Origins of the French Revolution

By William Doyle | Go to book overview

11
The Election Campaign, September 1788 to May 1789

At the beginning of September 1788, on the morrow of his triumphant return to office, Necker appeared all powerful. His recall had been celebrated by days of popular demonstrations in Paris; there was an immediate revival of the government's credit which enabled him to cancel Brienne's bankruptcy and start to meet the government's obligations again with freshly borrowed money; he had no credible rivals inside or outside the ministry. 1 But Necker did not regard the unparalleled strength of this position as an opportunity to pursue policy initiatives. He saw himself as a caretaker whose sole task was to maintain stability while France prepared for the meeting of the Estates-General. He seems to have shared the semi-mystical faith so widespread in France during these months that the Estates would solve all problems; and one of his first acts was to hasten that happy day by bringing the date of their meeting forward from 1 May 1789, previously fixed by Brienne, to 1 January. Privately, he felt sympathetic to much of what Brienne had been trying to do; but for the moment he recognized that all the archbishop's policies, good or bad, were irreparably discredited, and that it would be deeply divisive to go ahead with them. Almost all were now abandoned. 2 Above all, the judicial reforms which had inspired such a wave of protest in May and June were revoked, and on 24 September the parlement of Paris returned in triumph to the Palace of Justice. The first governmental act it was called upon to register was that which convoked the Estates-General for 1 January 1789.

What this declaration did not stipulate was how the Estates were to be elected and constituted, and what procedures they were to follow in deliberation and voting. By the arrêt of 5 July, Brienne had declared that the government's mind was open on these matters, and he had invited all interested parties to send in their ideas. His main aim appears to have been to gain time, while dividing his opponents by sowing antagonism

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Origins of the French Revolution
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Prefatory Note vii
  • Contents *
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Writings on Revolutionary Origins Since 1939 3
  • 1 - The Classic Interpretation 5
  • 2 - Revisionism 10
  • 3 - Post-Revisionism 35
  • Part II - The Breakdown of the Old Regime 43
  • 4 - The Financial Crisis 45
  • 5 - The System of Government 54
  • 6 - Opposition 65
  • 7 - Public Opinion 76
  • 8 - Reform and its Failure, 1787-1788 91
  • Part III - The Struggle for Power 109
  • 9 - The Nobility 111
  • 10 - The Bourgeoisie 121
  • 11 - The Election Campaign, September 1788 to May 1789 131
  • 12 - The Economic Crisis 148
  • 13 - The Estates-General, May and June 1789 157
  • 14 - The People of Paris 166
  • 15 - The Peasantry 178
  • 16 - Conclusion: The New Regime and its Principles 189
  • Notes 197
  • Further Reading 226
  • Index of Authors Cited 229
  • General Index 233
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