Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VII: M. Necker's Last Work Under the Consulship of Bonaparte. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER VII: M. Necker’s Last Work Under the Consulship of Bonaparte. - 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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M. Necker’s Last Work Under the Consulship of Bonaparte.
M. Necker had a conversation with Bonaparte as he passed into Italy by Mount St. Bernard a little time before the battle of Marengo; during this conversation, which lasted two hours, the First Consul made a rather agreeable impression on my father by the confidential way in which he spoke to him of his future plans. No personal resentment therefore animated M. Necker against Bonaparte when he published his book entitled Last Political and Financial Views.1 The death of the Duc d’Enghien had not yet occurred; many people hoped for much benefit from the government of Bonaparte; and M. Necker was in two respects dependent upon him: both because he was desirous that I should not be banished from Paris, where I loved to live, and because his deposit of two million was still in the hands of the government, in other words, of the First Consul. But M. Necker, in his retirement, had imposed the propagation of truth as an official duty upon himself, the obligations of which no motive could induce him to neglect. He wished order and freedom, monarchy and a representative government to be given to France; and as often as any deviation from this line occurred, he thought it his duty to employ his talent as a writer, and his knowledge as a statesman, to endeavor to bring back men’s minds toward this goal. At that time, however, regarding Bonaparte as the defender of order and the preserver of France from anarchy, he called him the necessary man,2 and in several passages of his books praised his abilities again and again with the highest expressions of esteem. But this praise did not pacify the First Consul. M. Necker had touched upon the point which his ambition felt most acutely by discussing the project he had formed of establishing a monarchy in France of which he was to be the head, and of surrounding himself with a nobility of his own creation. Bonaparte did not wish that his design should be announced before it was accomplished; still less was he disposed to allow its faults to be pointed out. Accordingly, as soon as this work appeared, the journalists received orders to attack it with the greatest fury. Bonaparte distinguished M. Necker as the principal author of the Revolution: for if he loved this Revolution because it had set him on the throne, he hated it by his instinct of despotism: he would have wished to have the effect without the cause. Besides, his genius in hatred sagaciously suggested to him that M. Necker, who suffered more than anyone from the misfortunes which had struck so many respectable people in France, would be deeply wounded by being designated, though in the most unjust manner, as the man who had prepared them.
No claim for the restoration of my father’s deposit was admitted after the publication of his book in 1802; and the First Consul declared, in the circle of his court, that he would not permit me to return to Paris anymore because, he said, I had given my father such false information on the state of France. Assuredly my father had no need of me for anything in this world, except, I hope, for my affection; and when I arrived at Coppet, his manuscript was already in the press.3 It is curious to observe what it was in this book that could excite so keenly the resentment of the First Consul.
In the first part of his work,4 M. Necker analyzed the consular constitution as it then existed, and examined also the hypothesis of the royalty established by Bonaparte as it might then be foreseen. He laid it down as a maxim that there is no representative system without direct election by the people, and that nothing authorizes a deviation from this principle.5 Then proceeding to examine the aristocratical institution which was to serve as a barrier between the national representation and the executive power, M. Necker judged beforehand the Conservative Senate to be what it has since shown itself, a body to whom everything would be referred and which could do nothing, a body which received on the first of every month salaries from the very government it was supposed to control. The senators were necessarily mere commentators on the will of the Consul.6 A numerous assembly became conjointly responsible for the acts of an individual; and everyone felt more at liberty to degrade himself under the shadow of the majority.
M. Necker then foretold the suppression of the Tribunate as it took place under the Consulate. “The tribunes,” he said,
will think twice of it before they render themselves troublesome or run the risk of displeasing a senate which every year must fix their political lot and perpetuate them or not in their places. The constitution, in giving the Conservative Senate the right of renewing annually the legislative body and the Tribunate by fifths, does not explain in what manner the operation is to be executed: it does not say whether the fifth which is to give way to another shall be determined by lot or by the arbitrary selection of the Senate. It cannot be doubted that when a right of seniority shall be established, the fifth which ranks first in point of time should be selected to go out at the end of five years, and each of the other fifths in a succession arranged on the same principle. But the question is still very important when applied merely to the members of the Tribunate and of the legislative body, who are chosen together at the outset of the constitution; and if the Senate, without having recourse to lot, should assume the right of naming at pleasure the fifth which is to go out annually during five years (this is what it did), freedom of opinion will be henceforth restrained in a very powerful manner.
There is truly a singular disproportion in the power given to the Conservative Senate: it can remove from the Tribunate whomsoever it shall think fit, as far as one-fifth of the whole; yet it is not itself authorized to act in the preservation or defense of the constitution, unless by the advice and direction of the Tribunate. What a superiority in one sense, what an inferiority in the other! No part of the structure seems to have been built with symmetry.*7
On this point I would venture to dissent from my father’s opinion; there was a kind of unity in this incoherent organization; it aimed constantly and craftily at resembling liberty while it was introducing slavery. Ill-contrived constitutions are well calculated to effect such a result; but that always proceeds from the evil intention of the framer; for every sincere mind knows today in what the natural and spontaneous springs of liberty consist.
Then passing to the examination of the mute legislative body, of which we have already spoken, M. Necker says, with respect to the power of introducing laws,
The government, by an exclusive appropriation, is alone to propose laws. The English would deem themselves ruined as a free people if the exercise of such a right were taken away from their parliament, if the most important and most civic prerogative were ever to escape from their hands. The monarch himself shares in it only indirectly and through the medium of those members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, who are at the same time his ministers.
The representatives of the nation, who come from all parts of a kingdom or republic to assemble annually in the capital, and who again return to their homes in the intervals between their sessions, necessarily collect valuable notions on the improvements of which the administration of the state is susceptible. Besides, the power of proposing laws is a political faculty, fruitful in social ideas and of universal utility. In order to exercise it, it requires an investigating spirit and patriotic soul, whilst, to accept or refuse a law, judgment alone is necessary. Such was the limited office of the ancient parlements of France. Reduced to this function, and unable to judge of objects except one by one, they never acquired general ideas.†8
The Tribunate9 was instituted to denounce all kinds of arbitrary proceedings: imprisonments, banishments, blows aimed at the liberty of the press. M. Necker shows that as its election depended on the Senate, and not on the people, it was not strong enough for such a function. However, as the First Consul meant to give it many occasions of complaint, he preferred the suppression of it, whatever might be its tameness. The name alone was too republican for the ears of Bonaparte.
It is thus that M. Necker afterward expresses himself on the responsibility of the agents of power:
Let us in the meantime point out an arrangement of more real consequence, though in a way quite opposite to all ideas of responsibility, and meant to declare the agents of government independent. The consular constitution says that all agents of the government, besides ministers, cannot be prosecuted for acts relative to their functions, but in virtue of a decision of the Council of State; and then the prosecution is carried on before the ordinary tribunals. Let us observe in the first place that in virtue of a decision of the Council of State, and in virtue of a decision of the First Consul, are two things that amount to the same; for the Council does not of its own accord deliberate upon any subject; the Consul, who names and dismisses the members at his will, takes their opinions, either assembled in a body or, more frequently, distributed into sections, according to the nature of the business; and in the last resort, his own decision is the rule. But this is of little importance; the principal object of the arrangement which I have stated is to exempt the agents of the government from every species of inspection and prosecution on the part of the tribunals without the consent of the government itself. Thus, however audaciously, however scandalously a receiver or assessor of taxes may prevaricate, the First Consul must determine, before anything can be done, whether there is ground of accusation. In like manner he will be the sole judge if other agents of his authority deserve to be called to account for any abuse of power; it is of no importance whether the abuse relates to contributions, to requisitions of personal labor, to supplies of any kind, to the quartering of soldiers, and to forced enlistments, designated by the name of conscription. Never has a moderate government been able to exist on such terms. I shall not here adduce the example of England, where such political laws would be considered as a total dissolution of freedom; but I will say that under the ancient French monarchy, neither a parliament nor an inferior court of justice would have asked the consent of the prince to punish the acknowledged misconduct of a public agent or a manifest abuse of power; a particular tribunal, under the name of The Court of Aids, had the ordinary jurisdiction over claims and offenses concerning the revenue, and had no need of a special permission to discharge this duty in all its extent.
In fine, Agent of Government is too vague an expression; authority in its immense circumference may have ordinary and extraordinary agents; a letter of a minister, of a prefect, of a lieutenant of police, is sufficient to constitute an agent; and if in the exercise of their functions they are all out of the reach of justice, without a special permission from the prince, the government will have in its hands men whom such an exemption will render very bold, and who will likewise be sheltered from shame by their direct dependence on the supreme authority. What chosen instruments for tyranny!10
Might we not say that M. Necker, when he wrote these words in 1802, foresaw what the Emperor has since done with his Council of State? We have seen the functions of the judicial order pass gradually into the hands of that administrative authority, which was without responsibility as it was without bounds; we have even seen it usurp the prerogatives of legislation; and this divan had only its master to dread.
M. Necker, after having proved that there was no Republic in France under the Consular government, easily concluded that it was Bonaparte’s intention to arrive at royalty; and he then developed in a very forcible manner the difficulty of establishing a moderate monarchy,11 without having recourse to great nobles previously existing, who are usually inseparable from a prince of ancient lineage. Military glory may certainly supply the place of ancestors; it acts upon the imagination even more powerfully than recollections; but as a king must surround himself with superior ranks, it is impossible to find a sufficient number of citizens illustrious by their exploits to constitute an aristocracy altogether new which may serve as a barrier to the authority which had created it. Nations are not Pygmalions who adore their own work; and the Senate, composed of new men chosen from among a crowd of equals, had no consciousness of energy and inspired no respect.
Let us hear on this topic M. Necker’s own words. They apply to the Chamber of Peers, such as it was hastily constituted by Bonaparte in 1815;12 but they apply especially to the military government of Napoléon, which, however, in 1802, was very far from being established as we have since seen it.
If then, either by a political revolution or by a revolution in opinion, you have lost the elements which produce great nobles, consider yourselves as having lost the elements which produce moderate hereditary monarchy and turn your views, whatever difficulties you may encounter, to another social system.
I do not believe that Bonaparte, with all his talent, all his genius, and all his power, could succeed in establishing at the present day in France a moderate hereditary monarchy. The opinion is important: I shall allege my reasons; let others judge.
I wish at the outset to observe that this opinion is contrary to what we have heard repeated since the election of Bonaparte. France, it was often said, is about to have recourse to the government of one man; that is a point gained for monarchy. But what do such words mean? nothing at all. For we do not wish to speak indifferently of monarchy elective or hereditary, despotic or moderate, but solely of moderate hereditary monarchy; and without doubt the government of any Asiatic prince that you may choose to name is more distinct from the monarchy of England, than the American Republic.13
There is an instrument, unconnected with republican ideas, unconnected with the principles of moderate monarchy, which may be used for the establishment and support of a hereditary government. It is the same which placed and perpetuated the imperial sway in the hands of the great families of Rome, the Julii, the Claudii, the Flavii, and which was afterward employed to subvert their authority: I mean military force—the praetorian guards, the armies of the East and West. May heaven save France from a similar destiny!14
What a prophecy! If I have insisted several times on the singular merit which M. Necker has had in his political works of predicting events, it is to show how a man deeply versed in the science of constitutions may know their result beforehand. It has been often said in France that constitutions are nothing and circumstances everything. Such language becomes the worshippers of arbitrary power, but the assertion is as false as it is slavish.
The resentment of Bonaparte at the publication of this work was extremely keen, because it drew an early attention to his dearest projects, and those which were the most exposed to the attacks of ridicule. A sphinx of a new species, he turned his wrath against the man who solved his riddles. The importance which arises from military glory may, it is true, supply everything: but an empire founded on the chances of battles was not enough for the ambition of Bonaparte; he wished to establish his dynasty, although he could in his lifetime support only his own greatness.
The Consul Le Brun wrote to M. Necker a letter, dictated by Bonaparte, in which all the arrogance of ancient prejudices was combined with the rude harshness of the new despotism. In it M. Necker was likewise accused of having been the man who caused a double number of deputies to be allowed to the Third Estate, of having constantly the same scheme of constitution, etc. The enemies of freedom hold all the same language, however different the situation from which they proceed. M. Necker was then advised to meddle no more with politics, and to leave them to the First Consul, who only was capable of governing France with wisdom; thus despots always consider thinking men to be superfluous in affairs. The Consul finished with declaring that I, the daughter of M. Necker, should be exiled from Paris merely on account of the Last Views on Politics and Finances published by my father.15
I have since, I hope, merited this exile by my own conduct; but Bonaparte, who took the trouble of inquiring that he might wound more effectually, wished to disturb the privacy of our domestic life by holding up my father to me as the author of my exile. This reflection occurred to my father, who gave ready admission to every scruple; but, thanks to Heaven, he was able to satisfy himself that it never for an instant haunted me.
A very remarkable thing in the last and perhaps the best political work of M. Necker is that, after having in preceding books combated with much force the republican system in France, he examines for the first time what would be the best form that could be given to that kind of government.16 On the one hand, the sentiments of opposition to the despotism of Bonaparte, which animated M. Necker, inclined him to employ the only weapons that could still reach such an adversary; on the other, at a moment when there was no reason to dread the danger of exciting the public mind too keenly, a political philosopher amused himself with examining a most important question to the full extent of the truth.
The most remarkable idea in this examination is that, when once we decide in favor of a republic, instead of wishing to bring it as near to a monarchy as possible, we should, on the contrary, place all its strength in popular elements. As the dignity of such an institution reposes only on the assent of the nation, the power which, in this case, is to fill the place of every other should be made to appear in a variety of forms. This profound maxim is the basis of that scheme of a republic of which M. Necker details all the parts—though with the often repeated caution that he would not advise a great country to adopt it.
He concludes his last work with some general considerations on finances.17 They contain two essential truths: First, the consular government was in a much better situation in this respect than the king of France had ever been, because on the one hand, the increase of territory increased the receipts, while on the other, the reduction of the debt diminished the expenses; and, besides, the taxes were more productive, though the people were less burdened, by reason of the suppression of tithes and feudal rights. In the second place, M. Necker affirmed, in 1802, that credit could never exist without a free constitution: not, assuredly, that the lenders of the present day have an enthusiastic love of liberty, but because the calculation of their interest teaches them that confidence can be put only in durable institutions, and not in ministers of finance, whom caprice has chosen, whom caprice may remove, and who, in the retirement of their closet, decide upon what is just and unjust without ever being illuminated by the broad daylight of public opinion.
Bonaparte, in truth, maintained his finances by the produce of foreign contributions and by the revenue of his conquests; but he could not have borrowed freely the most inconsiderable portion of the sums which he collected by force. It would be good advice to sovereigns in general who wish to know the truth with respect to their government, that they should judge rather from the manner in which their loans are filled up than from the testimony of their flatterers.
Though Bonaparte could find in M. Necker’s work no words concerning himself which were not flattering, he let loose against him with unheard-of bitterness the journals which were all at his command; and from that time this system of calumny has never ceased. The same writers, under different colors, have never varied in their hatred against a man who was the advocate of the most rigid economy in the finances and of such institutions in government as compel rulers to be just.
[1. ] The book was published in 1802.
[2. ] The phrase “necessary man” is from Necker’s Dernières vues de politique et de finance, 7. After calling Napoléon “a necessary man,” however, Necker went on (in sec. VIII) to draw attention to the highly complex and difficult task faced by the First Consul. For more information, see ibid., 272.
[3. ] In Ten Years of Exile, Madame de Staël acknowledged that she encouraged her father to write and publish the book. For more information, see Ten Years of Exile, pt. I, chap. viii, 38. Also see Haussonville, Madame de Staël et M. Necker d’après leur correspondance inédite, 71–142.
[4. ] Entitled Sur la constitution française du 22 frimaire an VIII.
[5. ] Necker, Dernières vues de politique et de finance, 15–17, 20–21.
[6. ] Ibid., 36–37.
[* ] Last Views on Politics and Finance, p. 41.
[7. ] Ibid., 38–40.
[† ] Last Views on Politics and Finance, p. 53.
[8. ] Ibid., 47–48.
[9. ] The Tribunate had one hundred members appointed for five years by the Senate; one-fifth of the tribunes were renewable every year. As Madame de Staël argued, in spite of its flaws, this institution could have prevented tyranny in the long run had it been allowed to function smoothly. Napoléon came into conflict with the Tribunate in 1802, after the majority of the senators had nominated Daunou, whom the First Consul profoundly disliked, as a candidate for the Tribunate. Napoléon used this pretext to expel the twenty most-independent-minded tribunes (among them Chénier, Bailleul, Daunou, and Constant) and replaced them with obedient individuals who were unlikely to challenge his authority. For more information, see Ten Years of Exile, pt. I, chap. ii, 6–7; and pt. I, chap. ix, 42–43.
[10. ] Necker, Dernières vues de politique et de finance, 72–75.
[11. ] Ibid., 196–221.
[12. ] By the Additional Act during the Hundred Days.
[13. ] Necker, Dernières vues de politique et de finance, 249–50.
[14. ] Ibid., 253–54.
[15. ] See Ten Years of Exile, pt. I, chaps. x–xi, 50–64. In 1803, Madame de Staël left France after having asked Joseph Bonaparte to plead with Napoléon to change his mind (63). She was invited to Joseph’s estate at Mortfontaine, where she spent three days (accompanied by her elder son, Auguste de Staël).
[16. ] Necker, Dernières vues de politique et de finance, 237–71.
[17. ] Ibid., 275–341.