Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I: Of What Constitutes Legitimate Royalty. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER I: Of What Constitutes Legitimate Royalty. - 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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Of What Constitutes Legitimate Royalty.
In considering royalty, as all institutions ought to be judged with reference to the happiness and dignity of nations, I shall say generally, but with due respect to exceptions, that princes of old established families are much more likely to promote the welfare of a country than those princes who have raised themselves to a throne.1 Their talents are commonly less remarkable, but their disposition is more pacific; they have more prejudices but less ambition; they are less dazzled by power because they are told from their infancy that they were destined to it; and they do not fear so much to lose it, which renders them less uneasy and less suspicious. Their mode of living and acting is more simple, as they are under no necessity of recurring to artificial means to strike the public, and have nothing new to gain in point of respect: the habits and traditions serve as their guides. Add to this that outward splendor, a necessary attribute of royalty, seems perfectly in place in the case of princes whose forefathers have stood for centuries at the same elevation of rank. When a man is suddenly raised, the first in his family, to the highest dignity, he requires the illusion of glory to cast into the shade the contrast between royal pomp and his former situation of a private individual. But the glory calculated to inspire the respect which men willingly bestow on ancient pre-eminence can be acquired only by military exploits; and the world well knows how the great captains and conquerors almost always conduct themselves in civil affairs.
Besides, hereditary succession in a monarchy is indispensable to the tranquillity, I will even say to the morality and progress, of the human mind. Elective royalty offers a vast field to ambition; the factions resulting from it have infallibly the effect of corrupting the heart and of diverting the thoughts from every occupation which does not point to the interest of tomorrow. But the prerogatives granted to birth, whether for founding a class of nobility or for fixing the succession to the throne in a single family, stand in need of being confirmed by time; they differ in that respect from natural rights, which are independent of every conventional sanction. Now, the principle of hereditary succession is best established in old dynasties. But in order that this principle may not become contrary to reason, and to that general good for the sake of which it has been adopted, it must be indissolubly connected with the reign of law. For were it necessary that millions should be governed by one man according to his will or caprice, it would be better, in such a case, that he were a man of genius; and genius is more likely to be found when we have recourse to election than when we are regulated by the chance of birth.
In no country is hereditary succession more solidly established than in England, although that country has rejected the legitimacy founded on divine right, to substitute for it the hereditary succession sanctioned by a representative government. All sensible people are perfectly able to understand how, by virtue of laws passed by the delegates of a people and accepted by the king, it is the interest of nations, who also are hereditary and even legitimate, to acknowledge a dynasty called to the throne by right of primogeniture. If, on the other hand, royal power was founded on the doctrine that all power proceeds from God, nothing could be more favorable to usurpation; for it is not, in general, power that is wanting to usurpers; for the same men who proffered incense to Bonaparte are at this day the advocates for divine right. All their theory consists in asserting that force is force, and that they are its high priests; we require a different worship with different ministers, and it is then only that we believe monarchy shall be durable.
A change of dynasty, even when legally pronounced, has never taken place except in countries where the overturned government was arbitrary; for the personal character of the sovereign, being then decisive of the fate of the people, it became necessary, as we have often seen in history, to dispossess those who were unfit to govern; while, in our own day, the respectable sovereign of England was accounted the ruler for a considerable time after his faculties were gone,2 because the responsibility of ministers admitted of postponing the act for a regency. Thus, on the one hand, a representative government inspires greater respect for the sovereign in those who are unwilling to transform the affairs of this world into dogmas lest the name of God should be taken in vain; while on the other hand, conscientious sovereigns do not have to fear that the welfare of the country should be wholly dependent on their individual lives.
Legitimacy, such as it has been recently proclaimed, is then altogether inseparable from constitutional limitations. Whether the limitations that formerly existed in France were insufficient to oppose an effectual barrier to the encroachments of power, or whether they were gradually infringed and obliterated, is a point of little importance: they ought to commence from this time forward, even if the antiquity of their origin could not be proved.3
One is ashamed to go back to the evidence of history to prove that a thing equally absurd and unjust ought neither to be adopted nor maintained. It has not been argued in favor of slavery that it has lasted four thousand years; nor did the state of servitude which succeeded it appear more equitable for having subsisted above ten centuries; the slave trade has never been defended as an ancient institution of our fathers. The inquisition and torture, which are of older date, have, I confess, been re-established in one country in Europe;4 but this did not, I imagine, take place with the approbation even of the defenders of all ancient usages. It would be curious to know to which generation among our fathers the gift of infallibility was granted. Which is that past age which ought to serve as a model to the present, and from which one cannot make the slightest departure without falling into pernicious innovations? If every change, whatever be its influence on the general good and progress of mankind, be censurable merely because it is a change, it will not be difficult to oppose to the ancient order of things invoked by you, another order of things still more ancient to which it has succeeded. At that rate, the fathers of those of your ancestors whom you wish to take as guides, and the fathers of those fathers, would be entitled to complain of their sons and grandsons, as of a turbulent youth impatient to overthrow their wise institutions. What human being gifted with good sense can pretend that a change in manners and opinion ought not to produce corresponding change in our institutions? Must government, then, be always three hundred years behind? Or shall a new Joshua command the sun to stand still in his course? “No,” it will be said; “there are things that ought to be changed, but the government ought to be immutable.” There could not be a more effectual way of rendering revolutions inevitable; for if the government of a country refused to participate in any degree in the progressive advance of men and things, it will necessarily be overthrown by them. Can men coolly discuss whether the form of the governments of the present time ought to be in correspondence with the needs of the existing generation, or of those which are no more? Whether it is in the dark and disputed antiquity of history that a statesman ought to look for his rule of conduct; or whether that statesman should possess the talents and firmness of Mr. Pitt, should know where power resides, whither opinion tends, and where he is to fix his point of support to act on the national feeling? For without the nation, nothing is to be done—with it, everything except that which would tend to degrade it: bayonets are the only instruments for that sad purpose. In recurring to the history of the past, as to the law and the prophets, the same thing that happened to the latter happens to history: it becomes the subject of a war of endless controversy. Shall we at present aim at ascertaining from the documents of the age whether a perverse king, Philip the Fair, or a mad king, Charles VI, had ministers who, in their name, allowed the nation to be of some account? Besides, the facts in French history, far from supporting the doctrine which we combat, confirm the existence of a primitive compact between the nation and the king, as fully as human reason demonstrates its necessity. I have, I believe, proved that in Europe, as in France, it is liberty that is ancient and despotism that is modern; also that those defenders of the rights of nations who are stigmatized as innovators have always appealed to the past. Even were this truth not evident, the result would be only a more pressing demand on us as a duty to introduce the reign of that justice which may not as yet have commenced. But the principles of liberty are so deeply engraven on the heart of man that, if the history of every government presents a picture of the efforts of power to encroach, it exhibits likewise a picture of popular struggles against these efforts.
[1. ] For an overview of the historical context of 1814–15, see Furet, Revolutionary France, 269–84.
[2. ] The reference is to King George III (1738–1820) of England. Because of severe mental illness, he was incapacitated during the last ten years of his reign.
[3. ] For more information on this topic, see bk. I, chap. xi, of Staël, Considerations.
[4. ] In 1814, by King Ferdinand VII of Spain.