Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXI: Events Caused by the Royal Session of 23d June, 1789. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER XXI: Events Caused by the Royal Session of 23d June, 1789. - Germaine de Staël, Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.) 
Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution, newly revised translation of the 1818 English edition, edited, with an introduction and notes by Aurelian Craiutu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
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Events Caused by the Royal Session of 23d June, 1789.
The predictions of M. Necker were but too fully realized; and that royal session, against which he had said so much, produced consequences still more unfortunate than he had calculated. Hardly had the King left the hall, when the Third Estate, who had continued there after the other orders had withdrawn, declared that it would pursue its deliberations without any attention to what they had just heard. The impulse was given; the royal session, far from attaining the hoped for object, had given new vigor to the Third Estate, and had afforded them the opportunity of a new triumph.
The rumor of M. Necker’s resignation now spread abroad, and all the streets of Versailles were instantly filled with the inhabitants, who proclaimed his name. The King and Queen sent for him to the palace on that very evening, and both urged him, in the name of the public safety, to resume his place; the Queen added that the safety of the King’s person depended on his continuing in office. How could he decline obeying? The Queen promised solemnly to follow henceforth his council; such was her determination at the time, because she was alarmed by the popular movement: but as she was always under the impression that any limit imposed on the royal authority was a misfortune, she necessarily fell again under the influence of those who viewed matters in the same light.
The King, it cannot be too often repeated, possessed all the virtues necessary for a constitutional monarch; for such a monarch is rather the first magistrate than the military chief of his country. But, though he was very well informed, and read the English historians, in particular, with attention, the descendant of Louis XIV felt a difficulty in relinquishing the doctrine of divine right.1 That doctrine is considered as a crime of lèse-majesté in England, since it is in virtue of a compact with the nation that the present dynasty occupies the throne.2 But although Louis XVI was by no means stimulated by his disposition to aim at absolute power, that power was the object of a disastrous prejudice, which unfortunately for France and for himself he never wholly renounced.
M. Necker, won by the entreaties which the King and Queen condescended to make to him, promised to continue minister, and spoke only of the future: he by no means disguised the extent of existing danger; but added that he hoped yet to remedy it, provided orders were not given to bring troops around Paris unless the Crown were certain of their obedience. In such a case he must make a point of retiring, and of being satisfied with indulging in private his wishes for the welfare of the King.
There remained only three means of preventing a political catastrophe: the hope which the Third Estate still founded on the personal disposition of the King; the uncertainty of the course which the military might take, an uncertainty which might still keep back the factious; and finally, the popularity of M. Necker. We shall soon see how these resources were lost in the course of a fortnight, by the advice of the committee to which the court gave itself up in private.
On returning from the palace to his house, M. Necker was carried in triumph by the people. Their lively transports are still present to my recollection, and revive in me the emotion which they caused in the joyous season of youth and hope. All the voices which repeated my father’s name seemed to me those of a crowd of friends, who shared in my respectful affection. The people had not as yet stained themselves by any crime; they loved their King; they looked on him as deceived, and rallied with friendly warmth around the minister whom they considered as their defender: all was true and upright in their enthusiasm. The courtiers circulated that M. Necker had planned this scene; but, supposing him to have been capable of this, how could anyone succeed in producing, by underhand means, a movement in so vast a multitude? All France took part in it; addresses arrived from every quarter of the country, and in these days addresses expressed the general wish. But one of the great misfortunes of those who live in courts is to be unable to understand rightly what a nation is. They attribute everything to intrigue, yet intrigue can accomplish nothing on public opinion. In the course of the Revolution, we have seen factious men succeed in stirring up this or that party; but in 1789, France was almost unanimous; to attempt struggling against this colossus, with the mere power of aristocratic dignities, was like fighting with toys against real weapons.
The majority of the clergy, the minority of the nobility, and all the deputies of the Third Estate repaired to M. Necker on his return from the palace; his house could hardly contain those who had gathered there, and it was there that we saw the truly amiable traits of the French character; the vivacity of their impressions, their desire to please, and the ease with which a government may win or offend them, according as it addresses itself, well or ill, to that particular kind of imagination of which they are susceptible. I heard my father entreat the deputies of the Third Estate not to carry their claims too far. “You are now,” he said, “the strongest party; it is on you then that moderation is incumbent.” He described to them the situation of France and the good which they might accomplish; several of them were moved to tears and promised to be guided by his councils; but they asked him, in return, to be responsible to them for the intentions of the King. The royal power still inspired not only respect but a certain degree of fear: these were the sentiments which ought to have been preserved.
One hundred and fifty deputies of the clergy, among whom were several of the higher prelates, had by this time gone over to the National Assembly; forty-seven members of the nobility, most of them placed in the first rank both by birth and talent, had followed them; above thirty others waited only for leave from their constituents to join them. The people called loudly for the union of the three orders, and insulted those of the clergy and nobles who repaired to their separate chamber. M. Necker then proposed to the King to issue an order to the clergy and nobility to deliberate along with the Third Estate, that he might spare them the painful anxiety under which they labored and the vexation of appearing to yield to the power of the people. The King complied, and the royal injunction still produced a surprising effect on the public mind.3 The nation was grateful to its sovereign for his condescension, although the measure was almost the result of necessity. The majority of the chamber of nobles were favorably received on their junction, although it was known that they had made a protest against the very step which they had taken. The hope of doing good revived; and Mounier, the chairman of the constitutional committee, declared that they were about to propose a political system similar, in almost everything, to that of the English monarchy.
In comparing this state of things and of the popular mind to the dreadful ferment of the evening of the 23d of June, it cannot be denied that M. Necker had a second time placed the reins of government in the King’s hands, as he had done after the dismission of the Archbishop of Sens. The throne was doubtless shaken, but it was still possible to strengthen it by taking care, above all, to avoid an insurrection, as an insurrection must evidently prove too strong for the means which government still had to resist it. But the failure of the royal session of 23d June by no means discouraged those who had caused it; and the secret advisers of the King, while they allowed M. Necker to guide the external actions of the King, advised His Majesty to give a feigned acquiescence to everything until the German troops, commanded by Marshal Broglio, should approach Paris. They took good care to conceal from M. Necker that the order for their approach had been given with a view to dissolve the Assembly: when the measure could be no longer kept private, it was said to have been adopted to quell the partial troubles that had occurred in Paris, and in which the French guards, when commanded to interfere, had shown the most complete insubordination.4
M. Necker was not ignorant of the true motive for the approach of the troops, although attempts were made to conceal it from him. The intention of the Court was to assemble at Compiègne all the members of the three orders who had not shown themselves favorable to innovation, and to make them give there a hasty consent to the loans and taxes they stood in need of, after which the Assembly was to be dissolved. As such a project could not be seconded by M. Necker, it was proposed to dismiss him as soon as the troops arrived. Every day, he was well informed of his situation and could not have any doubt about it; but, having seen the violent effects produced on the 23d of June by the news of his resignation, he was determined not to expose the public welfare to a fresh shock; for what he dreaded, of all things, was obtaining a personal triumph at the expense of the royal authority. His partisans, alarmed at the enemies by whom he was surrounded, entreated him to resign. He knew some people thought of sending him to the Bastille; but he knew also that, under existing circumstances, he could not resign without giving a confirmation to the rumor circulated about the violent measures in preparation at Court. The King having resolved on these measures, M. Necker was determined not to participate in them, but he decided also on not giving the signal of opposition: he remained like a sentinel left at his post to conceal maneuvers from the enemy.
The popular party understanding very well the measures planned against them, and being by no means disposed, like M. Necker, to become the victims of the Court, embraced the proposition of Mirabeau, which led to the famous address for sending back the troops.5 It was the first time that France heard that popular eloquence, the natural power of which was increased by the grandeur of the circumstances. Respect for the personal character of the King was still remarkable in this tribunitian harangue. “And in what manner, Sire,” said the orator of the chamber,
do they act to make you doubt the attachment and affection of your subjects? Have you been lavish of their blood? Are you cruel, implacable? Have you made an abuse of justice? Does the people charge its misfortunes on you? Does it name you in its calamities? . . . Do not put faith in those who speak to you with levity of the nation, and who represent it to you only according to their views, at one time as insolent, rebellious, seditious—at another submissive, docile to the yoke, and ready to bow the head to receive it. Each of these descriptions is equally unfaithful.
Always ready, Sire, to obey you, because you command in the name of the law, our fidelity is without bounds, and without reproach.
Sire, we entreat you in the name of our country, in the name of your happiness and your fame; send back your soldiers to the stations whence your advisers have drawn them; send back that artillery which is destined to cover your frontiers; send back, above all, the foreign troops, those allies of the nation whom we pay for defending, and not for disquieting our homes. Your Majesty has no need for them; why should a monarch, adored by twenty-five million Frenchmen, call, at a heavy expense, around his throne a few thousand foreigners? Sire, in the midst of your children be guarded by their affection.
These words are the last gleam of attachment which the French showed to their King for his personal virtues. When the military force was tried, and tried in vain, the affection of the people seemed to disappear with the power of the Court.
M. Necker continued to see the King daily; but nothing of serious import was communicated to him. Such silence toward the prime minister was very disquieting, when foreign troops were seen to arrive from various points and take their station around Paris and Versailles. My father told us in confidence every evening that he expected being put under arrest next day; but that the danger to which the King was exposed was, in his opinion, so great that he deemed it his duty to remain in office, that he might not appear to suspect what was going on.
On the 11th of July, at three in the afternoon, M. Necker received a letter from the King, ordering him to quit Paris and France, and only enjoining him to conceal his departure from everyone. The Baron de Breteuil had advised, in the committee, the arrest of M. Necker, as his dismissal might cause a tumult. “I will answer,” said the King, “that he will obey strictly my injunction in regard to secrecy.” M. Necker was affected by this mark of confidence in his probity, although accompanied by an order for exile.
He was informed in the sequel that two officers of the life guards had followed him to secure his person if he had not complied with the injunction of the King. But they could hardly reach the frontiers so soon as M. Necker himself. Madame Necker was his sole confidante; she set out, on quitting her saloon, without any preparation for the journey, with the precautions which a criminal would take to escape his sentence; and this sentence, so much dreaded, was the triumph which the people would have prepared for M. Necker had he been willing to accept it. Two days after his departure, and as soon as his removal from office was known, the theaters were shut as for a public calamity. All Paris took up arms;6 the first cockade worn was green, because that was the color of M. Necker’s livery: medals were struck with his effigy; and had he thought proper to repair to Paris instead of quitting France by the nearest frontier, that of Flanders, it would be difficult to assign a limit to the influence that he might have acquired.
Duty, doubtless, required obedience to the King’s order: but what man is there who, even in yielding obedience, would not have allowed himself to be recognized, and would not have consented to have been brought back in spite of himself, by the multitude? History does not perhaps offer an example of a man shunning power, with all the precautions which he would have taken to escape from proscription. It was necessary, to be the defender of the people, to incur banishment in this manner; and, at the same time, the most faithful subject of his monarch, to sacrifice to him so scrupulously the homage of an entire nation.
[1. ] Madame de Staël’s claim that Louis XVI possessed all the virtues necessary for a constitutional monarch is contradicted by her later statement that he was reluctant to relinquish the doctrine of divine right. It can be argued that Louis XVI was never fully prepared to become a constitutional monarch à l’anglaise. Under the influence of his advisers, the King made a number of unfortunate choices (including the flight to Varennes) that contributed significantly to the events of 1789–91.
[2. ] Reference to the Declaration of Rights accepted by William III and Mary II in 1689, inserted later into the Bill of Rights, and ratified by the House of Commons and the House of Peers in October 1689.
[3. ] June 25, 1789.
[4. ] Such examples of insubordination occurred on June 24 and 28, 1789.
[5. ] On July 8, 1789.
[6. ] Necker’s dismissal became publicly known on July 12, 1789; this date marked the beginning of the insurrection in Paris. The Bastille fell two days later.