By Peter McPhee
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Additional resources for A Social History of France, 1789-1914: Second Edition
30 Nowhere did administrative and fiscal divisions correspond with the jurisdiction of the 13 parlements and four conseils souverains, the highest courts of the FRANCE IN THE 1780s 23 land. While the parlement of Paris had powers over almost half the country, the domain of the conseils in Perpignan and Arras was tiny. Moreover, this map of judicial competence improperly matched that of lesser courts, such as the Chambre des comptes and the Cours des aides. A major division into areas of customary and written law between north and south cut across judicial boundaries, and was immeasurably complicated by the existence of special courts and codes for nobles and clergy and those obligated to them, and of up to 60 regional codes for certain offences.
43 As the royal state lurched into financial crisis from the mid-1780s, these changes to the economic and cultural structures of French society conditioned conflicting responses to Louis XVI’s pleas for assistance. Increasing costs of war, maintaining an expanding court and bureaucracy, and servicing a massive debt impelled the monarchy to seek ways of eroding noble taxation immunity and the capacity of parlements to resist royal decrees. The entrenched hostility of most nobles towards fiscal and social reform was generated both by the longterm exigencies of royal state-making and by the challenge to an aristocratic conception of property, hierarchy and social order emanating from a wealthier, larger and socially frustrated bourgeoisie and an openly disaffected peasantry.
The ambiguity of the Declaration of the Rights of Man was resolved by excluding women and ‘passive’ male citizens, those – perhaps 40 per cent of adult men – paying less than three days’ labour in taxes, and by imposing sharp property qualifications on those eligible to be electors and deputies. Every aspect of public life was radically reshaped in line with principles of (limited) popular sovereignty, rationality, uniformity and the ‘career open to talents’. The local government law of 14 December 1789 essentially completed Calonne’s 1787 legislation by applying a uniform, property-based regime to the whole country.
A Social History of France, 1789-1914: Second Edition by Peter McPhee