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French revolution and aftermath, 1789-1815: Part III

French revolution and aftermath, 1789-1815: Part III

Accession of Louis XVI (1774-1793)

  • His character:
    • Louis XVI succeeded his grand-father to the French crown in 1774.
    • He was the unhappy monarch under whom the long accumulating evils of France reached their culminating point.
    • He was honest. well-intentioned and had a genuine desire to serve his people.
    • He wanted to reform the abuse: that undermined the fabric of the State but he was week end irresolute and was easily influenced by others.
    • Hence he could not resist the pressure of a corrupt court whose privilege was threatened by any scheme of reformation.
    • He was largely under the influence of his wife, Antoinette, daughter of Maria Therese of Austria. She was lovely, vivacious, possessed of a strong will and a power of rapid decision. Thus she possessed in a large measure the very qualities which the king lacked.
    • But she too like her husband, was young and inexperienced and lacked wisdom and breadth of judgment. Hence her influence over the king proved fatal to him as well as to France.

Attempt at Financial Reform

  • Chronic financial deficit threatened bankruptcy:
    • At his succession Louis XVI was faced with a serious financial situation. The debts of Louis XIV had been increased by the wars and extravagances of Louis XV.
    • To these were added the cost of participation in the American Revolution.
    • All these coupled with the excessive end unregulated expenditure of the state and wastefulness of the court completed the derangement of the national finances and foreshadowed bankruptcy.
    • The finances were in a chronic state of deficit and the problem was how to make the revenues cover the expenditures.
  • Financial reforms of Turgot:
    • At the beginning of his reign, Louis entrusted the management of the finances to a men of rare ability, Turgot.
    • He sought to extricate the national finances by two processes by enforcing strict economy in expenditures and by developing public wealth so that the receipts would be larger.
    • He suppressed useless expenditures, introduced free trade in corn by sweeping away customs barriers to internal commerce, and abolished the trade guilds, which restricted production by limiting the number of workers in each line.
    • The odious corvee was abolished and land tax payable by all proprietors was proposed to be substituted in its place. This, to a certain extent. would have equalised the burdens of taxation.
    • All these reforms involved curtailment of privilege and so raised a host of enemies around Turgot.
    • All those whose interests were affected, joined in a claimour against him and Louis, yielding the pressure of the privileged classes at last dismissed Turgot and thus lost the ablest supporter the throne had.
  • Necker’s reform:
    • After Turgot’s fall Necker became the director of the finances.
    • He too encountered opposition the moment he proposed economy which was urgently demanded in view of the ruinous expenditure caused by the aid given by France to the Americans.
    • Necker abolished the system of farming texes and for the first time published a financial report showing the income and the expenditure of the state.
    • The publicity thus given to the national accounts infuriated the members of the court who demanded and obtained his dismissal.

The Summoning of the States-General and Fall of the Old Regime

  • Louis XVI was compelled to summon the State-General to meet the financial difficulty:
    • After Necker’s fall came a succession of worthless and incompetent finance ministers who miss Managed matters and thereby hastened the catastrophe.
    • Bankruptcy was impending and there was no alternative but to propose new taxes.
    • The Parlement of Paris opposed any scheme of taxation and demanded the convocation of the States-General which, it was declared, was the only body legally competent to impose taxes.
    • The king attempted to overawe the Parlement which in its turn defied the king.
    • Riots broke out in many places and the demand for the States-General began to increase in Volume.
    • The king having no other resources to fall back upon, at last in despair summoned the States General in 1789 and recalled Neoker to head the ministry.
  • Significance of the summoning of the State-General”:
    • This appeal to the nation after a long period of about two centuries was in itself a revolution for it contained an admission that the absolute-monarchy had failed. It introduced a change from absolute to constitutional monarchy.
    • Every member of the States-General brought from his constituency a statement of grievances of Cahiers.
    • All the orders agreed in asking for a constitution and reforms in taxation, but the Third Estate likewise demanded the abolition of the feudal rights.
    • The mind of France as revealed in these Cahiers was not republican. They contained no feeling of resentment against monarchy as such.
  • Nature and composition of the State General:
    • The State-General or the feudal Parliament of France was a three-chambered body composed of the elected representatives of the three orders, the clergy, the nobles and the commons.
    • It had not met for 176 years and so it was as good as a dead institution. So when it was revived at a time of great national crisis, the question of its constitution assumed paramount importance.
    • Previously, each of the three orders had an equal number of delegates and each order voted separately.
    • The first two chambers being composed of the privileged classes (the clergy and the nobility), the Third Estate i.e., the commons were left in a permanent minority and so the action of the privileged orders had always been decisive.
    • At the time of summoning the States-General, Necker had allowed the Third Estate as many members as the two other orders combined. But the value of this concession was neutralised by the uncertainty in Which the mode of voting was left.
    • If, as before, the vote was to be by orders and not by individual, the double membership of the Third Estate weed no avail. If, on the other hand, the vote was to be taken individually, the commons would command a majority and the government would be brought under popular control.
    • This the privileged orders were sure to resist.

States-General converted into the National Assembly

  • Third Estate demanded that vote should be by individuals:
    • As soon as the State-General met (May 5, 1789), the members of the Third Estate held that it was not a feudal assembly but one representing the whole nation.
    • Hence they demanded that the three order were to met as a single chamber in which each individual should have a vote.
    • As the Third Estate had been permitted to send twice as many members as either the clergy or the nobility, the substitution of individual votes for vote by order meant the transference of power from the privileged classes to the commonality.
    • The clergy and the nobility offered a stubborn resistance but the Commons remained remained firm.
  • The Estate declared itself National Assembly:
    • At last after much contention the Third Estate took the momentous step of declaring itself the National Assembly (June 17. 1789).
    • By this title the Commons claimed the right to speak and act for the whole nation even though they were not supported by the privileged orders.
    • The action was no doubt revolutionary for it was not sanctioned by the constitution of France. It brought matters to a crisis and led to the other steps in the development of the revolution.

Attitude of the King

  • King opposed the session of the National Assembly:
    • The king under pressure from the court sought to oppose the revolutionary proceedings of the Third Estate.
    • He closed the hall in order to prevent the session of the National Assembly.
    • The members in anger rushed to a neighbouring tennis-court and all assembled took on oath not to separate till the constitution of the realm had been definitely established. (Tennis Court Oath)
    • Next in a royal session the king declared the note of the Third Estate as illegal, tried to cow the Commons to submit to the old procedure, viz. meeting in three separate chambers and ordered the Third Estate to clear out at the bell.
    • At this Mirabeau, a noble who had cast in his lot with the people, gave vent to very strong expression hurling defiance at king’s orders.
  • King had to give way before the firm attitude of the commons:
    • The king perceiving the firm resolution of the commoners, gave way and ordered the clergy and nobility to join the Third Estate. Thus the three orders formed a single chamber and the formation of the National Assembly was completed.
    • The people had scored their first triumph over the king. Thus. at the very outset of the revolution, power passed out of the hands of the king and the privileged orders into those of the people.

Rising of the mob in Paris

  • Having recognised the National Assembly, the king urged on by his courtiers sought to suppress it.
  • Considerable bodies of soldiers began to appear near Paris and Necker, the popular minister was dismissed.
  • These measures alarmed the people, for they believed that the king was determined to use armed force in order to suppress the National Assembly.
  • The mob of Paris rose in fury against the king whom the popular orators denounced as a tyrant.
  • Fall of the Bastille:
    • The emerged populace stormed the state prison called the Bastille, which to the mob was an odious symbol of tyranny and abuses of the Old Ragime.
    • After a bloody encounter with the royal troops it was razed to the ground (14th July, 1789).
    • The fall of the Bastille was everywhere regarded in France as a triumph of liberty and produced a widespread enthusiasm.
  • Formation of the National Guard:
    • The Parisian‘ mob followed up the fall of the Bastille by assuming control of the city.
    • A new form of municipal government was established in Paris and a city militia called the National Guard was organised to maintain order.
    • Lafayette was made the commander of this new military force. The Revolution had entered upon a municipal phase.

Effects of the fall of the Bastille

  • The king yields:
    • Alarmed at the critical state of affairs the king at once yielded to the storm. He sent away the troops, recalled Necker and recognised the National Guard.
  • Rising in Provinces:
    • Order was for the time being restored in Paris but the news of the fall of the Bastille spread like a wild fire and excited popular feeling in the provinces to a high pitch.
    • Other cities set up municipal governments like that of Paris and organised provincial national guards.
    • Outside the towns the Revolution took the form of a rising against feudalism. The peasants rose everywhere, sacked the castles of the nobles and destroyed the records of their feudal services. The revolution was now in full tide.
  • Abolition of feudal privileges completed the destruction of the Old Regime:
    • The rising of the peasants in the provinces produced immediate and startling effects. In a memorable session of the National Assembly on the 4th of August 1789, the nobles voluntarily surrendered their feudal rights and privileges.
    • Rights of hunting, corvees, and other customary services were abolished the guilds and similar close corporations were swept away and tithes were abandoned.
    • Offices ceased to be purchasable and were thrown open to all. In a word, class distinctions were abolished and the principle of equality was declared to be the basis of the state and society.
    • The last relics of feudalism were swept out of France and the overthrow of the Old Regime was completed.
  • March of women to Versailles to fetch the king:
    • Meanwhile the renewed intrigues of the court excited the suspicion of the people.
    • The terror of suspicion was intensified by the terror of the famine due to the scarcity of bread in Paris.
    • On the 5th October a large number of women, pale and haggard from long suffering, set out for Versailles to fetch the king, drawing cannons with them.
    • The king was frightened at this demonstration, agreed to leave Versailles and came back to Paris escorted by the fierce women.
    • Henceforth the king was practically a prisoner in the hands of the mob. Then monarchy was all but ruined.

Work of the Constituent Assembly (1789-1791)

  • Having destroyed the feudal privileges of the nobles as well as the old constitution, the national Assembly set about framing the future constitution of France. Henceforth the body came to be known as the Constituent Assembly, as its chief task was to frame a new constitution.
  • This was a difficult task as the members though intelligent, lacked political experience and very often sacrificed considerations of practicability to a desire for logical perfection.
  • The New Constitution:
    • Basic principles of the new order:
      • The Assembly in imitation of the American usage formulated the principles on which the new constitution of France was to be based.
      • These were enshrined in the famous Declaration of Rights which proclaimed that all men are free and equal in rights and that sovereignty resides in the people.
      • This manifesto thus swept away the principles of the Old Regime and laid the foundation of a new order in France.
    • The Executive:
      • The Constituent Assembly then worked out a constitution which was finally adopted in 1791.
      • By it France was to be governed by a king and a parliament known as the Legislative Assembly.
      • The king was to he the head of the executive and was to choose his own ministers who, however, were not to sit in the legislature. Thus the executive and legislature were rigidly separated.
      • The king was to control the army and the navy and was to conduct foreign affairs. But he could not declare war without the consent of the legislature,
      • He was given only a suspensive veto that is he could delay the passing of a measure by holding it up until it had been passed by three successive assemblies.
    • Legislature:
      • All legislative power was to be entrusted to the Legislative Assembly. It was to consist of a single chamber of 745 members and was to be elected for two years by a system of indirect representation based upon a limited franchise.
      • Requirements of property qualification excluded a large number of citizens from the vote.
      • This was a direct violation of the principle of equality which the Declaration of rights had adopted.
    • Judicial system:
      • The judicial system of France was remodelled.
      • Torture and letters do catch“ were abolished, new central and local courts were established and trial by . Jury was introduced.
      • Judges were to be elected, a system which was to prove very unsatisfactory.
    • Administrative division:
      • For purposes of administration and local government, the Constituent Assembly practically remade France.
      • The old provinces were abolished and France was divided into eighty three departments of uniform size and equal rights.
      • Each department was subdivided into districts, cantons and communes.
      • The affairs of every department were to be managed by an elected council.
      • In the smaller administrative units similar local councils were provided for. Thus France was unified and given a fair amount of local self-government. A highly centralised government was thus completely decentralised.
  • Financial Measures:
    • The Assembly was called upon to solve the pressing financial difficulty which had compelled the king to summon the States General.
    • After several futile attempts to fill the treasury, the Assembly confiscated all the endowment lands of the Church and declared them to be national property.
    • Then the expedient was devised of issuing paper money called assignats upon the security of these Church lands.
  • Reorganisation of the Church:
    • The Revolution had derived from the French philosophers a strong anti-clerical bias. Hence the Church was specially marked out for drastic action.
    • First came the abolition of tithes, then the nationalisation of Church property and the suppression of the religious orders.
    • The Assembly then proceeded to reorganise the government of the Church.
    • By the Civil Constitution of the Clergy the old dioceses were abolished and each of the new departments was made a bishoprio.
    • Clergy to be elected:
      • Bishops and priests were to be elected by popular vote and were to be paid by the State.
      • The Pope was no longer to confirm bishops in their seats, but was merely to be informed of their election. Thus the clergy were turned into so many salaried state officials.
      • The most offensive features of this arrangement was the method of election by all citizens. Henceforth Catholic bishops and priests might be chosen by Protestants and even atheists. This gave a rude shock to the religious convictions of the people and resulted in a cleavage not merely in the Church but in the whole nation. This had disastrous results on the course of the revolution.

Estimate of the Work of the Constituent Assembly

  • Defects of the constitution:
    • With reference to the work of the Constituent Assembly Mirabeau remarked. “The disorganisation of the kingdom could not have been better planned.” He hit the truth.
    • The members of the Constituent Assembly were guided more by logic and abstract principles than by knowledge and insight. Hence much of their work was speedily destroyed.
    • The constitution as framed by them had serious defects.
  • Weak executive:
    • It showed a fatal distrust of executive authority.
    • The power left to the king was too weak to be efficient.
  • Separation of power:
    • The executive and legislature were so sharply separated that communication between king’s ministers and representatives of the people was well-nigh impossible.
    • Hence much room was left for mutual suspicion and in case of divergence of aims a deadlock or a revolution might ensue.
  • Limited franchise:
    • Secondly, the franchise was limited by property qualification.
    • This went against the principle of equality so grandiloquently proclaimed by the Declaration of Rights.
    • The plan of a unicameral legislature and the system of election in the case of judges proved unsatisfactory and had to be given up before long.
  • Disastrous effect of the Civil Constitution:
    • But no error of the Constituent Assembly was so disastrous in its effects as the Civil Constitution of the Clergy.
    • It produced a schism in the Church and divided the people of France in their attitude towards the Revolution.
    • A large number of lower clergy who had greatly favoured the Revolution so far, now turned against it for conscience sake.
    • The seeds of division were sown and they produced civil war before long.
    • Secondly. it estranged the king who had accepted the Revolution, although very reluctantly. The religious fibre in his nature was very strong and the denunciation of the Civil Constitution by the Pope made him very uneasy.
  • Permanent value of the work of the Constituent Assembly:
    • Notwithstanding these defects, the work of the Assembly was not a complete failure. The most abiding part of its work was the sweeping away of the old social system of privilege and inequality, and the partial building up of a new social order based upon equality.
    • Secondly, the ‘department’ which it created to supersede the old provinces proved permanent and salutary. Provincial privileges and local traditions were swept away and this made for national unity.

Estimate of Mirabeau

  • A noble by birth, Mirabeau was driven to a life of violent excesses of every kind by the persecutions of his father.
  • Rejected as a deputy by his own order he was elected to the States-General by the Third Estate and he threw himself heart and soul into the revolutionary movement.
  • His hatred of the Old Regime as well as his oratorical gifts marked him out as a leader.
  • He was a denouncer of autocracy but a supporter of constitutional monarchy. In the Constituent Assembly he was the only man who displayed any statesmanlike knowledge and grasp of the constitutional problem and of the drift of the situation.
  • He pointed out the danger of a too rigid division of; powers between the executive and legislature and strongly opposed the undue weakening of the executive authority of the king.
  • He realised that unless the hands of the Executive were strengthened, the revolution would degenerate into anarchy and lawlessness.
  • His idea was to convince to the king that the breach with the past was irreparable and to reconcile him to the new order.
  • He wanted the king to lead the Revolution along constitutional paths. But his policy of statesmanlike compromise was impossible with an inert king, a jealous Assembly and a populace leavened by Rousseau’s doctrines.
  • He warned the king against encouraging a. foreign invasion that would only unite the whole nation against him.
  • He had several times advised the king to leave Paris to free himself from the control of the mob and to unite whole France against the lawlessness of the Parisian mob.
  • But the king listened to him only too late. Unfortunately for France, Mirabeau was not appreciated. Distrusted by the Court as the champion of the people, despised by democrats as the bribed ally of the monarchy, he never succeeded in acquiring a commanding influence.
  • He died in 1791. “With him perished the greatest man of the revolutionary epoch, and the last hope of the French monarchy.“

The attempted flight of the King

  • It has already been noticed how the king had been forced to come back to Paris by mob of riotous women.
  • But he found his position in Paris more and more untenable. He was practically a prisoner in the hands of the mob.
  • By the death of Mirabeau he lost the firm supporter of the monarchy. The constitution had deprived him of all his power. So he planned to escape with his family but was discovered in the attempt and brought back from Verennes to Paris as a prisoner, and suspended from the exercise of the functions of his office (June 21, 1791).

Effects of the King’s Flight (Rise pf the Republican Party):

  • The attempted flight of the king produced very serious consequences. It showed that at heart he was an emigre and an opponent of the constitution.
  • Hence the fidelity of the people to the cause of monarchy was shaken. They no longer believed in the sincerity of his utterances, his oaths to support the constitution.
  • A republican party was formed in the Assembly and its members like Robespierre and Danton; held that the king bed forfeited his crown and demanded the establishment of a republic.
  • The nation had learnt that monarchy was not indispensable, that the removal of the king had not wrecked the state. Hence republicanism which till now was in the realm of speculation, was brought within the range of practical politics. But the constitutional monarchists were still in the majority and in the struggle that followed between the two parties, they overcame the republicans and restored the king to his position.
  • Louis accepted the Constitution and swore to support it. The Constituent Assembly, its work being finished, now declared itself dissolved and retired from the scene (Sept. 30, 1791): .

Attitude of Europe toward: the Revolution

  • From the first the revolution in France had been watched with the most absorbed interest by the people of Europe.
  • To the liberal thinkers the movement appeared as the inauguration of a new era of constitutional government and international goodwill.
  • Englishmen at first welcomed the Revolution but afterwards shrank from it:
    • In England Fox welcomed the revolution with generous enthusiasm and gave it praise.
    • Poets like Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote in glowing language about their high hopes arising from the fall of tyranny in the Bourbon citadel.
    • Pitt was sympathetic, and thought that the convulsions in France would end in the establishment of a constitutional government and in that case France would be less obnoxious as a neighbour.
    • Burke, however, sounded a note of warning. He pointed out that the French Revelation was quite different from the English Revolution of 1688, and that its pernicious doctrines and examples threatened the very foundations of the existing social order and civilisation.
    • As the excesses of the Revolution developed. the majority of Englishmen came to Burke’s way of thinking.
  • Revolution was misunderstood in Europe:
    • Speaking generally, it may be said that in the beginning the French Revolution was completely misinterpreted and underrated by the powers of Europe.
    • They laboured under the delusion that the movement in France was a local explosion and would not affect them in any way.
    • As a matter of fact they nwere pleased at the phenomenon. They thought that France, paralysed by the revolution, would not be able to play her traditionally powerful role in European polities. This would leave them free to pursue their schemes of aggression elsewhere or even at the expense of France.
    • But the rapid march of events in France and the aggressive propaganda of the French destroyed their comfortable delusion. They realised that the French Revolution was a challenge to the Old Regime in Europe and they prepared for war to prevent the spread of its infection.
  • Attitude of Catherine II:
    • It was Catharine II of Russia, who alone could make capital out of the situation. She did her best to embroil the other Powers in French affairs in order that, while they were so occupied, she might gobble up Poland.

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