- 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.
OF THE KIND OF LIBERTY ENJOYED UNDER THE OLD REGIME, AND OF ITS INFLUENCE UPON THE REVOLUTION.
IT is impossible to form an accurate conception of the government of the old regime, and of the society which produced the Revolution, without pursuing somewhat farther the perusal of this book.
The spectacle of a people so divided and narrowed into cliques, with a royal authority so extensive and powerful, might lead to the impression that the spirit of independence had disappeared with public liberty, and that all Frenchmen were equally bowed in subjection. Nothing of the kind was the case. The government was sole and absolute manager of the public business, but it was not master of individual citizens.
Liberty survived in the midst of institutions already prepared for despotism; but it was a curious kind of liberty, not easily understood to-day. A very close inspection can alone discern the precise proportions of good and evil which it contained.
While the central government was displacing all the local authorities, and absorbing the whole power of the kingdom, its action was often impeded by institutions which it had either created or refrained from destroying, by old usages and customs, by rooted abuses. These nurtured a spirit of resistance in the minds of individuals, and preserved the characters of a good many from losing all their temper and outline.
The central government had the same character, used the same means, sought the same ends that it does to-day, but its power was less. Bent on making money out of every thing, it had sold most of the public offices, and made away with the privilege of disposing of its patronage at will.s One of its passions had been the detriment of the other; its avarice had counteracted its ambition. It could not carry out its measures without employing agents whom it had not trained to the work, and whom it could not discharge for inefficiency. Its positive commands were thus often neutralized by the loose manner in which they were carried out. This strange radical vice of the system operated as a sort of check against the omnipotence of government—a breakwater, irregular in form and badly built, but still serving to break the shock and weaken the force of authority.
Again, the government had not as many favors to dispose of, in the shape of charitable assistance, honors, and money, as it has to-day; its power of seduction, like its power of control, was less.
It was not itself aware of the exact limits of its powers. None of them were solidly established or regularly recognized. Its sphere was immense, but it traversed it with uncertain step, groping its way through obscure and unknown paths. And that obscurity, which veiled the limits of its powers, and shrouded all its rights, favorable as it was to the encroachments of royalty, was likewise favorable to the defense of popular freedom.
With the consciousness of its recent rise and slender origin, the administration was invariably timid in the face of obstacles. It is a striking sight to see, in the correspondence of the ministers and intendants of the eighteenth century, how quickly this government, which was so overbearing and despotic when all was submission, lost its presence of mind at the first show of resistance, was alarmed by the mildest criticism, and terrified at the least noise. On these occasions it stopped short, hesitated, tried to compromise matters, and often withdrew from the contest at the sacrifice of a portion of its legitimate authority. Such was the course best suited to the weak selfishness of Louis XV. and the benevolence of his successor. These sovereigns, besides, never supposed for a moment that any one thought of dethroning them. They were strangers to the harshness and distrust which fear has since often planted in the hearts of rulers. They never perceived that they were trampling people under foot.
Many of the prejudices, and privileges, and false notions which stood in the way of the foundation of wholesome liberty, encouraged in many minds a spirit of independence and even insubordination.
The nobility held the government proper in supreme contempt, though they had occasional relations with its agents. Even after their power was gone, the nobles preserved some relic of the pride of their ancestors, who rebelled alike against servitude and against law. They took no thought for the liberty of the masses, and willingly allowed the government to lay its hand heavily on them; but they had no notion of submitting to it themselves, whatever resistance might cost. At the outbreak of the Revolution, the language and tone of the nobility toward the king and his agents were infinitely more haughty than those of the Third Estate, though the latter was on the point of overturning the throne, by whose side the former were to fall. The nobility claim the invention of nearly all the guarantees of the rights of the subject that were enjoyed during our thirty-seven years of representative government. Their old cahiers, in spite of their errors and prejudices, breathe the spirit of a great aristocracy.t It will always be a subject of regret that the French nobility was destroyed and uprooted instead of being subjected to the control of the laws. The error deprived the nation of a portion of its substance, and dealt liberty a wound that will never heal. The nobility had been the first class in the kingdom, and had enjoyed undisputed greatness for so many centuries, that it had acquired a high-mindedness, a self-reliance, a sense of responsibility, which rendered it the most solid portion of the social frame. Virile itself, it imparted virility to the other classes of society. Its extirpation weakened its very assailants. It can never be wholly restored—can never revive of itself; it may regain the titles and estates of its ancestors, but their spirit, never.
The clergy, who have since been abjectly servile in civil matters to any and every temporal authority, and the most audacious flatterers of any monarch who condescended to appear to favor the Church, were then the most independent body in the nation, the only one whose peculiar liberties were safe from assault.
When the provinces had lost their franchises, and the city charters were a mere name, when ten nobles could not meet to discuss business without the express permission of the king, the French Church held its periodical assemblies just as usual. Nor were the several ecclesiastical authorities without fixed limits.u Substantial guarantees shielded the lower clergy from the oppression of their superiors. No arbitrary power in the hands of the bishop schooled them to passive obedience to the king. I have no intention of discussing the old constitution of the Church; I only observe that it did not teach the priests political servility.
Many ecclesiastics, moreover, were men of rank, and carried with them into the Church the pride and intractability of their class. All held a high rank in the state, and enjoyed privileges. The very feudal rights which militated so gravely against the moral power of the Church, imparted to its individual members a feeling of independence toward the civil authority.
Above all, the possession of real estate endowed the clergy with the feelings, and necessities, and opinions, and even the passions of citizens. I have had the patience to read most of the reports and debates of the old provincial assemblies, especially those of Languedoc, where the clergy took an unusual share in the details of government, and the reports of the provincial assemblies which were held in 1779 and 1787; and, bringing to bear on these documents our modern ideas, I have been amazed to find bishops and abbés, many of whom were as eminent in holiness as in learning, report ably on the opening of a road or the construction of a canal, argue with knowledge and science on the best means of increasing the agricultural yield of lands, of improving the condition or developing the industry of the people, and prove themselves always the equals, and often the superiors of the laymen with whom they were associated.v
I venture to think, in opposition to the generally received opinion, that systems which debar the Catholic clergy from the possession of landed property, and provide for their remuneration in money, serve no interests but those of the Papacy and the temporal power and deprive the people of a very important element of liberty.
For a man whose best qualities are under foreign control, and who can have no family in the land he inhabits, there can be but one substantial motive for patriotism—the ownership of real estate. Remove that motive, and he ceases to belong to any one place rather than another. A stranger to civil society, he lives where chance has planted him, without sharing any of the interests which surround him. His conscience is in the hands of the Pope, his livelihood in those of the sovereign. He has no country but the Church. In political troubles, he thinks of nothing but its dangers and its advancement. If it be free and prosperous, what matters the rest? His normal political state is indifference. An excellent member of the Christian city, he is but a poor citizen of any other. Feelings and ideas such as his, in a body intrusted with the education of youth and the censorship of morals, can not but enervate the national spirit for all the concerns of public life.
To form a correct idea of the changes that can be wrought in men’s minds by changes in their condition, one must read once more the cahiers presented by the clerical order in 1789.
Though frequently intolerant, and sometimes obstinately wedded to their ancient privileges, the clergy gave proof on that occasion that they were as resolute foes to despotism and as stanch friends of civil and political liberty as the nobility or the Third Estate.w They demanded that individual liberty should be secured, not by promises, but by a proceeding analogous in character to the writ of habeas corpus. They called for the destruction of state prisons, the abolition of unconstitutional courts and evocations, public debates, an irremovable judiciary; the distribution of offices among all classes of citizens, and the adoption of merit as the sole test of eligibility; a less oppressive and less ignominious recruiting system, to admit of no exemptions; the commutation of all feudal rights, which, they said, being part of the feudal system, were inimical to liberty; free labor; the abolition of inland custom-houses; an increase in the number of private schools, until there was one, and that a free school, in each parish; lay charitable institutions, such as workhouses, in the rural districts; all sorts of encouragements to agriculture.
So far as politics proper were concerned, they proclaimed loudly that to the nation alone belonged the indefeasible and inalienable right of making laws and imposing taxes. No Frenchman, they said, can be compelled to pay a tax which he did not vote either in person or by representative. They demanded free elections and annual meetings of the States-General, declared that it was their office to discuss all great public measures in presence of the nation, to make general laws which no special customs or privileges could defeat, to vote supplies, and control even the king’s household. They insisted on the inviolability of the persons of deputies and the responsibility of ministers. They also demanded the establishment of provincial assemblies in every province and municipalities in every city. Of divine right not one word said they.
I doubt whether, on the whole, even taking into account the startling vices of some of its members, the world ever saw a more remarkable body than the Catholic clergy at the time the Revolution broke out. They were enlightened; they were national; their private virtues were not more striking than their public qualities; and yet they were largely endowed with faith, sufficient to bear them up against persecution. I began to study the old regime full of prejudice against the clergy; I have ended my task, and feel nothing but respect for them. They had no faults, in truth, but those which are inseparable from all corporations, whether political or religious, when they are solidly built and closely knit together, namely, a tendency to extension, an intolerant spirit, and an instinctive, and occasionally a blind devotion to the special interests of the corporate body.
Nor were the middle classes of the old regime less superior to their modern successors in point of independence and spirit. Many of the very vices of their organization led to this result. It has already been mentioned that they were even more given to place-hunting, and that there were more places within their reach than there are now; but mark the difference between the two. Government could neither give nor take away these places. They increased the dignity of their incumbents, without in any way rendering them slaves to the ruling power. Thus the very cause of the servility of so many men to-day was formerly the most powerful motive for independence and self-respect.
The immunities which, unhappily, divided the middle and lower classes, converted the former into a species of sham aristocracy, and armed it occasionally with pride and a spirit of resistance worthy of the genuine. The public good was often forgotten in the little private cliques which they formed; but the clique interests never.x There were common privileges, there was a corporate dignity to be defended, and there was no chance of concealment for the complaisant coward. People were, so to speak, actors on a very small but uncommonly conspicuous stage, with the same audience always before them, and always ready to applaud or hiss.
The art of stifling the sound of resistance was not brought to such perfection as it has been since. France was not so well deafened as it is in our day. It was, on the contrary, well adapted for the transmission of sound, and, though no political liberty could be seen, one had only to speak loud to be heard at a great distance.
The oppressed were secured a hearing in the courts of justice. The political and administrative institutions of the country were those of a despotism, but we were still a free people in our courts of law. The administration of justice under the old regime was cumbrous, complicated, slow, and costly—grave faults, no doubt; but it was never servile to the supreme power; and this is the very worst form of venality. That capital viee, which not only corrupts the judge, but soon infects the whole body of the people, was unknown in the old courts. Judges were not only irremovable, but looked for no promotion; both conditions are essential to independence, for the power of punishing may be dispensed with if that of rewarding be retained.
True, the royal authority had stripped the common courts of their jurisdiction over cases in which the government was interested, but it had not stripped them of their terrors. They might be prevented from judging cases, but they could not be hindered from receiving complaints and expressing their opinions. And as the judicial idiom had preserved the plain simplicity of the old French tongue, which called things by their right names, it was not uncommon for judges to qualify the measures of the government with such epithets as arbitrary and despotic.y The irregular interference of the courts in the administration of government, which often proved a hindrance to the transaction of business, occasionally served as a safeguard of liberty; the greater evil was limited by the lesser.
In the heart of the magistracy and around it, the new ideas of the day had not wholly crushed out the vigorous habits of thought of olden time. No doubt the Parliaments thought more of themselves than of the public good; but still, when it was necessary to defend their independence and their honor, they were always intrepid, and gave heart to all who surrounded them.
When the Parliament of Paris was dissolved in 1770, every one of the magistrates who composed it submitted to the loss of rank and power rather than yield to the king. More than this: courts of another kind, such as the Court of Aids (cour des aides), which were neither assailed nor menaced, voluntarily exposed themselves to the same fate when that fate had become a matter of certainty. Nor was even this all. The leading advocates who had practiced before the Parliament spontaneously shared its fate. They resigned glory and profit, and preferred silence to pleading before a dishonored magistracy. I know of nothing grander than this in the history of any free people; and yet this took place in the eighteenth century, close to Louis the Fifteenth’s court.
The nation had borrowed many habits from the courts. It was from the courts that we learned the only portion of the education of a free people which we owe to the old regime, that is to say, the principle that all decisions should be preceded by discussion, and subject to appeal; the use of publicity, and the love of forms. The government itself had borrowed largely from the language and usages of the courts. The king felt bound to assign reasons for his edicts; the Council’s Orders were preceded by long preambles, intendants notified the public of their ordinances by the ministry of bailiffs. All the old administrative bodies, such as the Treasury Board, and the select-men, transacted business publicly, and heard rival petitioners or applicants by counsel. All their habits and forms were so many barriers against the arbitrary power of the sovereign. But the people proper, especially in the rural districts, had no means of resisting oppression except by violence.
Most of the means of defense I have just pointed out were beyond their reach; no one could avail himself of them unless his position in society was such that he could make himself seen and heard. But outside the ranks of the people, any one in France who had the courage might, if he chose, yield a conditioned obedience, and resist even while he yielded.
The king addressed the nation in the language of a chief, not a master. At the commencement of the reign of Louis XVI., the monarch declared in the preamble of an edict, “We glory in commanding a free and generous nation.” One of his ancestors had expressed the same idea in older style, when, on thanking the States-General for the boldness of their remonstrances, he exclaimed, “We had rather speak to freemen than to slaves.”
The men of the eighteenth century were strangers to that passionate love for ease which is the mother of servitude; which, equally tame and tenacious, combines with several of the private virtues, such as family affection, regular habits, respect for religion, lukewarm but assiduous devotional habits; which tolerates honesty, and justifies heroism, and is remarkably successful in producing respectable men and cowardly citizens. They were better and worse.
The French of those days loved merriment and adored pleasure; their habits were perhaps more irregular, their passions and ideas more disorderly than those of their descendants, but they were strangers to the modern and decent sensuality of our day. Persons in the higher classes sought ornament rather than comfort, honor rather than money. Comfort did not even absorb the attention of the middle classes; more delicate and higher enjoyments were constantly sought in preference. Money was never the great end of life. “I know my countrymen,” proudly wrote a contemporary; “skilled in melting and scattering the metals, they are not calculated to worship them, and are quite prepared to return to their old idols, valor, glory, and, I will add, magnanimity.”
Care must be taken not to measure the baseness of men by their degree of submission to the sovereign power: that gauge would be a false one. Submissive as the men of the old regime were to the will of the king, they were strangers to submission of another kind; they had not learned to bow the knee to illegitimate or disputed authority, which inspires not honor, but contempt, and secures submission through the fear of injury or the hope of reward. That degrading form of servitude was unknown in olden time. The king inspired feelings such as no absolute monarch of later times has ever been able to awaken, and which the Revolution so thoroughly uprooted that we can hardly understand them. They loved him like a father, and respected him as they respected their God. When they submitted to his arbitrary commands, it was less from compulsion than from love, and their soul often remained their own, even in a state of complete subjection. For them, the greatest evil of obedience was constraint; it is the least in our time. The greatest evil now is the servility which prompts obedience. Let us beware how we despise our ancestors; we have no right to do so. Would to God that we could recover, even with their faults and their prejudices, a little of their greatness.
It would then be an error to consider the old regime as a period of servility and dependence. There was much more liberty then than there is now,za but it was an irregular and intermittent kind of liberty, bound up with the class system and notions of privileges and exemptions—a sort of liberty which encouraged rebellion against law as well as against oppression, and always left a portion of the people destitute of the most natural and obvious safeguards. Yet, stunted and deformed as it was, it was fertile. It was to that liberty that so many individuals owed the preservation of their natural character, with its color and outline, when centralization was laboring to reduce the character of the whole nation to a dead level and one uniform line. It was that which kept self-respect alive, and often raised the love of glory above all other passions. It was that which formed those vigorous souls, those proud and bold geniuses, whose appearance on the scene we are soon to witness, and who made the French Revolution alike the admiration and the terror of subsequent generations. It would be strange indeed if such masculine virtues as theirs had been brought to light in a land where liberty was unknown.
But if this disorderly and unwholesome sort of liberty prepared the French to overthrow despotism, it unfitted them, to an unexampled degree, perhaps, for replacing it by the peaceful and free government of law.
[Note s, page 138.]One must not be surprised—though it certainly seems surprising—to see functionaries of the old government, closely connected with the administration, go to law before the Parliament about the limits of their respective powers. The fact is easily explained: the questions at issue were questions of public administration, but they were also questions of private property. What here appears to be an encroachment of the judiciary was, in fact, nothing but a consequence of the fault which the government committed in selling offices. All places being bought, and their incumbents being paid by fees, it was impossible to alter the functions of an office without injuring individual rights which had been purchased for a valuable consideration. One example out of a thousand: the lieutenant general of police of Mans institutes an action against the financial department of that city to claim the right of paving the streets, and obtaining fees thereon, that being, he says, part of the police of the streets, which devolves upon him. The department replies that the very title of its commission intrusts it with the paving of the streets. This time it is not the king’s council which decides between them; as the point involved is chiefly the interest of the capital invested by the lieutenant in the purchase of his office, the case goes before the Parliament. Instead of being a government question, it is a civil suit.
[Note t, page 140.]analysis of the cahiers of the nobility in 1789.
The French Revolution is the only one, I believe, at the beginning of which the different classes of society were enabled to present an authentic account of the ideas they had conceived, and express the feelings which animated them, before the Revolution had distorted or modified those ideas and feelings. This authentic account was recorded, as is known, in the cahiers which the three orders drew up in 1789. These cahiers or memoires were drawn up in perfect freedom, in the midst of the widest publicity, by each of the three orders; they were the fruit of long discussion by the parties in interest, and ripe deliberation by their authors; for in those days, when the government spoke to the nation, it did not undertake to answer its own questions. At the time the cahiers were composed, the principal parts of them were collected and published in three volumes, which are to be found in all libraries. The originals are deposited in the national archives, and with them the reports of the assemblies which drew them up, and a portion of the correspondence between M. Necker and his agents in reference to the subject. This collection forms a long series of folio volumes, and is the most precious document we have on the subject of ancient France. All who desire to become acquainted with the spirit of our forefathers at the time of the Revolution should consult it without delay.
I had imagined that perhaps the printed extract, in three volumes, which I have mentioned above, was a one-sided performance, and an unfaithful reflection of this immense collection; but I find, on comparing the two, that the smaller work is a correct miniature of the greater.
The following extract from the cahiers of the nobility shows the spirit which animated the majority of that body. It shows which of their old privileges the nobility desired at all hazards to keep, which they were half inclined to abandon, and which they proposed of their own accord to sacrifice. It discloses especially the views which pervaded the whole body on the subject of political liberty. Curious and melancholy spectacle!
Individual Rights.—The nobility demand, in the first place, that an explicit declaration of the rights of man be made, and that that declaration bear witness to the liberty and secure the safety of all men.
Personal Liberty.—They desire that the serfdom of the glebe be abolished wherever it may still exist, and that means be sought for the extinction of the slave-trade and negro slavery; that all be free to travel whithersoever they will, and to reside where they please, within or without the kingdom, without being liable to arbitrary arrest; that the police regulations be amended, and that the police be under control of the magistracy, even in case of riot; that no one be arrested and judged except by his natural judges; that, in consequence, state prisons and other illegal places of detention be suppressed. Some demand the destruction of the Bastille. The nobility of Paris insist warmly on this point.
All letters of cachet should be prohibited. If the danger of the state requires the arrest of a citizen who can not be handed over directly to the ordinary courts of justice, measures must be taken to prevent injustice, either by notifying the Council of State, or in some other way.
The nobility desire that all special commissions, irregular courts, privileges of committimus, reprieves, be abolished; that the most severe penalties be laid upon all who execute or order the execution of an arbitrary command; that the ordinary courts—which alone should be preserved—take all necessary measures to secure individual liberty, especially in criminal matters; that justice be administered gratuitously, and useless jurisdictions abolished. One cahier says, “Magistrates were made for the people, not the people for magistrates.” They demand that an honorary counsel and advocates for the poor be established in every bailiwick; that all examinations be public, and prisoners be allowed to defend themselves; that in criminal matters the prisoner be provided with a counsel, and the judge assisted by a number of citizens of the same order as the prisoner, who shall decide upon the fact of the crime or misdemeanor charged (reference is here made to the constitution of England); that penalties be proportioned to offenses, and uniform: that capital punishment be employed more rarely, and all corporal punishments, torture, &c., be abolished; that the condition of prisoners be improved, especially those who are confmed before their trial.
The cahiers demand that an effort be made to respect individual liberty in the recruiting service both of soldiers and sailors. It should be allowable to avoid military service by paying a sum of money. No lots should be drawn save in the presence of deputies of the three orders. Finally, an attempt should be made to reconcile military discipline and subordination with the rights of the citizen and the freeman. Blows with the flat of the sword should be forbidden.
Liberty and Inviolability of Property.—Property should be inviolable, and should never be molested save for the necessities of the public weal. In such cases the government should pay a high price, and that promptly. Confiscations should be abolished.
Liberty of Trade, Labor, and Industry.—Freedom of labor and trade should be secured. In consequence, all monopolies should be taken from trade-companies, as well as other privileges of the kind. No custom-houses should exist except on the frontier.
Liberty of Religion.—The Catholic faith shall be the only dominant religion in France, but all other religions shall be tolerated, and persons who are not Catholics shall be reinstated in their properties and civil rights.
Liberty of the Press, Inviolability of Letters in the Post-office.—The liberty of the press shall be secured, and a law shall fix beforehand the restrictions that may be established in the interest of the public. No works but such as treat of religious doctrine shall be liable to ecclesiastical censorship; in the case of all others, it shall be sufficient that the names of the author and printer are known. Many demand that charges against the press be tried before jury.
All the cahiers insist energetically on the inviolability of secrets confided to the post, so that private letters may never be brought in accusation against individuals. The opening of letters, say they, bluntly, is the most odious form of espionage, as it violates the public faith.
Education.—The cahiers of the nobility confine themselves to recommending that all proper means be taken to spread education, both in cities and in the country, and that each boy be taught with a view to his future vocation. They insist on the necessity of teaching children the political rights and duties of the citizen, and suggest that a catechism on the principal points of the Constitution be used in schools. They do not, however, point out any means to be used to facilitate and spread education. They merely demand educational establishments for the children of the poor nobility.
Care to be taken of the People.—Many of the cahiers demand that the people be treated with more consideration. They exclaim against the police regulations, in virtue of which they say hosts of mechanics and useful citizens are daily thrust into prisons and jails without any regular commitment, and often on mere suspicions, a manifest violation of natural liberty. All the cahiers demand that corvées be definitely abolished. A majority of bailiwicks desire that rights of banality and toll be made redeemable. Many demand that the collection of various feudal dues be rendered less oppressive, and that the freehold duty be abolished. One cahier observes that the government is interested in facilitating the purchase and sale of lands. This is precisely the reason that will soon be urged for abolishing at a blow all seigniorial rights, and throwing all mainmortable lands into the market. Many cahiers ask that the right of pigeon-houses be rendered less prejudicial to agriculture. As for the establishments for the preservation of the king’s game, known by the name of captainries, they demand their immediate abolition, as being subversive of the rights of property. They desire to see, in lieu of the present taxes, new ones established which shall be less onerous to the people.
The nobility demand that an effort be made to disseminate plenty and comfort throughout the rural districts; that looms and factories of coarse stuffs be established in the villages, so as to occupy the country-people during the idle season; that in each bailiwick public store-houses be founded, under the inspection of the provincial governments, to provide for seasons of famine, and sustain the regularity of prices; that attempts be made to improve agriculture and better the condition of the country parts; that more public works be undertaken, and especially that marshes be drained, and means taken to guard against inundations, &c.; finally, that special encouragements be offered to agriculture and trade in all the provinces.
The cahiers suggest that, instead of the present hospitals, small establishments of the kind be founded in every district; that the poor-houses be abolished, and replaced by work-houses; that a charitable fund be placed at the disposal of the Provincial States; that surgeons, physicians, and midwives be appointed for every county to tend the poor gratuitously, and paid by the province; that the Courts of Justice should always be open to the poor, free of charge; that thought be taken for the establishment of blind, deaf and dumb asylums, foundling-hospitals, &c.
In all these matters the nobility express their general views as to what reforms are needed; they do not enter into details. It is easy to see that they have been less frequently brought into contact with the poor than the lower order of clergy, and that, having seen less of their sufferings, they have reflected less on the subject of a remedy.
Of Eligibility to Office, of the Hierarchy of Ranks, and of the honorary Privileges of the Nobility.— It is chiefly, or, rather, it is only when they come to deal with distinctions of rank and class divisions that the nobles turn their backs on the prevailing spirit of reform. They make important concessions, but, on the whole, they adhere to the spirit of the old regime. They feel that they are fighting for life. Their cahiers thus demand energetically that the nobility and the clergy be maintained as distinct orders. They even desire that a method be devised for preserving the purity of the order of the nobility; that, for instance, the practice of selling titles or coupling them with certain offices be prohibited, and that rank be the reward of long and meritorious services rendered to the state. They wish that all the false nobles could be found out and prosecuted. All the cahiers, in short, demand that the nobility be maintained in all its honors. Some think it would be well for men of rank to wear a distinctive badge.
Nothing could be more characteristic than such a demand; nothing could indicate more plainly the similarity between the noble and the commoner. Generally speaking, the nobility, while abandoning many of their beneficial rights, cling with anxiety and warmth to those which are purely honorary. They want not only to preserve those which they possess, but also to invent new ones. So conscious were they that they were being dragged into the vortex of democracy: so terribly did they dread perishing there. Singular fact! Their instinct warned them of the danger, but they never perceived it.
As to the distribution of office, the nobility demand that posts in the magistracy be no longer sold, but that any citizen of suitable age and capacity be eligible as a candidate to be presented by the nation to the king. In respect to military rank, a majority of the cahiers are against excluding the Third Estate, and conceive that a man who has deserved well of his country ought to be able to attain the highest rank. Several cahiers say, “The order of the nobility disapproves all laws which close the door of military preferment to the order of the Third Estate.” Some few, however, suggest that noblemen alone should have the right of entering the army as officers without passing through the inferior grades. Nearly all the cahiers demand that uniform rules be established with regard to promotion, that advancement be not wholly obtained by favor, and that, with the exception of the highest posts, promotion proceed by seniority.
As for clerical functions, they demand that elections be re-established for the distribution of livings, or, at all events, that the king appoint a committee to guide him in distributing ecclesiastical preferment.
They say that henceforth pensions must be granted with more discrimination, and not accumulated in certain families; that no citizen must receive two pensions, or draw pay for two offices at once; that survivorships must be abolished.
Church and Clergy.— When they have done with their own rights and peculiar constitution, and turn to the privileges and constitution of the Church, the nobility are not so timid; they have a very sharp eye for abuses.
They demand that the clergy be deprived of all exemptions from taxes; that they pay their debts, and do not call upon the nation to pay them; that the monastic orders be thoroughly reformed. Most of the cahiers declare that these institutions have departed from the spirit of their founders.
Most of the bailiwicks desire that tithes be rendered less injurious to agriculture; several demand their entire abolition. One cahier says that “tithes are for the most part exacted by those curates who give themselves the least trouble to supply their flocks with spiritual food.” The first Order, as is seen, handled the second unceremoniously. Nor was it more respectful in dealing with the Church itself. Many bailiwicks formally assert the right of the States-General to suppress certain religious orders, and apply their property to other uses. Seventeen bailiwicks declare that the States-General may regulate ecclesiastical discipline. Many say that there are too many fête-days; that they injure agriculture, and favor drunkenness; that, in consequence, a great number of them must be suppressed, and Sundays kept instead.
Political Rights.— As to these, the cahiers recognize the right of all Frenchmen to take part directly or indirectly in the government, that is to say, to be electors and eligible. But this right is restricted by the distinction of ranks; that is to say, no one can be elected but by and for his Order. This principle laid out, representation should be so devised as to secure to each Order an active share in the public affairs.
Opinions are divided as to the way of taking votes in the assembly of the States-General: a majority advocate voting by Order, others think this rule ought not to apply to questions of taxation, and others, again, object to it altogether. These latter say, “Each member shall have a vote, and all questions shall be decided by a majority of votes. This is the only rational plan, and the only one that can extinguish that esprit de corps which has been the only source of our misfortunes, draw men together, and lead them to the result which the nation is entitled to expect of an assembly in which patriotism and the virtues are enlightened by learning.” Still, as this innovation might be fraught with danger if hastily introduced in the present state of the public mind, many are for postponing its adoption to subsequent assemblies of the States-General. In any event, the nobility demand that each order preserve the dignity that is meet in Frenchmen; that, consequently, the old humiliating forms which were imposed on the Third Estate—such as bending the knee—be abolished. One cahier says that the “sight of one man on his knees before another is offensive to the dignity of man, and indicates an unnatural inequality among men whose essential rights are the same.”
Of the form of Government and its Constitutional Principles.— As to the form of government, the nobility demand the maintenance of royalty, the preservation of legislative, judicial, and executive powers in the hands of the king, but, at the same time, the establishment of fundamental laws for the purpose of guarding the rights of the nation against the exercise of arbitrary power.
Consequently, all the cahiers proclaim that the nation is entitled to be represented in the States-General, which body must be numerous enough to secure its independence. They desire that these States meet at periodical intervals, and at every change of monarch without special summons. Many bailiwicks express a wish to see this assembly permanent. If the States-General are not convened at the time appointed, it ought to be lawful to refuse to pay taxes. Some cahiers propose that during the interval between the sessions of the States a small committee be intrusted with the duty of watching the administration; but the bulk oppose this scheme flatly, on the ground that such a committee would be unconstitutional. The reason they allege is curious. They say there would be reason to fear that so small a body could easily be seduced by government.
The nobility deny to ministers the right of dissolving the assembly, and propose that they be prosecuted before the courts when they disturb it with their intrigues; they desire that no official, or person in any way dependent on government, shall be a deputy; that the persons of deputies shall be inviolable, and that they shall not be liable to account for opinions expressed in debate; finally, that all sittings of the assembly shall be public, and that the nation be made a spectator by printing the debates.
The nobility unanimously demand that the principles which must govern the state administration be applied to the administration of every portion of the national territory; hence, that in every province, district, and parish, assemblies be established composed of members freely elected for a limited period.
Many cahiers think that the offices of intendant and receiver-general should be abolished; all are of opinion that thenceforth the business of distributing taxes, and managing provincial business, should be left to the provincial assemblies. They advise that a similar plan be adopted with regard to county and parochial assemblies, which henceforth should be under the control of the Provincial States.
Division of Powers: Legislative Power.— In dividing power between the assembled nation and the king, the nobility ask that no law shall take effect until it has been sanctioned by the States-General and the king, and recorded in the registers of the courts appointed to enforce it; that the business of establishing and fixing the quotas of taxes shall belong exclusively to the States-General; that subsidies voted shall only be considered as having been appropriated for the interval between one session of the States and another; that all taxes, established or levied without the consent of the States, shall be deemed illegal, and that all ministers and collectors who shall have ordered or levied such taxes shall be prosecuted for extortion; that, on the same principle, no loan shall be contracted without the consent of the States-General, but that a limited credit shall be opened by the States, to be used by government in case of war or sudden calamity, until a new session of the States can be called; that all the national treasuries shall be under the supervision of the States; that the expenses of each department shall be fixed by them, and that the most careful precautions shall be taken to prevent any appropriation being exceeded.
Most of the cahiers demand the suppression of those vexatious imposts known by the names of insinuation dues, centième denier, ratification dues, and comprised under the title of régie of the king’s domains (one cahier says: “The word régie would alone suffice to condemn them, since it implies that property which actually belongs to citizens is owned by the king”); that all the public domains which are not sold shall be placed under the government of the Provincial States, and that no ordinance or edict for raising extraordinary taxes shall be issued, except with the consent of the three orders of the nation.
The idea of the nobility obviously was to transfer the whole administration of the finances, including loans, taxes, and this class of imposts, to the nation as represented by the general and provincial assemblies.
Judicial Power.— In the same way, the organization of the judiciary tends to make the power of the judges largely dependent upon the assembled nation. Thus several cahiers declare:
“That magistrates shall be responsible for their acts to the assembled nation;” that they shall only be dismissed with the consent of the States-General; that no court shall, on any pretext whatever, be disturbed in the exercise of its functions without the consent of these States; that delinquencies of the Court of Cassation and of the Parliaments shall be judged by these States. Most of the cahiers recommend that no judges but such as the people present for office be appointed by the king.
Executive Power.— This is wholly reserved to the king, but it is limited in order to prevent abuses.
Thus, as to the administration, the cahiers demand that the accounts of the various departments be printed and made public, and that the ministers be responsible to the nation assembled; and in like manner, that the king be bound to communicate his intentions to the States-General before he can employ the troops on foreign service. At home, the troops shall not be used against the people without a requisition from the States-General. The standing army shall be limited; and in ordinary seasons, two thirds only shall be kept in effective service. As to the foreign troops which the king may have in his service, they must be kept away from the heart of the kingdom, and stationed on the frontier.
The most striking feature of the cahiers of the nobility—a feature which no extract can reproduce—is the perfect harmony which exists between these noblemen and their age. They are imbued with its spirit and speak its language. They speak of “the inalienable rights of man,” “principles inherent to the social compact.” In treating of individuals, they speak of their rights; in alluding to society, they talk of its duties. Political principles seem to them “as absolute as moral truths, both the one and the other having reason for their basis.” When they want to abolish the remains of serfdom, they say they must “efface the last traces of human degradation.” They sometimes call Louis XVI. a “citizen king,” and constantly allude to the crime of “high-treason against the nation,” with which they are so soon themselves to be charged. In their eyes, as in those of every one else, public education seems the grand panacea, and its director must be the state. One cahier says that “the States-General will give their attention to forming the national character by modifying the education of children.” Like their contemporaries, they are fond of uniformity in legislative measures, always excepting every thing that concerns the existence of the Orders. They seek a uniform administration, uniform laws, &c., as ardently as the Third Estate. They call for all kinds of reforms, and those radical enough. They are for abolishing or transforming all the taxes without exception, and the whole judicial system, with the exception of the seigniorial courts, which only need improvement. Like all other Frenchmen, they regard France as a trial-field—a sort of political model-farm—in which every thing should be tried, every thing turned upside down, except the little spot in which their particular privileges grow. To their honor, it may even be said that they did not wholly spare that spot. In a word, it is seen from these cahiers that the only thing the nobles lacked to effect the Revolution was the rank of commoners.
[Note u, page 141.]example of the religious government of an ecclesiastical province in the middle of the eighteenth century.
1. The archbishop.
2. Seven vicars general.
3. Two ecclesiastical courts called officialities: the one, known as the “metropolitan officiality,” having cognizance of all sentences of the suffragans; the other, known as the “diocesan officiality,” having cognizance, first, of all personal affairs among the clergy, and, secondly, of all disputes regarding the validity of marriages, in reference to the sacrament. This last tribunal is composed of two judges: there are attorneys and notaries attached to it.
4. Two fiscal courts: one, styled the diocesan office, has original jurisdiction over all disputes which may arise respecting the taxes of the clergy in the diocese (the clergy, as is known, imposed their own taxes). This tribunal consisted of the archbishop, presiding, and six other priests. The other court hears appeals from the other diocesan offices of the ecclesiastical province. All these courts admit lawyers, and hear cases pleaded in due form.
[Note v, page 142.]spirit of the clergy in the provincial states and assemblies.
What I say in the text of the States of Languedoc applies equally to the Provincial States which assembled in 1779 and 1787, especially those of Haute Guienne. The members of the clergy are distinguished in this assembly for their learning, their activity, their liberality. The proposition to make the reports of the assembly public comes from the Bishop of Rodez.
[Note w, page 143.]This liberal tendency of the clergy in political matters, which was evidenced in 1789, was not the fruit of the excitement of the moment; it was of old standing. It was witnessed in Berri in 1779, when the clergy offered 68,000 livres as a free gift if the provincial administration were allowed to subsist.
[Note x, page 145.]Note that political society was disjointed, but that civil society still held together. In the heart of the different classes individuals were linked together; there even subsisted some trace of the old bond of union between seigniors and people. These peculiarities of civil society had their influence on politics; men thus united formed irregular and ill-organized masses, but bodies that were certain to be found refractory by government. The Revolution burst these ties, and substituted no political bonds in their stead; it thus paved the way for both equality and servitude.
[Note y, page 146.]example of the tone in which the courts spoke of certain arbitrary measures.
It appears from a memorial laid before the comptroller-general by the intendant of the district of Paris, that it was the custom of that district that each parish should have two syndics, one elected by the people in an assembly over which the sub-delegate presided, the other appointed by the intendant, and directed to superintend his colleague. A quarrel took place between the two syndics of the parish of Rueil, the one who was elected refusing to obey his colleague. The intendant induced M. de Breteuil to imprison the refractory syndic for a fortnight in the prison of La Force; on his liberation he was discharged, and a new syndic appointed in his stead. Thereupon the syndic appealed to the Parliament. I have not been able to find the conclusion of the proceedings, but the Parliament took occasion to declare that the imprisonment of the syndic and the nullification of his election could not but be considered “arbitrary and despotic acts.” The courts were sometimes badly muzzled in those days.
[Note z, page 150.]The educated and wealthy classes, the burghers included, were far from being oppressed or enslaved under the old regime. On the contrary, they had generally too much freedom; for the crown could not prevent them from securing their own position at the sacrifice of the people’s, and, indeed, almost always felt bound to purchase their good-will or soothe their animosity by abandoning the people to their mercy. It may be said that a Frenchman belonging to this class in the eighteenth century was better able to resist government and protect himself than an Englishman of the same period would have been in the like case. The crown felt bound to use more tenderness and deal more gently with him than the English government would have done to a man of the same standing. So wrong it is to confound independence with liberty. No one is less independent than a citizen of a free state.
[Note a, page 150.]a reason which often compelled the government of the old regime to use moderation.
In ordinary times, the most perilous acts for governments are the augmentation of old or the creation of new taxes. In olden times, when a king had expensive tastes, when he rushed into wild political schemes, when he let his finances fall into disorder, or when he needed large sums of money to sustain himself by gaining over his opponents, by paying heavy salaries that were not earned, by keeping numerous armies on foot, by undertaking extensive works, &c., he was obliged to have recourse to taxation, and this at once aroused all classes, especially that one which achieves violent revolutions—the people. Nowadays, in the same circumstances, loans are effected, which are not immediately felt, and whose burden falls on the next generation.