Areican and french revolution revised Essay

This essay has a total of 2812 words and 11 pages.


Areican and french revolution revised




During the late 1700's, two great revolutions occurred, the American Revolution and the
French Revolution. These two historical events happened at the same time, but had a great
number of differences and very little similarity. When French Revolution occurred, it
turned into a very violent and bloody event, while the American Revolution was almost
nonviolent, aside from the war. In 1774, King Louis XVI made a decision that could have
prevented the French Revolution by breathing new life into the French economy: he
appointed Physiocrat Robert Turgot as Controller General of Finance.

The Physiocrats were a small band of followers of the French physician Francois Quesnay,
whose economic prescriptions included reduced taxes, less regulation, the elimination of
government-granted monopolies and internal tolls and tariffs, ideas that found their
rallying cry in the famous slogan, "laissez-faire, laissez-passer.” The Physiocrats
exerted a profound influence on Adam Smith, who had spent time in France in the 1760s and
whose classic “The Wealth of Nations” embodied the Physiocratic attack on mercantilism and
argued that nations get rich by practicing free trade. Of Smith, Turgot, and the
Physiocrats, the great French political leader and author Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850)
wrote: "The basis of their whole economic system may be truly said to lie in the principle
of self-interest. . .. The only function of government according to this doctrine is to
protect life, liberty, and property.” Embracing the principle of free trade not just as a
temporary expedient, but as a philosophy, Turgot got the king to sign an edict in January
1776 that abolished the monopolies and special privileges of the guilds, corporations, and
trading companies. He then dedicated himself to breaking down the internal tariffs within
France. By limiting government expense, he was able to cut the budget by 60 million
livres and reduce the interest on the national debt from 8.7 million livres to 3 million
livres. Had Turgot been allowed to pursue his policies of free trade and less government
intervention, France may very well have become Europe's first "common market" and avoided
violent revolution.

Unfortunately for France and the cause of freedom, resistance from the Court and special
interests proved too powerful, and Turgot was removed from office in 1776. "The dismissal
of this great man," wrote Voltaire, "crushes me. . . . Since that fatal day, I have not
followed anything . . . and am waiting patiently for someone to cut our throats.”
Turgot's successors, following a mercantilist policy of government intervention, only made
the French economy worse. In a desperate move to find money in the face of an uproar
across the country and to re-establish harmony, Louis XVI agreed to convene the
Estates-General for May 1789. Meanwhile, the king's new finance minister, Jacques Necker,
a Swiss financial expert, delayed the effects of mercantilism by importing large amounts
of grain. On May 5, the Estates-General convened at Versailles. By June 17, the Third
Estate had proclaimed itself the National Assembly. Three days later, the delegates took
the famous Tennis Court Oath, vowing not to disband until France had a new constitution.
However, the real French Revolution began not at Versailles but on the streets of Paris.

On July 14, a Parisian mob attacked the old fortress known as the Bastille, liberating, as
one pundit put it, "two fools, four forgers and a debaucher.” The Bastille was no longer
being used as a political prison, and Louis XVI had even made plans to destroy it. That
made little difference to the mob, which were actually looking for weapons. Promising the
guards safe-conduct if they would surrender, the leaders of the mob broke their word and
hacked them to death. It would be the first of many broken promises. Soon the heads,
torsos, and hands of the Bastille's former guardians were bobbing along the street on
pikes. "In all," as historian Otto Scott put it, "a glorious victory of unarmed citizens
over the forces of tyranny, or so the newspapers and history later said." The French
Revolution had begun. Despite the bloodshed at the Bastille and the riots in Paris, there
was some clear-headed thinking. Mirabeau wanted to keep the Crown but restrain it. "We
need a government like England's," he said. The French would never accept it though, for
they hated anything to do with the English.

On October 5, the Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, a
good document all right, but only if it were followed. Twenty-eight days later, the
Assembly showed they did not intend to do so: the government confiscated all church
property in France. It was the wrong way to go about creating a free society. Certainly
the Church was responsible for some abuses, but to seek to build a free society by
undermining property rights is like cutting down trees to grow a forest. Such
confiscation only sets a precedent for further violation of property rights, which in turn
violates individual rights, the very rights of man and the citizen the new government was
so loudly proclaiming. By confiscating church property, no matter how justified, France's
Revolutionary leaders showed that they weren't interested in a true free society, only in
one created in the image of their own philosophers. Soon France began to descend into a
state of anarchy in which it would remain for the next 25 years. In towns where royalist
mayors were still popular, bands of men invaded town halls and killed city magistrates.
Thousands of people sold their homes and fled the country, taking with them precious
skills and human capital. Francois Babeuf, the first modern communist, created a Society
of Equals dedicated to the abolition of private property and the destruction of all those
who held property. The king's guards were eventually captured and killed. The Marquis de
Sade, from whom we get the term sadism, was released from prison. The Paris Commune took
over control of Paris.

In the spring of 1792, the First Committee of Public Safety was established, charged with
judging and punishing traitors. Soon the streets of Paris began to run with blood, as
thousands of people were killed by the guillotine. As more soldiers were needed to
"liberate" the rest of Europe, France instituted history's first universal levy, the
ultimate in state control over the lives of its citizens. For opposing the Revolution,
most of the city of Lyons was destroyed. Lafayette, who at first had embraced the
Revolution, was arrested as a traitor. Soon a progressive income tax was passed, prices
on grain were fixed, and the death penalty given out to those who refused to sell at the
government's prices. Every citizen was required to carry an identity card issued by his
local commune, called Certificates of Good Citizenship. Every house had to post an
outside listing of its legal occupants. The Revolutionary Communes had committees that
watched everyone in the neighborhood and special passes were needed to travel from one
city to another. The jails were soon filled with more people than they had been under
Louis XVI. Eventually, every citizen was technically guilty of crimes against the state.
The desire for absolute equality resulted in everyone being addressed as "citizen," much
as the modern-day Communist is referred to as "comrade.” Education was centralized and
bureaucratized. The old traditions, dialects, and local allegiances that helped prevent
centralization were swept away as the Assembly placed a mathematical grid of departments
and municipalities on an unsuspecting France. Each department was to be run exactly as
its neighbor. Since "differences" were aristocratic, plans were made to erase individual
cultures, dialects, and customs. In order to accomplish this, teachers that were paid by
the state began to teach a uniform language. Curriculum was controlled totally by the
central government. Summing up this program, Saint just said, "Children belong to the
State," and advocated taking boys from their families at the age of five.

So much of modern statism, with all of its horror and disregard for individualism, began
with the French Revolution. The "purge," the "commune," the color red as a symbol of
statism, even the political terms Left, Right, and Center came to us from this period.
The only thing that ended the carnage, inside France, at least, was "a man on horseback,"
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