revolutionary uprisings broke out and efforts took place to turn all or part of the army against the Revolution. These uniformly failed. The royal court "encouraged every anti-revolutionary enterprise and avowed none." [9]

The army faced considerable internal turmoil: General Bouillé successfully put down a small rebellion, which added to his (accurate) reputation for counter-revolutionary sympathies. The new military code, under which promotion depended on seniority and proven competence (rather than on nobility) alienated some of the existing officer corps, who joined the ranks of the émigrés or became counter-revolutionaries from within.

This period saw the rise of the political "clubs" in French politics, foremost among these the Jacobin Club: according to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, one hundred and fifty-two clubs had affiliated with the Jacobins by 10 August 1790. As the Jacobins became more of a broad popular organisation, some of its founders abandoned it to form the Club of '89. Royalists established first the short-lived Club des Impartiaux and later the Club Monarchique. The latter attempted unsuccessfully to curry public favour by distributing bread. Nonetheless, they became the frequent target of protests and even riots, and the Paris municipal authorities finally closed down the Club Monarchique in January 1791.

Amidst these intrigues, the Assembly continued to work on developing a constitution. A new judicial organisation made all magistracies temporary and independent of the throne. The legislators abolished hereditary offices, except for the monarchy itself. Jury trials started for criminal cases. The King would have the unique power to propose war, with the legislature then deciding whether to declare war. The Assembly abolished all internal trade barriers and suppressed guilds, masterships, and workers' organisations: any individual gained the right to practice a trade through the purchase of a license; strikes became illegal.

In the winter of 1791, the Assembly considered, for the first time, legislation against the émigrés. The debate pitted the safety of the State against the liberty of individuals to leave. Mirabeau carried the day against the measure, which he referred to as "worthy of being placed in the code of Draco". [10] However, Mirabeau died on 2 April 1791. In Mignet's words, "No one succeeded him in power and popularity" and, before the end of the year, the new Legislative Assembly would adopt this "draconian" measure.

Flight to Varennes

Main article: 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 Bouillé, who condemned both the emigration and the assembly, and promised him refuge and support in his camp at Montmédy. On the night of 20 June 1791 the royal family fled the Tuileries wearing the clothes of servants, while their servants dressed as nobles.

However, the next day the King was recognised and arrested at Varennes (in the Meuse département) late on 21 June. He and his family were paraded back to Paris under guard, in the same disguisement they wore in their escape. Pétion, Latour-Maubourg, and Antoine Pierre Joseph Marie Barnave, representing the Assembly, met the royal family at Épernay and returned with them. From this time, Barnave became a counselor and supporter of the royal family. When they reached Paris, the crowd remained silent. The Assembly provisionally suspended the King. He and Queen Marie Antoinette remained held under guard.

Completing the Constitution

With most of the Assembly still favouring a constitutional monarchy rather than a republic, the various groupings reached a compromise which left Louis XVI little more than a figurehead: he had perforce to swear an oath to the constitution, and a decree declared that retracting the oath, heading an army for the purpose of making war upon the nation, or permitting anyone to do so in his name would amount to de facto abdication.

Jacques Pierre Brissot drafted a petition, insisting that in the eyes of the nation Louis XVI was deposed since his flight. An immense crowd gathered in the Champ de Mars to sign the petition. Georges Danton and Camille Desmoulins gave fiery speeches. The Assembly called for the municipal authorities to "preserve public order". The National Guard under Lafayette's command confronted the crowd. The soldiers first responded to a barrage of stones by firing in the air; the crowd did not back down, and Lafayette ordered his men to fire into the crowd, resulting in the killing of as many as fifty people.

In the wake of this massacre the authorities closed many of the patriotic clubs, as well as radical newspapers such as Jean-Paul Marat's L'Ami du Peuple. Danton fled to England; Desmoulins and Marat went into hiding.

Meanwhile, a renewed threat from abroad arose: Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick William II of Prussia, and the King's brother Charles-Philippe, comte d'Artois issued the Declaration of Pilnitz which considered the cause of Louis XVI as their own, demanded his total liberty and the dissolution of the Assembly, and promised an invasion of France on his behalf if the revolutionary authorities refused its conditions.

If anything, the declaration further imperiled Louis. The French people expressed no respect for the dictates of foreign monarchs, and the threat of force merely resulted in the militarisation of the frontiers.

Even before his "Flight to Varennes", the Assembly members had determined to debar themselves from the legislature that would succeed them, the Legislative Assembly. They now gathered the various constitutional laws they had passed into a single constitution, showed remarkable fortitude in choosing not to use this as an occasion for major revisions, and submitted it to the recently restored Louis XVI, who accepted it, writing "I engage to maintain it at home, to defend it from all attacks from abroad, and to cause its execution by all the means it places at my disposal". The King addressed the Assembly and received enthusiastic applause from members and spectators. The Assembly set the end of its term for 29 September 1791.

Mignet argued that the "constitution of 1791... was the work of the middle class, then the strongest; for, as is well known, the predominant force ever takes possession of institutions... In this constitution the people was the source of all powers, but it exercised none." [11]

Legislative Assembly (1791–1792)

Under the Constitution of 1791, France would function as a constitutional monarchy. The King had to share power with the elected Legislative Assembly, but he still retained his royal veto and the ability to select ministers. The Legislative Assembly first met on 1 October 1791, and degenerated into chaos less than a year later. In the words of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica: "In the attempt to govern, the Assembly failed altogether. It left behind an empty treasury, an undisciplined army and navy, and a people debauched by safe and successful riot." The Legislative Assembly consisted of about 165 Feuillants (constitutional monarchists) on the right, about 330 Girondists (liberal republicans) and Jacobins (radical revolutionaries) on the left, and about 250 deputies unaffiliated with either faction. Early on, the King vetoed legislation that threatened the émigrés with death and that decreed that every non-juring clergyman must take within eight days the civic oath mandated by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Over the course of a year, disagreements like this would lead to a constitutional crisis, leading the Revolution to higher levels.

War (1792–1797)

The politics of the period inevitably drove France towards war with Austria and its allies. The King, the Feuillants and the Girondins specifically wanted to wage war. The King (and many Feuillants with him) expected war would increase his personal popularity; he also foresaw an opportunity to exploit any defeat: either result would make him stronger. The Girondins wanted to export the Revolution throughout Europe and, by extension, to defend the Revolution within France. Only some of the radical Jacobins opposed war, preferring to consolidate and expand the Revolution at home. The Austrian emperor Leopold II, brother of Marie Antoinette, may have wished to avoid war, but he died on 1 March 1792. France declared war on Austria (20 April 1792) and Prussia joined on the Austrian side a few weeks later. The invading Prussian army faced little resistance until checked at the Battle of Valmy (20 September 1792), and forced to withdraw. However, by this time, France stood in turmoil and the monarchy had effectively become a thing of the past.

Constitutional crisis

Main articles: 10th of August (French Revolution), September Massacres

On the night of 10 August 1792, insurgents, supported by a new revolutionary Paris Commune, assailed the Tuileries. The King and queen ended up prisoners and a rump session of the Legislative Assembly suspended the monarchy: little more than a third of the deputies were present, almost all of them Jacobins.

What remained of a national government depended on the support of the insurrectionary Commune. When the Commune sent gangs into the prisons to try arbitrarily and butcher 1400 victims, and addressed a circular letter to the other cities of France inviting them to follow this example, the Assembly could offer only feeble resistance. This situation persisted until the Convention, charged with writing a new constitution, met on 20 September 1792 and became the new de facto government of France. The next day it abolished the monarchy and declared a republic. This date was later retroactively adopted as the beginning of Year One of the French Republican Calendar.

National Convention (1792–1795)

Main article: National Convention

In the Brunswick Manifesto, the Imperial and Prussian armies threatened retaliation on the French population should it resist their advance or the reinstatement of the monarchy. As a consequence, King Louis was seen as conspiring with the enemies of France. 17 January 1793 saw King Louis condemned to death for "conspiracy against the public liberty and the general safety" by a close majority in Convention (361 votes for the execution of the king against 288, with a further 72 voting for Louis' execution but subject to a variety of delaying conditions[12]). The 21 January execution led to more wars with other European countries. Louis' Austrian-born queen, Marie Antoinette, would follow him to the guillotine on 16 October.

When war went badly, prices rose and the sans-culottes (poor labourers and radical Jacobins) rioted; counter-revolutionary activities began in some regions. This encouraged the Jacobins to seize power through a parliamentary coup, backed up by force effected by mobilising public support against the Girondist faction, and by utilising the mob power of the Parisian sans-culottes. An alliance of Jacobin and sans-culottes elements thus became the effective centre of the new government. Policy became considerably more radical.

Reign of Terror

Main article: Reign of Terror

The Committee of Public Safety came under the control of Maximilien Robespierre, a lawyer, and the Jacobins unleashed the Reign of Terror (1793-1794). According to archival records, at least 16,594 people met their deaths under the guillotine or otherwise after accusations of counter-revolutionary activities.[13] However, a number of historians note that as many as 40,000 accused prisoners may have been summarily executed without trial or died while awaiting trial.[14][15] The slightest hint of counter-revolutionary thoughts or activities (or, as in the case of Jacques Hébert, revolutionary zeal exceeding that of those in power) could place one under suspicion, and trials did not necessarily proceed according to contemporary standards of due process.

On 2 June, Paris sections — encouraged by the enragés ("enraged ones") Jacques Roux and Jacques Hébert — took over the Convention, calling for administrative and political purges, a low fixed price for bread, and a limitation of the electoral franchise to "sans-culottes" alone. With the backing of the National Guard, they managed to convince the Convention to arrest 31 Girondin leaders, including Jacques Pierre Brissot. Following these arrests, the Jacobins gained control of the Committee of Public Safety on 10 June, installing the revolutionary dictatorship. On 13 July, the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat—a Jacobin leader and journalist known for his bloodthirsty rhetoric—by Charlotte Corday, a Girondin, resulted in further increase of Jacobin political influence. Georges Danton, the leader of the August 1792 uprising against the King, having the image of a man who enjoyed luxuries, was removed from the Committee and on 27 July, Robespierre, "the Incorruptible", made his entrance, quickly becoming the most influential member of the Committee as it moved to take radical measures against the Revolution's domestic and foreign enemies.

Meanwhile, on 24 June, the Convention adopted the first republican constitution of France, variously referred to as the French Constitution of 1793 or Constitution of the Year I. It was ratified by public referendum, but never applied, because normal legal processes were suspended before it could take effect.

Vendée is remembered as the place where the peasants revolted against the French Revolutionary government in 1793. They resented the changes imposed on the Roman Catholic Church by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (1790) and broke into open revolt in defiance of the Revolutionary government's military conscription.[16] A guerrilla war, known as the Revolt in the Vendée, led at the outset by an underground faction called the Chouans.[17]

Facing local revolts and foreign invasions in both the East and West of the country, the most urgent government business was the war. On 17 August, the Convention voted for general conscription, the levée en masse, which mobilized all citizens to serve as soldiers or suppliers in the war effort. On 5 September, the Convention, pressured by the people of Paris, institutionalized The Terror: systematic and lethal repression of perceived enemies within the country.

The result was a policy through which the state used violent repression to crush resistance to the government. Under control of the effectively dictatorial Committee, the Convention quickly enacted more legislation. On 9 September, the Convention established sans-culottes paramilitary forces, the revolutionary armies, to force farmers to surrender grain demanded by the government. On 17 September, the Law of Suspects was passed, which authorized the charging of counter-revolutionaries with vaguely defined crimes against liberty. On 29 September, the Convention extended price-fixing from grain and bread to other essential goods, and also fixed wages.

The guillotine became the symbol of a string of executions: Louis XVI had already been guillotined before the start of the terror; Queen Marie Antoinette, the Girondins, Philippe Égalité (despite his vote for the death of the King), Madame Roland and many others lost their lives under its blade. The Revolutionary Tribunal summarily condemned thousands of people to death by the guillotine, while mobs beat other victims to death. Sometimes people died for their political opinions or actions, but many for little reason beyond mere suspicion, or because some others had a stake in getting rid of them. Most of the victims received an unceremonious trip to the guillotine in an open wooden cart (the tumbrel). Loaded onto these carts, the victims would proceed through throngs of jeering men and women.

Another anti-clerical uprising was made possible by the installment of the Revolutionary Calendar on 24 October. Against Robespierre's concepts of Deism and Virtue, Hébert's (and Chaumette's) atheist movement initiated a religious campaign in order to dechristianize society. The climax was reached with the celebration of the Goddess "Reason" in Notre Dame Cathedral on 10 November.

The Reign of Terror enabled the revolutionary government to avoid military defeat. The Jacobins expanded the size of the army, and Carnot replaced many aristocratic officers with younger soldiers who had demonstrated their ability and patriotism. The Republican army was able to throw back the Austrians, Prussians, British, and Spanish. At the end of 1793, the army began to prevail and revolts were defeated with ease. The Ventôse Decrees (February–March 1794) proposed the confiscation of the goods of exiles and opponents of the Revolution, and their redistribution to the needy.

Because dissent was now regarded as counterrevolutionary, extremist enragés such as Hébert and moderate Montagnard indulgents such as Danton were guillotined in the spring of 1794. On 7 June Robespierre, who had previously condemned the Cult of Reason, advocated a new state religion and recommended that the Convention acknowledge the existence of God. On the next day, the worship of the deistic Supreme Being was inaugurated as an official aspect of the Revolution. Compared with Hébert's popular festivals, this austere new religion of Virtue was received with signs of hostility by an amazed Parisian public.

In 1794, Robespierre had ultra-radicals and moderate Jacobins executed; in consequence, however, his own popular support eroded markedly. On 27 July 1794, the Thermidorian Reaction led to the arrest and execution of Robespierre and Saint-Just. The new government was predominantly made up of Girondists who had survived the Terror, and after taking power, they took revenge as well by persecuting even those Jacobins who had helped to overthrow Robespierre, banning the Jacobin Club, and executing many of its former members in what was known as the White Terror.

In the wake of excesses of the Terror, the Convention approved the new "Constitution of the Year III" on 22 August 1795. A French plebiscite ratified the document, with approximately 1,057,000 voters approving the constitution and 49,000 citizens voting against it.[18] The results of the voting were announced on 23 September 1795, and the new constitution took effect on 27 September 1795. [19]

The Directory (1795–1799)

Main article: French Directory

The new constitution created the Directoire (English: Directory) and created the first bicameral legislature in French history. The parliament consisted of 500 representatives — le Conseil des Cinq-Cents (the Council of the Five Hundred) — and 250 senators — le Conseil des Anciens (the Council of Elders). Executive power went to five "directors," named annually by the Conseil des Anciens from a list submitted by the le Conseil des Cinq-Cents.

With the establishment of the Directory, contemporary observers might have assumed that the Revolution was finished. Citizens of the war-weary nation desired stability, peace, and an end to conditions that at times bordered on chaos. Those who wished to restore Louis XVIII and the Ancien Régime and those who would have renewed the Reign of Terror were insignificant in number. The possibility of foreign interference had vanished with the failure of the First Coalition. Nevertheless, the four years of the Directory were a time of arbitrary government and chronic disquiet. The late atrocities had made confidence or goodwill between parties impossible. The same instinct of self-preservation which had led the members of the Convention to claim so large a part in the new legislature and the whole of the Directory impelled them to keep their predominance.

As many French citizens distrusted the Directory,[20] the directors could achieve their purposes only by extraordinary means. They habitually disregarded the terms of the constitution, and, even when the elections that they rigged went against them,[21] the directors routinely used draconian police measures to quell dissent. Moreover, the Directory used war as the best expedient for prolonging their power, and the directors were thus driven to rely upon the armies, which also desired war and were becoming less and less civic-minded in temperment.

Other reasons influenced them in this direction. State finances during the earlier phases of the Revolution had been so thoroughly ruined that the government could not have met its expenses without the plunder and the tribute of foreign countries. If peace were made, the armies would return home and the directors would have to face the exasperation of the rank-and-file who had lost their livelihood, as well as the ambition of generals who could, in a moment, brush them aside. Barras and Rewbell were notoriously corrupt themselves and screened corruption in others. The patronage of the directors was ill-bestowed, and the general maladministration heightened their unpopularity.

The constitutional party in the legislature desired a toleration of the nonjuring clergy, the repeal of the laws against the relatives of the émigrés, and some merciful discrimination toward the émigrés themselves. The directors baffled all such endeavours. On the other hand, the socialist conspiracy of Babeuf was easily quelled. Little was done to improve the finances, and the assignats continued to fall in value.

The new régime met with opposition from remaining Jacobins and the royalists. The army suppressed riots and counter-revolutionary activities. In this way the army and its successful general, Napoleon Bonaparte eventually gained much power. On 9 November 1799 (18 Brumaire of the Year VIII) Bonaparte staged the coup of 18 Brumaire which installed the Consulate; this effectively led to his dictatorship and eventually (in 1804) to his proclamation as Empereur (emperor), which brought to a close the specifically republican phase of the French Revolution.

Historical analysis

The constitutional assembly failed for many reasons: there were too many monarchists to have a republic and too many republicans to have a monarch; too many people opposed the King (especially after the flight to Varennes), which meant that the people who supported the King had their reputation slashed; the CCC (Civil Constitution of the Clergy); and many more.

Historian François Furet in his work, Le Passe d'une illusion (1995) (The Passing of An Illusion (1999) in English translation) explores in detail the similarities between the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution of 1917 more than a century later, arguing that the former was taken as a model by Russian revolutionaries. This is in partial contrast with the Marxist tradition, which has usually claimed that the 1871 Paris commune was the Bolsheviks' primary inspiration source.

A contributing factor to the Revolution was the considerable increases in poverty in the preceding years. Some scholars trace this to several years of recurrent weather aberrations, caused by the Laki eruption 1783[22] and the severe El Niño effects that were to follow[23].

References

  1. Webster, N.H., The French Revolution, London, 1919.
  2. Lefebvre, Georges (1947). The Coming of the French Revolution. 
  3. A recent study of El Niño patterns suggests that the poor crop yields of 1788–1789 in Europe resulted from an unusually strong El Niño effect between 1789 and 1793. Richard H. Grove, “Global Impact of the 1789–93 El Niño,” Nature 393 (1998), 318–319.
  4. Doyle, William (1989). The Oxford History of the French Revolution, pp.73-74. 
  5. Furet, François (1992). Revolutionary France, 1770-1880, p.45. 
  6. John Hall Stewart. A Documentary Survey of the French Revolution. New York: Macmillan, 1951, p. 86.
  7. Doyle, William (1989). The Oxford History of the French Revolution, p.121. 
  8. Doyle, William (1989). The Oxford History of the French Revolution, p.122. 
  9. Mignet, François (1824). Histoire de la révolution française, Chapter III. 
  10. Mignet, François (1824). Histoire de la révolution française, Chapter III. 
  11. Mignet, François (1824). Histoire de la révolution française, Chapter IV. 
  12. William Doyle, The Oxford History of the French Revolution, London: Oxford University Press (2002), p. 196.
  13. Gough, Hugh (1998). The Terror in the French Revolution, p.77. 
  14. Gough, Hugh (1998). The Terror in the French Revolution, p.77. 
  15. Doyle, William (1989). The Oxford History of the French Revolution, p.258. 
  16. In a Corner of France, Long Live the Old Regime, New York Times
  17. McPhee, Peter Review of Reynald Secher, A French Genocide: The Vendée H-France Review Vol. 4 (March 2004), No. 26
  18. Doyle, William (1989). The Oxford History of the French Revolution, p.320. 
  19. Doyle, William (1989). The Oxford History of the French Revolution, p.320. 
  20. Doyle, William (1989). The Oxford History of the French Revolution, p.331. 
  21. Doyle, William (1989). The Oxford History of the French Revolution, p.332. 
  22. Wood, C.A., 1992. "The climatic effects of the 1783 Laki eruption" in C. R. Harrington (Ed.), The Year Without a Summer? Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, pp. 58– 77
  23. Richard H. Grove, “Global Impact of the 1789–93 El Niño,” Nature 393 (1998), 318-319

External links

Personal tools
In other languages