After October 1789, most people in France believed that the revolution was over. But the Constituent Assembly still wanted more reforms, they thought that France very much needed this, because it was not really in a fit state, and people were still being unfairly treated by the government and finance systems. It made reforms in 5 areas, government, religion, laws, finances and economy. Everyone in the assembly agreed that they should enforce the principles of the Declaration of Rights, which were that everyone is equal, and ‘no individual might exercise any authority not expressly emanating from the nation.
They wanted to produce a system that was representative of the country, was the same all over the country, decentralised and humanitarian. The assembly also agreed that they wanted an end to the ‘ancien regime’, and a limited monarchy. They were all great believers of the enlightenment, and wanted to apply the philosophies to end conflict, cruelty, superstition and poverty. There were 2 key principles to the way in which they reformed the local government, one of which was the decentralisation.
They wanted the power to pass from the central government in Paris to the local authorities, making it much more difficult for the King to recover the power that he lost because of the revolution. The other key principle is to elect the officials, and to ensure stability would be responsible to those who elected them. Both these were a huge shift away from the old ‘Ancien Regime’. The Constituent Assembly enforced their new ideas by the Decrees of December 1789 and January 1790. These meant that France was divided into 83 departments, which were subdivided into 547 districts and 43,360 municipalities.
The municipalities were grouped into Cantons, which acted as areas for elections and justices of the peace. All of the divisions were run by elected councils, except the cantons. The voting and election system worked as follows: The active citizens who could vote for municipal officials and vote in national elections had to pay 3 days labour in taxes, anyone who didn’t pay this, couldn’t vote. People who paid equivalent of 10 days labour could elect members of district and department, elect members to National Assembly and could become officials.
And people who paid equivalent of 50 days could become a deputy in the National Assembly. This did mean that realistically, only the rich or financially well off people could elect councils. There was definitely a revolution in who governed, because in the South, bourgeois landowners controlled the new councils, and in the Northern towns the bourgeois controlled new councils, and in the Northern countryside, ‘laboreurs’ controlled them. This was a huge change from the rich upper classes controlling to the middle and lower classes beginning to control.
The councils did do a lot of work for the country, they assessed and collected taxes, they controlled the National Guard, maintained law and order, administered the clerical oath, carried out public works, and controlled the requisition of grain. In towns the councils were very effective; there were a good supply of literate, talented men. But in villages there very few literate and talented men so there were poor deputies. Also in Catholic areas, officials disliked persecuting priests who had refused to take the oath of loyalty, and consequently resigned and areas were left without any effective local government.
In 1789, the royal administration collapsed, and very few taxes were collected, meaning that the Assembly desperately needed money so they decided to continue with the old financial system of direct and indirect taxation until 1791 which was very unpopular. The people wanted the demands made in the cahiers to be met immediately. After outbreaks of violence in Picardy, the government gave way, and abolished the gabelle in March 1790 and within a year all indirect taxes were abolished aswell. Before the new system operated effectively, the Assembly voted that in November 1789 the land that belonged to the church would be sold to the people.
This money would then pay the Clergy. The government issues bands which people bought and used to buy church land. It was hoped that the Clergy would support the new regime because they would be dependant on it for their salaries. Members of the bourgeoisie bought most of the land near towns, and the peasants bought the land that was away from the towns. By 1799 the peasants had bought 52% of the land, while the Bourgeoisie has bought 48%. The bourgeoisie often resold their land to the peasants, it is estimated that the number of peasant smallholders increased by a million between 1789 and 1810.
The new financial system began in January 1791, indirect taxes had been abolished, and now there was a main tax on land, which replaced indirect taxes and ‘taille’ and ‘vingtieme’. There was also a property tax, which was unpopular, as people saw it as the old capitation in a new form. The new financial system was much better than the old, it benefited the poor a lot because of the abolition of indirect taxes, and there would no longer be any privileges or exemptions. It was much fairer in respect of the fact that all property and income was to be taxed on the same basis.
The economic reforms that were enforced included the ‘lassiez-faire’ attitude to trade and industry, the assembly believed that trade and industry should be free from any government interference, and therefore introduced free trade in grain in August 1789 and removed price controls. There was a creation of a single system of weights and measures which was the decimal system, which the whole population of France had to use now. In June 1971 80,000 workers were threatening a strike, so the assembly passed the Le Chapelier Law, named after Le Chapelier (the deputy who proposed it).
This law made trade unions and employers’ organisations forbidden. Bargaining, picketing and strikes were made illegal. The assembly really wanted to give the poor some relief, and concluded that nearly 2 million people could only live from begging. However, when it came to action, the Assembly took none because there was not enough money. The Constituent Assembly changed the legal system in the same uniformity that it changed the local government. There were to be the same law and law-courts throughout the country. In each canton there was a J. P whose main job was to make the different parties to agree, but now could judge very minor civil cases without appeal.
The more serious civil cases were sent to a District court. They made a criminal court in each department and these would deal with criminal cases and the defendants would be found guilty or innocent by a jury. At the head of the whole system was a Court of Appeal, who’s Judges were elected. All the judges were elected by active citizens, but only those who had been lawyers for five years could be elected.
This ensured that all the judges were fair and well qualified. The overall legal system was improved aswell, torture and mutilation was abolished and the use of the death penalty was vastly reduced. A new more efficient method of execution was introduced, the guillotine. The Assembly’s legal reforms made a huge difference to France. Before, the system of justice was absolutely terrible it was barbarous and corrupt. However, after the reforms, it was one of the most enlightened in Europe. The Constituent Assembly had various ideas about religion.
They wanted to create a church that was totally free from abuses, free from papal control, democratic and linked to the new systems; especially local government. Under the ‘ancien regime’ the Catholic Church in France had not been very closely linked with the state, the Assemble wanted to change this. In August 1789 the Assembly ended the privileges of the Church, abolished the tithe, annates and pluralism. Most parish clergy supported these measures. The Decree of December 1789 gave civil rights to Protestants, and in September 1791 these rights included Jews.
The Civil Constitution of the Clergy in July 1790 was a big turning point; it adapted the organisation of the church in a way similar to the adaptations of the local government. The number of bishoprics would be reduced from 135 to 83, meaning there would be fewer Clergy. The clergy was divided into Seculars and Regulars. Seculars were under control of a bishop, and a parish priest had control of a distinct area – the benefice, they had responsibility for the salvation of people. In regulars were the members of religious orders who were under direct control of their superior.
This included enclosed contemplatives. The Clergy demanded that the reforms be submitted to a National Assembly of the French Church but the Constituent Assembly refused to agree to this. Because a Church assembly was not allowed to discuss the matter, the Clergy waited for the Pope to give his opinion, however he took too long to respond and in November 1790 the National Assembly declared that the Clergy must take an oath to the Constitution. This split the clergy. In France 55% of the clergy took the oath, but when the Pope finally condemned the Civil Constitution in March 1791, many retracted their oath.
The Civil Constitution of the clergy had momentous results; it destroyed the revolutionary consensus which had existed since 1789. There were now two churches in Catholic Churches in France, one which accepted the revolution and the other that was approved by the Pope but regarded as against the revolution. About half of the people now rejected revolution because they were faced with a choice between revolution and religion. This was one result of the Civil Constitution, another was the Kings attempt to flee France in June 1791, leading to the downfall of the monarchy.
The Constituent Assembly drew up the Constitution of 1791, which would replace an absolute monarchy. Real power was to be passed to an elected assembly. The King would have a suspended veto and there would be one elected assembly. In September the King reluctantly accepted the Constitution, but Marie Antoinette said that the Constitution was ‘so monstrous that it cannot survive for long’, and was determined to overthrow it. The reforms that the Constituent Assembly made reshaped France in a big way; the whole Government system was changed entirely, and so was the legal system, the financial system and religion.
The reforms moved away from the ‘ancien regime’ and the peasants and bourgeoisie benefited very much from the reforms. The middle classes now controlled new councils, and the poor became landowners. Indirect taxation was abolished, which helped everyone very much, and was definitely a big change in the way the country used to be run. The King lost more and more power from the Constitution of 1791. However, the religious reforms did make some people go against the revolution, and lost the Constituent Assembly some popularity, but it did definitely reshape France.