Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VII: Of the Constitutional Charter Granted by the King in 1814. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER VII: Of the Constitutional Charter Granted by the King 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 Constitutional Charter Granted by the King in 1814.
I have a pride in here reminding the reader that the declaration signed by Louis XVIII at St. Ouen in 1814 contained almost all the articles in support of liberty proposed by M. Necker to Louis XVI in 1789, before the Revolution of the 14th of July burst forth.
That declaration did not bear the date of a reign of nineteen years,1 in which lies the question of a divine right or a constitutional compact. The silence observed in that respect was extremely prudent, since it is clear that a representative government is irreconcilable with the doctrine of divine right. All the disputes between the English and their kings have arisen from that inconsistency. In fact, if kings are absolute masters of the people, they ought to exact taxes instead of asking for them; but if they have anything to ask from their subjects, it necessarily follows that they have also something to promise them. Moreover, the King of France, having in 1814 reascended the throne by the aid of a foreign force, his ministers ought to have suggested the idea of a contract with the nation, of the consent of its deputies; in short, the idea of anything that could convey a guarantee and bear evidence of the wish of Frenchmen, even if these principles had not been generally recognized in France. It was much to be apprehended that the army which had taken an oath to Bonaparte and had fought nearly twenty years under him should regard as null the oaths required by European powers. It was thus of importance to connect and blend the French military with the French people by all possible forms of voluntary acquiescence.
What, it will be said, would you plunge us again in the anarchy of primary assemblies? By no means; that which public opinion called for was an abjuration of the system on which absolute power is founded, but the public would have aimed at no chicanery with the ministry of Louis XVIII in regard to the mode of accepting the constitutional charter. It would have been sufficient only to consider it as a contract, not as an edict of the King;2 for the Edict of Nantes of Henri IV was abolished by Louis XIV; and every act which does not rest on mutual engagements can be revoked by the authority from which it emanates.
Instead of at least inviting the two chambers to choose the commissioners who were to examine the act of constitution, the ministers caused these commissioners to be named by the King. The chambers would very probably have elected the same men; but it is one of the errors of the ministers of the old government to want to introduce the royal authority everywhere, while one ought to make a sparing use of this authority wherever it is not indispensably needed. All that we can allow a nation to do, without its leading to disorder, tends to extend information, to fortify public spirit, and increase the harmony between the government and the people.
On the 4th of June, 1814, the King came to the two chambers to make a declaration of the constitutional charter. His speech was full of dignity, talent, and propriety; but his Chancellor3 began by calling the constitutional charter a decree of reform. What a fault! Did not this imply that what was granted by the King might be withdrawn by his successors? Nor was this all; in the preamble to the charter, it was said that power in all its plenitude was vested in the person of the King, but that its exercise had often been modified by the monarchs who preceded Louis XVIII, such as Louis VI, Philippe the Fair, Louis XI, Henri II, Charles IX, and Louis XIV. The examples were certainly ill-chosen; for without dwelling on Louis XI and Charles IX, the ordonnance of Louis VI, in 1127, relieved the Third Estate of the towns from a state of servitude, and it is rather long since the French nation have forgotten this favor. As to Louis XIV, his is not the name to be introduced when we speak of liberty.
No sooner had I heard these words than I became apprehensive of the greatest future evils; for such indiscreet pretensions were still more calculated to expose the throne than to threaten the rights of the nation. The latter was at that time so powerful in its interior that nothing was to be dreaded for her; but it was exactly because public opinion was all-powerful that people could not avoid being irritated at ministers who thus put to hazard the protecting authority of the King without having any real strength to support it. The charter was preceded by the old form used in ordonnances, “We accord, we make concession and grant.” But the mere name of charter, consecrated by the history of England, recalls the engagements which the Barons obliged King John to sign in favor of the nation and themselves.4 Now, in what manner could the concessions of the Crown become a fundamental law of the state if they were nothing more than a favor from the King? Scarcely was the constitutional charter read when the Chancellor hastened to ask the members of the two chambers to swear fidelity to it. What would then have been said of a reclamation by a deaf person who should have got up to excuse himself from taking an oath to a constitution of which he had not heard a single article? Well! this deaf party was the French people; and it was because its representatives had acquired the habit of being dumb under Bonaparte that they desisted from any objection on the occasion. The consequence was that many of those who, on the 4th of June, swore to obey in all respects a code of laws which they had not even had time to understand, disengaged themselves but too easily ten months after from a promise so lightly given.
It was curious to see assembled in the presence of the King the two assemblies, the Senate and the legislative body, who had so long served Bonaparte. The senators and the deputies still wore the uniform given them by Napoléon; they made their bows turning to the rising instead of the setting sun; but their salute was as lowly as before. The Court of the House of Bourbon was in the galleries, holding up white handkerchiefs and calling Vive le Roi with all their might. The former adherents of the imperial government, the senators, marshals, and deputies, found themselves surrounded by these transports, and they had the practice of submission to such a degree that all the habitual smiles of their features served, as usual, for the admiration of power. But ought anyone who knew the human heart to put trust in such demonstrations? And would it not have been better to bring together representatives freely elected by France than men who at that time could be actuated only by interests, and not by opinions?
Although the charter was in several respects calculated to satisfy the public wish, it still left many things to be desired. It was a new experiment, while the English constitution had stood the test of time; and when the charter of the one country is compared with the constitution of the other, everything is in favor of England, whether we look to the people, to the grandees, or even to the King, who in a free country does not have the power of separating himself from the general interest.
The unconstitutional part of the royalists, whose words we are obliged incessantly to take note of, because it is above all by words that they act, have all along repeated that if the King had acted like Ferdinand VII,5 if he had re-established, purely and simply, the old form of government, he would have had nothing to dread from his enemies. But the King of Spain had the army at his disposal, while that of Louis XVIII was not attached to him. The priesthood also forms an auxiliary army to the King of Spain; in France the ascendancy of the priesthood is at an end; in short, everything forms a contrast in the political and moral situation of the two countries; and he who endeavors to compare them merely indulges his fancy without at all considering the elements of which power and public opinion are composed.
But Bonaparte, it will still be said, knew how to beguile or to control the spirit of opposition! Nothing would be more fatal for any government in France than to imitate Bonaparte. His war-like exploits were of a nature that produced a fatal illusion in regard to his despotism; still Napoléon was found unable to resist the effect of his own system, and certainly no other hand was capable of wielding that club which recoiled even on his head.
In 1814, the French appeared less difficult to govern than at any other period of the Revolution; for they were rendered passive by despotism, and they were weary of the agitation to which the restless character of their master had doomed them. But, far from putting trust in this deceitful torpor, it would have been better to encourage them, if we may say so, to want to be free, that the nation might serve as a support to the royal authority against the army. It was important to replace military enthusiasm with political interests in order to nourish that public spirit which in France always stands in need of it. But of all yokes it was most impracticable to re-establish the ancient one; and the greatest precautions should have been taken to guard against whatever recalled it. There are yet but few Frenchmen who know thoroughly what liberty is; and Bonaparte certainly did not render them nice judges of it; but all institutions tending to hurt equality produce in France the same ferment which the reintroduction of Popery caused formerly in England.
The dignity of the peerage differs as much from nobility by genealogy as a constitutional monarchy from a monarchy founded on divine right; but it was a great error in the charter to keep up all titles of nobility, whether ancient or recent. After the restoration, we met in all directions with counts and barons created by Bonaparte, by the court, and sometimes even by themselves; while the peers alone ought to be considered the dignitaries of the country, in order to destroy the feudal nobility and replace it with a hereditary magistracy which, extending only to the eldest son, would not establish distinctions of blood and family in the country.6
Does it follow from these observations that the people in France were unhappy under the First Restoration? Was not justice and even the greatest kindness displayed toward everyone? Doubtless; and the French will long repent that they were not then sufficiently aware of it. But if there are faults which justly irritate you against those who commit them, there are others which cause you disquietude for the fate of a government that you esteem; and of this description were those committed by the agents of the royal authority. The friends of liberty, the most sincerely attached to the King, wished a guarantee for the future; and their desire in that respect was just and reasonable.
[1. ] By using the phrase “De notre règne le dix-neuvième” (“in the nineteenth year of our reign”) to date the Charter on his return to France in 1814, Louis XVIII implicitly claimed that his reign had started nineteen years earlier. This apparently minor detail implied that all previous regimes, including the empire, had been illegitimate.
[2. ] The use of the word “octroi” (concession) carried strong symbolic connotations that affirmed both the royal sovereignty and the continuity with the French monarchical tradition. As such, it eliminated any possibility of conceiving of the Charter as a social contract (or social pact) between the monarch and his subjects.
[3. ] Dambray.
[4. ] Magna Carta (1215).
[5. ] Upon his return to Spain in December 1813, Ferdinand VII rejected the liberal Cádiz constitution (passed in 1812) and reestablished political absolutism and the Inquisition.
[6. ] The hereditary peerage was introduced during the Second Restoration in August 1815 and was abolished during the July Monarchy in December 1831.