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Legislative Assembly (France)

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During the French Revolution, the Legislative Assembly was the legislature of France from 1 October 1791 to September 1792. It provided the focus of political debate and revolutionary law-making between the periods of the National Constituent Assembly and of the National Convention.

Contents

Background

The National Constituent Assembly dissolved itself on 30 September 1791. Upon Robespierre's motion it had decreed that none of its members should be capable of sitting in the next legislature. Its successor body, the Legislative Assembly, operating under the liberal French Constitution of 1791, did not last a year and was generally deemed a failure. It left behind an empty treasury, an undisciplined army and navy, and enormous domestic turmoil.

The Legislative Assembly entrenched the perceived left-right political spectrum that is still commonly used today.

Election of the Legislative Assembly

Despite a limited franchise, the elections of 1791 brought in a legislature which -- perhaps even disproportionately to the will of the country -- desired to carry the Revolution further. Prominent among this legislature were the Jacobin Club and its affiliated societies throughout France.

The Legislative Assembly first met on 1 October 1791. It consisted of 745 members, mostly from the middle class. The members were generally young, and, since none had sat in the previous Assembly, they largely lacked national political experience.

The Right consisted of about 165 "Feuillants", guided chiefly by persons outside the House, because incapable of re-election. The Left, generally dominant during this period, consisted of about 330 "Jacobins", a term which still included the party afterwards known as the Girondins or Girondists. The Left as a whole was openly anti-émigré and anticlerical. They also generally, although often not openly, favored a republic. In these views, they were was reinforced by the less privileged classes in Paris and throughout France. The remainder of the House, about 250 deputies, generally belonged to no definite party. The king's ministers, named by him and excluded from the Assembly, are described by the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica as "mostly persons of little mark."

History

For a detailed description of the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly and related events, see The Legislative Assembly and the fall of the French monarchy.

At the time of the accession of the Legislative Assembly the 27 August 1791 Declaration of Pillnitz already threatened France with attack by its neighbors. With both King Louis XVI and the majority of the legislature favoring war, albeit for different reasons, this led in April 1792 to the first of the French Revolutionary Wars.

In the early days of the Legislative Assembly, the king vetoed many of their radical measures:

  • Legislation against the émigrés, passed 9 November 1791 but vetoed by Louis.
  • Enforcement of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy: on 29 November 1791 the Assembly decreed that every non-juring clergyman must take the civic oath within eight days, on pain of losing his pension and, if any troubles broke out, of being deported. Louis vetoed this decree as a matter of conscience.

Louis formed a series of cabinets, veering at times as far left as the Girondins. However, by the summer of 1792, amid insurrection, it had become clear that the monarchy and the now-dominant left could not reach any accommodation. On 9 August 1792, a new revolutionary Commune took possession of the Paris hôtel de ville, and early on the morning of 10 August the insurgents assailed the Tuileries, where the royal family resided.

A sparsely populated session of the Legislative Assembly, almost all of them Jacobins, suspended Louis from office and voted that a convention should be summoned to give France a new constitution. Lafayette tried and failed the rally the National Guards in defence of the constitution. He left France and surrendered himself to the Austrians.

At this point, the government of France descended into chaos. The new, anti-monarchical government had no root in law and little hold on public opinion. It could not lean on the Assembly, a mere shrunken remnant, whose days were numbered. It remained dependent on the power which had set it up, the revolutionary Commune of Paris. The Commune could therefore extort what concessions it pleased. It got the custody of the king and his family, who were imprisoned in the Temple. Having obtained an indefinite power of arrest, it soon filled the prisons of Paris. With the invasion of France on 19 August 1792 under the leadership of the Duke of Brunswick, a prison bloodbath ensued, a prelude to the Reign of Terror.

The ensuing elections to the Convention were by almost universal suffrage, but indifference or intimidation reduced the voters to a small number. Many who had sat in the National Constituent Assembly and many more who had sat in the Legislative Assembly were returned. The Convention met on 20 September 1792 and became the new de facto government of France.

References

Original text from 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, heavily reworked. Please continue to update as needed.

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