The Fall of the French Monarchy

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The revolution resulted, among other things, in the overthrow of the Bourbon monarchy in France and in the establishment of the First Republic. It was generated by a vast complex of causes, the most important of which were the inability of the ruling classes of nobility, clergy, and bourgeoisie to come to grips with the problems of state, the indecisive nature of the monarch, impoverishment of the workers, the intellectual ferment of the Age of Enlightenment, and the example of the American Revolution. Recent scholarship tends to downplay the social class struggle and emphasize political, cultural, ideological, and personality factors in the advent and unfolding of the conflict. The Revolution itself produced an equally vast complex of consequences. For more than a century before the accession of Louis XVI in 1774, the French government had undergone periodic economic crises, resulting from the long wars waged during the reign of Louis XIV, royal mismanagement of national affairs under Louis XV, the losses incurred in the French and Indian War (1756-63), and increased indebtedness arising from loans to the American colonies during the American Revolution (1775-83). The advocates of fiscal, social, and governmental reform became increasingly vocal during the reign of Louis XVI. In August 1774, Louis appointed a liberal comptroller general, the economist Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, Baron de L'Aulne, who instituted a policy of strict economy in government expenditures. Within two years, however, most of the reforms had been withdrawn and his dismissal forced by reactionary members of the nobility and clergy, supported by Queen Marie Antoinette. Turgot's successor, the financier and statesman Jacques Necker, similarly accomplished little before his downfall in 1781, also because of opposition from the reactionaries. Nevertheless, he won popular acclaim by publishing an accounting of the royal finances, which revealed the heavy cost of privileges and favoritism. During the next few years the financial crisis steadily worsened. Popular demand for convocation of the Estates-General (an assembly made up of representatives of the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners), which had been in adjournment since 1614, finally compelled Louis XVI in 1788 to authorize national elections. During the ensuing campaign, censorship was suspended, and a flood of pamphlets expres... ... middle of paper ... ...Dumouriez, checked the Prussian advance on Paris at Valmy. On the day after the victory at Valmy, the newly elected National Convention convened in Paris. In its first official moves that day, the convention proclaimed establishment of the First Republic and abolished the monarchy. Encouraging reports arrived almost weekly from the armies, which had assumed the offensive after the battle at Valmy and had successively captured Mainz, Frankfurt am Main, Nice, Savoie, the Austrian Netherlands, and other areas. In the meantime, however, strife steadily intensified in the convention, with the plain vacillating between support of the conservative Girondists and the radical Montagnards. In a test of strength, a majority approved the Montagnard proposal that Louis be brought to trial before the convention for treason. On January 15, 1793, by an almost unanimous vote, the convention found the monarch guilty as charged, but on the following day, when the nature of the penalty was determined, factional lines were sharply drawn. By a vote of 387 to 334, the delegates approved the death penalty. Louis XVI went to the guillotine on January 21, and with him, the French Monarchy was decapitated.

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