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A Political and Social History of Modern Europe V.1. by Carlton J. H. Hayes

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state in Europe. He carefully watched the judges to see that they did
not render wrongful decisions or take bribes. He commissioned jurists
to compile the laws and to make them so simple and clear that no one
would violate them through ignorance. He abolished the old practice of
torturing suspected criminals to make them confess their guilt.

Education, as well as justice, claimed his attention; he founded
elementary schools, so that as many as possible of his subjects could
learn at least to read and write. In religious affairs, Frederick
allowed great individual liberty; for he was a deist, and, like other
deists of the time, believed in religious toleration.

More important even than justice, education, and toleration, he
considered the promotion of material prosperity among his people. He
would have considered himself a failure, had his reign not meant "good
times" for farmers and merchants. He encouraged industry. He fostered
the manufacture of silk. He invited thrifty farmers to move from other
countries and to settle in Prussia. He built canals. Marshes were
drained and transformed into rich pasture-land. If war desolated a part
of the country, then, when peace was concluded, Frederick gave the
farmers seed and let them use his war-horses before the plow. He
advised landlords to improve their estates by planting orchards; and he
encouraged peasants to grow turnips as fodder for cattle. Much was done
to lighten the financial burdens of the peasantry, for (as Frederick
himself declared) if a man worked all day in the fields, "he should not
be hounded to despair by tax-collectors."

Taxes were not light by any means, but everybody knew that the king was
not squandering the money. Frederick was not a man to lavish fortunes
on worthless courtiers; he diligently examined all accounts; and his
officials dared not be extravagant for fear of being corporally
punished, or, what was worse, of being held up to ridicule by the cruel
wit of their royal master.

It was only this marvelous economy and careful planning that enabled
Prussia to support an army of 200,000 men and to embark upon a policy
of conquest, by which Silesia and a third of Poland were won. On the
army alone Frederick was willing to spend freely, but even in this
department he made sure that Prussia received its money's worth.
Tireless drill, strict discipline, up-to-date arms, and well-trained
officers made the Prussian army the envy and terror of eighteenth-
century Europe.

In dwelling upon his seemingly successful attempts to govern in the
light of reason and common sense, we have almost forgotten Frederick's
love of philosophy. Let us recur to it before we take leave of him; for
benevolent despotism was only one side of the philosophical monarch. He
liked to play his flute while thinking how to outwit Maria Theresa; he
delighted in making witty answers to tiresome reports and petitions; he
enjoyed sitting at table with congenial companions discussing poetry,
science, and the drama. True, he did not encourage the rising young
German poets Lessing and Goethe. He thought their work vulgar and
uninspired. But he invited literary Frenchmen to come to Berlin, and he
put new life into the Berlin Academy of Science. Even Voltaire was for
a time a guest at Frederick's court, and the amateurish poems written
in French by the Prussian king were corrected by the "prince of

[Sidenote: Catherine the Great of Russia, 1762-1796]

While Frederick was demonstrating that "the prince is but the first
servant of the state," Catherine II was playing the enlightened despot
in Russia. In the course of her remarkable career, [Footnote: See
above, pp. 380 ff.] Catherine found time to write flattering letters to
French philosophers, to make presents to Voltaire, and to invite
Diderot to tutor her son. She posed, too, as a liberal-minded monarch,
willing to discuss the advisability of giving Russia a written
constitution, or of emancipating the serfs. Schools and academies were
established, and French became the language of polite Russian society.

At heart Catherine was little moved by desire for real reform or by
pity for the peasants. She had the heavy whip--the knout--applied to
the bared backs of earnest reformers. Her court was scandalously
immoral, and she violated the conventions of matrimony without a qualm.
For some excuse or another, the promised constitution was never
written, and the lot of the serfs tended to become actually worse. To
the governor of Moscow, the tsarina wrote: "My dear prince, do not
complain that the Russians have no desire for instruction; if I
institute schools, it is not for us,--it is for Europe, where we must
keep our position in public opinion. But the day when our peasants
shall wish to become enlightened, both you and I will lose our places."
This shows clearly that while Catherine wished to be considered an
enlightened despot, she was at heart quite the reverse. Her true
character was not to be made manifest until the outbreak of the French
Revolution, and then Catherine of Russia was to preach a crusade
against reform.

[Sidenote: Charles III of Spain, 1759-1788]

There were other benevolent despots, however, who were undoubtedly
sincere. Charles III, with able ministers, made many changes in Spain.
[Footnote: Charles III had previously been king of Naples (1735-1759)
and had instituted many reforms in that kingdom] The Jesuits were
suppressed; the exaggerated zeal of the Inquisition was effectually
checked; police were put on the streets of Madrid; German farmers were
encouraged to settle in Spain; roads and canals were built;
manufactures were fostered; science was patronized; and the fleet was
nearly doubled. When Charles III died, after a reign of almost thirty
years, the revenues of Spain had tripled, and its population had
increased from seven to eleven millions.

[Sidenote: Joseph I of Portugal, 1750-1777]

Charles's neighbor, Joseph I of Portugal, possessed in the famous
Pombal a minister who was both a typical philosopher and an active
statesman. Under his administration, industry, education, and commerce
throve in Portugal as in Spain. Gustavus III (1771-1792) of Sweden
similarly made himself the patron of industry and the friend of the
workingman. In Italy, the king of Sardinia was freeing his serfs, while
in Tuscany several important reforms were being effected by Duke
Leopold, a younger brother of the Habsburg emperor, Joseph II.

[Sidenote: Joseph II of Austria, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire]

Joseph II, archduke of Austria and emperor of the Holy Roman Empire,
carried the theory of enlightened despotism to its greatest lengths. He
was at once the most enthusiastic and the most unsuccessful of all the
benevolent despots. In him is to be observed the most striking example
of the aims, and likewise the weaknesses, of this generation of

[Sidenote: His Heritage from Maria Theresa]

Before we consider Joseph's career, it is important to understand what
his mother, Maria Theresa (1740-1780), had already done for the
Habsburg realms. We are familiar with her brave conduct in defense of
her hereditary lands against the unscrupulous ambition of Frederick the
Great. [Footnote: See above ch. xi.] For her loss of Silesia she had
obtained through the partition of Poland some compensation in Galicia
and Moldavia. Her domestic policy is of present concern.

The troops furnished by vote of provincial assemblies, she welded
together into a national army. German became the official language of
military officers; and a movement was begun to supplant Latin by German
in the civil administration. The privileges of religious orders were
curtailed in the interest of strong government; and the papal bull
suppressing the Jesuits was enforced. The universities were remodeled;
and the elaborate system of elementary and secondary schools, then
established, survived with but little change until 1869.

Maria Theresa had begun reform along most of the lines which her son
was to follow. But in two important particulars she was unlike him and
unlike the usual enlightened despot. In the first place, she was
politic rather than philosophical. She did not attempt wholesale
reforms, or blindly follow fine theories, but introduced practical and
moderate measures in order to remedy evils. She was very careful not to
offend the prejudices or traditions of her subjects. Secondly, Maria
Theresa was a devout Roman Catholic. Love of her subjects was not a
theory with her,--it was a religious duty. A cynical Frederick the
Great might laugh at conscience, and to a Catherine morality might mean
nothing; but Maria Theresa remained an ardent Christian in an age of
unbelief and a pure woman when loose living was fashionable.

[Sidenote: Policies and Plans of Joseph II, 1780-1790]

Her eldest son, Joseph II, [Footnote: Holy Roman Emperor (1765-1790),
and sole ruler of the Habsburg dominions (1780-1790).] was brought up a
Roman Catholic, and although strongly influenced by Rousseau's
writings, never seceded from the Church. But neither religion nor
expediency was his guiding principle. He said, "I have made Philosophy
the legislator of my Empire: her logical principles shall transform

There was something very noble in the determination of the young ruler
to do away with all injustice, to relieve the oppressed, and to lift up
those who had been trampled under foot. His ambition was to make
Austria a strong, united, and prosperous kingdom, to be himself the
benefactor of his people, to protect the manufacturer, and to free the
serf. Austria was to be remodeled as Rousseau would have wished--except
in respect of Rousseau's basic idea of popular sovereignty.

It is a pity that Joseph II cannot be judged simply by his good
intentions, for he was quite unfitted to carry out wholesome reforms.
He had derived his ideas from French philosophers rather than from
actual life; he was so sure that his theories were right that he would
take no advice; he was impatient and would brook no delay in the
wholesale application of his theories. Regardless of prejudice,
regardless of tradition, regardless of every consideration of political
expediency, he rushed ahead on the path of reform.

To Joseph II it mattered not that Austria had long been the stronghold
and her rulers the champions of Catholic Christianity. He insisted that
no papal bulls should be published in his dominions without his own
authorization; he nominated the bishops; he confiscated church lands.
Side altars and various emblems were removed from the churches, not
because they were useless, for humble Christians still prayed to their
God before such altars, but because the emperor thought side altars
were signs of superstition. The old and well-loved ceremonies were
altered at his command. Many monasteries were abolished. The clergy
were to be trained in schools controlled by the emperor. And, to cap
the climax, heretics and Jews were to be not only tolerated, but
actually given the same rights as orthodox Catholics.

Many of these measures were no doubt desirable, and one or two of them
might have been accomplished without causing much disturbance, but by
trying to reform everything at once, Joseph only shocked and angered
the clergy and such of his people as piously loved their religion.

His political policies, which were no more wisely conceived or
executed, were three in number. (1) He desired to extend his
possessions eastward to the Black Sea and southward to the Adriatic,
while the distant Netherlands might conveniently be exchanged for near-
by Bavaria. (2) He wished to get rid of all provincial assemblies and
other vestiges of local independence, and to have all his territories
governed uniformly by officials subject to himself. (3) He aimed to
uplift the lower classes of his people, and to put down the proud
nobles, so that all should be equal and all alike should look up to
their benevolent, but all-powerful, ruler.

The first of these policies brought him only disastrous wars. His
designs on Bavaria were frustrated by Frederick the Great, who posed as
the protector of the smaller German states. In the Balkan peninsula his
armies fought much and gained little.

His administrative policy was as unfortunate as his territorial
ambition. Maria Theresa had taken some steps to simplify the
administration of her heterogeneous dominions, but she had wisely
allowed Hungary, Lombardy, and the Netherlands to preserve certain of
the traditions and formulas of self-government, and she did everything
to win the loyalty and confidence of her Hungarian subjects. Joseph, on
the other hand, carried the sacred crown of St. Stephen--treasured by
all Hungarians--to Vienna; abolished the privileges of the Hungarian
Diet, or congress; and with a stroke of the pen established a new
system of government. He divided his lands into thirteen provinces,
each under a military commander. Each province was divided into
districts or counties, and these again into townships. There would be
no more local privileges but all was to be managed from Vienna. The
army was henceforth to be on the Prussian model, and the peasants were
to be forced to serve their terms in it. German was to be the official
language throughout the Habsburg realm. This was all very fine on
paper, but in practice it was a gigantic failure. The Austrian
Netherlands rose in revolt rather than lose their local autonomy; the
Tyrol did likewise; and angry protests came from Hungary. Local
liberties and traditions could not be abolished by an imperial decree.

Finally, in his attempts to reconstruct society, Joseph came to grief.
He directed that all serfs should become free men, able to marry
without the consent of their lord, privileged to sell their land and to
pay a fixed rent instead of being compelled to labor four days a week
for their lord. Nobles and peasants alike were to share the burdens of
taxation, all paying 13 per cent on their land. Joseph intended still
further to help the peasantry, for, he said "I could never bring myself
to skin two hundred good peasants to pay one do-nothing lord more than
he ought to have." He planned to give everybody a free elementary
education, to encourage industry, and to make all his subjects
prosperous and happy.

[Sidenote: Failure of Joseph II]

But the peasants disliked compulsory military service and misunderstood
his reforms; the nobles were not willing to be deprived of their feudal
rights; the bourgeoisie was irritated by his blundering attempts to
encourage industry; the clergy preached against his religious policy.
He reigned only ten years; yet he was hated by many and loved by none;
he had met defeat abroad, and at home his subjects were in revolt.

Little wonder that as he lay dying (1790) with hardly friend or
relative near to comfort him, the discouraged reformer should have
sighed: "After all my trouble, I have made but few happy, and many
ungrateful." He directed that most of his "reforms" should be canceled,
and proposed as an epitaph for himself the gloomy sentence: "Here lies
the man who, with the best intentions, never succeeded in anything."
[Footnote: The epitaph was not quite true. The serfs in Austria
retained at least part of the liberty he had granted.]

[Sidenote: Weakness of Benevolent Despotism]

Joseph II was not the only benevolent despot who met with
discouragement. The fatal weakness of "enlightened despotism" was its
failure to enlist the sympathy and support of the people. Absolute
rulers like Joseph II tried to force reforms on their peoples whether
the reforms were popularly desired or not. As a result, few of their
measures were lasting, and ingratitude was uniformly their reward.

If all kings had possessed the supreme ability and genius of a
Frederick the Great, enlightened despotism might still be in vogue. The
trouble was that even well-meaning monarchs like Joseph II were
unpractical; and many sovereigns were not even well-meaning. In
Prussia, the successor of Frederick the Great, King Frederick William
II, had neither ability nor character; his weak rule undid the work of
Frederick. The same thing happened in other countries: weakness
succeeded ability, extravagance wasted the fruits of economy, and
corruption ruined the work of reform. Absolute monarchy without good
intentions proved terribly oppressive.


In no country was the evil side of absolutism exhibited so unmistakably
as in France. During the eighteenth century the French government went
from bad to worse, until at last it was altered not by peaceful reform
but by violent revolution.

[Sidenote: French People better off than their Neighbors]

As far as their actual condition was concerned, the people of France
were, on the whole, better off than most Germans or Italians. Next to
England, France had the most numerous, prosperous, and intelligent
middle class; and her peasants were slightly above the serfs of other
Continental countries. But the very fact that in material well-being
they were a little better off than their neighbors, made the French
people more critical of their government. The lower classes had not all
been ground down until they were mere slaves without hope or courage;
on the contrary, there were many sturdy farmers and thrifty artisans
who hoped for better days and bitterly resented inequalities in society
and abuses in the government. The bourgeoisie was even less inclined to
bow to tyranny; it was numerous, intelligent, wealthy, and influential;
it could see the mistakes of the royal administration and was hopeful
of gaining a voice in the government. Thus, the people of France were
keener to feel wrongs and to resent the injustice of undutiful

Let us glance at the crying abuses in the French state of the
eighteenth century, and then we shall understand how great was the
guilt of that pleasure-loving despot--Louis XV (1715-1774).

[Sidenote: The Administration]
[Sidenote: The King]

The French administrative system was confused and oppressive. In
theory, it was quite simple--the government was the king. As Louis XV
haughtily remarked: "The sovereign authority is vested in my person...
the legislative power exists in myself alone... my people are one only
with me; national rights and national interests are necessarily
combined with my own and only rest in my hands."

But in practice, the king could not alone make laws, keep order, and
collect taxes, especially when he spent whole days hunting or gambling.
He contented himself with spending the state money, getting into wars,
and occasionally interfering with the work of his ministers. And it was
necessary to intrust the actual conduct of affairs to a complicated
system or no-system of royal officials.

[Sidenote: The Royal Council]

The highest rung in the ladder of officialdom was the Royal Council. It
was composed of the half dozen chief ministers and about thirty
councilors who helped their chiefs to supervise the affairs of the
kingdom,--issuing decrees, conferring on foreign policy, levying taxes,
and acting on endless reports from local officials.

[Sidenote: Local Administration. The Intendants]

The Royal Council had numerous local representatives. There were the
bailiffs and seneschals, whose actual powers had quite disappeared, but
whose offices served to complicate matters. Then there were the
governors of provinces, well-fed gentlemen with fat salaries and little
to do. The bulk of local administration fell into the hands of the
intendants and their sub-delegates. Each of the thirty-four intendants
--the so-called "Thirty Tyrants of France"--was appointed by the king's
ministers and was like a petty despot in his district

The powers of the intendant were extensive. He decided what share of
the district taxes each village and taxpayer should bear. He had his
representatives in each parish of his district, and through them he
supervised the police, the preservation of order, and the recruiting of
the army. He relieved the poor in bad seasons. The erection of a
church, or the repair of a town hall, needed his sanction. When the
Royal Council ordered roads to be built, it was the intendant and his
men who directed the work and called the peasants out to do the labor.
With powers such as these, it was little wonder that the intendant was
called _Monseigneur_--"My lord."

[Sidenote: The Parlement of Paris]

The system of Royal Council, intendants, and sub-intendants would have
been comparatively simple, had it not been complicated by the presence
of numerous other political bodies, each of which claimed certain
customary powers. First of all, there was the _Parlement_, or
supreme court, of Paris, primarily a judicial body which registered the
royal decrees. If the Parlement disliked a decree, it might refuse to
register it, until the king should hold a "bed of justice"--that is,
should formally summon the Parlement and in person command it to
register his decree.

[Sidenote: Provincial Estates]

Then there were provincial "Estates," or assemblies, in a few of the
provinces. [Footnote: Such provinces were called _pays d'état_ and
included Brittany, Languedoc, Provence, Roussillon, Dauphiné, Burgundy,
Franche Comté, Alsace, Lorraine, Artois, Flanders, Corsica, etc. The
local assemblies in these _pays d'état_ were by no means
representative of all the inhabitants. The remaining provinces, in
which no vestiges of provincial self-government survived, were called
_pays d'élection_: they included Ile de France, Orléanais,
Champagne and Brie, Maine, Anjou, Poitou, Guyenne and Gascony,
Limousin, Auvergne, Lyonnais, Bourbonnais, Touraine, Normandy, Picardy,
etc.] These bodies, survivals of the middle ages, did not make laws
but had a voice in the apportionment of taxes among the parishes of the
province, and exercised powers of supervision over road-building and
the collection of taxes.

[Sidenote: Town Councils]

The government of the towns was peculiar. The old gilds, now including
only a small number of the wealthiest burghers, elected a Town Council,
which managed the property of the town, appointed tax-collectors, saw
that the town hall was kept in repair, and supervised the collection of
customs duties on goods brought into the town. It is easy to perceive
how the Town Council and the intendant would have overlapping powers,
and how considerable confusion might arise, especially since in
different towns the nature and the powers of the Town Council differed
widely. Matters were complicated still further by the fact that the
mayors of the towns were not elected by the council, but appointed by
the crown.

In rural districts there was a trace of the same conflict between the
system of intendants and the survivals of local self-government.
Summoned by the clanging church bell, all the men of the village met on
the village green. And the simple villagers, thus gathered together as
a town meeting or communal assembly, might elect collectors of the
_taille_, or might perhaps petition the intendant to repair the
parsonage or the bridge.

[Sidenote: Confusion in Administration]

Possibly the reader may now begin to realize that confusion was a prime
attribute of the French administrative system. The common people were
naturally bewildered by the overlapping functions of Royal Council,
Parlement, provincial estates, governors, bailiffs, intendants,
subintendants, mayors, town councils, and village assemblies. The
system, or lack of system, gave rise to corruption and complication
without insuring liberty. The most trivial affairs were regulated by
overbearing and exacting royal officials. Everything depended upon the
honesty and industry or upon the meanness and caprice of these
officials. Each petty officer transmitted long reports to his superior;
but the general public was kept in the dark about official matters, and
was left to guess, as best it could, the reasons for the seemingly
unreasonable acts of the government. If an intendant increased the
taxes on a village, the ignorant inhabitants blamed it upon official
"graft" or favoritism. Or, if hard times prevailed, or if a shaky
bridge broke down, the villagers were prone in any case to find fault
with the government, for the more mysterious and powerful the
government was, the more likely was it to bear the blame for all ills.

Confusion in administrative offices was not the only confusion in
eighteenth-century France. There was no uniformity or simplicity in
standards of weight and measure, in coinage, in tolls, in internal
customs-duties. But worst of all were the laws and the courts of

[Sidenote: Confusion in Laws]

What was lawful in one town was often illegal in a place not five miles
distant. Almost four hundred sets or bodies of law were in force in
different parts of France. In some districts the old Roman laws were
still retained; elsewhere laws derived from early German tribes were
enforceable. Many laws were not even in writing; and such as were
written were more often in Latin than in French. The result was that
only unusually learned men knew the law, and common people stumbled
along in the dark. The laws, moreover, were full of injustice and
cruelty. An offender might have his hand or ear cut off, or his tongue
torn out; he might be burned with red-hot irons or have molten lead
poured into his flesh. Hanging was an easy death compared to the
lingering torture of having one's bones broken on a wheel.

[Sidenote: Confusion in Law Courts]

The courts were nearly as bad as the laws. There were royal courts,
feudal courts, church courts, courts of finance, and military courts;
and it was a wise offender who knew before which court he might be
tried. Extremely important cases might be carried on appeal to the
highest courts of the realm--the Parlements--of which there were
thirteen, headed in honor by that of Paris.

[Sidenote: Prevalence of Injustice]

Although courts were so plenteous, justice was seldom to be found.
Persons wrongfully accused of crime were tortured until they confessed
deeds they had never committed. The public was not admitted to trials,
so no one knew on what grounds the sentence was passed, and the judge
gave no reason for his verdict. Civil lawsuits were appealed from court
to court and might drag on for years until the parties had spent all
their money. Lawyers were more anxious to extract large fees from their
clients than to secure justice for them.

[Sidenote: "Noblesse de la Robe"]

Confused laws and conflicting jurisdictions were often made worse by
the character of the judges who presided over royal courts. Many of
them were rich bourgeois who had purchased their appointment from the
king. For a large price it was possible to buy a judgeship or seat in a
Parlement, not only for a lifetime but as an hereditary possession. It
has been estimated that 50,000 bourgeois families possessed such
judicial offices: they formed a sort of lower nobility, exempted from
certain taxes and very proud of their honors. Naturally envious were
his neighbors when the "councilor" appeared in his grand wig and his
enormous robe of silk and velvet, attended by a page who kept the robe
from trailing in the dust. No wonder these bourgeois judges were called
"the nobility of the robe."

In some way or other the "noble of the robe" had to compensate himself
for the price of his office and the cost of his robe. One bought an
office for profit as well as for honor. For to the judge were paid the
court fees and fines; and no shrewd judge would let a case pass him
without exacting some kind of a fee. Even more profitable were the
indirect gains. If Monsieur A had gained his case in court, it was
quite to be expected that in his joy Monsieur A would make a handsome
present to the judge who had given the decision. At least, that is the
way the judge would have put it. As a plain matter of fact the judges
were bribed, and justice was too often bought and sold like judgeships.

[Sidenote: Abuses in the Army]

Corruption and abuses were not confined to the civil government and the
courts of law; the army, too, was infected. In the ranks were to be
found hired foreigners, unwilling peasants dragged from their farms,
and the scum of the city slums. Thousands deserted every year. Had the
discontented troops been well commanded, they might still have answered
the purpose. But such was not the case. There were certainly enough
officers--an average of one general for every 157 privates. But what
officers they were! Dissolute and dandified generals drawing their pay
and never visiting their troops, lieutenants reveling in vice, instead
of drilling and caring for their commands. Noble blood, not ability,
was the qualification of a commander. Counts, who had never seen a
battlefield, were given military offices, and the seven-year-old Duc de
Frousac was a colonel.

[Sidenote: Confusion in Finance]

Confused administration, antiquated laws, corrupt magistrates, and a
disorganized army showed the weakness of the French monarchy; but
financial disorders threatened its very existence,--for a government
out of money is as helpless as a fish out of water.

The destructive wars, costly armies, luxurious palaces, and extravagant
court of Louis XIV had left to the successors of the Grand Monarch many
debts, an empty treasury, and an overtaxed people. If ever there was
need of care and thrift, it was in the French monarchy in the
eighteenth century.

Yet the king's ministers did not even trouble themselves to keep
orderly accounts. Bills and receipts were carelessly laid away; no one
knew how much was owed or how much was to be expected by the treasury;
and even the king himself could not have told how much he would run
into debt during the year. While it lasted, money was spent freely.

[Sidenote: Royal Revenue]

The amount of money required by the king would have made taxes very
heavy anyway, but bad methods of assessment and collection added to the
burden. The royal revenue was derived chiefly from three sources: the
royal domains, the direct taxes, and the indirect taxes. From the royal
domains, the lands of which the king was landlord as well as sovereign,
a considerable but ever-diminishing income was derived.

[Sidenote: Direct Taxes]
[Sidenote: The Income Tax]
[Sidenote: The Poll Tax]

The direct taxes were the prop of the treasury, for they could be
increased to meet the demand, at least as long as the people would pay.
There were three direct taxes--the _taille_, the _capitation_, and the
_vingtième_. The _vingtième_, or "twentieth," was a tax on incomes—5
per cent [Footnote: Five per cent in theory; in practice in the reign
of Louis XVI it was 11 per cent] on the salary of the judge, on the
rents of the noble, on the earning of the artisan, on the produce of
the peasant. The clergy were entirely exempted from this tax; the more
influential nobles and bourgeois contrived to have their incomes
underestimated, and the burden fell heaviest on the poorer classes.
_Capitation_ was a general poll or head tax, varying in amount
according to whichever of twenty-two classes claimed the individual
taxpayer. Maid-servants, for example, paid annually three _livres_ and
twelve _sous_. [Footnote: A _livre_ was worth about a _franc_ (20
cents) and a _sou_ was equivalent to one cent.]

[Sidenote: The Taille or Land Tax]

The most important and hated direct tax was the _taille_ or land
tax,--practically a tax on peasants alone. The total amount to be
raised was apportioned among the intendants by the Royal Council, and
by the intendants among the villages of their respective districts. At
the village assembly collectors were elected, who were thereby
authorized to demand from each villager a share of the tax, according
to his ability to pay. As a result of this method, each villager tried
to appear poor so as to be taxed lightly; whole villages looked run-
down in order to be held for only a small share; and influential
politicians often obtained alleviation for parts of the country.

[Sidenote: Indirect Taxes]
[Sidenote: "Tax Farming"]

The indirect taxes were not so heavy, but they were bitterly detested.
There were taxes on alcohol, metal-ware, cards, paper, and starch, but
most disliked of all was that on salt (the _gabelle_). Every
person above seven years of age was supposed annually to buy from the
government salt-works seven pounds of salt at about ten times its real
value. [Footnote: It should be understood, of course, that the
_gabelle_ was higher and more burdensome in some provinces than in
others.] Only government agents could legally sell salt, and smugglers
were fined heavily or sent to the galleys. These indirect taxes were
usually "farmed out," that is, in return for a lump sum the government
would grant to a company of speculators the right to collect what they
could. These speculators were called "farmers-general,"--France could
be called their farm [Footnote: Etymologically, the French word for
farm (_ferme_) was not necessarily connected with agriculture, but
signified a fixed sum (_firma_) paid for a certain privilege, such
as that of collecting a tax.] and money its produce. And they farmed
well. After paying the government, the "farmers" still had millions of
francs to distribute as bribes or as presents to great personages or to
retain for themselves. Thus, millions were lost to the treasury.

[Sidenote: The Burden of Taxation]

Taxes could not always be raised to cover emergencies, nor collected so
wastefully. The peasants of France were crushed by feudal dues, tithes,
and royal taxes. The bourgeoisie were angered by the income tax, by the
indirect taxes, by the tolls and internal customs, and by the
monopolistic privileges which the king sold to his favorites. How long
the unprivileged classes would bear the burden of taxation, while the
nobles and clergy were almost free, no one could tell; but signs of
discontent were too patent to be ignored.

Louis XIV (1643-1715) at the end of his long reign perceived the
danger. As the aged monarch lay on his deathbed, flushed with fever, he
called his five-year-old great-grandson and heir, the future Louis XV,
to the bedside and said: "My child, you will soon be sovereign of a
great kingdom. Do not forget your obligations to God; remember that it
is to Him that you owe all that you are. Endeavor to live at peace with
your neighbors; do not imitate me in my fondness for war, nor in the
exorbitant expenditure which I have incurred. Take counsel in all your
actions. Endeavor to _relieve the people at the earliest possible
moment_, and thus to accomplish what, unfortunately, I am unable to
do myself."

[Sidenote: Louis XV, 1715-1774]

It was good advice. But Louis XV was only a boy, a plaything in the
hands of his ministers. In an earlier chapter [Footnote: See above, pp.
255 f.] we have seen how under the duke of Orleans, who was prince
regent from 1715 to 1723, France entered into war with Spain, and how
finance was upset by speculation; and how under Cardinal Fleury, who
was minister from 1726 to 1743, the War of the Polish Election (1733-
1738) was fought and the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748)

When in 1743 the ninety-year-old Cardinal Fleury died, Louis XV
announced that he would be his own minister. But he was not a Frederick
the Great. At the council table poor Louis "opened his mouth, said
little, and thought not at all." State business seemed terribly dull,
and the king left most of it to others.

But of one thing, Louis XV could not have enough--and that was
pleasure. He much preferred pretty girls to pompous ministers of state,
and spent most of his time with the ladies and the rest of the time
either hunting or gambling. In spite of the fact that he was married,
Louis very easily fell in love with a charming face; at one time he was
infatuated by the duchess of Châteauroux, then by Madame de Pompadour,
and later by Madame du Barry. Upon his mistresses he was willing to
lavish princely presents,--he gave them estates and titles, had them
live at Versailles, and criminally allowed them to interfere in
politics; for their sake he was willing to let his country go to ruin.

The character of the king was reflected in his court. It became
fashionable to neglect one's wife, to gamble all night, to laugh at
virtue, to be wasteful and extravagant. Versailles was gay; the ladies
painted their cheeks more brightly than ever, and the lords spent their
fortunes more recklessly.

But Versailles was not France. France was ruined with wars and taxes.
Louis XIV had said, "Live at peace with your neighbors"; but since his
death four wars had been waged, culminating in the disastrous Seven
Years' War (1756-1763), by which French commerce had been destroyed and
the French colonies had been lost. [Footnote: The formal annexation of
Lorraine in 1766 and of Corsica in 1768 afforded some crumbs of comfort
for Louis XV.] Debts were multiplied and taxes increased. What with
war, extravagance, and poor management, Louis XV left France a bankrupt

[Sidenote: Growing complaints against the French Monarchy under Louis

Complaints were loud and remonstrances bitter, and Louis XV could not
silence them, try as he might. Authors who criticized the government
were thrown into prison: radical writings were confiscated or burned;
but criticism persisted. Enemies of the government were imprisoned
without trial in the Bastille by _lettres de cachet_, which were
orders for arrest signed in blank by the king, who sometimes gave or
sold them to his favorites, so that they, too, might have their enemies
jailed. Yet the opposition to the court ever increased. Resistance to
taxation centered in the Parlement of Paris. It refused to register the
king's decrees, and remained defiant even after Louis XV had angrily
announced that he would not tolerate interference with his
prerogatives. The quarrel grew so bitter that all the thirteen
Parlements of France were suppressed (1771), and in their stead new
royal courts were established.

Opposition was only temporarily crushed; and Louis XV knew that graver
trouble was brewing. He grew afraid to ride openly among the
discontented crowds of Paris; the peasants saluted him sullenly; the
treasury was empty; the monarchy was tottering. Yet Louis XV felt
neither responsibility nor care. "It will surely last as long as I," he
cynically affirmed; "my successor may take care of himself."

[Sidenote: Louis XVI, 1774-1792]

His successor was his grandson, Louis XVI (1774-1792), a weak-kneed
prince of twenty years, very virtuous and well-meaning, but lacking in
intelligence and will-power. He was too awkward and shy to preside with
dignity over the ceremonious court; he was too stupid and lazy to
dominate the ministry. He liked to shoot deer from out the palace
window, or to play at lock-making in his royal carpentry shop.
Government he left to his ministers.

[Sidenote: Turgot]

At first, hopes ran high, for Turgot, friend of Voltaire and
contributor to the _Encyclopedia_, was minister of finance (1774-
1776), and reform was in the air. Industry and commerce were to be
unshackled; _laisser-faire_ was to be the order of the day;
finances were to be reformed, and taxes lowered. The clergy and nobles
were no longer to escape taxation; taxes on food were to be abolished;
the peasants were to be freed from forced labor on the roads. But
Turgot only stirred up opposition. The nobles and clergy were not
anxious to be taxed; courtiers resented any reduction of their
pensions; tax-farmers feared the reforming minister; owners of
industrial monopolies were frightened; the peasants misunderstood his
intentions; and riots broke out. Everybody seemed to be relieved when,
in 1776, Turgot was dismissed.

[Sidenote: Necker]

Turgot had been a theorist; his successor was a businessman. Jacques
Necker was well known in Paris as a hard-headed Swiss banker, and
Madame Necker's receptions were attended by the chief personages of the
bourgeois society of Paris. During his five years in office (1776-1781)
Necker applied business methods to the royal finances. He borrowed
400,000,000 francs from his banker friends, reformed the collection of
taxes, reduced expenditures, and carefully audited the accounts. In
1781 he issued a report or "Account Rendered of the Financial
Condition." The bankers were delighted; the secrets of the royal
treasury were at last common property; [Footnote: _The Compte
Rendu_, as it was called in France, was really not accurate; Necker,
in order to secure credit for his financial administration, made
matters appear better than they actually were.] and Necker was praised
to the skies.

[Sidenote: Marie Antoinette]

While Necker's Parisian friends rejoiced, his enemies at court prepared
his downfall. Now the most powerful enemy of Necker's reforms and
economies was the queen, Marie Antoinette. She was an Austrian
princess, the daughter of Maria Theresa, and in the eyes of the French
people she always remained a hated foreigner--"the Austrian," they
called her--the living symbol of the ruinous alliance between Habsburgs
and Bourbons which had been arranged by a Madame de Pompadour and which
had contributed to the disasters and disgrace of the Seven Years' War
[Footnote: See above, pp. 358 ff]. While grave ministers of finance
were puzzling their heads over the deficit, gay Marie Antoinette was
buying new dresses and jewelry, making presents to her friends, giving
private theatricals, attending horse-races and masked balls. The light-
hearted girl-queen had little serious interest in politics, but when
her friends complained of Necker's miserliness, she at once demanded
his dismissal.

Her demand was granted, for the kind-hearted, well-intentioned Louis
XVI could not bear to deprive his pretty, irresponsible Marie
Antoinette and her charming friends,--gallant nobles of France,--of
their pleasures. Their pleasures were very costly; and fresh loans
could be secured by the obsequious new finance-minister, Calonne, only
at high rates of interest.

From the standpoint of France, the greatest folly of Louis XVI's reign
was the ruinous intervention in the War of American Independence (1778-
1783). The United States became free; Great Britain was humbled;
Frenchmen proved that their valor was equal to their chivalry; but when
the impulsive Marquis de Lafayette returned from assisting the
Americans to win their liberty, he found a ruined France. The treasury
was on the verge of collapse. From the conclusion of the war in 1783 to
the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, every possible financial
expedient was tried--in vain.

[Sidenote: The Problem of Taxation]

To tax the so-called privileged classes--the clergy and the nobles--
might have helped; and successive finance ministers so counseled the
king. But it was absolutely against the spirit of the "old régime."
What was the good of being a clergyman or a noble, if one had no
privileges and was obliged to pay taxes like the rest? To tax all alike
would be in itself a revolution, and the tottering divine-right
monarchy sought reform, not revolution.

[Sidenote: The Assembly of Notables, 1787]

Yet in 1786 the interest-bearing debt had mounted to $600,000,000, the
government was running in debt at least $25,000,000 a year, and the
treasury-officials were experiencing the utmost difficulty in
negotiating new loans. Something had to be done. As a last resort, the
king convened (1787) an Assembly of Notables--145 of the chief nobles,
bishops, and magistrates--in the vain hope that they would consent to
the taxation of the privileged and unprivileged alike. The Notables
were not so self-sacrificing, however, and contented themselves with
abolishing compulsory labor on the roads, voting to have provincial
assemblies established, and demanding the dismissal of Calonne, the
minister of finance. The question of taxation, they said, should be
referred to the Estates-General. All this helped the treasury in no
material way.

[Sidenote: Convocation of the Estates-General]

A new minister of finance, who succeeded Calonne,--Archbishop Loménie
de Brienne,--politely thanked the Notables and sent them home. He made
so many fine promises that hope temporarily revived, and a new loan was
raised. But the Parlement of Paris, which together with the other
Parlements had been restored early in the reign of Louis XVI, soon saw
through the artifices of the suave minister, and positively refused to
register further loans or taxes. Encouraged by popular approval, the
Parlement went on to draw up a declaration of rights, and to assert
that subsidies could constitutionally be granted only by the nation's
representatives--the ancient Estates-General. This sounded to the
government like revolution, and the Parlements were again abolished.
The abolition of the Parlements raised a great cry of indignation;
excited crowds assembled in Paris and other cities; and the soldiers
refused to arrest the judges. Here was real revolution, and Louis XVI,
frightened and anxious, yielded to the popular demand for the Estates-

In spite of the fact that every one talked so glibly about the Estates-
General and of the great things that body would do, few knew just what
the Estates-General was. Most people had heard that once upon a time
France had had a representative body of clergy, nobility, and
commoners, somewhat like the British Parliament. But no such assembly
had been convoked for almost two centuries, and only scholars and
lawyers knew what the old Estates-General had been. Nevertheless, it
was believed that nothing else could save France from ruin; and in
August, 1788, Louis XVI, after consulting the learned men, issued a
summons for the election of the Estates-General, to meet in May of the
following year.

[Sidenote: Failure of Absolutism in France]

The convocation of the Estates-General was the death-warrant of divine-
right monarchy in France. It meant that absolutism had failed. The king
was bankrupt. No half-way reforms or pitiful economies would do now.
The Revolution was at hand.


THE BRITISH MONARCHY, 1760-1800. General accounts: A. L. Cross,
_History of England and Greater Britain_ (1914), ch. xlv, a brief
résumé; _Cambridge Modern History_, Vol. VI (1909), ch. xiii; A. D.
Innes, _History of England and the British Empire_, Vol. III (1914),
ch. vii-ix, xi; C. G. Robertson, _England under the Hanoverians_
(1911); J. F. Bright, _History of England_, Vol. III, _Constitutional
Monarchy_, 1689-1837; William Hunt, _Political History of England,
1760-1801_ (1905), Tory in sympathy; and W. E. H. Lecky, _A History of
England in the Eighteenth Century_, London ed., 7 vols. (1907), and _A
History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century_, 5 vols. (1893), the most
complete general histories of the century. Special studies: E. and A.
G. Porritt, _The Unreformed House of Commons_, new ed., 2 vols. (1909),
a careful description of the undemocratic character of the
parliamentary system; J. R. Fisher, _The End of the Irish Parliament_
(1911); W. L. Mathieson, _The Awakening of Scotland, 1747-1797_ (1910);
_Correspondence of George III with Lord North, 1768-1783_, ed. by W. B.
Donne, 2 vols. (1867), excellent for illustrating the king's system of
personal government; Horace Walpole, _Letters_, ed. by Mrs. P. Toynbee,
16 vols. (1903-1905), a valuable contemporary source as "Walpole is the
acknowledged prince of letter writers"; G. S. Veitch, _The Genesis of
Parliamentary Reform_ (1913), a clear and useful account of the
agitation in the time of Pitt and Fox; W. P. Hall, _British Radicalism,
1791-1797_ (1912), an admirable and entertaining survey of the movement
for political and social reform in England; J. H. Rose, _William Pitt
and National Revival_ (1911), dealing with the years 1781-1791. There
are biographies of _William Pitt_ (the Younger) by Lord Rosebery (1891)
and by W. D. Green (1901); and _The Early Life of Charles James Fox_ by
Sir G. 0. Trevelyan (1880) affords a delightful picture of the life of
the time. Also see books listed under ENGLISH SOCIETY IN THE EIGHTEENTH
CENTURY, pp. 427 f., above.

THE BENEVOLENT DESPOTS. Brief general accounts: H. E. Bourne, _The
Revolutionary Period in Europe, 1763-1815_ (1914), ch. ii, iv, v; J.
H. Robinson and C. A. Beard, _The Development of Modern Europe_,
Vol. I (1907), ch. x, xi; H. M. Stephens, _Revolutionary Europe,
1789-1815_ (1893), ch. i; _Cambridge Modern History_, Vol. VI
(1909), ch. xii, xviii-xx, xxii, xvi; E. F. Henderson, _A Short
History of Germany_, Vol. II (1902), ch. v, excellent on Frederick
the Great. With special reference to the career of Charles III of
Spain: Joseph Addison, _Charles III of Spain_ (1900); M. A. S.
Hume, _Spain, its Greatness and Decay, 1479-1788_ (1898), ch. xiv,
xv; François Rousseau, _Règne de Charles III d'Espagne, 1759-
1788,_ 2 vols. (1907), the best and most exhaustive work on the
subject; Gustav Diercks, _Geschichte Spaniens von der fruhesten
Zeiten bis auf die Gegenwart_, 2 vols. (1895-1896), a good general
history of Spain by a German scholar. On Gustavus III of Sweden: R. N.
Bain, _Scandinavia, a Political History of Denmark, Norway, and
Sweden, from 1513 to 1900_ (1905). On the Dutch Netherlands in the
eighteenth century: H. W. Van Loon, _The Fall of the Dutch
Republic_ (1913). On Joseph II: A. H. Johnson, _The Age of the
Enlightened Despot, 1660-1789_ (1910), ch. x, an admirable brief
introduction to the subject; _Cambridge Modern History_, Vol. VIII
(1904), ch. xi, on Joseph's foreign policy; William Coxe (1747-1828),
_History of the House of Austria_, Vol. III, an excellent account
though somewhat antiquated; Franz Krones, _Handbuch der Geschichte
Oesterreichs_, Vol. IV (1878), Books XIX, XX, a standard work; Karl
Ritter, _Kaiser Joseph II und seine kirchlichen Reformen_; G.
Holzknecht, _Ursprung und Herkunft der reformideen Kaiser Josefs II
auf kirchlichem Gebiete_ (1914). For further details of the projects
and achievements of Frederick the Great and Maria Theresa, see
bibliographies accompanying Chapter XI, above; and for those of
Catherine II of Russia, see bibliography of Chapter XII, above.

THE FRENCH MONARCHY, 1743-1789. Brief general accounts: Shailer
Mathews, _The French Revolution_ (reprint 1912), ch. vi-viii; A. J.
Grant, _The French Monarchy, 1483-1789_, Vol. II (1900), ch. xix-xxi;
G. W. Kitchin, _A History of France_, Vol. III (4th ed., 1899), Book
VI, ch. iii-vii; _Cambridge Modern History_, Vol. VIII (1904), ch. ii-
iv; E. J. Lowell, _The Eve of the French Revolution_ (1892), an able
survey; Sophia H. MacLehose, _The Last Days of the French Monarchy_
(1901), a popular narrative. More detailed studies: J. B. Perkins,
_France under Louis XV_, 2 vols. (1897), an admirable treatment; Ernest
Lavisse (editor), _Histoire de France_, Vol. VIII, Part II, _Règne de
Louis XV, 1715-1774_ (1909), and Vol. IX, Part I, _Règne de Louis XVI,
1774-1789_ (1910), the latest and most authoritative treatment in
French; Felix Rocquain, _The Revolutionary Spirit Preceding the French
Revolution_, condensed Eng. trans. by J. D. Hunting (1891), a
suggestive account of various disorders immediately preceding 1789;
Leon Say, _Turgot_, a famous little biography translated from the
French by M. B. Anderson (1888); W. W. Stephens, _Life and Writings of
Turgot_ (1895), containing extracts from important decrees of Turgot;
Alphonse Jobez, _La France sous Louis XV_, 6 vols. (1864-1873), and,
by the same author, _La France sous Louis XVI_, 3 vols. (1877-1893),
exhaustive works, still useful for particular details but in general
now largely superseded by the _Histoire de France_ of Ernest Lavisse;
Charles Gomel, _Les causes financières de la révolution française: les
derniers contrôleurs généraux_, 2 vols. (1892-1893), scholarly and
especially valuable for the public career of Turgot, Necker, Calonne,
and Loménie de Brienne; Rene Stourm, _Les finances de l'ancien régime
et de la révolution_, 2 vols. (1885); Aimé Cherest, _La chute de
l'ancien regime_, 1787-1789, 3 vols. (1884-1886), a very detailed study
of the three critical years immediately preceding the Revolution; F. C.
von Mercy-Argenteau, _Correspondance secrète avec l'impératrice Marie-
Thérèse, avec les lettres de Marie-Thérèse et de Marie-Antoinette_, 3
vols. (1875); and _Correspondance secrète avec l'empereur Joseph II et
le prince de Kaunitz_, 2 vols. (1889-1891), editions of original
letters and other information which Mercy-Argenteau transmitted to
Vienna from 1766 to 1790, very valuable for the contemporary pictures
of court-life at Versailles (selections have been translated and
published in English). Also see books listed under FRENCH SOCIETY ON



The governments and other political institutions which flourished in
the first half of the eighteenth century owed their origins to much
earlier times. They had undergone only such alterations as were
absolutely necessary to adapt them to various places and changing
circumstances. Likewise, the same social classes existed as had always
characterized western Europe; and these classes--the court, the nobles,
the clergy, the bourgeoisie, the artisans, the peasants--continued to
bear relations to each other which a hoary antiquity had sanctioned.
Every individual was born into his class, or, as the popular phrase
went, to "a station to which God had called him," and to question the
fundamental divine nature of class distinctions seemed silly if not
downright blasphemous.

[Sidenote: Dislocation of Society in Eighteenth Century]

Such ideas were practical so long as society was comparatively static
and fixed, but they were endangered as soon as the human world was
conceived of as dynamic and progressive. The development of trade and
industry, as has been emphasized, rapidly increased the numbers,
wealth, and influence of the bourgeoisie, or middle class, and quite
naturally threw the social machine out of gear. The merchants, the
lawyers, the doctors, the professors, the literary men, began to envy
the nobles and clergy, and in turn were envied by the poor townsfolk
and by the downtrodden peasants. With the progress of learning and
study, thoughtful persons of all classes began to doubt whether the old
order of politics and society was best suited to the new conditions and
new relations. The "old régime" was for old needs; did it satisfy new

[Sidenote: Influence of Philosophy]

To this question the philosophers of the eighteenth century responded
unequivocally in the negative. Scientists, of whom the period was full,
had done much to exalt the notions that the universe is run in
accordance with immutable laws of nature and that man must forever
utilize his reasoning faculties. It was not long before the
philosophers were applying the scientists' notions to social
conditions. "Is this reasonable?" they asked, or, "Is that rational?"
Montesquieu insisted that divine-right monarchy is unreasonable.
Voltaire poked fun at the Church and the clergy for being irrational.
Rousseau claimed that class inequalities have no basis in reason.
Beccaria taught that arbitrary or cruel interference with personal
liberty is not in accordance with dictates of nature or reason.

Philosophy did not directly effect a change; it was merely an
expression of a growing belief in the advisability of change. It
reflected a conviction, deep in many minds, that the old political
institutions and social distinctions had served their purpose and
should now be radically adapted to the new order. Every country in
greater or less degree heard the radical philosophy, but it was in
France that it was first heeded.

[Sidenote: The Revolution]

In France, between the years 1789 and 1799, occurred a series of
events, by which the doctrine of democracy supplanted that of divine-
right monarchy, and the theory of class distinctions gave way to that
of social equality. These events, taken together, constitute what we
term the French Revolution, and, inasmuch as they have profoundly
affected all political thought and social action throughout the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries, they are styled, by way of
eminence, the Revolution.

[Sidenote: The Revolution French]

Why the Revolution started in France may be suggested by reference to
certain points which have already been mentioned in the history of that
country. France was the country which, above any other, had perfected
the theory and practice of divine-right monarchy. In France had
developed the sharpest contrasts between the various social classes. It
was likewise in France that the relatively high level of education and
enlightenment had given great vogue to a peculiarly destructive
criticism of political and social conditions. Louis XIV had erected his
absolutism and had won for it foreign glory and prestige only by
placing the severest burdens upon the French people. The exploitation
of the state by the selfish, immoral Louis XV had served not to lighten
those burdens but rather to set forth in boldest relief the inherent
weaknesses of the "old régime." And Louis XVI, despite all manner of
pious wishes and good intentions, had been unable to square conditions
as they were with the operation of antique institutions. One royal
minister after another discovered to his chagrin that mere "reform" was
worse than useless. A "revolution" would be required to sweep away the
mass of abuses that in the course of centuries had adhered to the body

[Sidenote: Differences between the French and English Revolutions]

At the outset, any idea of likening the French Revolution to the
English Revolution of the preceding century must be dismissed. Of
course the English had put one king to death and had expelled another,
and had clearly limited the powers of the crown; they had "established
parliamentary government." But the English Revolution did not set up
genuine representative government, much less did it recognize the
theory of democracy. Voting remained a special privilege, conferred on
certain persons, not a natural right to be freely exercised by all. Nor
was the English Revolution accompanied by a great social upheaval: it
was in the first instance political, in the second instance religious
and ecclesiastical; it was never distinctly social. To all intents and
purposes, the same social classes existed in the England of the
eighteenth century as in the England of the sixteenth century, and,
with the exception of the merchants, in much the same relation to one

[Sidenote: The French Revolution in Two Periods]

How radical and far-reaching was the French Revolution in contrast to
that of England will become apparent as we review the course of events
in France during the decade 1789-1799. A brief summary at the close of
this chapter will aim to explain the significance of the Revolution.
Meanwhile, we shall devote our attention to a narrative of the main

The story falls naturally into two parts: First, 1789-1791, the
comparatively peaceful transformation of the absolute, divine-right
monarchy into a limited monarchy, accompanied by a definition of the
rights of the individual and a profound change in the social order;
second, 1792-1799, the transformation of the limited monarchy into a
republic, attended by the first genuine trial of democracy, and
attended likewise by foreign war and internal tumult. The story, in
either of its parts, is not an easy one, for the reason that important
rôles are played simultaneously by five distinct groups of interested

[Sidenote: Rôle of the Court and the Privileged]

In the first place, the people who benefit by the political and social
arrangements of the "old régime" will oppose its destruction. Among
these friends of the "old régime" may be included the royal court,
headed by the queen, Marie Antoinette, and by the king's brothers, the
count of Provence and the count of Artois, and likewise the bulk of the
higher clergy and the nobles--the privileged classes, generally. These
persons cannot be expected to surrender their privileges without a
struggle, especially since they have been long taught that such
privileges are of divine sanction. Only dire necessity compels them to
acquiesce in the convocation of the Estates-General and only the
mildest measures of reform can be palatable to them. They hate and
dread revolution or the thought of revolution. Yet at their expense the
Revolution will be achieved.

[Sidenote: Rôle of the Bourgeoisie]

In the second place, the bourgeoisie, who have the most to lose if the
"old régime" is continued and the most to gain if reforms are obtained,
will constitute the majority in all the legislative bodies which will
assemble in France between 1789 and 1799. Their legislative decrees
will in large measure reflect their class interests, and on one hand
will terrify the court party and on the other will not fully satisfy
the lower classes. The real achievements of the Revolution, however,
will be those of the bourgeois assemblies.

[Sidenote: Rôle of the Urban Proletariat]

In the third place, the artisans and poverty-stricken populace of the
cities, notably of Paris, will through bitter years lack for bread.
They will expect great things from the assemblies and will revile the
efforts of the court to impede the Revolution. They will shed blood at
first to defend the freedom of the assemblies from the court,
subsequently to bring the assemblies under their own domination.
Without their cooperation the Revolution will not be achieved.

[Sidenote: Rôle of the Peasantry]

In the fourth place, the dull, heavy peasants, in whom no one has
hitherto suspected brains or passions, long dumb under oppression, will
now find speech and opinions and an unwonted strength. They will rise
against their noble oppressors and burn castles and perhaps do murder.
They will force the astonished bourgeoisie and upper classes to take
notice of them and indirectly they will impress a significant social
character upon the achievements of the Revolution.

[Sidenote: Rôle of the Foreign Powers]

Finally, the foreign monarchs must be watched, for they will be
intensely interested in the story as it unfolds. If the French people
be permitted with impunity to destroy the very basis of divine-right
monarchy and to overturn the whole social fabric of the "old régime,"
how long, pray, will it be before Prussians, or Austrians, or Russians
shall be doing likewise? With some thought for Louis XVI and a good
deal of thought for themselves, the monarchs will call each other
"brother" and will by and by send combined armies against the
revolutionaries in France. At that very time the success of the
Revolution will be achieved, for all classes, save only the handful of
the privileged, will unite in the cause of France, which incidentally
becomes the cause of humanity. Bourgeoisie, townsfolk, peasants, will
go to the front and revolutionary France will then be found in her
armies. Thereby not only will the Revolution be saved in France, but in
the end it will be communicated to the uttermost parts of Europe.


[Sidenote: France on the Eve of the Revolution]

When the story opens, France is still the absolute, divine-right
monarchy which Louis XIV had perfected and Louis XV had exploited. The
social classes are still in the time-honored position which has been
described in Chapter XIII. But all is not well with the "old régime."
In the country districts the taxes are distressingly burdensome. In the
cities there is scarcity of food side by side with starvation wages.
Among the bourgeoisie are envy of the upper classes, an appreciation of
the critical philosophy of the day, and a sincere admiration of what
seem to be happier political and social conditions across the Channel
in Great Britain. The public debt of France is enormous, and a large
part of the national income must, therefore, be applied to the payment
of interest: even the courtiers of Louis XVI find their pensions and
favors and sinecures somewhat reduced. When the privileged classes
begin to feel the pinch of hard times, it is certain that the finances
are in sore straits.

[Sidenote: Financial Embarrassment]

In fact, all the great general causes of the French Revolution, which
may be inferred from the two preceding chapters, may be narrowed down
to the financial embarrassment of the government of Louis XVI. The king
and his ministers had already had recourse to every expedient
consistent with the maintenance of the "old regime" save one, and that
one--the convocation of the Estates-General--was now to be tried. It
might be that the representatives of the three chief classes of the
realm would be able to offer suggestions to the court, whereby the
finances could be improved and at the same time the divine-right
monarchy and the divinely ordained social distinctions would be

[Sidenote: Convocation of the Estates-General]

With this idea of simple reform in mind, Louis XVI in 1788 summoned the
Estates-General to meet at Versailles the following May. The Estates-
General were certainly not a revolutionary body. Though for a hundred
and seventy-five years the French monarchs had been able to do without
them, they were in theory still a legitimate part of the old-time
government. Summoned by King Philip the Fair in 1302, they had been
thenceforth convoked at irregular intervals until 1614. Their
organization had been in three separate bodies, representing by
election the three estates of the realm--clergy, nobility, and
commoners (Third Estate). Each estate voted as a unit, and two out of
the three estates were sufficient to carry a measure. It usually
happened that the clergy and nobility joined forces to outvote the
commoners. The powers of the Estates-General had always been advisory
rather than legislative, and the kings had frequently ignored or
violated the enactments of the assembly. In its powers as well as in
its organization, the Estates-General differed essentially from the
Parliament of England. By the Estates-General the ultimate supremacy of
the royal authority had never been seriously questioned.

[Sidenote: Election of the Estates-General]

The elections to the Estates-General were held in accordance with
ancient usage throughout France in the winter of 1788-1789. Also, in
accordance with custom, the electors were invited by the king to
prepare reports on the condition of the locality with which they were
familiar and to indicate what abuses, if any, existed, and what
remedies, in their opinion, were advisable.

[Sidenote: The Cahiers]

By the time the elections were complete, it was apparent that the
majority of the French people desired and expected a greater measure of
reform than their sovereign had anticipated. The reports and lists of
grievances that had been drafted in every part of the country were
astounding. To be sure, these documents, called _cahiers_, were
not revolutionary in wording: with wonderful uniformity they expressed
loyalty to the monarchy and fidelity to the king: in not a single one
out of the thousand _cahiers_ was there a threat of violent
change. But in spirit the _cahiers_ were eloquent. All of them
reflected the idea which philosophy had made popular that reason
demanded fundamental, thoroughgoing reforms in government and society.
Those of the Third Estate were particularly insistent upon the social
inequalities and abuses long associated with the "old régime." It was
clear that if the elected representatives of the Third Estate carried
out the instructions of their constituents, the voting of additional
taxes to the government would be delayed until a thorough investigation
had been made and many grievances had been redressed.

[Sidenote: The Third Estate]

On the whole, it was probable that the elected representatives of the
Third Estate would heed the _cahiers_. They were educated and
brainy men. Two-thirds of them were lawyers or judges; many, also, were
scholars; only ten could possibly be considered as belonging to the
lower classes. A goodly number admired the governmental system of Great
Britain, in which the royal power had been reduced; the class interests
of all of them were directly opposed to the prevailing policies of the
French monarchy. The Third Estate was too intelligent to follow blindly
or unhesitatingly the dictates of the court.

In the earliest history of the Estates-General, the Third Estate had
been of comparatively slight importance either in society or in
politics, and Philip the Fair had proclaimed that the duty of its
members was "to hear, receive, approve, and perform what should be
commanded of them by the king." But between the fourteenth and
eighteenth centuries the relative social importance of the bourgeoisie
had enormously increased. The class was more numerous, wealthier, more
enlightened, and more experienced in the conduct of business. It became
clearer with the lapse of time that it, more than nobility or clergy,
deserved the right of representing the bulk of the nation. This right
Louis XVI had seemed in part to recognize by providing that the number
of elected representatives of the Third Estate should equal the
combined numbers of those of the First and Second Estates. The
commoners naturally drew the deduction from the royal concession that
they were to exercise paramount political influence in the Estates-
General of 1789.

The Third Estate, as elected in the winter of 1788-1789, was fortunate
in possessing two very capable leaders, Mirabeau and Sieyès, both of
whom belonged by office or birth to the upper classes, but who had
gladly accepted election as deputies of the unprivileged classes. With
two such leaders, it was extremely doubtful whether the Third Estate
would tamely submit to playing an inferior role in future.

[Sidenote: Mirabeau]

Mirabeau (1749-1791) was the son of a bluff but good-hearted old
marquis who was not very successful in bringing up his family. Young
Mirabeau had been so immoral and unruly that his father had repeatedly
obtained _lettres de cachet_ from the king in order that prison
bars might keep him out of mischief. Released many times only to fall
into new excesses, Mirabeau found at last in the French Revolution an
opportunity for expressing his sincere belief in constitutional
government and an outlet for his almost superhuman energy. From the
convocation of the Estates-General to his death in 1791, he was one of
the most prominent men in France. His gigantic physique, half-broken by
disease and imprisonment, his shaggy eyebrows, his heavy head, gave him
an impressive, though sinister, appearance. And for quickness in
perceiving at once a problem and its solution, as well as for gifts of
reverberating oratory, he was unsurpassed.

[Sidenote: Sieyès]

Of less force but greater tact was the priest, Sieyès (1748-1836),
whose lack of devotion to Christianity and the clerical calling was
matched by a zealous regard for the skeptical and critical philosophy
of the day and for the practical arts of politics and diplomacy. It was
a pamphlet of Sieyès that, on the eve of the assembling of the Estates-
General, furnished the Third Estate with its platform and program.
"What is the Third Estate?" asks Sieyès. "It is everything," he
replies. "What has it been hitherto in the political order? Nothing!
What does it desire? To be something!"

[Sidenote: Meeting of the Estates-General (May, 1789)]
[Sidenote: Constitutional Question Involved in the Organization of the

The position of the Third Estate was still officially undefined when
the Estates-General assembled at Versailles in May, 1789. The king
received his advisers with pompous ceremony and a colorless speech, but
it was soon obvious that he and the court intended that their business
should be purely financial and that their organization should be in
accordance with ancient usage; the three estates would thus vote "by
order," that is, as three distinct bodies, so that the doubled
membership of the Third Estate would have but one vote to the
privileged orders' two. With this view the great majority of the nobles
and a large part of the clergy, especially the higher clergy, were in
full sympathy. On their side the commoners began to argue that the
Estates-General should organize itself as a single body, in which each
member should have one vote, such voting "by head" marking the
establishment of true representation in France, and that the assembly
should forthwith concern itself with a general reformation of the
entire government. With the commoners' argument a few of the liberal
nobles, headed by Lafayette, and a considerable group of the clergy,
particularly the curates, agreed; and it was backed up by the undoubted
sentiment of the nation. Bad harvests in 1788 had been followed by an
unusually severe winter. The peasantry was in an extremely wretched
plight, and the cities, notably Paris, suffered from a shortage of
food. The increase of popular distress, like a black cloud before a
storm, gave menacing support to the demands of the commoners.

[Sidenote: The King Defied by the Third Estate]
[Sidenote: The "Oath of the Tennis Court," 20 June, 1789]

Over the constitutional question, fraught as it was with the most
significant consequences to politics and society, the parties wrangled
for a month. The king, unwilling to offend any one, shilly-shallied.
But the uncompromising attitude of the privileged orders and the
indecision of the leaders of the court at length forced the issue. On
17 June, 1789, the Third Estate solemnly proclaimed itself a National
Assembly. Three days later, when the deputies of the Third Estate came
to the hall which had been set apart in the palace of Versailles for
their use, they found its doors shut and guarded by troops and a notice
to the effect that it was undergoing repairs. Apparently the king was
at last preparing to intervene in the contest himself. Then the
commoners precipitated a veritable revolution. Led by Mirabeau and
Sieyès, they proceeded to a great public building in the vicinity,
which was variously used as a riding-hall or a tennis court. There,
amidst intense excitement, with upstretched hands, they took an oath as
members of the "National Assembly" that they would not separate until
they had drawn up a constitution for France. The "Oath of the Tennis
Court" was the true beginning of the French Revolution. Without royal
sanction, in fact against the express commands of the king, the ancient
feudal Estates-General had been transformed, by simple proclamation of
the nation's representatives, into a National Assembly, charged with
the duty of establishing constitutional government in France. The "Oath
of the Tennis Court" was the declaration of the end of absolute divine-
right monarchy and of the beginning of a limited monarchy based on the
popular will.

What would the king do under these circumstances? He might overwhelm
the rebellious commoners by force of arms. But that would not solve his
financial problems, nor could he expect the French nation to endure it.
It would likely lead to a ruinous civil war. The only recourse left
open to him was a game of bluff. He ignored the "Oath of the Tennis
Court," and with majestic mien commanded the estates to sit separately
and vote "by order." But the commoners were not to be bluffed. Now
joined by a large number of clergy and a few nobles, they openly defied
the royal authority. In the ringing words of Mirabeau, they expressed
their rebellion: "We are here by the will of the people and we will not
leave our places except at the point of the bayonet." The weak-kneed,
well-intentioned Louis XVI promptly acquiesced. Exactly one week after
the scene in the tennis court, he reversed his earlier decrees and
directed the estates to sit together and vote "by head."

[Sidenote: Transformation of the Estates-General into the National
Constituent Assembly]

By 1 July, 1789, the first stage in the Revolution was completed. The
nobles and clergy were meeting with the commoners. The Estates-General
had become the National Constituent Assembly. As yet, however, two
important questions remained unanswered. In the first place, how would
the Assembly be assured of National freedom from the intrigues and
armed force of the court? In the second place, what direction would the
reforms of the Assembly take?

[Sidenote: The Court Prepares to Use Force against the Assembly]

The answer to the first question was speedily evoked by the court
itself. As early as 1 July, a gradual movement of royal troops from the
garrisons along the eastern frontier toward Paris and Versailles made
it apparent that the king contemplated awing the National Assembly into
a more deferential mood. The Assembly, in dignified tone, requested the
removal of the troops. The king responded by a peremptory refusal and
by the dismissal of Necker [Footnote: Necker had been restored to his
office as director-general of finances in 1788] the popular finance-
minister. Then it was that Paris came to the rescue of the Assembly.

[Sidenote: Popular Uprising at Paris in Behalf of the Assembly]
[Sidenote: The Destruction of the Bastille, 14 July, 1789]

The Parisian populace, goaded by real want, felt instinctively that its
own cause and that of the National Assembly were identical. Fired by an
eloquent harangue of a brilliant journalist, Camille Desmoulins (1760-
1794) by name, they rushed to arms. For three days there was wild
disorder in the city. Shops were looted, royal officers were expelled,
business was at a standstill. On the third day--14 July, 1789--the mob
surged out to the east end of Paris, where stood the frowning royal
fortress and prison of the Bastille. Although since the accession of
Louis XVI the Bastille no longer harbored political offenders,
nevertheless it was still regarded as a symbol of Bourbon despotism, a
grim threat against the liberties of Paris. The people would now take
it and would appropriate its arms and ammunition for use in defense of
the National Assembly. The garrison of the Bastille was small and
disheartened, provisions were short, and the royal governor was
irresolute. Within a few hours the mob was in possession of the
Bastille, and some of the Swiss mercenaries who constituted its
garrison had been slaughtered.

[Sidenote: Revolution in the Government of Paris: the Commune]

The fall of the Bastille was the first serious act of violence in the
course of the Revolution. It was an unmistakable sign that the people
were with the Assembly rather than with the king. It put force behind
the Assembly's decrees. Not only that, but it rendered Paris
practically independent of royal control, for, during the period of
disorder, prominent citizens had taken it upon themselves to organize
their own government and their own army. The new local government--the
"commune," as it was called--was made up of those elected
representatives of the various sections or wards of Paris who had
chosen the city's delegates to the Estates-General. It was itself a
revolution in city government: it substituted popularly elected
officials in place of royal agents and representatives of the outworn
gilds. And the authority of the commune was sustained by a popularly
enrolled militia, styled the National Guard, which soon numbered 48,000
champions of the new cause.

[Sidenote: Temporary Acquiescence of the King]

The fall of the Bastille was such a clear sign that even Louis XVI did
not fail to perceive its meaning. He instantly withdrew the royal
troops and recalled Necker. He recognized the new government of Paris
and confirmed the appointment of the liberal Lafayette to command the
National Guard. He visited Paris in person, praised what he could not
prevent, and put on a red-white-and-blue cockade--combining the red and
blue of the capital city with the white of the Bourbons--the new
national tricolor of France. Frenchmen still celebrate the fourteenth
of July, the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, as the
independence day of the French nation.

[Sidenote: Renewed Intrigues of the Royal Family against the Assembly]

For a while it seemed as though reform might now go forward without
further interruption. The freedom of the Assembly had been affirmed and
upheld. Paris had settled down once more into comparative repose. The
king had apparently learned his lesson. But the victory of the
reformers had been gained too easily. Louis XVI might take solemn oaths
and wear strange cockades, but he remained in character essentially
weak. His very virtues--good intentions, love of wife, loyalty to
friends--were continually abused. The queen was bitterly opposed to the
reforming policies of the National Assembly and actively resented any
diminution of royal authority. Her clique of court friends and
favorites disliked the decrease of pensions and amusements to which
they had long been accustomed. Court and queen made common cause in
appealing to the good qualities of Louis XVI. What was the weak king to
do under the circumstances? He was to fall completely under the
domination of his entourage.

[Sidenote: Demonstrations of the Parisian Women at Versailles, October,

The result was renewed intrigues to employ force against the
obstreperous deputies and their allies, the populace of Paris. This
time it was planned to bring royal troops from the garrisons in
Flanders. And on the night of 1 October, 1789, a supper was given by
the officers of the bodyguard at Versailles in honor of the arriving
soldiers. Toasts were drunk liberally and royalist songs were sung.
News of the "orgy," as it was termed, spread like wildfire in Paris,
where hunger and suffering were more prevalent than ever. That city was
starving while Versailles was feasting. The presence of additional
troops at Versailles, it was believed, would not only put an end to the
independence of the Assembly but would continue the starvation of
Paris. More excited grew the Parisians.

On 5 October was presented a strange and uncouth spectacle. A long line
of the poorest women of Paris, including some men dressed as women,
riotous with fear and hunger and rage, armed with sticks and clubs,
screaming "Bread! bread! bread!" were straggling along the twelve miles
of highway from Paris to Versailles. They were going to demand bread of
the king. Lafayette and his National Guardsmen, who had been unable or
unwilling to allay the excitement in Paris, marched at a respectful
distance behind the women out to Versailles.

By the time Lafayette reached the royal palace, the women were
surrounding it, howling and cursing, and demanding bread or blood; only
the fixed bayonets of the troops from Flanders had prevented them from
invading the building, and even these regular soldiers were weakening.
Lafayette at once became the man of the hour. He sent the soldiers back
to the barracks and with his own force undertook the difficult task of
guarding the property and lives of the royal family and of feeding and
housing the women for the night. Despite his precautions, it was a wild
night. There was continued tumult in the streets and, at one time,
shortly before dawn, a gang of rioters actually broke into the palace
and groped about in search of the queen's apartments. Just in the nick
of time the hated Marie Antoinette hurried to safer quarters, although
several of her personal bodyguard were killed in the mêlée.

When the morning of 6 October had come, Lafayette addressed the crowd,
promising them that they should be provided for, and, at the critical
moment, there appeared at his side on the balcony of the palace the
royal family--the king, the little prince, the little princess, and the
queen--all wearing red-white-and-blue cockades. A hush fell upon the
mob. The respected general leaned over and gallantly kissed the hand of
Marie Antoinette. A great shout of joy went up. Apparently even the
queen had joined the Revolution. The Parisians were happy, and
arrangements were made for the return journey.

[Sidenote: Forcible Removal of the Court and Assembly from Versailles
to Paris]

The procession of 6 October from Versailles to Paris was more curious
and more significant than that of the preceding day in the opposite
direction. There were still the women and the National Guardsmen and
Lafayette on his white horse and a host of people of the slums, but
this time in the midst of the throng was a great lumbering coach, in
which rode Louis and his wife and children, for Paris now insisted that
the court should no longer possess the freedom of Versailles in which
to plot unwatched against the rights of the French people. All along
the procession reechoed the shout, "We have the baker and the baker's
wife and the little cook-boy--now we shall have bread." And so the
court of Louis XVI left forever the proud, imposing palace of
Versailles, and came to humbler lodgings [Footnote: In the palace of
the Tuileries.] in the city of Paris.

Paris had again saved the National Assembly from royal intimidation,
and the Assembly promptly acknowledged the debt by following the king
to that city. After October, 1789, not reactionary Versailles but
radical Paris was at once the scene and the impulse of the Revolution.

The "Fall of the Bastille" and the "March of the Women to Versailles"
were the two picturesque events which assured the independence of the
National Assembly from the armed force and intrigue of the court.
Meanwhile, the answer to the other question which we propounded above,
"What direction would the reforms of the Assembly take?" had been
supplied by the people at large.

[Sidenote: Disintegration of the Old Régime throughout France]
[Sidenote: Peasant Reprisals against the Nobility]

Ever since the assembling of the Estates-General, ordinary
administration of the country had been at a standstill. The people,
expecting great changes, refused to pay the customary taxes and
imposts, and the king, for fear of the National Assembly and of a
popular uprising, hesitated to compel tax collection by force of arms.
The local officials did not know whether they were to obey the Assembly
or the king. In fact, the Assembly was for a time so busy with
constitutional questions that it neglected to provide for local
government, and the king was always timorous. So, during the summer of
1789, the institutions of the "old régime" disappeared throughout
France, one after another, because there was no popular desire to
maintain them and no competent authority to enforce them. The
insurrection in Paris and the fall of the Bastille was the signal in
July for similar action elsewhere: other cities and towns substituted
new elective officers for the ancient royal or gild agents and
organized National Guards of their own. At the same time the direct
action of the people spread to the country districts. In most provinces
the oppressed peasants formed bands which stormed and burned the
châteaux of the hated nobles, taking particular pains to destroy feudal
or servile title-deeds. Monasteries were often ransacked and pillaged.
A few of the unlucky lords were murdered, and many others were driven
into the towns or across the frontier. Amid the universal confusion,
the old system of local government completely collapsed. The intendants
and governors quitted their posts. The ancient courts of justice,
whether feudal or royal, ceased to act. The summer of 1789 really ended
French absolutism, and the transfer of the central government from
Versailles to Paris in October merely confirmed an accomplished fact.

[Sidenote: The Revolution Social as well as Political]

Whatever had been hitherto the reforming policies of the National
Assembly, the deputies henceforth faced facts rather than theories.
Radical social readjustments were now to be effected along with purely
governmental and administrative changes. The Revolution was to be
social as well as political.


[Sidenote: Achievements of the National Assembly, 1789-1791]

By the transformation of the Estates-General into the National
Constituent Assembly, France had become to all intents and purposes a
limited monarchy, in which supreme authority was vested in the nation's
elected representatives. From October, 1789, to September, 1791, this
Assembly was in session in Paris, endeavoring to bring order out of
chaos and to fashion a new France out of the old that was dying of
exhaustion and decrepitude. Enormous was the task, but even greater
were the achievements. Although the work of the Assembly during the
period was influenced in no slight degree by the Parisian populace,
nevertheless it was attended by comparative peace and security. And the
work done was by far the most vital and most lasting of the whole
revolutionary era.

Leaving out of consideration for the time the frightened royal family,
the startled noblemen and clergy, the determined peasantry, and the
excited townsfolk, and not adhering too closely to chronological order,
let us center our attention upon the National Assembly and review its
major acts during those momentous years, 1789-1791.

[Sidenote: 1. Legal Destruction of Feudalism and Serfdom]

The first great work of the Assembly was the legal destruction of
feudalism and serfdom--a long step in the direction of social equality.
We have already noticed how in July while the Assembly was still at
Versailles, the royal officers in the country districts had ceased to
rule and how the peasants had destroyed many _châteaux_ amid
scenes of unexpected violence. News of the rioting and disorder came to
the Assembly from every province and filled its members with the
liveliest apprehension. A long report, submitted by a special
investigating committee on 4 August, 1789, gave such harrowing details
of the popular uprising that every one was convinced that something
should be done at once.

[Sidenote: "The August Days"]

While the Assembly was debating a declaration which might calm revolt,
one of the nobles--a relative of Lafayette--arose in his place and
stated that if the peasants had attacked the property and privileges of
the upper classes, it was because such property and privileges
represented unjust inequality, that the fault lay there, and that the
remedy was not to repress the peasants but to suppress inequality. It
was immediately moved and carried that the Assembly should proclaim
equality of taxation for all classes and the suppression of feudal and
servile dues. Then followed a scene almost unprecedented in history.
Noble vied with noble, and clergyman with clergyman, in renouncing the
vested rights of the "old régime." The game laws were repudiated. The
manorial courts were suppressed. Serfdom was abolished. Tithes and all
sorts of ecclesiastical privilege were sacrificed. The sale of offices
was discontinued. In fact, all special privileges, whether of classes,
of cities, or of provinces, were swept away in one consuming burst of
enthusiasm. The holocaust lasted throughout the night of the fourth of
August. Within a week the various independent measures had been
consolidated into an impressive decree "abolishing the feudal system,"
and this decree received in November the royal assent. What many
reforming ministers had vainly labored for years partially to
accomplish was now done, at least in theory, by the National Assembly
in a few days. The so-called "August Days" promised to dissolve the
ancient society of France.

It has been customary to refer these vast social changes to the
enthusiasm, magnanimity, and self-sacrifice of the privileged orders.
That there was enthusiasm is unquestionable. But it may be doubted
whether the nobles and clergy were so much magnanimous as terrorized.
For the first time, they were genuinely frightened by the peasants, and
it is possible that the true measure of their "magnanimity" was their
alarm. Then, too, if one is to sacrifice, he must have something to
sacrifice. At most, the nobles had only legal claims to surrender, for
the peasants had already taken forcible possession of nearly everything
which the decree accorded them. In fact the decree of the Assembly
constituted merely a legal and uniform recognition of accomplished

The nobles may have thought, moreover, that liberal acquiescence in the
first demands of the peasantry would save themselves from further
demands. At any rate, they zealously set to work in the Assembly to
modify what had been done, to secure financial or other indemnity,
[Footnote: The general effect of the series of decrees of the Assembly
from 5 to 11 August, 1789, was to impose some kind of financial
redemption for many of the feudal dues. It was only in July, 1793,
almost four years after the "August Days," that _all_ feudal dues
and rights were legally abolished without redemption or compensation.]
and to prevent the enactment of additional social legislation. Outside
the Assembly few nobles took kindly to the loss of privilege and
property: the overwhelming majority protested and tried to stir up
civil war, and, when such attempts failed, they left France and
enrolled themselves among their country's enemies.

It is not necessary for us to know precisely who were responsible for
the "August Days." The fact remains that the "decree abolishing the
feudal system" represented the most important achievement of the whole
French Revolution. Henceforth, those who profited by the decree were
loyal friends of the Revolution, while the losers were its bitter

[Sidenote: 2. The Declaration of the Rights of Man]

The second great work of the Assembly was the guarantee of individual
rights and liberties. The old society and government of France were
disappearing. On what basis should the new be erected? Great Britain
had its _Magna Carta_ and its Bill of Rights; America had its
Declaration of Independence. France was now given a "Declaration of the
Rights of Man and of the Citizen." This document, which reflected the
spirit of Rousseau's philosophy and incorporated some of the British
and American provisions, became the platform of the French Revolution
and tremendously influenced political thought in the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries. A few of its most striking sentences are as
follows: "Men are born and remain free and equal in rights." The rights
of man are "liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression."
"Law is the expression of the general will. Every citizen has a right
to participate personally, or through his representative, in its
formation. It must be the same for all." "No person shall be accused,
arrested, or imprisoned except in the cases and according to the forms
prescribed by law." Religious toleration, freedom of speech, and
liberty of the press are affirmed. The people are to control the
finances, and to the people all officials of the state are responsible.
Finally, the influence of the propertied classes, which were
overwhelmingly represented in the Assembly, showed itself in the
concluding section of the Declaration: "Since private property is an
inviolable and sacred right, no one shall be deprived thereof except
where public necessity, legally determined, shall clearly demand it,
and then only on condition that the owner shall have been previously
and equitably indemnified."

[Sidenote: 3. Reform of Local Administration]

The next great undertaking of the National Assembly was the
establishment of a new and uniform administrative system in France. The
ancient and confusing "provinces," "governments," "intendancies,"
"_pays d'état_" "_pays d'élection_" "parlements," and
"bailliages" were swept away. The country was divided anew into eighty-
three departments, approximately uniform in size and population, and
named after natural features, such as rivers or mountains. Each
department was subdivided into districts, cantons. and communes,--
divisions which have endured in France to the present time. The heads
of the local government were no longer to be appointed by the crown but
elected by the people, and extensive powers were granted to elective
local councils. Provision was made for a new system of law courts
throughout the country, and the judges, like the administrative
officials, were to be elected by popular vote. Projects were likewise
put forward to unify and simplify the great variety and mass of laws
which prevailed in different parts of France, but this work was not
brought to completion until the time of Napoleon Bonaparte.

[Sidenote: 4. Financial Regulation. 5. Secularization of Church
Property, the Assignats]

Another grave matter which concerned the National Assembly was the
regulation of the public finances. It will be recalled that financial
confusion was the royal reason for summoning the Estates-General. And
in the early days of the Assembly, the confusion became chaos: it was
impossible to enforce the payment of direct taxes; indirect taxes were
destroyed by legislative decree; and bankers could not be induced to
make new loans. Therefore, it was to heroic measures that the Assembly
resorted to save the state from bankruptcy. To provide funds, a heavy
blow was struck at one of the chief props of the "old régime"--the
Catholic Church. The Church, as we have seen, owned at least a fifth of
the soil of France, and it was now resolved to seize these rich church
lands, and to utilize them as security for the issue of paper money--
the _assignats_. As partial indemnity for the wholesale
confiscation, the state was to undertake the payment of fixed salaries
to the clergy. Thus by a single stroke the financial pressure was
relieved, the Church was deprived of an important source of its
strength, and the clergy were made dependent on the new order. Of
course, as often happens in similar cases, the issue of paper money was
so increased that in time it exceeded the security and brought fresh
troubles to the state, but for the moment the worst dangers were tided

[Sidenote: 6. Other Legislation against the Catholic Church]

The ecclesiastical policies and acts of the National Assembly were
perhaps the least efficacious and the most fateful achievements of the
Revolution. Yet it would be difficult to perceive how they could have
been less radical than they were. The Church appeared to be
indissolubly linked with the fortunes of old absolutist France; the
clergy comprised a particularly privileged class; and the leaders and
great majority of the Assembly were filled with the skeptical, Deistic,
and anti-Christian philosophy of the time. In November, 1789, the
church property was confiscated. In February, 1790, the monasteries and
other religious houses were suppressed. In April, absolute religious
toleration was proclaimed. In August, 1790, the "Civil Constitution of
the Clergy" was promulgated, by which the bishops and priests, reduced
in numbers, were made a civil body: they were to be elected by the
people, paid by the state, and separated from the sovereign control of
the pope. In December, the Assembly forced the reluctant king to sign a
decree compelling all the clergy to take a solemn oath of allegiance to
the "Civil Constitution."

[Sidenote: Catholic Opposition to the Revolution]

The pope, who had already protested against the seizure of church
property and the expulsion of the monks, now condemned the "Civil
Constitution" and forbade Catholics to take the oath of allegiance.
Thus, the issue was squarely joined. Such as took the oath were
excommunicated by the pope, such as refused compliance were deprived of
their salaries and threatened with imprisonment. Up to this time, the
bulk of the lower clergy, poor themselves and in immediate contact with
the suffering of the peasants, had undoubtedly sympathized with the
course of the Revolution, but henceforth their convictions and their
consciences came into conflict with devotion to their country. They
followed their conscience and either incited the peasants, over whom
they exercised considerable influence, to oppose further revolution, or
emigrated [Footnote: The clergy who would not take the oath were called
the "non-juring" clergy. Those who left France, together with the noble
emigrants, were called "émigrés."] from France to swell the number of
those who, dissatisfied with the course of events in their own country,
would seek the first opportunity to undo the work of the Assembly. The
Catholic Church, as well as the hereditary nobility, became an
unwearied opponent of the French Revolution.

[Sidenote: 7. The Constitution of 1791]

Amid all these sweeping reforms and changes, the National Constituent
Assembly was making steady progress in drafting a written constitution
which would clearly define the agencies of government, and their
respective powers, the new limited monarchy. This constitution was
completed in 1791 and signed by the king--he could do nothing else--and
at once went into full effect. It was the first written constitution of
any importance that any European country had had, and was preceded only
slightly in point of time by that of the United States. [Footnote: The
present American constitution was drafted in 1787 and went into effect
in 1789, the year that the Estates-General assembled.]

The Constitution of 1791, as it was called, provided, like the American
constitution, for the "separation of powers," that is, that the law-
making, law-enforcing, and law-interpreting functions of government
should be kept quite distinct as the legislative, executive, and
judicial departments, and should each spring, in last analysis, from
the will of the people. This idea had been elaborated by Montesquieu,
and deeply affected the constitution-making of the eighteenth century
both in France and in the United States.

[Sidenote: Legislative Provisions]

The legislative authority was vested in one chamber, styled the
"Legislative Assembly," the members of which were chosen by means of a
complicated system of indirect election. [Footnote: That is to say, the
people would vote for electors, and the electors for the members of the
Assembly.] The distrust with which the bourgeois framers of the
constitution regarded the lower classes was shown not only in this
check upon direct election but also in the requirements that the
privilege of voting should be exercised exclusively by "active"
citizens, that is, by citizens who paid taxes, and that the right to
hold office should be restricted to property-holders.

[Sidenote: Weakness of the King under the Constitution]

Nominally the executive authority resided in the hereditary king. In
this respect, most of the French reformers thought they were imitating
the British government, but as a matter of fact they made the kingship
not even ornamental. True, they accorded to the king the right to
postpone for a time the execution of an act of the legislature--the so-
called "suspensive veto"--but they deprived him of all control over
local government, over the army and navy, and over the clergy. Even his
ministers were not to sit in the Assembly. Tremendous had been the
decline of royal power in France during those two years, 1789-1791.

[Sidenote: Summary of the Work of the National Assembly]

This may conclude our brief summary of the work of the National
Constituent Assembly. If we review it as a whole, we are impressed by
the immense destruction which it effected. No other body of legislators
has ever demolished so much in the same brief period. The old form of
government, the old territorial divisions, the old financial system,
the old judicial and legal regulations, the old ecclesiastical
arrangements, and, most significant of all, the old condition of
holding land--serfdom and feudalism--all were shattered. Yet all this
destruction was not a mad whim of the moment. It had been preparing
slowly and painfully for many generations. It was foreshadowed by the
mass of well-considered complaints in the _cahiers_. It was
achieved not only by the decrees of the Assembly, but by the forceful
expression of the popular will.


[Sidenote: Brief Duration of Limited Monarchy in France, 1791-1792]

Great public rejoicing welcomed the formal inauguration of the limited
monarchy in 1791. Many believed that a new era of Peace and prosperity
was dawning for France. Yet the extravagant hopes which were widely
entertained for the success of the new régime were doomed to speedy and
bitter disappointment. The new government encountered all manner of
difficulties, the country rapidly grew more radical in sentiment and
action, and within a single year the limited monarchy gave way to a
republic. The establishment of the republic was the second great phase
of the Revolution. Why it was possible and even inevitable may be
gathered from a survey of political conditions in France during 1792,--
at once the year of trial for limited monarchy and the year of
transition to the republic.

[Sidenote: Sources of Opposition to the Limited Monarchy]

By no means did all Frenchmen accept cheerfully and contentedly the
work of the National Constituent Assembly. Of the numerous dissenters,
some thought it went too far and some thought it did not go far enough.
The former may be styled "reactionaries" and the latter "radicals."

[Sidenote: Reactionaries]
[Sidenote: 1. The Émigrés]

The reactionaries embraced the bulk of the formerly privileged nobility
and the non-juring clergy. The nobles had left France in large numbers
as soon as the first signs of violence appeared--about the time of the
fall of the Bastille and the peasant uprisings in the provinces. Many
of the clergy had similarly departed from their homes when the
anticlerical measures of the Assembly rendered it no longer possible
for them to follow the dictates of conscience. These reactionary
exiles, or émigrés as they were termed, collected in force along the
northern and eastern frontier, especially at Coblenz on the Rhine. They
possessed an influential leader in the king's own brother, the count of
Artois, and they maintained a perpetual agitation, by means of
newspapers, pamphlets, and intrigues, against the new régime. They were
anxious to regain their privileges and property, and to restore
everything, as far as possible, to precisely the same position it had
occupied prior to 1789.

[Sidenote: 2. The Court]
[Sidenote: The Flight to Varennes]

Nor were the reactionaries devoid of support within France. It was
believed that the royal family, now carefully watched in Paris,
sympathized with their efforts. So long as Mirabeau, the ablest leader
in the National Assembly, was alive, he had never ceased urging the
king to accept the reforms of the Revolution and to give no countenance
to agitation beyond the frontiers. In case the king should find his
position in Paris intolerable, he had been advised by Mirabeau to
withdraw into western or southern France and gather the loyal nation
about him. But unfortunately, Mirabeau, worn out by dissipation and
cares, died prematurely in April, 1791. Only two months later the royal
family attempted to follow the course against which they had been
warned. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, in an effort to rid themselves
of the spying vigilance of the Parisians, disguised themselves, fled
from the capital, and made straight for the eastern frontier,
apparently to join the émigrés. At Varennes, near the border, the royal
fugitives were recognized and turned back to Paris, which henceforth
became for them rather a prison than a capital. Although Louis
subsequently swore a solemn oath to uphold the constitution, his
personal popularity vanished with his ill-starred flight, and his wife
--the hated "Austrian woman"--was suspected with good reason of being
in secret correspondence with the émigrés as well as with foreign
governments. Marie Antoinette was more detested than ever. The king's
oldest brother, the count of Provence, was more successful than the
king in the flight of June, 1791: he eluded detection and joined the
count of Artois at Coblenz.

[Sidenote: 3. Conservative and Catholic Peasants.]

Had the reactionaries been restricted entirely to émigrés and the royal
family, it is hardly possible that they would have been so troublesome
as they were. They were able, however, to secure considerable popular
support in France. A small group in the Assembly shared their views and
proposed the most extravagant measures in order to embarrass the work
of that body. Conservative clubs existed among the upper and well-to-do
classes in the larger cities. And in certain districts of western
France, especially in Brittany, Poitou (La Vendée), and Anjou, the
peasants developed hostility to the course of the Revolution: their
extraordinary devotion to Catholicism placed them under the influence
of the non-juring clergy, and their class feeling against townspeople
induced them to believe that the Revolution, carried forward by the
bourgeoisie, was essentially in the interests of the bourgeoisie. Riots
occurred in La Vendée throughout 1791 and 1792 with increasing
frequency until at length the district blazed into open rebellion
against the radicals.

[Sidenote: Radicals]
[Sidenote: 1. The Bourgeois Leaders]
[Sidenote: 2. The Proletarians]

More dangerous to the political settlement of 1791 than the opposition
of the reactionaries was that of the radicals--those Frenchmen who
thought that the Revolution had not gone far enough. The real
explanation of the radical movement lies in the conflict of interest
between the poor working people of the towns and the middle class, or
bourgeoisie. The latter, as has been repeatedly emphasized, possessed
the brains, the money, and the education: it was they who had been
overwhelmingly represented in the National Assembly. The former were
degraded, poverty-stricken, and ignorant, but they constituted the bulk
of the population in the cities, notably in Paris, and they were both
conscious of their sorry condition and desperately determined to
improve it. These so-called "proletarians," though hardly directly
represented in the Assembly, nevertheless fondly expected the greatest
benefits from the work of that body. For a while the bourgeoisie and
the proletariat coöperated: the former carried reforms through the
Assembly, the latter defended by armed violence the freedom of the
Assembly; both participated in the capture of the Bastille, in the
establishment of the commune, and in the transfer of the seat of
government from Versailles to Paris. So long as they faced a serious
common danger from the court and privileged orders, they worked in

[Sidenote: Conflict of Interests Between Bourgeoisie and Proletariat]

But as soon as the Revolution had run its first stage and had succeeded
in reducing the royal power and in abolishing many special privileges
of the nobles and clergy, a sharp cleavage became evident between the
former allies--between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The
bourgeoisie, to whom was due the enactment of the reforms of the
National Constituent Assembly, profited by those reforms far more than
any other class in the community. Their trade and industry were
stimulated by the removal of the ancient royal and feudal restrictions.
Their increased wealth enabled them to buy up the estates of the
outlawed émigrés and the confiscated lands of the Church. They secured
an effective control of all branches of government, local and central.
Of course, the peasantry also benefited to no slight extent, but their
benefits were certainly less impressive than those of the bourgeoisie.
Of all classes in France, the urban proletariat seemed to have gained
the least: to be sure they were guaranteed by paper documents certain
theoretical "rights and liberties," but what had been done for their
material well-being? They had obtained no property. They had
experienced no greater ease in earning their daily bread. And in 1791
they seemed as far from realizing their hopes of betterment as they had
been in 1789, for the bourgeois constitution-makers had provided that
only taxpayers could vote and only property-owners could hold office.
The proletariat, thereby cut off from all direct share in the conduct
of government, could not fail to be convinced that in the first phase
of the Revolution they had merely exchanged one set of masters for
another, that at the expense of the nobles and clergy they had exalted
the bourgeoisie, and that they themselves were still downtrodden and
oppressed. Radical changes in the constitution and radical social
legislation in their own behalf became the policies of the proletariat;
violence would be used as a means to an end, if other means failed.

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