The French Revolution Part I

Causes of the Revolution. The character of Louis XVI and of Marie Antoinette. Need for judicial reform--Louis XV's closure of parlements and their re-opening by Louis XVI.

1st Estate--1/2 of 1% of the population, controlled 10% of the land of France. Ran schools, kept records, provided safety net. Lower clergy from 3rd estate; bishops and abbots saw their duties as a source of wealth. Peasants loyal, but bourgeoisie increasingly resentful.

2nd Estate--2% of population and 20% of land. Exempt from taxes and monopolized army commissions and high church offices. At top were "nobles of the sword" who had learned nothing from the Fronde. Lived in Versailles and neglected their estates. "Nobility of the robe" had originally bought their way into parlements and other gov't offices, but now were much like (and married into) nobility of the sword. Richer and more conservative. Lowest nobles the hobereaux--stuck on their estates and greedy digging up documents to justify their high rents to the peasants.

3rd Estate--98% of poulation. No serfdom as in Eastern Europe (except Lorraine and Franche-Comté), and 3/4 of the peasants held land--still using medieval methods and not enough land for growing population. Many fled to cities or became brigands. Inflation hurt, for prices for goods rose faster than price of grain. Taxes: tithe to Church, manorial dues to nobility, for the state a land, income, and poll tax, and the hated gabelle.

No working class as such, for no factories. Apprentices and day laborers not organized as a class. But bourgeoisie included rich merchants and bankers, storekeepers, lawyers, doctors and other professionals, and independent craftsmen. "Better off than peasants, but more resentful of inequality and exclusion from positions of power in gov't,Church, and army. These are the writers of the famous cahiers.

Louis XVI triples the debt between 1774 and 1789--half for the American war. Total debt stood at 4,500,000,000 livres. For the year of 1789 the debt service alone was 318,000,000 livres! The court cost 35,000,000, and that year's deficit stood at 126,000,000 livres!

In 1774 Louis appointed Turgot his economic minister, and he tried stop the gap. Imposed economies (especially on court), removed taxes on foodstuffs and allowed freer internal trade in grain, and tried to make the nobles pay a higher tax rate. With Marie Antoinette's support he was fired.

So Louis kept borrowing until in 1786 the banks refused to give him any more money. His minister Colonne called The Assembly of Notables in 1787 to demand taxes from the nobility. They refused and Colonne dismissed.

1788 the new chief minister Loménie de Brienne gave Huguenots full rights and instituted a land tax on everyone--regardless of class. Parlement de Paris refused to register it, saying only the Estates General could make such a change. Riots! Louis dismissed Brienne and summoned the first Estates General in 175 years.

Bad timing--textile workers unemployed because of trade deal with England in 1786. Bad harvests and a winter so cold the Seine froze--no transports! Price of bread doubles.

The Réveillon riot.

Election of Estates--wide suffrage (all men over 25 on the tax rolls), 3rd estate chose electors who chose the deputies--Louis doubled the third--middle class lawyers and government administrators chosen.

Estates met in Versailles on May 5, 1789. The abbé Siéyès and Mirabeau, a renegade noble who joined the 3rd estate, pressed for "voting by head." 3rd Estate proclaimed itself the National Assembly and is joined by priests of 1st estate. The Tennis Court Oath!

King dismisses Necker, Paris electors form a new municipal gov't and a new militia, the National Guard, loyal to National Assembly. July 14 they invade Invalides and then the Bastille in search of arms. Not a mob--mostly carpenters, blacksmiths, and tradespeople from the area. Other towns like Strasbourg imitate Paris. The Great Fear.

Finally the October Days. Grain still not shipped to Paris and prices stay high. Marie Antoinette apes her mother at a banquet of royal officers, "Let them eat cake." Oct. 5, 1789 The March of the Women brings royal family to the Tuilleries and the National Assembly to Paris.

August 4, 1789 the Viscount de Noailles makes his speech, and by 2:00 AM the Old Regime is swept away (see page 560)--equal taxes, gov't positions open to all, manorial dues abolished. Then on Aug. 26 the Declaration of the Rights of Man (sanctity of property and social distinctions "to be based on usefulness").

But taxes couldn't be collected! So NA confiscated all Church lands (ignoring the Declaration). This land worth 2,000,000,000 livres, based upon which the NA issued assignats to pay the gov't debts. But NA repeated the mistake of John Law: as they sold off Church land, they didn't burn an equal number of assignats but issued more. By 1795 assignats fell to 5% of their face value. Only rich peasants and bourgeoisie profited from sale of land, and follwing laissez faire the gov't didn't intervene, just as in June 1791 it forbade strikes and labor unions and contrary to free trade.

Church reorganized. Monasteries closed; dioceses reduced and made to conform to new French departments. Civil constitution of the Clergy--now elected by citizens, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Loyalty oath--bishops couldn't appeal to Pope for confirmation. First gov't blunder! Non-juring priests! Opposition of Louis, the Pope, and many Catholics (especially in north).

NA writes the Constitution nof 1791. One chamer; king still the executive, but now responsible to his ministers, who answer to him rather than to the legislature. Louis got a suspensive veto of 4 years and is now called "King of the French." New uniform law code (finally supplied by Napoleon) and marriage a civil contract, not a religious sacrament. State takes over education. Not entirely democratic--active and passive citizens. Again, active citizens only chose electors (all men of wealth) who then chose the deputies.

Doomed! Too radical for the king, not radical enough for the republicans. Radicals were the Jacobins, "Society of the Friends of the Constitution" whose Paris headquarters were in an old Jacobin (Dominican) monastery. They wanted a republic on universal suffrage, and opened clubs all over the country which spread propaganda.

Émigré nobles fled the country and intrigued in the Rhineland for Austrian and Russian help for a counter revolution. June 1791, the escape to Varennes.