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How far had the Constituent Assembly changed France by October 1791?

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Introduction

Adam Lowe How far had the Constituent Assembly changed France by October 1791? The Constituent Assembly had changed France significantly by late 1791. For example, the August Decrees had abolished most of the feudal rights of the first and second estates. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the August Decrees, Nationalism and Toleration had significantly altered the running of the church. Absolute Monarchy and the theory of Divine Right of Kings had been stopped by the Declaration of the Rights of Man, part of the 1791 Constitution. This made the monarchy a constitutional monarchy. However, not everything changed. Quite a few of the feudal rights remained intact, the King remained in power in the mean time and the official religion remained Catholic. Some people say that the Constituent Assembly changed France for the better; others say that the Assembly made many mistakes. Aftalion's interpretation of events was that the economic decisions taken by the National Assembly were mistakes that drove the Revolution on further than the deputies wished. He believes that the Assembly accepted the need to pay the Royal debts but because of the disorder in the countryside and the destruction of the "feudal system" in the August Decrees it couldn't do because it lacked any income to do so because taxes went mainly unpaid. The financial ruin of the State was imminent, despite further loans, a forced loan on the rich and a "patriotic contribution". The revolution was split in two because some people wanted a Republic and others were constitutional monarchists. Riots broke out and 50 were killed in the Massacre of the Champ de Mars. The Assembly needed the King and when he accepted the Constitution of 1791 he was restored to his limited powers. However, many significant changes to the way France was to be run were made by the Constituent Assembly between 1789 and the 1791 constitution. ...read more.

Middle

This was a dismantling not only of traditional institutions and absolute monarchy but also of the whole system of centralised government; it left the provinces with considerable local autonomy. It also presented the country with more equality and abolished the certain privileged areas of France. The main problems were that the Government failed to have a clear connection to the Local Governments and also the Local governments hardly had any revenue thus leading to bankruptcies. This totally changed how France was run, and could be viewed as the Constituent Assembly's most significant change. Included in this reform was Toleration. This allowed people to be members of the Protestant Church, and eventually, Judaism. Previously followers of other religions than Catholicism were persecuted, and often executed for their 'crimes.' This, however, upset the Pope and other religious leaders, who felt that some of their authority and influence had been taken away. It was, though, a significant change from the old rule. The reform of the judiciary meant that all royal, seigneurial and ecclesiastical courts were abolished. A judiciary separate from the executive and legislature was established with a 'police tribunal' in each commune (minor offences) of 3 or 5 elected officials; judges were elected and for criminal cases a jury system was introduced at department level. All forms of torture were abolished as were 'imaginary' crimes and the death penalty was restricted to murder, treason, arson forgery and conspiracy. Lettres de cachets were made illegal. There was a High Court and Courts of Appeal. Justice was made free and equal to all though it was dependent on the will of the "Nation" which meant, in effect, the active citizens. The new judicial system was one of the most enduring reforms of the National Assembly, for the first time justice was made free and equal to all and was therefore very popular. Within two years of the French justice system being barbarous and unfair, it was now arguably the most enlightened in Europe. ...read more.

Conclusion

It was based on Siey�s' suggestion of the 'active' and the 'passive' citizen. Passive citizens - everybody - were entitled to civil rights but only 'active citizens' could vote. An active citizen had to pay some taxes, so nearly 4 million men could vote at the 'primary election' to elect the candidates for the secondary election: the secondary electors had to pay at least 10 days wages in tax: these secondary electors then elected the 'deputy' who had to pay 52 livres in taxes i.e. only about 55000 men could become deputies and they were all bourgeois. Doyle put it that "The essence of the constitution of 1791 was to keep the executive weak...Uniformity and decentralisation were the keynotes of the administrative organisation undertaken by the Constituent Assembly." The constitution, after so much debate and trouble, lasted only eleven months. The Constituent Assembly changed France immensely in the reforms discussed above. Compared to the Ancien Regime, the new order was totally different and arguably more effective and efficient. For example, the August Decrees had abolished most of the feudal rights of the first and second estates and made the peasantry happier. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the August Decrees, Nationalism and Toleration had significantly altered the running of the church. Absolute Monarchy and the theory of Divine Right of Kings had been stopped by the Declaration of the Rights of Man, part of the 1791 Constitution. This made the monarchy a constitutional monarchy; taking away most of the Kings powers, meaning nearly everything he wanted to pass had to go through the Constituent Assembly. Not all of the Ancien Regime was changed though. Some things stayed intact because of the Noble's ability to buy back some of their rights, such as being able to tax peasants to use their land. By October 1791, the executive in the Constitutional Assembly felt that the Assembly had run its course, and in that month it was permanently dissolved, with the Legislative Assembly taking its place. ...read more.

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