Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I: On the Emigration. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER I: On the Emigration. - 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.
[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.