ASSIGNATS, a'sfYnya' or as'ig-nfits (Fr. as signat, from Lat. pp. assignatus, assigned, from ad, to + signare, to sign). Paper money issued during the French Revolution, which derived its name from the public domain assigned for its ultimate redemption. One of the earliest acts of the Revolutionary authorities was the confis cation of lands belonging to the Crown and the Church, to which later the estates of the 6ni g•c's were added. These lands were to be used as a source of income for the State, but the proc ess of selling was too slow to meet the pressing needs of the treasury. The Government there fore issued what were practically treasury notes (q.v.), bearing interest at 5 per cent., for the total amount of 400,000,000 livres (francs). They were to be retired within five years from the proceeds of the sales of the national lands which were assigned to this purpose.
When first issued, the notes were sold in the market in the same way as treasury notes in our own history. They were in fact securities, the lowest denomination being of 200 livres ($40), and on the first issue, in December. 1789, were well received and suffered no depreciation. By a decree of April, 1790, these notes acquired a legal tender character, and the interest upon them was reduced to 3 per cent. The payment of interest, however, is not compatible with the legal tender quality of notes, and in October, 1790, it was suppressed, after the maximum issue had been increased in the preceding month to 1,200,000,000 francs.
After this date, the successive issues of this paper money became more and more rapid. As early as 1791 notes of 5 francs appeared; and later, notes of 10 sous (one-half franc) were is sued. So rapid was the issue of notes that the record of their amount is lost; the formality of passing laws was omitted, and the executive authorities increased the issues by simple de crees. By the year 1793 the circulation had reached nearly 4.000,000,000 francs, but the actual value of the had sunk to one fifth their nominal value. Futile efforts were made to sustain the value of the notes. An ef
fort, late in 1793, to fund them, and thus restrict their quantity, proved ineffective, while penal provisions, culminating in a decree of Septem ber 23, 1793, punishing the refusal to take them in payment, or taking them at a discount, with death and confiscation of property, were equally powerless. The wholesale issue of paper money could only have the most disastrous results. In July, 1794, 100 francs in paper were valued at 34 francs in coin; but in January. 1795, the value had fallen to IS francs, and in July of the same year was less than 3 francs. In February, 1796, when the issues were finally abandoned, 100 francs equaled about 30 centimes in coin. The whole issue of money had been upward of 45,000,000.000 francs. It was now proposed that the assignats he redeemed at the rate of 30 to 1 in a new form of paper money known as terri torial The mandats had this advan tage over assignats, that they enabled the holder to take possession of public lands immediately. while the assignats could be offered only in lieu of the purchase price at a sale. As much as 1.400,000,000 of this money was issued, but it soon lost any value which it might have had and was finally repudiated by the refusal of the Gov ernment to receive it at its own treasuries. By a law passed in July. 1706, it was enacted that every one was entitled to transact business in whatever medium he pleased, and that mandats might be taken only at their current value in private transactions, as well as in the payment of taxes. On flay 21, 1797, all outstanding assignats were declared void. This riotous issue of paper worked rank injustice and a complete redistribution of the national wealth. If its his tory is comparatively unknown except in gen eralities, it is because it was only one of a vast number of measures which reversed the whole order of society during the Revolutionary period. Consult Reri6 Stourm, Les finances de rancid?, Hgi»le et de la rerolution. franvise (Paris, 18'85).