Biens nationaux  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Biens nationaux, or "national lands" is a concept in French history.

The idea of national goods, of real estate and property that belonged neither to Crown nor Church, nor to individuals, but to the State, appeared in France at the time of the French Revolution. Making the abstract concrete was a question first of nationalizing the real estate of the Roman Catholic Church in France and then afterward extending national goods to cover to royal properties, once the French monarchy had been formally abolished, and to those of the deposed nobles, above all the émigrés.

Confiscation of the goods of the clergy

A few months into the Revolution, the public purse was all but empty. To amend this fiscal problem, the deputy Talleyrand proposed nationalizing the goods of the clergy. Pursuing the proposal, on 2 November 1789, the Assemblée Nationale voted that all the goods of the clergy "will be placed at the disposal of the nation", henceforth national goods, to be put out to bid at auctions, in the interest of the State.

This payment of legacy, evaluated to just about 3 billion livres, constituted a substantial profit for the finance public. The location on sale was entrusted to the extraordinary Case, formed on 19 December.

The difficulty was that the sale of so many biens would take time, at least a year, while the caisses of the State were empty and national bankruptcy appeared to be immediate. Therefore, it was decided to produce, the very same day, creation of the astonishing Case, tickets the value of which was assigned on the goods of the clergy. The assignat was born.

Assignats were banknotes issued by the National Constituent Assembly. The assignats were distributed after the elimination of church properties in 1790 because the government was bankrupt. The government thought that printing certificates express the value of church properties could explain the financial problems. These church lands became recognized as biens nationaux.

Initially meant as bonds, they develop into a currency used as legal tender. As there was no control over the amount to be printed, the value of the assignats went beyond the limits of the confiscated properties. This caused enormous hyperinflation. In the beginning of 1792, they had lost most of their supposed value.

This hyperinflation was inspired by continual food shortages. Rather than solving the financial problems, the assignats became a cause for (food) riots. Insecurity continued after the abolition of the monarchy, and the situation got worse with the wars France faced. These circumstances interfere with the completion of good financial policies that would reduce debts. Bills such as the Maximum Price Act (loi du maximum général) of 1793 meant to control price increases.

When the Directoire came into power in 1795 the Maximum Price Act was lifted. High monetary inflation reemerged and in the next four years Paris was the phase of yet more riots. The assignats were becoming worthless.

France's financial problems were solved during the French Consulate when Napoleon, the First Consul, created the country new currency, the franc germinal French franc#French Revolution French franc#French Empire and Restoration, by the law of 28 March 1803 (loi du 7 Germinal an XI).

The French Revolution: an economic interpretation

Actually there will be two phases in the sale of the goods: those of first origin, which relate to the church goods or of the fields of the Crown, those of second origin, which belonged to the emigrants. The department of Herault is separated into four districts, which cover with some alternatives the four districts, which existed until 1926.

The order of August 14, 1792 parcelled out of the batches to allow their gaining by people having few financial means. These laws will be useful in the district of Béziers. In Cazouls of Herault for example 94 batches have less than one hectare (about 2.5 acres) and between them 29 are shaped by the parceling out of only one field.

An exacting provision, the goods of 500 pounds goes in the same way "the heads of not-owners household lying in the communes where there are no communal grounds, will have faculty to buy goods of emigrants, to amount of 500 pounds each one, payable in twenty annual installments without interest"

Following in order to this law the communes were to draw up in one month the state of the heads of household or widowers or widows having children who do not have any material goods and who are not included/understood on the roles of the impositions.



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