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(The FRENCH REVOLUTION – continued)

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The FRENCH REVOLUTION (7 of 8)

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A New Constitution and Defeat for the Paris Mob (1795)

The execution of Robespierre and his twenty-one associates was followed by the harsh winter of 1794-95. The war had damaged the nation's economy. France's currency had declined from what it had been in 1789 and the economy remained depressed. Trade through such ports as Marseille and Bordeaux remained dramatically diminished.

Production methods in agriculture were still backward. In France, larger farms – Britain's advantage in agriculture – were not developing. It would be many years before agriculture in France would benefit from the revolution taking from feudal lords (seignoirs) control over agricultural policies.

Following the execution of Robespierre, the surviving deputies of the National Convention felt obliged to dismantle the laws that had given free reign to the Terror. They wanted order and stability. Many of those in prison as a result of these laws were released, including Thomas Paine in November, 1794.

In December the Convention repealed wage and price controls – the policy that had been advocated by Parisian radicals. With the lifting of price controls the value of the country's paper money declined further in value, producing skyrocketing prices for food. The River Seine froze, cutting Paris off from supplies of grain and firewood.

In March, the National Convention was still rationing bread, but supplies of grain were running out. Hunger produced more rioting in Paris. The rioting extended into May, when a mob again invaded the National Convention, demanding bread and killing one of the deputies, whose head was put on a pike. Some of the Leftist deputies went over to the side of the mob, but the Convention as a whole resisted and was rescued by the army. The turmoil in Paris lasted three days, ending with the arrest of thousands. Many of the activists had their weapons taken away, and around twenty leaders were executed. The six deputies who had sided with the demonstrators were tried and given a sentence of death, and four of them committed suicide.

Protesters in Paris felt defeated. Many believed the revolution a failure. Women in Paris began turning to their religious heritage. In the countryside, communities were searching for priests to perform mass. Among the poor, nostalgia was developing for the good old days when the king looked out for the basic needs of his subjects. Outside Paris, people released from prison and those who had lost friends and family during the Terror were demanding and initiating revenge against those who had terrorized them. Former terrorists were imprisoned, and a few were killed in what was called the White Terror, which lasted through May and June of 1795.

A shortage of food existed also in the army, and the government was alarmed over a rebellion that occurred among French troops in the Austrian Netherlands. The National Convention lumped together terror from the left and the right, and it campaigned for unity and obedience while it managed to maintain the loyalty of the majority in the military.

There was still rebellion in the Vendée in the west of France that had been taking place since 1791. Leaders of that rebellion were in contact with the British and with French émigrés in Britain, and on June 27 the British continued their war against the French by landing an army of 4,500 Frenchmen at Quiberon, and little north of Vendée on the Atlantic coast of Brittany. By late July the invasion was defeated. A law required the execution of any émigré bearing arms, and 748 émigré officers were put to death. Rebellion in Brittany and the Vendée continued into 1796 but finally ended in the summer of that year.

Meanwhile, in June 1795, the ten-year-old son of Louis XVI had died while in prison. One of the brothers of Louis XVI, the Comte de Provence, in exile in Italy, proclaimed himself heir to the throne as Louis XVIII.

A New Constitution

People with substantial wealth were beginning to display their affluence again. People were addressing each other as "mister" (monsieur) again, rather than as "citizen." Deputies to the National Convention were asserting that the most worthy people were those who owned property. The constitution that the deputies created was prefaced with a declaration of the rights and duties of man and citizen, but it excluded the masses from political power. The new constitution held that the masses voted for electors, chosen among men of means only. These electors were to elect members of the new Legislative Assembly as well as key officials throughout the country.

The new constitution supported property rights, but properties confiscated from the Church and from émigrés were not to be returned. The constitution called for a bicameral legislature – as in England and the United States – which was believed more stable than a one-house legislature. Executive power was placed in what was called the Directory, consisting of five persons elected by the legislators. A referendum to approve the new constitution was successful.

The National Convention had a few weeks of power before the new constitution was to go into effect, and to protect themselves and republicanism they passed a law requiring that two-thirds of those elected to the new government had to be former members of their National Convention. Conservatives rebelled, and they tried to take power force. General Napoleon Bonaparte was put in charge of crushing the conservative uprising. He used his artillery against the rebels, and hundreds were killed.

On October 26, 1795, the National Convention dissolved itself, to be replaced by the new bicameral parliament. A new republican government took power. A new military guard was organized in Paris, loyal to the government rather than thought of as a people's army. To signify the change in mood and the end of terror, the Place de La Revolution – where around 2800, including Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and Danton, had been guillotined – was renamed, eventually to be called the Place de La Concorde. A new commander-in-chief of all armies within the boundaries of France was named: Napoleon Bonaparte.

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