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PART II - 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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One would almost say that in every era of history there are personages who should be considered as the representatives of the good and of the wicked principle. Such, in Rome, were Cicero and Catiline; such, in France, were M. Necker and Mirabeau. Mirabeau, gifted with the most comprehensive and energetic mind, thought himself sufficiently strong to overthrow the government, and to erect on its ruins a system, of some kind or other, that would have been the work of his own hands. This gigantic project was the ruin of France, and the ruin of himself; for he acted at first in the spirit of faction, although his real manner of judging was that of the most reflecting statesman. He was then of the age of forty, and had passed his whole life in lawsuits, abduction of women, and in prisons; he was excluded from good society, and his first wish was to regain his station in it. But he thought it necessary to set on fire the whole social edifice, that the doors of the Paris saloons might be opened to him. Like other immoral men, Mirabeau looked first to his personal interest in public affairs, and his foresight was limited by his egoism.1
An unfortunate deputy of the Third Estate, a well-intentioned but a very weak man, gave the Constituent Assembly an account of what had passed at the Hotel de Ville, and of the triumph obtained by M. Necker over the emotions of hatred which some persons had attempted to excite among the people. This deputy hesitated so much, expressed himself with so much coldness, and still showed such a desire to be eloquent, that he destroyed all the effect of the admirable recital which he had taken on himself. Mirabeau, his pride deeply wounded at the success of M. Necker, promised himself to defeat the outcome of enthusiasm by throwing out ironical insinuations in the Assembly, and suspicions among the people. He repaired on that very day to all the sections of Paris, and prevailed on them to retract the amnesty granted the day before. He endeavored to excite exasperation against the late projects of the court, and alarmed the Parisians by the dread of passing for the dupes of their good nature, an apprehension that operates very potently on them, for they aim above all things at being considered quick-sighted and formidable. Mirabeau, by snatching from M. Necker the palm of domestic peace, struck the first blow at his popularity; but this reverse was bound to be followed by a number of others; for from the time that the popular party were urged to persecute the vanquished, M. Necker could no longer make common cause with the victors.
Mirabeau proceeded to circulate doctrines of the wildest anarchy, although his intellect, when viewed apart from his character, was perfectly sound and luminous. M. Necker has said of him in one of his writings that he was a demagogue by calculation and an aristocrat by disposition.2 There cannot be a more correct sketch of the man; not only was his mind too enlightened to avoid perceiving the impossibility of a democratic government in France, but he would not have desired it had it been practicable. He was vain in attaching a high price to his birth, and could not speak of the day of St. Bartholomew without saying, “Admiral Coligni, who, by the way, was a relation of my family.” So desirous was he of reminding people on all occasions of his noble descent.
His expensive habits made money extremely necessary to him, and M. Necker has been blamed for not having given him money on the opening of the Estates General. But other ministers had undertaken this kind of business, for which M. Necker was by no means calculated. Besides, Mirabeau, whether he accepted the money of the court or not, was determined to render himself not the instrument but the master of the court, and he never would have been willing to renounce his power as a demagogue until that power had raised him to the head of the government. He urged the union of all power in a single assembly, although perfectly aware that such a plan was hostile to the public good; but he flattered himself that France would thus fall into his hands, and that, after having precipitated her into confusion, he should have the power of saving her when he thought proper. Morality is the first of sciences, even in the light of calculation! There are always limits to the intellect of those who have not felt the harmony that exists between the nature of things and the duties of man. “La petite morale tue la grande—morality in small things destroys morality in great,” was a frequent remark of Mirabeau; but an opportunity of exercising the latter hardly occurred, according to his views, in the course of a life.
He possessed a larger share of intellect than of talent, and he was never fully at ease when speaking extemporaneously at the tribune. A similar difficulty in composing made him have recourse to the assistance of friends in all his works;3 yet not one of them after his death would have been capable of writing what he had found means to inspire into them. In speaking of the Abbé Maury he used to say, “When he is on the right side of the question, we debate; when he is on the wrong, I crush him”; but the truth was, that the Abbé Maury often defended even a good cause with that kind of eloquence which does not proceed from real emotion of the heart.4
Had ministers been allowed to sit in the Assembly, M. Necker, who was capable of expressing himself with the greatest warmth and force, would, I believe, have triumphed over Mirabeau. But he could not enter on debate, and was obliged to confine himself to the transmission of memorials. Mirabeau attacked the minister in his absence, while also praising his goodness, his generosity, his popularity, the whole expressed with a deceitful respect that was particularly dangerous. Yet he had a sincere admiration for M. Necker, and acknowledged it to his friends; but he well knew that so scrupulous a character would never coalesce with his own, and his grand object was to destroy his influence.
M. Necker was reduced to acting on the defensive; the other assailed with the more confidence, that neither the success nor the responsibility of administration was his concern. M. Necker, by defending the royal authority, necessarily sacrificed his favor with the popular party. He knew besides, by experience, that the King had secret counselors5 and private plans, and he was by no means certain of prevailing on him to follow the course that he thought best. Obstacles of every kind impeded his measures; he was not at liberty to speak openly on any subject; the line, however, which he invariably followed was that which was pointed out to him by his duty as minister. The nation and the King had exchanged places: the King had become by much, far too much, the weaker party. It was thus incumbent on M. Necker to defend the throne against the nation, as he had defended the nation against the throne. But Mirabeau was not to be restrained by those generous sentiments; he put himself at the head of a party that aimed at political importance regardless of the cost; and the most abstract principles were in his hands nothing but instruments of intrigue.
Nature had effectually seconded him by giving him those defects and advantages that operate on a popular assembly: sarcasm, irony, force, and originality. The moment he rose to speak, the moment he stepped to the tribune, the curiosity of all was excited; nobody esteemed him, but the impression of his talents was such that no one dared to attack him, if we except those members of the aristocratic body, who, declining a conflict in debate, thought proper to send him challenge after challenge to meet them with the sword. He always refused these challenges, and merely noted the names of the parties in his pocket book, with a promise that they should be answered at the dissolution of the assembly. It is not fair, he said, in speaking of an honest country gentleman, of I do not know what province, to expose a man of talent like me against a blockhead like him. And, what is very extraordinary in such a country as France, this behavior had not the effect of bringing him into contempt; it did not even make his courage suspected. There was something so martial in his mind, and so bold in his manner, that no one could impute cowardice in any way to such a man.
Of the Constituent Assembly After the 14th of July.
The Third Estate, and the minority of the nobility and clergy, formed the majority of the Constituent Assembly; and this Assembly disposed of the fate of France. After the 14th of July, nothing could be more striking than the sight of twelve hundred deputies, listened to by numerous spectators, and stirred up at the very name of those great truths which have occupied the human mind since the origin of society on earth. This Assembly partook of the passions of the people; but no collection of men could present such an imposing mass of information.1 Thoughts were communicated there with electric rapidity, because the action of man on man is irresistible, and because nothing appealed more strongly to the imagination than that unarmed will bursting the ancient chains, forged originally by conquest and now suddenly disappearing before the simplicity of reason. We must carry ourselves back to 1789, when prejudice had been the only cause of mischief, and when unsullied liberty was the idol of enlightened minds. With what enthusiasm did one contemplate such a number of persons of different classes, some coming to make sacrifices, others to enter on the possession of their rights. Yet there were symptoms of a certain arrogance of power among those sovereigns of a new kind, who considered themselves depositories of a power without limits, the power of the people. The English had proceeded slowly in forming a new political constitution; the French, seeing it had stood its ground firmly for more than a century, ought to have been satisfied with its imitation.
Mounier, Lally, Malouet, Clermont-Tonnerre, came forward in support of the royal prerogative as soon as the Revolution had disarmed the partisans of the Old Regime.2 This course was dictated not only by reflection, but by that involuntary sympathy which we feel for the powerful in a state of misfortune, particularly when surrounded by august recollections. This generous feeling would have been that of the French at large, if the necessity of applause did not with them rise pre-eminent to every other impulse; and the spirit of the time inspired the maxims of demagogues into those very persons who were afterward to become the apologists of despotism.
A man of talent said some time ago, “Whoever may be named finance minister, may consider me beforehand as his friend, and even as, in some degree, his relative.” In France, on the other hand, it is a duty to befriend the vanquished party, be it what it may; for the possession of power produces a more depraving effect on the French than on any other nation. The habit of living at court, or the desire of getting there, forms their minds to vanity; and in an arbitrary government, people have no idea of any doctrine but that of success. It was the faults generated and brought forth by servility which were the cause of the excesses of licentiousness.
Every town, every village, sent its congratulations to the Assembly; and whoever had composed one of these forty thousand addresses began to think himself a rival to Montesquieu.
The crowd of spectators admitted into the galleries stimulated the speakers to such a degree that each endeavored to obtain a share in those peals of applause, which were so new and so seductive to the self-love of the individual. In the British Parliament it is a rule not to read a speech, it must be spoken; so that the number of persons capable of addressing the house with effect is necessarily very small. But, as soon as permission is given to read either what we have written for ourselves or what others have written for us, men of eminence are no longer the permanent leaders of an assembly, and we thus lose one of the great advantages of a free government—that of giving talent its place and, consequently, prompting all men to the improvement of their faculties. When one can become a courtier of the people with as little exertion as makes one a courtier of a prince, the cause of mankind gains nothing by the change.
The democratic declamations which obtained success in the assembly were transformed into actual outrage in the country; country-seats were burned in fulfillment of the epigrams pronounced by the popular speakers, and the kingdom was thrown into confusion by a war of words.
The Assembly was seized with a philosophic enthusiasm, proceeding, in part, from the example of America. That country, new as yet to history, had nothing in the shape of ancient usage to preserve, if we except the excellent regulations of English jurisprudence, which, long ago adopted in America, had there implanted a feeling of justice and reason. The French flattered themselves with the power of adopting for the basis of their government the principles that suited a new people; but, situated in the midst of Europe, and having a privileged caste, whose claims it was necessary to quiet, the plan was impracticable; besides, how were they to conciliate the institutions of a republic with the existence of a monarchy? The English constitution offered the only example of the solution of this problem. But a mania of vanity, something like that of a man of letters, prompted the French to innovate in this respect; they had all the fastidious apprehension of an author who refuses to borrow either character or situations from existing works. Now, as far as fiction goes, we do well to aim at originality; but when real institutions are in question, we are fortunate in having before us a practical proof of their utility.3 I should certainly be ashamed at this time,4 more than any other, to take part in declamations against the first representative assembly of France: it contained men of the greatest merit, and it is to the reforms introduced by it that the nation is still indebted for the stock of reason and liberty which it will, and ought to, preserve, at whatever sacrifice. But if this assembly had added to its shining talents a more scrupulous regard to morality, it would have found the happy medium between the two parties, who, if we may use the expression, contested with each other the theory of politics.
General La Fayette.
M. de la Fayette, having fought from his early youth for the cause of America, had early become imbued with the principles of liberty which form the basis of that government. If he made mistakes in regard to the French Revolution, we are to ascribe them all to his admiration of the American institutions, and of Washington, the hero citizen who guided the first steps of that nation in the career of independence. La Fayette, young, affluent, of noble family, and beloved at home, relinquished all these advantages at the age of nineteen to serve beyond the ocean in the cause of that liberty, the love of which has decided every action of his life. Had he had the happiness to be a native of the United States, his conduct would have been that of Washington: the same disinterestedness, the same enthusiasm, the same perseverance in their opinions, distinguished each of these generous friends of humanity. Had General Washington been, like the Marquis de la Fayette, commander of the national guard of Paris, he also might have found it impossible to control the course of circumstances; he also might have seen his efforts baffled by the difficulty of being at once faithful to his engagements to the King, and of establishing at the same time the liberty of his country.
M. de la Fayette, I must say, has a right to be considered a true republican; none of the vanities of his rank ever entered his head; power, the effect of which is so great in France, had no ascendancy over him; the desire of pleasing in drawing-room conversation did not with him influence a single phrase; he sacrificed all his fortune to his opinions with the most generous indifference. When in the prisons of Olmütz,1 as when at the height of his influence, he was equally firm in his attachment to his principles. His manner of seeing and acting is open and direct. Whoever has marked his conduct may foretell with certainty what he will do on any particular occasion. His political feeling is that of a citizen of the United States, and even his person is more English than French. The hatred of which M. de la Fayette is the object has never embittered his temper, and his gentleness of soul is complete; at the same time nothing has ever modified his opinions, and his confidence in the triumph of liberty is the same as that of a pious man in a future life. These sentiments, so contrary to the selfish calculations of most of the men who have acted a part in France, may appear pitiable in the eyes of some persons—“It is so silly,” they think, “to prefer one’s country to oneself, not to change one’s party when that party is vanquished; in short, to consider mankind not as cards with which to play a winning game, but as the sacred objects of unlimited sacrifices.” If this is to form the charge of silliness, would that it were but once merited by our men of talents!
It is a singular phenomenon that such a character as that of M. de la Fayette should have appeared in the foremost rank of French nobles; but he can neither be censured nor exculpated with impartiality, without being acknowledged to be such as I have described him. It then becomes easy to understand the different contrasts which naturally arose between his disposition and his situation. Supporting monarchy more from duty than taste, he drew involuntarily toward the principles of the democrats whom he was obliged to resist; and a certain kindness for the advocates of the republican form was perceptible in him, although his reflection forbade the admission of their system into France. Since the departure of M. de la Fayette for America, now forty years ago,2 we cannot quote a single action or a single word of his which was not direct and consistent; personal interest never blended itself in the least with his public conduct. Success would have displayed such sentiments to advantage; but they deserve all the attention of the historian, in spite of circumstances, and in spite even of faults which might serve as weapons for opponents.
On the 11th of July, before the Third Estate had obtained their triumph, M. de la Fayette addressed the Constituent Assembly and proposed a declaration of rights, nearly similar to that which the Americans placed at the head of their constitution, after conquering their independence.3 The English, likewise, after excluding the Stuarts and calling William III to the crown, made him sign a bill of rights, on which their present constitution is founded. But the American declaration of rights being intended for a people where there were no pre-existing privileges to impede the pure operation of reason, a number of universal principles regarding political liberty and equality were placed at the beginning of this declaration altogether in conformity with the state of knowledge already diffused among them. In England the bill of rights did not proceed on general ideas; it confirmed existing laws and institutions.4
The French declaration of rights in 1789 contained the best part of those of England and America; but it would have perhaps been better to have confined it, on the one hand to what was indisputable and on the other to what would not have admitted of any dangerous interpretation. There can be no doubt that distinctions in society can have no other object than the general good; that all political power takes its rise from the interest of the people; that men are born and remain free and equal in the eye of the law; but there is ample space for sophistry in so wide a field, while nothing is more clear or undoubted than the application of these truths to individual liberty, the establishment of juries, the freedom of the press, popular elections, the division of the legislative power, the sanctioning of taxes, etc.5 Philip the Tall said that “every man, in particular every Frenchman, was born, and remained free”; he was, it is well known, very far from imposing any restraint on himself from the consequences of this maxim. A nation, however, is likely to take words of this nature in a much more extensive sense than a king. When the declaration of the rights of man appeared in the Constituent Assembly, in the midst of all those young nobles who so lately had figured as courtiers, they brought to the tribune, one after the other, their philosophical phrases; entering with self-complacency into minute discussions on the mode of expressing this or that maxim, the truth of which, however, is so evident that the plainest words in any language are equally capable of conveying it. It was then foreseen that nothing durable could be produced by a mode of debating into which vanity, at once frivolous and factious, had so soon found its way.
Of the Good Effected by the Constituent Assembly.
Before entering on the distressing events which have disfigured the French Revolution, and lost, perhaps for a considerable time, the cause of reason and liberty in Europe, let us examine the principles proclaimed by the Constituent Assembly and exhibit a sketch of the advantages which their application has produced, and still produces in France, in spite of all the misfortunes that have pressed on that country.
The use of torture still subsisted in 1789; the King had abolished only the rack before trial; punishments, such as straining on the wheel, and torments similar to those which during three days were inflicted on Damiens, were, in certain cases, still admitted. The Constituent Assembly abolished even the name of these judicial barbarities. The penal laws against the Protestants, already modified in 1787 by the predecessors of the Estates General, were replaced by the most complete liberty of public worship.
Criminal processes were not carried on in public, and not only were a number of irreparable mistakes committed, but a much greater number were supposed; for whatever is not public in the administration of justice is always accounted unfair.
The Constituent Assembly introduced into France all the criminal jurisprudence of England, and perhaps improved it in several respects, as they were not checked in their labors by ancient usages. M. de la Fayette, from the time that he was placed at the head of the armed force of Paris, declared to the magistrates of that city that he could not take upon himself to arrest anyone unless the accused were to be provided with counsel, a copy of the charge, the power of confronting witnesses, and publicity given to the whole procedure. In consequence of this demand, equally liberal and rare on the part of a military man, the magistrates asked and obtained from the Constituent Assembly that those precious securities should be in force till the establishment of juries should prevent all anxiety about the equity of the decisions.
The parlements of France were, as is apparent from their history, bodies possessing certain privileges and acting frequently as the instruments of political passions; but from their having a certain independence in their constitution, and preserving a strict respect for forms, the King’s ministers were almost always in a state of altercation with them. Since the commencement of the French monarchy there has, as we have already remarked, hardly existed a state offense, the knowledge of which has not been withdrawn from the ordinary courts, or in the decision of which the forms enjoined by law were preserved. In examining the endless list of ministers, noblemen, and citizens condemned to death on political grounds during several centuries, we see, and it is to the honor of the established judges that we say it, that government was obliged to commit the trials to extraordinary commissions when it wished to secure a conviction.1 These commissions were, it is true, usually composed of men who had been judges, but they were not formed on the established plan; and yet government had but too much reason to reckon with confidence on the spirit of the courts. Criminal jurisprudence in France was entirely adapted to avenge the wrongs of government, and did not protect individuals at all. In consequence of the aristocratic abuses which oppressed the nation, civil actions were conducted with much more equity than the criminal, because the higher ranks were more interested in them. In France, even at present, very little difference is made between a man brought to trial and a man found guilty; while in England, the judge himself apprises the accused of the importance of the questions he is about to put to him, and of the danger to which he may expose himself by his answers. To begin with the commissaries of police and end with the application of torture, we find that there scarcely exists a method that has not been employed by the old jurisprudence, and by the tribunals of the Revolution, to ensnare the man brought to trial; the man for whom society ought to provide the means of defense because it considers itself to have the sad right of taking away his life.
Had the Constituent Assembly abolished the punishment of death, at least for political offenses, perhaps the judicial assassinations which we have witnessed would not have taken place.2 The Emperor Leopold II, in his capacity of Grand Duke of Tuscany, abolished the punishment of death in his territories, and so far from increasing offenses by the mildness of his legislation, the prisons were empty during several months successively, a thing never before known in that country. The National Assembly substituted for the parliaments, composed of men who had purchased their places, the admirable institutions of juries, which will be daily more venerated as the public becomes more sensible of its advantages.3 Particular circumstances of rare occurrence may intimidate jurymen when both government and the people unite to alarm them; but we have seen most of the factions which have succeeded to power distrust these equitable tribunals and replace them by military commissions, and by prevôtal or by special courts,4 which are merely so many names to disguise political murders. The Constituent Assembly, on the other hand, limited, as much as it possibly could, the competency of courts-martial, confining their jurisdiction to trespasses committed by soldiers in time of war, and out of the territory of France; it deprived the prevôtal courts of those powers which it has since unluckily attempted to renew and even to extend.
Lettres de cachet enabled the King, and consequently his ministers, to exile, transport, or imprison for life any man without even the form of trial. A power of this nature, wherever it exists, is equivalent to despotism: it ought to have fallen from the first day that the deputies of the French nation were assembled.
The Constituent Assembly, by proclaiming complete liberty of worship, replaced religion in its sanctuary—the conscience; and twelve centuries of superstition, hypocrisy, and massacre, no longer left any traces, thanks to the short interval in which the power of legislation was placed in the hands of enlightened men.
Religious vows were no longer deemed obligatory in law; every individual, of either sex, was left at liberty to impose on themselves the most singular privations if they thought that such was the mode of pleasing the author of all pure and virtuous enjoyments; but society no longer took on itself to force either monks or nuns to remain in their secluded abodes if they repented the unfortunate promises made in a moment of enthusiasm. The younger sons of families, frequently obliged to enter the ecclesiastical state, were now freed from their chains, and were afterward set still more at liberty when the property of the clergy became the property of the country.5
A hundred thousand nobles were exempt from the payment of taxes.6 They were not accountable for an insult committed on a citizen or on a soldier of the Third Estate, because they were considered as of a different race. Officers could be appointed only from among those privileged persons, with the exception of the artillery and engineer departments, in which there was required a larger share of information than was in general possessed by the provincial nobles.7 Regiments were, however, given to young men of rank incapable of commanding them, because, their birth preventing them from following any other than the military profession, it became incumbent on government to provide for their support. The consequence was that, with the exception of personal courage, the French army under the Old Regime was becoming daily less and less respectable in the eyes of foreigners. What emulation, and what military talents, has not the equality of the citizens drawn forth in France! It is thus that we owe to the Constituent Assembly that glory of our arms of which we had reason to be proud, so long as it did not become the property of one man.8
The unlimited power of the King enabled him, by a lettre de cachet, to shield a man of rank from prosecution when he had been guilty of a crime. Of this the Comte de Charalois9 was a striking example in the last century, and many others of the same nature might be quoted. Yet, by a singular contrast the relatives of the nobility lost none of their respectability when one of their number underwent a capital punishment, while the family of a man of the Third Estate was dishonored if he was condemned to the infamous death of hanging, from which the nobles alone were exempt.
All these prejudices vanished in a day. The power of reason is immense, as soon as it can show itself without obstruction. The efforts made in the last fifteen years have been in vain: it will be impossible to bring back the nation to the endurance of those abuses which force alone had maintained.
We are indebted to the Constituent Assembly for the suppression of the privileged castes in France, and for civil liberty to all; at least, we owe to them liberty, such as it exists in their decrees; for it has been always found necessary to deviate from these decrees when attempts were made to re-establish suppressed abuses either under new or old names.
Law in France was so varied and multiform that not only were the different orders of the state governed by different laws, but almost each province, as we have already remarked, had its distinct privileges. The Constituent Assembly, by dividing France into eighty-three departments, effaced these ancient separations: it suppressed the taxes on salt and tobacco, taxes equally expensive and vexatious, which exposed to the severest punishment a number of fathers of families who were tempted, by the facility of contraband, to violate unjust laws. The taxes were rendered uniform, and this advantage, at least, is secured forever.
Distinctions of all kinds were invented by the nobles of the second order to protect them from that equality with which they are in truth very closely threatened. The privileged of yesterday aimed, above all things, to escape being confounded with the people of whom they were so lately a part. The tithes and feudal services pressed heavily on the poor; compulsory service, such as that of the corvée, and other relicts of feudal barbarism were still general. The game laws contained provisions ruinous to the farmers, and the insolent tone of these laws was at least as revolting as the actual evil that resulted from them.
If we are surprised that France should still have so many resources in spite of her misfortunes; if, notwithstanding the loss of her colonies, commerce has opened new paths; if the progress of agriculture is wonderful in spite of the conscription and the invasion of foreign troops, it is to the decrees of the Constituent Assembly that we are to attribute it. France under the old form would have sunk under the thousandth part of the disasters which France of the present day has supported.
The division of properties, by the sale of the church lands, has relieved a very numerous class of society from a state of misery. It is to the suppression of the rights of corporations and wardenships, and to the removal of all restraints on industry, that we are to attribute the increase of manufactures and the spirit of enterprise which has shown itself in all directions. In short, a nation long fixed to the soil has come forth in a manner from underground; and we are astonished, after all the scourges of civil discord, at the store of talent, wealth, and emulation in a country delivered from the threefold fetters of an intolerant church, a feudal nobility, and an unlimited monarchy.10
The finances, which seemed so complicated a labor, assumed regularity almost of themselves as soon as it was decided that the taxes should await the sanction of the representatives of the people, and that publicity should be given to the accounts of revenue and expenditure. The Constituent Assembly is perhaps the only one in France that fully represented the national wish; and it is on that account that its strength was incalculable.
Another aristocracy, that of the capital, had also an imperious sway. Everything was done at Paris, or rather at Versailles; for all power was concentrated in the ministers and in the court. The Constituent Assembly easily accomplished what M. Necker had attempted in vain, the establishment of provincial assemblies. One was constituted in each department,11 and municipalities were appointed for each town. Local business was thus committed to magistrates who took a real interest in it, and who were personally known to those whose affairs they administered. On all sides were diffused life, emulation, and intelligence: there was a France instead of a capital, a capital instead of a court. The voice of the people, so long called the voice of God, was at last consulted by government; and it would have supplied a wise rule of guidance had not, as we are condemned to remember, the Constituent Assembly proceeded with too much precipitation in its reform, from the very commencement of its power; and had it not soon after fallen into the hands of factious men, who, having nothing more to reap in the field of beneficence, endeavored to excite mischief, that they might enter on a new career.
The establishment of a national guard is another very great benefit derived from the Constituent Assembly. No liberty can exist in that country where arms are borne only by soldiers, and not by citizens. Finally, this Assembly, in proclaiming the renunciation of conquests, seemed inspired by prophetic dread; wishing to turn the vivacity of the French toward internal improvement and raise the dominion of thought above that of arms. All inferior men are ready to call the bayonet to their assistance against the arguments of reason, that they may act by means just as mechanical as their own understanding; but superior minds desire nothing but the free exercise of thought, and are aware how much a state of war is unfavorable to it.12 The good produced by the Constituent Assembly in France doubtless inspired the nation with that energetic feeling which made it defend by arms the rights it had acquired; but we are bound, in justice, to say that the principles of this Assembly were perfectly pacific. It felt no envy toward any portion of Europe; and if it had been shown, in a magic mirror, France losing her liberty by her victories, it would have endeavored to combat this impulse of the blood by the more lofty impulse of the understanding.
Liberty of the Press, and State of the Police, During the Time of the Constituent Assembly.
Not only does the Constituent Assembly claim the gratitude of the French people for the reform of the abuses by which they were oppressed; but we must render it the further praise of being the only one of the authorities which have governed France before and since the Revolution which allowed, freely and unequivocally, the liberty of the press. This it no doubt did more willingly from the certainty of its having public opinion in its favor; but there can be no free government except on that condition. Moreover, although the great majority of publications were in favor of the principles of the Revolution, the newspapers on the aristocratic side attacked, with the greatest bitterness, individuals of the popular party, who could not fail to be irritated by it.1
Previous to 1789, Holland and England were the only countries in Europe that enjoyed the liberty of the press secured by law. Political discussions in periodical journals began at the same time with representative governments; and these governments are inseparable from them. In absolute monarchies, a court gazette suffices for the publication of official news; but that a whole nation may read daily discussions on public affairs, it is necessary that it should consider public affairs as its own. The liberty of the press is then quite a different matter in countries where there are assemblies whose debates may be printed every morning in the newspapers, and under the silent government of unlimited power. The censure préalable, or examination before printing, may, under the latter government, either deprive us of a good work or preserve us from a bad one. But the case is not the same with newspapers, the interest of which is momentary: these, if subjected to previous examination, are necessarily dependent on ministers; and there is no longer a national representation from the time that the executive power has in its hands, by means of newspapers, the daily molding of facts and reasonings: this makes it as much master of the public opinion as of the troops in its pay.
All persons are agreed on the necessity of repressing by law the abuses of the liberty of the press; but if the executive power alone has the right of giving a tone to the newspapers, which convey to constituents the speeches of their delegates, the censorship is no longer defensive, it is imperative; for it must prescribe the spirit in which the public papers are to be composed. It is not then a negative but a positive power, that is conferred on the ministers of a country when they are invested with the correction, or rather the composition of newspapers. They can thus circulate whatever they want about an individual, and prevent that individual from publishing his justification. At the time of the revolution of England, in 1688, it was by sermons delivered in the churches that public opinion was formed. The case is similar in regard to newspapers in France: had the Constituent Assembly forbidden the reading of “the Acts of the Apostles,”2 and permitted only the periodical publications adverse to the aristocratic party, the public, suspecting some mystery because it witnessed constraint, would not have so cordially attached itself to deputies whose conduct it could not follow nor appreciate with certainty.
Absolute silence on the part of newspapers would, in that case, be infinitely preferable, since the few letters that would reach the country would convey, at least, some pure truths. The art of printing would bring back mankind to the darkness of sophistry were it wholly under the management of the executive power, and were governments thus enabled to counterfeit the public voice. Every discovery for the improvement of society is instrumental to a despotic purpose if it is not conducive to liberty.
But the troubles of France were caused, it will be alleged, by the licentiousness of the press. Who does not now admit that the Constituent Assembly ought to have left seditious publications, like every other public offense, to the judgment of the courts? But if for the purpose of maintaining its power it had silenced its adversaries, and confined the command of the press only to its adherents, the representative government would have been extinguished. A national representation on an imperfect plan is but an additional instrument in the hands of tyranny. The history of England shows how far obsequious parliaments go beyond even ministers themselves in the adulation of power. Responsibility has no terrors to a collective body; besides, the more admirable a thing is in itself, whether we speak of national representation, oratory, or the talent of composition, the more despicable it becomes when perverted from its natural destination; in that case, that which is naturally bad proves the less exceptionable of the two.
Representatives form by no means a separate caste; they do not possess the gift of miracles; they are of importance only when supported by the nation; but as soon as that support fails them, a battalion of grenadiers is stronger than an assembly of three hundred deputies. It is then a moral power which enables them to balance the physical power of that authority which soldiers obey; and this moral power consists entirely in the action of the liberty of the press on the public mind. The power which distributes patronage becomes everything as soon as the public opinion, which awards reputation, is reduced to nothing.
But cannot this right, some persons may say, be suspended for some time? And by what means should we then be apprised of the necessity of re-establishing it? The liberty of the press is the single right on which all other rights depend; the security of an army is in its sentinels. When you wish to write against the suspension of that liberty, your arguments on such a subject are exactly what government does not permit you to publish.
There is, however, one circumstance that may necessitate the submitting of newspapers to examination, that is, to the authority of the government which they ought to enlighten: I mean, when foreigners happen to be masters of a country. But in that case, there is nothing in the country, do what you will, that can be compared to regular government. The only interest of the oppressed nation is then to recover, if possible, its independence; and, as in a prison, silence is more likely to soften the jailor than complaint, we should be silent so long as chains are imposed at once on our thoughts and our feelings.
A merit of the highest kind which belonged, beyond dispute, to the Constituent Assembly was that of always respecting the principles of freedom, which it proclaimed. Often have I seen sold at the door of an assembly more powerful than ever was a king of France, the most bitter insults to the members of the majority, their friends, and their principles. The Assembly forebore likewise to have recourse to any of the secret expedients of power, and looked to no other support than the general adherence of the country. The secrecy of private correspondence was inviolate, and the invention of a ministry of police did not then figure in the list of possible calamities.3 The case in regard to the police is the same as in regard to the restraint on newspapers: the actual state of France, occupied by foreign troops,4 can alone give a proper conception of its cruel necessity.
When the Constituent Assembly, removed from Versailles to Paris, was, in many respects, no longer mistress of its deliberations, one of its committees thought proper to take the name of Committee of Inquiries, appointed to examine into the existence of some alleged conspiracies denounced in the Assembly. This committee was without power, as it had no spies or agents under its orders, and the freedom of speech was besides wholly unlimited. But the mere name of Committee of Inquiries, analogous to that of the inquisitorial institutions adopted by tyrants in church and state, inspired general aversion;5 and poor Voydel, who happened to be president of this committee, although perfectly inoffensive, was not admitted into any party.
The dreadful sect of Jacobins pretended, in the sequel, to found liberty on despotism, and from that system arose all the crimes of the Revolution. But the Constituent Assembly was far from adopting that course; its measures were strictly conformable to its object, and it was in liberty itself that it sought the strength necessary to establish liberty. Had it combined with this noble indifference to the attacks of its adversaries, for which public opinion avenged it, a proper severity against all publications and meetings which stimulated the populace to disorder; had it considered that the moment any party becomes powerful, its first duty is to repress its own adherents, this Assembly would have governed with so much energy and wisdom that the work of ages might have been accomplished, perhaps, in two years. One can scarcely refrain from believing that that fatality, which so often punishes the pride of man, was here the only obstacle: for, at that time, everything appeared easy, so great was the union of the public and so fortunate the combination of circumstances.
Of the Different Parties Conspicuous in the Constituent Assembly.
There was one general disposition among all the popular party, for all aimed at liberty; but there were particular divisions in the majority as in the minority of the Assembly, and most of these divisions were founded on the personal interests which now began to prevail. When the influence of an assembly ceases to be confined within the limits of legislating, and when a great share of the public patronage falls into its hands, the danger in any country, but particularly in France, is that general views and principles generate only sophisms, which make general truths dexterously subservient to the purposes of individuals.
The aristocratic part of the Assembly, called the right side (coté droit), was composed almost entirely of nobles, prelates, and members of the old parliament: scarcely thirty members of the Third Estate had joined them. This party, which had protested against all the resolutions of the Assembly, continued to attend it only from motives of prudence: all that passed there appeared to it insolent and unimportant; so ridiculous did they think that discovery of the eighteenth century—a nation—while, till then, nothing had been heard of but nobility, priests, and people. When the members of the right side condescended to drop their ironical strain, it was to treat as impious every encroachment made on old institutions; as if the social order alone, in the course of nature, ought to be doomed to the double infirmity of infancy and old age, and to pass from the formlessness of youth to the decrepitude of old age without receiving any real strength from the knowledge acquired over time. The privileged orders made use of religion as a safeguard for the interest of their caste; and it was by thus confounding privileges and dogmas that they greatly impaired the influence of true Christianity in France.
The orator of the nobles, as I have already remarked, was M. de Casalès, who had been ennobled within the last twenty-five years; for most of the men of talent among the families of real antiquity had sided with the popular party. The Abbé Maury, the orator of the clergy, often supported the good cause, because he was on the side of the vanquished, a circumstance which contributed more to his success than even his talents. The Archbishop of Aix, the Abbé de Montesquiou, and other acute defenders of their orders sometimes endeavored, like Casalès, to win the favor of their adversaries, that they might obtain, not an acquiescence in their opinions but a vote of confidence on their talents. The other aristocrats were in the habit of using abusive language to the deputies of the people; and, always unwilling to yield to circumstances, imagined that they were doing good when they were only aggravating the evil. Wholly occupied in justifying their reputation as prophets, they even desired misfortune, that they might enjoy the satisfaction of having predicted truly.1
The two extreme parties in the assembly were in the habit of placing themselves as at the two ends of an amphitheater, and of occupying the highest seats on each side. On the right side,2 coming down, were the party called la plaine, or le marais; that is, the moderates, for the most part advocates of the English constitution. I have already named their chiefs, Malouet, Lally, and Mounier;3 they were the most conscientious men in the Assembly. But although Lally possessed the most impressive eloquence, though Mounier was a political writer of the greatest judgment, and Malouet a practical man of first rate energy; although out of doors they were supported by ministers, with M. Necker at their head, and although in the Assembly several men of talent rallied under their opinions, the two extreme parties threw in the background those voices, the most pure and courageous of all. They were still heard in the midst of a misled multitude; but the proud aristocrats could not have patience with men desirous of establishing a wise, free, and, consequently, durable constitution; and they were often seen to prefer joining the violent democrats, whose folly threatened France and themselves with a frightful anarchy. Such are the characteristics of party spirit, or rather of that extreme self-love which does not allow men to tolerate any other ideas than their own.
Next to the moderate or impartial members were the popular party, which, although united on questions of great importance, were divided into four sections, each marked by clear shades of distinction. M. de la Fayette, as commander of the National Guard, and the most disinterested and ardent friend of liberty, was much esteemed by the Assembly; but his scrupulous opinions did not allow him to influence the deliberations of the representatives of the people; and it was, perhaps, too great a sacrifice to him to risk his popularity out of the Assembly by debates, in which he would have had to support the royal prerogative against democratic principles. He preferred the passive course that is suitable to a military man.4 At a subsequent time he made a courageous sacrifice of this love of popularity, the favorite passion of his soul; but in the time of the Constituent Assembly he lost part of his credit with the deputies because he made use of it too seldom.
Mirabeau, who was known to be corruptible, had with him personally only those who aimed at sharing the chances of his fortune. But although he had not what can be called a party, he exercised ascendancy over all when he made use of the admirable power of his mind. The men of influence on the popular side, with the exception of a few Jacobins, were Duport,5 Barnave, and some young men of the court who had become democrats; men perfectly pure in a pecuniary sense, but very desirous of acting a part of consequence. Duport, a counselor of parlement, had been during his whole life impressed with the defects of the institution to which he belonged; his profound knowledge of the jurisprudence of different countries gave him a claim, in that respect, to the confidence of the Assembly.
Barnave,6 a young counselor from Dauphiny of the greatest merit, was more fitted by his talents than almost any other deputy to figure as a speaker in the English manner. He lost himself with the aristocratic party by one unlucky expression. After the 14th of July, great and just indignation was expressed at the death of three victims assassinated in the tumult. Barnave, elated by the triumph of that day, could not hear with patience charges which seemed directed against the people at large. In speaking of those who had been massacred, he called out, “Was then their blood so pure?” An unfortunate apostrophe, wholly unsuited to his upright, delicate, and even feeling character: but his career was forever marred by these reprehensible expressions. All the newspapers, all the speakers on the right, stamped them on his forehead, and irritated his pride to such a point as to make it impossible for him to recant without humiliation.
The leaders of the côté gauche, or left side of the Assembly, would have succeeded in introducing the English constitution if they had formed a union for this purpose with M. Necker, among the ministers, and with his friends in the Assembly. But, in that case, they would have been but secondary agents in the course of events, while they wished to hold the first rank; they consequently committed the great imprudence of seeking support from the crowds out of doors, which were beginning to prepare a subterraneous explosion. They gained an ascendancy in the Assembly by ridiculing the moderates, as if moderation were weakness, and they the only men of energy. They were seen, both in the halls and in the seats of the deputies, turning into ridicule whoever ventured to assert that, before their day, there had been such a thing as society, that writers had been capable of thinking, or that England had possessed any share of liberty. One would have said that they were called to hear nursery tales, so impatiently did they listen to them, and so disdainfully did they pronounce certain phrases, extremely exaggerated and emphatic, on the impossibility of admitting a hereditary senate, a senate even for life, an absolute veto, property qualifications, in short, anything that, according to them, infringed on the sovereignty of the people. They carried all the foppery of a court into the cause of democracy, and many deputies of the Third Estate were at once dazzled by their manners as fine gentlemen and captivated by their democratic doctrines.
These elegant leaders of the popular party aimed at entering into the government. They were desirous of pushing matters to the point where their assistance would be necessary; but in this rapid descent the chariot did not stop at the stages they intended. They were by no means conspirators, but they were too confident of their influence with the Assembly, and thought themselves capable of restoring the authority of the throne as soon as they had made it come within their reach; but when they became sincerely disposed to repair the mischief already committed, the time was past. How many distresses would have been saved to France if this party of young men had united its forces with the moderates! for, before the events of the 6th of October (1789), when the King had not been removed from Versailles, and while the army, quartered throughout the different provinces, still preserved some respect for the throne, circumstances were such as to admit of establishing in France a reasonable monarchy.7 Ordinary thinkers are in the habit of believing that whatever has taken place was unavoidable: but of what use would be the reason and the liberty of man if his will were not able to prevent that which that will has so visibly accomplished?
In the first rank on the popular side was seen the Abbé Sieyès, insulated by his peculiar temper, although surrounded by admirers of his mind. Till the age of forty he had led a solitary life, reflecting on political questions and carrying great powers of abstraction into that study; but he was ill qualified to hold communication with other men, so easily was he hurt by their caprices, and so ready was he to irritate them in his turn. But as he possessed a superior mind, with a keen and laconic manner of expressing himself, it was the fashion in the Assembly to show him an almost superstitious respect. Mirabeau had no objection to hear the silence of the Abbé Sieyès extolled above his own eloquence, for rivalship of such a kind is not to be dreaded. People imagined that Sieyès, that mysterious man, possessed secrets in government, from which surprising effects were expected whenever he should reveal them. Some young men, and even some minds of great compass, professed the highest admiration for him; and there was a general disposition to praise him at the expense of everybody because he on no occasion allowed the world to form a complete estimate of him.8
One thing, however, was known with certainty—he detested the distinctions of nobility; and yet he retained, from his professional habits, an attachment to the clerical order, which he showed in the clearest way possible at the time of the suppression of the tithes. “They wish to be free and do not know how to be just,” was his remark on that occasion; and all the faults of the Assembly were comprised in these words. But they ought to have been applied equally to those various classes of the community who had a right to pecuniary indemnities. The attachment of the Abbé Sieyès to the clergy would have ruined any other man in the opinion of the popular party; but, in consideration of his hatred of the nobles, the party of the Mountain forgave him his partiality to the priests.
The Mountain formed the fourth party on the left side of the Assembly. Robespierre was already in its ranks, and Jacobinism was preparing itself in the clubs. The leaders of the majority of the popular party were in the habit of ridiculing the exaggerations of the Jacobins, and of congratulating themselves on the appearance of wisdom which they could assume when compared with factious conspirators. One would have said that the pretended moderates made the most violent democrats follow them, as a huntsman leads his pack, boasting that he knows how to restrain them.
It may naturally be asked what part of the Assembly could be called the Orléans party. Perhaps there was no such party; for no one acknowledged the Duke of Orléans as a leader, and he did not at all come forward in that capacity. The court had, in 1788, exiled him for six weeks to one of his estates; it had at times opposed his frequent journeys to England: it is to such contradictions that we are to attribute his irritation. His mind was more actuated by discontent than by projects, more by whims than by real ambition. What gave rise to the belief in the existence of an Orléans party was the idea current at that time among political writers that a deviation from the line of hereditary succession, such as took place in England in 1688,9 could be favorable to the establishment of liberty, by placing at the head of the constitution a king who should be indebted to it for his throne, instead of one who should look on himself as humiliated by it. But the Duke of Orléans was in all possible points the man the least fitted to act in France the part of William III in England; and without taking into the account the respect entertained for Louis XVI, and so well merited by him, the Duke of Orléans was incapable either of supporting himself or of proving a support to anyone. He had grace, noble manners, and was a spirited presence in society; but his worldly successes made him prone to take principles lightly; and when agitated by the convulsions of the Revolution, he found himself without restraint as without power.10 Mirabeau probed his moral value in several conversations, and became convinced, after the examination, that no political enterprise could be founded on such a character.
The Duke of Orléans voted always with the popular party in the Constituent Assembly, perhaps in a vague expectation of obtaining the highest prize; but this hope never gained consistency in any other head. He lavished money, it is said, to gain the populace; but whether he did so or not, one can have no just conception of the Revolution to imagine that money so given could be productive of any influence. A whole people is not to be put in motion by such means. The great error of the adherents of the court always lay in seeking in matters of detail for the cause of the sentiments expressed by the nation at large.
Of the Errors of the Constituent Assembly in Matters of Administration.
The whole power of government had fallen into the hands of the Assembly, which, however, should have possessed only legislative functions; but the division of parties was the unfortunate cause of confusion in the distribution of power. The distrust excited by the intentions of the King, or rather of the court, prevented him from being invested with the means necessary to re-establish order; and the leaders of the Assembly took no trouble to counteract this distrust, that they might have a pretext for exercising a close inspection on ministers. M. Necker was the natural intermediary between the royal authority and the Assembly. It was well known that he would betray the rights of neither; but the deputies, who continued attached to him notwithstanding his political moderation, believed that the aristocrats were deceiving him and pitied him for being their dupe. This, however, was by no means the case: M. Necker had as much penetration of mind as rectitude of conduct, and he perfectly knew that the privileged orders would be less backward in reconciling themselves to any party than to that of the early friends of liberty. But he performed his duty by endeavoring to restore strength to the government, for a free constitution can never be the result of a general relaxation of ties: the probable consequence is despotism.
The action of the executive power being stopped by several decrees of the Assembly, the ministers could do nothing without being authorized by it. The taxes were no longer discharged, because the people imagined that the Revolution so joyously welcomed was to bring with it the gratification of paying nothing. Public credit, even wiser than public opinion, although apparently dependent on it, was shaken by the faults committed by the Assembly. That body had much more strength than was necessary to bring the finances into order and to facilitate the purchase of corn, rendered necessary by the scarcity with which France was again threatened. But it replied with indifference to the reiterated applications of M. Necker on these points, because it did not wish to be considered, like the old Estates General, assembled merely for financial purposes; it was to constitutional discussions that it attached the highest interest. So far the Assembly was right; but by neglecting the objects of administration it caused disorder throughout the kingdom, and by that disorder all the misfortunes of which it bore itself the pressure.
At a time when France had both famine and bankruptcy to dread, the deputies used to make speeches in which they asserted that “every man has from nature a right and a wish to enjoy happiness; that society began by the father and the son,” with other philosophic truths much fitter for discussion in books than in the midst of an assembly. But if the people stood in need of bread, the speakers stood in need of applause, and a scarcity in that respect would have seemed to them very hard to bear.
The Assembly, by a solemn decree, placed the public debt under the safeguard of the honor and loyalty of Frenchmen; but still it took no step to give a substantial effect to these fine words. M. Necker proposed a loan, at an interest of five percent; the Assembly discovered that four and a half was less than five: it reduced the interest accordingly; and the loan failed, for the plain reason that an assembly cannot, like a minister, possess the tact which shows how far the confidence of capitalists may be carried. Credit, in money matters, is almost as delicate as style in literary productions; a single word may disfigure a sentence, as a slight circumstance may overturn a speculation. The matter, it will be said, is in substance the same; but in the one way you captivate the imagination of men, and in the other it escapes from your hold.
M. Necker proposed voluntary gifts, and was the first to pour, by way of example, 100,000 francs of his own fortune into the treasury, although he had been already obliged to dispose of a million of his property in annuities to meet, by increased income, his expense as minister; for in his second, as in his first ministry, he refused all salary. The Constituent Assembly praised his disinterestedness but still declined to take financial matters into its serious consideration. The secret motive of such conduct in the popular party was, perhaps, a wish to find itself forced, by want of money, to a step which it had much at heart, the appropriation of the church property. M. Necker, on the other hand, wished to make the country independent of this resource, and to let its appropriation depend not on the wants of the treasury, but on justice. Mirabeau, who aimed at succeeding M. Necker as minister, availed himself of the jealousy natural to every assembly in regard to its power, to make it take umbrage at the attachment still shown by the nation to the minister of finance. He had an insidious manner of praising M. Necker. “I do not approve his plans,” he used to say; “but since public opinion grants him the dictatorship, we must take them on trust.” M. Necker’s friends were aware with how much art Mirabeau sought to deprive him of the public favor by exhibiting that favor in exaggerated coloring; for nations, like individuals, are less prone to love when they are too often reminded of their affection.
The day when Mirabeau was most eloquent was that in which, in artfully defending a finance decree proposed by M. Necker, he delineated all the horrors of bankruptcy. Three times did he rise to excite terror by this picture; the provincial deputies were not at first much alive to it; but as they did not then know what they have been since so severely taught, to what a degree a nation can support bankruptcy, famine, massacre, executions, civil war, foreign war, and tyranny, they shuddered at the idea of the sufferings portrayed by the orator.1 I was at a short distance from Mirabeau when he addressed the assembly with so much éclat; and, although very distrustful of his intentions, he captivated my admiration during two hours. Nothing could be more impressive than his voice; the gestures and the biting sarcasm which he knew so well how to use did not, perhaps, proceed from the soul, that is, from the inward emotion, but there was in his speech a life and power of which the effect was amazing. “What would it have been had you seen the prodigy (monstre),” said Garat, in his lively Journal de Paris. The remark of Eschines on Demosthenes2 could not be more happily applied, and the uncertain meaning of the word (monstre) which denotes a prodigy, either in good or evil, added not a little to the point.
It would, however, be unjust to see nothing but faults in Mirabeau; with so much true talent, there always is a portion of good sentiments. But he had no conscience in politics; and this is the great defect which in France may be often charged on individuals as on assemblies. Some aim at popularity, others at honors, several at fortune; while some, and these are the best, at the triumph of their opinions. But where are those who ask themselves conscientiously in what their duty consists, without taking account of the sacrifice, whatever it may be, which the performance of that duty may require at their hands?
Of the Errors of the National Assembly in Regard to the Constitution.
In the code of liberty we have the means of distinguishing that which is founded on invariable principles from that which belongs to particular circumstances. Imprescriptible rights consist in—equality under the law, individual liberty, the liberty of the press, freedom of religion, the right of admission to public employments, and the grant of taxes by the representatives of the people. But the form of government, whether aristocratic or democratic, monarchical or republican, is but an organization of powers; and powers are themselves nothing but the guarantees of liberty. It does not enter into the natural rights of man that every government should consist of a house of peers, a house of elected deputies, and of a king, whose sanction forms a part of the legislative power. But human wisdom has not even to our days discovered any form of government which in a great country gives more security to the blessings of social order.
In the only revolution within our knowledge which was directed to the establishment of a representative government, the order of succession to the throne was changed, because the English nation were persuaded that James II would not sincerely give up his claims to absolute power in order to exchange it with a legal power. The Constituent Assembly did not go the length of deposing so virtuous a sovereign as Louis XVI, and yet it aimed at establishing a free constitution; the result of this was its considering the executive power as inimical to liberty, instead of rendering it one of its safeguards. It formed a constitution as a general would form a plan of attack.1 All the mischief proceeded from this fault; for whether the King was or was not resigned in his heart to the restraints required by the interest of the nation, they ought not to have examined his secret thoughts, but have established the royal power, independently of what might be feared or hoped from its actual possessor. Institutions, in the course of time, adapt men to themselves with more facility than men can rid themselves of institutions. To preserve the King, and to strip the office of its necessary prerogatives, was the most absurd and most reprehensible plan of all.2
Mounier, a declared friend of the English constitution, did not hesitate to make himself unpopular by professing that opinion: he declared, however, in the Assembly that the fundamental laws of the constitution did not stand in need of the royal sanction, on the broad principle that the constitution was prior to the throne, and that the king existed only by means of it.3 There must be a compact between king and people, and to deny the existence of such contract would be equally contrary to liberty as to monarchy. But as a kind of fiction is necessary to royalty, the Assembly did wrong in calling the king a public functionary: he is one of the independent powers of the state, participating in the sanction of the fundamental laws, as well as in those of daily enactment. Were he only a simple citizen, he could not be king.
There is in a nation a certain stock of feeling, which should be managed like so much physical power. A republic has its enthusiasm, which Montesquieu calls its principle; a monarchy has also its principle; and even despotism, when, as in Asia, it is a part of the religious creed, is maintained by certain virtues; but a constitution of which one of the elements is the humiliation of either sovereign or people must necessarily be overturned by the one or the other.
That controlling power of circumstances which decides so many things in France prevented the proposition of a House of Peers. M. de Lally, who wished for it, endeavored to supply it by asking at least a House of Senators holding their places for life; but the popular party was irritated at the privileged orders, who kept themselves perpetually aloof from the nation, and rejected a lasting institution from momentary prejudice.4 This was a very serious fault, not only because an upper house was a necessary medium between the sovereign and the national deputies, but because there existed no other method of quietly consigning to obscurity the nobility of the second order, so numerous in France; a nobility in no way consecrated by history or recommended by public utility in any shape—and which discovered, much more than its higher brethren, a contempt for the Third Estate because its vanity always made it fear its not attaining sufficient distinction.
The right side of the Constituent Assembly, that is, the aristocrats, could have carried the point of a House of Senators for life by joining M. de Lally and his party. But they preferred voting for a single chamber instead of two, in the hope of obtaining good by the excess of evil; a detestable calculation, which, however, made converts by its apparent depth. Many men imagine that to deceive is a greater compliment to their capacity than to adhere to truth, because the falsehood is their creation: it is, however, an author’s vanity very misapplied.
After the cause of the two chambers was lost, the discussions proceeded to the question of the royal sanction to legislative acts.5 Was the veto about to be given to the King to be suspensive or absolute? The word “absolute” resounded in the ears of the vulgar, as if despotism were in question; and we now begin to see the disastrous effect of popular clamor on the decisions of enlightened men. It is scarcely possible for a reflecting mind to exercise sufficient deliberation to understand all the questions relative to political institutions; what, then, can be more fatal than to submit such questions to the arguments, and, above all, to the sarcasms of the multitude? They spoke of the veto in the streets of Paris as of a monster that would devour little children. Not that we are to draw from this the inference suggested to some persons by a contempt for their species—that the people are unfit to judge of what relates to their concerns. Governments have on their part given surprising proofs of incapacity; and checks are necessary to authority in every shape.
The popular party desired only a suspensive instead of an absolute veto: that is, that the King’s refusal to sanction a law should, of itself, fall to the ground in the next Assembly, if the same law were again insisted on. The debates became heated: on one side it was argued that an absolute veto on the part of the King would be a bar to all improvements proposed by the Assembly: on the other, that the suspensive veto would reduce the King, sooner or later, to the necessity of obeying in all points the representatives of the people. M. Necker, in a report in which he treats with uncommon sagacity the most important constitutional questions, pointed out, as a means of accommodation, three stages in legislative progress instead of two; that is, that the King’s veto should not fall to the ground till after a demand reiterated by the third Assembly. His reasoning on this subject was as follows.
In England, he said, the king very seldom makes use of his right to the veto, because the House of Peers almost always spares him that pain; but as it has been unfortunately decided in France that there should be but one chamber, the King and his council find themselves under the necessity of discharging at once the functions of an upper house and of the executive power. The obligation of making a habitual use of the veto implies the necessity of rendering it more flexible, just as we require lighter weapons when obliged to employ them frequently. We may also be assured that by the time of a third legislative assembly, that is, three or four years after the vivacity of the French, on whatever subject, will be always calmed; and, in the contrary event, it is equally certain that if three representative assemblies should successively demand the same thing, the public opinion must be too strong to render it advisable for the King to oppose it.
It was improper under existing circumstances to irritate the public by the expression “an absolute veto,” when, in fact, in every country, the royal veto gives way, more or less, before the national wish. The pompous nature of the word might be regretted; but the danger of it also was to be dreaded when the King was placed alone in the presence of a single assembly, and when, being deprived of the gradations of rank, he seemed, if I may so say, face-to-face with the people, and forced to put incessantly in the balance the will of one man against that of twenty-four million. Yet M. Necker in a manner protested against this plan of conciliation even in proposing it: for, while showing how the suspensive veto was the necessary result of having only one legislative chamber, he repeated that a single chamber was wholly incompatible with anything sound or permanent.
Efforts Made by M. Necker with the Popular Party in the Constituent Assembly to Induce It to Establish the English Constitution in France.
The King possessing no military strength after the Revolution of the 14th of July, there remained for the minister only the power of persuasion, whether in acting immediately on the deputies, or in finding sufficient support in public opinion to influence the Assembly through that medium. During the two months of tranquillity which were still enjoyed between the 14th of July, 1789, and the frightful insurrection of the 5th of October, the ascendency of the King on the public mind began again to appear. M. Necker recommended to him successively several measures which obtained the approbation of the country.
The suppression of feudal rights, pronounced by the Assembly during the night of the 4th of August, was presented to the sanction of the Monarch: he gave his assent to it,1 but addressed to the deputation of the Assembly observations which obtained the approbation of all wise people. He blamed the rapidity with which resolutions of such number and importance had been embraced; he made them feel the necessity of a reasonable indemnity to the former proprietors of several of the suppressed revenues. The declaration of rights2 was also offered to the royal sanction, together with several decrees already passed relative to the constitution. M. Necker was of the opinion that the King should answer that he could sanction only the whole, not a separate part, of a constitution; and that the general principles of the declaration of rights, though in themselves extremely just, required a special application that they might be subjected to the ordinary form of decrees. In fact, what signified the royal acquiescence to an abstract declaration of natural rights? But there existed for a length of time in France such a habit of making the King intervene in everything that, in truth, the republicans might as well have asked his sanction of a republic.
The establishment of a single chamber, and several other constitutional decrees which formed a complete deviation from the political system of England, were the cause of great concern to M. Necker, for he saw in this royal democracy, as it was then called, the greatest danger for the throne and for liberty. The spirit of party has only one apprehension: wisdom has always two. We may see, in the different publications of M. Necker, the respect which he had for the English government, and the arguments on which he drew when desiring the application of its fundamental principles to France. It was from the popular deputies, at that time all-powerful, that he now met with obstacles as great as those he had previously had to combat in the royal council. Whether as minister or as writer, he has always held the same language in this respect.
The argument urged in common by the two parties, the aristocrats and democrats, against the adoption of the English constitution was that England could do without regular troops, while France, being obliged by her continental position to maintain a great army, liberty would be found unable to resist the preponderance given by that army to the King. The aristocrats did not perceive that this objection turned against themselves; for if the King of France has, from the nature of things, greater compulsory means than the King of England, what inconvenience is there in imposing at least equal limits on his authority?
The arguments of the popular party were more specious because they supported them even on those of their adversaries. The regular army, they said, ensuring more power to the King of France than to the King of England, it is indispensable to restrict his prerogative more, if we aim at obtaining as much liberty as is enjoyed by the English. To this objection, M. Necker replied that in a representative government, that is, one founded on independent elections and maintained by the liberty of the press, public opinion has always so many means of forming and showing itself that it may be equivalent to an army; moreover, the establishment of national guards was a sufficient counterpoise to the esprit de corps of the regular troops, even if the army (which is by no means probable in a country where the officers would be chosen not in one class exclusively, but agreeably to their merit) should not feel itself a part of the nation, nor take a pride in sharing its sentiments.
The Chamber of Peers was also, as I have already remarked, displeasing to both parties: to the one as reducing the nobility to a hundred or a hundred and fifty families whose names are known in history; to the other as renewing hereditary institutions to which a great many persons in France are extremely hostile, because the privileges and claims of the nobles have deeply wounded the feelings of the whole nation. Yet M. Necker made vain efforts to prove to the Commons that to change conquering nobles into patrician magistrates was the only method to accomplish a radical extinction of feudal customs; since nothing is effectually destroyed for which we do not provide a substitute. He endeavored also to prove to the democrats that it was a much better way of proceeding to equality, to raise merit to the first rank, than to make a vain effort to degrade the recollections of history, the effect of which is indestructible. These recollections are an ideal treasure, from which advantage may be derived by associating distinguished individuals with their splendor. “We are what your ancestors were,” said a brave French General to a nobleman of the old government; hence the necessity of an institution in which the new shoots may blend with the ancient stems: to establish equality by admixture is a much more effectual mode than by attempts at leveling.3
Yet this wise opinion, though conveyed by such a man as M. Necker, perfectly unaffected and candid in his manner of expressing himself, proved unavailing against those passions which owed their origin to injured pride; and the factious, perceiving that the King, guided by the judicious advice of his minister, was daily regaining a salutary popularity, determined to make him lose this moral influence, after having stripped him of all real power. The hope of a constitutional monarchy was then once more lost for France, at a time when the nation had not yet disgraced itself by great crimes, and while it possessed the esteem both of itself and of Europe.
Did the English Government Give Money to Foment Troubles in France?
As the prevailing opinion of French aristocrats has always been that the greatest changes in social order are to be traced to individual circumstances, they were long converts to the notion which had absurdly gained ground, that the English ministry had excited, by means of money, the troubles of the Revolution. The Jacobins, the natural enemies of England, took a lot of delight in pleasing the people by affirming that all the mischief arose from English gold distributed in France. But whoever is capable of a little reflection will not believe, for a moment, the absurdity thus circulated. Could a ministry, subject, like the English, to the scrutinizing eye of the representatives of the people, dispose of a considerable sum of money without venturing to acknowledge its use to Parliament? All the provinces of France, rising at the same time, were without leaders, while the proceedings at Paris had been long before prepared by the course of events. Besides, would not any government, and particularly the most enlightened one of Europe, have felt the danger of establishing such contagious anarchy in its own neighborhood? Had not England, and Mr. Pitt in particular, to dread that the revolutionary spark would light on the navy, and among the inferior ranks of society?1
The English ministry have often given assistance to the emigrant party; but it was on a plan wholly contrary to that which would have been necessary to excite a spirit of jacobinism. How can we suppose that individuals, extremely respectable in their private character, would have taken into pay, from among the lowest class, men who could not at that time interfere with public affairs otherwise than by committing theft or murder? Whatever opinion we may have of the diplomacy of the English government, can we imagine that the heads of a state who, during fifteen years, made no attempt on the life of a man (Bonaparte) whose existence threatened that of their country, should have stooped to a much greater crime by purchasing assassinations at random? Public opinion in England may be altogether misled in regard to foreign politics; but never, if I may so express myself, in regard to Christian morality, that is, in respect to actions which are not subjected to the control or excuse of circumstances. Louis XV generously rejected the Greek fire,2 the fatal secret of which was offered to him; the English, in like manner, would never have kindled the desolating flames of jacobinism, had it even been in their power to create that new monster who rose up with devouring fury against social order.
To these arguments, which seem to me clearer than even facts themselves, I will add what my father has often declared to me—that, hearing an incessant rumor about pretended secret agents of England, he made every exertion to find them out; and that all the inquiries of the police, ordered and followed up during his ministry, served to prove that the gold of England had nothing to do with the civil troubles of France. Never has it been practicable to discover the slightest trace of connection between the popular party and the English government: in general, the most violent persons in that party have had no connection with foreigners; and, on the other hand, the English government, far from encouraging democracy in France, has made every effort to repress it.
Events of the 5th and 6th of October, 1789.
Before describing these too disastrous days, we should bring to our recollection that in France at the time of the Revolution, as well as in the rest of Europe, people had enjoyed for nearly a century a kind of tranquillity which conduced, it is true, to relaxation and corruption; but was, at the same time, the cause and effect of very mild manners. Nobody imagined, in 1789, that vehement passions lurked under this apparent tranquillity. The Constituent Assembly accordingly gave itself up without apprehension to the generous wish of ameliorating the lot of the people. They had seen it only in a state of servitude, and they did not suspect what has been since but too well proved—that the violence of revolt being always in proportion to the injustice of slavery, it was necessary to bring about changes in France with a prudence proportioned to the oppression of the old system.
The aristocrats will say that they foresaw all our misfortunes; but prophecies prompted by personal interest have weight with no one. Let us resume, then, the sketch of the situation of France before the occurrence of those early crimes from which all the others proceeded.
The general direction of business at court was the same as before the Revolution of the 14th of July; but the means at the disposal of the royal authority being considerably diminished, the danger of exciting a new insurrection was proportionably augmented. M. Necker was well aware that he did not possess the entire confidence of the King, and this diminished his authority in the eyes of the representatives of the people; but he did not hesitate to sacrifice by degrees all his popularity to the defense of the throne. There are not on earth greater trials for morality than political employments; for the arguments which, in such a situation, may be used to reconcile conscience with interest are innumerable. The principle, however, from which we ought rarely to deviate, is that of bringing assistance to the weaker party: we seldom err in guiding ourselves by such a landmark.1
M. Necker was of the opinion that the most perfect sincerity toward the representatives of the people was the soundest calculation for the King; he advised him to make use of his veto, to refuse whatever he deemed fit for rejection; to accept only what he approved; and to ground his resolutions on motives which might gradually influence public opinion. Already had this system produced a certain degree of good, and, had it been steadily followed, it would have still prevented many misfortunes. But it was so natural for the King to feel irritated at his situation that he lent too willing an ear to all the projects which accorded with his wishes, and which offered the pretended means of a counter-revolution. It is very difficult for a king, the inheritor of a power which, since Henri IV, had never been disputed, to believe himself without force in the midst of his kingdom; and the devoted attachment of those who surround him must easily excite his hopes and illusions. The Queen was still more alive to these confident conclusions, and the enthusiasm of her bodyguards, and other persons of her court, appeared to her sufficient to repel the popular wave, which pressed forward more and more in proportion to the weakness of the opposing dikes.
Marie Antoinette presented herself then, like Maria Theresa, to the bodyguards at Versailles, to recommend to them her august husband and her children. They replied by acclamations to an appeal which, in fact, should have moved them to the bottom of their souls; but this was quite enough to excite the suspicions of that crowd of men, whose minds were heated by the new prospects opened to them by the state of affairs. It was repeated at Paris, among all classes, that the King wished to leave the country; and that he wanted to make a second attempt to dissolve the Assembly. The Monarch thus found himself in the most dangerous situation: he had excited disquietudes as if he had been strong, while, in fact, he was deprived of all means of defending himself.2
The rumor spread that two hundred thousand men were preparing to march to Versailles, to bring the King and the National Assembly to Paris. “They are surrounded,” it was said, “by enemies to the public welfare; we must bring them amongst the true patriots.” No sooner is a tolerably plausible expression invented in a time of trouble, than party men, and particularly Frenchmen, find a singular pleasure in repeating it. The arguments that might be opposed to it have no power on their minds; for their great object is to think and speak like others, that they may make sure of their applause.
On the morning of the 5th of October I learned that the populace were marching to Versailles; my father and mother had their residence there. I immediately set out to join them, but went by a less-traveled road, on which I met nobody. On drawing near to Versailles I saw the huntsmen who had accompanied the King to the chase, and, on arriving, I was told that an express had been dispatched to entreat him to come back. How strange is the power of habit in a court life! The King still did the same things, in the same manner, and at the same hours, as in the most tranquil times: the composure of mind which this implied procured him admiration at a time when circumstances allowed him no other virtues than those of a victim. M. Necker proceeded very quickly to the palace, to be present at the council; and my mother, more and more frightened by the threatening intelligence received from Paris, repaired to the hall which served as an antechamber to the council room, that she might share my father’s fate, whatever it might be. I followed her and found the hall filled with a great number of persons, brought thither by very different sentiments.
We saw Mounier pass through to require, in his capacity of president of the Constituent Assembly, but much against his will, the unqualified sanction of the King to the declaration of rights. The King had, so to speak, made a literal admission of its maxims; but he waited, he said, for their application, that he might affix his consent. The Assembly revolted against this slight obstacle to its will; for nothing is so violent in France as the anger which is felt toward those who presume to resist without being the strongest.
Everyone in the hall where we were assembled asked whether the King would set out or not. We were first told that he had ordered his carriages, and that the people of Versailles had unharnessed them; afterward that he had given orders to the regiment of Flanders, then in garrison at Versailles, to take arms, and that that regiment had refused. It has since been ascertained that the council took into deliberation whether the King should withdraw into the country; but as the royal treasury was empty, as the scarcity of corn was such that no assemblage of troops could be effected, and as no measures had been taken to make sure of the regiments on which reliance was still placed, the King apprehended the greatest eventual hazards from going to a distance; he was, moreover, persuaded that if he left the country, the Assembly would give the crown to the Duke of Orléans. But the Assembly had no such idea even at this time; and when the King consented, eighteen months after, to the journey which ended at Varennes,3 he had an opportunity of seeing that he had no ground for apprehension in that respect. M. Necker was not of the opinion that the court should set out without such aid as might ensure the success of that decisive step; but he offered to the King to follow him, if he determined on it; being ready to devote to him his fortune and his life, although perfectly aware of what his situation would be in adhering to his principles in the midst of courtiers who, in politics as in religion, know only one thing—intolerance.
The King having eventually fallen at Paris under the sword of the factious, it is natural for those who advised his departure on the 5th of October to make a boast of it: for we may always say what we think proper of the good effects of an advice that has not been followed. But, besides that it was perhaps already impracticable for the King to quit Versailles, we must not forget that M. Necker, in admitting the necessity of coming to Paris, proposed that the King should thenceforward go hand in hand with the constitution, and seek support in it only; without that determination he would be exposed, do what he might, to the greatest misfortunes.
The King, in deciding on remaining, might still have taken the decision of putting himself at the head of his bodyguards, and of repelling force by force. But Louis XVI felt a religious scruple at exposing the lives of Frenchmen for his personal defense; and that courage, which no person could doubt who witnessed his death, never prompted him to any spontaneous resolution. Besides, at this time, even success would not have accomplished his safety; the public mind was in the spirit of the Revolution, and it is by studying the course of things that we succeed in foreseeing (as much as foresight is granted to the human mind) the events which the vulgar represent as the result of chance, or of the inconsiderate actions of a few individuals.
The King then decided on awaiting the army, or rather multitude, which had already begun its march; and every eye was turned toward the road that fronts the windows of the palace at Versailles. We thought that the cannon might first be pointed against us, which occasioned us much fear; yet not one woman thought of withdrawing in this great emergency.
While this mass was on its march toward us, we were informed of the arrival of M. de la Fayette, at the head of the National Guards, and this was, no doubt, a ground of tranquillity. But he had long resisted the wish of the National Guard, and it was only by an express order of the Commune of Paris that he had marched to prevent, by his presence, the misfortunes that were threatened. Night was coming on, and our dread was increased with the darkness, when we saw M. de Chinon, who, as Duke of Richelieu, has since so justly acquired a high reputation, enter the palace.4 He was pale, fatigued, and in his dress like a man of the lower orders: it was the first time that such apparel entered the royal abode, and that a nobleman of the rank of M. de Chinon found himself obliged to put it on. He had walked part of the way from Paris to Versailles, mixed with the crowd, that he might hear their conversation; and he had left them halfway, to arrive in time to give notice to the royal family of what was going on. What a story did he tell! Women and children, armed with pikes and scythes, hastened from all parts. The lowest of the populace were brutalized still more by intoxication than by rage. In the midst of this infernal band, there were men who boasted of having got the name of “heads-men” (coupe-têtes), and who promised to make good their title to it. The National Guard marched with order, was obedient to its commander, and expressed no wish but that of bringing the King and the Assembly to Paris. At last M. de la Fayette entered the palace and crossed the hall where we were, to go in to the King. Everyone surrounded him with ardor, as if he had been the master of events, while the popular party was already stronger than its leader; principles were now giving way to factions, or rather were used by them only as pretexts.
M. de la Fayette seemed perfectly calm; he has never been seen otherwise, but his delicacy suffered by the importance of the part he had to act; to ensure the safety of the palace he desired to occupy the posts of the interior: the exterior posts only were given to him. This refusal was natural, as the bodyguards ought not to be removed; but it had almost been the cause of the greatest misfortunes. M. de la Fayette left the palace, giving us the most tranquilizing assurances: we all went home after midnight, thinking that the crisis of the day was over and believing ourselves in perfect security, as is almost always the case after one has experienced a great fright which has not been realized. At five in the morning M. de la Fayette thought that all danger was over and relied on the bodyguards, who had answered for the interior of the palace. A passage which they had forgotten to shut enabled the assassins to get in. A similar accident proved favorable to two conspiracies in Russia,5 at times when vigilance was at its height and when outward circumstances were most tranquil. It is therefore absurd to censure M. de la Fayette for an event that was so unlikely to occur. No sooner was he informed of it than he rushed forward to the assistance of those who were threatened, with an ardor which was acknowledged at the moment, before calumny had prepared her poison.
On the 6th of October, at a very early hour, a lady far advanced in years, the mother of Comte de Choiseul-Gouffier, author of the delightful Travels in Greece,6 entered my room: she came in a panic to seek refuge among us, although we had never had the honor of seeing her. She informed me that assassins had made their way even to the Queen’s antechamber, that they had massacred several of her guards at the door, and that, awakened by their cries, the Queen had saved her life only by flying into the King’s room by a private passage. I was told at the same moment that my father had already set out for the palace, and that my mother was about to follow him; I made haste to accompany her.
A long passage led from the contrôle général, where we lived, to the palace: as we approached we heard musket shots in the courts, and as we crossed the gallery we saw recent marks of blood on the floor. In the next hall the bodyguards were embracing the National Guards, with that warmth which is always inspired by emotion in great emergencies; they were exchanging their distinctive marks, the National Guards putting on the belt of the bodyguards, and the bodyguards the tricolored cockade. All were then exclaiming with transport, Vive la Fayette, because he had saved the lives of the bodyguards when threatened by the populace. We passed amidst these brave men who had just seen their comrades perish, and were expecting the same fate. Their emotion restrained, though visible, drew tears from the spectators; but, further on, what a scene presented itself!
The people demanded with great clamor that the King and royal family should remove to Paris; an answer in assent had been given on their part, and the cries, and the firing which we heard, were signs of rejoicing from the Parisian troops. The Queen then appeared in the hall; her hair disheveled, her countenance pale, but dignified; everything in her person was striking to the imagination. The people required that she should appear on the balcony, and, as the whole court, which is called the marble court, was full of men with firearms in their hands, the Queen’s countenance discovered her apprehensions. Yet she advanced without hesitation along with her two children, who served as her safeguard.
The multitude seemed affected on seeing the Queen as a mother, and political rage became appeased at the sight: those who that very night had perhaps wished to assassinate her, extolled her name to the skies.
The populace, in a state of insurrection, are, in general, inaccessible to reasoning, and are to be acted on only by sensations rapid as electricity, and communicated in a similar manner. Mobs are, according to circumstances, better or worse than the individuals which compose them; but whatever be their temper, they are to be prompted to crime as to virtue, only by having recourse to a natural impulsion.
The Queen, on returning from the balcony, approached my mother, and said to her, with stifled sobs, “They are going to force the King and me to proceed to Paris, with the heads of our bodyguards carried before us on the point of their pikes.” Her prediction was accomplished, nearly as she had said: the King and Queen were taken to their capital. We went to Paris by a different road, which spared us that dreadful sight. It was through the Bois de Boulogne that we went, and the weather was uncommonly fine; the breeze scarcely agitated the trees, and the sun was sufficiently bright to leave nothing gloomy in the prospect: no outward object was in correspondence with our grief. How often does this contrast, between the beauty of nature and the sufferings inflicted by man, renew itself in the course of life!
The King repaired to the Hotel de Ville, and the Queen displayed there a remarkable presence of mind. The King said to the Mayor: “I come with pleasure to my good city of Paris”; the Queen added, “and with confidence.” The expression was happy, but the event, alas! did not justify it. Next day the Queen received the diplomatic body and the persons of her court: she could not give vent to one word without sobbing, and we, likewise, were unable to reply to her.
What a spectacle was this ancient palace of the Tuilleries, abandoned for more than a century by its august inhabitants!7 The antiquated appearance of the outward objects acted on the imagination and made it wander into past times. As the arrival of the royal family was in no degree expected, very few apartments were in a habitable state, and the Queen had been obliged to get tent beds put up for her children in the very room where she received us: she apologized for it, and added, “You know that I did not expect to come here.” Her physiognomy was beautiful, but irritated; it was not to be forgotten after having been seen.
Madame Elizabeth, the King’s sister, appeared at once calm as to her own fate and agitated for that of her brother and sister-in-law. She manifested her courage by her religious resignation; this virtue which suffices not always for a man, is heroism in a woman.8
The Constituent Assembly at Paris.
The Constituent Assembly, removed to Paris by an armed force, found itself, in several respects, in the same situation as the King: it no longer enjoyed complete liberty. The 5th and 6th of October were, if one may say so, the first days of the accession of the Jacobins; the Revolution then changed its object and its sphere; equality, not liberty, was henceforth its mark, and the lower order of society began from that day to assume an ascendency over that class which is called to govern by virtue of its knowledge and education. Mounier and Lally abandoned the Assembly and France.1 A just indignation made them commit this error; the result was that the moderate party was without strength. The virtuous Malouet and an orator at once brilliant and serious, M. de Clermont Tonnerre, endeavored to support it; but there were henceforth few debates except between the extreme opinions.
The Constituent Assembly had been mistress of the fate of France from the 14th of July to the 5th of October, 1789; but from the latter date forward, popular force was predominant. We cannot too often repeat that for individuals, as for political bodies, there is but one moment of happiness and power; that moment should be embraced, for the chance of prosperity does not occur twice in the course of the same destiny, and he who has not turned it to account receives in the sequel only the gloomy lesson of adversity. The Revolution naturally descended lower and lower each time that the upper classes allowed the reins to slip from their hands, whether by their want of wisdom or their want of address.
The rumor was circulated that Mirabeau and some other deputies were about to be appointed ministers. Those of the Mountain,2 who were well assured that the choice would not fall on them, proposed to declare the functions of deputy and minister incompatible, an absurd decree which transformed the balance of power into mutual hostility. Mirabeau, on this occasion, proposed very ingeniously that they should confine the exclusion from ministerial employment to him by name, in order that the personal injustice of which he was, as he said, the object, might not lead to the adoption of a measure at variance with the public welfare.3 He required that the ministers should at least be present at the deliberations of the Assembly if, in contradiction to his opinion, they were prevented from being members of it. The Jacobins exclaimed that the presence of ministers would be enough to influence the opinion of the representatives, and assertions of this nature never failed to be received with enthusiasm by the galleries. One would have said that nobody in France could look at a powerful man, that no member of the Third Estate could approach a person belonging to the court, without feeling himself in subjection. Such are the melancholy effects of arbitrary government and of too exclusive distinctions of rank! The hostility of the lower orders toward the aristocratic class does not destroy its ascendency, even over those by whom it is hated; the inferior classes, in the sequel, inflicted death on their former masters as the only method of ceasing to obey them.
The minority of the nobility, that is, the noblemen who had gone over to the popular party, were infinitely superior, in purity of sentiment, to the extravagant part of the deputies of the Third Estate. These nobles were disinterested in the cause which they supported; and, what is still more honorable, they preferred the generous principles of liberty to the personal advantages which they enjoyed. In all countries where aristocracy prevails, that which lowers the nation gives a proportional elevation to certain individuals who unite the habits of high rank to the information acquired by study and reflection. But it is too costly to limit the range of so many men in order that a minority of the nobility, such as MM. de Clermont-Tonnerre, de Crillon, de Castellane, de la Rochefoucauld, de Toulongeon, de la Fayette, de Montmorency,4 etc. should be considered the elite of France; for, in spite of their virtues and talents, they found themselves without strength on account of the smallness of their number. From the time that the Assembly held its deliberations in Paris, the people exercised their tumultuous power in all directions; clubs began to be established; the denunciations of the journals, the vociferations from the tribunes, misled the public mind; fear was the gloomy muse of most of the speakers, and every day new modes of reasoning and new forms of oratory were invented to obtain the applause of the multitude. The Duke of Orléans was accused of having tampered in the conspiracy of the 6th of October. The tribunal directed to examine the documents relative to the charge discovered no proofs against him; but M. de la Fayette could not bear the idea that even popular violence should be attributed to anything that could be called a conspiracy. He required of the Duke to go to England; and that prince, whose deplorable weakness admits of no qualification, accepted without resistance a mission which was a mere pretext to remove him. After this singular act of condescension, I do not believe that even the Jacobins ever had a notion that such a man was capable of at all influencing the fate of France: the virtues of his family make it incumbent on us to mention him no more.
The country participated in the agitation of the capital, and a zeal for equality put France in motion, in the same way as hatred of popery kindled the passions of the English in the seventeenth century. The Constituent Assembly was beaten by the waves in the midst of which it seemed to hold its course. The most conspicuous man among the deputies, Mirabeau, now, for the first time, inspired some esteem; and one could not avoid a sentiment of pity at the constraint imposed on his natural superiority. He was seen incessantly taking in the same speech the side of popularity and that of reason, endeavoring to obtain from the Assembly a monarchical decree in the language of a demagogue, and often venting sarcasms against the royalist party at the very time that he labored at the adoption of some of their opinions; in short, one saw clearly that he kept up a continued struggle between his judgment and his want of popularity. He received money in secret from the ministers for defending the interests of the throne: yet, after he rose to speak, he often forgot the engagements he had taken, and yielded to those peals of applause of which the fascination is almost irresistible. Had he been a conscientious character, he possessed perhaps talents enough to create in the Assembly a party independent of the court and people; but his genius was too much warped by personal interest to allow him its free use. His passions, like the serpents of Laocoön, enveloped him in all directions, and we witnessed his strength in the struggle without venturing to expect his triumph.
Of the Decrees of the Constituent Assembly in Regard to the Clergy.
The most serious reproach made to the Constituent Assembly is that it had been indifferent to the maintenance of religion in France: hence the declarations against philosophy which succeeded those formerly directed against superstition. The intentions of the Assembly in this respect are to be justified by examining the motives of its decrees. The privileged classes in France embraced a mode of defense common to the majority of mankind, that of attaching a general idea to their particular interests. Thus the nobility maintained that valor was the exclusive inheritance of their order; and the clergy, that religion could not subsist without the possession of property by the church. Both assertions are equally unfounded: battles have been admirably fought in England, and in France since the fall of the nobility as a body; while religion would find its way into the hearts of the French if attempts were not incessantly made to confound the articles of faith with political questions, and the wealth of the upper clergy with the simple and natural ascendency of the curates over the lower orders.
The clergy in France formed a part of the four legislative powers;1 and from the time that it was judged necessary to change this singular constitution, it became impossible that a third2 of the landed property of the kingdom should remain in the hands of ecclesiastics: for it was to the clergy, as an order, that these great possessions belonged, and they were administered collectively. The property of priests and religious establishments could not be subjected to those civil laws which ensure the inheritance of parents to children; from the moment, therefore, that the constitution of the country underwent a change, it would have been imprudent to leave the clergy in possession of wealth which might enable them to regain the political influence of which it was intended to deprive them. Justice required that the possessors should be maintained in their incomes during life; but what was due to those who had not yet become priests, especially when the number of ecclesiastics greatly surpassed what the public service required? Will it be alleged that we never ought to change what once has been? In what moment then did the famous “once has been” become established forever? When did improvement become impossible?
Since the destruction of the Albigenses by fire and sword, since the torturing of the Protestants under Francis I, the massacre of St. Bartholomew, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and the war of the Cevennes, the French clergy have always preached, and still preach, intolerance. The free exercise of worship then could not accord with the opinions of the priests, who protest against it, if they were allowed to retain a political existence; or if the magnitude of their property placed them in a condition to regain that political existence the loss of which they will never cease to regret. The church does not become tolerant any more than the emigrants become enlightened; our institutions should be adapted to this.
What! it will be said, does not the church of England own property? The English clergy, being of the reformed faith, were on the side of political reform at the time when the last of the Stuarts wished to re-establish the Catholic religion in England. The case is not the same with the French clergy, who are naturally inimical to the principles of the Revolution.3 Besides, the English clergy have no influence in state affairs; they are much less wealthy than the old clerical body of France, as England contains neither convents, abbeys, nor anything of the kind. The English clergy marry, and thus become a part of society. Finally, the French clergy hesitated long between the authority of the Pope and that of the King; and when Bossuet4 supported what is called the liberties of the Gallican church, he concluded, in his Sacred Politics, an alliance between the altar and the throne; but he did so by founding it on the maxims of religious intolerance and royal despotism.
When the French clergy quitted a life of retirement to intermeddle with politics, their conduct in the latter was almost always marked by a degree of confidence and artifice very unfavorable to the public interest. The dexterity which distinguishes men early obliged to conciliate two opposite things, their profession and the world, is such that, for two centuries past, they have constantly insinuated themselves into public business, and France has almost always had cardinals or bishops for ministers.5 The English, notwithstanding the liberal principles which actuate their clergy, do not admit ecclesiastics of the second order into the House of Commons; and there is no example since the Reformation of a member of the higher clergy becoming a minister of state. The case was the same at Genoa, in a country altogether Catholic; and both government and the priesthood found their advantage in this prudent separation.
In what manner would the representative system be compatible with the doctrine, the habits, and the wealth of the French clergy, such as that body formerly was? A striking analogy naturally induced the Constituent Assembly no longer to acknowledge it as entitled to hold property. The kings possessed demesnes considered in former days as unalienable, and these properties were certainly as legitimate as any other paternal inheritance. Yet, in France, as in England, and in every country where constitutional principles are established, kings have a civil list; and it would be considered disastrous to liberty that they should be enabled to possess revenues independent of the national sanction. For what reason, then, should the clergy be better treated in this respect than the Crown? Might not the magistracy lay claim to property with more reason than the clergy, if the object of supporting them by an established land revenue be to exempt those who enjoy it from the ascendancy of government?
What signify, it will be said, the advantages or disadvantages of clerical property? The Assembly did not have a right to take it. This question is exhausted by the excellent speeches pronounced on the subject in the Constituent Assembly:6 it was there shown that corporate bodies (corps) did not hold property by the same title as individuals, and that the state could not maintain the existence of these bodies, but inasfar as they should not be in contradiction to public interest and constitutional laws. When the Reformation was established in Germany, the Protestant princes appropriated a share of the church property either to the public expenditure or to charitable establishments; and a number of Catholic princes have, on various other occasions, made a similar disposal of such property. The decrees of the Constituent Assembly, sanctioned by the King, ought, certainly, to have as much force in law as the will of sovereigns in the sixteenth and following centuries.
The kings of France used to receive the revenues of clerical benefices during the intervals that they were vacant. The religious orders, who in this question are to be distinguished from the secular clergy, have often ceased to exist; and one cannot conceive, as was said by one of the most ingenious speakers whom we heard in the last session7 of the Chambers, M. de Barante: “One cannot conceive in what manner the property of orders that are no more should belong to those who do not exist.” Three-fourths of the property of churchmen were given them by the Crown, that is, by the sovereign authority of the time; not as a personal favor but to ensure divine service. For what reason, then, should not the Estates General, in conjunction with the King, have had a right to alter the manner of providing for the support of the clergy?
But particular founders, it will be said, having bequeathed their property to ecclesiastics, was it lawful to divert it from this appropriation? What means does man possess to give the stamp of eternity to his resolutions? Are we to search in the darkness of time for titles that are no more, in order to oppose them to living reason? What connection is there between religion and that continued chicanery of which the sale of the national property is the object? In England, particular sects, and, above all, the Methodists, who are very numerous, provide regularly and spontaneously for the expenses of their worship. True, it will be said, but the Methodists are very religious, and the inhabitants of France would make no pecuniary sacrifice for their priests. Is not this incredulity produced entirely by the display of wealth in the church, and of the abuses which wealth brings along with it? The case is the same with religion as with government: when you endeavor to maintain by force what is no longer in consonance with the age, you deprave the human heart instead of improving it. Do not deceive the weak; neither irritate another class of weak men, the Free Thinkers,8 by rousing political passions against religion; separate entirely the one from the other, and solitary reflection will always lead to dignified thoughts.
A great error, and one which it seemed easier for the Constituent Assembly to avoid, was the unfortunate invention of a constitutional clergy.9 To exact from ecclesiastics an oath at variance with their conscience, and, on their refusing it, to persecute them by the loss of a pension, and afterward even by transportation, was to degrade those who took the oath, to which temporal advantages were attached.
The Constituent Assembly ought not to have thought of forming a clerical body devoted to it, and thus affording the means, which were afterward embraced, of distressing the ecclesiastics attached to their ancient creed. This was putting political in the place of religious intolerance. A single resolution, firm and just, ought to have been taken by statesmen under those circumstances; they ought to have imposed on each communion the duty of supporting their own clergy.10 The Constituent Assembly thought that it acted with greater political depth by dividing the clergy, by establishing a schism, and by thus detaching from the court of Rome those who should enroll themselves under the banners of the Revolution. But of what use were such priests? The Catholics would not listen to them, and philosophers did not want them: they were a kind of militia, who had lost their character beforehand, and who could not do otherwise than injure the government whom they supported. The establishment of a constitutional clergy was so revolting to the public mind that it was found necessary to employ force to give it effect. Three bishops were necessary to give consecration to the schismatics, and thus to communicate to them the power of ordaining other priests in their turn. Of these three bishops, on whom the founding of the new clergy depended, two were, at the last moment, ready to renounce their singular undertaking, condemned as it was equally by religion and philosophy.
We cannot too often repeat that it is necessary to act on all great ideas with sincerity, and to be careful how we admit Machiavellian combinations in the application of truth; for prejudices founded on time have more strength than reason herself from the moment that bad means are employed to establish the latter. It was likewise of importance in the contest still subsisting between the privileged classes and the people, never to put the partisans of the old institutions in a situation calculated to inspire any kind of pity; and the Constituent Assembly excited this feeling in favor of the priests from the time it deprived them of their life-hold estates, and thus gave a retroactive effect to the law. Never can the world disregard those who are in a state of suffering; human nature is, in this respect, better than it is thought.
But who, it may be said, will teach children religion and morality if there are no priests in the schools? It was certainly not the higher clergy who fulfilled this duty; and, as to the curates, they are more required for the care of the sick and the dying than even for education, excepting what regards a knowledge of religion: the time in which churchmen were superior to others in point of information is past. Establish and multiply the schools in which, as in England, the children of the poor are taught to read, write, and account: schools of a higher class are necessary for teaching the ancient languages, and universities for carrying still further the study of those beautiful languages and of the higher sciences. But it is political institutions that afford the most effectual means of laying the foundation of morals; they excite emulation and form dignity of character: we cannot teach a man that which he can learn only through himself. The English are not told in any catechism that they must love their constitution; there is no master for patriotism in the schools: public prosperity and domestic life are more effectual in inspiring religion than all that remains of the ancient customs intended for its maintenance.
Of the Suppression of Titles of Nobility.
The clergy are perhaps still the less unpopular of the two privileged orders in France; for equality being the moving principle of the Revolution, the nation felt itself less hurt by the prejudices of the priests than by the claims of the nobles. Yet we cannot too often repeat that nothing is more unfortunate than the political influence of ecclesiastics in a country, while hereditary magistracy, of which the recollections of birth constitute a part, is an indispensable element in every limited monarchy. But the hatred of the people toward nobles having burst forth in the earliest days of the Revolution, the minority of the nobility in the Constituent Assembly wished to destroy this germ of enmity, and to form a complete union with the nation. One evening then, in a moment of heat, a member proposed the abolition of all titles.1 No nobleman, of those who had joined the popular party, could refuse to support this without showing ridiculous vanity; yet it would have been very desirable that the former titles should not have been suppressed without being replaced by a peerage, and by the distinctions which emanate from it. A great English writer2 has said, with truth, that “whenever there exists in a country any principle of life whatever, a legislature ought to take advantage of it.” In fact, since nothing is so difficult as to create, it is generally found necessary to engraft one institution on another.
The Constituent Assembly treated France like a colony in which there was no “past”;3 but wherever “a past” has existed, it is impossible to prevent it from having influence. The French nation was tired of the second order of nobility, but it had, and always will have, respect for the families distinguished in history. It was this feeling which ought to have been used in establishing an upper house, and endeavoring by degrees to consign to disuse all those denominations of Counts and Marquisses which, when they are connected neither with recollection of the past nor with political employments, sound more like nicknames than titles.
One of the most singular propositions of this day was that of renouncing the names of estates, which many families had borne for ages, and obliging them to resume their patronymic appellations. In this way the Montmorencies would have been called Bouchard; La Fayette, Mottié; Mirabeau, Riquetti. This would have been stripping France of her history; and no man, howsoever democratic, either would or ought to renounce in this manner the memory of his ancestors. The day after this decree was passed, the newspaper writers printed in their accounts of the meeting Riquetti the elder instead of Comte de Mirabeau: he went up in a rage to the reporters who were taking notes of the debates in the Assembly, and said to them, “You have by your Riquetti puzzled Europe for three days.” This effusion encouraged everyone to resume the name borne by his father; a course that could not be prevented without resorting to an inquisition quite contrary to the principles of the Assembly, for we should always remember that it never made use of the expedients of despotism to establish liberty.
M. Necker, alone among the members of council, proposed to the King to refuse his sanction to the decree which put an end to nobility without establishing a patrician body in its stead; and his opinion not having been adopted, he had the courage to publish it. The King had determined on sanctioning indiscriminately all the decrees of the Assembly: his plan was to be considered by others, after the 6th of October, as being in a state of captivity; and it was only in compliance with his religious scruples that he did not in the sequel affix his name to the decrees which proscribed those of the priests who continued to acknowledge the power of the Pope.
M. Necker, on the other hand, wished the King to use his prerogative sincerely and steadily; he pointed out to him that if he should one day recover all his power, he would still have the power to declare that he had been in a state of imprisonment since his arrival at Paris; but that if he should not recover it, he was losing the respect of, and above all his influence with, the nation, by not making use of his veto to stop the inconsiderate decrees of the Assembly; decrees of which that body often repented when the fever of popularity was moderated. The important object for the French nation, as for every nation in the world, is that merit, talent, and services should be the means of rising to the first employments of the state. But to aim at organizing France on the principles of abstract equality4 was to deprive the country of that source of emulation so congenial to the French character that Napoléon, who applied it in his own way, found it a most effectual instrument of his arbitrary sway. The report published by M. Necker in the summer of 1790, at the time of the suppression of titles, was closed by the following reflections.
In following all the marks of distinction in their smallest details, we, perhaps, run the risk of misleading the people as to the true meaning of this word “equality,” which can never signify, in a civilized nation, and in a society already established, equality of rank or property. Diversity in situation and employment, difference in fortune, education, emulation, industry; differing levels of ability and knowledge, all the disparities that are productive of movement in the social body, necessarily involve an outward inequality; and the only object of the legislator is, in imitation of nature, to point them all toward a happiness that may be equal, though different in its forms and development.
Everything is united, everything is linked together in the vast extent of social combinations; and those kinds of superiority which, to the first glance of a philosophic eye, appear an abuse, are essentially useful in affording protection to the different laws of subordination; to those laws which it is so necessary to defend, and which might be attacked so powerfully if habit and imagination should ever cease to afford them support.5
I shall have occasion in the sequel to remark that in the different works published by M. Necker during the course of twenty years, he invariably predicted the events which afterward occurred: so much penetration was there in his sagacity. The reign of Jacobinism was principally caused by the wild intoxication of a certain kind of equality; it appears to me that M. Necker described this danger when he wrote the remarks which I have just quoted.
Of the Royal Authority As It Was Established by the Constituent Assembly.
It was already a very dangerous matter for the public tranquillity to break all at once the strength that resided in the two privileged orders of the state. But had the means given to the executive power been sufficient, it would have been practicable to replace, if I may so express myself, fictitious by real institutions. But the Assembly, ever distrustful of the intentions of the courtiers, framed the royal authority against the King instead of making it a vehicle for the public good. Government was shackled to such a degree that its agents, though responsible for everything, could act in nothing. The ministry had scarcely a messenger at their disposal; and M. Necker, in his examination of the constitution of 1791,1 has shown that in no republic, including even the petty Swiss cantons, was the executive power so limited in its constitutional action as the King of France. The apparent splendor and actual inefficiency of the Crown threw the ministers, and the King himself, into a state of anxiety that was perpetually increasing. It is certainly not necessary that a population of twenty-five million should exist for one man; but it is equally unnecessary that one man should be miserable even under the pretext of giving happiness to twenty-five million; for injustice of any kind, whether it reaches the throne or the cottage, prevents the possibility of a free, that is, of an equitable, government.
A prince who would not content himself with the power granted to the King of England would not be worthy of reigning; but, in the French constitution, the situation of the King and his ministers was insupportable. The country suffered from it still more than the sovereign; and yet the Assembly would neither remove the King from the throne nor renounce its temporary mistrust, at the time that the formation of a durable system was under discussion.
The eminent men of the popular party, unable to extricate themselves from this uncertainty, always mixed in their decrees a portion of evil with good. The establishment of provincial assemblies had long been desired; but the Constituent Assembly combined them in such a manner as to exclude the ministers altogether from this portion of the administration.2 A salutary dread of all those wars so often undertaken for the quarrels of kings had guided the Constituent Assembly in the mode of organizing the military force; but it had put so many obstacles to the influence of the executive power in this respect that the army would have been unfit to serve out of the country, so apprehensive were they of its becoming instrumental to oppression at home. The reform of criminal jurisprudence and the establishment of juries brought down blessings on the name of the Constituent Assembly; but it decreed that the judges should owe their appointment to the people instead of the King, and that they should be re-elected every three years. Yet the example of England and the dictates of enlightened reflection concur to show that judges, under whatever government, ought not to be removable, and that in a monarchical state it is fit that their nomination should belong to the Crown. The people are much less capable of appreciating the qualities necessary for a judge than those necessary for a representative of the people: ostensible merit and extensive information ought to point out to the eyes of all a fit representative,3 but length of study alone qualifies a man for the duties of the bench. Above all, it is important that judges should be subject neither to removal by the king nor to re-appointment or rejection by the people. If, from the first days of the Revolution, all parties had agreed to show invariable respect to judicial forms, from how many misfortunes would France have been preserved! For it is for extraordinary cases, above all, that ordinary tribunals are established.
One would almost say that justice among us is like a good housewife, who is employed in domestic matters on working days, but who must not be brought forward on solemn occasions; and yet it is on occasions when passion is most excited that the impartiality of law becomes more necessary than ever.
On the 4th of February, 1790, the King had repaired to the Assembly to give, in a very well composed discourse, at which M. Necker had labored, his sanction to the principal laws already decreed by the Assembly. But in this same discourse the King forcefully showed the unhappy state of the kingdom and the necessity of improving and finishing the constitution. Such a course was indispensable, because the secret advisers of the King, representing him always as if he were in captivity, made the popular party distrustful of his intentions. Nothing was less suitable to so moral a character as Louis XVI than a presumed state of continual powerlessness; the pretended advantages of such a system were destructive of the real strength of virtue.
Federation of 14th July, 1790.
Notwithstanding the faults which we have pointed out, the Constituent Assembly had produced so much good, and triumphed over so many misfortunes, that it was adored by almost all France. The deficiencies in the work of the constitution were perceptible only to those intimately acquainted with the principles of political legislation, and liberty was actually enjoyed, although the precautions taken for its maintenance were not well combined. The career opened to talents of every kind excited general emulation; the discussions of an Assembly distinguished for talent, the varied movement of the liberty of the press, the publicity given to every matter of importance, delivered from bondage the mind of Frenchmen, their patriotism, in short, all those energetic qualities, the results of which we have since seen sometimes marked with cruelty, but always gigantic. It was like an individual who breathed more freely, whose lungs contained a larger portion of air; the indefinite hope of happiness without alloy had taken possession of the nation in its strength as it takes possession of a man in youth, when under the influence of illusion and devoid of foresight.
The chief uneasiness of the Constituent Assembly arising from the danger to which a standing force might one day expose liberty, it was natural for it to endeavor, by every method, to gain the national militia, considering it with truth as an armed force of citizens; besides, the Assembly was so sure of public opinion in 1790 that it took a pleasure in surrounding itself with the country’s soldiers. A standing army is altogether a modern invention, the real object of which is to put into the hands of kings a power independent of their people. It was from the institution of national guards in France that the eventual conquest of continental Europe proceeded; but the Constituent Assembly was then very far from desiring war, for it was too enlightened not to prefer liberty to everything; and this liberty is incompatible with an invading spirit and with military habits.
The eighty-three departments sent deputies from their national guards to take an oath of fidelity to the new constitution. It was not, it is true, as yet completed; but the principles which it declared sacred had obtained universal assent. Patriotic enthusiasm was so strong that all Paris moved in a mass to the “federation of 1790,” as it had moved the year before to the destruction of the Bastille.1
The assemblage of the national militia was to take place in the Champ de Mars, in front of the Military School, and not far from the Hotel des Invalides. It was necessary to erect around this extensive space mounds of grass to hold the spectators. Women of the first rank were seen joining the crowd of voluntary laborers who came to bear a part in the preparations for the fête. In a line from the Military School, and in front of the Seine, which flows past the Champ de Mars, steps had been raised, with a tent to accommodate the King, Queen, and all the court. Eighty-three spears fixed in the ground, and bearing each the colors of its respective department, formed a vast circle, of which the amphitheater prepared for the royal family made a part. At the other extremity was seen an altar, prepared for mass, which, on this great occasion, was celebrated by M. de Talleyrand, then Bishop of Autun. M. de la Fayette approached this altar to take the oath of fidelity to the nation, the law, and the King; and the oath, and the man who pronounced it, excited a strong feeling of confidence. The spectators felt an intoxication of delight; the King and liberty seemed to them, at that time, completely united. A limited monarchy has always been the true wish of France;2 and the last movement of a truly national enthusiasm was displayed at this federation of 1790.
Yet those who were capable of reflection were far from giving themselves up to the general joy. I observed a deep anxiety in my father’s countenance; at the moment when the public thought it was rejoicing for a triumph, he was perhaps aware that no resource was left. M. Necker having sacrificed all his popularity to the defense of the principles of a free and limited monarchy, M. de la Fayette was, of course, the grand object of popular affection on this day: he inspired the National Guard with an exalted devotion; but, whatever might have been his political opinion, his power would have fallen to the ground if he had ventured to oppose the feeling of the day. Ideas, not individuals, were then all-powerful. The dreadful will of Bonaparte himself would have been unavailing against the direction of the public mind; for the French at that time, far from being fond of military power, would have obeyed an assembly much more willingly than a general.
That respect for national representation which is the first basis of a free government existed in every mind in 1790, as if that representation had lasted a century instead of a year. In fact, if truths of a certain description are self-evident instead of requiring to be taught, it is enough to exhibit them to mankind in order to gain their attachment.
Of the State of Society in Paris During the Time of the Constituent Assembly.
Foreigners can have no idea of the boasted charms and splendor of Parisian society if they have seen France only in the last twenty years; but it may be said with truth that never was that society at once so brilliant and serious as during the first three or four years of the Revolution, reckoning from 1788 to the end of 1791. As political affairs were still in the hands of the higher classes, all the vigor of liberty and all the grace of former politeness were united in the same persons. Men of the Third Estate, distinguished by their knowledge and their talents, joined those gentlemen who were prouder of their personal merits than of the privileges of their body; and the highest questions to which social order ever gave rise were treated by minds the most capable of understanding and discussing them.
The main causes that take away from the pleasures of English society are the occupations and interests of a country that has long possessed representative government. French society, on the other hand, was rendered somewhat superficial by the leisure of the monarchy. But the vigor of liberty became all at once joined to the elegance of aristocracy: in no country, and at no time, has the art of speaking in every way been so remarkable as in the early years of the Revolution.1
In England, women are accustomed to be silent before men when politics form the matter of conversation:2 in France, women are accustomed to lead almost all the conversation that takes place at their houses, and their minds are early formed to the facility which this talent requires. Discussions on public affairs were thus softened by their means, and often intermingled with kind and lively pleasantry. Party spirit, it is true, caused divisions in society; but everyone lived with those of his own side.
At court, the two battalions of good company, one faithful to the old state of things, the other the advocates of liberty, drew up on opposite sides and rarely approached each other. I sometimes ventured, in the spirit of enterprise, to try a mixture of the two parties, by bringing together at dinner the most intelligent men of each side; for people of a certain superiority almost always understand each other; but affairs became too serious to admit of the easy renewal of even this momentary harmony.
The Constituent Assembly, as I have already mentioned, did not suspend the liberty of the press for a single day. Thus those who suffered from finding themselves always in a minority in the Assembly had at least the satisfaction of ridiculing all their opponents. Their newspapers abounded in lively witticisms on the most important matters: it was the history of the world converted into daily gossip. Such is everywhere the character of the aristocracy of courts; yet as the acts of violence that had marked the outset of the Revolution had been soon appeased, and as no confiscation, no revolutionary sentences had taken place, everyone preserved enough of comfort to give himself up to the free exercise of his mind. The crimes with which the cause of patriots has since been sullied did not then oppress their souls; and the aristocrats had not yet suffered enough for the people to dare to get the better of them.
Everything was then in opposition—interests, sentiments, and manner of thinking; but so long as scaffolds were not erected, the use of speech proved an acceptable mediator between the two parties. It was, alas! the last time that the French spirit showed itself in all its splendor; it was the last, and, in some respects, likewise the first time that the society of Paris could convey an idea of that communication of superior minds with each other, the noblest enjoyment of which human nature is capable. Those who lived at that time cannot but acknowledge that they never witnessed in any country so much animation or so much intelligence; we may judge by the number of men of talent drawn forth by the circumstances of the time what the French would become if called on to take part in public business in a path traced by a wise and sincere constitution.
It is possible indeed to introduce into political institutions a kind of hypocrisy which condemns people, from the time they come into society, to be silent or to deceive. Conversation in France has been as much spoiled during the last fifteen years by the sophistry of party spirit and the prudence of pettiness, as it was frank and animated at a time when the most important questions were boldly discussed. At that time there was only one kind of apprehension, that of not being worthy enough of the public esteem; and this apprehension gives extension to the powers of the mind instead of compressing them.
The Introduction of Assignats, and Retirement of M. Necker.
The members of the Finance Committee proposed to the Constituent Assembly to discharge the public debt by creating nearly ninety million sterling of paper money, to be secured on church lands, and to be of compulsory circulation.1 This was a very simple method of bringing the finances in order; but the probability was that in thus getting rid of the difficulties which the administration of a great country always presents, an immense capital would be expended in a few years, and the seeds of new revolutions be sown by the disposal of that capital. In fact, without such vast pecuniary resources, neither the interior troubles of France nor the foreign war could have so easily taken place. Several of the deputies who urged the Constituent Assembly to make this enormous emission of paper money were certainly unconscious of its disastrous effects; but they were fond of the power which the command of such a treasure was about to give them.
M. Necker made a strong opposition to the assignat system; first, because, as we have already mentioned, he did not approve of the confiscation of all the church lands and would always, in accordance with his principles, have excepted from it the archbishoprics, bishoprics, and, above all, the smaller benefices (presbytères): for the curates have never been sufficiently paid in France, although, of all classes of priests, they are the most useful. The effects of paper money, its progressive depreciation, and the unprincipled speculations to which that depreciation gave rise were explained in M. Necker’s report, with an energy too fully confirmed by the event.2 Lotteries, to which several members of the Constituent Assembly and, in particular, the Bishop of Autun (Talleyrand), very properly declared themselves adverse, are a mere game of chance; while the profit resulting from the perpetual fluctuation of paper money is founded almost entirely on the art of deceiving, at every moment of the day, in regard to the value either of the currency or of the articles purchased with it. The lower class, thus transformed into gamblers, acquire by the facility of irregular gains a distaste for steady labor; finally, the debtors who discharge themselves in an unfair manner are no longer people of strict probity in any other transaction. M. Necker foretold, in 1790, all that has since happened in regard to the assignats—the deterioration of public wealth by the low rate at which the national lands would be sold, and that series of sudden fortunes and sudden failures which necessarily perverts the character of those who gain as of those who lose; for so great a latitude of fear and hope produces agitations too violent for human nature.
In opposing the system of paper money M. Necker did not confine himself to the easy task of attacking; he proposed, as a counter-expedient, the establishment of a bank on a plan of which the principal parts have since been adopted,3 and in which he was to have introduced as a security, a portion of the church lands sufficient to restore the finances to the most prosperous condition. He also insisted strongly, but without effect, that the members of the Board of Treasury should be admitted into the Assembly, that they might discuss questions of finance in the absence of the minister, who had no right to be there. Finally, M. Necker, before quitting office, made use, for the last time, of the respect that he inspired in directly refusing to the Constituent Assembly, and in particular to Camus, a member, a communication of the “Red Book.”4
This book contained the secret expenditure of the state under the preceding reign and under that of Louis XVI. It contained not a single article ordered by M. Necker; yet it was he who encountered a most disagreeable struggle, to prevent the Assembly from being put in possession of a register which bore evidence of the misconduct of Louis XV, and of the too great bounty of Louis XVI: his bounty only—for M. Necker made a point of communicating that in the space of sixteen years, the King and Queen had taken for themselves only eleven million sterling of this secret expenditure; but a number of persons then alive might be exposed by giving publicity to the large sums that they had received. These persons happened to be M. Necker’s enemies, because he had blamed the lavishness of the Court toward them: still it was he who ventured to displease the Assembly by preventing the publicity of the faults of his antagonists. So many virtues in so many ways, generosity, disinterestedness, perseverance, had in former times been rewarded by public confidence, and were now more than ever entitled to it. But that which should inspire a profound interest in whosoever has formed an idea of the situation of M. Necker was seeing a man of the finest talents, and highest character, placed between parties so opposite, and duties so different, that the complete sacrifice of himself, his reputation, and his happiness could not succeed in reconciling either prejudices to principles or opinions to interests.
Had Louis XVI allowed himself to be effectually guided by the advice of M. Necker, it would have been the duty of that minister not to retire. But the partisans of the old government advised the King, as they perhaps would do at present, never to follow the counsel of a man who had shown attachment to liberty: that, in their eyes, is a crime never to be forgiven. Besides, M. Necker perceived that the King, dissatisfied with the part allotted to him in the constitution, and weary of the conduct of the Assembly, had determined to withdraw from such a situation. Had he addressed himself to M. Necker, to concert with him his departure, his minister would, no doubt, have felt it incumbent on him to second it with all his means, so cruel and dangerous did the situation of the monarch appear to him! And yet it was extremely contrary to the natural wishes of a man called to his station by the wish of the people, to pass into a foreign territory: but if the King and Queen did not intimate to him their intentions in that point, was it for him to call forth confidential communications? Things had proceeded to such an extremity that a man, to possess influence, must have been either factious or counter-revolutionary, and neither of these characters was suitable to M. Necker.
He took, therefore, the determination of resigning, and, doubtless, it was at this time his only proper course; but always guided by a wish to carry his sacrifices for the public as far as possible, he left two million livres of his fortune5 as a deposit in the treasury, precisely because he had foretold that the paper money, with which the dividends were about to be paid, would soon be of no value. He was unwilling, as a private individual, to set an example which might be injurious to the operation which he blamed as minister. Had M. Necker possessed very great wealth, this manner of abandoning his property would even then have been very extraordinary; but as these two million formed more than the half of a fortune reduced by seven years of a ministry without salary, the world will perhaps be surprised that a man who had acquired his property by his own exertions should thus feel the necessity of sacrificing it to the slightest sentiment of delicacy.
My father took his departure on the 8th of September, 1790. I was unable to follow him at that time because I was ill; and the necessity of remaining behind was the more painful to me as I was apprehensive of the difficulties he might encounter on his journey. In fact, four days after his departure, a courier brought me a letter from him with notice of his being arrested at Arcis-sur-Aube. The people, persuaded that he had lost his credit in the Assembly only from having sacrificed the cause of the nation to that of the King, endeavored to prevent him from continuing his journey. The thing which, of all others, made M. Necker suffer most in this situation was the heart-rending disquietude that his wife felt for him; she loved him with a feeling so sincere and impassioned that he allowed himself, perhaps injudiciously, to speak of her, and of her grief, in the letter which on his departure he addressed to the Assembly. The times, it must be confessed, were not suitable to domestic affection; but that sensibility which a great statesman was unable to restrain in any circumstance of his life was exactly the source of his characteristic qualities—penetration and goodness. He who is capable of true and profound emotion is never intoxicated by power; and it is by this, above all, that we recognize in a minister true greatness of soul.
The Constituent Assembly decided that M. Necker should be allowed to continue his journey. He was set at liberty and proceeded to Basel, but not without still running great hazards: he performed this distressing journey by the same road, across the same provinces where, thirteen months before, he had been carried in triumph. The aristocrats did not fail to make a boast of his sufferings, without considering, or, rather without being willing to allow, that he had put himself into that situation for the sake of defending them, and of defending them solely in the spirit of justice: for he well knew that nothing could restore him to their good opinion; and it was certainly not in any such expectation, but from attachment to his duty, that he made a voluntary sacrifice, in thirteen months, of a popularity of twenty years.
He departed with an anguished heart, having lost the fruits of a long career; nor was the French nation likely perhaps ever to find a minister who loved it with equal feeling. What was there, then, so satisfactory to anyone in such a misfortune? What! the incorrigible will exclaim, was he not a partisan of that liberty which has done us all so much mischief? Assuredly I will not tell you all the good that this liberty would have done you had you been willing to adopt her when she offered herself to you pure and unstained; but if we suppose that M. Necker was mistaken along with Cato and Sydney, with Chatham and Washington, ought such an error, the error of all generous minds during two thousand years, to extinguish all gratitude for his virtues?
State of Affairs and of Political Parties in the Winter of 1790–91.
In all the provinces of France there burst forth troubles, caused by the total change of institutions and by the struggle between the partisans of the old and new regimes.
The executive power lay dormant, according to an expression of a deputy on the left side of the Assembly, because it hoped, though without foundation, that good might follow from excess even in mischief. The ministers were incessantly complaining of the disorders; and although they had but limited means to oppose to them, even these they did not employ, flattering themselves that the unhappy state of things would oblige the Assembly to put more strength into the hands of government. The Assembly, perceiving this plan of proceeding, assumed the control of the whole administration instead of restricting itself to making laws. After M. Necker’s retirement, the Assembly demanded the removal of the ministers, and in its constitutional decrees, looking only to the circumstances of the moment, it deprived the King successively of the appointment of all the agents of the executive power.1 It put its bad humor against this or that person into the shape of a decree, believing, like almost all men in power, in the duration of the present state of things. The deputies of the left side were accustomed to say: “The head of the executive power in England has agents of his own nomination; while the executive power in France, not less strong but more happy, will have the advantage of commanding only persons chosen by the nation, and will thus be more intimately united with the people.” There are phrases for everything, particularly in the French language, which has served so much and so often for different and momentary objects. Nothing, however, was so easy as to prove that one cannot command men over whose fortune one does not possess influence. This truth was avowed only by the aristocratic party, but it went into the opposite extreme in not recognizing the necessity of the responsibility of ministers. One of the greatest beauties of the English constitution is that each branch of government, whether King, Lords, or Commons, is all that it can be. The powers are equal among them, not from weakness but on account of their strength.2
In whatever was not connected with the spirit of party the Constituent Assembly gave proofs of the highest degree of reason and information: but there is something in our passions so violent as to burst the links in the chain of reasoning: certain words inflame the blood, and self-love makes the gratification of the moment triumph over all that might be durable.
The same distrust of the King which obstructed the proper functioning of the administration and the judicial branch of government made itself still more felt in the decrees relative to the army. The Assembly willingly fomented a spirit of insubordination in the army at a time when nothing would have been so easy as to repress it; a proof of this was seen in the mutiny of the regiment of Chateauvieux:3 the Assembly thought proper to repress this revolt, and, in a few days, its orders were carried into effect. M. de Bouillé, an officer of true merit in the old government, at the head of the troops that had remained faithful, obliged the soldiers in insurrection to give up the town of Nancy, of which they had obtained possession. This success, owing in fact only to the ascendancy of the decrees of the Assembly, gave false hopes to the Court; it imagined, and M. de Bouillé did not fail to confirm it in the delusive idea, that the army wanted only to give back to the King his former power; while, in fact, the army, like the nation at large, wanted to assign limits to the will of a single ruler. To date from the expedition of M. de Bouillé, in the autumn of 1790, the Court entered into negotiation with him, and hopes were entertained of being able, in some way or other, to bring Mirabeau to enter into concert with that General. The Court conceived that the best means of stopping the Revolution was to gain its leaders; but this revolution had only invisible leaders: these were the truths which were firmly believed, and which no seductive power was capable of shaking. In politics we must treat with principles and not trouble ourselves about individuals, who fall of themselves into their place as soon as we have given a proper shape to the frame into which they are to enter.
However, the popular party on its part became sensible that it had been carried too far, and that the clubs which were establishing themselves out of the Assembly were beginning to dictate laws to the Assembly itself. From the moment that we admit into a government a power that is not legal, it invariably ends by becoming the strongest. As it has no other business than to find fault with what is going on, and has no active duty to discharge, it lies nowise open to censure, and it counts among its partisans all who desire a change in the country. The case is the same with the free-thinkers, who attack religion of every kind, but who know not what to say when asked to substitute a system, of whatever sort, for that which they aim at overturning. We must beware of confounding these self-constituted authorities, whose existence is so pernicious, with the public opinion, which makes itself felt in all directions but never forms itself into a political body. The Jacobin clubs4 were organized as a government more than the government itself: they passed decrees; they were connected by correspondence in the provinces with other clubs not less powerful; finally, they were to be considered as a mine underground, always ready to blow up existing institutions when opportunities should offer.
The party of the Lameths, Barnave, and Duport, the most popular of all next to the Jacobins, was, however, already threatened by the demagogues of the day, most of whom were, in their turn, to be considered in the ensuing year as the next thing to aristocrats. The Assembly, however, always perseveringly rejected the measures proposed in the clubs against emigration, against the liberty of the press, against the meetings of the nobles; never, to its honor (and we shall not be weary of repeating it), did it adopt the terrible doctrine of establishing liberty by means of despotism. It is to that detestable system that we must ascribe the loss of public spirit in France.
M. de la Fayette and his partisans would not consent to go to the Jacobin club; and to balance its influence, they endeavored to found another society under the name of “Club of 1789,” in which the friends of order and liberty were expected to meet. Mirabeau, although he had other views of his own, came to this moderate club, which, however, was soon deserted because no one was urged thither by an object of active interest. Its proposed duties were to preserve, to repress, to suspend; but these are the functions of a government, not of a club. The monarchists, I mean the partisans of a king and constitution, should naturally have connected themselves with this club of 1789; but Sieyès and Mirabeau, who belonged to it, would for no possible consideration have consented to lose their popularity by drawing near to Malouet or Clermont-Tonnerre, to men who were as much adverse to the impulse of the moment as they were in harmony with the spirit of the age. The moderate party were then divided into two or three different sections, while the assailants were almost always united. The prudent and courageous advocates of English institutions found themselves repulsed in all directions, because they had only truth on their side. We find, however, in the Moniteur of the time precious acknowledgments by the leaders of the right side of the Assembly in regard to the English constitution. The Abbé Maury said, “The English constitution which the friends of the throne and of liberty equally ought to take as a model.” Cazalès said, “England, that country in which the nation is as free as the king is respected.” In short, all the defenders of old abuses, seeing themselves threatened by a much greater danger than even the reform of those abuses, extolled the English government at that time as much as they had depreciated it two years before, when it was so easy for them to obtain it. The privileged classes have renewed this maneuver several times, but always without inspiring confidence: the principles of liberty cannot be a matter of tactical maneuver; for there is something which partakes of devotion in the feeling with which sincere minds are impressed for the dignity of human nature.
Death of Mirabeau.
A man of great family from Brabant, of a sagacious and penetrating mind,1 acted as the medium between the Court and Mirabeau: he had prevailed on him to correspond secretly with the Marquis de Bouillé, the General in whom the royal family had the most confidence. The project of Mirabeau was, it seems, to accompany the King to Compiègne in the midst of the regiments of whose obedience M. de Bouillé was certain, and to call thither the Constituent Assembly in order to disengage it from the influence of Paris and bring it under that of the Court. But Mirabeau had, at the same time, the intention of causing the English constitution to be adopted; for never will a truly superior man desire the re-establishment of arbitrary power. An ambitious character might take pleasure in such power if assured of holding it during the whole of his life; but Mirabeau was perfectly aware that if he succeeded in re-establishing an unlimited monarchy in France, the direction of such a government would not long be granted him by the Court; he desired, therefore, a representative government, in which men of talent, being always necessary, would always be of weight.
I have had in my hands a letter of Mirabeau written for the purpose of being shown to the King: in it he offered all his means of restoring to France an efficient and respected, but a limited, monarchy; he made use, among others, of this remarkable expression: “I would not want to have worked only toward a vast destruction.” The whole letter did honor to the justness of his views. His death was a great misfortune at the time it happened; a transcendant superiority in the career of thought always offers great resources. “You have too much capacity,” said M. Necker one day to Mirabeau, “not to acknowledge, sooner or later, that morality is in the nature of things.” Mirabeau was not altogether a man of genius; but he was not far from being one by the force of talent.
I will confess, then, notwithstanding the frightful faults of Mirabeau, notwithstanding the just resentment which I felt for the attacks that he allowed himself to make on my father in public (for, in private, he never spoke of him but with admiration), that his death struck me with grief, and all Paris experienced the same sensation. During his illness an immense crowd gathered daily and hourly before his door: that crowd made not the smallest noise, from dread of disturbing him; it was frequently renewed in the course of the twenty-four hours, and persons of different classes all behaved with equal respect. A young man, having heard it said that on introducing fresh blood into the veins of a dying man a recovery might be effected, came forward and offered to save the life of Mirabeau at the expense of his own. We cannot, without emotion, see homage rendered to talent: so much does it differ from that which is lavished on power!
Mirabeau knew that his death was approaching. At that moment, far from sinking under affliction, he had a feeling of pride: the cannon were firing for a public ceremony; he called out, “I hear already the funeral of Achilles.” In truth, an intrepid orator, who should defend with constancy the cause of liberty, might compare himself to a hero. “After my death,” said he again, “the factious will share among themselves the shreds of the monarchy.”2 He had conceived the plan of repairing a great many evils; but it was not given to him to be the expiator of his faults. He suffered cruelly in the last days of his life; and, when no longer able to speak, wrote to Cabanis, his physician, for a dose of opium, in these words of Hamlet: “to die—to sleep.” He received no consolation from religion; he was struck by death in the fullness of the interests of this world and when he thought himself near the object to which his ambition aspired. There is in the destiny of almost all men, when we take the trouble of examining it, a manifest proof of a moral and religious object, of which they themselves are not always aware, and toward which they advance unconsciously.
All the parties at that time regretted Mirabeau. The Court flattered itself with having gained him; the friends of liberty reckoned on his aid. Some said that, with such distinguished talents, he could not want anarchy, as he had no need of confusion to be the first man in the state; and others were certain that he wished for free institutions, because personal value cannot find its place where these do not exist. In fine, he died in the most brilliant moment of his career,3 and the tears of the people who followed him to the grave made the ceremony very affecting: it was the first time in France that a man indebted for celebrity to his writings and his eloquence received those honors which had heretofore been granted only to men of high birth or to distinguished commanders. The day after his death no member of the Constituent Assembly cast an unmoved eye toward the place where Mirabeau was accustomed to sit. The great oak had fallen; the rest were no longer to be distinguished.
I cannot but blame myself for expressing such regret for a character little entitled to esteem; but talent like his is so rare; and it is, unfortunately, so likely that one will see nothing equal to it in the course of one’s life, that it is impossible to restrain a sigh when death closes his brazen gates on a man lately so eloquent, so animated; in short, so strongly and so firmly in possession of life.
Departure of the King on the 21st of June, 1791.
Louis XVI would have cordially accepted the English constitution had it been presented to him with candor and with the respect due to the head of a government; but the Assembly wounded all his affections, particularly by three decrees, which were rather hurtful than useful to the cause of the nation. They abolished the power of granting pardons,1 that power which ought to exist in every civilized society, and which, in a monarchy, can belong only to the Crown: they required from the priests an oath of adherence to the civil constitution of the clergy, on pain of the loss of their appointments; and they wished to deprive the Queen of the power of being Regent.2
The greatest error, perhaps, of the Constituent Assembly, as we have already said, was to aim at creating a clerical body dependent on it, in the same way as has been done by a number of absolute sovereigns. It deviated, for this purpose, from that system of perfect equity in which it ought to have sought support. It stimulated to resistance the conscience and the honor of the clerical body. The friends of liberty wander from the true path whenever it is practicable to oppose to them generous sentiments; for true liberty can have opponents only among those who are ready to act a usurping or servile part; and the priest who refused a theological oath exacted by threats acted more the part of a free man than those who endeavored to make him give the lie to his opinion.
Lastly, the third decree, the one relative to the Regency, being intended to keep power out of the hands of the Queen, who was suspected by the popular party, could not fail to be personally offensive on several grounds to Louis XVI. That decree declared him the first public functionary,3 a title wholly unsuited to a king, since every functionary must be responsible; and it is indispensable to introduce into hereditary monarchy a sentiment of respect naturally connected with the inviolability of the sovereign. This respect does not exclude the mutual compact between the King and the nation, a compact existing at all times either in a tacit or in an avowed shape; but reason and delicacy may always be made compatible when people are sincerely disposed to it.
The second article of the regency decree was to be condemned on grounds similar to those that we have already mentioned; it declared the King deprived of the throne if he went out of France.4 This was pronouncing on what ought not to have been anticipated, the case in which a king was to be stripped of his dignity. Republican virtues and institutions elevate very greatly the people whose situation allows them to enjoy them; but in monarchical countries, the people become perverted if they are not accustomed to respect the authority which they have acknowledged. A penal code against a king is an idea without application, whether that king be strong or weak. In the latter case, the power that overturns him does not confine itself to law, in whatever manner that law may have been conceived.
It is therefore only under a prudential point of view that we are to form an opinion of the step taken by the King in escaping from the Tuileries on the 21st of June, 1791. He had certainly met by that time with as much bad treatment as gave him a right to quit France; and he perhaps rendered a great service even to the friends of liberty by putting an end to a hypocritical situation; for their cause was injured by the vain efforts that they made to persuade the nation that the political acts of the King, from the time of his arrival at Paris, were acts of free will, when it was perfectly evident that they were not.
Mr. Fox5 told me in England, in 1793, that at the time of the King’s departure to Varennes, he should have wished that he had been allowed to quit the kingdom in peace and that the Constituent Assembly had proclaimed a republic. France would at least not have sullied herself with the crimes afterward committed against the royal family; and whether a republican form can or cannot succeed in a great country, it is always best that the trial should be made by upright men. But that which was most to be dreaded took place—the arrest of the King and his family.
A journey requiring so much management and rapidity was prepared almost as in ordinary times: etiquette is of such moment at a court that it could not be dispensed with even on this most perilous occasion; the consequence was the failure of the attempt.6
When the Constituent Assembly learned of the King’s departure, its behavior was perfectly firm and becoming; what it had wanted till that day was a counterpoise to its unlimited power. Unfortunately, the French arrive at reason in political matters only by compulsion. A vague idea of danger hovered over the Assembly; it was possible that the King might go, as he intended, to Montmédy, and that he might receive aid from foreign troops; it was possible that a great party might declare for him in the interior. In short, disquietude put an end to extremes; and among the deputies of the popular party, those who had clamored on pretext of tyranny when the English constitution was proposed to them would now have willingly subscribed to it.
Never will it be possible to find grounds of consolation for the arrest of the King at Varennes: irreparable faults, crimes which must long be the cause of shame, have impaired the feeling of liberty in the minds best fitted to receive it. Had the King left the country, perhaps an equitable constitution might have arisen out of the struggle between the two parties.7 But civil war, it will be exclaimed, was to be avoided above all things. Not above all things! There are other calamities still more to be dreaded. Generous virtues are displayed by those who fight for their opinion; and it is more natural to shed one’s blood in defense of it than for one of the thousand political interests which form the habitual causes of war. Doubtless it is cruel to fight against one’s fellow-citizens, but it is still more horrible to be oppressed by them; and that which of all things ought to be avoided in France is the absolute triumph of a party. For a long habit of liberty is necessary to prevent the feeling of justice from being perverted by the pride of power.
The King, on setting out, left a manifesto containing the motives for his departure; he recapitulated the treatment which he had been obliged to undergo, and declared that his authority was reduced to such a degree that he had no longer the power of governing. Amidst complaints so well founded, it was improper to insert observations of too minute a cast on the bad condition of the palace of the Tuileries. It is very difficult for hereditary sovereigns to prevent themselves from being governed by habit in the smallest as in the greatest events of life; but it is perhaps on that very account that they are better adapted than elected chiefs to a government of law and peace. The manifesto of Louis XVI closed with the memorable assurance “that on recovering his independence, he was ready to devote it to erecting the liberty of the French people on an imperishable foundation.” Such was at that time the current of public feeling that no one, not even the King himself, considered practicable the re-establishment of an unlimited monarchy.8
The Assembly, as soon as it was informed of the arrest of the royal family at Varennes, sent thither commissaries, among whom were Péthion and Barnave: Péthion, a man without information or elevation of soul, saw the misfortune of the most affecting victims without being moved by it. Barnave felt a respectful pity, particularly for the Queen; and from that time forward, he, Duport, Lameth, Regnault de St. Jean d’Angely, Chapelier, Thouret, and others united all their influence to that of M. de la Fayette to the restoration of royalty.9
The King and his family, on returning from Varennes, made a mournful entry into Paris; the clothes of the King and Queen were covered with dust; the two children of the royal family looked with surprise on the mass of people who came forth with an air of command into the presence of its fallen masters. Madame Elizabeth10 appeared, in the midst of this illustrious family, like a being already sanctified and which has no longer anything in common with the world. Three of the bodyguards, placed on the outside seat of the carriage, were exposed every moment to the danger of being massacred, and deputies of the Constituent Assembly placed themselves repeatedly between them and the enraged part of the populace who wanted to kill them. It was thus that the King returned to the palace of his ancestors. Alas! what a sad presage! And how truly was it fulfilled!
Revision of the Constitution.
The Assembly was constrained, by the popular ferment, to declare that the King should be kept prisoner in the palace of the Tuileries until the constitution had been presented for his acceptance. M. de la Fayette, as commander of the National Guards, had the misfortune of being doomed to carry this decree into effect. But if, on the one hand, he placed sentinels at the gates of the palace, he opposed, on the other, with conscientious energy, the party which endeavored to pronounce the King fallen from the throne.1 He employed against those who pressed that measure the armed force in the Champ de Mars;2 and he thus proved, at least, that it was not from views of ambition that he exposed himself to the displeasure of the King, as he drew on himself at the same time the hatred of the enemies of the throne. The only equitable manner, in my opinion, of judging the character of a man is to examine if there are no personal calculations in his conduct; if there are not, we may blame his manner of judging; but we are not the less bound to esteem him.
The republican party was the only one that came openly forward at the time of the arrest of the King. The name of the Duke of Orléans was not even mentioned; no one presumed to think of another king than Louis XVI, and he received at least the homage of having nothing but institutions opposed to him. Finally, the person of the monarch was declared inviolable; a specification was made of the cases in which a deprivation of the Crown should be incurred;3 but if the illusion which should surround the royal person were thus destroyed, engagements proportionally stronger were taken to respect the law which guaranteed the inviolability of the sovereign in every possible supposition.
The Constituent Assembly always thought, but very erroneously, that its decrees possessed something of magic power, and that the people would stop in everything exactly at the line which it had traced. Its authority in this respect may be compared to that of the ribband suspended in the garden of the Tuileries to prevent the people from approaching the palace: so long as public opinion was in favor of those who had caused this ribband to be strung, it was respected by everyone; but as soon as the people would no longer have a barrier, it was not of the slightest use.
We find in some modern constitutions, as a constitutional article: “the government shall be just, and the people obedient.” Were it possible to command such a result, the balance of powers would be altogether superfluous; but to succeed in putting good maxims in execution, it is necessary to combine institutions in such a way that everyone shall find his interest in maintaining them. Religious doctrines stand in no need of appealing to personal interest to acquire command over men, and it is in that, above all, that they are of a superior order; but legislators, invested with the interests of this world, fall into a kind of self-deception when they introduce patriotic sentiments as a necessary spring in the machine of society. To reckon on consequences for organizing a cause is to mistake the natural order of events. Nations become free not from their being virtuous but because fortunate circumstances, or rather a strong will, having put them in possession of liberty, they acquire the virtues which arise from it.
The laws on which civil and political liberty depend are reducible to a very small number, and it is this political decalogue alone that merits the title of constitutional articles. But the National Assembly gave that title to almost all its decrees; whether it thus aimed at keeping itself independent of the royal sanction or, like an author, acted under a degree of illusion in regard to the perfection and durability of its own work.
However, the intelligent men in the Assembly succeeded in reducing the number of constitutional articles;4 but a discussion arose to ascertain whether it should not be decided that every twenty years a new Constituent Assembly should be formed to revise the constitution which they had just established, taking for granted that, in this interval, no change should be made in it. What confidence did this show in the stability of such a work, and how greatly has it been deceived?
At last it was decreed that no constitutional article should be modified, except on the demand of three succeeding assemblies. This was forming an extraordinary idea of human patience on subjects of such great importance.
The French, in general, look only at the reality of the things of this life, and are sufficiently ready to turn principles into ridicule if they appear to them an obstacle to the immediate success of their wishes. But the Constituent Assembly, on the other hand, acted under a domineering passion for abstract ideas. This fashion, which was quite contrary to the spirit of the nation, did not last long. The factious made use at first of metaphysical arguments as motives for the most guilty actions, and they soon after overturned this structure to proclaim plainly the force of circumstances and the contempt of general views.
The côté droit of the Assembly was often in the right during the course of the session, and more often still excited the interest of the public, because it was oppressed by a stronger party and denied opportunities of speaking. In no country is it more necessary than in France to establish regulations in deliberative assemblies in favor of the minority; for such a predilection exists there for the stronger party that people are apt to account it a crime in you to belong to the weaker.* After the arrest of the King, the aristocrats, knowing that royalty had acquired defenders among the popular party, thought it best to let the latter act, and to come less conspicuously forward themselves. The converted deputies did what they could to increase the authority of the executive power; but they did not, however, venture to broach those questions, the decision of which alone could give solidity to the political state of France. People were afraid to speak of two chambers as of a conspiracy. The right of dissolving the legislative body, a right so necessary to the maintenance of royal authority, was not granted to it. Reasonable men were alarmed by being called aristocrats; yet the aristocrats were then no longer formidable, and it was on that very account that the name had been converted into a reproach. At that time, as well as subsequently, the stronger party in France have had the art of making the vanquished the object of public disquietude; one would say that the weak alone were to be dreaded. To over-rate the means of their adversaries is a good pretext to increase the power of the victors. We must form enemies in effigy if we wish to accustom our arm to strike a weighty blow.
The majority of the Assembly hoped to restrain the Jacobins, and yet it compromised with them, and lost ground at each victory. The constitution accordingly was drawn like a treaty between two parties, not like a work for permanency. The authors of this constitution launched into the sea an ill-constructed vessel, and thought that they found a justification for every fault by quoting the wish of such an individual or the credit of such another. But the waves of the ocean which the vessel had to traverse were not to be smoothed by such apologies.
But what course, it will be asked, could be adopted when circumstances were unfavorable to that which reason seemed to dictate? Resist, always resist, and rely for support on yourselves. The courage of an upright man is a consideration of importance, and no one can foresee what consequences it may have. Had there been ten deputies of the popular party, had there been five, three, or even one who had made the Assembly feel all the misfortunes that would necessarily result from a political work defenseless against faction; had he adjured the Assembly, in the name of the admirable principles which it had decreed and of the principles which it had overturned, not to expose to hazard so many blessings that formed the treasure of human reason; had the inspiration of thought revealed to one orator in what manner the sacred name of liberty was soon to be consigned to a disastrous association with the most cruel recollections, one man alone might perhaps have been able to arrest the destiny. But the applause, or the murmurs of the galleries, influenced questions which ought to have been discussed calmly by the most enlightened and most reflecting men. The pride which enables one to resist a multitude is of another kind than that which renders one independent of a despot, although it is the same natural impulse that enables us to struggle against oppression of every kind.
There remained only one method of repairing the errors of the laws: that method lay in the choice of men. The deputies about to succeed in the Constituent Assembly might resume imperfect labors and rectify, in the spirit of wisdom, the faults already committed. But the Assembly set out by rejecting property as a qualification, although necessary to confine the elections to the class that has an interest in the maintenance of order. Robespierre, who was about to act so great a part in the reign of blood, combated this condition as an injustice, however low the scale might be fixed; he brought forward the declaration of the rights of man in regard to equality, as if that equality, even in its most extended sense, admitted the power of acquiring everything without talent and without labor. To arrogate political rights without a title to exercise them is a usurpation as much as any other.5 Robespierre joined obscure metaphysics to common declamation, and it was thus that he achieved a kind of eloquence. Better speeches were composed for him in his day of power; but during the Constituent Assembly no one paid attention to him, and whenever he rose to speak, those of the democrats who had any taste were very ready to turn him into ridicule, that they might obtain the credit of belonging to a moderate party.
It was decreed that to pay taxes at the annual rate of a mark of silver (about fifty-four livres) should be a necessary qualification to being a deputy. This was enough to excite complaints from the speakers in regard to all the younger brothers of families, in regard to all the men of talent, who would be excluded by their poverty from becoming representatives: yet the rate was so small as not to confine the choice of the people to the class of men of property.
The Constituent Assembly, to remedy this inconvenience, established two stages in the elective process: it decreed that the people should name electors, who should subsequently make choice of deputies. This gradation had certainly a tendency to soften the action of the democratic element, and the revolutionary leaders were doubtless of that opinion, since they abolished it on their acquiring the ascendency. But a choice made directly by the people, and subjected to a fair qualification in point of property, is infinitely more favorable to the energy of a free government. An immediate election, such as exists in England, can alone communicate public spirit and love of country to every class. A nation becomes attached to its representatives when it has chosen them itself: but when obliged to confine itself to the electing of those who are to elect in their turn, the artificial combination casts a damp on its interest. Besides, Electoral Colleges, from the mere circumstance of their consisting of a small number of persons, are much more open to intrigue than large masses; they are open, above all, to that bourgeois intrigue that is so degrading when we see men of the middling ranks6 apply to their lofty superiors to get places for their sons in the antechambers of the court.
In a free government the people ought to rally itself under the first class by taking representatives from among it, and the first class should endeavor to please the people by their talents and virtues. This double tie retains but little force when the act of election has to pass through two stages. The life of election is thus destroyed to avoid commotion; it is a great deal better, as in England, to balance discreetly the democratic by the aristocratic element, leaving, however, both in possession of their natural independence.7
M. Necker in his last work8 proposed a new method of establishing two stages of election; this should consist, he thinks, in the electoral college giving a list of a certain number of candidates, out of which the primary assemblies might make a choice. The motives for this institution are ingeniously explained in M. Necker’s book; but it is evident that he thought it, all along, necessary that the people should exercise fully its right and its judgment, and that distinguished men should have a permanent interest in winning its votes.
The revisers of the constitution in 1791 were incessantly accused by the Jacobins of being the advocates of despotism, even at the time that they were obliged to resort to circumlocution in speaking of the executive power, as if the name of a king could not be pronounced in a monarchical state. Yet the Constituent Deputies might still perhaps have succeeded in saving France had they been members of the following Assembly. The most enlightened deputies felt what was wanted to a constitution framed under the pressure of events, and they would have endeavored to find a remedy in the mode of interpreting it. But the party of mediocrity, which counts so many soldiers in its ranks, that party which hates talents as the friends of liberty hate despotism, succeeded in debarring, by a decree, the deputies of the Constituent Assembly from the possibility of being re-elected.9 The aristocrats and the Jacobins, having acted a very inferior part during the session, did not flatter themselves with being returned; they felt accordingly a pleasure in shutting the entrance to the next Assembly on those who were assured of the votes of their fellow-citizens. For of all agrarian laws, that which would most please the mass of mankind would be a division of public votes into equal portions, talents never obtaining a greater number than mediocrity. Many individuals would flatter themselves with gaining by this plan; but the emulation which creates the wealth of mankind would be totally lost.
In vain did the first orators of the Assembly urge that successors altogether new, and elected in a time of trouble, would be ambitious of making a revolution equally striking as that which had distinguished their predecessors. The members of the extremity of the côté gauche, agreeing with the extremity of the côté droit, exclaimed that their colleagues wished to make a monopoly of power, and deputies hitherto inimical, the Jacobins and aristocrats, joyfully shook hands on thinking that they should have the good fortune of excluding men whose superiority had for two years cast them into the shade.
How great a fault under existing circumstances! But also how great an error, in point of principle, was it to forbid the people to return those who have already shown themselves worthy of its confidence! In what country do we find a sufficient number of capable persons to enable us to exclude, in an arbitrary manner, men already known, already tried, and practically acquainted with business? Nothing costs a state dearer than deputies who have to make their fortune in the way of reputation; men of acquired property of this kind also ought to be preferred to those who have still their wealth to seek.
Acceptance of the Constitution, Called the Constitution of 1791.
Thus ended that famous Assembly which united so much knowledge to so many errors, which was the cause of permanent good but of great immediate evil, the remembrance of which will long serve as a pretext for attacks by the enemies of liberty.
Behold, say they, the result of the deliberations of the most enlightened men in France. But we may say to them in reply: consider what must be the situation of men who, never having exercised any political right, find themselves all at once in posession of that which is so ruinous to everyone—unlimited power: they will be long before they are aware that injustice suffered by any individual citizen, whether a friend or enemy of liberty, recoils on the head of all; they will be long before they understand the theory of liberty, which is so simple when one is born in a country where the laws and manners teach it, so difficult when one has lived under an arbitrary government in which everything is decided by circumstances, and principles always rendered subservient to them. Finally, at all times and in every country, to make a nation pass from the government of a court to the government of law is a crisis of the greatest difficulty, even when public opinion renders it unavoidable.
History should then consider the Constituent Assembly under a double point of view: the abuses which it destroyed, and the institutions which it created. Under the former it has great claims on the gratitude of mankind; under the latter it may be reproached with the most serious errors.
On the proposition of M. de la Fayette, a general amnesty was granted to all those who had participated in the King’s journey or committed what could be called political offenses. He obtained likewise a decree enabling every individual to leave France, and return, without a passport. The emigration was already begun. In the next chapter I shall point out the distinction between the emigration prompted by political views and that unavoidable emigration which was of later date. But that which should fix our attention is that the Constituent Assembly rejected every measure proposed to it that would have impeded civil liberty. The minority of the nobility was actuated by that spirit of justice which is inseparable from disinterestedness. Among the deputies of the Third Estate, Dupont de Nemours,1 who survived in spite of his courage, Thouret, Barnave, Chapelier, and so many others who fell the victims of their excellent principles certainly brought none but the purest intentions into their deliberations; but a tumultuous and ignorant majority carried their point in the decrees relative to the constitution. There was a sufficient store of knowledge in France in whatever related to the judicial branch and the details of administration; but the theory of powers required more profound information.
It was thus, then, the most painful of intellectual spectacles to see the blessings of civil liberty committed to the safeguard of a political liberty that had neither moderation nor strength.
This ill-fated constitution, so good in its foundation and so bad in its superstructure, was presented to the acceptance of the King.2 He certainly could not refuse it, as it put an end to his captivity; but the public flattered itself that his consent was voluntary. Fêtes were held as if for a season of happiness; rejoicings were ordered that people might persuade themselves that the danger was over; the words “King,” “Representative Assembly,” “Constitutional Monarchy” corresponded to the real wishes of all the French. They thought they had attained realities when they had acquired only names.
The King and Queen were entreated to go to the opera; their entrance into the house was the signal for sincere and universal plaudits. The piece was the Ballet of Psyche; at the time that the furies were dancing and shaking their flambeaus, and when the brilliancy of the flames spread all over the house, I saw the faces of the King and Queen by the pale light of this imitation of the lower regions and was seized with melancholy forebodings of the future. The Queen exerted herself to be agreeable, but a profound grief was perceptible, even in her obliging smile. The King, as usual, seemed more engaged with what he saw than with what he felt; he looked on all sides with calmness, one might almost say with indifference; he had, like most sovereigns, accustomed himself to restrain the expression of his feelings, and he had perhaps by this means lessened their intensity. After the opera, the public went out to walk in the Champs Elysées, which were superbly illuminated. The palace and garden of the Tuileries, being separated from them only by the fatal Square of the Revolution, the illumination of the palace and garden formed an admirable combination with that of the long alleys of the Champs Elysées, which were joined together by festoons of lamps.
The King and Queen drove leisurely in their carriage through the midst of the crowd, and the latter, each time that they perceived the carriage, called out: Vive le Roi! But they were the same people who had insulted the same King on his return from Varennes, and they were no better able to account for their applause than they had been for their insults.
I met in the course of my walk several members of the Constituent Assembly: like dethroned sovereigns, they seemed very uneasy about their successors. Certainly all would have wished like them that they had been appointed to maintain the constitution, such as it was; for enough was already known of the spirit of elections not to entertain any hope for an amelioration of affairs. But people were rendered giddy by the noise that proceeded from every quarter. The lower orders were singing, and the newspaper venders made the air re-echo with their loud calls of La grande acceptation du Roi, la constitution monarchique, etc. etc.
The Revolution was apparently finished, and liberty established. Yet people looked around on each other as if to acquire from their neighbors that security which they did not possess themselves.
The absence of the nobility undermined this security, for monarchy cannot exist without the participation of an aristocratic body, and, unfortunately, the prejudices of the French nobles were such that they rejected every kind of free government: it is to this great difficulty that we are to attribute the most serious defects of the constitution of 1791. For the men of rank and property offering no support to liberty, the democratic power necessarily acquired the ascendancy. The English barons, from the time of Magna Charta, have demanded rights for the Commons conjointly with rights for themselves. In France, the nobility opposed these rights when claimed by the Third Estate, but being too weak to struggle with the people, they quitted their country in a mass and allied themselves with foreigners. This lamentable resolution rendered a constitutional monarchy impracticable at that time, for it destroyed its preserving elements. We proceed to explain what were the necessary consequences of emigration.
[1. ] Madame de Staël’s view of Mirabeau was hardly objective because the latter was a powerful rival of Staël’s father. Bailleul was among the first to criticize Madame de Staël’s views of Mirabeau (Examen critique de l’ouvrage posthume de Mme. la Bnne. de Staël, vol. I, 239–75). For another opinion on Mirabeau, see chap. X of Lord Acton’s Lectures on the French Revolution. “Odious as he was and foredoomed to fail,” wrote Acton, “he [Mirabeau] was yet the supreme figure of the time. . . . As a Minister, he might have saved the Constitution. . . . If Mirabeau is tried by the test of public morals, . . . the verdict cannot be doubtful. His ultimate policy was one vast intrigue, and he avowedly strove to do evil that good might come. . . . The answer is different if we try him by a purely political test, and ask whether he desired power for the whole or freedom for the parts. Mirabeau was not only a friend of freedom . . . but a friend of federalism. . . . If in this he was sincere, he deserves the great place he holds in the memory of his countrymen.” (Lectures on the French Revolution, 136–37)
[2. ] The French text contains some quotations that are not properly referenced, and I have thus removed the quotation marks.
[3. ] An allusion to the “Mirabeau workshop” composed of friends (such as Clavière, du Roveray, Reybaz, and Dumont) who helped Mirabeau compose his works. For more details, see Bénétruy, L’atelier de Mirabeau.
[4. ] For Abbé Maury, see pt. I, chap. xvii, note 7.
[5. ] Mirabeau had a secret correspondence with Louis XVI. His notes to the King were published in Chaussinand-Nogaret, ed., Mirabeau entre le roi et la Révolution.
[1. ] The reader might find it interesting to compare Madame de Staël’s views on this issue with Burke’s. Staël opposed the idea that the representatives of the people are depositories of a power without limits. Burke argued: “That Assembly, since the destruction of the orders, has no fundamental law, no strict convention, no respected usage to restrain it. . . . Nothing in heaven or upon earth can serve as a control on them.” (Reflections, 135) Benjamin Constant insisted that since “no authority upon earth is unlimited,” even the authority of the democratically elected representatives of the people must be properly limited. He added: “The abstract limitation of sovereignty is not sufficient. We must find for political institutions which combine the interest of the different holders of power.” (Principles of Politics, 180, 182) Taine’s judgment on this issue can be found in Taine, The French Revolution, vol. I, 159–216.
[2. ] According to Acton, “Mounier, with some of his friends, deserves to be remembered among the men, not so common as they say, who loved liberty sincerely; I mean, who desired it, not for any good it might do them, but for itself, however arduous, or costly, or perilous its approach might be.” (Acton, Lectures on the French Revolution, 98)
[3. ] Burke made a similar point in his Reflections on the Revolution in France.
[4. ] During the first years of the Bourbon Restoration.
[1. ] After his surrender to the Austrians (August 19, 1792), La Fayette was imprisoned at Olmütz from May 1794 to October 1797.
[2. ] La Fayette left for America in 1777. Madame de Staël wrote these lines forty years later, in 1817.
[3. ] An inaccurate description. The American Constitution is not prefaced by a declaration of rights. The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution—the famous Bill of Rights—were adopted within three years of the Constitution’s ratification and resulted from political negotiations during the state ratifying conventions that were called to accept or reject the draft produced by the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. It is likely that the source of La Fayette’s inspiration might have been Virginia’s famous 1776 Declaration of Rights. For more information on this topic, see Hoffman and Albert, The Bill of Rights: Government Proscribed, especially the essay by Akhil Reed Amar, “The Bill of Rights as a Constitution,” 274–386.
[4. ] The Bill of Rights had been signed on October 23, 1689. Madame de Staël seems to confound here the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the first ten amendments to the Constitution (September 1789–December 1791).
[5. ] On the Declaration of Rights of Man and of Citizen, see Marcel Gauchet’s entry on the rights of man in A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 818–28, and also see Gauchet, La Révolution des droits de l’homme.
[1. ] Reference to the special commissions instituted for the punishment of those involved in black market or various political activities.
[2. ] Robespierre proposed the elimination of the death penalty in May 1791. It was finally abolished in February 1848, but the decree was not implemented before 1871.
[3. ] Judgment by jury was a major topic in the political debates of the Bourbon Restoration, when it was defended by all French liberals from Constant to Royer-Collard. In volume 1 of Democracy in America, Tocqueville drew a long list of the advantages of juries for the democratic education of citizens, insisting on the seminal role played by the juries in the apprenticeship of civil and political liberties.
[4. ] This occurred during the Consulate and the Empire. On prevotal and martial courts in France, see Jacques Godechot, Les institutions de la France sous la révolution et l’empire.
[5. ] On this issue, see Acton, Lectures on the French Revolution, 143–50. In August 1789, it was decided that the clergy, once a powerful and privileged order, would become salaried functionaries of the state. On November 26, 1789, the majority of the representatives (568 to 346) voted to place the possessions of the clergy at the disposal of the French state. After the property of the church became the property of the state, the Constituent Assembly passed the so-called Civil Constitution of the Clergy (July 12, 1790), which regulated the relations between church and state under the new political circumstances. Pope Pius VI condemned the document as heretical in the spring of 1791. The text of the Civil Constitution can be found in Baker, ed., The Old Regime and the French Revolution, vol. 7, 239–42. For more information, see A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 449–57.
[6. ] The nobles were exempt from the payment of the taille. At the same time they did not pay the other direct taxes according to their wealth.
[7. ] After the changes introduced by Count de Saint-Germain and the Marshal de Ségur in 1776–77 and 1781, all the officers were required to prove that they had a certain noble origin.
[8. ] Reference to Napoléon, the archenemy of Madame de Staël.
[9. ] The brother of the Duke of Bourbon, the Count of Charalois, was known for his extravagant behavior and numerous conflicts with the authorities (he was arrested and freed). His land was annexed by France after his death in 1761.
[10. ] In spite of their many political affinities, Madame de Staël and Burke differed significantly in their views on the Constituent Assembly. Burke ended up rejecting the entire work of the Assembly, while Staël espoused a much more nuanced position in line with that of other French liberals.
[11. ] As Godechot pointed out, the Assembly was instrumental in the creation of conseils généraux des departements, whose attributions were different from those of the provincial assemblies.
[12. ] An indirect critique of Napoléon, who shrewdly used the army and censorship to strengthen his personal power.
[1. ] Madame de Staël’s statement must be interpreted in the historical context of the first years of the Bourbon Restoration, during which time the issue of the liberty of the press, one of the pillars of representative government, was widely debated in the Chamber of Deputies. Staël’s friend Benjamin Constant was one of the most important and eloquent defenders of liberty of the press against its critics. Staël favored absolute liberty for books but defended the need for censorship of journals. For more information, see Hatin, Histoire politique et littéraire de la presse en France, vol. 8. For more information about freedom of the press in France since 1789, also see Avenel, Histoire de la presse française depuis 1789 à nos jours; and Livois, Histoire de la presse française. I: Des origins à 1881.
[2. ] The main authors were Rivarol and Peltier. Also see Belanger et al., Histoire générale de la presse française, vol. 1, 475–79.
[3. ] Such a ministry of police was created under the Directory in 1796.
[4. ] Humiliated by its defeat at Waterloo in 1814, France was placed under the supervision of the League of the Holy Alliance represented by Russia, Austria, and Prussia, which had the right to interfere in the domestic affairs of all other European countries. The Allies demanded that France surrender a considerable piece of its territory (including three key cities: Lille, Metz, and Strasbourg), pay an indemnity of 700 million francs, and accept a five-year military occupation (later reduced to three years). As a result of the Treaty of November 1815, France lost at least 500,000 inhabitants and was required to accommodate some 800,000 foreign soldiers, who had to be supplied by means of requisitions.
[5. ] The formation of the Committee of Inquiries was followed by the creation of a Committee of General Security in 1792.
[1. ] On the role of Maury and Casalès in the constitutional debates of 1789, see Acton, Lectures on the French Revolution, 95. Acton rightly reproached the conservatives for their refusal of bicameralism out of fear that an upper chamber would be used as a reward for those who defected their ranks (106).
[2. ] This is the origin of the terms “left” and “right,” which originally designated the progressive and conservative groups, respectively, in the Assembly.
[3. ] Acton held a similar view; see, especially, Lectures on the French Revolution, 98–103.
[4. ] On La Fayette as commander of the National Guard, see ibid., 75–76.
[5. ] Adrien Duport (1759–98) represented the nobles in the Estates General and joined the Third Estate in June 1789. He was one of the founders of the Feuillants, the Revolution’s last moderates. For more information on the latter, see A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 343–50.
[6. ] Barnave (1761–93) was a representative of the Third Estate in the Estates General of 1789 and a prominent orator in the Constituent Assembly. The discovery of his secret correspondence with Marie Antoinette was the pretext for his imprisonment and execution in November 1793. On Barnave, see Furet’s entry in A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 186–96. For an English selection from his writings, see Chill, ed., Power, Property, and History: Barnave’s Introduction to the French Revolution and Other Writings.
[7. ] In the French text: “une monarchie raisonnable,” in other words, a constitutional monarchy.
[8. ] For more information about Sieyès and his political activity, see M. Sonnencher’s preface to Sieyès, Political Writings, vii–lxiv.
[9. ] Reference to the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688 that led to the peaceful replacement of the Stuart dynasty with William of Orange and Mary, daughter of James II. The key to William’s success lay in the fact that the new king paid due respect to the constitution and customs of the country while promoting the necessary political changes that brought social and political peace.
[10. ] Philippe d’Orléans, also known as Philippe-Égalité, father of the future King Louis-Philippe (1830–48), voted for the death sentence for Louis XVI before being himself executed in November 1793.
[1. ] A reference to Mirabeau’s speeches on finances and bankruptcy given on September 26, 1789. Necker had two days earlier provided an account of the kingdom’s finances, to which Mirabeau responded. Mirabeau intervened four times in the September 26, 1789, debates and managed to convince the Assembly to pass a vote of no confidence on Necker’s plan. His interventions can be found in Chaussinand-Nogaret, ed., Mirabeau entre le roi et la Révolution, 286–95.
[2. ] Eschines (390–314 bc), prominent Greek orator and rival of Demosthenes.
[1. ] In its original form, the principle of the separation of powers (Article 16 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man) had a strong antimonarchical character insofar as it sought to transform the king into a simple magistrate—the head of the executive—entirely dependent on legislative power. At the same time, the skeptical attitude toward the executive power was accompanied by the extreme confidence in the virtues of legislative power.
[2. ] In Du pouvoir exécutif dans les grands états (1792), Necker reevaluated the role of executive power and the balance of powers in modern society. Following in the footsteps of her father, Madame de Staël argued that in spite of the controversy surrounding the division of powers the most difficult problem was not their separation but their proper union.
[3. ] Sieyès, otherwise a critic of Mounier, also defended the theory of the superiority of the constituent power vis-à-vis the authority of the monarch.
[4. ] Lally-Tollendal’s report recommending bicameralism was rejected by the Constituent Assembly on September 10, 1789. His colleague, Mounier, was also an eloquent defender of two chambers. For more information, see Furet and Halévi, eds., Órateurs de la Révolution français, vol. 1, 882–83.
[5. ] The royal veto was discussed on August 31, September 4, and September 11, 1789. The monarchiens and Mirabeau argued in favor of an absolute royal veto. Sieyès opposed any form of royal veto, and Abbé Grégoire opposed the absolute veto and defended the suspensive (provisional) one. The representatives finally voted in favor of a suspensive royal veto on the Assembly’s decrees during two legislative sessions. Grégoire’s and Mirabeau’s speeches of September 4, 1789, can be found in Beik, ed., The French Revolution, 97–112. Also see Furet, Revolutionary France, 76–78. For an overview of the constitutional debates of the summer of 1789, see Acton, Lectures on the French Revolution, 95–109.
[1. ] The King’s consent to the decree of August 4, 1789, came late and was not unqualified. He sanctioned the decrees of August 4 and 11 only three months later, after the October Days. It is worth pointing out that the decree of August 11, passed after a week-long debate in the Assembly, decided which of the feudal rights were to be compensated. On the debates and significance of August 4, 1789, see Acton’s Lectures on the French Revolution, 82–89.
[2. ] For more information, see Furet and Ozouf, eds., A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 818–28, and Acton, Lectures on the French Revolution, 89–94.
[3. ] Necker’s account of the Constituent Assembly can be found in part II, chapter 2, of De la Révolution française (reprinted in Oeuvres complètes, vol. 9, 254–300). He summarized his position as follows: “The government of England was at hand to serve as an example to the Constituent Assembly; but the latter aspired to have the honor of inventing something new. It wanted to make people forget the past Numas, the Solons, the Lycurguses; it wanted to extinguish the glory of past, present, and future legislators, and the outcome of such an unreasonable ambition was a series of great evils. What a difference . . . [it] would have made if, instead of allowing so many political speakers, so many novices to err and divagate endlessly, they would have charged a simple clerk to come to the tribune and read from there, in a stentorian voice, the English constitution!” (298–99; my translation).
[1. ] Fear that the Revolution might spread to England was, in fact, what motivated Burke to write Reflections of the Revolution in France. In the first part of the book, he vigorously attacked the revolutionary theories propagated by R. Price and his followers in the Revolutionary Society of London. For more on the impact of the French Revolution in England, see Hampsher-Monk, ed., The Impact of the French Revolution.
[2. ] A mixture of carbon, sulfur, and petrol that could burn even on water and was used to set fire to ships during the Middle Ages.
[1. ] A classic example of trimming in politics. The notion of trimming was first conceptualized by the Marquis of Halifax in his essay “The Character of a Trimmer”; see Kenyon, ed., Halifax. Complete Works, 50.
[2. ] In fact, the King had again called the troops to Versailles. During a banquet given by the King’s officers in honor of the recently arrived Flanders Regiment, the officers toasted the royal family and destroyed the tricolore. The news of this event reached Paris the next day and triggered the fury of the masses. The latter distrusted the King, who had yet to sign the decrees of the Assembly of August 4 and 11 and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
[3. ] On the night of June 20, 1791, the royal family slipped out of Paris and headed toward the eastern frontier. The King and the Queen were captured the next day at Varennes and brought back to Paris.
[4. ] The Count of Chinon, later Duke de Richelieu (1766–1822), went into exile in Russia and returned to France at the beginning of the Bourbon Restoration. He served as prime minister from 1815 to 1818.
[5. ] Reference to the conspiracies against Tsars Peter III (July 1762) and Paul I (March 1801).
[6. ] Choiseul-Gouffier (1752–1817), French diplomat who served as French ambassador to Constantinople from 1784 to 1792. He was the author of the multivolume Voyage pittoresque en Grèce.
[7. ] The Tuileries Palace, on the right bank of the Seine, was destroyed in 1871. The construction of the palace began under Catherine de Médicis in 1564, and the building was later enlarged so that its southeast corner adjoined the Louvre. Louis XIV resided at the Tuileries Palace while the palace at Versailles was under construction. After the completion of the latter in the 1660s, the royal family virtually abandoned the Tuileries Palace.
[8. ] For more information on the October Days and the march to Versailles, see Acton, Lectures on the French Revolution, 110–22; and Necker, De la révolution française, part II, 271–82.
[1. ] After the events of October 5–6, 1789, Mounier (who had been elected president of the Constituent Assembly in late September) gave up his mandate and returned to Dauphiny on November 15. A month later, he wrote Exposé de ma conduite dans l’Assemblée Nationale (in Orateurs de la Révolution française, vol. I, 908–97). Lally also presented his resignation in October and withdrew to Lausanne, where he wrote his Mémoire de M. le comte de Lally-Tollendal, which recounts his political career during the first phases of the Revolution. He returned to France under the Consulate and became a peer during the Bourbon Restoration.
[2. ] The Mountain designated the Jacobin club, whose leaders were called Montagnards (mountain men) from the high benches they occupied in the Assembly.
[3. ] The debate took place on November 6–7, 1789.
[4. ] The Marquis de Crillon (1742–1806) was a member of the liberal nobility and a distinguished army officer. The Count de Castellane-Novejean (1758–1837) was also a prominent army officer and was elected deputy to the Estates General. The Duke de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt (1747–1827), famous for his philanthropy, immigrated to America in 1792 and returned to France in 1799. The Viscount of Toulongeon (1748–1812) was the author of Histoire de la France depuis la Révolution de 1789, published under the Consulate. The Duke de Montmorency-Laval (1767–1826) also represented the liberal nobility and was a close friend of Madame de Staël’s. He served as minister of foreign affairs in 1821–22.
[1. ] The four powers were the king, the clergy, the Estates General, and the parlements.
[2. ] According to Godechot, the real figure was approximately 10 percent, with important local variations. See Godechot’s notes to the French edition of Staël’s Considérations, 627.
[3. ] It is important to recall that on June 14, 1789, six clergymen joined the Third Estate, thus contributing to the formation of the National Assembly.
[4. ] Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet was a prominent French bishop and famous orator (1627–1704). He wrote many important books, including Politics Drawn from the Very Words of Holy Scripture, in which he defended royal absolutism and the divine right of kings.
[5. ] In fact, only four prime ministers were clergymen: Richelieu, Mazarin, Fleury, and Brienne.
[6. ] Reference to the speeches on this issue given, among others, by Thouret, Talleyrand, Le Chapelier, Boisegelin, and Mirabeau (October–November 1789). For more information, see Furet and Halévi, eds., Orateurs de la Révolution française, vol. 1, 141–70, 393–94, 511–37, 692–700, 1044–59, 1091–97.
[7. ] Reference to a speech given in 1816 by Baron Prosper de Barante (1782–1866), a prominent member of the French Doctrinaires and author of Histoire des ducs de Bourgogne (1824–26) and Des communes et de l’aristocratie (1821). Barante was a very close friend of both Madame de Staël’s and Constant’s. For more information, see Craiutu, Liberalism Under Siege, 30.
[8. ] In original: “esprit forts.” A paraphrase by the English translator.
[9. ] Reference to the division of the clergy triggered by the famous Civil Constitution of the Clergy, voted on July 12, 1790, that obliged all priests to pledge allegiance to the constitution. Some clergymen agreed (hence their name “constitutional”), but the majority refused to do it. It was at this point that the Revolution and the Catholic Church became implacable enemies. The conflict between the two hastened the fall of the monarchy and the civil war. For more information, see Furet’s entry in A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 449–57; and Acton, Lectures on the French Revolution, 145–50.
[10. ] The duty of supporting their own clergy was decided by the Convention in February 1795.
[1. ] On June 19, 1790.
[2. ] That writer is Burke.
[3. ] For a similar critique, see Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, especially 124–26: “You had all these advantages in your antient states; but you chose to act as if you had never been moulded into civil society, and had everything to begin anew. You began ill because you began by despising everything that belonged to you. You set up your trade without a capital.” (Reflections on the Revolution in France, 124)
[4. ] In The Old Régime and the Revolution, Tocqueville also highlighted the passion for equality (or the hatred of inequality) as the main element of the Revolution: “While the passion for freedom constantly changes its appearance, shrinks, grows, strengthens, and weakens according to events, the passion for equality is always the same, always attached to the same purpose with the same obstinate and often blind ardor, ready to sacrifice everything to those who permit it to satisfy itself” (246).
[5. ] From Opinion de M. Necker sur le décret de l’Assemblée Nationale concernant les titres les noms, les armoires (Paris, 1790); also see Egret, Necker, ministre du roi, 422–26.
[1. ] See Necker’s arguments on the role of executive power in Du pouvoir exécutif dans les grands états, especially pt. II, chap. xv, 549–57, 575–78. Necker also discussed the Assembly’s skepticism toward the executive power in De la Révolution française, pt. II, 288–97. On the role and limits of the executive power, also see Burke, Reflections, 309–16. A comprehensive analysis of Necker’s views on this topic can be found in Grange, Les idées de Necker, 279–93.
[2. ] The Constitution of 1791 provided for an unprecedented extension of the practice of popular election of local officials. According to chapter IV, section 2, “Internal Administration,” the administrators of every department enjoyed a certain independence from central power. They were “elected at stated times by the people to perform administrative duties under the supervision and authority of the king.” (Documentary Survey of the French Revolution, 252) The original text of the Constitution can be found in Les Constitutions et les principales lois politiques de la France depuis 1789, 1–32. For more information, see Taine, The French Revolution, vol. I, 217–49. Bailleul criticized Madame de Staël’s views on the Constitution of 1791 in Examen critique, vol. I, 359–92.
[3. ] In the United States, however, judges are elected.
[1. ] On the formation of the National Federation, see Taine, The French Revolution, vol. I, 253–62.
[2. ] This claim clearly illustrates the liberal intentions and agenda of Madame de Staël.
[1. ] On this issue, see Craveri, The Age of Conversation.
[2. ] For a more nuanced view of eighteenth-century England, see Brewer, The Pleasures of the Imagination.
[1. ] The first assignats were issued on December 21, 1789 (worth 400 million francs). Nine months later, in September 1790, the Assembly decided to limit the assignats to 1.2 million francs. In his Reflections (esp. 348–57), Burke denounced in unambiguous terms this practice, which in his view was both politically irresponsible and financially unsound.
[2. ] Necker’s Mémoire du Premier Ministre des finances lu à l’Assemblée nationale le 6 mars 1790 and his following Mémoire du 12 mars and Observations sur le rapport fait au nom du Comité des finances (March 1790) express his deep concern for the financial situation of the country and recommend concrete measures to solve the crisis.
[3. ] The Bank of France, created under Napoléon in January 1800.
[4. ] The Red Book contained the secret expenses of the King (both Louis XVI and Louis XV), including the pensions granted to the King’s courtiers.
[5. ] Necker left as a “warranty” his house in Paris, his country house, and his bonds, worth two million livres. Under the Consulate, Madame de Staël attempted to recover a part of Necker’s money. At the time of her death, in 1817, her assets were worth five million livres.
[1. ] All local representatives of the executive power were to be elected rather than nominated.
[2. ] The theory of a balanced constitution in England is discussed in Vile, Constitutionalism and the Separation of Powers, 58–82.
[3. ] On August 1, 1790.
[4. ] For more information about the organization and ideology of the Jacobin club, see Furet’s entry on Jacobinism in A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 704–15; also see Kennedy, The Jacobin Clubs in the French Revolution.
[1. ] Auguste de La Marck (1750–1833), a friend of Mirabeau’s.
[2. ] Mirabeau’s physician, Dr. Cabanis, recorded the following sentence: “I carry in my heart the death of the monarchy, the corpse of which will become the prey of the factions.” (quoted in Luttrell, Mirabeau, 270–71)
[3. ] The exact cause of Mirabeau’s death is unknown. It was rumored that he was poisoned or that his death was precipitated by a sexual orgy, but it is likely that he died of natural causes, perhaps of pericarditis or gallstones. For more information, see Luttrell, Mirabeau, 265–73. On the occasion of Mirabeau’s death, Marat wrote in Ami du peuple: “People, give thanks to the gods! Your greatest enemy has been cut down by the scythe of fate! . . . But what do I see? Already clever cheats are trying to work on your feelings, . . . they have represented his death as a public calamity, and you weep for him as a hero who has been sacrificed for you, as the savior of the nation.” (quoted in Luttrell, Mirabeau, 273)
[1. ] According to the Legal Code passed in October 1791.
[2. ] According to chapter II, section 2, of the Constitution of 1791, “Women are excluded from the regency” and the “custody of the minor King shall be entrusted to his mother” (Documentary Survey of the French Revolution, 242, 243).
[3. ] According to chapter IV of the Constitution of 1791, “the King is the supreme head of the general administration of the kingdom” (Documentary Survey of the French Revolution, 251). The Constitution also stipulated (chap. II, sec. 1) that “there is no authority in France superior to that of the law; the King reigns only thereby, and only in the name of the law may he exact obedience.” (Documentary Survey of the French Revolution, 241)
[4. ] According to the Constitution of 1791, chapter II, section 1, 7, “If the King, having left the kingdom, does not return after invitation has been made by the legislative body, and within the period established by proclamation, which may not be less than two months, he shall be deemed to have abdicated the throne.” (Documentary Survey of the French Revolution, 240)
[5. ] Charles James Fox (1749–1806), leader of the Whigs who favored the principles of the French Revolution and opposed the war with France.
[6. ] On the King’s flight to Varennes, see Mona Ozouf’s entry in A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 155–64. The escape of the royal family failed because it was poorly planned. The schedule was not meticulously prepared, and the departure was imprudently delayed; as a result, the carriage left the Tuileries Palace at two in the morning rather than at midnight. Moreover, Choiseul, who was supposed to command the first support detachment en route, defected. The implications of the Varennes episode were very important for the course of the Revolution. As Ozouf pointed out, it led to the appearance of a major schism in the country, which ultimately strengthened the power of the Jacobins.
[7. ] Louis XVI intended to return to France supported by foreign troops.
[8. ] It has been argued that, by signing this manifesto, Louis XVI proclaimed his allegiance to the older principles of his declaration of June 23, 1789, principles which were not at all compatible with those of constitutional monarchy.
[9. ] Adrien Duport (1759–98) was a prominent French magistrate and a leading constitutional monarchist during the early stages of the French Revolution of 1789. Charles Malo François Lameth (1757–1832) was a prominent French politician and member of the Feuillants. He served in the American War of Independence and was a deputy to the Estates General in 1789. Regnault de Saint-Jean d’Angely (1761–1819) was the editor of L’ami de patriots, 1791–92. Thouret (1746–94) was one of the main authors of the Constitution of 1791, and Le Chapelier (1754–94) was the author of a famous law on associations (1791) that bore his name. The speeches of Duport, Thouret, and la Chapelier can be found in Furet and Halévi, Orateurs de la Révolution française, vol. 1.
[10. ] Louis XVI’s sister, who was executed in May 1794.
[1. ] This petition implicitly demanded the declaration of the republic.
[2. ] The clashes between the National Guard and the people claimed more than fifty victims.
[3. ] See articles 2, 5, and 6–8 of chapter II of the Constitution of 1791.
[4. ] The final version of the Constitution of 1791 had 204 articles.
[* ] An excellent work entitled The Tactics of Deliberative Assemblies, composed by M. Dumont of Geneva, and containing, in part, the ideas of Mr. Bentham, an English lawyer and profound thinker, should be perpetually consulted by the members of our legislature. For it is by no means enough to carry a question in an assembly. It is necessary that the weaker party should have been heard with patience; such is the advantage and the right of a representative government.
[5. ] This was the position held by all prominent nineteenth-century liberals, from Tocqueville and Guizot to Constant and J. S. Mill. For example, Constant devoted special attention to property qualifications, which he regarded as indispensable to the proper functioning of representative government (Principles of Politics, 213–21). For more information, see Guéniffey, Le nombre et la raison; and Kahan, The Political Culture of Limited Suffrage, 217–44.
[6. ] In the original: “hommes du tiers état.”
[7. ] On this issue of direct and indirect election in England, also see Guizot, History of the Origins of Representative Government in Europe, 339–81. Benjamin Constant discussed the limits and benefits of direct and indirect elections in his Principles of Politics, 201–2, 207.
[8. ] Necker’s Dernières vues de politique et de finance (1802) was republished as volume XI of his Oeuvres complètes.
[9. ] The National Constituent Assembly dissolved itself on September 30, 1791, after having decreed that none of its members could be reelected in the next legislature (Robespierre had been one of the most vocal defenders of this measure). The Legislative Assembly first met on October 1, 1791, and had 745 members, most of whom belonged to the middle class. Since none had been a member of the previous Assembly, the majority of the new members lacked true political experience. Commenting on this issue, Benjamin Constant endorsed the possibility of reelection, which he regarded as an effective means of protecting political liberty. “The impossibility of reelection,” he wrote, “is, in all respects, a great mistake. . . . Nothing is more opposed to liberty, and at the same time more favorable to disorder, than the forced exclusion of the representatives of the people. . . . If you set obstacles to indefinite reelection, you frustrate genius and courage of their due reward; you prepare consolation and triumph for cowardice and ineptitude.” (Principles of Politics, p. 210)
[1. ] Dupont de Nemours (1739–1817) was a prominent member of the Third Estate. Arrested during the Terror, he immigrated to the United States after September 4, 1797 (18 Fructidor). Madame de Staël’s correspondence with him was translated into English as De Staël–Dupont Letters. Correspondence of Madame de Staël and Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours and of Other Members of the Necker and du Pont Families. For more information on Staël’s views on America, see Hawkins, Madame de Staël and the United States.
[2. ] From the very beginning, the relations between the monarch and the Legislative Assembly were extremely tense. Reluctant to endorse some of the Assembly’s decisions, the King unwisely decided to veto them. This was the case, for example, with the Assembly’s decree that the émigrés assembled on the frontiers should be liable to the penalties of death and confiscation if they remained so assembled after January 1, 1792.