The White Terror and the new Constitution
The White Terror and the new Constitution
A new Constitution was desired by the Thermidorians, as they wanted to ensure that the dictatorship of the CPS would be impossible in the future. Also wanted to reassert the main features of the Revolution of 1789 - the abolition of privilege, freedom of the individual and the control of local and national affairs by an ELECTED assembly composed of ELECTED officials
Main features of new Constitution: all males over 21 who paid direct taxation were allowed to vote in the primary assemblies to choose electors; however, real power was only exercised by these electors (who actually chose the deputies) - to become an elector, one had to pay taxes equivalent to 150-200 days labour. Electors were therefore very rich.
Legislature separated from the Executive. Legislature divided into two chambers - the Council of the Five Hundred (all 500 had to be over 30, and were tasked with initiating legislation that would then be passed on to the Council of Ancients) and the Council of Ancients (composed of 250 men over 40, who could approve or object to bills but not introduce or change them). No property qualification required for any members. Elections held every year, when a third of the members retired.
Executive was the Directory, comprised of five Directors chosen by the Ancients from a list drawn up by the Five Hundred. Could hold office for five years but each year one would need to retire. Directors had considerable authority - they were in charge of diplomacy, military affairs and law enforcement - but could not initiate/veto laws, declare war or control the Treasury. Ministers were responsible for implementing government policy (like civil servants in British politics today) and replaced the representatives-on-mission and national agents.
Weaknesses of the Constitution
Despite the numerous and complicated checks and balances designed to prevent the emergence of a dictator, the new Constitution had many pitfalls derived from this: yearly elections promoted instability, as majorities in the Councils could be quickly overturned and dramatically change the political landscape; there was no means of resolving conflicts between the legislature and executive, the Directors had very limited power and were essentially subordinate to the Councils (which could paralyse the government by refusing to pass the required laws). The Legislature could only alter the composition of the Directory once every year by replacing one director with its own candidate.
If a hostile majority dominated the legislature then the Constitution permitted it to essentially paralyse the Directory. The Directory had to rely heavily on the army to resolve disputes
Events following the Constitution
To prevent free elections producing a royalist majority, the Convention decreed that two thirds of the deputies to the new Councils must be chosen from among the existing deputies of the Convention
National referendum on the Constitution - over 1 million approved while around 50,000 opposed and 4 million did not vote at all. The two-thirds decree was accepted only by a slim majority.
The Verona Declaration was a reactionary statement issued by the new heir to the throne promising to reverse many of the gains made during the revolution. It was a royalist attempt to reassert and promote their cause.
Hoped to put Louis XVI's son on the throne but he died and from Northern Italy the Comte de Provence (Louis's brother) immediately proclaimed himself Louis XVIII. Issued Verona Declaration on the 24th June
Was a reactionary document that actually boosted those who favoured the Republic.
Attack on ex-terrorists and all those who had done well out of the Revolution by those who had suffered because of it. 'White Terror' implies it was a royalist reaction: returned emigres and non-juring priests did take advantage of the events and 'Companies of the Sun' were formed by royalists to attack former terrorists.
However, most who took part in the WT were not royalists as they had no intention of restoring the French monarchy or the ancien regime; their main concern was to achieve vengeance on those who had victimised them - members of watch committees and the popular societies. Also those who had purchased state land, plus constitutional priests and government officials.
For example, the Jeunesse doree (gilded youth): these were extravagantly dressed young men in reaction to the clothing restrictions imposed by the Terror, during which it was customary and expected that people wore the colours of the Revolution only. Wore earrings, square collars and tied up hair like those who were about to be guillotined. They played an essential role in organising the reactionary movement, forming gangs to beat up and intimidate Jacobins and sans-culottes
Another example is the Chouan: these were guerilla groups operating in the Vendee region between 1794 and 1796 that were opposed to conscription. Roamed the countryside, murdering local government officials and attacking grain covoys. Eventually put down by the army after 3000 emigre troops caused the total rebel force to number 22,000. 640 emigres were shot and 108 Chouans
Lastly, the murder gangs of the south: these were considered relatively impotent and not a serious threat to the Republic, so limited attempts were made to crush them. This was counter-intuitive in practice as they became more well established and spread rapidly. Gangs of youths killed as many as 2,000 people in the south-east in 1795
Response to the new Constitution
Babeuf Plot: Community of Equals. Proto-Communist, often regarded by historians as the first Communist - a forerunner of Karl Marx. Arrested in May 1796 after being betrayed to the authorities by a fellow conspirator, and was executed the following year.