ASSIGNAT. One of the earliest financial measures of the Constituent Assembly, in the French revolution, was to appropriate to national purposes the landed property of the clergy, which, upon the proposition of Mirabeau, was, by a large majority, declared to be at the disposition of the state. (Thiers, taire de la Revolution Francaise, vol. i. p. 194, 2nd ed.) Shortly afterwards, the assembly, desirous to profit by this mea sure, decreed the sale of lands belonging to the crown and the clergy to the amount of 400 millions of francs, or about sixteen millions sterling (lb. p. 212). To sell at once so large a portion of the surface of France, without lowering the price of land by overloading the market to such an unexampled extent (Thiers, vol. vii. p. 377), and moreover in a time of mis trust, insecurity, rapid political change, and almost of civil war, was an object of no very easy attainment. It was first proposed that the lands should be trans ferred to the municipalities, which, not being provided with ready money, might give the state a bond or security for the price, and the state would pay its credi tors with these securities, which could, in process of time, be realised, as the mu nicipalities were able successively to sell, at an advantageous price, the lands thus made over to them. The holders of the securities would thus hay( a claim not on the government, but on the municipal bodies, which would be compellable by process of law to pay ; and the creditor might moreover extinguish the debt by buying the lands when put up to sale, and by offering the security in payment. But it might happen that the holder of such securities would be unable to realise them, and might not be willing to pur chase any of the lands of the state : in order, therefore, to obviate this objection to the securities in question, it was pro posed that they should be transferable and be made a legal tender.
There was also another motive for the adoption of this latter expedient. In con sequence of the want of confidence and stagnation of trade which prevailed in France at this time, money had become extremely scarce, and much of the cur rent coin had been withdrawn from cir culation ; the king and queen had even been !breed to send their plate to the mint. (Thiere, vol. i. p. 100.) Under -hese circumstances it was determined to issue a paper-money, based on the security of the unsold lands belonging to the state. The notes thus issued (each of which was for 100 francs, equal to 41.) were calleda;griats, as representing land in" which t be transferred or assigned to the hol er ; and all notes which came back in this manner to the government in payment for national lands were to be cancelled. They moreover bore an in terest by the day, like English Exchequer bills. The object of this measure was, therefore, to obtain the full value of the confiscated lands of the clergy (which in the actual state of France was impos sible), and to supply the deficiency of coin in the circulation (arising from a feeling of insecurity) by a forced issue of inconvertible paper-money, which, as was predicted by M. de Talleyrand, the Bi shop of Anton, would inevitably be de preciated, and cause misery and ruin to the holders of it. (Thiers, vol. i. p. 233-7, and note xviii. p. 382.) The first issue of assignats was to the amount of 400 millions, bearing interest : shortly afterwards 800 millions in addition were issued, but without the liability to pay interest (Ib. p. 256). The last of these
issues was made in September, 1790. But as, in the beginning of the following year, the Legislative Assembly sequestered the property of all the emigrants, a nu meroes and wealthy class, for the benefit of the state (Thiers, vol. ii. p. 51), it was thought that the amount of the na tional securities having been increased, the issues might be safely increased like wise : accordingly, in September, 1792, although 2500 millions had been already issued, a fresh issue, to the amount of 200 millions, was ordered by the Con vention. (Thiers, vol. iii. p. 151.) To wards the end of this year; the double effects of the general insecurity of pro perty and person, and of the depreciation of assignats caused by their over-issue, was felt in the high price of corn, and the unwillingness of the farmers to sup ply the markets with provisions. Wholly mistaking the causes of this evil, the vio lent revolutionary party clamoured for an assize, or fixed maximum of prices, and severe penalties against accapareurs, or engrossers, in order to check the ava rice and unjust gains of the rich farmers. The Convention, however, though pressed both by factious violence and open in surrection, refused at this time to regu late prices by law. (Thiers, vol. ill p. 311-7.) Prices, however, as was natural, still continued to rise ; and although corn and other necessaries of life were to be had, their value, as represented in the depreciated paper currency, had been nearly doubled: the washerwomen of Paris came to the Convention to com plain that the price of soap, which had formerly been 14 sous, had now risen to 30. On the other hand, the wages of labour had not risen in a corresponding degree (see Senior on Some Effects of Government Paper, p. 81) : so that the evils arising from the depreciation of the assignats greatly aggravated the poverty and scarcity which would under any cir cumstances have been consequent on the troubles and insecurity of a revolution. The labouring classes accused the rich, the engrossers, and the aristocrats, of the evils which they were suffering, and demanded the imposition of a maximum of prices. Not only, however, in the Convention did the most demo crats declare loudly against a maximum, but even in the more popular assembly of the Commune, and the still more demo cratic club of the Jacobins, was this mea sure condemned, frequently amidst the yells and hisses of the galleries. As the Convention refused to give way, Marat in his newspaper recommended the pil lage of the shops as a means of lowering prices—a measure immediately adopted by the mob of Paris, who began by in sisting to have goods at certain fixed prices, and ended by taking the goods without paying for them. (Thiers, vol. iv. p. 38-52.) These and other tumults were, however, appeased, partly by the interference of the military, and partly by the earnest remonstrances of the au thorities : but the evil still went on in creasing ; corn diminished in quantity and increased in price ; the national lands, on account of the uncertainty of their title and the instability of the go vernment, were not sold, and thus the number of assignats was not contracted, and they were continually more and more depreciated.