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01/12/2009
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The Constituent Assembly (1789-1791) and its major reforms during the French Revolution

  1. Introduction.
  2. Important reforms of the Constituent Assembly and vote of the abolition of all privileges.
  3. The Assembly's vote on the Fundamental Principles of Government.
  4. The decree confiscating Church property as another important reform.
  5. The administrative reforms.
  6. Conclusion.
  7. Sources.

The Constituent Assembly is the Assembly in power in France between July, 9th 1789 and September, 30th 1791. On July 9th 1789, the National Assembly (created on 17th June) proclaims itself the Constituent National Assembly. This means its primary task will be to draw up a Constitution and adopt it. It has full authority to decree law, until the day of its dissolution, on September, 30th 1791. What were the major reforms of this Constituent Assembly? The first and probably most important reforms of the Constituent Assembly are the August 4-11 decrees. On the night of August 4th, 1789, with the vote of the abolition of all privileges, the entire millennium-old feudal system breaks into pieces: “The National Assembly abolishes the feudal regime entirely, and decrees that both feudal and censual rights and dues deriving from real or personal mainmorte and personal servitude, and those representative thereof, are abolished without indemnity, and all others declared redeemable. […] All seigniorial courts of justice are suppressed. […] Venality of judicial and municipal offices is suppressed. […] Pecuniary privileges, personal or real, in matter of taxation are abolished forever. […] All citizens may be admitted, without distinction of birth, to all ecclesiastical, civil, and military employments and offices […]” (1). This decree really puts an end to the Old Regime. The monarchy still is the political regime of France, but the old social regime – feudality – has been totally abolished.

[...] [ ] Under no circumstances may the judicial power be employed by the King or by the legislative body [ In this crucial decree, it is worth noticing how the Constituent Assembly puts directly Montesquieu’s theory of the separation of powers into practice, as well as the American slogan taxation without representation”. Besides, justice becomes more independent (another consequence of the theory of the separation of powers), especially after the promulgation of the decree reorganizing the Judiciary (16 August 1790). [...]


[...] This major reform shows very well how the French Revolution, before the radicalization of 1793, was a quite liberal revolution, a revolution thought by educated people and conceived for the elites, not for the lower classes. A bourgeois revolution; and on no account a socialist revolution. As a conclusion, the Constituent Assembly has undoubtedly reformed the entire organization of old France. Although its primary aim was to write a constitution, the Constituent Assembly has implemented crucial reforms, between July 9th 1789 and September 30th 1791. [...]

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