The French Revolution

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What were the achievements of the National Assembly during the French Revolution?

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The achievements of the National Assembly included the abolition of feudalism, serfdom, and class privileges. The National Assembly also passed the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, which became the founding document of the French Revolution. Finally, the National Assembly also set up a uniform system of administration to replace the confusing patchwork quilt of administrative units that had previously existed in France.

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Despite its short existence—just over two years—the National Assembly racked up an impressive list of achievements. The most important of these was arguably the abolition of feudalism, serfdom, and class privileges. What is all the more remarkable is that nobles and clergy willingly contributed to this process. On the extraordinary night of August 4, 1789, the First and the Second Estates vied with each other to give up the numerous rights and privileges they had enjoyed for centuries, thus ushering in a new period in French, European, and world history.

A further achievement of the National Assembly was the drawing up of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. This charter, strongly influenced by the American Declaration of Independence, was the founding document of the French Revolution. It set out in detail and extensive body of rights, such as the right to liberty, property, and security. In a particularly radical move for eighteenth-century Europe, the Declaration also established the right to free speech.

Under the ancien regime, France had been divided up into a complex patchwork of administrative units, each one with their own special privileges that had been granted to them by the Crown. This made the governance of France more difficult, and it was with this in mind that the National Assembly abolished all the old provinces, intendancies, bailliages, and so forth, and replaced them with eighty-three departments. From then on, the administration of France would be much more streamlined and efficient.

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The original National Assembly survived for less than a month. It was created on June 13, 1789, and was reconstituted on July 9, 1789, as The National Constituent Assembly. The Assembly was made up of revolutionary members of the Third Estate (the common people), a number of nobles, and many members of the clergy.

The National Assembly succeeded in the abolition of feudalism, serfdom, and class privileges. It set out to end inequality, which was believed to be the root cause of the trouble. Through the work of the Assembly, the special privileges of classes, cities, and provinces were done away with.

Another achievement of the National Assembly was the Declaration of the Rights of Man on 27 August 1789. This document embodied the essential elements of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s philosophy and incorporated some of the provisions of the constitutional laws of England and the US. It became the platform of the French Revolution and influenced political thinking during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The French based their approach on universal principles and through their declaration made themselves the mouthpiece of all humanity. The Declaration "was drawn up not for France alone, but for the benefit of men everywhere who wanted to be free and to rid themselves of comparable burdens of absolutist monarchy and feudal privileges." 

The National Assembly set up a consistent system of administration all over the country. The old provinces, governments, intendancies, pays d’etat, pays d’election, parliaments and bailliages were all abolished, and the country was redivided into 83 departments. These departments were equal in size and population and were named after natural features such as rivers or mountains. The departments were each further divided into cantons and communes.

The National Assembly also tried to resolve problems relating to finance. The State Treasury was practically empty, and the Assembly resorted to extreme measures to sort out the issue. The Church property in France that was valued at many hundreds of millions of dollars was confiscated. The National Assembly, by using the Church property as security, issued paper currency known as Assignats. This plan, however, was not entirely successful since the currency was devalued when more paper money was printed.

The National Assembly also tackled issues with regard to the Church's position in France. As already mentioned, Church property was confiscated in November 1789. The monasteries and other religious communities were suppressed in February 1790. In April 1790, absolute religious toleration was proclaimed, and in July 1790, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy was enacted. The number of bishops and priests was reduced and they were made a civil body.

The National Assembly drew up a new constitution for France. The constitution was completed in 1791, and after it had been signed by the king, it became the law of the country. It was the first time France had acquired a written constitution. The basic tenet of the constitution was based on the principle of separation of powers, which was put forward by Montesquieu and embodied the American Constitution of 1787. The legislature, judiciary, and executive branches were separated from one another, and separate departments were set up for each.

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The National Assembly of France (1789-1791) was very important because it ended the system of feudalism in France and introduced the country to representative government. The establishment of a representative government with three separate branches was instituted by the National Assembly. The Assembly also created the Declaration of the Rights of Man which offered similar protections as the American Bill of Rights. These protections included freedom of speech, trial by jury, and freedom of religion. The spirit of the assembly was that all citizens are equal before the law and should be allowed to participate in government.

The National Assembly ended the unfair system of taxation in which the clergy and nobility were exempt from paying their fair share. Now everybody would participate in the duty of taxation. This brought an end to some of the privileges of the nobility and functionally ended a feudal system that had been in place for centuries. The actions of the Assembly also curtailed the powerful economic, political, and social influence of the church in France.

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