Origins of the French Revolution

By William Doyle | Go to book overview

14
The People of Paris

There were popular disturbances all over France during the spring and early summer of 1789. The deputies to the Estates-General were all well aware that the country appeared to be dissolving into anarchy, and everybody agreed that once the question of voting was settled, the problem of public order ought to be the first priority. The anguished feeling that they were fiddling while Rome burned did much to embitter the deputies of the third estate, and many of those of the clergy, during the deadlock over verification of credentials. Yet it is unlikely that, even with the whole country disturbed, resolute deployment of troops could not have maintained order until the harvest was in. It is equally unlikely that the disturbances would have decisively influenced the course of political events if they had not spread to the capital. Arthur Young, arriving in Nancy on 15 July, before the news of the fall of the Bastille, was told, 'We are a provincial town, we must wait to see what is done at Paris; but everything is to be feared from the people, because bread is so dear, they are half-starved, and are consequently ready for commotion.' And yet, commented Young, 'they dare not stir; they dare not even have an opinion of their own till they know what Paris thinks . . . Without Paris I question whether the present revolution, which is fast working in France, could possibly have an origin.'1

Paris in 1789 was a city of perhaps 600,000 or 650,000 inhabitants -- six times larger than the largest provincial towns. Within this population, side by side and often quite literally one on top of another in the tall apartment blocks which provided the bulk of the city's accommodation, were the most enormous contrasts of wealth and power to be found in France. With the exception of a few shippers and the occasional provincial financier, all the richest people in France lived in the capital. So did most of those involved in political power. It is true that the seat of government was at Versailles, twelve miles to the west, but the courtiers who occupied the cramped and foetid apartments of the royal palace did not regard it as

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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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