Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION I: The General Expediency and Necessity of a Revolution in France. - Vindiciae Gallicae and Other Writings on the French Revolution
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SECTION I: The General Expediency and Necessity of a Revolution in France. - Sir James Mackintosh, Vindiciae Gallicae and Other Writings on the French Revolution 
Vindiciae Gallicae and Other Writings on the French Revolution, edited and with an Introduction by Donald Winch (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2006).
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The General Expediency and Necessity of a Revolution in France.
It is asserted in many passages* of Mr. Burke’s work, though no where with that precision which the importance of the assertion demanded, that the French Revolution was not only in its parts reprehensible, but in the whole was absurd, inexpedient, and unjust; yet he has no where exactly informed us what he understands by the term. The French Revolution, in its most popular sense, perhaps would be understood in England to<16> consist of those splendid events that formed the prominent portion of its exterior, the Parisian revolt, the capture of the Bastile, and the submission of the King. But these memorable events, though they strengthened and accelerated, could not constitute a Political Revolution. It must have been a change of Government, but even limited to that meaning, it is equivocal and wide.
It is capable of three senses. The King’s recognition of the rights of the States General to a share in the legislation, was a change in the actual government of France, where the whole legislative and executive power had, without the shadow of interruption, for nearly two centuries been enjoyed by the Crown; in that sense the meeting of the States-General was the Revolution, and the 5th of May was its aera. The union of the three Orders in one assembly was a most important change in the forms and spirit of the legislature. This<17> too may be called the Revolution, and the 23d of June will be its aera. This body, thus united, are forming a new Constitution. This may be also called a Revolution, because it is of all the political changes the most important, and its epoch will be determined by the conclusion of the labours of the National Assembly.
Thus equivocal is the import of Mr. Burke’s expressions. To extricate them from this ambiguity, a rapid survey of these events will be necessary. It will prove too the fairest and most forcible confutation of his arguments. It will best demonstrate the necessity and justice of all the successive changes in the State of France, which formed the mixed mass called the Revolution. It will discriminate legislative acts from popular excesses, and distinguish transient confusion from permanent establishment. It will evince the futility and fallacy of attributing to the<18> conspiracy of individuals, or bodies, a Revolution which, whether it be beneficial or injurious, was produced only by general causes, where the most conspicuous individual produced little real effect.
The Constitution of France resembled in the earlier stages of its progress the other Gothic governments of Europe. The history of its decline and the causes of its extinction are abundantly known. Its infancy and youth were like those of the English government. The Champ de Mars, and the Wittenagemot, the tumultuous assemblies of rude conquerors, were in both countries melted down into representative bodies. But the downfall of the feudal aristocracy happening in France before Commerce had elevated any other class of citizens into importance, its power devolved on the Crown. From the conclusion of the fifteenth century the powers of the States General had almost dwindled into formalities.<19> Their momentary re-appearance under Henry III. and Louis XIII. served only to illustrate their insignificance. Their total disuse speedily succeeded.
The intrusion of any popular voice was not likely to be tolerated in the reign of Louis XIV. a reign which has been so often celebrated as the zenith of warlike and literary splendor, but which has always appeared to me to be the consummation of whatever is afflicting and degrading in the history of the human race. Talent seemed, in that reign, robbed of the conscious elevation, of the erect and manly part, which is its noblest associate and its surest indication. The mild purity of Fenelon,* the lofty spirit of Bossuet, the masculine mind of Boileau, the sublime fervor of Corneille, were confounded by the conta-<20>gion of ignominious and indiscriminate servility. It seemed as if the “representative majesty”7 of the genius and intellect of man were prostrated before the shrine of a sanguinary and dissolute tyrant, who practised the corruption of Courts without their mildness, and incurred the guilt of wars without their glory. His highest praise is to have supported the stage trick of Royalty with effect; and it is surely difficult to conceive any character more odious and despicable, than that of a puny libertine, who, under the frown of a strumpet, or a monk, issues the mandate that is to murder virtuous citizens, to desolate happy and peaceful hamlets, to wring agonizing tears from widows and orphans. Heroism has a splendor that almost atones for its excesses; but what shall we think of him, who, from the luxurious and dastardly security in which he wallows at Versailles, issues with calm and cruel apathy his orders to butcher the Protestants of Languedoc, or<21> to lay in ashes the villages of the Palatinate?8 On the recollection of such scenes, as a scholar, I blush for the prostitution of letters; as a man, I blush for the patience of humanity.
But the despotism of this reign was pregnant with the great events which have signalized our age. It fostered that literature which was one day destined to destroy it. Its profligate conquests have eventually proved the acquisitions of humanity; and the usurpations of Louis XIV. have served only to add a larger portion to the great body of freemen. The spirit of its policy was inherited by the succeeding reign. The rage of conquest, repressed for a while by the torpid despotism of Fleury, burst forth with renovated violence in the latter part of the reign of Louis XV. France, exhausted alike by the misfortunes of one war and the victories of another, groaned under a weight of impost and debt, which it was equally difficult to remedy or to endure.<22> The profligate expedients were exhausted by which successive Ministers had attempted to avert the great crisis, in which the credit and power of the government must perish.
The wise and benevolent administration of M. Turgot, though long enough for his glory, was too short, and perhaps too early, for those salutary and grand reforms which his genius had conceived, and his virtue would have effected. The aspect of purity and talent spread a natural alarm among the minions of a Court, and they easily succeeded in the expulsion of such rare and obnoxious intruders.
The magnificent ambition of M. de Vergennes, the brilliant, profuse and rapacious career of M. de Calonne, the feeble and irresolute violence of M. Brienne, all contributed their share to swell this financial embarrassment. The deficit, or inferiority of the revenue to the expenditure, at length rose to<23> the enormous sum of 115 millions of livres, or about 4,750,000l. annually.* This was a disproportion between income and expence with which no government, and no individual, could long continue to exist.
In this exigency there was no expedient left, but to guarantee the ruined credit of bankrupt despotism by the sanction of the national voice. The States General were a dangerous mode of collecting it. Recourse was there-fore had to the Assembly of the Notables, a mode well known in the history of France, in which the King summoned a number of individuals, selected, at his discre-<24>tion, from the mass, to advise him in great emergencies. They were little better than a popular Privy Council. They were neither recognized nor protected by law. Their precarious and subordinate existence hung on the nod of despotism.
They were called together by M. Calonne, who has now the inconsistent arrogance to boast of the schemes which he laid before them, as the model of the Assembly whom he traduces. He proposed, it is true, the equalization of impost, and the abolition of the pecuniary exemptions of the Nobility and Clergy; and the difference between his system and that of the Assembly, is only in what makes the sole distinction in human actions—its end. He would have destroyed the privileged Orders, as obstacles to despotism. They have destroyed them, as derogations from freedom. The object of his plans was to facilitate Fiscal oppression. The motive of theirs<25> is to fortify general liberty. They have levelled all Frenchmen as men—he would have levelled them all as slaves.
The Assembly of the Notables, however, soon gave a memorable proof, how dangerous are all public meetings of men, even without legal powers of controul, to the permanence of despotism. They had been assembled by M. Calonne to admire the plausibility and splendor of his speculations, and to veil the extent and atrocity of his rapine. But the fallacy of the one, and the profligacy of the other, were detected with equal ease. Illustrious and accomplished orators, who have since found a nobler sphere for their talents, in a more free and powerful Assembly, exposed this plunderer to the Notables. Detested by the Nobles and Clergy, of whose privileges he had suggested the abolition; undermined in the favour of the Queen, by his attack on one of her favourites (Breteuil);<26> exposed to the fury of the people, and dreading the terrors of judicial prosecution, he speedily sought refuge in England, without the recollection of one virtue, or the applause of one party, to console his retreat.*
Thus did the Notables destroy their creator. Little appeared to be done to a superficial observer; but to a discerning eye, all was done; for the dethroned authority of Public opinion was restored. The succeeding Ministers, uninstructed by the example of their predecessors, by the destruction of Public credit, and the fermentation of the popular mind, hazarded measures of a still more preposterous and perilous description. The usurpation of some share in the sovereignty by the Parliament of Paris had become popular and venerable, because its tendency was useful,<27> and its exercise virtuous.—That body had, as it is well known, claimed a right, which, in fact, amounted to a negative on all the acts of the King. They contended, that their registering his Edicts was necessary to give them force. They would, in that case, have possessed the same share of legislation with the King of England.
It is unnecessary to descant on the historical fallacy, and political inexpediency, of doctrines, which should vest in a narrow aristocracy of lawyers, who had bought their places, such extensive powers. It cannot be denied that their resistance had often proved salutary, and was some feeble check on the capricious wantonness of despotic exaction.—But the temerity of the Minister now assigned them a more important part. They refused to register two edicts for the creation of imposts. They averred, that the power of imposing taxes was vested only in the National<28> Representatives, and they claimed the immediate convocation of the States General of the kingdom. The minister banished them to Troyes. But he soon found how much the French were changed from that abject and frivolous people, which had so often endured the exile of its magistrates. Paris exhibited the tumult and clamour of a London mob.
The cabinet, which could neither advance nor recede with safety, had recourse to the expedient of a compulsory registration. The Duke of Orleans, and the magistrates who protested against this execrable mockery, were exiled or imprisoned. But all these hacknied expedients of despotism were in vain. These struggles, which merit notice only as they illustrate the progressive energy of Public opinion, were followed by events still less equivocal. Lettres de Cachet were issued against M.M. d’Epresmenil & Goestard. They took refuge in the sanctuary of justice, and the Par-<29>liament pronounced them under the safeguard of the law and the King. A deputation was sent to Versailles, to intreat his Majesty to listen to sage counsels. Paris expected, with impatient solicitude, the result of this deputation; when towards midnight, a body of 2000 troops marched to the palace where the Parliament were seated, and their Commander, entering into the Court of Peers, demanded his victims. A loud and unanimous acclamation replied, “We are all d’Epresmenil & Goestard!”9 These magistrates surrendered themselves, and the satellite of despotism led them off in triumph, amid the execrations of an aroused and indignant people.
These spectacles were not without their effect. The spirit of resistance spread daily over France. The intermediate commission of the States of Bretagne, the States of Dauphiné, and many other public bodies, began to assume a new and menacing tone. The Cabinet dis-<30>solved in its own feebleness, and M. Necker was recalled. That Minister, probably upright, and not illiberal, but narrow, pusillanimous, and entangled by the habits of detail* in which he had been reared, possessed not that erect and intrepid spirit, those enlarged and original views, which adapt themselves to new combinations of circumstances, and sway in the great convulsions of human affairs. Accustomed to the tranquil accuracy of commerce, or the elegant amusements of literature, he was “called on to ride in the whirlwind, and direct the storm.”10 He seemed superior to his privacy while he was limited<31> to it, and would have been adjudged by history equal to his elevation had he never been elevated.† The reputation of few men, it is true, has been exposed to so severe a test; and a generous observer will be disposed to scrutinize less rigidly the claims of a Statesman, who has retired with the applause of no party, who is detested by the aristocracy as the instrument of their ruin, and despised by the democratic leaders for pusillanimous and fluctuating policy.
But had the character of M. Necker possessed more originality or decision, it could have had little influence on the fate of France. The minds of men had received an impulse. Individual aid and individual opposition were equally vain. His views, no doubt, extended only to palliation; but he was involved in a<32> stream of opinions and events, of which no force could resist the current, and no wisdom adequately predict the termination. He is represented by M. Calonne as the Lord Sunderland of Louis XVI. seducing the King to destroy his own power. But he had neither genius nor boldness for such designs.
To return to our rapid survey.—The Autumn of 1788 was peculiarly distinguished by the enlightened and disinterested patriotism of the States of Dauphiné. They furnished, in many respects, a model for the future Senate of France. Like them they deliberated amidst the terrors of ministerial vengeance and military execution. They annihilated the absurd and destructive distinction of Orders, the three estates were melted into a Provincial Assembly; and they declared, that the right of imposing taxes resided ultimately in the States General of France. They voted a deputation to the King to solicit the convocation of that<33> Assembly. They were emulously imitated by all the provinces that still retained the shadow of Provincial States. The States of Languedoc, of Velay, and Vivarois, the Tiers Etat of Provence, and all the Municipalities of Bretagne, adopted similar resolutions. In Provence and Bretagne, where the Nobles and Clergy, trembling for their privileges, and the Parliaments for their jurisdiction, attempted a feeble resistance, the fermentation was peculiarly strong. Some estimate of the fervor of public sentiment may be formed from the reception of the Count de Mirabeau in his native Provence, where the Burgesses of Aix assigned him a body-guard, where the citizens of Marseilles crowned him in the theatre, and where, under all the terrors of despotism, he received as numerous and tumultuous proofs of attachment as ever were bestowed on a favourite by the enthusiasm of the most free people. M. Caraman, the Governor of Provence, was even reduced to im-<34>plore his interposition with the populace, to appease and prevent their excesses. The contest in Bretagne was more violent and sanguinary. It had preserved its independence more than any of those Provinces which had been united to the Crown of France. The Nobles and Clergy possessed almost the whole power of the States, and their obstinacy was so great, that their Deputies did not take their seats in the National Assembly till an advanced period of its proceedings.
The return of M. Necker, and the recall of the exiled magistrates, restored a momentary calm. The personal reputation of the Minister for probity, re-animated the credit of France. But the finances were too irremediably embarrassed for palliatives; and the fascinating idea of the States General, presented to the public imagination by the unwary zeal of the Parliament, awakened recollections of ancient freedom, and prospects<35> of future splendor, which the virtue or popularity of no Minister could banish. The convocation of that body was resolved—but many difficulties respecting the mode of electing and constituting it remained, which a second Assembly of Notables was summoned to decide.
The third Estate demanded representatives equal to those of the other two Orders jointly. They required that the number should be regulated by the population of the districts, and that the three Orders should vote in one Assembly. All the Committees into which the Notables were divided, except that of which Monsieur was President, decided against the Third Estate in every one of these particulars. They were strenuously supported by the Parliament of Paris, who, too late sensible of the suicide into which they had been betrayed, laboured to render the Assembly impotent, when they were unable to pre-<36>vent its meeting. But their efforts were in vain. M. Necker, whether actuated by respect for justice, or ambition of popularity, or yielding to the irresistible torrent of public sentiment, advised the King to adopt the propositions of the Third Estate in the two first particulars, and to leave the last to be decided by the States General themselves.
Letters patent were accordingly issued on the 24th of January, 1789, for assembling the States General,* to which were annexed regulations for the detail of their elections. In the constituent assemblies of the several provinces, bailliages, and constabularies of the kingdom, the progress of the public mind became still more evident. The Clergy and Nobility ought not to be denied the praise of having emulously sacrificed their pe-<37>cuniary privileges. The instructions to the Representatives breathed every where a spirit of freedom as ardent, though not so liberal and enlightened, as that which has since presided in the deliberations of the National Assembly. Paris was eminently conspicuous. The union of talent, the rapid communication of thought, and the frequency of those numerous assemblies, where men learn their force, and compare their wrongs,* ever make a great capital the heart that circulates emotion and opinion to the extremities of an empire. No sooner had the convocation of the States General been announced, than the batteries of the press were opened. Pamphlet succeeded pamphlet, surpassing each other in boldness and elevation; and the advance of Paris to light and freedom was greater in three months than it had been in almost as many centuries.<38>
Doctrines† were universally received in May, which in January would have been deemed treasonable, and which in March were derided as the visions of a few deluded fanatics.
It was amid this rapid diffusion of light, and increasing fervor of public sentiment, that the States General of France assembled at Versailles on the 5th of May, 1789; a day which will probably be accounted by posterity one of the most memorable in the annals of the human race. Any detail of the parade<39> and ceremonial of their Assembly would be totally foreign to our purpose, which is not to narrate events, but to seize their spirit, and to mark their influence on the political progress from which the Revolution was to arise. The preliminary operation necessary to constitute the Assembly gave rise to the first great question—The mode of authenticating the commissions of the Deputies. It was contended by the Clergy and Nobles, that according to ancient usage, each Order should separately scrutinize and authenticate the commissions of its own Deputies. It was argued by the Commons, that, on general principles, all Orders, having an equal interest in the purity of the national representative, had an equal right to take cognizance of the authenticity of the commissions of all the members who compose it, and therefore to scrutinize them in common. To the authority of precedent it was answered, that it would establish too much; for in the ancient States, their ex-<40>amination of powers was subordinate to the revision of Royal Commissaries, a subjection too degrading and injurious for the free and vigilant spirit of an enlightened age. This controversy involved another of more magnitude and importance. If the Orders united in this scrutiny, they were likely to continue in one Assembly; the separate voices of the two first Orders would be annihilated, and the importance of the Nobility and Clergy reduced to that of their individual suffrages.
This great Revolution was obviously meditated by the leaders of the Commons. They were seconded in the Chamber of the Noblesse by a minority eminently distinguished for rank, character, and talent. The obscure and useful portion of the Clergy were, from their situation, accessible to popular sentiment, and naturally coalesced with the Commons. Many who favoured the division of the Legislature in the ordinary arrangements of Go;n-<41>vernment, were convinced that the grand and radical reforms, which the situation of France demanded, could only be effected by its union as one Assembly.* So many prejudices were to be vanquished, so many difficulties to be surmounted, such obstinate habits to be extirpated, and so formidable a power to be re-<42>sisted, that there was an obvious necessity to concentrate the force of the reforming body. In a great Revolution, every expedient ought to facilitate change. In an established Government, every thing ought to render it difficult. Hence the division of a Legislature, which in an established Government may give a beneficial stability to the laws, must, in a moment of Revolution, be proportionably injurious, by fortifying abuse and unnerving reform. In a Revolution, the enemies of freedom are external, and all powers are therefore to be united. Under an establishment her enemies are internal, and power is therefore to be divided.
But besides this general consideration, the state of France furnished others of more local and temporary cogency. The States General, acting by separate Orders, were a body from which no substantial reform could be hoped. The two first Orders were interested<43> in the perpetuity of every abuse that was to be reformed. Their possession of two equal and independent voices must have rendered the exertions of the Commons impotent and nugatory, and a collusion between the Assembly and the Crown would probably have limited its illusive reforms to some sorry palliatives, the price of financial disembarrassment. The state of a nation lulled into complacent servitude by such petty concessions, is far more hopeless than the state of those who groan under the most galling yoke of despotism, and the condition of France would have been more irremediable than ever. Such reasonings produced an universal conviction, that the question, whether the States General were to vote individually, or in Orders, was a question, whether they were or were not to produce any important benefit. Guided by these views, and animated by public support, the Commons adhered inflexibly to their principle of incorporating the three Orders. They<44> adopted a provisory organization, but studiously declined whatever might seem to suppose legal existence, or to arrogate constitutional powers. The Nobles, less politic or timid, declared themselves a legally constituted Order, and proceeded to discuss the great objects of their convocation. The Clergy affected to preserve a mediatorial character, and to conciliate the discordant claims of the two hostile Orders. The Commons, faithful to their system, remained in a wise and masterly inactivity, which tacitly reproached the arrogant assumption of the Nobles, while it left no pretext to calumniate their own conduct; gave time for the encrease of popular fervor, and distressed the Court by the delay of financial aid. Several conciliatory plans were proposed by the Minister, and rejected by the haughtiness of the Nobility and the policy of the Commons.<45>
Thus passed the period between the 5th of May and the 12th of June, when the popular leaders, animated by public support, and conscious of the maturity of their schemes, assumed a more resolute tone.
The Third Estate commenced the scrutiny of commissions, summoned the Nobles and Clergy to repair to the Hall of the States General, and resolved that the absence of the Deputies of some districts and classes of citizens could not preclude them, who formed the representatives of ninety-six hundred parts of the nation, from constituting themselves into a National Assembly.
These decisive measures betrayed the designs of the Court, and fully illustrated that bounty and liberality for which Lewis XVI. has been so idly celebrated. That feeble Prince, whose public character varied with every fluctuation in his Cabinet, the instru-<46>ment alike of the ambition of Vergennes, the prodigality of Calonne, and the ostentatious popularity of Necker, had hitherto yielded to the embarrassment of the finances, and the clamor of the people. The cabal that retained its ascendant over his mind, permitted concessions which they hoped to make vain, and flattered themselves with frustrating, by the contest of struggling Orders, all idea of substantial reform. No sooner did the Assembly betray any symptom of activity and vigor, than their alarms became conspicuous in the Royal conduct. The Comte d’Artois, and the other Princes of the Blood, published the boldest manifestoes against the Assembly; the credit of M. Necker at Court declined every day; the Royalists in the Chamber of the Noblesse spoke of nothing less than an impeachment of the Commons for high treason, and an immediate dissolution of the States; a vast military force and a tremendous artillery were collected from all parts of the kingdom<47> towards Versailles and Paris, and under these menacing and inauspicious circumstances, the meeting of the States General was prohibited by the King’s order till a Royal Session, which was destined for the 22d, but held on the 23d of June. The Commons, on repairing to their Hall on the 20th, found it invested with soldiers, and themselves excluded from it by the point of the bayonet. They were summoned by their President to a Tennis-Court, where they were reduced to hold their assembly, and which they rendered famous as the scene of their unanimous and memorable oath, never to separate till they had atchieved the regeneration of France.
The Royal Session thus announced, corresponded with the new tone of the Court. Its exterior was marked by the gloomy and ferocious haughtiness of despotism. The Royal puppet was now evidently moved by different persons from those who had prompted its<48> speech at the opening of the States. He probably spoke both with the same spirit and the same heart, and felt as little firmness under the cloak of arrogance, as he had been conscious of sensibility amidst his professions of affection. He was probably as feeble in the one as he had been cold in the other; but his language is some criterion of the system of his prompters.
This speech was distinguished by insulting condescension and ostentatious menace. He spoke not as the Chief of a free nation to its sovereign Legislature, but as a Sultan to his Divan. He annulled and prescribed deliberations at pleasure. He affected to represent his will as the rule of their conduct, and his bounty as the source of their freedom. Nor was the matter of his harangue less injurious than its manner was offensive. Instead of containing any concession important to public liberty, it indicated a relapse into a more lofty<49> despotism than had before marked his pretensions. Tithes, feudal, and seignorial rights, he consecrated as the most inviolable property; and of Lettres de Cachet themselves, by recommending the regulation, he obviously condemned the abolition. The distinction of Orders he considered as essential to the Constitution of the kingdom, and their present union as only legitimate by his permission. He concluded with commanding them to separate, and to assemble on the next day in the Halls of their respective Orders.
The Commons, however, inflexibly adhering to their principles, and conceiving themselves constituted as a National Assembly, treated these threats and injunctions with equal neglect. They remained assembled in the Hall, which the other Orders had quitted, in obedience to the Royal command; and when the Marquis de Breze, the King’s Master of Ceremonies, reminded them of his<50> Majesty’s orders, he was answered by M. Bailli, with Spartan energy, “The Nation assembled has no Orders to receive.”11 They proceeded to pass resolutions declaratory of adherence to their former decrees, and of the personal inviolability of the members.—The Royal Session, which the Aristocratic party had expected with such triumph and confidence, proved the severest blow to their cause. Forty-nine members of the Nobility, at the head of whom was M. de Clermont Tonnerre, repaired on the 26th of June to the Assembly.* The popular enthusiasm was enflamed to such a degree, that alarms were either felt, or affected, for the safety of the King, if the Union of Orders was delayed. The union was accordingly resolved on, and<51> the Duke of Luxemburg, President of the Nobility, was authorized by his Majesty to announce to his Order the request and even command of the King, to unite themselves with the other Orders. He remonstrated with the King on the fatal consequences of this step. The Nobility, he remarked, were not fighting their own battles, but those of the Crown. The support of the Monarchy was inseparably connected with the division of the States General. Divided, that body was subject to the Crown—united, its authority was sovereign, and its force irresistible.† The King was not, however, shaken by these considerations, and on the following day, in an official letter to the Presidents of the Nobility and Clergy, he notified his pleasure. A gloomy and re-<52>luctant obedience was yielded to this mandate, and the union of the National Representatives at length promised some hope to France.
But the general system of the Government formed a suspicious and tremendous contrast with this applauded concession. New hordes of foreign mercenaries were summoned to the blockade of Paris and Versailles, from the remotest provinces; an immense train of artillery was disposed in all the avenues of these cities; and seventy thousand men already invested the Legislature and Capital of France, when the last blow was hazarded against the public hopes, by the ignominious banishment of M. Necker. Events followed the most unexampled and memorable in the annals of mankind, which history will record and immortalize, but, on which, the object of the political reasoner is only to speculate. France was on the brink of civil war. The Pro-<53>vinces were ready to march immense bodies to the rescue of their Representatives. The Courtiers and their minions, Princes and Princesses, male and female favorites, crowded to the camps with which they had invested Versailles, and stimulated the ferocious cruelty of their mercenaries, by caresses, by largesses, and by promises. Mean time the people of Paris revolted, the French soldiery felt that they were citizens, and the fabric of Despotism fell to the ground.
These soldiers, whom posterity will celebrate for patriotic heroism, are stigmatized by Mr. Burke as “base hireling deserters,”12 who sold their King for an increase of pay.* <54> This position he every where asserts or insinuates; but nothing seems more false. Had the defection been confined to Paris, there might have been some speciousness in the accusation. The Exchequer of a faction might have been equal to the corruption of the guards. The activity of intrigue might have seduced by promise, the troops cantoned in the neighbourhood of the capital. But what policy, or fortune, could pervade by their agents, or donatives, an army of 150,000 men, dispersed over so great a monarchy as France. The spirit of resistance to uncivic commands broke forth at once in every part of the empire. The garrisons of the cities of Rennes, Bourdeaux, Lyons, and Grenoble, refused, almost at the same moment, to resist the virtuous insurrection of their fellow citizens. No largesses could have seduced, no intrigues could have reached so vast and divided a body. Nothing but sympathy with the national spirit could have produced their<55> noble disobedience. The remark of Mr. Hume is here most applicable, that what depends on a few may be often attributed to chance (secret circumstances) but that the actions of great bodies must be ever ascribed to general causes.13 It was the apprehension of Montesquieu, that the spirit of increasing armies would terminate in converting Europe into an immense camp, in changing our artizans and cultivators into military savages, and reviving the age of Attila and Genghis.14 Events are our preceptors, and France has taught us that this evil contains in itself its own remedy and limit. A domestic army cannot be increased without increasing the number of its ties with the people, and of the channels by which popular sentiment may enter. Every man who is added to the army is a new link that unites it to the nation. If all citizens were compelled to become soldiers, all soldiers must of necessity adopt the feelings of citizens, and the despots cannot increase their<56> army without admitting into it a greater number of men interested to destroy them. A small army may have sentiments different from the great body of the people, and no interest in common with them, but a numerous soldiery cannot. This is the barrier which Nature has opposed to the increase of armies. They cannot be numerous enough to enslave the people, without becoming the people itself. The effects of this truth have been hitherto conspicuous only in the military defection of France, because the enlightened sense of general interest has been so much more diffused in that nation than in any other despotic monarchy of Europe. But they must be felt by all. An elaborate discipline may for a while in Germany debase and brutalize soldiers too much to receive any impressions from their fellow men—artificial and local institutions are, however, too feeble to resist the energy of natural causes. The constitution of man survives the transient fashions of des-<57>potism, and the history of the next century will probably evince on how frail and tottering a basis the military tyrannies of Europe stand.
The pretended seduction of the French troops by the promise of the increased pay, is in every view contradicted by facts. This increase of pay did not originate in the Assembly. It was not therefore any part of their policy—It was prescribed to them by the instructions of their constituents, before the meeting of the States.* It could not therefore be the project of any cabal of demagogues to seduce the army; it was the decisive and unanimous voice of the nation, and if there was any conspiracy, it must have been that of the people. What had the demagogues<58> to offer. The soldiery knew that the States must, in obedience to their instructions, increase their pay. An increase of pay, therefore, was no temptation to sell their King, for of that they felt themselves already secure, as the national voice had prescribed it. It was in fact a necessary part of the system which was to raise the army to a body of respectable citizens, from a gang of mendicant ruffians.
It must infallibly operate to limit the increase of armies in the north. This influence has been already felt in the Netherlands, which fortune seems to have restored to Leopold, that they might furnish a school of revolt to German soldiers. The Austrian troops have there murmured at their comparative indigence, and supported their plea for increase of pay by the example of France. The same example must operate on the other armies of Europe. The solicitations of armed petitioners must be heard. The indigent de-<59>spots of Germany and the North will feel a limit to their military rage, in the scantiness of their Exchequer. They will be compelled to reduce the number, and increase the pay of their armies, and a new barrier will be opposed to the progress of that depopulation and barbarism, which philosophers had dreaded from the rapid increase of military force. These remarks on the spirit which actuated the French army in their unexampled, misconceived, and calumniated conduct, are peculiarly important, as they serve to illustrate a principle, which cannot too frequently be presented to view, that in the French Revolution all is to be attributed to general causes influencing the whole body of the people, and almost nothing to the schemes and the ascendant of individuals.
But to return to our rapid sketch. It was at the moment of the Parisian revolt, and of the defection of the army, that the whole<60> power of France devolved on the National Assembly. It is at that moment, therefore, that the discussion commences, whether that body ought to have re-established and re-formed the Government which events had subverted, or to have proceeded to the establishment of a new Constitution, on the general principles of reason and freedom. The arm of the ancient Government had been palsied, and its power reduced to formality, by events over which the Assembly possessed no controul. It was theirs to decide, not whether the monarchy was to be subverted, for that had been already effected, but whether, from its ruins, fragments were to be collected for the re-construction of the political edifice.
They had been assembled as an ordinary Legislature under existing laws. They were transformed by these events into a National Convention, and vested with powers to organize a Government. It is in vain that<61> their adversaries contest this assertion, by appealing to the deficiency of forms.* It is in vain to demand the legal instrument that changed their Constitution, and extended their powers. Accurate forms in the conveyance of power are prescribed by the wisdom of law, in the regular administration of States. But great Revolutions are too immense for technical formality. All the sanction that can be hoped for in such events, is the voice of the people, however informally and irregularly expressed. This cannot be<62> pretended to have been wanting in France. Every other species of authority was annihilated by popular acts, but that of the States General. On them, therefore, devolved the duty of exercising their unlimited* trust, ac-<63>cording to their best views of general interest. Their enemies have, even in their invectives, confessed the subsequent adherence of the people, for they have inveighed against it as the infatuation of a dire fanaticism. The authority of the Assembly was then first conferred on it by public confidence, and its acts have been since ratified by public approbation. Nothing can betray a disposition to puny and technical sophistry more strongly, than to observe with M. Calonne, that this ratification, to be valid, ought to have been made by France, not in her new organization of municipalities, but in her ancient division of bailliages and provinces. The same individuals act in both forms. The approbation of the men legitimates the Government. It is of no importance, whether they are assembled as bailliages, or as municipalities. If this latitude of informality, this subjection of laws to their principle, and of Government to its source, are not permitted in Revolutions,<64> how are we to justify the assumed authority of the English Convention of 1688? “They did not hold the authority they exercised under any constitutional law of the State.”15 They were not even legally elected, as, it must be confessed, was the case with the French Assembly. An evident though irregular ratification by the people, alone legitimated their acts. Yet they possessed, by the confession of Mr. Burke, an authority only limited by prudence and virtue. Had the people of England given instructions to the Members of that Convention, its ultimate measures would probably have departed as much from them as the French Assembly have deviated from those of their constituents, and the public acquiescence in the deviation would, in all likelihood, have been the same.
It will be confessed by any man who has considered the public temper of England at the landing of William, that the majority of those instructions would not have proceeded<65> to the deposition of James. The first aspect of these great changes perplexes and intimidates men too much for just views and bold resolutions. It is by the progress of events that their hopes are emboldened, and their views enlarged.
This influence was felt in France. The people, in an advanced period of the Revolution, virtually recalled the instructions by which the feebleness of their political infancy had limited the power of their Representatives; for they sanctioned acts by which those instructions were contradicted. The formality of instructions was indeed wanting in England, but the change of public sentiment, from the opening of the Convention to its ultimate decision, was as remarkable as the contrast which has been so ostentatiously displayed by M. Calonne, between the decrees of the National Assembly and the first instructions of their constituents.<66>
Thus feeble are the objections against the authority of the Assembly.
We now resume the consideration of its exercise, and proceed to enquire, whether they ought to have reformed, or destroyed their Government? The general question of innovation is an exhausted common-place, to which the genius of Mr. Burke has been able to add nothing but splendor of eloquence and felicity of illustration. It has long been so notoriously of this nature, that it is placed by Lord Bacon among the sportive contests which are to exercise rhetorical skill. No man will support the extreme on either side. Perpetual change and immutable establishment are equally indefensible. To descend therefore from these barren generalities to a more near view of the question, let us state it more precisely. Was the Civil Order in France corrigible, or was it necessary to destroy it? Not to mention the extirpation of the feudal system, and<67> the abrogation of the civil and criminal code, we have first to consider the destruction of the three great corporations, of the Nobility, the Church, and the Parliaments. These three Aristocracies were the pillars which in fact formed the Government of France. The question then of forming or destroying these bodies is fundamental. There is one general principle applicable to them all adopted by the French Legislators—that the existence of Orders is repugnant to the principles of the social union. An Order is a legal rank, a body of men combined and endowed with privileges by law.—There are two kinds of inequality, the one personal—that of talent and virtue, the source of whatever is excellent and admirable in society—the other, that of fortune, which must exist, because property alone can stimulate to labour; and labour, if it were not necessary to the existence, would be indispensible to the happiness of man. But though it be necessary, yet, in its excess it is the great malady<68> of civil society. The accumulation of that power which is conferred by wealth in the hands of the few, is the perpetual source of oppression and neglect to the mass of mankind. The power of the wealthy is farther concentrated by their tendency to combination, from which, number, dispersion, indigence and ignorance equally preclude the poor. The wealthy are formed into bodies by their professions, their different degrees of opulence (called ranks), their knowledge, and their small number.—They necessarily in all countries administer government, for they alone have skill and leisure for its functions. Thus circumstanced, nothing can be more evident than their inevitable preponderance in the political scale. The preference of partial to general interests is however the greatest of all public evils. It should therefore have been the object of all laws to repress this malady, but it has been their perpetual tendency to aggravate it. Not content with the inevit-<69>able inequality of fortune, they have superadded to it honorary and political distinctions. Not content with the inevitable tendency of the wealthy to combine, they have embodied them in classes. They have fortified those conspiracies against the general interest, which they ought to have resisted, though they could not disarm. Laws, it is said, cannot equalize men. No. But ought they for that reason to aggravate the inequality which they cannot cure? Laws cannot inspire unmixed Patriotism—But ought they for that reason to foment that corporation spirit which is its most fatal enemy? All professional combinations, said Mr. Burke, in one of his late speeches in Parliament, are dangerous in a free State.16 Arguing on the same principle, the National Assembly has proceeded further. They have conceived that the laws ought to create no inequality of combination, to recognize all only in their capacity of citizens, and<70> to offer no assistance to the natural preponderance of partial over general interest.
But besides the general source of hostility to Orders, the particular circumstances of France presented other objections, which it is necessary to consider more in detail.
It is in the first place to be remarked, that all the bodies and institutions of the kingdom participated the spirit of the ancient Government, and in that view were incapable of alliance with a free Constitution. They were tainted by the despotism of which they were members or instruments. Absolute monarchies, like every other consistent and permanent government, assimilate every thing with which they are connected to their own genius. The Nobility, the Priesthood, the Judicial Aristocracy, were unfit to be members of a free government, because their corporate character had been formed under arbitrary estab-<71>lishments. To have preserved these great corporations, would be to have retained the seeds of reviving despotism in the bosom of freedom. This remark may merit the attention of Mr. Burke, as illustrating an important difference between the French and English Revolutions. The Clergy, the Peerage, and Judicatures of England, had in some degree the sentiments inspired by a Government in which freedom had been eclipsed, but not extinguished—They were therefore qualified to partake of a more stable and improved liberty. But the case of France was different. These bodies had there imbibed every sentiment, and adopted every habit under arbitrary power. Their preservation in England, and their destruction in France, may in this view be justified on similar grounds. It is absurd to regard the Orders as remnants of that free constitution which France, in common with the other Gothic nations of Europe, once enjoyed. Nothing remained of these ancient Orders<72> but the name. The Nobility were no longer those haughty and powerful Barons, who enslaved the people and dictated to the King. The Ecclesiastics were no longer that Priesthood, before whom, in a benighted and superstitious age, all civil power was impotent and mute. They have both dwindled into dependents on the crown. Still less do the opulent and enlightened Commons of France resemble its servile and beggared populace in the sixteenth century. Two hundred years of uninterrupted exercise had legitimated absolute authority as much as prescription can consecrate usurpation. The ancient French Constitution was therefore no farther a model than that of any foreign nation, which was to be judged of alone by its utility, and possessed in no respect the authority of establishment. It had been succeeded by another Government, and if France were to recur to a period antecedent to her servitude for legislative models, she might as well ascend to the aera of Clovis<73> or Charlemagne, as be regulated by the precedents of Henry III. or Mary of Medicis. All these forms of government existed only historically.
These observations include all the Orders. Let us consider each of them successively. The devotion of the Nobility of France to the Monarch was inspired equally by their sentiments, their interests, and their habits. “The feudal and chivalrous spirit of fealty,”17 so long the prevailing passion of Europe, was still nourished in their bosoms by the military sentiments from which it first arose. The majority of them had still no profession but war, no hope but in Royal favor. The youthful and indigent filled the camps; the more opulent and mature partook the splendor and bounty of the Court: But they were equally dependents on the Crown. To the plentitude of the Royal power were attached those immense and magnificent privileges, which di-<74>vided France into distinct nations; which exhibited a Nobility monopolizing the rewards and offices of the State, and a people degraded to political helotism.* Men do not cordially resign such privileges, nor quickly dismiss the sentiments which they have inspired. The ostentatious sacrifice of pecuniary exemptions in a moment of general fermentation is a wretched criterion of their genuine feelings. They affected to bestow as a gift, what they would have been speedily compelled to abandon as an usurpation, and they hoped by the sacrifice of a part to purchase security for the rest. They have been most justly stated to be a band of political janissaries,† far more valuable to a Sultan than mercenaries, because attached to him by unchangeable interest and indelible sentiment. Whether any reform could have extracted from this body a portion which<75> might have entered into the new constitution is a question which we shall consider when that political system comes under our review. Their existence, as a member of the Legislature, is a question distinct from their preservation as a separate Order, or great corporation, in the State. A senate of Nobles might have been established, though the Order of the Nobility had been destroyed, and England would then have been exactly copied.—But it is of the Order that we now speak, for we are now considering the destruction of the old not the formation of the new Government.—The suppression of Nobility has been in England most absurdly confounded with the prohibition of titles. The union of the Orders in one Assembly was the first step towards the destruction of a legislative Nobility. The abolition of their feudal rights, in the memorable session of the 4th of August, 1789, may be regarded as the second. They retained after these measures no distinction but what<76> was purely nominal, and it remained to be determined what place they were to occupy in the new Constitution. That question was decided by the decree of the 22d of December, in the same year, which enacted, that the Electoral Assemblies were to be composed without any regard to rank, and that citizens of all Orders were to vote in them indiscriminately. The distinction of Orders was destroyed by this decree, the Nobility were to form no part of the new Constitution, and they were stripped of all that they had enjoyed under the old Government, but their titles.
Hitherto all had passed unnoticed, but no sooner did the Assembly, faithful to their principles, proceed to extirpate the external signs of ranks, which they no longer tolerated, then all Europe resounded with clamours against their Utopian and levelling madness. The incredible* decree of the 19th of June,<77> 1790, for the suppression of titles, is the object of all these invectives, yet without that measure the Assembly would certainly have been guilty of the grossest inconsistency and absurdity. An untitled Nobility forming a member of the State, had been exemplified in some Commonwealths of antiquity. Such were the Patricians in Rome. But a titled Nobility, without legal privileges, or political existence, would have been a monster new in the annals of legislative absurdity. The power was possessed without the bauble by the Roman Aristocracy. The bauble would have been reverenced, while the power was trampled on, if titles had been spared in France. A titled Nobility, is the most undisputed progeny of feudal barbarism. Titles had in all nations denoted offices, it was reserved for Gothic Europe to attach them to ranks, yet this conduct of our remote ancestors admits explanation, for with them offices were hereditary, and hence the titles denoting them<78> became hereditary too. But we, who have rejected hereditary office, retain an usage to which it gave rise, and which it alone could justify.
So egregiously is this recent origin of titled Nobility misconceived, that it has been even pretended to be necessary to the order and existence of society: A narrow and arrogant bigotry, which would limit all political remark to the Gothic States of Europe, or establish general principles on events that occupy so short a period of history, and manners that have been adopted by so slender a portion of the human race. A titled Nobility, was equally unknown to the splendid Monarchies of Asia, and to the manly simplicity of the ancient Commonwealths.† It arose from<79> the peculiar circumstances of modern Europe, and yet its necessity is now erected on the basis of universal experience, as if these other renowned and polished States were effaced from the records of history, and banished from the society of nations. “Nobility is the Corinthian capital of polished states.”18 The august fabric of society is deformed and encumbered by such Gothic ornaments. The massy Doric that sustains it is Labour, and the splendid variety of arts and talents that solace and embellish life, form the decorations of its Corinthian and Ionic capitals.
Other motives besides the extirpation of feudality, disposed the French Legislature to the suppression of titles. To give stability<80> to a popular Government, a democratic character must be formed, and democratic sentiments inspired. The sentiment of equality which titular distinctions have, perhaps, more than any other cause, extinguished in Europe, and without which democratic forms are impotent and short-lived, was to be revived: a free Government was to be established, by carrying the spirit of equality and freedom into the feelings, the manners, the most familiar intercourse of men. The badges of inequality, which were perpetually inspiring sentiments adverse to the spirit of the Government, were therefore destroyed: Distinctions which only served to unfit the Nobility for obedience, and the people for freedom; to keep alive the discontent of the one, and to perpetuate the servility of the other; to deprive the one of the moderation that sinks them into citizens, and to rob the other of the spirit that exalts them into free men. A single example can alone dispel inveterate pre-<81>judices. Thus thought our ancestors at the Revolution, when they deviated from the succession, to destroy the prejudice of its sanctity. Thus also did the Legislators of France feel, when by the abolition of titles, they gave a mortal blow to the slavish prejudices which unfitted their country for freedom. It was a practical assertion of that equality which had been consecrated in the Declaration of Rights, but which no abstract assertion could have conveyed into the spirits and the hearts of men. It proceeded on the principle that the security of a revolution of government can only arise from a revolution of character.
To these reasonings it has been opposed, that hereditary distinctions are the moral treasure of a State, by which it excites and rewards public virtue and public service, which, without national injury or burden, operates with resistless force on generous minds. To this I answer, that of personal distinctions this de-<82>scription is most true, but that this moral treasury of honour is in fact impoverished by the improvident profusion that has made them hereditary. The possession of honours by the multitude, who have inherited but not acquired them, engrosses and depreciates these incentives and rewards of virtue. Were they purely personal, their value would be doubly enhanced, as the possessors would be fewer while the distinction was more honourable. Personal distinctions then every wise State will cherish as its surest and noblest resource, but of hereditary title, at least in the circumstances of France,* the abolition seems to have been just and politic.
The fate of the Church, the second great corporation that sustained the French despo-<83>tism, has peculiarly provoked the indignation of Mr. Burke. The dissolution of the Church as a body, the resumption of its territorial revenues, and the new organization of the Priesthood, appear to him to be dictated by the union of robbery and irreligion to glut the rapacity of Stock-jobbers, and to gratify the hostility of Atheists. All the outrages and proscriptions of ancient or modern tyrants vanish, in his opinion, in the comparison with this confiscation of the property of the Gallican Church. Principles had, it is true, been on this subject explored, and reasons had been urged by men of genius, which vulgar men deemed irresistible. But with these reasons Mr. Burke will not deign to combat. “You do not imagine, Sir,” says he to his correspondent “that I am going to compliment this miserable description of persons with any long discussion?”†19 What immediately follows<84> this contemptuous passage is so outrageously offensive to candor and urbanity, that an honourable adversary will disdain to avail himself of it. The passage itself, however, demands a pause. It alludes to an opinion of which I trust Mr. Burke did not know the origin. That the church-lands were national property was not first asserted among the Jacobins, or in the Palais Royal.20 The author of that opinion, the master of that wretched<85> description of persons, whom Mr. Burke disdains to encounter, was one whom he might have combated with glory, with confidence of triumph in victory, and without fear or shame in defeat. The author of that opinion was Turgot! a name now too high to be exalted by eulogy, or depressed by invective.—That benevolent and philosophic Statesman delivered it in the article Fondation of the Encyclopedie,21 as the calm and disinterested opinion of a scholar, at a moment when he could have no view to palliate rapacity, or prompt irreligion. It was no doctrine contrived for the occasion by the agents of tyranny; it was a principle discovered in pure and harmless speculation, by one of the best and wisest of men. I adduce the authority of Turgot, not to oppose the arguments (if there had been any) but to counteract the insinuations of Mr. Burke. The authority of his assertions forms a prejudice, which is thus to be removed before we can hope for a fair au-<86>dience at the bar of reason. If he insinuates the flagitiousness of these opinions by the supposed vileness of their origin, it cannot be unfit to pave the way for their reception, by assigning them a more illustrious pedigree.
But dismissing the genealogy of doctrines, let us examine their intrinsic value, and listen to no voice but that of truth. “Are the lands occupied by the Church thePropertyof its Members?” Various considerations present themselves, which may elucidate the subject.
I. It has not hitherto been supposed that any class of Public servants are proprietors. They are salaried* by the State for the performance of certain duties. Judges are paid for the distribution of justice; Kings for execution of the laws; Soldiers, where there is a mercenary army, for public defence; and<87> Priests, where there is an established religion, for public instruction. The mode of their payment is indifferent to the question. It is generally in rude ages by land, and in cultivated periods by money. But a territorial pension is no more property than a pecuniary one. The right of the State to regulate the salaries of those servants whom it pays in money has not been disputed. But if it has chosen to provide the revenue of a certain portion of land for the salary of another class of servants, wherefore is its right more disputable, to resume that land, and to establish a new mode of payment? In the early history of Europe, before fiefs became hereditary, great landed estates were bestowed by the Sovereign, on condition of military service. By a similar tenure did the Church hold its lands. No man can prove, that because the State has intrusted its ecclesiastical servants with a portion of land, as the source and security of their pensions, they are in any respect more the proprietors of<88> it, than the other servants of the State are of that portion of the revenue from which they are paid.
II. The lands of the Church possess not the most simple and indispensible requisites of property. They are not even pretended to be held for the benefit of those who enjoy them. This is the obvious criterion between private property and a pension for public service. The destination of the first is avowedly the comfort and happiness of the individual who enjoys it; as he is conceived to be the sole judge of this happiness, he possesses the most unlimited rights of enjoyment, alienation, and even abuse: But the lands of the Church, destined for the support of public servants, exhibited none of the characters of property—They were inalienable, because it would have been not less absurd for the Priesthood to have exercised such authority over these lands, than it would be for seamen to claim the property of a fleet<89> which they manned, or soldiers that of a fortress they garrisoned.
III. It is confessed that no individual Priest was a proprietor, and it is not denied that his utmost claim was limited to a possession for life of his stipend. If all the Priests, taken individually, were not proprietors, the Priesthood, as a body, cannot claim any such right. For what is a body, but an aggregate of individuals, and what new right can be conveyed by a mere change of name?—Nothing can so forcibly illustrate this argument as the case of other corporations. They are voluntary associations of men for their own benefit. Every member of them is an absolute sharer in their property, it is therefore alienated and inherited. Corporate property is here as sacred as individual, because in the ultimate analysis it is the same. But the Priesthood is a Corporation, endowed by the country, and destined for the benefit of other men. It is hence that the<90> members have no separate, nor the body any collective, right of property. They are only entrusted with the administration of the lands from which their salaries are paid.*
IV. It is from this last circumstance that their legal semblance of property arises. In charters, bonds, and all other proceedings of law, they are treated with the same formalities as real property.—“They are identified,” says Mr. Burke, “with the mass of private property”;22 and it must be confessed, that if we are to limit our view to forms, this language is correct. But the repugnance of these formalities to legal truth proceeded from a very obvious cause. If estates are vested in the Clergy, to them most unquestionably ought to be entrusted the protection of these estates<91> in all contests at law, and actions for that purpose can only be maintained with facility, simplicity, and effect, by the fiction of their being proprietors.—Nor is this the only case in which the spirit and the forms of law are at variance respecting property. Scotland, where lands still are held by feudal tenures, will afford us a remarkable example. There, if we extend our views no further than legal forms, the superior is to be regarded as the proprietor, while the real proprietor appears to be only a tenant for life. Such is the language of the charter by which he obtains a legal right to his estate. In this case, the vassal is formally stript of the property which he in fact enjoys. In the other, the Church is formally invested with a property, to which in reality it had no claim. The argument of prescription will appear to be altogether untenable, for prescription implies a certain period during which the rights of property had been exercised, but in the case before us they never were exercised, because they never could be supposed to exist.<92> It must be proved that these possessions were of the nature of property, before it can follow that they are protected by prescription, and to plead it is to take for granted the question in dispute. If they never were property, no length of time can change their nature.* <93>
V. When the British Islands, the Dutch Republic, the German and Scandinavian States, reformed their ecclesiastical establishments, the howl of sacrilege was the only armour by which the Church attempted to protect its pretended property. The age was too tumultuous and unlettered for discussions of abstract jurisprudence. The clamour of sacrilege seems, however, to have fallen into early contempt. The Treaty of Westphalia23 secularized many of the most opulent benefices of Germany, under the mediation and guarantee of the first Catholic Powers<94> of Europe. In our own island, on the abolition of episcopacy in Scotland at the Revolution, the revenues of the Church peaceably devolved on the Sovereign, and he devoted a portion of them to the support of the new establishment. When, at a still later period, the Jesuits were suppressed in most Catholic Monarchies, the wealth of that formidable and opulent body was every where seized by the Sovereign. In all these memorable examples, no traces are to be discovered of the pretended property of the Church.—The salaries of a class of Public servants are, in all these cases, resumed by the State, when it ceases to deem their service, or the mode of it, useful. It is in none of them recognized as property. That claim, now so forcibly urged by M. Calonne, was probably little respected by him, when he lent his agency to the destruction of the Jesuits with such peculiar activity and rancor. The sacredness of their property could not strongly impress him,<95> when he was instrumental in degrading the members of that accomplished Society, the glory of Catholic Europe, from their superb endowments to scanty and beggarly pensions. In all these contests, the inviolability of Church possessions was a principle that never made its appearance. A murmur of sacrilege might, indeed, be heard among the fanatical or interested few: But the religious horror in which the Priesthood had enveloped its robberies, had long been dispelled, and it was reserved for Mr. Burke to renew that cry of sacrilege, which, in the darkness of the sixteenth century, had resounded in vain. No man can be expected to oppose arguments to epithets. When a definition of sacrilege is given, consistent with good logic and plain English, it will be time enough to discuss it. Till that definition (with the Greek Calends) comes, I should as soon dispute about the meaning of sacrilege as about that of heresy or witchcraft.<96>
VI. The whole subject is indeed so evident, that little diversity of opinion could have arisen, if the question of church property had not been confounded with that of the present incumbents. The distinction, though neither stated by Mr. Burke nor M. Calonne, is extremely simple. The State is the proprietor of the Church revenues, but its faith, it may be said, is pledged to those who have entered into the Church, for the continuance of those incomes, for which they abandoned all other pursuits. The right of the State to arrange at its pleasure the revenues of any future Priests may be confessed, while a doubt may be entertained, whether it is competent to change the fortune of those to whom it has solemnly promised a certain income for life. But these distinct subjects have been confounded, that sympathy with suffering individuals might influence opinion on a general question, that feeling for the degradation of the hierarchy might supply the<97> place of argument to establish the property of the Church. To consider this subject distinctly it cannot be denied, that the mildest, the most equitable, and the most usual expedient of polished States in periods of emergency, is the reduction of the salaries of their servants, and the suppression of superfluous places. This and no more has been done regarding the Church of France. Civil, naval, and military servants of the State are subject to such retrenchments in a moment of difficulty. They often cannot be effected without a wound to individuals;* neither can the reform of a civil office, nor the reduction of a regiment: But all men who enter into the public service must do so with the implied condition of subjecting their emoluments, and even their official existence, to the exigencies of the State. The great grievance of such derangements is the shock they give to family settlements. This is precluded by the<98> compulsory celibacy of the Romish Church; and when the debts of the Clergy are incorporated with those of the State, and their subsistence insured by moderate incomes, though sensibility may, in the least retrenchment, find somewhat to lament, justice will, in the whole of these arrangements, discover little to condemn. To the individual members of the Church of France, whose hopes and enjoyments have been abridged by this resumption, no virtuous mind will refuse the tribute of its sympathy and its regrets. Every man of humanity must wish, that public exigencies had permitted the French Legislature to spare the income of present incumbents, and more especially of those whom they still continued in the discharge of active functions. But these sentiments imply no sorrow at the downfall of a great Corporation, the determined and implacable enemy of freedom; at the conversion of an immense public property to national use, nor at the reduc-<99>tion of a servile and imperious Priesthood to humble utility, as the moral and religious instructors of mankind. The attainment of these great objects console us for the portion of evil that was, perhaps, inseparable from them, and will be justly admired by a posterity too remote to be moved by these minute afflictions, or to be afflicted by any thing but their general splendor. The enlightened observer of an age thus distant will contemplate with peculiar astonishment, the rise, progress, decay, and downfall* of spiritual power in Christian Europe. It will attract his attention as an appearance which stands alone in history. Its connection in all stages of its progress with the civil power will peculiarly occupy his mind. He will remark the unpre-<100>suming humility by which it gradually gained the favor and divided the power of the Magistrate; the haughty and despotic tone in which it afterwards gave law to Sovereigns and subjects; the zeal with which, in the first desperate moments of decline, it armed the people against the Magistrate, and aimed at re-establishing spiritual despotism on the ruins of civil order; and the asylum which it at last found against the hostilities of reason in the prerogatives of temporal despotism, of which it had so long been the implacable foe.
The first and last of these periods will prove, that the Priesthood are servilely devoted when they are weak. The second and third, that they are dangerously ambitious when strong. In a state of feebleness, they are dangerous to liberty; possessed of power, they are dangerous to civil government itself. But the last period of their progress will appear peculiarly connected with the<101> state of France. There was no protection for the opulence and existence* of the European Priesthood in an enlightened period, but the Throne. It formed the only bulwark against the inroads of reason; for the superstition which once formed their power was gone. Around the Throne therefore they rallied. To the Monarch they transferred the devotion which had formerly attached them to the Church, and the fierceness of priestly† zeal was succeeded in their bosoms by the more peaceful sentiments of a courtly and polished servility. Such is, in a greater or less degree, the present condition of the Church in every nation of Europe; yet France has been reproached for the dissolution of such a body. It might as well be maintained, that in her conquests over despotism, she ought to have spared the strongest fortresses and most faithful troops of her adversary. Such<102> in truth, were the corporations of the Nobility and the Church. The National Assembly ensured permanence to their establishments, by dismantling the fortresses, and disbanding the troops of their vanquished foe.
In the few remarks that are here made on the Nobility and Clergy of France, we confine ourselves strictly to their political and collective character. Mr. Burke, on the contrary, has grounded his eloquent apology purely on their individual and moral character. This however is totally irrelevant to the question, for we are not discussing what place they ought to occupy in society as individuals, but as a body. We are not considering the demerit of citizens whom it is fit to punish, but the spirit of a body which it is politic to dissolve. We are not contending that the Nobility and Clergy were in their private capacity bad citizens, but that they were mem-<103>bers of corporations which could not be preserved with security to public freedom.
The Judicial Aristocracy formed by the Parliaments, seems still less susceptible of union with a free Government. Their spirit and claims were equally incompatible with liberty. They had imbibed a spirit congenial to the authority under which they had acted, and suitable to the arbitrary genius of the laws which they had dispensed. They retained those ambiguous and indefinite claims to a share in the legislation, which the fluctuations of power in the kingdom had in some degree countenanced. The spirit of a corporation was from the smallness of their numbers more concentrated and vigorous in them than in the Nobles and Clergy; and whatever aristocratic zeal is laid to the charge of the Nobility, is imputable with tenfold force to the ennobled Magistrates, who regarded their recent honors with an enthusiasm of vanity, inspired<104> by that bigotted veneration for rank which is the perpetual character of upstarts. A free people could not form its tribunals of men who pretended to any controul on the Legislature. Courts of Justice, in which seats were legally purchased, had too long been endured: Judges who regarded the right of dispensing justice as a marketable commodity, could neither be fit organs of equitable laws, nor suitable magistrates for a free State. It is vain to urge with Mr. Burke the past services of these judicial bodies. It is not to be denied that Montesquieu is correct, when he states, that under bad Governments one abuse often limits another.24 The usurped authority of the Parliaments formed, it is true, some bulwark against the caprice of the Court. But when the abuse is destroyed, why preserve the remedial evil? Superstition certainly alleviates the despotism of Turkey; but if a rational Government could be erected in that empire, it might with confidence disclaim the aid of<105> the Koran, and despise the remonstrances of the Mufti. To such establishments, let us pay the tribute of gratitude for past benefit; but when their utility no longer exists, let them be canonized by death, that their admirers may be indulged in all the plenitude of posthumous veneration.
The three Aristocracies, Military, Sacerdotal, and Judicial, may be considered as having formed the French Government. They have appeared, so far as we have considered them, incorrigible. All attempts to improve them would have been little better than (to use the words of Mr. Burke) “mean reparations on mighty ruins.”25 They were not perverted by the accidental depravity of their members. They were not infected by any transient passion, which new circumstances would extirpate. The fault was in the essence of the institutions themselves, which were irreconcileable with a free Government. But<106> it is objected, these institutions might have been gradually reformed.* The spirit of Freedom would have silently entered. The progressive wisdom of an enlightened nation would have remedied, in process of time, their defects, without convulsion.
To this argument I confidently answer, that these institutions would have destroyedLiberty,before Liberty had corrected theirSpirit. Power vegetates with more vigor after these gentle prunings. A slender reform amuses and lulls the people; the popular enthusiasm subsides, and the moment of effectual reform is irretrievably lost. No important political improvement was ever obtained in a period of tranquility. The corrupt interest of the Governors is so strong, and the cry of the people so feeble, that it were vain to expect it. If the effervescence of the po-<107>pular mind is suffered to pass away without effect, it would be absurd to expect from languor what enthusiasm has not obtained. If radical reform is not, at such a moment, procured, all partial changes are evaded and defeated in the tranquility which succeeds.† The gradual reform that arises from the presiding principle exhibited in the specious theory of Mr. Burke, is belied by the experience of all ages. Whatever excellence, whatever freedom is discoverable in Governments, has been infused into them by the shock of a revolution, and their subsequent progress has been only the accumulation of abuse. It is hence that the most enlightened politicians have recognized the necessity of<108> frequently recalling Governments to their first principles; a truth equally suggested to the penetrating intellect of Machiavel, by his experience of the Florentine democracy, and by his research into the history of ancient Commonwealths.—Whatever is good ought to be pursued at the moment it is attainable. The public voice, irresistible in a period of convulsion, is contemned with impunity, when dictated by that lethargy into which nations are lulled by the tranquil course of their ordinary affairs. The ardor of reform languishes in unsupported tediousness. It perishes in an impotent struggle with adversaries, who receive new strength from the progress of the day. No hope of great political improvement (let us repeat it) is to be entertained from tranquility,* for its natural operation is to<109> strengthen all those who are interested in perpetuating abuse. The National Assembly seized the moment of eradicating the corruptions and abuses which afflicted their country. Their reform was total, that it might be commensurate with the evil, and no part of it was delayed, because to spare an abuse at such a period was to consecrate it; because the enthusiasm which carries nations to such enterprizes is short-lived, and the opportunity of reform, if once neglected, might be irrevocably fled.
But let us ascend to more general principles, and hazard bolder opinions. Let us grant that the state of France was not so desperately incorrigible. Let us suppose that changes far more gentle, innovations far less extensive, would have remedied the grosser evils of her Government, and placed it almost on a level with free and celebrated Constitutions. These concessions, though too large<110> for truth, will not convict the Assembly. By what principle of reason, or of justice, were they precluded from aspiring to give France a Government less imperfect, than accident had formed in other States?—Who will be hardy enough to assert, that a better Constitution is not attainable than any which has hitherto appeared? Is the limit of human wisdom to be estimated in the science of politics alone, by the extent of its present attainments? Is the most sublime and difficult of all arts, the improvement of the social order, the alleviation of the miseries of the civil condition of man, to be alone stationary, amid the rapid progress of every other art, liberal and vulgar, to perfection? Where would be the atrocious guilt of a grand experiment, to ascertain the portion of freedom and happiness, that can be created by political institutions?
That guilt (if it be guilt) is imputable to the National Assembly of France. They are<111> accused of having rejected the guidance of experience, of having abandoned themselves to the illusion of theory, and of having sacrificed great and attainable good to the magnificent chimeras of ideal excellence. If this accusation be just, if they have indeed abandoned experience, the basis of human knowledge, as well as the guide of human action, their conduct deserves no longer any serious argument; and if (as Mr. Burke more than once insinuates) their contempt of it is avowed and ostentatious, it was surely unworthy of him to have expended so much genius against so preposterous an insanity. But the explanation of terms will diminish our wonder—Experience may, both in the arts and in the conduct of human life, be regarded in a double view, either as furnishing models, or principles. An artist who frames his machine in exact imitation of his predecessor, is in the first sense said to be guided by experience. In this sense all improvements<112> of human life, have been deviations from experience. The first visionary innovator was the savage who built a cabin, or covered himself with a rug. If this be experience, man is degraded to the unimproveable level of the instinctive animals—But in the second acceptation, an artist is said to be guided by experience, when the inspection of a machine discovers to him principles, which teach him to improve it, or when the comparison of many both with respect to their excellencies and defects, enables him to frame another more perfect machine, different from any he had examined. In this latter sense, the National Assembly have perpetually availed themselves of experience. History is an immense collection of experiments on the nature and effect of the various parts of various Governments. Some institutions are experimentally ascertained to be beneficial; some to be most indubitably destructive. A third class, which produces partial good, obviously possess<113> the capacity of improvement. What, on such a survey, was the dictate of enlightened experience?—Not surely to follow the model of any of those Governments, in which these institutions lay indiscriminately mingled; but, like the mechanic, to compare and generalize; and, guided equally by experience, to imitate and reject. The process is in both cases the same. The rights and the nature of man are to the Legislator what the general properties of matter are to the Mechanic, the first guide, because they are founded on the widest experience. In the second class are to be ranked observations on the excellencies and defects of those Governments which have existed, that teach the construction of a more perfect machine. But experience is the basis of all. Not the puny and trammelled experience of a Statesman by trade, who trembles at any change in the tricks which he has been taught, or the routine in which he has been accustomed to move, but an experience liberal<114> and enlightened, which hears the testimony of ages and nations, and collects from it the general principles which regulate the mechanism of society.
Legislators are under no obligation to retain a constitution, because it has been found “tolerably to answer the common purposes of Government.”26 It is absurd to expect, but it is not absurd to pursue perfection. It is absurd to acquiesce in evils, of which the remedy is obvious, because they are less grievous than those which are endured by others. To suppose the social order is not capable of improvement from the progress of the human understanding, is to betray the inconsistent absurdity of an arrogant confidence in our attainments, and an abject distrust of our powers. If indeed the sum of evil produced by political institutions, even in the least imperfect Governments, were small, there might be some pretence for this dread of innovation, this hor-<115>ror at remedy, which has raised such a clamour over Europe: But, on the contrary, in an estimate of the sources of human misery, after granting that one portion is to be attributed to disease, and another to private vices, it might perhaps be found that a third equal part arose from the oppressions and corruptions of Government, disguised under various forms. All the Governments that now exist in the world (except the United States of America) have been fortuitously formed. They are the produce of chance, not the work of art. They have been altered, impaired, improved and destroyed by accidental circumstances, beyond the foresight or controul of wisdom. Their parts thrown up against present emergencies formed no systematic whole. It was certainly not to have been presumed, that these fortuitous Governments should have surpassed the works of intellect, and precluded all nearer approaches to perfection. Their origin without doubt furnishes a strong presumption of an<116> opposite nature. It might teach us to expect in them many discordant principles, many jarring forms, much unmixed evil, and much imperfect good, many institutions which had long survived their motive, and many of which reason had never been the author, nor utility the object. Experience, even in the best of these Governments, accords with such expectations.
A Government of art, the work of legislative intellect, reared on the immutable basis of natural right and general happiness, which should combine the excellencies, and exclude the defects of the various constitutions which chance had scattered over the world, instead of being precluded by the perfection of any of those forms, was loudly demanded by the injustice and absurdity of them all. It was time that men should learn to tolerate nothing ancient that reason does not respect, and to shrink from no novelty to which reason may<117> conduct. It was time that the human powers, so long occupied by subordinate objects, and inferior arts, should mark the commencement of a new aera in history, by giving birth to the art of improving government, and increasing the civil happiness of man. It was time, as it has been wisely and eloquently said, that Legislators, instead of that narrow and dastardly coasting which never ventures to lose sight of usage and precedent, should, guided by the polarity of reason, hazard a bolder navigation, and discover, in unexplored regions, the treasure of public felicity.
The task of the French Legislators was, however, less hazardous. The philosophers of Europe had for a century discussed all objects of public oeconomy. The conviction of a great majority of enlightened men had, after many controversies, become on most questions of general politics, uniform. A degree of certainty, perhaps nearly equal to that which<118> such topics will admit, had been attained. The National Assembly were therefore not called on to make discoveries. It was sufficient if they were not uninfluenced by the opinions, nor exempt from the spirit of their age. They were fortunate enough to live in a period when it was only necessary to affix the stamp of laws to what had been prepared by the research of philosophy. They will here, however, be attacked by a futile common-place. The most specious theory, it will be said, is often impracticable, and any attempt to transfer speculative doctrines into the practice of States is chimerical and frantic. If by theory be understood vague conjecture, the objection is not worth discussion; but if by theory be meant inference from the moral nature and political state of man, then I assert, that whatever such theory pronounces to be true, must be practicable, and that whatever on the subject is impracticable, must be false. To resume the illustration from the<119> mechanical arts—Geometry, it may be justly said, bears nearly the same relation to mechanics that abstract reasoning does to politics.* The moral forces which are employed in politics are the passions and interests of men, of which it is the province of metaphysics to teach the nature and calculate the strength, as mathematics do those of the mechanical powers. Now suppose it had been mathematically proved, that by a certain alteration in the structure of a machine, its effect would be increased four-fold, would an instructed mechanic hesitate about the change? Would he be deterred, because he was the first to discover it? Would he thus sacrifice his own advantage to the blindness of his predecessors, and the obstinacy of his cotemporaries?—Let<120> us suppose a whole nation, of which the artizans thus rejected theoretical improvement. Mechanics might there, as a science, be most profoundly understood, while as an art, it exhibited nothing but rudeness and barbarism. The principles of Newton and Archimedes might be taught in the schools, while the architecture of the people might not have reached beyond the cabins of New Holland, or the ship-building of the Esquimaux. In a state of political science somewhat similar has Europe continued for a great part of the eighteenth century.† <121>
All the great questions of general politics had, as we have remarked, been nearly decided, and almost all the decisions had been hostile to established institutions—yet these institutions, still flourished in all their vigour. The same man who cultivated liberal science in his cabinet was compelled to administer a barbarous jurisprudence on the bench. The same Montesquieu, who at Paris reasoned as a philosopher of the eighteenth, was compelled to decide at Bourdeaux as a magistrate of the fourteenth century. The apostles of toleration and the ministers of the Inquisition were cotemporaries. The torture continued to be practised in the age of Beccaria. The Bastile devoured its victims in the country of Turgot. The criminal code, even of nations in which it was the mildest, was oppressive and savage. The laws respecting religious opinion, even where there was a pretended toleration, outraged the most evident deductions of reason. The true principles of commercial policy,<122> though they had been reduced to demonstration, influenced the councils of no State. Such was the fantastic spectacle presented by the European nations, who, philosophers in theory, and barbarous in practice, exhibited to the observing eye two opposite and inconsistent aspects of manners and opinions. But such a State carried in itself the seeds of its own destruction. Men will not long dwell in hovels, with the model of a palace before their eyes.
A State approaching to it in some measure existed indeed in the ancient world. But the art of Printing had not then provided a channel by which the opinions of the learned pass insensibly into the popular mind. A bulwark then existed between the body of mankind and the reflecting few. They were distinct nations, inhabiting the same country, and the opinions of the one (I speak comparatively with modern times) had little influence on the<123> other. But that bulwark is now levelled with the ground.—The convictions of philosophy insinuate themselves by a slow, but certain progress, into popular sentiment. It is vain for the arrogance of learning to condemn the people to ignorance by reprobating superficial knowledge—The people cannot be profound, but the truths which regulate the moral and political relations of man, are at no great distance from the surface. The great works in which discoveries are contained cannot be read by the people; but their substance passes through a variety of minute and circuitous channels to the shop and the hamlet. The conversion of these works of unproductive splendor into latent use and unobserved activity, resembles the process of nature in the external world. The expanse of a noble lake, the course of a majestic river, imposes on the imagination by every impression of dignity and sublimity. But it is the moisture that insensibly arises from them, which, gradually ming-<124>ling with the soil, nourishes all the luxuriancy of vegetation, fructifies and adorns the surface of the earth.
It may then be remarked, that though liberal opinions so long existed with abusive establishments, it was not natural that this state of things should be permanent. The philosophers of antiquity did not, like Archimedes, want a spot on which to fix their engines, but they wanted an engine to move the moral world. The press is that engine, which has subjected the powerful to the wise, by governing the opinion of mankind. The discussion of great truths has prepared a body of laws for the National Assembly. The diffusion of political knowledge has almost prepared a people to receive them, and good men are at length permitted to indulge the hope, that the miseries of the human race are about to be alleviated; that hope may be illusive, for the grounds of its enemies are strong, the folly and villainy<125> of men. Yet they who entertain it will feel no shame in defeat, and no envy of the triumphant prediction of their adversaries. Mehercule malim cum Platone errare.27 Whatever be the ultimate fate of the French Revolutionists, the friends of freedom must ever consider them as the authors of the greatest attempt that has hitherto been made in the cause of man. They never can cease to rejoice, that in the long catalogue of calamities and crimes which blacken human annals, the year 1789 presents one spot on which the eye of humanity may with compla-cence dwell.<126>
[* ]Page 227, 236–37, 270, and many other passages.
[G. Lyttleton, first Baron Lyttleton, “To the Reverend Dr. Ayscough at Oxford. Writ from Paris in the Year 1728,” in Poems (Glasgow, 1777), lines 45–46. Fénelon was archbishop of Cambray.]
[7. ]Burke, Reflections, 92.
[8. ]A reference to Louis XIV’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes, October 22, 1685, which reversed the policy of toleration toward French Protestants introduced under Henry IV in 1598.
[* ]For this we have the authority of M. de Calonne himself. See his late Publication, page 50. [Calonne, De la France, 56. Mackintosh’s figures do not match those of Calonne.] This was the account presented to the Notables in April, 1787. He, indeed, makes some deductions on account of part of this deficit being expirable. But this is of no consequence to our purpose, which is to view the influence of the present urgency, the political, not the financial state of the question.
[* ]Histoire de la Revolution en 1789, &c. tom. i. p. 18 & 19. [F. M. de Kerverseau and G. Clavelin, Histoire de la Révolution de 1789, et de l’établissement d’une constitution en France; précédée de l’exposé rapide des administrations successives qui ont déterminé cette Révolution mémorable, 7 vols. (additional volumes appeared later) (Paris, 1790), 1:18–19.]
[9. ]Kerverseau and Clavelin, Histoire de la Révolution de 1789, 1:46.
[* ]The late celebrated Dr. Adam Smith, always held this opinion of Necker, whom he had known intimately when a Banker in Paris. He predicted the fall of his fame when his talents should be brought to the test, and always emphatically said, “He is but a man of detail.” [Mackintosh himself appears to have been the source of this anecdote. See J. Rae, Life of Adam Smith, ed. J. Viner (New York: Augustus Kelley, 1965), 206.] At a time when the commercial abilities of Mr. Eden, the present Lord Auckland were the theme of profuse eulogy, Dr. Smith characterized him in the same words.
[10. ]Joseph Addison, The Campaign,A Poem, To His Grace the Duke of Marlborough, 2d ed. (London: J. Jonson, 1705), 14.
[† ]Major Privato visus dum privatus fuit et omnium consensú capax imperii nisi imperasset.—Tac. [“He seemed too great to be a subject so long as he was subject, and all would have agreed that he was equal to the imperial office if he had never held it.” Tacitus, The Histories, in The Histories, The Annals, trans. C. H. Moore, 3 vols. (London and Cambridge, Mass.: Heinemann and Harvard University Press, 1956), 1:82–83 (I.49).]
[* ]Lettre du Roi pour la convocation des Etats Generaux & regement pour l’execution des lettres de convocation, donné le 24 Janvier, 1789.
[* ]Conferre injurias & interpretando accendere.—Tac. [“To compare their wrongs and inflame their significance.” Tacitus, Agricola, in Dialogus, Agricola, Germania, trans. W. Peterson (London and New York: Heinemann and G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1920), 194–95 (§15).]
[† ]The principles of freedom had long been understood, perhaps better than in any country of the world, by the philosophers of France. It was as natural that they should have been more diligently cultivated in that kingdom than in England, as that the science of medicine should be less understood and valued among simple and vigorous, than among luxurious and enfeebled nations. But the progress which we have noticed was among the less instructed part of society.
[* ]“Il n’est pas douteux que pour aujourd’hui, que pour cette premiere tenue une Chambre Unique n’ait été préferable & peut-être necessaire. Il y avoit tant de difficultés à surmonter, tant de prejugés à vaincre, tant de sacrifices à faire, de si vieilles habitudes à deraciner, une puissance si forte à contenir, en un mot, tant à detruire & presque tout à creer.”—“Ce nouvel ordre de choses que vous avez fait eclore, tout cela vous en êtes bien surs n’a jamais pu naître que de la reunion de toutes les personnes, de tous le sentiments, & de tous les coeurs.”—Discours de M. Lally Tolendahl à l’Assemblée Nationale. 31 Aout, 1789, dans ses Pieces Justificatifs, p. 105–6. [“There is no doubt that today, that for this first meeting, a single chamber has been preferable and perhaps necessary. There have been too many difficulties to overcome, too many prejudices to conquer, too many sacrifices to make, and so many old habits to uproot, such a strong power to contain, in a word, so much to destroy and almost everything to create.” “This new order of things that you have brought into being, you are very sure could only emerge out of a meeting of all people, of all sentiments, and of all hearts.” Trophime-Gérard, marquis de Lally-Tollendal, “Sur la Déclaration des Droits,” in Pièces justificatives contenant différentes motions et opinions de M. le comte de Lally-Tollendal (Paris, 1789), 105–6.]—This passage is in more than one respect remarkable. It fully evinces the conviction of the Author, that changes were necessary great enough to deserve the name of a Revolution; and, considering the respect of Mr. Burke for his authority, ought to have weight with him.
[11. ]E. Madival and E. Laurent, Archives Parlementaires 1787–1860, 1e série, 99 vols., vols. 1–82 (Paris: Dupont, 1879–1914), vols. 83–99 (Paris, 1961–95), 8:137–38 (June 20, 1789).
[* ]It deserves remark, that in this number were Noblemen who have ever been considered as of the moderate party. Of these may be mentioned M.M. Lally, Virieu, and Clermont Tonnerre, none of whom certainly can be accused of democratic enthusiasm.
[† ]These remarks of M. de Luxembourg are equivalent to a thousand defenses of the Revolutionists against Mr. Burke. They unanswerably prove that the division of Orders was supported only as necessary to palsy the efforts of the Legislature against the Despotism.
[12. ]Edmund Burke, Substance of the Speech of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, in the Debate on the Army Estimates, in the House of Commons, on Tuesday the 9th Day of February, 1790 (London: Debrett, 1790), p. 21.
[* ]Mr. Burke is sanctioned in this opinion by an authority not the most respectable, that of his late countryman Count Dalton, Commander of the Austrian troops in the Netherlands. In September, 1789, he addressed the Regiment de Ligne, at Brussels, in these terms, “J’espere que vous n’imiterez jamais ces laches François qui ont abandonné leur Souverain!” [“I hope that you will not imitate these cowardly French who have abandoned their sovereign.” Unable to trace the source of this reference.]
[13. ]David Hume, “Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences,” in Essays Moral, Political, and Literary (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1985), 112.
[14. ]Montesquieu, Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence (Amsterdam: Mortier, 1734). For an English translation see Montesquieu, Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and Their Decline, trans. D. Lowenthal (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1965; repr. Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett, 1985, 1999).
[* ]I appeal to M. Calonne, as an authority beyond suspicion on this subject—See his Summary of the Cahiers, or Instructions. Art. 73.—“L’Augmentation de la Paie du Soldat.” Calonne, p. 390. [“The increase in soldiers’ pay.” C. A. Calonne, De l’état de la France, présent et à venir, par M. de Calonne ministre d’état (Londres: T. Spilsbury & fils, 1790), 390.]
[* ]This circumstance is shortly stated by Mr. Burke. “I can never consider this Assembly as any thing else than a voluntary association of men, who have availed themselves of circumstances to seize upon the power of the State. They do not hold the authority they exercise under any Constitutional law of the State. They have departed from the instructions of the people that sent them, &c.” Burke, p. 270. The same argument is treated by M. Calonne, in an expanded memorial of 44 pages, against the pretensions of the Assembly to be a convention, with much unavailing ingenuity and labour.—See his Work from p. 314 to 358.
[* ]A distinction made by Mr. Burke between the abstract and moral competency of a Legislature (p. 107) has been much extolled by his admirers. To me it seems only a novel and objectionable mode of distinguishing between a right and the expediency of using it. But the mode of illustrating the distinction is far more pernicious than a mere novelty of phrase. This moral competence is subject, says our author, to “faith, justice, and fixed fundamental policy.” Thus illustrated, the distinction appears liable to a double objection. It is false that the abstract competence of a Legislature extends to the violation of faith and justice. It is false that its moral competence does not extend to the most fundamental policy, and thus to confound fundamental policy with faith and justice, for the sake of stigmatizing innovators, is to stab the vitals of morality. There is only one maxim of policy truly fundamental—the good of the governed—and the stability of that maxim, rightly understood, demonstrates the mutability of all policy that is sub-ordinate to it.
[15. ]Burke, Reflections, 270.
[16. ]Possibly based on Burke, Speech on the Army Estimates, 24.
[17. ]Burke, Reflections, 172.
[* ]I say political in contradistinction to civil, for in the latter sense the assertion would have been untrue.
[† ]See Mr. Rous’s excellent “Thoughts on Government.” [G. Rous, Thoughts on Government, occasioned by Mr. Burke’s Reflections, &c. in a letter to a friend (London: Debrett, 1790).]
[* ]So called by M. Calonne. [Calonne, De la France, 232.]
[† ]Aristocratic bodies did indeed exist in the ancient world, but titles were unknown. Though they possessed political privileges, yet as they did not affect the manners, they had not the same inevitable tendency to taint the public character as titular distinctions. These bodies too being in general open to property, or office, they are in no respect to be compared to the Nobles of Europe. They might affect the forms of free Government as much, but they did not in the same proportion injure the Spirit of Freedom.
[18. ]Burke, Reflections, 241.
[* ]I have been grossly misunderstood by those who have supposed this qualification an assumed or affected reserve. I believe the principle only as qualified by the circum-stances of different nations.
[† ]The Abbé Maury, who is not less remarkable for the fury of eloquent declamation, than for the inept parade of historical erudition, attempted in the debate on this subject to trace the opinion higher. Base lawyers, according to him, had insinuated it to the Roman Emperors, and against it was pointed the maxim of the Civil Law, “Omnia tenes Caesar imperio sed non dominio.” [Speech by the Abbé Maury in Archives Parlementaires, 9:610. “You hold all things, Caesar, by power of command, but not by ownership.” The ultimate source is Seneca: “Under the best sort of king everything belongs to the king by his right of authority, and to his subjects by their individual rights of ownership.” Seneca, “De Beneficiis,” in Moral Essays, trans. J. W. Basore, 3 vols. (London and Cambridge, Mass.: Heinemann and Harvard University Press, 1958) 3:468–69 (VII.v.10).] Louis XIV. and Louis XV. had, if we may believe him, both been assailed by this Machiavelian doctrine, and both had repulsed it with magnanimous indignation. The learned Abbé committed only one mistake. The despots of Rome and France had indeed been poisoned with the idea that they were the immediate proprietors of their subjects’ estates. That opinion is execrable and flagitious, and it is not, as we shall see, the doctrine of the French Legislators.
[19. ]Burke, Reflections, 204.
[20. ]The Jacobin Club was a popular political club. It was originally a meeting place for deputies to the Estates General but later opened up its membership. The mother society in Paris also became affiliated with a network of clubs across the country. The Palais Royal was a focus for popular debate in the early years of the revolution.
[21. ]One of the five articles that Turgot wrote for the Encyclopédie. It was included as an appendix to Condorcet’s Vie de Turgot in Oeuvres, vol. 5 (Paris: Firmin Didot Frères, 1847–49), 1–233. For a recent translation see R. L. Meek, ed., Turgot on Progress, Economics, and Sociology (London: Cambridge University Press, 1973).
[* ]“Ils sont ou salariés, ou mendians, ou voleurs.” They are either salaried, or beggars, or robbers—was the expression of M. Mirabeau respecting the Priesthood. [Unable to trace the source of this reference.]
[* ]This admits a familiar illustration. If a land-holder chuses to pay his steward for the collection of his rents, by permitting him to possess a farm gratis, is he conceived to have resigned his property in the farm? The case is precisely similar.
[22. ]Burke, Reflections, 198.
[* ]There are persons who may not relish the mode of reasoning here adopted. They contend that property, being the creature of civil society, may be resumed by that Public will which created it, and on this principle they justify the National Assembly of France. But such a justification is adverse to the principles of that Assembly; for they have consecrated it as one of the first maxims of their Declaration of Rights, that the State cannot violate property, except in cases of urgent necessity, and on condition of previous indemnification. This defence too will not justify their selection of Church property, in preference of all others, for resumption. It certainly ought in this view to have fallen equally on all citizens. The principle is besides false in the extreme to which it is assumed. Property is, indeed, in some senses created by an act of the Public will; but it is by one of those fundamental acts which constitute society. Theory proves it to be essential to the social state. Experience proves that it has, in some degree, existed in every age and nation of the world. But those public acts which form and endow corporations, are subsequent and subordinate.—They are only ordinary expedients of legislation. The property of individuals is established on a general principle, which seems coeval with civil society itself. But bodies are instruments fabricated by the Legislator for a specific purpose, which ought to be preserved while they are beneficial, amended when they are impaired, and rejected when they become useless or injurious.
[23. ]The Treaty of Westphalia was signed at Munster on October 24, 1648, between the Holy Roman Emperor and his allies, and the king of France and his allies. It brought an end to the Thirty Years’ War.
[* ]This is precisely the case of “damnum absque injuria.” [“Loss without wrong”—Loss or damage for which there is no legal remedy.]
[* ]Did we not dread the ridicule of political prediction, it would not seem difficult to assign its period.—Church power (unless some Revolution, auspicious to Priestcraft, should replunge Europe in ignorance) will certainly not survive the nineteenth century.
[* ]I always understand their corporate existence.
[† ]Odium Theologicum.
[24. ]Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought, trans. and ed. Anne M. Cohler et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 17–19, 25–27 (pt. 1, bk. 2, chap. 4; bk. 3, chap. 5).
[25. ]Probably based on Burke, Speech on the Army Estimates, 30.
[* ]See Mr. Burke’s Reflexions, p. 273–76.
[† ]“Ignore t’on que c’est en attaquant, en reversant tous les abus a la fois, qu’on peut esperer de s’en voir delivré sans retour—que les reformes lentes et partielles ont toujours fini par ne rien reformer: enfin que l’abus que l’on conserve devient l’appui et bientot le restaurateur de tous ceux qu’on croioit avoir detruits.”—Adresse aux François par l’Eveque d’Autun—11 Fevrier 1790. [“You ignore [the fact] that it is in attacking, in reversing all the abuse at once, that one can hope to be released without return … that slow and partial reforms have always ended in reforming nothing; finally that the abuse that one retains becomes the support and soon the restorer of all those which one thought had been destroyed?” C. M. Talleyrand, bishop of Autun, “Adresse aux François,” in E. Madival and E. Laurent, Archives Parlementaires 1787–1860, 1e série, 99 vols., vols. 1–82 (Paris: Dupont, 1879–1914), vols. 83–99 (Paris: 1961–95), 11:549.]
[* ]The only apparent exception to this principle is the case where Sovereigns make important concessions to appease discontent, and avert convulsion. This, however, rightly understood, is no exception, for it arises evidently from the same causes, acting at a period less advanced in the progress of popular interposition.
[26. ]Burke, Reflections, 153.
[* ]I confess my obligation for this parallel to a learned friend, who though so justly admired in the republic of letters for his excellent writings, is still more so by his friends for the rich, original, and masculine turn of thought that animates his conversation. But the Continuator of “the History of Phillip III.” little needs my praise. [William Thompson (1746–1817). Thomson wrote the final two chapters of R. Watson, History of the Reign of Philip the Third, King of Spain (London: J. Johnson, 1808).]
[† ]Mechanics, because no passion or interest is concerned in the perpetuity of abuse, always yield to scientific improvement. Politics, for the contrary reason, always resist it. It was the remark of Hobbes, that if any interest or passion were concerned in disputing the theorems of geometry, different opinions would be maintained regarding them. [Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651), pt. 1, chap. 11; p. 74 in the Richard Tuck edition for the Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought series (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996).] It has actually happened (as if to justify the remark of that great man) that under the administration of Turgota financial reform, grounded on a mathematical demonstration was derided as visionary nonsense! So much for the sage preference of practice to theory.
[27. ]“For goodness’ sake, I had rather be wrong with Plato [than right with them]”; compare “I prefer, before heaven, to go astray with Plato [… rather than hold true views with his opponents].” Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, trans. J. E. King (London and Cambridge, Mass.: Heinemann and Harvard University Press, 1960), 46–47.