December 31: By the end of the year, France is Europe’s most populous country at about 27 million citizens, most of whom belong to the Third Estate. Still, this hugely representative Third Estate is only allowed one vote in the Estates General.
Controller General of Finances, Charles Alexandre de Calonne, recognizes that France is on the brink of bankruptcy, but he cannot devise an acceptable solution. By April, he is removed from his post and replaced by Etienne Charles de Lomenie de Brienne.
May: With the nation still teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, the king dissolves the Assembly of Notables after they refuse to give up traditional tax exemptions in exchange for a share in political power.
The history of France's parliament over the last two centuries is closely linked with the history of democracy and the chequered path it has followed before finding its culmination in today's institutions.
The French have regularly elected their representatives since 1789, but how they have elected them and what powers they have given them have varied considerably over time: periods in which parliament was in decline generally coincided with a decline in public freedoms.
The names given to parliament are not without significance.
National Assembly' was the name chosen in the fervour of 1789, but it failed to reappear (apart from the short episode of 1848) till 1946. In the intervening years, designations of varying degrees of dilution (Chamber of Representatives', Legislative Body', `Chamber of Deputies') reflected the reticence-hostility even-of those in power towards the principle of the sovereignty of the people.
he representatives of the French people, organized as a National Assembly, believing that the ignorance, neglect, or contempt of the rights of man are the sole cause of public calamities and of the corruption of governments, have determined to set forth in a solemn declaration the natural, unalienable, and sacred rights of man, in order that this declaration, being constantly before all the members of the Social body, shall remind them continually of their rights and duties; in order that the acts of the legislative power, as well as those of the executive power, may be compared at any moment with the objects and purposes of all political institutions and may thus be more respected, and, lastly, in order that the grievances of the citizens, based hereafter upon simple and incontestable principles, shall tend to the maintenance of the constitution and redound to the happiness of all.
The Great Fear during the French Revolution was a period of paranoia in the countryside. Peasants expected, yet feared, a monarchical and aristocratic counterrevolution. When they heard certain rumors that the king's armies were on their way over and that Austrians and Prussians were invading, terrified peasants and villagers organized militias. Others attacked and burned manor houses, sometimes to look for grain but usually to find and destroy records of the due dates of land-payments.
This Great Fear stirred up this confusion in the rural areas. When such news reached Paris, the deputies at Versailles believed that the administration of rural France had collapsed.
No one factor was directly responsible for the French Revolution. Years of feudal oppression and fiscal mismanagement contributed to a French society that was ripe for revolt. Noting a downward economic spiral in the late 1700s, King Louis XVI brought in a number of financial advisers to review the weakened French treasury. Each adviser reached the same conclusion—that France needed a radical change in the way it taxed the public—and each adviser was, in turn, kicked out. Meanwhile, the Committee of Public Safety’s war effort was realizing unimaginable success. French armies, especially those led by young general Napoleon Bonaparte, were making progress in nearly every direction. Napoleon’s forces drove through Italy and reached as far as Egypt before facing a deflating defeat. In the face of this rout, and having received word of political upheavals in France, Napoleon returned to Paris. He arrived in time to lead a coup against the Directory in 1799, eventually stepping up and naming himself “first consul”—effectively, the leader of France. With Napoleon at the helm, the Revolution ended, and France entered a fifteen-year period of military rule.
The storming of the Bastille prison on July 14th 1789 was an event that paved the way to further civil disorder and upheaval in France. It is from here on that the revolution took on a snowball effect slowly spilling over the whole of France and transforming what was till then an oppressive monarchist regime. An ironic discovery that was made was the entry in King Louis XVI’s diary for that particular date. In the comfort of his Palace at the Versailles he was unaware of the impact of the events that were taking place in Paris and the effects that they would have on the future course of the country’s fate he wrote “July 14th; nothing”.