The Phase of Constitutional Monarchy (1789-92)

The Phase of Constitutional Monarchy (1789-92):

As we know on 17th June 1789, the Third Estate was converted into the “National Assembly of France”. But here we should be cautious about one fact, even the Third Estate was not a monolithic group. It consisted of the middle class and lower class both. These classes had different class objectives. For example, the objective of the middle class was to establish a constitutional monarchy. The objective of peasants was to get all sorts of feudal obligations abolished but the objective of artisans and workers was to promote economic and social democracy and republican ideas.

The period between 1789-92 was marked by intense institutional changes. French monarch Louis XVI tried to regain some of his powers but on 14th July, 1789 the famous incident “Decline of Bastille” took place. In fact, the Bastille was a prison located in Paris. The decline of Bastille became a living symbol of the bankruptcy of royal power.

Then the National Assembly took a very drastic measure on 4th August, 1789. There was the end of feudalism in France. The incident took place in this manner that some feudal lord or noble while standing before the National Assembly discarded his feudal rights or practice. He was followed by other nobles and clergymen. Then they started to compete with each other in giving up their feudal rights and the right to collect the taxes like “tithe”. So up to the midnight of 4th August 1789 feudalism was abolished in France. Definitely, it was a very significant event in the history of France because after this incident France became a nation of free peasantry. In this way, French cultivators became free from the legacy of medieval Europe.

But when we observe deeply we find that there was another side of the coin as well. It is true that with the abolition of feudalism, the privilege of nobility to be free from taxation as well as their judicial rights were abolished and this was done without giving any compensation to them but against the abolition of some of their rights, they got some compensation as well. Above all their right to property was still secured. So in one sense, they protected and preserved some of their more important privileges, while surrendering some less important ones. Moreover, the real credit for the abolition of feudalism should have been given to peasants but not to the National Assembly. Becuase it was the pressure of peasants’ revolt in rural areas that prepared the way for the abolition of feudalism.

Then on 26th August 1789, the National Assembly took a very important step. On that day there was a declaration of the rights of men and citizens. This declaration has a greater significance in world history. Firstly it was a charter on the basis of which the nature of the future government in France was to be decided. Secondly, the basic rights of the French people were accepted. Thirdly, this declaration was made not simply in the context of France but in the context of the whole world. So, it assumed a universal character. That’s why it is believed that the “Declaration of Men and Citizen” in France gave a death certificate to the “ancien regime”.

But still, we should not overestimate the impact of such a declaration. On observation, we find that this declaration had certain limitations as well.

Firstly, it was the declaration of rights but not of duties (of state).

Secondly, in this declaration, the economic right was not separately mentioned.

Thirdly, the workers were not allowed to form their organization or association, in spite of the declaration of human rights.

Lastly, provided this declaration universal suffrage was not accepted in the new constitution of France. So in one sense declaration was more abstract (idealistic) but less real.

This National Assembly had been working as the constituent assembly of France as well. In 1789 the new constitution of France came into existence. Here we can underline the influence of the middle class consciousness. For example in this constitution, there was the influence of the thinkers like Montesquieu, as it gave emphasis on the concept of separation of power. Furthermore, this new constitution emphasized even over decentralization of power. But it did not accept the principle of universal suffrage and enfranchisement was limited to 4.3 million people in France. In fact, this constitution made a clear differentiation between the tax-payer and non-tax-payer, and only taxpayers were given the status of active citizens in France. Furthermore, this constituent Assembly definitely committed a mistake when it brought a provision that the members of the constituent Assembly could not have been the members of the National convention, (the legislative body which was to be created on the basis of the new constitution). This provision definitely produced a negative result. Consequently, the revolution lost those elements, that were instrumental in maintaining the balance in the course of the Revolution between 1789 and 1791.

In October and November 1789, some important events occurred:

Firstly, on 5th October 1789, a mob of French women went from Paris to Versailles and brought King Louis XVI and his family from Versailles to Paris. It was here that this mob made a declaration that we have brought Baker, Baker’s wife, and Baker’s son with us.

Then in November 1789, the revolutionaries made an attack on the property of the church. The property of the church was captured. Thus appeared the concept of “National Property” in France. After that National Assembly brought a “Civil Constitution of Clergy”. The Priests were supposed to take an oath of their loyalty towards France. Some of the priests accepted the proposal and took the oath. Those who did so came to be known as “Jurer” but some refused to do so. They were known as “non-jurers”. After that, some disgruntled nobles and priests started to flee away from France and took refuge elsewhere. So a mental climate against the French Revolution was created outside of France.

Later a war started between France and the rest of Europe. In fact, what was a revolution in France took the form of a war in Europe and this war brought a revolution in Europe.

On the basis of this new constitution, an unicameral legislature was constituted in France. This was known as the National Convention. In this newly constituted National Convention those members, who had worked to frame a new constitution, were debarred. As a result of this, the revolution lost its direction. This newly formed National Convention was divided between Conservatives and radicals. To this conservative group, the pro-monarchial elements belonged. So this conservative group was inclined to restore the power of monarchy. On the other hand, radicals favored the formation of a republic in France. Among this radical group, there were Zirondists and Jacobians.

On the other hand, a climate of war was being created in Europe. The wife of the French monarch, Louis XVI, Mary Antoinette was related to the Austrian monarch. So Austria took the initiative to form an alliance against revolutionary France. But if we observe minutely we find that this situation of war was not simply the product of dynastic relations and support in Europe but in actual sense, it was a war between old Europe and New Europe. In fact, after the revolution, France continued to threaten the old order in Europe. On the other hand, even the French leadership supported the war. Pro-monarchial elements supported the war in the hope that it was with the help of the foreign power that monarchy could be restored in France. At the same time, even the radical group in the National Convention favored the war in the hope that it was on the excuse of war, the monarchy would be uprooted from France and France would be declared a republic. Ultimately the radical group became successful in its objective. So on 25th September 1792 France was declared to be a Republic and in the following January, French monarch Louis XVI was beheaded.

Important Links:

Intellectual Enlightenment
Political Causes of the French Revolution
Economic Causes of the French Revolution
Beginning of the French Revolution
Functions of the Constituent Assembly
Unsuccessful Attempt of the Royal Family to Flee the Country
Phases of the French Revolution
Role of Philosophers in the French Revolution
Nature of the French Revolution
Correlation Between the Objectives and Achievements of the French Revolution
Do you agree that the French Revolution achieved far less than what it intended to achieve?
Triumph of Jacobinism
Transformation of the Republic into a Military Dictatorship
Importance of the French Revolution
The Origin of the French Revolution
The Course of the French Revolution
Why Revolution in France?
French Revolution of 1848
The Foreign Policy of Louis Philippe
Causes of the Revolution of February 1848
Short Note on the French Revolution of 1848
Bonaparte Napoleon
Napoleon Ascendency
Consulate Rule and Constitution of 1799
Reforms of Napoleon
Napoleon Concord With Pope
Napoleonic Code
Continental System
Causes of the Failure of the Continental System
Napoleonic Imperialism
Napoleonic War
Short Note on Napoleon Bonaparte
Decline of the Napoleonic Empire
Spread of Revolutionary Principles
Popular Movement
Metternich and the Vienna Peace Settlement
The United States and the French Revolution, 1789–1799