France Crisis of Monarchical Absolutism 5

The Decline of French Power in Europe and the Crisis of Monarchical Absolutism Part V


During this period, while Sartine and then de Castries in the Navy reconstituted the fleet, and de Ségur in the War reorganized the army, Necker headed the financial administration.

He tried to provide for the needs of the Treasury with savings, loans and above all with lotteries and issues of annuities. His personal credit and the punctuality with which interest was paid ensured the success of these operations; and he was able to achieve considerable savings, among other things by suppressing the offices of the six finance managers, taking up the ideas of Turgot and continuing the transformation of contracts into regie. Providences and reliefs that allowed the king to renounce, in his dominions, the rights of servitude and mortal man. In reality, he would have wished that these feudal burdens disappeared entirely, but he lacked the necessary means to redeem the rights of the lords and limited himself to hoping for the “complete liberation of his subjects”. These liberal intentions of the king and his minister aroused opposition not only in the high clergy, but also in parliament. The hostility of Maurepas and the intensification of a violent press campaign led Necker to publish (February 1781), the Report to the king in which the exact situation of the finances was presented. This publication, if it was an immense success in public opinion, aroused a coalition of discontent against Necker. When Necker asked the king for the title of minister of state and the direct administration of the War and Navy treasury, Maurepas threatened the resignation of the ministers and Louis XVI rejected Necker’s demands, who had to leave (May 19, 1781).

According to topb2bwebsites, the fall of the Necker caused a sense of consternation in Paris and the provinces and an explosion of discontent against the king and queen. By accepting Necker’s resignation, Louis XVI had declared that the address would not change: instead, the Joly de Fleury who took the place of the Genevan, canceled all the reforms of his predecessor. The people participated enthusiastically at the magnificent festivals that welcomed the birth of the dolphin in the same year; but the walls of Paris were covered with threatening posters. Only for a moment did it seem that Louis XVI managed to escape the pressure of the queen and her circle, when, after Maurepas died, the king, advised by Vergennes, refused to give him a successor.

After the American War, there was a period of calm. Sovereigns and nobles are overwhelmed by a drunkenness of philanthropism, without realizing that this attitude, considered and exploited as a recognition of wrongs, only spreads and increases the spirit of rebellion. Meanwhile, the Polignacs got the office of controller of finances to be entrusted to Calonne. At first he was able to win everyone’s trust; but then the expenses made with mad lavishness provoked numerous attacks, also initiated by the Necker, which ended up shaking the confidence of the financiers and making it difficult to place the loans. Calonne relied on the clergy from whom he obtained a “gift” of 18 million, and to whom he granted in exchange for the suppression of the edition of Voltaire’s works, edited by Beaumarchais.

But the hostility to the monarchy was accentuated, drawing new inspiration from the scandal of the necklace, of which the enemies of Marie Antoinette, who also had no guilt, used to make them lose in the people that moral prestige that could only restrain political aversions. . She had never wanted to refrain from meddling in the state government. Thus, he had tried with all his might to get his brother Joseph II the support of France in his maneuvers against Holland. Once again Louis XVI and Vergennes, which the queen tried in vain to have their revocation, persisted in the policy of peace and France was able to participate as mediator in the treaty of Fontainebleau (1785) between the emperor and the Batavian republic. The conclusion of the agreements was made possible by the payment of 5 million that France paid to Joseph II; expenditure well justified because it ensured European peace and allowed France to stipulate a treaty by which Holland definitively evaded English influence. But the people wanted to see only the millions spent on the queen’s brother.

The following year, the king’s trip to Cherbourg and the trade treaty that Vergennes managed to conclude with England, produced beneficial effects in public opinion; but Calonne, reduced to the limit of resources and fought by the parliaments, was forced to confess the situation to the king: the loans rose to almost half a billion and the deficit exceeded 100 million. Returning to the ideas of Turgot and Necker, he proposed to the king a general reform of the tax regime and the abolition of all privileges. Not being able to count on the support of the parliaments for this, for January 29, 1787 an assembly of notables almost exclusively privileged and therefore in favor of the abolishments that should have been abolished was convened in Versailles. At the meeting, delayed by Calonne’s illness and Vergennes’ death, on February 22 the notables asked to know the state of the finances before voting on the new taxes. Calonne refused to communicate the account and, faced with the violent opposition of the assembly, tried in vain to save himself with an appeal to the people. He was exiled. His place was taken by Loménie de Brienne, archbishop of Toulouse, because the king did not want to know of a return of the Necker. The new controller won the favor of the assembly by communicating the financial statement (which showed a deficit of 140 million); by committing to strong economies, he obtained the registration of a loan of 60 million; but when he proposed two new taxes (territorial subsidy and stamp duty) the notables refused to vote on them, declaring that they did not have the power. The allusion to the States General was evident, and it was explicitly stated by La Fayette who proposed the convening of a national assembly. On 25 May the notables were dissolved. They had not implemented any reforms, but they had opened the way for parliamentary action: the country had followed their debates, becoming more and more accustomed to judging and discussing public affairs.

Some administrative decrees of Brienne passed without opposition: thus the one that established the provincial assemblies, which Necker had created in two provinces, like the one that abolished the corvée. The provincial assemblies, in charge of the division of the tax and the direction of public works, represented a conquest of liberal principles, but they were a serious blow to the sovereign authority, which could only base its absolutism on a strictly centralized administration. The stamp duty was the occasion of the struggle between the government and the parliament. This raged furiously against the lavishness of the court and asked for the status of the accounts. Brienne refused them and was supported by Louis XVI. The parliament then filed grievances, pleading with the king not to impose new taxes until a national assembly was convened. These grievances, which were approved by all other parliaments, gave the Paris parliament its full popularity.and the parliament was exiled to Troyes and thought was given to the suppression of all the parliaments which from every part of France invoked the States-General. It had to end up yielding: on 20 September the edict of exile was revoked; four days later the new taxes were lifted. But in November a loan project rekindled the struggle, in which the Duke of Orleans was noted for his hostility against the sovereigns. In 1788, the turmoil was at its height. In April, the news that the government was preparing a coup against parliament provoked a very violent protest. The king wanted to resist; he had two councilors arrested, set up new courts of justice and created the Plenary Court, to which he assigned the power to register and verify the laws, reserving the right to personally decide on loans.

France Crisis of Monarchical Absolutism 5