National Constituent Assembly

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To what extent did the reforms of the Constituent Assembly create discontent?

The National Constituent Assembly solved some of Frances short term problems, but caused significant discontent due to its inability to resolve long term problems, that had been destroying France economically, politically and socially. There were some groups of society that were quite content with the reforms of the Constituent Assembly, such as a majority of the bourgeoisie, peasants who gained from the abolition of the Feudal system, and some members of the first and second Estate. However, many other people and groups, such as King Louis XVI, Nobles who had become emigres after losing their land, clergy who had refused to swear allegiance to the new state, loyal Catholics, the Sans Culottes and a rapidly growing republican movement, that were unhappy with the Constituent Assembly. It was in these later groups that the brewing discontent lay, but none shared a common discontent, and few shared a common goal. It would be the most radical of these reactionary groups, who seized leadership of the French people, in the nation's time of need.

The National Constituent Assembly originated from the National Assembly, and its purpose was to write a constitution that would create a new France, one that was based on equality, liberty and fraternity - a nation governed by the people, and for the people - where men are born and remain equal in rights. It was essentially dominated by members of the Bourgeoisie, as well as some Nobles and Clergymen, but it did not effectively represent the whole of France. The National Constituent Assembly set up a militia type force, called the National Guard, to protect themselves and their ideas, from those who were counter-revolutionary. It was led by Marquis De LaFayatte, a member of the second Estate, who was also an influential voice in the Constituent Assembly. The Assembly did not want to create a Republic, it wanted to create a Constitutional Monarchy. It still wanted the King as Head of State, but wanted the people's rights and values outlined in a constitution, rather than decided by the King. In 1789 the Constituent Assembly began developing a Constitution, because it was what the French people wanted - but their moods quickly changed and the proposed constitution became a calamity.

Some reforms made by the National Constituent Assembly were significant in furthering France economically, socially and democratically - many of the reforms made in this period still exist. The financial crises of the 1780's did not magically disappear when the feudal system was abolished. In fact, France's financial situation was becoming worse, with prices of bread and flour at an all time high. The Constituent Assembly, eager to solve France's economic problem, brought in a new currency, called the Assignats. Effectively, each Assignat was an ownership right to a piece of land, a kind of collateral from the government. Most of the land had previously been owned by the Church, but was forfeited to the State under the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, an act that proclaimed the Clergy had to swear allegiance to the State, rather than the Pope, and therefore all their property and wages were put under State control. It was one of the most successful reforms, as the new currency stabilised the economy for a critical period of time, and released the pressure that was on France, financially. It was also during this period that the 'trial by jury' system was introduced, a system that still exists today. Twelve citizens were used as a jury to decide on the guilt or innocence of their peers, in a public trial. It was a giant step towards the democratic system of government that is used in the modern world. On August 4 1789, the Declaration of the Rights of Man, was proclaimed. It was an almost radical declaration, based on freedoms and human rights, and with it came the abolition of Feudal...
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