Louis Sebastian Mercier

How far was Louis Sebastian Mercier right to declare in 1778 that public opinion has now become the predominant power in Europe, one that cannot be resisted

In many respects, this statement was entirely true. This case is illustrated in the buildup to the French revolution, and by comparing the different systems of both the British and French political systems.

The very existence of Jansenism proved how influential public opinion could be. It gained supports through accounts of miracles, and resulted in a large following. Mass meetings of Jansenists began to appear all over the country, but were banned by the monarchy. The fact these mass meetings were banned lead to increased popularity, as did the potency it gained from support of the parliament of Paris. The fact it was banned by the monarchy proved to be a bad to move, because by ignoring public opinion, they incited a mass following for Jansenism, which lead to further problems. A good example of this was the conflict in 1749, when anti Jansenism Archbishop of Paris instructed Parisian Clergy to refuse the last rites to those suspected of Jansenist sympathies. The parliaments of Paris condemned these actions, which led to increased violence as the issue of Jansenism was brought to the public arena via pamphlets. This led to a period in 1750 of imposed silence by the king, which was later revoked, as it was incredibly unpopular.

In 1744, Turgot and Necker realized the strength of public opinion. Turgot went to such lengths as to approve a plan to create a hierarchy of representative’s, designed not only to check the royal authority, but to create at an accurate flow of information from society to the state. However he left office, and never manage to implement the plan. However Necker had an even keener sensitivity to public opinion . This sensitivity was a mostly because of the fact that France had borrowed heavily to finance The War of American Independence, and since credit required credibility, which required public confidence, it was imperative that he had the backing of the people . This emphasis was shown by the publication in 1781 of the budgets, which quickly sold over 20,000 copies and created a new wave of controversy . They showed the French a realization , that the public had to be informed of political spending. It was also shown in 1778-9, Berri Haute Gaenne, when shifted responsibilities of administration from royal, to elected assemblies of property owners . This was in an effort to create an industrial counterweight to opportunistic demoguary of parliament’s , which was in an attempt to make the whole system more public. Assemblies were to assess and collect direct taxes and assume responsibility for poor relief and other public works. It was hoped that this would gain the monarch credibility and dismiss suspicion of corruption. However it was never intended to limit the Kings ultimate fiscal authority. In reality however the monarchy giving up its monopoly on political debate effectively stripped its of its sovereignty. The it also sped up the process by which political initiative, shifted from parliament’s to the whole nation. It also expanded the assembly’s political consciousness, people who they take gained election to national assembly. The Maupea Crisis 1771-4 also displayed the importance of public opinion, by displaying the crowns inability to deal with public opinion politics. In 1771 Maupeou implemented policies to curb the parliaments authority, which included the abolition of venality of their offices. It also assured that the magistrate could be appointed and dismissed by the King and reorganized the jurisdictions, trying to pack them with more plaint magistrates. This shows the importance of public opinion because it unleashed a torrent of oppositional writing, with more than 160 pamphlets being published. This lead to the revoking of it in 1770, And to him saying, “I must always console to public opinion.”

The importance of public opinion was also heavily influential when looking at the differences between French and British political systems. The French system, was one run by the monarchy, and a fixed constitutional order. To assist the monarch, there was in the parliament of Paris, and the royal courts. The parliament of Paris utilized the concept of a judicial justice, and the principal of preserving