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TO LORD RADNOR. * - Alexis de Tocqueville, Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 2 
Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville. Translated from the French by the translator of Napoleon’s Correspondence with King Joseph. With large Additions. In Two Volumes (London: Macamillan, 1861). 2 vols.
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TO LORD RADNOR.*
London, May, 1835.
That I may be able to answer your questions, I think it advisable, in the first place, to establish what legally and actually was the position of the ministers of our religion before the Revolution of 1830. Afterwards I will treat of their present situation and of their prospects.
When Napoleon re-established the exercise of the Catholic religion, he did not restore their property to the clergy, but assigned to them part of the revenue of the State. From proprietors they became pensioners. This was not the only blow struck by him at their independence. In former times there was between the bishops and inferior clergy of every diocese an ecclesiastical tribunal, which was called, if I am not mistaken, “l’officialité.” Napoleon destroyed this court of appeal. He gave up the inferior clergy to the uncontrolled jurisdiction of the bishops. Whether rightly or not, the Emperor thought that he would always be able to manage easily a few bishops, and that by governing them he would be master of all the clergy. This was the position of the ministers of our religion at the Restoration.
The Bourbons returned resolved to support the monarchy by the Church; and the charter of 1814 announced that the Catholic religion was the religion of the State. But it did not dare to define the words “the Religion of the State.” The property of the clergy was not restored to them, nor were, I believe, even their salaries increased. But they were allowed an indirect share in the government. The parish priest, from the weight given to his recommendations, became a sort of political authority. Places were given with more regard to religious opinions than to capacity—so, at least, it was generally thought. As the Restoration became more firmly established, the union between Church and State became more and more evident. A law was passed punishing with the utmost rigour all sacrilegious profanation of sacred objects and theft from churches. The archbishops and some of the bishops obtained seats in the House of Peers. The nation was governed, or thought that it was governed, by the priests—their influence was felt everywhere. Then reappeared what we call in France the Voltairian spirit; the spirit of systematic hostility and sarcasm, directed not only against the ministers of religion, but against religion itself; against Christianity in all its forms. The books of the eighteenth century were reprinted in cheap editions. Plays, songs, and caricatures were filled with bitter satires against religion. The hatred of a portion of the population against the clergy became inconceivably violent. At that time I held a judicial post; and I noticed that whenever a priest was accused, whatever were the offence, the jury, in general very indulgent, almost invariably and unanimously condemned him. Under the Empire the Church took no part in politics; after the Restoration it became a political party in itself. It joined the most ardent votaries of absolute monarchy, and often declaimed from the pulpit in its favour.
The result was fatal. Almost all the liberal party, that is, the great majority of the nation, became irreligious on political grounds. Impiety was a form of opposition. Excellent men were furious when religion was mentioned; others, notoriously immoral, talked incessantly of restoring altars, and of inculcating reverence towards God.
I do not think, my Lord, that there is a single Frenchman of any party whatever, who at this day does not consider the religious hatred brought about by the Restoration as the chief cause of the downfal of the Bourbons. If it had stood alone, the elder branch would have sustained itself with difficulty; united to the clergy, and exposed to the intense animosity excited by the political influence of the priests, its fall was inevitable.
This takes us to the year 1830. Let us see what has passed since.
The Church had so closely united its fate to that of the Crown, that when the King was dethroned in 1830, the priests all believed themselves to be in personal danger; and so in fact many were. In some of the larger towns they were forced to conceal the outward signs of their calling. The archbishopric of Paris was pillaged in February, 1831, and the archbishop obliged to hide himself.
The new Government took part against them. The words “Religion of the State” were erased from the charter, and in their place “Religion of the majority” substituted. All the bishops raised to the peerage by Charles X. lost their seats. The rest have since always abstained from taking part in the debates. The clergy no longer sit in the Chamber of Deputies. The ministry for ecclesiastical affairs has been suppressed.
A still greater change occurred in the habits of the Government. The priests lost every species of indirect political influence. No hostility was in general displayed towards them, but they were kept within their own duties. The scale of salaries was changed in some respects. Part of the incomes of the bishops was taken from them, and added to the salaries of the ordinary priests.
Such is, I believe, the present state of things. Now, what will be the consequences? As to these, my Lord, you would perhaps be imprudent if you were to take my word. You are aware, that in politics it is often more difficult to understand and judge of the present than of anything else. In the great concerns of mankind the past is more obvious than the present. All that I can promise, is to show to you exactly what I see; and to explain to you, without reserve, my belief, which is that of many enlightened Frenchmen.
As soon as the clergy lost their political power, and it was perceived that they were more liable to be persecuted than favoured by the Government, the animosity which during the Restoration had pursued them, and through them religion itself, began to diminish, though not all at once nor everywhere. The irreligion which the Restoration had created or re-awakened, showed itself partially. But taking the nation as a whole, it was evident that the reaction which was to bend the public mind in the direction of religion had already begun. I think that at the present moment this tendency can escape the notice of no one. Irreligious publications have become extremely rare (I do not know of even one). Religion and priests have entirely vanished from the caricatures. It is very seldom tha one hears the clergy or their doctrines spoken ill of in public. Not that silence is a proof of great attachment to religion; but it proves that religion is no longer detested; and this is a great step. Most of the liberals, whose irreligious opinions formerly placed them foremost in the ranks of the opposition, now hold a different language. All acknowledge the political utility of religion, and deplore the general want of faith; but the greatest change is observable among the young men.
Since religion has been separated from politics, a faith, vague as to its object but powerful in its effects, is developing itself among them. The necessity of a religion is a frequent theme of their conversation. Many believe: all would like to believe. This feeling makes them crowd into the churches whenever there is a celebrated preacher. When I left Paris, the evidences of our faith were discoursed upon every Sunday in the cathedral by a young priest of remarkable eloquence.* Nearly 5,000 young men regularly attended his sermons. Among them sat, in his pontifical robes, the very Archbishop of Paris whose palace was robbed and destroyed four years before, and who for more than a year had been obliged to hide like an outlaw. Such a scene was never witnessed under the Restoration, when the bishops sat in Parliament and in the Council Chamber, and when the political influence of the priest was supposed to be all-powerful.
I think, my Lord, that I have answered nearly all your questions. If not, I hope that you will not fail to tell me. I shall always be ready to write to you on this subject or on any other. What I have just written, as I was pressed for time, may appear confused. Perhaps, too, you will find it difficult to make out my bad handwriting. In every case, I place myself at your disposal, and shall be happy to explain in conversation all that is incomplete in my letters.
P.S. I forgot to say that when the Restoration, in 1814, gave the name “Religion of the State” to the Catholic religion, it ordered all shops to be shut on Sunday and all official persons to attend the services of the Church. These two laws gave the signal to the revolt against religion. They have been repealed or they have fallen into disuse.
[*]While Tocqueville was in London, in the year 1835, he was intimate with Lord Radnor, who on one occasion asked him to explain the position of the clergy in France, and the state of public opinion on religious subjects. Lord Radnor, struck by Tocqueville’s answer, requested him to put it into writing.
[*]Now the Père Lacordaire, who has replaced M. de Tocqueville in the Académie Française.