Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Not so Ritzy Republics- Part 2

As far as republics go, France is currently in their fifth. Three have come about from changes in Constitutions, however, the first two were ends of monarchies. The first republic began in 1792 and is the one I am going to speak on today.

Leading up to the first French Republic was the French Revolution. The people of France had suffered tensions and lack of funds. France had three estates: Clerics (members of the Catholic Church), Nobles, and Peasants (who were far more than half the population). Each estate had representatives in the government but each estate only got one vote. Most often than not, the clerics and nobles would vote together, making laws that helped them out while shouldering the peasants with most of the taxes and other burdens.

King Louis XVI
King Louis XVI had been sending financial support to the American colonists during the American Revolution. The problem was that he sent money that he really did not have to spend. To get the money, Louis had to raise taxes and since he could not do so on his own, he turned to the estates to do it for him. Instead of taking on the taxes themselves (out of their large amounts of wealth) the clerics and nobles gave the taxes to the peasants.

In a time when peasants were required by law to give tithe and levy to the Church and to also pay rent to the Lord of the Manor (they did not own their own land), along with fees for the wineries and millers (set by the Lords), added taxes became too much. Angry that they were always out voted, the peasants asked that they be give two votes instead of one, since they had the largest estate. Louis had no problem with this, while the other estates shot it down. Upset that they had been denied, the third estate declared themselves the National Assembly and later took the Tennis Court Oath, declaring they would not leave the tennis court where they meet until they had a new constitution.
Tennis Court Oath

March of Women
Storming the Bastille
Meanwhile, bread (a staple making up much of their diet) had skyrocketed in cost. Fish wives marched on the Castle of Versailles and forced the King and his family to move to Paris and take action. Peasants, afraid the king would send troops against them, attacked the Bastille to gather arms.

In 1792, King Louis XVI was beheaded and a republic was official in France. For the next year, the First republic struggled. In 1793, the Terror began to bring stability. During the Terror, anyone viewed as an enemy of the Republic was sent to the guillotine (a machine used to behead).

Terror Propaganda
Small things, like complaining about the price of bread could get someone sent to the guillotine. Others were sent by rivals or angry neighbors for no real reason at all.

Crowds would amass to watch the executions. Scientist would watch the heads after the came off to see how many times the eyes blinked. Old ladies would gather with their knitting to call down curses on the condemned.

The Terror ended in 1794, when its most ardent support, Robespierre, was sent to the Guillotine himself.

For the next few years France struggled with all the changes the new Republic attempted to make. Some are mentioned on this earlier post. Things did not get better until Napoleon Bonaparte came to power in 1799 (not yet as emperor).


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