Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IX: Efforts Made by M. Necker with the Popular Party in the Constituent Assembly to Induce It to Establish the English Constitution in France. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER IX: Efforts Made by M. Necker with the Popular Party in the Constituent Assembly to Induce It to Establish the English Constitution in France. - 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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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.
[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).