Chapter IX. The French Revolution
France “replaced the ‘Old Regime’ with ‘modern society,’ and at its extreme phase it became very radical, so much so that all later revolutionary movements have looked back to it as a predecessor to themselves.” The French Revolution occurred in the most advanced country of the day, the center of the Enlightenment. It was the most powerful, wealthy nation in Europe. It had the largest population (24 m) under one government. Paris was smaller than London, but double Vienna and Amsterdam. Europeans took their ideas from France, and the Revolution was to profoundly effect them.
A. The Old Regime: The Three Estates
l. Legally an aristocratic, even feudal society; everyone belonged to an “estate” or “order” of society. The clergy was the First Estate; the nobility the Second Estate; and everyone else, from the wealthiest businessman to the poorest peasant or city worker, was the Third Estate. Legal rights and personal prestige depended on Estate, though these were politically and socially obsolescent. 2. The role of the Church was similar to the Anglican Church in tithing, bishops’ political power, and the wealth and numbers of the clergy. The 100,000 clergy, owned 5-10% of the land with much of the income going to the aristocratic holders of higher church offices. 3. Nobles numbered about 400,000. They virtually monopolized all high offices and honors--government, church, army. They were largely tax exempt and had blocked all reforms. 4. The bourgeoisie, the elite of the Third Estate, was well off; for example, foreign trade had increased fivefold, 1713 to 1789. They resented the privileges and arrogance of the aristocracy. Commoners were as well off as in most nations, but they did not share in business prosperity. From 1730 to 1788 prices rose about 65%, wages only 22%--the wage earning proletariat had real grievances. B. The Agrarian System of the Old Regime
l. Most people (80%) were rural, but none were serfs: Peasants owed no labor and only a few token services. They worked their own land, rented land, or were sharecroppers; some hired out as laborers. Nobles’ retained a few feudal rights: hunting rights; collection of banalités for use of mill, bakeshop, or wine press; and limited court and police powers.
2. Manor owners owned “eminent property” rights, with certain rents or transfer payments owed. But ownership was widespread: peasants owned 40%, nobles 20%, the Church 10%, and the remainder in crown, waste, or common land. The Revolution was to free land ownership from all indirect encumbrances--manorial fees, eminent property rights, communal practices, and church tithes. 3. Peasants occupied almost all the land, through ownership or lease; France was a nation of small farmers. There was no big agriculture, no manorial lords actually managing estates and selling his own crops, as in England. By 1780, many manorial lords, pinched by inflation or seeking greater returns, collected dues more rigorously and revived old dues that had fallen into disuse. Lease and sharecropping terms became less favorable to the peasant. Resentments built, since the property system bore no relation to economic usefulness.
4. France was unified, meaning that unpopular social conditions could bring national opinion and agitation. The Revolution was to rouse a sense of brotherhood, and to turn that into a passion for citizenship and civic rights to the public advantage.
42. The Revolution and the Reorganization of France
A. The Financial Crisis
1. The Revolution was precipitated by financial collapse owing mainly to war costs, present (25%) and past (50%)--though the debt was smaller per capita than that of Britain or Holland. The key was low revenue, due to exemptions and tax evasion. Aristocrats blocked tax reform by Maupeou, Turgot, and Necker. In 1786, Calonne suggested a land tax without exemptions; a lightening of indirect taxes;...
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