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BOOK II: The Constituent Assembly, and the Results of its Labours - Hippolyte Taine, The French Revolution, vol. 1 
The French Revolution, 3 vols., trans. John Durand, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002). Vol. 1.
Part of: The French Revolution, 3 vols.
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The Constituent Assembly, and the Results of its Labours
The Constituent Assembly—Conditions required for the framing of good laws—I.These conditions absent in the Assembly—Causes of disorder and irrationality—The place of meeting—The large number of deputies—Interference of the galleries—Rules of procedure wanting, defective, or disregarded—The parliamentary leaders—Susceptibility and overexcitement of the Assembly—Its paroxysms of enthusiasm—Its tendency to emotion—It encourages theatrical display—Changes which these displays introduce in its good intentions—II.Inadequacy of its information—Its composition—The social standing and culture of the larger number—Their incapacity—Their presumption—Fruitless advice of competent men—Deductive politics—Parties—The minority; its faults—The majority; its dogmatism—III.Ascendancy of the revolutionary party—Theory in its favour—The constraint thus imposed on men’s minds—Appeal to the passions—Brute force on the side of the party—It profits by this—Oppression of the minority—IV.Refusal to supply the ministry—Effects of this mistake—Misconception of the situation—The committee of investigation—Constant alarms—Effects of ignorance and fear on the work of the Constituent Assembly.
If there is any work in this world difficult to achieve it is a constitution, and especially a complete one. To replace the old forms in which a great nation has lived by others that are different, appropriate, and enduring; to fit a mould of a hundred thousand compartments to the life of twenty-six millions of men; to fashion this so harmoniously, adapt it so well, so closely, with such an exact appreciation of their needs and faculties, that they may enter it of themselves and move about in it without collisions, and that their spontaneous activity should at once find the ease of old routine—is a prodigious undertaking, and probably beyond the powers of the human mind. In any event, the mind requires all its powers to carry the undertaking out, and it cannot too carefully guard itself against all sources of disturbance and error. An Assembly, and especially a Constituent Assembly, requires, outwardly, security and independence, inwardly, silence and order, and generally, calmness, good sense, practical ability, and discipline under competent and recognised leaders. Do we find anything of all this in the Constituent Assembly?
We have only to look at it outwardly to have some doubts about it. At Versailles, and then at Paris, the sessions are held in an immense hall capable of seating 2,000 persons, in which the most powerful voice must be strained in order to be heard. It is not calculated for the moderate tone suitable for the discussion of business; the speaker is obliged to shout, and the strain on the voice communicates itself to the mind; the place itself suggests declamation; and this all the more readily because the assemblage consists of 1,200—that is to say, a crowd, and almost a mob. At the present day, in our Assemblies of five or six hundred deputies, there are constant interruptions and an incessant buzz; there is nothing so rare as self-control, and the firm resolve to give an hour’s attention to a discourse opposed to the opinions of the hearers. What can be done here to compel silence and patience? Arthur Young on different occasions sees “a hundred members on the floor at once,” shouting and gesticulating. “Gentlemen, you are killing me!” says Bailly, one day, sinking with exhaustion. Another president exclaims in despair, “Two hundred speaking at the same time cannot be heard; will you make it impossible then to restore order in the Assembly?” The rumbling, discordant din is farther increased by the uproar of the galleries.1 “In the British Parliament,” writes Mallet-Dupan, “I saw the galleries cleared in a trice because the Duchess of Gordon happened unintentionally to laugh too loud.” Here, the thronging crowd of spectators, the newsmongers of the pavement, the delegates from the Palais-Royal, the soldiers disguised as citizens, and the prostitutes who are collected and marshalled, applaud, clap their hands, stamp, and hoot, at their pleasure. This is carried to so great an extent that M. de Montlosier ironically proposes “to give the galleries a voice in the deliberations.”2 Another member wishes to know whether the representatives are so many actors, whom the nation sends there to endure the hisses of the Paris public. Interruptions, in fact, take place as in a theatre, and, frequently, if the members do not give satisfaction, they are forced to desist. On the other hand, the deputies who are popular with this energetic audience, on which they keep an eye, are actors before the footlights: they involuntarily yield to its influence, and exaggerate their ideas as well as their words to be in unison with it. Tumult and violence, under such circumstances, become a matter of course, and the chances of an Assembly acting wisely are diminished by one-half; on becoming a club of agitators, it ceases to be a conclave of legislators.
Let us enter and see how this one proceeds. Thus encumbered, thus surrounded and agitated, does it take at least those precautions without which no assembly of men can govern itself? When several hundred persons assemble together for deliberation, it is evident that some sort of an internal police is necessary; first of all, some code of accepted usages, some written precedents, by which its acts may be prepared and defined, considered in detail, and properly passed. The best of these codes is ready to hand: at the request of Mirabeau, Romilly has sent over the standing orders of the English House of Commons.3 But, with the presumption of novices, they pay no attention to this code; they imagine it is needless for them; they will borrow nothing from foreigners; they accord no authority to experience, and, not content with rejecting the forms it prescribes, “it is with difficulty they can be made to follow any rule whatever.” They leave the field open to the impulsiveness of individuals; any kind of influence, even that of a deputy, even of one elected by themselves, is suspected by them; hence their choice of a new president every fortnight. They submit to no constraint or control, neither to the legal authority of a parliamentary code, nor to the moral authority of parliamentary chiefs. They are without any such; they are not organized in parties; neither on one side nor on the other is a recognised leader found who fixes the time, arranges the debate, draws up the motion, assigns parts, and gives the rein to or restrains his supporters. Mirabeau is the only one capable of obtaining this ascendancy; but, on the opening of the Assembly, he is discredited by the notoriety of his vices, and, towards the last, is compromised by his connection with the Court. No other is of sufficient eminence to have any influence; there is too much of average and too little of superior talent. Self-esteem, moreover, is as yet too vigorous an element to allow of concessions. Each of these improvised legislators has come satisfied with his own system, and to break him in under a leader to whom he would intrust his political conscience, to make of him what three out of four of these deputies should be, a voting machine, would require an apprehension of danger, some painful experience, an enforced surrender which he is far from realising.4 For this reason, save in the violent party, each acts as his own chief, according to the impulse of the moment, and the confusion may be imagined. Strangers who witness it, lift their hands in pity and astonishment. “They discuss nothing in their Assembly,” writes Gouverneur Morris.5 “One large half of the time is spent in hallooing and bawling. . . . Each member comes to retail the result of his lucubrations” amidst this noise, taking his turn as inscribed, without replying to his predecessor, or being replied to by his successor, without ever meeting argument by argument; so that while the firing is interminable, “all their shots are fired in the air.” Before this “frightful clatter” can be reported, the papers of the day are obliged to make all sorts of excisions, to prune away “nonsense,” and reduce the “inflated and bombastic style.” Chatter and clamour, that is the whole substance of most of these famous sittings. “You would hear,” says a journalist, “more yells than speeches; the sittings seemed more likely to end in fights than in decrees. . . . Twenty times I said to myself, on leaving, that if anything could arrest and turn the tide of the Revolution, it would be a picture of these meetings traced without caution or adaptation. . . . All my efforts were therefore directed to represent the truth, without rendering it repulsive. Out of what had been merely a row, I concocted a scene. . . . I gave all the sentiments, but not always in the same words. I translated their yells into words, their furious gestures into attitudes, and when I could not inspire esteem, I endeavoured to rouse the emotions.”
There is no remedy for this evil; for, besides the absence of discipline, there is an inward and fundamental cause for the disorder. These people are too susceptible. They are Frenchmen, and Frenchmen of the eighteenth century; brought up in the amenities of the utmost refinement, accustomed to deferential manners, to constant kind attentions and mutual obligations, so thoroughly imbued with the instinct of good breeding that their conversation seems almost insipid to strangers.6 All at once they are transported to the thorny soil of politics, exposed to insulting debates, flat contradictions, venomous denunciation, constant detraction, and open invective; engaged in a battle in which every species of weapon peculiar to a parliamentary life is employed, and in which the hardiest veterans are scarcely able to keep cool. Judge of the effect of all this on inexperienced, highly strung nerves, on men of the world accustomed to the accommodations and amiabilities of universal urbanity. They are at once beside themselves.—And all the more so because they never anticipated a battle; but, on the contrary, a festival, a grand and charming idyl, in which everybody, hand in hand, would assemble in tears around the throne and save the country amid mutual embraces. Necker himself arranges, like a theatre, the chamber in which the sessions of the Assembly are to be held.7 “He was not disposed to regard the Assemblies of the States-General as anything but a peaceful, imposing, solemn, august spectacle, which the people would enjoy”; and when the idyl suddenly changes into a drama, he is so frightened that it seems to him as if a landslip had occurred that threatened, during the night, to break down the framework of the building.—At the time of the meeting of the States-General, everybody is delighted; all imagine that they are about to enter the promised land. During the procession of the 4th of May, “tears of joy,” says the Marquis de Ferrières, “filled my eyes. . . . In a state of transport . . . I beheld France supported by Religion” exhorting us all to concord. “The sacred ceremonies, the music, the incense, the priests in their sacrificial robes, that dais, that orb radiant with precious stones. . . . I called to my mind the words of the prophet. . . . My God, my country, and my countrymen, all were one with myself!” This susceptibility repeatedly breaks out in the course of the session, and carries decrees which had never been dreamt of. “Sometimes,”8 writes the American ambassador, “an orator gets up in the midst of a deliberation, makes a fine discourse on a different subject, and closes with a nice little resolution which is carried with a huzzah. Thus, in considering the plan of a national bank proposed by M. Necker, one of them took it into his head to move that every member should give his silver buckles—which was agreed to at once, and the honourable mover laid his upon the table, after which the business went on again.” Thus, overexcited, they do not know in the morning what they will do in the afternoon, and they are at the mercy of every surprise. When they are seized with these fits of enthusiasm, infatuation spreads over all the benches; prudence gives way, all foresight disappears, and every objection is stifled. During the night of the 4th of August,9 “nobody is master of himself . . . the Assembly presents the spectacle of an inebriated crowd in a shop of valuable furniture, breaking and smashing at will whatever they can lay their hands on.” “That which would have required a year of care and reflection,” says a competent foreigner, “was proposed, deliberated over, and passed by general acclamation. The abolition of feudal rights, of titles, of the privileges of the provinces, three articles which alone embraced a whole system of jurisprudence and statesmanship, were decided with ten or twelve other measures in less time than is required in the English Parliament for the first reading of an important bill.” “Such are our Frenchmen,” says Mirabeau again, “they spend a month in disputes about syllables, and overthrow, in a single night, the whole established system of the Monarchy!”10 The truth is, they display the nervousness of women, and, from one end of the Revolution to the other, this excitability keeps on increasing.
Not only are they excited, but the pitch of excitement must be maintained, and, like the drunkard who, once stimulated, has recourse again to strong waters, one would say that they carefully try to expel the last remnants of calmness and common sense from their brains. They delight in pompous phrases, in high-sounding rhetoric, in declamatory sentimental strokes of eloquence: this is the style of nearly all their speeches, and so strong is their taste, they are not satisfied with the orations made amongst themselves. Lally and Necker, having made “affecting and sublime” speeches at the Hôtel-de-Ville, the Assembly wish them to be repeated before them:11 this being the heart of France, it is proper for it to answer to the noble emotions of all Frenchmen. Let this heart throb on, and as strongly as possible, for that is its office, and day by day it receives fresh impulses. Almost all sittings begin with the reading of flattering addresses or of threatening denunciations. The petitioners frequently appear in person, and read their enthusiastic effusions, their imperious advice, their doctrines of dissolution. Today it is Danton, in the name of Paris, with his bull visage and his voice that seems a tocsin of insurrection; tomorrow, the vanquishers of the Bastille, or some other troop, with a band of music which continues playing even into the hall. The meeting is not a conference for business, but a patriotic opera, where the eclogue, the melodrama, and sometimes the masquerade, mingle with the cheers and the clappings of hands.12 —A serf of the Jura is brought to the bar of the Assembly aged one hundred and twenty years, and one of the members of the cortège, “M. Bourbon de la Crosnière, director of a patriotic school, asks permission to take charge of the august old man, that he may be waited on by the young people of all ranks, and especially by the children of those whose fathers were killed in the attack on the Bastille.”13 Great is the hubbub and excitement. The scene seems to be in imitation of Berquin,14 with the additional complication of a mercenary consideration.
But small matters are not closely looked into, and the Assembly, under the pressure of the galleries, stoops to shows, such as are held at fairs. Sixty vagabonds who are paid twelve francs a head, in the costumes of Spaniards, Dutchmen, Turks, Arabs, Tripolitans, Persians, Hindoos, Mongols, and Chinese, conducted by the Prussian Anacharsis Clootz, enter, under the title of Ambassadors of the Human Race, to declaim against tyrants, and they are admitted to the honours of the sitting. On this occasion the masquerade is a stroke devised to hasten and extort the abolition of nobility.15 At other times, there is little or no object in it; its ridiculousness is inexpressible, for the farce is played out as seriously and earnestly as in a village award of prizes. For three days, the children who have taken their first communion before the constitutional bishop have been promenaded through the streets of Paris; at the Jacobin club they recite the nonsense they have committed to memory; and, on the fourth day, admitted to the bar of the Assembly, their spokesman, a poor little thing of twelve years old, repeats the parrot-like tirade. He winds up with the accustomed oath, upon which all the others cry out in their piping, shrill voices, “We swear!” As a climax, the President, Treilhard, a sober lawyer, replies to the little gamins with perfect gravity in a similar strain, employing metaphors, personifications, and everything else belonging to the stock-in-trade of a pedant on his platform: “You merit a share in the glory of the founders of liberty, prepared as you are to shed your blood in her behalf.” Immense applause from the “left” and the galleries, and a decree ordering the speeches of both president and children to be printed. The children, probably, would rather have gone out to play; but, willingly or unwillingly, they receive or endure the honours of the sitting.16
Such are the tricks of the stage and of the platform by which the managers here move their political puppets. Emotional susceptibility, once recognised as a legitimate force, thus becomes an instrument of intrigue and constraint. The Assembly, having accepted theatrical exhibitions when these were sincere and earnest, is obliged to tolerate them when they become mere sham and buffoonery. At this vast national banquet, over which it meant to preside, and to which, throwing the doors wide open, it invited all France, its first intoxication was due to wine of a noble quality; but it has touched glasses with the populace, and by degrees, under the pressure of its associates, it has descended to adulterated and burning drinks, to a grotesque unwholesome inebriety which is all the more grotesque and unwholesome, because it persists in believing itself to be reason.
If reason could only resume its empire during the lucid intervals! But reason must exist before it can govern, and in no French Assembly, except the two following this, have there ever been fewer political intellects. Strictly speaking, with careful search, there could undoubtedly be found in France, in 1789, five or six hundred experienced men, such as the intendants and military commanders of every province; next to these the prelates, administrators of large dioceses, the members of the local “parlements,” whose courts gave them influence, and who, besides judicial functions, possessed a portion of administrative power; and finally, the principal members of the Provincial Assemblies, all of them influential and sensible people who had exercised control over men and affairs, at once humane, liberal, moderate, and capable of understanding the difficulty, as well as the necessity, of a great reform; indeed, their correspondence, full of facts, stated with precision and judgment, when compared with the doctrinaire rubbish of the Assembly, presents the strongest possible contrast. But most of these lights remain under a bushel; only a few of them get into the Assembly; these burn without illuminating, and are soon extinguished in the tempest. The venerable Machault is not there, nor Malesherbes; there are none of the old ministers or the marshals of France. Not one of the intendants is there, except Malouet—and by the superiority of this man, the most judicious of the Assembly, one can judge the services which his colleagues would have rendered. Out of two hundred and ninety-one members of the clergy,17 there are indeed forty-eight bishops or archbishops and thirty-five abbots or canons, but, being prelates and with large endowments, they excite the envy of their order, and are generals without any soldiers. We have the same spectacle among the nobles. Most of them, the gentry of the provinces, have been elected in opposition to the grandees of the Court. Moreover, neither the grandees of the Court, devoted to worldly pursuits, nor the gentry of the provinces, confined to private life, are practically familiar with public affairs. A small group among them, twenty-eight magistrates and about thirty superior officials who have held command or have been connected with the administration, probably have some idea of the peril of society; but it is precisely for this reason that they seem to be behind the age and remain without influence. In the Third-Estate, out of five hundred and seventy-seven members, only ten have exercised any important functions, those of intendant, councillor of state, receiver-general, lieutenant of police, director of the mint, and others of the same category. The great majority is composed of unknown lawyers and people occupying inferior positions in the profession, notaries, royal attorneys, register-commissaries, judges and assessors of the présidial, bailiffs and lieutenants of the bailiwick, simple practitioners confined from their youth to the narrow circle of an inferior jurisdiction or to a routine of scribbling, with no escape but philosophical excursions in imaginary space under the guidance of Rousseau and Raynal. There are three hundred and seventy-three of this class, to whom may be added thirty-eight farmers and husbandmen, fifteen physicians, and, among the manufacturers, merchants, and capitalists, some fifty or sixty who are their equals in education and in political capacity. Scarcely one hundred and fifty proprietors are here from the middle class.18 To these four hundred and fifty deputies, whose condition, education, instruction, and mental range qualified them for being good clerks, prominent men in a commune, honourable fathers of a family, or, at best, provincial academicians, add two hundred and eight curés, their equals; this makes six hundred and fifty out of eleven hundred and eighteen deputies, forming a positive majority, which, again, is augmented by about fifty philosophical nobles, leaving out the weak who follow the current, and the ambitious who range themselves on the strong side. We may divine what a chamber thus made up can do, and those who are familiar with such matters prophesy what it will do.19 “There are some able men in the National Assembly,” writes the American minister, “yet the best heads among them would not be injured by experience, and, unfortunately, there are great numbers who, with much imagination, have little knowledge, judgment, or reflection.” It would be just as sensible to select eleven hundred notables from an inland province and intrust to them the repair of an old frigate. They would conscientiously break the vessel up, and the frigate they would construct in its place would founder before it left port.
If they would only consult the pilots and professional ship-builders! There are several of such to be found around them, whom they cannot suspect, for most of them are foreigners, born in free countries, impartial, sympathetic, and, what is more, unanimous. The Minister of the United States writes, two months before the convocation of the States-General:20 “I, a republican, and just, as it were, emerged from that Assembly which has formed one of the most republican of republican constitutions—I preach incessantly respect for the prince, attention to the rights of the nobility, and moderation, not only in the object, but also in the pursuit of it.” Jefferson, a democrat and radical, expresses himself no differently. At the time of the oath of the Tennis Court, he redoubles his efforts to induce Lafayette and other patriots to make some arrangement with the King to secure freedom of the press, religious liberty, trial by jury, the habeas corpus, and a national legislature—things which he could certainly be made to adopt—and then to retire into private life, and let these institutions act upon the condition of the people until they had rendered it capable of further progress, with the assurance that there would be no lack of opportunity for them to obtain still more. “This was all,” he continues, “that I thought your countrymen able to bear soberly and usefully.” Arthur Young, who studies the moral life of France so conscientiously, and who is so severe in depicting old abuses, cannot comprehend the conduct of the Commons. “To set aside practice for theory . . . in establishing the interests of a great kingdom, in securing freedom to 25,000,000 of people, seems to me the very acme of imprudence, the very quintessence of insanity.” Undoubtedly, now that the Assembly is all-powerful, it is to be hoped that it will be reasonable: “I will not allow myself to believe for a moment that the representatives of the people can ever so far forget their duty to the French nation, to humanity, and their own fame, as to suffer any inordinate and impracticable views—any visionary or theoretic systems— . . . to turn aside their exertions from that security which is in their hands, to place on the chance and hazard of public commotion and civil war the invaluable blessings which are certainly in their power. I will not conceive it possible that men who have eternal fame within their grasp will place the rich inheritance on the cast of a die, and, losing the venture, be damned among the worst and most profligate adventurers that ever disgraced humanity.” As their plan becomes more definite the remonstrances become more decided, and all the expert judges point out to them the importance of the wheels which they are wilfully breaking. “As they have21 hitherto felt severely the authority exercised over them in the name of their princes, every limitation of that authority seems to them desirable. Never having felt the evils of too weak an executive, the disorders to be apprehended from anarchy make as yet no impression. . . . They want an American Constitution,22 with the exception of a King instead of a President, without reflecting that they have not American citizens to support that Constitution. . . . If they have the good sense to give the nobles, as nobles, some portion of the national power, this free constitution will probably last. But otherwise it will degenerate either into a pure monarchy, or a vast republic, or a democracy. Will the latter last? I doubt it. I am sure that it will not, unless the whole nation is changed.” A little later, when they renounce a parliamentary monarchy to put in its place “a royal democracy,” it is at once explained to them that such an institution applied to France can produce nothing but anarchy, and finally end in despotism. “Nowhere23 has liberty proved to be stable without a sacrifice of its excesses, without some barrier to its own omnipotence. . . . Under this miserable government . . . the people, soon weary of storms, and abandoned without legal protection to their seducers or to their oppressors, will shatter the helm, or hand it over to some audacious hand that stands ready to seize it.” Events occur from month to month in fulfilment of these predictions, and the predictions grow gloomier and more gloomy. It is a flock of wild birds:24 “It is very difficult to guess whereabouts the flock will settle when it flies so wild. . . . This unhappy country, bewildered in the pursuit of metaphysical whims, presents to our moral view a mighty ruin. The Assembly, at once master and slave, new in power, wild in theory, raw in practice, engrossing all functions without being able to exercise any, has taken from that fierce, ferocious people every restraint of religion and respect. . . . Such a state of things cannot last. . . . The glorious opportunity is lost, and for this time, at least, the Revolution has failed.”
We see, from the replies of Washington, that he is of the same opinion. On the other side of the Channel, Pitt, the ablest practician, and Burke, the ablest theorist, of political liberty, express the same judgment. Pitt, after 1789, declares that the French have overleaped freedom. After 1790, Burke, in a work which is a prophecy as well as a masterpiece, points to military dictation as the termination of the Revolution, “the most completely arbitrary power that has ever appeared on earth.”
Nothing is of any effect. With the exception of the small powerless group around Malouet and Mounier, the warnings of Morris, Jefferson, Romilly, Dumont, Mallet-Dupan, Arthur Young, Pitt, and Burke, all of them men who have experience of free institutions, are received with indifference or repelled with disdain. Not only are our new politicians incapable, but they think themselves the contrary, and their incompetence is aggravated by their infatuation. “I often used to say,” writes Dumont,25 “that if a hundred persons were stopped at haphazard in the streets of London, and a hundred in the streets of Paris, and a proposal were made to them to take charge of the Government, ninety-nine would accept it in Paris and ninety-nine would refuse it in London. . . . The Frenchman thinks that all difficulties can be overcome by a little quickness of wit. Mirabeau accepted the post of reporter to the Committee on Mines without having the slightest tincture of knowledge on the subject.” In short, most of them enter on politics “like the gentleman who, on being asked if he knew how to play on the harpsichord, replied, ‘I cannot tell, I never tried, but I will see.’ ” “The Assembly had so high an opinion of itself, especially the left side of it, that it would willingly have undertaken the framing of the Code of Laws for all nations. . . . Never had so many men been seen together, fancying that they were all legislators, and that they were there to correct all the errors of the past, to remedy all mistakes of the human mind, and ensure the happiness of all ages to come. Doubt had no place in their minds, and infallibility always presided over their contradictory decrees.”—This is because they have a theory, and because, according to their notion, this theory renders special knowledge unnecessary. Herein they are thoroughly sincere, and it is of set purpose that they reverse all ordinary modes of procedure. Up to this time a constitution used to be organized or repaired like a ship. Experiments were made from time to time, or a model was taken from vessels in the neighbourhood; the first aim was to make the ship sail; its construction was subordinated to its work; it was fashioned in this or that way according to the materials on hand; a beginning was made by examining these materials, and trying to estimate their rigidity, weight, and strength.—All this is behind the age; the Assembly is too enlightened to follow in a rut. In conformity with the fashion of the time it works by deduction, after the method of Rousseau, according to an abstract notion of right, of the State, and of the social compact.26
According to this process, by virtue of political geometry alone, the ship is to be ideal, and since it is ideal it is certain that it will sail, and much better than any empirical craft. They carry out their legislative hobbies according to this principle, and it is easy to divine the nature of their discussions. There are no convincing facts, no pointed arguments; nobody would ever imagine that the speakers were gathered together to conduct real business. Through speech after speech, strings of hollow abstractions are endlessly renewed as in a meeting of students in rhetoric for the purpose of practice, or in a society of old bookworms for their own amusement. On the question of the veto “each orator in turn, armed with his portfolio, reads a dissertation which has no bearing whatever” on the preceding one, which makes “a sort of academical session,” a succession of pamphlets27 fresh every morning for several days. On the question of the Rights of Man fifty-four orators are placed on the list. “I remember,” says Dumont, “that long discussion, which lasted for weeks, as a period of mortal ennui—vain disputes over words, a metaphysical jumble, and most tedious babble; the Assembly was turned into a Sorbonne lecture-room,” and this while chateaux were burning, while town-halls were being sacked, and courts dared no longer hold assize, while the distribution of wheat was stopped, and while society was in course of dissolution. In the same manner the theologians of the Lower Empire kept up their wrangles about the uncreated light of Mount Tabor while Mahomet II was battering the walls of Constantinople with his cannon.—Ours, of course, are another sort of men, juvenile in feeling, sincere, enthusiastic, even generous, and further, more devoted, laborious, and in some cases endowed with rare talent. But neither zeal, nor labour, nor talent are of any use when not employed in the service of a sound idea; and if in the service of a false one, the greater they are the more mischief they do.
Towards the end of the year 1789, there can be no doubt of this; and the parties now formed reveal the measure of their presumption, improvidence, incapacity, and obstinacy. “This Assembly,” writes the American ambassador, “may be divided into three parties: one, called the aristocrats, consists of the high clergy, the parliamentary judges, and such of the nobility as think they ought to form a separate order.” This is the party which offers resistance to follies and errors, but with follies and errors almost equally great. In the beginning “the prelates,28 instead of conciliating the curés, kept them at a humiliating distance, affecting distinctions, exacting respect,” and, in their own chamber, “ranging themselves apart on separate benches.” The nobles, on the other hand, the more to alienate the commons, began by charging these with “revolt, treachery, and treason,” and by demanding the use of military force against them. Now that the victorious Third-Estate has again overcome them and overwhelms them with numbers, they become still more maladroit, and conduct the defence much less efficiently than the attack. “In the Assembly,” says one of them, “they do not listen, but laugh and talk aloud”; they take pains to embitter their adversaries and the galleries by their impertinence. “They leave the chamber when the President puts the question and invite the deputies of their party to follow them, or cry out to them not to take part in the deliberation: through this desertion, the clubbists become the majority, and decree whatever they please.” It is in this way that the appointment of judges and bishops is withdrawn from the King and assigned to the people. Again, after the return from Varennes, when the Assembly finding out that the result of its labours is impracticable is disposed to render it less democratic, the whole of the right side will refuse to share in the debates, and, what is worse, will vote with the revolutionists to exclude members of the Constituent from the Legislative Assembly. Thus, not only does it abandon its own cause, but it commits self-destruction, and its desertion ends in suicide.—A second party remains, “the middle party,”29 which consists of well-intentioned people from every class, sincere partisans of a good government; but, unfortunately, they have acquired their ideas of government from books, and are admirable on paper. But as it happens that the men who live in the world are very different from imaginary men who dwell in the heads of philosophers, it is not to be wondered at if the systems taken out of books are fit for nothing but to be upset by another book. Intellects of this stamp are the natural prey of utopians. Lacking the ballast of experience they are carried away by pure logic and serve to enlarge the flock of theorists.—The latter form the third party, which is called the “enragés” (the wild men), and who, at the expiration of six months, find themselves “the most numerous of all.” “It is composed,” says Morris, “of that class which in America is known by the name of pettifogging lawyers, together with a host of curates and many of those persons who in all revolutions throng to the standard of change because they are not satisfied with their present situation. This last party is in close alliance with the populace, and derives from this circumstance very great authority.” All powerful passions are on its side, not merely the irritation of the people tormented by misery and suspicion, not merely the ambition and self-esteem of the bourgeois, in revolt against the ancient régime, but also the inveterate bitterness and fixed ideas of so many suffering minds and so many factious intellects, Protestants, Jansenists, economists, philosophers, men who, like Fréteau, Rabout Saint-Etienne, Volney, Sieyès, are hatching out a long arrear of resentments or hopes, and who only await the opportunity to impose their system with all the intolerance of dogmatism and of faith. To minds of this stamp the past is a dead letter; example is no authority; realities are of no account; they live in their own Utopia. Sieyès, the most important of them all, judges that “the whole English constitution is charlatanism, designed for imposing on the people;”30 he regards the English “as children in the matter of a constitution,” and thinks that he is capable of giving France a much better one. Dumont, who sees the first committees at the houses of Brissot and Clavières, goes away with as much anxiety as “disgust.” “It is impossible,” he says, “to depict the confusion of ideas, the license of the imagination, the burlesque of popular notions. One would think that they saw before them the world on the day after the creation.” They seem to think, indeed, that human society does not exist, and that they are appointed to create it. Just as well might ambassadors “of hostile tribes, and of diverse interests, set themselves to arrange their common lot as if nothing had previously existed.” There is no hesitation. They are satisfied that the thing can be easily done, and that, with two or three axioms of political philosophy, the first man that comes may make himself master of it. Overweening conceit of this kind among men of experience would seem ridiculous; in this assembly of novices it is a power. A flock which has lost its way follows those who go in front; they are the most irrational but they are the most confident, and in the Chamber as in the nation it is the breakneck-riders who become its leaders.
Two advantages give this party the ascendancy, and these advantages are of such importance that henceforth whoever possesses them is sure of being master.—In the first place the prevailing theory is on the side of the revolutionists, and they alone are determined thoroughly to apply it. This party, therefore, is the only one which is consistent and popular in the face of adversaries who are unpopular and inconsequent. Nearly all of the latter, indeed, defenders of the ancient régime, or partisans of a limited monarchy, are likewise imbued with abstract principles and philosophical speculation. The most refractory nobles have advocated the rights of man in their memorials. Mounier, the principal opponent of the demagogues, was the leader of the commons when they proclaimed themselves to be the National Assembly.31 That is enough: they have entered the narrow defile which leads to the abyss. They had no idea of it at the first start, but one step leads to another, and, willing or unwilling, they march on, or are pushed on. When the abyss comes in sight it is too late; they have been driven there by the logical results of their own concessions; they can do nothing but wax eloquent and indignant; having abandoned their vantage-ground, they find no halting-place remaining.—There is an enormous power in general ideas, especially if they are simple, and appeal to the passions. None are simpler than these, since they are reducible to the axiom which assumes the rights of man, and subordinate to them every institution, old or new. None are better calculated to inflame the sentiments, since the doctrine enlists human pride in its service, and, in the name of justice, consecrates all the demands of independence and domination. Consider three-fourths of the deputies, immature and prejudiced, possessing no information but a few formulas of the current philosophy, with no thread to guide them but pure logic, abandoned to the declamation of lawyers, to the wild utterances of the newspapers, to the promptings of self-esteem, to the hundred thousand tongues which, on all sides, at the bar of the Assembly, at the tribune, in the clubs, in the streets, in their own breasts, repeat unanimously to them, and every day, the same flattery: “You are sovereign and omnipotent. Right is vested in you alone. The King exists only to execute your will. Every order, every corporation, every power, every civil or ecclesiastical association is illegitimate and null the moment you declare it to be so. You may even transform religion. You are the fathers of the country. You have saved France, you will regenerate humanity. The whole world looks on you in admiration; finish your glorious work—forward, always forward.” Superior good sense and rooted convictions could alone stand firm against this flood of seductions and solicitations; but vacillating and ordinary men are carried away by it. In the harmony of applause which rises, they do not hear the crash of the ruins they produce. In any case, they stop their ears, and shun the cries of the oppressed; they refuse to admit that their work could possibly bring about evil results; they accept the sophisms and untruths which justify it; they allow the assassinated to be calumniated in order to excuse the assassins; they listen to Merlin de Douay, who, after three or four jacqueries, when pillaging, incendiarism, and murder are going on in all the provinces, has just declared in the name of the Committee on Feudalism32 that “a law must be presented to the people, the justice of which may enforce silence on the feudatory egotists who, for the past six months, so indecently protest against spoliation; the wisdom of which may restore to a sense of duty the peasant who has been led astray for a moment by his resentment of a long oppression.” And when Raynal, the surviving patriarch of the philosophic party, one day, for a wonder, takes the plain truth with him into their tribune, they resent his straightforwardness as an outrage, and excuse it solely on the ground of his imbecility. An omnipotent legislator cannot depreciate himself; like a king he is condemned to self-admiration in his public capacity. “There were not thirty deputies amongst us,” says a witness, “who thought differently from Raynal,” but “in each other’s presence the credit of the Revolution, the perspective of its blessings, was an article of faith which had to be believed in”; and, against their own reason, against their conscience, the moderates, caught in the net of their own acts, join the revolutionists to complete the Revolution.
Had they refused, they would have been compelled; for, to obtain the power, the Assembly has, from the very first, either tolerated or solicited the violence of the streets. But, in accepting insurrectionists for its allies, it makes them masters, and henceforth, in Paris as in the provinces, illegal and brutal force becomes the principal power of the State. “The triumph was accomplished through the people; it was impossible to be severe with them”;33 hence, when insurrections were to be put down, the Assembly had neither the courage nor the force necessary. “They blame for the sake of decency; they frame their deeds by expediency,” and in turn justly undergo the pressure which they themselves have sanctioned against others. Only three or four times do the majority, when the insurrection becomes too daring—after the murder of the baker François, the insurrection of the Swiss Guard at Nancy, and the outbreak of the Champ de Mars—feel that they themselves are menaced, vote for and apply martial law, and repel force with force. But, in general, when the despotism of the people is exercised only against the royalist minority, they allow their adversaries to be oppressed, and do not consider themselves affected by the violence which assails the party of the “right”: they are enemies, and may be given up to the wild beasts. In accordance with this, the “left” has made its arrangements; its fanaticism has no scruples; it is principle, it is absolute truth that is at stake; this must triumph at any cost. Besides, can there be any hesitation in having recourse to the people in the people’s own cause? A little compulsion will help along the good cause, and hence the siege of the Assembly is continually renewed. This was the practice already at Versailles before the 6th of October, while now, at Paris, it is kept up more actively and with less disguise.
At the beginning of the year 1790,34 the band under pay comprises seven hundred and fifty effective men, most of them deserters or soldiers drummed out of their regiments, who are at first paid five francs and then forty sous a day. It is their business to make or support motions in the coffee-houses and in the streets, to mix with the spectators at the sittings of the sections, with the groups at the Palais-Royal, and especially in the galleries of the National Assembly, where they are to hoot or applaud at a given signal. Their leader is a Chevalier de Saint-Louis, to whom they swear obedience, and who receives his orders from the Committee of Jacobins. His first lieutenant at the Assembly is a M. Saule, “a stout, small, stunted old fellow, formerly an upholsterer, then a charlatan hawker of fourpenny boxes of grease—made from the fat of those that had been hung—for the cure of diseases of the kidneys, and all his life a sot . . . who, by means of a tolerably shrill voice, which was always well moistened, has acquired some reputation in the galleries of the Assembly.” In fact, he has forged admission tickets; he has been turned out; he has been obliged to resume “the box of ointment, and travel for one or two months in the provinces with a man of letters for his companion.” But on his return, “through the protection of a groom of the Court, he obtained a piece of ground for a coffee-house against the wall of the Tuileries garden, almost alongside of the National Assembly,” and now it is at home in his coffee-shop behind his counter that the hirelings of the galleries “come to him to know what they must say, and to be told the order of the day in regard to applause.” Besides this, he is there himself; “it is he who for three years is to regulate public sentiment in the galleries confided to his care, and, for his useful and satisfactory services, the Constituent Assembly will award him a recompense,” to which the Legislative Assembly will add “a pension of six hundred livres, besides a lodging in an apartment of the Feuillants.”
We can divine how men of this stamp, thus compensated, do their work. From the top of the galleries35 they drown the demands of the “right” by the force of their lungs; this or that decree, as, for instance, the abolition of titles of nobility, is carried, “not by shouts, but by terrific howls.”36 On the arrival of the news of the sacking of the Hôtel de Castries by the populace, they applaud. On the question coming up as to the decision whether the Catholic faith shall be dominant, “they shout out that the aristocrats must all be hung, and then things will go on well.” Their outrages not only remain unpunished, but are encouraged: this or that noble who complains of their hooting is called to order, while their interference and vociferations, their insults and their menaces, are from this time introduced as one of the regular wheels of legislative operations. Their pressure is still worse outside the Chamber.37 The Assembly is obliged several times to double its guard. On the 27th of September, 1790, there are 40,000 men around the building to extort the dismissal of the Ministers, and “motions for assassination” are made under the windows. On the 4th of January, 1791, whilst on a call of the house the ecclesiastical deputies pass in turn to the tribune, to take or refuse the oath to the civil constitution of the clergy, a furious clamour ascends in the Tuileries, and even penetrates into the Chamber. “To the lantern with all those who refuse!” On the 27th of September, 1790, M. Dupont, economist, having spoken against the assignats, is surrounded on leaving the Chamber and hooted at, hustled, pushed against the basin of the Tuileries, into which he was being thrown when the guard rescued him. On the 21st of June, 1790, M. de Cazalès just misses “being torn to pieces by the people.”38 Deputies of the “right” are threatened over and over again by gestures in the streets and in the coffee-houses; effigies of them with ropes about the neck are publicly displayed. The Abbé Maury is several times on the point of being hung: he saves himself once by presenting a pistol. Another time the Vicomte de Mirabeau is obliged to draw his sword. M. de Clermont-Tonnerre, having voted against the annexation of the Comtat to France, is assailed with chairs and clubs in the Palais-Royal, pursued into a porter’s room and from thence to his dwelling; the howling crowd break in the doors, and are only repelled with great difficulty. It is impossible for the members of the “right” to assemble together; they are “stoned” in the church of the Capucins, then in the Salon Français in the Rue Royale, and then, to crown the whole, an ordinance of the new judges shuts up their hall, and punishes them for the violence which they have to suffer.39 In short, they are at the mercy of the mob. The most moderate, the most liberal, and the most manly both in heart and head, Malouet, declares that “in going to the Assembly he rarely forgot to carry his pistols with him.”40 “For two years,” he says, “after the King’s flight, we never enjoyed one moment of freedom and security.” “On going into a slaughter-house,” writes another deputy, “you see some animals at the entrance which still have a short time to live, until the hour comes to despatch them. Such was the impression which the assemblage of nobles, bishops, and parliamentarians41 on the right side made on my mind every time I entered the Assembly, the executioners of the left side permitting them to breathe a little longer.” They are insulted and outraged even upon their benches; “placed between peril within and peril without, between the hostility of the galleries”42 and that of the howlers at the entrance, “between personal insults and the abbey of Saint-Germain, between shouts of laughter celebrating the burning of their chateaux and the clamours which, thirty times in a quarter of an hour, cry down their opinions,” they are given over and denounced “to the ten thousand Cerberuses” of the journals and of the streets, who pursue them with their yells and “cover them with their slaver.” Any expedient is good enough for putting down their opposition, and, at the end of the session, in full Assembly, they are threatened with “a recommendation to the departments,” which means the excitement of riots and of the permanent jacquerie of the provinces against them in their own houses.—Parliamentary strategy of this sort, employed uninterruptedly for twenty-nine months, finally produces its effect. Many of the weak are gained over;43 even on characters of firm temper fear has a hold; he who would march under fire with head erect shuddered at the idea of being dragged in the gutter by the rabble; the brutality of the populace always exercises a material ascendancy over finely strung nerves. On the 12th of July, 1791,44 the call of the house decreed against the absentees proves that one hundred and thirty-two deputies no longer appear in their places. Eleven days before, among those who still attend, two hundred and seventy announced that they would take no further part in the proceedings. Thus, before the completion of the Constitution, the whole of the opposition, more than four hundred members, over one-third of the Assembly, is reduced to flight or to silence. By dint of oppression, the revolutionary party has got rid of all resistance, while the violence which gave to it ascendancy in the streets, now gives to it equal ascendancy within the walls of Parliament.
Generally in an omnipotent assembly, when a party takes the lead and forms a majority, it furnishes the Ministry; and this fact suffices to give, or to bring back to it, some glimpse of common sense. For its leaders, with the Government in their own hands, become responsible for it, and when they propose or pass a law, they are obliged to anticipate its effect. Rarely will a Secretary of War or of the Navy adopt a military code which goes to establish permanent disobedience in the army or in the navy. Rarely will a Secretary of the Treasury propose an expenditure for which there is not a sufficient revenue, or a system of taxation that provides no returns. Placed where full information can be procured, daily advised of every detail, surrounded by skilful counsellors and expert clerks, the chiefs of the majority, who thus become heads of the administration, immediately drop theory for practice; and the fumes of political speculation must be pretty dense in their minds if they exclude the multiplied rays of light which experience constantly sheds upon them. Let the stubbornest of theorists take his stand at the helm of a ship, and, whatever be the obstinacy of his principles or his prejudices, he will never, unless he is blind or led by the blind, persist in steering always to the right or always to the left. Just so after the flight to Varennes, when the Assembly, in full possession of the executive power, directly controls the Ministry, it comes to recognise for itself that its constitutional machine will not work, except in the way of destruction; and it is the principal revolutionists, Barnave, Duport, the Lameths, Chapelier, and Thouret,45 who undertake to make alterations in the mechanism so as to lessen its friction. This source of knowledge and judgment, however, to which they are induced to resort for a moment, in spite of themselves and too late, has been closed up by themselves from the very beginning. On the 6th of November, 1789, in deference to principle and in dread of corruption, the Assembly had declared that none of its members should hold ministerial office. We see it in consequence deprived of all the instruction which comes from direct contact with affairs, surrendered without any counterpoise to the seductions of theory, reduced by its own decision to a mere academy of legislation.
Nay, still worse, through another effect of the same error, it condemns itself by its own act to constant fits of panic. For, having allowed the power which it was not willing to assume to slip into lukewarm or suspicious hands, it is always uneasy, and all its decrees bear an uniform stamp, not only of the wilful ignorance to which it shuts itself up, but also of the exaggerated or chimerical fears in which its life is passed.—Imagine a ship conveying a company of lawyers, literary men, and other passengers, who, supported by a mutinous and poorly fed crew, take full command, but refuse to select one of their own number for a pilot or for the officer of the watch. The former captain continues to nominate them; through very shame, and because he is a good sort of man, his title is left to him, and he is retained for the transmission of orders. If these orders are absurd, so much the worse for him; if he resists them, a fresh mutiny forces him to yield; and even when they cannot be executed, he has to answer for their being carried out. In the meantime, in a room between decks, far away from the helm and the compass, our club of amateurs discuss the equilibrium of floating bodies, decree a new system of navigation, have the ballast thrown overboard, crowd on all sail, and are astonished to find that the ship heels over on its side. The officer of the watch and the pilot must, evidently, have managed the manoeuvre badly. They are accordingly dismissed and others put in their place, while the ship heels over farther yet and begins to leak in every joint. Enough: it is the fault of the captain and the old staff of officers. They are not well-disposed; for a beautiful system of navigation like this ought to work well; and if it fails to do so, it is because some one interferes with it. It is positively certain that some of those people belonging to the former régime must be traitors, who would rather have the ship go down than submit; they are public enemies and monsters. They must be seized, disarmed, put under surveillance, and punished.—Such is the reasoning of the Assembly. Evidently, to reassure it, a message from the Minister of the Interior chosen by the Assembly, to the lieutenant of police whom he had appointed, to come to his hotel every morning, would be all that was necessary. But it is deprived of this simple resource by its own act, and has no other expedient than to appoint a committee of investigation to discover crimes of “treason against the nation.”46 What could be more vague than such a term? What could be more mischievous than such an institution? Renewed every month, deprived of special agents, composed of credulous and inexperienced deputies, this committee, set to perform the work of a Lenoir or a Fouché, makes up for its incapacity by violence, and its proceedings anticipate those of the Jacobin inquisition.47 Alarmist and suspicious, it encourages accusations, and, for lack of plots to discover, it invents them. Inclinations, in its eyes, stand for actions, and floating projects become accomplished outrages. On the denunciation of a domestic who has listened at a door, on the gossip of a washerwoman who has found a scrap of paper in a dressing-gown, on the false interpretation of a letter, on vague indications which it completes and patches together by the strength of its imagination, it forges a coup d’état, makes examinations, domiciliary visits, nocturnal surprises, and arrests;48 it exaggerates, blackens, and comes in public session to denounce the whole affair to the National Assembly. First comes the plot of the Breton nobles to deliver Brest to the English;49 then the plot for hiring brigands to destroy the crops; then the plot of the 14th of July to burn Paris; then the plot of Favras to murder Lafayette, Necker, and Bailly; then the plot of Augeard to carry off the King—with others from week to week, not counting those which swarm in the brains of the journalists, and which Desmoulins, Fréron, and Marat reveal with a flourish of trumpets in each of their publications. “All these alarms are cried daily in the streets like cabbages and turnips, the good people of Paris inhaling them along with the pestilential vapours of our mud.”50
Now, in this aspect, as well as in a good many others, the Assembly is the people; satisfied that it is in danger,51 it makes laws as the former make their insurrections, and protects itself by strokes of legislation as the former protects itself by blows with pikes. Failing to take hold of the motor spring by which it might direct the machine, it distrusts all the old and all the new wheels. The old ones seem to it an obstacle, and, instead of utilising them, it breaks them one by one—parliaments, provincial states, religious orders, the church, the nobles, and royalty. The new ones are suspicious, and instead of harmonizing them, it puts them out of gear in advance—the executive power, administrative powers, judicial powers, the police, the gendarmerie, and the army.52 Thanks to these precautions it is impossible for any of them to be turned against itself; but, also, thanks to these precautions, none of them can perform their functions.
In building, as well as in destroying, the Assembly had two bad counsellors, on the one hand fear, on the other hand theory; and on the ruins of the old machine which it has demolished without discernment, the new machine, which it has constructed without forecast, will work only to its own ruin.
Destruction—I.Two principal vices of the ancient régime—Two principal reforms proposed by the King and the privileged classes—They suffice for actual needs—Impracticable if carried further—II.Nature of societies, and the principle of enduring constitutions—III.The classes which form a State—Political aptitude of the aristocracy—Its disposition in 1789—Special services which it might have rendered—The principle of the Assembly as to original equality—Rejection of an Upper Chamber—The feudal rights of the aristocracy—How far and why they were worthy of respect—How they should have been transformed—Principle of the Assembly as to original liberty—Distinction established by it in feudal dues; application of its principle—The lacunae of its law—Difficulties of redemption—Actual abolition of all feudal liens—Abolition of titles and territorial names—Growing prejudice against the aristocracy—Its persecutions—The emigration—IV.The corporations of a State—Abuse and lukewarmness in 1789 in the ecclesiastical bodies—How the State used its right of overseeing and reforming them—Social usefulness of corporations—The sound part in the monastic institution—Zeal and services of nuns—How ecclesiastical possessions should be employed—Principle of the Assembly as to private communities and mortmain—Disestablishment and disendowment of all corporations—Uncompensated suppression of tithes—Confiscation of ecclesiastical possessions—Effect on the Treasury and on disendowed services—The civil constitution of the clergy—Rights of the Church in relation to the State—Certainty and effects of a conflict—Priests considered as State-functionaries—Principal stipulations of the law—Obligations of the oath—The majority of priests refuse to take it—The majority of believers on their side—Persecution of believers and of priests.
In the structure of the old society there were two fundamental vices which called for two reforms of corresponding importance.1 In the first place, those who were privileged having ceased to render the services for which the advantages they enjoyed constituted their compensation, their privileges were no longer anything but a gratuitous charge imposed on one portion of the nation for the benefit of the other, and hence the necessity for suppressing them. In the second place, the Government, being absolute, made use of public resources as if they were its own private property, arbitrarily and wastefully; it was therefore necessary to impose upon it some efficacious and regular restraints. To render all citizens equal before taxation, to put the purse of the tax-payers into the hands of their representatives, such was the twofold operation to be carried out in 1789; and the privileged class as well as the King willingly lent themselves to it. Not only, in this respect, were the memorials of nobles and clergy in perfect harmony, but the monarch himself, in his declaration of the 23rd of June, 1789, decreed the two articles. Henceforth, every tax or loan was to obtain the consent of the States-General; this consent was to be renewed at each new meeting of the States; the public estimates were to be annually published, discussed, specified, apportioned, voted on, and verified by the States; there were to be no arbitrary assessments or use of public funds; allowances were to be specially assigned for all separate services, the household of the King included. In each province or district-general, there was to be an elected Provincial Assembly, one-half composed of ecclesiastics and nobles, and the other half of members of the Third-Estate, to apportion general taxes, to manage local affairs, to decree and direct public works, to administer hospitals, prisons, workhouses, and to continue its function, in the interval of the sessions, through an intermediary commission chosen by itself; so that, besides the principal control of the centre, there were to be thirty subordinate controlling powers at the extremities. There was to be no more exemption or distinction in the matter of taxation; the road-tax (corvée) was to be abolished, also the right of franc-fief2 imposed on plebeians, the rights of mortmain,3 subject to indemnity, and internal customs-duties. There was to be a reduction of the captainries, a modification of the salt-tax and of the excise, the transformation of civil justice, too costly for the poor, and of criminal justice, too severe for the humbler classes. Here we have, besides the principal reform, equalization of taxes, the beginning and inducement of the more complete operation which is to strike off the last of the feudal manacles. Moreover, six weeks later, on the 4th of August, the privileged, in an outburst of generosity, come forward of their own accord to cut off or undo the whole of them. This double reform thus encountered no obstacles, and, as Arthur Young reported to his friends, it merely required one vote to have it adopted.4
This was enough; for all real necessities were now satisfied. On the one hand, through the abolition of privileges in the matter of taxation, the burden on the peasant and, in general, on the small tax-payer was diminished one-half, and perhaps two-thirds; instead of paying fifty-three francs on one hundred francs of net income, he paid no more than twenty-five or even sixteen;5 an enormous relief, and one which, with the proposed revisal of the excise and salt duties, made a complete change in his condition. Add to this the gradual redemption of ecclesiastical and feudal dues, and at the end of twenty years the peasant, already proprietor of a fifth of the soil, was in the way of attaining, without the violent procedure of the Revolution, a degree of independence and well-being which he has only achieved by passing through it. On the other hand, through the annual vote on the taxes, not only were waste and arbitrariness in the employment of the public funds put a stop to, but also the foundations of the parliamentary system of government were laid: whoever holds the purse-strings is, or becomes, master of the rest; henceforth in the maintenance or establishment of any service, the assent of the States was to be necessary. Now, in the three Chambers which the three orders were thenceforward to form, there were two in which the plebeians predominated. Public opinion, moreover, was on their side, while the King, the true constitutional monarch, far from possessing the imperious inflexibility of a despot, did not now possess the initiative of an ordinary person. Thus the preponderance fell to the communes, and they could legally, without any collision, execute, multiply, and complete, with the aid of the prince and through him, all useful reforms.6 This was enough; for human society, like a living body, is seized with convulsions when it is subjected to operations on too great a scale, and these, although restricted, were probably all that France in 1789 could endure. To equitably reorganize afresh the whole system of direct and indirect taxation; to revise, recast, and transfer to the frontiers the customs-tariffs; to suppress, through negotiations and with indemnity, feudal and ecclesiastical claims, was an operation of the greatest magnitude, and as complex as it was delicate. Things could be satisfactorily arranged only through minute inquiries, verified calculations, prolonged essays, and mutual concessions. In England, in our day, a quarter of a century has been required to bring about a lesser reform, the transformation of tithes and manorial-rights; and time likewise was necessary for our Assemblies to perfect their political education,7 to get rid of their theories, to learn, by contact with practical business, and in the study of details, the distance which separates speculation from practice; to discover that a new system of institutions works well only through a new system of habits, and that to decree a new system of habits is tantamount to attempting to build an old house. Such, however, is the work they undertake. They reject the King’s proposals—the limited reforms, the gradual transformations. According to them, it is their right and their duty to remake society from top to bottom. Such is the command of pure reason, which has discovered the Rights of Man and the conditions of the Social Contract.
Apply the Social Contract, if you like, but apply it only to those for whom it was drawn up. These consist of human abstractions, men of no age and of no country, pure entities hatched under the divining rod of metaphysics. In reality they are formed by eliminating the differences which distinguish one man from another8 —a Frenchman from a Papuan, a modern Englishman from a Briton in the time of Caesar—and by retaining only the part which is common to all. The essence thus obtained is a prodigiously meagre one, an infinitely curtailed extract of human nature, that is, in the phraseology of the day, “a being with a desire to be happy and the faculty of reasoning,” no more and no less. Millions of individuals, all precisely alike, are fashioned according to this pattern, while, through a second simplification, as extraordinary as the first one, they are all supposed to be free and all equal, without a past, without kindred, without responsibility, without traditions, without customs, like so many mathematical units, all separable and all equivalent, and then it is imagined that, assembled together for the first time, these proceed to make their primitive bargain. From the nature they are supposed to possess and the situation in which they are placed, no difficulty is found in deducing their interests, their wills, and the contract between them. But if this contract suits them, it does not follow that it suits others. On the contrary, it follows that it does not suit others; the inconvenience becomes extreme on its being imposed on a living society; the measure of that inconvenience will be the immensity of the distance which divides a hollow abstraction, a philosophical phantom, an empty unsubstantial image from the real and complete man.
In any event an entity, man so reduced and mutilated as to be only the minimum of man, is not now the subject in hand; but, on the contrary, Frenchmen of the year 1789. It is for them alone that the constitution is being made: it is therefore they alone who should be considered; they are manifestly men of a particular species, having their peculiar temperament, their special aptitudes, their own inclinations, their religion, their history, a complete mental and moral organization, hereditary and deeply rooted, bequeathed to them by the primitive race, and to which every great event, each political or literary era for twenty centuries, has brought an accretion, a metamorphosis or convolution. It is like some tree of a unique species whose trunk, thickened by age, preserves in its annual rings and in its knots, branchings, and curvatures, the deposits which its sap has made and the imprint of the innumerable seasons through which it has passed. Philosophic definitions, so vague and trite, applied to such an organism are meaningless labels which teach us nothing. And all the more because extreme diversities and inequalities show themselves on this exceedingly elaborate and complicated background—those of age, education, faith, class, and fortune; and these must be taken into account, for these contribute to the formation of interests, passions, and dispositions. To take only the most important of these, it is clear that, according to the average of human life,9 one-half of the population is composed of children, and, besides this, one-half of the adults are women. In every twenty inhabitants eighteen are Catholic, of whom sixteen are believers, at least through habit and tradition. Twenty-five out of twenty-six millions of Frenchmen cannot read, one million at the most being able to do so; and in political matters only five or six hundred are competent. As to the condition of each class, its ideas, its sentiments, its kind and degree of culture, we should have to devote a large volume to a mere sketch of them.
There is still another feature and the most important of all. These men who are so different from each other are far from being independent, or from contracting together for the first time. They and their ancestors for eight hundred years form a national body, and it is because they belong to this body that they live, multiply, labour, make acquisitions, become enlightened and civilised, and accumulate the vast heritage of comforts and intelligence which they now enjoy. Each in this community is like the cell of an organized body: undoubtedly the body is only an accumulation of cells, but the cell is born, subsists, develops, and attains its individual ends only by the healthy condition of the whole body. Its chief interest, accordingly, is the prosperity of the whole organism, and the fundamental requirement of all the little fragmentary lives, whether they know it or not, is the conservation of the great total life in which they are comprised as musical notes in a concert. Not only is this a necessity for them, but it is also a duty. Each individual that comes into the world is indebted to the State, and this debt keeps on increasing up to maturity, for it is with the cooperation of the State, under the guardianship of its laws, and protected by the public power, that his ancestors, and after them his parents, have transmitted to him life, property, and education. His faculties, his ideas, his sentiments, his whole moral and physical being, are products to which the community has nearly or remotely contributed, at least as tutor and guardian. By virtue of this the State is his creditor, just as a destitute father is of his able-bodied son; it is entitled to food, to services, and, in all the powers or resources at his disposal it justly lays claim to a certain portion. This he knows and feels; the idea of country is deeply implanted within him, and when occasion calls for it, it will show itself in ardent emotions, prolonged sacrifices, and heroic actions.—Such are veritable Frenchmen, and we at once see how different they are from the simple, indistinguishable, detached monads which the philosophers insist on substituting for them. Their association need not be created, for it already exists; for eight centuries they have had a “common weal” (la chose publique). The safety and prosperity of this common weal is at once their interest, their need, their duty, and even their most secret wish. If it is possible to speak here of a contract, their quasi-contract is made and settled for them beforehand. The first article, at all events, is stipulated for, and this overrides all the others. The State is not to be disintegrated. Public powers must, accordingly, exist, and these must be respected. If there are a number of these, they must be so defined and so balanced as to be of mutual assistance, instead of neutralising each other by their opposition. Whatever government is adopted, it must place matters in the hands best qualified to conduct them. The law must not exist for the advantage of the minority, nor for that of the majority, but for the entire community.—In regard to this first article no one must derogate from it—neither the minority nor the majority, neither the Assembly elected by the nation, nor the nation itself, even if unanimous. It has no right arbitrarily to dispose of the common weal, to put it in peril according to its caprice, to subordinate it to the application of a theory or to the interests of a single class, even if this class is the most numerous. For, that which is the common weal does not belong to it, but to the whole community, past, present, and to come. Each generation is simply the temporary manager and responsible trustee of a precious and glorious patrimony which it has received from the former generation, and which it has to transmit to the one that comes after it. In this perpetual endowment, to which all Frenchmen from the first days of France have brought their offerings, there is no doubt about the intentions of countless benefactors; they have made their gifts conditionally, that is, on the condition that the endowment should remain intact, and that each successive beneficiary should merely serve as the administrator of it. Should any of the beneficiaries, through presumption or levity, through rashness or one-sidedness, compromise the charge intrusted to them, they wrong all their predecessors whose sacrifices they invalidate, and all their successors whose hopes they frustrate. Accordingly, before undertaking to frame a constitution, let the whole community be considered in its entirety, not merely in the present but in the future, as far as the eye can reach. The interest of the public, viewed in this far-sighted manner, is the end to which all the rest must be subordinate, and for which a constitution provides. A constitution, whether oligarchical, monarchical, or aristocratic, is simply an instrument, good if it attains this end, and bad if it does not attain it, and which, to attain it, must, like every species of mechanism, vary according to the ground, materials, and circumstances. The most ingenious is illegitimate if it dissolves the State, while the clumsiest is legitimate if it keeps the State intact. There is none that springs out of an anterior, universal, and absolute right. According to the people, the epoch, and the degree of civilisation, according to the outer or inner condition of things, all civil or political equality or inequality may, in turn, be or cease to be beneficial or hurtful, and therefore justify the legislator in removing or preserving it. It is according to this superior and salutary law, and not according to an imaginary and impossible contract, that he is to organize, limit, and distribute from the centre to the extremities, through inheritance or through election, through equalisation or through privilege, the rights of the citizen and the powers of the community.
Was it essential as a preliminary thing to clear the ground, and was it advisable to abolish or only to reform the various orders and corporations?—Two prominent orders, the clergy and the nobles, enlarged by the ennobled plebeians who had grown wealthy and acquired titled estates, formed a privileged aristocracy side by side with the Government, whose favours it monopolized on the condition of seeking them assiduously and with due acknowledgment, privileged on its own domains, and taking advantage there of all rights belonging to the feudal chieftain without performing his duties. This abuse was evidently an enormous one and had to be ended. But, it did not follow that, because the position of the privileged class on their domains and in connection with the Government was open to abuse, they should be deprived of protection for person and property on their domains, and of influence and occupation under the Government. A favoured aristocracy, when it is unoccupied and renders none of the services which its rank admits of, when it monopolizes all honours, offices, promotions, preferences, and pensions,10 to the detriment of others not less needy and deserving, is undoubtedly a serious evil. But when an aristocracy is subject to the common law, when it is occupied, especially when its occupation is in conformity with its aptitudes, and more particularly when it is available for the formation of an upper elective chamber or an hereditary peerage, it is of vast service.—In any case it cannot be irreversibly suppressed; for, although it may be abolished by law, it is reconstituted by facts. The legislator must necessarily choose between two systems, that which lets it lie fallow, or that which enables it to be productive, that which drives it away from, or that which rallies it round, the public service. In every society which has lived for any length of time, a nucleus of families always exists whose fortunes and importance are of ancient date. Even when, as in France in 1789, this class seems to be exclusive, each half century introduces into it new families such as members of the parliaments, intendants, capitalists who have risen to the top of the social ladder through the wealth they have acquired or through the important offices they have filled; and here, in the medium thus constituted, the statesman and wise counsellor of the people, the independent and able politician is most naturally developed.—On the one hand, thanks to his fortune and his rank, a man of this class is above all vulgar ambitions and temptations. He is able to give his services gratuitously; he is not obliged to concern himself about money or about providing for his family and making his way in the world. A political mission is no interruption to his career; he is not obliged, like the engineer, merchant, or physician, to sacrifice either his business, his advancement, or his clients. He can resign his post without injury to himself or to those dependent on him, follow his own convictions, resist the noisy deleterious opinions of the day, and be the loyal servant, not the low flatterer of the public. Whilst, consequently, in the inferior or average conditions of life, the mainspring is self-interest, with him the grand motive is pride. Now, amongst the deeper feelings of man there is none which is more adapted for transformation into probity, patriotism, and conscientiousness; for, the first requisite of the high-spirited man is self-respect, and to obtain that he is induced to deserve it. Compare, from this point of view, the gentry and nobility of England with the “politicians” of the United States.—On the other hand, with equal talents, a man who belongs to this sphere of life enjoys opportunities for acquiring a better comprehension of public affairs than a poor man of the lower classes. The information he requires is not the erudition obtained in libraries and in private study. He must be familiar with living men, and, besides these, with agglomerations of men, and even more with human organizations, with States, with Governments, with parties, with administrative systems, at home and abroad, in full operation and on the spot. There is but one way to reach this end, and that is to see for himself, with his own eyes, at once in general outline and in detail, by intercourse with the heads of departments, with eminent men and specialists, in whom are gathered up the information and the ideas of a whole class. Now the young do not frequent society of this description, either at home or abroad, except on the condition of possessing a name, family, fortune, education, and a knowledge of social observances. All this is necessary to enable a young man of twenty to find doors everywhere open to him, to be received everywhere on an equal footing, to be able to speak and to write three or four living languages, to make long, expensive, and instructive sojourns in foreign lands, to select and vary his position in the different branches of the public service, without pay or nearly so, and with no object in view but that of his political culture. Thus brought up a man, even of common capacity, is worthy of being consulted. If he is of superior ability, and there is employment for him, he may become a statesman before thirty; he may acquire ripe capacities, become Prime Minister, the sole pilot, alone able, like Pitt, Canning, or Peel, to steer the ship of State between the reefs, or give in the nick of time the touch to the helm which will save the ship. Such is the service to which an upper class is adapted. There is no other but this special stock-breeding system which can furnish a regular supply of racers, and, now and then, the favourite winner that distances all his competitors in the European field.
But in order that they may prepare themselves for this career and take to it naturally, the way must be clear, and a man must not be compelled to travel too repulsive a road. If rank, inherited fortune, personal dignity, and refined manners are sources of disfavour with the people; if, to obtain their suffrages, he is forced to treat as equals electoral brokers of low character; if impudent charlatanism, vulgar declamation, and servile flattery are the sole means by which votes can be secured, then, as nowadays in the United States, and formerly in Athens, the aristocratic body will retire into private life and soon settle down into a state of idleness. A man of culture and refinement, born with an income of a hundred thousand a year, is not tempted to become either manufacturer, lawyer, or physician. For want of other occupation he loiters about, entertains his friends, chats, indulges in the tastes and hobbies of an amateur, amuses himself or dies with ennui, and accordingly is one of the great forces of the State lost to the State. In this way the best and largest acquirements of the past, the heaviest accumulations of material and of moral capital, remain unproductive. In a pure democracy the upper branches of the social tree, not only the old ones but the young ones, remain sterile. When a vigorous branch passes above the rest and reaches the top it ceases to bear fruit. The élite part of the nation is thus condemned to constant and irremediable failures because it cannot find a suitable outlet for its activity. It wants no other outlet, for in all other directions its rivals, who are born below it, can serve as usefully and as well as itself. But this one it must have, for on this side its aptitudes are superior, natural, unique, and the State which refuses to give it air resembles the gardener who in his fondness for a plane surface would repress his best shoots. Hence, in the constructions which aim to utilise the permanent forces of society and yet maintain civil equality, the aristocracy is brought to take a part in public affairs by the duration and gratuitous character of its mission, by the institution of an hereditary character, by the application of various machinery, all of which is combined so as to develop the ambition, the culture, and the political capacity of the upper class, and to place power, or the control of power, in its hands, on the condition that it shows itself worthy of exercising it.—Now, in 1789, the upper class was not unworthy of it. Members of the parliaments, the noblemen, bishops, capitalists, were the men amongst whom, and through whom, the philosophy of the eighteenth century was propagated. Never was an aristocracy more liberal, more humane, and more thoroughly converted to useful reforms;11 many of them remain so under the knife of the guillotine. The magistrates of the superior tribunals, in particular, traditionally and by virtue of their institution, were the enemies of excessive expenditure and the critics of arbitrary acts. As to the gentry of the provinces, “they were so weary,” says one of them,12 “of the Court and the Ministers that most of them were democrats.” For many years, in the Provincial Assemblies the whole of the upper class—the clergy, nobles, and Third-Estate—furnishes abundant evidence of its good disposition, of its application to business, its capacity and even generosity, while its mode of studying, discussing, and assigning the local taxation indicates what it would have done with the general budget had this been intrusted to it. It is evident that it would have protected the general taxpayer as zealously as the taxpayer of the province, and have kept as close an eye upon the public purse at Paris as on that of Bourges or of Montauban.—Thus were the materials of a good chamber ready at hand, and the only thing that had to be done was to collect them together. On having the facts presented to them, its members would have passed without difficulty from a hazardous theory to common-sense practice, and the aristocracy which had enthusiastically given an impetus to reform in its saloons would, in all probability, have carried it out effectively and with moderation in the Parliament.
Unhappily, the Assembly is not providing a Constitution for contemporary Frenchmen, but for abstract beings. Instead of seeing classes in society one placed above the other, it simply sees individuals in juxtaposition; its attention is not fixed on the advantage of the nation, but on the imaginary rights of man. As all men are equal, all must have an equal share in the government. There must be no orders in a State, no avowed or concealed political privileges, no constitutional complications or electoral combinations by which an aristocracy, however liberal and capable, can secure to itself any portion of the public power.—On the contrary, because it was once privileged to enjoy, it is now suspected as a candidate for service; and all projects which, directly or indirectly, reserve or provide a place for it, are rejected: first, the Royal Declaration, which, in conformity with historical precedents, maintained the three orders in three distinct chambers, and only summoned them to deliberate together “on matters of general utility”; next, the plan of the Constitutional Committee, which proposed a second Chamber, appointed for life by the King on the nomination of the Provincial Assemblies; and, finally, the project of Mounier, which confided to these same Assemblies the election of a Senate for six years, renewed by thirds every two years, composed of men of at least thirty-five years of age, and with an income in real property of 10,000 livres per annum. The instinct of equality is too powerful. A second Chamber is not wanted, even if accessible to plebeians. Through it13 “the smaller number would control the greater”; “we should fall back on the humiliating distinctions” of the ancient régime; “we should revivify the germ of an aristocracy which must be exterminated.” “Moreover, whatever recalls or revives feudal institutions is bad, and an Upper Chamber is one of its remnants.” “If the English have one, it is because they have been forced to make a compromise with prejudice.” The National Assembly, sovereign and philosophic, soars above their errors, their trammels, and their example. The depository of truth, it has not to receive lessons from others, but to give them, and to offer to the world’s admiration the first type of a Constitution which is perfect and in conformity with principle—the most effective of any in preventing the formation of a directing class; in closing the way to public business, not only to the old noblesse, but to the aristocracy of the future; in continuing and exaggerating the work of absolute monarchy; in preparing a community of officials and administrators; in sinking the level of humanity; in reducing to sloth and brutalising or blighting the élite of the families which maintain or raise themselves; and in withering the most precious of nurseries, that in which the State recruits its statesmen.
Excluded from the Government, the aristocracy is about to retire into private life: let us follow them to their estates.—Feudal rights instituted for a barbarous State are certainly a great drawback in a modern State. If appropriate in an epoch when property and sovereignty were fused together, when the Government was local, when life was militant, they form an incongruity at a time when sovereignty and property are separated, when the Government is centralized, when the régime is a pacific one, and when the necessary servitudes which, in the tenth century, reestablished security and agriculture, are, in the eighteenth century, purposeless servitudes which impoverish the soil and fetter the peasant. But, because these ancient claims are liable to abuse and injurious at the present day, it does not follow that they never were useful and legitimate, nor that it is allowable to abolish them without indemnity. On the contrary, for many centuries, and, on the whole, so long as the lord of the manor resided on his estate, this primitive contract was advantageous to both parties, and to such an extent that it has led to the modern contract. Thanks to the pressure of this tight bandage, the broken fragments of the community can be again united, and society once more recover its solidity, force, and activity.—In any event, that the institution, like all human institutions, took its rise in violence and was corrupted by abuses, is of little consequence; the State, for eight hundred years, recognised these feudal claims, and, with its own consent and the concurrence of its Courts, they were transmitted, bequeathed, sold, mortgaged, and exchanged, like any other species of property. Only two or three hundred, at most, remain in the families of the original proprietors. “The largest portion of the titled estates,” says a contemporary,14 “have become the property of capitalists, merchants, and their descendants; the fiefs, for the most part, being in the hands of the bourgeois of the towns.” All the fiefs which, during two centuries past, have been bought by new men, now represent the economy and labour of their purchasers.—Moreover, whoever the actual holders may be, whether old or whether new men, the State is under obligation to them, not only by general right—and because, from the beginning, it is in its nature the guardian of all property—but also by a special right, because it has itself sanctioned this particular species of property. The buyers of yesterday paid their money only under its guarantee; its signature is affixed to the contract, and it has bound itself to secure to them the enjoyment of it. If it prevents them from doing so, let it make them compensation; in default of the thing promised to them, it owes them the value of it. Such is the law in cases of expropriation for public utility; in 1834, for instance, the English, for the legal abolition of slavery, paid to their planters the sum of £20,000,000.—But that is not sufficient: when, in the suppression of feudal rights, the legislator’s thoughts are taken up with the creditors, he has only half performed his task; there are two sides to the question, and he must likewise think of the debtors. If he is not merely a lover of abstractions and of fine phrases, if that which interests him is men and not words, if he is bent upon the effective enfranchisement of the cultivator of the soil, he will not rest content with proclaiming a principle, with permitting the redemption of rents, with fixing the rate of redemption, and, in case of dispute, with sending parties before the tribunals. He will reflect that the peasantry, jointly responsible for the same debt, will find difficulty in agreeing among themselves; that they are afraid of litigation; that, being ignorant, they will not know how to set about it; that, being poor, they will be unable to pay; and that, under the weight of discord, distrust, indigence, and inertia, the new law will remain a dead letter, and only exasperate their cupidity or kindle their resentment. In anticipation of this disorder the legislator will come to their assistance; he will interpose commissions of arbitration between them and the lord of the manor; he will substitute a scale of annuities for a full and immediate redemption; he will lend them the capital which they cannot borrow elsewhere; he will establish a bank, rights, and a mode of procedure—in short, as in Savoy in 1771, in England in 1845,15 and in Russia in 1861, he will relieve the poor without despoiling the rich; he will establish liberty without violating the rights of property; he will conciliate interests and classes; he will not let loose a brutal jacquerie to enforce unjust confiscation; and he will terminate the social conflict not with strife but with peace.
It is just the reverse in 1789. In conformity with the doctrine of the social contract, the principle is set up that every man is born free, and that his freedom has always been inalienable. If he formerly submitted to slavery or to serfdom, it was owing to his having had a knife at his throat; a contract of this sort is essentially null and void. So much the worse for those who have the benefit of it at the present day; they are holders of stolen property, and must restore it to the legitimate owners. Let no one object that this property was acquired for cash down, and in good faith; they ought to have known beforehand that man and his liberty are not commercial matters, and that unjust acquisitions rightly perish in their hands.16 Nobody dreams that the State which was a party to this transaction is the responsible guarantor. Only one scruple affects the Assembly; its legists and Merlin, its reporter, are obliged to yield to proof; they know that in current practice, and by innumerable ancient and modern titles, the noble in many cases is nothing but an ordinary lessor, and that if, in those cases, he collects his dues, it is simply in his capacity as a private person, by virtue of a mutual contract, because he has given a perpetual lease of a certain portion of his land; and he has given it only in consideration of an annual payment in money or produce, or services, together with another contingent claim which the farmer pays in case of the transmission of the lease. These two obligations could not be cancelled without indemnity; if it were done, more than one-half of the proprietors in France would be dispossessed in favour of the farmers. Hence the distinction which the Assembly makes in the feudal dues. On the one hand it abolishes without indemnity all those dues which the noble receives by virtue of being the local sovereign, the ancient proprietor of persons and the usurper of public powers; all those which the lessee paid as serf, subject to rights of inheritance, and as former vassal or dependent. On the other hand, it maintains and decrees as redeemable at a certain rate all those which the noble receives through his title of landed proprietor and of simple lessor; all those which the lessee pays by virtue of being a free contracting party, former purchaser, tenant, farmer, or grantee of landed estate. By this division it fancies that it has respected legitimate by overthrowing illegitimate property, and that in the feudal scheme of obligations, it has separated the wheat from the chaff.17
But, through the principle, the drawing up and the omissions of its law, it condemns both to a common destruction; the fire on which it has thrown the chaff necessarily burns up the wheat.—Practically both are bound up together in the same sheaf. If the noble formerly brought men under subjection by the sword, it is also by the sword that he formerly acquired possession of the soil. If the subjection of persons is invalid on account of the original stain of violence, the usurpation of the soil is invalid for the same reason. And if the sanction and guarantee of the State could not justify the first act of brigandage, they could not justify the second; and, since the rights which are derived from unjust sovereignty are abolished without indemnity, the rights which are derived from unjust proprietorship should be likewise abolished without compensation.—The Assembly, with remarkable imprudence, had declared in the preamble to its law that “it abolished the feudal system entirely,” and, whatever its ulterior reservations might be, the fiat has gone forth. The forty thousand sovereign municipalities to which the text of the decree is read pay attention only to the first article, and the village attorney, imbued with the rights of man, easily proves to these assemblies of debtors that they owe nothing to their creditors. There must be no exceptions nor distinctions, no more annual rents, field-rents, dues on produce,18 nor contingent rents, nor lord’s dues and fines, or fifths. If these have been maintained by the Assembly, it is owing to misunderstanding, timidity, inconsistency, and on all sides, in the rural districts, the grumbling of disappointed greed or of unsatisfied necessities19 is heard. “You thought that you were destroying feudalism, while your redemption laws have done just the contrary. . . . Are you not aware that what was called a Seigneur was simply an unpunished usurper? . . . That detestable decree of 1790 is the ruin of all lease-holders. It has thrown the villages into a state of consternation. The nobles reap all the advantage of it. . . . Never will redemption be possible. Redemption of unreal claims! Redemption of dues that are detestable!” In vain the Assembly insists, specifies, and explains by examples and by detailed instructions the mode of procedure and the conditions of redemption. Neither the mode of procedure nor the conditions are practicable. It has made no provisions for facilitating the agreement of parties and the satisfaction of feudal liens, no special arbitrators, nor bank for loans, nor system of annuities. And worse still, instead of clearing the road it has barred it by legal arrangements. The lease-holder is not to redeem his annual rent without at the same time compounding for the contingent rent: he is not allowed to redeem his quota of dues which he shares with others apart from his co-partners. Should his hoard be a small one, so much the worse for him. Not being able to redeem the whole, he is not allowed to redeem a part. Not having the money with which to relieve himself from both ground-rents and lord’s dues he cannot relieve himself from ground-rents. Not having the money to liquidate the debt in full of those who are bound along with himself, he remains a captive in his ancient chains by virtue of the new law which announces to him his freedom.
In the face of these unexpected trammels the peasant becomes furious. His fixed idea, from the outbreak of the Revolution, is that he no longer owes anything to anybody, and, among the speeches, decrees, proclamations, and instructions which rumour brings to his ears, he comprehends but one phrase, and is determined to comprehend no other, and that is, that henceforth his obligations are removed. He does not swerve from this, and since the law hinders, instead of aiding him, he will break the law. In fact, after the 4th of August, 1789, feudal dues cease to be collected. The claims which are maintained are not enforced any more than those which are suppressed. Whole communities come and give notice to the lord of the manor that they will not pay any more rent. Others, with sword in hand, compel him to give them acquittances. Others again, to be more secure, break open his safe, and throw his title-deeds into the fire.20 Public force is nowhere strong enough to protect him in his legal rights. Officers dare not serve writs, the courts dare not give judgment, administrative bodies dare not decree in his favour. He is despoiled through the connivance, the neglect, or the impotence of all the authorities which ought to defend him. He is abandoned to the peasants who fell his forests, under the pretext that they formerly belonged to the commune; who take possession of his mill, his wine-press, and his oven, under the pretext that territorial privileges are suppressed.21 Most of the gentry of the provinces are ruined, without any resource, and have not even their daily bread; for their income consisted in seignorial rights, and in rents derived from their real property, which they had let on perpetual leases, and now, in accordance with the law, one-half of this income ceases to be paid, while the other half ceases to be paid in spite of the law. One hundred and twenty-three millions of revenue, representing two thousand millions and a half of capital in the money of that time, double, at least, that of the present day, thus passes as a gift, or through the toleration of the National Assembly, from the hands of creditors into those of their debtors. To this must be added an equal sum for revenue and capital arising from the tithes which are suppressed without compensation, and by the same stroke.—This is the commencement of the great revolutionary operation, that is to say, of the universal bankruptcy which, directly or indirectly, is to destroy all contracts, and abolish all debts in France. Violations of property, especially of private property, cannot be made with impunity. The Assembly desired to lop off only the feudal branch; but, in admitting that the State can annul, without compensation, the obligations which it has guaranteed, it put the axe to the root of the tree, and other rougher hands are already driving it in up to the haft.
Nothing now remains to the noble but his title, his territorial name, and his armorial bearings, which are innocent distinctions, since they no longer confer any jurisdiction or preeminence upon him, and which, as the law ceases to protect him, the first comer may borrow with impunity. Not only, moreover, do they do no harm, but they are even worthy of respect. With many of the nobles the title of the estate covers the family name, the former alone being made use of. If one were substituted for the other, the public would have difficulty in discovering M. de Mirabeau, M. de Lafayette, and M. de Montmorency, under the new names of M. Riquetti, M. Mottié, and M. Bouchard. Besides, it would be a wrong to the bearer of it, to whom the abolished title is a legitimate possession, often precious, it being a certificate of quality and descent, an authentic personal distinction of which he cannot be deprived without losing his position, rank, and worth, in the human world around him.—The Assembly, however, with a popular principle at stake, gives no heed to public utility, nor to the rights of individuals. The feudal system being abolished, all that remains of it must be got rid of. A decree is passed that “hereditary nobility is offensive to reason and to true liberty”; that, where it exists, “there is no political equality.”22 Every French citizen is forbidden to assume or retain the titles of prince, duke, count, marquis, chevalier, and the like, and to bear any other than the “true name of his family”; he is prohibited from making his servants wear liveries, and from having coats-of-arms on his house or on his carriage. In case of any infraction of this law a penalty is inflicted upon him equal to six times the sum of his personal taxes; he is to be struck off the register of citizens, and declared incapable of holding any civil or military office. There is the same punishment if to any contract or acquittance he affixes his accustomed signature; if, through habit or inadvertence, he adds the title of his estate to his family name—if, with a view to recognition, and to render his identity certain, he merely mentions that he once bore the former name. Any notary or public officer who shall write, or allow to be written, in any document the word ci-devant (formerly) is to be suspended from his functions. Not only are old names thus abolished, but an effort is made to efface all remembrance of them. In a little while, the childish law will become a murderous one. It will be but a little while and, according to the terms of this same decree, a military veteran of seventy-seven years, a loyal servant of the Republic, and a brigadier-general under the Convention, will be arrested on returning to his native village, because he has mechanically signed the register of the revolutionary committee as Montperreux instead of Vannod, and, for this infraction, he will be guillotined along with his brother and his sister-in-law.23
Once on this road, it is impossible to stop; for the principles which are proclaimed go beyond the decrees which are passed, and a bad law introduces a worse. The Constituent Assembly24 had supposed that annual dues, like ground-rents, and contingent dues, like feudal duties (lods et rentes), were the price of an ancient concession of land, and, consequently, the proof to the contrary is to be thrown upon the tenant. The Legislative Assembly is about to assume that these same rentals are the result of an old feudal usurpation, and that, consequently, the proof to the contrary must rest with the proprietor. His rights cannot be established by possession from time immemorial, nor by innumerable and regular acquittances; he must produce the act of enfeoffment which is many centuries old, the lease which has never, perhaps, been written out, the primitive title already rare in 1720,25 and since stolen or burnt in the recent jacqueries: otherwise he is despoiled without indemnity. All feudal claims are swept away by this act without exception and without compensation.
In a similar manner, the Constituent Assembly, setting common law aside in relation to inheritances ab intestato, had deprived all eldest sons and males of any advantages.26 The Convention, suppressing the freedom of testamentary bequest, prohibits the father from disposing of more than one-tenth of his possessions; and again, going back to the past, it makes its decrees retrospective: every will opened after the 14th of July, 1789, is declared invalid if not in conformity with this decree; every succession from the 14th of June, 1789, which is administered after the same date, is redivided if the division has not been equal; every donation which has been made among the heirs after the same date is void. Not only is the feudal family destroyed in this way, but it must never be reformed. The aristocracy, being once declared a venomous plant, it is not sufficient to prune it away, but it must be extirpated, not only dug up by the root, but its seed must be crushed out.—A malignant prejudice is aroused against it, and this grows from day to day. The stings of self-conceit, the disappointments of ambition, and envious sentiments have prepared the way. Its hard, dry kernel consists of the abstract idea of equality. All around revolutionary fervour has caused blood to flow, has embittered tempers, intensified sensibilities, and created a painful abscess which daily irritation renders still more painful. Through steadily brooding over a purely speculative preference this has become a fixed idea, and is becoming a murderous one. It is a strange passion, one wholly of the brain, nourished by magniloquent phrases, but the more destructive, because phantoms are created out of words, and against phantoms no reasoning nor actual facts can prevail. This or that shopkeeper who, up to this time, had always formed his idea of nobles from his impressions of the members of the Parliament of his town or of the gentry of his canton, now pictures them according to the declamations of the club and the invectives of the newspapers. The imaginary figure, in his mind, has gradually absorbed the living figure: he no longer sees the calm and engaging countenance, but a grinning and distorted mask. Kindliness or indifference is replaced by animosity and distrust; they are overthrown tyrants, ancient evil-doers, and enemies of the public; he is satisfied beforehand and without further investigation that they are hatching plots. If they avoid being caught, it is owing to their address and perfidy, and they are only the more dangerous the more inoffensive they appear. Their submission is merely a feint, their resignation hypocrisy, their favourable disposition, treachery. Against these conspirators who cannot be touched the law is inadequate; let us stretch it in practice, and as they wince at equality let us try to make them bow beneath the yoke.
In fact, illegal persecution precedes legal prosecution; the privileged person who, by the late decrees, seems merely to be brought within the pale of the common law, is, in fact, driven outside of it. The King, disarmed, is no longer able to protect him; the partial Assembly repels his complaints; the committee of inquiry regards him as a culprit when he is simply oppressed. His income, his property, his repose, his freedom, his home, his life, that of his wife and of his children, are in the hands of an administration elected by the crowd, directed by clubs, and threatened or violated by the mob. He is debarred from the elections. The newspapers denounce him. He undergoes domiciliary visits. In hundreds of places his chateau is sacked; the assassins and incendiaries who depart from it with their hands full and steeped in blood are not prosecuted, or are shielded by an amnesty:27 it is established by innumerable precedents that he may be run down with impunity. To prevent him from defending himself, companies of the National Guard come and seize his arms: he must become a prey, and an easy prey, like game kept back in its enclosure for an approaching hunt. In vain he abstains from provocations and reduces himself to the standing of a private individual. In vain does he patiently endure numerous provocations and resist only extreme violence. I have read many hundreds of investigations in the original manuscripts, and almost always I have admired the humanity of the nobles, their forbearance, their horror of bloodshed. Not only are a great many of them men of courage and all men of honour, but also, educated in the philosophy of the eighteenth century, they are mild, sensitive, and deeds of violence are repugnant to them. Military officers especially are exemplary, their great defect being their weakness: rather than fire on the crowd they surrender the forts under their command, and allow themselves to be insulted and stoned by the people. For two years,28 “exposed to a thousand outrages, to defamation, to daily peril, persecuted by clubs and misguided soldiers,” disobeyed, menaced, put under arrest by their own men, they remain at their post to prevent the ranks from being broken up; “with stoic perseverance they put up with contempt of their authority that they may preserve its semblance”; their courage is of that rarest kind which consists in remaining at the post of duty, impassive beneath both affronts and blows.
Through a wrong of the greatest magnitude, an entire class which have no share in the favours of the Court, and which suffered as many injuries as any of the common plebeians, is confounded with the titled parasites who besiege the antechambers of Versailles. Twenty-five thousand families, “the nursery of the army and the fleet,” the élite of the agricultural proprietors, also many gentlemen who look after and turn to account the little estates on which they live, and “who have not left their homes a year in their lives,” become the pariahs of their canton. After 1789, they begin to feel that their position is no longer tenable.29 “It is absolutely in opposition to the rights of man,” says another letter from Franche-Comté, “to find one’s self in perpetual fear of having one’s throat cut by scoundrels who are daily confounding liberty with license.” “I never knew anything so wearying,” says another letter from Champagne, “as this anxiety about property and security. Never was there a better reason for it. A moment suffices to let loose an intractable population which thinks that it may do what it pleases, and which is carefully sustained in that error.” “After the sacrifices that we have made,” says a letter from Burgundy, “we could not expect such treatment. I thought that our property would be the last violated because the people owed us some return for staying at home in the country to expend among them the few resources that remain to us. . . . (Now), I beg the Assembly to repeal the decree on emigration; otherwise it may be said that people are purposely kept here to be assassinated. . . . In case it should refuse to do us this justice, I should be quite as willing to have it decree an act of proscription against us, for we should not then be lulled to sleep by the protection of laws which are doubtless very wise, but which are not respected anywhere.” “It is not our privileges,” say several others, “it is not our nobility that we regret; but how is the persecution to which we are abandoned to be supported? There is no safety for us, for our property, or for our families. Wretches who are our debtors, the small farmers who rob us of our incomes, daily threaten us with the torch and the lantern. We do not enjoy one hour of repose; not a night that we are certain to pass through without trouble. Our persons are given up to the vilest outrages, our dwellings to an inquisition of armed tyrants; we are robbed of our rentals with impunity, and our property is openly attacked. We, being now the only people to pay imposts, are iniquitously taxed; in various places our entire incomes would not suffice to pay the quota which crushes us. We can make no complaint without incurring the risk of being massacred. The tribunals and the administrative bodies, the tools of the multitude, daily sacrifice us to its attacks. Even the Government seems afraid of compromising itself by claiming the protection of the laws on our behalf. It is sufficient to be pointed out as an aristocrat to be without any security. If our peasants, in general, have shown more honesty, consideration, and attachment toward us, every bourgeois of importance, the wild members of clubs, the vilest of men who sully a uniform, consider themselves privileged to insult us, and these wretches go unpunished and are protected! Even our religion is not free. One of our number has had his house sacked for having shown hospitality to an old curé of eighty belonging to his parish who refused to take the oath. Such is our fate. We are not so base as to endure it. Our right to resist oppression is not due to a decree of the National Assembly, but to natural law. We are going to leave, and to die if necessary. But to live under such a revolting anarchy! Should it not be broken up we shall never set foot in France again!”
The operation is successful. The Assembly, through its decrees and institutions, through the laws it enacts and the violence which it tolerates, has uprooted the aristocracy and cast it out of the country. The nobles, now the reverse of privileged, cannot remain in a country where, while respecting the law, they are really beyond its pale. Those who first emigrated on the 15th of July, 1789, along with the Prince de Condé, received at their houses the evening before they left a list of the proscribed on which their names appeared, and a reward was promised to whoever would bring their heads to the cellar of the Palais-Royal. Others, in larger numbers, left after the occurrences of the 6th of October. During the last months of the Constituent Assembly,30 “the emigration goes on in companies composed of men of every condition. . . . Twelve hundred gentlemen have left Poitou alone; Auvergne, Limousin, and ten other provinces have been equally depopulated of their landowners. There are towns in which nobody remains but common workmen, a club, and the crowd of devouring office-holders created by the Constitution. All the nobles in Brittany have left, and the emigration has begun in Normandy, and is going on in the frontier provinces.”—“More than two-thirds of the army will be without officers.” On being called upon to take the new oath in which the King’s name is purposely omitted, “six thousand officers send in their resignation.” The example gradually becomes contagious; they are men of the sword, and their honour is at stake. Many of them join the princes at Coblentz, and subsequently do battle against France, in the belief that they are contending only against their executioners.
The treatment of the nobles by the Assembly is the same as the treatment of the Protestants by Louis XIV.31 In both cases the oppressed are a superior class of men. In both cases France has been made uninhabitable for them. In both cases they are reduced to exile, and they are punished because they exiled themselves. In both cases it ended in a confiscation of their property, and in the penalty of death to all who should harbour them. In both cases, by dint of persecution, they are driven to revolt. The insurrection of La Vendée corresponds with the insurrection of the Cévennes; and the emigrants, like the refugees of former times, will be found under the flags of Prussia and of England. One hundred thousand Frenchmen driven out at the end of the seventeenth century, and one hundred thousand driven out at the end of the eighteenth century! Mark how an intolerant democracy completes the work of an intolerant monarchy. The moral aristocracy was mowed down in the name of uniformity; the social aristocracy is mowed down in the name of equality. For the second time, an absolute principle, and with the same effect, buries its blade in the heart of a living society.
The success is complete. One of the deputies of the Legislative Assembly, early in its session, on being informed of the great increase in emigration, joyfully exclaims, “So much the better; France is being purged!” She is, in truth, being depleted of one-half of her best blood.
There remained the corporate, ecclesiastic, and lay bodies, and, notably, the oldest, most opulent, and most considerable of all, the regular and secular clergy.—Grave abuses existed here also, for, the institution being founded on ancient requirements, had not accommodated itself to new necessities.32 Too many episcopal sees, and arranged according to the Christian distribution of the population in the fourth century; a revenue still more badly apportioned—bishops and abbés with one hundred thousand livres a year, leading the lives of amiable idlers, while curés, overburdened with work, have but seven hundred; in one monastery nineteen monks instead of eighty, and in another four instead of fifty;33 a number of monasteries reduced to three or to two inhabitants, and even to one; almost all the congregations of men going to decay, and many of them dying out for lack of novices;34 a general lukewarmness among the members, great laxity in many establishments, and with scandals in some of them; scarcely one-third taking an interest in their calling, while the remaining two-thirds wish to go back to the world35 —it is evident from all this that the primitive inspiration has been diverted or has cooled; that the endowment only partially fulfils its ends; that one-half of its resources are employed in the wrong way or remain sterile; in short, that there is a need of reformation in the body.—That this ought to be effected with the cooperation of the State and even under its direction is not less certain. For a corporation is not an individual like other individuals, and, in order that it may acquire or possess the privileges of an ordinary citizen, something supplementary must be added, some fiction, some expedient of the law. If the law is disposed to overlook the fact that a corporation is not a natural personage, if it gives to it a civil personality, if it declares it to be capable of inheriting, of acquiring, and of selling, if it becomes a protected and respected proprietor, this is due to the favours of the State which places its tribunal and gendarmes at its service, and which, in exchange for this service, justly imposes conditions on it, and, among others, that of being useful and remaining useful, or at least that of never becoming hurtful. Such was the rule under the ancient régime, and especially since the Government has for the last quarter of a century gradually and efficaciously worked out a reform. Not only, in 1749, had it prohibited the Church from accepting land, either by donation, by testament, or in exchange, without royal letters-patent registered in Parliament; not only in 1764 had it abolished the order of Jesuits, closed their colleges, and sold their possessions, but also, since 1766, a permanent commission, formed by the King’s order and instructed by him, had lopped off all the dying and dead branches of the ecclesiastical tree.36 There was a revision of the primitive Constitutions; a prohibition to every institution to have more than two monasteries at Paris and more than one in other towns; a postponement of the age for taking vows—that of sixteen being no longer permitted—up to twenty-one for men and eighteen for women; an obligatory minimum of monks and nuns for each establishment, which varies from fifteen to nine according to circumstances; if this is not kept up there follows a suppression or prohibition to receive novices: owing to these measures, rigorously executed, at the end of twelve years “the Grammontins, the Servites, the Celestins, the ancient order of Saint-Bénédict, that of the Holy Ghost of Montpellier, and those of Sainte-Brigitte, Sainte-Croix-de-la-Bretonnerie, Saint-Ruff, and Saint-Antoine”—in short, nine complete congregations had disappeared. At the end of twenty years three hundred and eighty-six establishments had been suppressed, the number of monks and nuns had diminished one-third, the larger portion of possessions which had escheated were usefully applied, and the congregations of men lacked novices and complained that they could not fill up their ranks. If the monks were still found to be too numerous, too wealthy, and too indolent, it was merely necessary to keep on in this way; before the end of the century, merely by the application of the edict, the institution would be brought back, without brutality or injustice, within the scope of the development, the limitations of fortune, and the class of functions acceptable to a modern State.
But, because these ecclesiastical bodies stood in need of reform it does not follow that it was necessary to destroy them, nor, in general, that proprietary corporations are detrimental to a nation. Organized purposely for a public service, and possessing, nearly or remotely under the supervision of the State, the faculty of self-administration, these bodies are valuable organs and not unhealthy excrescences.—In the first place, through their institution, a great public benefit is secured without any charge upon the budget—worship, scientific research, primary or higher education, help for the poor, care of the sick—all set apart and sheltered from the retrenchments which public financial embarrassments might make necessary, and supported by the private generosity which, finding a ready receptacle at hand, collects into it from century to century its thousands of scattered rivulets: as a case in point, note the wealth, stability, and usefulness of the English and German universities. In the second place, their institution furnishes an obstacle to the omnipotence of the State; their walls afford a breakwater against the tide-level of absolute monarchy or of pure democracy. A man can here freely develop himself without donning the livery of either courtier or demagogue, acquire wealth, consideration, and authority, without being indebted to the caprices of royal or popular favour; he can maintain himself against established power or against prevailing opinions through his position in a body which is held together by a spirit of association. Such, at the present day, is a professor at Oxford, Göttingen, and Harvard. Such, under the ancient régime, were a bishop, a member of the Parliaments, and even a plain attorney. What can be worse than the universal bureaucracy, which produces mechanical and servile uniformity! Those who serve the public need not all be Government clerks; in countries where an aristocracy has perished, bodies of this kind are their last place of refuge. In the third place, through their institution, distinct original societies are formed in the midst of the great commonplace world around them, in which certain natures may find the only existence that suits them. If devout or laborious, not only do these afford an outlet for the deeper needs of conscience, of the imagination, of activity, and of discipline, but also they serve as dykes which restrain and direct them in a channel of masterly contrivance and of infinite benefit. In this way thousands of men and women execute at the least possible expense, voluntarily and gratuitously, and with the greatest possible effect, the least attractive or most repulsive of social requirements, thus fulfilling in human society the purpose of the sexless workers of an ant-hill.
Thus, at bottom, the institution was really good, and if it had to be cauterized it was merely essential to remove the inert or corrupted parts and preserve the healthy and sound parts.—Now, if we take only the monastic bodies, there were more than one-half of these entitled to respect. I omit those monks, one-third of whom remained zealous and exemplary—the Benedictines, who continue the “Gallia Christiana,” with others who, at sixty years of age, labour in rooms without a fire; the Trappists, who cultivate the ground with their own hands, and the innumerable monasteries which serve as educational seminaries, bureaus of charity, hospices for shelter, and of which all the villages in their neighbourhood demand the conservation by the National Assembly.37 I have to mention the nuns, thirty-seven thousand in fifteen hundred convents. Here, except in the twenty-five chapters of canonesses, which are a semiworldly rendezvous for poor young girls of noble birth, fervour, frugality, and usefulness are almost everywhere incontestable. One of the members of the Ecclesiastical Committee admits in the Assembly tribunal that, in all their letters and addresses, the nuns ask to be allowed to remain in their cloisters; their entreaties, in fact, are as earnest as they are affecting.38 One community writes, “We should prefer the sacrifice of our lives to that of our calling. . . . This is not the voice of some among our sisters, but of all. The National Assembly has established the claims of liberty—would it prevent the exercise of these by the only disinterested beings who ardently desire to be useful, and have renounced society solely to be of greater service to it?” “The little commerce we have with the world,” writes another, “is the reason why our contentment is so little known. But it is not the less real and substantial. We know of no distinctions, no privileges amongst ourselves; our misfortunes and our property are in common. One in heart and one in soul . . . we protest before the nation, in the face of heaven and of earth, that it is not in the power of any being to shake our fidelity to our vows, which vows we renew with still more ardour than when we first pronounced them.”39 Many of the communities have no means of subsistence other than the work of their own hands and the small dowries the nuns have brought with them on entering the convent. So great, however, is their frugality and economy, that the total expenditure of each nun does not surpass two hundred and fifty livres a year. The Annonciades of Saint-Amour say, “We, thirty-three nuns, both choristers and those of the white veil, live on four thousand four hundred livres net income, without being a charge to our families or to the public. . . . If we were living in society, our expenses would be three times as much”; and, not content with providing for themselves, they give in charity.
Among these communities several hundreds are educational establishments; a very great number give gratuitous primary instruction.—Now, in 1789, there are no other schools for girls, and were these to be suppressed, every avenue of instruction and culture would be closed to one of the two sexes, forming one-half of the French population. Fourteen thousand sisters of charity, distributed among four hundred and twenty convents, look after the hospitals, attend upon the sick, serve the infirm, bring up foundlings, provide for orphans, lying-in women, and repentant prostitutes. The “Visitation” is an asylum for “those who are not favoured by nature”—and, in those days, there were many more of the disfigured than at present, since out of every eight deaths one was caused by the small pox. Widows are received here, as well as girls without means and without protection, persons “worn out with the agitations of the world,” those who are too feeble to support the battle of life, those who withdraw from it wounded or invalided, and “the rules of the order, not very strict, are not beyond the health or strength of the most frail and delicate.” Some ingenious device of charity thus applies to each moral or social sore, with skill and care, the proper and proportionate dressing. And finally, far from falling off, nearly all these communities are in a flourishing state, and whilst among the establishments for men there are only nine, on the average, to each, in those for women there is an average of twenty-four. Here, at Saint-Flour, is one which is bringing up fifty boarders; another, at Beaulieu, instructs one hundred; another, in Franche-Comté, has charge of eight hundred abandoned children.40 —Evidently, in the presence of such institutions one must pause, however little one may care for justice and the public interest; and, moreover, because it is useless to act rigorously against them: the legislator crushes them in vain, for they spring up again of their own accord; they are in the blood of every Catholic nation. In France, instead of thirty-seven thousand nuns, at the present day there are eighty-six thousand—that is to say, forty-five in every ten thousand women instead of twenty-eight.
In any case, if the State deprives them of their property, along with that of other ecclesiastical bodies, it is not the State that ought to claim the spoil.—The State is not their heir, and their land, furniture, and rentals are in their very nature devoted to a special purpose, although they have no designated proprietor. This treasure, which consists of the accumulations of fourteen centuries, has been formed, increased, and preserved, in view of a certain object. The millions of generous, repentant, or devout souls who have made a gift of it, or have managed it, did so with a certain intention. It was their desire to ensure education, beneficence, and religion, and nothing else. Their legitimate intentions should not be frustrated: the dead have rights in society as well as the living, for it is the dead who have made the society which the living enjoy, and we receive their heritage only on the condition of executing their testamentary act.—Should this be of ancient date, it is undoubtedly necessary to make a liberal interpretation of it, to supplement its scanty provisions, and to take new circumstances into consideration. The requirements for which it provided have often disappeared; for instance, after the destruction of the Barbary pirates, there were no more Christians to be ransomed; and only by transferring an endowment can it be perpetuated.—But if, in the original institution, several accessory and special clauses have become antiquated, there remains the one important, general intention, which manifestly continues imperative and permanent, that of providing for a distinct service, either of charity, of worship, or of instruction. Let the administrators be changed, if necessary, also the apportionment of the legacy bequeathed, but do not divert any of it to services of an alien character; it is inapplicable to any but that purpose or to others strictly analogous. The four milliards of investment in real property, the two hundred millions of ecclesiastical income, form for it an express and special endowment. This is not a pile of gold abandoned on the highway, which the exchequer can appropriate or assign to those who live by the roadside. Authentic titles to it exist, which, declaring its origin, fix its destination, and your business is simply to see that it reaches its destination. Such was the principle under the ancient régime, in spite of grave abuses, and under forced exactions. When the ecclesiastical commission suppressed an ecclesiastical order, it was not for the purpose of making its possessions over to the public treasury, but to apply these to seminaries, schools, and hospitals. In 1789, the revenues of Saint-Denis supported Saint-Cyr; those of Saint-Germain went to the Economats, and the Government, although absolute and needy, was sufficiently honest to admit that confiscation was robbery. The greater our power, the greater the obligation to be just, and honesty always proves in the end to be the best policy.—It is, therefore, both just and useful that the Church, as in England and in America, that superior education, as in England and in Germany, that special instruction, as in America, and that diverse endowments for public assistance and utility, should be unreservedly secured in the maintenance of their heritage. The State, as testamentary executor of this inheritance, strangely abuses its mandate when it pockets the bequest in order to choke the deficit of its own treasury, risking it in bad speculations, and swallowing it up in its own bankruptcy, until of this vast treasure, which has been heaped up for generations for the benefit of children, the infirm, the sick, and the poor, not enough is left to pay the salary of a school-mistress, the wages of a parish nurse, or for a bowl of broth in a hospital.41
The Assembly remains deaf to all these arguments, and that which stops its ears is not financial distress.—The Archbishop of Aix, M. de Boisjelin, offered, in the name of the clergy, to liquidate at once the debt of three hundred millions, which was urgent, by a mortgage-loan of four hundred millions on the ecclesiastical property, which was a very good expedient; for at this time the credit of the clergy is the only substantial one; it generally borrows at less than five per cent., and more money has always been offered to it than it wanted, whilst the State borrows at ten per cent., and, at this moment, there are no lenders.—But, to our new statesmen, the supply of a deficit is of much less consequence than the application of a principle. In conformity with the Social Contract they establish the maxim that in the State there is no need of corporate bodies: they acknowledge nothing but, on the one hand, the State, the depositary of all public powers, and, on the other hand, a dust of separate human molecules. Special associations, specific groups, collateral corporations are not wanted, even to fulfil functions which the State is incapable of fulfilling. “As soon as one enters a corporation,” says an orator, “one must love it as one loves a family”;42 the affections and obedience are all to be monopolized by the State. Moreover, on entering into an order a man receives special aid and comfort from it, and whatever distinguishes one man from another, is opposed to civil equality. Hence, if men are to remain equal and become citizens they must be deprived of every rallying point that might compete with that of the State, and give to some an advantage over others. All natural or acquired ties, consequently, which bound men together through geographical position, through climate, history, pursuits, and trade, are sundered. The old provinces, the old provincial governments, the old municipal administrations, parliaments, wardenships, and masterships, all are suppressed. The groups which spring up most naturally, those which arise through a community of interests, are all dispersed, and the broadest, most express, and most positive interdictions are promulgated against their revival under any pretext whatever.43 France is cut up into geometrical sections like a chess-board, and, within these improvised limits, which are destined for a long time to remain artificial, nothing is allowed to subsist but isolated individuals in juxtaposition. There is no desire to spare organized bodies where the cohesion is great, and least of all that of the clergy.
“Special associations,” says Mirabeau, “in the community at large, break up the unity of its principles and destroy the equilibrium of its forces. Large political bodies in a State are dangerous through the strength which results from their coalition and the resistance which is born out of their interests.”—That of the clergy, besides, is inherently bad,44 because “its system is in constant antagonism to the rights of man.” An institution in which a vow of obedience is necessary is “incompatible” with the constitution. Congregations “subject to independent chiefs are out of the social pale and incompatible with public spirit.” As to the right of society over these, and also over the Church, this is not doubtful. “Corporate bodies exist only through society, and, in destroying them, society merely takes back the life she has imparted to them.” “They are simply instrumentalities fabricated by the law.45 What does the workman do when the tool he works with no longer suits him? He breaks or alters it.”—This primary sophism being admitted the conclusion is plain. Since corporate bodies are abolished they no longer exist, and since they no longer exist, they cannot again become proprietors. “Your aim was to destroy ecclesiastical orders,46 because their destruction was essential to the safety of the State. If the clergy preserve their property, the clerical order is not destroyed: you necessarily leave it the right of assembling; you sanction its independence.” In no case must ecclesiastics hold possessions. “If they are proprietors they are independent, and if they are independent they will associate this independence with the exercise of their functions.” The clergy, cost what it will, must be in the hands of the State, as simple functionaries and supported by its subsidies. It would be too dangerous for a nation “to admit in its bosom as proprietors a large body of men to whom so many sources of credit already give so great power. As religion is the property of all, its ministers, through this fact alone, should be in the pay of the nation”; they are essentially “officers of morality and instruction,” and “salaried” like judges and professors. Let us fetch them back to this condition of things, which is the only one compatible with the rights of man, and ordain that “the clergy, as well as all corporations and bodies with power of inheritance, are now, and shall be for evermore, incapable of holding any personal or landed estate.”47
Who, now, is the legitimate heir of all these vacated possessions? Through another sophism, the State, at once judge and party in the cause, assigns them to the State. “The founders presented them to the Church, that is to say, to the nation.”48 “Since the nation has permitted their possession by the clergy, she may redemand that which is possessed only through her authorisation.” “The principle must be maintained that every nation is solely and veritably proprietor of the possessions of its clergy.” This principle, it must be noted, as it is laid down, involves the destruction of ecclesiastical and lay corporations, along with the confiscation of all their possessions, and soon we shall see appearing on the horizon the final and complete decree49 by which the Legislative Assembly, “considering that a State truly free should not suffer any corporation within its bosom, not even those which, devoted to public instruction, deserve well of the country,” not even those “which are solely devoted to the service of the hospitals and the relief of the sick,” suppresses all congregations, all associations of men or of women, lay or ecclesiastical, all endowments for pious, charitable, and missionary purposes, all houses of education, all seminaries and colleges, and those of the Sorbonne and Navarre. Add to these the last sweep of the broom: under the Legislative Assembly the division of all communal property, except woods: under the Convention, the abolition of all literary societies, academies of science and of literature, the confiscation of all their property, their libraries, museums, and botanical gardens; the confiscation of all communal possessions not previously divided; and the confiscation of all the property of hospitals and other philanthropic establishments.50 —The abstract principle, proclaimed by the Constituent Assembly, reveals, by degrees, its exterminating virtues. France now, owing to it, contains nothing but dispersed, powerless, ephemeral individuals, and confronting them, the State, the sole, the only permanent body that has devoured all the others, a veritable Colossus, alone erect in the midst of these insignificant dwarfs.
Substituted for the others, it is henceforth to perform their duties, and spend the money well which they have expended badly.—In the first place, it abolishes tithes, not gradually and by means of a process of redemption, as in England, but at one stroke, and with no indemnity, on the ground that the tax, being an abusive, illegitimate impost, a private tax levied by individuals in cowl and cassock on others in smock frocks, is a vexatious usurpation, and resembles the feudal dues. It is a radical operation, and in conformity with principle. Unfortunately, the puerility of the thing is so gross as to defeat its own object. In effect, since the days of Charlemagne, all the estates in the country which have been sold and resold over and over again have always paid tithes, and have never been purchased except with this charge upon them, which amounts to about one-seventh of the net revenue of the country. Take off this tax and one-seventh is added to the income of the proprietor, and, consequently, a seventh to his capital. A present is made to him of one hundred francs if his land is worth seven hundred francs, and of one thousand if it is worth seven thousand, of ten thousand if it is worth seventy thousand, and of one hundred thousand if it is worth seven hundred thousand. Some people gain six hundred thousand francs by this act, and thirty thousand francs in income.51 Through this gratuitous and unexpected gift, one hundred and twenty-three millions of revenue, and two milliards and a half of capital, is divided among the holders of real estate in France, and in a manner so ingenious that the rich receive the most. Such is the effect of abstract principles. To afford a relief of thirty millions a year to the peasants in wooden shoes, an assembly of democrats adds thirty millions a year to the revenue of wealthy bourgeois and thirty millions a year to opulent nobles. The first part of this operation, moreover, is but another burden to the State; for, in taking off the load from the holders of real property, it has encumbered itself, the State henceforth, without pocketing a penny, being obliged to defray the expenses of worship in their place.—As to the second part of the operation, which consists in the confiscation of four milliards of real property, it proves, after all, to be ruinous, although promising to be lucrative. It makes the same impression on our statesmen that the inheritance of a great estate makes on a needy and sanguine parvenu. Regarding it as a bottomless well of gold, he draws upon it without stint and strives to realise all his fancies; as he can afford to pay, he is free to break as he pleases. It is thus that the Assembly suppresses and compensates magisterial offices to the amount of four hundred and fifty millions; financial securities and obligations to the amount of three hundred and twenty-one millions; the household charges of the King, Queen, and princes, fifty-two millions; military services and encumbrances, thirty-five millions; enfeoffed tithes, one hundred millions, and so on.52 “In the month of May, 1789,” says Necker, “the reestablishment of order in the finances was mere child’s-play.” At the end of a year, by dint of involving itself in debt, by increasing its expenses, and by abolishing or abandoning its income, the State lives now on the paper-currency it issues, eats up its new capital, and rapidly marches onward to bankruptcy. Never was such a vast inheritance so quickly reduced to nothing, and to less than nothing.
Meanwhile, we can demonstrate, from the first few months, what use the administrators will make of it, and the manner in which they will endow the service to which it binds them.—No portion of this confiscated property is reserved for the maintenance of public worship, or to keep up the hospitals, asylums, and schools. Not only do all obligations and all productive real property find their way into the great national crucible to be converted into assignats, but a number of buildings, all monastic personalty, and a portion of the ecclesiastical, diverted from its natural course, becomes swallowed up in the same gulf. At Besançon,53 three churches out of eight, with their land and treasure, the funds of the chapter, all the money of the conventual churches, the sacred vessels, shrines, crosses, reliquaries, votive offerings, ivories, statues, pictures, tapestry, sacerdotal dresses and ornaments, plate, jewels and precious furniture, libraries, railings, bells, masterpieces of art and of piety, all are broken up and melted in the Mint, or sold by auction for almost nothing. This is the way in which the intentions of the founders and donors are carried out.—How are so many communities, which are deprived of their rentals, to support their schools, hospices, and asylums? Even after the decree54 which, exceptionally and provisionally, orders the whole of their revenue to be accounted for to them, will it be paid over now that it is collected by a local administration whose coffers are always empty, and whose intentions are almost always hostile? Every establishment for benevolent and educational purposes is evidently sinking, now that the special streams which nourished them run into and are lost in the dry bed of the public treasury.55 Already, in 1790, there are no funds with which to pay the monks and nuns their small pensions for their maintenance. In Franche-Comté the Capuchins of Baume have no bread, and, to live, they are obliged to resell, with the consent of the district, a portion of the stores of their monastery which had been confiscated. The Ursuline nuns of Ornans live on the means furnished them by private individuals in order to keep up the only school which the town possesses. The Bernardine nuns of Pontarlier are reduced to the lowest stage of want: “We are satisfied,” the district reports, “that they have nothing to put into their mouths. We have to contribute something every day amongst ourselves to keep them from starving.”56 Only too thankful are they when the local administration gives them something to eat, or allows others to give them something. In many places it strives to famish them, or takes delight in annoying them. In March, 1791, the department of Doubs, in spite of the entreaties of the district, reduces the pension of the Visitant nuns to one hundred and one livres for the choristers, and fifty for the lay-sisters. Two months before this, the municipality of Besançon, putting its own interpretation on the decree which allowed nuns to dress as they pleased, enjoins them all, including even the sisters of charity, to abandon their old costume, which few among them had the means of replacing.—Helplessness, indifference, or malevolence, such are the various dispositions which are encountered among the new authorities whose duty it is to support and protect them. To let loose persecution there is now only needed a decree which puts the civil power in conflict with religious convictions. That decree is promulgated, and, on the 12th of July, 1790, the Assembly establishes the civil constitution of the clergy.
Notwithstanding the confiscation of ecclesiastical property, and the dispersion of the monastic communities, the main body of the ecclesiastical corps remains intact: seventy thousand priests ranged under the bishops, with the Pope in the centre as the commander-in-chief. There is no corporation more solid, more antipathetic, or more attacked. For, against it are opposed implacable hatreds and fixed opinions: the Gallicanism of the legists who, from St. Louis downwards, are the adversaries of ecclesiastical power; the doctrine of the Jansenists who, since Louis XIII., desire to bring back the Church to its primitive form; and the theory of the philosophers who, for sixty years, have considered Christianity as a mistake and Catholicism as a scourge. At the very least the institution of a clergy in Catholicism is condemned, and they think that they are moderate if they respect the rest. “We might change our religion,” say some of the deputies in the tribune.57 Now, the decree affects neither dogma nor worship; it is confined to a revision of matters of discipline, and on this particular domain which is claimed for the civil power, it is pretended that demolition and reconstruction may be effected at discretion without the concurrence of the ecclesiastical power.
Here there is an usurpation, for an ecclesiastical as well as civil society has the right to choose its own form, its own hierarchy, its own government.—On this point, every argument that can be advanced in favour of the former can be repeated in favour of the latter, and the moment one becomes legitimate the other becomes legitimate also. The sanction of a civil or of a religious society consists in the long series of services which, for centuries, it has rendered to its members, the zeal and success with which it discharges its functions, the feelings of gratitude they entertain for it, the importance they attribute to its offices, the need they have of it and their attachment to it, the conviction imprinted in their minds that without it they would be deprived of a benefit upon which they set more store than upon any other. This benefit, in a civil society, is the security of persons and property. In the religious society it is the eternal salvation of the soul. In all other particulars the resemblance is complete, and the titles of the Church are as good as those of the State. Hence, if it be just for one to be sovereign and free on its own domain, it is just for the other to be equally sovereign and free: if the Church encroaches when it assumes to regulate the constitution of the State, the State encroaches when it pretends to regulate the constitution of the Church: if the former claims the respect of the latter on its domain, the latter must show equal respect for the former on its ground. The boundary-line between the two territories is, undoubtedly, not clearly defined, and frequent contests arise between the two. Sometimes these may be forestalled or terminated by each shutting itself up within a wall of separation, and by their remaining as much as possible indifferent to each other, as is the case in America. At another, they may, by a carefully considered contract, each accord to the other specific rights on the intermediate zone, and both exercise their divided authority on that zone, which is the case in France. In both cases, however, the two powers, like the two societies, must remain distinct. It is needful for each of them that the other should be an equal with which it treats, and not a subordinate to which it prescribes conditions. Whatever the civil system may be, whether monarchical or republican, oligarchical or democratic, the Church abuses its credit when it condemns or attacks it. Whatever may be the ecclesiastical system, whether papal, episcopalian, presbyterian, or congregational, the State abuses its strength when, without the assent of the faithful, it abolishes their systems or imposes a new one upon them. Not only does it violate right, but its violence, most frequently, is fruitless. It may strike as it will, the root of the tree is beyond its reach, and, in the unjust war which it wages against an institution as vital as itself, it often ends in getting the worst of it.
Unfortunately, the Assembly, in this as in other matters, being preoccupied with principles, fails to look at practical facts, and, aiming to remove only the dead bark, it injures the living trunk. For many centuries, and especially since the Council of Trent, the vigorous element of Catholicism is much less religion itself than the Church. Theology retires into the background, while discipline has come to the front. Believers who, according to Church law, are required to regard spiritual authority as dogma, in fact attach their faith to the authority much more than to the dogma. Faith insists, in relation to discipline as well as to dogma, that if one rejects the decision of the Romish Church one ceases to be a Catholic; that spiritual authority comes from above and not from below; that without the institution of a bishop there can be no priest; that without the institution of a Pope there can be no bishop; that an illegitimate bishop or priest cannot administer valid sacraments; that a child baptized by one of these is not Christian; that a dying man thus absolved is not absolved; and that two believers thus married live in concubinage. It is a matter of fact that believers are no longer theologians or canonists; that, save a few Jansenists, they no longer read the Scriptures or the Fathers; that, if they accept the dogma, it is in a lump, without investigation, confiding in the hand which presents it; that their obedient conscience is in the keeping of this pastoral guide; that the Church of the third century is of little consequence to them; and that, as far as the true form of the actual Church goes, the doctor whose advice they follow is not St. Cyprian, of whom they know nothing, but their visible bishop and their living curé. Put these two premises together and the conclusion is self-evident: it is clear that they will not believe that they are baptized, absolved, or married but by this curé authorised by this bishop. Let others be put in their places whom they condemn, and you suppress worship, sacraments, and the most precious functions of spiritual life to twenty-four millions of French people, to all the peasantry, all the children, and to almost all the women; you stir up in rebellion against you the two greatest forces which move the soul—conscience and habit. And observe the effect. You not only convert the State into a gendarme in the service of heresy, but also, through this fruitless and tyrannous attempt of Gallican Jansenism, you bring into permanent discredit Gallican maxims and Jansenist doctrines. You cut away the last two roots by which a liberal sentiment still vegetated in orthodox Catholicism. You throw the clergy back on Rome; you attach them to the Pope from whom you wish to separate them, and deprive them of the national character which you wish to impose on them. They were French, and you render them Ultramontane. They excited ill-will and envy, and you render them sympathetic and popular. They were a divided body, and you give them unanimity. They were a straggling militia, scattered about under several independent authorities, and rooted to the soil through the possession of the ground; thanks to you, they are to become a regular, manageable army, emancipated from every local attachment, organized under one head, and always prepared to take the field at the word of command. Compare the authority of a bishop in his diocese in 1789 with that of a bishop sixty years later. In 1789, the Archbishop of Besançon, out of fifteen hundred offices and benefices, had the patronage of one hundred; in ninety-three incumbencies the selections were made by the metropolitan chapter; in eighteen it was made by the chapter of the Madeleine; in seventy parishes by the noble founder or benefactor; one abbé had thirteen incumbencies at his disposal, another thirty-four, another thirty-five, a prior nine, an abbess twenty; five communes directly nominated their own pastor, while abbeys, priories, and canonries were in the hands of the King.58 At the present day in a diocese the bishop appoints all the curés or officiating priests, and may deprive nine out of ten of them; in the diocese above named, from 1850 to 1860, scarcely one lay functionary was nominated without the consent or intervention of the cardinal-archbishop.59 To comprehend the spirit, discipline, and influence of our contemporary clergy, go back to the source of it, and you will find it in the decree of the Constituent Assembly. A natural organization cannot be broken up with impunity; it forms anew, adapting itself to circumstances, and closes up its ranks in proportion to its danger.
But if, according to the maxims of the Assembly, faith and worship are free in relation to the secular State, before the State as sovereign churches are subjects.—For these are societies, administrations, and hierarchies, and no society, administration, or hierarchy may subsist in the State without entering into its departments under the title of subordinate, delegate, or employé. A priest is essentially a salaried officer like the rest, a functionary60 presiding over matters pertaining to worship and morality. If the State is disposed to change the number, the mode of nomination, the duties, and the posts of its engineers, it is not bound to assemble its engineers and ask their permission, least of all that of a foreign engineer established at Rome. If it wishes to change the condition of “its ecclesiastical officers,” its right to do so is the same, and therefore unquestioned. There is no need of asking anybody’s consent in the exercise of this right, and it allows no interference between it and its clerks. The Assembly refuses to call a Gallican council; it refuses to negotiate with the Pope, and, on its authority alone, it recasts the whole Constitution of the Church. Henceforth this branch of the public administration is to be organized on the model of the others.61 In the first place the diocese is to be in extent and limits the same as the department; consequently, all ecclesiastical circumscriptions are marked out anew, and forty-eight episcopal sees disappear. In the second place, the appointed bishop is forbidden “to refer to the Pope to obtain any confirmation whatever.” All he can do is to write to him “in testimony of the unity of faith and of the communion which he is to maintain with him.” The bishop is thus no longer installed by his canonical chief, and the Church of France becomes schismatic. In the third place, the metropolitan or bishop is forbidden to exact from the new bishops or curés “any oath other than that they profess the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman religion.” Assisted by his council he may examine them on their doctrine and habits, and refuse them canonical installation, but in this case his reasons must be given in writing, and be signed by himself and his council. His authority, in other respects, does not extend beyond this, for it is the civil tribunal which decides between contending parties. Thus is the catholic hierarchy broken up; the ecclesiastical superior has his hands tied; if he still delegates sacerdotal functions it is only as a matter of form. Between the curé and the bishop subordination ceases to exist just as it has ceased to exist between the bishop and the Pope, and the Church of France becomes Presbyterian.
The people now, in effect, choose their own ministers, as they do in the Presbyterian church; the bishop is appointed by the electors of the department, the curé by the district electors, and, what is an extraordinary aggravation, these need not be of his communion. It is of no consequence whether the electoral Assembly contains, as at Nismes, Montauban, Strasbourg, and Metz, a notable proportion of Calvinists, Lutherans, and Jews, or whether its majority, furnished by the club, is notoriously hostile to Catholicism, and even to Christianity itself. The bishop and the curé must be chosen by the electoral body; the Holy Ghost dwells with it, and with the civil tribunals, and these may install its elect in spite of any resistance. To complete the dependence of the clergy, every bishop is forbidden to absent himself more than fifteen days without permission from the department; every curé the same length of time without the permission of the district, even to attend upon a dying father or to undergo the operation of lithotomy. In default of this permission his salary is suspended: as a functionary under salary, he owes all his time to his bureau, and if he desires a leave of absence he must ask for it from his chiefs in the Hôtel-de-Ville.62 He must assent to all these innovations, not only with passive obedience, but by a solemn oath. All old or new ecclesiastics, archbishops, bishops, curés, vicars, preachers, hospital and prison chaplains, superiors and directors of seminaries, professors of seminaries and colleges, are to state in writing that they are ready to take this oath: moreover, they must take it publicly, in church, “in the presence of the general council, the commune, and the faithful,” and promise “to maintain with all their power” a schismatic and Presbyterian Church. For there can be no doubt about the sense and bearing of the prescribed oath. It was all very well to incorporate it with a broader one, that of maintaining the Constitution. But the Constitution of the clergy is too clearly comprised in the general Constitution, like a chapter in a book, and to sign the book is to sign the chapter. Besides, in the formula to which the ecclesiastics in the Assembly are obliged to swear in the tribune, the chapter is precisely indicated, and no exception or reservation is allowed.63 The Bishop of Clermont, with all those who have accepted the Constitution in full, save the decrees affecting spiritual matters, are silenced. Where the spiritual begins and where it ends the Assembly knows better than they, for it has defined this, and it imposes its definition on canonist and theologian; it is, in its turn, the Pope, and all consciences must bow to its decision. Let them take the “oath, pure and simple,” or if they do not they are “refractory.” The fiat goes forth, and the effect of it is immense, for, along with the clergy, the law reaches to laymen. On the one hand, all the ecclesiastics who refuse the oath are dismissed. If they continue “to interfere with public functions which they have personally or corporately exercised” they “shall be prosecuted as disturbers of the peace, and condemned as rebels against the law,” deprived of all rights as active citizens, and declared incompetent to hold any public office. This is the penalty already inflicted on the nonjuring bishop who persists in considering himself a bishop, who ordains priests and who issues a pastoral letter. Such is soon to be the penalty inflicted on the nonjuring curé who presumes to hear confession or officiate at a mass.64 On the other hand, all citizens who refuse to take the prescribed oath, all electors, municipal officers, judges, and administrative agents, shall lose their right of suffrage, have their functions revoked, and be declared incompetent for all public duties.65 The result is that scrupulous Catholics are excluded from every administrative post, from all elections, and especially from ecclesiastical elections; from which it follows that, the stronger one’s faith the less one’s share in the choice of a priest.66 —What an admirable law, that which, under the pretext of reforming ecclesiastical abuses, places the faithful, lay or clerical, outside the pale of the law!
This soon becomes apparent. One hundred and thirty-four archbishops, bishops, and coadjutors refuse to take the oath; there are only four of them who do so, three of whom, MM. de Talleyrand, de Jarente, and de Brienne, are sceptical, and notorious for their licentiousness; the others are influenced by their consciences, above all, by their esprit de corps and a point of honour. Most of the curés rally around this staff of officers. In the diocese of Besançon,67 out of fourteen hundred priests, three hundred take the oath, a thousand refuse it, and eighty retract. In the department of Doubs, only four consent to swear. In the department of Lozère, there are only “ten out of two hundred and fifty.” “It is stated positively,” writes the best informed of all observers, “that everywhere in France two-thirds of the ecclesiastics have refused the oath, or have only taken it with the same reservations as the Bishop of Clermont.”
Thus, out of seventy thousand priests, forty-six thousand are turned out of office, and the majority of their parishioners are on their side. This is apparent in the absence of electors convoked to replace them: at Bordeaux only four hundred and fifty came to the poll out of nine hundred, while elsewhere the summons brings together only “a third or a quarter.” In many places there are no candidates, or those elected decline to accept. They are obliged, in order to supply their places, to hunt up unfrocked monks of a questionable character. There are two parties, after this, in each parish; two faiths, two systems of worship, and permanent discord. Even when the new and the old curés are accommodating, their situations bring them into conflict. To the former the latter are “intruders.” To the latter the former are “refractories.” By virtue of his being a guardian of souls, the former cannot dispense with telling his parishioners that the intruder is excommunicated, that his sacraments are null or sacrilegious, and that it is a sin to attend his mass. By virtue of his being a public functionary, the latter does not fail to write to the authorities that the “refractory” entraps the faithful, excites their consciences, saps the Constitution, and that he ought to be put down by force. In other words, the former draws everybody away from the latter, while the latter sends the gendarmes against the former, and persecution begins.—Through a singular reversion of things, it is the majority which undergoes persecution, and the minority which practises it. The mass of the constitutional curé is, everywhere, deserted.68 In La Vendée there are ten or twelve present in the church out of five or six hundred parishioners; on Sundays and holidays whole villages and market-towns travel from one to two leagues off to attend the orthodox mass, the villagers declaring that “if the old curé can only be restored to them, they will gladly pay a double tax.” In Alsace, “nine-tenths, at least, of the Catholics refuse to recognise the legally sworn priests.” The same spectacle presents itself in Franche-Comté, Artois, and in ten of the other provinces.—Finally, as in a chemical composition, the analysis is complete. Those who believe, or who recover their belief, are ranged around the old curé; all who, through conviction or tradition, hold to the sacraments, all who, through faith or habit, wish or feel a need to attend the mass. The auditors of the new curé consist of sceptics, deists, the indifferent, members of the clubs and of the administration, who resort to the church as to the Hôtel-de-Ville or to a popular meeting, not through religious but through political zeal, and who support the “intruder,” in order to sustain the Constitution.
All this does not secure to him very fervent followers, but it provides him with very zealous defenders; and, in default of the faith which they do not possess, they give the force which is at their disposal. All means are proper against an intractable bishop or curé; not only the law which they aggravate through their forced interpretation of it and through their arbitrary verdicts, but also the riots which they stir up by their instigations and which they sanction by their toleration.69 He is driven out of his parish, consigned to the county town, and kept in a safe place. The Directory of Aisne denounces him as a disturber of the public peace, and forbids him, under severe penalties, from administering the sacraments. The municipality of Cahors shuts up particular churches and orders the nonjuring ecclesiastics to leave the town in twenty-four hours. The electoral corps of Lot denounces them publicly as “ferocious brutes,” incendiaries, and provokers of civil war. The Directory of the Bas-Rhin banishes them to Strasbourg or to fifteen leagues from the frontier. At Saint-Léon the bishop is forced to fly. At Auch the archbishop is imprisoned; at Lyons M. de Boisboissel, grand vicar, is confined in Pierre-Encize, for having preserved an archepiscopal mandate in his house; brutality is everywhere the minister of intolerance. A certain curé of Aisne who, in 1789, had fed two thousand poor, having presumed to read from his pulpit a pastoral charge concerning the observance of Lent, the mayor seizes him by the collar and prevents him from going to the altar; “two of the National Yeomanry” draw their sabres on him, and forthwith lead him away bareheaded, not allowing him to return to his house, and drive him to a distance of two leagues by beat of drum and under escort. At Paris, in the church of Saint-Eustache, the curé is greeted with outcries, a pistol is pointed at his head, he is seized by the hair, struck with fists, and only reaches the sacristy through the intervention of the National Guard. In the church of the Théatins, rented by the orthodox with all legal formality, a furious band disperses the priests and their assistants, upsets the altar, and profanes the sacred vessels. A placard, posted up by the department, calls upon the people to respect the law. “I saw it,” says an eye-witness, “torn down amidst imprecations against the department, the priests, and the devout. One of the chief haranguers, standing on the steps . . . terminated his speech by stating that schism ought to be stopped at any cost, that no worship but his should be allowed, that women should be whipped and priests knocked on the head.” And, in fact, “a young lady accompanied by her mother is whipped on the steps of the church.” Elsewhere nuns are the sufferers, even the sisters of Saint-Vincent de Paul; and, from April, 1791, onward, the same outrages on modesty and against life are propagated from town to town. At Dijon, rods are nailed fast to the gates of all the convents; at Montpellier, two or three hundred ruffians, armed with large iron-bound sticks, murder the men and outrage the women.—Nothing remains but to put the male-factors under the shelter of an amnesty, which is done by the Constituent Assembly, and to legally sanction the animosity of local administrations, which is done by the Legislative Assembly.70 Henceforth the nonjuring ecclesiastics are deprived of their sustenance; they are declared “suspected of revolt against the law and of evil intentions against the country.”—Thus, says a contemporary Protestant, “on the strength of these suspicions and these intentions, a Directory, to which the law interdicts judicial functions, may arbitrarily drive out of his house the minister of a God of peace and charity, grown grey in the shadow of the altar.” Thus, “everywhere, where disturbances occur on account of religious opinions, and whether these troubles are due to the frantic scourgers of the virtuous sisters of charity or to the ruffians armed with cow-hides who, at Nismes and Montpellier, outrage all the laws of decorum and of liberty for six whole months, the nonjuring priests are to be punished with banishment. Torn from their families whose means of living they share, they are sent away to wander on the highways, abandoned to public pity or ferocity the moment any scoundrel chooses to excite a disturbance that he can impute to them.”—Thus we see approaching the revolt of the peasantry, the insurrections of Nismes, Franche-Comté, La Vendée, and Brittany, emigration, transportation, imprisonment, the guillotine or drowning for two-thirds of the clergy of France, and likewise for myriads of the loyal, for husbandmen, artisans, day-labourers, sempstresses, and servants, and the humblest among the lower class of the people. This is what the laws of the Constituent Assembly are leading to.—In the institution of the clergy, as in that of the nobles and the King, it demolished a solid wall in order to dig through it an open door, and it is nothing strange if the whole structure tumbles down on the heads of its inmates. The true course was to respect, to reform, to utilise rank and corporations: all that the Assembly thought of was the abolition of these in the name of abstract equality and of national sovereignty. In order to abolish these it executed, tolerated, or initiated all the attacks on persons and on property. Those it is about to commit are the inevitable result of those which it has already committed; for, through its Constitution, bad is changed to worse, and the social edifice, already half in ruins through the clumsy havoc that is effected in it, will fall in completely under the weight of the incongruous or extravagant constructions which it proceeds to extemporise.
Construction—The Constitution of 1791—I.Powers of the Central Government—The Assembly on the partition of power—Rupture of every tie between the Legislature and the King—The Assembly on the subordination of the executive power—How this is nullified—Certainty of a conflict—The deposition of the King inevitable—II.Administrative powers—The Assembly on the hierarchy—Grades abolished—Collective powers—Election introduced, and the influence of subordinates in all branches of the service—Certainty of disorganization—Power in the hands of municipal bodies—III.The Municipal bodies—Their great task—Their incapacity—Their feeble authority—Insufficiency of their means of action—The rôle of the National Guard—IV.The National Guard as electors—Its great power—Its important task—The work imposed on active citizens—They avoid it—V.The restless minority—Its elements—The clubs—Their ascendency—How they interpret the Rights of Man—Their usurpations and violence—VI.Summary of the work of the Constituent Assembly.
That which is called a Government is a concert of powers, each with a distinct function, and all working towards a final and complete end. The merit of a Government consists in the attainment of this end; the worth of a machine depends upon the work it accomplishes. The important thing is not to produce a good mechanical design on paper, but to see that the machine works well when set up on the ground. In vain might its conductors allege the beauty of their plan and the logical connection of their theorems; they are not required to furnish either plan or theorems, but an implement.—Two conditions are requisite to render this implement serviceable and effective. In the first place, the public powers must harmonize with each other, or one neutralises the other; in the second place they must be obeyed, or they are null. The Constituent Assembly made no provision for securing this harmony or this obedience. In the machine which it constructed the motions all counteract each other; the impulse is not transmitted; the gearing is not complete between the centre and the extremities; the large central and upper wheels turn to no purpose; the innumerable small wheels near the ground break or get out of order: the machine, by virtue of its own mechanism, remains useless, overheated, under clouds of waste steam, creaking and thumping in such a manner as to show clearly that it must explode.
Let us first consider the two central powers, the Assembly and the King.—Ordinarily when distinct powers of different origin are established by a Constitution, it makes provision for an umpire, in case of conflict between them, in the institution of an Upper Chamber. Each of these powers, at least, has a hold on the other. The Assembly must have one on the King, which is the right to refuse taxation; the King must have one on the Assembly, which is the right of dissolving it. Otherwise, one of the two being disarmed, the other becomes omnipotent, and, consequently, insane. The peril here is as great for an omnipotent Assembly as it is for an absolute King. If the former is desirous of remaining in its right mind, it needs repression and control as much as the latter, and, if it be wise for the Assembly to restrain the King by refusing him subsidies, it is wise for him to be able to defend himself by appealing to the electors.—But, besides these extreme measures, which are dangerous and rarely resorted to, there is another which is ordinarily employed and is safe, that is, the right of the King to take his ministers from the Chamber. Generally, the leaders of the majority become the ministry, their nomination being the means of restoring harmony between the King and the Assembly; they are at once men belonging to the Assembly and men belonging to the King. Through this expedient not only is the confidence of the Assembly assured, since the Government remains in the hands of its leaders, but also it is under restraint because these become simultaneously both powerful and responsible. Placed at the head of all branches of the service, they are in a position to judge whether a law is useful and practicable; obliged to put it into execution, they can calculate its effects before proposing it or accepting it. Nothing is so healthy for a majority as a ministry composed of its own chiefs; nothing is so effective in repressing rashness or intemperance. A railway conductor is not willing that his locomotive should be deprived of coal, nor to have the rails he is about to run on broken up.—This arrangement, with all its drawbacks and inconveniences, is the best one yet arrived at by human experience for the security of societies against despotism and anarchy. For the absolute power which founds or rescues them, but which oppresses or exhausts them, there is a gradual substitution of differentiated powers, held together through the mediation of a third party (tiers-arbitre), by reciprocal dependence and an organ which is common to both.
Experience, however, is of no avail with the members of the Constituent Assembly; under the banner of principles they sunder one after another all the ties which should keep the two powers together harmoniously.—There must not be an Upper Chamber, because this would be an asylum or a nursery for aristocrats. Moreover, “the nation being of one mind,” it is averse to “the creation of different organs.” So they go on with theoretical definitions and distinctions, in the application of ready-made formulas and metaphors. The King must not have a hold on the legislative body: the executive is an arm, whose business it is to obey; it is absurd for the arm to constrain or direct the head. Scarcely is the monarch allowed a suspensive veto. Sieyès here enters with his protest declaring that this is a “lettre de cachet launched against the universal will,” and there is excluded from the action of the veto the articles of the Constitution, all money-bills, and some other laws.—Neither the monarch nor the electors of the Assembly are to convoke the Assembly; he has no voice in or oversight of the details of its formation; the electors are to meet together and vote without his summons or supervision. Once the Assembly is elected he can neither adjourn nor dissolve it. He cannot even propose a law;1 permission is only granted to him “to invite it to take a subject into consideration.” He is limited to his executive duties; and still more, a sort of wall is built up between him and the Assembly, and the opening in it, by which each could take the other’s hand, is carefully closed up. The deputies are forbidden to become ministers throughout the term of their service and for two years afterwards: fears are entertained that they might be corrupted through contact with the Court, and, again, whoever the ministers might be, there is no disposition to accept their ascendency.2 If one of them is admitted into the Assembly it is not for the purpose of giving advice, but to furnish information, reply to interrogatories, and make protestations of his zeal in humble terms and in a dubious position.3 By virtue of being a royal agent he is under suspicion like the King himself, and he is sequestered in his bureau as the King is sequestered in his palace.—Such is the spirit of the Constitution: by force of the theory, and the better to secure a separation of the powers,4 a common understanding between them is for ever rendered impossible, and to make up for this impossibility there remains nothing but to make one the master and the other the clerk.
This they did not fail to do, and for greater security, the latter is made an honorary clerk. The executive power is conferred on him nominally and in appearance; he does not possess it in fact, care having been taken to place it in other hands.—In effect, all executive agents and all secondary and local powers are elective. The King has no voice, directly or indirectly, in the choice of judges, public prosecutors, bishops, curés, collectors and assessors of the taxes, commissaries of police, district and departmental administrators, mayors, and municipal officers. At most, should an administrator violate a law, he may annul his acts and suspend him; but the Assembly, the superior power, has the right to cancel this suspension.—As to the armed force, of which he is supposed to be the commander-in-chief, this escapes from him entirely: the National Guard is not to receive orders from him; the gendarmerie and the troops are bound to respond to the requisitions of the municipal authorities, whom the King can neither select nor displace: in short, local action of any kind—that is to say, all effective action—is denied to him.—The executive instrument is purposely destroyed. The connection which existed between the wheels of the extremities and the central shaft is broken, and henceforth, incapable of distributing its energy, this shaft, in the hands of the monarch, stands still or else turns to no purpose. The King, “supreme head of the general administration, of the army, and of the navy, guardian of public peace and order, hereditary representative of the nation,” is without the means, in spite of his lofty titles, of directly applying his pretended powers, of causing a schedule of assessments to be drawn up in a refractory commune, of compelling payment by a delinquent tax-payer, of enforcing the free circulation of a convoy of grain, of executing the judgment of a court, of suppressing an outbreak, or of securing protection to persons and property. For he can bring no constraint to bear on the agents who are declared to be subordinate to him; he has no resources but those of warning and persuasion. He sends to each Departmental Assembly the decrees which he has sanctioned, requesting it to transmit them and cause them to be carried out; he receives its correspondence and bestows his censure or approval—and that is all. He is merely a powerless medium of communication, a herald or public advertiser, a sort of central echo, sonorous and empty, to which news is brought, and from which laws depart, to spread abroad like a common rumour.
Such as he is, and thus diminished, he is still considered to be too strong. He is deprived of the right of pardon, “which severs the last artery of monarchical government.”5 All sorts of precautions are taken against him. He cannot declare war without a decree of the Assembly; he is obliged to bring war to an end on the decree of the Assembly; he cannot make a treaty of peace, an alliance, or a commercial treaty, without the ratification of these by the Assembly. It is expressly declared that he is to nominate but two-thirds of the rear-admirals, one-half of the lieutenant-generals, field-marshals, captains of vessels, and colonels of the gendarmerie, one-third of the colonels and lieutenant-colonels of the line, and a sixth of the naval lieutenants. He must not allow troops to stay or pass within 30,000 yards of the Assembly. His guard must not consist of more than 1,800 men, duly verified, and protected against his seductions by the civil oath. The heir-presumptive must not leave the country without the Assembly’s assent. It is the Assembly which is to regulate by law the education of his son during minority.—All these precautions are accompanied with threats. There are against him five possible causes of dethronement; against his responsible Ministers, eight causes for condemnation to from twelve to twenty years of constraint, and eight grounds for condemnations to death.6 Everywhere between the lines of the Constitution, we read the constant disposition to assume an attitude of defence, the secret dread of treachery, the conviction that executive power, of whatever kind, is in its nature inimical to the public welfare.—For withholding the nomination of judges, the reason alleged is that “the Court and the Ministers are the most contemptible portion of the nation.”7 If the nomination of Ministers is conceded, it is on the ground that “Ministers appointed by the people would necessarily be too highly esteemed.” The principle is that “the legislative body alone must possess the confidence of the people,” that royal authority corrupts its depository, and that executive power is always tempted to commit abuses and to engage in conspiracies. If it is provided for in the Constitution it is with regret, through the necessity of the case, and on the condition of its being trammelled by impediments; it will prove so much the less baneful in proportion as it is restrained, guarded, threatened, and denounced.—A position of this kind is manifestly intolerable; and only a man as passive as Louis XVI. could have put up with it. Do what he will, however, he cannot make it a tenable one. In vain does he scrupulously adhere to the Constitution, and fulfil it to the letter. Because he is powerless the Assembly regards him as lukewarm, and imputes to him the jarrings of the machine which is not under his control. If he presumes once to exercise his veto it is rebellion, and the rebellion of an official against his superior, which is the Assembly; the rebellion of a subject against his Sovereign, which is the people. In this case dethronement is proper, and the Assembly has only to pass the decree; the people have simply to execute the act, and the Constitution ends in a Revolution.—A piece of machinery of this stamp breaks down through its own movement. In conformity with the philosophic theory the two wheels of government must be separated, and to do this they have to be disconnected and isolated one from the other. In conformity with the popular creed, the driving-wheel must be subordinated and its influence neutralised: to do this it is necessary to reduce its energy to a minimum, break up its connections, and raise it up in the air to turn round like a top, or to remain there as an obstacle to something else. It is certain that, after much ill-usage as a plaything, it will finally be removed as a hindrance.
Let us leave the centre for the extremities, and observe the various administrations in working operation.8 —For any service to work well and with precision, there must first be one head, and, next, this head should have the appointment of his subordinates and be empowered to pay, punish, or dismiss them. For, on the one hand, he stands alone and feels his responsibility; he brings to bear on the management of affairs a degree of attention and consistency, a tact and a power of initiation of which a set of commissioners are incapable; corporate follies or defects do not involve any one in particular, and authority is efficacious only when it is in one hand. On the other hand, being master, he can rely on the subalterns whom he has himself selected, whom he controls through their hopes or fears, and whom he discharges if they do not perform their duties; otherwise he has no hold on them and they are not instruments to be depended on. Only on these conditions can a railway manager be sure that his pointsmen are at their posts. Only on these conditions can the foreman of a foundry engage to execute work by a given day. In every public or private enterprise, direct, immediate authority is the only known, the only human and possible way to ensure the obedience and punctuality of agents.—Administration is thus carried on in all countries, by one or several series of functionaries, each under some central manager who holds the reins in his single grasp.
This is all reversed in the new Constitution. In the eyes of our legislators obedience must be spontaneous and never compulsory, and, in the suppression of despotism, they suppress government. The general rule in the hierarchy which they establish is that the subordinates should be independent of their superior, for he must neither appoint nor displace them: the only right he has is to give them advice and remonstrate with them. At best, in certain cases, he can annul their acts and inflict on them a provisional suspension of their functions, which can be contested and is revocable. We see, thus, that none of the local powers are delegated by the central power; the latter is simply like a man without either hands or arms, seated in a gilt chair. The Minister of the Finances cannot appoint or dismiss either an assessor or a collector; the Minister of the Interior, not one of the departmental, district, or communal administrators; the Minister of Justice, not one judge or public prosecutor. The King, in these three branches of the service, has but one officer of his own, the commissioner whose duty it is to advocate the observance of the laws in the courts, and, on sentence being given, to enforce its execution.—All the muscles of the central power are paralyzed by this stroke, and henceforth each department is a State apart, living by itself.
A like amputation, however, in the department itself, has cut away all the ties by which the superior could control and direct his subordinate.—If the administrators of the department are suffered to act on those of the district, and those of the district on those of the municipality, it is only, again, in the way of council and solicitation. Nowhere is the superior a commander who orders and constrains, but everywhere a censor who gives warning and scolds. To render this already feeble authority still more feeble at each step of the hierarchy, it is divided among several bodies. These consist of superposed councils, which administer the department, the district, and the commune. There is no directing head in any of these councils. Permanency and executive functions throughout are vested in directories of four or eight members, or in bureaux of two, three, four, six, and seven members whose elected chief, a president or mayor,9 has simply an honorary primacy. Decision and action, everywhere blunted, delayed, or curtailed by talk and the processes of discussion, are brought forth only after the difficult, tumultuous assent of several discordant wills. Elective and collective as these powers are, measures are still taken to guard against them. Not only are they subject to the control of an elected council, one-half renewable every two years, but, again, the mayor and public prosecutor of the commune after serving four years, and the procureur-syndic of the department or district after eight years’ service, and the district collector after six years’ service, are not reelected. Should these officials have deserved and won the confidence of the electors, should familiarity with affairs have made them specially competent and valuable, so much the worse for affairs and the public; they are not to be anchored to their post. Should their continuance in office introduce into the service a spirit of order and economy, that is of no consequence; there is danger of their acquiring too much influence, and the law sends them off as soon as they become expert and entitled to rule.—Never has jealousy and suspicion been more on the alert against power, even legal and legitimate. Sapping and mining goes on even in services which are recognised as essential, as the army and the gendarmerie.10 In the army, on the appointment of a noncommissioned officer, the other noncommissioned officers make up a list of candidates, and the captain selects three, one of whom is chosen by the colonel. In the choice of a sublieutenant, all the officers of the regiment vote, and he who receives a majority is appointed. In the gendarmerie, for the appointment of a gendarme, the directory of the department forms a list; the colonel designates five names on it, and the directory selects one of them. For the choice of a brigadier, quartermaster, or lieutenant, there is, besides the directory and the colonel, another intervention, that of the officers, both commissioned and noncommissioned. It is a system of elective complications and lot-drawings; one which, giving a voice in the choice of officers to the civil authorities and to military subordinates, leaves the colonel with only a third or one-quarter of his former ascendancy. In relation to the National Guard, the new principle is applied without any reservation. All the officers and underofficers up to the grade of captain are elected by their own men. All the superior officers are elected by the inferior officers. All underofficers and all inferior and superior officers are elected for one year only, and are not eligible for reelection until after an interval of a year, during which they must serve in the ranks.11 —The result is manifest: command, in every civil and in every military order, becomes enervated; subalterns are no longer precise and trustworthy instruments; the chief no longer has any practical hold on them; his orders, consequently, encounter only tame obedience, doubtful deference, sometimes even open resistance; their execution remains dilatory, uncertain, incomplete, and at length is utterly neglected; a latent and soon flagrant system of disorganization is instituted by the law.
Step by step, in the hierarchy of Government, power has slipped downwards, and henceforth belongs by virtue of the Constitution to the authorities who sit at the bottom of the ladder. It is not the King, or the minister, or the directory of the department or of the district who rules, but its municipal officers; and their sway is as omnipotent as it can be in a small independent republic. They alone have the “strong hand” with which to search the pockets of refractory tax-payers, and ensure the collection of the revenue; to seize the rioter by the throat, and protect life and property; in short, to convert the promises and menaces of the law into acts. Every armed force, the National Guard, the regulars, and the gendarmerie, must march on their requisition. They alone, among the body of administrators, are endowed with this sovereign right; all that the department or the district can do is to invite them to exercise it. It is they who proclaim martial law. Accordingly, the sword is in their hands.12 Assisted by commissioners who are appointed by the council-general of the commune, they prepare the schedule of taxation of real and personal property, fix the quota of each tax-payer, adjust assessments, verify the registers and the collector’s receipts, audit his accounts, discharge insolvents, answer for returns, and authorise prosecutions.13 Private purses are, in this way, at their mercy, and they take from them whatever they determine to belong to the public.—With the purse and the sword in their hands they lack nothing that is necessary to make them masters, and all the more because the application of every law belongs to them; because no orders of the Assembly to the King, of the King to the ministers, of ministers to the departments, of departments to the districts, of the districts to the communes, brings about any real local result except through them; because each measure of general application undergoes their special interpretation, and can always be optionally disfigured, softened, or exaggerated according to their timidity, inertia, violence, or partiality. Moreover, they are not long in discovering their strength. We see them on all sides arguing with their superiors against district, departmental, and ministerial orders, and even against the Assembly itself, alleging circumstances, lack of means, their own danger, and the public safety, failing to obey, acting for themselves, openly disobeying and glorying in the act,14 and claiming, as a right, the omnipotence which they exercise in point of fact. Those of Troyes, at the festival of the Federation, refuse to submit to the precedence of the department and claim it for themselves, as “immediate representatives of the people.” Those of Brest, notwithstanding the reiterated prohibitions of their district, dispatch four hundred men and two cannon to force the submission of a neighbouring commune to a curé who has taken the oath. Those of Arnay-le-Duc arrest Mesdames (the King’s aunts), in spite of their passport signed by the ministers, hold them in spite of departmental and district orders, persist in barring the way to them in spite of a special decree of the National Assembly, and send two deputies to Paris to obtain the sanction of their decision. What with arsenals pillaged, citadels invaded, convoys arrested, couriers stopped, letters intercepted, constant and increasing insubordination, usurpations without truce or measure, the municipalities arrogate to themselves every species of license on their own territory and frequently outside of it. Henceforth, forty thousand sovereign bodies exist in the kingdom. Force is placed in their hands, and they make good use of it. They make such good use of it that one of them, the commune of Paris, taking advantage of its proximity, lays siege to, mutilates, and rules the National Convention, and through it France.
Let us follow these municipal kings into their own domain: the burden on their shoulders is immense, and much beyond what human strength can support. All the details of executive duty are confided to them; they have not to busy themselves with a petty routine, but with a complete social system which is being taken to pieces, while another is reconstructed in its place.—They are in possession of four milliards of ecclesiastical property, real and personal, and soon there will be two and a half milliards of property belonging to the emigrants, which must be sequestered, valued, managed, inventoried, divided, sold, and the proceeds received. They have seven or eight thousand monks and thirty thousand nuns to displace, install, sanction, and provide for. They have forty-six thousand ecclesiastics, bishops, canons, curés, and vicars, to dispossess, replace, often by force, and later on to expel, intern, imprison, and support. They are obliged to discuss, trace out, teach, and make public new territorial boundaries, those of the commune, of the district, and of the department. They have to convoke, lodge, and protect the numerous primary and secondary Assemblies, to supervise their operations, which sometimes last for weeks; to install those elected by them, justices of the peace, officers of the National Guard, judges, public prosecutors, curés, bishops, district and departmental administrators. They are to form new lists of tax-payers, apportion amongst themselves, according to a new system of impost, entirely new real and personal taxes, decide on claims, appoint an assessor, regularly audit his accounts and verify his books, aid him with force, use force in the collection of the excise and salt duties, which being reduced, equalised, and transformed in vain by the National Assembly, afford no returns in spite of its decrees. They are obliged to find the funds for dressing, equipping, and arming the National Guard, to step in between it and the military commanders, and to maintain concord between its diverse battalions. They have to protect forests from pillage, communal land from being invaded, to maintain the octroi, to protect former functionaries, ecclesiastics, and nobles, suspected and threatened, and, above all, to provide, no matter how, provisions for the commune which lacks food, and consequently, to raise subscriptions, negotiate purchases at a distance and even abroad, organize escorts, indemnify bakers, supply the market every week notwithstanding the dearth, the insecurity of roads, and the resistance of cultivators.—Even an absolute chief, sent from a distance and from high place, the most energetic and expert possible, supported by the best-disciplined and most obedient troops, would scarcely succeed in such an undertaking; and there is instead only a municipality which has neither the authority, the means, the experience, the capacity, nor the will.
In the country, says an orator in the tribune,15 “the municipal officers, in twenty thousand out of forty thousand municipalities, do not know how to read or write.” The curé, in effect, is excluded from such offices by law, and, save in La Vendée, the noble is excluded by public opinion. Besides, in many of the provinces, nothing but patois is spoken;16 the French tongue, especially the philosophic and abstract phraseology of the new laws and proclamations, remains gibberish to their inhabitants. They cannot possibly understand and apply the complicated decrees and fine-spun instructions which reach them from Paris. They hurry off to the towns, get the duties of the office imposed on them explained and commented on in detail, try to comprehend, imagine they do, and then, the following week, come back again without having understood anything, either the mode of keeping state registers, the distinction between feudal rights which are abolished and those retained, the regulations they should enforce in cases of election, the limits which the law imposes as to their powers and subordination. Nothing of all this finds its way into their rude, untrained brains; instead of a peasant who has just left his oxen, there is needed here a legal adept aided by a trained clerk.—Prudential considerations must be added to their ignorance. They do not wish to make enemies for themselves in their commune, and they abstain from any positive action, especially in all tax matters. Nine months after the decree on the patriotic contribution, “twenty-eight thousand municipalities are behindhand, not having (yet) returned either rolls or estimates.”17 At the end of January, 1792, “out of forty thousand nine hundred and eleven municipalities, only five thousand four hundred and forty-eight have deposited their registers; two thousand five hundred and eighty rolls only are definitive and in process of collection. A large number have not even begun their sectional statements.”18 —It is much worse when, thinking that they do understand it, they undertake to do their work. In their minds, incapable of abstraction, the law is transformed and deformed by extraordinary interpretations. We shall see what it becomes when it is brought to bear on feudal dues, on the forests, on communal rights, on the circulation of corn, on the taxes on provisions, on the supervision of the aristocrats, and on the protection of persons and property. According to them, it authorises and invites them to do by force, and at once, whatever they need or desire for the time being.—The municipal officers of the large boroughs and towns, more acute and often able to comprehend the decrees, are scarcely in a better condition to carry them out effectually. They are undoubtedly intelligent, inspired by the best disposition, and zealous for the public welfare. During the first two years of the Revolution it is, on the whole, the best informed and most liberal portion of the bourgeoisie which, in the department as in the district, undertakes the management of affairs. Almost all are men of the law, advocates, notaries, and attorneys, with a small number of the old privileged class imbued with the same spirit, a canon at Besançon, a gentleman at Nismes. Their intentions are of the very best; they love order and liberty, they give their time and their money, they hold permanent sessions and accomplish an incredible amount of work, and they often voluntarily expose themselves to great danger.—But they are bourgeois philosophers, and, in this latter particular, similar to their deputies in the National Assembly, and, with this twofold character, as incapable as their deputies of governing a disintegrated nation. In this twofold character they are ill-disposed towards the ancient régime, hostile to Catholicism and feudal rights, unfavourable to the clergy and the nobility, inclined to extend the bearing and exaggerate the rigour of recent decrees, partisans of the rights of man, and, therefore, humanitarians and optimists, disposed to excuse the misdoings of the people, hesitating, tardy and often timid in the face of an outbreak—in short, admirable writers, exhorters, and reformers, but good for nothing when it comes to breaking heads and risking their own bones. They have not been brought up in such a way as to become men of action in a single day. Up to this time they have always lived as passive administrators, as quiet individuals, as studious men and clerks, domesticated, conversational, and polished, to whom words concealed facts, and who, on their evening promenade, warmly discussed important principles of government, without any consciousness of the practical machinery which, with a police-system for its ultimate wheel, rendered themselves, their promenade, and their conversation perfectly secure. They are not imbued with that sentiment of social danger which produces the veritable chief, the man who subordinates the emotions of pity to the exigences of the public service. They are not aware that it is better to mow down a hundred conscientious citizens rather than let them hang a culprit without a trial. Repression, in their hands, is neither prompt, rigid, nor constant. They continue to be in the Hôtel-de-Ville what they were when they went into it, so many legists and scribes, fruitful in proclamations, reports, and correspondence. Such is wholly their rôle, and, if any amongst them, with more energy, desires to depart from it, he has no hold on the commune which, according to the Constitution, he has to direct, and on that armed force which is intrusted to him with a view to ensure the observance of the laws.
To ensure respect for authority, indeed, it must not spring up on the spot and under the hands of its subordinates. It loses its prestige and independence when those who create it are precisely those who have to submit to it. For, in submitting to it, they remember that they have created it. This or that candidate among them who has but lately solicited their suffrages is now a magistrate who issues orders, and this sudden transformation is their work. It is with difficulty that they pass from the rôle of sovereign electors to that of docile subjects of the administration, and recognise a commander in one of their own creatures. On the contrary, they will submit to his control only in their own fashion, reserving to themselves in practice the powers the right to which they have conferred on him. “We gave him his place, and he must do as we want him to do”—which popular reasoning is the most natural in the world. It is as applicable to the municipal officer wearing his scarf as to the officer in the National Guard wearing his epaulettes; the former as well as the latter being conferred by the arbitrary voice of the electors, and always seeming to them a gift which is revocable at their pleasure. The superior always, and more particularly in times of danger or of great public excitement, seems, if directly appointed by those whom he commands, to be their clerk.—Such is municipal authority at this epoch, intermittent, uncertain, and weak; and all the weaker because the sword, whose hilt the men of the Hôtel-de-Ville seem to hold, does not always leave its scabbard at their bidding. They alone are empowered to summon the National Guard, but it does not depend on them, and it is not at their disposal. To obtain its support it is needful that its independent chiefs should be willing to respond to their requisition; that the men should willingly obey their elected officers; that these improvised soldiers should consent to quit their ploughs, their stores, their workshops and offices, to lose their day, to patrol the streets at night, to be pelted with stones, to fire on a riotous crowd whose enmities and prejudices they often share. Undoubtedly, they will fire on some occasions, but generally they will remain quiet, with their arms at rest; and, at last, they will grow weary of a trying, dangerous, and constant service, which is disagreeable to them, and for which they are not fitted. They will not answer the summons, or, if they do, they will come too late, and in too small a number. In this event, the regulars who are sent for, will do as they do and remain quiet, following their example, while the municipal magistrate, into whose hands the sword has glided, will be able to do no more than make grievous reports, to his superiors of the department or district, concerning the popular violence of which he is a powerless witness.—In other cases, and especially in the country, his condition is worse. The National Guard, preceded by its drums, will come and take him off to the town hall to authorise by his presence, and to legalise by his orders, the outrages that it is about to commit. He marches along seized by the collar, and affixes his signature at the point of the bayonet. In this case not only is his instrument taken away from him, but it is turned against himself. Instead of holding it by the hilt, he feels the point: the armed force which he ought to make use of makes use of him.
Behold, accordingly, the true sovereign, the elector, both National Guard and voter. This is the King desired by the Constitution; there he is, in every hierarchical stage, with his suffrage, with which to delegate authority, and his gun to assure its exercise.—Through his free choice he creates all local powers, intermediary, central, legislative, administrative, ecclesiastical, and judiciary. He appoints directly, and in the primary assemblies, the mayor, the municipal board, the public prosecutor and council of the commune, the justice of the peace and his assessors, and the electors of second degree. Indirectly, and through these elected electors, he appoints the administrators and procureurs-syndics of both district and department, the civil and criminal judges, the public prosecutor, bishops, and curés, the members of the National Assembly, and jurors of the higher National Court.19 All these commissions which he issues are of short date, the principal ones, those of municipal officer, elector, and deputy, having but two years to run; at the end of this brief term their recipients are again subject to his vote, in order that, if he is displeased with them, he may replace them by others. He must not be fettered in his choice; in every well-conducted establishment the legitimate proprietor must be free easily and frequently to renew his staff of clerks. He is the only one in whom confidence can be placed, and, for greater security, all arms are given up to him. When his clerks wish to employ force he is the one to place it at their disposal. Whatever he desired as elector he executes as National Guard. On two occasions he interferes, both times in a decisive manner; and his control over the legal powers is irresistible because these are born out of his vote and are obeyed only through his support.—But these rights are, at the same time, burdens. The Constitution describes him as an “active citizen,” and this he eminently is or should be, since public action begins and ends with him, since everything depends on his zeal and capacity, since the machine is good and only works well in proportion to his discernment, punctuality, calmness, firmness, discipline at the polls, and in the ranks. The law requires his services incessantly day and night, in body and mind, as gendarme and as elector.—How burdensome this service of gendarme must be, can be judged of by the number of riots. How burdensome that of elector must be, the list of elections will show.
In February, March, April, and May, 1789, there are prolonged parish meetings, for the purpose of choosing electors and writing out grievances, also bailiwick meetings of still longer duration to choose deputies and draw up the memorial. During the months of July and August, 1789, there are spontaneous gatherings to elect or confirm the municipal bodies; other spontaneous meetings by which the militia is formed and officered; and then, following these, constant meetings of this same militia to fuse themselves into a National Guard, to renew officers and appoint deputies to the federative assemblies. In December, 1789, and January, 1790, there are primary meetings, to elect municipal officers and their councils. In May, 1790, there are primary and secondary meetings, to appoint district and departmental administrators. In October, 1790, there are primary meetings, to elect the justice of the peace and his assessors, also secondary meetings, to elect the district courts. In November, 1790, there are primary meetings, to renew one-half of the municipal bodies. In February and March, 1791, there are secondary meetings, to nominate the bishop and curés. In June, July, August, September, 1791, there are primary and secondary meetings, to renew one-half of the district and departmental administrators, to nominate the president, the public prosecutor, and the clerk of the criminal court, and to choose deputies. In November, 1791, there are primary meetings to renew one-half of the municipal council. Observe that many of these elections drag along because the voters lack experience, because the formalities are complicated, and because opinions are divided. In August and September, 1791, at Tours, they are prolonged for thirteen days;20 at Troyes, in January, 1790, instead of three days they last for three weeks; at Paris, in September and October, 1791, only for the purpose of choosing deputies, they last for thirty-seven days; in many places their proceedings are contested, annulled, and begun over again. To these universal gatherings, which put all France in motion, we must add the local gatherings by which a commune approves or gainsays its municipal officers, makes claims on the department, on the King, or on the Assembly, demands the maintenance of its curé, the provisioning of its market, the arrival or dispatch of a military detachment—and think of all that these meetings, petitions, and nominations presuppose in the way of preparatory committees and preliminary meetings and debates! Every public representation begins with rehearsals in secret session. In the choice of a candidate, and, above all, of a list of candidates; in the appointment in each commune of from three to twenty-one municipal officers, and from six to forty-two notables; in the selection of twelve district administrators and thirty-six departmental administrators, especially as the list must be of a double length and contain twice as many officers as there are places to fill, immediate agreement is impossible. In every important election the electors are sure to be in a state of agitation a month beforehand, while four weeks of discussion and caucus is not too much to give to inquiries about candidates, and to canvassing voters. Let us add, accordingly, this long preface to each of the elections, so long and so often repeated, and now sum up the mass of these disarrangements and disturbances, all this loss of time, all the labour which the process demands. Each convocation of the primary assemblies summons to the town-hall or principal town of the canton, for one or for several days, about three million five hundred thousand electors of the first degree. Each convocation of the assemblies of the second class compels the attendance and sojourn at the principal town of the department, and again in the principal town of the district, of about three hundred and fifty thousand elected electors. Each revision or reelection in the National Guard gathers together on the public square, or subjects to roll-call at the town-hall, three or four millions of National Guards. Each federation, after exacting the same gathering or the same roll-call, sends delegates by hundreds of thousands to the principal towns of the districts and departments, and tens of thousands to Paris.—The powers thus instituted at the cost of so great an effort, require an equal effort to make them work; one branch alone of the administration21 keeps two thousand nine hundred and eighty-eight officials busy in the departments, six thousand nine hundred and fifty in the districts, one million one hundred and seventy-five thousand in the communes—in all, nearly one million two hundred thousand administrators, whose places, as we have seen above, are no sinecures. Never did a political machine require so prodigious an expenditure of force to set it up and keep it in motion. In the United States, where it is now deranged by its own action, it has been estimated that, to meet the intentions of the law and keep each wheel in its proper place, it would be necessary for each citizen to give one whole day in each week, or one-sixth of his time, to public business. In France, under the newly adopted system, where disorder is universal, where the duty of National Guard is added to and complicates that of elector and administrator, I estimate that two days would be necessary. This is what the Constitution comes to, this is its essential and supreme requirement: each active citizen has to give up one-third of his time to public affairs.
Now, these twelve hundred thousand administrators and three or four million electors and National Guards, are just the men in France who have the least leisure. The class of active citizens, indeed, comprises about all the men who labour with their hands or with their heads. The law exempts only domestics devoted to personal service or common labourers who, possessing no property or income, earn less than twenty-one sous a day. Every journeyman-miller, the smallest farmer, every village proprietor of a cottage or of a vegetable-garden, any ordinary workman, votes at the primary meetings, and may become a municipal officer. Again, if he pays ten francs a year direct tax, if he is a farmer or yeoman on any property which brings him in four hundred francs, if his rent is one hundred and fifty francs, he may become an elected elector and an administrator of the district or department. According to this standard the eligible are innumerable; in Doubs, in 1780,22 they form two-thirds of the active citizens. Thus, the way to office is open to all, or almost all, and the law has taken no precaution whatever to reserve or provide places for the élite, who could best fill them. On the contrary, the nobles, the ecclesiastical dignitaries, the members of the parliaments, the grand functionaries of the ancient régime, the upper class of the bourgeoisie, almost all the rich who possess leisure, are practically excluded from the elections by violence, and from the various offices by public opinion: they soon retire into private life, and, through discouragement or disgust, through monarchical or religious scruples, abandon entirely a public career.—The burden of the new system falls, accordingly, on the most occupied portion of the community: on merchants, manufacturers, agents of the law, employés, shopkeepers, artisans, and cultivators. They are the people who must give up one-third of their time already appropriated, neglect private for public business, leave their harvests, their bench, their shop, or their briefs to escort convoys and patrol the highways, to run off to the principal town of the canton, district, or department, and stay and sit there in the town-hall,23 subject to a deluge of phrases and papers, conscious that they are forced to gratuitous drudgery, and that this drudgery is of little advantage to the public.—For the first six months they do it with a good grace; their zeal in penning memorials, in providing themselves with arms against “brigands,” and in suppressing taxes, rents, and tithes, is active enough. But now that this much is obtained or extorted, decreed as a right, or accomplished in fact, they must not be further disturbed. They need the whole of their time: they have their crops to get in, their customers to serve, their orders to give, their books to make up, their credits to adjust, all which are urgent matters, and neither ought to be neglected or interrupted. Under the lash of necessity and of the crisis they have done a heavy piece of collar-work, and, if we take their word for it, they hauled the public cart out of the mud; but they had no idea of putting themselves permanently in harness to drag it along themselves. Confined as this class has been for centuries to private life, each has his own wheelbarrow to trundle along, and it is for this, before all and above all, that he holds himself responsible. From the beginning of the year 1790 the returns of the votes taken show that as many are absent as present; at Besançon there are only nine hundred and fifty-nine voters out of thirty-two hundred inscribed; four months after this more than one-half of the electors fail to come to the polls;24 and throughout France, even at Paris, the indifference to voting keeps on increasing. Puppets of such an administration as that of Louis XV. and Louis XVI. do not become Florentine or Athenian citizens in a single night. The hearts and heads of three or four millions of men are not suddenly endowed with faculties and habits which render them capable of diverting one-third of their energies to work which is new, disproportionate, gratuitous, and supererogatory.—A fallacy of measureless falsehood lies at the basis of the political combinations of the day and those of the next ten years. Arbitrarily, and without examining it, a certain weight and a certain power of resistance are attributed to the human metal employed. It is found on trial to have ten times less resistance and twenty times more weight than was supposed.
In default of the majority, who shirk their responsibilities, it is the minority which does the work and assumes the power. The majority having resigned, the minority becomes sovereign, and public business, abandoned by the hesitating, weak, and absent multitude, falls into the hands of the resolute, energetic, ever-present few who find the leisure and the disposition to assume the responsibility. In a system in which all offices are elective, and in which elections are frequent, politics becomes a profession for those who subordinate their private interests to it, and who find it of personal advantage; every village contains five or six men of this class, every borough twenty or thirty, every town its hundreds, and Paris its many thousands.25 These are the veritable active citizens. They alone give all their time and attention to public matters, correspond with the newspapers and with the deputies at Paris, receive and spread abroad the party-cry on every important question, hold caucuses, get up meetings, make motions, draw up addresses, overlook, rebuke, or denounce the local magistrates, form themselves into committees, publish and push candidates, and go into the suburbs and the country to canvass for votes. They hold the power in recompense for their labour, for they manage the elections, and are elected to office or provided with places by the successful candidates. There is a prodigious number of these offices and places, not only those of officers of the National Guard and the administrators of the commune, the district, and the department, whose duties are gratuitous, or little short of it, but a quantity of others which are paid26 —eighty-three bishops, seven hundred and fifty deputies, four hundred criminal judges, three thousand and seven civil judges, five thousand justices of the peace, twenty thousand assessors, forty thousand communal collectors, forty-six thousand curés, without counting the accessory or insignificant places which exist by tens and hundreds of thousands, from secretaries, clerks, bailiffs, and notaries, to gendarmes, constables, office-clerks, beadles, grave-diggers, and keepers of sequestered goods. The pasture is vast for the ambitious; it is not small for the needy, and they seize upon it.—Such is the rule in pure democracies: hence the swarm of politicians in the United States. When the law incessantly calls all citizens to political action, there are only a few who devote themselves to it; these become experts in this particular work, and, consequently, preponderant. But they must be paid for their trouble, and the election secures to them their places because they manage the elections.
Two sorts of men furnish the recruits for this dominant minority: on the one hand the enthusiasts, and on the other those who have no social position. Towards the end of 1789, moderate people, who are minding their own business, retire into privacy, and are daily less disposed to show themselves. The public square is occupied by others who, through zeal and political passion, abandon their pursuits, and by those who, finding themselves hampered in their social sphere, or repelled from ordinary circles, were merely awaiting a new opening to take a fresh start. In these utopian and revolutionary times, there is no lack of either class. Flung out by handfuls, the dogma of popular sovereignty falls around like so much seed scattered broadcast, vegetating in the heated brains, in the narrow and rash minds which, once possessed by an idea, adhere to it and are mastered by it. It falls amongst a class of reasoners who, starting from a principle, dash forward like a horse who has had blinders put on; and this is especially the case with the legal class, whose profession accustoms them to deductions; nor less with the village attorney, the unfrocked monk, the “intruding” and excommunicated curé, and above all, the journalist and the local orator, who, for the first time in his life, finds that he has an audience, applause, influence, and a future before him. These are the only people who can do the complicated and constant work which the new Constitution calls for; for they are the only men whose desires are unlimited, whose dreams are coherent, whose doctrine is explicit, whose enthusiasm is contagious, who cherish no scruples, and whose presumption is unbounded. Thus has the rigid will been wrought and tempered within them, the inward spring of energy which, being daily more tightly wound up, urges them on to propagandism and to action.—During the second half of the year 1790 we see them everywhere following the example of the Paris Jacobins, styling themselves friends of the Constitution, and grouping themselves together in popular associations. Each town and village gives birth to a club of patriots who regularly every evening, or several times a week, meet “for the purpose of cooperating for the safety of the commonwealth.”27 This is a new and spontaneous organ, an excrescence and a parasite, which develops itself in the social body alongside of its legal organizations. Its growth insensibly increases, attracting to itself the substance of the others, employing them for its own ends, substituting itself for them, acting by and for itself alone, a sort of omnivorous outgrowth the encroachment of which is irresistible, not only because circumstances and the working of the Constitution nourish it, but also because its germ, deposited at a great depth, is a living portion of the Constitution itself.
For, placed at the head of the Constitution, as well as of the decrees which are attached to it, stands the Declaration of the Rights of Man.—According to this, and by the avowal of the legislators themselves, there are two parts to be distinguished in the law, the one superior, eternal, inviolable, which is the self-evident principle, and the other inferior, temporary, and open to discussion, which comprehends more or less exact or erroneous applications of this principle. No application of the law is valid if it derogates from the principle. No institution or authority is entitled to obedience if it is opposed to the rights which it aims to guarantee. These sacred rights, anterior to all society, take precedence of every social convention, and whenever we would know if a legal order is legitimate, we have merely to ascertain if it is in conformity with natural right. Let us, accordingly, in every doubtful or difficult case, refer to this philosophic gospel, to this incontestable catechism, this primordial creed proclaimed by the National Assembly.—The National Assembly itself invites us to do so. For it announces that “ignorance, neglect, or contempt of the rights of man are the sole causes of public misfortune, and of the corruption of governments.” It declares that “the object of every political association is the preservation of natural and imprescriptible rights.” It enunciates them, “in order that the acts of legislative power and the acts of executive power may at once be compared with the purpose of every political institution.” It desires “that every member of the social body should have its declaration constantly in mind.”—Thus we are told to control all acts of application by the principle, and also we are provided with the rule by which we may and should accord, measure, or even refuse our submission to, deference for, and toleration of established institutions and legal authority.
What are these superior rights, and, in case of dispute, who will decide as arbitrator? There is nothing here like the precise declarations of the American Constitution,28 those positive prescriptions which serve to sustain a judicial appeal, those express prohibitions which prevent beforehand certain species of laws from being passed, which prescribe limits to public powers, which mark out the province not to be invaded by the State because it is reserved to the individual.
On the contrary, in the declaration of the National Assembly, most of the articles are abstract dogmas, metaphysical definitions, more or less literary axioms, that is to say, more or less false, now vague and now contradictory, open to various interpretations and to opposite constructions, good for platform display but bad in practice, mere stage effect, a sort of pompous standard, useless and heavy, which, hoisted in front of the Constitutional house and shaken every day by violent hands, cannot fail soon to tumble on the heads of the passers-by.29 Nothing is done to ward off this visible danger. There is nothing here like that Supreme Court which, in the United States, guards the Constitution even against its Congress, and which, in the name of the Constitution, actually invalidates a law, even when it has passed through all formalities and been voted on by all the powers; which listens to the complaints of the individual affected by an unconstitutional law; which stays the sheriff’s or collector’s hand raised against him, and which above their heads gives judgment on his interests and wrongs. Ill-defined and discordant laws are proclaimed without any provision being made for their interpretation, application, or sanction. No means are taken to have them specially expounded. No district tribunal is assigned to consider the claims which grow out of them, to put an end to litigation legally, peacefully, on a last appeal, and through a final decision which becomes a precedent and fixes the loose sense of the text. All this is made the duty of everybody, that is to say of those who are disposed to charge themselves with it—in other words, the active minority in council assembled.—Thus, in each town or village it is the local club which, by the authorisation of the legislator himself, becomes the champion, judge, interpreter, and administrator of the rights of man, and which, in the name of these superior rights, may protest or rebel, as it seems best, not only against the legitimate acts of legal powers, but also against the authentic text of the Constitution and the Laws.
Consider, indeed, these rights as they are proclaimed, along with the commentary of the haranguer who expounds them at the club before an audience of heated and daring spirits, or in the street to the rude and fanatical multitude. Every article in the Declaration is a dagger pointed at human society, and the handle has only to be pressed to make the blade enter the flesh.30 Among “these natural and imprescriptible rights” the legislator has placed “resistance to oppression.” We are oppressed: let us resist and take up arms. According to this legislator, “society has the right to bring every public agent of the Administration to account.” Let us away to the Hôtel-de-Ville, and interrogate our lukewarm or suspected magistrates, and watch their sessions to see if they prosecute priests and disarm the aristocrats; let us stop their intrigues against the people; let us force these slow clerks to hasten their steps.—According to this legislator “all citizens have the right to take part in person, or through their representatives, in the formation of the law.” There must thus be no more electors privileged by their payment of a three-franc tax. Down with the new aristocracy of active citizens! Let us restore to the two millions of proletaires the right of suffrage, of which the Constitution has unjustly defrauded them!—According to this legislator, “men are born and remain free, and equal in their rights.” Consequently, let no one be excluded from the National Guard; let everybody, even the pauper, have some kind of weapon, a pike or gun, to defend his freedom!—In the very terms of the Declaration “there is no longer hereditary right to any public office.” Hereditary royalty is therefore illegitimate; let us go to the Tuileries and overthrow the throne! In the very terms of the Declaration “the law is the expression of the universal will.” Listen to these clamours in the open streets, to these petitions flowing in from the towns on all sides; behold the universal will, the living law which abolishes the written law! On the strength of this the leaders of a few clubs in Paris are to depose the King, to violate the Legislative Assembly and decimate the National Convention.—In other terms, the turbulent, factious minority is to supplant the sovereign nation, and henceforth there is nothing to hinder it from doing what it pleases just when it pleases. The operation of the Constitution has given to it the reality of power, while the preamble of the Constitution clothes it with the semblance of right.
Such is the work of the Constituent Assembly. In several of its laws, especially those which relate to private interests, in the institution of civil regulations, in the penal and rural codes,31 in the first attempts at, and the promise of, a uniform civil code, in the enunciation of a few simple regulations regarding taxation, procedure, and administration, it planted good seed. But in all that relates to political institutions and social organization its proceedings are those of an academy of Utopians, and not those of practical legislators.—On the sick body intrusted to it, it performed amputations which were as useless as they were excessive, and applied bandages as inadequate as they were injurious. With the exception of two or three restrictions admitted inadvertently, and the maintenance of the show of royalty, also the obligation of a small electoral qualification, it carried out its principle to the end, the principle of Rousseau. It deliberately refused to consider man as he really was under its own eyes, and persisted in seeing nothing in him but the abstract being created in books. Consequently, with the blindness and obstinacy characteristic of a speculative surgeon, it destroyed, in the society submitted to its scalpel and to its theories, not only the tumours, the enlargements, and the inflamed parts of the organs, but also the organs themselves, and even the vital governing centres around which the cells arrange themselves to recompose an injured organ. That is, the Assembly destroyed on the one hand the time-honoured, spontaneous, and lasting societies formed by geographical position, history, common occupations, and interests, and on the other, those natural chiefs whose name, repute, education, independence, and earnestness designated them as the best qualified to occupy high positions. In one direction it despoils and permits the ruin and proscription of the superior class, the nobles, the members of Parliament, and the upper middle class. In another it dispossesses and breaks up all historic or natural corporations, religious congregations, clerical bodies, provinces, parliaments, societies of art and of all other professions and pursuits. This done, every tie or bond which holds men together is found to be severed; all subordination and every graduated scale of rank have disappeared. There is no longer rank and file, or commander-in-chief. Nothing remains but individual particles, twenty-six millions of equal and disconnected atoms. Never was so much disintegrated matter, less capable of resistance, offered to hands undertaking to mould it. Harshness and violence will be sufficient to ensure success. These brutal hands are ready for the work, and the Assembly which has reduced the material to powder has likewise provided the mortar and pestle. As awkward in destruction as it is in construction, it invents for the restoration of order in a society which is turned upside down a machine which would, of itself, create disorder in a tranquil society. The most absolute and most concentrated government would not be strong enough to effect without disturbance a similar equalization of ranks, the same dismemberment of associations, and the same displacement of property. No social transformation can be peacefully accomplished without a well-commanded army, obedient and everywhere present, as was the case in the emancipation of the Russian serfs by the Emperor Alexander. The new Constitution,32 on the contrary, reduces the King to the position of an honorary president, suspected and called in question by a disorganized State. Between him and the legislative body it interposes nothing but sources of conflict, and suppresses all means of concord. The monarch has no hold whatever on the administrative departments which he must direct; and the mutual independence of the powers, from the centre to the extremities of the State, everywhere produces indifference, negligence, and disobedience between the injunctions issued and their execution. France is a federation of forty thousand municipal sovereignties, in which the authority of legal magistrates varies according to the caprice of active citizens; in which active citizens, overtasked, avoid the performance of public duty; in which a minority of fanatics and of the ambitious monopolize all organs of communication, all influence, all rights of suffrage, all power, and all action, and sanction their multiplied usurpations, their unbridled despotism, their increasing encroachments by the Declaration of the Rights of Man. The masterpiece of ideal abstractions and of practical absurdities is perfected; spontaneous anarchy, by means of the Constitution, becomes legalised anarchy. The latter is more perfect; nothing finer of the kind has been seen since the ninth century.
[1. ]Arthur Young, June 15, 1789.—Bailly, passim.—Moniteur, iv. 522 (June 2, 1790).—Mercure de France (Feb. 11, 1792).
[2. ]Moniteur, v. 631 (Sep. 12, 1790), and September 8th (what is said by the Abbé Maury).—Marmontel, book xiii. 237.—Malouet, i. 261.—Bailly, i. 227.
[3. ]Sir Samuel Romilly, “Mémoires,” i. 102, 354.—Dumont, 158. (The official rules bear date July 29, 1789.)
[4. ]Cf. Ferrières, i. 3. His repentance is affecting.
[5. ]Letter to Washington, January 24, 1790.—Dumont, 125.—Garat, letter to Condorcet.
[6. ]Arthur Young, i. 46. “Tame and elegant, uninteresting and polite, the mingled mass of communicated ideas has power neither to offend nor instruct. . . . All vigour of thought seems excluded from expression. . . . Where there is much polish of character there is little argument.”—Cabinet des Estampes. See engravings of the day by Moreau, Prieur, Monet, representing the opening of the States-General. All the figures have a graceful, elegant, and genteel air.
[7. ]Marmontel, book xiii. 237.—Malouet, i. 261.—Ferrières, i. 19.
[8. ]Gouverneur Morris, January 24, 1790.—Likewise (De Ferrières, i. 71) the decree on the abolition of nobility was not the order of the day, and was carried by surprise.
[ 9. ]Ferrières, i. 189.—Dumont, 146.
[10. ]Letter of Mirabeau to Sieyès, June 11, 1790. “Our nation of monkeys with the throats of parrots.”—Dumont, 146.—“Sieyès and Mirabeau always entertained a contemptible opinion of the Constituent Assembly.”
[11. ]Moniteur, 256, 431 (July 16 and 31, 1789).—Journal des Débats et Décrets, i. 105, July 16th. “A member demands that M. de Lally repeats his discourse, which is seconded by the whole Assembly.”
[12. ]Moniteur (March 11, 1790). “A nun of St. Mandé, brought to the bar of the house, thanks the Assembly for the decree by which the cloisters are opened, and denounces the tricks, intrigues, and even violence exercised in the convents to prevent the execution of the decree.”—Ibid. March 29, 1790. See the various addresses which are read. “At Lagnon, the mother of a family assembled her ten children, and swore with them and for them to be loyal to the nation and to the King.”—Ibid. June 5, 1790. “M. Chambroud reads the letter of the collector of customs of Lannion, in Brittany, to a priest, a member of the National Assembly. He implores his influence to secure the acceptance of his civic oath and that of all his family, ready to wield either the censer, the cart, the scales, the sword, or the pen.” On reading a number of these addresses the Assembly appears to be a supplement of the Petites Affiches (a small advertising journal in Paris).
[13. ]Moniteur, October 23, 1789.
[14. ]A well-known writer of children’s stories.—[Tr.]
[15. ]Ferrières, ii. 65 (June 10, 1790).—De Montlosier, i. 402. “One of these masqueraders came the following day to get his money of the Comte de Billancourt, mistaking him for the Duc de Liancourt. ‘Monsieur,’ says he, ‘I am the man who played the Chaldean yesterday.’ ”
[16. ]Roux and Buchez, x. 118 (June 16, 1791).
[17. ]See the printed list of deputies, with the indication of their baillage or sénéchaussée, quality, condition, and profession.
[18. ]De Bouillé, 75. When the King first saw the list of the deputies, he exclaimed, “What would the nation have said if I had made up my council or the Notables in this way?” (Roux and Buchez, iv. 39.)
[19. ]Gouverneur Morris, July 31, 1789.
[20. ]Gouverneur Morris, February 25, 1789.—Lafayette, “Mémoires,” v. 492. Letter of Jefferson, February 14, 1815.—Arthur Young, June 27 and 29, 1789.
[21. ]Morris, July 1, 1789.
[22. ]July 4, 1789.
[23. ]Mallet-Dupan, Mercure, September 26, 1789.
[24. ]Gouverneur Morris, January 24, 1790; November 22, 1790.
[25. ]Dumont, 33, 58, 62.
[26. ]S. Romilly, “Memoirs,” i. 102. “It was their constant course first, décréter le principe, and leave the drawing up of what they had so resolved (or, as they called it, la rédaction) for a subsequent operation. It is astonishing how great an influence it had on their debates and measures.”—Ibid. i. 354. Letter by Dumont, June 2, 1789. “They prefer their own folly to all the results of British experience. They revolt at the idea of borrowing anything from your government, which is scoffed at here as one of the iniquities of human reason; although they admit that you have two or three good laws; but that you should presume to have a Constitution is not to be sustained.”
[27. ]Dumont, 138, 151.
[28. ]Marmontel, xii. 265.—Ferrières, i. 48; ii. 50, 58, 126.—Dumont, 74.
[29. ]Gouverneur Morris, January 24, 1790. According to Ferrières this party comprised about three hundred members.
[30. ]Dumont, 33, 58, 62.
[31. ]De Lavergne, “Les Assemblées Provinciales,” 384. Deliberations of the States of Dauphiny, drawn up by Mounier and signed by two hundred gentlemen (July, 1788). “The rights of man are derived from nature alone, and are independent of human conventions.”
[32. ]“Rapport de Merlin de Douay,” February 8, 1790, p. 2. Malouet, ii. 51.
[33. ]Dumont, 133. De Monblosier, i. 355, 361.
[34. ]Bertrand de Molleville, ii. 221 (according to a police report).—Schmidt, “Tableaux de la Révolution,” i. 215. (Report of the agent Dutard, May 13, 1793.)—Lacretelle, “Dix Ans d’Épreuves,” p. 35. “It was about midnight when we went out in the rain, sleet, and snow, in the piercing cold, to the church of the Feuillants, to secure places for the galleries of the Assembly, which we were not to occupy till noon on the following day. We were obliged, moreover, to contend for them with a crowd animated by passions, and even by interests, very different from our own. We were not long in perceiving that a considerable part of the galleries was under pay, and that the scenes of cruelty which gave pain to us were joy to them. I cannot express the horror I felt on hearing those women, since called tricoteuses, take a delight in the already homicidal doctrines of Robespierre, enjoying his sharp voice and feasting their eyes on his ugly face, the living type of envy.” (The first months of 1790.)
[35. ]Moniteur, v. 237 (July 26, 1790); v. 594 (September 8, 1790); v. 631 (September 12, 1790); vi. 310 (October 6, 1790). (Letter of the Abbé Peretti.)
[36. ]De Ferrières, ii. 75.—Moniteur, vi. 373, 374 (September 6, 1790).—M. de Virieu. “Those who insult certain members and hinder the freedom of debate by hooting or applause must be silenced. Is it the three hundred spectators who are to be our judges, or the nation?” M. Chasset, President: “Monsieur the Deputy voting, I call you to order. You speak of hindrances to a free vote; there has never been anything of the kind in this Assembly.”
[37. ]Sauzay, i. 140. Letter of M. Lompré, liberal deputy, to M. Séguin, chanoine (towards the 2nd of November, 1789). “The service becomes more difficult every day; we have become objects of popular fury, and, when no other resource was left to us to avoid the tempest but to get rid of the endowments of the clergy, we yielded to force. It had become a pressing necessity, and I should have been sorry to have had you still here, exposed to the outrages and violence with which I have been repeatedly threatened.”
[38. ]Mercure de France, Nos. of January 15, 1791; October 2, 1790; May 14, 1791. Roux and Buchez, v. 343 (April 13, 1790); vii. 76 (September 2, 1790); x. 225 (June 21, 1791).—De Montlosier, i. 357.—Moniteur, iv. 427.
[39. ]Archives of the Police, exposed by the Committee of the district of Saint-Roch. Judgment of the Police Tribunal, May 15, 1790.
[40. ]Malouet, ii. 68.—De Montlosier, ii. 217, 257 (Speech of M. Lavie, September 18, 1791).
[41. ]I.e., members of the old local parlements.
[42. ]Mercure, October 1, 1791. (Article by Mallet-Dupan.)
[43. ]Malouet, ii. 66. “Those only who were not intimidated by insults or threats, nor by actual blows could come forward as opponents.”
[44. ]Roux and Buchez, x. 432, 465.
[45. ]Malouet, ii. 153.
[46. ]Decrees of July 23rd and 28th, 1789.—“Archives Nationales.” Papers of the Committee of Investigation, passim. Among other affairs see that of Madame de Persan (Moniteur, v. 611, sitting of September 9, 1790), and that of Malouet (“Mémoires,” ii. 12).
[47. ]Roux and Buchez, iv. 56 (Report of Garan de Coulon); v. 49 (Decision of the Committee of Investigation, December 28, 1789).
[48. ]The arrests of M. de Riolles, M. de Bussy, &c., of Madame de Jumilhac, of two other ladies, one at Bar-le-Duc and the other at Nancy, &c.
[49. ]Sitting of July 28, 1789, the speeches of Duport and Rewbell, &c.—Mercure, No. of January 1, 1791 (article by Mallet-Dupan).—Roux and Buchez, v. 146. “Behold five or six successive conspiracies—that of the sacks of flour, that of the sacks of money, &c.” (Article by Camille Desmoulins.)
[50. ]“Archives de la Préfecture de Police.” Extract from the registers of the deliberations of the Conseil-Général of the district of Saint-Roch, October 10, 1789: Arrêté: to request Messieurs de la Commune to devote themselves, with all the prudence, activity, and force of which they are capable, to the discovery, exposure, and publication of the horrible plots and infernal treachery which are constantly meditated against the inhabitants of the capital; to denounce to the public the authors, abettors, and adherents of the said plots, whatever their rank may be; to secure their persons and ensure their punishment with all the rigour which outrages of this kind call for.” The commandant of the battalion and the district captains come daily to consult with the committee. “While the alarm lasts, the first story of each house is to be lighted with lamps during the night: all citizens of the district are requested to be at home by ten o’clock in the evening at the latest, unless they should be on duty. . . . All citizens are invited to communicate whatever they may learn or discover in relation to the abominable plots which are secretly going on in the capital.”
[51. ]Letter of M. de Guillermy, July 31, 1790 (“Actes des Apôtres,” v. 56). “During these two nights (July 13th and 14th, 1789) that we remained in session I heard one deputy try to get it believed that an artillery corps had been ordered to point its guns against our hall; another, that it was undermined, and that it was to be blown up; another went so far as to declare that he smelt powder, upon which M. le Comte de Virieu replied that powder had no odour until it was burnt.”
[52. ]Dumont, 351. “Each constitutional law was a party triumph.”
[1. ]Cf. “The Ancient Régime,” books i. and v.
[2. ]A special tax paid by a plebeian on acquiring real estate.
[3. ]A tax imposed on the inheritance of property.
[4. ]Arthur Young, i. 209, 223. “If the communes steadily refuse what is now held out to them, they put immense and certain benefits to the chance of fortune, to that hazard which may make posterity curse instead of bless their memories as real patriots who had nothing in view but the happiness of their country.”
[5. ]According to valuations by the Constituent Assembly, the tax on real property ought to produce 240,000,000 francs, and provide one-fifth of the net revenue of France, estimated at 1,200,000,000. The personal (mobilière) tax, which replaced the capitation, ought to produce, besides, 60,000,000. Total for direct taxation, 300,000,000, or one-fourth—that is to say, twenty-five per cent. of the net revenue. If the direct taxation had been maintained up to the rate of the ancient régime (190,000,000, according to Necker’s report in May, 1789), this impost would only have provided one-sixth of the net revenue, or sixteen per cent.
[6. ]Dumont, 267. (The words of Mirabeau three months before his death.) “Ah, my friend, how right we were at the start when we wanted to prevent the commons from declaring themselves the National Assembly! That is the source of the evil. They wanted to rule the King, instead of ruling through him.”
[7. ]Gouverneur Morris, April 29, 1789 (on the principles of the future constitution), “One generation at least will be required to render the public familiar with them.”
[8. ]Cf. “The Ancient Régime,” book iii.
[9. ]According to Voltaire (“L’Homme aux Quarante Écus”), the average duration of human life was only twenty-three years.
[10. ]Mercure, July 6, 1790. According to the report of Camus (sitting of July 2nd), the official total of pensions amounted to thirty-two millions; but if we add the gratuities and allowances out of the various treasuries, the actual total was fifty-six millions.
[11. ]“The Ancient Régime,” p. 297, and the following pages.—“Le Duc de Broglie,” by M. Guizot, p. 11. (Last words of Prince Victor de Broglie, and the opinions of M. d’Argenson.)
[12. ]De Ferrières, i. p. 2.
[13. ]Moniteur, sitting of September 7, 1790, i. 431–437. Speeches of MM. de Silhery, de Lanjuinais, Thouret, de Lameth, and Rabaul Saint-Etienne. Barnave wrote in 1791: “It was necessary to be content with one single Chamber; the instinct of equality required it. A second Chamber would have been the refuge of the aristocrats.”
[14. ]“De Bouillé,” p. 50: “All the old noble families, save two or three hundred, were ruined.”
[15. ]Cf. Doniol, “La Révolution et la Féodalité.”
[16. ]Moniteur, sitting of August 6, 1789. Speech of Duport: “Whatever is unjust cannot last. Similarly, no compensation for these unjust rights can be maintained.”—Sitting of February 27, 1790. M. Populus: “As slavery could not spring from a legitimate contract, because liberty cannot be alienated, you have abolished without indemnity hereditary property in persons.” Instructions and decree of June 15–19, 1791: “The National Assembly has recognised in the most emphatic manner that a man never could become the proprietor of another man, and consequently, that the rights which one had assumed to have over the person of the other, could not become the property of the former.” Cf. the diverse reports of Merlin to the Committee of Feudality and the National Assembly.
[17. ]Duvergier, “Collection des Lois et Décrets.” Laws of the 4–11 August, 1789; March 15–28, 1790; May 3–9, 1790; June 15–19, 1791.
[18. ]Agrier percières—terms denoting taxes paid in the shape of shares of produce. Those which follow—lods, rentes, quint, requint—belong to the taxes levied on real property.—[Tr.]
[19. ]Doniol (“Nouveaux cahiers de 1790”). Complaints of the copy-holders of Rouergues and of Quercy, pp. 97–105.
[20. ]See further on, book iii. ch. ii. § 4, also ch. iii.
[21. ]Moniteur, sitting of March 2, 1700. Speech by Merlin: “The peasants have been made to believe that the destruction of the banalités (the obligation to use the public mill, wine-press, and oven, which belonged to the noble) carried along with it the loss to the noble of all these; the peasants regarding themselves as proprietors of them.”
[22. ]Moniteur, sitting of June 9, 1790. Speech of M. Charles de Lameth.—Duvergier (laws of June 19–23, 1790; September 27 and October 16, 1791).
[23. ]Sauzay, v. 400–410.
[24. ]Duvergier, laws of June 15–19, 1791; July 6, 1792; August 25–28, 1792.
[25. ]“Institution du Droit Français,” by Argou, i. 103. (He wrote under the Regency.) “The origin of most of the feoffs is so ancient that if the seigneurs were obliged to produce the titles of the original concession, to obtain their rents, there would scarcely be one able to produce them. This deficiency is made up by common law.”
[26. ]Duvergier (laws of April 8–15, 1791; March 7–11; October 26, 1791; January 6–10, 1794). Mirabeau had already proposed to reduce the disposable portion to one-tenth.
[27. ]See farther on, book iii. ch. iii.
[28. ]Mercure, September 10, 1791. Article by Mallet-Dupan.—Ibid. October 15, 1791.
[29. ]“Archives Nationales,” ii. 784. Letters of M. de Langeron, October 16 and 18, 1789.—Albert Babeau, “Histoire de Troyes,” letters addressed to the Chevalier de Poterat, July, 1790.—“Archives Nationales,” papers of the Committee on Reports, liasse 4, letter of M. le Belin-Chatellenot to the President of the National Assembly, July 1, 1791.—Mercure, October 15, 1791. Article by Mallet-Dupan: “Such is literally the language of these emigrants; I do not add a word.”—Ibid. May 15, 1790. Letter of the Baron de Bois d’Aizy, April 29, 1790, demanding a decree of protection for the nobles. “We shall know (then) whether we are proscribed or are of any account in the rights of man written out with so much blood, or whether, finally, any other resource is left to us but that of bearing the remains of our property and our wretched existences under other skies.”
[30. ]Mercure, October 15, 1791, and September 10, 1791. Read the admirable letter of the Chevalier de Mesgrigny, appointed colonel during the suspension of the King, and refusing his new rank.
[31. ]Cf. the “Mémoires” of M. de Boustaquet, a Norman gentleman.
[32. ]Cf. “The Ancient Régime,” books i. and ii.
[33. ]Boivin-Champeaux, “Notice Historique sur la Revolution dans le Département de l’Eure,” the grievances stated in the memorials. In 1788, at Rouen, there was not a single profession made by men. In the monastery of the Deux-Amants the chapter convoked in 1789 consisted of two monks. “Archives Nationales,” papers of the ecclesiastic committee, passim.
[34. ]“Apologie de l’Etat Religieux” (1775), with statistics. Since 1768 the decline is “frightful”; “it is plainly to be seen that in ten or twelve years most of the regular bodies will be absolutely extinct, or reduced to a state of feebleness akin to death.”
[35. ]Sauzay, i. 224 (November, 1790). At Besançon, out of two hundred and sixty-six monks, “seventy-nine only showed any loyalty to their engagements or any affection for their calling.” Others preferred to abandon it, especially all the Dominicans but five, all but one of the barefooted Carmelites, and all the Grand-Carmelites. The same disposition is apparent throughout the department, as, for instance, with the Benedictines of Cluny except one, all the Minimes but three, all the Capuchins but five, the Bernardins, Dominicans, and Augustins, all preferring to leave.—Montalembert, “Les Moines d’Occident,” introduction, pp. 105–164. Letter of a Benedictine of Saint-Germain-des-Prés to a Benedictine of Vannes. “Of all the members of your congregation which come here to lodge, I have scarcely found one capable of edifying us. You may probably say the same of those who came to you from our place.”—Cf. in the “Mémoires” of Merlin de Thionville the description of the Chartreuse of Val St. Pierre.
[36. ]Ch. Guerin, “Revue des Questions Historiques” (July 1, 1875; April 1, 1876). Abbé Guettée, “Histoire de l’Eglise de France,” xii. 128. (“Procès-verbal de l’Assemblée du Clergé,” in 1780.) “Archives Nationales,” official reports and memorials of the States-General in 1789. The most obnoxious proceeding to the chiefs of the order is the postponement of the age at which vows may be taken, it being, in their view, the ruin of their institutions.—“The Ancient Régime,” p. 403.
[37. ]“The Ancient Régime,” p. 33. Cf. Guerin: “The monastery of the Trois-Rois, in the north of Franche-Comté, founded four villages collected from foreign colonists. It is the only centre of charity and civilisation in a radius of three leagues. It took care of two hundred of the sick in a recent epidemic; it lodges the troops which pass from Alsace into Franche-Comté, and in the late hailstorm it supplied the whole neighbourhood with food.”
[38. ]Moniteur, sitting of February 13, 1790. (Speech of the Abbé de Montesquiou).—“Archives Nationales,” papers of the Ecclesiastical Committee, dxix. 6, Visitation de Limoges, dxix. 25, Annonciades de Saint-Denis; ibid. Annonciades de Saint-Amour; Ursulines d’Auch, de Beaulieu, d’Eymoutier, de la Ciotat, de Pont Saint-Esprit, Hospitalières d’Ernée, de Laval; Sainte-Claire de Laval, de Marseille, &c.
[39. ]Sauzay, i. 247. Out of three hundred and seventy-seven nuns at Doubs, three hundred and fifty-eight preferred to remain as they were, especially at Pontarlier, all the Bernardines, Annonciades, and Ursulines; at Besançon, all the Carmelites, the Visitandines, the Annonciades, the Clarisses, the Sisters of Refuge, the Nuns of the Saint-Esprit, and, save one, all the Benedictine Nuns.
[40. ]“Archives Nationales.” Papers of the Ecclesiastical Committee, passim.—Sauzay, i. 51.—Statics of France for 1866.
[41. ]Felix Rocquain, “La France après le 18 Brumaire.” (Reports of the Councillors of State dispatched on this service, passim).
[42. ]Moniteur, October 24, 1789. (Speech of Dupont de Nemours.) All these speeches, often more fully reported and with various renderings, may be found in “Les Archives Parlementaires,” 1st series, vols. iii. and ix.
[43. ]Duvergier, decree of June 14–17, 1791. “The annihilation of every corporation of citizens of any one condition or profession being one of the foundation-stones of the French constitution, it is forbidden to reestablish these de facto under any pretext or form whatever. Citizens of a like condition or profession, such as contractors, shopkeepers, workmen of all classes, and associates in any art whatever, shall not, on assembling together, appoint either president, or secretaries, or syndics, discuss or pass resolutions, or frame any regulations in relation to their assumed common interests.”
[44. ]Moniteur, sitting of February 12, 1790. Speeches of Dally d’Agier and Barnave.
[45. ]Moniteur, sitting of August 10, 1789. Speech by Garat; February 12, 1790, speech by Pétion; October 30, 1789, speech by Thournet.
[46. ]Moniteur, sitting of November 2, 1789. Speech by Chapelier; October 24, 1789, speech by Garat; October 30, 1789, speech by Mirabeau, and the sitting of August 10, 1789.
[47. ]Moniteur, sitting of October 23, 1789. Speech by Thouret.
[48. ]Moniteur, sitting of October 23, 1789. Speech by Treilhard; October 24th, speech by Garat; October 30, speech by Mirabeau. On the 8th of August, 1789, Al. de Lameth says in the tribune: “When an endowment was made, it is the nation which was endowed.”
[49. ]Duvergier, laws of August 18, 1792; August 8–14, 1793; July 11, 1794; July 14, 1792; August 24, 1793.
[50. ]Moniteur, sitting of July 31, 1792. Speech of M. Boistard; the property of the hospitals at this time was estimated at eight hundred millions. Already in 1791 (sitting of January 30th) M. de Larochefoucauld-Liancourt said to the Assembly: “Nothing will more readily restore confidence to the poor than to see the nation assuming the right of rendering them assistance.” He proposes to decree, accordingly, that all hospitals and places of beneficence be placed under the control of the nation. (Mercure, February 12, 1791.)
[51. ]Moniteur, sitting of August 10, 1789. Speech by Sieyès. The figures given here are deduced from the statistics already given in the “Ancient Régime.”
[52. ]Moniteur, v. 571, sitting of September 4, 1790. Report of the Committee on Finances—v. 675, sitting of September 17, 1790. Report by Necker.
[53. ]Sauzay, i. 228 (from October 10, 1790, to February 20, 1791). “The total weight of the spoil of the monastic establishments in gold, silver, and plated ware, sent to the Mint, amounted to more than 525 kilogrammes (for the department).”
[54. ]Duvergier, law of October 8–14.
[55. ]Moniteur, sitting of June 3, 1792. Speech of M. Bernard, in the name of the Committee of Public Assistance: “Not a day passes in which we do not receive the saddest news from the departments on the penury of their hospitals.”—Mercure de France, December 17, 1791, sitting of December 5. A number of deputies of the Department of the North demand aid for their hospitals and municipalities. Out of 480,000 livres revenue there remains 10,000 to them. “The property of the Communes is mortgaged, and no longer affords them any resources.” 280,000 persons are without bread.
[56. ]Sauzay, 1. 252 (December 3, 1790. April 13, 1791).
[57. ]Moniteur, sitting of June 1, 1790. Speeches by Camus, Treilhard, &c.
[58. ]Sauzay, i. 168.
[59. ]Personal knowledge, as I visited Besançon four times between 1863 and 1867.
[60. ]Moniteur, sitting of May 30, 1790, and others following. (Report of Treilhard, speech by Robespierre.)
[61. ]Duvergier, laws of July 12th–August 14th; November 14–25, 1790; January 21–26, 1791.
[62. ]Moniteur, sitting of May 31, 1790. Robespierre, in covert terms, demands the marriage of priests.—Mirabeau prepared a speech in the same sense, concluding that every priest and monk could contract marriage; on the priest or monk presenting himself with his bride before the curé, the latter should be obliged to give them the nuptial benediction, &c. Mirabeau wrote, June 2, 1790: “Robespierre . . . has juggled me out of my motion on the marriage of priests.”—In general the germ of all the laws of the Convention is found in the Constituent Assembly. (Ph. Plan, “Un Collaborateur de Mirabeau,” p. 56, 144.)
[63. ]Duvergier, laws of November 27th–December 26, 1790; February 5th, March 22nd, and April 5, 1791.—Moniteur, sitting of November 6, 1790, and those that follow, especially that of December 27th. “I swear to maintain with all my power the French Constitution and especially the decrees relating to the Civil Constitution of the clergy.”—Cf. sitting of January 2, 1791, speech by the Bishop of Clermont.
[64. ]Duvergier, law of May 7, 1791, to maintain the right of nonjuring priests to perform mass in national or private edifices. (Demanded by Talleyrand and Sieyès.)
[65. ]“Archives Nationales,” F7, 3,235. Letter of M. de Château-Randon, deputy of la Lozère, May 28, 1791. After the decree of May 23rd, all the functionaries of the department handed in their resignations.
[66. ]Duvergier, law of May 21–29, 1791.
[67. ]Sauzay, i. 366, 538 to 593, 750.—“Archives Nationales,” F7, 3,235. Letter of M. de Chanteauredon, May 10, 1791.—Mercure, April 23rd, and April 16, 1791. Articles of Mallet-Dupan, letter from Bordeaux, March 20, 1791.
[68. ]Roux and Buchez, xii. 77. Report of Gallois and Gensonné sent to La Vendée and the Deux Sèvres (July 25, 1791).—“Archives Nationales,” F7, 3,253, letter of the Directory of the Bas-Rhin (letter of January 7, 1792).—“Le District de Machecoul de 1788 à 1793,” by Lallier.—“Histoire de Joseph Lebon,” by Paris.—Sauzay, vol. i. and ii. in full.
[69. ]Mercure, January 15th, April 23rd, May 16th and 30th, November 23, 1791.—“Le District de Machecoul,” by Lallier, 173.—Sauzay, i. 295.—Lavirotte, “Annales d’Arnay-le Duc (February 5, 1792).—“Archives Nationales,” F7, 3,223. Petition of a number of the inhabitants of Montpellier, November 17, 1791.
[70. ]Duvergier, decree of November 29, 1791.—Mercure, November 30, 1791 (article by Mallet-Dupan).
[1. ]The initiative rests with the King on one point: war cannot be decreed by the Assembly except on his formal and preliminary proposition. This exception was secured only after a violent struggle and a supreme effort by Mirabeau.
[2. ]Speech by Lanjuinais, November 7, 1789. “We determined on the separation of the powers. Why, then, should the proposal be made to us to unite the legislative power with the executive power in the persons of the ministers?”
[3. ]See the attendance of the Ministers before the Legislative Assembly.
[4. ]“Any society in which the separation of the powers is not clearly defined has no constitution.” (Declaration of Rights, article xvi.)—This principle is borrowed from a text by Montesquieu, also from the American Constitution. In the rest the theory of Rousseau is followed.
[5. ]Mercure de France, an expression by Mallet-Dupan.
[6. ]Constitution of 1791, ch. ii. articles 5, 6, 7.—Decree of September 25–October 6, 1791, section iii. articles 8 to 25.
[7. ]Speeches by Barnave and Roederer in the Constituent Assembly.—Speeches by Barnave and Duport in the Jacobin Club.
[8. ]Principal texts. (Duvergier, “Collection des Lois et Décrets.”)—Laws on municipal and administrative organization, December 14 and 22, 1789; August 12–20, 1790; March 15, 1791. On the municipal organization of Paris, May 21st, June 27, 1790.—Laws on the organization of the Judiciary, August 16–24, 1790; September 16–29, 1791; September 29, October 21, 1791.—Laws on military organization, September 23, October 29, 1790; January 16, 1791; July 27, 28, 1791.—Laws on the financial organization, November 14–24, 1790; November 23, 1790; March 17, 1791; September 26, October 2, 1791.
[9. ]Decrees of December 14 and December 22, 1789: “In municipalities reduced to three members (communes below five hundred inhabitants), all executive functions shall belong to the mayor alone.”
[10. ]Laws of September 23–October 29, 1790; January 16, 1791. (Titles ii. and vii.)—Cf. the legal prescriptions in relation to the military tribunals. In every prosecuting or judicial jury one-seventh of the sworn members are taken from the noncommissioned officers, and one-seventh from the soldiers, and again, according to the rank of the accused, the number of those of the same rank is doubled.
[11. ]Law of July 28th, August 12, 1791.
[12. ]Laws of November 14, 1789 (article 52), August 10–14, 1789.—Instruction of August 10–20, 1790; § 8.—Law of October 21, November 21, 1789.
[13. ]Laws of November 14, 23, 1790; January 13th, September 26th, October 9, 1791.
[14. ]Albert Babeau, i. 327 (Fête of the Federation, July 14, 1790).—“Archives Nationales,” F7, 3,215 (May 17, 1791, Deliberation of the council-general of the commune of Brest. May 17 and 19, Letters of the directory of the district).—Mercure, March 5, 1791. “Mesdames are stopped until the return of the two deputies, whom the Republic of Arnay-le-Duc has sent to the representatives of the nation to demonstrate to them the necessity of keeping the king’s aunts in the kingdom.”
[15. ]Moniteur, x. 132. Speech by M. Labergerie, November 8, 1791.
[16. ]At Montauban, in the intendant’s salon, the ladies of the place spoke patois only, the grandmother of the gentleman who gives me this fact not understanding any other language.
[17. ]Moniteur, v. 163, sitting of July 18, 1791. Speech by M. Lecoulteux, reporter.
[18. ]Moniteur, xi. 283, sitting of February 2, 1792. Speech by Cambon: “They go away thinking that they understand what is explained to them, but return the following day to obtain fresh explanations. The attorneys refuse to give the municipalities any assistance, stating that they know nothing about these matters.”
[19. ]Law of May 11–15, 1791.
[20. ]Procès-verbal of the Electoral Assembly of the Department of Indre-et-Loire (1791, printed).
[21. ]De Ferrières, i. 367.
[22. ]Sauzay, i. 191 (21,711 are eligible out of 32,288 inscribed citizens).
[23. ]Official report of the Electoral Assembly of the Department of Indre-et-Loire, Aug. 27, 1791. “A member of the Assembly made a motion that all the members composing it should be indemnified for the expenses which would be incurred by their absence from home and the long sojourn they had to make in the town where the Assembly was held. He remarked that the inhabitants of the country were those who suffered the most, their labour being their sole riches; that if no attention was paid to this demand, they would be obliged, in spite of their patriotism, to withdraw and abandon their important mission; that the electoral assemblies would then be deserted, or would be composed of those whose resources permitted them to make this sacrifice.”
[24. ]Sauzay, i. 147, 192.
[25. ]For the detail of these figures, see vol. ii. book iv.
[26. ]De Ferrières, i. 367. Cf. the various laws above mentioned.
[27. ]Constant, “Histoire d’un Club Jacobin en Provence” (Fontainebleau), p. 15. (Procès-verbaux of the founding of the clubs of Moret, Thomery, Nemours, and Montereau.)
[28. ]Cf. the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776 (except the first phrase, which is a catchword thrown out for the European philosophers).—Jefferson proposed a Declaration of Rights for the Constitution of March 4, 1789, but it was refused. They were content to add to it the eleven amendments which set forth the fundamental rights of the citizen.
[29. ]Article 1. “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights common to all. Social distinctions are founded solely on public utility.” The first phrase condemns the hereditary royalty which is sanctioned by the Constitution. The second phrase can be used to legitimate hereditary monarchy and an aristocracy.—Articles 10 and 11 bear upon the manifestations of religious conviction; and on freedom of speech and of the press. By virtue of these two articles worship, speech, and the press may be made subject to the most repressive restrictions, &c.
[30. ]Roux and Buchez, xi. 237. (Speech by Malouet in relation to the revision, August 5, 1791.) “You constantly tempt the people with sovereignty without giving them the immediate use of it.”
[31. ]Decrees of September 25–October 6, 1791; September 28–October 6, 1791.
[32. ]Impartial contemporaries, those well qualified to judge, agree as to the absurdity of the Constitution. “The Constitution was a veritable monster. There was too much of monarchy in it for a republic, and too much of a republic for a monarchy. The King was a side-dish, un hors d’oeuvre, everywhere present in appearance but without any actual power.” (Dumont, 339.) “It is a general and almost universal conviction that this Constitution is inexecutable. The makers of it to a man condemn it.” (G. Morris, September 30, 1791.) “Every day proves more clearly that their new Constitution is good for nothing.” (Ibid., December 27, 1791.) Cf. the sensible and prophetic speech made by Malouet (August 5, 1791, Roux and Buchez, xi. 237).