Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XII: What Should Have Been the Conduct of the Friends of Liberty in 1814? - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER XII: What Should Have Been the Conduct of the Friends of Liberty 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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What Should Have Been the Conduct of the Friends of Liberty in 1814?
The friends of liberty, we have already said, could alone have contributed in an efficacious manner to the establishment of constitutional monarchy in 1814; but how ought they to have acted at that period? This question, no less important than the former, deserves also to be treated. We shall discuss it frankly, since we, for our own part, are persuaded that it was the duty of all good Frenchmen to defend the Restoration and the constitutional charter.
Charles Fox, in his history of the two last kings of the House of Stuart, says that “a restoration is commonly the most dangerous, and the worst, of all revolutions.” He was right in applying this maxim to the two reigns of Charles II and James II, whose history he was writing; he saw, on the one side, a new dynasty which owed its crown to liberty, whilst the old dynasty thought itself despoiled of its natural right by the limitation of absolute power, and consequently avenged itself on all those who had entertained such intentions. The principle of hereditary succession, so indispensable in general to the repose of nations, was necessarily averse to it on this occasion. The English then did very wisely in calling to the throne the Protestant branch, and without this change their constitution would never have been established. But when the chance of hereditary succession has given you for a monarch such a man as Louis XVIII, whose serious studies and quietude of mind are in harmony with constitutional liberty; and when, on the other hand, the chief of a new dynasty showed himself, during fifteen years, to be the most violent despot of modern times, how can such a combination in any way remind us of the wise William III and the sanguinary and superstitious James II?
William III, although he owed his crown to election, often found that the manners of liberty were not very gracious and would, if he had been able, have made himself a despot like his father-in-law. Sovereigns of ancient date think themselves, it is true, independent of the choice of the people; the popes, in like manner, think themselves infallible; the nobles are proud of their genealogy; every man and every class have their disputed pretensions. But what was there to fear at this time from those pretensions in France? Liberty had nothing to dread at the time of the First Restoration but the very calamity which befell it: a military commotion bringing back a despotic chief, whose return and whose defeat served as a pretext and a motive for the establishment of foreign armies in France.
Louis XVIII possessed the essence of a magistrate in his mind and his disposition. In as much as it would be absurd to consider time past as the despot of the present, no less would it be desirable to add, when it can be done, the support of the one to the improvement of the other. The upper chamber had the advantage of inspiring some great lords with a taste for new institutions. In England the most decided enemies of arbitrary power are found among the patricians of the first rank; and it would be a great happiness for France if the nobility would at length acquire a knowledge of, and an attachment for, free institutions. There are qualities connected with illustrious birth of which it would be fortunate that the state could avail itself. A people made only of the bourgeois could with difficulty establish itself in the midst of Europe unless it had recourse to military aristocracy, the most fatal of all to liberty.
Civil wars must end by mutual concessions, and already the great lords were observed yielding to liberty in order to please the King; the nation would have gained ground every day; the trackers of power, who scent where it lies and throw themselves on its path, did not then cling to the extreme royalists. The army began to assume a liberal tone; this was, in truth, because it regretted the loss of its former influence in the state; but at all events the cause of reason derived advantage from its ill-humor. We heard Bonaparte’s generals endeavoring to speak of the liberty of the press, of the liberty of the person; to pronounce those phrases which they had received as a watch-word, but which they would at last have comprehended by dint of frequent repetition.
The most respectable military men lamented the defeats of the army, but they recognized the necessity of putting a stop to continual reprisals, which would, in the course of time, destroy civilization. For if the Russians were to avenge Moscow at Paris, and the French Paris at St. Petersburg, these bloody marches of soldiers across Europe would annihilate all knowledge and all the enjoyments of social life. Besides, did the first entry of foreign troops into Paris efface the numerous triumphs of the French? Were these not still present to the recollection of all Europe? Did Europe ever speak of French valor but with respect? And was it not just, however painful, that the French should feel in their turn the dangers attached to their unjust wars? Finally, was that irritation which excited some individuals to desire the overthrow of a government proposed by foreigners a patriotic feeling? Certainly the European nations had not taken up arms to replace the Bourbons on the throne; and therefore the coalition ought not to have been attributed to the old dynasty: it was impossible to deny that the descendants of Henri IV were French; and Louis XVIII had conducted himself in the negotiation for peace as such, when, after all the concessions made before his arrival, he had been able to preserve untouched the old territory of France. It was not then conformable to truth to say that national pride demanded new wars; France had still a great share of glory, and if the nation had known how to reject Bonaparte and to become free like England, never would she have seen the British flag wave a second time on her ramparts.
No confiscation, no exile, no illegal arrest took place during ten months;1 what a progress was this on emerging from fifteen years of tyranny! England hardly attained this noble result thirty years after the death of Cromwell. In short, there was no doubt that in the succeeding session, the liberty of the press would have been decreed. Now to this law, the first of a free state, may be applied the words of Scripture, “Let there be light, and there was light.”
The chief error in the charter, which lay in the mode of election and in the condition of eligibility, was already acknowledged by all enlightened men, and changes in this respect would have been the natural consequence of the liberty of the press, because that liberty always places great truths in a conspicuous light. Genius, a talent for writing, the exercise of thought, all that the reign of bayonets had stifled was reviving by degrees; and if a constitutional language was held to Bonaparte, it was because people had respired for ten months under Louis XVIII.2
Some vain people complained; a few imaginations were alarmed; a few venal writers, by talking every day to the nation of its happiness, made it doubtful of it; but when the champions of thought had entered the lists, the French would have recognized the voice of their friends; they would have learned by what dangers national independence was threatened; what motives they had to remain at peace abroad as at home, and to regain the esteem of Europe by the exercise of civil virtues. The monotonous stories of war become confounded in the memory or lost in oblivion; the political history of the free nations of antiquity is still present to every mind and has served as a study to the world for two thousand years.
[1. ] From April 1814 to February 1815.
[2. ] This complex social and political context created a unique environment that triggered an exceptional revival of arts and sciences. Many writings and memoirs of that period conveyed the feeling of living in a time of great change after decades of spiritual desolation. For more information, see Craiutu, Liberalism Under Siege, 19–26.