The Attack on Feudalism in Eighteenth-Century France: Volume 19

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In the countryside rumours spread from village to village that the lords of the manor were on their way to destroy the ripe crops through their hired gangs. Due to fear, peasants in several districts attacked the castle of nobles, looted hoarded grain and burnt down documents containing records of manorial dues. Large numbers of noble fled from their homes and many migrated to neighbouring countries. On 4th August, , France passed the law for abolishing the feudal system of obligations and taxes.

The member of clergy were also forced to give up their privileges. Tithes were abolished and lands owned by the Church were confiscated. The National Assembly completed the draft of the constitution in , aiming to limit the powers of the monarch. The powers were now separated and assigned to different institutions — the legislature, executive and judiciary which made France a constitutional monarchy. The remaining men and all women were classed as passive citizens who had no voting rights. Rulers of other neighbouring countries too were worried by the developments in France and made plans to send troops to stop the revolutionary events taking place.

Before this could happen, the National Assembly voted in April to declare war against Prussia and Austria. Thousands of volunteers joined the army from the provinces to join the army. People saw this war as a war of the people against kings and aristocracies all over Europe.

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The revolutionary wars brought losses and economic difficulties to the people. The Constitution of gave political rights only to the richer sections of society. Political clubs were established by the people who wished to discuss government policies and plan their own forms of action. The most successful of these clubs was that of the Jacobins.

The members of the Jacobin club belonged mainly to the less prosperous sections of society. Their leader was Maximilian Robespierre.

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Jacobins start wearing long striped trousers and came to be known as the sans-culottes, literally meaning those without knee breeches. In the summer of the Jacobins planned a revolt of a large number of the people of Paris who were angered by the short supplies and high prices of food. From the very beginning, women were active participants in the events which brought about so many changes in the French society.

Most women of the third estate had to work for a living. Their wages were lower than those of men. In order to discuss and voice their interests, women started their own political clubs and newspapers. One of their main demands was that women must enjoy the same political rights as men. Some laws were introduced to improve the position of women.

Their struggle still continues in several parts of the world. It was finally in that women in France won the right to vote. Women were disappointed that the Constitution of reduced them to passive citizens. They demanded the right to vote, to be elected to the Assembly and to hold political office.

The revolutionary government did introduce laws that helped improve the lives of women. The unwillingness of Europeans to go and work in the colonies in the Caribbean which were important suppliers of commodities such as tobacco, indigo, sugar and coffee created a shortage of labour on the plantations. Thus, the slave trade began in the seventeenth century.

Derniers numéros

French merchants sailed from their ports to the African coast, where they bought slaves from local chieftains. Branded and shackled, the slaves were packed tightly into ships for the three-month long voyage across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. There they were sold to plantation owners.

The exploitation of slave labour made it possible to meet the growing demand in European markets for sugar, coffee, and indigo. The National Assembly held long debates for about whether the rights of man should be extended to all French subjects including those in the colonies. But it did not pass any laws, fearing opposition from businessmen whose incomes depended on the slave trade. Jacobin regime in , abolished slavery in the French colonies. However, ten years later, Napoleon reintroduced slavery.

Slavery was finally abolished in French colonies in The ideas of liberty and democratic rights were the most important legacy of the French Revolution. Deists appreciated God as a reasonable Deity. A reasonable God endowed humans with rationality in order that they might discover the moral instructions of the universe in the natural law. Deists were typically though not always Protestants, sharing a disdain for the religious dogmatism and blind obedience to tradition exemplified by the Catholic Church.

Rather than fight members of the Catholic faith with violence and intolerance, most deists resorted to the use of tamer weapons such as humor and mockery. Some struggled with the tensions between Calvinist orthodoxy and deist beliefs, while other subscribed to the populist version of deism advanced by Thomas Paine in The Age of Reason.

The French Revolution and the Catholic Church

Despite the near absence of God in human life, American deists did not deny His existence, largely because the majority of the populace still remained strongly religious, traditionally pious and supportive of the good works for example monasteries, religious schools and community service that the clergy did. Another idea central to American Enlightenment thinking is liberalism, that is, the notion that humans have natural rights and that government authority is not absolute, but based on the will and consent of the governed.

Rather than a radical or revolutionary doctrine, liberalism was rooted in the commercial harmony and tolerant Protestantism embraced by merchants in Northern Europe, particularly Holland and England. Liberals favored the interests of the middle class over those of the high-born aristocracy, an outlook of tolerant pluralism that did not discriminate between consumers or citizens based on their race or creed, a legal system devoted to the protection of private property rights, and an ethos of strong individualism over the passive collectivism associated with feudal arrangements.

Liberals also preferred rational argumentation and free exchange of ideas to the uncritical of religious doctrine or governmental mandates. In this way, liberal thinking was anti-authoritarian. Although later liberalism became associated with grassroots democracy and a sharp separation of the public and private domains, early liberalism favored a parliamentarian form of government that protected liberty of expression and movement, the right to petition the government, separation of church and state and the confluence of public and private interests in philanthropic and entrepreneurial endeavors.

The U. Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, guarantees a schedule of individual rights based on the liberal ideal. Republican values include civic patriotism, virtuous citizenship and property-based personality. Developed during late antiquity and early renaissance, classic republicanism differed from early liberalism insofar as rights were not thought to be granted by God in a pre-social state of nature, but were the products of living in political society.

On the classical republican view of liberty, citizens exercise freedom within the context of existing social relations, historical associations and traditional communities, not as autonomous individuals set apart from their social and political ties. The Jeffersonian ideal of the yeoman farmer, which had its roots in the similar Roman ideal, represented the eighteenth-century American as both a hard-working agrarian and as a citizen-soldier devoted to the republic.

When elected to the highest office of the land, George Washington famously demurred when offered a royal title, preferring instead the more republican title of President. Though scholarly debate persists over the relative importance of liberalism and republicanism during the American Revolution and Founding see Recent Work section , the view that republican ideas were a formative influence on American Enlightenment thinking has gained widespread acceptance.

Though the Enlightenment is more often associated with liberalism and republicanism, an undeniable strain of conservatism emerged in the last stage of the Enlightenment, mainly as a reaction to the excesses of the French Revolution. Though it is argued that Burkean conservatism was a reaction to the Enlightenment or anti-Enlightenment , conservatives were also operating within the framework of Enlightenment ideas.

Some Enlightenment claims about human nature are turned back upon themselves and shown to break down when applied more generally to human culture. For instance, Enlightenment faith in universal declarations of human rights do more harm than good when they contravene the conventions and traditions of specific nations, regions and localities.

Conservatism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Similar to the classical republicans, Burke believed that human personality was the product of living in a political society, not a set of natural rights that predetermined our social and political relations. Conservatives attacked the notion of a social contract prominent in the work of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau as a mythical construction that overlooked the plurality of groups and perspectives in society, a fact which made brokering compromises inevitable and universal consent impossible.

Burke only insisted on a tempered version, not a wholesale rejection of Enlightenment values. Conservatism featured strongly in American Enlightenment thinking.

19. Crown and Political Nation, 1604-1640

While Burke was critical of the French Revolution, he supported the American Revolution for disposing of English colonial misrule while creatively readapting British traditions and institutions to the American temperament. American Enlightenment thinkers such as James Madison and John Adams held views that echoed and in some cases anticipated Burkean conservatism, leading them to criticize the rise of revolutionary France and the popular pro-French Jacobin clubs during and after the French Revolution.

Toleration or tolerant pluralism was also a major theme in American Enlightenment thought. It reflected their belief that hatred or fear of other races and creeds interfered with economic trade, extinguished freedom of thought and expression, eroded the basis for friendship among nations and led to persecution and war. Tiring of religious wars particularly as the 16 th century French wars of religion and the 17 th century Thirty Years War , European Enlightenment thinkers imagined an age in which enlightened reason not religious dogmatism governed relations between diverse peoples with loyalties to different faiths.

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The Protestant Reformation and the Treaty of Westphalia significantly weakened the Catholic Papacy, empowered secular political institutions and provided the conditions for independent nation-states to flourish. American thinkers inherited this principle of tolerant pluralism from their European Enlightenment forebearers.

Inspired by the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers John Knox and George Buchanan, American Calvinists created open, friendly and tolerant institutions such as the secular public school and democratically organized religion which became the Presbyterian Church.

In it, Locke argued that government is ill-equipped to judge the rightness or wrongness of opposing religious doctrines, faith could not be coerced and if attempted the result would be greater religious and political discord. So, civil government ought to protect liberty of conscience, the right to worship as one chooses or not to worship at all and refrain from establishing an official state-sanctioned church. The Enlightenment enthusiasm for scientific discovery was directly related to the growth of deism and skepticism about received religious doctrine.

In pre-revolutionary America, scientists or natural philosophers belonged to the Royal Society until , when Benjamin Franklin helped create and then served as the first president of the American Philosophical Society. Franklin became one of the most famous American scientists during the Enlightenment period because of his many practical inventions and his theoretical work on the properties of electricity. What follows are brief accounts of how four significant thinkers contributed to the eighteenth-century American Enlightenment: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Adams.

Abolition of feudalism in France

Benjamin Franklin, the author, printer, scientist and statesman who led America through a tumultuous period of colonial politics, a revolutionary war and its momentous, though no less precarious, founding as a nation. In his Autobiography , he extolled the virtues of thrift, industry and money-making or acquisitiveness. Not only did Franklin advise his fellow citizens to create and join these associations, but he also founded and participated in many himself.

Franklin was a staunch defender of federalism, a critic of narrow parochialism, a visionary leader in world politics and a strong advocate of religious liberty.

America Through European Eyes

A Virginian statesman, scientist and diplomat, Jefferson is probably best known for drafting the Declaration of Independence.