Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, famine during the French revolution, Louis xvi French revolution, Pillnitz Declaration, constitution of 1791, Jacobins Fench revolution
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen:
Just three weeks later, on August 26, 1789, the assembly issued the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a document that guaranteed due process in judicial matters and established sovereignty among the French people. Influenced by the thoughts of the era’s greatest minds, the themes found in the declaration made one thing resoundingly clear: every person was a Frenchman—and equal. Not surprisingly, the French people embraced the declaration, while the king and many nobles did not. It effectively ended the ancient régime and ensured equality for the bourgeoisie. Although subsequent French constitutions that the Revolution produced would be overturned and generally ignored, the themes of the Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen would remain with the French citizenry in perpetuity. The document The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen stated that:
- Men are born and remain free and equal in rights.
- The aim of every political association is the preservation of the natural and inalienable rights of man; these are liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression.
- The source of all sovereignty resides in the nation; no group or individual may exercise authority that does not come from the people.
- Liberty consists of the power to do whatever is not injurious to others.
- The law has the right to forbid only actions that are injurious to society.
- Law is the expression of the general will. All citizens have the right to participate in its formation, personally or through their representatives. All citizens are equal before it.
- No man may be accused, arrested or detained, except in cases determined by the law.
- Every citizen may speak, write and print freely; he must take responsibility for the abuse of such liberty in cases determined by the law.
- For the maintenance of the public force and for the expenses of administration a common tax is indispensable; it must be assessed equally on all citizens in proportion to their means.
- Since property is a sacred and inviolable right, no one may be deprived of it, unless a legally established public necessity requires it. In that case a just compensation must be given in advance.
The Food Crisis:
Despite the assembly’s gains, little had been done to solve the growing food crisis in France. Shouldering the burden of feeding their families, it was the French women who took up arms on October 5, 1789. They first stormed the city hall in Paris, amassing a sizable army and gathering arms. Numbering several thousands, the mob marched to Versailles, followed by the National Guard, which accompanied the women to protect them. Overwhelmed by the mob, King Louis XVI, effectively forced to take responsibility for the situation, immediately sanctioned the August Decrees and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. The next day, having little choice, the royal family accompanied the crowd back to Paris. To ensure that he was aware of the woes of the city and its citizens, the king and his family were “imprisoned” in the Tuileries Palace in the city.
Though they focused on the king as figurehead, most of the revolutionaries were more against the nobles than the king. Everyday people in France had limited interaction with royalty and instead placed blame for the country’s problems on the shoulders of local nobility. A common phrase in France at the time was, “If only the king knew,” as though he were ignorant of the woes of the people. It was partly owing to this perspective that the assembly attempted to establish a constitutional monarchy alongside the king, rather than simply oust him and rule the nation itself.
The Assembly’s Tenuous Control:
Despite the National Assembly’s progress, weaknesses were already being exposed within France, and the Great Fear and the women’s march on Versailles demonstrated that perhaps the assembly didn’t have as much control as it liked to think. The revolution that the assembly was overseeing in Paris was run almost exclusively by the bourgeoisie, who were far more educated and intelligent than the citizens out in the country. Although the August Decrees helped assuage the peasant’s anger, their dissatisfaction would become a recurring problem. The differing priorities that were already apparent foreshadowed future rifts.
Louis XVI’s Flight:
Although King Louis XVI maintained a supportive front towards the Revolution, he remained in contact with the rulers of Austria, Prussia, and Sweden, asking for their help in restoring his family to power. In late June 1791, Louis XVI and his family attempted to escape to the Austrian border, where they were supposed to meet the Austrian army and arrange an attack on the revolutionaries. However, the runaway party was caught just before reaching the border and brought back to Tuileries in Paris.
This escape attempt considerably weakened the king’s position and lowered his regard in the eyes of the French people. Beforehand, although he had little real power remaining, he at least still had the faith of his country. The king’s attempt to run away, however, made it clear to skeptics that he was a reluctant associate at best and would turn his back on the constitution and its system of limited monarchy at any moment.
The more radical revolutionaries, who had never wanted a constitutional monarchy, trusted the king even less after his attempted escape. The more moderate revolutionaries, who once were staunch proponents of the constitutional monarchy, found themselves hard-pressed to defend a situation in which a monarch was abandoning his responsibilities. Therefore, although Louis XVI constitutionally retained some power after being returned to Paris, it was clear that his days were numbered.
The Declaration of Pillnitz:
In response to Louis XVI’s capture and forced return to Paris, Prussia and Austria issued the Declaration of Pillnitz on August 27, 1791, warning the French against harming the king and demanding that the monarchy be restored. The declaration also implied that Prussia and Austria would intervene militarily in France if any harm came to the king.
Prussia and Austria’s initial concern was simply for Louis XVI’s well-being, but soon the countries began to worry that the French people’s revolutionary sentiment would infect their own citizens. The Declaration of Pillnitz was issued to force the French Revolutionaries to think twice about their actions and, if nothing else, make them aware that other countries were watching the Revolution closely.
The Constitution of 1791:
In September 1791, the National Assembly released its much-anticipated Constitution of 1791, which created a constitutional monarchy, or limited monarchy, for France. This move allowed King Louis XVI to maintain control of the country, even though he and his ministers would have to answer to new legislature, which the new constitution dubbed the Legislative Assembly. The constitution also succeeded in eliminating the nobility as a legal order and struck down monopolies and guilds. It established a poll tax and barred servants from voting, ensuring that control of the country stayed firmly in the hands of the middle class.
The Jacobins and Girondins:
Divisions quickly formed within the new Legislative Assembly, which coalesced into two main camps. On one side were the Jacobins, a group of radical liberals—consisting mainly of deputies, leading thinkers, and generally progressive society members—who wanted to drive the Revolution forward aggressively. The Jacobins found Louis’s actions contemptible and wanted to forgo the constitutional monarchy and declare France a republic.
Disagreeing with the Jacobins’ opinions were many of the more moderate members of the Legislative Assembly, who deemed a constitutional monarchy essential. The most notable of these moderates was Jacques-Pierre Brissot. His followers were thus labeled Brissotins, although they became more commonly known as Girondins.
Meanwhile, in cities throughout France, a group called the sans-culottes began to wield significant and unpredictable influence. The group’s name—literally, “without culottes,” the knee breeches that the privileged wore—indicated their disdain for the upper classes. The sans- culottes consisted mainly of urban laborers, peasants, and other French poor who disdained the nobility and wanted to see an end to privilege. Over the summer of 1792, the sans-culottes became increasingly violent and difficult to control.