assignats

assignats (ăsˈĭgnăts, äsēnyäˈ) [key], paper currency issued during the French Revolution. To redeem the huge public debt and to counterbalance the growing deficit, the revolutionary constituent assembly issued (Dec., 1789) treasury notes, called assignats, to the amount of 400 million livres at 5% interest. These were intended as short-term obligations pending the sale of confiscated crown and church land. They were made legal tender in Apr., 1790, and subsequent issues bore no interest. The currency rapidly became inflated. The strigent financial measures during the Reign of Terror temporarily stabilized the valued of the assignat at one-third of its face value. However by early 1796 the assignats in circulation amounted to less than 1% of their original value; their value did not even cover the cost of printing them. Mandats territoriaux [land notes], adopted in 1796 as a new currency also based on confiscated lands, were also soon depreciated. Inflation stopped only when all paper currency was demonetized and redeemed at the rate of 3,000 livres in assignats or 100 francs in land notes to one franc in gold. On May 21, 1797, all unredeemed assignats were declared void.

See study by S. E. Harris (1930, repr. 1969).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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