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The French Revolution: Part 1. Chapter 19 EQ: What were the causes of the French Revolution? What were the early attempts to reform French government and why did they fail?. Introduction. The most important fact about the French Revolution was that it was a FAILURE

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the french revolution part 1

The French Revolution: Part 1

Chapter 19

EQ: What were the causes of the French Revolution? What were the early attempts to reform French government and why did they fail?

  • The most important fact about the French Revolution was that it was a FAILURE
    • France was attempting to become a Republic…it became a dictatorship, followed by an absolute empire, followed by a monarchy once again in 1821
    • For the psyche of France, it did more harm than good…it created unintended victims (WHO LOST THEIR HEADS!)
  • The ultimate goal of the revolution was to topple Absolutism in France and create a Constitutional Monarchy
    • The first French constitution only lasted 10 months…the next one only a few years…FYI, France is currently on its FIFTH constitution
  • France also had what was the most intricate, sophisticated and yet complicated government in France, divided by 3 groups (Estates)…this complication benefitted yet also hurt French politics
  • Who ultimately benefitted from the French Revolution?
    • Those that wished to preserve and create individual rights
    • Those that supported non-violent political activism
    • Those that sought true political representation, no matter how insigniciant
the state of french politics 1789
The State of French Politics - 1789
  • Absolute Monarchy…ruled by Louis XVI, still through the “divine right” as extended by his great great grandfather Louis XIV…unfortunately, Louis XIV was not a great absolutist…the far flung corners of the French kingdom had come to ignore the central rule of Paris
  • The Estates General (French Parliament)
    • Made up of 3 groups: The Church, the Nobility, the commoners
    • Chief power was granting/approving the taxes requested by the king
    • The ENTIRE Estates General had not met as one whole body since 1610…it was now being called back together by Louis XVI to help solve his problems
  • Parlements
    • Law courts in France, staffed by officers whose positions were basically bought and paid for NOT elected
    • These courts were responsible for enforcing the law, collecting taxes, etc., basically the local administrative functions of the central government
social layers
Social Layers
  • Nobility
    • Only represented 2% of the population
    • Most were attached to Versailles/Court
    • Those that were not at court lived on extensive land holdings
    • There were some poor nobles!
  • Bourgeoisie
    • The emerging upper and middle classes that consisted of bankers/financiers, entrepreneurs, merchants, doctors, lawyers, etc. and most lived in urban areas (Paris)
  • Peasants
    • Rural laborers many who were still attached to those large landed estates or if not attached had very small tracts of land from which they scraped a living and paid high taxes
impacts of the enlightenment
Impacts of the Enlightenment
  • France was the home of the Enlightenment!
  • Montesquieu and The Spirit of Law (1748) advocated a “moderate checked monarchy”
  • Voltaire of course lambasted the French monarchy as ineffective and subservient to the Catholic Church, not the people
  • Rousseau promoted his social contract, that government needed to work for the greater good of the society as a whole (General Will = EQUALITY)
  • All of these thinkers had their works published and were well read by all branches of French society by the end of the 18th C
the sparks that start the fire
The Sparks that Start the Fire
  • Involvement in wars caused the monarchy to demand new taxes
    • Louis XV had fought the Seven Years War…his son supported the American Revolution
    • Louis XVI’s finance minister, Jacques Necker, said there was plenty of money in the budget for war! BUT, he also made the gaffe of revealing that $$$ was given out for pensions for aristocrats and court favorites (CompteRendu)
    • Necker’s successor, Charles Calonne, actually discovered that the crown and France was BANKRUPT…people immediately wanted Necker back, thinking Calonne was a goof…but he was virtually telling the truth!
  • The winters of 1777-1778 and 1788-1789
    • Bad weather, extended winter storms prevented successful grain harvests in France, driving the prices of food upward…of course, Mercantilist policies did NOT promote importation!
    • Add to this, economists (Physiocrats) in good weather crop seasons raised the value of wheat, thinking that more farmers would produce it…this did not happen!
save the monarchy
  • Charles Calonne was fired in April 1787 and replaced by Archbishop Charles Brienne…he was a liberal reformer and considered the last savior of the monarchy
  • Brienne enacted several non-economic reforms
    • He proposed a revised version of the Edict of Nantes to satisfy the Protestants
    • He reformed the criminal code to prohibit torture and give the accused rights (8th Amendment)
  • Brienne’s Economic reforms…not so good
    • Created a real budget that was detailed…it reveled a deficit, one that ended up paying interest back on war loans
    • Louis XVI inevitably endorsed Calonne’s tax reforms, instituting new types of taxes (Stamp Tax, new land taxes)…the Estates General rejects the plan…Louis XVI dissolves parliament
  • Result: Louis XVI goes ABSOLUTE
    • Many Parlements and Estates General officials were arrested by the king, a royal edict was issued to curtail the power of the Estates General
    • Louis XVI was hoping that upcoming national elections would help to purify the animus in the Estates General toward the crown…
the revolution of 1789
The Revolution of 1789
  • Folks, the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 was not the REAL beginning of the French Revolution…there were several crucial events that occurred months before
  • May, 1789 – The New Estates General convenes, with the 3rd Estate (commoners) demanding greater representation in France (cahier de Doleances)…those rights are denied by the other 2 Estates (Church and Nobles)…the 3rd Estate goes on “strike”
  • June, 1789 – The 3rd Estate returns again, demanding rights…they force a roll call of officials, which stalls French government (takes 5 days to complete it!)…some of the members of the 1st Estate (clergy) become sympathetic
  • June 17, 1789 – With no relief in sight, the 3rd Estate declared itself to be the National Assembly, declaring that the king and royalty were irrelevant…2 days later, the nobles surprisingly decide to join with the commoners against the king
the revolution of 17891
The Revolution of 1789
  • June 20, 1789 – In response to the sudden show of solidarity, Louis XVI locked up the Parliament meeting hall…no problem, the Estates General met on the Tennis Court!
  • The members pledged an Oath (The Tennis Court Oath) which stated that Parliament would continue to strike until the monarchy agrees to allow for the drafting of a constitution for France
  • June 27, 1789 - After several attempts by Louis XVI to force the Estates General back into session, Louis acquiesced and formally united all the bodies as one assembly (National Constituent Assembly) and charged them with the task of developing reforms
paris in july 1789
Paris in July, 1789
  • Political reform was now underway…social and economic reform however, seemed far from beginning
  • Paris sweltered that July in 1789…600,000 people, mostly bourgeoisie workers and peasant urban dwellers suffered from the heat and lack of food…the nobility, they were “out of town”
  • The price of bread had reached an all time high that July, and literally took 50% of the average household income to purchase…the king’s minister Jacques Necker (yes, him again), had attempted to regulate the price of grain while openly protesting the king’s harsh policies against mob protesting…he was fired on July 11
  • July 14, 1789 – Mobs stormed the Hotel des Invalides (arsenal) and took weapons…their target, the Bastille, a fortress which held many of the king’s political prisoners who were taken without just cause, some for speaking out against the evils of the monarchy…the mob stormed the Bastille and freed the prisoners
  • The Result: This event demonstrated the weakness of Louis XVI to completely exert his will…many nobles left the court at Versailles to return to the land holdings…this act also spurred on the lowest classes of French society (peasants) to begin to demand greater rights, freedoms and recognition in government
the great fear
“The Great Fear”
  • Let’s not forget about the peasants…most did not know the inner workings of the early parts of the revolution in 1789…many only knew of rumor and gossip…most of them were suffering still living on landed estates owned by the nobility…they were led to believe that the landed aristocracy was plotting against the Estates General (in reality, they had been supporting some universal rights yet they were oppressing citizens in urban areas)
  • Rural panic ensued and a Peasant Revolt occurred in late July 1789…the main targets of this revolt were rural noble estates, legal offices that held titles of feudalism (basically dictating to which estate each peasant was tied), tax records and other deeds
  • The National Assembly refused to quell the violence…many members wished to pacify and befriend certain peasant leaders…eventually they moved to abolish all feudal laws…a faction of liberals gathered together on August 3 (Breton Club Conspiracy, later the Jacobins) to cook up a plan to convince nobles to give up their feudal land rights as a symbol of self-sacrifice to please the nation…the plan worked!
  • On the night of August 4, 1789, many nobles in the Assembly renounced their rights and titles (of course, they were already lost, taken by the peasants, it was a useless gesture)
the declaration of the rights of man and citizen
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen
  • By the end of August 1789, getting to work on a Constitution was a serious necessity…the first questions were “What will be the role of the king?” and “What powers will be delegated to the National Assembly?” and “How will the court system be reformed?”
    • The king question was easily answered…he was “King of France by the grace of God & the Constitution” and had similar powers to the US President
    • The National Assembly receive complete control over finances, the power to declare war, basically powers similar to US Congress
    • Parliaments and provinces would be reorganized in “Departements”
  • Rights were a different issue…voting rights were limited…only males of economic independence (tax paying to a certain degree) could vote (Active versus Passive citizens)
  • On August 27, 1789, a basic “Bill of Rights” was crafted, drawing from Enlightenment ideas and ironically from a draft of rights by the colony of Virginia in 1776…the premise was simple; all men were “born and remain free and equal in rights” which included “liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression.”
  • Of course, this was a declaration for men…women were upset and demanded their say in government too!
the church the final target
The Church – The Final Target
  • To help alleviate financial woes, the Assembly debated confiscating church property (the value of Catholic church land was greater than the debt)…in November 1789 a vote put church lands in the hands of the government “at the disposal of the nation”
  • As a result, the government created a paper bond, the Assignat, as legal tender backed by the value of church lands…by 1792, over 3 billion of these were issued.
  • Unfortunately, their value became extremely over-inflated…the only benefit was that if you possessed some Assignat, you possessed church land…and in the end only nobles and business class people were circulating these not many peasants reaped the benefits!