Provincial assemblies and the revolutionary challenge to patrimonialism
in Feudalism, venality, and revolution
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In this chapter, I question how it came to pass that wealthy commoners with vested interests in the Old Regime, through the ownership of offices, led a revolution against it in 1789. Venal officers had status and authority within their jurisdictions, and often extracted patronage from the king in return for implementing royal policies. The crown introduced the provincial assemblies in an effort to replace office holders, interested in defending their fiefdoms, with public-spirited men focused on the problems facing the country. Tens of thousands of office holders of the Third Estate protested against this attack on their jurisdictions by extoling their record of public service. They thereby came to envision a bureaucracy immune from intrusive policies such as the assemblies. A bureaucracy, they believed, would offer regular salaries, and promotions based on experience and talent. They associated such an administration with the national interests and relinquished their attachment to venal posts within a failing monarchy. As a result of this process, venal jurists, in great numbers in the National Assembly, spearheaded the abolition of privileges and the creation of a modern bureaucracy in the first years of the Revolution.

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