Front Page Titles (by Subject) OF THE PAYS D'ETATS, AND LANGUEDOC IN PARTICULAR. - The Old Regime and the Revolution
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OF THE PAYS D’ETATS, AND LANGUEDOC IN PARTICULAR. - Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the Revolution 
The Old Regime and the Revolution, trans John Bonner (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1856).
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OF THE PAYS D’ETATS, AND LANGUEDOC IN PARTICULAR.
IT is not my intention to examine in detail, in this place, the condition of affairs in each of the pays d’états, as they stood before the Revolution.
I merely design to state how many there were; which of them were distinguished by local activity; on what footing they stood as regards the royal government; wherein they departed from the rules I have mentioned, and in what particulars they were governed by these rules; and, lastly, to show, by the example of one of them, what they all might have become.
States had existed in most of the French provinces—that is to say, their government had been administered by members of the Three Estates (gens des trois états), as it was then the fashion to say; in other words, by an assembly composed of representatives of the clergy, the nobility, and the burghers. This provincial institution, like most of the political institutions of the Middle Ages, had flourished in a similar form throughout almost all civilized Europe, or, at all events, in every country into which German customs and ideas had made their way. In many German provinces States existed up to the French Revolution; in the others they did not disappear till the seventeenth or eighteenth century. For two centuries sovereigns had uniformly and steadily waged war against them, sometimes openly, sometimes secretly. No attempt had been any where made to adapt them to the improved condition of the times; but monarchs had never let slip an opportunity of destroying them, or deforming them when this was the worst they could do.
In France there were but five provinces of any extent, and a few small, insignificant districts, in which States still existed in 1789. Provincial liberty, properly speaking, subsisted in two only, Bretagne and Languedoc; every where else the substantial features of the institution had been taken away, leaving only the semblance behind.
I shall examine Languedoc separately, and at some length.
It was the largest and most populous of the pays d’états. It contained more than two thousand communes, or, as they were then called, communities, and nearly two millions of inhabitants. It was, moreover, the best ordered and prosperous, as well as the largest of these provinces. We may therefore learn, from an inquiry into its condition, what provincial liberty was under the old regime, and to what extent, in those sections of country where it was most vigorous, it had been subordinated to the royal power.
In Languedoc the Estates could not meet without an express order from the king. Each member must have received individually a letter addressed to him inviting him to be present at each session. Hence a malcontent of the time remarked: “Of the three bodies which compose our Estates, one, the clergy, is appointed by the king, as all livings and bishoprics are in his gift; and the two others are assumed to be in the same position, for the king can prevent any member from being present by simply withholding the invitation, though the member excluded has not been exiled or even put on his trial.”
The period when the session of the Estates must end was likewise fixed by the king. An Order in Council limited their ordinary sessions to forty days. The king was represented in the assembly by commissioners who had seats whenever they chose to demand them, and were the organ of the government. The authority of the Estates was strictly limited. They could come to no important decision, pass no appropriation bill, without an Order in Council approving the measure: they could neither impose a tax, nor effect a loan, nor institute an action at law without the express permission of the king. All their rules, including those which regulated their own sittings, were invalid till the king had sanctioned them. Their receipts and expenditures, their budget, as we should say at present, was subject to the same control.
The government exercised the same political rights in Languedoc as elsewhere. Whatever laws it chose to promulgate, whatever general rules it laid down, whatever measures it took, applied to Languedoc as well as the pays d’élection. It performed the natural functions of government, maintained the same police, employed the same agents there as elsewhere, and created, from time to time, a host of new functionaries, whose offices the province was obliged to buy up at very high rates.
Languedoc, like the other provinces, was governed by an intendant. In every district this intendant had sub-delegates, who were in relation with the heads of the communities, and directed them. The intendant was public guardian, precisely as in the pays d’élection. The smallest village, buried in the gorges of the Cevennes, could not make the least outlay without being authorized by an Order in Council from Paris. That branch of legal business which is now called the Department of Private Claims (contentieux administratif) was even more extensive there than elsewhere. The intendant had original jurisdiction over all questions of highways and roads, and generally over all disputes in which the government was, or chose to consider itself, interested. Nor were government agents less carefully protected there than elsewhere against prosecutions by citizens who were aggrieved by them.
Wherein, then, did Languedoc differ from the other provinces? How came it to be so envied by its neighbors? It differed from the rest of France in three respects:
1st. It possessed an assembly composed of substantial men, enjoying the confidence of the people and the respect of the general government. No government functionary, or, as they were called, king’s officer, could be a member. The assembly discussed freely and seriously the affairs of the province every year. The proximity of this centre of intelligence obliged the government to exercise its privileges very cautiously and moderately: though its agents and its tendencies were the same there as elsewhere, they produced very different results.
2dly. Many public works were carried on in Languedoc at the cost of the king and directed by his agents; others were partly defrayed and substantially directed by the crown; but a still larger number were executed at the cost of the province. When the king had once approved the design and authorized the outlay necessary for the latter, they were prosecuted by officials chosen by the States, under the inspection of commissioners selected from the assembly.
3dly. The province was entitled to levy, in the way it liked best, a portion of the royal taxes, and all the taxes that were required for its own necessities.
We shall now see the use which Languedoc made of these privileges. It is a matter which deserves close attention.
A most striking feature in the pays d’élection was the rarity of local taxes. The general taxes were often burdensome, but the province spent little or nothing on itself. In Languedoc, on the contrary, enormous sums were spent by the province for public works; in 1780 the annual appropriation exceeded 7,000,000 livres.
The central government was occasionally shocked at such extravagance. It began to fear that such appropriations would exhaust the province, and incapacitate it from paying the royal taxes. It reproached the States with a want of moderation. I have read a memorial in which the assembly replied to these criticisms. A few extracts from that document will depict the spirit which animated that little government better than any thing I could say.
The memorial admits that the province has certainly undertaken and is prosecuting immense works; but, instead of apologizing therefor, it declares that, if the king has no objection, this policy will be still farther carried out. The province has already improved and facilitated the navigation of the chief rivers which cross its territory, and is now engaged in prolonging the Burgundy Canal—which was constructed under Louis XIV., and is now inadequate—through Lower Languedoc, by Cette and Agde to the Rhone. It has adapted the port of Cette to commercial purposes, and keeps it in repair at great expense. These outlays, it is observed, are for national rather than provincial objects, but the province has made them, as it will be the chief gainer by the works. It is further engaged in draining and reclaiming the marsh of Aigues-Mortes. But its chief outlays have been for roads. It has either opened or repaired all the high roads which traverse its surface and lead into neighboring provinces. It has mended all the roads between the different cities and bourgs of Languedoc. All these roads are excellent even in winter, and compare very favorably with the hard, rough, ill-kept roads which are met with in most of the neighboring provinces, such as Dauphiné, Quercy, and Bordeaux (which, it is observed, are pays d’élection). On this head the memorial refers to the judgment of travelers and merchants; nor without reason, for Arthur Young, who traveled through the country a year afterward, notes, “Languedoc, pays d’état—good roads, made without corvées.”
If the king will grant permission, continues the memorial, the Estates will do more yet; they will undertake to improve the parish roads, which affect as many interests as the others. “For if produce,” continued the memorial, “can not find its way from the producer’s barn to the market, it is of very little use to provide for its exportation to a distance.” “The principle of the States with regard to public works,” the memorial adds, “has always been to look at their usefulness, not at their cost.” Rivers, canals, roads, give value to all products of the soil and of industry, by facilitating their conveyance at all seasons and at small expense to a market, and spreading commercial activity throughout the province; they are always worth more than they cost. Moreover, works of this character, if undertaken moderately, and spread uniformly over the territory of the province, sustain the value of labor, and give employment to the poor. “The king,” adds the memorial, proudly, “need be at no expense for the establishment of work-houses in Languedoc, as he has been obliged to do in the rest of France. We seek no favors of the kind: the works of public utility which we undertake ourselves stand us in the stead of work-houses, and furnish a remunerative demand for all our labor.”
The more I study the regulations which the king permitted the States of Languedoc to establish in those branches of administration which were left under their control, the more I admire the wisdom, the equity, the mildness which characterize them, and the more satisfied am I of the superiority of the policy of the local government over that which obtained in the provinces administered by the king.
The province was divided into communities, towns, or villages—into administrative districts, which were called dioceses; and, lastly, into three great departments, called sénéchaussées. Each of these divisions was separately represented in the Assembly; each had its own separate government, which acted under the direction of the States or the king. Public works for the benefit of any particular division were only undertaken when that division expressed a desire for them. If the work demanded by the community would be beneficial to the diocese, the latter was bound to bear a proportionate share of the expense. If the sénéchaussée was interested, it paid a share. But diocese, sénéchaussée, and province were all bound to contribute to works which the interests of a community required, if they were necessary, and beyond the means of the body directly concerned; for, as the States frequently observed, “The fundamental principle of our constitution is that all the divisions of the province are jointly and severally liable to each other, and bound to contribute to each other’s progress.”
Works undertaken by the province were required to have been planned deliberately, and to have received the assent of all the secondary bodies concerned. All labor consumed was paid for in cash; corvées were unknown. I have stated that in pays d’élection land taken for objects of public utility was always tardily and inadequately paid for, and that occasionally the owner was not paid at all. This was one of the leading grievances of the Provincial Assemblies when they met in 1787. Some even complained that it was impossible to estimate the debts that had been thus incurred, as the property taken had been destroyed or transformed before it had been valued. In Languedoc, every foot of land taken from its owner was carefully valued before it was touched, and the value paid before the expiration of a year from the time the works were begun.
This system of the States of Languedoc with regard to public works appeared so excellent to the central government, that, without imitating, it admired it. The Royal Council, after having authorized its establishment, had it printed at the royal printing-office, and sent it to the intendants as a useful document to consult.
All that I have said with regard to public works is applicable, even in a greater degree, to that other and equally important branch of the provincial administration, the collection of the taxes. When one examines this department, first in the kingdom, then in the province, it seems impossible to believe that both are parts of the same empire.
I had occasion some time since to mention that the system used in Languedoc for the distribution and collection of the taille was substantially the same as the one now employed for the collection of our modern imposts. I shall not again revert to the subject, but will add simply that the province was so well convinced of the superiority of its method that, whenever the king established new taxes, the States paid heavily for the right of levying them in their own way, and by the hands of their own agents.
Notwithstanding all the outlays I have enumerated, the financial condition of Languedoc was so prosperous, and her credit so well established, that the central government often applied to it for endorsements, and borrowed in the name of the province at lower rates than would have been charged to the crown. I find that Languedoc borrowed in its own name, but for the use of the king, in the later years of the monarchy, 73,200,000 livres.
Yet the government watched these provincial liberties with a very jealous eye. Richelieu first multilated, then abolished them. The weak and slothful Louis XIII., who loved nothing, detested them: he had such a dislike for provincial privileges, according to Boulainvilliers, that he would fly into a rage at the mere mention of the subject. Weak minds always find energy enough to hate things which oblige them to exert themselves; their whole vigor is concentrated upon that one point, and, weak as they are every where else, they contrive to hate with some force. Good fortune happily restored the Constitution of Languedoc during the infancy of Louis XIV.; and that monarch, regarding it as his work, respected it. Louis XV. suspended it for a couple of years, but suffered its restoration afterward.
The creation of municipal offices involved great indirect dangers for the province. This detestable institution tended not only to destroy the constitution of cities, but to disfigure that of provinces. I am not aware whether the deputies of the Third Estate in the Provincial Assemblies had ever been chosen in view of the business they had to perform; certain it is that for a long period of time they had not been so elected. The only legitimate representatives of the middle classes and the people were the municipal officers of cities.
So long as the cities chose their magistrates freely by universal suffrage, and generally for a short period of time, but little inconvenience was occasioned by the fact that these deputies had not been specially appointed to represent the people, and defend their interest at that particular moment. Perhaps the mayor, council, or syndic was as faithful an exponent of the popular will as if he had been expressly chosen to represent the people in the assembly. But it will at once be understood that this ceased to be the case when the official had acquired his office for money. In this case he represented no one but himself, or, at best, only the small interests and petty passions of his coterie. Yet the powers of the magistrate by purchase were the same as those of the elected magistrate had been. Hence a total change in the character of the institution. Instead of a firm body of popular representatives, the nobility and the clergy had to contend in the Provincial Assembly with no one but a few isolated, timid, and powerless burghers; the Third Estate became more and more insignificant in the government as it grew more and more powerful in society. This was not the case in Languedoc, as the province always took care to buy up the offices which the king established from time to time. For this object a loan of more than four millions of livres was effected in the year 1773 alone.
Other causes, more potent still, had operated to imbue these old institutions with a modern spirit, and imparted to the States of Languedoc an indisputable superiority over all others.
In that province, as in a large portion of the South, the taille was a tax on the realty, not on the person. It was regulated by the value of the property, not the fortune of the owner. True, certain lands enjoyed a privilege of exemption. These lands had formerly all belonged to the nobility; but, in the course of events and the progress of industry, part of them had fallen into the hands of commoners, while, on the other hand, noblemen had in many cases become proprietors of lands subject to the taille. The absurdity of privileges was enhanced, no doubt, by their transfer from persons to property; but their burden was diminished, because, inconvenient as they were, they involved no humiliation. They were no longer inseparably bound up with class ideas; they created no class interests hostile to those of the public; they threw no obstacle in the way of a general administration of the public business by all classes. Nor was there, in fact, any part of France in which all classes mixed so freely, or on so decided a footing of equality as in Languedoc.
In Bretagne, all men of rank were entitled to be present in person at the States; hence these latter bore some resemblance to Polish Diets. In Languedoc, the nobility was represented in the States by twenty-three deputies; the clergy was represented by twenty-three bishops. It is worthy of remark, that the cities had as many members as the other two orders combined.
There was but one assembly, and votes were taken by heads, not by orders; hence the Third Estate naturally became the preponderating body, and gradually imbued the whole assembly with its peculiar spirit. The three magistrates, known as syndics-general, who were intrusted with the general management of business before the States, were always lawyers, that is to say, commoners. The nobility was strong enough to maintain its rank, but not to rule. The clergy, on the other hand, though counting many men of rank among its members, always maintained a good understanding with the Third Estate. It took an ardent interest in many of the schemes proposed by the burghers, labored in concert with them to augment the material property of citizens, and extend commerce and industry, and often placed at their service its extensive knowledge of men, and its peculiar skill in the management of affairs. It was almost always an ecclesiastic who was sent to Versailles to discuss with ministers questions that were in dispute between the States and the crown. It may be said that during the whole of the last century the government of Languedoc was administered by burghers, under the control of noblemen, and with the aid of bishops.
Thanks to the peculiar constitution of the province, the spirit of the new era penetrated Languedoc easily, and made many modifications in its old system without destroying any thing.
This might have been the case every where. A portion of the perseverance and energy that were employed by the kings in abolishing or crippling the Provincial States would have sufficed for their improvement and adaptation to the necessities of modern civilization, had those monarchs ever sought any thing beyond extending and maintaining their own power.