The the introduction of constitutionalism and the analysis

The first democratic system was built in the ancient Greece in the 5th or 4th century BCE when Athens went from dictatorship to a certain form of Democracy enabling all male citizens with equal rights, freedom of speech and the opportunity to participate directly in the Assembly. Since then, the Athenian ekkl?sia and the rule of the demos has been a source of inspiration for the centuries to come. Rulers and monarchs had referred to this source in order to revolutionize their own government or to intentionally denigrate and stall the process of Democracy. With the latter impulse having a dominant force within Europe and across the Atlantic, the practice of democracy has been postponed to the 17th/18th century and more specifically to the Atlantic revolutionary period at the end of the eighteenth century, encompassing the French, American and Haitian revolutions. The age of Atlantic Revolutions had constituted not only the culmination of the ancien regime, but the dawn of a new ideological era. An era of constitutionalism, civil and natural rights, “representative” governments, liberalism and individualism. It will be misleading however to consider that the Atlantic revolutions had successfully completed the transition to democracy and have established an universal representative government. It is my intention to show to what extent the revolutions had achieved its goals, how they had influenced the development of democracy, underlying hence the major impacts on it: the introduction of constitutionalism and the analysis of the major ones, the effects it had and the advent of liberalism.The center of attraction of the atlantic revolutions were liberty and equality. America was trying to gain freedom and independence from the rules and taxes of the motherland Great Britain. Whereas the French wanted to abolish the royal despotic monarchy and the obsolete feudal system of the ancien regime. The change in scale of democracy and its consequences, representative governments, diversity, increase of conflicts, helped to develop a set of political institutions that distinguish modern representative democracy from an old political system. This gradual shift of the idea of Democracy from small-scale to large-scale was possible through the introduction of constitutionalism and representative governments. No country could be too extensive, no population too vast for a representative government. The establishment of constitution set up a government which arise out of society based on the principle of the separation of power, in sharp contrast to those which arose out of conquest and hereditary power. The constitution delineate the principles on which the government shall be established, its organisation, powers, mode of elections, duration and rights and duties of the citizens. The U.S. constitution signed on september 17, 1787, recognized a national federal government and guaranteed fundamental basic rights for its citizens, empowering them to choose their elected officials. It established a government with three branches executive, legislative and judicial, including a system of check and balances and in 1791 a Bill of Rights with 10 fundamental amendments, which had insure the citizens with freedom of expression, press, alternative information and the right to form relatively independent associations. On the other hand there’s the French Revolution with a more clear and aggressive message which was different from other because it was not only national, but aimed to liberate the whole mankind. In a first attempt to calm the mass insurrections and the escalation of anarchy, the National Assembly eradicated the feudal system and reformed the whole social structure of the old regime. In a dramatic gesture of these noblemens all feudal dues were proposed to be abolished, all sort of privileges deriving from the lifeblood social organization of the ancien regime were to be prohibited as well as the venality of offices, from which many privileges had derived. The church was deprived of its land, right to extract tithes and exemption from taxes, equality of taxation and free justice were declared. The Revolution has destroyed the aristocratic society with its system of dependencies and privileges and replaced it by a modern, individual and free to do whatever was not prohibited by law. In a context of enlightenment, individualism and social contract, The Declaration of the Rights of Man was issued creating the basis for a nation of citizens and free individuals. It has declared all men free and equal in respect of their rights. It has radically changed the locus of sovereignty declaring the Nation as the highest source of authority and have vested the citizens with the fundamental rights of liberty, property, security, and resistance of oppression, civil equality, the rule of law, freedom of expression and the accountability of the governments to the citizens, all these principles were declared human rights.Now theoretically the French Revolution was an explosion, a rupture with the old world and old principles of an archaic and despotic society. It’s enough to observe its political situation and political clubs in the decade that follows its beginning. The political models created by the revolution of 1789 corresponded and inspired the post-1815 opposition, the constitution of France, Belgium and Britain after 1830-1832 and the revolutionary waves after the restoration period and other related revolutions of the 19th and 20th century. It has opened the pandora’s box of the enduring and clashing ideology between liberalism, capitalism and socialism, fascism and communism. However progressive and democratic the Declaration of Rights of Man may appear, the constitution of 1791 serves almost a complete opposite direction of what the revolution may seem to has fight for, in fact the rights of French citizens in abstract were politically of no effect or consequence. ‘The advocates of representative reform in the early stages had no intention to create an inclusive democracy but to make existing legislatures more representative by adopting electoral systems freely and fairly conducted’. The constitution of 1791 had instituted a constitutional monarchy based on a propertied oligarchy expressing itself through a representative assembly which was not even democratically elected. It has guaranteed the private property, some civil liberties and established a government of taxpayers and property owners. It has redefined the form of government through the principle of separation of power, the conception of citizenship and established popular sovereignty. The Saint Domingue question, however, made the paris revolutionaries to rethink about what they mean by citizens. The universal rights of freedom established by the declaration have not been equally applied to all french territories, in fact, the government of Paris agreed to declare all free people to be French citizens with equal rights only in 1792 and the next year the republican commissioner in S. Domingue decided to free the slaves and declare them French citizens. The constitution of 1791 installed a one house legislative, a royal executive and an independent judicial branch. It has made however a distinction between active, tax payer and property owner citizens and passive, propertyless poorer citizens with only civil rights. It has abolished the feudal geographic division in favor of 83 administrative departments with the principle of centralism and eliminated all internal trade barriers, suppressed guilds and workers organization and declared strikes illegal. The bourgeoise constitution of 1791 weakened the king’s executive authority, however, the outcome was intolerable for radicals like Robespierre, in fact radical jacobinism and republicanism grew in popularity when the constitutional monarchy proved itself impractical. The Convention was thus elected by a new radical and expanded concept of universal male suffrage becoming the new government de facto that had abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the 1st Jacobin Republic. The new constitution designed by the montagnards in 1793 and adopted by universal male suffrage was a revolutionary democratic constitution for democratization and wealth redistribution. It proclaimed the popular sovereignty over the national one and added new economic and social rights such as: the right of association, the right to work, right to public education, public assistance and the right/duty of rebellion when governments violates the rights of the people. Nevertheless the government placed a moratorium on it because of the necessity to employ emergency war powers during the revolutionary wars and declared a revolutionary government. After the fall of Robespierre the Thermidor government had discarded it in favor of a more conservative and bourgeoise constitution of 1795. The constitution established a liberal republic with participation based on the payment of taxes and propriety, very similar to the constitution of 1791. The new government, the Directory was one of self interests rather than virtue, a turn toward dictatorship and failure of liberal democracy with chronical violence and heavy repressions. The high unpopularity and the general maladministration of the Directory which eventually led to two coup d’etat signed the end of the revolution and the establishment of a totalitarian dictatorship. The constitution of 1799 was the first without a declaration of rights and gave most of the powers to Napoleon. The next constitution will follow this absolutist trend and eventually re establish what the revolution had abolished: a royal hereditary line and a new aristocracy. Returning back to America it could be said that there’s no agreement on what the American Revolution was. Perhaps it was only a war of independence against Great Britain or maybe just a defensive movement to secure liberties that America had already enjoyed. The number of emigres in comparison to those of the French Revolution (24 emigres per thousand of population in the U.S. against 5 emigres per thousand of the french counterpart) shows that there was a revolution and it was a bloody struggle with many injured. The american revolution was very much a clash to conserve what already existed, since the principles from which it has proceeded were deeply entrenched in its culture. The aristocratic, ecclesiastical and feudal principles were not absent in America but in comparison to Europe, they were very weak thus leading to a less revolutionary and conflictual insurgency. The Americans had overthrow their legitimate government, confiscated the property of the counter revolutionaries and deployed a program by which the people were acting as the constituent power. The general trend was however of reconstituting much of what they already had. Pennsylvania and Georgia remained one-chamber legislatures while south carolina remained a planter oligarchy. The new york conservative constitution gave equality of civil rights to jews but avoided the question of slavery as well as the other states. The confiscated property were to be redistributed, strengthening a new propertied class or to came into possession of small owners.Rights of property and the liberation of lands was another key factor for the developments of a liberal democratic society. The core of these liberal beliefs lies in the Declaration of Rights of Man. Liberals believed in equality before law, equality of rights and opportunities, but they did not believed in equality of property. The physiocrats agreed that all the wealth derived from agriculture thus the land would produce more if the factitious human constraints were wiped out. The firsts attempt of deregulation in the pre revolutionary France was on the grain trade but they were unsuccessful and probably one of the reasons of the revolution. Natural prices and free exports had denuded the kingdom stocks and not even Calonne’s reforms had succeeded since it implied more loans and no benefits in the short term. The physiocrats, moreover, agreed that the land was the qualification of a bourgeoise society, thus the old feudal system had to be dissolved, together with its dues and tithes while commercial liberalization, the removal of controls on prices and free exchange adopted. The lands now could be owned by profit-pursuing private entrepreneurs. This implied some central changes: first the lands became possession, owned by private owners freely purchasable and saleable. Secondly the ownership was in the hands of a class of men driven by self interest and profit making. Lastly the mass of rural population had to be transformed into free wage-workers for the new growing sectors of the economy. Feudal landlords became capitalists landlords and serfs hired labourers. The liberal economy theory with large scale redistribution of lands, however, did not created a class of entrepreneurs or farmers like in the U.S. The revolution of lands from the peasant point of view gave some rights but took away much, from the lord’s assistance to repair the house to his support to pay taxes in extreme poverty. The land market didn’t pay off the peasants and throughout the southern Europe the revolution had even reinforced the old feudality. Liberalism, nevertheless, have abolished the aristocracy, hereditarianism and the venality of offices contributing to open the career to talents. It has created a society based on individualism and careerism. It opened the career to capacity, hard work and greed. Four roads were now available: business, education, the arts and war. The advent of liberalism represented a society based on individualist competition and of the merit over births and connections. Liberalism, still, appeared to be in contrast with democracy, it has created a system were you swim or sank, a society of selfish individuals in competition with one another. It may be true that the accumulation of capital led to the wealth of nations but its egoistical peculiarity did not achieved the happiness of the poor, in the end the story was the same, the rich getting richer and the poor poorer. On the long term capitalism created its own antagonist, the proletariat whose number were destined to grow while the concentration of economic power on contrary lied in fewer and fewer hands. Capitalism has destroyed the community, the social order and has replaced it with the anarchy of competition of all against all.The Atlantic revolutions didn’t promote only the introduction of constitutionalism and liberalism but also the launch of a newly modern and reorganized army, which has empowered the nation-states by effective means of coercive power and established a monopoly of violence. The citizens now, in return for the legal rights which the state guaranteed, had to come under the obligation of protecting the nation with their own life, through the levee en masse and systematic conscriptions. This radical transformation was possible with the use of sophisticated means of propaganda, a sensible rise of nationalism and a persistent sense of la nation en danger. The attack of the philosophes on religion left a void which was eventually filled by the Rousseauian vertu and by the love of the nation. The rise of nationalism and the attack on religion, however, created a ruinous and conservative counter-revolution which has resulted in the massacre of hundred of thousands of royalists, anti-revolutionaries and prisoners.It will be erroneous to regard nationalism as a product of the French Revolution considering that Joan of Arc was already a sort of a patriot. With the onset of Atlantic Revolutions nation-states learned that nationalism can be used as an efficient mass mobiliser by manipulating and employing national sentiments alongside with sophisticated propaganda. Considering now the contradictory features of the revolutionary period, the bourgeoise ascent, the limited representation, nationalism and the selfish characteristic of liberalism, it couldn’t be said the revolutions had completely achieved their ambitions to establish a fully democratic state with universal representation, however, the immediate picture may appear smaller than what actually it is. The age of Atlantic Revolutions had constituted something bigger than its direct effects, it established the dawn of a new ideological era to which we still refer today as the basis of the civil society. The principles and the ideology it has delineated are the ones of the modern world which represent the very portrayal of the humankind, a liberal believe in equality and inherent rights. The age of Atlantic Revolutions was and still is the stone of the modern world.


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