Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XIX: State of Affairs and of Political Parties in the Winter of 1790–91. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER XIX: State of Affairs and of Political Parties in the Winter of 1790–91. - 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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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.
[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.