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PART III - 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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On the Emigration.
It is of importance to make a distinction between the voluntary and the forced emigration. After the overthrow of the throne in 1792 and the commencement of the Reign of Terror, we all emigrated to escape the dangers with which everyone was threatened. It was not one of the least crimes of the government of that day, to have considered as culpable those who left their homes only to escape assassination at the hands of the people or of a tribunal; and to comprise in their proscriptive edicts not only men able to carry arms, but the aged, the women, and even the children. The emigration of 1791, on the other hand, being caused by no kind of danger, should be considered as an act of party; and under this point of view, we can form an opinion on it according to political principles.
At the moment the King was arrested at Varennes and brought back captive to Paris, a great number of the nobles determined on quitting their country to claim the aid of foreign powers and prevail on them to repress the revolution by force of arms. The earliest emigrants1 obliged the nobles who had remained in France to follow them; they enjoined this sacrifice in the name of a kind of honor connected with the ésprit du corps, and the caste of French nobles were seen covering the public roads and repairing to the camps of foreigners on the hostile frontiers. Posterity, I believe, will pronounce that the nobility on this occasion deviated from the true principles which serve as a basis to the social union. Supposing that nobles would not have done better to take part from the outset in institutions rendered necessary by the progress of information and the growth of the Third Estate, at least ten thousand more nobles around the King’s person might have perhaps prevented him from being dethroned.
But without wandering into suppositions, which may always be contested, there are in politics, as in morals, certain inflexible duties; and the first of all is never to abandon our country to foreigners, even when they come forward to support with their armies the system which we consider the best. One party thinks itself the only virtuous, the only legitimate body; another the only national, the only patriotic. Who is to decide between them? Was the triumph of foreign armies a judgment of God on the French? The judgment of God, says the proverb, is the voice of the people. Had a civil war been necessary to measure the strength of the contending parties, and to manifest on which side lay the majority, the nation would by this have become greater in its own eyes, as in those of its rivals. The Vendean leaders2 inspire a thousand times more respect than those Frenchmen who have excited the different coalitions of Europe against their country. Victory in civil war can be obtained only by dint of courage, energy, or justice; it is to the faculties of the soul that the success of such a struggle belongs; but in order to entice foreign powers to enter one’s country, an intrigue, an accidental cause, or a connection with a favored general or minister can suffice. Emigrants have at all times played with the independence of their country; they would have it, as a jealous lover wishes his mistress—dead or faithful; and the weapon with which they imagine they are fighting the factious often escapes from their hands and inflicts a mortal blow on that country which they intended to save.
The nobles of France unfortunately consider themselves rather as the countrymen of the nobles of all countries than as the fellow-citizens of Frenchmen. According to their manner of judging, the race of the ancient conquerors of Europe owes itself mutual aid from one empire to another;3 but a people, on the other hand, conscious of forming a uniform whole naturally wish to be the disposers of their own fate; and from the times of antiquity down to our days, no free, or even merely spirited, people has ever borne without horror the interference of a foreign government in its domestic quarrels.
Circumstances peculiar to the history of France have in that country separated the privileged classes and the Third Estate in a more decided manner than in any other part of Europe. Urbanity of manners concealed political divisions; but the pecuniary exemptions, the number of offices conferred exclusively on the nobles, the inequality in the application of the law, the etiquette at court, the whole inheritance of the rights of conquest transformed into arbitrary favors, created in France almost two nations out of one.4 The consequence was that the emigrant nobles wished to treat almost the whole French people as revolted vassals; and, far from remaining in their country, either to triumph over the prevailing opinion or to unite themselves to it, they considered it a plainer course to call in the gendarmerie of Europe, that they might bring Paris to its senses. It was, they said, to deliver the majority from the yoke of a factious minority that they had recourse to the arms of the neighboring allies. A nation that should stand in need of foreigners to deliver it from a yoke of any kind would be so degraded that no virtue could long be displayed in it; it would have to blush at once for its oppressors and its deliverers. Henri IV admitted, it is true, foreign corps into his army;5 but he had them as auxiliaries and was nowise dependent on them. He opposed English and German Protestants to the Leaguers, controlled by Spanish Catholics; but he was always surrounded by a French force of sufficient strength to make him master of his allies. In 1791 the system of emigration was false and reprehensible, for a handful of Frenchmen was lost in the midst of all the bayonets of Europe. There were, moreover, at that time, many methods of coming to a mutual understanding in France; men of great worth were at the head of government; errors in politics admitted of remedy, and judicial murders had not yet been committed.
Emigration, far from keeping up the respectability of the nobility, was the greatest blow to it. A new generation has risen up in the absence of the nobles, and as this generation has lived, prospered, and triumphed without the privileged classes, it still thinks itself capable of maintaining itself alone. The emigrants, on the other hand, living always in the same circle, are persuaded that whatever is different from their ancient habits is rebellion: they have thus acquired by degrees the same kind of inflexibility which marks the clergy. All political traditions have become in their eyes articles of faith, and abuses stand with them in the light of dogmas. Their attachment to the royal family under its misfortunes is worthy of the highest respect; but why make this attachment consist in a hatred of free institutions and in a love of absolute power? And why object to reasoning in politics as if sacred mysteries, not human affairs, were in question? In 1791 the aristocratic party separated itself from the nation in fact and by right: in one way by quitting France, in another by not acknowledging that the wish of a great people ought to have influence in the choice of its government. “What signify nations,” they were accustomed to repeat. “We need armies.” But do not armies form a part of nations? Does not public opinion make its way sooner or later even into the ranks of soldiers, and in what manner is it possible to stifle that which at present animates every enlightened country—the free and perfect knowledge of the interest and the rights of all?
The emigrants must have convinced themselves by their own feelings, in different circumstances, that the step they had taken was reprehensible. When they found themselves in the midst of foreign uniforms, when they heard those German dialects, no sound of which recalled to them the recollections of their past life, is it possible that they could still think themselves devoid of blame? Did they not see the whole of France arrayed to defend herself on the opposite bank? Did they not experience unspeakable distress on recognizing the national music, on hearing the accents of their native province, in that camp which they were obliged to call hostile? How many of them must have returned with sorrow among the Germans, among the English, among so many other nations whom they were ordered to consider as their allies! Ah! it is impossible to transport one’s household gods to a foreign hearth. The emigrants, even at the time that they were carrying on war against France, were often proud of the victories of their countrymen. As emigrants they were defeated, but as Frenchmen they triumphed: and the joy which they experienced was the noble inconsistency of generous hearts. At the battle of La Hogue,6 James II exclaimed, on seeing the defeat of that French fleet which sustained his own cause against England, “See how my brave English fight”; and this sentiment gave him a greater right to the throne than any one of the arguments employed for his restoration. In truth, the love of country is inextinguishable, as are all the affections on which our first duties are founded. Often does a long absence or party quarrels break asunder all your connections; you no longer know an individual in that country which is yours; but at its name, or at the sight of it, your whole heart is moved; and far from its being necessary to combat such impressions as chimeras, they ought to serve as a guide to a man of virtue.
Several political writers have ascribed to emigration all the misfortunes that have happened to France. It is not fair to impute to the errors of one party the crimes committed by another; but it seems, however, clear that a democratic crisis became much more probable when all the men employed under the old monarchy, and capable, had they been willing, of contributing to recompose the new, had abandoned their country. Equality then presenting itself from all quarters, men of warm passions gave themselves up too much to the democratic torrent; and the people, seeing royalty nowhere but in the person of the King, believed that to overthrow one man sufficed to found a republic.
Prediction of M. Necker on the Fate of the Constitution of 1791.
During the last fourteen years of his life, M. Necker did not quit his estate of Coppet in Switzerland. He lived in the most complete retirement; but the repose arising from dignity does not exclude activity of mind, and he never ceased to attend, with the greatest solicitude, to every event which occurred in France. The works composed by him at different eras in the Revolution possess a prophetic character; because, in examining the defects of the different constitutions which prevailed for a time in France, he explained beforehand the consequences of these defects, and predictions of this kind could not fail to be realized.
M. Necker joined to a surprising sagacity of intellect a sensibility to the fate of mankind, and in particular of France, of which, I believe, there is no example in any writer on political topics. These topics are commonly treated in an abstract manner, and are almost always founded on calculation; but M. Necker was intent above all on considering the relations which that science bore to individual morality, to the happiness and dignity of nations. He is the Fénélon of politics, if I may venture thus to express myself, in honoring these two great men by the analogy between their virtues.
The first work published by him in 1791 is entitled On the Administration of M. Necker, by Himself.1 At the close of a very profound political discussion on the various compensations that ought to have been granted to the privileged classes for the loss of their ancient rights, he says, addressing himself to the Assembly,
I know that I shall be blamed for my obstinate attachment to the principles of justice, and attempts will be made to debilitate it by giving it the name of aristocratic pity. I know better than you the nature of my pity. It was first for you that I felt that sentiment; but you were then without union and without strength; it was first for you that I sustained a conflict. And at the time when I complained so much of the indifference shown to you; when I spoke of the respect that was due to you; when I showed a perpetual disquietude for the fate of the people; it was then that by mere word games your enemies endeavored to ridicule my sentiments. I would willingly love others than you, now that you abandon me; I would it were in my power; but I possess not that consolation; your enemies and mine have placed between them and me a barrier which I shall never seek to burst; and they must necessarily hate me forever, since they have made me answerable for their own faults. Yet it was not I who prompted them to make an immoderate use of their former power; it was not I who rendered them inflexible when it became necessary to begin negotiating with fortune. Ah! if they were not under oppression, if they were not unhappy, how many reproaches could not I make to them! And when I defend them still in their rights and properties, they will not, I trust, believe that I think for a moment of regaining their favor. I now desire no connection with them, nor with anyone; it is with my recollections, with my thoughts, that I endeavor to live and die; when I fix my attention on the purity of the sentiments that have guided me, I find nowhere a suitable association; and when, in the want experienced by every feeling mind, I form that association, I do it in hope, with the upright men of every country, with those, so few in number, whose first passion is the love of doing good on earth.
M. Necker felt bitter regret for the loss of that popularity which he had sacrificed without hesitation to his duty. Some persons have blamed him for the importance that he set upon it. Woe to the statesmen who do not need public opinion! These are either courtiers or usurpers; they flatter themselves with obtaining, by intrigue or by terror, what generous minds wish to owe only to the esteem of their fellows.
When my father and I were walking together under those lofty trees at Coppet, which still seem to me the friendly witnesses of his noble thoughts, he asked me once whether I thought that the whole of France was infected with those popular suspicions to which he had been a victim on the road from Paris into Switzerland. “It seems to me,” he said, “that in several provinces they acknowledged, down to the latest day of my administration, the purity of my intentions and my attachment to France.” Hardly had he put this question to me than he dreaded being too much affected by my answer; “Let us talk no more on that subject,” he said, “God reads in my heart: that is enough.” I did not venture to give him a consoling answer on that day, so much of restrained emotion did I see in his whole being. Ah! how harsh and narrow-minded must be the enemies of such a man! It was to him that we ought to address the words of Ben Jonson, when speaking of his illustrious friend, the Chancellor of England. “I pray God to give you strength in your adversity; for as to greatness, you cannot want it.”2
M. Necker, at the time when the democratic party, then in the plenitude of power, made him overtures to join them, expressed himself with the greatest energy on the disastrous situation to which the royal authority was reduced. And, although he expected, perhaps, too much from the ascendency of morality and eloquence at a time when men began to think of nothing but personal interest, he was extremely capable of availing himself of irony and reasoning when he thought them suitable. I quote the following example among many.
I will venture to say that the political hierarchy established by the National Assembly seemed to require, more than any other social institution, the efficacious intervention of the monarch. That august mediation was perhaps alone capable of keeping up a distance between so many powers which press on each other, between so many individuals elected on similar grounds, between so many dignitaries, equal by their original profession, and still so near each other from the nature of their functions and the uncertain tenure of their places. It alone could give a certain life to the abstract and entirely constitutional gradations which ought henceforth to form the scale of subordination.
I can clearly perceive
Primary assemblies nominating an electoral body;
That electoral body choosing deputies to the National Assembly;
That assembly passing decrees and calling on the King to sanction and promulgate them;
The King addressing these decrees to the departments;
The departments transmitting them to the districts;
The districts issuing orders to the municipalities;
The municipalities, which for the execution of these decrees require, in case of need, the assistance of the national guards;
The national guards, whose duty it is to restrain the people;
The people who are bound to obey.
We perceive in this succession a numerical order with which there is no fault to be found; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten; all follow with perfect regularity. But in the case of government, in the case of obedience, it is by the connection, it is by the moral relation of the different authorities that the general order is maintained. A legislator would have too easy a task if, to accomplish the grand political work of the submission of the mass to the wisdom of a few, it were enough for him to conjugate the verb to command, and to say like a schoolboy, “I will command, thou shalt command, he shall command, we shall command, &c.” It is necessary, in order to establish effective subordination and to ensure the play of all the upward and downward movements, that there should be among all the conventional superiorities a proportional gradation of reputation and respect. There must be from rank to rank a distinction which has an imposing effect, and at the summit of these gradations, there must be a power which, by a mixture of reality and imagination, influences by its action the whole of the political hierarchy.
In no country are the distinctions of government more effaced than under the despotic sway of the Caliphs of the East; but nowhere are the punishments more hasty, more severe, or more multiform. The heads of the judicial order, and of the administration, have there a decoration which suffices for everything—a train of janissaries, mutes, and executioners.3
These latter paragraphs bear reference to the necessity of an aristocratic body, that is, of a chamber of peers, to support a monarchy.
During his last ministry, M. Necker had defended the principles of the English constitution successively against the King, the nobility, and the representatives of the people, according as each of these authorities had become the strongest. He continued the same course as a writer; and he combated in his works the Constituent Assembly, the Convention, the Directory, and Bonaparte, all four, when at the height of their prosperity; opposing to all the same principles, and apprising them that they were sowing the seeds of their own overthrow, even when succeeding in a present object; because, in political matters, that which most misleads bodies and individuals is the triumph which can be momentarily obtained over justice; a triumph which always ends by overturning those who obtain it.
M. Necker, who viewed the Constitution of 1791 with a statesman’s eye, published his opinion on that subject under the first Assembly, at a time when that constitution still gave rise to a great deal of enthusiasm. His work entitled On the Executive Power in Great Countries,4 is recognized by thinkers to be a classic. It contains ideas altogether new on the strength necessary to government in general; but these reflections are at first applied specifically to the order of things recently proclaimed by the Constituent Assembly; in this book, still more than in the former, one might take predictions for history, so precise and clear is the detail of the events which must necessarily arise from the defects of the institutions in question. M. Necker, on comparing the English constitution with the work of the Constituent Assembly, ends by these remarkable words: “The French will regret, when too late, their not having shown more respect to experience, and their having failed to recognize its noble origin though concealed under garments worn and rent.”
He foretold in the same book the terror that was about to arise from the power of the Jacobins; and, what is still more remarkable, the terror that would be produced after them by the establishment of military despotism.
Such a political writer as M. Necker was not to be satisfied with merely exhibiting a picture of all the misfortunes that would result from the constitution of 1791: he also gave the Legislative Assembly advice on the means of escaping them. The Constituent Assembly had decreed more than three hundred articles which no succeeding legislature had a right to touch, except on conditions which it was almost impossible to fulfill; and yet, among these unchangeable articles was the method adopted for nominating to inferior appointments and other things of equally little importance; “so that it would be neither more easy nor less difficult to change the French monarchy into a republic, than to modify the most insignificant of all the details comprised, one knows not why, in the constitutional act.”
“It seems to me,” says M. Necker elsewhere,
that in a great State we cannot expect liberty and renounce at any time the following conditions.
1. Conferring exclusively the right of legislation on the national representatives under the sanction of the monarch; comprising in this right of legislation, without exception, the choice and enactment of taxes.
2. Fixing public expenditure by the same authority; with this right is evidently connected the limitation of the military force.
3. Rendering all accounts of receipt and expenditure to commissioners from among the national representatives.
4. The annual renewal of the powers necessary to levy taxes, excepting the taxes mortgaged for the payment of the interest of the public debt.
5. The proscription of every kind of arbitrary authority; and vesting in every citizen a right to bring a civil or criminal action against all public officers who should have made an abuse of their power in regard to him.
6. Prohibiting military officers to act in the interior of the kingdom otherwise than on the demand of civil officers.
7. The annual renewal by the legislature of the laws which constitute the discipline, and consequently the action and strength, of an army.
8. The liberty of the press, extended as far as is compatible with morality and public tranquillity.
9. An equal distribution of public trusts, and the legal right of all citizens to exercise public functions.
10. The responsibility of ministers and of the principal agents of government.
11. The hereditary succession to the throne, in order to prevent factions and preserve public tranquillity.
12. Conferring the executive power, fully and unreservedly, on the monarch, with all the means necessary for its exercise, that public order may be assured and that the various powers united in the legislative body may be prevented from introducing a despotism not less oppressive than any other.
To these principles should be added the most unqualified respect for the rights of property, if that respect did not already compose one of the elements of universal morality, regardless of the form of government under which men live together.
The twelve articles which I have just pointed out offer to all enlightened men the fundamental bases of the civil and political liberty of a nation. They ought, accordingly, to have been placed separately in the constitutional act, and not have been confounded with the numerous provisions which the Assembly was willing to submit to a continual renewal of discussion.
And why was this not done? Because, in assigning to these articles a conspicuous place in the constitutional charter, a light would have been cast on two truths which it was intended to keep in the background.
The one, that the fundamental principles of the liberty of France were completely stated, either in the text or in the spirit of the declaration made by the King on the 27th of December, 1788,5 and in his subsequent explanations.
The other, that all the orders of the state, all classes of citizens, after a certain time of wavering and agitation, would have, in all probability, concurred in giving their consent to the same principles, and would perhaps still give it were they called on to do so.
These articles, which constitute in a manner the “gospel of society,” we have seen reappear, under a form nearly similar, in the declaration of the 2d of May (1814) by His Majesty Louis XVIII, dated at St. Ouen;6 they reappeared also on another occasion, of which we shall speak hereafter. From the 27th of December, 1788, to the 8th of July, 1815, these articles are what the French wished, whenever they had the power of expressing a wish.
The book On the Executive Power in Great Countries is the best guide that can be followed by men called on to make or to modify a constitution of any kind; for it may be called the political chart in which all the dangers that are found in the track of liberty are pointed out.
In the beginning of this work M. Necker addresses himself thus to the French nation:
I remember the time when, on publishing the result of my long reflections on the finances of France, I wrote these words: “Yes, generous nation, it is to you that I consecrate this work.” Alas! who would have told me that, after the lapse of so small a number of years, there would come a time when I could no longer make use of the same expressions, and when I should have to turn my eyes toward other nations to regain courage to speak of justice and morality! Ah! why am I not permitted to say today: it is to you that I address this work, to you, nation, still more generous since liberty has developed your character and freed it from any restraint; to you, nation, still more generous since your forehead no longer bears the impression of a yoke; to you, nation, still more generous since you have made trial of your strength, and that you dictate, yourself, the laws that you obey! Ah! with what pleasure I should have held this language! my feelings still exist, but they seem to me in exile; and, in my sad regret, I cannot either contract new ties nor resume, even in hope, the favorite idea and the only passion which so long filled my soul.
I do not know, but it seems to me that never was a juster expression given to that which we all feel: that love for France which is at present so painful, while formerly there was not a nobler nor sweeter enjoyment.
Of the Different Parties Which Composed the Legislative Assembly.
We cannot help feeling a sentiment of profound grief on retracing the eras of a Revolution in which a free constitution might have been established in France, and on seeing not only that hope overturned, but the most distressing events taking the place of the most salutary institutions. It is not a mere recollection that we recall; it is a keen sensation of pain which revives.
The Constituent Assembly repented, toward the end of its reign, that it should have allowed itself to be carried along by popular factions. It had grown old in two years, as much as Louis XIV in forty. It was from just apprehension, in its case also, that moderation had resumed a certain sway on it. But its successors came forward with the fever of the Revolution at a time when there was nothing more to reform or destroy. The social edifice was leaning to the democratic side, and to restore it to an upright form, it was necessary to increase the power of the throne. Yet the first decree of the Legislative Assembly was to refuse the King the title of “Majesty” and to assign him an armchair only (fauteuil), similar in all respects to that of a president. The representatives of the people thus put on the appearance of thinking that they had a king not for the public good, but for the sake of pleasing himself, and that it was consequently well to take away as much as possible from that pleasure. The decree respecting the armchair was recalled, so many complaints did it excite among men of sense; but the blow was struck, as well on the mind of the King as on that of the people; the one felt that his position was not tenable, the other conceived the desire and the hope of a republic.1
Three parties, perfectly distinct, made themselves conspicuous in the Assembly: the constitutionalists, the Jacobins, and the republicans. There were no priests, and almost no noblemen, among the constitutionalists; the cause of the privileged orders was by this time lost, but that of the throne was still under dispute, and the men of property and moderation formed a preserving party in the midst of the popular storm.
Ramond, Matthieu Dumas, Jaucourt, Beugnot, Girardin, were conspicuous among the constitutionalists:2 they possessed courage, reason, perseverance, and could not be accused of any aristocratic prejudices. Accordingly, the struggle which they supported in favor of monarchy does infinite honor to their political conduct. The same Jacobin party which existed in the Constituent Assembly under the name of the “Mountain”3 showed itself anew in the Legislative Assembly; but it was still less entitled to esteem than its predecessor. For in the Constituent Assembly there was reason to fear, at least during certain moments, that the cause of liberty was not the strongest, and that the partisans of the Old Regime who acted as deputies might still be formidable; but in the Legislative Assembly there was neither danger nor obstacle, and the factious were obliged to create phantoms that they might display their skill in wielding the weapons of argument.
A singular trio, Merlin de Thionville, Bazire, and Chabot,4 formerly a capuchin, made themselves conspicuous among the Jacobins; they were their leaders merely because, being placed in every respect in the lowest rank, they excited no envy. It was a principle with this party, which shook society to its base, to put at the head of the assailants persons possessing nothing in the edifice which they wanted to overthrow. One of the first proposals made in the Assembly by the trio of demagogues was to suppress the appellation of “honorable member,” which was introduced into use, as in England: aware, doubtless, that this epithet, when addressed to any one of them, could not fail to pass for ironical.
A second party, though of merits altogether different, added strength to these ignorant men and flattered themselves, most erroneously, with being able first, to make use of the Jacobins, and afterward to keep them within bounds. The deputies from the Gironde were composed of about twenty lawyers from Bourdeaux and other parts of the South. These men, elected almost by accident, were gifted with the greatest talents, so rich is France in those men distinguished but unknown whom a representative government calls forth. The Girondists aimed at a republic, and succeeded only in overturning monarchy; they perished soon after, when endeavoring to save France and its King. This made M. de Lally say, with his accustomed eloquence, “that their life and their death were equally disastrous to the country.”
To these deputies of the Gironde were joined Brissot,5 a writer irregular in his principles as in his style, and Condorcet,6 whose towering knowledge could not be disputed, but who, in a political sense, acted a greater part by his passion than by the powers of his mind. He was irreligious in the same way as priests are bigoted, with hatred, pertinacity, and the appearance of moderation: his death too resembled martyrdom.
To give a preference to a republic over every other form of government cannot be deemed criminal if crimes are not necessary to establish it; but at the time the Legislative Assembly declared itself inimical to the remnant of royalty that still subsisted in France, the truly republican sentiments, that is, generosity toward the weak, a horror of arbitrary measures, a respect for justice, all the virtues, in short, which the friends of liberty are proud of, prompted men to take an interest in the constitutional monarchy and its head. At another period, they might have rallied under the cause of a republic, had that form been possible in France; but when Louis XVI was still alive, when the nation had received his oath, and when it, in return, had taken oaths to him in perfect freedom, when the political ascendency of the privileged orders was entirely extinguished, what confidence was it necessary to have in the future to risk, for the sake of a name, all the real advantages already possessed!
The desire of power in the republicans of 1792 was mixed with an enthusiasm for principles, and some of them offered to support royalty, if all the places in the ministry were given to their friends. In that case only, they said, shall we be sure that the opinions of the patriots will be triumphant. The choice of ministers in a constitutional monarchy is doubtless an affair of the highest importance, and the King frequently committed the fault of nominating persons that were very suspicious to the party of liberty; however, it was then but too easy to obtain their removal, and the responsibility for political events must rest, in all its weight, on the Legislative Assembly. No argument, no source of disquietude, was listened to by its leaders; to the observations of wisdom, of disinterested wisdom, they replied by a disdainful smile indicative of that emptiness which results from vanity. Repeated efforts were made to recall to them circumstances, and to deduce general views from the past: transitions were made from theory to experience, and from experience to theory, to show them the identity of the two: yet, if they consented to reply, it was by denying the most authentic facts and contesting the most evident observations, opposing to them a few maxims that were common, although expressed in eloquent language. They looked round among themselves as if they alone had been worthy of understanding each other, and took fresh courage from the idea that all that opposed their manner of thinking was pusillanimity. These are the tokens of party spirit among Frenchmen: disdain for their adversaries forms its basis, and disdain is always adverse to the knowledge of truth. The Girondists despised the constitutionalists until they had, without intending it, made popularity descend and fix itself in the lowest ranks of society: they then saw the reproach of weakness cast on them in their turn by ferocious characters; the throne which they were attacking served them as a shelter, and it was not till after they had triumphed over it that they found themselves unprotected in front of the people. In a revolution, men have often more to dread from their successes than from their failures.
Spirit of the Decrees of the Legislative Assembly.
The Constituent Assembly had passed more laws in two years than the English Parliament in fifty; but these laws at least reformed abuses and were founded on general principles. The Legislative Assembly passed an equal number of decrees, although there remained nothing truly useful to be done; but the spirit of faction inspired all to which the Assembly gave the name of laws. It accused the King’s brothers, confiscated the property of emigrants, and adopted against the priests a decree of proscription revolting in a still higher degree to the friends of liberty than to the sincere Catholics, so contrary was it to philosophy and equity.1 What! will it be said, were not the emigrants and priests enemies to the Revolution? This was a very good plea for not returning such men as deputies, for not calling them to the management of public business; but what would society become if, instead of seeking support in immutable principles, men should have the power of pointing laws against their adversaries as they can point a battery? The Constituent Assembly never persecuted either individuals or classes; but the next Assembly only passed decrees suited to the moment, and we can hardly quote a resolution adopted by it which was calculated to last beyond the temporary occasion that called it forth.
Arbitrary power, against which the Revolution ought to have been directed, had acquired new strength by the Revolution itself. It was in vain that they pretended to do everything for the people; the revolutionaries were now only priests of a Moloch, called the common interest, which required the sacrifice of the happiness of each. Persecution in politics leads to nothing but the necessity of further persecution; and to kill is not to extirpate. It has been said with the most cold-blooded intention that the dead alone return no more; but even that maxim is not true, for the children and the friends of the victims are stronger by their resentments than those who suffered were by their opinions. The object should be to extinguish hatreds, and not to compress them. Reform is accomplished in a country when its promoters have managed to make its adversaries merely bothersome, without having turned them into victims.
Of the First War Between France and Europe.
We need not be surprised that kings and princes never liked the principles of the French Revolution. “To be a royalist is my business,” said Joseph II. But as the opinion of the people always makes its way into the cabinet of kings, no sovereign in Europe thought of making war on France to oppose the Revolution at its outset, when the object was only to establish a limited monarchy. The progress of knowledge was such in every part of the civilized world that, at that time, as at present, a representative government more or less similar to that of England appeared suitable and just, and that system met with no formidable opponents among either the English or Germans. Burke, from the year 1791, expressed his indignation at the crimes already committed in France, and at the false systems of policy adopted there;1 but those of the aristocratic party on the Continent, who now quote Burke as the enemy of the Revolution, are perhaps not aware that in every page he reproaches the French with not having conformed to the principles of the English constitution.
“I recommend to the French,” he says, “our constitution; all our happiness arises from it.” “Absolute democracy,” he adds in another place,* “is no more a legitimate government than absolute monarchy. There is but one opinion in France against absolute monarchy;† it was at its close, it was expiring without agony, and without convulsions; all the dissensions arose from the quarrel between a despotic democracy, and a government with a balance of power.”
If the majority of Europe in 1789 approved the establishment of a limited monarchy in France, how then, it may be asked, does it happen that, from the year 1791, all provocations arose from foreign powers? For although France made a hasty declaration of war against Austria in 1792, the foreign powers were, in fact, the first to assume a hostile attitude toward the French, by the convention of Pilnitz and the assemblies at Coblentz.2 The reciprocal recriminations go back to that period. Yet the public opinion of Europe and the prudence of Austria would have prevented war, had the Legislative Assembly been moderate. The greatest precision in the knowledge of dates is necessary to judge with impartiality which of the two, France or Europe, was the aggressor. A lapse of six months makes that proper in politics which was not so six months before, and people often confound ideas because they confound dates.
The foreign powers did wrong in 1791, in allowing themselves to be drawn into the imprudent measures urged by the emigrants. But after the 10th of August, 1792, when the throne was overturned, the state of things in France became wholly incompatible with social order. Yet, would not this throne have stood, had not Europe threatened France with interfering by force of arms in her domestic concerns, and revolted the pride of an independent nation by imposing laws on it? Fate alone possesses the secret of such suppositions: one thing is indisputable; it is that the convention of Pilnitz was the beginning of the long war of Europe. The Jacobins3 were as desirous of this war as the emigrants: for both believed that a crisis of some kind or other could alone produce the chances necessary to enable them to triumph.4
In the beginning of 1792, before the declaration of war, Leopold, Emperor of Germany, one of the most enlightened princes of which the eighteenth century can boast,5 wrote to the Legislative Assembly a letter, which might be almost called familiar and confidential. Some deputies of the Constituent Assembly, as Barnave and Duport, had composed it, and the draft was sent by the Queen to Brussels, to the Count de Mercy-Argenteau, who had long been Austrian Ambassador at Paris. In this letter6 Leopold attacked the Jacobin party by name and offered his aid to the constitutionalists. His observations were, no doubt, extremely wise; but it was not thought becoming on the part of an emperor of Germany to enter with so much detail into the affairs of France; and the minds of the deputies revolted against the advice given them by a foreign monarch. Leopold had governed Tuscany with perfect moderation, and it is but justice to add that he always showed respect to public opinion, and to the advanced knowledge of the age. He was thus a sincere believer in the good that his advice might produce. But in political discussions where the mass of a nation takes a part, it is only the voice of events that is listened to; arguments but excite the wish of answering them.
The Legislative Assembly, which foresaw a rupture ready to break out, felt also that the King could hardly take an interest in the success of Frenchmen fighting in the cause of the Revolution. The Assembly was distrustful of ministers, under the persuasion that they did not in their hearts wish to repel those enemies whose assistance they secretly invoked. The war department was entrusted in the end of 1791 to M. de Narbonne,7 who afterward lost his life at the siege of Torgau. He employed himself with unfeigned zeal in all the preparations necessary for the defense of the kingdom. Possessing rank and talents, the manners of a courtier, and the views of a philosopher, that which was predominant in his soul was military honor and French valor. To oppose the interference of foreigners under whatever circumstances always seemed to him the duty of a citizen and a gentleman. His colleagues combined against him and succeeded in obtaining his removal. They seized the moment when his popularity in the Assembly was lessened to get rid of a man who was then performing his functions of minister of war as conscientiously as he would have done under any other circumstances.
One evening, M. de Narbonne, in giving the Assembly an account of certain matters in his department, made use of this expression: “I appeal to the most distinguished members of this Assembly.” At that moment the whole party of the Mountain rose up in a fury, and Merlin, Bazire, and Chabot declared that “all the deputies were equally distinguished.” Aristocracy of talent was as repugnant to their feelings as aristocracy of birth.
The day after this setback, the other ministers, no longer afraid of the ascendancy of M. de Narbonne with the popular party, prevailed on the King to remove him. This ill-judged triumph was of short duration. The republicans forced the King to take ministers devoted to them, and these ministers obliged him to make use of the initiative given him by the constitution, by going in person to the Assembly to recommend war with Austria. I was present at the meeting in which Louis XVI was forced to a measure which was necessarily painful to him in so many ways. His features were not expressive of his thoughts, but it was not from dissimulation that he concealed them; a mixture of resignation and dignity repressed in him every outward sign of his sentiments. On entering the Assembly he looked to the right and the left, with that kind of vague curiosity which is usual to persons who are so short-sighted that their eyes seem to be of no use to them. He proposed war in the same tone of voice as he might have used in requiring the most indifferent decree possible. The president replied to him with the laconic arrogance adopted in this Assembly, as if the dignity of a free people consisted in insulting the King whom it had chosen for its constitutional chief.
When Louis XVI and his ministers had left the hall, the Assembly voted war by acclamation. Some members took no share in the deliberations; but the galleries applauded with transport: the deputies threw their hats in the air, and that day, the first of the bloody struggle which has torn Europe during twenty-three years, that day did not, in most minds, produce the slightest disquietude. Yet, of the deputies who voted for this war, many fell by a violent death, and those who rejoiced at it the most were unconsciously pronouncing their own death sentence.
Of the Means Employed in 1792 to Establish the Republic.
The French are but little disposed to civil war, and have no talent whatever for conspiracies. They are little disposed to civil war because, among them, the majority almost always draws the minority after it; the party that passes for the stronger soon becomes all-powerful, for everyone joins it. They have no talent for conspiracies for the same reasons which make them extremely fitted for revolutionary movements; they stand in need of mutual excitement by a communication of their ideas; the profound silence, the solitary resolution, necessary for a conspirator does not enter into their character. They might, perhaps, be more capable of this now that Italian features are blended with their natural disposition; but we see no example of a conspiracy in the history of France; Henri III and Henri IV were each assassinated by fanatics without accomplices. The Court, it is true, under Charles IX prepared in darkness the massacre of St. Bartholomew; but it was an Italian queen1 who communicated her artful and dissembling spirit to the instruments of which she made use. The means employed to accomplish the Revolution were not better than those generally used to form a conspiracy: in fact, to commit a crime in a public square or to contrive it in the closet is to be equally guilty, but there is the perfidy the less.
The Legislative Assembly overthrew the monarchy by means of sophistry. Its decrees perverted the good sense and depraved the morality of the nation. A kind of political hypocrisy, still more dangerous than hypocrisy in religion, was necessary to destroy the throne piecemeal while swearing to maintain it. Today the ministers were accused;2 tomorrow the King’s guard was disbanded;3 on another day rewards were granted to the soldiers of the regiment of Chateauvieux, who had mutinied against their officers;4 the massacres of Avignon found defenders in the heart of the Assembly;5 in short, whether the establishment of a republic in France appeared desirable or not, there could be but one opinion on the choice of the means employed to attain it; and the more one felt attached to liberty, the more did the conduct of the republican party excite indignation in the bottom of the soul.
That which, in a great political crisis, ought, above all things, to be considered is whether the Revolution desired is in harmony with the spirit of the time. By endeavoring to accomplish the reinstatement of ancient institutions; that is, by endeavoring to make the human mind retrograde, all the popular passions become inflamed. But if, on the other hand, it be attempted to found a republic in a country which the day before had all the defects and all the vices to which absolute monarchies must give birth, men are obliged to exercise oppression in order to acquire freedom, and to sully themselves with crimes in proclaiming that government whose basis is virtue. A sure method of never mistaking the wish of the majority of a nation is never to follow any other than a lawful course for the attainment even of those objects which are thought most useful. So long as we allow ourselves to do nothing immoral, we are sure of never violently thwarting the course of things.
The war afterward so brilliant to the French began with defeats. The soldiers at Lisle, after being routed, killed their commander, Theobald Dillon, whose fidelity they, most unjustly, suspected. These early checks had diffused a general spirit of mistrust. Accordingly the Legislative Assembly pursued the ministers with incessant denunciations, like restive horses who cannot be spurred forward. The first duty of a government, as well as of a nation, is doubtless to ensure its independence against the invasion of foreigners. But could so false a situation continue? And was it not better to open the gates of France to the King, when desirous of quitting the country, than to act in the spirit of chicane, from morning to night, with the royal power, or rather the royal weakness; and to treat the descendant of St. Louis, when captive on the throne, like a bird fastened to the top of a tree, and against which everyone in his turn aims a dart?
The Legislative Assembly, weary even of the patience of Louis XVI, determined to present to him two decrees to which his conscience and his safety would not allow him to give his sanction. By the first, they sentenced to deportation every priest who had refused the constitutional oath, if he were denounced by twenty active citizens, that is, citizens who paid taxes; and by the second, they called to Paris a legion of Marseillois whom they knew to be determined to act the part of conspirators against the Crown. But what a decree was that of which the priests were the victims! The fate of a citizen was surrendered to a denunciation which proceeded on his presumed opinions. What is there to be feared from despotism but such a decree as this? Instead of twenty active citizens, we have only to suppose courtiers, who are active also in their manner; and we shall have the history of all the lettres de cachet, of all the exiles, of all the imprisonments which people wish to prevent by the establishment of a free government.
A generous impulse of the soul determined the King to expose himself to every hazard rather than accede to the proscription of the priests. He might, by considering himself as a prisoner, give his sanction to this law and protest in private against it; but he could not consent to act in religion as in politics; and if as King he dissembled, as a martyr he was true.
As soon as the veto of the King became known,6 intelligence came from all quarters that a tumult was preparing in the suburbs of Paris. The people, having become despotic, were irritated by the slightest obstacle to their will. We saw on this occasion too the dreadful inconvenience of placing the royal authority against a single chamber. The conflict between these two powers has, in such a case, no arbiter, and the appeal is made to insurrection.
Twenty thousand men of the lowest rank, armed with pikes and lances, marched to the Tuileries7 without knowing why; they were ready to commit every crime, or could be persuaded to the noblest actions, according to the impulse of events, and of their leaders.
These twenty thousand men made their way into the palace; their faces bore marks of that coarseness, moral and physical, of which the disgusting effect is not to be supported by the greatest philanthropist. Had they been animated by any true feeling, had they come to complain against injustice, against the dearness of corn, against the increase of taxes, against compulsory service in the army, in short, against any suffering which power and wealth can inflict on poverty, the rags which they wore, their hands blackened by labor, the premature old age of the women, the brutishness of the children, would all have excited pity. But their frightful oaths mingled with cries, their threatening gestures, their deadly instruments, exhibited a frightful spectacle, and one calculated to alter forever the respect that ought to be felt for our fellow-creatures.
All Europe knows how Madame Elizabeth, the King’s sister, endeavored to prevent those around her from undeceiving the madmen who took her for the Queen, and threatened her under that name. The Queen herself ought to have been recognized by the ardor with which she pressed her children to her breast. The King on this day showed all the virtues of a saint. The time was past for saving himself like a hero; the dreadful signal of massacre, the red cap, was placed on his devoted head; but nothing could humiliate him, for all his life had been a continued sacrifice.
The Assembly, ashamed of its auxiliaries, sent several of the deputies to save the royal family, and Vergniaud, perhaps the most eloquent orator of those who have appeared at the French tribune, succeeded in dispersing the populace in a few moments.
General la Fayette, indignant at what was passing at Paris, left his army to appear at the bar of the Assembly and demand justice for the terrible day of 20th June, 1792.8 Had the Girondists at that time joined him and his friends, they might perhaps still have prevented the entrance of foreign troops and restored to the King that constitutional authority which was his due. But at the instant that M. de la Fayette closed his speech by the words which so well became him, “Such are the representations submitted to the Assembly by a citizen, whose love for liberty, at least, will not be disputed”; Guadet, the colleague of Vergniaud, stepped quickly to the tribune and made a dexterous use of the distrust that every representative assembly naturally feels toward a general who interferes in domestic affairs. However, when he revived the recollection of Cromwell dictating, in the name of his army, laws to the representatives of his country, the Assembly were perfectly aware that they had neither tyrant nor soldier before them, but a virtuous citizen who, although friendly to the republican form in theory, could not tolerate crime, under whatever banner it might pretend to range itself.
Anniversary of 14th July Celebrated in 1792.
Addresses from every part of France, which at that time were sincere, because there was danger in signing them, expressed the wish of the great majority of the citizens for the support of the constitution.1 However imperfect it might be, it was a limited monarchy, and such has, all along, been the wish of the French; the factious, or the military, have alone been able to prevent that wish from prevailing. If the leaders of the popular party have believed that the nation really wanted the republic, they would not have needed the most unjust methods to establish it. Despotic measures are never resorted to when public opinion is in favor of a plan; and what despotic measures, good heaven! were those which were then seen to proceed from the coarsest ranks of society, like vapors arising from a pestilential marsh! Marat,2 whose name posterity will perhaps recall on purpose to connect with a man the crimes of an era, Marat made use every day of his newspaper to threaten the royal family, and its defenders, with the most dreadful punishments. Never had human speech been so much disfigured; the howlings of wild beasts might be expressed in such language.
Paris was divided into forty-eight sections, all of which used to send deputies to the bar of the Assembly to denounce the slightest actions as crimes. Forty-four thousand municipalities contained each a club of Jacobins in correspondence with that of Paris, and that again was subservient to the orders of the suburbs.3 Never was a city of seven hundred thousand souls so completely transformed. On all hands were heard invectives directed against the royal palace; nothing now defended it but a kind of respect which still served as a barrier around that ancient abode; but that barrier might at any moment be passed, and then all was lost.
They wrote from the departments that the most violent men were being sent to Paris to celebrate the 14th of July, and that they went there only to massacre the King and Queen. The mayor of Paris, Péthion,4 a cold-blooded fanatic, who pushed all new ideas to an extreme because he was more capable of exaggerating than of comprehending them; Péthion, with an exterior silliness which was taken for sincerity, favored every kind of sedition. The authority of the magistracy was thus added to the cause of insurrection. The departmental administration, by virtue of an article in the constitution, suspended Péthion from his functions; the King’s ministers confirmed the suspension; but the Assembly re-instated the mayor in his office, and his ascendency was increased by his momentary disgrace. A popular chief can desire nothing more than an apparent persecution, followed by a real triumph.
The Marseillois sent to the Champ de Mars to celebrate the 14th of July5 bore, on their tattered hats, the inscription, “Péthion or death!” They passed before the raised seats on which the royal family were placed, calling out, Vive Péthion! a miserable name, which even the mischief that he did has not been able to redeem from obscurity! A few feeble voices could with difficulty be heard, when calling Vive le Roi! as a last adieu, a final prayer.
The expression of the Queen’s countenance will never be effaced from my remembrance: her eyes were swollen with tears; the splendor of her dress, the dignity of her carriage, formed a contrast with the train that surrounded her. Only a few national guards separated her from the populace; the armed men assembled in the Champ de Mars seemed collected rather for a riot than a celebration. The King repaired on foot from the pavilion, under which he sat, all the way to the altar raised at the end of the Champ de Mars. It was there that he had to take, a second time, an oath of fidelity to the constitution, of which the relics were about to crush the throne. A crowd of children followed the King with acclamations—children as yet unconscious of the crime with which their fathers were about to sully themselves.
It required the character of Louis XVI, that character of martyr which he never contradicted, to support as he did such a situation. His mode of walking, his countenance, had something remarkable in them: on other occasions one might have wished for more grandeur in his demeanor; on the present, to remain in every respect the same was enough to appear sublime. I marked at a distance his head, distinguished by its powder from the black locks of those that accompanied him; his dress, still embroidered as before, was more conspicuous when close to the coarse attire of the lower orders who pressed around him. When he mounted the steps of the altar, he seemed a sacred victim offering himself as a voluntary sacrifice. He descended again; and, crossing anew the disordered ranks, returned to take his place beside the Queen and his children. After that day the people saw him no more till they saw him on the scaffold.
Manifesto of the Duke of Brunswick.
It has been strongly asserted that the terms in which the manifesto of the Duke of Brunswick was expressed were one of the principal causes of the rising of the French nation against the allies in 1792.1 I do not believe this: the first two articles of that manifesto contained what most papers of the kind since the Revolution have expressed; that is, that the foreign powers would make no conquest from France, and that they were not inclined to interfere with the interior government of the country. To these two promises, which are seldom observed, was added, it is true, the threat of treating as rebels such of the national guards as should be found with arms in their hands; as if, in any case, a nation could be culpable in defending its territory! But had the manifesto even been more moderately couched, it would not, at that time, have at all weakened the public spirit of the French. It is well known that every armed power desires victory, and has nothing more at heart than to weaken the obstacles which it must encounter to obtain it. Accordingly, the proclamations of invaders addressed to the nations whom they attack all consist in saying: “Do not resist us”; and the answer of a spirited people should be: “We will resist you.”
The friends of liberty were on this occasion, as they always will be, adverse to foreign interference; but they could not, on the other hand, conceal from themselves that the King had been put in a situation that reduced him to wish for the aid of the allies. What resource could there then remain to virtuous patriots?
M. de la Fayette proposed to the royal family to come and take refuge at Compiègne with his army. This was the best and safest course; but the persons who possessed the confidence of the King and Queen hated M. de la Fayette as much as if he had been an outrageous Jacobin. The aristocrats of that time preferred running every risk to obtain the re-establishment of the old government, to the acceptance of efficient aid under the condition of adopting with sincerity the principles of the Revolution, that is, a representative government. The offer of M. de la Fayette was then refused, and the King submitted to the dreadful risk of awaiting the German troops at Paris.
The royalists, who are subject to all the imprudence of hope, persuaded themselves that the defeats of the French armies would produce so much fear among the people of Paris as to render them mild and submissive whenever such intelligence reached their ears. The great error of men impassioned in politics consists in attributing all kinds of vices and meanness to their adversaries. It is incumbent on us to know how to value, in certain respects, those whom we hate, and those even whom we despise; for no man, and, still more, no mass of men, ever forfeited entirely all moral feeling. These furious Jacobins, capable at that time of every crime, were, however, possessed of energy; and it was by means of that energy that they triumphed over so many foreign armies.
Revolution of the 10th of August, 1792—Overthrow of the Monarchy.
Public opinion never fails to manifest itself, even in the midst of the factions which oppress it. One revolution only, that of 1789, was accomplished by the force of this opinion; but since that year, scarcely any crisis which has taken place in France has been desired by the nation.
Four days before the 10th of August, a decree of accusation was attempted to be carried in the Assembly against M. de la Fayette; he was acquitted by four hundred and twenty-four votes out of six hundred and seventy.1 The wish of this majority was certainly against the revolution that was in the making. The forfeiture of the crown by the King was demanded; the Assembly rejected it, but the minority, who were determined to obtain it, had recourse to the people for that purpose.
The constitutional party was, nevertheless, the most numerous; and if on one hand, the nobles had not left France and on the other, the royalists who surrounded the King had cordially reconciled themselves to the friends of liberty, France and the throne might yet have been saved. It is not the first, nor will it be the last time that we shall be called upon to show in the course of this work that no real good can take place in France but by a sincere reconciliation between the royalists of the Old Regime and the constitutional royalists. But in the word “sincere,” how many ideas are contained!
The constitutionalists had in vain sought leave to enter the palace of the King in order to defend him. They were prevented by the invincible prejudices of the courtiers. Incapable, however, notwithstanding the refusal they underwent, of joining the opposite party, they wandered around the palace, exposing themselves to be massacred, as a consolation for not being allowed to fight. Of this number were MM. de Lally, Narbonne, La Tour-du-Pin, Gouverner Castellane, Montmorency, and several others whose names have re-appeared on the most honorable occasions.
Before midnight on the 9th of August, the forty-eight alarm bells of the sections of Paris began to toll, and this monotonous, mournful, and rapid sound did not cease one moment during the whole night. I was at my window with some of my friends, and every quarter of an hour the voluntary patrol of the constitutionalists sent us news. We were told that the faubourgs2 were advancing, headed by Santerre, the brewer, and Westermann, an officer, who afterward fought against the Vendeans.3 No one could foresee what would happen on the morrow, and no one expected to live beyond a day. We had, nevertheless, some moments of hope during this horrible night; we flattered ourselves, I know not why, perhaps only because we had exhausted our fears.
All at once, at seven o’clock, the horrible noise of the cannon of the faubourgs was heard. In the first attack, the Swiss guards had the advantage. The people fled along the streets with a terror equal to their preceding fury. The King, it must be acknowledged, ought then to have put himself at the head of his troops and opposed his enemies. The Queen was of this opinion, and the courageous counsel she gave on this occasion does honor to her memory and recommends her to posterity.
Several battalions of the National Guards, and amongst others that of Les Filles St. Thomas, were full of zeal and ardor; but the King, on quitting the Tuileries, could no longer rely on that enthusiasm which constitutes the strength of armed citizens.
Many republicans believe that if Louis XVI had triumphed on the 10th of August, the foreign troops would have arrived in Paris and have re-established the ancient despotism, rendered still more odious by the means from which it would have derived its force. It is possible that things might have come to this extremity; but what would have led them to it? In civil commotions a crime may always be rendered politically useful; but it is by preceding crimes that this infernal necessity is caused.
I was told that all my friends who formed the exterior guard of the Tuileries had been seized and massacred. I went out instantly in search of news. My coachman was stopped on the bridge by men who silently made signs to him that the killings were taking place on the other side. After two hours of fruitless attempts to pass, I heard that all those in whom I was interested were still alive, but that most of them were obliged to conceal themselves in order to avoid the proscription by which they were menaced. When I went on foot to visit them that evening, in the obscure houses where they had found an asylum, I met armed men stretched before the doors, drowsy with intoxication or half waking only to utter horrible imprecations. Several women among the populace were in the same situation, and their vociferations seemed still more odious. Whenever one of the patrols appointed to keep order advanced, respectable people fled from its approach; for what was then called keeping order was only contributing to the triumph of the assassins, and removing every obstacle in their way.
I cannot find courage to continue such pictures. Yet the 10th of August appeared to have in view the seizing of the reins of government, in order to direct all its efforts against the invasion of foreigners; but the massacres which took place twenty-two days after the overthrow of the throne were only wanton criminal acts. It has been said that the terror experienced in Paris, and throughout all France, decided the French to take refuge in the camps. What a singular expedient is fear for recruiting an army! But such a supposition is an offense to the nation, and I shall endeavor to show in the following chapter that it was in spite of those crimes, and not by their horrible concurrence, that the French repulsed the foreigners who came to impose the law.
To criminals succeeded criminals still more detestable. The true republicans did not remain masters one day after the 10th of August. The moment the throne they attacked was overturned, they had to defend themselves; they had shown but too much condescension toward the horrible instruments whom they had employed to establish the republic. But the Jacobins were very sure in the end to terrify them with their own idol, by dint of crimes; and it seemed as if the wretches who were most hardened in guilt endeavored to fit the head of Medusa on the different leaders of parties, in order to rid themselves of all who could not support its aspect.
The detail of these horrible massacres is revolting to the imagination and furnishes nothing for reflection. I shall, therefore, confine myself to relating what happened to me personally at this time; it is perhaps the best manner of giving an idea of it.
During the interval from the 10th of August to the 2d of September, new arrests were every day taking place. The prisons were crowded, and all the addresses of the people, which for three years past had announced, by anticipation, what the party leaders had already decided, called for the punishment of the traitors: this appellation extended to classes as well as to individuals; to talents as well as fortune; to dress as well as opinions; in short, to everything which the laws protect, and which it was the intention of these men to annihilate.
The Austrian and Prussian troops had already passed the frontier, and it was repeated on all sides that if the enemy advanced, all the honest people in Paris would be massacred. Several of my friends, Messrs. de Narbonne, Montmorency, Baumets,1 were personally threatened, and each of them was concealed in the house of some citizen or other. But it was necessary to change their place of retreat daily, because those who gave them an asylum were alarmed. They would not at first make use of my house, being afraid that it might attract attention; but it seemed to me that being the residence of an Ambassador, and having inscribed on the door Hôtel de Suède, it would be respected, although M. de Staël was absent. It soon, however, became useless to deliberate, when there could be found no one who dared to receive the proscribed. Two of them came to my house, and I admitted into my confidence only one of my servants, of whom I was sure. I shut up my friends in the remotest chamber, and passed the night myself in the apartments looking toward the street, dreading every moment what was called the “domiciliary visits.”
One morning, a servant whom I distrusted came to tell me that the denunciation and description of M. de Narbonne, who was one of the persons concealed in my house, was stuck up at the corner of my street. I thought my servant wanted, by frightening me, to penetrate my secret; but he had simply related the fact. A short time after, the formidable domiciliary visit took place in my house. M. de Narbonne, being outlawed, would have perished that very day if discovered; and notwithstanding the precautions I had taken, I knew well that if the search was rigorously made, he could not escape. It became then necessary, at whatever price, to prevent this search; I collected all my courage, and felt on this occasion that we can always conquer our emotions, however strong, when aware that they may endanger the life of another.
Commissaries of the lowest class had been sent into all the houses of Paris to seize the proscribed; and, while they were making these visits, military posts occupied the two extremities of the street to prevent any escape. I began by alarming these men as much as I could on the violation of the rights of nations, of which they were guilty by searching the house of an ambassador; and, as their knowledge of geography was not extensive, I persuaded them that Sweden was a power which could threaten them with an immediate invasion, being situated on the frontiers of France. Twenty years after, strange to tell! my assertion became literally true; for Lubeck and Swedish Pomerania fell into the power of the French.2
The common people are capable of being softened instantly or not at all; there is scarcely any gradation in their sentiments, or in their ideas. I perceived that my reasonings made an impression on them, and I had the courage, with anguish in my heart, to jest with them on the injustice of their suspicions. Nothing is more agreeable to men of this class than a tone of pleasantry; for, even in the excess of their fury against the upper ranks, they feel a pleasure in being treated by them as equals. I led them back in this manner to the door, and thanked God for the extraordinary courage with which he had endowed me at that moment. Nevertheless, this situation could not last, and the slightest accident would have sufficed to betray an outlawed person, who was very well known on account of his having been recently in the ministry.
A generous and enlightened Hanoverian, Dr. Bollmann, who afterward exposed himself to deliver M. de la Fayette from the Austrian prisons, having heard of my anxieties, offered, without any other motive than the enthusiasm of goodness, to conduct M. de Narbonne to England by giving him the passport of one of his friends. Nothing was more daring than this attempt, since, if any foreigner had been arrested traveling with a proscribed person under a false name, he would have been condemned to death. The courage of Dr. Bollmann did not fail, either in the will or in the execution, and four days after his departure, M. de Narbonne was in London.
I had obtained passports to go into Switzerland; but it would have been so distressing to find myself alone in safety, leaving so many friends in danger, that I delayed my departure from day to day, in order to learn what became of them. I was informed on the 31st of August that M. de Jaucourt, a deputy to the Legislative Assembly, and M. de Lally Tollendal had both been sent to the Abbaye; and it was already known that those only who were destined to be massacred were sent to that prison. The fine talents of M. de Lally protected him in a singular manner. He composed the defense of one of his fellow prisoners who was brought before the tribunal previous to the massacre; the prisoner was acquitted, and everyone knew that he owed his deliverance to the eloquence of Lally. M. de Condorcet admired his splendid abilities and exerted himself to save him; M. de Lally also found an efficacious protection in the sympathy of the English ambassador, who was still in Paris at this date.* M. de Jaucourt had not the same support: I procured a list of all the members of the Commune of Paris, who were then the masters of the city. I knew them only by their terrible reputation, and I sought, as chance directed, for a motive to determine my choice. I suddenly recollected that one of them, called Manuel,3 was a dabbler in literature, having just published Letters of Mirabeau, with a preface, very badly written, it is true, but which showed at the same time an ambition to display ability. I persuaded myself that the love of applause might in some way render a man accessible to solicitation, and it was accordingly to Manuel that I wrote to ask an audience. He fixed it for the next morning at seven o’clock, at his house; this was rather a democratic hour, but I certainly did not fail to be punctual. I arrived before he had got up, and waited for him in his closet, where I saw his own portrait placed on his writing desk, which gave me hopes that at least he might be gained over a little by vanity. He came in, and I must do him the justice to admit that it was through his good sentiments that I succeeded in softening him.
I represented to him the terrible vicissitudes of popularity, of which examples could be cited every day. “In six months,” said I, “your power may perhaps be at an end” (in less than six months he perished on the scaffold). “Save M. de Lally and M. de Jaucourt; reserve for yourself a soothing and consoling recollection at the moment when you also may be proscribed in your turn.” Manuel was a man who could feel; he was carried on by his passions, but capable of honest sentiments; for it was for having defended the King that he was condemned to death. He wrote to me on the 1st of September that M. de Condorcet had obtained the liberation of M. de Lally; and that in compliance with my entreaties, he had just set M. de Jaucourt at liberty. Overjoyed at having saved the life of so estimable a man, I determined on departing the next day; but I engaged to take up the Abbé de Montesquiou,4 who was also proscribed, when I should have passed the barriers of Paris, and to carry him to Switzerland disguised as a servant. To make this change more easy and secure, I gave one of his attendants the passport of one of mine, and we fixed on the spot on the high road where I should find M. de Montesquiou. It was thus impossible to fail in this rendezvous, of which the hour and place were fixed, without exposing the person who was waiting for me to the suspicion of the patrols who scoured the high roads.
The news of the taking of Longwy and Verdun arrived on the morning of the 2d of September. We again heard in every quarter those frightful alarm bells, of which the sound was but too strongly engraven on my mind by the night of the 10th of August. Some wanted to prevent me from leaving, but could I risk the safety of a person who was then confiding in me?
My passports were perfectly in order, and I imagined that the best way would be to set out in a coach and six, with my servants in full livery. I thought that by seeing me in great style, people would conclude I had a right to depart, and would let me pass freely. This was very ill judged, for in such moments what of all things should be avoided is striking the imagination of the people, and the most shabby post-chaise would have conveyed me with more safety. Scarcely had my carriage advanced three steps when, at the noise of the whips of the postilions, a swarm of old women, who seemed to issue from the infernal regions, rushed on my horses, crying that I ought to be stopped; that I was running away with the gold of the nation, that I was going to join the enemy, and a thousand other invectives still more absurd. These women gathered a crowd instantly, and some of the common people, with ferocious countenances, seized my postilions and ordered them to conduct me to the assembly of the section of the quarter where I lived (the Faubourg of St. Germain). On stepping out of my carriage, I had time to whisper to the Abbé de Montesquiou’s servant to go and inform his master of what had happened.
I entered this assembly, the deliberations of which bore the appearance of a permanent insurrection. The person who called himself the president declared to me that I was denounced as having the intention of carrying away proscribed persons, and that my attendants were going to be examined. He found one person missing, who was marked on my passport (it was the servant I had sent away), and, in consequence of this irregularity, he ordered me to be conducted to the Hotel de Ville by a gendarme. Nothing could be more terrifying than such an order; it was necessary to cross the half of Paris and to alight on the Place de Grêve, opposite the Hotel de Ville. On the steps leading to the staircase of that hotel, several persons had been massacred on the 10th of August. No woman had yet perished; but the next day the Princess of Lamballe5 was murdered by the people, whose fury was already such that every eye seemed to demand blood.
It took me three hours to get from the Faubourg St. Germain to the Hotel de Ville, advancing slowly through an immense crowd, who assailed me with cries of death. Their invectives were not directed against me personally, for I was then hardly known; but a fine carriage and laced clothes were, in the eyes of the people, the marks of those who ought to be massacred. Not knowing yet how inhuman men become in revolutions, I addressed myself two or three times to the gendarmes who passed near my carriage to implore their assistance; and was answered by the most disdainful and threatening gestures. I was pregnant; but that did not disarm them; on the contrary their fury seemed to increase in proportion as they felt themselves culpable. The gendarme, however, who was placed in my coach, not being stimulated by his comrades, was moved by my situation and promised to defend me at the peril of his life. The most dangerous moment was in the Place de Grêve; but I had time to prepare myself for it, and the faces which surrounded me bore such an expression of atrocity that the aversion they inspired served to give me additional courage.
I stepped out of my carriage in the midst of an armed multitude and proceeded under an arch of pikes. In ascending the staircase, which likewise bristled with spears, a man pointed toward me the one which he held in his hand. My gendarme pushed it away with his saber: if I had fallen at this moment my life would have ended, for it is in the nature of the common people to respect what still stands erect, but the victim once struck is dispatched.
I arrived at length at the Commune, the president of which was Robespierre, and I breathed again because I had escaped from the populace: yet what a protector was Robespierre! Collot d’Herbois and Billaud Varennes6 performed the office of secretaries, and the latter had left his beard untouched for a fortnight, that he might the better escape the slightest suspicion of aristocracy. The hall was crowded with common people; men, women, and children were exclaiming, with all their might, “Vive la nation.” The writing office of the Commune being a little elevated, those who were placed there could converse together. There I was seated, and while I was recovering myself, the Bailli of Virieu, Envoy of Parma, who had been arrested at the same time as myself, rose to declare that he did not know me; that whatever my affair might be, it had not the least connection with his, and that we ought not to be confounded together. The want of chivalry of this poor man displeased me, and made me doubly eager to be useful to myself, since it appeared that the Bailli of Virieu was not disposed to spare me that trouble. I rose then and stated the right I had to depart, as being the Ambassadress of Sweden, showing the passports I had obtained in consequence of this right. At this moment Manuel arrived; he was very much astonished to find me in so painful a situation, and immediately becoming responsible for me till the Commune had decided on my fate, he conducted me out of that terrible place and locked me up with my maidservant in his closet.
We waited there for six hours, half dead with thirst, hunger, and fright: the window of Manuel’s apartment looked on the Place de Grêve, and we saw the assassins returning from the prisons with their arms bare and bloody, and uttering horrible cries.
My coach with its baggage had remained in the middle of the square, and the people were proceeding to plunder it when I perceived a tall man, in the dress of a national guard, who, ascending the coach box, forbade the populace to take away anything. He passed two hours in guarding my baggage, and I could not conceive how so slight a consideration could occupy him amidst such awful circumstances. In the evening this man, with Manuel, entered the room where I was confined. He was Santerre, the brewer, afterward so notorious for his cruelty. He lived in the Faubourg St. Antoine and had several times been both witness and distributor of the supplies of corn which my father used to provide in seasons of scarcity, and for which he retained some gratitude. Unwilling also to go, as he ought to have done in his quality of commandant, to the relief of the prisoners, guarding my coach served him as a pretext; he wanted to make a boast of it to me, but I could not help reminding him what was his duty at such a moment. As soon as Manuel saw me, he exclaimed with great emotion, “Ah! how happy I am at having set your two friends at liberty yesterday!” He bitterly deplored the assassinations that were going on, but which even at this time he had no power to prevent. An abyss was opened behind the steps of every man who had acquired any authority, and if he receded he could not fail to sink into it.
Manuel conducted me home at night in his carriage; he was afraid of losing his popularity by doing it in the day. The lamps were not lighted in the streets; but we met numbers of men with torches in their hands, the glare of which was more terrifying than darkness itself. Manuel was often stopped and asked who he was, but when he answered, “Le Procureur de la Commune,” this revolutionary dignity was respectfully recognized.
Arrived at my house, Manuel informed me that a new passport would be given to me and that I should be allowed to depart, but with my maidservant only. A gendarme had orders to attend me to the frontier. The following day Tallien,7 the same who, twenty months after, delivered France from Robespierre on the 9th of Thermidor, came to my house, having been ordered by the Commune to conduct me to the barrier. We heard every instant of new massacres. Several persons much exposed were then in my room: I begged of Tallien not to name them; he promised that he would not, and he kept his word. We went together in my carriage, and left each other without having the power of communicating our thoughts to each other; the circumstances in which we were froze the words on our lips.
I still met with some difficulties near Paris which I managed to escape, and as the distance from the capital increased, the waves of the tempest seemed to subside, and in the mountains of Jura nothing reminded me of the dreadful agitation of which Paris was the theater. The French were everywhere repeating that they were determined to repulse the foreigners. I confess that I saw then no other foreigners than the bloody assassins under whose daggers I had left my friends, the royal family, and all the worthy inhabitants of France.
The Foreign Troops Driven from France in 1792.
The prisoners of Orléans1 had shared the fate of those of Paris,2 the priests had been massacred at the foot of the altars, and the royal family were captives in the temple. M. de la Fayette, faithful to the constant desire of the nation, a constitutional monarchy, had quitted his army3 rather than take an oath contrary to that which he had so lately sworn to the King. A National Convention was formed, and the Republic was proclaimed4 almost under the eyes of the victorious monarchs, whose armies were then only forty leagues from Paris: yet the greater part of the French officers had emigrated;5 and what remained of the troops had never fought in a war, and the administration was in a most deplorable state. There was a grandeur in such a resolution taken in the midst of the most imminent perils; it instantly revived in every heart the interest which the French nation once inspired; and if the conquering soldiers, on their returning to their homes, had overthrown the revolutionary faction, the cause of France would have once again been gained.
General Dumouriez,6 in this first campaign of 1792, displayed talents which can never be forgotten. He knew how to employ with ability the military force, which had its basis in patriotism but has since been made the tool of ambition. Amidst all the horrors which disgraced the year 1792, the public spirit which then showed itself had something in it truly admirable. The citizens, now become soldiers, devoted themselves to their country; and personal interests, the love of money and of power, had as yet no share in the efforts of the French armies. Europe consequently felt a sort of respect for the unexpected resistance which she experienced. Soon, however, the madness of crime possessed the prevailing party, and since then, every vice followed every evil deed—sad amelioration for mankind!
Trial of Louis XVI.
What a subject! But it has been so often treated on that I shall here allow myself to make only a few particular observations.1
In the month of October, 1792, before the horrible trial of the King had begun, before Louis XVI had named his defenders, M. Necker stood forward to receive that noble and perilous charge. He published a memoir2 which posterity will accept as one of the truest and most disinterested testimonies that could be given in favor of the virtuous monarch thrown into captivity.* M. de Malesherbes3 was chosen by the King to be his advocate in the National Convention. The dreadful death of this admirable man and of his family demands the first place in our memory; but the sound reasoning and sincere eloquence of M. Necker’s publication in defense of the King must render it a document for history.
It cannot be denied that Louis XVI was considered as a prisoner from the time of his departure for Varennes, and consequently he did nothing to forward the establishment of a Constitution, which the most sincere efforts would not, perhaps, have been able to maintain. But with what delicacy does not M. Necker, who always believed in the force of truth, place it before us upon this point.
Men of attentive minds—just men, will admire the patience and moderation which the King displayed when everything changed around him, and when he was continually exposed to every kind of insult; but if he had committed faults, if he had misunderstood on some points the new obligations imposed upon him, should it not be attributed to the new form of government? to that constitution in which a monarch was nothing but in appearance, in which royalty itself was out of its place; in which the head of the executive power could discern neither what he was nor what he ought to be; in which he was deceived even by words, and by the equivocal sense which might be given to them; in which he was king without any ascendency; in which he occupied the throne without enjoying any respect, in which he appeared to possess the right to command without having the means of making himself obeyed; in which he was alternately, and according to the unrestrained will of a single deliberative assembly, at one time a simple public functionary, and at another the hereditary representative of the nation? How could a monarch, suddenly placed in the trammels of a political system equally obscure and absurd, and ultimately proscribed by the deputies of the nation themselves; how could he alone be required to be consistent in the midst of the continual fluctuation of ideas? And would it not be the height of injustice to judge a monarch by all his projects, all his thoughts, in the course of a revolution so extraordinary, that it would have been necessary for him to be in perfect harmony, not only with the things which were known, but even with all those of which it would have been in vain to preconceive any just idea? [Réflexions présentées à la nation française, 19–20]
M. Necker goes on to retrace in his Memoir the acts of beneficence which marked the reign of Louis XVI before the Revolution; the extinction of the remains of servitude, the interdiction4 of the torture, the suppression of the corvée, the establishment of the provincial administrations, the convocation of the Estates General. “Is it not Louis XVI,” says he, “who, in occupying him unceasingly with the improvements of the prisons and hospitals, has given the attention of a tender father and of a compassionate friend to the asylums of misery and the retreats of misfortune or of error? Is it not he, perhaps the only one, besides St. Louis, of all the heads of the French Empire who has given the rare example of purity of manners? Must he not besides be allowed the peculiar merit of having been religious without superstition, and scrupulous without intolerance? And is it not from him that a part of the inhabitants of France (the Protestants), persecuted during so many reigns, have received not only a legal security but a civil station which admits them to a participation in all the advantages of social order? These benefits belong to the past; but is the virtue of gratitude applicable only to other periods and other portions of life?”
The want of respect shown to Louis XVI during his trial is more striking than even his condemnation. When the President of the Convention said to him who was his King: “Louis, you may sit down!” we feel more indignation even than when he is accused of crimes which he had never committed. One must have sprung from the very dust not to respect past obligations, particularly when misfortune has rendered them sacred; and vulgarity joined to crime inspires us with as much contempt as horror. No man of real superiority has been remarked amongst those who incited the convention to condemn the King; the popular tide rose and fell at certain words and certain phrases, while the talent of so eloquent an orator as Vergniaud5 could not influence the public mind. It is true that the greater part of the deputies who defended the King took a detestable ground. They began by declaring that he was guilty; and one among them said at the tribune that Louis XVI was a traitor, but that the nation ought to pardon him; and this they called the tactics of the Assembly! They pretended that it was necessary to humor the reigning opinion, that they might moderate it at a proper time. With such cautious prudence as this, how could they resist their enemies, who sprang with all their force upon the victim? In France, they always capitulate with the majority, even when they wish to oppose it; and this miserable finesse assuredly diminishes the means instead of increasing them. The power of the minority can consist only in the energy of conviction. What are the weak in numbers if they are also weak in sentiment?
Saint-Just,6 after having searched in vain for authentic facts against the King, finished by declaring that “no one could reign innocently”; and nothing could better prove the necessity of the inviolability of kings than this maxim; for, there is no king who might not be accused in some way or another if there were no constitutional barrier placed around him. That which surrounded the throne of Louis XVI ought to be held sacred more than any other, since it was not tacitly understood as elsewhere, but solemnly guaranteed.
The deputies from the Gironde wished to save the King; and to that end they demanded an appeal to the people. But in demanding this appeal, they continued to concur in sentiment with the Jacobins, incessantly repeating that the King deserved death. This was deserting the cause entirely. Louis XVI, says Biroteau,7 is already condemned within my heart; but I demand an appeal to the people that he may be condemned by them. The deputies from the Gironde were right in requiring a competent tribunal, if there could exist one for such a cause: but how much more effect might they not have produced if they had required it in favor of an innocent person, instead of for one whom they pretended to be guilty. The French, it can never be too often repeated, have not yet learned in civil affairs to be moderate when they are strong, and bold when they are weak; they should transplant into politics all their military virtues, and their affairs would be improved by it.
What is most difficult to be conceived, in this terrible discussion of the national convention, is the abundance of words that everyone had ready upon such an occasion. It was natural to expect to find a concentrated fury in those who desired the death of the King; but to make it a subject for the display of wit, for the turning of phrases, what obstinacy of vanity in such a scene.
Thomas Paine8 was the most violent of the American democrats: and yet, as there was neither calculation nor hypocrisy in his political exaggerations, when the sentence of Louis XVI came under discussion, he alone advised what would have done honor to France if it had been adopted, the offer to the King of an asylum in America. The Americans are grateful to him, said Paine, for having promoted their independence. Considering this resolution only in a republican point of view, it was the only one which could at that time have weakened the interest for royalty in France. Louis XVI had not those talents which are necessary to regain a crown by force; for a situation which did not excite pity would never have produced devotion. Death inflicted on the most upright man in France, but, at the same time, the least to be feared—on him who, if I may use the expression, had taken no part in his own fate, could only be a dreadful homage paid to his former greatness. There would have been more of republicanism in a revolution which had evinced less fear and more justice.
Louis XVI did not refuse, like Charles I, to acknowledge the tribunal before which he was tried; but answered to all the questions which were put to him, with unaltered gentleness. The President asked him why he had assembled the troops at the palace on the tenth of August, and he replied: “The palace was threatened, all the Constituted Authorities saw it, and, as I myself was one of the Constituted Authorities, it was my duty to defend myself.” How modest and unassuming was this manner of speaking of himself, and by what burst of eloquence could we be more deeply moved!
M. de Malesherbes, formerly the King’s minister, stood forward to defend him. He was one of the three ministers, himself, M. Turgot, and M. Necker, who had advised the voluntary adoption of the principles of liberty to Louis XVI. He was obliged, together with the other two, to resign his place in consequence of some opinions which the parlements opposed; and now, notwithstanding his advanced age, he reappeared to plead the cause of the King in the presence of the people, as he had formerly pleaded the cause of the people before the King; but the new master was implacable.
Garat,9 then Minister of Justice, and, in times better suited to him one of the best writers of France, has told us, in his private memoirs, that when the duties of his dreadful situation compelled him to communicate to the King the sentence which condemned him to death, the King displayed, whilst listening to it, the most astonishing coolness; once only, he expressed by a gesture his contempt and his indignation; it was at the article which accused him of having wished to spill the blood of the French people. His conscience revolted at that, although he had restrained every other feeling. On the very morning of his execution, he said to one of his servants, Go to the Queen; but, stopping himself, he repeated, Go to my wife. He submitted, even at that moment, to the deprivation of his rank which had been imposed upon him by his murderers. Without doubt he believed that in everything fate executes the designs of God upon his creatures.
The King’s will10 exhibits the whole of his character. The most affecting simplicity reigns throughout: every word is a virtue, and we find in it all the intelligence which a mind just, temperate, and of infinite goodness could inspire. The condemnation of Louis XVI so affected every heart that, on account of it, the Revolution was for several years considered as accursed.
Charles I and Louis XVI.
Many persons have attributed the disasters of France to the weakness of the character of Louis XVI; and it has been continually repeated that his stooping to recognize the principles of liberty was one of the essential causes of the Revolution. It seems to me, then, a matter of curiosity to show to those who believe that in France, at this crisis, such or such a man would have sufficed to have prevented everything; or that the adoption of such or such a resolution would have arrested the progress of events; it seems, I say, a matter of curiosity to show them that the conduct of Charles I was, in all respects, the converse of that of Louis XVI, and that, nevertheless, two opposite systems brought about the same catastrophe; so irresistible is the progress of revolutions caused by the opinion of the majority.
James I, the father of Charles, said “that men might form an opinion on the conduct of kings, since they freely allowed themselves to scrutinize the decrees of Providence; but that their power could no more be called in question than that of God.” Charles I had been educated in these maxims; and he regarded as a measure equally inconsistent with duty, and with policy, every concession made by the royal authority. Louis XVI, a hundred and fifty years later, was modified by the age in which he lived; the doctrine of passive obedience, which was still received in England in the time of Charles, was no longer maintained even by the clergy of France in 1789. The English Parliament had existed from time immemorial;1 and although it was not irrevocably decided that its consent was necessary for taxation, yet it was customary to ask its sanction. But as it granted subsidies for several years in anticipation, the King of England was not, as now, under the necessity of assembling it annually; and very frequently taxes were continued without having been renewed by the votes of the national representatives. The parliament, however, on all occasions, protested against this abuse; and upon this ground commenced the quarrel between the Commons and Charles I. He was reproached with two taxes which he levied without the assent of the nation. Irritated by this reproach, he ordered, in pursuance of the constitutional right vested in him, that the parliament should be dissolved; and twelve years2 elapsed before he called another, an interruption almost unparalleled in the history of England. The quarrel of Louis XVI began, like that of Charles I, by financial embarrassments; and it is always these embarrassments that render kings dependent upon their people; but Louis XVI assembled the Estates General, which for nearly two centuries had been almost forgotten in France.
Louis XIV had suppressed even the remonstrances of the Parlement of Paris, the only privilege left to that body, when he registered the bursal edicts. Henry VIII of England had caused his proclamations to be received as laws. Thus, then, both Charles and Louis might consider themselves as inheriting unlimited power; but with this difference, that the people of England always relied, and with reason, upon the past to reclaim their rights, while the French demanded something entirely new, since the convocation of the Estates General was not prescribed by any law. Louis XVI, according to the constitution, or the nonconstitution, of France, was not under any obligation to assemble the Estates General; Charles I, in omitting for twelve years to convoke the English Parliament, violated privileges which had been long recognized.
During the twelve-year suspension of the parliament under Charles, the Star Chamber,3 an irregular tribunal which executed the will of the English monarch, exercised every imaginable species of rigor. Prynne was sentenced to lose his ears for having written, according to the tenets of the Puritans, against plays and against the hierarchy. Allison and Robins endured the same punishment because they expressed an opinion different from that of the Archbishop of York; Lilburne was exposed on the pillory, inhumanly scourged, and gagged because his courageous complaints produced an effect upon the people. Williams, a bishop, underwent a similar punishment.4 The most cruel tortures were inflicted upon those who refused to pay the taxes imposed by a mere proclamation of the King; in a host of other different cases ruinous fines were levied on individuals by the same Star Chamber; but, in general, it was against the liberty of the press that the utmost violence was displayed. Louis XVI made scarcely any use of the arbitrary measure of lettres de cachet for the purpose of exile or imprisonment;5 no one act of tyranny can be laid to his charge; and, far from restraining the liberty of the press, it was the Archbishop of Sens, the King’s prime minister, who, in the name of His Majesty, invited all writers to make known their opinions upon the form and the manner of assembling the Estates General.6
The Protestant religion was established in England; but as the Church of England recognizes the king as its head, Charles I had certainly much more influence over his church than Louis had over that of France. The English clergy, under the guidance of Laud,7 although Protestant, was not only in all respects more independent, but more rigid than the French clergy; for the philosophic spirit had gained a footing among some of the leaders of the Gallican church; and Laud was more decidedly orthodox than the Cardinal de Rohan, the principal bishop of France. The ecclesiastical authority and the hierarchy were supported by Charles with extreme severity. The greater part of the cruel sentences which disgraced the Star Chamber had for their object the enforcing of respect for the clergy. That of France seldom defended itself, and never found defenders in others: both were equally crushed by the Revolution.
The English nobility did not resort to the pernicious measure of emigration, nor to the still more pernicious measure of calling in foreigners: they encircled the throne with constancy, and combated on the side of the King during the civil war. The principles of philosophy which were in vogue in France at the commencement of the Revolution excited a great number of the nobles themselves to turn their own privileges into ridicule. The spirit of the seventeenth century did not prompt the English nobility to doubt the validity of their own rights. The Star Chamber punished with extreme severity some persons who had ventured to ridicule certain lords. Pleasantry is never interdicted to the French. The nobles of England were grave and serious, while those of France were agreeable triflers; and yet both the one and the other were alike despoiled of their privileges;8 and, widely as they differed in all their measures of defense, they were strikingly assimilated in their ruin.
It has often been said that the great influence of Paris over the rest of France was one of the causes of the Revolution. London never obtained the same ascendant over England, because the principal English nobility lived much more in the provinces than those of France. Lastly, it has been pretended that the prime minister of Louis XVI, M. Necker, was swayed by republican principles, and that such a man as Cardinal Richelieu might have prevented the Revolution. The Earl of Strafford,9 the favorite minister of Charles I, was of a firm, and even despotic character; he possessed one advantage over Cardinal Richelieu, that of a high military reputation, which always gives a better grace to the exercise of absolute power. M. Necker enjoyed the greatest popularity ever known in France; the Earl of Strafford was always the object of popular animosity; yet each was the victim of a revolution, and each was sacrificed by his master: the former because he was denounced by the Commons; the latter because the courtiers demanded his dismissal.
Lastly (and this is the most striking point of contrast), Louis XVI has been always blamed for not having taken the field, for not having repelled force by force, and for his insuperable dread of civil war. Charles I began the civil war with motives doubtless very plausible, but still he began it. He quitted London, repaired to the country, and put himself at the head of an army which defended the royal authority to the last extremity. Charles I refused to recognize the competency of the tribunal which condemned him; Louis XVI never made a single objection to the authority of his judges. Charles was infinitely superior to Louis in capacity, in address, and in military talents—everything, in short, formed a contrast between these two monarchs, except their misfortune.
There was, however, one point of resemblance in their sentiments, which alone can account for the similarity of their destinies—Charles I was from the bottom of his heart attached to Catholicism, at that time proscribed in England by the reigning opinion; and Louis XVI was anxious to preserve the ancient political institutions of France. This similarity caused the destruction of both. It is in the art of directing public opinion, or of yielding to it at the proper moment, that the science of government consists in modern times.
War Between France and England. Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox.
During many centuries the rivalries between France and England have been the source of misery to those two countries. It used to be a contest for power; but the struggle caused by the Revolution cannot be considered under the same aspect. If there have been, in the course of twenty-three years,1 circumstances in which England might have treated with France, it must also be allowed that during that time she has had strong reasons for making war upon her rival, and more frequently still, for defending herself against attack. The first rupture, which broke out in 1793, proceeded from motives the most just. If the Convention, while guilty of the murder of Louis XVI, had not professed and propagated principles subversive of all governments, if it had not attacked Belgium and Holland, the English might have taken no more concern in the death of Louis XVI than Louis XIV did in that of Charles I. But at the moment when the government dismissed the Ambassador of France, the English nation wished for war still more eagerly than its government.2
I think I have sufficiently shown, in the preceding chapters, that in 1791, during the continuance of the Constituent Assembly, and even in 1792, under the Legislative Assembly, foreign powers ought not to have acceded to the Convention of Pilnitz. If, then, English diplomacy had any share in that great political act, it interfered too soon in the affairs of France, and Europe found itself in a bad situation because of it, since immense military forces were thus acquired by the French. But at the moment when England formally declared war against France, in 1793, the Jacobins were in complete possession of the supreme power; and not only their invasion of Holland, but their crimes and the principles which they proclaimed, made it a duty to break off all communication with them. The perseverance of England at this epoch preserved her from the troubles which threatened her internal tranquillity at the time of the mutiny of the fleet, and of the fermentation of the popular societies;3 and likewise supported the hopes of the well-meaning, by showing them a spot upon the earth where morality and liberty were united to great power. Had the English nation been seen sending ambassadors to assassins, the true strength of that wonderful island would have abandoned her; the confidence which she inspires would have been lost.
It does not follow from these views that the Opposition, who wished for peace, and Mr. Fox,4 who by his astonishing talents represented a party in his own person, were not actuated by the most honorable sentiments. Mr. Fox complained, and with reason, that the friends of liberty were incessantly confounded with those who polluted it; and he feared lest the reaction of so unfortunate an attempt should weaken the spirit of freedom which is the vital principle of England. In fact, if the Reformation had failed three centuries ago, what would have become of Europe? And in what state would Europe now be, if France were to be deprived of all that she has gained by her political reform?
Mr. Pitt5 at this epoch rendered great services to England by holding with a firm hand the helm of affairs. But notwithstanding the perfect simplicity of his tastes and habits, he leaned too much to the love of power; having become minister at a very early age, he never had time to live in the capacity of a private man, and by that means to experience the action of authority upon those who are subject to it. His heart had no sympathy with weakness; and the political artifices which men have agreed to call Machiavellianism were not viewed by him with all the contempt which might have been expected from a genius like his. Yet his admirable eloquence made him love the debates of a representative government; he was predisposed to liberty even by his talents, for he was ambitious of convincing, whereas men of moderate powers aspire only at command. The sarcastic tone of his speeches was singularly adapted to the circumstances in which he was placed: when all the aristocracy of sentiment and principle triumphed at the sight of popular excesses, the energetic irony of Mr. Pitt suited the Patrician who throws upon his adversaries the odious color of irreligion and immorality.
The perspicuity, the sincerity, the warmth of Mr. Fox could alone escape these sharp-edged weapons. He had no mystery in politics; for he regarded publicity as still more necessary in the affairs of nations than in any other relations of men. Even when his opinion was not followed, he was better liked than his opponent; and although force of argumentation was the distinctive characteristic of his eloquence, so much of soul was perceived beneath his reasoning that it was impossible not to be moved by it. His character, like that of his antagonist, bore the stamp of English dignity; but he had a natural candor which contact with other people could not hinder, because the benevolence of genius is unalterable.
It is not necessary to decide between these two great men, nor is there any person who would dare to think himself qualified to judge in such a cause. But the salutary reflection which ought to arise from the sublime discussions of which the English Parliament was the theater is this—that the ministerial party was always in the right when it combated Jacobinism and military despotism, but always in the wrong, and greatly in the wrong, when it made itself the enemy of liberal principles in France. The members of the Opposition, on the contrary, deviated from the noble functions which are attributed to them when they defended men whose crimes were ruining the cause of the human race; and this same Opposition has deserved well of posterity when it supported the generous few of the friends of freedom who for twenty-five years have devoted themselves to the hatred of both parties in France, and who have no strength but what they derive from one powerful alliance—the alliance of truth.
One fact may give an idea of the essential difference which exists between the Tories and the Whigs, the members of the cabinet, and the Opposition, in relation to the affairs of France. The spirit of party goes the length of stripping the most glorious actions of their true qualities so long as those who performed them live; but it is not for this the less certain that antiquity offers nothing more noble than the conduct of General la Fayette, of his wife, and of his daughters in the prisons of Olmütz.* The General was confined in these on the one hand, for having quitted France after the imprisonment of the King, and on the other, for having declined any connection with the governments which were carrying on war against his country; and the admirable Madame de la Fayette, just escaped from the dungeons of Robespierre, lost not a single day in proceeding to incarcerate herself with her husband and expose herself to all the sufferings which have abridged her life. So much firmness in a man who had been for so long a time faithful to the same cause, so much conjugal and filial love in his family, could not but interest the country of whose soil these virtues are the native growth. General Fitz-Patrick demanded, therefore, that the English ministry should intercede with their allies to obtain from them the liberty of General la Fayette.6 Mr. Fox pleaded this cause; the English parliament heard the sublime speech, of which we shall transcribe the conclusion: and yet the representatives of a free country did not rise in a body to accede to the proposition of the orator, who on this occasion should have been only their interpreter. The ministers opposed the motion of General Fitz-Patrick by saying, as usual, that the captivity of General la Fayette concerned the powers of the Continent, and that England, in meddling with it, would violate the general principle which forbids her to interfere in the internal administration of foreign countries. Mr. Fox combated admirably this wily and evasive answer. Mr. Windham,7 Secretary of War, denied the eulogiums which Mr. Fox had pronounced on General la Fayette; and it was upon this occasion that Mr. Fox replied to him as follows:
The Secretary of War has spoken, and his principles are henceforth in open day. Those must never be pardoned who begin revolutions, and that, in the most absolute sense, without distinction of circumstances and of persons. However corrupt, however intolerant, however oppressive, however hostile to the rights and happiness of humanity a government may be; however virtuous, however moderate, however patriotic, however humane the reformer, the man who begins the justest reformation should be devoted to the most irreconcilable vengeance. If he is succeeded by men who tarnish the cause of liberty by their excesses, they may be pardoned. All our detestation of criminal revolution should be heaped upon him who begins a revolution that is virtuous. Thus, the Right Honorable Secretary of War pardons Cromwell with all his heart; for Cromwell appeared not till the second act, found things prepared, and only turned circumstances to his own profit; but our great, our illustrious ancestors, Pym, Hampden, Lord Falkland, the Earl of Bedford,8 all these personages to whom we have been accustomed to pay honors nearly divine, for the good which they have done to the human race and to their country, for the evils from which they delivered us, for the prudent courage, the generous humanity, the noble disinterestedness with which they prosecuted their plans; these are the men who, according to the doctrine professed this day, ought to be devoted to eternal execration.
We have hitherto considered Hume9 to be sufficiently severe when he said that Hampden died at the moment the most favorable for his glory, because, had he lived a few months longer, he would probably have displayed the latent fire of a violent ambition. But how gentle does Hume now appear when compared with the Right Honorable Secretary of War. According to the latter, men who by their crimes have blackened the glorious cause of liberty have been virtuous, in comparison of those who wished merely to deliver their country from the weight of abuses, from the scourge of corruption, and from the yoke of tyranny. Cromwell, Harrison, Bradshaw, the masked executioner by whose hand fell the head of Charles I—these are the objects of the tender commiseration and enlightened indulgence of the Right Honorable Secretary of War. Hampden, Bedford, Falkland killed in fighting for his king—such are the criminals for whom he does not find hatred enough in his heart, nor punishment enough upon earth. The Right Honorable Secretary of War has positively asserted it: in the eyes of his kings and his absolute ministers, Collot d’Herbois10 is far from meriting so much vengeance and hatred as La Fayette.
At first I was astonished at this opinion; I now begin to comprehend it. In fact, Collot d’Herbois is a vile person and a monster; La Fayette is a great character and a man of worth. Collot d’Herbois pollutes Liberty and renders her hateful by all the crimes which he dares to clothe with her name; La Fayette honors her; he makes her an object of love, by all the virtues with which he shows her to be surrounded, by the nobleness of his principles, by the unalterable purity of his actions, by the wisdom and force of his understanding, by the gentleness, the disinterestedness, the generosity of his soul. Yes, I acknowledge it, according to the new principles, it is La Fayette who is dangerous, he is the man whom we must hate; and the poor Collot d’Herbois is entitled to that tender accent with which the interest of the House has been solicited for him. Yes, I do justice to the sincerity of the Right Honorable Secretary of War; he has feigned nothing, I am sure; the tone of his voice has been only the expression of his soul as often as he has implored compassion for the poor Collot d’Herbois, or summoned from every corner of the earth hatred, vengeance, and tyranny to exterminate General La Fayette, his wife and his children, his companions, and his servants.
But I, who feel otherwise, I, who am still what I have always been, I, who will live and die the friend of order but of liberty, the enemy of anarchy but of slavery, have thought that it was not allowed to me to remain silent after such outrages, after such blasphemies vomited forth within the precincts of an English parliament, against innocence and truth, against the rights and the happiness of the human species, against the principles of our glorious Revolution; finally, against the sacred memory of our illustrious ancestors, of those men whose wisdom, whose virtues, and whose benefits will be revered and blessed by the people of England to the latest generation.
In spite of the incomparable beauty of these words, such was the terror with which the fear of the subversion of social order then inspired the English that even the name of liberty no longer echoed in their soul. Of all the sacrifices which a man can make to his conscience as a public character, there are none greater than those to which Mr. Fox doomed himself during the French Revolution. It is nothing to support persecutions under an arbitrary government; but to find oneself abandoned by public opinion in a free country; to be deserted by one’s old friends when, among them, there is such a man as Burke; to find oneself unpopular in the very cause of the people; this is a misery for which Mr. Fox deserves to be pitied as much as admired. He was seen to shed tears in the House of Commons as he pronounced the name of that illustrious Burke, who had become so violent in his new passions.11 He inclined toward him, because he knew that his heart was broken by the death of his son; for friendship, in a character such as that of Fox, could never be altered by political feelings.
It might, however, be advantageous for England that Mr. Pitt was at the head of the state in the most dangerous crisis in which that country ever found herself: but it was not less so that a mind enlarged as was that of Mr. Fox maintained principles in spite of circumstances and knew how to preserve the household gods of the friends of freedom in the midst of the conflagration. It is not to please the two parties that I thus praise them both, although they supported very opposite opinions. The contrary should perhaps be the case in France; the different factions are there almost always equally blamable; but, in a free country, the partisans of the ministry and the members of the opposition may all be right after their own way, and they are each frequently productive of good according to the times: the only point of importance is that the power acquired by the struggle should not be continued after the danger is past.
Of Political Fanaticism.
The events which we have been recalling until this point have been the only kind of history for which we can find examples elsewhere. But an abyss is now about to open under our feet; we do not know what course to pursue in such a gulf, and the mind leaps in fear from disaster to disaster, till it reaches the annihilation of all hope and of all consolation. We shall pass as rapidly as we can over this frightful crisis, in which there is no individual to fix attention, no circumstance to excite interest: all is uniform, though extraordinary; all is monotonous, though horrible; and we should be in some measure ashamed of ourselves if we could contemplate these brutal atrocities sufficiently near to characterize them in detail. Let us only examine the great principle of these monstrous phenomena—political fanaticism.
Worldly passions have always played a part in religious fanaticism; and frequently, on the contrary, true faith by some abstract ideas feeds political fanaticism: the mixture is found everywhere, but its proportions are what constitutes good and evil. Social order is in itself a most peculiar structure; it is impossible, however, to imagine it as other than what it is. The concessions that we must make in order to ensure its continuing existence torment exalted souls with pity, satisfy the vanity of some, and provoke the irritation and the desires of the greater number. It is to this state of things, more or less pronounced, more or less softened by manners and knowledge, that the political fanaticism must be ascribed of which we have been witnesses in France. A sort of frenzy seized the poor in the presence of the rich; the distinctions of nobility adding to the jealousy which property inspires, the people were proud of their multitude; and all that constitutes the power and splendor of the few appeared to them mere usurpation. The germs of this sentiment have existed at all times; but we have felt human society shaken to its foundation only during the Reign of Terror in France. We need not be surprised if this abominable scourge has left deep traces in men’s minds; and the only reflection in which we can indulge, and which the remainder of this work will, I hope, confirm, is that the remedy for popular passions is to be found not in despotism, but in the rule of law.
Religious fanaticism presents an indefinite future which exalts all the hopes of the imagination; but the enjoyments of life are as unlimited in the eyes of those who have not tasted them. The Old Man of the Mountain1 sent his subjects to death by means of allowing them delights on this earth; and we frequently see men expose themselves to death in order to live better. On the other hand, vanity takes a pride in defending the superior advantages which it possesses; it appears less guilty than the attackers, because some notion of property clings even to injustices when they have existed for a long time. Nevertheless, the two elements of religious fanaticism and political fanaticism always subsist; the will to dominate in those who are at the top of the wheel, the eagerness to make it turn in those who are on the bottom. This is the principle of all kinds of violence; the pretext changes, the cause remains, and the reciprocal fury continues the same. The quarrels of the patricians and the war of the slaves, the servile war, the war of the peasants, that which still goes on between the nobles and the bourgeois, have all equally had their origin in the difficulty of maintaining human society without disorder and without injustice. Men could not exist today, either apart or united, if respect for the law were not established in their minds: crimes of every sort would arise from that very society which ought to prevent them. The abstract power of representative governments irritates in nothing the pride of men, and it is by this institution that the torches of the furies are to be extinguished. They were lighted in a country where everything was self-love; and self-love irritated does not, with the people, resemble our fleeting nuances; it is the need to kill.
Massacres no less frightful than those of the Reign of Terror have been committed in the name of religion. The human race has exhausted itself for many centuries in useless efforts to constrain all men to the same belief. That end could not be attained: and the simplest idea, toleration, such as William Penn professed, has forever banished from the North of America the fanaticism of which the South has been the horrid theater. It is the same with political fanaticism; liberty alone can calm it. After a certain time, some truths will no longer be denied; and old institutions will be spoken of as ancient systems of physics, now entirely effaced by the evidence of facts.
As the different classes of society had scarcely any relations with each other in France, their mutual antipathy was of course stronger. There is no man, not even the most criminal, whom we can detest when we know him in the same way as when we imagine him. Pride places barriers everywhere, and limits nowhere. In no country have the nobles been so completely strangers to the rest of the nation: they came into contact with the second class only to offend it. Elsewhere, a simple good-heartedness, habits of life even somewhat vulgar, make people mix together, although they are separated by the law; but the elegance of the French nobility increased the envy which they inspired. To imitate their manners was as difficult as to obtain their prerogatives. The same scene was repeated from rank to rank; the irritability of a nation, lively in the extreme, inclined each one to be jealous of his neighbor, of his superior, of his master; and all, not satisfied with ruling, labored for the humiliation of each other. It is by multiplying political relations between different ranks, by giving them the means of serving each other, that we can appease in the heart the most horrible of passions—the hatred of human beings for their fellow men, the mutual aversion of creatures whose remains must all repose under the same earth and be together reborn at the last day.
Of the Government Called the Reign of Terror.
We know not how to approach the fourteen months which followed the proscription of the Gironde on the 31st of May, 1793. We seem as if we were descending, like Dante, from circle to circle, always lower in hell. To the animosity against the nobles and the priests succeeded a feeling of irritation against the landholders, next against talents, then even against beauty; finally, against whatever was to be found great or generous in human nature. At this epoch, facts become confused, and we are afraid of being unable to enter into such a history without leaving on the imagination indelible traces of blood. We are therefore forced to take a philosophical view of events, on which the eloquence of indignation might be exhausted without satisfying the internal sentiment which they awaken.
Doubtless, in taking away all restraints from the people, they were placed in a condition to commit every crime; but whence comes it that this people was so depraved? The government, which is spoken of as an object of regret, had time to have formed the nation which showed itself so culpable. The priests, whose instruction, example, and riches are fitted, we are told, to do so much good, had presided over the childhood of the generation which now turned against them. The class that rose into action in 1789 was of course accustomed to those privileges of feudal nobility, so particularly agreeable, we are still assured, to the persons by whom their weight must be borne. Whence comes it, then, that so many vices germinated under the ancient institutions? Let it not be pretended that the other nations of our days would have shown themselves similar if a revolution had taken place among them. French influence triggered insurrections in Holland and Switzerland, and nothing resembling Jacobinism manifested itself there. During the forty years of the history of England, which in so many points of view may be assimilated to that of France, there is no period that can be compared to the fourteen months of terror. What must we conclude from this? That for a century past no people had been so miserable as the people of France. If the negroes at St. Domingo committed a much greater number of atrocities,1 it is because they had been still more oppressed.
It by no means follows from these reflections that the crimes deserve less detestation; but after more than twenty years, we should unite to the lively indignation of contemporaries the enlightened scrutiny which ought to serve as a guide for the future. Religious disputes provoked the English Revolution: love of equality, the subterraneous volcano of France,2 likewise inflamed the sect of the Puritans; but the English were then really religious, and religious Protestants—a circumstance which increases at once austerity and moderation. Although England, like France, polluted herself with the murder of Charles I and the despotism of Cromwell, the reign of the Jacobins is a frightful singularity, the burden of which, in history, must be borne exclusively by France. He, however, has not thought much on the subject of civil disorders who does not know that reaction is equal to the action. The fury of revolts supplies the measure of the vices of institutions; and it is not to the government which is wished for, but to that which has long existed, that we must ascribe the moral state of a nation. At present it is said that the French have been corrupted by the Revolution. But whence come the reckless propensities which expanded themselves so violently in the first years of the Revolution, if not from a century of superstition and arbitrary power?
It seemed in 1793 that there was no more room for revolutions in France, when everything was overturned, the throne, the nobility, the clergy, and when the success of the armies gave reason to expect peace with Europe. But it is precisely when the danger is past that popular tyrannies are established: so long as there are obstacles and fears, the worst men observe moderation: when they have triumphed, their restrained passions show themselves without a curb.
The Girondists made several vain efforts, after the death of the King, to put some laws in activity; but they could not obtain a reception for any system of social organization; the instinct of ferocity rejected everything of the sort. Herault de Séchelles proposed a constitution scrupulously democratical;3 the Assembly adopted it, but ordained that it should be suspended till the peace. The Jacobin party wished to exercise despotism, and this government has been mistakenly described as an anarchy. Never has a stronger authority reigned over France; but it was a strange form of power: springing out of popular fanaticism, it struck alarm into the very persons who commanded in its name; for they always feared to be proscribed in their turn by men who would go still further than they in the daring boldness of persecution. Marat alone lived without fear at this time; for his figure was so mean, his sentiments so extravagant, his opinions so sanguinary that he was sure that nobody could plunge deeper than himself in the abyss of crimes. Even Robespierre was unable to reach so infernal a security.
The last men who at this time are still worthy to occupy a place in history are the Girondists. They felt without doubt at the bottom of their hearts a keen remorse for the means which they had employed to overturn the throne; and when these very means were directed against themselves, when they recognized their own weapons in the wounds which they received, they must have reflected without doubt on that rapid justice of revolutions which concentrates in a few instants the events of several ages.
The Girondists contended every day and every hour, with an undaunted eloquence, against discourses sharpened like poignards, which carried death in every phrase. The murderous nets, with which the proscribed were enveloped on all sides, in no respect took away from them that presence of mind which alone can give effect to all the talents of the orator.
M. de Condorcet, when he was put out of the protection of the law, wrote a work on the perfectibility of the human mind, which doubtless contains errors, but of which the general system is inspired by the hope of the happiness of men; this hope he nourished under the axe of the executioner at the very moment when his own destiny was ruined without resource. Twenty-two of the republican deputies were brought before the revolutionary tribunal, and their courage did not fail for a single instant.4 When the sentence of death was pronounced upon them, one of them, Valazé, fell from the seat which he occupied; another deputy, also condemned, who was by his side and thought that his colleague was afraid, with some reproaches rudely raised him; he raised him up dead. Valazé had just plunged a poignard into his heart, with a hand so firm that he did not breathe a second after the blow was struck. Such, however, is the inflexibility of the spirit of party that these men, who defended whatever there was of respectability in France, could not flatter themselves with exciting any interest by their efforts. They struggled, they fell, they perished, while public report, the harbinger of future fame, made them no promise of any recompense. Even the constitutional royalists were so lost to common sense as to desire the triumph of the terrorists, that they themselves might thus be avenged upon the republicans. In vain were they aware that they too were proscribed by these terrorists; irritated pride prevailed over everything: in thus giving full scope to their resentments, they forgot the rule of conduct from which we should never deviate in politics: it is always to rally round the party the least bad among your adversaries, even when that party is still remote from your own views.
The scarcity of provisions, the abundance of assignats, and the enthusiasm excited by the war were the three grand springs of which the Committee of Public Safety availed itself, at once to animate and subdue the people. It terrified them, or paid them, or made them march to the frontiers, as best suited its purpose. One of the deputies to the Convention said, “We must continue the war, that the convulsions of liberty may be the stronger.” It is impossible to know whether the twelve members of the Committee of Public Safety had conceived the idea of any government whatsoever.5 The direction of affairs, if we except the conduct of the war, was nothing else than a mixture of grossness and ferocity, in which no plan can be discovered, except that of making one half of the nation butcher the other. For it was so easy to be considered by the Jacobins as forming a part of the proscribed aristocracy that half the inhabitants of France incurred the suspicion, which was sufficient to lead the way to death.
The assassination of the Queen, and of Madame Elizabeth, excited perhaps still more astonishment and horror than the crime which was perpetrated against the person of the King; for no other object could be assigned for these horrible enormities than the very terror which they were fitted to inspire. The condemnation of M. de Malesherbes, of Bailly,6 of Condorcet, of Lavoisier,7 was the decimation of the glory of France; eighty persons were the victims of each day, as if the massacre of St. Bartholomew were to be kept in a constant state of renewal.8 One great difficulty presented itself to this government, if the name of government can be given to it; it was the necessity which existed of employing all the means of civilization to carry on the war, and all the violence of the savage state to excite the passions. The populace, and even the citizens, were not struck by the misfortunes of the higher classes. The inhabitants of Paris walked about the streets, like the Turks during the plague, with this single difference, that obscure persons could easily enough preserve themselves from danger. Within view of the executions, the places of public entertainment were filled as usual; romances were published, entitled A New Sentimental Voyage, Dangerous Friendship, Ursula and Sophia: in short, all the insipidity and all the frivolity of life subsisted by the side of its gloomiest frenzies.
We have not attempted to dissemble what it is not in the power of men to blot out from their remembrance; but that we may breathe more at ease, we hasten to survey, in the following chapter, the virtues which did not cease to do honor to France, even at the most horrible period of her history.
The French Army During the Reign of Terror; the Federalists and La Vendée.
The conduct of the French army during the period of terror was truly patriotic. No generals were seen violating their oath to the state; they repulsed foreigners while they were themselves threatened with death upon the scaffold, at the slightest suspicion that might be excited against their conduct. The soldiers belonged not to any particular chief, but to France. France no longer existed but in the armies; there, however, at least, she was still beautiful: and her triumphant banners served, if we may so say, as a veil to the crimes committed in the interior. Foreigners were compelled to respect the rampart of iron which was opposed to their invasion; and, although they advanced within thirty leagues of Paris, a national feeling, still in full strength, did not permit them to arrive there. The same enthusiasm displayed itself in the navy. The crew of a man of war, Le Vengeur, struck by the English,1 repeated, as with one voice, the cry of Vive la république while they were sinking in the ocean; and the songs of a funereal joy seemed still to re-echo from the bottom of the deep.
The French army was then unacquainted with pillage, and its chiefs sometimes marched like private soldiers at the head of their troops because they did not have money to purchase the horses which they needed. Dugommier,2 commander in chief of the army of the Pyrénées, at the age of sixty, set out from Paris on foot to rejoin his troops on the frontiers of Spain. The men, on whom military glory has since conferred so much renown, distinguished themselves also by their disinterestedness. They wore, without blushing, uniforms which had become threadbare in the service, a hundred times more honorable than the embroidery and decorations of every kind with which, at a later period, we have seen them bedizened.
Honest republicans, mingled with royalists, courageously resisted the Conventional Government at Toulon, at Lyons, and in some other departments. This party was known by the name of Federalists; but I do not believe that the Girondists, or their partisans, ever conceived the project of establishing a federative government in France. Nothing would be less suitable to the character of the nation, which loves splendor and bustle; for both of these require a city, which may be the focus of the talents and the riches of the empire. We may with reason complain of the corruption of a capital, and of all great assemblages of men in general; such is the condition of mankind: but in France we could scarcely bring back men’s minds to virtue, but by the diffusion of knowledge and the need to obtain the votes of the public. The love of consideration or glory, in its different degrees, is the only thing that is able to raise us gradually from egoism to conscientiousness. Besides, the political and military state of the great monarchies which surround France would endanger her independence if the strength of her union were weakened. The Girondists never thought of any such plan; but, as they had many adherents in the provinces, where, by the simple effect of a national representation, political knowledge was beginning to be acquired, it was in the provinces that opposition to the factious tyrants of Paris displayed itself.
It was about this time, also, that the war of LaVendée3 began, and nothing does more honor to the royalist party than the attempts at civil war which were then made. The people of these departments were able to resist the Convention and its successors for nearly six years, being headed by some gentlemen who drew their principal resources from their own minds. The republicans, as well as the royalists, felt a profound respect for these warrior citizens. Lescure, La Roche Jacquelin, Charette,4 etc., whatever their opinions might be, fulfilled a duty to which all the French at that time might have thought themselves equally bound. The country which was the theater of the Vendean war was intersected by hedges intended to enclose the different estates. These peaceful hedges served for bulwarks to the peasants become soldiers, who sustained one by one the most dangerous and most daring struggle. The inhabitants of these parts of the country had much veneration for the priests, whose influence at that time did good. But in a state where liberty has long subsisted, the public mind would not need to be excited except by public institutions. The Vendeans, it is true, demanded in their distress some succours from England; but it was only auxiliaries, not masters, whom they accepted; for their own forces were much superior to those which they borrowed from abroad. They did not therefore compromise the independence of their country. Accordingly the chiefs of la Vendée were held in consideration even by the opposite party, and they expressed themselves upon the Revolution with more moderation than the emigrants beyond the Rhine. The Vendeans having fought, so to say, man to man with the French, were not easily persuaded that their adversaries were but a handful of rebels, whom a single battalion could have brought back to their duty; and as they themselves had recourse to the power of opinions, they knew what they were, and acknowledged the necessity of compromising with them.
One problem remains still to be solved: it is, How was it possible for the government of 1793 and 1794 to triumph over so many enemies? The coalition of Austria, Prussia, Spain, and England, the civil war in the interior, the hatred with which the Convention inspired every man of consideration that remained out of prison—none of these circumstances diminished the resistance, against which foreigners saw their efforts crushed to nothing. This prodigy can be explained only by the devotion of the nation to its own cause. A million men took arms to repel the forces of the coalition; the people were animated with a frenzy, as fatal in the interior as invincible without. Besides, the factitious but inexhaustible abundance of paper money, the low price of provisions, the degradation of the landholders, who were reduced to doom themselves eternally to misery, all tended to make the working classes believe that the yoke of inequality of fortune was at last on the point of ceasing to oppress them; this extravagant hope doubled the force which nature gave them: and social order, the secret of which consists in the endurance of the many, appeared suddenly threatened. But the military spirit, which then had no other end than the defense of the country, gave tranquillity to France by covering her with its shield. This spirit followed the same noble direction till the moment when, as we shall see later, one man turned against liberty herself the very legions that had sprung from the earth to defend her.
Of the Situation of the Friends of Liberty Out of France During the Reign of Terror.
It is difficult to relate the events of these horrible times without recalling one’s own impressions in almost their original vivacity: and I know not why one should combat this natural inclination. For the best manner of representing such extraordinary circumstances is to show in what state they placed individuals in the midst of the universal tempest.
Emigration during the Reign of Terror was no longer a political measure. People escaped from France to save themselves from the scaffold, and no one could have remained there without exposing oneself to death in order to avoid ruin. The friends of liberty were more detested by the Jacobins than even the aristocrats, because they had been engaged in a closer struggle with one another, and because the Jacobins feared the constitutionalists, whom they believed to be still in possession of a very considerable influence over the mind of the nation. These friends of liberty found themselves, therefore, almost without a place of refuge upon earth. The pure royalists did not violate their principles in fighting with foreign armies against their country; but the constitutionalists could not adopt such a resolution: they were proscribed by France and viewed with an evil eye by the ancient governments of Europe, who knew little of them but from the recitals of the French aristocrats, their most furious enemies.
I concealed in my house, in the Pays de Vaud,1 some friends of liberty respectable in every way, both for their rank and for their virtues; and as a regular permission to authorize their residence could not then be obtained from the Swiss authorities, they bore Swedish names, which M. de Staël assigned them that he might have the pleasure of yielding them protection. Scaffolds were erected for them on the frontier of their native country, and persecutions of every kind awaited them in foreign lands. Thus the monks of the order of La Trappe found themselves detained in an island in the middle of a river which separates Prussia from Russia: each of the two countries rejected them as if tainted with a pestilence; and yet no reproach could be alleged against them, except that they were faithful to their vows.
One particular circumstance may be of use in depicting this epoch of 1793, when perils were multiplied at every step. A young French gentleman, M. Achille du Chayla, nephew of the Count de Jaucourt, wished to escape from France under a Swiss passport which we had sent him; for we thought ourselves quite at liberty to deceive tyranny. At Morez, a frontier town situated at the foot of Mount Jura, suspicions were entertained that M. du Chayla was not what his passport pretended, and he was arrested with a declaration that he must remain a prisoner till the lieutenant of the district of Nyon should attest that he was a Swiss. M. de Jaucourt was then staying in my house, under one of those Swedish names of which we were the inventors. At the news of his nephew’s arrest, his despair was extreme; for the young man, at that time an object of pursuit, the bearer of a false passport, and, besides, son to one of the chiefs of the army of Condé, would have been instantly shot had his name been discovered. There remained only one hope; it was to prevail upon M. Reverdil, lieutenant-bailiff of the district of Nyon, to claim M. du Chayla as in reality a native of the Pays de Vaud.
I went to M. Reverdil to ask this favor of him: he was an old friend of my parents, and one of the most enlightened and most respectable men in French Switzerland.* He at first refused, opposing to me the most weighty motives; he was scrupulous of deviating from truth for any object whatsoever, and besides, as a magistrate, he was fearful of compromising his country by an act of falsehood. “If the truth is discovered,” said he, “we shall no longer have the right of claiming our own countrymen who may be arrested in France; and thus I expose the interest of those who are entrusted to me, for the safety of a man to whom I owe nothing.” This argument had a very plausible aspect: but the pious fraud which I solicited could alone save the life of a man over whose head the axe of the murderer was suspended. I remained two hours with M. Reverdil, seeking to vanquish his conscience by his humanity; he resisted long, but when I repeated to him several times, “If you say no, an only son, a man without reproach, is assassinated within twenty-four hours, and your mere word kills him,” my emotion, or rather his own, triumphed over every other consideration, and the young Du Chayla was claimed. It was the first time that a circumstance presented itself to me in which two duties struggled against each other with equal force. But I still think, as I thought twenty-three years ago, that the present danger of the victim ought to prevail over the uncertain dangers of the future. There is not in the short space of existence a greater chance of happiness than to save the life of an innocent man; and I know not how it would be possible to resist this seduction, by supposing it in such a case to be one.
Alas! I was not always so fortunate in my connections with my friends. It was necessary for me a few months afterward to communicate to the man, the most susceptible of strong affection, and consequently of deep grief, M. Mathieu de Montmorency, the sentence of death pronounced upon his young brother, the Abbé de Montmorency, whose only crime was the illustrious name which he had received from his ancestors. At the same time the wife, the mother, and the mother-in-law of M. de Montmorency were alike threatened with destruction: a few days later, and all the prisoners were at this horrid epoch sent to the scaffold. One of the reflections which struck us the most forcibly in our long walks by the shores of the lake of Geneva was the contrast of the noble scenes of nature around us, and of the brilliant sun of the end of June, with the despair of man—of this prince of the earth who would have wanted to make the world carry his own mourning. Dejection had seized us: the younger we were, the less resignation we had; for in youth especially we look for happiness, we think that we have a right to it, and we revolt at the idea of not obtaining it. Yet it was in these very moments, when we were contemplating in vain the sky and the flowers, and were reproaching them with dispersing light and fragrance through the air in the presence of so many crimes, it was then that deliverance was preparing. A day of which the new name disguises, perhaps, the date from strangers, the ninth of Thermidor, carried into the hearts of Frenchmen an emotion of inexpressible joy. Poor human nature could never owe so lively a delight but to the cessation of sorrow.
Fall of Robespierre, and Change of System in the Government.
The men and women who were conducted to the scaffold gave proofs of a courage that nothing could shake; the prisons presented the example of the most generous acts of devotion; fathers were seen sacrificing themselves for their sons, wives for their husbands; but the party of the worthy, like the King himself, showed themselves capable only of private virtues. In general, in a country where there is no freedom, energy is found only in the factious; but in England, the support of the law and the feeling of justice render the resistance of the upper classes quite as strong as the attack of the populace could be. Had a division not taken place among the deputies of the Convention themselves, it is impossible to say how long the atrocious government of the Committee of Public Safety would have lasted.
This Committee was not composed of men of superior talent;1 the machine of terror, the springs of which had been prepared for action by events, exercised alone unbounded power. The government resembled the hideous instrument employed on the scaffold; the axe was seen rather than the hand which put it in motion. A single question was sufficient to overturn the power of these men; it was—how many are they? But their force was measured by the atrocity of their crimes, and nobody dared attack them. These twelve members of the Committee of Public Safety distrusted one another, as the Convention distrusted them, and they distrusted it; as the army, the people, and the partisans of the revolution were all mutually filled with alarm. No name of this epoch will remain, except Robespierre. Yet he was neither more able nor more eloquent than the rest; but his political fanaticism had a character of calmness and austerity which made him feared by all his colleagues.
I once conversed with him at my father’s house, in 1789, when he was known merely as an advocate of the province of Artois who carried to extremes his democratical principles. His features were mean, his complexion pale, his veins of a greenish hue; he maintained the most absurd propositions with a coolness which had the air of conviction; and I could easily believe that, at the beginning of the Revolution, he had adopted sincerely certain ideas, upon the equality of fortunes as well as of ranks, which he caught in the course of his reading, and with which his envious and mischievous character was delighted to arm itself. But he became ambitious when he had triumphed over his rival in the arts of the demagogue, Danton, the Mirabeau of the mob. The latter had more spirit than Robespierre, and was more accessible to pity; but it was suspected, and with reason, that he was not proof against the seductions of money; a weakness which, in the end, always ruins demagogues; for the people cannot endure those who enrich themselves: it is a kind of austerity that no one could have convinced them to abandon.
Danton was factious, Robespierre was hypocritical: Danton was fond of pleasure, Robespierre only of power;2 he sent to the scaffold some as counter-revolutionists, others as ultrarevolutionists. There was something mysterious in his manner which caused an unknown terror to hover about in the midst of the ostensible terror which the government proclaimed. He never adopted the means of popularity then generally in use; he was not ill dressed; on the contrary, he was the only person who wore powder in his hair; his clothes were neat, and his countenance had nothing familiar. The desire of ruling carried him, without doubt, to distinguish himself from others at the very moment when equality in everything was desired. Traces of a secret design are also perceived in the confusing discourses which he made in the Convention, and which, in some respects, recall to our recollection those of Cromwell. It is rarely, indeed, that anyone who is not a military chief can become dictator. But the civil power had then much more influence than the military: the republican spirit led to a distrust of all the victorious generals; the soldiers themselves delivered up their leaders as soon as the least alarm with respect to their fidelity arose. Political dogmas, if the name can be applied to such wanderings of intellect, reigned at that time, and not men. Something abstract was wanted in authority, that everybody might be thought to have a share in it. Robespierre had acquired the reputation of high democratical virtue, and was believed incapable of personal views: as soon as he was suspected, his power was at an end.
The most indecent irreligion served as a lever for the subversion of the social order. There was a kind of consistency in founding crime upon impiety: it is an homage paid to the intimate union of religious opinions with morality. Robespierre conceived the idea of celebrating a festival in honor of the Supreme Being,3 flattering himself, doubtless, with being able to rest his political ascendancy on a religion arranged according to his own notions; as those have frequently done who have wished to seize the supreme power. But in the procession of this impious festival, he decided to walk at the head of the procession in order to claim preeminence over his colleagues; and from that time he was lost. The spirit of the moment, and the personal resources of the man, were not calculated for this enterprise. Besides, it was known that he was acquainted with no other means of getting rid of competitors than by destroying them through the agency of the revolutionary tribunal, which gave murder an air of legality. The colleagues of Robespierre, not less detestable than himself, Collot d’Herbois, Billaud Varennes, attacked him to secure their own safety: the abhorrence of crime did not inspire them with this resolution; they meant to kill a man, but not to change the government.
It was not so with Tallien, the hero of the 9th of Thermidor, nor with Barras,4 the commander of the armed force on that day, nor with several other conventionalists who then joined them. They meant, in overturning him, to break with the same blow the scepter of terror. Thus this man, who during more than a year had signed an unheard of number of death sentences, was seen bleeding on the very table where he was wont to affix his name to these horrible sentences. His jaw was shattered by a pistol ball; he could not even speak in his own defense: he, who had spoken so much for the proscription of others. Might it not be said that Divine justice does not disdain, in inflicting punishment, to strike the imagination of men by all the circumstances which can act upon it the most powerfully.
Of the State of Minds at the Moment When the Directorial Republic Was Established in France.
The Reign of Terror ought to be ascribed exclusively to the principles of tyranny; one finds them there completely intact. The popular forms adopted by that government were only a sort of ceremonial, which suited these savage despots; but the members of the Committee of Public Safety professed at the tribune the code of Machiavellianism, that is to say, power founded upon the degradation of men; they only took care to translate the old maxims into new terms. The liberty of the press was much more odious to them than even to the ancient feudal or theocratic states; they allowed no security to the accused, either through the means of the laws or through the means of the judges.1 Arbitrary will, without limits, was their doctrine; it was enough for them to assign as a pretext for every violence the peculiar name of their government, The Public Safety: a fatal expression which implies the sacrifice of morality to what it has been agreed to call the interest of the state, that is, to the passions of those who govern.
From the fall of Robespierre to the establishment of the Republican Government under the form of a Directory, there was an interval of about fifteen months, which may be considered as the true epoch of anarchy in France.2 Nothing is less like the period of terror than this time, though many crimes were still committed. The disastrous inheritance of Robespierre’s laws had not been abandoned; but the liberty of the press began to revive, and truth along with it. The general wish was to establish wise and free institutions, and to get rid of the men who had governed during the reign of blood. Nothing, however, was so difficult as to satisfy this double desire; for the Convention still held the authority in its hands, and many of the friends of liberty feared that a counter-revolution might take place if those were deprived of power whose lives would be compromised by the re-establishment of the old regime. The crimes which have been committed in the name of liberty are, however, a poor security; the return of the men who had been made to suffer would, of course, be dreaded; but people are quite ready to sacrifice their principles to their security, should an opportunity present itself.
It was therefore a great misfortune for France that she was obliged to leave the republic in the hands of the members of the Convention. Some of the members were endowed with superior abilities; but those who had shared in the government of terror had necessarily contracted habits of servility and tyranny together. It was in this school that Bonaparte selected many of the men who afterward established his power; and, as they sought shelter above everything, they never felt fully assured but in despotism.
The majority of the Convention wished to punish some of the most atrocious deputies who had oppressed it; but it drew up the list of the guilty with a trembling hand, always apprehensive lest it should be itself accused of the laws which had served as a justification or pretext for every crime. The royalist party sent agents abroad, and found partisans in the interior, from the very irritation which was excited by the continuance of the Convention’s power.3 Nevertheless, the fear of losing all the advantages of the Revolution attached the people and the soldiers to the existing authority. The army always fought against foreigners with the same energy, and its exploits had already obtained an important peace for France, the treaty of Basel with Prussia.4 The people also, we should add, supported unheard of evils with astonishing perseverance; famine on the one hand, and the depreciation of the paper money on the other, were reducing the lowest class of society to a state of the utmost wretchedness. If the kings of France had made their subjects undergo half these sufferings, they would have revolted on all sides. But the nation believed that they were devoting themselves for their country, and nothing equals the courage inspired by such a conviction.
Sweden having acknowledged the French Republic, M. de Staël resided at Paris as minister. I passed some months there during the year 1795, when the society of Paris was truly a very curious spectacle. Each of us was soliciting the recall of some emigrants, our friends. I obtained at this time permission for several to return; in consequence of which the deputy Legendre, a man almost from the dregs of the people, denounced me at the tribune of the Convention. The influence of women, the ascendant of good company, gilded saloons, appeared very terrible to those who were not admitted themselves, while their colleagues were seduced from them by invitations. Every tenth day (for Sunday existed no more) all the elements of the old and the new regime were seen united in the evening, though not reconciled. The elegant manners of well-educated persons penetrated through the humble costume which they still retained as in the days of terror. The men who had been converted from the Jacobin party entered for the first time into the society of the great world, and their self-love was more apt to take offense upon things which related to the tone of fashion, which they wished to imitate, than upon any other subject. The women of the old regime surrounded them, in order to obtain the return of their brothers, their sons, their husbands; and the insinuating flattery, of which they knew how to avail themselves, struck these rude ears and disposed the most bitter of the factious to what we have since seen—that is to say, to re-create a court, to bring back all its abuses, only taking great care to appropriate them to themselves.
The apologies of those who had shared in the Reign of Terror formed truly the most inconceivable school of sophistry which it was possible to witness. Some said that they had been constrained to whatever they had done, though a thousand actions of spontaneous servility or cruelty might have been cited against them. Others pretended that they had sacrificed themselves to the public good, though it was known that they had thought only on self-preservation: all threw the evil upon some individuals; and, what was a singular circumstance in a country famed for military bravery, several of the political leaders gave fear, and nothing else, as a sufficient excuse for their conduct.
A well-known member of the Convention was telling me one day, among others, that at the moment when the revolutionary tribunal was decreed, he had foreseen all the calamities which resulted from it; “and yet,” added he, “the decree passed the Assembly unanimously.” Now, he himself was present at that meeting, voting for what he regarded as the establishment of judicial assassination: yet it did not once occur to his mind, as he related the fact to me, that resistance from him was a thing which might have been expected. Such complete and naive lack of moral principle leaves a man in doubt almost of the very possibility of virtue.
The Jacobins who had been personally concerned in the crimes of the days of terror, such as Lebon, Carrier,5 &c., were nearly all distinguished by the same kind of physiognomy. They might be seen in the tribune of the Convention reading their speeches, with a pale and nervous figure, going from side to side like a ferocious beast in its cage. When they were seated, they poised themselves, without rising or changing their place, in a sort of stationary agitation, which seemed to indicate merely the impossibility of repose.
In the midst of these depraved elements, there existed a party of republicans, the remnants of the Gironde, who had been persecuted with it, and were now coming forth from the prisons, or from the caverns which had served them as a refuge from death. This party was worthy of esteem in many respects; but it was not cured of its democratical systems, and besides, it had a suspicious spirit which made it see everywhere favorers of the old regime. Louvet,6 one of the Girondists who escaped the proscription, and author of a romance, Faublas, which foreigners often take for a picture of French manners, was a sincere republican. He trusted nobody; he brought into politics the species of faults which constituted the misery of Rousseau’s life;7 and many men of the same opinion resembled him in this respect. But the suspicions of the republicans and Jacobins in France proceeded at first from their being unable to obtain a favorable reception for their extravagant principles; and secondly, from a certain hatred against the nobles, in which some bad emotions were blended. They were right in wishing to have no nobility in France such as it had once existed; but aversion from men of noble birth is a mean sentiment which must be subdued before France can be organized in a stable manner.
In 1795, however, the plan of a republican constitution was proposed, much more reasonable and better combined than the monarchy decreed by the Constituent Assembly in 1791. Boissy d’Anglas,8 Daunou,9 and Lanjuinais,10 names which always meet us whenever a ray of freedom gleams over France, were members of the Committee of the Constitution. They ventured to propose two Chambers, under the names of the Council of Ancients and the Council of Five Hundred; qualifications of property in order to be eligible; two steps of election, which, though not a good institution in itself, was then rendered necessary by circumstances, with a view to raise the sphere of choice; finally, a Directory composed of five persons.11 This executive power had not yet the authority requisite for the maintenance of order; it was destitute of several indispensable prerogatives, the want of which, as we shall see later, brought on destructive convulsions.
The attempt at a republic was not without grandeur; however, that it might succeed, it would perhaps have been necessary to sacrifice Paris to France and to adopt federative forms, which, as we have stated, suit neither the character nor the habits of the nation. In a second point of view, the unity of the republican government appears impossible in a great country, and at variance with the nature of things.12 In other respects, the attempt failed chiefly by reason of the kind of men who exclusively filled all employments; the party to which they had belonged during the period of terror rendered them odious to the nation; thus, too many serpents were thrown into the cradle of Hercules.
The Convention, instructed by the example of the Constituent Assembly, whose work had been overturned because it had abandoned it too quickly to its successors, passed the decrees of the 5th and of the 13th of Fructidor, which kept two-thirds of the existing deputies in their places: it was, however, afterward agreed that one of these thirds should be removed within eighteen months, and the other a year later. This decree produced a terrible sensation in the public opinion, and completely broke the treaty which had been tacitly signed between the Convention and people of principle. Men were willing to pardon the Convention, on condition that it renounced power; but it was natural, on the other hand, that the Convention should wish to retain its authority, to serve at least as a safeguard. In these circumstances, the Parisians were somewhat too violent,13 and were perhaps exasperated by the eager desire of occupying every place, a passion which was then beginning to ferment in men’s minds. It was known, however, that persons of great acknowledged worth were marked out as the future directors; the members of the Convention wished to acquire honor by good selections; and perhaps it would have been wise to have waited for the appointed term, when the remainder of the deputies might have been legally and gradually removed. But some royalists were mingled with the party, who wished only to appropriate to themselves the places of the commonwealth; and, as has constantly happened for twenty-five years, at the moment when the cause of the Revolution seemed in the greatest danger, its defenders had on their side the people and the army, the suburbs and the soldiers. It was then that an alliance was established between the force of the people and the force of the military, which soon rendered the latter mistress of the former. The French warriors, so worthy of admiration for the resistance which they opposed to the coalesced powers, made themselves, so to say, the janissaries of freedom at home. Meddling in the internal affairs of France, they disposed of the civil authority and charged themselves with the task of effecting the different revolutions of which we have been witnesses.
The sections of Paris, on their side, were perhaps not exempt from the spirit of faction; for the cause of their tumult was of no urgent public interest, and they had only to wait eighteen months when no member of the Convention would remain in power. Impatience ruined them; they attacked the army of the Convention on the 13th of Vendemiaire, and the issue was not doubtful. The commander of this army was General Bonaparte: his name appeared for the first time in the annals of the world on the 13th of Vendemiaire (4th of October), 1795.14 He had already aided, but without being named, at the capture of Toulon in 1793, when that city revolted against the Convention. The party which overturned Robespierre had left him without employment after the 9th of Thermidor; and as he had then no resource of private fortune, he asked the committees of the government for leave to go to Constantinople to train the Turks to war. In the same manner Cromwell wished to set out for America at the beginning of the English Revolution. Barras, afterward director, took an interest in Bonaparte and selected him in the committees of the Convention to be its defender. It is pretended that General Bonaparte has said that he would have taken part with the sections, if they had offered him the command of their battalions. I have my doubts of the truth of this anecdote; not that General Bonaparte was, at any period of the Revolution, attached exclusively to any opinion whatsoever; but because he always felt too strongly the instinct of force, to choose to place himself on the side which was then necessarily the weakest.
In Paris, on the day following the 13th of Vendemiaire, people feared that the Reign of Terror might be re-established. In fact, those same members of the Convention who had sought to please when they believed themselves reconciled with people of principle, could rush into every excess when they saw that their endeavors to make their past conduct forgotten were unsuccessful. But the waves of the Revolution were beginning to retire, and the lasting return of Jacobinism was already become impossible. One result, however, of the conflict of the 13th of Vendemiaire was that the Convention made a point of naming five directors who had voted for the death of the King, and as the nation in no respect approved this aristocracy of regicidal crime, it did not identify itself with its magistrates. Another result, not less unfortunate, of the 13th of Vendemiaire was a decree of the 2d of Brumaire15 which excluded from every public employment the relatives of emigrants, and all those who in the sections had voted for liberticidal projects. Such was the expression of the day; for in France, at every revolution a new phrase is framed which serves all the world, that everyone may have sense or sentiment ready made to his hand, if perchance nature should have refused him the one or the other.
The decree of exclusion of the 2d of Brumaire formed a class of proscribed persons in the state, which certainly is not preferable to a privileged class, and is not less inconsistent with equality under the law. The Directory had the power to banish, to imprison, to transport at its pleasure, individuals who were denounced as attached to the Old Regime, nobles, and priests, to whom the benefit of the constitution was refused, and who were placed under the yoke of arbitrary will. An amnesty ordinarily accompanies the installation of every new government; but it was a sweeping proscription which distinguished that of the Directory. To what dangers was this government exposed as well by its want of constitutional prerogatives as by the revolutionary power with which it had been so prodigally invested!
Of the Twenty Months During Which the Republic Existed in France, from November 1795 to the 18th of Fructidor (4th of September) 1797.
We must do justice to the Directors, and still more to the power of free institutions, in whatever form they are introduced. The first twenty months which followed the establishment of the republic exhibit a period of administration uncommonly remarkable. Five men, Carnot,1 Reubell,2 Barras, La Réveillère,3 Letourneur,4 chosen in fury and not endowed for the most part with superior talents, arrived at power under the most unfavorable circumstances. They entered the palace of the Luxembourg, which was allotted them, without finding a table to write upon, and the state was not in better order than the palace. The paper money was reduced to almost the thousandth part of its nominal value; there were not in the public treasury a hundred thousand francs in specie; provisions were still so scarce that the dissatisfaction of the people on this point could with difficulty be restrained; the insurrection of La Vendée was still going on; the civil disturbances had given rise to bands of robbers, known by the name of chauffeurs, who committed horrible excesses throughout the country; and lastly, almost all the French armies were disorganized.
In six months the Directory raised France from this deplorable situation. Money replaced the paper currency without any shock; the old landholders lived peacefully by the side of those who had recently acquired national domains; the roads, and the country, were again rendered completely safe; the armies were but too victorious; the freedom of the press re-appeared; the elections followed their legal course, and France might have been said to be free, if the two classes of nobles and priests had enjoyed the same securities as the other citizens. But the sublime perfection of liberty consists in this—that she can do nothing by halves. If you wish to persecute a single man in the state, justice will never be established for all; still more must this be the case when a hundred thousand individuals are shut out from the protecting circle of the law. Revolutionary measures therefore spoiled the constitution from the first establishment of the Directory; the latter half of the existence of this government, which lasted four years in all, was in every respect so wretched that the mischief may easily be ascribed to the institutions themselves. Impartial history, however, will place on two lines widely different the Republic before the 18th of Fructidor and the Republic after that epoch—if indeed the name of Republic can be deserved by factious authorities who overturned one another without ceasing to oppress the mass upon which they were continually falling.
During the first period of the Directory, the two extreme parties, the Jacobins and the Royalists, attacked it in the journals, each in their own mode, without meeting with any opposition from the government, which was not at all shaken by their efforts. The society of Paris was so much the more free that the class of rulers made no part of it. This separation had, and doubtless could not fail to have, in the end, many inconveniences; but, for the very reason that the government was not in fashion, people’s minds were not agitated, as they have since been, by the unbridled desire of obtaining places; and there existed other objects of activity and interest. One circumstance particularly worthy of notice under the Directory is the relation between the civil authority and the army. It has often been said that freedom, as it exists in England, is not possible in a Continental state, on account of the regular troops which must always be dependent on the head of the state. I shall reply elsewhere to these fears with respect to the continuance of liberty, which are always expressed by its enemies, by the very men who are unwilling to permit a single sincere attempt to be made in its favor. But we cannot be too much surprised at the manner in which the armies were managed by the Directory, up to the moment when, from an apprehension of the restoration of the ancient throne, it unfortunately introduced them into the internal revolutions of the state.
The best generals in Europe obeyed five directors, three of whom were only lawyers. The love of their country and of freedom was still powerful enough with the soldiers to make them yield more respect to the law than to their general, if he wished to place himself above it. However, the indefinite prolongation of the war opposed a grand obstacle to the establishment of a free government in France; for on the one hand, the ambition of conquest was beginning to take possession of the army, and on the other, the decrees for recruiting5 which were obtained from the legislature, those decrees by means of which the Continent was afterward enslaved, were already giving fatal wounds to reverence for civil institutions. We cannot but regret that at this period the powers still at war with France, that is to say, Austria and England, did not accede to the peace. Prussia, Venice, Tuscany, Spain, and Sweden had already treated, in 1795, with a government much less regular than that of the Directory; and perhaps the spirit of invasion, which has done so much mischief to the people of the Continent, as well as to the French themselves, would not have been developed if the war had ceased before the conquests of General Bonaparte in Italy. It was still time to direct French activity to political and commercial interests. War had not till then been considered, except as a means of securing the national independence; the army thought itself destined only to maintain the Revolution; the military were not a separate order in the state; finally, there was still in France some disinterested enthusiasm, on which the public welfare might have been founded.
From 1793 to the beginning of 1795, England and her allies would have dishonored themselves in treating with France: what would have been said of the august ambassadors of a free nation, returning to London after having received the embrace of Marat or Robespierre? But when once the intention of establishing a regular government was manifested, no means should have been neglected to interrupt the warlike education of the French.
England, in 1797, eighteen months after the installation of the Directory, sent negotiators to Lille; but the successes of the army of Italy had inspired the chiefs of the Republic with arrogance: the Directors were already old in power, and thought themselves firmly seated in it. All governments at their commencement wish for peace: men should know how to profit by this circumstance with ability; in politics as in war, there are critical moments which we should hasten to seize. But opinion in England was heated by Burke, who, by foretelling too truly the miseries of the Revolution, had acquired a great ascendant over his countrymen. At the time of the negotiation of Lille, he wrote some letters on a regicide peace which revived the public indignation against France.6 Mr. Pitt, however, had himself bestowed some praises on the constitution of 1795; and besides, if the political system adopted by France, whatever it might be, no longer endangered the security of other countries, what more could be required?
The passions of the emigrants, to which the English ministers always lent themselves too much, often led them into mistakes in their judgments upon the affairs of France. They thought to effect a powerful diversion by transporting the royalists to Quiberon:7 they occasioned only a scene of blood, the horror of which could not be lessened by the most courageous efforts of the English squadron. The unfortunate French gentlemen, who had vainly flattered themselves with finding in Brittany a great party ready to take up arms in their cause, were abandoned in an instant. General Lemoine, the commander of the French army, has related to me with admiration the reiterated attempts of the English seamen to approach the shore and receive in their boats the emigrants enclosed on every side and endeavoring by swimming to regain the hospitable ships of England. But the English ministers, and Mr. Pitt at their head, in constantly endeavoring to promote the triumph of the pure royalists in France, paid no regard to the opinion of the country; and from this mistake arose the obstacles which they so long met with in their political combinations. The English administration, more than any other government in Europe, should have understood the history of the Revolution in France, so similar to that of England; but it would appear as if the very resemblance had been a reason for their wishing to show themselves so much the more hostile to it.
Two Singular Predictions Drawn from the History of the Revolution, by M. Necker.
M. Necker never published a political book without braving some danger, either to his fortune or to himself. The circumstances in which he published his history of the Revolution1 might have exposed him to such a variety of fatal accidents that I made many efforts to restrain him from that proceeding. He was put upon the list of emigrants, that is to say, subjected to the penalty of death, according to the French laws; and it was already rumored on every side that the Directory intended to invade Switzerland. Nevertheless, he published, about the end of 1796, a work on the Revolution in four volumes, in which he advanced the boldest truths. No other precaution was taken in it than that of placing himself at the distance of posterity, in order to decide upon men and things. To this history full of warmth, of sarcasm, and of reasoning, he joined an analysis of the principal free constitutions of Europe; and in reading this book, where every question is sifted to the bottom, we should be discouraged from writing if we did not console ourselves with the reflection that eighteen additional years, and an individual mode of thinking, may still add some ideas to the same system.
Two very extraordinary predictions ought to be distinguished in that work; the one announces the struggle of the Directory with the Representative Body, which occurred some time afterward and was occasioned, as M. Necker had foretold, by the want of the constitutional prerogatives which were withheld from the executive power.
“The essential arrangement in the republican constitution given to France in 1795,” said he,
the arrangement of prime importance, and which may bring order or freedom into danger, is the complete and absolute separation of the two principal authorities; the one, that which enacts the laws, the other, that which directs and superintends their execution. Every kind of power has been united and confounded in the monstrous organization of the National Convention; and now by another extreme, less dangerous without doubt, not one of the connections between the two authorities, which the welfare of the state requires, has been preserved. Once again they have resorted to written maxims; and upon the faith of a small number of political theorists, a belief has been adopted that it is impossible to establish too strong a barrier between the legislative power and the executive. Let us first recollect that the lessons drawn from example give us a very different result. We know no republic in which the two powers, of which I have just spoken, were not to a certain extent blended together; and ancient times, as well as modern, present us with the same picture. Sometimes a senate, the depository of the executive authority, proposes the laws to a more numerous council, or to the mass of the citizens at large; and sometimes, likewise, this senate, exercising in an inverse direction its right of participation in the legislative power, suspends or reverses the decrees of the many. Upon the same principles is founded the free government of England, where the monarch concurs in the laws which are enacted, both by his own assent and by the presence of his ministers in the two houses of Parliament. Last of all, America has given a modified right of rejection to the President of the Congress, to that head of the state whom she has invested with executive authority; and she has at the same time admitted one of the two divisions of the legislative body to a share of this prerogative.
The republican constitution of France is the first model of a total separation between the two supreme powers, or rather the first attempt at such a separation.
The executive authority will always act alone, and without any habitual inspection on the part of the legislative authority; and in return no assent of the executive authority will be requisite to the complete enactment of laws. Finally, the two powers will have no political tie except hortatory addresses, nor any channel of communication except envoys ordinary and extraordinary.
Must not so new an organization bring inconveniences along with it? Must it not, at some future day, expose the kingdom to great danger? Let us suppose that the choice of five directors should fall, in whole or in part, upon men of a feeble or wavering character; what consideration will they be able to preserve when they appear quite separate from the legislative body, and mere obedient machines?
But if, on the contrary, the five who are chosen directors should be men of vigor, bold, enterprising, and completely united with one another, the moment might arrive when we should perhaps regret the isolation of these executive chiefs, when we should wish that the constitution had put them under the necessity of acting in presence of, or in concert with, a branch of the legislative body. The moment might perhaps arrive when we should repent of having left by the constitution itself an open field to the first suggestions of their ambition, to the first attempts of their despotism.
These bold and enterprising Directors were found; and as they were not allowed to dissolve the legislative body, they employed grenadiers,2 instead of the legal right which the constitution should have given them. Nothing as yet presaged this crisis when M. Necker foretold it; but what is more astonishing is that he foresaw the military tyranny which was to result from the very crisis which he announced in 1796.
In another part of his work, M. Necker renders political philosophy popular by constantly mingling eloquence with reasoning. He feigns a speech of St. Louis, addressed to the French nation and truly admirable; it should be read entire, for there is a charm and a sentiment in every word. The principal object, however, of this fiction is to represent a prince, who in his illustrious life showed himself capable of a heroic devotion, declaring to the nation which had long been subjected to his ancestors that he wishes not to interfere by civil war with the efforts which they are now making to obtain liberty, even though that liberty should be republican, but that at the moment when circumstances would deceive their hopes and deliver them to despotism, he would come to aid his ancient subjects in freeing themselves from the oppression of a tyrant.
What a piercing view into futurity, and into the connection of causes and effects, must he have had, who, twenty years ago, under the Directory, formed such a conjecture!
Of the Army of Italy.
The two great armies of the republic, those of the Rhine and of Italy, were almost constantly victorious, until the treaty of Campo Formio,1 which for a short time suspended the long Continental war. The army of the Rhine, of which Moreau was General, had preserved all the republican simplicity; the army of Italy, commanded by General Bonaparte, dazzled by its conquests but was every day deviating further from the patriotic spirit which till then had animated the French armies. Personal interest was taking the place of a patriotic spirit, and attachment to one man was prevailing over a devotion to liberty. The generals of the army of Italy, likewise, sought ere long to enrich themselves, thus proportionally diminishing that enthusiasm for austere principles without which a free state cannot exist.
General Bernadotte,2 of whom I shall have occasion to speak later, came with a division of the army of the Rhine to join the army of Italy. There was a sort of contrast between the noble poverty of the one and the irregular riches of the other: they resembled only in bravery. The army of Italy was the army of Bonaparte, that of the Rhine3 was the army of the French republic. Yet nothing was so brilliant as the rapid conquest of Italy. Doubtless, the desire which the enlightened Italians have always felt to unite themselves into one state, and thus to possess so much national strength as to have nothing either to fear or to hope from strangers, contributed much to favor the progress of General Bonaparte. It was with the cry of Italy forever that he passed the bridge of Lodi; and it was to the hope of independence that he owed his reception among the Italians. But the victories which subjected to France countries beyond her natural limits, far from favoring liberty, exposed it to the danger of military government.
Bonaparte was already much talked of in Paris; the superiority of his capacity in business, joined to the splendor of his talents as a General, gave to his name an importance which no individual had ever acquired from the commencement of the Revolution. But although in his proclamations he spoke incessantly of the republic, attentive men perceived that it was in his eyes a mean, and not an end. It was in this same light that he viewed all things and all men. A rumor prevailed that he meant to make himself King of Lombardy. One day I met General Augereau,4 who had just returned from Italy, and who was cited, I believe then with reason, as a zealous republican. I asked him whether it was true that General Bonaparte was thinking of becoming a king. “No, assuredly,” replied he; “he is a young man of too good principles for that.” This singular answer was in exact conformity with the ideas of the moment. The sincere republicans would have regarded it as a degradation for a man, however distinguished he might be, to wish to turn the Revolution to his personal advantage. Why had not this sentiment more force and longer duration among Frenchmen!
Bonaparte was stopped in his march to Rome by signing the peace of Tolentino;5 and it was then that he obtained the surrender6 of the superb monuments of the arts which we have long seen collected in the Museum of Paris. The true abode of these masterpieces was, without doubt, Italy, and the imagination regretted their loss; but of all her illustrious prisoners it was upon these that France justly set the highest value.
General Bonaparte wrote to the Directory that he had made the surrender of these monuments one of the conditions of the peace with the Pope. I have particularly insisted, said he, on the busts of Junius and Marcus Brutus, which I wish to send to Paris before the rest. Bonaparte, who afterward removed these busts from the hall of the legislative body, might have spared them the trouble of the journey.
Of the Introduction of Military Government into France by the Occurrences of the 18th of Fructidor.
No epoch of the Revolution was more disastrous than that which substituted military rule for the well-founded hope of a representative government. I am, however, anticipating events; for the sway of a military chief was not as yet proclaimed when the Directory sent grenadiers to the two Chambers: but this tyrannical proceeding, of which the soldiers were the instruments, prepared the way for the revolution that was effected two years afterward by Bonaparte himself, when it appeared not at all strange that a military chief should have recourse to a measure in which magistrates had indulged themselves.
The Directors, however, entertained no apprehensions of the inevitable consequences of the resolution which they adopted. Their situation was dangerous; they had, as I have endeavored to show, too much arbitrary power and too little legal power. They had been invested with all the means of persecution which excite hatred, but with none of the constitutional rights which would have enabled them to defend themselves. At the moment when the second third of the Chambers was renewed by the election of 1797, the public mind became a second time impatient to remove the members of the Conventions1 from the administration; but a second time also, instead of waiting a year, during which the majority of the Directory would have been changed and the last third of the Chambers renewed, the French vivacity urged the enemies of the government to endeavor to overturn it without delay. The opposition to the Directory was not at first formed by pure royalists; but they gradually mingled themselves with it. Besides, in civil discord, men always end by adopting the opinions of which they are accused; and the party which attacked the Directory was thus powerfully impelled to a counter-revolution.
In every quarter a spirit of intolerable reaction appeared: at Lyons, at Marseilles, assassinations took place: the victims, it is true, were men covered with guilt; still it was assassination. The journals, in their daily proclamations of vengeance, armed themselves with calumny and announced openly a counter-revolution. In the interior, as abroad, there were two projects; one party was resolved to bring back the old regime, and General Pichegru2 was one of their principal instruments.
The Directory, as preserver of its own political existence, had strong reasons for putting itself in a state of defense; but how could it? The defects in the constitution which M. Necker had so well pointed out rendered it very difficult for the government to make a legal resistance to the attacks of the councils. The Council of Ancients was inclined to defend the Directors, only because it occupied, though very imperfectly, the place of a chamber of peers; but as the deputies of this council were not named for life, they were afraid of rendering themselves unpopular by supporting magistrates whom the public opinion rejected. If the government had possessed the right of dissolving the Five Hundred, the mere threat of exerting this prerogative would have restrained them within bounds. In short, if the executive power had been able to oppose even a suspending veto to the decrees of the councils, it would have been satisfied with the means with which the law had armed it for its protection. But these very magistrates, whose authority was so limited, had great power as a revolutionary faction; and they were not scrupulous enough to confine themselves to the rules of constitutional warfare when, to get rid of their opponents, they needed only to have recourse to force. The personal interest of some individuals was seen on this occasion, as it always will be, to overturn the barriers of the law, if these barriers are not constructed in such a way as to maintain themselves.3
Two directors, Barthélemy and Carnot, were on the side of the representative councils. Carnot certainly was not suspected of desiring the restoration of the old regime, but he was unwilling (and the reluctance does him honor) to adopt illegal means in order to repel the attack of the legislative power. The majority of the Directory, Reubell, Barras, and La Réveillère, hesitated some time between two auxiliaries who were equally at their disposal—the Jacobins and the army. They justly feared the former; the terrorists were still a dangerous weapon, which might overthrow him who should venture to make use of it. The Directors believed, therefore, that it was better to obtain addresses from the armies, and to request General Bonaparte, who of all the commanders in chief declared himself then most strongly against the councils, to send one of his generals of brigade to Paris to await the orders of the Directory. Bonaparte chose General Augereau, a man very decided in action and not very capable of reasoning—two qualities which rendered him an excellent instrument of despotism, provided this despotism assumed the name of revolution.
By a singular contrast, the royalists in the two councils appealed to republican principles, to the liberty of the press, to the liberty of suffrages, to every liberty, in short, and particularly to the liberty of subverting the Directory. The popular party, on the contrary, grounded itself always on circumstances and defended the revolutionary measures which served as a momentary security to the government. The republicans found themselves constrained to disavow their own principles because they were turned against themselves; and the royalists borrowed the weapons of the republicans to attack the republic. This strange combination of arms exchanged in the combat has been exhibited in other circumstances. Every minority invokes justice, and justice is liberty. A party can be judged of only by the doctrine which it professes when it is the strongest.
Nevertheless, when the Directory took the fatal resolution of sending the grenadiers to seize the legislators in their seats, it had no longer need of the mischief which it resolved to do. The change of ministry, and the addresses of the armies, were sufficient to restrain the royalists; and the Directory ruined itself by pushing its triumph too far. For it was so contrary to the spirit of a republic to employ the soldiery against the representatives of the people that the state could not fail to be destroyed in the very attempt to save it by such means. On the evening of the fatal day everyone knew that a great blow was on the point of being struck; for in France men conspire in the public streets, or rather they do not conspire, but excite one another, so that he who can listen to what is said will know beforehand what is about to be done.
On the night before the entrance of General Augereau into the councils, the alarm was such that the greater number of persons of note left their houses from the fear of being arrested in them. One of my friends found an asylum for me in a small chamber which looked upon the bridge of Louis XVI. I there spent the night in beholding the preparations for the awful scene which was to take place in a few hours; none but soldiers appeared in the streets; all the citizens remained in their homes. The cannons, which were brought to surround the palace where the legislative body assembled, were rolling along the pavements; but, except their noise, all was silence. No hostile assemblage was seen anywhere, nor was it known against whom all this apparatus was directed. Liberty was the only power vanquished in that fatal struggle; it might have been said that she was seen to fly, like a wandering spirit, at the approach of the day which was to shine upon her destruction.
In the morning it was known that General Augereau had conducted his battalions into the Council of the Five Hundred, that he had arrested several of the deputies who were found there assembled in a committee, and that General Pichegru was president at the time. Astonishment was excited by the little respect which the soldiers showed for a general who had so often led them to victory; but he had been successfully characterized as a counterrevolutionary, a name which, when the public opinion is free, exercises in France a kind of magical power. Besides, Pichegru had no means of producing an effect on the imagination; he was a man of good manners, but without striking expression either in his features or in his words; the recollection of his victories did not hover around him, for there was nothing in his appearance that announced them. It has often been said that he was guided in war by the counsels of another: I know not what truth there may have been in this, but it is at least credible; for his look and conversation were so dull that they suggested no idea of his being fit for becoming the leader of any enterprise. Nevertheless, his courage and political perseverance, as well as his misfortunes, have since awakened a deserved interest in his fate.
Some members of the Council of the Ancients, with the intrepid and generous old man Dupont de Nemours and the respectable Barbé-Marbois4 at their head, went on foot to the meeting hall and, after having ascertained that the door was shut, they returned in the same way, passing between aligned soldiers; while the people, who were looking on, seemed scarcely to be aware that it was the cause of their representatives, oppressed by an armed force, which was at stake. The fear of a counter-revolution had unfortunately disorganized the public mind: no one knew where to find the cause of liberty between those who disgraced her and those who were accused of hating her. The most honorable men, Barbé-Marbois, Tronçon-Ducoudray,5 Camille Jordan,6 etc., were condemned to deportation beyond the sea.7 Atrocious measures followed this first violation of all justice. The public debt was diminished by two-thirds,8 and this operation was distinguished by the phrase la mobiliser, so dexterous are the French at inventing terms with a gentle sound for the harshest proceedings. The priests and the nobles were again proscribed with unrelenting barbarity. The liberty of the press was abolished as irreconcilable with the exercise of arbitrary power.9 The invasion of Switzerland,10 the mad project of a descent upon England, removed every hope of peace with Europe. The revolutionary spirit was conjured up, but it reappeared without the enthusiasm which once animated it; and, as the civil authority did not rest upon justice, upon magnanimity, in short, upon any of the great qualities which ought to characterize it, the ardor of patriotism turned itself toward military glory, which then at least satisfied the imagination.
It is painful to speak of oneself, at a time especially when the most important narratives alone demand the attention of readers. Yet I cannot abstain from refuting an accusation which is injurious to me. The journals whose office it was in 1797 to insult all the friends of liberty have pretended that, from a predilection for a republic, I approved of the affair of the 18th of Fructidor. I certainly would not have counseled, had I been called upon to give advice, the establishment of a republic in France; but when it once existed, I was not of the opinion that it ought to be overturned.1 Republican government, considered abstractedly and without reference to a great state, merits the respect which it has ever inspired; the Revolution of the 18th of Fructidor, on the contrary, must always excite horror, both by the tyrannical principles from which it proceeded and by the frightful results which were its necessary consequence. Among the individuals of whom the Directory was composed, I knew only Barras; and, far from having the slightest influence with the others, though they could not be ignorant of my fond love of liberty, they were so dissatisfied with my attachment to the proscribed that they gave orders upon the frontiers of Switzerland, at Versoix near Coppet, to arrest me and conduct me to prison at Paris; on account, said they, of my efforts to obtain the restoration of the emigrants. Barras defended me with warmth and generosity; and it was he who some time afterward obtained permission for me to return to France. The gratitude which I owed him kept up the relations of society between us.
M. de Talleyrand2 had returned from America a year before the 18th of Fructidor. The honest people wanted, in general, peace with Europe, which was at that time disposed to negotiate; and it was thought that M. de Talleyrand could not but be, what he has been always since found, a very able negotiator. The friends of liberty wished that the Directory should strengthen itself by constitutional measures, and that with this view they should choose ministers capable of supporting the government. M. de Talleyrand seemed then the best possible choice for the department of foreign affairs, and he much wished to accept it. I served him effectually in this respect by procuring for him an introduction to Barras, through one of my friends, and by strongly recommending him. M. de Talleyrand needed help to arrive at power; but, once there, he required not the assistance of others to maintain him in it. His appointment is the only role I had in the crisis which preceded the 18th of Fructidor, and by doing that I thought I could prevent that crisis; for there was reason to hope that M. de Talleyrand might effect a reconciliation between the two parties. Since that time I have not had the slightest connection with the various aspects of his political career.
After the 18th of Fructidor the proscription extended itself on every side; and the nation, which under the Reign of Terror had already lost the most respectable men, saw itself every day deprived of some of those who remained. Dupont de Nemours, the most chivalrous champion of liberty in France, but who could not recognize it in the dispersion of the representatives of the people by an armed force, was on the point of being proscribed. I was informed of his danger, and I immediately sent in quest of Chenier the poet,3 who, two years before, had, at my desire, made the speech to which M. de Talleyrand was indebted for his recall. Chenier, in spite of all that may be said against his life, was susceptible of emotion; for he had talent, and dramatic talent. He was moved by the picture of the situation of Dupont de Nemours and his family, and ran to the tribune, where he succeeded in saving him by making him pass for a man of eighty years of age, though he was scarcely sixty. This artifice was not agreeable to the pleasing Dupont de Nemours, who, so far as the mind was concerned, had always strong claims to youth.
Chenier was a man at once violent and timid; full of prejudices, though an enthusiastic admirer of philosophy; inaccessible to reasoning when it combated his passions, which he reverenced as his household gods. He walked up and down the chamber with great strides; answered without having listened; grew pale and trembled with passion when a word disagreeable to him struck his ear by itself, for want of patience to hear the remainder of the phrase. He was nevertheless a man of talent and imagination; but so much under the influence of self-love that he was astonished at what he was, instead of laboring to attain a higher perfection.
Every day increased the alarm of the good. An observation of a general, who accused me publicly of pity for the conspirators, induced me to quit Paris and withdraw to the country; for, in political conjunctures, pity is called treason. I went therefore to the house of a friend, where, by a singular chance, I met one of the most illustrious and bravest royalists of La Vendée, the Prince de la Trémouille,4 who, though a price was set upon his head, had come with the hope of turning circumstances to the advantage of his cause. I wanted to give him asylum, which he needed more than I did. He refused my offer and proposed to leave France, since all hope of a counter-revolution was lost. We were justly surprised that the same blast should have reached us both, since our preceding situations had been very different.
I returned to Paris: every day made us tremble for some new victims who were involved in the general persecution that was carried on against emigrants and priests. The Marquis d’Ambert, who had been Bernadotte’s colonel previous to the Revolution, was taken and brought before a military commission—a terrible tribunal, the existence of which, outside of the army, is sufficient to prove the tyranny of the government. General Bernadotte sought the Directors and asked of them, as the sole reward of all his services, the pardon of his colonel; they were inflexible; they gave the name of justice to an equal distribution of misery.
Two days after the punishment of M. d’Ambert, the brother of M. de Norvins de Monbreton,5 whom I had known in Switzerland during his emigration, entered my chamber at ten o’clock in the morning. He told me, with great agitation, that his brother was arrested and that the military commission was assembled to sentence him to death; he asked me whether I could find any means of saving him. How could I flatter myself with the hope of obtaining a favor from the Directory when the prayers of General Bernadotte had been fruitless; and yet, how could I resolve to make no attempt in behalf of a man with whom I was acquainted, and who in two hours would be shot if nobody came to his assistance? I suddenly recollected that I had seen, at the house of Barras, a General Lemoine, the same whom I have mentioned on the occasion of the Quiberon expedition, and that he had appeared to take pleasure in conversing with me. This General commanded the division of Paris and had a right to suspend the judgments of the military commission established in that city. I thanked Heaven for the idea, and instantly set out with the brother of the unfortunate Norvins: we entered together the chamber of the General, who was very much surprised to see me. He began by making apologies to me for his morning toilette and his apartment; in short, I was unable to prevent him from continually returning to the language of politeness, although I implored him not to waste an instant on it, for that instant might be irrecoverable. I hastened to tell him the reason of my visit; and, at first, he abruptly refused me. My heart throbbed at the sight of that brother who might think that I was not employing the words best fitted to obtain what I asked. I began my solicitations afresh, collecting myself, that I might assemble all my strength; I was afraid of saying too much or too little; of losing the fatal hour, after which all would be over; or of neglecting an argument which might be successful. I looked by turns at the clock and at the General, to see which of the two powers, his soul or time, approached the term most quickly. Twice the General took the pen to sign the reprieve, and twice the fear of committing himself restrained him; at last he was unable to refuse us, and may Heaven shower blessings on him for his compliance. He delivered the redeeming paper, and M. de Monbreton ran to the tribunal, where he learned that his brother had already acknowledged everything; but the reprieve broke up the meeting, and innocence survived.
It is the duty of us women at all times to aid individuals accused of political opinions of any kind whatsoever; for what are opinions in times of faction? Can we be certain that such and such events, such and such a situation, would not have changed our own views? And, if we except a few invariable sentiments, who knows how difference of situation might have acted on us?
Treaty of Campo Formio in 1797. Arrival of General Bonaparte at Paris.
The Directory was disinclined to peace, not that it wished to extend the French dominions beyond the Rhine and the Alps, but because it thought the war useful for the propagation of the republican system. Its plan was to surround France with a belt of republics, like those of Holland, Switzerland, Piedmont,1 Lombardy, and Genoa. Everywhere it established a directory, two councils, a constitution; in short, similar in every respect to that of France.2 It is one of the great failings of the French, and a consequence of their social habits, that they imitate one another and wish to be imitated by everybody. They take natural varieties in each man’s, or even each nation’s, mode of thinking for a spirit of hostility against themselves.
General Bonaparte was assuredly less serious and less sincere than the Directory in the love of republicanism; but he had much more sagacity in appreciating circumstances. He foresaw that peace would be popular in France, because the passions were subsiding into tranquillity and the people were becoming weary of sacrifices; he therefore signed the treaty of Campo Formio with Austria. But this treaty contained the surrender of the Venetian Republic; and it is not easy to conceive how he succeeded in prevailing upon the Directory, which yet was in some respects republican, to commit the greatest possible blow according to its own principles. From the date of this proceeding, not less arbitrary than the partition of Poland, there no longer existed in the government of France the slightest respect for any political doctrine, and the reign of one man began when the dominion of principle ended.
Bonaparte made himself remarkable by his character and capacity as much as by his victories, and the imagination of the French was beginning to attach itself warmly to him. His proclamations to the Cisalpine and Ligurian Republics were quoted. In the one this phrase was remarked: You were divided, and bent down by tyranny; you were not in a situation to conquer liberty. In the other, True conquests, the only conquests which cost no regret, are those which we make from ignorance. In his style there reigned a spirit of moderation and dignity, which formed a contrast with the revolutionary bitterness of the civil leaders of France. The warrior then spoke like a magistrate, while magistrates expressed themselves with military violence. In his army, General Bonaparte did not enforce the laws against emigrants. He was said to be much attached to his wife, whose character was full of gentleness; it was asserted that he was feelingly alive to the beauties of Ossian; people took delight in ascribing to him all the generous qualities which place his extraordinary talents in a beautiful light. Besides, the nation was so weary of oppressors who borrowed the name of liberty, and of oppressed persons who regretted the loss of arbitrary power, that admiration did not know what to attach itself to, and Bonaparte seemed to unite all that could seduce it.
It was with this sentiment, at least, that I saw him for the first time at Paris.3 I could not find words to reply to him when he came to me to say that he had sought my father at Coppet,4 and that he regretted having passed into Switzerland without seeing him. But, when I was a little recovered from the confusion of admiration, a strongly marked sentiment of fear succeeded. Bonaparte, at that time, had no power; he was even believed to be not a little threatened by the defiant suspicions of the Directory; so that the fear which he inspired was caused only by the singular effect of his person upon nearly all who approached him. I had seen men highly worthy of esteem; I had likewise seen monsters of ferocity: there was nothing in the effect which Bonaparte produced on me that could bring back to my recollection either the one or the other. I soon perceived, in the different opportunities which I had of meeting him during his stay at Paris, that his character could not be defined by the words which we commonly use; he was neither good, nor violent, nor gentle, nor cruel, after the manner of individuals of whom we have any knowledge. Such a being had no fellow, and therefore could neither feel nor excite sympathy: he was more or less than man. His cast of character, his spirit, his language, were stamped with the imprint of an unknown nature—an additional advantage, as we have elsewhere observed, for the subjugation of Frenchmen.
Far from recovering my confidence by seeing Bonaparte more frequently, he constantly intimidated me more and more. I had a confused feeling that no emotion of the heart could act upon him. He regards a human being as an action or a thing, not as a fellow-creature. He does not hate more than he loves; for him nothing exists but himself; all other creatures are ciphers. The force of his will consists in the impossibility of disturbing the calculations of his egoism; he is an able chess-player, and the human race is the opponent to whom he proposes to give checkmate. His successes depend as much on the qualities in which he is deficient as on the talents which he possesses. Neither pity, nor allurement, nor religion, nor attachment to any idea whatsoever could turn him aside from his principal direction. He is for his self-interest what the just man should be for virtue; if the end were good, his perseverance would be noble.
Every time that I heard him speak, I was struck with his superiority; yet it had no similitude to that of men instructed and cultivated by study or society, such as those of whom France and England can furnish examples. But his discourse indicated a fine perception of circumstances, such as the hunter has of his prey. Sometimes he related the political and military events of his life in a very interesting manner; he had even somewhat of Italian imagination in narratives which allowed of gaiety. Yet nothing could triumph over my invincible aversion for what I perceived in him. I felt in his soul a cold sharp-edged sword, which froze the wound that it inflicted; I perceived in his mind a profound irony, from which nothing great or beautiful, not even his own glory, could escape; for he despised the nation whose votes he wished, and no spark of enthusiasm was mingled with his desire of astonishing the human race.
It was in the interval between the return of Bonaparte and his departure for Egypt, that is to say, toward the end of 1797, that I saw him several times at Paris; and never could I dissipate the difficulty of breathing which I experienced in his presence. I was one day at table between him and the Abbé Sieyès—a singular situation, if I had been able to foresee what afterward happened. I examined the figure of Bonaparte with attention; but whenever he discovered that my looks were fixed upon him, he had the art of taking away all expression from his eyes, as if they had been turned into marble. His countenance was then immovable, except a vague smile which his lips assumed at random, to mislead anyone who might wish to observe the external signs of what was passing within.
The Abbé Sieyès conversed during dinner unaffectedly and fluently, as suited a mind of his strength. He expressed himself concerning my father with a sincere esteem. He is the only man, said he, who has ever united the most perfect precision in the calculations of a great financier to the imagination of a poet. This eulogium pleased me, because it characterized him. Bonaparte, who heard it, also said some obliging things concerning my father and me, but like a man who takes no interest in individuals whom he cannot make use of in the accomplishment of his own ends.
His figure, at that time thin and pale, was rather agreeable; he has since grown fat, which does not become him; for we can scarcely tolerate a character which inflicts so many sufferings on others if we do not believe it to be a torment to the person himself. As his stature is short, and his waist very long, he appeared to much more advantage on horseback than on foot. In every respect it is war, and only war, which suits him. His manners in society are constrained, without timidity; he has an air of vulgarity when he is at his ease, and of disdain when he is not: disdain suits him best, and accordingly he indulges in it without scruple.
By a natural vocation to the princely situation, he already addressed trifling questions to all who were presented to him. Are you married? was his question to one of the guests. How many children do you have? said he to another. How long is it since you arrived? When do you set out? And other interrogations of a similar kind, which establish the superiority of him who puts them over those who submit to be thus questioned. He already took delight in the art of embarrassing by saying disagreeable things—an art which he has since reduced into a system, as he has every other mode of subjugating men by degrading them. At this epoch, however, he had a desire to please, for he confined to his own thoughts the project of overturning the Directory and substituting himself in its stead; but in spite of this desire, one would have said that, unlike the prophet, he cursed involuntarily, though he intended to bless.
I saw him one day approach a French lady distinguished for her beauty, her wit, and the ardor of her opinions. He placed himself straight before her, like the stiffest of the German generals, and said to her, “Madam, I don’t like women to meddle with politics.” “You are right, General,” replied she; “but in a country where they lose their heads, it is natural for them to desire to know the reason.” Bonaparte made no answer. He is a man who is calmed by an effective resistance; those who have borne his despotism deserve to be accused as much as he himself.
The Directory gave General Bonaparte a solemn reception,5 which in several respects should be considered as one of the most important epochs in the history of the Revolution. The court of the palace of the Luxembourg was chosen for this ceremony. No hall would have been large enough to contain the multitude which it attracted: all the windows, and all the roofs, were crowded with spectators. The five Directors, in Roman costume, were seated on a platform at the further end of the court, and near them the deputies of the two councils, the tribunals, and the institute. Had this spectacle occurred before the subjugation of the national representation to military power on the 18th of Fructidor, it would have exhibited an air of grandeur: patriotic tunes were played by an excellent band; banners served as a canopy to the Directors, and these banners brought back the recollection of great victories.
Bonaparte arrived, dressed very simply, followed by his aides-de-camp, all taller than himself, but nearly bent by the respect which they displayed to him. In the presence of the entire French elite, the victorious General was covered with applauses: he was the hope of everyone: republicans, royalists, all saw the present or the future in the support of his powerful hand. Alas! Of the young men who then cried Long live Bonaparte, how many has his insatiable ambition left alive?
M. de Talleyrand, in presenting Bonaparte to the Directory, called him the liberator of Italy and the pacificator of the Continent. He assured them that General Bonaparte detested luxury and splendor, the miserable ambition of vulgar souls, and that he loved the poems of Ossian, particularly because they detach us from the earth. The earth would have required nothing better, I think, than to let him detach himself from its concerns. Bonaparte himself then spoke with a sort of affected negligence, as if he had wished to intimate that he bore little love to the government under which he was called to serve.
He said that for twenty centuries royalty and feudality had governed the world, and that the peace which he had just concluded was the era of republican government. When the happiness of the French, said he, shall be established upon better organical laws, all Europe will be free. I know not whether by the organical laws of freedom he meant the establishment of his absolute power. However that might be, Barras, at that time his friend and president of the Directory, made a reply which supposed him to be sincere in all that he had just said, and concluded by charging him specially with the conquest of England, a mission rather difficult.6
On every side the hymn was sung which Chenier had composed to celebrate this day. The last stanza of it anticipates the long period of tranquil renown to which France might now look forward. It is as follows:
Alas! What is become of those days of glory and peace with which France flattered herself twenty years ago! All these blessings were in the hand of a single man: what has he done with them?
Preparations of General Bonaparte for Proceeding to Egypt. His Opinion on the Invasion of Switzerland.
Bonaparte, at this same epoch, the close of 1797, sounded the public opinion with respect to the Directors; he saw that they were not loved, but that a republican sentiment made it impossible for a general to put himself in the place of the civil magistrates. He was one evening conversing with Barras upon his ascendancy over the Italians, who had wished to make him King of Italy and Duke of Milan. But, said he, I do not think of anything of the sort in any country. You do well, replied Barras, not to think of it in France; for if the Directory were to send you to the Temple tomorrow, there would not be four persons who would oppose it. Bonaparte was sitting on a couch by the side of Barras; at these words, unable to restrain his irritation, he sprang toward the fireplace: then, resuming that species of apparent tranquillity of which the most passionate among the inhabitants of the South are capable, he declared that he wished to be entrusted with a military expedition. The Directory proposed to him the invasion of England; he went to survey the coasts, and, as he soon perceived the extravagance of that project, he returned with the resolution of attempting the conquest of Egypt.
Bonaparte has always sought to lay hold of the imagination of men, and in this respect he knows well how they ought to be governed by one who is not born to a throne. An invasion of Africa, war carried into Egypt, a country almost fabulous, could not fail to make an impression on every mind. The French might easily be persuaded that they would derive great advantage from such a colony in the Mediterranean, and that it might one day furnish them with the means of attacking the English establishments in India. These schemes possessed grandeur and were fitted to augment the brilliant reputation of Bonaparte. Had he remained in France, the Directory, through all the journals which were at its nod, would have launched forth numberless calumnies and tarnished his exploits in the imagination of the idle: Bonaparte would have been reduced to dust before the thunderbolt struck him. He was therefore right in wishing to make himself a poetical personage instead of remaining exposed to the slanders of Jacobins, who, with their popular forms, are not less dextrous than courts in the propagation of scandal.
There was no money to transport an army to Egypt; and the most condemnable thing done by Bonaparte was to convince the Directory to invade Switzerland with a view to seize the treasury of Berne, which two hundred years of wisdom and economy had accumulated. The war had for its pretext the situation of the Pays de Vaud. There is no doubt but that the Pays de Vaud was entitled to claim an independent existence, which it acted right in maintaining.1 But if the emigrants were blamed for uniting themselves to foreigners against France, should not the same principle be applied to the Swiss, who invoked the terrible assistance of the French? Besides, it was not the Pays de Vaud alone that was concerned in a war which would necessarily hazard the independence of all Switzerland. This cause appeared to me so sacred that, at that time, I still thought it not altogether impossible to induce Bonaparte to defend it. In every circumstance of my life, the errors which I have committed in politics have proceeded from the idea that men were always capable of being moved by truth, if it was presented to them with force.
I remained nearly an hour in conference with Bonaparte: he is a good and patient listener, for he wishes to know if what is said can throw any light on his own affairs: but Cicero and Demosthenes together would not draw him to the slightest sacrifice of his personal interest. Many mediocre people call that reason; it is reason of an inferior order; there is one more exalted which does not proceed by mere calculation.
Bonaparte, in conversing with me on Switzerland, alleged the situation of the Pays de Vaud as a motive for the entrance of the French troops. He told me that the inhabitants of that district were subject to the aristocrats of Berne, and that men could not now exist without political rights. I moderated, as well as I could, this republican ardor, by representing to him that the Vaudois were perfectly free in every civil relation, and that when liberty exists in fact, it is unnecessary, for the sake of the abstract right, to expose ourselves to the greatest of misfortunes, that of seeing foreigners in our native land. “Self-love and imagination,” replied the General, “make men cling to the advantage of sharing in the government of their country, and there is injustice in excluding any portion of them from it.” Nothing is more true in principle, said I, General; but it is equally true that it is by their own efforts that liberty should be obtained, and not by calling in the aid of a power which must be necessarily predominant. The word “principle” has since appeared very suspicious to Bonaparte, but it then suited him to make use of it, and he alleged it against me. I insisted anew upon the happiness and beauty of Switzerland, and the repose which she had for many centuries enjoyed. “Yes, without doubt,” said Bonaparte, interrupting me, but men must have political rights; yes, repeated he, as if the words had been committed to memory, “political rights.” Then, changing the conversation, because he wished to hear no more upon the subject, he spoke to me of his love for retirement, for the country, and for the fine arts; and took the trouble of exhibiting himself to me in aspects suited to what he supposed to be the turn of my imagination.
The conversation, however, gave me some idea of the attractions which may be found in him when he assumes the air of a plain good-natured man and speaks with simplicity of himself and his projects. This art, the most formidable of all, has captivated many. At this period I still met Bonaparte occasionally in society; and he appeared to me always profoundly occupied with the relations which he wished to establish between himself and other men, keeping them at a distance or bringing them near him, according as he thought he could attach them most securely. In particular, when he was with the Directors, he was afraid of appearing like a general under the orders of his government; and in his manners with that class of superiors, he tried alternately dignity and familiarity; but he missed the true tone of both. He is a man who can be natural only when he commands.
The Invasion of Switzerland.
As Switzerland was threatened with an approaching invasion, I quitted Paris in the month of January, 1798, to rejoin my father at Coppet. He was still on the list of emigrants, and a positive law condemned to death emigrants who remained in a country occupied by the French troops. I did my utmost to induce him to quit his abode; he would not: “At my age,” said he, “a man should not wander upon the earth.” I believe that his secret motive was his reluctance to remove himself from the tomb of my mother: on this subject he had a superstition of the heart which he would have sacrificed only to the interest of his family, and never to his own. In the four years since the companion of his life had ceased to live, scarcely a day passed in which he did not go to walk near the tomb in which she reposes, and by departing he would have thought that he was abandoning her.
When the entry of the French was positively announced, my father and myself, with my young children, remained alone in the château of Coppet. On the day appointed for the violation of the Swiss territory, our inquisitive people went down to the bottom of the avenue; and my father and I, who were awaiting our fate together, placed ourselves in a balcony that had a view of the high road by which the troops were to arrive. Though it was the middle of winter, the weather was delightful; the Alps were reflected in the lake; and the noise of the drum alone disturbed the tranquillity of the scene. My heart throbbed violently from the apprehension of what might menace my father. I knew that the Directory spoke of him with respect; but I knew also the empire of revolutionary laws over those who had made them. At the moment when the French troops passed the frontier of the Helvetic confederation, I saw an officer quit his men to proceed toward our château. A mortal terror seized me; but what he said to us soon re-assured me. He was commissioned by the Directory to offer my father a safeguard. This officer, since well known under the title of Marshal Suchet,1 conducted himself extremely well toward us; and his staff, whom he brought to my father’s house the day after, followed his example.
It is impossible not to find among the French, in spite of the wrongs with which they may be justly reproached, a social spirit which makes us live at our ease with them. Nevertheless this army, which had so well defended the independence of its own country, wished to conquer the whole of Switzerland, and to penetrate even into the mountains of the small cantons, where men of simplicity retained the old-fashioned treasure of their virtues and usages. Berne and other Swiss cities possessed without doubt unjust privileges, and old prejudices were mingled with the democracy of the small cantons; but was it by force that any amelioration was to be effected in the condition of a country accustomed to acknowledge only the slow and progressive operation of time? The political institutions of Switzerland have, it is true, been improved in some respects, and up to these late times it might have been believed that even the mediation of Bonaparte2 had removed some prejudices of the Catholic cantons. But union and patriotic energy have lost much since the revolution. The Swiss are now accustomed to have recourse to foreigners, and to share in the political passions of other nations, while the only interest of Helvetia is to be peaceful, independent, and animated by a jealous dignity of spirit.
In 1797, there was a rumor of the resistance which Berne and the small democratical cantons would make to the threatened invasion. Then, for the first time in my life, I entertained wishes against the French; for the first time in my life I experienced the painful anguish of blaming my own country enough to desire the triumph of those who fought against it. Formerly, just before the battle of Granson,3 the Swiss prostrated themselves before God; their cruel enemies thought that they were about to surrender their arms; but they rose up and were victorious. The small cantons in 1798, in their noble ignorance of the things of this world, sent their quota to Berne; these religious soldiers kneeled before the church when they arrived in the public square. “We do not dread,” said they, “the armies of France; we are four hundred, and if that is not enough, we are ready to make four hundred more of our companions march to the assistance of our country.” Who would not be touched by this great confidence in such feeble means! But the days of the three hundred Spartans were gone by: numbers were omnipotent; and individual devotedness struggled in vain against the resources of a great state and the combination of tactics.
On the day of the first battle of the Swiss with the French, though Coppet is thirty leagues from Berne, we heard, in the silence of the evening, the discharges of cannon, which were resounding far off among the echos of the mountains. We scarcely dared to breathe, that we might the better distinguish the mournful noise; and though every probability was in favor of the French, we had still a vague hope of some miracle in behalf of justice: but time alone is her all-powerful ally. The Swiss troops were defeated in pitched battle;4 the inhabitants, however, defended themselves long among their mountains; the women and children took up arms; priests were massacred at the foot of their altars. But there was in this small territory a national will, which the French were obliged to treat with consideration; nor did the lesser cantons ever accept the republic one and indivisible5 —that metaphysical present which the Directory offered at the cannon’s mouth. It must be allowed, however, that there was in Switzerland a party for the unity of the republic which could boast of very respectable names. The Directory never acquired any influence in the affairs of foreign nations without being supported by some portion of the natives. But these men, however decided they might be in favor of liberty, always found it difficult to maintain their popularity, because they had rallied round the overwhelming power of the French.
When Bonaparte was at the head of France, he made war to extend his empire; and that policy is easily understood. But although the Directory were desirous of obtaining possession of Switzerland as an advantageous military position, their principal aim was to extend the republican system in Europe. Now, how could they flatter themselves that they would succeed, by putting constraint on the opinion of people, especially of those who, like the Swiss, were entitled to consider themselves as the oldest friends of freedom? Violence suits despotism alone; and, accordingly, it showed itself at last under its true name—that of a military chief: to this the tyrannical measures of the Directory were a prelude.
It was likewise by a series of these combinations, half abstract and half positive, half revolutionary and half diplomatic, that the Directory wished to unite Geneva to France.6 In this regard, they committed an act of injustice so much the more revolting that it was in opposition to all the principles which they professed. They robbed a free state of its independence, in spite of the strongly declared wish of its inhabitants; they annihilated completely the moral importance of a republic, the cradle of the Reformation, which had produced more distinguished men than the largest province of France; the democratic party, in short, did what they would have deemed a crime even in their adversaries. In fact, what would not have been said of kings and aristocrats who should have tried to deprive Geneva of its individual existence? For states, as well as men, have an individual existence. Did the French derive from their acquisition a gain equal to the loss which was occasioned to the wealth of the human mind in general? And may not the fable of the goose that laid eggs of gold be applied to small independent states which the greater are eager to occupy? Conquest destroys the very advantages of which she covets the possession.
My father, by the union of Geneva, found himself legally a Frenchman; he, who had always been so in his sentiments and in his career. To live in safety in Switzerland, at that time occupied by the armies of the Directory, it was necessary that he should obtain the erasure of his name from the list of emigrants. With this view he gave me a report to carry to Paris which was a real masterpiece of dignity and logic. The Directory, after having read it, were unanimous in the resolution to erase M. Necker’s name; and, although this was an act of the most obvious justice, it gave me so much pleasure that I shall always retain a grateful remembrance of it.
I then negotiated with the Directory for the payment of the two million livres which my father had left deposited in the public treasury. The government acknowledged the debt, but offered payment out of the estates of the clergy, which my father refused: not that he meant thus to assume the colors of the party who consider the sale of that property illegal; but because he had never in any situation wished to make his opinions and interests coincide, that there might not be the possibility of the slightest doubt of his perfect impartiality.
Of the Termination of the Directory.
After the fatal blow which, on the 18th of Fructidor, the military force inflicted on the dignity of the representatives of the people, the Directory, as we have just seen, still maintained itself for two years, without any external change in its organization. But the vital principle which had animated it existed no more, and one might have said of it, as of the giant in Ariosto,1 that it still fought, forgetting that it was dead. The elections, the deliberations of the councils, presented nothing to excite interest; for the results were always known beforehand. The persecutions which were carried on against nobles and priests were no longer incited by popular hatred: the war had ceased to have an object since the independence of France and the limit of the Rhine were secured. But, instead of attaching Europe to France, the Directors were already beginning the fatal work which Napoleon so cruelly completed; they inspired the neighboring nations with as much aversion to the French government as princes alone had at first experienced.
The Roman republic was proclaimed from the summit of the Capitol;2 but, in our days, the statues are the only republicans in Rome; and those must know little of the nature of enthusiasm who imagine that, by counterfeiting it, they will cause it to spring up. The free consent of the people can alone give to political institutions a certain native and spontaneous beauty, a natural harmony which guarantees their duration. The monstrous system of despotism in the means, under pretext of liberty in the end, produced nothing but governments depending upon springs, which required to be constantly repaired, and stopped the moment that they ceased to be put in motion by external impulse. Festivals were celebrated at Paris with Grecian costumes and antique cars: but there was no fixed principle in the soul; immorality alone made rapid progress on every side; for public opinion was neither a terror nor a recompense to anyone.
A revolution had occurred in the interior of the Directory, as in the interior of a seraglio, in which the nation had taken no share. The men last chosen3 were so little worthy of respect that France, quite weary of them, called with loud cries for a military chief; for she would neither have the Jacobins, the remembrance of whom struck her with horror, nor a counter-revolution, which the arrogance of the emigrants rendered terrible.
The lawyers who had been called in 1799 to the place of Directors, exhibited there only the ridiculous pretense of authority, without the talents and the virtues which render it respectable; the facility with which, in the course of an evening, a Director assumed the airs of a Court, was truly singular; the part must be one not very difficult to play. Gohier, Moulins—what do I know?—the most obscure of men, once appointed Directors, were already occupied the very next day with themselves; they spoke to you of their health and of their family interests, as if they had been personages dear to the whole world. They were kept in this illusion by flatterers who were people of good or bad company, but who all were fulfilling their role of courtiers, by showing to their prince the most affecting solicitude with regard to everything which could concern him, on condition of obtaining a short audience for some particular request. Among these people, those who had anything to reproach themselves with during the Reign of Terror always retained a remarkable sensibility on that subject. If you pronounced a single word which might allude to the recollection which disturbed them, they immediately related their history to you in the most minute detail, and abandoned everything to talk to you about it for hours and hours. If you returned to the affair on which you wished to converse with them, they listened to you no longer. The life of any individual who has committed a political crime is forever linked to that crime in order either to justify it or to live it down by the influence of power.
The nation, fatigued with this revolutionary caste, had arrived at that period in political conjunctures where men believe that it is only under the authority of a single person that repose is to be found. In this way Cromwell governed England, by offering men who had been compromised by the Revolution the shelter of his despotism. It is impossible to deny, in some respects, the truth of what Bonaparte said afterward: I found the crown of France on the ground and picked it up; but it was the French nation itself which required to be raised.
The Russians and Austrians had gained great victories in Italy;4 factions were multiplying to an infinite number in the interior; and the kind of cracking which precedes the fall of a building was heard in the government. The first wish was that Joubert should put himself at the head of the state; he preferred the command of the troops and, disdaining to survive the reverses of the French armies, died nobly by the hand of the enemy. The wishes of all would have pointed out Moreau as the first magistrate of the republic—a preeminence of which his virtues certainly made him worthy; but he perhaps felt that he had not enough of political talent for such a situation, and he preferred exposing himself to military dangers rather than civil affairs.
Among the other French generals, scarcely any were known who were qualified for the civil career. One only, General Bernadotte, united, as the sequel has proved, the qualities of a statesman and of a distinguished soldier. But he was then wholly devoted to the republican party, which would no more approve the subversion of the republic than the royalists approved the subversion of the throne. Bernadotte, therefore, as we shall relate in the following chapter, limited himself to the re-establishment of the armies while he was Minister of War. No scruples whatever arrested Bonaparte’s course: accordingly we shall see how he seized on the destinies of France, and in what manner he guided them.
[1. ] Emigration occurred in several phases. The first emigrants left France immediately after July 14, 1789; others left after 1791 or shortly after the beginning of the Reign of Terror. The total number of émigrés was probably between 150,000 and 160,000 (the total population of France at that time was estimated at 26 million). For a useful overview, see M. Boffa’s entry on emigration during the Revolution in A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 324–36. For more information about the history of emigration after 1789, see Daudet, Histoire de l’émigration pendant la Révolution française, 3 vols.; Baldensperger, Le mouvement des idées dans l’émigration française, 1789–1815; and Greer, The Incidence of the Emigration During the French Revolution.
[2. ] The Vendée rebellion (south of Loire) began on March 11, 1793, less than two months after the execution of Louis XVI (January 21, 1793) and almost a month before the creation of the Committee of Public Safety (April 6, 1793).
[3. ] This was one of the ideas of Boulainvilliers’s Essai sur la noblesse de France (Amsterdam, 1732).
[4. ] Note again the similarity between Staël’s and Tocqueville’s analyses of “collective individualism” under the Old Regime. In Tocqueville’s view, French society was fragmented to the point that “every one of these little societies lived only for itself and was interested only in itself and in matters which directly affected it.” (The Old Regime and the Revolution, vol. 1, 162; also see 163, 212–13)
[5. ] It was Louis XI who in 1474 allowed Swiss soldiers to serve in the French army.
[6. ] The naval battle of La Hogue, May 29–June 2, 1692, was won by the English.
[1. ] For a list of reviews of Necker’s book, see Grange, Les idées de Necker, 629.
[2. ] Ben Jonson (1572–1637), English poet and playwright, friend and rival of Shakespeare. The chancellor of England referred to here was Francis Bacon.
[3. ] For more information, see Grange, Les idées de Necker, 400–451.
[4. ] For more information on Necker’s book, see ibid., 434–52.
[5. ] On December 27, 1788, the King approved the doubling of the Third Estate in a document entitled Result of the King’s Council of State. This was a major decision that concluded a three-month-long debate and acknowledged the rising influence of public opinion. For more information on the events surrounding this episode, see Doyle, Oxford History of the French Revolution, 92–94. For more information about the prerevolutionary phase, also see Doyle, Origins of the French Revolution, 131–77, and Egret, The French Pre-revolution.
[6. ] The declaration made by Louis XVIII (1755–1824) in May 1814 on his return to France following the defeat of Napoléon. The declaration is analyzed in detail in part V of Considerations. Louis XVIII fled to Belgium a year later, when Napoléon returned to France during his Hundred Days.
[1. ] The decision of the Assembly to refuse the King the title of “Majesty” and to grant him an armchair rather than a proper throne followed the declaration of Louis XVI’s reservations toward the Constitution of 1791, a document that he had hesitated to sign at the outset. The symbolic connotations of the Assembly’s decision were far-reaching; it amounted, among other things, to an attack on the monarch’s role as an inviolable “neutral” power. As Benjamin Constant pointed out, this legal fiction (inviolability) was necessary in the interest of order and liberty itself: “Your concerns, your suspicions, must never touch him. He has no intentions, no weaknesses, no connivance with his ministers, because he is not really a man but an abstract and neutral power above the storms.” (Constant, Principles of Politics, 237)
[2. ] Ramond de Carbonnières (1755–1827), deputy of Paris; Mathieu Dumas (1753–1837), deputy from Seine-et-Oise. Jaucourt (1757–1852) became a member of the Tribunate in 1800 and later a peer of France during the Bourbon Restoration. Beugnot (1761–1835), deputy from Aube, was minister of the interior during the first Bourbon Restoration (1814–15) and played an important role in drafting the Charter of 1814. Stanislas de Girardin (1762–1827), after serving in the Legislative Assembly, had a long career in administration under the Empire and the Restoration.
[3. ] See A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 380–92, 458–73.
[4. ] Merlin de Thionville (1762–1833), deputy from Moselle and member of the extreme left. After the fall of Robespierre in July 1794, he persecuted the Jacobins and became a member of the Council of Five Hundred. Bazire (1761–94), deputy from Côte-d’Or and enemy of the Girondins, was executed on April 5, 1794. Chabot (1756–94), deputy from Lois-et-Cher, voted for the death of Louis XVI. He was arrested in November 1793 and executed the same day as Bazire.
[5. ] Jacques-Pierre Brissot (1754–93), important journalist, deputy from Paris, and a leading member of the Girondins. He visited the United States in 1788 and later distinguished himself through his participation in the declarations of war against England and Austria and his opposition to the Mountain and Robespierre. He was arrested in June 1793 as he was trying to flee for Switzerland and was executed four months later.
[6. ] Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet (1743–94); prominent philosopher and mathematician; deputy from Paris; cofounder (with Sieyès) of the Society of 1789; and author of, among many writings, Esquisse d’un tableau des progrès de l’esprit humain and Sur le nécessité d’établir en France une Constitution nouvelle (1793). He was arrested in March 1794 and died in prison a few months later. He defended a liberal agenda that included free public education and equal rights for women. On his political thought, see Baker, Condorcet: From Natural Philosophy to Social Mathematics.
[1. ] Reference to the law of May 27, 1792, vetoed by the King, which led to the events of June 20 and August 10, 1792, and the subsequent fall of the monarchy.
[1. ] For Burke’s writings on the French Revolution after 1790, see his Further Reflections on the Revolution in France.
[* ] Burke’s Works, vol. iii. p. 179.
[† ] Ibid., p. 183.
[2. ] The Declaration of Pilnitz (August 27, 1791) was signed by Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II and King Frederick William II of Prussia, who expressed their intention to help the king of France in case of need. The assemblies at Koblenz were organized by the émigrés.
[3. ] A notable exception in this regard was Robespierre.
[4. ] Austria, England, and Prussia followed closely the political developments in France and in 1791 began contemplating the possibility of intervening to support Louis XVI and restore order. The actual war began in April 1792, when France declared war on Austria; Prussia joined the Austrian side a few weeks later and invaded France in July. The battle of Valmy (September 20, 1792) stopped the march of the Prussian armies, which subsequently retreated from France. In November, the French occupied Belgium.
[5. ] Leopold II (1747–92), Duke of Tuscany (1765–90), the penultimate Holy Roman Emperor (1790–92), and son of Empress Maria Theresa, personified the image of the enlightened monarch. As Grand Duke of Tuscany, Leopold endorsed a progressive constitution that, had it been ratified, would have been the first free, written liberal constitution of Europe. In the end, Emperor Joseph II opposed its ratification.
[6. ] On December 21, 1791.
[7. ] Louis de Narbonne-Lara (1755–1813) was nominated minister of war on December 6, 1791, and retained his position until March 9, 1792 (he emigrated soon after that). Many believed Narbonne to be the illegitimate son of Louis XV. He was one of Madame de Staël’s lovers and arguably the father of her first two children. For a selection of their correspondence, see Madame de Staël, ses amis, ses correspondants. Choix de lettres (1778–1817), 71–79, 81–83, 94–100, 107–8, 113–15.
[1. ] Catherine de Médicis.
[2. ] The Girondists accused the minister of foreign affairs, de Lessart, whose arrest eventually led to the fall of the Feuillants in March 1792.
[3. ] On May 29, 1792.
[4. ] On April 9, 1792, the Legislative Assembly honored the Swiss soldiers from the Chateauvieux regiment. They revolted at Nancy in August 1790 and were subsequently arrested.
[5. ] The massacres occurred on October 16, 1791, when the “patriots” of Avignon, supporting annexation to France, massacred about sixty aristocrats who opposed this measure.
[6. ] The King twice vetoed such laws, in 1791 and 1792. This was, in fact, his second veto, which occurred after France had declared war on the European powers.
[7. ] On June 20, 1792.
[8. ] La Fayette came to Paris on June 28, 1792, and spoke in the Legislative Assembly against the rising influence of the Jacobins. In early August, Debry asked the Legislative Assembly to condemn La Fayette’s behavior. The first vote was in favor of acquittal (400 votes to 224). La Fayette was, however, indicted on August 18 and had to flee Paris on the night of August 19–20. For more information on La Fayette’s role, see P. Guéniffey’s entry in A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 224–33; Gottschalk and Maddox, La Fayette in the French Revolution, vols. 1 and 2; and Taine, The French Revolution, vol. 2, 600–604.
[1. ] The Legislative Assembly received many letters protesting the events of June 20, 1792. For an account of the general background of the summer of 1792, see Taine, The French Revolution, vol. II, 596–688.
[2. ] Jean-Paul Marat (1743–93) was a prominent member of the Jacobins who advocated such violent measures as the September 1792 massacres of jailed “enemies of the Revolution” and was instrumental in launching the famous Reign of Terror. He was stabbed to death in his bathtub by Charlotte Corday.
[3. ] Not every municipality had a Jacobin club. According to some estimates, there were between five thousand and eight thousand Jacobin clubs in the country.
[4. ] Pétion de Villeneuve (1756–94) was elected mayor of Paris in November 1791 and encouraged the events of August 10, 1792. Eventually he moved closer to the Girondins. He committed suicide to avoid being arrested.
[5. ] The Marseillais arrived in Paris on July 30, 1792.
[1. ] For more details, see Godechot, La Contre-Révolution, 75–85, 176–78. The manifesto (which had actually been drafted by the conservative Marquis of Limon at the request of the Duke of Brunswick) became publicly known in Paris on August 3, seven days before the events of August 10, 1792.
[1. ] The vote took place on August 8: 400 members voted for La Fayette’s acquittal and 224 against it.
[2. ] Reference to an old French term signifying the outlying parts of a city—modern-day suburbs.
[3. ] Santerre (1752–1809) became the leader of the National Guard after the events of August 10, 1792. Westermann (1751–94) also played an important role in the events of August 10 and became later a close associate of Danton. He was arrested and executed in 1794.
[1. ] Briois de Baumets (1759–1800), member of the constitutionalist group; he immigrated to Germany and, later, America.
[2. ] They were annexed to France in January 1811.
[* ] Lady Sutherland, now Marchioness of Stafford, and then English ambassadress at Paris, showed the most devoted attentions to the royal family at that frightful period.
[3. ] Louis Pierre Manuel (1753–93), a member of the Jacobin club, took part in the events of August 10, 1792. Elected deputy to the Convention, he voted against the death penalty during the King’s trial; he was arrested and executed on November 12, 1793.
[4. ] François-Xavier de Montesquiou-Fezensac (1755–1832) was a deputy to the Constituent Assembly. A vocal critic of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, he eventually emigrated and later returned to France in 1795. During the Bourbon Restoration he served as minister of the interior (1814–15) and was elected to the French Academy.
[5. ] Marie-Thérèse de Savoie-Carignan, Princess of Lamballe (b. 1749), was killed on September 3, 1792.
[6. ] Both Collot d’Herbois (1749–96) and Billaud-Varennes (1756–1819) were deputies from Paris to the Convention and members of the Committee of Public Safety (July 1793–July 1794); as such, they played a role in planning the fall of Robespierre on 9 Thermidor. They were later deported to Guyana and died overseas. For more information, see Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled.
[7. ] Jean-Lambert Tallien (1767–1820) was one of the most active popular leaders in the storming of the Tuileries Palace on August 10, 1792. Appointed secretary to the Commune of Paris, he eventually became a rival of Robespierre and contributed to his arrest. He was a member of the Council of Five Hundred during the Directory (1795–98), but was viewed with skepticism by both the moderates (because of his role in the Terror against the Girondins) and the extreme party (for his role in the fall of Robespierre). Later, Napoléon appointed him consul in Alicante.
[1. ] In early September 1792, fifty-three political prisoners from Orléans were massacred at Versailles as they were being transferred to Saumur.
[2. ] On September 2, 1792, at the Carmes Prison in Paris.
[3. ] La Fayette went over to the Austrians on August 19, 1792. He was later arrested and imprisoned at Olmütz (1794–97).
[4. ] On September 21, 1792, a day after the battle of Valmy, which stopped the march of foreign troops toward Paris.
[5. ] Two-thirds of the French army officers (including those in the navy) had emigrated by September 1792.
[6. ] Dumouriez (1739–1823) replaced La Fayette as the leader of the Army of the North on August 17, 1792. In April 1793, he, too, defected to the enemy. He returned to France in 1803.
[1. ] On this issue, see Walzer, Regicide and Revolution; Jordan, The King’s Trial: Louis XVI vs. the French Revolution; and Ozouf’s entry on the trial of Louis XVI in A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 95–106.
[2. ]Réflexions présentées à la nation française sur le procès de Louis XVI (Berne and Paris, 1792).
[* ] The property which M. Necker possessed in France was sequestered from the very day on which his Memoire justicatif de Louis XVI appeared.
[3. ] Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes (1721–94) was a former president of the Cour des aides in the Parlement of Paris and a minister of Louis XVI’s (1775–76, 1788). He served as Louis XVI’s counsel for the defense and was subsequently arrested and executed in 1794. He was a relative of Tocqueville. For more information, see Wyrwa, ed., Malesherbes, le pouvoir et les lumières.
[4. ] Interdiction of torture to obtain confessions from those who were arrested.
[5. ] Pierre Victurnien Vergniaud (1753–93) was a prominent lawyer and a deputy to the Legislative Assembly from the Gironde. As a leader of the Girondins, he distinguished himself as one of the greatest orators of the French Revolution. During the trial of the King, he recommended a referendum on the King’s punishment and actively opposed the Montagnards and Robespierre. He fell with the other Girondins in June 1793 and was guillotined four months later.
[6. ] Louis Antoine Léon de Saint-Just (1767–94) was a prominent Jacobin leader and a close associate of Robespierre, with whom he served on the Committee of Public Safety. For more information, see Gross, Saint-Just: sa politique et ses missions.
[7. ] Biroteau (1753–93), a lawyer from Perpignan, sided with the Girondins and voted for the death of Louis XVI. He was executed in October 1793.
[8. ] Thomas Paine (1737–1809) came to France in 1791 and received French citizenship in August 1792 before being elected a deputy to the Convention. He was excluded from the Convention in January 1793 and returned to the United States in 1802.
[9. ] Dominique Garat (1749–1833) followed Danton as minister of justice in October 1792. In March 1793, he became minister of the interior before being imprisoned during the Terror. His Mémoirs historiques sur le XVIIIe siècle, sur les principaux personnages de la Révolution française were published in two volumes in 1829.
[10. ] The King’s testament was published in Soboul, Le procès de Louis XVI, 236–40.
[1. ] In its current form, only since 1529.
[2. ] From 1629 to 1640.
[3. ] The Star Chamber was the judiciary branch of the King’s Council, which assumed an important role beginning with 1487 and met in a special room of Westminster Palace with a star-painted ceiling. It was abolished in 1647.
[4. ] Prynne, Allison, Robins, Lilburne, and Williams were religious dissenters. Lilburn (1614–57) became one of the leaders of the English levelers.
[5. ] The infamous lettres de cachet allowed imprisonment without any prior judgment. The King refused to abolish them in 1788.
[6. ] On July 5, 1788.
[7. ] Laud (1573–1645), Archbishop of London and later of Canterbury, suppressed dissent and sought to strengthen the power of the king on religious matters. He was charged by the House of Commons and executed in 1645.
[8. ] In reality, the English nobles did not lose all their privileges.
[9. ] Thomas Strafford (1593–1641), a supporter of Charles I, was executed in 1641.
[1. ] Since 1793. This part of the book was written in 1816.
[2. ] After the battle of Valmy (September 20, 1792), the French armies advanced beyond the borders of France. Dumouriez occupied Belgium and gained possession of Anvers’s strategic location. The war between France and England began on February 1, 1793. Economic reasons played an important role, as the French occupation of Anvers threatened the commerce of the English in the North Sea.
[3. ] The mutiny of the fleet occurred from April 15 to June 30, 1797. Revolutionary societies also began to appear in England in 1789, and they were regarded with skepticism by Whigs (like Burke) and Tories alike. According to Burke, there were some forty thousand Jacobin sympathizers in England in 1793.
[4. ] Fox was opposed to the war with France.
[5. ] William Pitt (1759–1806), famous Tory leader and opponent of the French Revolution, served as prime minister from 1783 to 1800.
[* ] The most exact details on this affair are to be found in the excellent work of M. Emmanuel de Toulongeon, entitled History of France from 1789. It is of importance to strangers that they be made acquainted with the trustworthy writings of the Revolution; for never was there published on any subject so great a number of books and pamphlets in which falsehood turned itself into so many forms, that it might supply the place of talent and satisfy vanities of a thousand kinds.
[6. ] He was released only in 1797.
[7. ] William Windham (1750–1810) served as secretary of war 1794–1801 and 1806–7.
[8. ] The King’s attempt to arrest John Pym (1584–1643) in 1642 triggered the insurrection that eventually led to the civil war. John Hampden (1595–1643) opposed royal absolutism and supported Pym in Parliament. Lord Falkland (1610–43) was a partisan of the King. Francis Russell, Earl of Bedford, opposed royal absolutism.
[9. ] See Hume’s History of England, vol. V (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1983).
[10. ] Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois (1749–96) was a member of the Committee of Public Safety during the Reign of Terror and one of the authors of the first French republican Constitution of 1793.
[11. ] See Burke’s “An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs,” in Burke, Further Reflections on the Revolution in France, 73–201. The break between Burke and Fox had occurred during the debates on the Quebec Bill (May 1791). Fox dismissed Burke’s “A Letter to a Member of National Assembly” as “sheer madness.” Madame de Staël’s praise of Pitt might be read as a vicarious critique of Burke’s unwillingness to distinguish between the ideas of 1789 and those of the Terror of 1793–94.
[1. ] The name given by the Crusaders to the chief of a Mohammedan sect called the “Assassins.”
[1. ] Reference to the revolts in Haiti in 1791–92.
[2. ] This idea would play a key role in Tocqueville’s The Old Régime and the Revolution.
[3. ] The Montagnards (the Mountain) presented a new constitution in June 1793, soon after the fall of the Girondins. It was drafted by, among others, Hérault de Séchelles (1759–94). Although approved by referendum, the constitution of 1793 was never applied.
[4. ] On October 29–30, 1793.
[5. ] The Committee of Public Safety was officially established on April 6, 1793, replacing the Committee of General Defense. Robespierre, Carnot, and Saint-Just were among its twelve members. The Committee of Public Safety gave official acknowledgment to the doctrine of reason of state and ruled according to the belief that extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary methods, as illustrated by these famous words of Marat: “It is through violence that liberty must be established, and the time has come to arrange for a temporary despotism of liberty in order to crush the despotism of kings.” (quoted by D. Richet in his entry on the Committee of Public Safety, in A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 476) The Reign of Terror was officially declared on September 5, 1793, and lasted until July 28, 1794. Madame de Staël is right to point out that the Committee of Public Safety did not rule alone but in conjunction with other rival state institutions, such as the Committee of General Security, which controlled the police, and the Commune insurectionnelle of Paris, which held military power after the fall of the monarchy on August 10, 1792. For more information, see A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 474–78; Doyle, The Oxford History of the French Revolution, 247–72; and Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled.
[6. ] Jean Sylvain Bailly (1736–93), a French astronomer who was elected a deputy to the Estates General, led the proceedings during the Tennis Court Oath and became mayor of Paris in July 1789. He became unpopular after he ordered the National Guard to disperse the crowd during the riotous assembly in the Champ de Mars (July 17, 1791).
[7. ] Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743–94), considered the founder of modern chemistry, was arrested for his position in the Ferme générale (a tax farming company) prior to 1789. He was guillotined on May 8, 1794.
[8. ] The Terror claimed approximately forty thousand victims (the estimates vary between sixteen and forty thousand) as a result of voluntary denunciations and quick trials characterized by hasty deliberations. According to Furet, the number of arrests from March 1793 to July 1794 was arguably close to a half million. The number of death sentences rose sharply after October 1793. For a good overview, see Furet’s entry in A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 137–51. A classic account can be found in Greer, The Incidence of the Terror During the French Revolution. For a more recent account, see Andress, The Terror.
[1. ] The incident occurred not far from Brest on June 1, 1794, and was reported by Barère in the Convention.
[2. ] Dugommier (1738–94), a French marshal who served in Guadeloupe and the Pyrénées.
[3. ] The revolt began on March 10, 1793, as a refusal to submit to conscription and ended nine months later. On the Vendée rebellion, see Furet’s entry in A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 165–76; and Tilly, The Vendée.
[4. ] Louis-Marie de Salgues, Marquis de Lescure (1766–93), La Rochejacquelin (1772–94), and François de Charette de la Contrie (1763–96), fought on the Vendeans’ side.
[1. ] At Coppet, in Switzerland.
[* ] M. Reverdil was chosen to preside over the education of the King of Denmark. He wrote, during his residence in the North, very interesting memoirs of the events of which he was a witness. These memoirs have not yet appeared.
[1. ] For more information, see Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled.
[2. ] For modern accounts of Robespierre’s life and legacy, see Scurr, Fatal Purity; Haydon and Doyle, Robespierre; and Andress, The Terror.
[3. ] On June 8, 1794.
[4. ] Barras (1755–1829) played a key role in planning Robespierre’s fall in 1794.
[1. ] Freedom of the press disappeared after August 10, 1792. In the revolutionary tribunals, the defendants had no legal guarantees.
[2. ] The Directory followed the Convention and preceded the Consulate (from November 2, 1795, to November 10, 1799). Five directors shared the executive power at any time. For more information on this period, see Lefebre, The Thermidorians and the Directory, 239–458.
[3. ] In the French text, “pouvoir conventionnel.”
[4. ] The treaty was signed on April 6, 1795.
[5. ] Joseph Lebon (1765–95) was a former clergyman who became a member of the Committee of General Security. He was arrested after the fall of Robespierre and condemned to death for his participation in the Terror. Jean-Baptiste Carrier (1756–94) was a deputy to the Convention who played an important role in the suppression of the Vendean revolt and, a few months later, in the fall of Robespierre. He was arrested and executed in the fall of 1794.
[6. ] Jean-Baptiste Louvet de Couvray (1760–97), deputy to the Convention and later a member of the Council of Five Hundred.
[7. ] Reference to Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
[8. ] François Antoine de Boissy d’Anglas (1756–1828) was an eminent French lawyer and statesman who served as a deputy (from Ardèche) to the Estates General and the Convention. He distinguished himself during the Directory through his moderate constitutionalism in the debates on the drafting of the Constitution of Year III. For more information, see Gross, “La Constitution de l’an III.”
[9. ] Pierre Claude François Daunou (1761–1840) was a Girondist deputy (from Pas-de-Calais) to the Convention and the Council of Five Hundred. He also played a key role in the creation of the Institute of France; in 1819, he was given the chair of history and ethics at the Collège de France.
[10. ] Jean Denis, Count Lanjuinais (1753–1827), taught law at Rennes before 1789 and was elected to the Convention, where he became close to the Girondins after 1791. During the Directory, Lanjuinais was a member of the Council of Ancients, and during the Bourbon Restoration, he defended the principles of constitutional monarchy.
[11. ] For the text of the Constitution of Year III, see Les Constitutions et les principales lois politiques de la France depuis 1789, 73–109. An English translation can be found in A Documentary Survey of the French Revolution, 572–612. For an analysis of the Constitution of Year III, see Jainchill, “The Constitution of the Year III and the Persistence of Classical Republicanism,” 399–435. A detailed analysis of the influence of the U.S. Constitution on the Constitution of Year III can be found in Marc Lahmer’s La Constitution américaine dans le débat français: 1795–1848.
[12. ] On this issue, see Benjamin Constant’s posthumously published Fragments d’un ouvrage abandonné sur la possibilité d’une constitution republicaine dans un grand pays.
[13. ] Reference to the events of October 5, 1795, when royalists unsuccessfully tried to dissolve the Convention.
[14. ] In fact, October 5, 1795.
[15. ] October 24, 1795.
[1. ] Carnot (1753–1823) was elected a deputy to the Legislative Assembly and to the Convention. He was also a member of the Committee of Public Safety. After being appointed minister of war by Napoléon in 1800, Carnot voted against the nomination of Napoléon as consul for life.
[2. ] Reubell (1747–1807), a lawyer elected to the Estates General and deputy to the Convention, participated in the repression of the Vendean revolt and sided with the Montagnards. He was a member of the Directory from 1795 to 1799.
[3. ] La Réveillère-Lépeaux (1753–1824), lawyer, deputy to the Convention. A moderate, he left the Convention in June 1793 and fled the country to save his life. He was a member of the Directory from 1795 to 1799.
[4. ] Letourneur (1751–1817), deputy to the Legislative Assembly and the Convention. He was a member of the Directory from 1795 to 1797.
[5. ] The Law Jourdan-Delbrel (September 1798) provided for universal and mandatory conscription.
[6. ] See Burke, Select Works of Edmund Burke, vol. 3: Letters on a Regicide Peace. Lord Malmesbury opened negotiations with France in October 1796, but they failed because England, which had territorial claims overseas (the Cap and Ceylon), was prepared only to recognize the borders of France from 1792. A second unsuccessful attempt was made in July 1797.
[7. ] In June 1795.
[1. ] For more information on the reaction to Necker’s De la Révolution française, see Grange, Les idées de Necker, 400–494.
[2. ] Allusion to the coup d’état of 18 Fructidor (September 4, 1797). In 1797 Letourneur retired from the Directory and was succeeded by Barthélemy (1747–1830), a career diplomat, who allied himself with Carnot, Barras, Reubell, and La Révellière-Lépeaux and then sought help from the armies, fearing that they were losing power in the country. They called on Napoléon Bonaparte to send a general to command troops guarding the legislature at the Tuileries on 18 Fructidor, Year V. Barthélemy and Carnot were arrested and replaced by Merlin de Douai and Nicholas-Louis François de Neufchâteau. Barthélemy managed to flee to London and returned later to France after 18 Brumaire.
[1. ] The Treaty of Campo Formio was signed on October 17, 1797 (26 Vendémiaire, Year VI of the French Republic), by France and Austria. It marked the victory of Napoléon’s campaigns in Italy, although France had to surrender the Venetian republic.
[2. ] Bernadotte (1763–1844) served as minister of war in 1799 and soon after that became the brother-in-law of Napoléon, who promoted him to the rank of marshal. In 1810 Bernadotte was elected hereditary prince of Sweden; three years later, he joined the coalition against Napoléon.
[3. ] There were, in fact, two armies of the Rhine: the army of Sambre-et-Meuse (with republican leanings) and the army of Rhin-et-Moselle (with royalist leanings). As Godechot pointed out (notes to Considerations, 648, n. 173), the army of Italy also had strong republican leanings.
[4. ] Augereau (1757–1816) was sent by Napoléon to stage the coup d’état on 18 Fructidor. He was promoted to the rank of marshal in 1804.
[5. ] On February 19, 1797.
[6. ] By the Holy See.
[1. ] Former members of the Convention.
[2. ] General Pichegru (1761–1804) commanded the army of Rhin-et-Moselle in 1795–96 and was later elected to the Council of Five Hundred. He was arrested because of his collaboration with the royalist émigrés and the Austrians but managed to escape to London. In 1804 he returned to France and was involved in a coup against Napoléon. He was arrested and later died in prison.
[3. ] The complex political situation in 1796–97 stimulated political reflection in France. Benjamin Constant published De la force du gouvernement actuel et de la necessité de s’y rallier (1797), in which he called on the government’s supporters to rally around the republic in order to defend it. At the same time, Madame de Staël began writing Des Circonstances actuelles qui peuvent terminer la Révolution et des principes qui doivent fonder la république en France.
[4. ] François Barbé-Marbois (1745–1837), former intendant of Guadeloupe and Martinique, was elected to the Council of the Ancients, where he opposed the exclusion of nobles and the relatives of émigrés from public life. He was deported after 18 Fructidor, returned to France three years later, and became a senator in 1802. In 1803 he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase treaty by which Louisiana was sold to the United States. He also served as the president of the treasury until 1806. In 1814 Louis XVIII made Barbé-Marbois a peer of France.
[5. ] Tronson Du Coudray (1750–98), a lawyer, was elected to the Council of Five Hundred and was deported to Guyana, where he died shortly thereafter.
[6. ] Camille Jordan (1771–1821), a member of the Council of Five Hundred, was deported after 18 Fructidor and returned to France three years later. During the Bourbon Restoration, he allied himself with the French Doctrinaires and gained recognition as a gifted orator. Jordan’s parliamentary discourses are difficult to find today. A collection of his speeches was published after his death, accompanied by a eulogy by Ballanche and a letter by Baron de Gérando. Jordan’s analysis of the parliamentary session of 1817, “La Session de 1817, aux habitans de l’Ain et du Rhône,” triggered a long response from Bonald, who criticized Jordan’s assessment in a long article published in Le Conservateur.
[7. ] Forty-five people were deported overseas.
[8. ] Decree of September 10, 1797 (24 Fructidor).
[9. ] Application of Articles 353 and 355 of the Constitution of Year III (1795), which provided for a one-year suspension of freedom of the press.
[10. ] Beginning with January 26, 1798.
[1. ] Benjamin Constant held a similar view on this topic.
[2. ] Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Prince de Benevente (1754–1838), served as minister of foreign affairs under both the First Empire and the First Restoration and briefly as prime minister of France in 1815. He became one of the most versatile and influential European diplomats of his time. A close friend (and lover) of Madame de Staël, he went to America in 1794, returning to France two years later. For more information, see Waresquiel, Talleyrand, le prince immobile; and Cooper, Talleyrand.
[3. ] Marie-Joseph Chénier (1764–1811), writer, elected to the Convention and later to the Council of Five Hundred.
[4. ] Prince Louis de la Trémouille was the representative of Louis XVIII in Paris. In the summer of 1797, he and other royalists were preparing a coup d’état against the Directory but their plans never came to fruition.
[5. ] Jacques Marquet, Baron of Montbreton de Norvins (1769–1854), emigrated during the Revolution and returned to France in 1797. In 1810 Napoléon appointed him director of the police in the Roman states. During the Restoration, he published a four-volume Histoire de Napoléon (1827–28).
[1. ] In reality, there was no republic of Piedmont.
[2. ] See J. Godechot, La Grande Nation, chap. xii, 331–57.
[3. ] The first meeting occurred on December 6, 1797, in Talleyrand’s house. On the other meetings between Madame de Staël and Napoléon, see Godechot’s note to his 1983 French edition of Considérations (endnote 203, 650–51). Both Simone Balayé and Jacques Godechot reported rumors about earlier letters sent by Madame de Staël to Napoléon in which she allegedly courted the favor of the future emperor. Napoléon supposedly refused to answer. On this issue, also see Gautier, Madame de Staël et Napoléon.
[4. ] It is unlikely that Napoléon stopped at Coppet when he passed through Switzerland in November 1797.
[5. ] On December 10, 1797.
[6. ] On February 23, 1798, after inspecting the army, Napoléon submitted a report to the Directory in which he commented on the difficulty of invading England and the need to strengthen France’s naval power.
[1. ] The Vaud had been dependent on the canton of Berne and became an independent canton in 1798.
[1. ] Napoléon appointed Suchet (1770–1826) marshal of France in 1811 and a peer of France during the Hundred Days.
[2. ] On February 19, 1803.
[3. ] On March 2, 1476.
[4. ] On May 3, 1798, at Morgarten.
[5. ] The Helvetic Republic imposed by the French army lasted from 1798 until 1800.
[6. ] Geneva was annexed to France on April 15, 1798.
[1. ] Ludovico Ariosto (1474–1533), author of Orlando furioso.
[2. ] On February 15, 1798.
[3. ] On June 18, 1799, four directors (Reubell, La Reveillère–Lépeaux, Treilhard, and Merlin de Douai) were replaced by Sieyès, Ducos, Gohier (1746–1830), and General Moulin (1752–1819).
[4. ] In June 1799, the Russian and Austrian armies occupied the greatest part of Italy.