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How Bread Shortages Helped Ignite the French Revolution

September 30, 2019 in History

By Una McIlvenna

When Parisians stormed the Bastille in 1789 they weren’t only looking for arms, they were on the hunt for more grain—to make bread.

Voltaire once

As the monarch was required to ensure the food supply of his subjects, the king was nicknamed “le premier boulanger du royaume” (First Baker of the Kingdom). His Finance Minister Jacques Necker claimed that, to show solidarity with those who lacked wheat, King Louis XVI was eating the lower-class maslin bread. Maslin bread is from a mix of wheat and rye, rather than the elite manchet, white bread that is achieved by sifting wholemeal flour to remove the wheatgerm and bran (and which meant one had enough wheat at one’s disposal to discard a bulk of it in the process).

But such measures were not enough, and bread (or the lack of it) was exploited as a weapon by revolutionary minds. A plot drawn up at Passy in 1789 to foment rebellion against the crown, allegedly proposed several articles, the second of which was to “do everything in our power to ensure that the lack of bread is total, so that the bourgeoisie are forced to take up arms.” Shortly thereafter the Bastille was stormed.

READ MORE: How Did the American Revolution Influence the French Revolution?

Origins of the French Revolution (TV-PG; 3:38)

Bread may have helped spur on the French Revolution, but the revolution did not end French anxiety over bread. On August 29, 1789, only two days after completing the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the Constituent Assembly completely deregulated domestic grain markets. The move raised fears about speculation, hoarding and exportation.

On October 21, 1789, a baker, Denis François, was accused of hiding loaves from sale as part of a plot to deprive the people of bread. Despite a hearing which proved him innocent, the crowd dragged François to the Place de Grève, hanged and decapitated him and made his pregnant wife kiss his bloodied lips.

As Turgot, an early economic adviser to Louis XVI, once advised the king, “Ne vous mêlez pas du pain”—Do not meddle with bread.

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How Did Magna Carta Influence the U.S. Constitution?

September 30, 2019 in History

By Dave Roos

The 13th-century pact inspired the U.S. Founding Fathers as they wrote the documents that would shape the nation.

In 1215, a band of rebellious medieval barons forced King John of England to agree to a laundry list of concessions later called the Great Charter, or in Latin, Magna Carta. Centuries later, America’s Founding Fathers took great inspiration from this medieval pact as they forged the nation’s founding documents—including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

For 18th-century political thinkers like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, Magna Carta was a potent symbol of liberty and the natural rights of man against an oppressive or unjust government. The Founding Fathers’ reverence for Magna Carta had less to do with the actual text of the document, which is mired in medieval law and outdated customs, than what it represented—an ancient pact safeguarding individual liberty.

“For early Americans, Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence were verbal representations of what liberty was and what government should be—protecting people rather than oppressing them,” says John Kaminski, director of the Center for the Study of the American Constitution at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Much in the same way that for the past 100 years the Statue of Liberty has been a visual representation of freedom, liberty, prosperity and welcoming.”

When the First Continental Congress met in 1774 to draft a Declaration of Rights and Grievances against King George III, they asserted that the rights of the English colonists to life, liberty and property were guaranteed by “the principles of the English constitution,” a.k.a. Magna Carta. On the title page of the 1774 Journal of The Proceedings of The Continental Congress is an image of 12 arms grasping a column on whose base is written “Magna Carta.”

Rights of Life, Liberty and Property

King John signing Magna Carta, 1215.

Of the 60-plus clauses contained in Magna Carta, only a handful are relevant to the 18th-century American experience. Those include passages that guarantee the right to a trial by a jury, protection against excessive fines and punishments, safeguarding of individual liberty and property, and, perhaps most importantly, the forbidding of taxation without representation.

The two most-cited clauses of Magna Carta for defenders of liberty and the rule of law are 39 and 40:

39. No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights …read more


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Why China at 70 Needs to Listen to the Voices of Those It Silenced

September 30, 2019 in Economics

By James A. Dorn

James A. Dorn

On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China before a huge crowd in Tiananmen Square. After three years of gruelling civil war with the Nationalists under the command of Chiang Kai-shek, Mao had emerged as the victorious head of the world’s largest communist country. During his tenure as chairman of the Communist Party, until his death in 1976, Mao ruled with an iron fist.


He imitated the Soviet system of central planning, outlawed capitalism and private property, collectivised agriculture, destroyed family life by mandating large-scale communes, and placed the party/state above the people in all aspects of life.

The model of state-led development, which Mao supported, was one that favoured autarky over open markets and international trade, depriving China’s people of the advantages of specialisation according to comparative advantage, and stripping them of the benefits of free trade.

The absence of competitive markets for resources, goods, and ideas severely handicapped China’s development.

While Mao concentrated on increasing the power of the state and suppressing individual freedom, Deng Xiaoping began China’s economic liberalisation movement under “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.



The pragmatist Deng recognised that China’s future prosperity depended on reform and opening up to the outside world. By experimenting with new forms of ownership, and creating special economic zones, Deng facilitated the rebirth of entrepreneurial activity and the growth of the non-state sector. Peaceful development was more important to Deng than class struggle.

China prospered greatly under Deng’s leadership, until the Tiananmen uprising in 1989, at which time Zhao Ziyang, a key figure in the reform movement, was ousted as general secretary of the Communist Party and put under house arrest for opposing the use of force to end the occupation of Tiananmen Square.

From 1980 to ’87, Zhao had helped guide economic policy as China’s premier. In September 1988, following a conference in Shanghai organised by the Cato Institute …read more

Source: OP-EDS