The National Constituent Assembly was responsible for formalising the ideals of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen into a touchstone document that would be the first Constitution of France.
This had been the primary goal of the new-formed National Assembly in 1789, who had sworn not to disband without giving the nation a constitution. In the Constitution, the Assembly concretely established popular sovereignty, established a unicameral legislature (meaning there was one House) and limited the King’s power to having a suspensive veto. However, it also limited voting rights to those it deemed to be ‘active’ rather than ‘passive’ citizens – that is, men who were not engaged in domestic service, who had lived in their own home for more than one year and who were able to pay the equivalent of 3 days’ worth of wages in exchange for the right to vote. This effectively excluded a large proportion of the population, with only 5-6 million citizens being eligible to vote as a result. According to Adcock, “this was democracy for property holders”1.
Following the seating of the National Convention, the new Constitution of 1793 was set up for the new republican state of France. Generally termed the ‘Jacobin Constitution of 1793’, it was a document whose lynchpin was the idea of popular sovereignty, where it was the French people in which sovereignty resided rather than the King. It also strongly committed to the ideas of universal manhood suffrage, abolishing the requirement of owning property in order to vote, and the application of common law to all citizens. Most radically, it allowed the right to insurrection, thus legitimising direct democracy in the face of a tyrannical, oppressive government. In terms of consistency with previous documents, it once again reiterated the idea of inviolable personal property, and catered for the Jacobin vision of a democratic and egalitarian republican France.
However, this Constitution was never really placed into effect as it was suspended by the Convention with the Declaration of Revolutionary Government in October 1793.
Fenwick, J & Anderson, J, Liberating France. p.111 ↩
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