Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER V: Of the Circumstances Which Accompanied the First Return of the House of Bourbon in 1814. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER V: Of the Circumstances Which Accompanied the First Return of the House of Bourbon in 1814. - 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 the Circumstances Which Accompanied the First Return of the House of Bourbon in 1814.
When the return of the Bourbons was decided on by the European powers, M. de Talleyrand brought forward the principle of legitimacy to serve as a rallying point to the new spirit of party that was about to prevail in France. Doubtless, we cannot too often repeat that hereditary succession to the throne is an excellent pledge for tranquillity and comfort; but as the Turks also enjoy this advantage, we may well conclude that certain other conditions are necessary to ensure the welfare of a state. Moreover, nothing is more distressing at a critical conjuncture than those slogans which prevent most men from exercising their reasoning powers. Had the revolutionaries proclaimed not mere equality, but equality under the law, this qualification would have been sufficient to excite some reflection in the public mind. The case would be the same with legitimacy, if we add to it the necessity of limiting the royal power. But either of these words, “equality” or “liberty,” when without qualification, are only such as would justify sentinels who should fire on him that did not instantly give the watch-word on the demand “who comes here.”
The senate was pointed out by M. de Talleyrand to discharge the functions of representatives of the French nation on this solemn occasion.1 Had the senate the power of assuming this right? And that power, which it legally had not, was it entitled to by its past conduct? As there was not time to convene deputies from the departments, was it not at least necessary to call together the legislative body? That assembly had given proofs of decision in the latter period of the reign of Bonaparte, and the nomination of its members belonged somewhat more to France herself. However, the senate pronounced2 the forfeiture of the crown by that same Napoléon to whom it was indebted for its existence. The forfeiture was grounded on principles of liberty; why were not these recognized before the entrance of the allies into France? The senators, it will be said, were then without strength; all power was in the hands of the army. There are, we must admit, circumstances in which the most courageous men have no means of being active; but there are none that oblige men to do anything contrary to conscience. The noble minority of the senate, Cabanis, Tracy, Lanjuinais, Boissy d’Anglas, Volney,3 Collaud,4 Chollet,5 &c., had fully proved during several years that a passive resistance was possible.
Senators, among whom there were several members of the National Convention, called for the return of the old dynasty, and M. de Talleyrand boasted that on this occasion he obtained the call of Vive le Roi from those who had voted the death of Louis XVI. But what good was to be expected from this kind of address, and would there not have been more dignity in excluding these men from such a deliberation? Is it necessary to deceive even the guilty? And if they are so bent to servitude as to bow the head to proscription, what purpose is gained by making use of them? Finally, it was this senate which prepared the constitution to be presented to the acceptance of Louis XVIII; and in those articles so essential to the liberty of France, M. de Talleyrand, at that time all-powerful, admitted the introduction of a most ridiculous condition, a condition calculated to invalidate all the others: the senators declared themselves, and along with them their pensions, hereditary. That men hated and ruined should make awkward efforts to preserve their situation is perfectly natural, but ought M. de Talleyrand to permit it? And ought we not to conclude, from this apparent negligence, that a man of his sagacity was already wanting to please the nonconstitutional royalists by allowing the public to lose the respect otherwise due to the principles advanced in the declaration of the senate? This was facilitating to the King the means of disdaining that declaration and of returning without any kind of previous engagement.
Did M. de Talleyrand at that time flatter himself that by this excess of complaisance, he should escape the implacable resentment of party spirit? Had he had during life enough of constancy in point of gratitude to imagine that others would not fail toward him in that respect? Did he hope that he alone should escape the shipwreck of his party, when all history informs us that there are political hatreds which never admit of reconciliation? Prejudiced men, whatever be the reform in question, never forgive those who have in any degree participated in new ideas; no penitence, no quarantine, can give them confidence in this respect; they make use of the individuals who have abjured; but if these pretended converts would retain a remnant of their past principles, even in small points, their fury is forthwith rekindled against them. The partisans of the old regime consider those of a representative government as in a state of revolt against legitimate and absolute power. What mean, then, in the eyes of these non-constitutional royalists, the services which the old friends of the Revolution may render their cause? They are considered a beginning of expiation and nothing more. How did M. de Talleyrand not feel that, for the interest of the King as for that of France, it was necessary that a constitutional compact should tranquilize the public mind, consolidate the throne, and present the French nation to the eyes of all Europe not as rebels who ask forgiveness, but as citizens who become connected with their sovereign by mutual duties?
Louis XVIII returned without having recognized the necessity of such a compact; but being personally a man of a very enlightened mind, and whose ideas extended far beyond the circle of courts, he supplied it, in some measure, by his declaration of 2nd May, dated from St. Ouen. He thus granted what the nation wished him to accept; but this declaration, superior to the constitutional charter in regard to the interests of liberty, was so well conceived that it satisfied the public at the time. It justified the hope of a happy union of legitimacy in the sovereign and legality in the institutions. The same king might be a Charles II in hereditary right and a William III by his enlightened views. Peace seemed concluded between the opposing parties; the situation of courtier was left to those who were fit for it; the Chamber of Peers was composed of the men whose families were rendered illustrious by history and of the men of merit in the present age; in short, the nation hoped to repair her misfortunes by redirecting that intense activity, which had previously consumed herself as well as Europe, toward the securing of constitutional liberty.
There were only two kinds of danger that could extinguish these hopes: one, if the constitutional system was not followed by an administration with energy and sincerity; the other, if the congress of Vienna should leave Bonaparte at the island of Elba in the presence of the French army. This was a sword suspended over the throne of the Bourbons. Napoléon, by contending against foreigners to the last moment, had regained somewhat in the opinion of the French, and had perhaps more partisans at that time than during his lawless prosperity. It was thus necessary, for the support of the Restoration, that the Bourbons, on the one hand, should triumph over the recollection of victory by pledges given to liberty and, on the other, that Bonaparte should not be settled within thirty leagues of his old soldiers. No greater error could ever have been committed with regard to France.
[1. ] In early April 1814, the Senate entrusted a committee of five distinguished individuals (including Barbé-Marbois and Destutt de Tracy) with the task of drafting a new constitution that was approved on April 6. Nonetheless, Louis XVIII, taking note of the opposition of the royalists to the Senate’s project, decided to endorse a different constitutional text.
[2. ] On April 2, 1814.
[3. ] Constantin François Chasseboeuf Volney (1757–1820), eminent French philosopher and historian, deputy to the Estates General in 1789. He was the author of Les Ruins, ou meditations sur les révolutions des empires (1791). Thomas Jefferson translated the first twenty chapters of this influential book for an American edition. In 1792, Volney purchased land in Corsica and established an agrarian community (later dissolved) based on his ideals. He was arrested during the Reign of Terror. Volney subsequently traveled to the United States, where he lived until 1798. He edited Tableau du climat et du sol des États-Unis in 1803.
[4. ] General Collaud (1754–1819) was elected to the Senate in 1801.
[5. ] Chollet (1747–1826), deputy to the Council of Five Hundred from 1795 to 1799 and member of the Senate after 18 Brumaire.