The Royal Veto as a Special Mandate: National Will and Representative Government in Revolutionary France
Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:00 AM
Marriott Balcony B (Marriott Wardman Park)
As deputies to the French Estates General transformed themselves into the Constituent Assembly during the summer of 1789, they developed practices of debate and discussion that allowed the majority to move legislation and constitutional issues forward while allowing for remarkable levels of dissent. But throughout the summer, deputies from the left, right and center worried that in the future a majority might enact decrees that would be harmful to the interests of the nation. One principle on which all the deputies seemed to agree was that their actions in the Assembly should remain true to the wishes of their constituents. One way in which they found guidance was through adherence to the wishes of their constituents as expressed in their electoral mandates that each deputation had received. Once a constitution was written, however, that system would cease to exist and so the deputies sought ways to insure that future deputies would value the will and interest of their constituencies.
In this paper I argue that the veto powers given to the monarch in the new constitution were meant to guide and constrain the deputies to follow the wishes of their constituents when passing legislation. In this sense, as Kent Wright has noted, the veto power given the king functioned as a part of a new system of mandates. In this paper I will examine two aspects of the veto envisioned as a kind of mandate: First, as a mechanism establishing limits on the actions of the Assembly; second, as a means to generate discussion and debate outside of the Assembly in order to determine the will of the sovereign people and provide guidance to the king and the legislature. We will see that the mandate system evolved, rather than disappearing as Keith Michael Baker and Paul Friedland have argued.