- The Old Regime and the Revolution.
- Book First.
- Chapter I.: Contradictory Opinions Formed Upon the Revolution When It Broke Out.
- Chapter II.: That the Fundamental and Final Object of the Revolution Was Not, As Some Have Supposed, to Destroy Religious and to Weaken Political Authority.
- Chapter III.: That the French Revolution, Though Political, Pursued the Same Course As a Religious Revolution, and Why.
- Chapter IV.: How the Same Institutions Had Been Established Over Nearly All Europe, and Were Every Where Falling to Pieces.
- Chapter V.: What Did the French Revolution Really Achieve?
- Book Second.
- Chapter I.: Why the Feudal Rights Were More Odious to the People In France Than Any Where Else.
- Chapter II.: That We Owe “administrative Centralization,” Not to the Revolution Or the Empire, As Some Say, But to the Old Regime
- Chapter III.: That What Is Now Called “the Guardianship of the State” (tutelle Administrative) Was an Institution of the Old Regime.
- Chapter IV.: That Administrative Tribunals (la Justice Administrative) and Official Irresponsibility (garantis Des Fonctionnaires) Were Institutions of the Old Regime.
- Chapter V.: How Centralization Crept In Among the Old Authorities, and Supplanted Without Destroying Them.
- Chapter VI.: Of Official Manners and Customs Under the Old Regime.
- Chapter VII.: How the Capital of France Had Acquired More Preponderance Over the Provinces, and Usurped More Control Over the Nation, Than Any Other Capital In Europe.
- Chapter VIII.: That Frenchmen Had Grown More Like Each Other Than Any Other People.
- Chapter IX.: That These Men, Who Were So Alike, Were More Divided Than They Had Ever Been Into Petty Groups, Each Independent of and Indifferent to the Others.
- Chapter X.: How the Destruction of Political Liberty and Class Divisions Were the Causes of All the Diseases of Which the Old Regime Died.
- Chapter XI.: Of the Kind of Liberty Enjoyed Under the Old Regime, and of Its Influence Upon the Revolution.
- Chapter XII.: How the Condition of the French Peasantry Was Worse In Some Respects In the Eighteenth Century Than It Had Been In the Thirteenth, Notwithstanding the Progress of Civilization.
- Chapter XIII.: How, Toward the Middle of the Eighteenth Century, Literary Men Became the Leading Politicians of the Country, and of the Effects Thereof.
- Chapter XIV.: How Irreligion Became a General Ruling Passion Among Frenchmen In the Eighteenth Century, and of the Influence It Exercised Over the Character of the Revolution.
- Chapter XV.: How the French Sought Reforms Before Liberties.
- Chapter XVI.: That the Reign of Louis XVI. Was the Most Prosperous Era of the Old Monarchy, and How That Prosperity Really Hastened the Revolution.
- Chapter XVII.: How Attempts to Relieve the People Provoked Rebellion.
- Chapter XVIII.: Of Certain Practices By Means of Which the Government Completed the Revolutionary Education of the People.
- Chapter XIX.: How Great Administrative Changes Had Preceded the Political Revolution, and of the Consequences Thereof.
- Chapter XX.: How the Revolution Sprang Spontaneously Out of the Preceding Facts.
- Of the Pays D’etats, and Languedoc In Particular.
- Note Referring to Various Passages In This Volume.
- Feudal Rights Existing At the Time of the Revolution, According to the Feudal Lawyers of the Day.
- Estimate of the Various Tenures In Use In France Before the Revolution.
WHY THE FEUDAL RIGHTS WERE MORE ODIOUS TO THE PEOPLE IN FRANCE THAN ANY WHERE ELSE.
A PARADOX meets us at the threshold of the inquiry. The Revolution was designed to abolish the remains of the institutions of the Middle Ages: yet it did not break out in countries where those institutions were in full vitality and practically oppressive, but, on the contrary, in a country where they were hardly felt at all; whence it would follow that their yoke was the most intolerable where it was in fact lightest.
At the close of the eighteenth century there was hardly any part of Germany in which serfdom was completely abolished.de Generally speaking, peasants still formed part of the stock on lands, as they had done during the Middle Ages. Nearly all the soldiers in the armies of Maria Theresa and Frederick were absolute serfs.
In 1788, the general rule with regard to German peasants was that they should not leave the seigniory, and if they did that they should be brought back by force. They were subject to dominical courts, and by them punished for intemperance and idleness. They could not rise in their calling, or change it, or marry without leave from their master. A great proportion of their time was given up to his service. Seigniorial corvées were rigorously exacted, and absorbed, in some places, three days of the week. The peasant rebuilt and kept in repair his seignior’s house, took his produce to market, served him as coachman and messenger. Many years of his youth were spent in domestic service on the manor. A serf might obtain a farm, but his rights of property always remained inchoate. He was bound to farm his land under his seignior’s eye, according to his seignior’s directions; he could neither alienate nor mortgage it without leave. He was sometimes bound to sell the produce of his farm, sometimes forbidden to sell; he was always bound to keep his land under cultivation. His estate did not wholly pass to his children; a portion went to the seignior.
I have not groped through antiquated laws to find these rules; they are to be found in the code drawn up by Frederick the Great, and promulgated by his successor just before the French Revolution broke out.f
Nothing of the kind had existed for many, many years in France. Peasants came and went, bought and sold, wrought and contracted without let or hindrance. In one or two eastern provinces, acquired by conquest, some stray relics of serfdom survived; but it had disappeared every where else; and that so long ago, that even the period of its disappearance had been forgotten. Elaborate researches of recent date establish that it had ceased to exist in Normandy as early as the thirteenth century.
But of all the changes that had taken place in the condition of the French peasantry, the most important was that which had enabled them to become freeholders. As this fact is not universally understood, though it is so important, I shall dwell upon it briefly.
It has been commonly believed that the subdivision of farms began with and was caused by the Revolution. All kinds of evidence establish the very reverse.
Twenty years before the outbreak, agricultural societies deplored the subdivision of farm lands. About the same period Turgot declared that “the division of estates was so general that a property barely sufficient to maintain a family was often parceled out among five or six children, who were consequently unable to support themselves by agriculture alone.” A few years later, Necker observed that the number of small rural estates had become immense.
A few years before the Revolution a steward of a seigniory informed his employer, in a secret report, that “estates are being subdivided so equally that the fact is growing alarming: every body wants to have a piece of this and a piece of that, and farms are incessantly split into shreds.” What more could be said of our own time?
I have myself taken infinite pains to reconstruct the cadastres, so to speak, of the old regime, and I have occasionally succeeded. The law of 1790, imposing a land tax; devolved upon each parish the duty of preparing a schedule of the estates within its limits. Most of these schedules have disappeared. I have, however, discovered them in some villages, and I find, on comparing them with our modern rolls, that the number of landed proprietors was formerly one half and sometimes two thirds of what it is now; a surprising fact, as the total population of France has, since that time, increased more than twenty-five per cent.
Then, as now, a sort of mania for the acquisition of land pervaded the rural population. A judicious contemporary observer notes that “land is selling above its value, owing to the rage of the peasantry to become landowners. All the savings of the lower classes, which in other countries are lodged in private hands or invested in public securities, are used for the purchase of land in France.”
None of the novelties which astonished Arthur Young on his first visit to France appeared to him so striking as the infinite subdivision of land among the peasantry, who, he estimated, held among them one half the landed property in the kingdom. “I had no idea of such a state of things,” he writes more than once; nor, indeed, could he have, for no such phenomenon existed beyond the frontiers of France or their immediate neighborhood.
There had been peasant proprietors in England, but they were, even then, growing rare. In Germany, too, there had been, from time to time, in every section of the country, free farmers owning portions of the soil.g The oldest German customs recognized a freehold peasantry, and embraced curious regulations regarding land held by them; but the number of such landholders was always small, and their case an exceptional one.
The only portions of Germany where, at the close of the eighteenth century, the peasantry were landholders, and comparatively free, were those which bordered on the Rhine;h and it was in the Rhenish provinces that the French revolutionary fever developed itself first and raged most fiercely. Those portions of Germany which resisted the Revolution the longest were those where neither freeholds nor rural liberty had made their appearance; a significant fact.
It is, then, a vulgar error to suppose that the subdivision of property in France dates from the Revolution. It began much farther back. It is true that the Revolution was the means of bringing into market the Church property and many of the estates of the nobility; but it will be found, on examination of the sales (a task which I have occasionally had patience to perform), that the bulk of these lands passed into the hands of persons who held land already, so that no great increase in the number of landowners can have taken place. They were already, to use the ambitious but accurate expression of M. Necker, immensely numerous.i
The Revolution did not divide, it freed land. All these small landowners were bound to render various feudal services, of which they could not get rid, and, which gravely impeded a proper development of their property.
That these services were onerous can not be questioned. Still, the very circumstance which it would seem ought to have lightened their burden rendered it intolerable. A revolution scarcely less radical than that which had enabled them to become freeholders had released the peasantry of France, alone out of all Europe, from the government of their rural lords.
Brief as is the interval which divides us from the old regime, and often as we see persons who were born under it, it seems already lost in the night of time. So radical was the revolution which has intervened, that it appears to have perished ages ago, and to be now buried in obscurity. Hence there are but few persons who can give a correct answer to the simple question—How were the rural districts governed before 1789? Nor, indeed, can any precise and comprehensive answer be found in books, or elsewhere than in the official records of the time.
I have often heard it remarked that, long after the nobility had ceased to participate in the government of the kingdom, the rural administration remained in their hands, and the seigniors still governed the peasantry. This too looks like a misconception.
In the eighteenth century, all parochial business was transacted by functionaries who were not seigniorial agents, and who, instead of being chosen by the seigniors, were either appointed by the intendant of the province or elected by the peasantry. It devolved upon these officers to distribute the taxes, to repair the churches, to build schools, to convene and preside over parish meetings; to administer and superintend the expenditure of the funds of the commune; to institute or answer, on behalf of the community, all necessary legal proceedings. The seignior had lost not only the management, but even the supervision of these petty local matters. All parish officers were subject to the government or the central power, as I shall show in the following chapter. Nor did the seignior figure any longer as the king’s deputy in the parish. The execution of the laws, the assembling of the militia, the levying of the taxes, the promulgation of the king’s commands, the distribution of his alms, were no longer intrusted to the seignior. They devolved upon new functionaries. The seignior was in fact nothing more than a simple individual, isolated from his fellows by the enjoyment of peculiar immunities and privileges; his rank was different—his power no greater than theirs. The intendants were careful to remind their sub-agents that “the seignior is nothing more than the first peasant in the parish.”
The cantons exhibit the same spectacle as the parishes. Nowhere do the nobles, either collectively or separately, administer public affairs.
This was peculiar to France. Every where else, that striking feature of the old feudal system, the connection between the ownership of land and the government of its inhabitants, had been partially preserved. England was administered as well as governed by its chief land-holders. In parts of Germany, such as Prussia and Austria, the sovereigns had contrived to shake off the control of the nobility in state affairs; but they still abandoned the government of the rural districts to the seigniors, and even where they assumed to control, did not venture to supersede them.
In France, the only public department in which the nobles still had a hand was the administration of justice. Leading noblemen still preserved a right of jurisdiction over certain cases (which were decided by judges in their name), and occasionally issued police regulations for the use of their seigniories; but their jurisdiction had been so curtailed, and limited, and overridden by the royal courts, that the seigniors who still enjoyed it viewed it rather as a source of income than as a source of power.
The other rights of the nobility had shared the same fate. They had lost their political significance, but their pecuniary value had been retained and occasionally augmented.
I am alluding now only to those tangible privileges which were known as feudal rights proper, as they alone affected the people.
It is no easy matter to point out what they actually were in 1789, for their number had been immense, and their diversity prodigious. Many had disappeared altogether. Others had undergone modifications, so that the words used to describe them were not easily understood even by contemporaries; they are necessarily full of obscurities for us. Still, a careful study of the writers on feudal law in the eighteenth century, and a searching inquiry into the various local customs, permits us to range the then existing feudal rights in a few leading classes, all others being mere isolated cases.
Seigniorial corvées were almost wholly disused. Many of the tolls on highways were either substantially reduced or abolished, though they were still met with in a majority of the provinces. The seigniors still levied a toll upon fairs and markets. It is well known that they enjoyed an exclusive privilege of hunting. Generally speaking, none but they could keep pigeons or own dove-cotes. The farmers were every where bound to carry their grain to the seignior’s mill, their grapes to his wine-press. Mutation fines—a tax paid to the seignior on every purchase or sale of lands within the seigniory—were universally in force. On all land, moreover, ground-rents (cens et rentes foncières) and returns in money or kind were exacted from the proprietor by the seignior, and were essentially irredeemable. One single feature is common to all these various rules: all bear upon the soil or its produce; all are leveled at the farmer.
Clerical seigniors enjoyed the same advantages as their lay brethren; for, though there was no similitude between the Church and the feudal system in point of origin, destiny, or character, and though they were never actually incorporated into one, they clung together so closely that they seemed incrusted one upon the other.kl
Bishops, canons, abbés held feuds and seigniories in virtue of their ecclesiastical rank; convents were usually the seigniors of the village in which they stood.m They owned serfs at a time when no other seignior in France did. They exacted corvées, levied toll upon fairs and markets, owned the only oven, the only mill, the only wine-press, the only bull in the seigniory. Besides these rights as seigniors, the French clergy, like the clergy elsewhere, levied tithes.
The main point, however, to which I wish to draw attention just now, is the fact that analogous feudal rights were in force all over Europe at that time, and that in France they were far less burdensome than in other parts of the Continent. As an illustration of the difference I may cite corvées, which in France were rarely claimed and slight, in Germany universally and rigorously exacted.
More than this, the feudal rights which roused most indignation among our ancestors, as being not only unjust, but inimical to civilization—such, for instance, as tithes, inalienable ground-rents (rentes foncières), interminable rent-charges, and mutation fines, which, in the somewhat forcible idiom of the eighteenth century, were said to constitute the “slavery of the land,” were all more or less in force in England. Many of them are still in full vigor, and yet English agriculture is the most perfect and richest in the world. The English people hardly notice their existence.
How did it happen, then, that these usages roused in France a hatred so fierce that it survived its cause, and seems as though it would never be extinguished? The phenomenon is due partly to the fact that the French peasant was a landholder, and partly to his emancipation from the government of his seignior. Other causes co-operated, no doubt; but, I take it, these were the main reasons.
Had the peasantry not been landholders, they would have paid no attention to many of the burdens laid by the feudal system on real estate. Tithes, which are levied on produce, interest no one but farmers. Rent-charges are immaterial to those who do not own land. Legal hindrances to the development of property are no serious inconvenience to those who are hired to develop it for others. And, on the other hand, if the French peasantry had still been governed by their seigniors, they would have borne with the feudal rights more patiently, for they would have viewed them in the light of a natural consequence of the constitution of the country.
Aristocracies, which possess not merely privileges, but actual power, which govern and administer public affairs, may exercise private rights of great magnitude without attracting much attention. In the old feudal times people looked upon the nobility as they now look on government: they bore its impositions for the sake of the protection it afforded. If the nobility possessed inconvenient privileges and exacted onerous duties, it secured public order, administered justice, executed the laws, succored the weak, managed public affairs. It was when it ceased to do these things that the burden of its privileges began to be felt, and its very existence became inexplicable.
Picture to yourself, I beg, the French peasant of the eighteenth century, or, rather, the peasant you see today, for he is still the same; his condition has changed, but not his character. Picture him, as the documents of the time depict him, so eager for land that he saves all his money to buy, and buys at any price. In order to purchase, he is bound, in the first place, to pay a tax, not to the government, but to some neighbors of his, who have no more authority, and no more to do with public business than he. Still he buys, and puts his heart into his land with his seed. The idea that this little corner of the vast universe belongs to him alone fills him with pride and independence. But the same neighbors pass along and compel him to work on their land without wages. If he tries to protect his harvest from the game, they prevent him. He can not cross the river without paying them toll. He can not take his produce to market and sell it till he has bought leave to do so from them; and when, on his return home, he wants to consume in his family the surplus of his produce—sown by his hands and grown under his eyes—he finds he must first send his grain to their mill to be ground, and to their oven to be cooked. The largest part of the income of his little estate goes to the same parties in the shape of rents, which can not be redeemed or got rid of in any way.
Let him do what he like, he can not but meet at every step of his life these same neighbors, who interfere with his enjoyments, impede his work, consume his produce; and when he has done with these, others, dressed in black, make their appearance, and sweep off the clearest part of his harvest. Picture, if you can, the condition, the wants, the character, the passions of such a man, and estimate the store of hatred and envy he is laying up in his heart!n
The feudal system, though stripped of its political attributes, was still the greatest of our civil institutions;o but its very curtailment was the source of its unpopularity. It may be said, with perfect truth, that the destruction of a part of that system rendered the remainder a hundred-fold more odious than the whole had ever appeared.
[Note d, page 38.]date of the abolition of serfdom in germany.
It will be seen from the following table that serfdom has only been very recently abolished in the greater part of Germany. Serfdom was abolished,
- 1. In Baden not till 1783.
- 2. In Hohenzollern in 1789.
- 3. Schleswig and Holstein in 1804.
- 4. Nassau in 1808.
- 5. Prussia. Frederick William I. abolished serfdom in his domains in 1717. The code of Frederick the Great, as has been observed, pretended to abolish it throughout the kingdom, but in reality it only abolished its hardest form, leibeigenschaft; it preserved the milder form, called erbuntertahnigkeit. It did not cease entirely till 1809.
- 6. In Bavaria serfdom disappeared in 1808.
- 7. A decree of Napoleon’s, dated Madrid, 1808, abolished it in the Grand-duchy of Berg, and in several small territories, such as Erfurth, Baireuth, &c.
- 8. In the kingdom of Westphalia its destruction dates from 1808 and 1809.
- 9. In the principality of Lippe-Detmold from 1809.
- 10. In Schomberg-Lippe from 1810.
- 11. In Swedish Pomerania from 1810.
- 12. In Hesse-Darmstadt from 1809 and 1811.
- 13. In Wurtemberg from 1817.
- 14. In Mecklenburg from 1820.
- 15. In Oldenburg from 1814.
- 16. In Saxony for Lusatia from 1832.
- 17. In Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen from 1833 only.
- 18. In Austria from 1811. In 1782, Joseph II. had abolished the leibeigenschaft; but serfdom in its mild form—erbuntertahnigkeit—lasted till 1811.
[Note e, page 38.]A portion of Germany, such as Brandenburg, old Prussia, and Silesia, was originally peopled by the Slavic race, and was conquered and partly occupied by Germans. In those countries serfdom was always much harsher than in the rest of Germany, and left much plainer traces at the close of the eighteenth century.
[Note f, page 39.]code of frederick the great.
Of all the works of Frederick the Great, the least known, even in his own country, and the least striking, is the Code drawn up by his orders, and promulgated by his successor. Yet I doubt whether any of his other works throws as much light on the mind of the man or on the times in which he lived, or shows as plainly the influence which they exercised one upon the other.
This Code was a real constitution in the ordinary sense of the word. It regulated not only the mutual relations of citizens, but also their relations to the state. It was a civil code, a criminal code, and a charter all in one.
It rests, or appears to rest, on a certain number of general principles, expressed in a highly philosophical and abstract form, and which bear a strong resemblance in many respects to those which are embodied in the Declaration of the Rights of Man in the Constitution of 1791.
It proclaims that the welfare of the commonwealth and of its inhabitants is the aim of society and the limit of law; that laws can not restrain the freedom and the rights of the citizen save for public utility; that every member of the commonwealth ought to labor for the public good in proportion to his position and his means; that the rights of individuals ought to give way to those of the public.
It makes no allusion to any hereditary rights of the sovereign, nor to his family, nor even to any particular right as distinguished from that of the state. The royal power was already designated by no other name than that of the state.
On the other hand, it alludes to the rights of man, which are founded on the natural right of every one to pursue his own happiness without treading on the rights of others. All acts not forbidden by natural law, or a positive state law, are allowable. Every citizen is entitled to claim the protection of the state for himself and his property, and may defend himself by using force if the state does not come to his defense.
These great principles established, the legislator, instead of evolving from them, as the constitution of 1791 did, the doctrine of popular sovereignty, and the organization of a democratic government in a free society, turns sharp round and arrives at another conclusion, democratic enough, but not liberal. He considers the sovereign the sole representative of the state, and invests him with all the rights which he has stated belong to society. The sovereign does not figure in the Code as the representative of God; he is the representative, the agent, the servant of society, as Frederick stated at full length in his works; but he is its sole representative, he wields its whole authority alone. The head of the state, on whom the duty of securing the public welfare—which is the sole object of society—devolves, is authorized to direct and regulate all the actions of individuals in this view.
Among the chief duties of this all-powerful agent of society, I find such as these mentioned: maintaining order and public safety at home, so that every citizen shall be guaranteed against violence; making peace and war; establishing all laws and police regulations; granting pardons; annulling criminal prosecutions.
Every association in the country, and every public establishment, is subject to his inspection and superintendence in the interest of the general peace and security. In order that the head of the state may be able to perform his duties, he must have certain revenues and lucrative rights; hence he is allowed to tax private fortunes, persons, professions, commerce, industry, articles of consumption. Public functionaries acting in his name must be obeyed as he is in all matters within the scope of their duties.
Under this very modern head we shall now see a thoroughly Gothic body placed. Frederick has taken away nothing but what might impede the action of his own power, and the whole will form a monstrous being, which looks like a compromise between two creations. In this strange production Frederick evinces as much contempt for logic as care for his own power, and anxiety not to create useless difficulties in attacking what was still capable of defense.
With the exception of a few districts and certain localities, the inhabitants of the rural districts are placed in a state of hereditary serfdom; not only is the land clogged with corvées and inherent services, but, as has been seen already, similar burdens attach to the persons of the peasants.
Most of the privileges of landholders are recognized anew by the Code—or, it might be said, in contradiction to the Code; for it is expressly stated that, wherever the new legislation clashes with local customs, the latter must prevail. It is formally declared that the state can not abolish any of these privileges except by purchase, according to the legal forms.
True, the Code states that serfdom, properly so called (leibeigenschaft), is abolished in so far as it interferes with personal liberty; but the hereditary subjection which takes its place (erbuntertahnigkeit) is, after all, a species of serfdom, as the text shows.
According to the Code, the burgher remains wholly distinct from the peasant. Between the noble and the burgher, an intermediate class, consisting of high functionaries who are not noble, ecclesiastics, professors of learned schools, gymnasia, and universities, is placed.
Superior to the burghers, these personages were not to be confounded with the nobility, to whom they were clearly understood to be inferior. They could not purchase equestrian estates, or fill the highest posts in the civil service. Nor were they hoffähig; that is to say, they could but rarely appear at court, and never with their families. As was the case in France, these distinctions became more insulting in proportion to the increasing knowledge and influence of this class, which, though excluded from the most brilliant posts, filled all those where business of importance was transacted. The privileges of the nobility necessarily gave birth to irritation, which mainly contributed to cause the revolution here, and make it popular in Germany. The principal author of the Code was a burgher, but no doubt he merely obeyed the instructions of his master.
The old constitution of Europe is not in such ruin in this part of Germany that Frederick thinks it safe to allow his contempt for it to lead him to destroy its relics. Generally speaking, he deprives the nobility of the right of assemblage and corporate action; leaving to each nobleman his privileges, he limits and regulates their use. Hence it happens that this Code, drawn up by the orders of a disciple of one of our philosophers, and put in force after the outbreak of the French Revolution, is the most authentic and latest legislative document which gives a legal warrant for the feudal inequalities which the Revolution was about to abolish throughout Europe.
The nobility is declared to be the first body in the state. Men of rank, it states, are to be preferred to all others for posts of honor, if they are capable of filling them. None but they are to possess noble estates, create substitutions, enjoy rights of chase, justiciary rights inherent to noble estates, and rights of presentation to clerical livings; none but they can assume the name of their estates. Burghers, specially authorized to acquire noble estates, can only enjoy the rights and honors attached to such possessions within these limits. A burgher owning a noble estate can not leave it to an heir burgher unless he be heir in the first degree. When there are no such heirs and no heirs noble, the property must be sold at auction.
One of the most characteristic portions of the Code of Frederick the Great is its criminal provision for political offenses.
Frederick’s successor, Frederick William II., who, notwithstanding the feudal and absolutist provisions above noted, fancied he detected revolutionary tendencies in this work of his uncle’s, and refrained from promulgating it till 1794, was only reconciled to it by the excellent penal provisions which served to counteract its bad principles. Nor has there ever been any thing since devised more complete of the kind. Not only are revolts and conspiracies punished with the greatest rigor, but disrespectful criticisms of government are repressed with equal severity. It is forbidden to purchase or to distribute dangerous writings; printer, publisher, and vender are all responsible for the act of the author. Public balls and masquerades are declared to be public meetings, which can not take place without the authority of the police. Similar rules govern dinners in public places. Liberty of the press and of speech are under close and arbitrary supervision. It is forbidden to carry fire-arms.
By the side of this work, which was more than half borrowed from the Middle Ages, are provisions whose spirit borders on socialism. Thus it is declared that it devolves on the state to provide food, work, and wages for all who can not support themselves, and have no claim for support on the seignior or the commune; they must be provided with work suited to their strength and capacity. The state is bound to provide establishments for relieving the poor. It is authorized to abolish establishments which tend to encourage idleness, and to distribute personally to the poor the money by which these establishments were supported.
Boldness and novelty in point of theory, and timidity in practice characterize every portion of this work of Frederick the Great. On the one side, that great principle of modern society—that all are equally subject to taxes—is loudly proclaimed; on another, provincial laws containing exemptions to this rule are allowed to subsist. It is affirmed that all lawsuits between the sovereign and the state must be tried in the same forms and according to the same rules as all other cases; but, in fact, this rule was never carried into effect when the interests or passions of the king were opposed to it. The mill of Saint Souci was ostentatiously shown to the people, and justice was quietly made subject to royal convenience in other cases.
What proves that this Code, which assumed to be such a novelty, really made but few changes, and is therefore a curious study of German society in this section of country at the close of the eighteenth century, is that the Prussian nation hardly noticed its publication. Lawyers were the only persons who studied it; and even in our time there are many enlightened men who have never read it.
[Note g, page 41.]property of the german peasants.
Many families among the peasantry were not only free and land-holders, their property constituted a species of perpetual majorat. Their estate was indivisible, and passed by descent to one of the sons—usually the youngest—as was the case in some English customs. He was expected to endow his brothers and sisters.
The erbgütter of the peasantry were spread more or less over the whole of Germany, for the land was nowhere absorbed by the feudal tenures. Even in Silesia, where the nobility owned immense estates comprising most of the villages, other villages were possessed by the inhabitants, and were wholly free. In certain parts of Germany, such as the Tyrol and Frise, the rule was that the peasantry owned the land by erbgütter.
But in the greater part of the German countries this kind of property was an exception sometimes rarely met with. In the villages where it occurred, landholders of this kind constituted a sort of aristocracy among the peasantry.
[Note h, page 41.]position of the nobility and division of land along the rhine.
From information obtained on the spot, and from persons who lived under the old regime, it appears that in the Electorate of Cologne, for instance, there were a great number of villages without seigniors, and governed by agents of the king; that in the places where the nobility lived, their administrative powers were very limited; that their position (individually at all events) was rather brilliant than powerful; that they possessed honors and offices, but no direct control over the people. I also ascertained that in the same electorate property was much divided, and that many of the peasants owned the land they occupied. The fact was ascribed to the poverty that had long oppressed many of the noble families, and obliged them to sell their estates to the peasants for an annual rent or a sum of money. I have had in my hands a schedule of the population and estates within the Bishopric of Cologne at the beginning of the eighteenth century: it indicated that, at that time, one third of the soil belonged to the peasantry. From this fact arose sentiments and ideas which predisposed these people to a far greater extent than the inhabitants of other parts of Germany to welcome a revolution.
[Note i, page 42.]how the usury laws favored subdivision of land.
At the close of the eighteenth century it was still illegal to lend money on interest, whatever was the rate charged. Turgot says that this law was observed in many places as late as 1769. These laws are still in force, says he, but they are often violated. Consular judges allow interest on loans, while the ordinary courts condemn the practice. Dishonest debtors still prosecute their creditors criminally for having lent money without alienating the capital.
Independently of the effects which such laws as these must have had on commerce, industry, and the morals of business men, they affected the division and tenure of lands to a very great extent. They caused an immense increase of perpetual rents, as well ground-rents (foncières) as others. They compelled the old land-owners, instead of borrowing in times of need, to sell small portions of their domains, partly for a given sum, partly for a rent; hence leading, first, to the infinite subdivision of estates, and, secondly, to the creation of a multitude of perpetual rents on their little properties.
[Note k, page 46.]example of the irritation caused by tithes ten years before the revolution.
In 1779, a petty lawyer of Lucé complains in a bitter and revolutionary tone that curates and other large titheholders are selling at exorbitant prices to farmers the straw which has been paid them by way of tithes, and which the farmers absolutely need for manure.
[Note l, page 46.]example of the manner in which the privileges of the clergy alienated the affection of the people from them.
In 1780, the prior and canons of the Priory of Laval complain of being made to pay duty on articles of consumption, and on the materials required for the repair of their buildings. They argue that the duty is an accessory of the taille, and that, being exempt from the one, they ought not to be liable for the other. The minister tells them to apply to the election, with recourse to the Court of Aides.
[Note m, page 46.]feudal rights exercised by priests.—one example out of a thousand.
The Abbey of Cherbourg, in 1753, possessed seigniorial rents, payable in money or produce, in almost all the villages in the neighborhood of Cherbourg: one village alone paid 306 bushels of wheat. It owned the barony of Sainte Geneviève, the barony and seigniorial mill of Bas du Roule, and the barony of Neuville au Plein, at least ten leagues distant. It received, moreover, tithes from twelve parishes on the peninsula, some of which were at a great distance from the abbey.
[Note n, page 49.]irritation among the peasantry proceeding from the feudal rights, especially those of the church.
Letter written shortly before the Revolution by a peasant to the intendant. It is no authority for the facts it states, but it indicates admirably the state of feeling in the class to which the writer belonged:
“Though we have but few nobles in this part of the country,” it says, “it must not be supposed that real estate is free from rents; on the contrary, nearly all the fiefs belong to the Cathedral, or the archbishopric, or the collegiate church of Saint Martin, or the Benedictines of Noirmontiers, of Saint Julien, or some other ecclesiastics, against whom no prescription runs, and who are constantly bringing to light old musty parchments whose date God only knows!
“The whole country is infected with rents. Most of the farmlands pay every year a seventh of a bushel of wheat per acre, others wine; one pays the seignior a fourth of all fruits, another a fifth, another a twelfth, another a thirteenth—the tithes being always paid on the gross. These rights are so singular that they vary from a fourth part of the produce to a fortieth.
“What must be thought of these rents in kind—in vegetables, money, poultry, labor, wood, fruit, candles? I am acquainted with rents which are paid in bread, in wax, in eggs, in headless pigs, in rose shoulder-knots, in bouquets of violets, in golden spurs, &c.; and there are a host of seigniorial dues besides these. Why has France not been freed from all these extravagant rents? Men’s eyes are at last being opened; one may hope every thing from the wisdom of the present government. It will stretch a kindly hand to the poor victims of the exactions of the old fiscal system, called seigniorial rights, which could not be alienated or sold.
“What must be thought of this tyranny of mutation fines? A purchaser exhausts his means in acquiring a property, and is obliged to pay besides in expenses to secure his title, contracts, actual entry, procès-verbaux, stamp, registry, centième denier, eight sous per livre; after which he must exhibit his title to his seignior, who will exact the mutation fine on the gross price of his purchase, now a twelfth, and now a tenth. Some claim a fifth, others a fifth and a twenty-fifth besides. All rates are demanded; I know some who charge a third of the price paid. No, the most ferocious and the most barbarous nations of the known world have never invented such or so many exactions as our tyrants heaped on the heads of our forefathers.” (This literary and philosophical tirade is sadly defective in orthography.)
“What! the late king permitted the commutation of ground-rents on city property, but excluded those on farms! He should have begun with the latter. Why not permit poor farmers to break their chains, to pay off and get rid of the hosts of seigniorial dues and ground-rents, which are such an injury to the vassal and so small a gain to the seignior? No distinction should have been made between city and country, seigniors and private individuals.
“The stewards of the owners of ecclesiastical estates rob and plunder the farmers at every mutation. We have seen a recent example of the practice. The steward of our new archbishop gave notice to quit to all the farmers holding under leases from M. de Fleury, his predecessor, declared all, their leases null and void, and turned out every man who refused to submit to his rent being doubled, and to pay a large bonus besides, though they had already paid a bonus to M. de Fleury’s steward. They have thus been deprived of seven or eight years’ holding, though their leases were executed in due form, and have been driven out upon the world on Christmas eve, the most critical period of the year, owing to the difficulty of feeding cattle. The King of Prussia could have done nothing worse.”
It appears, in fact, that, with regard to Church property, leases granted by one titulary did not bind his successor. The writer of the letter states what is true when he says that feudal rents were redeemable in cities, but not in the country; a new proof of the neglect in which the peasantry lived, and of the manner in which all who were placed above them contrived to provide for their own interest.
[Note o, page 49.]Every institution that has long been dominant, after establishing itself in its natural sphere, extends itself, and ends by exercising a large influence over those branches of legislation which it does not govern. The feudal system, though essentially political, had transformed the civil law, and greatly modified the condition of persons and property in all the relations of private life. It had operated upon successions by creating unequal divisions of property—a principle carried out in certain provinces even among the middle classes (as witness Normandy). It had affected all real estate, for there were but few tracts of land that were wholly freed from its effects, or whose possessors felt none of the consequences of its laws. It affected the property of communes as well as that of individuals. It affected labor by the impositions it laid upon it. It affected incomes by the inequality of taxation, and, in general, the pecuniary interest of every man in every business: landowners, by dues, rents, corvées; farmers in a thousand ways, among others by rights of banality, ground-rents, mutation-fines, &c.; traders, by market-dues; merchants, by tolls, &c. In striking it down, the Revolution made itself perceived and felt at the same time at all points by every private interest.