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The Year 1789, also known as The Truth at the Foot of the Throne, was written by an anonymous author and published in Geneva in 1789. The pamphlet was a lengthy, imagined dialogue between the author and the king. The dialogue focuses on the changes the author believed the king must make to French society. The author focuses on the role the press played in the lives of the subjects and on the king’s role in religion and how religion affected the French people. The author also addresses changes deemed necessary to the army, in order to strengthen national defense and the role that women played in the everyday life and success of France.

The Press and Pamphlets

The press during the revolution played a major role in spreading the revolutionary ideas that began in Paris to the rest of France. The Year 1789 argues that when the press operates freely, it allows for true liberty to emerge amongst the people. If all citizens were allowed to speak equally to one another, not just to those within their social class, then the nation would be able to move forward as one.

One important movement in France, which only grew stronger in France, was the apprehension toward Louis XVI, which eventually turned to hatred by the people of Paris. These feelings and emotions spread very easily throughout the population because of the publishing of pamphlets and revolutionary newspapers, which called on the citizens to seize their rightful power. Burrowes studies “the impact on constitutional struggles in France of newspapers, such as the Gazette de Leyde, that were produced by French exiles in neighboring countries.” [1] Desan also discusses the roles of émigrés and the impact that the United States had on emigration and the press during the Revolution. Émigrés, especially nobles, used the sale of American lands to escape France so to be safe from the revolutionaries while trying to reinstitute the monarchy. [2] The distance from revolutionary violence of France allowed the royalists to publish in safety so that royalist’s ideas could still survive.

Another major issue during the revolution was the transition in the different kinds of literature that publishers used. Before the revolution newspapers played a much larger role in the writing within society, however during the revolution, publishing began to switch over to pamphlets. The revenue produced from pamphlets began to soar during revolutionary days because of the ease with which vast numbers of them could be printed quickly. The chart from Chisick shows that the revenue produced from pamphlets almost always out ranked that of periodicals or newspapers. [3] DB

Monarchy and Belief from the Old Regime to the Revolution

The ancient French Kingdom was under the rule of a king who was highly respected, idolized, and believed by the subjects. But it is evident that the subjects of this kingdom did not have a homogeneous view on the leadership of the king and also on the laws put in place to control them. Some of the subjects were of the opinion that the current constitution should be reformed while others are satisfied with it. The people were also being enlightened to be truly happy in reuniting themselves by embracing the abundant resources in the society. These resources include: fertile soils, abundant population, vast richness, generosity, humanness and felicitous character. The subjects were also enlightened to cast away from ancient Gauls, who were viewed to be discordant and adopt the character of Frank whom they believed was their veritable, simple and upright origin. The people’s belief in the existence of a supernatural monarchy that had control over humanity was declining but some still believed in the divine right of kings. They were arguing that such a monarchy would be succeeded by an immortal person. The kingship advocated for freedom of the press and conscience by giving liberty to the subjects. There were instances of espionage in the kingdom where spies are used to attack the society from different positions that were all targeted at reaching the king.

There was a lot of religious enlightening during the French revolution, but despite information there were still cases of fallacy amongst the population. [4] There was a lot of correlation between religion and the French Revolution. [5] The revolution had caused De-Christianization amongst the Catholics who had vowed to maintain their practices especially with regard to celibacy. During the revolution times, the kingdom had wanted to marry Catholic priests; this was against the practices of their religion. [6] Catholic women were also actively involved in riots to protest De-Christianization in efforts to maintain their religious beliefs. French women therefore played important roles in ensuring that they upheld their Christian beliefs. The female gender is viewed as an asset to the society and as a public safeguard. Disturbing the peace and modesty of women was valued as crime in the society. Prostitution was regarded as an everlasting disgrace to the people found guilty. Non-Catholics argued that marriage was initiated by Jesus and it was therefore everybody’s responsibility to be married rightfully. SA

Reforming the Army

In The Year 1789 the anonymous author calls for a major reform of the current French army. At the time of its publication the royal French army was made up of roughly 156,000 men. The majority of soldiers were under the age of thirty-five. Service was voluntary and royal conscription was in practice. [7]

The author of The Year 1789 called for a national militia of 400,000 distinguished men. He wished to give certain powers to the king, such as appointment of high officials. While the author’s desires were not entirely met he was able to see certain wishes come to fruition. The army lacked representation from the Third Estate, especially the rural population, until the creation of the National Guard. Even then, adequate representation from different classes was not fulfilled until 1793. [8]

The year 1789 brought great changes to the royal army. It led to the creation of national militias across France. Prior to the fall of the Bastille, Paris created a militia and soon they arose in cities across France. They were created to help protect both people and property. The National Guard helped serve as a stepping stone towards citizenship and voting rights for non-active citizens.

The Marquis de Lafayette was appointed as the leader of the National Guard, and one of his first steps in organizing the army was creating a uniform. The uniform ended up being incredibly important because the National Guard became available to anyone who had the means to purchase a uniform. Lafayette believed that requiring the purchase of a uniform would create a regular militia, rather than an ad hoc citizen guard. Owning a uniform created the means to basic rights of citizenship. [9]

The methods for recruiting soldiers varied throughout the history of the armies. Royal conscription, voluntary services, and ultimately mandatory requisition occurred. The pressing international conflicts that France was facing led to a need for mandatory service from men between the ages of 18 and 40 who had no children or who were widowers. [10] When this step proved to be largely unsuccessful, the National Guard merged the regular army into the volunteer militias that existed cross France. The royal guard fell as the king fell. It was replaced by the National Guard that eventually became the standing army of France. MP

The Role of Women

The unknown author of The Year 1789 focuses part of his imaginary conversation with the king on the role of women in French society. The author puts great emphasis on the idea that the role of women should only be in the home, saying that, “she no longer has any employment other than the one that Nature calls her to, that of being the mother of a family, and citizen.” It is interesting that the author calls for a more traditional role for women, because women were a large part of active revolutionaries in the French Revolution. There is evidence of this in Suzanne Desan’s article on “The Role of Women in Religious Riots During the French Revolution.” Desan states that “Women, even more than men, felt justified in using violence to defend the integrity of religious ceremony…Women apparently viewed it as their own prerogative to protect the communion of believers from outside insults.” [11] The unknown author goes on to state that women in any other role “would be too great a contrast with the honor of her sex and public virtue. The mother of the family, who raises citizens, would not want such a woman to come and alter and pervert her work” (23). This idea can be supported by the images of woman in the workplace described by David Garrioch in his article “The Everyday Lives of Parisian Women and the October Days of 1789.” Garrioch states that, “For the majority of women…paid employment had a very different role in shaping their sense of who they were…Large numbers of women employed in the corporate trades…[were] usually confined to the worst paid, least skilled, and least secure jobs.” [12] Garrioch’s portrayal of women on the low end of jobs gives support to the unknown author’s idea that women should resume more traditional roles again because the author sees the role of women in the home is more honor able then lowly jobs in the workplace. This is evident when the author states, “She would be too great a contrast with the honor of her sex and public virtue” (24). PN

Doug Brooking, Pete Nevers, Megan Parker, and Scott Amlung prepared this introduction.

Footnotes:

  1. Carl Patrick Burrowes, “Property, Power and Press Freedom: Emergence of the Fourth Estate, 1640-1789,” Journalism & Communication Monographs 13, no. 1 (2011): 9-10.
  2. Suzanne Desan, “Transatlantic Spaces of Revolution: The French Revolution, Sciotomanie, and American Lands,” Journal of Early Modern History 12, no. 6 (2008): 3-19.
  3. Harvey Chisick, “Pamphlets and Journalism in the Early French Revolution: The Offices of the Ami du Roi of the Abbé Royou as a Center of Royalist Propaganda,” French Historical Studies 15, no. 4 (1988): 642.
  4. William Doyle, The Oxford History of the French Revolution, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 320-326.
  5. Nigel Aston, Religion and Revolution in France, 1780-1804 (Washington, DC: Catholic Univ. of America Press, 2000).
  6. Suzanne Desan, “The Role of Women in Religious Riots During the French Revolution,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 22, no. 3 (1989): 451-468.
  7. Samuel Scott, The Response of the Royal Army to the French Revolution (Oxford: Claredon Press, 1978), 5-7.
  8. John Lynn, The Bayonets of the Republic (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 45-49.
  9. Dale Clifford, “Can the Uniform Make the Citizen? Paris 1789-1791,” Eighteenth Century Studies 34, no. 3 (2001): 369-371.
  10. Scott, Response, 178.
  11. Desan, “ Women in Religious,” 456.
  12. David Garrioch, “The Everyday Lives of Parisian Women and the October Days of 1789,” Social History 24, no. 3 (1999): 235.