If the Fall of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, marks the symbolic
beginning of the French Revolution, then August 4 is the day the
Old Regime ended, for it was on that day (or, more precisely, that
night) that the National Assembly met and undertook sweeping
reforms that ultimately led to a complete reconstruction of the
French polity. What began as a prearranged meeting with limited
objectives suddenly took on a frenzied atmosphere during which
dozens of noble deputies renounced their traditional privileges and
dues. By the end of the night, the Assembly had instituted more
meaningful reform than had the monarchy in decades of futile
efforts. In The Night the Old Regime Ended, Michael Fitzsimmons
offers the first full-length study in English of the night of
August 4 and its importance to the French Revolution.
Fitzsimmons argues against Francois Furet and others who
maintain that the Terror was implicit in the events of 1789. To the
contrary, Fitzsimmons shows that the period from 1789 to 1791 was a
genuine moderate phase of the Revolution. Unlike all of its
successor bodies, the National Assembly passed no punitive
legislation against recalcitrant clergy or emigres, and it
amnestied all those imprisoned for political offenses before it
disbanded. In the final analysis, the remarkable degree of change
accomplished peacefully is what distinguishes the early period of
the Revolution and gives it world-historical importance.
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