FOREIGN INFLUENCES AND DOMESTIC POLITICS
=The French Revolution.=—In this exciting period, when all America was distracted by partisan disputes, a storm broke in Europe—the epoch-making French Revolution—which not only shook the thrones of the Old World but stirred to its depths the young republic of the New World. The first scene in this dramatic affair occurred in the spring of 1789, a few days after Washington was inaugurated. The king of France, Louis XVI, driven into bankruptcy by extravagance and costly wars, was forced to resort to his people for financial help. Accordingly he called, for the first time in more than one hundred fifty years, a meeting of the national parliament, the “Estates General,” composed of representatives of the “three estates”—the clergy, nobility, and commoners. Acting under powerful leaders, the commoners, or “third estate,” swept aside the clergy and nobility and resolved themselves into a national assembly. This stirred the country to its depths.
[Illustration: From an old print
LOUIS XVI IN THE HANDS OF THE MOB]
Great events followed in swift succession. On July 14, 1789, the Bastille, an old royal prison, symbol of the king’s absolutism, was stormed by a Paris crowd and destroyed. On the night of August 4, the feudal privileges of the nobility were abolished by the national assembly amid great excitement. A few days later came the famous Declaration of the Rights of Man, proclaiming the sovereignty of the people and the privileges of citizens. In the autumn of 1791, Louis XVI was forced to accept a new constitution for France vesting the legislative power in a popular assembly. Little disorder accompanied these startling changes. To all appearances a peaceful revolution had stripped the French king of his royal prerogatives and based the government of his country on the consent of the governed.
=American Influence in France.=—In undertaking their great political revolt the French had been encouraged by the outcome of the American Revolution. Officers and soldiers, who had served in the American war, reported to their French countrymen marvelous tales. At the frugal table of General Washington, in council with the unpretentious Franklin, or at conferences over the strategy of war, French noblemen of ancient lineage learned to respect both the talents and the simple character of the leaders in the great republican commonwealth beyond the seas. Travelers, who had gone to see the experiment in republicanism with their own eyes, carried home to the king and ruling class stories of an astounding system of popular government.