Political Phase--1789-1792

[ Setting ] [ Political Phase ] [ Violent Phase ] [ Napoleon ]


A key factor--indeed the catalyst for the Revolution--was the financial crisis that gripped France in the 1780s, compounded by crop failure, famine, the skyrocketing price of bread (see graphic/right,) and the bourgeoisie's refusal to buy government bonds or lend the crown additional monies. French finances were in such a bad way--not solely due to the Queen's profligate spending--but because of defeat in the Great War for Empire, loss of territory and commerce in North America, and especially the costs of supporting Americans in their war for independence.

image source < https://history301308.wikispaces.com/Source+D >

Louis XVI announced his intention to convoke the Estates General, which had not met since 1614, to address and resolve the financial crisis. Immediately, cahiers de doleance flooded the media; these were lists of grievances and demands for reform. Abbe Joseph Sieyes (left image) authored the famous, "What Is the Third Estate?" Sieyes went on to sit in the Third Estate; as a priest, Sieyes was eligible to sit in the First but ran for election in the Third. He served in the National Constituent Assembly, and was later a Director; he supported the coup d'etat of 18 Brumaire, which brought Napoleon to power in 1799.

image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmanuel_Joseph_Siey%C3%A8s >
portrait by David

The Parlement of Paris ordered the Estates General to meet and vote in its three "houses."
Dominated by aristocrats, the Parlement hoped to leverage their decision into influence or control over the King.
They counted on support for their estate (Second) from their relatives in the clergy (First.)
Although Louis XVI feared radical Paris, he had had it with the recalcitrant nobles who had forced him to
fire one reforming finance minister after another (Maupeou, Necker, Calonne, Brienne.)
Advised by his ministers, Louis XVI "doubled the Third," or increased the Third Estate's representation to 600,
to the other Estates' 300 each. According to Kagan, he and his Council hoped
"that strengthening the Third Estate would best serve the interests of the monarchy and fiscal reform" (597).
However, the ruling of the Parlement provided for the vote by house rather than by head, comprising a victory for conservatives.
According to some historians, Louis XVI "doubled the third" because he feared the nobility's political ambitions and hoped to curry favor with the crown's traditional allies in the middle class. In the graphic (left) the King welcomed the Estates General. Robespierre was elected to the Third Estate to represent Artois.

image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estates-General_of_1789 >
larger view < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estates-General_of_1789#/media/File:Estatesgeneral.jpg >

"The Oath of the Tennis Court, 1789" (right.) Louis XVI unwittingly opened the floodgates to a revolution that would take his power, his crown, and his head when he convoked the Estates General in the spring of 1789. The epochal events of the the "sit-down strike" by the Third Estate and the lock-out by the Crown produced the "Oath of the Tennis Court," depicted by Jacques-Louis David in a 1791 unfinished painting. Jean Bailly,* a member of the Third Estate) administered the Tennis Court Oath to the enthusiastic attendees of the National Assembly.

image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tennis_Court_Oath >

*Bailly would be "shortened by a head," "shaved by the 'national razor'"
in 1793, during the Terror.
Note the detail in the image (right) as members of the First (priest,) and Second (nobles,) and Third (Commons) embrace one another for the good of the nation. The members of the National Assembly pledged not to disband until they had drawn up a constitution for France. The Oath's opening sentence: "Let us swear to God and our country that we will not disperse until we have established a sound and just constitutions [sic] as instructed by those who nominated us."

image source < http://www.allposters.com/-sp/The-Tennis-Court-Oath-20th-June-1789-
source gone, alas

The Comte de Mirabeau was a powerful orator in the National Constituent Assembly with links to Parisian workers. Before his death (of natural causes btw) in 1791, he was a popular hero. He reminded people of their grievances and urged them to action during the political inaction of May-July, 1789. Even before the storming of the Bastille, riots and demonstrations erupted in the capital: attacks on the customs houses and the military hospital of Les Invalides. Mirabeau's defection to the Austrians in 1791 was a shock and viewed as betrayal or treason to the Revolution.

image source/right < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Honor%C3%A9-Gabriel_Riqueti,_marquis_de_Mirabeau.PNG >

While the delegates discussed Enlightenment issues and pledged to bring systemic change--at least to benefit themselves--to France, the King mobilized the army, triggeriing the first two violent acts of the Revolution, which, to this point, had been theoretical and fairly non-violent (except for looting and sporadic street demonstrations.) The peasants erupted in the Great Fear (see below) and the sans-culottes stormed out of their working class hovels in the Faubourg Saint Antoine to attack the hated symbol of royal absolutism, the prison-fortress of the Bastille. The mob freed the seven prisoners and murdered the commandant of the fortress (and also the Mayor of Paris--bringing Bailly to power in that office.)

image source and acknowledgement to Simon Schama, Citizens


 Yes, the signal event of the French Revolution, was the Storming of the Bastille, July 14, 1789. Note in the painting, a romantic recreation of the event, that the guns and cannon are being manned by both uniformed soldiers and sans-culottes, that they are aimed towards the fortress. At first the Bastille troops fired on the rioting mob. According to some historians, the most significant moment of the day came when some soldiers--deserters?--commandeered a cannon and turned it against the Bastille, symbol of generations of royal tyranny. Shortly after, the "patriots" demolished it. Simultaneously, the peasants burned the chateaux in the Great Fear. The image to your left depicts the storming by artist Jean Houel. Always remember that peasants did not storm the Bastille, as they were not in Paris. Discontented workers, shopkeepers, unemployed--the sans-culottes--did so.

image source < http://www.powellhistory.com/art/Painting/Storming_of_the_Bastille.jpg >

Visit site < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4OCheQDr5ag > for excellent summary
of the days leading up to the storming of the Bastille
and < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zPTFGLHavQ&NR=1 >
and < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Kjxor8OwI8&NR=1 >

The Great Fear (la Grand Peur) swept rural France, spreading like wildfire from one area to another. Successive poor harvests (1787-1789) had raised the price of bread and radicalized the peasants. First drought then unseasonably cold, wet weather brought real hardship to the countryside. The Great Fear was a disaster waiting to happen, according to eminent French historian, Georges Lefebvre (1789.) Royal troops or militias guarded the local granaries while armed bands of "brigands" attacked them and tried to seize the stores. Normally peaceful peasants armed themselves against the marauders, who, the peasants feared had been hired by local aristocrats. In an explosion of vandalism and violence, July 20 - August 5, 1789, isolated incidents escalated into widespread rural crisis. Not content with attacks on aristocratic chateaux, the armed peasants proceeded to storm local city halls and destroy public records, especially records of indebtedness. The more darkly shaded areas show where the Great Fear originated; the diagonal lines represent areas that remained more or less unaffected. [As you might remember from A Tale of Two Cities, the "roadmender and his 250,000 friends" ransacked the homes and properties of their seigneurs.] See images below.

image source < http://falcon.fsc.edu/~sgoodlett/courses/hist3420/lect05.html >--flown away

image source < http://falcon.fsc.edu/~sgoodlett/courses/hist3420/lect05.html >

Recent historiography suggests a different "spin" on the Great Fear.
Historian Mary Matossian argues in her Poisons of the Past: Molds, Epidemics, and History
that a possible cause of the violence of the summer of 1789 derived from
peasant "consumption of ergot, a hallucingenic fungus.
In years of good harvests, wheat with ergot was thrown away,
but when the harvest was poor, the peasants could not afford
to be so choosy" ("Great Fear").

On August 4, 1789, subsequent to the Storming of the Bastille in Paris and the Great Fear in the countryside, the members of the National Constituent Assembly set about the abolition feudalism, at least some aspects of it. One after another, aristocrats gave up the ancient rights and privileges that characterized the ancien régime. Indeed, the peasants had already abolished feudalism themselves in the Great Fear.

image source < http://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/rschwart/hist151/French%20Revolution%20II/album/slides/night%20of%20August%204%201789.html >
for the exact wording of the pledge by the nobles, visit
< http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/august4.html >

On August 26-27, 1789, the NationalConstituent Assembly proclaimed "The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen." Note that the "Declaration" seemed to encompass all men and to anticipate emancipation of slaves, as indicated in the contemporary cartoon (left.) The key ideas of the "Declaration"--popular sovereignty, constitutional monarchy, civic equality, career opportunities based on talent or merit--reflect the influence of the Enlightmenment on its authors.

http://www.indiana.edu/~fritciv/html/disk3/066.JPEG--this site is gone as well; too bad, it was very rich!

For the exact wording of "The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen,"
< http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/295/ >

image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Declaration_of_Human_Rights.jpg >

As the days and weeks ticked by, the sans-culottes in Paris grew weary of waiting for their lives
to show any amelioration from the revolutionary events. The price of bread remained high.
Desperate to feed their families, the "women" of Paris, augmented by mobs of sans-culottes and
perhaps inflamed by oratory from the Jacobins, marched out to Versailles and "kidnapped"
the royal family, granaries filled with flour, and btw the National Constituent Assembly.

The National Constituent Assembly did not directly address the economic-social crisis of the skyrocketing price of bread; the bourgeois leadership tagged along behind as the Revolution, increasingly under the influence of radical jacobins and their allies in the "mob," moved "left." The contemporary cartoon (right) had a caption, "To Versailles. To Versailles le 5 octobre 1789"

image source < http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/03/books/review/Warner-t.html?n=Top/Reference/Times%20Topics/Subjects/H/History >

Between 1789 and 1791, the National Constituent Assembly dismantled divine right royal absolutism
and implemented reforms that Philosophes had been discussing for years in Parisian coffee houses and and salons.
The delegates drafted a constitution that established limited manhood suffrage in a constitutional monarchy
and guaranteed the rights set down in "The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen"--
liberty, property, security, equality under the law, resistance to oppression. It abolished torture,
limited capital punishment, adopted the new invention of Dr. Guillotin as a humane means of execution.
It "rationalized" administrative practices by adopting uniform weights and measures
the metric system, and transforming the provinces into 83 more-or-less equal departments.

*For an explanation of the guillotine as a humane way of execution, follow go to youtube
skip annoying commericial < Guillotine>

On July 14, 1790, the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, Louis XVI celebrated the event and pledged his loyalty to its reforms and future legislation. Louis had taken to wearing the tricolor and phrygian cap of liberty; he remained popular, at least for the time being. Joining Louis and the cast of thousands on the Champs de Mars were Lafayette and Talleyrand, of whom, more later.

< http://classiccoinco.com/ >

The National Constituent Assembly established a unicameral legislative
body elected indirectly by limited manhood suffrage. In 1790,
it adopted the Civil Constitution of the Clergy that dis-established the Catholic Church
and provided for freedom of religion. To read the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, visit

< http://history.hanover.edu/texts/civilcon.html >

"The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen" and the Constitution of 1791 made no provision regarding slaves or women to be citizens. In 1791, Olympe de Gouges offered "The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and Female Citizen," exactly paralleling the structure of the "Declaration." Olympe de Gouges rebelled against the social strictures imposed upon women, lived openly with a variety of lovers, wrote plays and articles, attended salons, scandalized many. Like Condorcet and Diderot, she propagandized against slavery and the slave trade. She resented the male dominating perspective of the revolutionaries. She wrote and spoke against the death penalty, including the execution of the king and queen, earning the ire of the Convention. She "mounted the scaffold" in November, 1793, a month or so after Marie Antoinette.

image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympe_de_Gouges >

Conservatives hostile to change began to flee France, becoming émigrés.
The King's brothers, the Comte of Artois, and later his other brother, the Comte of Provence, sought help from
Marie Antoinette's brothers, Emperors Joseph II and Leopold II. Louis' younger brothers fled
to the Austrian Netherlands. They, the brothers, would re-emerge in the Restoration--
Provence as Louis XVIII (below left) and Artois as Charles X (below right.)

image source Louis XVIII < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_XVIII_of_France >
image source, Charles X < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_X_of_France >

As the Legislative Assembly worked to implement the pledges of the "Declaration" and the Constitution of 1791, the more radical Girondists and Jacobins sat on the left and the more conservative Feuillants sat on the right, beginning the definition of the terms "left" and "right" in political discourse (McPhee). Later, the Jacobins and Girondists would split (actually become bitter antagonists,) and Girondists sat on the right.

image source < http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Composition_de_l%27Assembl%C3%A9e_nationale_fran%C3%A7aise_par_l%C3%A9gislature >

   By 1791, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were fed up with the deliberations of the Assembly, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, the Constitution of 1791; they attempted to flee to the countryside where, they hoped, loyal peasants would rally to Crown and Church. Unfortunately for them, the "authorities" caught up with them, arrested them at Varennes, brought them back to virtual house arrest in Paris. Many, especially the radicals, viewed the "flight" as wanton betrayal; it certainly undermined popular support for the King in Paris, if not in the countryside.

(Kagan, et al. 698)

After the "Flight to Varennes" (June 21, 1791,) Louis XVI presided as a reluctant constitutional
monarch-figurehead over a regime he despised, run by an Assembly that did not trust him.
Faced with threats from Austria and Prussia (The Declaration of Pillnitz,)
the Assembly--dominated by Girondists and Jacobins after the "flight"--
declared war on Austria and Prussia in 1792, and sent the National Guard
off to fight the forces of General Brunswick (et al.) in the Austrian Netherlands.
Catalcysmic defeat and the Brunswick Manifesto set off a flurry of violence in Paris
and the next phase of the Revolution, the violent phase.

[ Setting ] [ Political Phase ] [ Violent Phase ] [ Napoleon ]

Works Cited

Background: Opening of the Estates General. <http://www.indiana.edu/~fritciv/html/disk3/034.JPEG

Brainard, Jennifer. "The Night of August 4." HistoryWiz. Online available.
< http://www.historywiz.comnightofaug4.htm >

"Charles X of France." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_X_of_France >

Englehart, S.F. "Europe 1789-1850--Revolution and Reaction." Claremont: California State University at Pomona, 1999.

Goodlett, Sean. "The Great Fear." The French Revolution . Online available.
< http://falco.fsc.edu/~sgoodlett/courses/hist3420/lect05.html >

"The Great Fear." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Fear >

Hunt, Lynn, et. al. The Challenge of the West. Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath and Co., 1995.

Isbell, Dr. "French Civilization." Bloomington, IN: Indiana University, 1996.
Dr. Isbell's site, alas, has flown away

Kagan, Donald, et al. The Civilization of the West. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997.

Kagan, Donald, et. al. The Heritage of World Civilizations, 9th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2007.

Kagan, Donald, et al. The Western Tradition, Vol. C 10th ed.. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2010.

Lefebvre, Georges. 1789.

McPhee, Peter. "The French Revolution." Coursera. 2014.

Powell, Scott. "The French History Gallery." A First History for Adults. Online available.
< http://www.powellhistory.com/art/Painting/Storming_of_the_Bastille.jpg > --gone

Spielvogel, Jackson. Western Civilization. Minneapolis, et. al.: West Publishing Co., 1994.

Warner, Judith. "Women of the Revolution: Book Review of Liberty--the Lives and Time of
Six Women in Revolutionary France
." The New York Times: Sunday Book Review, June 3, 2007.
Online available.
< http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/03/books/review/Warner-t.html?n=Top/Reference/Times%20Topics/Subjects/H/History >

Wikipedia Contributors. "Louis XVIII of France." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_XVIII_of_France >

Wikipedia Contributors. "Olympe de Gouges." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympe_de_Gouges >

Wikipedia Contributors. "Tennis Court Oath. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tennis_Court_Oath >