French Revolution When Historians and Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

The Analysis

However, it is the not past this point that this study needs to go, rather it is at this point that we need to stop and take into analyze the information that is cited here, and to see if that analysis takes us in other directions. There is really very little detailed information about the discussions and debate that might have surrounded the creation of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. It is not like the American Constitution, where the thoughts of the singers are recorded, or renderings of the National Council showing the country's forefathers of freedom hard at work and debate. It is important to understand the complexities of society as they existed at the time of the revolution. Thompson describes the country as the wealthy, the middle "bourgeois" class, and the workers.

In the age-long constitution of French society, so soon to be dissolved by revolution, the privileged orders of Clergy and Nobility and the unprivileged but financially and professionally important bourgeoisie -- corresponding to our middle classes -- formed no more than a thin crust upon the surface of the workers: half a million privileged and a million bourgeois, or thereabouts, to twenty-five million workers, nine-tenths of them agricultural. But in the few great cities (Paris had a population of about 600,000, and some half a dozen ports or manufacturing centres approached six figures), and in the many county towns, as we should call them, the dignitaries of the cathedral, the parish priests, the members of the Town Council (municipalite), the magistrates, lawyers, and solicitors, and all the minor officials of civil and ecclesiastical government more than held their own. The sons of the petite bourgeoisie, if they found no vocation in the Church, and had no family business to inherit, cherished two ambitions: to own a plot of land and to secure a legal or official appointment. The first carried by custom the right to put de before one's name (in truth it was little more than the dubious transition from "Mr." To "Esq." which causes us so much embarrassment); the second stood for social consideration and a fixed income, however small (Thompson 6)."

When we look at the population of the country and the income distribution, knowing already that the working people were poor and starving, it is clear that they had only three groups of people to lead them out of their despair: the bourgeoisie, closest to them in class and, for that reason, understanding of their plight. For instance, as an example, Marie Antoinette is credited with having said, "Let them eat cake." It does not matter here whether or not she really said that. If she did say such a thing, it would not have been that she was heartless, but that when told they were out of bread, her response was that which she herself might have done rather than have eaten bread; to have eaten cake. In other words, the monarchy and wealthy class were so out of touch with who their citizens were that it was irreparable. But who would lead the people of France? It could only have been the bourgeois, one million strong, to lead the 25 million working class population.

In this leadership were the Jacobins, which is where Maximilien Robespierre is. The ideologies of the Jacobins, at least at that moment, were such that they convinced the people of France that their values, that which they held dear, and their behaviors, that they were ready to riot to end their starvation, were justified and factual. Robespierre was a man who could relate to them because he was near as poor as they, and his mother had died and his father had abandoned the family, which meant that he could easily relate to the conditions in which many of France's people suffered in (Thompson 6). Robespierre was also a man who had studied the philosophies of Voltaire, Rousseau, and Raynal (Thompson 7).

The Jacobins, then, were a mixture of the bourgeois and the working class, lead by Robespierre, who had educated and philosophical ideas about government and society. The Jacobins gained in popularity, and it is easy to understand why, because they were the group with whom the majority of the people, especially those people living in Paris, could relate to.

When the leaders of the revolution came together on July 14, 1790, then, creating the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, that document was created largely by France's bourgeois; mostly lawyers, and professional men whom, like the working class, were more restricted in their lives by religion than spiritually enlightened by it, because of the cost associated with the tithes, and because the Church was a mechanism of the State and the State a mechanism of the Church, equal in their dependency on the middle class and the working class to sustain life styles that, for the working class, were never attainable, and, for the middle class, excessive such that it kept them indebted. The working class, not having the education that would have lead them to respond otherwise, acted on emotions and physicality. The middle class could lead them because they were emotional, and acting on their physicality, and the middle class was educated in business, law, and philosophy and could appeal to the emotional working class.

When the National Assembly created the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, requiring the clergy to take an oath to the new government, and when the document abolished the tithes and essentially the Catholic orders of priests and bishops, and since the Church represented by way of the enforced tithes only hardship to the masses, it was not against the values or the morals of the masses that these things ceased to burden them. Therefore, they had no opinion and no had objection on the matter. They also benefited when the new government began auctioning away or issuing certificates of land that had been previously the property of the Church. The decree impacted their way in a positive way, and, therefore, they embraced it.

In the countryside the people held a different perspective. The population was less emotional, more practical in their reaction and behavior. They made their living off the land, and there was a system, a status quo, that facilitated their lives under the mobility even though they were working poor. At first, the Jacobin rhetoric might have made sense to them, and even satisfied their need for revolution initially. However, the people in the countryside had a different relationship with their faith and with the Church, and it appears that it was much more a significant part of their lives than a part of the lives of the people in the urban settings (Thompson 7).

A the People -- a word which meant in effect the opinion of Paris (for the provinces either had no opinion or echoed that of the capital); and Paris, though it disliked lawyers, regarded the legislative "veto" of the parlements as a bulwark of popular liberty. This public opposition took the form of a demand for the summoning of the States-general (etats-generaux), or Parliament of France, in its three Houses of Clergy, Nobility, and Commons (tiers etat), which had not met since the time of Henri IV, 175 years ago (Thompson 8)."

The political ideologies of the provinces were vastly different in perspective and in origin. The Jacobin Republic, says Alan Forrest, would not accept disinterest or excuses for being politically unaware or uninformed, and the division of the provinces into departments required that the cities of those areas provide leadership, where, in some instances, there were few individuals who had the educational training or background to provide the Jacobin style leadership (Forrest 92). Alan Forrest (1996) points this out in his book the Revolution in Provincial France.

By 1793 the revolutionaries would insist that individual citizens show positive commitment to revolutionary policies: the Jacobin Republic would not accept a lack of interest in politics as an excuse for inactivity. But even in 1789 passivity was discouraged. Ideas had to be discussed and debated, assimilated and digested, and new vectors of political expression were rapidly created, especially in urban centres. Paris might still be the fulcrum of political life, sending tracts and discussion papers down to the departments and inaugurating change which affected the lives of provincial Frenchmen. But participation was not limited to Paris. Provincial towns soon mobilized their own battalions of the National Guard and organized local federations. Intellectually, too, it was the towns -- with Bordeaux staking a claim to the regional intellectual leadership which it regarded as its right -- that took the most important initiatives. Bordeaux, it might seem, was well-prepared for its new role, since it had already enjoyed an active literary and intellectual life in the last years of the ancien regime. Leading figures from the merchant and legal communities, in particular, had long shown an interest…

Cite This Term Paper:

"French Revolution When Historians And" (2008, May 04) Retrieved August 16, 2017, from

"French Revolution When Historians And" 04 May 2008. Web.16 August. 2017. <>

"French Revolution When Historians And", 04 May 2008, Accessed.16 August. 2017,