Author Archives: Terrin Tropea

The Agricultural Crisis of 1787-1789

The Agricultural Crisis of 1787-1789 is especially important to the beginning of the Revolution. While it is easy to focus on Paris leading up to the Revolution, as it was a political hotspot, the rural countryside was still a pivotal aspect of revolutionary France. Not only did agriculture provide food for the majority of the nation, but it was also the central aspect of France’s economy. In fact, Lavoisier, a French polymath chemist, likened the rural countryside to be “a vast grain factory; stock only being employed to cultivate and to manure the soil” (Jones 39 However, consistently poor harvests beginning in the 1780’s lead to an increasing price in cereals. This made it impossible to feed everyone in rural and urban communities (Vovelle 86). This crisis demonstrated how essential farmers were to pre-revolutionary French economy and society.

The Crisis involved ongoing harvest shortages that spanned nearly 10 years. For example, in 1785 the future President John Adams wrote to President Jefferson “The [French] country is a heap of ashes. Grass is scarcely to be seen and all sorts of grain is short, thin, pale and feeble, while flax is quite dead…I pity this people from my soul…” (Adams). More specifically, in 1787 drought throughout summer led to an overestimation of crop yields. Because of this, the urban population distrusted the farmers, and vice versa. Low yields and poor planning by the government resulted in economic recession and growing distrust between the urban and rural populations, ultimately leading to upheavals and unrest such as the Great Fear of 1789.

 

Invasion of Convention by Paris sections; Fall of Girondins

Throughout the first and second phases of the French Revolution, it was clear that
certain political rivalries had been formed. By the trial of King Louis XVI in January of 1793, the
two sides had become very polarized. With the Montangards on the left, the plain in the
middle, and the Girondins on the right, the Convention found themselves in a battle between
the Mountain and the Girondins, while leaving the men of the plain to choose sides. By May 31,
1793, this rivalry had officially reached its breaking-point. With continued participation by
Parisian spectators in support of the Mountain and against Girondins, Paris displayed their
overwhelming support of the increasingly liberal left.

On the 31st of May, the people of Paris once again stormed Tuileries Palace with the
intent of ridding the Convention of the Girondins, as they felt threatened by Isnard’s comments and the perceived reservations of progress by the right. By the end of June 2nd , 3 days later, the conflict had died down. In that time, the peaceful mob had essentially scared the Commission of 12 out of the Convention and also intimidated many on the right to not show their face at all. The three-day conflict still remained peaceful despite the call to arms but still fully demonstrated the Parisian support for the left, as well as their power to inflict political progress during the beginning of the second phase.