4. The Sacred Values of the French RevolutionThe ideas of the French Revolution, coined in the phrases "Liberty", "Equality" and "Fraternity", triggered an enormous enthusiasm all over Europe.
The individuals must be liberated from their old restricting contexts of village communities, guilds, monasteries and large families. The privileges of nobility and church should be abolished. Everybody should be become free and equal individuals only bound together as brothers in the nation.
Left: The attack on the fortress of Bastillien d. 14 June
Right: Third Estate with the two other estates on its back.
"Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains" declared Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his "The Social Contract". The revolutionary French constitution was precisely such a contract, which allowed the free individuals to pursue their selfish goals restricted by the framework of the society contract only.
Following her military intervention in the far-off America in support of the rebels of , France and king Ludwig had incurred an huge debt, which in had increased to 4 billion livres, an enormous sum, which the nation in the short run was unable to repay.
In order to solve the debt problem of the nation the king and the government decided to convene an Estates General Assembly of the three estates, nobility, clergy, and peasants and citizens.
However the third estate, required having as many representatives in the Estates General Assembly as the two other estates together, claiming that they represented the vast majority of the people. With the support of Queen Marie Antoinette, they managed to get this request fulfilled.
The Estates General Assembly - contemporary drawing.
The queen and her advisers hoped that a strong representation from the third estate could implement the taxation of the nobility and clergy that they thought deemed necessary to solve the economic problems of the nation.
After seven weeks of fruitless negotiations the third estate decided to declare themselves as a "National Assembly" representing the people. Two days later they got the support of the majority of the clergy estate. Then the self-established "National Assembly" swore the "Tennis Court Oath", whereby the members pledged not to separate, before they had given the country a constitution.
The of July the rumour spread among the Parisians that the king intended to take military action against the self-established National Assembly and that he for this purpose had ordered twenty loyal regiments to concentrate near Paris and Versailles.
Left: Queen Marie Antoinette.
Right: Only third Estate paid taxes - revolutionary postcard.
An excited crowd stormed the Bastille, the old castle in the centre of Paris, killing the Commander and the garrison and released the criminals, who served their sentence there.
The following night one could see a screaming mob move through the streets of Paris with the Commander's head on a pole.
"Something like this has not happened since the Crusades. Like men then fought for the Holy Land, they are now fighting for the sacred Freedom. The desire for freedom has become an obsession in Paris and has spread to the east, west and south." Thus the Polish Jesuit Switkowski wrote on the situation in Paris in
The situation in France before the revolution recalls somewhat the present situation in the American economy. Like France in , the US has accumulated a huge debt partly because of military operations in distant countries. Like France, they have for years allowed the debt to increase as they have hesitated to present the bill for their people.
Like their predecessors, the American revolutionaries of , also the French revolutionaries of prepared a declaration of human rights, which was presented for the National Assembly:
Bertier de Sauvignon, Intendant of Paris, is led to his punishment - contemporary drawing.
"The National Assembly - are resolved to expose in a solemn declaration, the natural, inalienable and sacred rights of man - In the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being recognizes and declares the National Assembly following human and civil rights". - In the first article of the Declaration: "Men are born free and remain free and are equal in rights." And in the second article: "The goal of any political association is the conservation of the natural and imprescriptibly rights of man."
The American politician, Thomas Jefferson, was present in Paris, and advised the French people during the preparation.
The National Assembly abolished the traditional privileges of the nobility and the clergy. Their tax exemption was cancelled; the hunting rights of the nobility, the jurisdiction of the nobility and the serfdom of their peasants were all abolished.
The night between the 4. and the 5. of August large parts of the nobility and the clergy voluntary renounced the privileges, which their Frankish ancestors had acquired more than a thousand years ago, when they conquered the country from the Roman emperor.
Left: The beheading of King Ludvig
Right: A en sans culotte, a typical French revolutionary.
The National Assembly adopted a policy statement that members of all estates should be allowed to hold public office.
"Un-natural associations" were eliminated without mercy. A law of banned the merchant and craftmen's guilds. A few months later this ban was followed by a ban on any similar grouping. The law text said: "There is no longer any association inside the state, there is nothing else than the individuals' interests and the General Will."
Charitable associations were also forbidden. "It is a duty for the civil servants on the behalf of the nation to provide employment to those who need and help the needy."
The legislators had the view that property could not belong to "un-natural" associations like families, but only to the single individuals in the family. This resulted in that a father had to bequeath the family farm in equal parts to all his sons. Thus all farms became still smaller as time passed by. It was particularly directed against the nobility families.
Monasteries and monk orders were of course also "un-natural" associations and their property was confiscated for the benefit of the nation.
Napoleon Bonaparte, consul for life.
It would have been interesting to hear what Danton, Robspierre, La Fayette and the other revolutionaries would have said about the later financial invention, limited liability joint-stock companies. Would they have condemned them as the most "un-natural associations" of all? Would such "associations" have been allowed to own property?
After some years of bloody chaos Napoleon Bonaparte was in elected as "consul for life" after a referendum.
First Consul Napoleon brought the schools under state control. "Within the school system, it is my main aim to have a mean of directing the political and moral attitudes," he said. "For as long as people as children have not been told, whether they should be republicans or monarchists, Catholics or Atheists, the state will not constitute one nation."
As Emperor Napoleon he later continued the suppression of the "un-natural" communities. He ruled that all groups numbering more than twenty persons to be banned. In the nation there should only be the free liberated individuals, united in the enormous group, the nation, headed by the emperor.
One of most controversial blow to the old order was the National Assembly's attack against the church and Christianity.
The new politicians tried on several occasions to replace Christianity with the cult of "the Supreme Being," "The Highest", "Reason" or the like.
Already the leader of the new National Guard, La Fayette, arranged a huge worship at the "Altar of the Nation" in a grand scale attemp to unite the king, the people and the National Assembly.
The whole people, the noble class, the priests, the king and the queen gathered in Worship in front of the altar of the nation.
The personal celebrations, baptisms and weddings were de-christianized and moved from the church to the town hall.
However the political campaign against the Christian faith was never a lasting success.
For political reasons the emperor Napoleon made a peace with the church and reconciled himself with the Pope in Rome. He realized that Christianity could not be eradicated so easy. It would only have led to that the other results of the revolution would have been jeopardized.
Now one should think that when man is basically selfish, and when the French people have just concluded a social contract, which provides increased opportunities for the individual's selfish quest, so the next logical step would be that those selfish citizens would exploit the new freedom to pursue their happiness by starting new business, build new ships, cultivate new land and the like.
Liberty, Equality and Fraterniry on a revolutionary postcard.
But this was not how history took its course. "Liberte, Equality and Fraternity" had intoxicated the French people. They felt that they had been called to serve a great cause. They simply had to bring the good message to the whole world.
In reality, they simply changed one set of sacred values with another. "God, King and Motherland" were simply replaced by "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity".
That shows the tremendous power of common sacred values in the European cultural heritage.
Emperor Napoleon led the French armies to war all over Europe. The new individual freedom should be brought to the whole world. In the liberated areas they established satellite states with Roman-sounding names like "The Ligurian Republic," "The Cisalpin Republic" and "The Helvetian Republic."
In the spring of , the Emperor decided to bring the sacred values of Freedom to of the last major nation on the Continent, which still groaned under the yoke of tyranny, namely Russia.
, soldiers the Emperor had required from all his nations, France, the sister Republics, the forced allies and all the emperor's newly created kingdoms and duchies. It was the largest army the world had ever seen. There were soldiers from Prussia, Austria, Germany and France. The senior officers were of course French.
Le Grande Arme on retrat from Moscow.
The Russians used the "scorched earth strategy" and allowed the "La Grande Armee" to extend its supply lines all the way to Moscow offering only little resistance. Only at the village of Borodino in front of Moscow they delivered a decisive battle. Napoleon won the battle, but with heavy losses. Afterwards, he had still no supplies, and the merciless Russian winter began. The entire army had to pull back along the same route, they had come through snow, icy winds and double digits degrees of frost, continually attacked by mounted Cossacks. Only 60, men out of the original , men returned alive.
The failed campaign against Russian paved the way for Napoleon's and the French Revolution's final defeat on the battlefield of Waterloo in
But despite the defeat, the French Revolution values anyway kindled in Europe. During the nineteenth century nobility privileges were abolished almost everywhere in Europe. The peasants forced labour for the nobility, serfdom and the privileges of the guilds, all were gradually abolished along with all the ancient communities.
Already in the Englishman Abraham Darby from Coalbrookedale by the Severn River found a way to produce steel from iron ore and mined coal. Thus he had whistled the start signal for the industrial revolution. The new methods spread like rings in water, along with increased prosperity and optimism.
The ancient meeting place of the village community of Martofte - the island of Fyn.
For centuries the Europeans had mutually supported each other in the well-known old communities. When war, disease or famine caused havoc in the country, it was good to find support from the brothers of the guild, from the brothers in the monk order, from the lifetime neighbours in the village community or from the relatives in the large family. But now optimism spread, and many found new opportunities outside the old communities.
The Danish peasants were emancipated already in , one year before the French Revolution.
With the Constitution of Denmark became a constitutional monarchy.
In Denmark, the June Constitution of determined that all restrictions of the equal and free access to business, which were not motivated by concern for the general welfare, should be abolished. In "The Law of Business" followed this constitutional provision. Following this law, it was free for everyone to operate in any business. The right to business should not be conditional on membership in specific organizations, such as merchant or craftsman Guilds.
The Legislative Assembly was the governing body of France between October and September The Legislative Assembly replaced the National Constituent Assembly, which by September had completed most of the work for which it was convened. Its deputies had drafted a constitution they believed reflected the aims of the revolution. Feudalism, noble titles and the Ancien Régimes other institutional inequalities had been abolished. The idealistic Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was adopted as a preamble to the new constitution. Royal absolutism was dead and the king stripped of most of his executive powers. In late September , Louis XVI gave his assent to the new constitution, pledging to maintain it at home, defend it abroad and cause its execution by all the means at my disposal. Its mission complete, the National Constituent Assembly voted for its own dissolution and handed national government to the Legislative Assembly.
To an outsider unaware of earlier events, this moment may have appeared the end of the French Revolution. Frances transition from absolutist monarchy to constitutional government seemed complete. Some idealistic politicians viewed the handing of power to the Legislative Assembly with optimism, allowing the nation a fresh start from the rising tensions and violence of They believed the king had finally accepted constitutional change and hoped his earlier intransigence would be forgotten. Writing at the time, the Marquis de Ferrieres suggested that the king and queen appear entirely in favour of the constitution, and they are wise to do so The people are delirious. The king and queen are acclaimed the moment they appear. So, you see, everything points to a solid new order of affairs. Other Monarchiens (constitutional monarchists) expressed sentiments that were equally as hopeful.
Republicans and political realists had a dimmer view of the situation. The constitution had been enacted but its head of state was a prisoner of the state, following his failed attempt to flee Paris in June France was now a constitutional monarchy but its monarch was reluctant, untrustworthy and unpopular. The king, who was shiftless, uncertain and difficult to pin down on political questions, expressed little personal faith in the constitution. In a conversation with the royalist politician Bertrand de Molleville, Louis XVI described the constitution as far from a masterpiece. I think it has some great defects, he told Molleville, but I have sworn to maintain it, warts and all Executing the Constitution in its literal terms is the best way of making the nation see the alterations that it needs. This passage suggests the Legislative Assembly faced a king who was bent on constitutional sabotage.
To compound the problem of executive leadership, the new Legislative Assembly was itself neither representative nor experienced. It was elected by active citizens: those affluent enough to pay a sizeable amount in taxation. Most working class citizens were not entitled to cast a vote for the new legislature. This exclusion outraged the radical sections and democrats in the Jacobin club, many of who favoured universal suffrage. The Legislative Assembly was also hampered by the self-denying ordinance, a regulation proposed by Maximilien Robespierre and passed by the National Constituent Assembly on May 16th The self-denying ordinance forbade all sitting members of the National Constituent Assembly from standing as candidates for the Legislative Assembly. Robespierres ordinance was intended as an act of political self-sacrifice, to renew government and prevent an entrenchment of power in the new assembly. A small number of deputies opposed it, arguing that replacing the entire legislature jeopardised the stability of the government.
Elections for the Legislative Assembly were held in September Most of the deputies elected to the Legislative Assembly had a record in provincial or municipal government or the public service. Many were members of the Cercle Social and the Jacobin Club who had not won seats in the National Constituent Assembly. Among those to take a seat in the Legislative Assembly were Jacques Brissot, the Marquis de Condorcet, the Republican lawyer Pierre Vergniaud, the Jacobin merchant Pierre Cambon and Georges Couthon, an ally of Robespierre. Because the constitution kept passive voters at arms length, the vast majority of deputies came from the middle classes. Almost half of them ( deputies) were Republicans, while around one quarter () were Feuillant constitutional monarchists and the rest () were politically unaligned.
In the first weeks of the Assembly, deputies gravitated around prominent leaders and developed into factions. The largest of these factions was led by the imposing figure of Jacques Brissot. A lawyer turned political journalist, Brissot had acquired a reputation as a man of letters dedicated to the revolution. Before his election to the Legislative Assembly Brissot sat in the Paris Commune and delivered several powerful speeches to the Jacobin club. He was also well travelled and had many contacts abroad, skills that prompted Brissots appointment to the Assemblys diplomatic committee. Brissot was considered a radical in but he occupied the centre-left of the Legislative Assembly. He was a moderate Republican who wanted to abolish the monarchy and the constitution. He was also in favour of war with Frances European neighbours: to bring about the collapse of the French monarchy, to export revolutionary ideals and to threaten monarchies elsewhere. Brissots followers were variously known as the Brissotins, the Girondins (many hailed from the Gironde département) or the Rolandists (their leaders frequented the salon of Madame Roland).
During its short life, the Legislative Assembly was confronted with many problems and challenges. One of these was the constitutional authority of the recalcitrant king. Louis XVI retained two significant powers that affected the functioning of the assembly: the power to appoint ministers and the power of suspensive veto. Louis appointed most of his ministers from the Feulliants or the centre-right and many of his appointments were of dubious quality. The king also created controversy and division by willingly using his veto to block the Assemblys laws. In its first weeks, the Legislative Assembly drafted legislation to take action against émigrés and non-juring priests. It passed these laws on November 8th and November 29th respectively but both were vetoed by the king. More royal vetoes followed in and each veto triggered a wave of public protest against the monarch.
The Legislative Assemblys most significant measure was its declaration of war against Austria (April 20th ). This decision was orchestrated by Brissot and the Girondins, who believed that war would refocus the revolution, inflame French nationalism and consolidate their own power. But Frances revolutionary armies fared poorly in the first months of the war and by summer an Austro-Prussian invasion seemed imminent. War shaped the mood in Paris, particularly after the Duke of Brunswicks July manifesto that threatened to decimate the city. Parisians were not intimidated and did not bow to his threats, however the fear of foreign invasion and counter-revolution shaped events in the city in July and August On August 10th the people of Paris rose in insurrection, replacing the citys Commune and invading the kings apartments at the Tuileries. The end result was the suspension of the king and the Constitution of By instigating a war, the Legislative Assembly contributed to its own demise.
1. The Legislative Assembly was the governing body of France between October and September It replaced the National Constituent Assembly.
2. The Legislative Assembly was formed under the Constitution of , which created a constitutional monarchy with Louis XVI as the head of state.
3. The Assembly contained deputies. Almost half were Jacobin republicans while the rest were Feuillants (constitutional monarchists) and political moderates.
4. The dominant faction in the Assembly was the Girondins, headed by Jacques Brissot. This faction led the push for war with Austria, which was eventually declared in April
5. The Revolutionary War and its impact created radicalism that eventually toppled the monarchy and rendered the Legislative Assembly redundant. In September it was replaced by the National Convention.
This page was written by Jennifer Llewellyn and Steve Thompson. To reference this page, use the following citation:
J. Llewellyn and S. Thompson, The Legislative Assembly, Alpha History, accessed [todays date], dfknj.wz.cz