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CHAPTER III. - Mary Wollstonecraft, An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution and the Effect it Has Produced in Europe 
An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution and the Effect it Has Produced in Europe (London: J. Johnson, 1795).
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administration of de brienne. dissolution of the notables. land tax and stamp duty recommended by them, but refused to be sanctioned by the parliament. bed of justice. the parliament banished to troyes,—but soon compromised for it’s recall. struggles of the court party to prevent the convocation of the states-general. banishment of the duke of orleans, and two spirited members of the parliament. cour pleniere. remarks on the parliaments. imprisonment of the members. deputies of the province of britanny sent to the bastille. the soldiery let loose upon the people.
After the dismission of Calonne, M. de Brienne, a man whose talents Turgot had overrated, was now chosen by the queen, because he had formerly seconded her views, and was still the obsequious slave of that power, which he had long been courting, to obtain the so much envied place of minister. Having taken more pains to gain the post than to prepare himself to fulfil it’s functions, his weak and timid mind was in a continual tumult; and he adopted with head-long confusion the taxes proposed by his predecessor; because money must be had, and he knew not where to turn to procure it by an unhacknied mode of extortion.
The notables were now dissolved; and it would have been a natural consequence of the dismission of the minister who assembled them, even if their spirited inquiries had not rendered their presence vexatious to the court. This, however, was an impolitic measure; for they returned highly disgusted to their respective abodes, to propagate the free opinions, to which resentment and argumentation had given birth.
Before the breaking up of the notables, they were nevertheless prevailed upon to recommend a land and stamp tax; and the edicts were sent to the parliament to be enregistered. But these magistrates, never forgetting that they enjoyed, in virtue of their office, the privileged exemption from taxes, to elude sanctioning the first, which was to have been an equal impost, took advantage of the public odiousness of the second; thus avoiding, with a show of patriotism, an avowed opposition to the interest of the people, that would clearly have proved, how much dearer they held their own.
The gaudy and meretricious pageantry of the court was now displayed, to intimidate the parliament, at what was termed a bed of justice, though in reality of all justice a solemn mockery; and, whilst pretending to consult them, the edicts were enregistered by a mandate of state. The parliament, in the mean time, making a merit of necessity, declared, that the right of sanctioning the impost belonged only to the states-general, the convocation of which they demanded. Provoked by their sturdy opposition, the court banished them to Troyes; and they compromised for their recall by enregistering the prolongation of the deuxieme vingtieme, a cowardly desertion of their former ground.
A century before (a proof of the progress of reason) the people, digesting their disappointment, would have submitted, with brutal acquiescence, to the majestic will of the king, without daring to scan it’s import; but now, recognizing their own dignity, they insisted, that all authority, which did not originate with them, was illegal and despotic, and loudly resounded the grand truth—That it was necessary to convoke the states-general. The government, however, like a dying wretch cut off by intemperance, whilst the lust of enjoyment still remaining prompts him to exhaust his strength by struggling with death, fought some time longer inauspiciously for existence, depending on the succour of the court empirics, who vainly flattered themselves, that they could prevent it’s dissolution. From the moment, indeed, that Brienne succeeded Calonne, all the machinery, which the demon of despotism could invent, was put in motion, to divert the current of opinion, bearing on it’s fair bosom the new sentiments of liberty with irresistible force, and overwhelming, as it swelled, the perishing monuments of venerable folly, and the fragile barriers of superstitious ignorance.
But supplies were still wanting; and the court, being fruitful in stratagems to procure a loan, which was the necessary lever of it’s insidious designs, coalesced with some of the members of the parliament, and the agreement was to have been ratified in a séance royale. Yet, as the parliament had determined to be governed by a clear majority, the scheme of the keeper of the seals, who intended to have the business hurried over without telling the votes, was completely defeated.
The discovery of this unfair attempt made the indignant magistrates, glad to seize an occasion to recover their popularity, maintain with boldness their own character, and the interest of the people. The duke of Orleans, also, somewhat tauntingly suggesting to the king, that this was only another bed of justice, was exiled, with two other members, who had remonstrated with courage. These magistrates, now become the objects of public adoration, were considered by the grateful public as their only bulwark against the attacks of the ministry; which continued to harrass invention, to contrive means to counteract a concurrence of circumstances, that were driving before them all opposition.
The court, for I consider the government, at this period, completely at an end, continued to stumble out of one blunder into another, till at last they rested all their hopes on the popular reforms projected by Brienne, in conjunction with Lamoignon, a man with more strength of character, to cajole the people and crush the parliament. Several strokes, the feeble blows of angry men, who wished still to retain the stolen sweets of office, were aimed at this body, calculated to mislead the people, who were also promised a reformed code of penal laws. But the time when partial remedies would have been eagerly swallowed was past, and the people saw distinctly, that their will would soon be law, and their power omnipotent. But the minister, Brienne, not aware of this, to steer clear of further opposition, proposed the plan of a cour pléniere: an heterogeneous assembly of princes, nobles, magistrates, and soldiers. A happy substitute, as he imagined, for the parliament; and which, by restoring the ancient forms of the kings of France, would awe and amuse the people. He did not consider, that their minds were now full of other objects, and their enthusiasm turned into another channel.
This conduct proved more destructive to the court than any former folly it’s advisers had committed. Imbecility now characterized every measure. The parliament however fell into the snare, and forfeited the esteem and confidence of the people by opposing some popular edicts; particularly one in favour of the protestants, which they themselves had demanded ten years before, and to which they now objected, only because it came from another quarter. Yet the court, regardless of experience, endeavoured to restore it’s credit by persecution; whilst, making all the clashing movements that fear could dictate to manifest it’s power and overawe the nation, it united all parties, and drew the whole kingdom to one point of action.
The despotic and extravagant steps taken, to give efficiency to the cour pléniere, awakened the sensibility of the most torpid; and the vigilance of twenty-five millions of centinels was roused, to watch the movements of the court, and follow it’s corrupt ministers, through all the labyrinths of sophistry and tergiversation, into the very dens of their nefarious machinations. To prevent the different parliaments from deliberating, and forming in consequence a plan of conduct together, the edict to sanction this packed cabinet was to be presented to them all on the same day; and a considerable force was assembled, to intimidate the members, who should dare to prove refractory. But, they were forewarned in time, to avoid being surprised into acquiescence: for, having received an intimation of the design, a copy of the edict had been purloined from the press, by means of the universal engine of corruption, money.
Warmed by the discovery of this surreptitious attempt to cheat them into blind obedience, they bound themselves by an oath, to act in concert; and not to enregister a decree, that had been obtained through a medium, which violated the privilege they had usurped of having a share in the legislation, by rendering their sanction of edicts necessary to give them force: a privilege that belonged only to the states-general. Still, as the government had often found it convenient to make the parliaments a substitute for a power they dreaded to see in action, these magistrates sometimes availed themselves of this weakness, to remonstrate against oppression; and thus, covering usurpation with a respectable veil, the twelve parliaments were considered by the people as the only barriers to resist the encroachments of despotism. Yet the sagacious chancellor L’Hôpital, not deceived by their accidental usefulness, guarded the french against their illegal ambition: for was it not a dangerous courtesy of the people, to allow an aristocracy of lawyers, who bought their places, to be as it were the only representatives of the nation? Still their resistance had frequently been an impediment in the way of tyranny, and now provoked a discussion, which led to the most important of all questions—namely, in whose hands ought the sovereignty to rest?—who ought to levy the impost, and make laws?—and the answer was the universal demand of a fair representation, to meet at stated periods, without depending on the caprice of the executive power. Unable to effect their purpose by art or force, the weak ministry, stung by the disappointment, determined at least to wreak their vengeance on two of the boldest of the members. But the united magistrates disputing the authority of the armed force, it was necessary to send to Versailles, to make the king sign an express order; and towards five o’clock the next morning the sanctuary of justice was profaned, and the two members dragged to prison, in contempt of the visible indignation of the people. Soon after, to fill up the measure of provocations, a deputation sent by the province of Brittany, to remonstrate against the establishment of the cour pléniere, were condemned to silence in the Bastille.
Without money, and afraid to demand it, excepting in a circumlocutory manner, the court, like mad men, spent themselves in idle exertions of strength: for, whilst the citizens of Paris were burning in effigy the two obnoxious ministers, who thus outraged them in the person of their magistrates, they were delivered up to the fury of the hired slaves of despotism, and trampled under foot by the cavalry; who were called in to quell a riot purposely excited.
Cries of horrour and indignation resounded throughout the kingdom; and the nation, with one voice, demanded justice—Alas! justice had never been known in France. Retaliation and vengeance had been it’s fatal substitutes. And from this epoch we may date the commencement of those butcheries, which have brought on that devoted country so many dreadful calamities, by teaching the people to avenge themselves with blood!
The hopes of the nation, it is true, were still turned towards the promised convocation of the states-general; which every day became more necessary. But the infatuated ministers, though unable to devise any scheme to extricate themselves out of the crowd of difficulties, into which they had heedlessly plunged, could not think of convening a power, which they foresaw, without any great stretch of sagacity, would quickly annihilate their own.
The ferment, mean time, continued, and the blood that had been shed served only to increase it; nay, the citizens of Grenoble prepared with calmness to resist force by force, and the myrmidons of tyranny might have found it a serious contest, if the intelligence of the dismission of the ministers had not produced one of those moments of enthusiasm, which by the most rapid operation of sympathy unites all hearts. Touched by it, the men who lived on the wages of slaughter threw down their arms, and melting into tears in the embraces of the citizens whom they came to murder, remembered that they were countrymen, and groaned under the same oppression: and, their conduct, quickly applauded with that glow of sensibility which excites imitation, served as an example to the whole army, sorcing the soldiers to think of their situation, and might have proved a salutary lesson to any court less depraved and insensible than that of Versailles.