Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VIII: Of the Conduct of the Ministry During the First Year of the Restoration. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER VIII: Of the Conduct of the Ministry During the First Year of the Restoration. - 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 Conduct of the Ministry During the First Year of the Restoration.
Several English writers on politics advance that history shows the impossibility of getting a constitutional monarchy adopted with sincerity by a race of princes who have enjoyed unlimited authority during several centuries. The French ministry in 1814 had only one method of refuting this opinion: this was by manifesting in everything the superior mind of the King, to a degree that might convince the public that he yielded voluntarily to the improved knowledge of his age; because, if he lost as a sovereign, he gained as an enlightened man. The King on his return personally produced this salutary impression on those who had contact with him; but several of his ministers seemed to make a point of destroying this great advantage produced by the wisdom of the monarch.
A man since raised to an eminent station said, in an address to the King in the name of the department of the Lower Seine, that the Revolution had been nothing else than a twenty-five-year rebellion. By pronouncing these words, he disqualified himself from being useful in public affairs; for if this revolution be nothing else than a revolt, why consent to its operating a change in all our political institutions, a change consecrated by the constitutional charter? Consistency required that this objection should be answered by saying that the charter was a necessary evil to which people ought to submit so long as the misfortunes of the times required. How could such a mode of thinking be calculated to inspire confidence? How could it confer any stability or any strength on an order of things nominally established? A certain party considered the constitution as a wooden dwelling, the inconveniences of which were to be borne with during the interval necessary to reconstruct the true mansion, the old government.1
In public the ministers spoke of the charter with the greatest respect, particularly when they proposed measures which were destroying it piece by piece; but, in private, they smiled at the name of this charter, as if the rights of a nation were an admirable topic for pleasantry. What frivolity, good heavens! and this on the brink of an abyss! Is there, then, in the habits of courts something which perpetuates levity of mind even to advanced age? Gracefulness is often the result of this levity, but it costs dearly in the serious periods of history.
The first proposition submitted to the legislative body was the suspension of the liberty of the press. The ministry cavilled about the words of the charter, which were as clear as possible; and the newspapers were subjected to censorship.2 If it was thought that the newspapers could not yet be left to themselves, it was at least incumbent on the ministry, after becoming responsible for their contents, to commit the direction of these papers (now official by the mere circumstance of the censorship) to wise men who would in no case permit the least insult to the French nation. How strange that a party evidently the weaker, weak to a high degree, as the fatal return of Bonaparte showed but too clearly! How strange that this party should assume, toward so many million men, the tone of a preacher on a fast-day! How strange to declare to all that they are criminal in various ways, at various times, and that they ought, by relinquishing every claim to liberty, to expiate the evils which they caused in their efforts to obtain it! The writers of this party would, I believe, have permitted only for one short day a representative government, had it consisted in a few deputies robed in white and coming, with halters round their necks, to ask pardon for France. Others, with a milder tone, said, as in the time of Bonaparte, that it was proper to preserve the interests of the Revolution, provided its principles were annihilated. This was saying nothing less than that they still feared the interests, and that they hoped to weaken them by separating them from the principles.
Is this a proper manner of treating a nation of twenty-five million, lately the conquerors of Europe? Foreigners in spite, and perhaps even on account, of their triumph showed much more respect to the French nation than those newspaper writers who, in every successive government, had been the purveyors of sophistic arguments for the stronger party. These newspapers, whose tone, however, was thought to be dictated by ministry, attacked all individuals, dead or alive, who had been the first to proclaim even the principles of the constitutional charter. We were obliged to hear the venerable names which have an altar in our hearts, constantly insulted by party writers without having the power of replying, without being able even once to say how far these illustrious tombs were placed above their unworthy attacks, and what champions we have in Europe, and in posterity, for the support of our cause. But what can be done when all the discussions are ordered beforehand, and when no accent of the soul can pierce through writings devoted to the cause of meanness? At one time they insinuated the advantages of exile or discussed the objections to personal liberty. I have heard it proposed that government should consent to the liberty of the press, on condition of being invested with the power of arbitrary imprisonment; as if it were possible for one to write when laboring under a threat of being punished, without trial, for having written!
When the partisans of despotism have recourse to the bayonet, they act consistently; but when they employ the forms of reasoning to establish their doctrine, it is in vain that they flatter themselves with success in their deception. It is in vain to try to deprive a nation of knowledge and publicity; it becomes the more distrustful; and all the depths of Machiavellian policy are but wretched child’s play when compared to the strength, at once natural and supernatural, of complete sincerity. There are no secrets between a government and a people: they understand, they know each other.3 One can seek support in this or that party; but to believe that one can introduce by stealth the institutions against which public opinion is on the watch, implies a total ignorance of what the public has become in our day.
A series of resolutions tended to re-establish all things on the old footing; the constitutional charter was hemmed round in such a way as to render it eventually so different from the original whole as to make it fall, in a manner, of itself, stifled under the pressure of etiquette and ordinances. At one time it was proposed to reform the Institute which has been the glory of enlightened France, and to impose anew on the French Academy the old eulogies on Cardinal de Richelieu and Louis XIV exacted for more than a century; at another time decrees were passed for oaths to be taken in the ancient form and without reference to the charter; and when this triggered complaints, the example of England was brought forward; but it was introduced in France to sanction anything against liberty but never in favor of it. Yet it was very easy on this, as on every other occasion, to refute the explanation given to the example of England. The King of England, swearing himself to maintain the constitutional laws of the kingdom, the public functionaries take the oaths to him only. But is it worthwhile to begin an argument when the sole purpose of the adversaries is to find words to hide their intentions?
The institution of nobility as created by Bonaparte answered in truth no other purpose than to show the absurdity of that multitude of titles without reality to which only puerile vanity can attach importance. In the peerage, the eldest son inherits the titles and rights of his father; but the rest of the family returns into the class of citizens; and, as we have frequently repeated, they form not a race of nobles but a hereditary magistracy, on whom certain honors are conferred on account of the public utility of the peerage, and not in consequence of inheritance by conquest, an inheritance which constitutes feudal nobility. The titles of nobility sent in all directions by the Chancellor of France in 1814 were necessarily injurious to the principles of political liberty. For what is meant by ennobling, except declaring that the Third Estate, in other words the nation, is made up of plebeians; that it is not honorable to be merely a citizen, and that certain worthy individuals must be raised above this state of humility? Now these individuals were, in general, persons who were known to be ready to sacrifice the rights of the nation to the privileges of the nobility. A taste for privileges in those who possess them by right of birth has at least a certain grandeur; but what can be more servile than those members of the Third Estate who offer to serve as a footstool to those who wish to mount over their heads?
Letters of nobility take date in France from the reign of Philip the Bold; their principal object was to confer an exemption from the taxes paid exclusively by the Third Estate. But the old nobles of France never considered as their equals those who were not noble by birth; and in this they were right; for nobility loses all its empire on the imagination whenever it does not go back to the shades of antiquity. Thus, letters of nobility are equally to be rejected on the ground of aristocracy as on that of liberty. Let us attend to what is said of them by the Abbé de Velly, a very judicious historian,4 and acknowledged as such, not only by public opinion but by the royal censors of his time.* “The most remarkable thing in letters of nobility is that they require at the same time a financial supply for the king, who must be indemnified for the portion of taxation of which the descendants of the new noble are relieved, and an alms for the people, who undergo a surcharge in consequence of this exemption. It belongs to the Chamber of Accounts to decide on both. The king may remit both; but he seldom remits the alms, as that regards the poor. This is the place for quoting the remark of a celebrated jurist. This abolition of plebeianshipis, if the truth may be spoken, nothing more than an erasure of which the mark remains; it seems indeed rather a fiction than a truth, the prince possessing no power to reduce an entity to a non-entity. This is what makes us in France so anxious to conceal the origin of our titles of nobility, in the hope of making them appear to belong to that earliest class of gentility, or immemorial rank, which alone constituted nobility in former ages.”
On reading what has been published on these topics in Europe since the discovery of printing, or that only which is quoted from ancient chronicles, we are surprised to see how ancient in every country are the principles of the friends of liberty; and in what manner just views penetrate through the superstitions of certain periods in the minds of those who have in any way published their independent reflections. We have certainly on our side the reason of every age, and this cannot be denied to form a kind of legitimacy like any other.
Religion being one of the grand springs of every government, the conduct to be held in that respect necessarily occupied the serious attention of ministers; and the principle in the charter which it was incumbent on them to maintain with the greatest scruple was universal toleration. Although there still exists in the south of France some traces of that fanaticism which so long caused blood to be shed in these provinces, although the ignorance of some of the inhabitants of that country is equal to their warmth of temper, was it necessary to allow the Protestants to be insulted in the streets by sanguinary songs announcing the assassinations which were subsequently committed?5 Was it not time for the purchasers of church lands to tremble when they saw the Protestants of the south marked out for massacre? Did not the peasantry, who pay neither tithe nor feudal dues, see their cause also in that of the Protestants; in short, in that of the principles of the Revolution, acknowledged by the King himself, but constantly evaded by the ministers? There are complaints, and but too just complaints in France, of a want of religion in the people; but if the intention be to make use of the clergy to reinstate the old form of government, we may be assured that the irritation thus caused will increase incredulity.
What, for instance, could have been contemplated by substituting for the fête of Bonaparte on the 15th of August a procession to celebrate the vow of Louis XIII which consecrates France to the Holy Virgin? The French nation has, it must be admitted, a tremendous share of warlike asperity to be made to go through so meek a ceremony. Courtiers follow this procession with due devotion for the sake of places, as married women perform pilgrimages that they may have children; but what good is done to France by solemnly attempting to re-introduce ancient usages which have lost their influence on the people? This is accustoming them to make a mockery of religion instead of reviving their former habits of veneration for it. To attempt restoring power to fallen superstition is to imitate Don Pedro of Portugal, who, when he had attained the throne, brought from the tomb the remains of Inès de Castro to have them crowned. She was no more a queen for that.
Yet these remarks are far from being applicable to the funeral ceremony in memory of Louis XVI celebrated at St. Denis on the 21st of January. No one was able to witness that spectacle without emotion. The whole heart shares in the sufferings of that princess6 who returned to the palace not to enjoy its splendor, but to honor the dead and to seek out their bleeding remains. This ceremony was, in the opinion of some, impolitic; but it excited so much sympathy that no blame could attach to it.
A free admission to all public employments is one of the principles on which the French lay the greatest stress. But, although this principle was declared sacred by the charter, the nominations made by ministers, particularly in the diplomatic department, were altogether confined to the aristocratic class. The army saw introduced into it too many general officers who had never made war but in a drawing room, and even there not always with success. In short, there was clearly no disposition but to bestow offices on the courtiers of former days, and nothing was so painful to those of the Third Estate who were conscious of possessing talent or wanted to excite emulation in their sons.
The finances, that department which is felt more immediately by the people, were in some respects managed with ability; but the promise given to suppress the long list of excise duties comprised under the name of droits reunis7 was not performed, and the popularity of the restoration suffered greatly by it.
Finally, the duty of the ministry, above all things, was to obtain that the princes should exercise no interference in public business unless in responsible employments. What would the English nation say if the King’s sons or brothers had seats in the cabinet, voted for war or peace, in short, took a share in public business, without being subjected to the first principle of that government, responsibility, from which the King alone is exempted? The proper place for princes is the House of Peers; it is there that they ought to take the oath to observe the constitutional charter, an oath which they took only when Bonaparte was marching on Paris. Was not this an acknowledgment that they had till then neglected one great means of gaining the confidence of the people? Constitutional liberty is, for the princes of the House of Bourbon, the magic word which alone can open to them the gates of the palace of their ancestors. The art which they might employ to evade the pronunciation of it would be very easily observed; and this word, like the images of Brutus and Cassius, would excite greater attention in proportion as greater pains had been taken to avoid it.
There existed no common concert among ministers; no plan recognized by the whole; the ministry of police, an institution detestable in itself, was apprised of nothing and was employed about nothing; for if there be laws, however few, what can be done by a minister of police? Without having recourse to the employment of spies, to arrests, in short, to the whole abominable edifice of despotism founded by Bonaparte, statesmen must know the direction of public opinion and the true way to act in conformity to it. You must either command an army that will obey you like a machine or derive your strength from the sentiments of the nation; the science of politics stands in need of an Archimedes to supply it with a point of support.
M. de Talleyrand, whose thorough acquaintance with the parties that have agitated France cannot be contested, being at the congress of Vienna, could not influence the conduct of government in domestic affairs. M. de Blacas,8 who had shown the most chivalrous attachment to the King in his exile, inspired the courtiers with the old jealousies of the oeil de boeuf, which do not leave a moment of repose to those who are thought to be in favor with the monarch; and yet M. de Blacas was, perhaps, of all those who returned with Louis XVIII, the most capable of forming an estimate of the situation of France, however new it might be to him. But what could be done by a ministry constitutional in appearance and counter-revolutionary in reality; a ministry composed, in general, of men who were upright, each in his own way, but who were governed by opposite principles, although the first wish of each was to please at court? Everyone said, this cannot last, although at that time the situation of everyone was easy; but the want of strength, that is of a durable foundation, created a general restlessness. It was not arbitrary strength that was desired, for that is only a convulsion from which, sooner or later, there always results a disastrous reaction, while a government established on the true nature of things goes on in a course of progressive consolidation.
As people saw the danger without forming a clear idea of the remedy, some persons adopted the unfortunate notion of proposing for the ministry of war Marshal Soult,9 who had lately commanded with distinction the armies of Bonaparte. He had found means to gain the heart of certain royalists by professing the doctrine of absolute power which he had long practiced. The adversaries of all constitutional principles feel in themselves much more analogy to the Bonapartists than to the friends of liberty, because the change of the master’s name is all that is wanted to make the two parties agreed. But the royalists did not perceive that this name was everything, for despotism could not then be established with Louis XVIII, either on account of his personal qualities or because the army were not disposed to lend itself to such a purpose. The true party of the King should have been the immense majority of the nation, which desires a representative constitution. All connection with the Bonapartists was then to be avoided, because they could not but subvert the monarchy of the Bourbons, whether they served them with integrity or aimed at deceiving them. The friends of liberty, on the other hand, were the natural allies among whom the King’s party should have sought support; for, from the moment that the King granted a constitutional charter, he could employ with advantage those only who professed its principles.
Marshal Soult asked the erection of a monument for the emigrants who fell at Quiberon; he who, during twenty years, had fought for the cause adverse to theirs: it was a disavowal of all his past life, and still this abjuration was gratifying to a number of royalists. But in what consists the strength of a general from the moment that he loses the attachment of his fellow soldiers? When a man of a popular party is obliged to sacrifice his popularity, he is no longer of use to the new party that he embraces. The pertinacious royalists will always inspire more esteem than the converted Bonapartists.
The royalists thought to gain the army by appointing Marshal Soult minister of war; they were deceived: the great error of persons educated under the old government consists in attaching too much importance to leaders of every description. In our day the masses are everything, the individuals comparatively nothing. If the marshals lose the confidence of the army, generals of equal ability with their superiors soon come forward; if these generals are overset in their turn, soldiers will be found capable of replacing them. The same may be said in regard to civil administration; it is not men but systems which shake or guarantee power. Napoléon, I confess, forms an exception to this truth; but besides that his talents are extraordinary, he has farther studied, in the different circumstances in which he has been placed, to lay hold of the opinions of the moment, to seduce the passions of the people at the time he wished to enslave them.
Marshal Soult did not perceive that the army of Louis XVIII ought to be led by principles altogether different from that of Napoléon; the plan should have been to detach it gradually from that eagerness for war, from that frenzy of conquest by means of which so much military success had been obtained and such cruel evils inflicted on the world. But a respect for law, a sentiment of liberty, could alone operate this change. Marshal Soult, on the contrary, believed that despotism was the secret of everything. Too many people persuade themselves that they will be obeyed like Bonaparte by exiling some, by removing others from office, by stamping with the foot, by knitting the eyebrows, by replying haughtily to those who address them with respect; in short, by practicing all those arts of impertinence which men in office acquire in twenty-four hours, but which they often repent during the whole of life.
The intentions of the Marshal failed from the numberless obstacles of which he had not the slightest idea. I am persuaded that the suspicion of his acting a treacherous part is groundless. Treason among the French is, in general, nothing but the result of the momentary seduction of power; they are scarcely ever capable of combining it beforehand. But a Coblentz emigrant would not have committed so many faults in regard to the French army if he had been in the same situation; for he would at least have observed his adversaries, whereas Marshal Soult struck at his former subordinates, without suspecting that since the fall of Bonaparte there was such a thing as opinion, legislation, or, in short, the possibility of resistance. The courtiers were persuaded that Marshal Soult was a superior man because he said that one should govern with a scepter of iron. But where is this scepter to be forged, when you have on your side neither army nor people? In vain do you dwell on the necessity of bringing back to obedience, of subjecting, punishing, &c.; none of these maxims act of themselves, and you may pronounce them in the most energetic tone without being any the stronger for it. Marshal Soult had shown great ability in the method of administering a conquered country; but France was not one after the foreign troops were withdrawn.
[1. ] On the one hand, the ultras accused the authors of the Charter of trying to import and artificially copy the English (unwritten) constitution without paying due attention to the old traditions and mores of France. Their motto was “Restons Français et ne soyons pas Anglais!” (“Let us remain French and not be English!”) On the other hand, the ultras sought to downplay the novelty of the Charter by arguing that the latter was grounded on the same principles that had previously underpinned the institutions of the Old Regime. This thesis appears, for example, in Vitrolles’ writings (as well as in Montlosier’s De la monarchie française, 1814).
[2. ] The Law of October 21, 1814, seemed to contradict Article 8 of the Charter of 1814 recognizing freedom of the press as a fundamental principle of the new political order: “Frenchmen have the right to publish and to have printed their opinions, while conforming to the laws which are necessary to restrain abuses of that liberty.” Nonetheless, the Charter left open the possibility of temporary (preventive) forms of censorship in order to prevent and/or punish certain abuses of freedom of the press committed by those who sought to use the press to subvert the foundations of the new political order. This was the motivation behind the Law of October 21, 1814. A liberal justification of the law was given by François Guizot in his memoirs (Memoirs to Illustrate the History of My Time, vol. 1, 394–95). Benjamin Constant took an opposite view in this debate. For more information, see Craiutu, Liberalism Under Siege, 256–62.
[3. ] On publicity and public opinion during the Restoration, see Craiutu, Liberalism Under Siege, 246–56.
[4. ] Abbé de Velly (1709–59) was the author of Histoire générale de la France (1755).
[* ] Velly, vol. iii, p. 424.
[5. ] The so-called White Terror in the region of Nîmes in 1814–15.
[6. ] Marie-Thérèse (1778–1851), daughter of Louis XVI.
[7. ] The new minister of finance, Baron Louis (1755–1837), refused to eliminate the droits réunis, indirect taxes on alcohol, tobacco, and salt.
[8. ] Pierre de Blacas d’Aups (1771–1839) had been Louis XVIII’s main adviser in exile. He later served as ambassador in Naples.
[9. ] Marshal Soult (1769–1851) led the battle of Toulouse against Wellington in April 1814. He subsequently rallied to Louis XVIII but defected to Napoléon during the Hundred Days in 1815. He returned to France in 1819 and served later as prime minister (1839–40, 1845–47).