Online Library of Liberty

A collection of scholarly works about individual liberty and free markets. A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.

Advanced Search

Germaine de Staël, Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.) [2008]

1459_tp
Title Page
1459_toc
Original Table of Contents or First Page

Edition used:

Germaine de Staël, Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution, newly revised translation of the 1818 English edition, edited, with an introduction and notes by Aurelian Craiutu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008). http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2212

Available in the following formats:
LF Printer PDF 2.72 MB This text-based PDF was prepared by the typesetters of the LF book.
EBook PDF 1.86 MB This text-based PDF or EBook was created from the HTML version of this book and is part of the Portable Library of Liberty.
HTML 2.06 MB This version has been converted from the original text. Every effort has been taken to translate the unique features of the printed book into the HTML medium.
Simplified HTML 2.06 MB This is a simplifed HTML format, intended for screen readers and other limited-function browsers.

About this Title:

Considerations is considered de Staël’s magnum opus and sheds renewed light on the familiar figures and events of the Revolution, among them, the financier and statesman Jacques Necker, her father. Editor Aurelian Craiutu states that Considerations explores “the prerequisites of liberty, constitutionalism and rule of law, the necessary limits on power, the relation between social order and political order, the dependence of liberty on morality and religion, and the question of the institutional foundations of a free regime.”

Copyright information:

The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.

Fair use statement:

This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.

Table of Contents:

Edition: current; Page: [i]
Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution
Edition: current; Page: [ii]
lf1459_figure_001.jpg

Madame de Staël

Edition: current; Page: [iii]
CONSIDERATIONS ON THE PRINCIPAL EVENTS OF THE French Revlution
GERMAINE DE STAËL
Newly Revised Translation of the 1818 English Edition
Edited, with an Introduction and Notes, by Aurelian Craiutu
liberty fund
Indianapolis
Edition: current; Page: [iv]

This book is published by Liberty Fund, Inc., a foundation established to encourage study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.

lf1459_figure_002.jpg

The cuneiform inscription that serves as our logo and as the design motif for our endpapers is the earliest-known written appearance of the word “freedom” (amagi), or “liberty.” It is taken from a clay document written about 2300 bc in the Sumerian city-state of Lagash.

Introduction, note on the present edition, annotations, bibliography, index,

© 2008 by Liberty Fund, Inc.

Frontispiece: Portrait of Madame de Staël by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy-Trioson, ca. 1800–1824. © The Gallery Collection/Corbis.

Reproduced by permission.

Printed in the United States of America

All rights reserved

c 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

p 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Staël, Madame de (Anne-Louise-Germaine), 1766–1817.

[Considérations sur les principaux événemens de la Révolution françoise. English] Considerations on the principal events of the French Revolution/Germaine de Staël; edited and with an introduction by Aurelian Craiutu.

p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index.

isbn 978-0-86597-731-0 (hc: alk. paper) isbn 978-0-86597-732-7 (pbk.: alk. paper)

1. France—History—Revolution, 1789–1799—Causes. 2. France—History—Revolution, 1789–1799—Influence. 3. Staël, Madame de (Anne-Louise-Germaine), 1766–1817—Political and social views.

I. Craiutu, Aurelian. II. Title.

dc138.s713 2008

944.04—dc22 2008029586

liberty fund, inc.

8335 Allison Pointe Trail, Suite 300

Indianapolis, Indiana 46250-1684

Edition: current; Page: [v]

Contents

  • Introduction vii
  • Note on the Present Edition xxv
  • Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution 1
  • Select Bibliography on Madame de Staël 757
  • Index 769
Edition: current; Page: [vi] Edition: current; Page: [vii]

Introduction

Liberty! Let us repeat her name . . . for all that we love,

all that we honor is included in it.

—Madame de Staël

A Thinker for Our Times: Madame de Staël, Her Life and Works

Very few individuals have left as deep a trace on their age as Anne Louise Germaine, Baronne de Staël-Holstein (1766–1817). She was one of the greatest intellectuals and writers of her time, and the influence of her works crossed national borders, cultures, and disciplines. Her powerful and sparkling personality impressed everyone she met, from Byron and Chateaubriand to Tsar Alexander I and Napoléon. Staël’s popularity was such that in 1815, soon after Napoléon’s fall from power, one of her contemporaries observed that “there are three great powers in Europe: England, Russia, and Madame de Staël.”1

Life of Madame de Staël

Who was this powerful woman accepted into the most exclusive circles of her time and destined to become one of the most famous French writers? Born on April 22, 1766, Madame de Staël belonged to the distinguished Necker family, at one point among the richest families in Europe. Germaine’s mother, Suzanne Curchod, was a highly educated woman from Lausanne who closely supervised her daughter’s education, seeking Edition: current; Page: [viii] to give her a truly encyclopedic knowledge of disciplines as diverse as mathematics, languages, geography, theology, and dance. Madame Necker held a famous salon attended by such celebrities as Voltaire, Diderot, Holbach, Helvétius, d’Alembert, Gibbon, Hume, and Walpole.

Madame de Staël’s father, Jacques Necker (1732–1804), a Swiss Protestant, had risen to prominence as a banker in Paris. He made a name for himself in the political realm as Louis XVI’s minister of finance and was a leading actor during the initial stages of the French Revolution. Necker is remembered today for taking the unprecedented step in 1781 of making public the country’s budget, a novelty in an absolute monarchy where the state of finances had always been kept a secret. Necker, who thought this custom both unlawful and ineffective, realized that public opinion had become an invisible power exercising a major influence on the country and the court. Justifying his decision, Necker wrote: “Darkness and obscurity favor carelessness, [while] publicity can only become an honor and a reward.”2 The public success of Necker’s Compte rendu was tremendous: more than three thousand copies were sold the first day of its publication.

Necker was also the author of important books in which he vigorously defended liberty, constitutionalism, and moderate government: On the Executive Power in Large States (1792), On the French Revolution (1796), and Last Views on Politics and Finance (1802). Necker’s reflections on the French Revolution, an unduly ignored masterpiece, are a detailed account of his conduct during the turbulent events of 1788 and 1789, and especially during the month of July 1789, when his dismissal by King Louis XVI was followed by the fall of the Bastille and his subsequent recall by the monarch. In his political writings, Necker justified his preference for a tempered monarchy similar to the one existing in England, and he became one of the leading theorists of executive power in modern political thought.3

Madame de Staël achieved fame as a novelist, political thinker, sociologist of literature, and autobiographer. To her thorough education she added vast political experience and an intense personal life that blended Edition: current; Page: [ix] love and politics in an original way, as her rich correspondence demonstrates.4 A romantic and restless soul, Madame de Staël attracted the friendship of the most important men of her age, from Talleyrand, Goethe, and Benjamin Constant to J.-C.-L. Simonde de Sismondi, Prosper de Barante, and August Wilhelm von Schlegel. She witnessed firsthand the most important events of the French Revolution, which she followed closely from Paris and, later, from her exile at Coppet, in Switzerland, where she lived between 1792 and 1795, anxiously watching from a distance the rise of the Jacobin democracy, the Terror, and the fall of Robespierre on 9 Thermidor.

Her health declined in 1816, and in February 1817 she became bedridden. Her mind remained as sharp as ever, though, and Staël had the opportunity to reflect one more time on her extraordinary life and achievements. In a letter to Chateaubriand she confessed: “I have always been the same: lively but sad. I love God, my father, and liberty.”5 She died on July 14, 1817, at the age of fifty-one.

Works of Madame de Staël

Staël’s first major book, Letters on the Works and Character of J.-J. Rousseau, appeared in 1788 and established her reputation in the Parisian circles of that time. In the aftermath of the Revolution she gained a long-awaited opportunity to again pursue her literary interests and also to become involved in politics. She published On the Influence of Passions on the Happiness of Individuals and Nations in 1796, followed four years later by On Literature Considered in Its Relations to Social Institutions (1800).6 Her famous novel Delphine appeared in 1802, and Corinne was published five years later. After 1795, Madame de Staël returned to Paris for longer sojourns, commented on the major political events of the day, and formulated Edition: current; Page: [x] various policy proposals meant to bring the Revolution to a successful end.

In 1797 she completed the initial part of her first major political work, On the Current Circumstances Which Can End the Revolution, whose full text was not published until 1979. The republican tone of this book might surprise readers familiar only with Staël’s later political writings, which portray her as an enthusiastic defender of constitutional monarchy à l’anglaise. Inspired by the principles of the Enlightenment, she put forward a powerful critique of the excesses of the Jacobins while also taking to task the errors of the ultraroyalists who sought to reverse the course of French history. In order to “close” the Revolution, Madame de Staël favored a republican form of government based on popular sovereignty, representative government, and respect for private property, seen as the foundation of all political rights. She also expressed concern for the low public-spiritedness of the French, which she regarded as a corollary of the disquieting civic apathy fueled by the country’s postrevolutionary fatigue.7

In 1803 Madame de Staël was forced into exile by Napoléon. Her unfinished memoir, Ten Years of Exile, recounts her peregrinations in Europe and documents her critical attitude toward the imperial government. On Germany was completed in 1810. In it she praises Prussia and never mentions Napoléon, who had waged an eight-year war against that country. The book did not appear in France because the police confiscated the volume’s proofs and type blocks and the ten thousand copies already printed. On Germany was finally published in London in 1813. Napoléon, angry and humiliated by Staël’s defiant refusal to remove some offending passages, emphatically forbade the publication of the book because it was allegedly “un-French.”8

Shortly before her death in 1817, Madame de Staël completed her last Edition: current; Page: [xi] and arguably most important political work, Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution. She managed to revise only the first two volumes and a part of the third one. A French edition of Considerations was published in 1818 by her son and her son-in-law, Auguste de Staël and Victor de Broglie, respectively, assisted by her friend August Wilhelm von Schlegel. A three-volume English translation of the book came out the same year in London, but the translator’s name was not mentioned on the front page.

Madame de Staël and Napoléon

Madame de Staël’s hatred of tyranny and passionate defense of freedom were bound to clash with the institutions of the new regime of Napoléon Bonaparte. Staël met Napoléon for the first time in 1797 and later recalled that she felt unable to breathe in his presence. She became a fierce critic of the First Consul when his absolutist and bellicose tendencies became evident. Napoléon, Madame de Staël argued, subjected his critics to countless persecutions and engaged the country in extravagant military campaigns, taking pleasure only in the violent crises produced by battles. “Emperor Napoléon’s greatest grievance against me,” Staël wrote in the opening chapter of Ten Years of Exile, “is my unfailing respect for true liberty.”9 She deplored the absence of the rule of law in France and argued that public opinion itself was powerless without the authority of the law and independent organs to express it. A famous political figure during that time, Staël was received in the most select circles in England, Germany, Sweden, Austria, and Russia. Tsar Alexander I, who gave Madame de Staël a Russian passport, enjoyed her company and conversation and welcomed her to Russia. At Coppet, she rallied a powerful opposition to Napoléon that brought together many friends of liberty who had become the Emperor’s staunchest critics.

Her admiration for Prussia, expressed in On Germany, clearly conveyed her opposition to Napoléon. By praising the German culture and spirit, Madame de Staël offered a thinly veiled critique of the Emperor’s policies. Edition: current; Page: [xii] A believer in the benefits of the cross-fertilization of ideas, she suggested that France needed an influx of new foreign ideas and, above all, freedom to overcome its political predicament.

In 1814 Madame de Staël welcomed the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy. She returned to Paris, where she followed with great interest the debates on the new Chamber of Deputies while also seeking to recover the two million livres that her father had loaned to the French state during the Revolution. She claimed that the Charter of 1814 contained all the political principles that had previously been advocated by Necker, but she also expressed her concerns about the long-term viability of the new constitutional text. This odd mixture of royal concession and political contract was, she argued, inferior in many respects to the unwritten English constitution based on a sound balance of powers.10

The Ideas of Considerations

The first years of the Bourbon Restoration provided an open arena for vigorous political debates among partisans of the Old Regime, supporters of constitutional monarchy and representative government, and those who wanted to continue the Revolution. The debate over the legitimacy of the principles of 1789 forced the French to come to terms with the violent episodes of the French Revolution. Not surprisingly, most of the historical writings published during the Bourbon Restoration display an unusual degree of political partisanship, as historians sought to use the lessons of the past to justify their own political agendas. Those who wrote history during this time often also tried to make history. Liberal writers such as Guizot, Constant,11 and Madame de Staël insisted that the initial episodes of the Revolution should be seen neither as a prelude to the Terror nor as a complete break with the feudal past, but instead as the inevitable outcome of factors that had been at work for a very long time in the Old Regime. In advancing this argument they were often obliged to Edition: current; Page: [xiii] resort to a selective reading of the past, one that insisted either on discontinuities or on long-term social, cultural, and political patterns. But regardless of their sophisticated hermeneutical strategies, all French liberals of the time shared two common characteristics: they defended the principles of representative government and constitutional monarchy, and they admired the English model that had successfully blended liberty and order and protected the country against revolutionary turmoil. Staël memorably captured the new liberal catechism in On the Current Circumstances when arguing that, in France, liberty was ancient and despotism modern.12

Considerations aimed at contributing to this rich and intense historical debate, even if in some respects it was fundamentally a composite that added few original points beyond the sometimes exaggerated praise of Necker’s political views and actions.13 Yet, Madame de Staël’s unique perspective, combining firsthand political experience and a subtle intellect with an elegant style and passionate voice, offered a convincing justification of the principles of constitutional monarchy that had inspired the authors of the Charter of 1814. It is important to remember that Madame de Staël did not intend to write a purely historical work retracing step by step the main events and phases of the French Revolution and its aftermath. As she stated in a short foreword to the original edition, her initial goal was to write a book examining the actions and ideas of her beloved father, Jacques Necker, who looms large in the pages of this book. But in the end, Madame de Staël went beyond her original goal and offered a comprehensive view of the main events and actors of the French Revolution. By strongly criticizing Napoléon’s actions and legacy, she put forward a vigorous liberal agenda that championed the principles of constitutionalism and representative government. Thus, Considerations consolidated Madame de Staël’s image as a passionate friend of liberty who feared mob rule and violence and advocated political moderation, the rule of law, and representative government.

Edition: current; Page: [xiv]

The title of Staël’s book was probably a rejoinder to Joseph de Maistre’s Considerations on France, originally published in 1796 (a new edition came out in 1814), while some of Staël’s ideas might have been a response to Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Although Burke saw the French Revolution as the result of accidental forces that brought forth the sudden collapse of the Old Regime in 1789, Madame de Staël viewed the events of 1789 as the outcome of the general development of European civilization.14 Thus, she challenged not only the ultraroyalist opponents of the Revolution, who wanted to restore the old alliance between throne and altar, but also those who argued that the Revolution had been the mere result of accidental or transitory causes. She saw the events of 1789 as part of a greater historical development that consisted of three eras: the feudal system, despotism, and representative government. According to this interpretation, the same social and political forces that had brought about the Revolutions of 1648 and 1688 in England were also the prime cause of the revolutionary wave in France a century later: “Both belong to the third era in the progress of social order—the establishment of representative government. . . .”15 In other words, far from being fortuitous, the fall of the Old Regime in 1789 was in fact the inevitable outcome of a long historical evolution that could not have been arrested by the efforts of a few individuals.

In this regard Staël’s analysis anticipated Tocqueville’s meticulously researched diagnosis of the internal crisis of the Old Regime. By focusing on the lack of public spirit and the absence of a genuine constitution prior to 1789, she demonstrated that the Revolution was an irreversible phenomenon that arose in response to the deep structural problems of the Old Regime. Although she stopped short of claiming (like Tocqueville) that the real Revolution had actually occurred prior to 1789, Madame de Staël’s account gives the reader a strong sense of the inevitability of the events of that year.

All these ideas loom large in the first two parts of the book in which Edition: current; Page: [xv] Staël reflects on the state of public opinion in France at the accession of Louis XVI and discusses Necker’s plans for finance and his famous account of the kingdom’s finances. Other important topics include the plans of the Third Estate in 1788 and 1789, the fall of the Bastille, and the actions of the Constituent Assembly. About the latter, Madame de Staël has many good things to say, in contrast to Burke’s more negative account that highlighted the Assembly’s excesses and limitations. In her view, the achievements of the Assembly ultimately outweighed its shortcomings: “We are indebted to the Constituent Assembly for the suppression of the privileged castes in France, and for civil liberty to all. . . .”16 It was the Constituent Assembly that effaced ancient separations between classes, rendered taxes uniform, proclaimed complete freedom of worship, instituted juries, and removed artificial and ineffective restraints on industry. Above all, the decrees of the Constituent Assembly established provincial assemblies, spreading life, emulation, energy, and intelligence into the provinces. In this regard, it is worth pointing out again the similarity between Staël’s interpretation of the political dynamics of the initial phase of the Revolution and Tocqueville’s. Both believed that the events of the first half of 1789 displayed sincere patriotism and commitment to the public good, combining enthusiasm for ideas with sincere devotion to a noble cause that made a lasting impression on all true friends of liberty in France.17

Yet, Madame de Staël was far from being an unconditional admirer of the Constituent Assembly. In fact, she criticizes it for having displayed an excessive distrust of executive power that eventually triggered insuperable tensions between the King and the representatives of the nation. The Constituent Assembly wrongly considered the executive power as an enemy of liberty rather than as one of its safeguards. The Assembly proceeded to draft the constitution as a treaty between two opposed parties rather than as a compromise between the country’s various social and political Edition: current; Page: [xvi] interests. It “formed a constitution as a general would form a plan of attack,”18 making a harmonious balance of powers impossible and preventing the import onto French soil of bicameralism. The unfortunate choice of a single chamber was incompatible with the existence of effective checks and balances capable of limiting the growing power of the representatives of the French nation.

Staël’s Considerations also vindicates, albeit in a moderate tone, the principles of 1789 that sought to improve the system of national representation and the right of the Third Estate to full political representation. The boldest claim of this part of the book is that France lacked a true constitution and the rule of law during the Old Regime. The parlements19 were never able to limit the royal authority, which had retained the legal right to impose a lit de justice.20 Moreover, the Estates General were convened only eighteen times in almost five centuries (1302–1789) and did not meet at all between 1614 and 1789. Although the parlements could (and occasionally did) invoke the “fundamental laws of the state” and asserted their right to “register” the laws after they had been “verified,” it was not possible to speak of the existence of a genuine constitution in the proper sense of the word. “France,” Madame de Staël wrote, “has been governed by custom, often by caprice, and never by law. . . . the course of circumstances alone was decisive of what everyone called his right.”21

Staël did not hesitate to list a long series of royal abuses, including arbitrary imprisonments, ordinances, banishments, special commissions, and lits de justice that infringed upon the rights of ordinary citizens and were passed against their will. In her view, the history of France was replete with many attempts on the part of the nation and the nobles to obtain rights and privileges, while the kings aimed at enlarging their prerogatives and consolidating their absolute power. “Who can deny,” Madame de Staël concludes in this important chapter (part I, xi), “that a change was Edition: current; Page: [xvii] necessary, either to give a free course to a constitution hitherto perpetually infringed; or to introduce those guarantees which might give the laws of the state the means of being maintained and obeyed?”22 On this view, the Revolution of 1789 appeared justified insofar as it sought to put an end to a long reign based on arbitrary power and obsolete and costly privileges.

In other chapters from parts II and III, Staël criticizes the blindness and arrogance of many political actors whose actions and ideas paved the way for the Terror of 1793–95. She also denounces the institutionalization of fear fueled by the perverse passion for equality displayed by the French. “True faith in some abstract ideas,” she argues, “feeds political fanaticism”23 and can be cured only by the sovereignty of law. Her conclusion is remarkable for both its simplicity and its accuracy: liberty alone can effectively cure political fanaticism, and the remedy for popular passion lies above all in the rule of law. The institution that alone can bring forth ordered liberty is representative government; it is the only remedy through which “the torches of the furies can be extinguished” and that can adequately promote limited power, a proper balance of powers in the state as well as the right of people to consent to taxes, and their ordered participation in legislative acts.

Part IV examines the Directory and the rise of Napoléon Bonaparte. Madame de Staël draws an unflattering (and somewhat biased) portrait of the future emperor by emphasizing not only his unbounded egotism and intoxication with power but also his lack of emotion combined with an unsettling air of vulgarity and political shrewdness. Staël pays special attention to analyzing Napoléon’s rise to power in the aftermath of the Terror, believing that he was not only a talented man but also one who represented a whole pernicious system of power. She claimed that this system ought to be examined as a great political problem relevant to many generations. As she memorably puts it, no emotion of the heart could move Napoléon, who regarded his fellow citizens as mere things and means rather than equals worthy of respect. He was “neither good, nor violent, nor gentle, nor cruel. . . . Such a being had no fellow, and therefore could Edition: current; Page: [xviii] neither feel nor excite sympathy. . . .”24 Intoxicated with the “vile draught of Machiavellianism” and resembling in many respects the Italian tyrants of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Napoléon managed to enslave the French nation by shrewdly using three means. He sought to satisfy men’s interests at the expense of their virtues, he disregarded public opinion, and he gave the French nation war for an object instead of liberty.25 Through these means he managed to dazzle the masses and corrupt individuals by acting upon their imagination and captivating them with a false sense of greatness.

These chapters convincingly illustrate Staël’s hatred of absolute power and shed light on her staunch opposition to the Emperor, for whom she held a deep aversion.26 Anticipating a common topos of Restoration liberal thought, she notes that Napoléon’s absolute power had been made possible by the leveling and atomization of society, and she explains his fall from power by pointing out the influence of public opinion and the inevitable limits of that power. In the end, Madame de Staël argues, Napoléon left a nefarious legacy that strengthened the coercive force of centralization and fueled the atomization of society. The system of egoism, oppression, and corruption he founded derailed the normal political development of the country and wasted countless resources. Being a man who could act naturally only when he commanded others, Napoléon degraded the French nation, which he used to advance his own political ambitions and plans. In Ten Years of Exile, Madame de Staël wrote that since Napoléon’s character was “at war with the rest of creation,” he ought to be compared to “the Greek flame, which no force of nature could extinguish.”27

Parts V and VI of the book contain a vigorous defense of representative government in France and offer a detailed examination of the English political Edition: current; Page: [xix] system, culminating in moving praise of political liberty and limited power. The political agenda of Considerations is illustrated by chapters xi and xii of part V, in which Madame de Staël examines the system that the Bourbons and the friends of liberty ought to have followed in 1814. Worth noting here is Madame de Staël’s passionate defense of decentralization and self-government as two effective means of combating Napoléon’s legacy of centralized despotism. Opposing those who believed that the French were not made for liberty, Staël points to the rising force of public opinion and warns that every effort to sail against the new democratic torrent will be futile in the long term. After reminding her readers that hypocrisy in the pursuit of liberty is more revolting than its complete denial, she adds confidently: “Let this torrent enter into channels, and all the country which it laid waste will be fertilized.”28

Part VI contains a detailed account of the main principles undergirding representative government, liberty, and public opinion in England. Madame de Staël did not seek to be a neutral observer of the English scene; her normative approach stemmed from her belief that France must imitate the political institutions of England in order to overcome its legacy of despotism and centralization. “That which is particularly characteristic of England,” she noted in a Burkean vein, “is a mixture of chivalrous spirit with an enthusiasm for liberty”29 fostering a fortunate balance between all social classes, which makes the English nation seem, “if we may say so, one entire body of gentlemen.”30 Unlike the French nobles, the English aristocrats were united to—and identified themselves with—the nation at large and did not form a privileged caste detached from the management of local affairs. Of special interest will be the discussion of the relationship between economic prosperity, legal protection, rule of law, and political freedom, as well as the discussion of the seminal influence of religion and morals on political liberty, anticipating Tocqueville’s analysis of religion as a bulwark of political freedom in America. Referring to the English government, Staël writes: “The government never interferes in what can Edition: current; Page: [xx] be equally well done by individuals: respect for personal liberty extends to the exercise of the faculties of every man.”31 Madame de Staël also praises the balance of power between Crown and Parliament, the countless opportunities for improving the political system without any major convulsion, and the fortunate balance between old and new political and legal forms giving liberty both the advantage of an ancient origin and the benefits of prudent innovation. She saw in publicity and freedom of the press the two pillars of representative government that create a strong bond between the governed and their representatives: “Public opinion bears the sway in England, and it is public opinion that constitutes the liberty of a country.”32

The last chapter of the book, “Of the Love of Liberty,” memorably summarizes the reasons why people need freedom and are ready to die for it. Madame de Staël’s vigorous appeal to liberty can still inspire us today: “Liberty! Let us repeat her name with so much the more energy that the men who should pronounce it, at least as an apology, keep it at a distance through flattery: let us repeat it without fear of wounding any power that deserves respect; for all that we love, all that we honor is included in it. Nothing but liberty can arouse the soul to the interests of social order.”33

The Reception of Considerations

Soon after its publication, Considerations became a classic sui generis in France and was regarded as a first-rate contribution to the ongoing political and historical debate on representative government and its institutions in nineteenth-century France and Europe. Staël’s book was praised for having opened the modern era of French liberalism.34 It was hailed as Edition: current; Page: [xxi] a genuine hymn to freedom based on a perceptive understanding of the prerequisites of political freedom as well as on a detailed analysis of the social, historical, and cultural contexts within which political rights and political obligation exist. As time passed, however, the book fell into oblivion and shared the fate of French nineteenth- and twentieth-century liberals who became marginalized and ignored in their own country. Not surprisingly, Considerations went out of print for more than a century, from 1881 to 1983.

Considerations triggered a number of powerful critiques among Staël’s contemporaries, who disagreed with some of its ideas and interpretations. One such critical response came from Stendhal, who was put off by Staël’s exceedingly harsh treatment of Napoléon. Another came from the pen of Jacques-Charles Bailleul, who published an extensive, two-volume (chapter by chapter) critique of the book.35 But it was Louis de Bonald, a leading writer himself and a prominent representative of the ultraroyalists, who put forward the most trenchant critique of Staël’s book. In Observations on the Work of Madame de Staël Entitled “Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution” (1818), Bonald argued that Madame de Staël failed to give an impartial account of the Revolution, preferring instead to reinterpret its main events in order to vindicate her father’s actions and legacy. The Catholic Bonald went further and attacked Staël’s political ambitions as well as her liberal principles and values and Protestant outlook. Ultraconservatives like Bonald and Maistre disagreed with Staël’s emphasis on the inevitability of the Revolution as well as with her claim that France did not have a proper constitution prior to 1789. If there was anything inevitable in the Revolution, Maistre claimed, it concerned God’s punishment for the excesses of the Enlightenment. Not surprisingly, some regarded the Revolution as a unique (and Satanic) event in Edition: current; Page: [xxii] history that displayed a degree of destruction and human depravity never seen before.36

Madame de Staël and America

Finally, it is important to point out that Madame de Staël had a deep appreciation for the principles of American democracy and that her writings and ideas exercised a significant influence on prominent nineteenth-century American intellectuals such as George Ticknor and Henry James. Inspired by Staël’s On Germany, they studied German culture and made decisive contributions to the development of American higher education and intellectual life.37 Staël exchanged many letters with important figures such as Gouverneur Morris, Albert Gallatin, Thomas Jefferson, and Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours (who emigrated to America after Napoléon’s coup d’état of 18 Fructidor).

Moreover, Madame de Staël had numerous investments (land, bonds, and stocks) in the United States, valued by some accounts at approximately one and a half million francs. In 1809–10 she even contemplated coming to America with her family in the hope of finding a new home far away from Napoléon’s grasp.38 Although focused predominantly on business issues, her correspondence with her American friends touched on important events in America such as slavery, the expansion to the West, and the Louisiana Purchase. To Jefferson she confessed in 1816: “If you Edition: current; Page: [xxiii] succeeded in doing away with slavery in the South, there would be at least one government in the world as perfect as human reason can conceive it.”39 At the same time, Madame de Staël was worried that by fighting against England the United States vicariously helped Napoléon and his despotic regime.

It was this concern that prompted her to work toward bringing the two countries together. While in London in 1814, she was instrumental in setting up an appointment between the American secretary of the treasury, Albert Gallatin, and Russia’s tsar, Alexander I. The meeting had a powerful symbolic connotation because Russia’s involvement gave a strong warning to England against continuing its war with America. In September 1814, she wrote to Gallatin that the United States rather than England was the true defender of liberty: “It is you, America, that interest me now above all, aside from my pecuniary affairs. I find you to be at the present moment oppressed by the party of liberty and I see in you the cause that attached me to England a year ago.”40 Back in Paris, she received John Quincy Adams and continued her correspondence with Jefferson. “Our family,” she wrote to him in 1816, “is still a little intellectual island where Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson are revered as in their own country.”41 Shortly before her death, she told George Bancroft in Paris: “You are the vanguard of the human race, you are the future of the world.”42

These testimonies demonstrate that more than a decade before Tocqueville, Madame de Staël sincerely admired the Americans and unambiguously praised their dedication to political liberty, foreseeing the rise of the young nation to the status of superpower. “There is a people who will one day be very great,” she wrote in Considerations. “These are the Americans. . . . What is there more honorable for mankind than this new world, Edition: current; Page: [xxiv] which has established itself without the prejudices of the old; this new world where religion is in all its fervor without needing the support of the state to maintain it; where the law commands by the respect which it inspires, without being enforced by any military power?”43 Her prophetic words continue to inspire us today, as new constellations of ideas and political factors challenge us to rethink the role of American democracy in the twenty-first century.

Aurelian Craiutu
Indiana University, Bloomington
Edition: current; Page: [xxv]

Note on the Present Edition

In recent years the English-speaking academic world has witnessed a renewed interest in the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville and Benjamin Constant. New English translations of Tocqueville’s and Constant’s political works have been published by prestigious presses, and special issues on their writings have appeared in important academic journals. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Madame de Staël, the other principal figure of nineteenth-century French political thought. None of her major political works are available in English at the present moment, and she remains an unknown figure among political theorists, vaguely linked to Constant, with whom she had a close intellectual and personal relationship.1

The lack of recognition given to Madame de Staël’s political writings in the Anglo-American world is both disappointing and surprising given her stature as one of the greatest writers and political thinkers of the nineteenth century. Readers interested in the debates on the events and legacy of the French Revolution can only regret the absence of an English translation of Staël’s On the Current Circumstances Which Can End the Revolution. Similarly, they have been deprived of access to the old English edition of her Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution because it has been out of print for almost two centuries (the book appeared in 1818). Perhaps even more surprising is the neglect of Staël’s Edition: current; Page: [xxvi] political works by many feminists, a regrettable oversight that it is hoped will be corrected in the years ahead. Her works shed original light on the central role played by women in French cultural and political life and suggest a novel way of thinking about the role of women in society that challenges some of the assumptions espoused by contemporary feminist writers in the Anglo-American world.2

The Liberty Fund edition of Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution seeks to fill this important gap. Its purpose is to familiarize English-speaking readers with a writer whose unique and seductive voice retains a significant relevance today. Few titles are better suited to promote the principles of political freedom, responsibility, and open society than Considerations. By reprinting a substantially revised and corrected English translation of Considerations, we are making accessible to a large audience a neglected classic of political thought that will contribute to contemporary debates on constitutionalism, representative government, and political moderation. Madame de Staël’s work sheds light on what it takes to build a society of free and responsible individuals and explores other important related issues such as the prerequisites of liberty, limited power and the rule of law, the relation between social order and political order, the dependence of liberty on morality and religion, and the institutional foundations of a free regime. Her political writings offer a powerful critique of fanaticism and remind us that moderation and reason should always be allied with responsibility, respect for individual rights, and decency.3

Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution was originally published in French in 1818. The two editions printed that year were followed by four others, in 1820, 1843, 1862, and 1881. The book was also reedited in Madame de Staël’s Oeuvres complètes in 1820, 1836, and 1838. No other French editions of the book appeared between 1881 and 1983, Edition: current; Page: [xxvii] when historian Jacques Godechot published a new edition (Paris: Tallandier Publishing House, 1983) that contains an introduction, a bibliography, and a chronology.

The story behind the writing and publication of Considerations is not devoid of interesting ambiguities and speculations. We know that Madame de Staël had revised the first two volumes, but not the third one (containing parts V and VI), prior to her untimely death in 1817. Although the two French editors claimed that the published text of Considerations was “perfectly conformable” with Staël’s corrected manuscript, scholars agree that the original manuscript was altered extensively. The exact nature of the changes remains unclear and poses a considerable challenge to any interpreter of Staël’s work. As the late Simone Balayé pointed out, a considerable number of manuscripts of Considerations can be found in different archives. A critical edition of the book comparing the different versions of the manuscript, similar to the two critical editions of De l’Allemagne and Dix d’années d’exil coordinated by the Comtesse de Pange and Simone Balayé, is long overdue.4

Although the Liberty Fund edition follows the text of the 1818 English translation (which was originally published in three volumes),5 it is a substantially revised version that seeks to correct the errors and archaisms of the original translation. As editor, I have made numerous changes in the translation with a view to offering a more faithful version of the original text. In doing so, I have followed the French text of the 1983 Godechot edition, published by Tallandier. The notes of the Tallandier edition were valuable in preparing my own notes. In the present work, the original footnotes of both Madame de Staël and the first French editors (Auguste de Staël and Victor de Broglie) appear at the bottom of the page preceded by an asterisk. My explanatory footnotes, preceded by an arabic number to distinguish them from those of the author and original French editors, Edition: current; Page: [xxviii] are meant to provide a minimal historical background to the general English-speaking reader. Typographical errors and archaic punctuation in the original translation have been corrected silently; English spellings have been Americanized. The English translators occasionally broke Staël’s extremely long paragraphs for clarity; for the most part, we have kept the format of the original translation. In addition, the editors of the 1818 English translation added quotation marks to ambiguous quotations from various authors that were not identified in the original French. I have attempted to give the proper citations where possible and eliminated the quotation marks if a proper citation could not be found.

I am deeply indebted to the Liberty Fund staff for their invaluable assistance, support, and encouragement in bringing this difficult and long project to fruition. Special thanks are due to Laura Goetz and Diana Francoeur, whose editorial help has been much appreciated. I should also like to thank Henry Clark, John Isbell, Jeremy Jennings, Vladimir Protopopescu, and Jean-Bertrand Ribat for their suggestions on the introduction, notes, and translation.

A. C.
Edition: current; Page: [xxix]

Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution

Edition: current; Page: [xxx] Edition: current; Page: [1]

CONSIDERATIONS

ON THE

PRINCIPAL EVENTS

OF

THE FRENCH REVOLUTION

POSTHUMOUS WORK OF

THE BARONESS DE STAËL.

edited by

the duke de broglie, and the baron de staël.

Les Révolutions qui arrivent dans les grands

états ne sont point un effet du hazard, ni du

caprice de peuples.

Memoires de Sully.1

TRANSLATED FROM THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT.

london:

printed for baldwin, cradock, and joy,

paternoster-row.

1818.

Edition: current; Page: [2] Edition: current; Page: [3]

Notice by the Editors1

In executing the task which Madame de Staël has condescended to confide to us, it is our particular duty to make known the exact condition in which we found the manuscript entrusted to our care.

Madame de Staël had traced out for all her compositions a system of labor from which she never deviated. She sketched off at once the complete outline of the work of which she had previously conceived the plan, without referring back, without interrupting the course of her thoughts, unless it were to make researches which her subject rendered necessary. This first composition completed, Madame de Staël transcribed it entire with her own hand; and then, not concerning herself with the correction of the style, she modified the expression of her ideas, classing them frequently in a new order. This second performance was then fairly copied out by a secretary, and it was only on this second copy, often even on the proofs of the printed sheets, that Madame de Staël completed the niceties of her diction; being more anxious to convey to her readers all the shades of her thoughts, all the emotions of her soul, than to attain that minute correctness, which may be acquired by mere mechanical labor.

Madame de Staël had completed, early in 1816, the composition of the work we now present to the public. She had devoted a whole year to the revisal of the first two volumes, and a part of the third. She returned to Paris to complete those passages relating to recent events of which she had not been personally a witness, and upon which more precise inquiries might have the effect of modifying some of her opinions. In short, the Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (for such is the title chosen by Madame de Staël herself) would have appeared at the Edition: current; Page: [4] conclusion of last year if she, who constituted our glory and our happiness, had been preserved to us.

The first two volumes and several chapters of the third were found in the state in which they were intended for the press. Some other chapters were transcribed but not revised by the Author; but others were only composed in the outline, with marginal notes written or dictated by Madame de Staël, indicating the points on which she proposed to dilate.

The first feeling, as the first duty of her children, has been to evince the most sacred respect for the slightest indications of her thoughts; and it is almost superfluous to say that we have permitted ourselves to make not only no addition, but no change, and that the work about to be read is perfectly conformable to the corrected manuscript of Madame de Staël.

The labor of the Editors has been therefore confined entirely to the revisal of the proofs, and to the correction of those slight inaccuracies of style which escape observation even in manuscripts the most carefully revised. This has been performed under the eye of M. A. W. de Schlegel, whose rare superiority of parts and knowledge justifies the confidence with which Madame de Staël consulted him in all her literary labors, as his most honorable character merits the esteem and friendship which she constantly entertained for him during an intimacy of thirteen years.

Mr. de Staël hereafter proposes to fulfill intentions most sacred to him in publishing a complete edition of the works of his mother, and of those of Mr. Necker. The works of Madame de Staël will comprise some inedited compositions; amongst others, the fragments of a work begun under the title Ten Years of Exile. A Biographical Notice will precede each collection; but a feeling, which those who knew Madame de Staël will appreciate with indulgence, has not yet permitted her children to commence an undertaking which comes so home to their dearest as to their most sorrowful recollections.

Edition: current; Page: [5]

Advertisement of the Author

I began this work with an intention of confining it to an examination of the political actions and writings of my father. But, as I advanced in my labor, I was led by the subject itself to trace, on one hand, the principal events of the French Revolution and to present, on the other, a picture of England, as a justification of the opinion of M. Necker relative to the political institutions of that country. My plan being therefore enlarged, I judged it proper to alter the title, although I had not changed the object. Nevertheless, there will remain in this work more details relative to my father, and even to myself, than I should have inserted if I had originally conceived it in a general point of view; but, perhaps, circumstances of a private nature are conducive to a clearer knowledge of the spirit and character of the times we are about to describe.

Edition: current; Page: [6] Edition: current; Page: [7]

Contents1

  • PART I.
    • CHAP. I. General Reflections 17
    • CHAP. II. Considerations on the History of France 26
    • CHAP. III. On the State of Public Opinion in France at the Accession of Louis XVI 45
    • CHAP. IV. Of the Character of M. Necker as a Public Man 53
    • CHAP. V. M. Necker’s Plans of Finance 58
    • CHAP. VI. M. Necker’s Plans of Administration 65
    • CHAP. VII. Of the American War 72
    • CHAP. VIII. M. Necker’s Retirement from Office in 1781 74
    • CHAP. IX. The Circumstances That Led to the Assembling of the Estates General.—Ministry of M. de Calonne 83
    • CHAP. X. Sequel of the Preceding.—Ministry of the Archbishop of Toulouse 91
    • CHAP. XI. Did France Possess a Constitution Before the Revolution? 96
    • CHAP. XII. On the Recall of M. Necker in 1788 112 Edition: current; Page: [8]
    • CHAP. XIII. Conduct of the Last Estates General, Held at Paris in 1614 115
    • CHAP. XIV. The Division of the Estates General into Orders 118
    • CHAP. XV. What Was the Public Feeling of Europe at the Time of Convening the Estates General? 128
    • CHAP. XVI. Opening of the Estates General on the 5th of May, 1789 129
    • CHAP. XVII. Of the Resistance of the Privileged Orders to the Demands of the Third Estate in 1789 134
    • CHAP. XVIII. Conduct of the Third Estate During the First Two Months of the Session of the Estates General 140
    • CHAP. XIX. Means Possessed by the Crown in 1789 of Opposing the Revolution 144
    • CHAP. XX. The Royal Session of 23d June, 1789 147
    • CHAP. XXI. Events Caused by the Royal Session of 23d June, 1789 155
    • CHAP. XXII. Revolution of the 14th of July (1789) 162
    • CHAP. XXIII. Return of M. Necker 165
  • PART II.
    • CHAP. I. Mirabeau 173
    • CHAP. II. Of the Constituent Assembly After the 14th of July 178
    • CHAP. III. General La Fayette 182 Edition: current; Page: [9]
    • CHAP. IV. Of the Good Effected by the Constituent Assembly 186
    • CHAP. V. Liberty of the Press, and State of the Police, During the Time of the Constituent Assembly 194
    • CHAP. VI. Of the Different Parties Conspicuous in the Constituent Assembly 199
    • CHAP. VII. Of the Errors of the Constituent Assembly in Matters of Administration 207
    • CHAP. VIII. Of the Errors of the National Assembly in Regard to the Constitution 211
    • CHAP. IX. Efforts Made by M. Necker with the Popular Party in the Constituent Assembly to Induce It to Establish the English Constitution in France 216
    • CHAP. X. Did the English Government Give Money to Foment Troubles in France? 220
    • CHAP. XI. Events of the 5th and 6th of October, 1789 222
    • CHAP. XII. The Constituent Assembly at Paris 231
    • CHAP. XIII. Of the Decrees of the Constituent Assembly in Regard to the Clergy 235
    • CHAP. XIV. Of the Suppression of Titles of Nobility 242
    • CHAP. XV. Of the Royal Authority As It Was Established by the Constituent Assembly 246
    • CHAP. XVI. Federation of 14th July, 1790 249
    • CHAP. XVII. Of the State of Society in Paris During the Time of the Constituent Assembly 252 Edition: current; Page: [10]
    • CHAP. XVIII. The Introduction of Assignats, and Retirement of M. Necker 255
    • CHAP. XIX. State of Affairs and of Political Parties in the Winter of 1790–91 260
    • CHAP. XX. Death of Mirabeau 265
    • CHAP. XXI. Departure of the King on the 21st of June, 1791 268
    • CHAP. XXII. Revision of the Constitution 273
    • CHAP. XXIII. Acceptance of the Constitution, Called the Constitution of 1791 281
  • PART III.
    • CHAP. I. On the Emigration 285
    • CHAP. II. Prediction of M. Necker on the Fate of the Constitution of 1791 291
    • CHAP. III. Of the Different Parties Which Composed the Legislative Assembly 299
    • CHAP. IV. Spirit of the Decrees of the Legislative Assembly 304
    • CHAP. V. Of the First War Between France and Europe 306
    • CHAP. VI. Of the Means Employed in 1792 to Establish the Republic 311
    • CHAP. VII. Anniversary of 14th July Celebrated in 1792 316
    • CHAP. VIII. Manifesto of the Duke of Brunswick 319
    • CHAP. IX. Revolution of the 10th of August, 1792—Overthrow of the Monarchy 321 Edition: current; Page: [11]
    • CHAP. X. Private Anecdotes 324
    • CHAP. XI. The Foreign Troops Driven from France in 1792 333
    • CHAP. XII. Trial of Louis XVI 335
    • CHAP. XIII. Charles I and Louis XVI 341
    • CHAP. XIV. War Between France and England. Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox 346
    • CHAP. XV. Of Political Fanaticism 354
    • CHAP. XVI. Of the Government Called the Reign of Terror 357
    • CHAP. XVII. The French Army During the Reign of Terror; the Federalists, and La Vendée 363
    • CHAP. XVIII. Of the Situation of the Friends of Liberty Out of France During the Reign of Terror 367
    • CHAP. XIX. Fall of Robespierre, and Change of System in the Government 371
    • CHAP. XX. Of the State of Minds at the Moment When the Directorial Republic Was Established in France 375
    • CHAP. XXI. Of the Twenty Months During Which the Republic Existed in France, from November 1795 to the 18th of Fructidor (4th of September) 1797 384
    • CHAP. XXII. Two Singular Predictions Drawn from the History of the Revolution by M. Necker 389
    • CHAP. XXIII. Of the Army of Italy 393
    • CHAP. XXIV. Of the Introduction of Military Government into France by the Occurrences of the 18th of Fructidor 396 Edition: current; Page: [12]
    • CHAP. XXV. Private Anecdotes 402
    • CHAP. XXVI. Treaty of Campo Formio in 1797. Arrival of General Bonaparte at Paris 407
    • CHAP. XXVII. Preparations of General Bonaparte for Proceeding to Egypt. His Opinion on the Invasion of Switzerland 414
    • CHAP. XXVIII. The Invasion of Switzerland 417
    • CHAP. XXIX. Of the Termination of the Directory 422
  • PART IV.
    • CHAP. I. News from Egypt: Return of Bonaparte 425
    • CHAP. II. Revolution of the 18th of Brumaire 428
    • CHAP. III. Of the Establishment of the Consular Constitution 436
    • CHAP. IV. Progress of Bonaparte to Absolute Power 441
    • CHAP. V. Should England Have Made Peace with Bonaparte at His Accession to the Consulate? 448
    • CHAP. VI. Of the Solemn Celebration of the Concordat at Nôtre-Dame 453
    • CHAP. VII. M. Necker’s Last Work Under the Consulship of Bonaparte 458
    • CHAP. VIII. Of Exile 468
    • CHAP. IX. Of the Last Days of M. Necker 474
    • CHAP. X. Abstract of M. Necker’s Principles on Government 479 Edition: current; Page: [13]
    • CHAP. XI. Bonaparte Emperor. The Counter-revolution Effected by him 483
    • CHAP. XII. Of the Conduct of Napoléon Toward the Continent of Europe 491
    • CHAP. XIII. Of the Means Employed by Bonaparte to Attack England 495
    • CHAP. XIV. On the Spirit of the French Army 499
    • CHAP. XV. Of the Legislation and Administration Under Bonaparte 506
    • CHAP. XVI. Of Literature Under Bonaparte 511
    • CHAP. XVII. A Saying of Bonaparte Printed in the Moniteur 515
    • CHAP. XVIII. On the Political Doctrine of Bonaparte 516
    • CHAP. XIX. Intoxication of Power; Reverses and Abdication of Bonaparte 523
  • PART V.
    • CHAP. I. Of What Constitutes Legitimate Royalty 537
    • CHAP. II. Of the Political Doctrine of Some French Emigrants and Their Adherents 542
    • CHAP. III. Of the Circumstances That Render the Representative Government at This Time More Necessary in France Than in Any Other Country 549
    • CHAP. IV. Of the Entry of the Allies into Paris, and the Different Parties Which Then Existed in France 553 Edition: current; Page: [14]
    • CHAP. V. Of the Circumstances Which Accompanied the First Return of the House of Bourbon in 1814 561
    • CHAP. VI. Of the Aspect of France and of Paris During Its First Occupation by the Allies 565
    • CHAP. VII. Of the Constitutional Charter Granted by the King in 1814 569
    • CHAP. VIII. Of the Conduct of the Ministry During the First Year of the Restoration 575
    • CHAP. IX. Of the Obstacles Which Government Encountered During the First Year of the Restoration 586
    • CHAP. X. Of the Influence of Society on Political Affairs in France 592
    • CHAP. XI. Of the System Which Ought to Have Been Followed in 1814, to Maintain the House of Bourbon on the Throne of France 598
    • CHAP. XII. What Should Have Been the Conduct of the Friends of Liberty in 1814? 608
    • CHAP. XIII. Return of Bonaparte 612
    • CHAP. XIV. Of the Conduct of Bonaparte on His Return 618
    • CHAP. XV. Of the Fall of Bonaparte 621
    • CHAP. XVI. Of the Declaration of Rights Proclaimed by the Chamber of Representatives, 5th of July, 1815 626
    Edition: current; Page: [15]
  • PART VI.
    • CHAP. I. Are Frenchmen Made to Be Free? 629
    • CHAP. II. Cursory View of the History of England 634
    • CHAP. III. Of the Prosperity of England, and the Causes by Which It Has Been Hitherto Promoted 649
    • CHAP. IV. Of Liberty and Public Spirit Among the English 659
    • CHAP. V. Of Knowledge, Religion, and Morals Among the English 677
    • CHAP. VI. Of Society in England, and of Its Connection with Social Order 689
    • CHAP. VII. Of the Conduct of the English Government Outside of England 702
    • CHAP. VIII. Will Not the English Hereafter Lose Their Liberty? 717
    • CHAP. IX. Can a Limited Monarchy Have Other Foundations than That of the English Constitution? 723
    • CHAP. X. Of the Influence of Arbitrary Power on the Spirit and Character of a Nation 730
    • CHAP. XI. Of the Mixture of Religion with Politics 739
    • CHAP. XII. Of the Love of Liberty 748
Edition: current; Page: [16] Edition: current; Page: [17]

PART I

CHAPTER I: General Reflections.

The Revolution of France is one of the grand eras of social order. Those who consider it as the result of accidental causes have reflected neither on the past nor on the future; they have mistaken the actors for the drama; and, in seeking a solution agreeable to their prejudices, have attributed to the men of the day that which had been in a course of preparation for ages.1

It would have sufficed, however, to cast a glance on the critical periods of history, to be convinced, that they were all unavoidable when they were connected in any degree with the development of ideas; and that, after a struggle and misfortunes, more or less prolonged, the triumph of knowledge has always been favorable to the greatness and the amelioration of mankind.

My ambition shall be to speak of the age in which we have lived, as if it were already remote. It will belong to the enlightened part of mankind—to those who, in thought, can render themselves contemporary with future ages—to judge if I have been able to attain the complete impartiality at which I have aimed.

In this chapter I shall confine myself to some general remarks on the political progress of European civilization, restricting myself, however, Edition: current; Page: [18] to its connection with the Revolution of France; for it is to this subject, in itself sufficiently extensive, that this work is devoted.

The two nations of antiquity, whose literature and history still form the principal portion of our intellectual treasure, were indebted for their astonishing superiority entirely to the enjoyment of a free country. But slavery existed among them, and, consequently, those rights and those motives to emulation, which ought to be common to all men, were the exclusive lot of a few. The Greek and Roman nations disappeared from the world in consequence of what was barbarous, that is, of what was unjust, in their institutions. The vast regions of Asia are lost in despotism; and, for centuries past, whatever has remained there of civilization is stationary. Thus, then, the great historical revolution, whose results admit of application to the present state of modern nations, begins from the invasion by the northern tribes; for the public law of most countries in Europe is still founded on the law of conquest.

Nevertheless, that circle of men, who alone were allowed to consider themselves as such, was increased under the feudal system. The condition of the serfs was less hard than that of slaves; there were several methods of escaping from it, and from that time various classes have begun to emancipate themselves by degrees from the fate of the vanquished. It is to the gradual increase of this circle of society that our attention ought to be turned.

The absolute government of one is the worst form of political combinations. Aristocracy is better, for in it several at least are of importance; and the moral dignity of man is recovered in the relation of the great lords with their chief. Social order, which admits all our fellow creatures to equality before the law, as before God, is as much in harmony with the Christian religion as with true liberty: both the one and the other, in different spheres, should follow the same principles.

Since the nations of the North and of Germany overthrew the Western Empire, the laws introduced by them have undergone a variety of modifications; for time, as Bacon says, is the greatest of innovators. It would be very difficult to fix with precision the dates of the successive changes; for, in tracing the leading facts, we find that one event encroaches on another. I think, however, that our attention may be fixed on four Edition: current; Page: [19] eras, in which these changes, previously announced, became particularly conspicuous.

The first political period was that in which the nobles, that is to say the conquerors, considered themselves as co-partners in the royal power of their chief, while the nation was divided among the different lords, who disposed of it as they pleased.

There was then neither education, industry, nor trade: landed property was almost the only kind known; and Charlemagne himself was occupied in his capitularia2 with the rural economy of the royal demesnes. The nobles went to war in person, leading their armed force: thus the sovereigns had no occasion to levy taxes, as they supported neither military nor civil establishments. Everything demonstrates that, at this time, the great lords were very independent of kings; they maintained liberty for themselves, if indeed they can be free themselves who impose servitude on others. Hungary in its present state may convey an idea of this form of government, which must be allowed to possess grandeur for those who participate in it.3

The Champs-de-Mai,4 so often referred to in the history of France, might be called the democratic government of the nobility, such as has existed in Poland. Feudality was established later. Hereditary succession to the crown, without which there can be no tranquillity in monarchies, was not regularly established until the third race of the kings of France: during the second, the nation, that is, the barons and clergy, chose a successor among the individuals of the reigning family. Primogeniture was happily recognized with the third race. But up to the consecration of Louis Edition: current; Page: [20] XVI inclusively, the consent of the people has always been laid down as the basis of the rights of the sovereign to the throne.

There was already, under Charlemagne, something which bore a greater resemblance to the English peerage than the institution of the noblesse, such as we have seen it in France for the last two centuries. I make this remark, however, without attaching much importance to it. Doubtless it were better that Reason in politics should be of ancient origin; but although she be but of yesterday, still we should bid her welcome.

The feudal system was much more advantageous to the nobles than the situation of courtiers to which royal despotism has condemned them. It is now merely a speculative question, whether mankind would be the gainers from the independence of one class only, or from the exercise of a gentle, but equal, oppression upon all. We have only to remark that the nobles, in the time of their splendor, enjoyed a species of political independence, and that the absolute power of the kings has been established against them with the support of the people.

In the second political period, that of partial enfranchisements, the bourgeois of the towns laid claim to certain rights; for, when men unite together, they gain by their union, at least as much in wisdom as in power. The republics of Germany and Italy, the municipal privileges of the rest of Europe, date from this time. The walls of each town afforded protection to its inhabitants. We still see, particularly in Italy, remarkable traces of those individual defenses against the collective powers: castles multiplied in each domain; fortified palaces; in short, attempts ill-combined but worthy of esteem, since they were all directed to increase the importance and energy of each citizen. It is impossible, nevertheless, to deny that these attempts of petty states to ensure their independence, being ill-regulated, have often led to anarchy; but Venice, Genoa, the Lombard League, the Tuscan Republics, Switzerland, the Hanse Towns, established at this time their liberty on an honorable basis. The institutions of these republics have ever borne marks of the period in which they were established; and the rights of individual liberty, such as ensure the exercise and development of the faculties of every class of men, were not secured by them. Holland, become a republic at a later period, approached to the true principles of social order, an advantage for which she was more particularly indebted Edition: current; Page: [21] to the Reformation. The period of partial enfranchisements, of which I have treated, is no longer clearly to be traced, except in free towns and in the republics which have subsisted to the present day. In the history of the great modern states, therefore, only three eras, entirely distinct, ought to be admitted: the feudal system, despotism, and representative government.

For about five centuries, independence and the improvement of knowledge have been operating in every way and almost at random; yet regal power has constantly increased from different causes and by different means. Kings, having often much to apprehend from the arrogance of the nobles, sought support in a closer connection with the people. Regular troops rendered the assistance of the nobles less requisite; the necessity of imposts, on the other hand, forced the sovereigns to have recourse to the commons; and, in order to obtain from them direct contributions, it was necessary to disengage them, more or less, from the influence of the barons. The revival of letters, the invention of the art of printing, the Reformation, the discovery of the new world, and the progress of commerce taught mankind that a military power was not the only one which could possibly exist; and they have since learned that the profession of arms is not the exclusive privilege of birth.

In the Middle Ages, learning was exclusively confined to the priests, who, during the Dark Ages, had rendered important services to mankind. But when the clergy found themselves attacked by the Reformation, they opposed instead of promoting the progress of the human mind.5 The second class of society then took possession of the sciences and literature, the study of the law, and of commerce; and thus its importance daily increased. On the other hand, states became more concentrated, the resources of government were increased, and kings, by availing themselves of the lower orders against the barons and the higher clergy, established their own despotism; that is, the union of the executive and legislative powers in the hands of one individual.

Louis XI was the first who made a regular trial of this fatal system in France, and the inventor was truly worthy of the invention. Henry VIII Edition: current; Page: [22] in England, Philip II in Spain, Christian in the North,6 labored, under different circumstances, upon the same plan. But Henry VIII in preparing the Reformation became the involuntary instrument of conferring liberty on his country. Charles the Fifth might perhaps, for a time, have accomplished his project of universal monarchy if, in spite of the fanaticism of his southern states, he had supported himself by the reforming spirit of the time, by accepting the confession of Augsburg. It is said that he had the intention, but this ray of his genius disappeared under the gloomy power of his son; and the stamp of the terrible reign of Philip II still presses with all its force upon the Spanish nation—there the Inquisition has undertaken to preserve the inheritance of despotism.

Christian II attempted to render Sweden and Denmark subject to the same uncontrolled sway; but he was baffled by the independent spirit of the Swedes. The history of that people exhibits several periods similar to those that we have traced in other countries. Charles XI7 struggled hard to triumph over the nobles by means of the people; but Sweden already possessed a constitution, in virtue of which the deputies of the citizens and peasantry composed the half of the Diet: they were sufficiently enlightened to know that privileges are to be relinquished only when rights are to be confirmed and that an aristocracy, with all its faults, is less degrading than despotism.

The Danes have afforded the most scandalous political example which history records. In the year 1660, weary of the power of the nobles, they declared their king, not only sole legislator and sovereign master of their lives and fortunes, but they invested him with every power, except that of repealing the act which constituted him a despot; and, after completing this surrender of themselves, they added that if the king of any other country possessed prerogatives beyond what they had conferred, they granted these to their monarchs in advance, and at all risks; yet this unprecedented decision was nothing more than an open avowal of what in other countries was proceeding with greater reserve. The Protestant religion, and still Edition: current; Page: [23] more the liberty of the press, have since created in Denmark a degree of independence, in point of thinking, which opposes a moral limit to the abuse of prerogative.

Russia, however different from the rest of Europe in its institutions and in its Asiatic manners, underwent, under Peter I, the second crisis of European monarchies, the humiliation of the nobles by the sovereign.

Europe should be summoned before the bar of Poland for the long train of injuries of which that country had been the victim until the reign of the Emperor Alexander. But without dwelling at present on those troubles, which necessarily arose out of the unhappy coincidence of servitude on the part of the peasants and lawless independence on that of the nobles—out of a proud patriotic feeling, on the one hand, and an exposure, on the other, to the pernicious ascendancy of foreign influence—we shall be content with observing that the constitution of 1792, that constitution for which Kosciusko so nobly fought, contained a number of equally wise and liberal provisions.8

Germany, considered as a political body, still belongs, in several respects, to the earliest of the periods of modern history—that of the feudal system; although the spirit of the age has evidently penetrated through her antique institutions. France, Spain, and Britain have, all along, aimed at constituting each a political whole: Germany has maintained her subdivisions, from a spirit partly of independence, partly of aristocratic feeling. The treaty of Westphalia, by acknowledging the Protestant religion throughout half the empire, brought in contact two parts of the same nation who had been taught a mutual awe by their long warfare. This is not the place for enlarging on the political and military advantages that would have resulted from a closer union. Germany now possesses strength enough to maintain her national independence, without relinquishing her federal form; and the interest of enlightened men can never be conquest abroad, but liberty at home.

Poor rich Italy, having constantly been the prey of foreigners, the progress of the human mind is traced with more difficulty in her history than Edition: current; Page: [24] in that of the rest of Europe. Yet the second period, that of the enfranchisement of towns, which we have described as blending itself with the third, was marked more distinctly here than in other countries, because it gave rise to several republics, which claim our admiration, at least by the distinguished individuals whom they produced. Among the Italians arbitrary power has arisen only in consequence of political division; their situation, in this respect, is very different from that of the Germans. Every patriotic feeling in Italy ought to point to the union of its various states. Foreigners being incessantly brought among them by the attractions of the country, the Italians can never form a people without a national consolidation. It has hitherto been prevented by the influence of the papal government: not that the popes have been the partisans of foreigners; on the contrary, they would have wished to repel them; but, from their priestly character, they were incapable of defending the country, while at the same time they prevented any other power from undertaking it.

England is the only great European Empire that has yet attained what, in our present state of political knowledge, appears the perfection of social order. The middling class, or, in other words, the nation (as elsewhere), co-operated with the Crown, under Henry VII, in reducing the influence of the nobles and clergy, and increased its own at their expense. But the nobility of England were, from the beginning, actuated by a more liberal spirit than the nobility of other countries; for so far back as Magna Charta, we find the barons making stipulations in behalf of the people. The revolutionary period of England may be said to have lasted nearly fifty years, if we reckon from the beginning of the civil wars under Charles I to the accession of William III in 1688; and the efforts of these fifty years had no other real and permanent object than the establishment of the existing constitution; that is, of the finest monument of justice and moral greatness existing in Europe.9

The same movement in the minds of men which brought about the revolution in England was the cause of that of France in 1789. Both belong Edition: current; Page: [25] to the third era in the progress of social order—the establishment of representative government—a point toward which the human mind is directing itself from all parts.10

Let us now proceed to examine the circumstances peculiar to France—to a country the scene of those gigantic events which in our days have been the source of so much hope and so much fear.

Edition: current; Page: [26]

CHAPTER II: Considerations on the History of France.

Men are seldom familiar with any history but that of their own time; and in reading the declamations so frequent in our days, one would be led to think that the eight centuries of monarchical government which preceded the Revolution had been ages of tranquillity; and that the French nation had reposed during that time on a bed of roses. We forget the burning of the Knights Templars under Philip the Fair; the victories of the English under the kings of the Valois race; the civil war of La Jacquerie;1 the assassination of the Duke of Orléans,2 and of the Duke of Burgundy;3 the treacherous cruelty of Louis XI; the condemnation of the French Protestants to frightful punishments under Francis I, at the very time, too, when he was in alliance with their brethren in Germany;4 the horrors of Edition: current; Page: [26] the league, all surpassed by the massacre of St. Bartholomew;5 the conspiracies against Henri IV and his assassination, that frightful act of the league; the scaffolds raised by the arbitrary Richelieu; the military executions, long remembered under the name of dragonnades;6 the repeal of the Edict of Nantes; the expulsion of the Protestants, and the war of the Cevennes under Louis XIV;7 and, finally, the less terrific but not less important struggles of the parliaments under Louis XV.

Troubles without end have arisen in France to obtain what was considered to be liberty, at different periods, whether feudal, religious, or representative; and, if we except the reigns of those kings who, like Francis I and, above all, Louis XIV, possessed the dangerous art of occupying the nation by war, we shall not find, in the space of eight centuries, an interval of twenty-five years without a conflict of nobles against the sovereign, of peasants against nobles, of Protestants against Catholics, or, finally, of parliaments against the court—all struggles to escape from that arbitrary power which forms the most insupportable of burdens on a people. The civil commotions, as well as the violent measures adopted to stifle them, are an evidence that the French exerted themselves as much as the English to obtain that liberty confirmed by law, which alone can ensure to a people peace, emulation, and prosperity.8

Edition: current; Page: [28]

It is of importance to repeat to those who are the advocates of rights founded on the past, that it is liberty which is ancient, and despotism which is modern.9 In all the European states founded at the commencement of the middle age, the power of the king was limited by that of the nobles. The Diets in Germany, in Sweden, in Denmark before its charter of servitude, the Parliaments in England, the Cortes in Spain, the intermediate bodies of all kinds in Italy, prove that the northern tribes brought with them institutions which confined the power to one class, but which were in no respect favorable to despotism. The Franks never acknowledged uncontrolled power in their chiefs; for it is incontrovertible that, under the first two races of their kings, all who had the right of a citizen, that is, the nobles, and the nobles were the Franks, participated in the government. “Every one knows,” says M. de Boulainvilliers,10 who certainly was no philosopher, “that the French were a free people, who elected their chiefs, under the title of kings, to execute the laws which they themselves had enacted, or to command them in war; and that they were very far from considering their kings as legislators who could order everything according to their pleasure. There remains no act of the first two races of the monarchy which is not characterized by the consent of the general assemblies of the Champs de Mars or Champs de Mai, and even no war was then undertaken without their approbation.”

The third race of the kings of France was established on the principles of the feudal system; the two preceding races rested more on the law of conquest. The first princes of the third race styled themselves “kings, by the grace of God, and the consent of the people”; and the form of their coronation oath afterward contained a promise to preserve the laws and Edition: current; Page: [29] rights of the nation. The kings of France, from St. Louis to Louis XI,* did not arrogate to themselves the right of making laws without the consent of the Estates General; but the disputes of the three orders, which could never agree together, obliged them to have recourse to the sovereigns as mediators; and the ministers of the Crown did not fail to profit by this necessity either to avoid the convocation of the Estates General or to render their deliberations ineffectual. At the time of the invasion of France by Edward III of England,11 that prince declared, in his proclamation, that he “came to restore to the French the rights of which they had been deprived.”

The four best kings of France, Saint Louis (Louis IX),12 Charles V, Louis XII, and above all Henri IV, endeavored to establish the empire of the laws, each according to the prevailing ideas of his age. The Crusades prevented Louis IX from devoting his whole time to the welfare of his subjects. The war with England and the captivity of John13 absorbed those resources which would have been turned to account by the wisdom of his son Charles V.14 The unfortunate invasion of Italy, ill begun by Charles VIII15 Edition: current; Page: [30] and ill continued by Louis XII,16 deprived France of a part of the advantages which the latter intended for her; and the League, the atrocious League, composed of foreigners and fanatics, bereaved the world of Henri IV, the best of men and the greatest and most enlightened prince that France ever produced.17 Yet in spite of the singular obstacles which obstructed the progress of these four sovereigns, far superior to all the others, they were occupied during their reigns in acknowledging the existence of rights which limited their own.

Louis IX (St. Louis) continued the enfranchising of the boroughs begun by Louis le Gros;18 he made laws for the independence and regular attendance of the judges; and, what deserves to be recorded, when chosen by the English barons to arbitrate between them and their king Henry III, he censured the rebel lords, but declared that their prince ought to be faithful to the charter for which he had pledged his oath. Could any other conduct be expected from him who consented to remain prisoner in Africa19 rather than break his oaths? “I would rather,” said he, “that a foreigner from the extremest point of Europe, even from Scotland, should obtain the throne of France than my son, if he is not to be wise and good.” Charles V, when only regent, convoked in 1355 the Estates General, and Edition: current; Page: [31] that Assembly proved the most remarkable in the history of France, for the demands which they made in favor of the people. The same Charles V, after succeeding to the throne, convoked that Assembly in 1369 to obtain their sanction to the gabelles, or salt tax, then imposed for the first time; he granted a power to the inhabitants of Paris to become the purchasers of fiefs. But, as foreign troops were in possession of a considerable part of the kingdom, his first object was to expel them, and the hardship of his situation caused him to levy certain imposts without the consent of the nation. But, at his dying hour, this prince declared that he regretted the act and acknowledged that he had gone beyond his powers.

The continuance of intestine troubles, and of invasions from England, made for a long time the regular functioning of government very difficult. Charles VII20 was the first who kept on foot a standing force—a fatal era in the history of nations! Louis XI,21 whose name recalls the same impressions as those of Tiberius or Nero, attempted to invest himself with absolute power. He made a certain progress in that track which Cardinal Richelieu afterward knew so well how to follow; but he encountered a spirited opposition from his parliaments. These bodies have in general labored to give consistence to the laws in France, and their records scarcely exhibit a remonstrance in which they do not remind the kings of their engagements with the nation. But Louis XI was far from considering himself an unlimited ruler; and in the instructions which he dictated on his deathbed to his son Charles VIII, he said, “When kings or princes cease to respect the laws, they bring their people to servitude, and strip themselves of the name of king; for he only is king who reigns over freemen. It is the nature of freemen to love their rulers;22 but men in servitude must hate them, as a slave hates his oppressor.” So true is it that, in a testamentary Edition: current; Page: [32] disposition, at least, even tyrants cannot refrain from affixing a stigma upon despotism.

Louis XII, surnamed the “father of his people,” submitted to the decision of the Estates General the marriage of his daughter Claude with the Count of Angoulême (afterward Francis I), and the nomination of that prince as his successor. The continuation of the war in Italy was not a good political decision for Louis, but as he lessened the pressure of taxation by the order introduced in his finances, and as he sold his own demesnes to provide a fund for the public wants, the people suffered less from the expense of this expedition than they would have done under any other prince. In the council assembled at Tours, the clergy of France made, at his desire, a declaration “that they did not owe implicit obedience to the pope.” And when certain comedians presumed to act a play in ridicule of the king’s meritorious parsimony, he would not allow them to be punished, but made use of these remarkable words, “These men may teach us some useful truths; let them proceed in their amusement so long as they respect female honor. I shall not regret its being known that, under my reign, they took this liberty with impunity.” Do not these words amount to an acknowledgment of the liberty of the press in all its extent? For in these days the publicity of a theatrical performance was much greater than the publicity of a printed work. Never did a truly virtuous prince find himself in the possession of sovereign power without desiring rather to moderate his own authority than encroach on the rights of the people. Every enlightened king has a wish to limit the power of his ministers and his successors. A spirit of enlightenment, according to the nature of the age, must find its way to all public men of the first rank by the influence either of reason or of feeling.

The early part of the sixteenth century witnessed the progress of the Reformation in the most enlightened states of Europe: in Germany, in England, and, soon after, in France. Far from concealing that liberty of conscience is closely linked to political liberty, the Protestants ought, in my opinion, to make a boast of the alliance. They always have been, and always will be, friends of liberty;23 the spirit of inquiry in religious points Edition: current; Page: [33] leads necessarily to the representative government and its political institutions. The proscription of Reason is always conducive to despotism, and always subservient to hypocrisy.

France was on the point of adopting the Reformation at the time that it was established in England; the principal nobility of the country, Condé, Coligni, Rohan, and Lesdiguieres, professed the Protestant faith. The Spaniards, guided by the diabolical spirit of Philip II, supported the League in France in conjunction with Catherine of Médicis. A woman of her character must have desired boundless command, and Philip II wanted to make his daughter queen of France, to the exclusion of Henri IV—a proof that despotism does not always respect legitimacy. In the interval from 1562 to 1589, the parliaments refused their sanction to a hundred royal edicts; yet the Chancellor de l’Hôpital found a greater disposition to support religious toleration in such of the Estates General as he could get together, than in the parliament. This body of magistracy, like all corporate establishments, firm in the maintenance of ancient laws, did not partake of the enlightenment of the age. None but deputies elected by the nation can enter into all its wants and desires at every different period.

Henri IV, after being long the head of the Protestants, found himself at last obliged to yield to the prevailing opinion, notwithstanding its being that of his adversaries. Such, however, was the wisdom and magnanimity of his sway, that the impression of that short reign is, at the present day, more fresh in the hearts of Frenchmen than that of the two centuries which have since elapsed.

The Edict of Nantes, promulgated in 1598, founded that religious toleration, the struggle for which is not yet at a close. This edict opposed a potent barrier to arbitrary power; for when a government is obliged to keep the balance even between two rival parties, it can do so only by a continued exercise of reason and justice. Besides, how could such a character as Henri IV have been ambitious of absolute power? he who had taken up arms against the tyranny of Medicis and Guise; he who had fought to deliver his country from them; he whose generous nature was Edition: current; Page: [34] so much more gratified by the free gift of admiration than by a servile obedience. Sully brought his finances into a state which might have rendered the royal authority entirely independent of the people, but Henry did not make this culpable use of the virtue of economy. He convoked the Assembly of the Notables at Rouen,24 and declared that the elections should be wholly uninfluenced by the Crown. The civil commotions were still recent, and he might have availed himself of them as a pretext for absorbing all power in his own hands; but true liberty carries with it the most effectual remedy for anarchy. Every Frenchman knows by heart the noble expressions of Henry on opening the Assembly. His conduct was in conformity with his declaration; he acquiesced in their demands, however imperious, because he had given his promise to comply with the desires of the delegates of the people. Finally, in his caution against flattery, expressed to Matthieu, the writer of his history, he gave a proof of the same solicitude for the dissemination of truth which had been already shown by Louis XII.

In the age of Henri IV, religious liberty was the only object which occupied the public mind; he flattered himself with having ensured it by the Edict of Nantes; but that edict owed its origin to him personally, and might be overthrown by a successor. How strange that Grotius,25 in one of his works published in the reign of Louis XIII, should have predicted that the Edict of Nantes being a royal concession and not a mutual compact, a succeeding sovereign might take on him to annul the work of Henri IV. Had that great prince lived in our days, he would not have allowed the boon conferred on France to rest on a foundation so precarious as his life; he would have strengthened, by the aid of political guarantees, that toleration, of which, after his death, France was so cruelly deprived.

Henry is said to have conceived, shortly before his death, the grand idea of consolidating the independence of the different states of Europe Edition: current; Page: [35] by a Congress. Be this as it may, his principal object certainly was to support the Protestants in Germany; and the fanaticism which led to his assassination was not mistaken in regard to his intentions.

Thus fell the king the most truly French who ever reigned over France. Often have our sovereigns derived a tinge of foreign habits from their maternal parentage; but Henri IV was in every respect the countryman of his subjects. When Louis XIII evinced that he inherited the habit of dissimulation from his Italian mother, the people no longer recognized the blood of the father in the son. Who would have thought it possible that Madame d’Ancre26 could have been burned on a charge of sorcery in the presence of that nation who, twenty years before, had received the Edict of Nantes with applause? There are eras in history when the course of national feeling is dependent on a single man—but unfortunate are such times, for nothing durable can be accomplished without the impulse of general concurrence.

Cardinal Richelieu27 aimed at oversetting the independence of the great nobles, and induced them to reside at Paris that he might convert the lords of the provinces into courtiers. Louis XI had formed the same plan; but in his days the capital offered few attractions in point of society, and the court still fewer. Several men of rare talents and high spirit, such as d’Ossat, Mornay, Sully,28 had become conspicuous under Henri IV; but after his time, we look in vain for those chivalrous characters whose names form still the heroic traditions of the history of France. The despotic sway Edition: current; Page: [36] of Cardinal Richelieu destroyed entirely the originality of the French character—its loyalty, its candor, its independence. That priestly minister has been the object of much encomium because he upheld the political greatness of France, and in this respect we cannot deny his superior talents; but Henri IV accomplished the same object by governing in the spirit of truth and justice. Superiority of mind is displayed not only in the triumph obtained, but in the means employed to accomplish it. The moral degradation impressed on a people accustomed to crime will, sooner or later, prove to be more harmful to it than the effect of temporary success.

Cardinal Richelieu caused a poor innocent curate of the name of Urbain Grandier to be burned on a charge of sorcery, and thus yielded a mean and perfidious acquiescence to that blind superstition from which he was personally exempt. He confined, in his own country house at Ruelle, Marshal de Marillac, whom he hated, that he might with greater certainty be sentenced to death under his own eyes. M. de Thou was brought to the scaffold because he had not denounced his friend. No political crime was legally judged under the ministry of Cardinal Richelieu, and special commissions were always nominated to decide the fate of the victims. And yet the memory of this man has been applauded even in our days! He died indeed in the fullness of power; a safeguard of the first importance to those tyrannical rulers who hope to have a great name in history. The French may in several respects consider this cardinal as a foreigner; his clerical profession, and his Italian education, separate him from the true French character. The magnitude of his influence admits thus of an easier explanation, for history affords various examples of foreigners who have ruled over Frenchmen. That nation has, in general, too much vivacity to counteract the perseverance which is necessary to arrive at arbitrary power; but the man who possesses this perseverance is doubly formidable in a country where, law having never been properly established, the people judge of things only by the event.

Cardinal Richelieu, by inducing the grandees to live in Paris, deprived them of their weight in the country and created that influence of the capital over the rest of France which has never ceased since that day. A court has naturally much ascendancy over the city where it resides, and nothing can Edition: current; Page: [37] be more convenient than to govern an empire by means of a small assemblage of men; I mean convenient for the purposes of despotism.

Many persons are of the opinion that Richelieu laid the foundation of the wonders of the age of Louis XIV, an age which has been often compared to those of Pericles and Augustus. But periods similar to these brilliant eras are found in the histories of several nations under different combinations of circumstances—at the moment when literature and the fine arts appear for the first time, after a long continuance of war, or after the close of civil dissensions. The great phases of the human mind are much less the work of an individual than of the age; for they are all found to bear a resemblance to each other, however different may be the character of the contemporary chiefs.

After the death of Richelieu, and during the minority of Louis XIV, we find some serious political ideas intermixed with the general frivolity of the days of the Fronde. We find, for instance, parliament demanding of the Crown that no subject of the realm should be liable to imprisonment without being brought before his natural judges. There was also an attempt made to limit the power of ministers, and the odium against Mazarin29 might perhaps have led to the acquisition of a certain degree of liberty. But the time soon came when Louis XIV displayed the manners of a court in all their dangerous splendor; flattering the pride of his subjects by the success of his armies, and repelling, by his Spanish gravity, that familiarity which would presume to pass judgment on him. But he made the nobles descend still lower than in the preceding reign. For under Richelieu they were at least important enough to be persecuted, while under Louis XIV they were distinguished from the rest of the nation only by bearing the yoke nearer the presence of their master.

This king, who thought that the property of his subjects was his own, Edition: current; Page: [38] and who committed arbitrary acts of all descriptions; in short, he who (can we venture to say it, and is it possible to forget it?) came, whip in hand, to prohibit, as an offense, the exercise of the slender remnant of a right—the remonstrances by parliament; this king felt respect for no one but himself, and was never able to conceive what a nation is and ought to be. All the errors that he has been charged with were the natural result of that superstitious idea of his power, in which he had been nurtured from his infancy. How can despotism fail to produce flattery, and how can flattery do otherwise than pervert the ideas of every human being who is exposed to it? What outstanding man has ever been heard to utter the hundredth part of the praises lavished on the weakest princes? And yet these princes, for the very reason that they deserve not those praises, are the more easily intoxicated by them.

Had Louis XIV been a private individual, he would probably never have been noticed, as he possessed no exceptional talents; but he perfectly understood how to cultivate that artificial dignity which imposes an uncomfortable awe on the mind of others. Henri IV was in the habit of familiar intercourse with his subjects, from the highest to the lowest; Louis XIV was the founder of that extreme etiquette which removed the kings of his family, in France as well as in Spain, from a free and natural communication with their subjects: he was in consequence a stranger to their feelings whenever public affairs assumed a threatening aspect. One minister (Louvois) engaged him in a sanguinary contest, from having been vexed by him about the windows of a castle; and, of the sixty-eight years of his reign, Louis XIV, without possessing any military talent, passed fifty-six in a state of war. It was under him that the Palatinate30 was desolated and that atrocious executions took place in Brittany. The expulsion of 200,000 Protestants from France, the dragonnades, and the war of the Cevennes are yet not equal to the cold-blooded horrors to be found in the various ordonnances passed after the repeal of the Edict of Nantes, in 1685. The code enacted at that time against the Protestants may be, in Edition: current; Page: [39] all respects, compared to the laws of the Convention against the emigrants, and bears the same characteristics. The enjoyment of civil rights was refused to them; for their children were not legitimate, in the eye of the law, until the year 1787, when the Assembly of Notables obtained that point from the justice of Louis XVI. Not only was their property confiscated, but it was bestowed on those who informed against them; and their children were forcibly taken from them to be educated in the Catholic faith. Persons officiating as Protestant clergymen, or those who incurred the charge of “relapsing” into heresy, were liable to be sent to the galleys or to the scaffold; and, as it had been at last declared by authority that there were no more Protestants in France, it was easy to consider any of them as relapsed, when there was an object in such treatment.

Injustice of every kind marked that reign of Louis XIV, which has been the object of so many fulsome effusions; and no one remonstrated against the abuses of that authority which was itself a continual abuse. Fénélon alone dared to raise his voice against it,31 and an appeal from him is conclusive in the eyes of posterity. Besides, this King, who was so scrupulous in regard to the dogmas of religion, was very different in point of morals; and it was only in the day of adversity that he displayed any real virtues. We have no sympathy with him until he was forsaken by fortune; his soul at that time displayed its native grandeur.

Everybody praises the beautiful edifices erected by Louis XIV; but we know, by experience, that in countries where the national representatives do not control the public expenditure, it is easy to have money for any purpose. The pyramids of Memphis cost more labor than the embellishments of Paris; yet the despots of Egypt found no difficulty in employing their slaves to build them.

Had Louis XIV the merit of drawing forth the great writers of his age? He persecuted the seminary of Port Royal, of which Pascal was the head; he made Racine die of grief; he exiled Fénélon; he constantly opposed the honors which others were desirous of conferring on La Fontaine; and Edition: current; Page: [40] confined his admiration to Boileau alone. Literature, in extolling him to the skies, has done much more for him than he had done for it. Pensions granted to a few men of letters will never have much influence over men of real talents. Genius aims only at fame, and fame is the offspring of public opinion alone.

Literature shone with equal luster in the succeeding century, although it had a more philosophic tendency; but that tendency began not until the latter part of the reign of Louis XIV. A reign of more than sixty years was the cause of giving his name to the age; but the ideas of the period had no connection with him; and, if we except Bossuet, who, unfortunately for us and for himself, allowed his talents to be subservient to fanaticism and despotism, almost all the writers of the seventeenth century made very striking advancement in that path in which those of the eighteenth have made such progress. Fénélon, the most respectable of men, showed himself, in one of his works, capable of appreciating the excellence of the English constitution only a few years after its establishment; and, toward the end of Louis XIV’s reign, the human mind was visibly advancing in all directions.

Louis XIV extended France by the conquests of his generals; and, as a certain extent of territory is necessary to the independence of a country, he had, in this respect, a title to the national gratitude. But he left the interior of the country in a state of disorder, which continued not only during the regency, but during the reign of Louis XV. At the death of Henri IV the finances, and all the branches of administration, were left in the most perfect order, and France maintained herself for a number of years merely by the strength which she owed to him. At the death of Louis XIV the finances were exhausted to such a degree that they could not be restored until the accession of Louis XVI. The people insulted the funeral procession of Louis XIV and the parliament canceled his will. The blind superstition under which he had bent in his latter years, had so wearied the public that even the licentious practices of the regency were excused, as forming a relief to the burden of an intolerant court. Compare the death of Louis with that of Henri IV—of him who was so unaffected although a sovereign, so mild although a warrior, so intelligent, so cheerful, so wise—of him who knew so well that to cultivate familiarity with Edition: current; Page: [41] men is the means, when one is truly great, of rising in their esteem, that every Frenchman seemed to feel at his heart the stroke of the poignard which cut short his splendid life.

We ought never to form an opinion of absolute princes by those temporary successes which proceed frequently from the intense exercise of their authority. It is the condition in which they leave their country at their death, or at their fall; it is the part of their reign which survives them, that discloses their real character. The political ascendancy of the nobles and the clergy ended in France with Louis XIV; he had made them mere instruments of his power; at his death they found themselves without a connecting link with the people, whose political importance was increasing every day.32

Louis XV, or, to speak more properly, his ministers, were in a state of perpetual contention with the parlements, who acquired popularity by refusing their sanction to taxes; these parlements belonged to the Third Estate, at least in a great degree. The writers of the age, most of whom also belonged to this class, conquered by their talents that liberty of the press which was not accorded by statute. The example of England acquired more and more influence on the public mind; and people were at a loss to comprehend that a narrow channel of only seven leagues sufficed to separate a country where the people were everything, from one in which they were nothing.

Public opinion and public credit, which is nothing more than public opinion applied to financial questions, became daily more essential to government. The bankers33 have more influence in this respect than the great landholders themselves, and the bankers live in Paris, where they are in the habit of discussing freely all the public questions which affect their personal calculations.

Edition: current; Page: [42]

The weak character of Louis XV, and the endless errors resulting from that character, naturally strengthened the spirit of resistance. People saw on the one hand Lord Chatham34 at the head of England, surrounded by parliamentary speakers of talent, all ready to acknowledge his pre-eminence, while, in France, the meanest of the royal mistresses obtained the appointment and removal of ministers. Public spirit was the ruling principle in England; accident and miserable intrigues decided the fate of France. Yet Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Buffon, profound thinkers and superior writers, belonged to the country that was thus governed; and how could the French avoid envying England, when they might say with truth, that it was to her political institutions that she owed her superiority?35 For they saw among themselves as many men of talent as their neighbors, although the nature of their government prevented them from turning these talents to so much account.

It has been justly said by a man of ability, that the literature of the age is an expression of the feelings of society; if that be true, the censures cast on the writers of the eighteenth century ought to be pointed at the society in which they lived. The writers of that day were not desirous of flattering government; therefore they must have aimed at pleasing the public; for the majority of literary men must follow one or the other of these paths: they stand too much in need of encouragement to bid defiance to both government and the public. The majority of the French in the eighteenth century began to desire the suppression of feudal rights, the imitation of the institutions of England, and, above all, toleration in religion. The influence of the clergy in temporal matters was generally revolting; and, as the spirit of true religion is foreign to intrigue and political ambition, all confidence was withdrawn from those who made use of it as an instrument for temporal purposes. Several writers, above all Voltaire, were highly reprehensible in not respecting Christianity when they attacked superstition; but some allowance is to be made on account of the circumstances Edition: current; Page: [43] under which Voltaire lived. He was born in the latter part of the age of Louis XIV, and the atrocious injustice inflicted on the Protestants had impressed his imagination from his earliest years.

The antiquated superstitions of Cardinal Fleuri,36 the ridiculous contests between the parlement and the archbishop of Paris in regard to billets de confession, the convulsionnaires,37 the Jansenists and Jesuits; all puerile in themselves but capable of leading to the effusion of blood, naturally impressed Voltaire with the dread of the renewal of religious persecution. The trials of Calas, of Sirven, of the Chevalier de la Barre, etc. confirmed him in this impression, and the existing laws against the Protestants were still allowed to remain in the barbarous state in which they had been plunged after the repeal of the Edict of Nantes.

I must not, however, be understood as attempting the justification of Voltaire, or of the writers of the age who followed his steps; but it must be admitted that irritable characters (and all men of talents are irritable) feel almost always a desire to attack the stronger party: it is in such attacks only that we recognize the impulse of a bold and ardent mind. In the Revolution we have been exposed only to the evils of unbelief, and to the atrocious violence with which it was propagated. But the same generous feelings which made people detest the proscription of the clergy toward the end of the eighteenth century had inspired, fifty years earlier, the hatred of its intolerance. Both actions and writings should be estimated according to the time of their occurrence.

We shall treat elsewhere the great question of the state of national feeling in France on the subject of religion. In regard to this, as in regard to politics, we must beware of bringing charges against a population of twenty-five million, for that would be little else than quarreling with mankind at large. Let us examine how it has happened that this nation has not Edition: current; Page: [44] been molded according to the will of some individuals, by ancient usages, which certainly lasted a sufficient time to exercise their influence. Let us examine also what sentiments are at present in harmony with the hearts of men; for the sacred fire is not and never will be extinct; but it can re-appear only by the full light of truth.

Edition: current; Page: [45]

CHAPTER III: On the State of Public Opinion in France at the Accession of Louis XVI.

There is extant a letter of Louis XV to the Duchess of Choiseul, in which he says: “I have had a great deal of trouble with the parlements during my reign; but let my grandson be cautious of them, for they may put his crown in danger.” In fact, in following the course of events during the eighteenth century, we easily perceive that it was the aristocratic bodies in France that first attacked the royal power; not from any intention of overturning the throne, but from being pressed forward by public opinion, which acts on men without their knowing it, and often leads them on in contradiction to their interest. Louis XV bequeathed to his successor a general spirit of discontent among his subjects, the necessary consequence of his endless errors. The finances had been kept up only by bankrupt expedients: the quarrels of the Jesuits and Jansenists had brought the clergy into disrepute. Banishments and imprisonments, incessantly repeated, had failed in subduing the opposition of the parlement, and it had been necessary to substitute for that body, whose resistance was supported by public opinion, a magistracy without respectability, and under the presidency of a disreputable chancellor, M. de Maupeou.1 The nobility, so submissive under Louis XIV, now took part in the general discontent. The great lords, and even the princes of the blood, showed attention to M. de Edition: current; Page: [46] Choiseul,2 exiled on account of his resistance to the despicable ascendancy of a royal mistress. Modifications of the political organization were desired by all orders of the state; and never had the evils of arbitrary power been more severely felt than under a reign which, without being tyrannical, presented a perpetual succession of inconsistencies. No course of reasoning can so fully demonstrate the misery of depending on a government which is influenced in the first instance by mistresses, and afterward by favorites and relations of mistresses, down to the lowest class of society. The process against the existing state of things in France commenced under Louis XV in the most regular form before the eyes of the public; and whatever might be the virtues of the next sovereign, it would have been difficult for him to alter the opinion of reflecting men that France should be relieved by fixed institutions from the hazards attending hereditary succession. The more conducive hereditary succession is to the public welfare, the more necessary it is that the stability of law, under a representative government, should preserve a nation from the political changes which would otherwise be the unavoidable results of the different character of each king, and still more of each minister.

Certainly if it were necessary to commit entirely the fate of a nation to the will of a sovereign, Louis XVI merited more than anyone else that which no man can deserve. But there was reason to hope that a prince, so scrupulously conscientious, would feel a pleasure in associating the nation in some way or other with himself in the management of public affairs. Such would doubtless have been all along his way of thinking, if, on the one hand, the opposition had begun in a more respectful form, and if, on the other, in every age, certain writers had not been willing to make kings consider their authority as sacred as their creed. The opponents of philosophy endeavor to invest royal despotism with all the sacredness of a religious dogma, in order to avoid submitting their political views to the test of reasoning; the most effectual way certainly to avoid it.

The Queen, Marie Antoinette, was one of the most amiable and gracious persons who ever occupied a throne: there was no reason why she Edition: current; Page: [47] should not preserve the love of the French, for she had done nothing to forfeit it. As far, therefore, as personal qualities went, the King and Queen might claim the hearts of their subjects; but the arbitrary form of the government, as successive ages had molded it, accorded so ill with the spirit of the times, that even the virtues of the sovereigns were overlooked amid the accumulation of abuses. When a nation feels the want of political reform, the personal character of the monarch is but a feeble barrier against the impulse. A sad fatality placed the reign of Louis XVI in an era in which great talents and profound knowledge were necessary to contend with the prevailing spirit, or, what would have been better, to make a fair compromise with it.3

The aristocratic party, that is, the privileged classes, are persuaded that a king of a firmer cast of character might have prevented the Revolution. These men forget that it was from their ranks that the first attacks were directed, and directed with courage and reason, against the royal power; and how could this power have resisted them since the nation was supporting them at that time? Have they any right to complain that, after having proved too strong for the Crown, they were too weak for the people? Such ought to have been the result.

We cannot too often repeat that the last years of Louis XV had brought the government into disrepute; and, unless a military prince had sprung up to direct the minds of the French to foreign conquest, nothing could have diverted the various classes of the community from the important claims which all considered they had a right to urge. The nobles were tired of being nothing more than courtiers; the higher clergy were eager for a still larger share in the management of public affairs; the parlements had too much, and too little, political weight to remain in the passive attitude of judges; and the nation at large, which comprised the writers, the merchants, the bankers, a great number of landholders, and of persons in public employments, made an indignant comparison between the government of England, where ability was the path to power, and that of Edition: current; Page: [48] France, where all depended on favor or on birth. Thus, then, every word and every action, every virtue and every passion, every feeling and every vanity, the public mind and the fashion of the day, tended alike to the same object.

It is in vain to speak with contempt of the national spirit of the French: whatever they wish, they wish strongly. Had Louis XVI been a man of outstanding qualities, some say, he would have put himself at the head of the Revolution; he would have prevented it, say others. But what purpose is served by such suppositions? For outstanding qualities cannot be hereditary in any family, and that government which has nothing but the superior ability of its chief to oppose to the concurrent wishes of the people, must be in incessant danger of falling.

Faults, it is true, may be found in the conduct of Louis XVI, whether he be blamed by some for an unskillful defense of his unlimited power, or accused by others of not embracing with sincerity the improved views of the age. But these faults were so interwoven with the course of circumstances that they would be renewed almost as often as the same external combinations occurred.

The first choice of a prime minister made by Louis XVI was M. de Maurepas.4 This veteran courtier was certainly anything but an innovating philosopher. During forty years of exile, he had never ceased to regret that he had not been able to prevent his loss of place. He had incurred this loss by no act of courage; for the failure of a political intrigue was the only recollection that he had carried into his retirement, and he came back with as frivolous notions as if he had never quitted a court, which was the only object of his thought. Respect for advanced years, a feeling very honorable in a young king, was the only reason why Louis XVI chose M. de Maurepas.

To this man even the terms which designate the progress of information or the rights of the people were unknown; yet so strongly, although unconsciously, was he led on by public opinion, that his first advice to the Edition: current; Page: [49] King was the recall of the ancient parlements, dissolved for opposing the abuses of the preceding reign. But these parlements, more impressed with their own importance by their recall, constantly opposed the ministers of Louis XVI, and continued to do so until they saw that their own political existence was endangered by the ferment which they had been instrumental in exciting.5

Two ministers of distinguished merit, M. de Turgot and M. de Malesherbes,6 were likewise appointed by Maurepas, who certainly had not a single idea in common with them; but their popularity called them to distinguished stations, and public opinion was obeyed in this point again, although not represented by the medium of regular assemblies.

Malesherbes was desirous of the revival of the edict of Henri IV in favor of the Protestants, the abolition of lettres de cachet,7 and the suppression of the censorship which destroyed the liberty of the press. Such were the principles supported more than forty years ago by M. de Malesherbes; and had they been then adopted, the way would have been paved by wisdom, to that point which has since been obtained by violence.

M. Turgot, a minister equally humane and equally intelligent with Malesherbes, abolished the corvée;8 proposed that, with regard to taxes, there should be no difference between one province and another; and advanced courageously the opinion that the clergy and nobility should pay taxes in the same proportion as the rest of the nation. Nothing could be Edition: current; Page: [50] more equitable and popular than this proposal, but it gave offense to the upper ranks, and Turgot was sacrificed to them. He was of a systematic and inflexible disposition, while Malesherbes was yielding and conciliating. Yet both these generous citizens, alike in opinion, though different in demeanor, experienced the same fate; and the King, who had called them to office, in a short time dismissed the one and discouraged the other, at a moment, too, when the nation was most strongly attached to the principles of their administration.

It was certainly bad policy to excite the expectations of the public by a good choice and to follow this up by disappointment; but Maurepas appointed or removed ministers in compliance with the prevailing language at court. His plan of governing consisted in influencing the mind of the sovereign, and in satisfying those who stood immediately around him. General views of any kind were quite foreign to him; he knew only the obvious truth, that money is indispensable to sustain the expenses of the state, and that the parlements became daily more difficult to manage in regard to new taxes.

Doubtless, what in France was then the constitution, that is, the authority of the King, overturned all barriers, since it silenced, whenever it thought proper, the opposition of parlement by a lit de justice.9 The government of France has been always arbitrary, and, at times, despotic; but it now became prudent to economize the use of this depotism, as of other resources; for appearances indicated that it would be soon expended.10

Taxes, and that credit which can accomplish in one day as great an effort as taxation in a year, were now become so necessary to France that whatever stood in their way was a primary object of apprehension. In England the House of Commons has been frequently known to join a bill relative Edition: current; Page: [51] to the national rights to a bill of consent to subsidies. In France a similar course was attempted by the judiciary assemblies: when asked to register a new tax, they (although aware that the Crown could compel the registry) frequently accompanied their acquiescence, or refusal, with remonstrances on the conduct of ministers, having the support of public opinion. This new power was daily on the increase, and the nation was advancing along the path of liberty by its own exertions. So long as the privileged classes were the only persons of importance, the country might be governed, like a court, by a skillful management of the passions or interests of a few individuals; but no sooner had the middling ranks,11 the most numerous and most active of all, become aware of their importance, than the knowledge and the adoption of a wider range of policy became indispensable.

From the time that battles ceased to be fought by the followers of the great vassals, and that the kings of France required a revenue to maintain their army, the disorder of the finances has always been the source of the troubles of the kingdom. Toward the end of the reign of Louis XV, the Parlement of Paris began to declare that it was not empowered to vote away the public money, and their conduct was applauded by the people; but all returned to the quiet and obedience to which the French had been so long accustomed as soon as the machine of government rolled on without fresh demands on any public body which could believe itself independent of the throne. The want of money was thus evidently the greatest source of danger to the royal prerogative, under the existing circumstances; and it was with this conviction that M. de Maurepas proposed to put M. Necker at the head of the treasury.

A foreigner and a Protestant, M. Necker was quite out of the ordinary line of election to the cabinet; but he had shown so much financial ability in the affairs of the East India Company, of which he was a member; in mercantile business on his own account, which he had carried on for twenty years; in his writings,12 and, finally, in the different transactions Edition: current; Page: [52] which he had had with the ministers, from the time of the Duc de Choiseul down to 1776, when he was appointed, that M. de Maurepas made choice of him only to produce an influx of money into the treasury. But M. de Maurepas had not reflected on the connection between public credit and the important measures of administration; and he imagined that M. Necker might re-establish the credit of the state by fortunate speculations, in the same way as that of a banking house. Could anything be more superficial than this mode of reasoning on the finances of a great empire? The revolution which was taking place in the public mind could not be removed from the very center of business without satisfying the nation by all the reform it required; it was necessary to meet public opinion halfway, lest it might press forward too rudely. A minister of finance cannot be a juggler, who passes and repasses money from one box to another, without any effectual means of increasing the receipts or reducing the expenditure. Retrenchment, taxes, or credit, were indispensable to re-establish the deranged balance of the French treasury; and, to render any of these resources available, was a task that required the support of public opinion. Let us now proceed to examine the course to be followed by a minister who aims at obtaining that support.

Edition: current; Page: [53]

CHAPTER IV: Of the Character of M. Necker as a Public Man.

M. Necker, a citizen of the republic of Geneva, had cultivated literature from his earliest years with great attention; and, when called by circumstances to dedicate himself to business and financial transactions, his earlier taste for literature mixed dignified sentiments and philosophical views with the positive interests of life. Madame Necker, certainly one of the most enlightened women of her day, was in the habit of receiving at her house all the eminent men of the eighteenth century, so rich in distinguished and eminently talented individuals.1 At the same time her extreme strictness in point of religion rendered her inaccessible to every doctrine at variance with the enlightened creed in which she had happily been born. Those who knew her are unanimous in declaring that she passed over all the opinions and all the passions of her age, without ceasing to be a Protestant in the true Christian spirit, equally remote from irreligion and intolerance. M. Necker was actuated by similar impressions: in fact, no exclusive system could be acceptable to his mind, of which prudence was one of the distinguishing features. He took no pleasure in changes, as far as regarded their novelty; but he was a stranger to those prejudices of habit to which a superior mind can never subject itself.

His first literary essay was a “Eulogy on Colbert,” which obtained the prize from the French Academy. He was blamed by the philosophers of the day for not applying, in all its extent, to commerce and finances the Edition: current; Page: [54] system which they wished to impose on the mind. The philosophic fanaticism2 which proved one of the evils of the Revolution had already begun to show itself. These men were desirous of attributing to a few principles that absolute power which had hitherto been absorbed by a few individuals; as if the domain of inquiry admitted of restriction or exclusion.

M. Necker, in his second work, On the Corn Trade and Corn Laws, admitted the necessity of certain restrictions on the export of corn: restrictions required by the daily and pressing wants of the indigent classes. It was on this occasion that M. Turgot and his friends came to a rupture with M. Necker: a popular commotion caused by the high price of bread took place in the year 1775,3 when his book was published, and, from his having dwelt on the bad decisions which led to the tumult, the more enthusiastic part of the “Economistes” threw the blame of it on his publication. But the blame was evidently absurd; for a tract founded on purely general views can influence, at least in the outset, none but the upper classes.

M. Necker, having been, during life, accustomed to real transactions, was capable of accommodating himself to the modifications which they required. This, however, by no means led him to disdainfully reject general principles, for none but inferior minds place theory and practice in opposition to each other. The one ought to be the result of the other; both are found to aid and extend each other.

A few months before his appointment to the cabinet, M. Necker made a journey to England. He came back with a profound admiration of most of the institutions of that country; but what particularly fixed his attention was the great influence of publicity on national credit and the immense means conferred by the mere existence of a representative assembly for renewing the financial resources of the state. He had not, however, at that time, the slightest idea of proposing a change in the political organization of France. And had not imperious circumstances afterward driven the King to such a change, M. Necker would never have thought himself authorized Edition: current; Page: [55] to take part in it. His rule was to apply, above all things, to the direct and special duty of his situation; and, though amply convinced of the advantages of a representative body, he would never have conceived that a minister, named by the King, ought to make such a proposal without the positive authorization of his sovereign. It was, moreover, in his character to await the course of circumstances and to avoid proposing measures which might be brought forward by the operation of time. Though a decided opponent of such privileges as the feudal rights and exemption from taxes, his plan was to treat with the possessors of such privileges on the principle of never sacrificing, without an equivalent, a present right for a prospective advantage. He induced the King to abolish, throughout the royal demesnes, the remains of feudal servitude, the mortmain,4 &c.; but the act which enforced this contained no injunction of a similar conduct on the part of the great nobles. He trusted entirely to the influence of his example.5

M. Necker disapproved highly of the existing inequality in the mode of paying taxes; he felt that the higher ranks ought not to bear a smaller proportion of the burden than the other citizens of the state; yet he avoided pressing any measure in that respect on the King. The appointment of the provincial councils was, as we shall see in a subsequent chapter, the best method, in his opinion, for obtaining the voluntary assent of the clergy and nobility to the sacrifice of this inequality of taxation, which was more revolting to the mass of the nation than any other distinction. It was not till his second ministry, in 1788, when the King had already promised to assemble the Estates General, and when financial disorders, caused by a bad choice of ministers, had reached such a height as to put the Crown again in a state of dependence on the parlements—it was not, I say, till then that M. Necker tackled the fundamental questions regarding the political organization of France: so long as he had the means of governing by prudent measures, he recommended no other.

The defenders of despotism, who would gladly have seen a Richelieu Edition: current; Page: [56] in the person of the King’s prime minister, were much dissatisfied with M. Necker; while, on the other hand, the ardent advocates of liberty have complained of his perseverance in defending not only the royal authority, but even the undue advantages of the privileged classes, when he proposed to redeem them by compromise instead of extinguishing them without an equivalent. M. Necker found himself placed, by a concurrence of circumstances, like the Chancellor de l’Hôpital6 between the Catholics and Protestants; for the political contests in France, in the eighteenth century, have many points in common with the religious dissensions of the sixteenth; and M. Necker, like de l’Hôpital, endeavored to unite all parties at that altar of reason which was at the bottom of his heart. Never did anyone combine, in a more striking manner, prudence in the means with ardor for the end.

M. Necker never adopted a measure of importance without long and serious consideration, in which he consulted alternately his conscience and his judgment, but never his personal interest. To meditate was for him to make an abstraction from himself, and whatever opinion may be formed on his different measures, their origin is to be sought in motives different from those that actuate most men. Scruples were as predominant with him as passions are with others. The extent of his mind and of his imagination sometimes exposed him to the evil of hesitation; and he was particularly alive to self-reproach, to such a degree, indeed, as often to blame himself unjustly. These two noble inconveniences strengthened his attachment to morality: it was in that only that he found decision for the present, and tranquillity for the past. Every impartial man who examines the public conduct of M. Necker in the smallest details will always find it actuated by an impulse of virtue. I do not know whether that is called being no statesman; but, if he is to be blamed on this ground, let the blame be cast on the delicacy of his consciousness: for it was a rule with him that morality is still more necessary in a public than in a private capacity, because the management of extensive and durable interests is more evidently subjected, Edition: current; Page: [57] than that of lighter matters, to the principles of probity implanted in us by the Creator.

During his first administration, when public opinion was not yet perverted by party spirit, and when the business of government proceeded on a regular plan, the admiration inspired by his character was general, and his retirement from office was regarded by all France as a public calamity. Let us stop awhile to examine him in this first ministry, before we proceed to those hard and cruel circumstances which created enmity and ingratitude in the judgment of the people.7

Edition: current; Page: [58]

CHAPTER V: M. Necker’s Plans of Finance.

The principles adopted by M. Necker in the management of the finances are so simple that their theory is within the reach of every person, although their application be very difficult. It is easy to say to statesmen “be just and firm,” as to writers “be ingenious and profound”: this advice is perfectly clear, but the qualities which enable us to follow it up are very rare.

M. Necker was persuaded that economy, and publicity,1 the best guarantee of fidelity in our engagements, form the only foundations of order and credit in a great empire. As in his opinion public morality ought not to differ from private, so he conceived that the affairs of the state might, in many respects, be conducted on the same principles as those of each private family. To equalize the receipt and expenditure; to arrive at that desired point rather by a reduction of expense than by an increase of taxation; and, when war unfortunately became necessary, to meet its extra expense by loans, the interest of which should be provided for either by a new tax or by a new retrenchment—such were the great and leading principles from which M. Necker never deviated.

No people can carry on a war without other aid than their ordinary revenue; it becomes therefore indispensable to borrow, that is, to throw on future generations a part of the pressure of a contest supposed to be Edition: current; Page: [58] undertaken for their welfare. We might suppose the existence of an accumulated treasure, such as that which Frederick the Great possessed; but, besides that there was nothing of the kind in France, it is only a conqueror or those who aim at becoming conquerors that deprive their country of the advantages attached to the circulation of money and the maintenance of credit.

Arbitrary governments, whether revolutionary or despotic, have recourse, for their military expenses, to forced loans, extraordinary contributions, or the circulation of paper; for no country either can or ought to make war with its ordinary revenue. Credit is then the true modern discovery which binds a government to its people; it obliges the executive power to treat public opinion with consideration: and, in the same way that trade has had the effect of civilizing nations, credit, which is the offspring of trade, has rendered the establishment of constitutional forms of some kind or another necessary to give publicity to financial transactions and guarantee contracts. How was it practicable to found credit on mistresses, favorites, or ministers, who are in a course of daily change at a royal court? What father of a family would place his fortune in such a lottery?2

Nonetheless, M. Necker was the first and only minister in France who succeeded in obtaining credit without the benefit of any new institution. His name inspired so much confidence that capitalists in various parts of Europe came forward, even to a degree of imprudence, with their funds, reckoning on him as on a government, and forgetting that he could lose his place at any moment. It was customary in England, as in France, to quote him before the Revolution as the best financial head in Europe; and it was considered as a miracle, that war should have been carried on during five years without increasing the taxes, or using other means than providing for the interest of the loans by progressive retrenchments. But when the time came that party spirit perverted everything, his plan of finance was charged with charlatanism—a singular charlatanism, truly; to carry the austerity of private life into the cabinet, and to forgo the pleasure of Edition: current; Page: [60] making friends and partisans by a lavish distribution of the public money! The true judges of the talents and honor of a finance minister are the public creditors.

During M. Necker’s administration, the public funds rose and the interest of money fell, to a degree of which there had been no example in France. The English funds, on the other hand, experienced a considerable fall; and the capitalists of all countries subscribed eagerly to the loans opened at Paris, as if the virtues of an individual could supply the place of the stability of law.

M. Necker has been blamed for the system of loans, as if that system were necessarily ruinous. But what means has England employed to arrive at that degree of wealth which has enabled her to sustain with such vigor twenty-five years of a most expensive war?3 Loans, of which the interest is not secured, would, no doubt, be ruinous if they were practicable; but, fortunately, they are not practicable, for creditors are very cautious in their transactions, and will make no voluntary loans without a satisfactory pledge. M. Necker, to secure the interest and the sinking fund necessary as a guarantee, balanced each loan with a corresponding reform, and the result was a lowering of expense more than sufficient for the payment of the interest. But this plain method of reducing expenditure to increase disposable revenue does not appear to be ingenious enough to the writers, who aim at being profound when they treat of politics.

It has been alleged that the life annuities granted by M. Necker for the loan of money had a tendency to induce fathers of families to encroach on that property which they ought to leave to their children. Yet it will be found that a life interest, on the plan combined by M. Necker, is as fair and prudent an object of speculation as interest on a perpetuity. The most cautious fathers of families were in the habit of advancing money on the thirty livres at Geneva, in the hope of an eventual increase of capital. There are tontines4 in Ireland, and they have long existed in France. Different modes of speculation must be adopted to attract capitalists of different Edition: current; Page: [61] views. But no one can doubt that a father of a family, if he wants to bring his expenses in order, may accomplish a great increase of capital by placing out a portion of his funds at a very high interest rate and by saving yearly a portion of this interest. I should be almost ashamed to dwell on arrangements so familiar to bankers in Europe. But in France, when the ignorant oracles of the saloons have caught, on a serious subject, a phrase of which the turn is plain to everybody, they are in the habit of repeating it on all occasions, and this rampart of folly it is very difficult to overturn.

Must I also answer those who blame M. Necker for not having changed the mode of taxation and suppressed the gabelles5 by imposing a uniform salt tax on those parts of the kingdom which enjoyed exemption from it? But local privileges were so fondly cherished that nothing short of a revolution could destroy them. The minister who should have ventured to attack them would have provoked a resistance pernicious to the royal authority without succeeding in his object. Privileged persons of one class or other were all powerful in France forty years ago, and the national interest alone was devoid of strength. Government and the people, who form, however, two main parts of the state, were unable to cope with a particular province or a particular body; and motley rights, the inheritance of the past, prevented even the King from taking measures for the general good.

M. Necker, in his treatise On the Administration of the Finances of France,6 has pointed out all the evils of unequal taxation in France; but it was a further proof of his judgment to attempt no change in this respect during his first ministry. The incessant demands of the war7 made it wholly unadvisable to incur the risk of domestic contention. A state of peace was indispensable to the introduction of any material change in finance, that the people might at least have the satisfaction of not finding their burdens increased at the time the mode of levying them was about to be altered.

While one class of persons have blamed M. Necker for leaving the system of taxation untouched, another have charged him with too much Edition: current; Page: [62] boldness in sending to the press his Compte Rendu, or official report to the King on the state of the finances.8 But he was, as has been already mentioned, in much the same circumstances as the Chancellor de l’Hôpital, and could not take a single step of consequence without being censured for prudence by the innovators, or for rashness by the partisans of the old abuses. The study of his two administrations is therefore, perhaps, the most useful that can occupy a statesman. He will trace in it the road marked out by reason between contending factions, and will discover efforts incessantly renewed to accomplish a pacific compromise between the innovators and their opponents.9

The publication of the Compte Rendu was intended to answer, in some measure, the purpose so amply attained in England by parlementary debates, that of apprising the nation at large of the true state of the finances. This, however, said some, was derogatory to the royal authority by informing the nation of the state of its affairs. A continuance of such mystery might have been possible if the Crown had had no demands to make on the public purse; but the general discontent had by this time reached a height, which rendered the further collection of taxes a most difficult matter, unless the nation had the satisfaction of knowing the use that had been made, or was intended to be made, of them. The courtiers exclaimed against a system of publicity in finance, which alone can constitute a basis of credit; while they solicited with equal vehemence, both for themselves and their connections, all the money which even such a credit could be Edition: current; Page: [63] made to supply. This inconsistency may, however, be explained by their just dread of exposing to the public eye the expenditure in which they were concerned; for the publication of the state of the finances had the very material advantage of giving the minister the support of public opinion for the various budget cuts that had to be made. To a resolute character like M. Necker the resources offered in France by a plan of economy were very considerable. The King, although personally the reverse of expensive, was of so complying a disposition as to refuse nothing to those who surrounded him; and the grants of every kind under his reign, strict as was his own conduct, exceeded the expenses even of Louis XV. To accomplish a reduction of such grants appeared to M. Necker both the first duty of a minister and the best resource of the state: by acting firmly on this plan he made himself a number of enemies at court, and among persons in the finance department; but he fulfilled his duty, for the people were at that time reduced by taxes to great distress, and he was the first to make that distress the object of examination and relief. To sacrifice himself for those whom he knew not, and to resist the applications of those whom he knew, was a painful course; but it was prescribed by conscience to him who always took conscience for his guide.

At the time of M. Necker’s first ministry the most numerous part of the population was loaded with tithes and feudal burdens, from which the revolution has delivered it; the gabelles and other local taxes, the general inequalities arising from the exemption of the nobility and clergy, all concurred to render the situation of the people much more uneasy than it is at present. Each year, the intendants decided to sell the last pieces of furniture of the poor, who found themselves incapable of paying the taxes that were demanded from them; in short, in no country in Europe were the people exposed to so harsh a treatment. To the sacred claim of this numerous body was joined that of the Crown, which ought, if possible, to be spared the odium arising from the opposition of parlements to the registry of new taxes. All this shows how signal a service M. Necker rendered to the King, by keeping up the public credit and by meeting the expense of war with progressive retrenchments; for the imposition of new burdens would have irritated the people, and given popularity to the parlement by affording it the opportunity of opposing them.

Edition: current; Page: [64]

A minister who can prevent a revolutionary convulsion by doing good has a plain road to follow, whatever may be his political opinions. M. Necker cherished the hope of postponing, at least for some years, the crisis that was approaching, by introducing order into the finances; and had his plans been adopted, it is not impossible that this crisis might have terminated in a just, gradual, and salutary reform.

Edition: current; Page: [65]

CHAPTER VI: M. Necker’s Plans of Administration.

A finance minister, before the Revolution, was not confined to the charge of the public treasury; his duties were not restricted to a mere adjustment of receipt and expenditure; the whole administration of the kingdom was in his department; and in this relation the welfare of the country in general stood in a manner under the jurisdiction of the General Controller [of Finances].1 Several branches of administration were strangely neglected. The principle of absolute power was seen in conjunction with obstacles incessantly arising from the application of that power. There were everywhere historical traditions which the provinces attempted to erect into rights, and which the royal authority admitted only as customs. The management of the revenue was little else than a continued juggle, in which the officers of the Crown attempted to extort as much as possible from the people to enrich the King, as if the King and his people could be considered as adversaries.

The disbursements for the army and the Crown were regularly supplied; but in other respects the penury of the treasury was such that the most urgent claims of humanity were postponed or neglected, from mere inadequacy of means. It is impossible to form an idea of the state in which M. and Madame Necker found the prisons and hospitals in Paris. I mention Madame Necker because she devoted all her time, during her husband’s ministry, to the improvement of charitable establishments, and because the principal changes that took place in this respect were effected by her.

Edition: current; Page: [66]

But M. Necker felt more than anyone how little the personal beneficence of a minister can effect in respect of so large and so ill-governed a country as France: this led him to desire the establishment of provincial assemblies, that is, of councils composed of the principal landholders, for the purpose of discussing the fair repartition of taxes and other matters of local interest.2 M. Turgot had conceived this plan, but no minister before M. Necker had had the courage to expose himself to the resistance to be expected to an institution of this kind, for it was clear that the parliaments and the courtiers, seldom in unison, would now unite to oppose it.

Those provinces, such as Languedoc, Burgundy, Brittany, &c. which had been the latest united to the Crown of France, were called pays d’états because they had stipulated a right to be governed by assemblies composed of the three orders of the province. The King fixed the total sum which he required in the shape of taxes, but he was obliged to leave its assessment to the provincial assembly. These assemblies persisted in their refusal of imposing certain duties, and asserted that they were exempt from them in virtue of treaties concluded with the Crown. Hence arose inequality in the plan of taxation; multiplied facilities for a contraband traffic between one province and another; and the establishment of custom-houses in the interior.

The pays d’états enjoyed great advantages. They not only paid less, but the sum required was allotted by a board of proprietors acquainted with local interests, and active in promoting them. The roads and public establishments were much better kept up in these provinces, and the collection of taxes managed with less severity. The King had never admitted that these assemblies possessed the right of refusing his taxes, but they acted as if in reality they had possessed it; not refusing the money required of them, but qualifying their contributions by calling them a free gift. In every respect, their plan of administration was better than that of the other provinces, which, however, were much more numerous and not less entitled to the attention of government.

Edition: current; Page: [67]

Intendants were appointed by the King to govern the thirty-two généralités into which the kingdom was divided.3 The chief opposition experienced by intendants took place in the pays d’états, and sometimes in one or other of the twelve provincial parlements (the Parlement of Paris was the thirteenth);4 but in the greater part of the kingdom the intendant was the sole director of public business. He had at his command an army of fiscal retainers, all objects of detestation to the people, whom they were perpetually tormenting to pay taxes disproportioned to their means; and when complaints against the intendant or his subordinates were transmitted to the minister of finance in Paris, the practice was to return these complaints to the intendant, on the ground that the executive power knew no other medium for communicating with the provinces.

Foreigners, and the rising generation too young to have known their country before the Revolution, who form their estimate from the present condition of the people, enriched as they are by the division of the large estates and the suppression of the tithes and feudal burdens, can have no idea of the situation of the country when the nation bore all the burdens resulting from privilege and inequality. The advocates of colonial slavery have often asserted that a French peasant was more to be pitied than a negro—an argument for relieving the whites but not for hardening the heart against the blacks. A state of misery is productive of ignorance, and ignorance aggravates misery. If we are asked why the French people acted with such cruelty in the Revolution, the answer will at once be found in their unhappy state, and in that want of morality which is its result.

It has been in vain attempted, during the last twenty-five years, to produce scenes in Switzerland or Holland similar to those which have occurred in France; the good sense of these people, formed by the long enjoyment of liberty, prevented everything of the kind.

Edition: current; Page: [68]

Another cause of the excesses of the Revolution is to be sought in the surprising influence of Paris over the rest of France. This would have naturally been lessened by the establishment of provincial assemblies, since the great landholders, engaged by the business in which they were occupied at home, would have had motives for quitting Paris and residing in the country. The grandees of Spain are not at liberty to withdraw from Madrid without the king’s leave: to convert nobles into courtiers is an effectual means of despotism, and consequently of degradation. Provincial assemblies would have given a political consistency to the higher nobility of France. And the contests which burst forth so suddenly between the nation and the privileged classes would perhaps never have had existence, had the three orders come in contact with each other by discussing their respective rights and interests in provincial assemblies.5

M. Necker composed the provincial administrations established under his ministry on the plan afterward adopted for the Estates General, viz. one-fourth of nobility, one-fourth of clergy, and half of Third Estate, dividing the latter into deputies of towns and deputies of the country. They proceeded to deliberate together, and such was their harmony at the outset that the two first orders spoke of making a voluntary renunciation of their privileges in regard to taxes; and the reports of their sittings were to be printed, that their labors might receive the support of public approbation.

The French nobility were very deficient in education because they had no motives to be otherwise. The graces of conversation, which rendered them acceptable at court, were the surest means of arriving at public honors. This superficial education proved one of the causes of the fall of the nobility: they were found unable to contend with the intelligence of the Third Estate; their object should have been to surpass them. Provincial assemblies would gradually have led them to take a lead by their ability in administration, as they formerly did by their sword; and public spirit in France would have preceded the establishment of free institutions.

The existence of provincial assemblies would have been no bar to the eventual convoking of the Estates General; and when a representative Edition: current; Page: [69] assembly came to be formed, the first and second classes, accustomed previously to discuss public affairs, would not have met each other with sentiments of decided opposition—the one full of horror at equality, the other all impatient for it.

The Archbishop of Bourges and the Bishop of Rhodez were chosen the respective presidents of the local assemblies established by M. Necker. That Protestant minister showed, on all occasions, a considerable deference for the clergy of France, because they consisted of very wise men in all matters that did not concern their privileges as a body. But since the Revolution, the rancor of party spirit and the nature of the government have necessarily kept the clergy out of public employment.

The parlements were dissatisfied at the appointment of provincial assemblies likely to give the King a force of opinion independent from theirs. M. Necker’s view was that the provinces should not be altogether dependent on the authorities habitually assembled at Paris; but, far from desiring to destroy what was truly useful in the political power of parlements, their power of opposing an extension of taxes, it was he who prevailed on the King to submit to them the increase of the taille, an arbitrary tax, of which the ministry alone fixed the amount. M. Necker was desirous of limiting the power of ministers, because he knew from experience that a person overloaded with business, and placed at such a distance from those upon whose interest he is called on to decide, acquires the habit of referring for information from one public officer to another, till at last the matter falls into the hands of subalterns, who are quite incapable of judging the motives that must influence such important decisions.

And here it may be alleged that M. Necker, temporarily filling the place of minister, was very willing to set limits to ministerial power; but that by such conduct he jeopardized the permanent authority of the King. I will not discuss here the great question, whether the king of England does not possess as much and more power than did a king of France. The former, provided he fulfill the indispensable condition of governing according to the public opinion, is sure of uniting the strength of the people to the power of the Crown; but an absolute prince, not knowing how to collect their opinion, which his ministers do not represent to him faithfully, meets at every step with unforeseen obstacles, of which he cannot calculate Edition: current; Page: [70] the dangers. But without anticipating a result which will, I trust, receive some light from the present work, I confine myself at present to the provincial administrations, and I ask whether those were the true servants of the King who sought to persuade him that these assemblies would operate in diminution of his authority?

Their powers did not go the length of deciding the amount of the sum to be levied on their particular province; their business was merely to make the assessment of the amount already decided upon. Was it then an advantage to the Crown that a tax imposed by an injudicious intendant was the cause of greater suffering and discontent to the people than a larger levy, when allotted with prudence and impartiality by the representatives of the province? Every public officer was in the habit of appealing to the King’s will, even in petty matters of detail. The French indeed are never satisfied except when they can, upon every occasion, support themselves by the royal wish. Habits of servility are inveterate among them; while in a free country ministers found their measures only on the public good. A long time must yet pass before the inhabitants of France, accustomed for centuries to arbitrary power, learn to reject this courtiers’ language, which ought never to be heard beyond the precincts of the palaces to which it owes its origin.

No controversy occurred between the King and the parlements during the ministry of M. Necker. That, some will say, is not to be wondered at, since the King, during that period, required no new taxes and abstained from all arbitrary acts. This was exactly what constituted the merit of the minister; since it would be imprudent for a king, even in a country in which the constitution does not limit his power, to make the experiment to what extent the people will bear with his faults. Power ought not to be stretched to the utmost under any circumstances, but particularly on so frail a foundation as that of arbitrary authority in an enlightened country.

M. Necker’s conduct during his first ministry was marked more by an adherence to public probity, if I may so express it, than by a predilection for liberty, because the nature of the existing government admitted the one more than the other; but he was at the same time desirous of institutions calculated to place the public welfare on a more stable foundation than the character of a king, or the still more precarious one of a minister. Edition: current; Page: [71] The two provincial administrations, which he had established in Berri and Rouergue, succeeded extremely well; others were in a course of preparation; and the impulse necessary to the public mind, in a great empire, was directed toward these partial improvements. There were at that time only two methods of satisfying the anxiety which was already much excited upon the state of affairs in general: the establishment of provincial assemblies and the publication of a fair statement of the finances. But why, it may be asked, should the public opinion be satisfied? I will not enter on the answers which the friends of liberty would make to this singular question; I will merely add that, even for the purpose of eluding the demand of a representative government, the wisest plan was to grant at once what would have been expected from that government, that is, order and stability in the administration. Finally, credit, or, in other words, a supply of money, was dependent on public opinion; and as money was indispensable, the wish of the nation ought at least to have been treated with consideration out of interest, if not from a sense of duty.

Edition: current; Page: [72]

CHAPTER VII: Of the American War.

In judging of the past from our knowledge of the events that have ensued, most people will be of the opinion that Louis XVI did wrong in interfering between England and America.1 Although the independence of the United States was desired by all liberal minds, the principles of the French monarchy did not permit of encouraging what, according to these principles, must be pronounced a revolt. Besides, France had at that time no cause of complaint against England; and, to enter on a war solely on the ground of the habitual rivalship of the two countries, is bad policy in itself, and more detrimental to France than to England; for France, possessing greater natural resources, but being inferior in naval power, is sure of acquiring additional strength in peace, and as sure of being weakened by a maritime war.

The cause of America, and the parliamentary debates on that subject in England, excited the greatest interest in France. All the French officers sent to serve under Washington came home with an enthusiasm for liberty, which made it no easy task for them to resume their attendance at Versailles without wishing for something beyond the honor of being presented at court. Must we then accede to the opinion of those who attribute the Revolution to the political fault of the French government in taking part in the American war? The Revolution must be attributed to everything, and to nothing: every year of the century led toward it by every path; it was a matter of great difficulty to remain deaf to the call of Paris in favor of American independence. Already the Marquis de la Fayette,2 Edition: current; Page: [73] a French nobleman, eager for fame and liberty, had gained general approbation by proceeding to join the Americans, even before the French government had taken part with them. Resistance to the King’s will, in this matter, was encouraged by the public applause; and when the royal authority has lost ground in public opinion, the principle of a monarchical government, which places honor in obedience, is attacked at its basis.

What was then the course to be adopted by the French government? M. Necker laid before the King the strongest motives for a continuance of peace, and he who has been charged with republican sentiments declared himself hostile to a war of which the object was the independence of a people. I need not say that he, on his part, wished success to the colonists in their admirable cause; but he felt, on the one hand, that war never ought to be declared without positive necessity, and, on the other, that no possible concurrence of political results could counterbalance to France the loss she would sustain of the advantages she might derive from her capital wasted in the contest. These arguments were not successful: the King decided on the war. There were, it must be allowed, very strong motives for it, and government was exposed to great difficulties in either alternative. Already was the time approaching when we might apply to Louis XVI what Hume said of Charles I: “He found himself in a situation where faults were irreparable; a condition too rigorous to be imposed on weak human nature.”3

Edition: current; Page: [74]

CHAPTER VIII: M. Necker’s Retirement from Office in 1781.

M. Necker had no other object in his first ministry than to prevail on the King to adopt, of his own accord, the measures of public utility required by the nation, and for which it afterward demanded a representative body. This was the only method of preventing a revolution during the life of Louis XVI; and never have I known my father to deviate from the opinion that then, in 1781, he might have succeeded in that object. The most bitter reproach which he ever cast on himself was that of not supporting everything rather than give in his resignation. But he could not then foresee the extraordinary course of events; and, although a generous feeling attached him to his place, there exists in a lofty mind a delicate apprehension of not withdrawing easily from power when a feeling of independence suggests it.

The second class of courtiers declared itself averse to M. Necker. The higher nobility, being exempt from disquietude in regard to their situation and fortune, have, in general, more independence in their manner of viewing things, than that ignoble swarm which clings to court favor in the hope of obtaining fresh gifts on every new occasion. M. Necker had made retrenchments in the royal household, in the pension list, in the charges of the finance department, and in the emoluments arising to court dependents from these charges; a system far from agreeable to all who had been in the habit of receiving the pay of government, and of constantly soliciting favors and money for a livelihood. In vain had M. Necker, for the sake of giving additional weight to his measures of reform, with a personal disinterestedness till then unheard of, declined all the emoluments of his situation. What signified this disinterestedness to those who were far from Edition: current; Page: [75] imitating such an example? Such generous conduct did not disarm the anger of the courtiers of both sexes, who found in M. Necker an obstacle to abuses which had become so habitual that their suppression seemed to them an act of injustice.

Women of a certain rank used to interfere with everything before the revolution. Their husbands or their brothers were in the habit of employing them on all occasions as applicants to ministers; they could urge a point strongly with less apparent impropriety; could even outstep the proper limits, without affording an opening to complaint: and all the insinuations, which they knew how to employ, gave them considerable influence over men in office. M. Necker used to receive them with great politeness; but he had too much sagacity not to see through these verbal tricks which produce no effect on a frank and enlightened mind. These ladies used then to assume a lofty tone, to call to mind, with a careless air, the illustrious rank of their families and demand a pension with as much confidence as a marshal of France would complain of being superseded. M. Necker always made it a rule to adhere to strict justice and never to lavish the money obtained by the sacrifices of the people. “What are three thousand livres to the King?” said these ladies: “three thousand livres,” replied M. Necker, “is the taxation of a village.”

The value of these sentiments was felt only by the most respectable persons at court. M. Necker could also reckon on friends among the clergy, to whom he had always shown great respect; and among the nobility and great landholders, whom he was desirous of introducing, by the medium of provincial administrations, to the knowledge and management of public business. But the courtiers of the princes and the persons employed in the finance department exclaimed loudly against him. A memorial transmitted by him to the King, on the advantage of provincial assemblies, had been indiscreetly published; and the parliaments had read in it, that one of the arguments used by M. Necker for these new appointments was the support of public opinion which might subsequently be used against the parliaments themselves, if the latter should act the part of ambitious corporations instead of following the wish of the nation. This was enough to make the members of these bodies, jealous as they were of their contested political influence, boldly represent M. Necker as an innovator. But of all Edition: current; Page: [76] innovations, economy was the one most dreaded by the courtiers and persons in the finance departments. Such enemies, however, would not have accomplished the removal of a minister to whom the nation showed more attachment than to anyone since the administration of Sully and of Colbert, if the Count of Maurepas had not adroitly found out the means of displacing him.

He was dissatisfied with M. Necker for having obtained the appointment of the Marechal de Castries to the ministry of marine, without his participation. Yet no man was more generally respected than M. de Castries, or was better entitled to respect; but M. de Maurepas could not bear that M. Necker, or, in fact, anyone, should think of exercising a direct influence over the King. He was jealous even of the Queen; and the Queen was at that time very favorably disposed toward M. Necker. M. de Maurepas was always present at conferences between the King and his minister; but, during one of his attacks of gout, M. Necker, being alone with the King, obtained the removal of M. de Sartines and the appointment of M. de Castries to the ministry of marine.

M. de Sartines was a specimen of the selection made for public offices in those countries where neither the liberty of the press, nor the vigilance of a representative body, obliges the court to have recourse to men of ability. He had acquitted himself extremely well in the capacity of Lieutenant de Police, and had arrived, by some intrigue or other, at the ministry of marine. M. Necker called on him a few days after his appointment and found that he had got his room hung round with maps; and he said to M. Necker, while he walked up and down the room, “See what progress I have already made; I can put my hand on this map and point out to you, with my eyes shut, each of the four quarters of the world.” Such wonderful knowledge would not have been considered as a sufficient qualification in the First Lord of the Admiralty in England.

To his general ignorance M. de Sartines added an almost incredible degree of inefficiency in regard to the accounts and money transactions of his department; the finance minister could not remain a stranger to the disorders prevalent in this branch of public expenditure. But, weighty as were these reasons, M. de Maurepas could never forgive M. Necker for having spoken directly to the King; and he became, from that day forward, Edition: current; Page: [77] his mortal enemy. What a singular character is an old courtier when minister! The public benefit passed for nothing in the eyes of M. de Maurepas: he thought only of what he called the King’s service, and this service du Roi consisted in the favor to be gained or lost at court. As to business, even the most important points were all inferior to the grand object of managing the royal mind. He thought it necessary that a minister should possess a certain knowledge of his department, that he might not appear ignorant in his conversations with the King; also that he should possess the good opinion of the public, so far as to prevent an unusual share of criticism from reaching the King’s ears; but the spring and object of all was to please his royal master. M. de Maurepas labored accordingly to preserve his favor by a variety of minute attentions, that he might surround the sovereign as in a net, and succeed in keeping him a stranger to all information in which he might be likely to hear the voice of sincerity and truth. He did not venture to propose to the King the dismissal of so useful a minister as M. Necker; for, to say nothing of his ardor for the public welfare, the influx of money into the treasury by means of his personal credit was not to be despised. Yet the old minister was as imprudent in respect to the public interest, as cautious in what regarded himself; for he was much less alarmed at the apprehension of financial embarrassment than at M. Necker presuming to speak, without his intervention, to the King. He could not, however, go the length of saying to that King, “You should remove your minister, because he has taken on him to refer to you without consulting me.” It was necessary to await the support of other circumstances; and, however reserved M. Necker was, he had a certain pride of character and sensibility of offense; a degree of energy in his whole manner of feeling that could hardly fail, sooner or later, to lead him into faults at court.

In the household of one of the princes there was, in the capacity of intendant or steward, a M. de Sainte Foix, a man who made little noise, but who was persevering in his hatred of all elevated sentiments. This man, to his latest day, and when his gray hairs appeared to call for graver thoughts, was still in the habit of repairing to the ministers, even of the Revolution, in quest of a dinner, official secrets, and pecuniary benefits. M. de Maurepas employed him to circulate libels against M. Necker; and, Edition: current; Page: [78] as the liberty of the press did not then exist in France, there was something altogether new in pamphlets against a member of the cabinet, encouraged by the prime minister, and hence publicly distributed.

The proper way, as M. Necker repeatedly said afterward, would have been to treat with contempt these snares laid for his temper; but Madame Necker could not bear the chagrin excited by these calumnies circulated against her husband. She thought it a duty to withhold from him the first libel that came into her hands, that she might spare him a painful sensation; but she took the step of writing, without his knowledge, to M. de Maurepas, complaining of the offense and requesting him to take measures against these anonymous publications: this was appealing to the very person who secretly encouraged them. Although a woman of great talents, Madame Necker, educated among the mountains of Switzerland, had no idea of such a character as M. de Maurepas—of a man who, in the expression of sentiments, only sought an opportunity to discover the vulnerable side. No sooner did he become aware of M. Necker’s sensitive disposition by the mortification apparent in his wife’s complaint, than he secretly congratulated himself on the prospect of impelling him, by renewed irritation, to give in his resignation.

M. Necker, on learning the step taken by his wife, expressed displeasure at it, but was at the same time much concerned at its cause. Next to the duties enjoined by religion, the esteem of the public was his highest concern; he sacrificed to it fortune, honors, all that the ambitious desire; and the voice of the people, not yet perverted, was to him almost divine. The slightest taint on his reputation caused him greater suffering than anything else in this world could ever bring about. The motive of all his actions, as far as that motive was temporal, the breeze which propelled his bark, was the love of public esteem. Add to this, that a cabinet minister in France had not, like an English minister, a power independent of the court: he had no opportunity of giving, in the House of Commons, a public vindication of his motives and conduct; and there being no liberty of the press, clandestine libels were all the more dangerous.1

Edition: current; Page: [79]

M. de Maurepas circulated underhandedly that attacks on the finance minister were by no means unpleasant to the King. Had M. Necker requested a private audience of the King and submitted to him what he knew in regard to his prime minister, he might perhaps have succeeded in getting him removed from office. But the advanced years of this man, frivolous as he was, had a claim to respect; and besides, M. Necker could not overcome a feeling of grateful recollection toward him who had placed him in the ministry. M. Necker determined therefore to content himself with requiring some mark of his sovereign’s confidence that would discourage the libelers: he desired that they might be removed from their employments in the household of the Count d’Artois, and claimed for himself a seat in the cabinet (conseil d’état) to which he had not as yet been admitted on account of being a Protestant. His attendance there was decidedly called for by the public interest; for a finance minister, charged with levying on the people the burdens of war, is certainly entitled to participate in deliberations relating to the question of peace.

M. Necker was impressed with the idea that unless the King gave a decided proof of his determination to defend him against his powerful enemies, he would no longer possess the weight necessary to conduct the finance department on the strict and severe plan that he had prescribed to himself. In this, however, he was mistaken: the public attachment to him was greater than he imagined, and had he waited until the death of the first minister, which took place six months later, he would have kept his place. The reign of Louis XVI might probably have been passed in peace, and the nation been prepared by good government for the emancipation to which it was entitled.

M. Necker made an offer of resigning unless the conditions that he required were complied with. M. de Maurepas, who had stimulated him to this step, knew perfectly well what would be the result; for the weaker kings are, the more attachment do they show to certain rules of firmness impressed on them from their earliest years, of which one of the first, no doubt, is that a king should never decline an offer of resignation or subscribe Edition: current; Page: [80] to the conditions affixed by a public functionary to the continuance of his services.

The day before M. Necker intended to propose to the King the alternative of resigning, if what he wished was not complied with, he went with his wife to the hospital at Paris which still bears their name.2 He often visited this respectable asylum to recover the firmness requisite to support the hard trials of his situation. Sœurs de la Charité, the most interesting of the religious communities, attended the sick of the hospital: these nuns take their vows only for a year, and the more beneficent their conduct, the less it is marked by intolerance. M. and Madame Necker, though both Protestants, were the objects of their affectionate regard. These holy sisters came to meet them with flowers and sung to them verses from the Psalms, the only poetry that they knew; they called them their benefactors, because they contributed to the relief of the poor. My father, as I still remember, was that day more affected than he had ever been by these testimonies of their gratitude: he no doubt regretted the power he was about to lose, that of doing good to France. Alas! who at that time would have thought it possible that such a man should be one day accused of being harsh, arrogant, and factious? Ah! never did a purer heart encounter the conflict of political storms: and his enemies, in calumniating him, commit an act of impiety; for the heart of a virtuous man is the sanctuary of the Divinity in this world.

Next day, M. Necker returned from Versailles, and was no longer a minister. He went to my mother’s apartment, and, after half an hour of conversation, both gave directions to the servants to have everything ready in the course of twenty-four hours for removing to St. Ouen, a country house belonging to my father, two leagues from Paris. My mother sustained herself by the very exaltation of her sentiments; my father continued silent, and as for me, at that early age, any change of place was a source of delight; but when, at dinner, I observed the secretaries and clerks of the finance department silent and dispirited, I began to dread that my Edition: current; Page: [81] gaiety was unfounded. This uneasy sensation was soon removed by the innumerable attentions received by my father at St. Ouen.

Everybody came to see him; noblemen, clergy, magistrates, merchants, men of letters, all flocked to St. Ouen. More than five hundred letters,* received from members of the provincial boards and corporations, expressed a degree of respect and affection which had, perhaps, never been shown to a public man in France. The Memoirs of the time, which have already been published, attest the truth of all that I have stated. A good Edition: current; Page: [82] minister was, at that time, all that the French desired. They had become successively attached to M. Turgot, to M. de Malesherbes, and particularly to M. Necker, because he was much more of a practical man than the others. But when they saw that even under so virtuous a king as Louis XVI no minister of austerity and talent could remain in office, they felt that nothing short of settled institutions could preserve the state from the vicissitudes of courts.

Joseph II, Catherine II, and the Queen of Naples all wrote to M. Necker, offering him the management of their finances; but his heart was too truly French to accept such an indemnification, however honorable it might be. France and Europe were impressed with consternation at the resignation of M. Necker: his virtue and talents gave him a right to such an homage; but there was, moreover, in this universal sensation, a confused dread of the political crisis with which the public were threatened, and which a wise course, on the part of the French ministry, could alone retard or prevent.

The public under Louis XIV would certainly not have ventured to shower attention on a dismissed minister, and this new spirit of independence ought to have taught statesmen the growing strength of public opinion. Yet, so far from attending to it during the seven years that elapsed between the retirement of M. Necker and the promise of convoking the Estates General, given by the Archbishop of Sens, ministers committed all kinds of faults, and did not scruple to irritate the nation without having in their hands any real power to restrain it.

Edition: current; Page: [83]

CHAPTER IX: The Circumstances That Led to the Assembling of the Estates General.—Ministry of M. de Calonne.

M. Turgot and M. Necker owed their loss of place in a great degree to the influence of the parliaments, who were adverse both to the suppression of exemptions from taxes and to the establishment of provincial assemblies. This made the King think of choosing a finance minister from among the members of the parliament, as a method of disarming the opposition of that body when new taxes came under discussion. The consequence was the appointment, successively, of M. Joly de Fleury and M. d’Ormesson; but neither of these had the least idea of finance business, and their ministries may be considered, in this respect, as periods of anarchy. Yet the circumstances in which they were placed were much more favorable than those with which M. Necker had had to struggle. M. de Maurepas was no more, and the war had been brought to a close. What improvements would not M. Necker have made under such auspicious circumstances! But it was part of the character of these men, or rather of the body to which they belonged, to admit of no improvements of any kind.

Representatives of the people receive information every year, and particularly at each election, from the progress that knowledge makes in all directions; but the Parlement of Paris was, and would always have been, unacquainted with new ideas. The reason is perfectly plain; a privileged body derives its patent from history; it possesses strength today only because it has existed for ages. The consequence is, that it attaches itself to the past and is suspicious of innovation. The case is quite different with elected deputies, who participate in the revived and increasing spirit of the nation which they represent.

Edition: current; Page: [84]

The choice of finance ministers from among the Parlement of Paris not having succeeded, the only remaining field for selection was from among the intendants, or provincial administrators appointed by the King. M. Senac de Meilhan, a superficial writer, whose only depth lay in his vanity, could not pardon M. Necker for having been appointed to his situation, for he considered the finance ministry as his right; but it was in vain that he cherished hatred or indulged in calumny; he did not succeed in drawing the public opinion to himself. Among the candidates, there was only one that had the reputation of great talent—M. de Calonne: the world gave him credit for great abilities, because he treated with levity things of the greatest importance, including virtue. The French are but too apt to fall into the great mistake of ascribing wonderful powers to immoral men. Faults caused by passion may often be taken as a sign of distinguished faculties; but a disposition to venality and intrigue belongs to a kind of mediocrity, the possessor of which can be useful in nothing but for his own good. We should be nearer the truth in setting down as incapable of public business any man who has devoted his life to an artful management of persons and circumstances. Such was M. de Calonne; and, even in this light, the frivolity of his character followed him, for when he meant to do mischief, he did not do it with ability.1

His reputation, founded on the report of the women in whose society he was in the habit of passing his time, pointed him out for the ministry. The King was long averse to an appointment at variance with his conscientious feelings; the Queen, although surrounded by persons of a very different way of thinking, partook of her husband’s repugnance; and one is almost tempted to say that both had a presentiment of the misfortunes into which such a character was likely to involve them. No single man, I repeat it, can be considered the author of the French Revolution; but if we want to attribute a certain worldly event to a particular individual, then the blame should rest with M. de Calonne’s actions. His object was to make himself acceptable at court by lavishing the public money; he Edition: current; Page: [85] encouraged the King, the Queen, and the princes to dismiss all restraint in regard to their favorite objects of expense, giving them the assurance that luxury was the source of national prosperity. Prodigality, according to him, was an enlarged economy. In short, his plan was to be easy and accommodating in everything, that he might form a complete contrast to the austerity of M. Necker. But if M. Necker was more virtuous, it is equally true that he also was superior in spirit. The paper controversy that took place some time after between them in regard to the deficit in the revenue showed that, even in point of wit, all the advantage was on M. Necker’s side.2

M. de Calonne’s levity was apparent rather in his principles than in his manners; he thought there was something brilliant in making light of difficulties, as in truth there would be if we overcame them; but when they prove too strong for him who pretends to control them, his negligent confidence tends merely to make him more ridiculous.

M. de Calonne continued during peace the system of loans, which, in M. Necker’s opinion, was suitable only to a state of war. The credit of the minister experiencing a visible decline, he was obliged to raise the rate of interest to get money, and thus disorder grew out of disorder. It was about this time that M. Necker published his Administration des Finances, which is now considered a standard book, and had from its first appearance a surprising effect; the sale extended to 80,000 copies. Never had a work on so serious a subject obtained such general success. The people of France already began to give much attention to public business, although not aware of the share that they might soon take in it.

This work contained all the plans of reform subsequently adopted by the Constituent Assembly in regard to taxes; and the favorable effect produced by these changes on the circumstances of the people has afforded ample evidence of the truth of M. Necker’s constant opinion advanced in his works of the extent of the natural resources of France.

M. de Calonne was popular only among the courtiers; and such was Edition: current; Page: [86] the financial distress caused by his prodigality and carelessness, that he was obliged to have recourse to a measure—the equalization of taxes among all classes, which originated with M. Turgot, a statesman as different from him as possible in every respect. But to what obstacles was not this new measure exposed, and how strange the situation of a minister, who, after dilapidating the treasury to make friends among the privileged orders, found himself obliged to displease that body at large by imposing a burden on the whole to meet the largesses made to individuals.

M. de Calonne was aware that the Parlement of Paris would not give its consent to new taxes, and likewise, that the King was averse to recurring to the expedient of a lit de justice—an expedient which showed the arbitrary power of the Crown in a glaring light, by annulling the only resistance provided by the constitution of the state. On the other hand, the weight of public opinion was daily on the increase, and a spirit of independence was manifesting itself among all classes. M. de Calonne flattered himself that he should find a support from this opinion against the parlement, whereas it was as much adverse to him as to that body. He proposed to the King to summon an Assembly of the Notables, a measure never adopted since the reign of Henri IV, a king who might run any risk in regard to authority, because assured of regaining everything by affection.3

These Assemblies of Notables had no power but that of giving the King their opinion on the questions which ministers thought proper to address to them. Nothing could be more ill-adapted to a time of public agitation than the assembling of bodies of men whose functions are confined to speaking: their opinions are carried to a higher state of excitement because they find no issue. The constitution placed the right of sanctioning taxes solely in the Estates General, the last convocation of which had taken place in 1614; but as taxes had been imposed unceasingly during an interval of 175 years, without a reference to this right, the nation had not the habit of remembering it, and at Paris they talked much more of the constitution Edition: current; Page: [87] of England than of that of France. The political principles laid down in English publications were much better known to Frenchmen than their ancient institutions, disused and forgotten for nearly two centuries.4

At the opening meeting of the Assembly of Notables in 1787, M. de Calonne confessed, in his statement of the finances, that the national expenditure exceeded the receipt by 56,000,000 livres a year;* but he alleged that this deficiency had commenced long before him, and that M. Necker had not adhered to truth when he asserted in 1781 that the receipt exceeded the expenditure by 10,000,000 livres.5 No sooner did this assertion reach the ears of M. Necker than he refuted it in a triumphant memorial, accompanied by official documents, of the correctness of which the Notables were capable of judging at the time. His two successors in the ministry of finance, M. Joly de Fleury and M. d’Ormesson, attested the truth of his assertions. He sent a copy of this memorial to the King, who seemed satisfied of its truth but required of him not to print it.

In an arbitrary government, kings, even the best, have difficulty in conceiving the importance which every man naturally attaches to the good opinion of the public. In their eyes the court is the center of everything, while they themselves are the center of the court. M. Necker felt himself under the necessity of disobeying the King’s injunction: to oblige a minister in retirement to keep silence, when accused by a minister in office of a falsehood in the face of the nation, was like forbidding a man to defend his honor. A sensibility to reputation less keen than that of M. Necker would have prompted a man to repel such an offense at all hazards. Ambition would, no doubt, have suggested a submission to the royal commands; but, as M. Necker’s ambition pointed to fame, he published his work, although assured by everybody that by so doing he exposed himself, at the least, to exclusion forever from the ministry.6

Edition: current; Page: [88]

One evening in the winter of 1787, two days after the answer to M. de Calonne’s attack had appeared, a message was brought to my father, while in the drawing room along with his family and a few friends. He went out, and having first sent for my mother, and, some minutes afterward, for me, he told me that M. Le Noir, the Lieutenant de Police, had just brought him a lettre de cachet, by which he was exiled to the distance of forty leagues from Paris. I cannot describe the state into which I was thrown by this news; it seemed to me an act of despotism without example; it was inflicted on my father, of whose noble and pure sentiments I was fully aware. I had not yet an idea of what governments are, and the conduct of the French government appeared to me an act of the most revolting injustice. I have certainly not changed my opinion in regard to the punishment of exile without trial; I think, and shall endeavor to prove, that of all harsh punishments it is the one most liable to abuse. But at that time, lettres de cachet, like other irregularities, were considered as ordinary things; and the personal character of the King had the effect of softening the abuse of them as much as possible.

But M. Necker’s popularity had the effect of changing persecutions into triumph. All Paris came to see him during the twenty-four hours that he required to get ready for his journey. The Archbishop of Toulouse, patronized by the Queen, and on the eve of succeeding M. de Calonne, thought it incumbent on him, even on a calculation of ambition, to pay a visit to the exile. Offers of residences were made on all hands to M. Necker; all the castles at the distance of forty leagues from Paris were placed at his disposal. The evil of a banishment, known to be temporary, could not be very great, and the compensation for it was most flattering. But is it possible that a country can be governed in this manner? Nothing is so pleasant, for a certain time, as the decline of a government, for its weakness gives it an air of mildness; but the fall that ensues is dreadful.

The exile of M. Necker had by no means the effect of rendering the Notables favorable to M. de Calonne: they were irritated at it, and the assembly made more and more opposition to the plans of the minister. Edition: current; Page: [89] His proposed taxes were all founded on the abolition of pecuniary privileges; but, as they were alleged to be very ill planned, the Notables rejected them under this pretext. This body, composed almost entirely of nobility and clergy,7 was certainly not disposed (with some exceptions) to admit the principle of equalization of taxes; but it was cautious in expressing its secret wish in this respect; and, connecting itself with those whose views were entirely liberal, the result was its concurrence with the nation, which dreaded indiscriminately all new taxes of whatever nature.

The unpopularity of M. de Calonne was now so great, and the Assembly of the Notables afforded so imposing a medium for expressing this unpopularity, that the King felt himself obliged not only to remove M. de Calonne from office, but even to punish him. Now, whatever might be the faults of the minister, the King had declared to the Notables, two months before, that he approved his plans: there was consequently as great a loss of dignity in thus abandoning a bad minister as in previously removing a good one. But the great misfortune lay in the incredible choice of a successor; the Queen wished for the Archbishop of Toulouse; but the King was not disposed to appoint him. M. de Castries, who was then Minister of Marine, proposed M. Necker; but the Baron de Breteuil, who dreaded him, stimulated the King’s pride by pointing out to him that he could not choose as minister one whom he had so lately exiled. Those kings who possess the least firmness of character are of all others the most sensitive when their authority is in question; they seem to think that it can go on of its own accord, like a supernatural power, entirely independent of means and circumstances. The Baron de Breteuil succeeded in preventing the appointment of M. Necker; the Queen failed in regard to the Archbishop of Toulouse; and the parties united for an instant on ground certainly very neutral, or rather no ground at all, in the appointment of M. de Fourqueux.8

Never had the wig of a counselor of state covered a poorer head: the man seemed at first to form a very proper estimate of his abilities, and Edition: current; Page: [90] wanted to refuse the position he was incapable of filling. But so many entreaties were made for his acceptance of it, that, at the age of sixty,9 he began to conceive that his modesty had till then prevented him from being aware of his own talents, and that the court had at last discovered them. Thus did the well-wishers of M. Necker, and the Archbishop of Toulouse, fill the ministerial chair for an interval, as a box in a theater is kept by a servant till the arrival of his masters. Each party flattered itself with gaining time so as to secure the ministry for one of the two candidates, who alone had now a chance of it.

It was still perhaps not impossible to save the country from a revolution, or at least to preserve to government the control of public proceedings. No promise had as yet been given to convene the Estates General; the old methods of doing public business were not yet abandoned; perhaps the King, aided by the great popularity of M. Necker, might still have been enabled to accomplish the reforms necessary to straighten out the finances. Or, that department of government, bearing directly on public credit, and the influence of parlements, might with propriety be called the keystone of the arch. M. Necker, exiled at that time forty leagues from Paris, felt the importance of the crisis; and before the messenger who brought him the news of the appointment of the Archbishop of Toulouse had left the room, he expressed himself to me in these remarkable words: “God grant that the new minister may succeed in serving his king and country better than I should have been able to do; circumstances are already of a nature to make the task perilous; but they will soon be such as to surpass the powers of any man.”

Edition: current; Page: [91]

CHAPTER X: Sequel of the Preceding.—Ministry of the Archbishop of Toulouse.

M. de Brienne, Archbishop of Toulouse, had almost as little seriousness of character as M. de Calonne; but his clerical dignity, coupled with a constant ambition to attain a seat in the cabinet, had given him the outward gravity of a statesman; and he had the reputation of one, before he was placed in a situation to undeceive the world. He had labored during fifteen years, through his subordinates, to acquire the esteem of the Queen; but the King, who had no opinion of clerical philosophers, had always refused to admit him to the ministry. He gave way at last, for Louis XVI had not much confidence in himself; no man would have been happier had he been born King of England; for by being able to acquire a clear knowledge of the national wish, he would then have regulated his measures by that unfailing standard.

The Archbishop of Toulouse was not sufficiently enlightened to act the part of a philosopher, nor sufficiently firm for that of a despot:1 he admired at one time the conduct of Cardinal Richelieu, at another the principles of the “Encyclopedists”; he attempted arbitrary measures, but desisted at the first obstacle; and, in truth, the things he aimed at were greatly beyond Edition: current; Page: [91] the possibility of accomplishment. He proposed several taxes, particularly the stamp tax; the parlement rejected it, on which he made the King hold a lit de justice: the parlements suspended their judicial functions; the minister exiled them; nobody would come forward to take their place, and he conceived the plan of a plenary court, composed of the higher clergy and nobility. The idea was not bad, if meant in imitation of the English House of Peers; but a house of representatives, elected by the people, was a necessary accompaniment, as the plenary court was named by the King. The parliaments might be overturned by national representatives; but not by a body of Peers, extraordinarily convoked by the prime minister! The measure was so unpopular that several even of the courtiers refused to take their places in the assembly.

In this state of things the acts, intended by government as acts of authority, tended only to show its weakness; and the Archbishop of Toulouse, at one time arbitrary, at another constitutional, proved equally awkward in both.

Marshal de Segur had committed the great error of asking, in the eighteenth century, for proofs of nobility as a condition to the rank of officer. It was necessary to have been ennobled for a hundred years to have the honor of defending the country. This regulation irritated the Third Estate, without producing the effect of attaching the nobility “whom it favored more” to the authority of the Crown. Several officers of family declared that, if desired to arrest members of the parlement, or their adherents, they would not obey the orders of the King. The privileged classes began the resistance to the royal authority, and the parlement pronounced the word upon which hung the fate of France.

The parlement called loudly on the minister to produce his account of the national receipt and expenditure, when the Abbé Sabatier, a counselor of parlement, a man of lively wit, exclaimed, “You demand, Gentlemen, the states of receipt and expenditure (états de recette et de depence), when it is the Estates General (états generaux) that you ought to call for.”2 This Edition: current; Page: [93] word, although introduced as a pun, seemed to cast a ray of light on the confused wishes of everyone. He who had uttered it was sent to prison; but the parlement, soon after, declared that it did not possess the power of registering taxes, although they had been in the habit of exercising that power during two centuries; and, instigated by the ambition to take a lead in the popular ferment, they relinquished at once to the people a privilege which they had so obstinately defended against the Crown. From this moment the Revolution was decided, for there was but one wish among all parties—the desire of convoking the Estates General.

The same magistrates, who some time after gave the name of rebels to the friends of liberty, called for the convocation of the estates with such vehemence that the King thought himself obliged to arrest by his bodyguards, in the midst of the assembly, two of their members, MM. d’Espréménil and de Monsabert.3 Several of the nobles, subsequently conspicuous as ardent opponents of a limited monarchy, then kindled the flame which led to the explosion. Twelve men of family from Brittany were sent to the Bastille; and the same spirit of opposition, which was punished in them, animated the other nobles of their province.4 Even the clergy called for the Estates General. No revolution in a great country can succeed unless it take its beginning from the higher orders; the people come forward subsequently, but they are not capable of striking the first blows. By thus pointing out that it was the parlements, the nobles, and the clergy who first wished to limit the royal authority, I am very far from pretending to affix any censure to their conduct. All Frenchmen were then actuated by a sincere and disinterested enthusiasm; public spirit had become general; and, among the higher classes, the best characters were the most anxious that the wish of the nation should be consulted in the management Edition: current; Page: [94] of its own concerns. But why should individuals in these higher classes, who however began the revolution, accuse one man, or one measure of that man, as the cause of the revolution? “We were desirous,” say some, “that the political change should stop at a given point”; “We were desirous,” say others, “of going a little further.” True—but the movement of a great people is not to be stopped at will; and, from the time that you begin to acknowledge its rights, you will feel yourself obliged to grant all that justice requires.5

The Archbishop of Toulouse now recalled the parlements, but found them as untractable under favor as under punishment.6 A spirit of resistance gained ground on all sides, and petitions for the Estates General became so numerous that the minister was at last obliged to promise them in the King’s name; but he delayed the period of their convocation for five years, as if the public would have consented to put off its triumph. The clergy came forward to protest against the five years, and the King gave a solemn promise to convene the assembly in May of the following year.7

The Archbishop of Sens (for that was now his title, he not having forgotten, in the midst of all the public troubles, to exchange his archbishopric of Toulouse for a much better one), seeing that he could not successfully play a despotic game, drew near to his old philosopher friends and, discontented with the higher classes, made an attempt to please the nation by calling on the writers of the day to give their opinion on the best mode of organizing the Estates General.8 But the world never gives a minister credit for his acts when they are the results of necessity; that which renders public opinion so deserving of regard is its being a compound of penetration Edition: current; Page: [95] and power: it consists of the views of each individual, and of the ascendancy of the whole.

The Archbishop of Sens had stirred up the Third Estate in the hope of supporting himself against the privileged classes. The Third Estate soon intimated that it would take the place of representative of the nation in the Estates General; but it would not receive that station from the hand of a minister who returned to liberal ideas only after failing in an attempt to establish the most despotic institutions.

Finally, the Archbishop of Sens completely exasperated all classes by suspending the payment of a third of the interest of the national debt. A general cry was now raised against him; even the princes applied to the King to dismiss him, and so pitiable was his conduct that a number of people set him down for a madman. This, however, was by no means the case, he was on the contrary a sensible man in the current acceptation of the word; that is, he possessed the talents necessary to have made him an expert minister in the ordinary routine of a court. But no sooner does a nation begin to participate in the management of its own concerns, than all drawing-room ministers are found unequal to their situation: none will do then but men of firm principles; these alone can follow a steady and decisive course. None but the large features of the mind are capable, like the Minerva of Phidias, of producing effect upon crowds when viewed at a distance. Official dexterity, according to the old plan of governing a country by the rules of ministerial offices, only excites distrust in a representative government.

Edition: current; Page: [96]

CHAPTER XI: Did France Possess a Constitution Before the Revolution?1

Of all modern monarchies, France was certainly the one whose political institutions were most arbitrary and fluctuating; and the cause is probably to be sought in the incorporation, at very different periods, of the provinces that compose the kingdom. Each province had different claims and customs; the government skillfully made use of the old against the new ones, and the country became only gradually a whole.

Whatever may be the cause, it is an undoubted fact that there exists no law in France, not even an elementary law, which has not, at some time or other, been disputed—nothing, in short, which has not been the object of difference of opinion. Did, or did not the legislative power reside in the kings? Could they, or could they not impose taxes in virtue of their prerogative and will? Or, the Estates General, were they the representatives of the people, to whom alone belonged the right of granting subsidies? In what manner ought these Estates General to be composed? The Edition: current; Page: [97] privileged classes, who possessed two voices out of three, could they consider themselves as essentially distinct from the nation at large, and entitled, after voting a tax, to relieve themselves from its operation, and to throw its burden on the people? What were the real privileges of the clergy, who at one time held themselves to be independent of the king, at another independent of the pope? What were the powers of the nobles, who, at one time, even down to the minority of Louis XIV, asserted the right of maintaining their privileges by force of arms in alliance with foreigners, while, at another time, they would acknowledge that the king possessed absolute power? What ought to be the situation of the Third Estate, emancipated by the kings, introduced into the Estates General by Philip the Fair,2 and yet doomed to be perpetually in a minority, since it had only one vote in three, and since its complaints could carry little weight, presented as they were to the monarch on the knee?

What was the political influence of the parlements, these assemblies, which declared at one time that their sole business was to administer justice, at another that they were the Estates General on a reduced scale, that is, the representatives of the representatives of the people? The same parliaments refused to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the intendants, who were the provincial administrators of the Crown; and the cabinet, on the other hand, contested with the pays d’états the right, to which they pretended, of acquiescing in the taxes. The history of France would supply us with a crowd of examples of similar want of consistency in small things as in great; but enough of the deplorable results of this want of principles. Persons accused of state offenses were almost all deprived of a fair trial; and many of them, without being brought before a court at all, have passed their lives in prisons, to which they had been sent by the sole authority of the executive power. The code of terror against Protestants, cruel punishments, and torture, still existed down to the Revolution.3

The taxes, which pressed exclusively on the lower orders, reduced them to hopeless poverty. A French jurist, only fifty years ago, continued to call Edition: current; Page: [98] the Third Estate, according to custom, the people taxable, and liable at mercy to seignorial service (la gent corvéable et taillable à merci et miséricorde). The power of imprisoning and banishing, after being for some time disputed, became a part of the royal prerogative; and ministerial despotism, a dexterous instrument for the despotism of the Crown, at last carried matters so far as to admit the inconceivable maxim, Si veut le roi, si veut la loi (as wills the king, so wills the law), as the only political institution of France.4

The English, proud, and with reason, of their own liberty, have not failed to say that if the national character of the French had not been adapted to despotism, they could not have borne with it so long; and Blackstone,5 the first of the English jurists, printed in the eighteenth century these words: “Kings might then, as in France or Turkey, imprison, dispatch, or exile, any man that was obnoxious to them, by an instant declaration that such is their will and pleasure.”* I postpone, till the end of the work, a view of the national character of the French, too much calumniated in these times; but I cannot avoid repeating what I have already said, that the history of France will be found to exhibit as many struggles against despotic power as that of England. M. de Boulainvilliers, the great champion of the feudal system, asserts repeatedly that the kings of France had neither the right of coining money, of fixing the strength of the army, of taking foreign troops into their pay, nor, above all, of levying taxes, without the consent of the nobles. He is, indeed, somewhat concerned, that there should have been formed a second order out of the clergy, and, still more, a third out of the people; and he loses all patience with the kings of France for assuming the right of granting patents of nobility, which he calls enfranchisements; and with reason, because according to the principles of the aristocracy it is a discredit to be recently ennobled: neither is it less offense to the principles of liberty.

M. de Boulainvilliers is an aristocrat of the true kind, that is, without Edition: current; Page: [99] any mixture of the temper of a courtier, the most degrading of all. He considers the nation as confined to the nobility and reckons that, in a population of more than twenty-four million, there are not above one hundred thousand descendants of the Franks; for he excludes, and rightly, according to his system, all families ennobled by the Crown, as well as the clergy of the second rank; and, according to him, these descendants of the Franks being the conquerors, and the Gauls the conquered, the former alone can participate in the management of public business. The citizens of a state have a right to share in making and preserving the laws; but if there are only one hundred thousand citizens in a state, it is they alone who possess this political right.6 The question, therefore, is, whether the 23,900,000 souls at present composing the Third Estate in France are, in fact, vanquished Gauls, or willing to be treated as such.

So long as the degraded condition of serfs allowed things to go on in this manner, we find everywhere governments in which liberties, if not liberty, have been perfectly acknowledged; that is, where privileges have obtained respect as rights. History and reason concur in showing that if, under the first race of the kings of France, those who possessed the right of citizens had a right to sanction legislative acts; if, under Philip the Fair, the free men of the Third Estate (far from numerous in that age, as the mass of the population still were serfs) were associated to the two other orders, it follows that the kings could not make use of them as a political counterpoise without acknowledging them for citizens. The inference is that these citizens were entitled to exercise the same powers, in regard to laws and taxes, as were at first exercised only by the nobles. And when the number of those who have acquired the right of citizens becomes so great that they cannot personally attend at public deliberations, this is when representative government is born.

The different provinces stipulated for certain rights and privileges as they became united to the Crown; and the twelve provincial parlements were successively established, partly for the administration of justice, but Edition: current; Page: [100] particularly for ascertaining whether the royal edicts, which they had the right to promulgate or not, were or were not in unison with the provincial privileges, or with the fundamental laws of the kingdom. Yet their authority in this respect was very precarious. In 1484, when Louis XII, then Duke of Orléans, made a complaint to them of want of attention to the demands of the last Estates, they answered that they were men of study, whose business related not to matters of government, but to the administration of justice. They soon after, however, advanced much higher claims, and their political power was such that Charles V sent two ambassadors to the parlement of Toulouse, to ascertain if they had ratified his treaty with Francis I.7 The parlements seemed therefore to have been intended as a habitual limitation of the royal authority; and the Estates General, being superior to parlements, should be considered as a still more powerful barrier. It was customary, in the Middle Ages, to mix the judicial with the legislative power; and the double power of the English peers, as judges in some cases, and legislators in all, is a remnant of this ancient conjunction. Nothing can be more natural in an uncivilized age, than that particular decisions should be antecedent to general laws. The respectability of the judges was in these days such as to make them considered the fittest persons to mold their own decisions into general laws. St. Louis was the first, as is believed, who erected the parlement into a court of justice;8 before his time it appears to have been only a royal council; but this sovereign, enlightened by his virtues, felt the necessity of giving strength to the institutions which could serve as a guarantee of the rights of his subjects.

The Estates General had no connection with the administration of justice: we thus recognize in the monarchy of France two powers, which, though badly organized, were each of them independent of the royal authority: the Estates General and the parlements. The ruling policy of the third race of kings was to extend immunities to the towns and to the inhabitants of the country, that they might gradually bring forward the Third Estate as a counterpoise to the great lords. Philip the Fair introduced Edition: current; Page: [101] the national deputies into the Estates General as a third order; because he stood in need of money, and because he dreaded the ill-will which his character had produced, and felt the want of support, not only against the nobles, but against the pope, by whom he was then persecuted. From this time forward (in 1302), the Estates General had, in right if not in fact, equal legislative powers with the English parliament. Their decrees (ordonnances) of 1355 and 13569 were as much in the spirit of liberty as the Magna Charta of England; but there was no provision for the annual convocation of this assembly, and its separation into three orders, instead of into two chambers, gave the King much greater means of setting them in opposition to one another.

The confusion of the political authority of the parlement, which was perpetual, and of that of the Estates General, which approached more to the elective form, is conspicuous in every reign of the kings of France of the third race. During the civil wars which took place, we find the king, the Estates General, and the parlement, each bringing forward different pretensions; but whatever were the avowed or concealed attempts of preceding monarchs, no one before Louis XIV ever openly advanced the doctrine of absolute power. All the strength of the parlements lay in their privilege of registry, since no law could be promulgated or subsequently executed without their consent. Charles VI was the first king who attempted to change the lit de justice, which formerly meant nothing but the presence of the king at a parlementary sitting, into an order to register, by express command, and in spite of remonstrance. The Crown was soon after obliged to cancel the edicts which the parlement had been made to accept by force; and a counselor of Charles VI, who, after having approved of these edicts, supported the canceling of them, being asked by a member of parlement his motive for such a change, replied: “Our rule is to desire what the King desires; we are regulated by the circumstances of the time; and find, by experience, that, in all the revolutions of courts, the best way Edition: current; Page: [102] to maintain our footing is to range ourselves on the stronger side.” Really, in this respect, one could deny the perfectibility of the human species.

Henri III put a stop to the practice of inserting at the top of official edicts, “by express command,” lest the people should refuse to obey them. Henri IV, who came to the crown in 1589, declared, himself, in one of his speeches, quoted by Joly, that parlementary registration was necessary for the validation of royal edicts. The Parlement of Paris, in its remonstrances against Mazarin’s ministry, recalled the promises made by Henri IV and quoted his own words upon the subject: “The authority of kings destroys itself in endeavoring to establish itself too firmly.”

Cardinal Richelieu’s political system entirely consisted in overthrowing the power of the nobles by aid of the people; but before and even during his ministry, the magistrates of parlement always professed the most liberal maxims. Pasquier, under Henri III, said that monarchy was one of the forms of the republic; meaning, by that word, the government whose object is the welfare of the people. The celebrated magistrate Talon thus expressed himself under Louis XIII: “In former years, the orders of the king were not received or executed by the people, unless signed in the original by the grandees of the kingdom, the princes, and higher officers of the crown. This political jurisdiction has now devolved on the parlements. We enjoy this second power, which the authority of time sanctions, which subjects suffer with patience, and honor with respect.”10

Such were the principles of the parlements; they admitted, like the constitutionists of the present day, the necessity of the consent of the nation; but they declared themselves its representatives, without, however, having the power to deny that the claims of the Estates General were, in this respect, superior. The Parlement of Paris took it amiss that Charles IX should have declared himself arrived at majority at Rouen, and that Henri IV should have convened the Notables. This parlement, being the only one in which the peers of France occupied seats, could alone allege a title to political interference; yet every parlement in the kingdom made similar claims. A strange idea, that a body of judges, indebted for their Edition: current; Page: [103] office either to the king’s appointment or to the practice of purchasing their situations, should come forward and call themselves the representatives of the nation! Yet, singular as was the foundation of their claims, its practical exercise sometimes served as a check to arbitrary power.

The Parlement of Paris had, it must be confessed, all along persecuted the Protestants: horrible to say, it had even instituted an annual procession of thanks for the dreadful day of St. Bartholomew: but in this it was the instrument of party; and no sooner was fanaticism appeased, than this same parliament, composed of men of integrity and courage, often resisted the encroachments of the throne and the ministers. But of what avail was their opposition, when, after all, silence might be imposed on them by a lit de justice held by the king? In what, then, could the French constitution be said to consist? in nothing but the hereditary nature of the royal power. Undoubtedly this is a very good law, since it is conducive to the tranquillity of nations, but it is not a constitution.11

The Estates General were convened only eighteen times between 1302 and 1789: that is, during nearly five centuries. Yet with them alone rested the power of sanctioning a tax; and if all had been regular, their assembling should have taken place each time that new taxes were imposed, but the kings often disputed their power in this respect, and acted in an arbitrary manner without them. The parlements intervened in the sequel between the kings and the Estates General—not denying the unlimited power of the Crown, and yet maintaining that they were the guardians of the laws of the kingdom. But what law can there be in a country where the royal power is unlimited? The parlements made remonstrances on the edicts laid before them; the king then sent them a positive order to register these edicts, and to be silent. To have disobeyed would have been an inconsistency; since, after acknowledging the supremacy of the royal power, what were they themselves, or what could they say, without the permission of that very monarch whose power they were supposed to limit? This circle Edition: current; Page: [104] of pretended oppositions always ended in servitude, and its fatal mark has remained on the face of the nation.

France has been governed by custom, often by caprice, and never by law. There is not one reign like another in a political point of view; everything might be supported, and everything forbidden, in a country where the course of circumstances alone was decisive of what everyone called his right. Will it be alleged that some of the pays d’états maintained their treaties with the Crown? They might found a course of argument on such treaties, but the royal authority cut short all difficulties, and the remaining usages were little else than mere forms, maintained or suppressed according to the will and pleasure of ministers. Did the nobles possess privileges beyond that of exemption from taxes? Even that privilege a despotic king had it in his power to abolish. In fact, the nobles neither could nor ought to boast the possession of a single political right: for, priding themselves in acknowledging the royal authority to be unlimited, they could not complain, either of those special commissions which have sentenced to death the first lords in France, or of the imprisonment, or the exiles which they suffered.12 The king could do everything, what objection was it then possible to make to anything?

The clergy who acknowledged the power of the pope, and derived from it the power of the king, were alone entitled to make some resistance. But it was themselves who maintained the divine right on which despotism rests, well knowing that this divine right cannot be permanently supported without the priesthood. This doctrine, tracing all power from God, interdicted men from attempting its limitation. Such certainly are not the precepts of the Christian faith; but we speak at present of the language of those who wish to convert religion to their own purposes.

We thus see that the history of France is replete with attempts on the part of the nation and nobles, the one to obtain rights, the other privileges; we see in it also continual efforts of most of the kings to attain arbitrary power. A struggle, similar in many respects, is exhibited in the history of England; but as, in that country there all along existed two houses of Parliament,13 Edition: current; Page: [105] the means of resistance were better, and the demands made on the Crown were both more important in their objects and more wisely conducted than in France. The English clergy not being a separate political order, they and the peers together composed almost half of the national representation, and had always much more regard for the people than in France. The great misfortune of France, as of every country governed solely by a court, is the domineering influence of vanity. No fixed principle gains ground in the mind; all is absorbed in the pursuit of power, because power is everything in a country where the laws are nothing.

In England, the Parliament combined in itself the legislative power, which, in France, was shared between the parlements and the Estates General. The English Parliament was considered permanent, but as it had little to do in the way of the administration of justice, the kings abridged its session or postponed its meeting as much as possible. In France the conflict between the nation and the royal authority assumed another aspect: resistance to the power of ministers proceeded with more constancy and energy from those parlements which did the duty of judicial bodies, than from the Estates General. But as the privileges of French parlements were undefined, the result was, that the king was at one time kept in tutelage by them, and they, at another, were trampled underfoot by the king. Two houses, as in England, would have done much less to clog the exercise of the executive power, and much more to secure the national liberty. The Revolution of 1789 had then no other object than to give a regular form to the limitations which have, all along, existed in France.14 Montesquieu Edition: current; Page: [106] pronounced the rights of intermediate bodies the strength and freedom of a kingdom. Now what intermediate body is the most faithful representative of all the national interests? The two houses of Parliament in England; and even, were it not absurd in theory to entrust a few privileged persons, whether of the magistracy or nobles, with the exclusive discussion of the interests of a nation which has never been able to invest them legally with its powers, the recent history of France, presenting nothing but an almost unbroken succession of disputes relative to the extension of power and of arbitrary acts committed in turn by the different parties, sufficiently proves that it was high time to seek an improved form of national representation.

In regard to the right of the nation to be represented, this right has, ever since France existed, been acknowledged by the kings, the ministers, and the magistrates, who have merited the national esteem. The claim of unlimited royal power has had, undoubtedly, a number of partisans; so many personal interests are involved in that opinion! But what names stand averse to each other in this cause! Louis XI must be opposed to Henri IV; Louis XIII to Louis XII; Richelieu to De l’Hôpital; Cardinal Dubois to M. de Malesherbes; and, if we were to quote all the names preserved in history, we might assert at a venture that, with few exceptions, wherever we meet with an upright heart or an enlightened mind, no matter in what rank of society, we shall there find a friend to liberty; while unlimited power has hardly ever been defended by a man of genius, and still less by a man of virtue.

The Maximes du Droit public François,15 published in 1775 by a magistrate of the Parlement of Paris, are perfectly accordant with those of the Constituent Assembly on the expediency of balancing the different powers Edition: current; Page: [107] of the state, on the necessity of obtaining the consent of the people to taxes, on their participation in legislative acts, and on the responsibility of ministers. In every page the author recalls the existing contract between the king and the people, and his reasonings are founded on historical facts.

Other respectable members of the French magistracy maintain that there once were constitutional laws in France, but that they had fallen into disuse. Some say that they have ceased to be in vigor since the time of Richelieu, others since Charles V, others since Philip the Fair, while a last party go as far back as Charlemagne. It was assuredly of little importance that such laws had ever existed, if they had been consigned to oblivion for so many ages. But it is easy to close this discussion. If there are fundamental laws, if it be true that they contain all the rights secured to the English nation, the friends of liberty will then be agreed with the partisans of the ancient order of things; and yet the treaty seems to me still a matter of difficult arrangement.

M. de Calonne, who had declared himself averse to the Revolution, published a book to show that France had no constitution.16 M. de Monthion, chancellor to the Comte d’Artois, published a reply to M. de Calonne and entitled his work A Report to His Majesty Louis XVIII in 1796.

He begins by declaring that if there were no constitution in France, the Revolution was justified, as every people possess a right to a political constitution. This assertion was somewhat hazardous, considering his opinions; but he goes on to affirm, that by the constitutional statutes of France, the King did not have the right of making laws without the consent of the Estates General; that Frenchmen could not be brought to trial but before their natural judges; that every extraordinary tribunal was contrary to law; that, in short, all lettres de cachet, all banishments, and all imprisonments founded merely on the King’s authority were illegal. He added that all Frenchmen had a right to be admitted to public employments, that the military profession conferred the rank of gentleman on all who followed it; that the forty thousand municipalities of the kingdom had the right of Edition: current; Page: [108] being governed by administrators of their choice, with whom rested the assessment of the taxes imposed; that the King could order nothing without his council, which implied the responsibility of ministers; that there existed a material distinction between the royal ordinances (ordonnances) or laws of the King and the fundamental laws of the state; that the judges were not pledged to obey the King’s orders if at variance with the latter; and that the military force could not be employed in the interior, except to put down insurrection or in fulfillment of the mandates of justice. He added that the assembling at stated periods of the Estates General forms part of the French constitution, and concluded by saying, in the presence of Louis XVIII, that the English constitution is the most perfect in the world.

Had all the adherents of the old government professed such principles, the Revolution would have been without apology, since it would have been unnecessary. But the same writer has inserted in his work, in a solemn address to the King, the following sketch of the abuses existing in France before the Revolution.*

The most essential right of citizenship, the right of voting on the laws and taxes, had, in a manner, become obsolete; and the Crown was in the habit of issuing, on its sole authority, those orders in which it ought to have had the concurrence of the national representatives.

The right in question, though belonging essentially to the nation, seemed transferred to the parlements; and the freedom even of their suffrages had been encroached on by arbitrary imprisonments and lits de justice.

It frequently happened that the laws, regulations, and general decisions of the King, which ought to have been deliberated in council, and which made mention of the concurrence of the council, had never been laid before that body: and in several departments of business this official falsehood had become habitual. Several clerical dignitaries infringed the laws, both in letter and spirit, by holding a plurality of livings, by non-residence, and by the use that they made of the property of the church. A part of the nobles had received their titles in a manner unbecoming the Edition: current; Page: [109] institution; and the services due by the body had not for a length of time been required.

The exemption of the two first orders from taxes was sanctioned by the constitution, but was certainly not the proper kind of return for the services of these orders.

Special commissions in criminal cases, composed of judges chosen in an arbitrary manner, certainly might alarm the innocent.

Those unauthorized acts which deprived individuals of liberty, without a charge and without a trial, were so many infractions on the security of the rights of citizens. The courts of justice, whose stability was all the more important as, in the absence of a national representation, they constituted the only defense of the nation, had been suppressed and replaced by bodies of magistrates who did not possess the confidence of the people: and, since their re-establishment, innovations had been attempted on the most essential points of their jurisdiction.

But it was in matters of finance that the law had been most glaringly violated. Taxes had been imposed without the consent of the nation, or of its representatives.

They had also been collected after the expiration of the time fixed by government for their duration.

Taxes, at first of small amount, had been carried by degrees to an irregular and prodigious height; a part of the taxes pressed more on the indigent than the rich.

The public burdens were assessed on the different provinces without any correct idea of the relative means of each. There was reason sometimes to suspect that deductions had been made in consequence of the resistance opposed to them; so that the want of patriotism had proved a cause of favorable treatment.

Some provinces had succeeded in obtaining tax settlements,17 and, bargains of this kind being always in favor of the provinces, it was an indulgence to one part of the kingdom at the expense of the rest.

The sums stipulated in these tax settlements remained always the same, while the other provinces were subject to official inquiries which annually increased the tax: this was another source of inequality.

Edition: current; Page: [110]

Another abuse consisted in assessing by officers of the Crown, or even by their commissioners, taxes of which the assessment should have been left to persons chosen from among those who were to pay them.

Of some taxes the kings had made themselves judges in their council: commissions were to be established to decide on fiscal questions, the cognizance of which belonged properly to the courts of justice. The public debt which bore so hard on the nation had been contracted without its consent; the loans, to which the parlements had given an assent which they had no right to give, had been exceeded by means of endless irregularities, which were so many acts of treachery at once to the courts of justice, whose sanctions were thus illusory; to the public creditors, who had competitors of whose existence they were ignorant; and to the nation, whose burdens were increased without its knowledge. The public expenditure was in no respect fixed by law.

The funds meant to cover the personal expenses of the king, the funds intended for the payment of the public dividends, and the expenses of government were distinguished only by a particular and secret act of the king’s will.

The personal expenses of our kings had been carried to an enormous amount; the provisions made for guaranteeing some portions of the public debt had been eluded; the king might quicken or delay, as he thought proper, the payments in various parts of the expenditure.

In the pay of the army the sum appropriated to the officers was almost as great as that appropriated to the soldiers.

The salaries of almost all government officers, of whatever description, were too high, particularly for a country where honor ought to be the principal, if not sole reward of services rendered to the state.

The pension list had been carried to a much higher amount than that of other countries in Europe, keeping in view the relative amount of revenue.

Such were the points on which the nation had just ground of complaint, and if we are to censure government for the existence of these abuses, we are likewise to censure the constitution which made their existence possible.

If such was the situation of France, and we can hardly refuse the evidence of a chancellor of the Comte d’Artois, especially when laid officially before the King; if, then, such was the situation of France, even in the Edition: current; Page: [111] opinion of those who asserted that she possessed a constitution, who can deny that a change was necessary, either to give a free course to a constitution hitherto perpetually infringed; or to introduce those guarantees which might give the laws of the state the means of being maintained and obeyed?18

Edition: current; Page: [112]

CHAPTER XII: On the Recall of M. Necker in 1788.

Had M. Necker, when he was minister, proposed to convene the Estates General, he might have been accused of a dereliction of duty, since, with a certain party, it is a settled point that the absolute power of kings is sacred. But at the time when the public opinion obliged the Court to dismiss the Archbishop of Sens, and to recall M. Necker, the Estates General had been solemnly promised:1 the nobles, the clergy, and the parlement had solicited this promise; the nation had received it; and such was the weight of universal opinion on this point, that no force, either civil or military, would have come forward to oppose it. I consign this assertion to history; if it lessens the merit of M. Necker by showing that he was not the cause of convening the Estates General, it places in the proper quarter the responsibility for the events of the Revolution. Would it have been possible for such a man as M. Necker to propose to a virtuous sovereign, to Louis XVI, to retract his word? And of what use would have been a minister whose strength lay in his popularity, if the first act of that minister had been to advise the King to fail in the engagements that he had made with the people?

That aristocratical body which finds it so much easier to cast calumny on a man than to confess the share that it bore itself in the general ferment, that very aristocracy, I say, would have been the first to feel indignant at the perfidy of the minister: he could not have derived any political advantage from the degradation to which he would have consented. When a measure, therefore, is neither moral nor useful, what madman, or what pretended sage, would come forward to advise it?

Edition: current; Page: [113]

M. Necker, at the time when public opinion brought him back to the ministry, was more alarmed than gratified by his appointment. He had bitterly regretted going out of office in 1781, as he thought himself sure at that time of doing a great deal of good. On hearing of the death of M. de Maurepas, he reproached himself with having, six months before, given in his resignation, and I have always present to my recollection his long walks at St. Ouen, in which he often repeated that he tormented himself with his reflections and with his scruples. Every conversation that revived the recollection of his ministry, every encomium on that subject, gave him pain. During the seven years which elapsed between his first and second ministry, he was in a state of perpetual chagrin at the overthrow of his plans for improving the situation of France. At the time when the Archbishop of Sens was called to office, he still regretted his not being appointed; but in 1788, when I came to apprise him, at St. Ouen, of his approaching nomination, he said to me, “Ah! why did they not give me those fifteen months of the Archbishop of Sens? Now it is too late.”

M. Necker had just published his work upon the importance of religious opinions.2 His rule throughout life was to attack a party when in all its strength; his pride led him to that course. It was the first time that a writer, sufficiently enlightened to bear the name of a philosopher, came forward to mark the danger arising from the irreligious spirit of the eighteenth century; and this work had filled its author’s mind with thoughts of a much higher nature than can be produced by temporal interests, even of the highest kind. Accordingly he obeyed the King’s orders with a feeling of regret, which I was certainly far from sharing: on observing my delight, he said, “The daughter of a minister feels nothing but pleasure; she enjoys the reflection of her father’s power; but power itself, particularly at this crisis, is a tremendous responsibility.” He judged but too well—in the vivacity of early youth, talent, if it be possessed, may enable the individual to speak like one of riper years; but the imagination is not a single day older than ourselves.

In crossing the Bois de Boulogne at night to repair to Versailles, I was in great terror of being attacked by robbers; for it appeared to me that the Edition: current; Page: [114] happiness which I felt at my father’s elevation was too great not to be counterpoised by some dreadful accident. No robbers came to attack me, but the future but too fully justified my fears.

I waited on the Queen according to custom on the day of St. Louis: the niece of the Archbishop of Sens, who had that morning been dismissed from office, was also at the levee; and the Queen showed clearly, by her manner of receiving the two, that she felt a much stronger predilection for the removed minister than for his successor. The courtiers acted differently; for never did so many persons offer to conduct me to my carriage. Certainly, the disposition of the Queen proved, at that time, one of the great obstacles that M. Necker encountered in his political career; she had patronized him during his first ministry, but in the second, in spite of all his efforts to please her, she always considered him as appointed by public opinion; and in arbitrary governments, sovereigns are, unfortunately, in the habit of considering public opinion as their enemy.

M. Necker, on entering on office, found only two hundred and fifty thousand francs in the public treasury; but the next day the bankers brought him considerable sums. The stocks rose thirty percent in one morning; such an effect on public credit, resulting from confidence in a single man, is wholly without example in history.3 M. Necker obtained the recall of all the exiles, and the deliverance of all persons imprisoned for matters of opinion; among others, of the twelve gentlemen from Brittany, whom I have already mentioned. In short, he did all the good, in regard to individuals and matters of detail, which could be effected by a minister; but by this time the importance of the public had increased, and that of men in office was in consequence proportionally lessened.

Edition: current; Page: [115]

CHAPTER XIII: Conduct of the Last Estates General, Held at Paris in 1614.

The aristocratical party, in 1789, were perpetually demanding the adoption of ancient usages. The obscurity of time is very favorable to those who are not disposed to enter on a discussion of truth on its own merits. They called out incessantly, “Give us 1614, and our last Estates General; these are our masters, these are our models.”

I shall not stop to show that the Estates General held at Blois in 1576 were almost as different, in point both of composition and form of proceeding, from the Paris assembly of 1614, as from their predecessors under King John and Louis XII. No meeting of the three orders having been founded on clear principles, none had led to permanent results. It may, however, be interesting to recall some of the principal characteristics of the last Estates General, brought forward, as they were, after a lapse of nearly two centuries, as a guide to the assembly of 1789. The Third Estate proposed to declare that no power, spiritual or temporal, had a right to release the king’s subjects from their allegiance to him. The clergy, through the medium of Cardinal du Perron, opposed this,1 making a reservation of the rights of the Pope; the nobles followed the example, and received, as well as the clergy, the warm and public thanks of His Holiness. Those who speak of a compact between the nation and the Crown are liable, even in our days, to be considered Jacobins; but in those times, the Edition: current; Page: [116] argument was, that the royal authority was dependent on the head of the church.

The Edict of Nantes had been promulgated in 1598, and the blood of Henri IV, shed by the adherents of the League, had hardly ceased to flow when the Protestants among the nobles and Third Estate demanded, in 1614, in the declaration relative to religion, a confirmation of the articles in the edict of Henri, which established the toleration of their form of religion; but this request was rejected.

M. de Mesme, lieutenant civil, addressing the nobles on the part of the Third Estate, declared that the three orders ought to consider themselves as three brothers, of whom the Third Estate was the youngest. Baron de Senneci answered in the name of the nobles that the Third Estate had no title to this fraternity, being neither of the same blood nor of equal virtue.2 The clergy required permission to collect tithes in all kinds of fruit and corn, and an exemption from the excise duties paid on articles brought into the towns, as well as from contributing to the expense of the roads; they also required further restraints on the liberty of the press. The nobles demanded that the principal offices of state should be bestowed on men of family only, and that the commoners (roturiers) should be forbidden the use of arquebuses, pistols, and even of dogs, unless houghed, to prevent their being employed in the chase. They required, also, that the commoners should pay further seignorial duties to the proprietors of fiefs; that all pensions granted to the Third Estate should be suppressed, while their own body should be exempt from personal arrest and from all taxes on the product of their lands. They asked, further, a right to receive salt from the king’s granaries at the same price as the merchants; and, finally, that the Third Estate should be obliged to wear a different dress from that of persons of family.

I abridge this extract from the Minutes of the Assembly of 1614, and could point out a number of other ridiculous things, were not our attention wholly required by those that are revolting. It is, however, quite enough to prove that the separation of the three orders served only to give Edition: current; Page: [117] occasion to the constant demands of the nobles to escape taxes, to secure new privileges, and to subject the Third Estate to all the humiliations that arrogance can invent. A claim of exemption from taxes was made in like manner by the clergy, and accompanied with all the vexatious demands of intolerance. As to the public welfare, it seemed to affect only the Third Estate, since the weight of taxation fell totally upon them. Such was the spirit of that assembly, which it was proposed to revive in the Estates General of 1789; and M. Necker is to this day censured for having desired to introduce modifications into such a course of proceeding.3

Edition: current; Page: [118]

CHAPTER XIV: The Division of the Estates General into Orders.

The Estates General of France were, as I have just mentioned, divided into three orders—the clergy, the nobility, and the Third Estate—and accustomed to deliberate separately, like three distinct nations: each presented its grievances to the King, and each confined itself to its particular interests, which had, according to circumstances, more or less connection with the interests of the public at large. In point of numbers, the Third Estate comprised almost the whole nation, the two other orders forming scarcely a hundredth part of it. Having gained greatly in relative importance in the course of the last two centuries, the Third Estate demanded, in 1789, that the mercantile body, or the towns, without reference to the country, should have enough deputies to render the number of the representatives of their body equal to that of the two other orders together; and this demand was supported by motives and circumstances of the greatest weight.

The chief cause of the liberty of England has been the uniform practice of deliberating in two chambers instead of three. In no country where the three orders have remained separate has a free form of government as yet been established. The division into four orders, as is at present the case in Sweden, and was formerly in Aragon, is productive of delay in public business; but it is much more favorable to liberty.1 The order of peasants in Sweden, and in Aragon the equestrian order, gave two equal shares to the representatives of the nation, and to the privileged classes of the first Edition: current; Page: [119] rank; for the equestrian order, which may be compared to the House of Commons in England, naturally supported the interests of the people. The result, therefore, of the division into four orders was that in these two countries, Sweden and Aragon, liberal principles were early introduced and long maintained. Sweden has still to desire that her constitution be assimilated to that of England; but we cannot fail to respect that feeling of justice which, from the earliest time, admitted the order of peasants into the Diet. The peasantry of Sweden are accordingly enlightened, happy, and religious, because they have enjoyed that sentiment of tranquillity and dignity which can arise only from free institutions. In Germany the clergy have had seats in the upper house, but without constituting a separate order, and the natural division into two chambers has been always maintained. Three orders have existed only in France and in a few states, such as Sicily, which did not form a separate monarchy. This unfortunate division, having had the effect of giving always a majority to the privileged classes against the nation, has often induced the French people to prefer arbitrary power in the Crown to that dependence on the aristocratic orders, in which they were placed by such division in three orders.

Another inconvenience in France arose from the number of gentry of the second order, ennobled but yesterday, either by the letters of noblesse granted by the kings, as a sequel to the enfranchisement of the Gauls, or by purchased offices, such as that of secretary to the King, &c. which had the effect of associating new individuals to the rights and privileges of the old nobility. The nation would have willingly submitted to the pre-eminence of the families whose names are distinguished in history, and who, I can affirm, without exaggeration, do not in France exceed two hundred. But the hundred thousand nobles, and the hundred thousand clergy, who laid their claim for privileges equal to those of MM. de Montmorency, de Grammont, de Crillon, &c., created general discontent; for merchants, capitalists, and men of letters were at a loss to understand the superiority granted to a title acquired by money or obsequiousness, and to which a term of twenty-five years was deemed sufficient to give admittance to the chamber of nobles, and to privileges of which the most respected members of the Third Estate were deprived.

The House of Peers in England is an assemblage of patrician magistrates, Edition: current; Page: [120] indebted for its origin, no doubt, to the ancient recollections of chivalry; but entirely associated with institutions of a very different nature. Admission into it is daily obtained by eminence, sometimes in commerce, but particularly in the law; while the duty of national representatives, discharged by the peers in the state, affords the nation an assurance of the utility of the institution. But what advantage could the French derive from those Viscounts of the Garonne, or those Marquisses of the Loire, who not only did not pay their proportion of taxes to the state, but could not even be received at court, since for that purpose a proof of nobility for more than four centuries was necessary, and most of them could go hardly fifty years back? The vanity of this class of people could be displayed only on their inferiors, and these inferiors were twenty-four million in number.

It may be conducive to the dignity of an established church that there be archbishops and bishops in the Upper House, as in England. But what improvement could be ever accomplished in a country where the Catholic clergy composed a third of the representation and had an equal voice with the nation itself, even in legislative measures? Was it likely that this clergy would give its consent to religious toleration, or to the admission of Protestants to public offices? Did it not obstinately refuse the equalization of taxes, that it might keep up the form of free gifts, which increased its importance with government? When Philip the Tall2 dismissed churchmen from the Parlement of Paris, he said “that they ought to be too much occupied with spiritual matters to have time for temporal ones.” Why have they not all along submitted to this wise maxim?

Never was there any thing decisive done by the Estates General, merely from their unfortunate division into three instead of two orders. The Chancellor de l’Hôpital could not obtain his edict of peace, even temporarily, except from a convocation at St. Germains, in 1562, in which, by a rare accident, the clergy were not present.

The Assemblies of Notables, called together by the kings, almost all Edition: current; Page: [121] decided by individual votes; and the parliament, which in 1558 had at first consented to form a fourth and separate order, required in 1626 to vote individually in an Assembly of Notables, that they might not be distinguished from the nobility.3 The endless fluctuations exhibited in all the usages of France are more conspicuous in the composition of the Estates General than in any other political institution. Were we to insist obstinately on the past, as forming an immutable law for the present, we should be immersed in endless disputes, and should find that the past, which is brought forward as our guide, was itself founded on an alteration of an earlier “past.” Let us return then to matters that are less equivocal; the events of which we have been eyewitnesses.

The Archbishop of Sens, acting in the King’s name, invited the eminent writers of the day to publish their opinion on the mode of convening the Estates General. Had there existed constitutional laws decisive of the question, would the minister of the Crown have consulted the nation in this respect, through the medium of the press? The Archbishop of Sens, in establishing provincial assemblies, had not only rendered in them the number of deputies of the Third Estate equal to that of the two other orders collectively, but he had determined in the King’s name, that the voting should take place individually. The public mind was thus strongly prepared, both by the measures of the Archbishop of Sens and by the strength of the Third Estate itself, to obtain for the latter, in 1789, a larger share of influence than in antecedent assemblies of the Estates General. There was no law to fix the number of the three orders; the only established principle was that each order should have one voice. Had not a legal provision been made for a double representation of the Third Estate, it was undoubted that the nation, irritated at the refusal of its demand, would have sent a still greater number of deputies to the Estates General. Thus, all those symptoms of a political crisis, of which it is the part of a statesman to take cognizance, indicated the necessity of giving way to the spirit of the age.

Edition: current; Page: [122]

Yet M. Necker did not take on himself to follow the course, which, in his own judgment, would have been the best; and confiding, it must be admitted, too much in the power of reason, he advised the King to assemble once more the Notables already convoked by M. de Calonne. The majority of these Notables, consisting of the privileged classes, were adverse to doubling the representatives of the Third Estate. One division only of the Assembly gave an affirmative opinion, and that division was under the presidency of Monsieur (now Louis XVIII). It is gratifying to think that a king, the first author of a constitutional charter proceeding from the throne,4 was at that time in unison with the people on the important question which the aristocrats still seek to represent as the cause of the overthrow of the monarchy.

M. Necker has been blamed for consulting the Notables without following their opinion—his fault lay in consulting them at all; but could anyone imagine that those privileged members of that Assembly, which had lately shown itself so adverse to the abuse of royal authority, should so soon defend the unjust claims of their own, with a pertinacity so much at variance with the opinion of the nation?

Yet M. Necker suspended the decision of the question of doubling the Third Estate as soon as he saw that a majority of the Notables differed from him; and there elapsed more than two months between the close of their Assembly and the decision of the council on 27th December, 1788. During this interval, M. Necker studied constantly the public feeling as the compass which, on this point, ought to guide the decisions of the King. The unanimity of the provinces was positive in regard to the necessity of granting the demands of the Third Estate, for the party of the unmixed aristocrats (aristocrats purs) was, as it had ever been, far from numerous; many of the nobles and clergy of the class of curés had gone over to the public opinion. The province of Dauphiny assembled, at Romans, its ancient states, whose meetings had long been discontinued, and admitted there not only the doubling of the deputies of the Third Estate, but the voting individually. A number of officers of the army discovered a disposition Edition: current; Page: [123] to favor the popular wish. All, whether men or women, who in the higher circles exercised influence on the public opinion, spoke warmly in favor of the national cause. Such was the prevailing fashion; it was the result of the whole of the eighteenth century; and the old prejudices, which still favored antiquated institutions, had at that time much less strength than at any other period during the twenty-five years that ensued. In short, the ascendancy of the popular wish was so great that it carried along with it the parliament itself. No body ever showed itself more ardent in the defense of ancient usages than the Parlement of Paris; every new institution seemed to it an act of rebellion, because, in fact, its own existence could not be founded on the principles of political liberty. Offices that were purchased by the occupants, a judicial body pretending to a right to pass bills for taxes, yet renouncing that right at the command of the King; all these contradictions, which could only be the result of chance, were ill calculated to bear discussion; consequently, they appeared singularly suspicious in the French magistracy. All requisitions against the liberty of the press proceeded from the Parlement of Paris; and if they opposed a limit to the active exercise of the royal authority, they, on the other hand, encouraged that kind of ignorance, which is of all things most favorable to absolute power. A body so strongly attached to ancient usages, and yet composed of men entitled by their virtues in private life to much esteem, decided the question naturally enough, by declaring that, as the number of the deputies of each order was not fixed by any usage or any law, it remained to be regulated by the wisdom of the King. This took place in the beginning of December, 1788, two months after the Assembly of the Notables.*

Edition: current; Page: [124]

What! could the body that was considered as the representative of the past, yielding to the opinion of the day, relinquish indirectly on this occasion Edition: current; Page: [125] the maintenance of ancient customs!5 and could the minister, whose whole strength lay in his respect for the nation, have taken on himself to refuse that nation what in his conscience he thought equitable; what in his judgment he deemed necessary!

But this is not all. At that time the adversaries of the King’s authority were the privileged orders, while the Third Estate were desirous of rallying round the Crown; and had not the King withdrawn himself from the representatives of the Third Estate after the opening of the Estates General, there is not a doubt that they would have supported his prerogative. When a sovereign adopts a system in politics, he ought to follow it with constancy, for changes bring on him the disadvantages of all the opposing parties. “A great revolution,” said Monsieur (Louis XVIII) to the municipality of Paris, in 1789, “is at hand; the King, by his views, his virtues, and his supreme rank, ought to be at its head.” All that wisdom could suggest on the occasion is contained in these words.

M. Necker, in the report accompanying the result of the council of 27th December, announced in the King’s name, that his Majesty would grant the suppression of the lettres de cachet, the liberty of the press, and the re-assembling of the Estates General at stated periods for the revision of the finances.6 He endeavored to snatch from the future deputies the good they were desirous of doing, that he might engross the affection of the people for the King. And no resolution, that ever proceeded from a throne, was productive of such enthusiasm as the result of the council. Addresses of congratulation arrived from all parts of the kingdom; and among the numberless letters received by M. Necker, two of the most remarkable were those from the Abbé, afterward Cardinal, Maury, and from M. de Lamoignon. The royal authority had at that time more power over the public mind than ever; the nation admired that strength of reason, and that candor, Edition: current; Page: [126] which made the King anticipate the reforms demanded by it; while the Archbishop of Sens had placed him in the most precarious situation by advising him to refuse today what he was obliged to grant tomorrow.

To profit, however, by this popular enthusiasm, it was necessary to proceed firmly in the same road. But six months after, the King followed a perfectly opposite plan; why, then, should M. Necker be accused of events which resulted from the rejection of his opinion and the adoption of that of the opposite party? When an unskillful commander loses a campaign victoriously begun by another, is it ever said that the victor of the early part is answerable for the defeat of a successor, whose manner of seeing and acting is entirely different? Some, however, will ask, was not the voting individually, instead of by orders, the natural result of doubling the representatives of the Third Estate; and have we not seen the consequence of the union of the three orders in one assembly? The natural consequence of the doubling of the Third Estate would have been deliberating in two chambers; and far from fearing such a result, it ought to have been desired. Why, then, will M. Necker’s adversaries say, did not he make the King express a resolution on this point at the time that the royal consent was given to doubling the deputies? He did not do it because he thought that a change of such a nature ought to be concerted with the representatives of the nation; but he proposed it as soon as these representatives were assembled. Unfortunately, the aristocratic party opposed it, and ruined France in ruining themselves.

A scarcity of corn, such as had not for a long time been felt in France, threatened Paris with famine in the winter of 1788, 1789. The infinite exertions of M. Necker, and the deposit of his own fortune, the half of which he had placed in the treasury, were the means of preventing incalculable calamities. Nothing excites so strong a disposition to discontent among the people as a dread of scarcity; yet, such was their confidence in the administration, that no tumult whatever occurred.

The Estates General bade fair to meet under favorable auspices; the privileged orders could not, from their situation, abandon the throne, although they had shaken it; the deputies of the Third Estate were grateful for the attention shown to their demands. There still remained, it is true, very serious subjects of contention between the nation and the privileged Edition: current; Page: [127] classes; but the King was so placed as to act the part of arbiter, by reducing his own power to a limited monarchy: if indeed the name of reduction can be given to the erection of barriers, which defend you from your own errors, and still more from those of your ministers. A monarchy wisely limited may be compared to an honest man, in whose soul conscience always presides over conduct.

The act of the council of 27th December was adopted by the ablest ministers of the Crown, such as MM. de St. Priest, de Montmorin, and de la Luzerne; the Queen herself thought proper to be present at the debate on doubling the members of the Third Estate. It was the first time that she appeared at council; and the approbation given spontaneously by her to the measure proposed by M. Necker might be considered in the light of an additional sanction; but M. Necker, acting in fulfillment of his duty, necessarily took the responsibility on himself. The whole nation, with the exception of perhaps a few thousand individuals, were at that time of his opinion; since then, none but the friends of justice and of political liberty, such as it was understood on the opening of the Estates General, have remained consistent during twenty-five years of vicissitude. They are few in number, and death thins them daily; but death alone has the power of diminishing this faithful army; for neither corruption nor terror would be able to detach the most obscure combatant from its ranks.

Edition: current; Page: [128]

CHAPTER XV: What Was the Public Feeling of Europe at the Time of Convening the Estates General?

Philosophic views, that is, the appreciation of things from reason, and not from habit, had made so much progress in Europe that the possessors of privileges, whether kings, nobles, or clergy, were the first to confess the unfairness of the advantages they enjoyed. They wished to preserve them, but they laid claim to the honor of being indifferent about them; and the more dexterous among them flattered themselves that they could lull the public opinion so as to prevent its contesting the retention of that which they had the appearance of disdaining.

The Empress Catherine professed to follow Voltaire; Frederic II was almost his rival in literature; Joseph II was the most decided philosopher in his dominions; the King of France had twice taken, in America and in Holland, the part of the subjects against their prince;1 his policy had led him to support the one against their king, the other against their Stadtholder. In England the state of feeling, on all political principles, was quite in harmony with the constitution; and, before the French Revolution, there was certainly a stronger spirit of liberty in England than at present.

M. Necker was then perfectly right when he said, in the act of council of 27th December (1788), that the voice of Europe invited the King to consent to the wishes of the nation. The English constitution, which it then desired, it again calls for at the present day.2 Let us examine, with impartiality, what are the storms which drove her from that haven, in which alone she can find a secure retreat.

Edition: current; Page: [129]

CHAPTER XVI: Opening of the Estates General on the 5th of May, 1789.

I shall never forget the hour that I saw the twelve hundred deputies of France1 pass in procession to church to hear mass, the day before the opening of the assembly. It was a very imposing sight, and very new to the French; all the inhabitants of Versailles, and many persons attracted by curiosity from Paris, collected to see it. This new kind of authority in the state, of which neither the nature nor the strength was as yet known, astonished the greater part of those who had not reflected on the rights of nations.

The higher clergy had lost a portion of its influence with the public, because a number of prelates had been irregular in their moral conduct, and a still greater number employed themselves only in political affairs. The people are strict in regard to the clergy, as in regard to women; they require from both a close observance of their duties. Military fame, which is the foundation of reputation to the nobility, as piety is to the clergy, could now only appear in the past. A long peace had deprived those noblemen who would have most desired it of the opportunity of rivaling their ancestors; and all the great lords of France were now illustrious obscures. The nobility of the second rank had been equally deprived of opportunities of distinction, as the nature of the government left no opening to nobles but the military profession. The nobles of recent origin were seen in great numbers in the ranks of the aristocracy; but the plume and sword did not become them; and people asked why they took their station with the first class in the country, merely because they had obtained an Edition: current; Page: [130] exemption from their share of the taxes; for in fact their political rights were confined to this unjust privilege.

The nobility having fallen from its splendor by its courtier habits, by its intermixture with those of recent creation, and by a long peace; the clergy possessing no longer that superiority of information which had marked it in days of barbarism, the importance of the deputies of the Third Estate had augmented from all these considerations. Their black cloaks and dresses, imposing numbers, and confident looks fixed the attention of the spectators. Literary men, merchants, and a great number of lawyers formed the chief part of this order.2 Some of the nobles had got themselves elected deputies of the Third Estate, and of these the most conspicuous was the Comte de Mirabeau.3 The opinion entertained of his talents was remarkably increased by the dread excited by his immorality; yet it was that very immorality that lessened the influence which his surprising abilities ought to have obtained for him. The eye that was once fixed on his countenance was not likely to be soon withdrawn: his immense head of hair distinguished him from amongst the rest, and suggested the idea that, like Samson, his strength depended on it; his countenance derived expression even from its ugliness; and his whole person conveyed the idea of irregular power, but still such power as we should expect to find in a tribune of the people.

His name was as yet the only celebrated one among the six hundred deputies of the Third Estate; but there were a number of honorable men, and not a few that were to be dreaded. The spirit of faction began to hover over France, and was not to be overcome but by wisdom or power. If therefore public opinion had by this time undermined power, what was to be accomplished without wisdom?

Edition: current; Page: [131]

I was placed at a window near Madame de Montmorin, the wife of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and I confess I gave myself up to the liveliest hope on seeing national representatives for the first time in France. Madame de Montmorin, a woman nowise distinguished for capacity, said to me, in a decided tone and in a way which made an impression upon me, “You do wrong to rejoice; this will be the source of great misfortunes to France and to us.” This unfortunate woman perished on the scaffold along with one of her sons; another son drowned himself; her husband was massacred on the 2d of September;4 her eldest daughter died in the hospital of a prison; and her youngest daughter, Madame de Beaumont, an intelligent and generous creature, sank under the pressure of grief before the age of thirty.5 The family of Niobe was not doomed to a more cruel fate than that of this unhappy mother; one would have said that she had a presentiment of it.

The opening of the Estates General took place the next day; a large hall had been hastily erected in the avenue of Versailles to receive the deputies.6 A number of spectators were admitted to witness the ceremony. A platform floor was raised to receive the King’s throne, the Queen’s chair of state, and seats for the rest of the royal family.

The Chancellor, M. de Barentin, took his seat on the stage of this species of theater; the three orders were, if I may so express myself, in the pit, the clergy and nobility to the right and left, the deputies of the Third Estate in front. They had previously declared that they would not kneel on the entrance of the King, according to an ancient usage still practiced on the last meeting of the Estates General. Had the deputies of the Third Estate put themselves on their knees in 1789, the public at large, not excepting the proudest aristocrats, would have termed the action ridiculous, that is, wholly inconsistent with the opinions of the age.

When Mirabeau appeared, a low murmur was heard throughout the assembly. He understood its meaning; but stepping along the hall to his Edition: current; Page: [132] seat with a lofty air, he seemed as if he were preparing to produce sufficient trouble in the country to confound the distinctions of esteem as well as all others. M. Necker was received with bursts of applause the moment he entered; his popularity was then at its height; and the King might have derived the greatest advantage from it, by remaining steadfast in the system of which he had adopted the fundamental principles.

When the King came to seat himself on his throne in the midst of this assembly, I felt, for the first time, a sensation of fear. I observed that the Queen was much agitated; she came after the appointed time, and her color was visibly altered. The King delivered his discourse in his usual unaffected manner; but the looks of the deputies were expressive of more energy than that of the monarch, and this contrast was disquieting at a time when, nothing being as yet settled, strength was requisite to both sides.

The speeches of the King, the Chancellor, and M. Necker all pointed to the reinstatement of the finances. That of M. Necker contained a view of all the improvements of which the administration was capable; but he hardly touched on constitutional questions; and confining himself to cautioning the Assembly against the precipitation of which it was too susceptible, he made use of a phrase which has since passed into a proverb, “Ne soyez pas envieux du temps”—“do not expect to do at once that which can be accomplished only by time.” On the rising of the Assembly, the popular party, that is, the majority of the Third Estate, a minority of the nobility, and several members of the clergy, complained that M. Necker had treated the Estates General like a provincial administration, in speaking to them only of measures for securing the public debt and improving the system of taxation. The grand object of their assembling was, doubtless, to form a constitution; but could they expect that the King’s minister should be the first to enter on questions which it belonged to the representatives of the nation to introduce?

On the other hand, the aristocratic party, having seen from M. Necker’s speech that in the course of eight months he had sufficiently reinstated the finances to be able to go on without new taxes, began to blame the minister for having convened the Estates General, since there was no imperious call for them on the score of money. They no doubt forgot that Edition: current; Page: [133] the promise of convening them had been given by the Crown before the recall of M. Necker. In this, as in almost every other point, he observed a medium; for he would not go the length of saying to the representatives of the people, “Employ yourselves only on a constitution”; and still less would he consent to relapse into the arbitrary system, by contenting himself with momentary resources, that would neither have given a stable assurance to the public creditors, nor have satisfied the people in regard to the appropriation of its sacrifices.7

Edition: current; Page: [134]

CHAPTER XVII: Of the Resistance of the Privileged Orders to the Demands of the Third Estate in 1789.

M. de la Luzerne, Bishop of Langres, one of the soundest minds in France, wrote, on the opening of the Estates General, a pamphlet to propose that the three orders should form themselves into two chambers, the higher clergy uniting with the Peers, and the lower with the Commons.1 The Marquiss of Montesquiou, afterward a general, made a motion to this effect in the Chamber of the nobility, but in vain. In short, all enlightened men felt the necessity of putting an end to this manner of deliberating in three bodies, each of which could impose a veto upon the other; for, to say nothing of its injustice, it rendered the public business interminable.

In social, as in natural order, there are certain principles from which we cannot depart without creating confusion. The three powers, monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, are in the essence of things; they exist in all governments, as action, preservation, and renewal exist in the course of nature.2 If you introduce into the political organization a fourth power, the clergy, who are all or nothing, according as they are considered, you can no longer establish definite reasoning on the laws necessary for the Edition: current; Page: [135] public welfare, because you are embarrassed by secret authorities, where you ought to admit no guidance but the public interest.

France, at the time the Estates General were assembled, was threatened by two great dangers, financial bankruptcy and famine; and both required speedy relief. How would it have been possible to adopt expeditious measures while each order had its veto? The two first would not consent to an unconditional equality of taxes, while the nation at large demanded that this measure should be employed, before any other, for the re-establishment of the finances. The privileged classes had indeed said that they would accede to this equality, but they had taken no formal resolution to that effect; and they had still the power of deciding on what concerned them, according to the ancient plan of deliberating. The mass of the nation had thus no decisive influence, although it bore the great proportion of the burdens. This made the deputies of the Third Estate insist on voting individually, while the nobility and clergy argued for voting by the order.3 The dispute on this point began from the moment that the powers were verified; and from that moment also, M. Necker proposed a plan of reconciliation which, though very favorable to the higher orders, might have been accepted by the Third Estate, as the question was still under negotiation.4 To all the obstacles inherent in the plan of deliberating in three orders, we are to add the imperative orders (mandats imperatifs), that is, instructions from the electors, imposing on the deputies the necessity of conforming their opinions to the will of their constituents on the principal subjects discussed in the Assembly.5 This antiquated usage was suitable Edition: current; Page: [136] only to the infancy of a representative government. Public opinion had hardly any weight in an age when the communication between one province and another was a matter of difficulty, and particularly when there were no newspapers, either to suggest ideas or communicate intelligence. But to oblige deputies in our days to adhere strictly to provincial instructions would have been to make the Estates General an assembly with little other power than that of laying petitions on the table. The information acquired in debate would have been fruitless, since they would have had no power to deviate from their previous instructions. Yet it was on these imperative orders that the nobles rested their chief arguments for refusing to vote individually. But one part of them, those of Dauphiny, had brought a positive instruction never to deliberate by order.

A minority of the nobility, that is, more than sixty members, whose families were most illustrious, but who, by their information, were fully on a level with the spirit of the age, were desirous that, as far as regarded the plan of a constitution, the mode of voting should be individually; but the majority of their order, supported by a portion of the clergy (although the latter were comparatively moderate), showed an inveterate objection to any mode of conciliation. They declared themselves ready to give up their privilege of exemption from taxes; but instead of taking a formal resolution to that effect on the opening of the meetings, they wanted to make that an object of negotiation which the nation regarded as a right. Time was thus lost in caviling, in polite refusals, and in new difficulties. When the Third Estate raised their tone and showed their strength, supported by the wish of the nation, the nobles of the court gave way, accustomed, as they were, to yield to power; but no sooner did the crisis appear to be solved than they resumed their arrogance and seemed to despise the Third Estate, as in the days when vassals solicited enfranchisement from their lords.

Edition: current; Page: [137]

The provincial nobility was still less tractable than the nobility of the first rank. The latter were certain of preserving their existence—they were guaranteed by historical recollections; but the petty nobles, whose titles were known only to themselves, saw themselves in danger of losing distinctions which no longer obtained respect from anyone. These personages spoke about their rank with as much presumption as if it had existed before the creation of the world, although it had been only lately acquired. They considered their privileges, which were of no use but to themselves, like that right of property which forms the basis of general security. Privileges are sacred only when conducive to the general advantage; it requires, then, some argument to support them, and they cannot be said to be truly solid, except when sanctioned by public utility. But the chief part of the noblesse entrenched themselves in the assertion, “So it was heretofore”—“C’étoit ainsi jadis.” Nonetheless, they were told, particular circumstances produced that state of things, and these circumstances are entirely changed: in vain—nothing could operate conviction on them. They were actuated by a certain aristocratic foppery, of which an idea can be formed only in France; a mixture of frivolity in manner and of pedantry in opinion; the whole united to a profound disdain for knowledge and spirit, unless enlisted in the ranks of folly, that is, employed in giving a retrograde course to reason.

In England, the eldest son of a peer is generally a member of the House of Commons, until at his father’s death he enters the upper house; the younger sons remain in the body of the nation and form a part of it. An English peer said ingeniously, “I cannot become an aristocrat, for I have constantly beside me representatives of the popular party; these are my younger sons.” The ordered arrangement of the different ranks of society is one of the admirable beauties of the English constitution. But in France the effect of custom had been to introduce two things directly contradictory—one, ascribing such a respect to antiquity that a member of the nobility could not step into one of the king’s carriages without proofs verified by the court genealogist, and prior in date to the year 1400, that is, prior to the time the kings began to grant nobility by letters patent; while, on the other hand, the greatest importance was attached to the royal prerogative of ennobling by patent. No human power can make a true Edition: current; Page: [138] noble, in the sense implied by that epithet in France; it would imply the power of disposing of the past, which seems impossible even to the Divinity. Yet nothing was easier in France than to become a privileged person, although it was entering into a separate caste, and acquiring, if I may say so, a right to injure the rest of the nation by swelling the number of those who escaped the public burdens, and who thought themselves particularly entitled to government favors. Had the French nobility continued strictly military, the public might long have submitted, from a sentiment of admiration and gratitude, to the continuance of its privileges; but for a century back a tabouret at court had been the object of as much solicitation as a regiment in the army. The French nobles were neither members of the legislature as in England, nor sovereign lords as in Germany.6 What were they, then? They unluckily resembled the noblesse of Spain and Italy, and they escaped from the mortifying comparison only by the elegant manners and the information of a certain part of their number; but these persons, in general, renounced the doctrine of their order, and ignorance alone remained to watch over prejudice.

What orators could support this party, abandoned by its most distinguished members? The Abbé Maury, who was far from occupying a conspicuous rank among the French clergy, defended his abbeys under the name of the public good; and M. de Casalès, a captain of cavalry, whose nobility was dated only twenty-five years back, was the champion of the privileges of the nobility in the Constituent Assembly. This man was subsequently one of the first to attach himself to the dynasty of Bonaparte; and Cardinal Maury seemed to do the same with no little readiness.7 We are thus led to conclude, from these as from other examples, that in our days the advocates of prejudice are by no means slow in bargaining for Edition: current; Page: [139] their personal interest. The majority of the nobles finding themselves abandoned in 1789 by men of talents and information, proclaimed indiscreetly the necessity of employing force against the popular party. We shall soon see if that force was in existence; but we may venture to say at once, that if it was not in existence, the menace was extremely imprudent.

Edition: current; Page: [140]

CHAPTER XVIII: Conduct of the Third Estate During the First Two Months of the Session of the Estates General.

Several individuals among the nobility and clergy, the first persons in the country, inclined strongly, as we have already said, to the popular party, and there was a great number of intelligent men among the deputies of the Third Estate. We must not form an opinion of the France of that time judging by the France of the present day: twenty-five years of continual danger, of every kind, have unfortunately accustomed the French to employ their faculties only for their personal defense or interest; but in 1789 the country contained a great number of intelligent and philosophic minds.1 Why, it may be asked, could they not adhere to the government under which they had been thus formed? It was not the government, it was the advanced knowledge of the age which had developed all these talents, and those who felt they possessed them felt also the necessity of exercising them. Yet the ignorance of the people in Paris, and still more in the country, that ignorance which results from the long oppression and Edition: current; Page: [141] neglected education of the lower orders, contained the seeds of all those misfortunes which afterward overpowered France.2 Of distinguished men the country contained perhaps as many as England; but the stock of good sense that belongs to a free nation did not exist in France. Religion founded on inquiry, education generally diffused, the liberty of the press, and the right of voting at public elections, are sources of improvement which had been in operation in England for more than a century. The Third Estate desired that France should be enriched by a part of these advantages; the national wish strongly supported that desire; but the Third Estate, being the strongest party, could have only one merit, that of moderation, and unfortunately it was not in a disposition to adopt it.

There were two parties among the deputies of the Third Estate; the leaders of the one were Mounier and Malouet3—of the other Mirabeau and Sieyès.4 The former aimed at a constitution in two chambers, and were in hopes of obtaining this change from the nobles and the King by amicable means; the other was superior in point of talent, but unfortunately more guided by passion than opinion.

Mounier had been the leader of the calm and well-planned revolution in Dauphiny. He was a man passionately devoted to reason and moderation. He was enlightened rather than eloquent, but consistent and firm Edition: current; Page: [142] in his path, so long as it was in his power to choose one.5 Malouet, whatever might be his situation, was always guided by his conscience. Never did I know a purer mind, and if he lacked anything that prevented him from acting efficiently, it was the fact that in his actions he did not engage enough with other people, trusting always to the self-evidence of truth without sufficiently reflecting on the means of bringing it home to the conviction of others.6

Mirabeau, who knew and who foresaw everything, was determined to make use of his thundering eloquence only to gain himself a place in the first rank, from which he had been banished by his immorality. Sieyès was the mysterious oracle of approaching events; he has, undoubtedly, a mind of the greatest compass and strength, but that mind is governed by a very wayward temper; and as it was a matter of difficulty to extort a few words from him, these, from their rarity, passed for little less than orders or prophecies. While the privileged classes were employed in discussing their powers, their interests, their ceremonials; in short, whatever concerned only themselves; the Third Estate invited them to join in a deliberation on the scarcity of provisions and state of the finances. What advantageous ground did the deputies of the people choose, when soliciting a union for such purposes! At last the Third Estate grew weary of these unavailing efforts, and the factious among them rejoiced that the inutility of these attempts seemed to prove the necessity of more energetic measures.

Malouet required that the chamber of the Third Estate should declare itself the assembly of the representatives of the majority of the nation. Nothing could be said against this incontestable title. Sieyès proposed to constitute themselves purely and simply the “National Assembly of France”; and to invite the members of the two orders to join them. A decree passed to this effect, and that decree constituted the Revolution.7 How important would it have been to have prevented it! But such was the success of this measure that the deputies of the nobility from Dauphiny, Edition: current; Page: [143] and some of the clergy, acceded immediately to the invitation; the influence of the assembly gained ground every hour. The French are more prompt than any other people in perceiving where strength lies; and partly by calculation, partly by enthusiasm, they press on toward power, and give it additional impulse by rallying under its banners.

The King, as will appear from the next chapter, was much too tardy in interfering in this critical state of things; and, by a blunder, not unfrequent on the part of the privileged classes, who, though always weak, are full of confidence, the grand master of the ceremonies thought proper to shut up the hall of meeting of the Third Estate, that the platform, the carpeting, and other preparations for the reception of the King might be completed. The Third Estate believed, or professed to believe, that they were forbidden to continue their meetings; the troops that were now advancing from all directions to Versailles placed the deputies decidedly on the vantage ground. The danger was sufficiently apparent to give their resistance an air of courage, while it was not so real as to keep back even the timid among them. Accordingly all the members of the Assembly concurred in meeting in the tennis court (salle du jeu de Paume) at Versailles, and bound themselves by an oath to maintain the national rights. This oath was not without dignity, and if the privileged classes had been stronger when they were attacked, and the national representatives had made a more moderate use of their triumph, history would have consecrated that day as one of the most memorable in the annals of liberty.8

Edition: current; Page: [144]

CHAPTER XIX: Means Possessed by the Crown in 1789 of Opposing the Revolution.

The true public opinion, which rises superior to faction, has been the same in France for twenty-seven years; and every other direction given to it, being artificial, could have only a temporary influence.

There was at this time no intention of overturning the throne, but a decided determination that laws should not be passed by those who were to execute them; for it was not in the hands of the King, but of his ministers, that the authority of the former arbitrary governments was vested. The French did not, at that time, willingly submit to the singular humility which they are at present required to practice—that of believing themselves unworthy of exercising, like the English, an influence on their own fate.1

What objection could be made to this, the almost unanimous wish of France, and to what length ought a conscientious king carry his refusal? Why take on himself alone the responsibility of government, and why should not the information that would accrue to him from an assembly of deputies, composed like the English parliament, be of equal avail to him, as that which he derived from his council or his court? Why substitute for the mutual duties of subject and sovereign, the revived theory of the Jews on divine right? Without at present entering into a discussion, it cannot be denied at least that force is necessary to maintain that theory, and that “divine right” requires a human army to make it manifest to the incredulous. And what were at that time the means of which the royal authority could avail itself?

Edition: current; Page: [145]

There seemed only two courses to follow—to triumph over public opinion or to enter into treaty with it. Force! force! is the cry of those men who imagine that they acquire it by pronouncing this word. But in what consists the force of a sovereign unless in the obedience of his troops? Now the army, so early as 1789, was, in a great measure, attached to the popular opinion, against which, on this supposition, it would have had to act. It had hardly been engaged in the field for twenty-five years; it was thus an army of citizens imbrued with the feelings of the nation and proud of being associated with it. Had the King, say some, put himself at its head, he would have carried it along with him. The King had not received a military education, and all the ministers in the world, without excepting such a man as Cardinal Richelieu, are incapable of supplying, in this respect, the personal agency of a monarch. Others may write for him, but they cannot command an army in his stead, particularly when it is to be employed in the interior. Royalty cannot be performed, like certain theatrical exhibitions, where one actor does the gestures while another pronounces the words. Had even the most decided character of modern times, Bonaparte himself, been on the throne, his will would have failed in the contest with popular opinion at the time of the opening of the Estates General. Politics were then a new field for the imagination of Frenchmen; everyone flattered himself with acting a part, everyone saw a personal object in the chances opening in all directions. The course of events, and the spirit of literary publications, for a century back, had prepared the mind of the nation for countless advantages which it thought itself ready to seize.2 When Napoléon established despotism in France, circumstances were favorable to such a plan; the public was weary of trouble, awed by the remembrance of dreadful misfortunes, and apprehensive of their return by a revival of faction. Besides, the public ardor was turned toward military fame; the war of the Revolution had raised the national pride. Under Louis XVI, on the contrary, the current of public opinion was directed to objects purely philosophical; it had been formed by books, which proposed a number of improvements in the administration of justice and other branches of civil government. The nation had long enjoyed profound Edition: current; Page: [146] peace, and war had been, in a manner, out of fashion since the time of Louis XIV. All the activity of the popular mind pointed to a desire of exercising political rights, and all the skill of a statesman consisted in the art of dealing tactfully with this opinion.

So long as it is practicable to govern a country by military force, the task of ministers is easy, and great talents are not necessary to ensure obedience; but if, unfortunately, recourse be had to force, and it fails, the other resource, that of winning the public opinion, is no longer available; it is lost forever from the time that an attempt was made to constrain it. Let us examine on this principle the plans proposed by M. Necker, and those which the King was persuaded to adopt in sacrificing this minister.

Edition: current; Page: [147]

CHAPTER XX: The Royal Session of 23d June, 1789.

The secret council of the King was altogether different from his ostensible ministry; a few of the latter shared the opinion of the former; but the acknowledged head of administration, M. Necker, was the very person against whom the privileged classes directed their efforts.

In England the responsibility of ministers is a bar to this double government, by official agents and secret advisers. No act of the royal power being executed without the signature of a minister, and that signature involving a capital punishment to whoever abuses it, even were the king surrounded by chamberlains preaching the doctrine of absolute power, there is no danger that any of them would run the risk of performing as a minister what he might support as a courtier. In France the case was different. Orders were given, without the knowledge of the prime minister, to bring forward regiments of Germans, because dependence could not be placed on the French regiments; it was expected that, with this foreign band, public opinion could be controlled in such a country as was then illustrious France.

The Baron de Breteuil,1 who aspired to succeed to M. Necker’s station, was incapable of understanding anything but the old form of government; and, even in the old form, his ideas had never extended beyond the precincts of a court, either in France or in the foreign countries where he had been sent as ambassador. He cloaked his ambition under an aspect of good nature; he was in the habit of shaking hands in the English manner with all he met, as if he would say, “I should like to be minister; what harm Edition: current; Page: [148] will that do you?” By dint of repeating that he wished to be minister, he had been introduced into the cabinet, and he had governed as well as another so long as there was nothing to do but subscribe his name to the official papers brought to the minister in a finished state by the clerks. But in the great national crisis on which we are about to enter, his councils caused terrible harm to the cause of the King. His rough voice conveyed an idea of energy; in walking he pressed the ground with a ponderous step, as if he would call an army from below—and his imposing presence deluded those who put all their hopes in their own desires.

When M. Necker asked the King and Queen, “Are you certain of the obedience of the army?” some interpreted the doubt implied in the question as the sign of a factious disposition; for one of the characteristics of the aristocratic party in France is to look with a suspicious eye on a knowledge of facts. These facts are obstinate, and have in vain risen up ten times against the hopes of the privileged classes: they have always attributed them to those who foresaw them, and never to the nature of things. A fortnight after the opening of the Estates General, and before the Third Estate had constituted itself the National Assembly, while the two parties were ignorant of their mutual strength, and while each was looking to government for support, M. Necker laid before the King a sketch of the situation of the kingdom. “Sire,” he said,

I am afraid that you are led into error in regard to the temper of the army: our correspondence with the country makes us conclude that it will not act against the Estates General. Do not then make it draw near to Versailles, as if you intended to make a hostile use of it against the deputies. The popular party does not know yet with certainty the disposition of this army. Make use of this very uncertainty to keep up your authority with the public; for, if the fatal secret of the insubordination of the troops were known, how would it be possible to restrain the factious? The point at present, Sire, is to accede to the reasonable wishes of France; deign to resign yourself to the English constitution; you, personally, will not experience any restraint by the empire of law, for never will it impose on you such barriers as your own scruples; and in thus volunteering to meet the wish of your people, you will grant today as a boon, what they may exact tomorrow as a right.

Edition: current; Page: [149]

After making these observations, M. Necker transmitted the sketch of a declaration, which was to have been made by the King a month before the 23d June; that is, long before the Third Estate had declared itself the National Assembly, before the oath at the tennis court, in short, before the deputies had embraced any hostile measure. Concessions on the part of the King would then have had more dignity. The declaration, as composed by M. Necker, was almost word for word similar to the one issued by Louis XVIII at St. Ouen,2 on the 2d May, 1814, twenty-five years after the opening of the Estates General.* May we not be allowed to believe that the bloody cycle of the last twenty-five years would have been avoided if the executive power had from the first day consented to what the nation then wished, and will always continue to wish?

The success of M. Necker’s proposition was to have been secured by an ingenious plan. The King was to order the deputies to vote individually in what related to taxes, while in regard to the privileges, interests, or other matters peculiar to each order, they should continue to deliberate separately, until the settlement of the constitution. The Third Estate, being not sure of carrying the point of individual voting, would have been grateful for obtaining it, in regard to taxes; and this was what justice required, for what Estates General would those be in which a majority, that is, the two orders, who paid comparatively little or nothing, should have decided on burdens to be borne almost entirely by the minority, the Third Estate? The project of M. Necker contained, further, a declaration that the King would, in future, sanction the Estates General in no other shape than as a legislative body in two chambers. This was followed by several popular propositions in regard to legislation and finance, which would have entirely gained the public favor to the declaration. The King adopted it in all its extent, and it is certain that at the first moment it had his approbation. M. Necker was now at the summit of his hopes; for he flattered himself with prevailing on the majority of the deputies of the Third Estate to Edition: current; Page: [150] accept this well-combined plan, although the more ardent of them were inclined to reject whatever proceeded from the court.3

While M. Necker was willingly risking his popularity by coming forward as the defender of an Upper House of Parliament,4 the aristocratic body, on the other hand, thought themselves robbed of their rights by such a proposition. Each party, during twenty-five years, has, in its turn, rejected and desired the English constitution, according as it was victor or vanquished. In 1792, the Queen said to the Chevalier de Coigny, “I would that I had lost an arm, and that the English constitution had been established in France.” The nobility unceasingly wished for it after they had been stripped of their power and property; and under Bonaparte the popular party would, no doubt, have been very well satisfied to have obtained it. It may be said that the English constitution, or, in other words, reason in France, is like the fair Angelica in the comedy of the “Gambler”—he implores her in his distress and neglects her when he is fortunate.5

M. Necker was extremely anxious that the King should not lose an instant in interposing his mediation in the debates of the three orders. But the King rested tranquil in the popularity of his minister, and believed that if the proposed interference were necessary, any time might suffice for it. This was a great error. M. Necker had the power of going a certain length; he could put a limit to the claims of the deputies of the Third Estate by granting them a particular point which they were not otherwise sure of obtaining; but if he had renounced that which constituted his strength, I Edition: current; Page: [151] mean the essence of his opinions, his influence with them would have sunk lower than that of any other man.

One party among the deputies of the Third Estate, that of which Mounier and Malouet were the leaders, was in concurrence with M. Necker: but the other party aimed at a revolution, and was not contented to accept what it preferred to conquer. While M. Necker was contending with the court for the cause of liberty, he defended the royal authority, and even the nobility, against the Third Estate! All his hours, and all his faculties, were employed to guard the King against the courtiers, and the deputies against the factious.

All this, some will say, does not matter since M. Necker was not successful; the inference is that he lacked ability. For the space of thirteen years, five passed in office and eight in retirement, M. Necker had stood at the summit of popular favor; he still possessed it to such a degree that all France was indignant at the news of his banishment.6 What, then, can he be said to have lost by his fault? and how, I must repeat it, is a man to be made answerable for misfortunes that occurred because his advice was not followed? If monarchy was overturned in consequence of the adoption of a system contrary to his, is it not likely that it would have been preserved if the King had adhered to the path followed for some time after the return of M. Necker to the ministry?

Not long after that, a day had been fixed for holding a royal session when the secret enemies of M. Necker induced the King to make a journey to Marly, a residence where the voice of the public was heard still less than at Versailles. Courtiers generally place themselves between the prince and the nation, like a deceitful echo, which alters what it repeats. M. Necker relates that, in the evening of the cabinet meeting at which the royal session was to be fixed for the next day, a note from the Queen induced the King to quit the council room; the deliberation was adjourned till next day. By that time two other members were admitted to the council, as well as the King’s two brothers.7 The two members knew no forms Edition: current; Page: [152] but the ancient; and the princes, who were then young, confided too much in the army.

The party which came forward to defend the throne spoke with much disdain of the nature of royal authority in England; they wished to affix something criminal to the idea of reducing a king of France to the hard condition of a British monarch. This view of things was not only erroneous, but the result, perhaps, of selfish calculation; for, in truth, it was not the King, but the nobles, and particularly the nobles of the second class, who were likely, according to their mode of thinking, to lose by becoming the citizens of a free country.

The adoption of the English institutions would neither have lessened the enjoyments of the King, nor the authority which he would and could have exerted. Nor would these institutions have at all lessened the dignity of the great and ancient families of France; so far from that, placing them in the House of Peers, they received a more assured prerogative and were more clearly discriminated from the rest of their order. It was then only the privileges of the second class of nobility and the political influence of the higher clergy which it was necessary to sacrifice. The parlements also were apprehensive of losing those long-contested powers, which they had of themselves renounced, but which they still regretted; they perhaps saw, by anticipation, the institution of juries, that safeguard of humanity in the administration of justice. But, once for all, the interest of these orders was not identified with that of the Crown, and, by wishing to make them inseparable, the privileged classes involved the throne in their own fall. Not that their intention was to overturn monarchy; but they desired that monarchy should triumph with them and by them; while matters had come to such a pass that it was unavoidable to sacrifice, sincerely and unequivocally, that which it was impossible to defend, for the sake of preserving the remainder.

Such was the opinion of M. Necker; but it was not that of the new members of the King’s council. They proposed various changes, all in conformity with the passions of the majority of the privileged classes. M. Necker combated these new adversaries, during several days, with an energy Edition: current; Page: [153] surprising in a minister who was certainly desirous of pleasing the King and the royal family. But he was so fully persuaded of the truth of what he affirmed that he discovered in this point a resolution not to be shaken. He foretold the defection of the army if it were employed against the popular party; he predicted that the King would lose all his ascendancy over the Third Estate, by the tone in which it was proposed to compose the declaration; finally, he signified, in respectful terms, that he could not give his support to a plan which was not his, and the consequence of which would, in his opinion, be disastrous.

The court was not disposed to listen to this advice; but they desired M. Necker’s attendance at the royal session, for the sake of persuading the deputies of the people that the declaration had his approbation. This M. Necker refused, and sent in his resignation. Yet, said the aristocrats, a part of his plan was retained; true, there remained in the declaration of the 23d June, several of the concessions desired by the nation, such as the suppression of the personal tax (taille), the abolition of privileges in regard to taxes, the admission of all citizens to civil and military employments, &c. But things had changed greatly in the course of a month; the Third Estate had acquired a degree of importance which prevented it from feeling grateful for concessions which it was sure of obtaining. M. Necker wished the King to grant the right of individual voting in regard to taxes, in the very outset of his speech; the Third Estate would then have concluded that the object of the royal session was to support its interest, and that would have gained their confidence. But, in the newly modeled plan pressed on the King, the first article invalidated all the resolutions which the Third Estate had taken in its character of National Assembly, and which it had rendered sacred by the oath at the tennis court. M. Necker had proposed the royal session before the deputies had come under such engagements to public opinion. Was it prudent to offer them so much less after their power had become still greater in the interval which the court had lost in vacillation?

Acting in an appropriate and timely manner is the nymph Egeria8 of Edition: current; Page: [154] all statesmen, generals, and all those who have to do with the ever-changing character of human nature. An authoritative measure against the Third Estate was no longer practicable on the 23d of June; and it was rather the nobles whom the King should have aimed at commanding: for obedience may be a point of honor with them, since it is one of the statutes of ancient chivalry to submit to kings as to military commanders; but implicit obedience on the part of the people is nothing short of subjection, and the spirit of the age ran no longer in that direction. In our days the throne cannot be solidly established but on the power of law.

The King ought by no means to have sacrificed the popularity which he had lately acquired by granting a double number of deputies to the Third Estate. This popularity was of more consequence to him than all the promises of his courtiers. He lost it, however, by his address to the Assembly on the 23d of June; and, although that address contained some very good points, it failed entirely in its effect. Its very outset was repulsive to the Third Estate, and, from that moment forward, that body refused to listen to things which it would have received favorably, could it have been persuaded that the King was inclined to defend the nation against the claims of the privileged classes, and not the latter against the nation.9

Edition: current; Page: [155]

CHAPTER XXI: Events Caused by the Royal Session of 23d June, 1789.

The predictions of M. Necker were but too fully realized; and that royal session, against which he had said so much, produced consequences still more unfortunate than he had calculated. Hardly had the King left the hall, when the Third Estate, who had continued there after the other orders had withdrawn, declared that it would pursue its deliberations without any attention to what they had just heard. The impulse was given; the royal session, far from attaining the hoped for object, had given new vigor to the Third Estate, and had afforded them the opportunity of a new triumph.

The rumor of M. Necker’s resignation now spread abroad, and all the streets of Versailles were instantly filled with the inhabitants, who proclaimed his name. The King and Queen sent for him to the palace on that very evening, and both urged him, in the name of the public safety, to resume his place; the Queen added that the safety of the King’s person depended on his continuing in office. How could he decline obeying? The Queen promised solemnly to follow henceforth his council; such was her determination at the time, because she was alarmed by the popular movement: but as she was always under the impression that any limit imposed on the royal authority was a misfortune, she necessarily fell again under the influence of those who viewed matters in the same light.

The King, it cannot be too often repeated, possessed all the virtues necessary for a constitutional monarch; for such a monarch is rather the first magistrate than the military chief of his country. But, though he was very well informed, and read the English historians, in particular, with attention, the descendant of Louis XIV felt a difficulty in relinquishing Edition: current; Page: [156] the doctrine of divine right.1 That doctrine is considered as a crime of lèse-majesté in England, since it is in virtue of a compact with the nation that the present dynasty occupies the throne.2 But although Louis XVI was by no means stimulated by his disposition to aim at absolute power, that power was the object of a disastrous prejudice, which unfortunately for France and for himself he never wholly renounced.

M. Necker, won by the entreaties which the King and Queen condescended to make to him, promised to continue minister, and spoke only of the future: he by no means disguised the extent of existing danger; but added that he hoped yet to remedy it, provided orders were not given to bring troops around Paris unless the Crown were certain of their obedience. In such a case he must make a point of retiring, and of being satisfied with indulging in private his wishes for the welfare of the King.

There remained only three means of preventing a political catastrophe: the hope which the Third Estate still founded on the personal disposition of the King; the uncertainty of the course which the military might take, an uncertainty which might still keep back the factious; and finally, the popularity of M. Necker. We shall soon see how these resources were lost in the course of a fortnight, by the advice of the committee to which the court gave itself up in private.

On returning from the palace to his house, M. Necker was carried in triumph by the people. Their lively transports are still present to my recollection, and revive in me the emotion which they caused in the joyous season of youth and hope. All the voices which repeated my father’s name seemed to me those of a crowd of friends, who shared in my respectful affection. The people had not as yet stained themselves by any crime; they loved their King; they looked on him as deceived, and rallied with friendly Edition: current; Page: [157] warmth around the minister whom they considered as their defender: all was true and upright in their enthusiasm. The courtiers circulated that M. Necker had planned this scene; but, supposing him to have been capable of this, how could anyone succeed in producing, by underhand means, a movement in so vast a multitude? All France took part in it; addresses arrived from every quarter of the country, and in these days addresses expressed the general wish. But one of the great misfortunes of those who live in courts is to be unable to understand rightly what a nation is. They attribute everything to intrigue, yet intrigue can accomplish nothing on public opinion. In the course of the Revolution, we have seen factious men succeed in stirring up this or that party; but in 1789, France was almost unanimous; to attempt struggling against this colossus, with the mere power of aristocratic dignities, was like fighting with toys against real weapons.

The majority of the clergy, the minority of the nobility, and all the deputies of the Third Estate repaired to M. Necker on his return from the palace; his house could hardly contain those who had gathered there, and it was there that we saw the truly amiable traits of the French character; the vivacity of their impressions, their desire to please, and the ease with which a government may win or offend them, according as it addresses itself, well or ill, to that particular kind of imagination of which they are susceptible. I heard my father entreat the deputies of the Third Estate not to carry their claims too far. “You are now,” he said, “the strongest party; it is on you then that moderation is incumbent.” He described to them the situation of France and the good which they might accomplish; several of them were moved to tears and promised to be guided by his councils; but they asked him, in return, to be responsible to them for the intentions of the King. The royal power still inspired not only respect but a certain degree of fear: these were the sentiments which ought to have been preserved.

One hundred and fifty deputies of the clergy, among whom were several of the higher prelates, had by this time gone over to the National Assembly; forty-seven members of the nobility, most of them placed in the first rank both by birth and talent, had followed them; above thirty others waited only for leave from their constituents to join them. The Edition: current; Page: [158] people called loudly for the union of the three orders, and insulted those of the clergy and nobles who repaired to their separate chamber. M. Necker then proposed to the King to issue an order to the clergy and nobility to deliberate along with the Third Estate, that he might spare them the painful anxiety under which they labored and the vexation of appearing to yield to the power of the people. The King complied, and the royal injunction still produced a surprising effect on the public mind.3 The nation was grateful to its sovereign for his condescension, although the measure was almost the result of necessity. The majority of the chamber of nobles were favorably received on their junction, although it was known that they had made a protest against the very step which they had taken. The hope of doing good revived; and Mounier, the chairman of the constitutional committee, declared that they were about to propose a political system similar, in almost everything, to that of the English monarchy.

In comparing this state of things and of the popular mind to the dreadful ferment of the evening of the 23d of June, it cannot be denied that M. Necker had a second time placed the reins of government in the King’s hands, as he had done after the dismission of the Archbishop of Sens. The throne was doubtless shaken, but it was still possible to strengthen it by taking care, above all, to avoid an insurrection, as an insurrection must evidently prove too strong for the means which government still had to resist it. But the failure of the royal session of 23d June by no means discouraged those who had caused it; and the secret advisers of the King, while they allowed M. Necker to guide the external actions of the King, advised His Majesty to give a feigned acquiescence to everything until the German troops, commanded by Marshal Broglio, should approach Paris. They took good care to conceal from M. Necker that the order for their approach had been given with a view to dissolve the Assembly: when the measure could be no longer kept private, it was said to have been adopted to quell the partial troubles that had occurred in Paris, and in which the French guards, when commanded to interfere, had shown the most complete insubordination.4

Edition: current; Page: [159]

M. Necker was not ignorant of the true motive for the approach of the troops, although attempts were made to conceal it from him. The intention of the Court was to assemble at Compiègne all the members of the three orders who had not shown themselves favorable to innovation, and to make them give there a hasty consent to the loans and taxes they stood in need of, after which the Assembly was to be dissolved. As such a project could not be seconded by M. Necker, it was proposed to dismiss him as soon as the troops arrived. Every day, he was well informed of his situation and could not have any doubt about it; but, having seen the violent effects produced on the 23d of June by the news of his resignation, he was determined not to expose the public welfare to a fresh shock; for what he dreaded, of all things, was obtaining a personal triumph at the expense of the royal authority. His partisans, alarmed at the enemies by whom he was surrounded, entreated him to resign. He knew some people thought of sending him to the Bastille; but he knew also that, under existing circumstances, he could not resign without giving a confirmation to the rumor circulated about the violent measures in preparation at Court. The King having resolved on these measures, M. Necker was determined not to participate in them, but he decided also on not giving the signal of opposition: he remained like a sentinel left at his post to conceal maneuvers from the enemy.

The popular party understanding very well the measures planned against them, and being by no means disposed, like M. Necker, to become the victims of the Court, embraced the proposition of Mirabeau, which led to the famous address for sending back the troops.5 It was the first time that France heard that popular eloquence, the natural power of which was increased by the grandeur of the circumstances. Respect for the personal character of the King was still remarkable in this tribunitian harangue. “And in what manner, Sire,” said the orator of the chamber,

do they act to make you doubt the attachment and affection of your subjects? Have you been lavish of their blood? Are you cruel, implacable? Have you made an abuse of justice? Does the people charge its misfortunes on you? Does it name you in its calamities? . . . Do not put faith Edition: current; Page: [160] in those who speak to you with levity of the nation, and who represent it to you only according to their views, at one time as insolent, rebellious, seditious—at another submissive, docile to the yoke, and ready to bow the head to receive it. Each of these descriptions is equally unfaithful.

Always ready, Sire, to obey you, because you command in the name of the law, our fidelity is without bounds, and without reproach.

Sire, we entreat you in the name of our country, in the name of your happiness and your fame; send back your soldiers to the stations whence your advisers have drawn them; send back that artillery which is destined to cover your frontiers; send back, above all, the foreign troops, those allies of the nation whom we pay for defending, and not for disquieting our homes. Your Majesty has no need for them; why should a monarch, adored by twenty-five million Frenchmen, call, at a heavy expense, around his throne a few thousand foreigners? Sire, in the midst of your children be guarded by their affection.

These words are the last gleam of attachment which the French showed to their King for his personal virtues. When the military force was tried, and tried in vain, the affection of the people seemed to disappear with the power of the Court.

M. Necker continued to see the King daily; but nothing of serious import was communicated to him. Such silence toward the prime minister was very disquieting, when foreign troops were seen to arrive from various points and take their station around Paris and Versailles. My father told us in confidence every evening that he expected being put under arrest next day; but that the danger to which the King was exposed was, in his opinion, so great that he deemed it his duty to remain in office, that he might not appear to suspect what was going on.

On the 11th of July, at three in the afternoon, M. Necker received a letter from the King, ordering him to quit Paris and France, and only enjoining him to conceal his departure from everyone. The Baron de Breteuil had advised, in the committee, the arrest of M. Necker, as his dismissal might cause a tumult. “I will answer,” said the King, “that he will obey strictly my injunction in regard to secrecy.” M. Necker was affected by this mark of confidence in his probity, although accompanied by an order for exile.

Edition: current; Page: [161]

He was informed in the sequel that two officers of the life guards had followed him to secure his person if he had not complied with the injunction of the King. But they could hardly reach the frontiers so soon as M. Necker himself. Madame Necker was his sole confidante; she set out, on quitting her saloon, without any preparation for the journey, with the precautions which a criminal would take to escape his sentence; and this sentence, so much dreaded, was the triumph which the people would have prepared for M. Necker had he been willing to accept it. Two days after his departure, and as soon as his removal from office was known, the theaters were shut as for a public calamity. All Paris took up arms;6 the first cockade worn was green, because that was the color of M. Necker’s livery: medals were struck with his effigy; and had he thought proper to repair to Paris instead of quitting France by the nearest frontier, that of Flanders, it would be difficult to assign a limit to the influence that he might have acquired.

Duty, doubtless, required obedience to the King’s order: but what man is there who, even in yielding obedience, would not have allowed himself to be recognized, and would not have consented to have been brought back in spite of himself, by the multitude? History does not perhaps offer an example of a man shunning power, with all the precautions which he would have taken to escape from proscription. It was necessary, to be the defender of the people, to incur banishment in this manner; and, at the same time, the most faithful subject of his monarch, to sacrifice to him so scrupulously the homage of an entire nation.

Edition: current; Page: [162]

CHAPTER XXII: Revolution of the 14th of July (1789).

Two other ministers were removed at the same time as M. Necker, M. de Montmorin, a man personally attached to the King from his infancy, and M. de St. Priest, who was remarkable for the soundness of his judgment. But what will appear almost incredible to posterity is, that in adopting a resolution of such importance, no measure was taken to ensure the personal safety of the Sovereign in case of misfortune. The advisers of the Crown thought themselves so sure of success, that no troops were assembled around Louis XVI to accompany him to a certain distance in the event of a revolt of the capital. The soldiers were encamped in the plains near the gates of Paris, which gave them an opportunity of communicating with the inhabitants; the latter came to them in numbers, and made them promise not to make use of their arms against the people. Thus, with the exception of two German regiments,1 who did not understand French, and who drew their sabers in the gardens of the Tuileries almost as if they had wished to afford a pretext for insurrection, all the troops on which dependence was made participated in the feeling of the citizens, and complied in no respect with what was expected from them.

As soon as the news of M. Necker’s departure was spread abroad in Paris, the streets were barricaded, and all the inhabitants formed themselves into national guards, assuming some sort of military dress and laying hold of whatever weapon first offered, whether musket, saber, or scythe. Multitudes of men of the same opinion embraced each other in the streets like brothers; and the army of the people of Paris, consisting of more than a hundred thousand men, was formed in an instant, as if by a Edition: current; Page: [163] miracle.2 The Bastille, that citadel of arbitrary power, was taken on the 14th of July, 1789. The Baron de Breteuil, who boasted that he would put an end to the crisis in three days, remained only that number of days in office—long enough, however, to contribute to the overthrow of the royal power.

Such was the result of the advice of the adversaries of M. Necker. How can minds of such a cast still take on them to give an opinion on the affairs of a great people? What resources were prepared against the danger which they themselves had created? And did the world ever see men, who would not hear reason, acquit themselves so ill in the application of force?

The King in such circumstances could inspire no feeling but one of profound interest and compassion. Princes educated to rule in France have never been accustomed to look the realities of life in the face; there was held up to them an artificial world, in which they lived from the first to the last day of the year; and misfortune necessarily found them without defense in themselves.

The King was brought to Paris for the purpose of adopting, at the Hotel de Ville, that revolution which had just taken place against his power. His religious tranquillity preserved his personal dignity in this, as in all ensuing occasions; but his authority was at an end: and if the chariots of kings ought not to drag nations in their train, it is no more appropriate for a nation to make a king the ornament of its triumph. The apparent homage rendered on such an occasion to a dethroned sovereign is revolting to generous minds. Never can liberty be established when either the monarch or people are in a false situation. Each, to be sincere, must be in possession of his rights. Moral constraint imposed on the head of a government can never be the basis of the constitutional independence of a country.

The 14th of July, although marked by bloody assassinations on the part Edition: current; Page: [164] of the populace, was yet a day of grandeur: the movement was national; no faction, either foreign or domestic, would have been able to excite such enthusiasm. All France participated in it, and the emotion of a whole people is always connected with true and natural feeling. The most honorable names, Bailly, La Fayette, Lally, were proclaimed by the public opinion; the silence of a country governed by a court was exchanged for the sound of the spontaneous acclamations of all the citizens. The minds of the people were exalted; but as yet there was nothing but goodness in their souls; and the conquerors had not had time to contract those haughty passions from which the strongest party in France is scarcely ever able to preserve itself.

Edition: current; Page: [165]

CHAPTER XXIII: Return of M. Necker.

M. Necker, on arriving at Brussels, remained two days to take rest before proceeding to Switzerland by way of Germany. His greatest subject of disquietude at this time was the scarcity that threatened Paris. In the preceding winter his indefatigable exertions had preserved the capital from the misfortune of famine; but the bad harvest rendered it more and more necessary to have recourse to foreign arrivals and to the credit of the great mercantile houses of Europe. He had consequently written in the beginning of July to Messrs. Hope, the celebrated Amsterdam merchants; and apprehensive that, in the existing posture of affairs, they might be averse to undertake the purchase of corn for France, unless he personally guaranteed the payment, he had offered them security to the extent of a million livres on his private fortune. On arriving at Brussels, M. Necker recalled this guarantee to his mind. He had reason to fear that, in the crisis of a revolution, the duties of government might be neglected, or that the news of his departure might be prejudicial to the public credit. Messrs. Hope, in particular, might presume that, under such circumstances, M. Necker would withdraw his security; but he even wrote to them from Brussels that he was exiled from France, but that they were to consider the personal engagement he had taken as unaltered.

The Baron de Breteuil, during the few days that he was minister, received the answer of Messrs. Hope to M. Necker’s first letter, which contained an offer to guarantee their purchases by his private fortune. M. Dufresne de Saint-Léon,1 chief clerk in the finance department, a man of Edition: current; Page: [166] penetration and decision, gave this letter to the Baron de Breteuil, who treated the whole as folly: “What,” said he, “can the private fortune of a minister have to do with the public interest?” He might as well have added, “Why does this foreigner interfere at all with the affairs of France?”

During the interval that M. Necker was traveling along the German frontier, the Revolution of the 14th of July took place at Paris. Madame de Polignac,2 whom he had left at Versailles all powerful by the Queen’s favor, sent for him to his great surprise in an inn at Basel and apprised him that she had fled in consequence of the events that had occurred. M. Necker could not conceive the possibility of proscriptions, and he was long in comprehending the motives that had led to the departure of Madame de Polignac. Letters brought by couriers, orders from the King, and invitations from the Assembly, all pressed him to resume his situation. “M. Necker,” says Burke, in one of his writings, “was recalled, like Pompey, to his misfortune, and, like Marius, he sat down on ruins.”3 M. and Madame Necker saw the matter in this light, and it will appear from the details that I have given in the private life of my father,4 how much it cost him to take the determination of returning.

All the flattering circumstances attending his recall could not blind him in regard to the actual state of things. Murders had been committed by the people on the 14th of July, and M. Necker, at once religious and philosophic in his manner of viewing things, abandoned all hope of the success of a cause already marked by bloodshed. Nor could he flatter himself with possessing the confidence of the King, since Louis recalled him only from dread of the danger to which his absence exposed him. Had he been actuated merely by ambition, nothing was easier than to return in triumph, supporting himself on the strength of the National Assembly; but it was Edition: current; Page: [167] only to sacrifice himself to the King, and to France, that M. Necker consented to resume his position after the Revolution of the 14th of July. He thought to serve the country by lavishing his popularity in the defense of the royal authority, now too much weakened. He hoped that a man exiled by the aristocratic party would be heard with the same favor when he pleaded their cause. A distinguished citizen in whom twenty-seven years of revolution daily discovered new virtues, an admirable orator whose eloquence has defended the cause of his father, of his country, and of his King, Lally Tollendal,5 combining both reason and emotion—one who is never led away from truth by enthusiasm, expressed himself thus on M. Necker’s character and conduct, at the time of his removal:

We have just learned, Gentlemen, the deception practiced on the confidence of a King whom we love, and the wound given to the hopes of the nation whom we represent.

I will not now repeat all that has been said to you, with as much justice as energy; I will lay before you a plain sketch, and ask of you to accompany me back to the month of August of last year.

The King was deceived.

The laws were without administrators, and a population of twenty-five million without judges;

The treasury without money, without credit, without the means of preventing a general bankruptcy, which in fact would have taken place in the course of a few days;

Those in power had neither respect for the liberty of individuals, nor strength to maintain public order; the people without any resource but the convocation of the Estates General, yet hopeless of obtaining it, and distrustful even of the promise of a King whose probity they revered, Edition: current; Page: [168] because they persisted in believing that the ministers of the day would elude compliance.

To these political afflictions Providence, in its anger, had joined others; ravage and desolation was spread through the country; famine appeared in the distance, threatening a part of the kingdom.

The cry of truth reached the King’s ears; his eye fixed itself on this distressing picture; his pure and upright heart was moved; he yielded to the wish of the people; he recalled the minister whom the people demanded.

Justice resumed its course.

The public treasury was filled; credit reappeared as in times of the greatest prosperity; the infamous name of bankruptcy was no longer pronounced.

The prisons were opened, and restored to society the victims whom they contained.

The insurrections, of which the seeds had been sown in several provinces, and which were likely to lead to the most dreadful results, were confined to troubles certainly afflicting in their nature, but temporary, and soon appeased by wisdom and leniency.

The Estates General were once more promised: no one was now doubtful of their meeting, when they saw a virtuous King confide the execution of his promise to a virtuous minister. The King’s name was covered with benedictions.

The season of scarcity came. Immense exertions, the sea covered with ships, all the powers of Europe applied to, the two hemispheres put under contribution for our subsistence, more than fourteen hundred thousand quintals of corn and flour imported among us, more than twenty-five million taken out of the royal treasury, an active, efficacious, unremitted concern applied every day, every hour, in every place succeeded in warding off this calamity; and the paternal disquietude, the generous sacrifices of the King, published by his minister, excited in the hearts of all his subjects new feelings of love and gratitude.

Finally, in spite of numberless obstacles, the Estates General were assembled. The Estates General assembled! How many things, Gentlemen, are comprised in these few words! how many benefits do they suggest! to what a degree ought the gratitude of Frenchmen to be fixed on them! Certain divisions appeared at the outset of this memorable assembly; let Edition: current; Page: [169] us beware of reproaching each other with it, and let none of us pretend to be wholly innocent. Let us rather say for the sake of peace, that every one of us may have allowed himself to fall into some venial errors; let us say that the last moment of prejudice is like the last moment of him whom it torments—that at the instant it is about to expire, it acquires a temporary animation and shows a final gleam of existence. Let us acknowledge that, as far as human exertions could go, there was not one conciliating measure which the minister did not attempt with the most strict impartiality, and that where he did not succeed, the fault lay in the force of circumstances. But amidst diversity of opinion a patriotic feeling animated every heart; the pacifying efforts of the minister, the reiterated invitations of the King, were at last successful. A reunion took place: every day removed some principle of division; every day produced a motive for reconciliation: a plan of a constitution, sketched by an experienced hand, conceived by an intelligent mind and an upright heart [by Mounier], rallied all our minds and all our hearts. We were now making a real progress: we now entered effectually on our task, and France was beginning to respire.

It is at this instant, after overcoming so many obstacles, in the midst of so many hopes and so many wants, that perfidious advisers removed from the most just of kings, his most faithful servant, and, from the nation, the citizen minister in whom she had placed her confidence.

Who then are his accusers before the throne? certainly not the parliaments, whom he recalled; certainly not the people, whom he saved from famine; nor the public creditors, whom he paid; nor the upright citizens, whose wishes he has seconded. Who are they then? I do not know, but some there must be; the justice, the well-known goodness of the King do not allow me to doubt it—whoever they are, their guilt is serious.

If we cannot trace the accusers, let us endeavor to find the crimes which they may have laid to his charge. This minister, whom the King had granted to his people as a gift of his love, in what manner has he become all at once the object of ill will? what has he done for the last year? we have just seen it, I have said it, and I now repeat it: when there was no money in the treasury, he paid us; when we had no bread, he fed us; when there was no authority left, he calmed those who revolted. I have heard him accused alternately of shaking the throne, and of rendering Edition: current; Page: [170] the King despotic; of sacrificing the people to the nobility, and the nobility to the people. I considered these accusations the ordinary lot of the just and impartial, and the double censure appeared to me a double homage.

I recollect further having heard him called a factious man; I asked myself the meaning of this expression. I asked what other minister had ever been more devoted to the master whom he served, what other had been more eager to publish the virtues and good actions of the King, what other had given or procured to him a larger share of benedictions, of testimonies of love, and of respect.

Members of the Commons! whose noble sympathy made you rush before him on the day of his last triumph; that day, when after fearing you would lose him, you believed that he was restored to you for a longer time; when you surrounded him, when in the name of the people, of whom you are the august representatives, in the name of the King, whose faithful subjects you are, you entreated him to remain the minister of both, while you were shedding your virtuous tears on him; ah! say if it was with a factious look, or with the insolence of the leader of a party, that he received all these testimonies of your affection? Did he say to you, or did he ask you anything but to put your confidence in the King, to love the King, and to render this assembly dear to the King? Members of the Commons, answer me, I entreat you, and if my voice presumes to give publicity to a falsehood, let yours arise to confound me.

And his manner of retiring, Gentlemen, did it bear in any respect the appearance of a factious mind? His most trusted servants, his most affectionate friends, even his family, remained ignorant of his departure. He professed that he was going to the country; he left a prey to anxiety all who were connected with him, all who were attached to him; a night was passed in seeking him in all directions. Such behavior would be perfectly natural in the case of a prevaricator eager to escape the public indignation; but when you consider that he did it to withdraw from its homage, from expressions of regret which would have followed him along his way, and which might have soothed his misfortunes; that he should have deprived himself of this consolation, and suffered in the persons of all whom he loved, rather than be the cause of a moment’s disorder or popular commotion; that in short the last feeling that he experienced, the last duty that he prescribed to himself in quitting that France Edition: current; Page: [171] from which he was banished, consisted in giving the King and the nation this proof of respect and attachment—we must either not believe in the existence of virtue, or confess that virtue is here displayed in as pure a form as she ever exhibited on earth.

All that I had hitherto seen—the transports of the people which I had witnessed, my father’s carriage drawn by the citizens of the towns through which we passed—women on their knees when they saw him pass along the road—nothing made me experience so lively an emotion as such an opinion pronounced by such a man.

In less than a fortnight two million national guards were under arms in France. The arming of this militia was, no doubt, quickened by the dexterous circulation of a rumor in every town and village that the arrival of the brigands was imminent;6 but the unanimous feeling that drew the people from a state of tutelage was inspired by no artifice and directed by no party; the ascendency of the privileged bodies, and the strength of regular troops, disappeared in an instant. The nation took the place of all; it said, like the Cid, “We now arise”; and to show itself was to accomplish the victory. But alas! it also, in a short time, was depraved by flatterers, because it had become a power.

In the journey from Basel to Paris, the newly constituted authorities came out to address M. Necker as he passed through the towns; he recommended to them respect for property, attention to the clergy and nobility, and love for the King. He prevailed on them to grant passports to several persons who were quitting France. The Baron de Besenval, who had commanded a part of the German troops, was arrested at the distance of ten leagues from Paris, and the municipality of the capital had ordered him to be brought thither. M. Necker took on himself to suspend the execution of this order, in the dread, for which there were but too strong reasons, that the populace of Paris would have massacred him in its rage. But M. Necker felt all the danger that he incurred, in acting thus on the mere ground of his popularity. Accordingly, the day after his return to Versailles, he repaired to the Hotel de Ville of Paris to give an explanation of his conduct.

Let me be permitted to dwell once more on this day, the last of pure Edition: current; Page: [172] happiness in my life, which, however, had hardly begun its course. The whole population of Paris rushed in crowds into the streets; men and women were seen at the windows, and on the roofs, calling out Vive M. Necker. As he drew near the Hotel de Ville the acclamations redoubled, the square was filled with a multitude animated by one feeling, and pressing forward to receive a single man, and that man was my father. He entered the hall of the Hotel de Ville, explained to the newly elected magistrates the order that he had given to save M. de Besenval; and urging to them, with his accustomed delicacy, all that pleaded in favor of those who had acted in obedience to their sovereign, and in defense of a state of things that had existed during several centuries, he asked an amnesty for the past, whatever it might be, and reconciliation for the future. The confederates of Rutli,7 in the beginning of the fourteenth century, when they swore to deliver Switzerland, swore at the same time to be just toward their adversaries; and it was doubtless to this noble resolution that they were indebted for their triumph. Hardly had M. Necker pronounced the word amnesty, than it came home to every heart; the people collected in the square were eager to participate in it. M. Necker then came forward on the balcony, and proclaiming in a loud voice the sacred words of peace among Frenchmen of all parties, the whole multitude answered him with transport. As for me, I saw nothing after this instant, for I was bereft of my senses by joy.

Amiable and generous France, adieu! Adieu, France, which desired liberty, and which might then so easily have obtained it! I am now doomed to relate first your faults, next your crimes, and lastly your misfortunes: gleams of your virtues will still appear; but the light which they cast will serve only to show more clearly the depth of your miseries. Yet you have ever possessed such titles to be loved, that the mind still cherishes the hope of finding you what you were in the earliest days of national union. A friend returning after a long absence would be welcomed more kindly for the separation.

Edition: current; Page: [173]

PART II

CHAPTER I: Mirabeau.

One would almost say that in every era of history there are personages who should be considered as the representatives of the good and of the wicked principle. Such, in Rome, were Cicero and Catiline; such, in France, were M. Necker and Mirabeau. Mirabeau, gifted with the most comprehensive and energetic mind, thought himself sufficiently strong to overthrow the government, and to erect on its ruins a system, of some kind or other, that would have been the work of his own hands. This gigantic project was the ruin of France, and the ruin of himself; for he acted at first in the spirit of faction, although his real manner of judging was that of the most reflecting statesman. He was then of the age of forty, and had passed his whole life in lawsuits, abduction of women, and in prisons; he was excluded from good society, and his first wish was to regain his station in it. But he thought it necessary to set on fire the whole social edifice, that the doors of the Paris saloons might be opened to him. Like other immoral men, Mirabeau looked first to his personal interest in public affairs, and his foresight was limited by his egoism.1

Edition: current; Page: [174]

An unfortunate deputy of the Third Estate, a well-intentioned but a very weak man, gave the Constituent Assembly an account of what had passed at the Hotel de Ville, and of the triumph obtained by M. Necker over the emotions of hatred which some persons had attempted to excite among the people. This deputy hesitated so much, expressed himself with so much coldness, and still showed such a desire to be eloquent, that he destroyed all the effect of the admirable recital which he had taken on himself. Mirabeau, his pride deeply wounded at the success of M. Necker, promised himself to defeat the outcome of enthusiasm by throwing out ironical insinuations in the Assembly, and suspicions among the people. He repaired on that very day to all the sections of Paris, and prevailed on them to retract the amnesty granted the day before. He endeavored to excite exasperation against the late projects of the court, and alarmed the Parisians by the dread of passing for the dupes of their good nature, an apprehension that operates very potently on them, for they aim above all things at being considered quick-sighted and formidable. Mirabeau, by snatching from M. Necker the palm of domestic peace, struck the first blow at his popularity; but this reverse was bound to be followed by a number of others; for from the time that the popular party were urged to persecute the vanquished, M. Necker could no longer make common cause with the victors.

Mirabeau proceeded to circulate doctrines of the wildest anarchy, although his intellect, when viewed apart from his character, was perfectly sound and luminous. M. Necker has said of him in one of his writings that he was a demagogue by calculation and an aristocrat by disposition.2 There cannot be a more correct sketch of the man; not only was his mind too enlightened to avoid perceiving the impossibility of a democratic government Edition: current; Page: [175] in France, but he would not have desired it had it been practicable. He was vain in attaching a high price to his birth, and could not speak of the day of St. Bartholomew without saying, “Admiral Coligni, who, by the way, was a relation of my family.” So desirous was he of reminding people on all occasions of his noble descent.

His expensive habits made money extremely necessary to him, and M. Necker has been blamed for not having given him money on the opening of the Estates General. But other ministers had undertaken this kind of business, for which M. Necker was by no means calculated. Besides, Mirabeau, whether he accepted the money of the court or not, was determined to render himself not the instrument but the master of the court, and he never would have been willing to renounce his power as a demagogue until that power had raised him to the head of the government. He urged the union of all power in a single assembly, although perfectly aware that such a plan was hostile to the public good; but he flattered himself that France would thus fall into his hands, and that, after having precipitated her into confusion, he should have the power of saving her when he thought proper. Morality is the first of sciences, even in the light of calculation! There are always limits to the intellect of those who have not felt the harmony that exists between the nature of things and the duties of man. “La petite morale tue la grande—morality in small things destroys morality in great,” was a frequent remark of Mirabeau; but an opportunity of exercising the latter hardly occurred, according to his views, in the course of a life.

He possessed a larger share of intellect than of talent, and he was never fully at ease when speaking extemporaneously at the tribune. A similar difficulty in composing made him have recourse to the assistance of friends in all his works;3 yet not one of them after his death would have been capable of writing what he had found means to inspire into them. In speaking of the Abbé Maury he used to say, “When he is on the right side of the question, we debate; when he is on the wrong, I crush him”; but the Edition: current; Page: [176] truth was, that the Abbé Maury often defended even a good cause with that kind of eloquence which does not proceed from real emotion of the heart.4

Had ministers been allowed to sit in the Assembly, M. Necker, who was capable of expressing himself with the greatest warmth and force, would, I believe, have triumphed over Mirabeau. But he could not enter on debate, and was obliged to confine himself to the transmission of memorials. Mirabeau attacked the minister in his absence, while also praising his goodness, his generosity, his popularity, the whole expressed with a deceitful respect that was particularly dangerous. Yet he had a sincere admiration for M. Necker, and acknowledged it to his friends; but he well knew that so scrupulous a character would never coalesce with his own, and his grand object was to destroy his influence.

M. Necker was reduced to acting on the defensive; the other assailed with the more confidence, that neither the success nor the responsibility of administration was his concern. M. Necker, by defending the royal authority, necessarily sacrificed his favor with the popular party. He knew besides, by experience, that the King had secret counselors5 and private plans, and he was by no means certain of prevailing on him to follow the course that he thought best. Obstacles of every kind impeded his measures; he was not at liberty to speak openly on any subject; the line, however, which he invariably followed was that which was pointed out to him by his duty as minister. The nation and the King had exchanged places: the King had become by much, far too much, the weaker party. It was thus incumbent on M. Necker to defend the throne against the nation, as he had defended the nation against the throne. But Mirabeau was not to be restrained by those generous sentiments; he put himself at the head of a party that aimed at political importance regardless of the cost; and the most abstract principles were in his hands nothing but instruments of intrigue.

Nature had effectually seconded him by giving him those defects and Edition: current; Page: [177] advantages that operate on a popular assembly: sarcasm, irony, force, and originality. The moment he rose to speak, the moment he stepped to the tribune, the curiosity of all was excited; nobody esteemed him, but the impression of his talents was such that no one dared to attack him, if we except those members of the aristocratic body, who, declining a conflict in debate, thought proper to send him challenge after challenge to meet them with the sword. He always refused these challenges, and merely noted the names of the parties in his pocket book, with a promise that they should be answered at the dissolution of the assembly. It is not fair, he said, in speaking of an honest country gentleman, of I do not know what province, to expose a man of talent like me against a blockhead like him. And, what is very extraordinary in such a country as France, this behavior had not the effect of bringing him into contempt; it did not even make his courage suspected. There was something so martial in his mind, and so bold in his manner, that no one could impute cowardice in any way to such a man.

Edition: current; Page: [178]

CHAPTER II: Of the Constituent Assembly After the 14th of July.

The Third Estate, and the minority of the nobility and clergy, formed the majority of the Constituent Assembly; and this Assembly disposed of the fate of France. After the 14th of July, nothing could be more striking than the sight of twelve hundred deputies, listened to by numerous spectators, and stirred up at the very name of those great truths which have occupied the human mind since the origin of society on earth. This Assembly partook of the passions of the people; but no collection of men could present such an imposing mass of information.1 Thoughts were communicated there with electric rapidity, because the action of man on man is irresistible, and because nothing appealed more strongly to the imagination than that unarmed will bursting the ancient chains, forged originally by conquest and now suddenly disappearing before the simplicity of reason. We must carry ourselves back to 1789, when prejudice had been the only cause of mischief, and when unsullied liberty was the idol of enlightened minds. With what enthusiasm did one contemplate such a number of persons of Edition: current; Page: [179] different classes, some coming to make sacrifices, others to enter on the possession of their rights. Yet there were symptoms of a certain arrogance of power among those sovereigns of a new kind, who considered themselves depositories of a power without limits, the power of the people. The English had proceeded slowly in forming a new political constitution; the French, seeing it had stood its ground firmly for more than a century, ought to have been satisfied with its imitation.

Mounier, Lally, Malouet, Clermont-Tonnerre, came forward in support of the royal prerogative as soon as the Revolution had disarmed the partisans of the Old Regime.2 This course was dictated not only by reflection, but by that involuntary sympathy which we feel for the powerful in a state of misfortune, particularly when surrounded by august recollections. This generous feeling would have been that of the French at large, if the necessity of applause did not with them rise pre-eminent to every other impulse; and the spirit of the time inspired the maxims of demagogues into those very persons who were afterward to become the apologists of despotism.

A man of talent said some time ago, “Whoever may be named finance minister, may consider me beforehand as his friend, and even as, in some degree, his relative.” In France, on the other hand, it is a duty to befriend the vanquished party, be it what it may; for the possession of power produces a more depraving effect on the French than on any other nation. The habit of living at court, or the desire of getting there, forms their minds to vanity; and in an arbitrary government, people have no idea of any doctrine but that of success. It was the faults generated and brought forth by servility which were the cause of the excesses of licentiousness.

Every town, every village, sent its congratulations to the Assembly; and whoever had composed one of these forty thousand addresses began to think himself a rival to Montesquieu.

The crowd of spectators admitted into the galleries stimulated the speakers to such a degree that each endeavored to obtain a share in those Edition: current; Page: [180] peals of applause, which were so new and so seductive to the self-love of the individual. In the British Parliament it is a rule not to read a speech, it must be spoken; so that the number of persons capable of addressing the house with effect is necessarily very small. But, as soon as permission is given to read either what we have written for ourselves or what others have written for us, men of eminence are no longer the permanent leaders of an assembly, and we thus lose one of the great advantages of a free government—that of giving talent its place and, consequently, prompting all men to the improvement of their faculties. When one can become a courtier of the people with as little exertion as makes one a courtier of a prince, the cause of mankind gains nothing by the change.

The democratic declamations which obtained success in the assembly were transformed into actual outrage in the country; country-seats were burned in fulfillment of the epigrams pronounced by the popular speakers, and the kingdom was thrown into confusion by a war of words.

The Assembly was seized with a philosophic enthusiasm, proceeding, in part, from the example of America. That country, new as yet to history, had nothing in the shape of ancient usage to preserve, if we except the excellent regulations of English jurisprudence, which, long ago adopted in America, had there implanted a feeling of justice and reason. The French flattered themselves with the power of adopting for the basis of their government the principles that suited a new people; but, situated in the midst of Europe, and having a privileged caste, whose claims it was necessary to quiet, the plan was impracticable; besides, how were they to conciliate the institutions of a republic with the existence of a monarchy? The English constitution offered the only example of the solution of this problem. But a mania of vanity, something like that of a man of letters, prompted the French to innovate in this respect; they had all the fastidious apprehension of an author who refuses to borrow either character or situations from existing works. Now, as far as fiction goes, we do well to aim at originality; but when real institutions are in question, we are fortunate in having before us a practical proof of their utility.3 I should certainly Edition: current; Page: [181] be ashamed at this time,4 more than any other, to take part in declamations against the first representative assembly of France: it contained men of the greatest merit, and it is to the reforms introduced by it that the nation is still indebted for the stock of reason and liberty which it will, and ought to, preserve, at whatever sacrifice. But if this assembly had added to its shining talents a more scrupulous regard to morality, it would have found the happy medium between the two parties, who, if we may use the expression, contested with each other the theory of politics.

Edition: current; Page: [182]

CHAPTER III: General La Fayette.

M. de la Fayette, having fought from his early youth for the cause of America, had early become imbued with the principles of liberty which form the basis of that government. If he made mistakes in regard to the French Revolution, we are to ascribe them all to his admiration of the American institutions, and of Washington, the hero citizen who guided the first steps of that nation in the career of independence. La Fayette, young, affluent, of noble family, and beloved at home, relinquished all these advantages at the age of nineteen to serve beyond the ocean in the cause of that liberty, the love of which has decided every action of his life. Had he had the happiness to be a native of the United States, his conduct would have been that of Washington: the same disinterestedness, the same enthusiasm, the same perseverance in their opinions, distinguished each of these generous friends of humanity. Had General Washington been, like the Marquis de la Fayette, commander of the national guard of Paris, he also might have found it impossible to control the course of circumstances; he also might have seen his efforts baffled by the difficulty of being at once faithful to his engagements to the King, and of establishing at the same time the liberty of his country.

M. de la Fayette, I must say, has a right to be considered a true republican; none of the vanities of his rank ever entered his head; power, the effect of which is so great in France, had no ascendancy over him; the desire of pleasing in drawing-room conversation did not with him influence a single phrase; he sacrificed all his fortune to his opinions with the most generous indifference. When in the prisons of Olmütz,1 as when at Edition: current; Page: [183] the height of his influence, he was equally firm in his attachment to his principles. His manner of seeing and acting is open and direct. Whoever has marked his conduct may foretell with certainty what he will do on any particular occasion. His political feeling is that of a citizen of the United States, and even his person is more English than French. The hatred of which M. de la Fayette is the object has never embittered his temper, and his gentleness of soul is complete; at the same time nothing has ever modified his opinions, and his confidence in the triumph of liberty is the same as that of a pious man in a future life. These sentiments, so contrary to the selfish calculations of most of the men who have acted a part in France, may appear pitiable in the eyes of some persons—“It is so silly,” they think, “to prefer one’s country to oneself, not to change one’s party when that party is vanquished; in short, to consider mankind not as cards with which to play a winning game, but as the sacred objects of unlimited sacrifices.” If this is to form the charge of silliness, would that it were but once merited by our men of talents!

It is a singular phenomenon that such a character as that of M. de la Fayette should have appeared in the foremost rank of French nobles; but he can neither be censured nor exculpated with impartiality, without being acknowledged to be such as I have described him. It then becomes easy to understand the different contrasts which naturally arose between his disposition and his situation. Supporting monarchy more from duty than taste, he drew involuntarily toward the principles of the democrats whom he was obliged to resist; and a certain kindness for the advocates of the republican form was perceptible in him, although his reflection forbade the admission of their system into France. Since the departure of M. de la Fayette for America, now forty years ago,2 we cannot quote a single action or a single word of his which was not direct and consistent; personal interest never blended itself in the least with his public conduct. Success would have displayed such sentiments to advantage; but they deserve all the attention of the historian, in spite of circumstances, and in spite even of faults which might serve as weapons for opponents.

Edition: current; Page: [184]

On the 11th of July, before the Third Estate had obtained their triumph, M. de la Fayette addressed the Constituent Assembly and proposed a declaration of rights, nearly similar to that which the Americans placed at the head of their constitution, after conquering their independence.3 The English, likewise, after excluding the Stuarts and calling William III to the crown, made him sign a bill of rights, on which their present constitution is founded. But the American declaration of rights being intended for a people where there were no pre-existing privileges to impede the pure operation of reason, a number of universal principles regarding political liberty and equality were placed at the beginning of this declaration altogether in conformity with the state of knowledge already diffused among them. In England the bill of rights did not proceed on general ideas; it confirmed existing laws and institutions.4

The French declaration of rights in 1789 contained the best part of those of England and America; but it would have perhaps been better to have confined it, on the one hand to what was indisputable and on the other to what would not have admitted of any dangerous interpretation. There can be no doubt that distinctions in society can have no other object than the general good; that all political power takes its rise from the interest of the people; that men are born and remain free and equal in the eye of the law; but there is ample space for sophistry in so wide a field, while nothing is more clear or undoubted than the application of these truths to individual liberty, the establishment of juries, the freedom of the press, popular Edition: current; Page: [185] elections, the division of the legislative power, the sanctioning of taxes, etc.5 Philip the Tall said that “every man, in particular every Frenchman, was born, and remained free”; he was, it is well known, very far from imposing any restraint on himself from the consequences of this maxim. A nation, however, is likely to take words of this nature in a much more extensive sense than a king. When the declaration of the rights of man appeared in the Constituent Assembly, in the midst of all those young nobles who so lately had figured as courtiers, they brought to the tribune, one after the other, their philosophical phrases; entering with self-complacency into minute discussions on the mode of expressing this or that maxim, the truth of which, however, is so evident that the plainest words in any language are equally capable of conveying it. It was then foreseen that nothing durable could be produced by a mode of debating into which vanity, at once frivolous and factious, had so soon found its way.

Edition: current; Page: [186]

CHAPTER IV: Of the Good Effected by the Constituent Assembly.

Before entering on the distressing events which have disfigured the French Revolution, and lost, perhaps for a considerable time, the cause of reason and liberty in Europe, let us examine the principles proclaimed by the Constituent Assembly and exhibit a sketch of the advantages which their application has produced, and still produces in France, in spite of all the misfortunes that have pressed on that country.

The use of torture still subsisted in 1789; the King had abolished only the rack before trial; punishments, such as straining on the wheel, and torments similar to those which during three days were inflicted on Damiens, were, in certain cases, still admitted. The Constituent Assembly abolished even the name of these judicial barbarities. The penal laws against the Protestants, already modified in 1787 by the predecessors of the Estates General, were replaced by the most complete liberty of public worship.

Criminal processes were not carried on in public, and not only were a number of irreparable mistakes committed, but a much greater number were supposed; for whatever is not public in the administration of justice is always accounted unfair.

The Constituent Assembly introduced into France all the criminal jurisprudence of England, and perhaps improved it in several respects, as they were not checked in their labors by ancient usages. M. de la Fayette, from the time that he was placed at the head of the armed force of Paris, declared to the magistrates of that city that he could not take upon himself to arrest anyone unless the accused were to be provided with counsel, a copy of the charge, the power of confronting witnesses, and publicity given to the whole procedure. In consequence of this demand, equally Edition: current; Page: [187] liberal and rare on the part of a military man, the magistrates asked and obtained from the Constituent Assembly that those precious securities should be in force till the establishment of juries should prevent all anxiety about the equity of the decisions.

The parlements of France were, as is apparent from their history, bodies possessing certain privileges and acting frequently as the instruments of political passions; but from their having a certain independence in their constitution, and preserving a strict respect for forms, the King’s ministers were almost always in a state of altercation with them. Since the commencement of the French monarchy there has, as we have already remarked, hardly existed a state offense, the knowledge of which has not been withdrawn from the ordinary courts, or in the decision of which the forms enjoined by law were preserved. In examining the endless list of ministers, noblemen, and citizens condemned to death on political grounds during several centuries, we see, and it is to the honor of the established judges that we say it, that government was obliged to commit the trials to extraordinary commissions when it wished to secure a conviction.1 These commissions were, it is true, usually composed of men who had been judges, but they were not formed on the established plan; and yet government had but too much reason to reckon with confidence on the spirit of the courts. Criminal jurisprudence in France was entirely adapted to avenge the wrongs of government, and did not protect individuals at all. In consequence of the aristocratic abuses which oppressed the nation, civil actions were conducted with much more equity than the criminal, because the higher ranks were more interested in them. In France, even at present, very little difference is made between a man brought to trial and a man found guilty; while in England, the judge himself apprises the accused of the importance of the questions he is about to put to him, and of the danger to which he may expose himself by his answers. To begin with the commissaries of police and end with the application of torture, we find that there scarcely exists a method that has not been employed by the old jurisprudence, and by the tribunals of the Revolution, to ensnare Edition: current; Page: [188] the man brought to trial; the man for whom society ought to provide the means of defense because it considers itself to have the sad right of taking away his life.

Had the Constituent Assembly abolished the punishment of death, at least for political offenses, perhaps the judicial assassinations which we have witnessed would not have taken place.2 The Emperor Leopold II, in his capacity of Grand Duke of Tuscany, abolished the punishment of death in his territories, and so far from increasing offenses by the mildness of his legislation, the prisons were empty during several months successively, a thing never before known in that country. The National Assembly substituted for the parliaments, composed of men who had purchased their places, the admirable institutions of juries, which will be daily more venerated as the public becomes more sensible of its advantages.3 Particular circumstances of rare occurrence may intimidate jurymen when both government and the people unite to alarm them; but we have seen most of the factions which have succeeded to power distrust these equitable tribunals and replace them by military commissions, and by prevôtal or by special courts,4 which are merely so many names to disguise political murders. The Constituent Assembly, on the other hand, limited, as much as it possibly could, the competency of courts-martial, confining their jurisdiction to trespasses committed by soldiers in time of war, and out of the territory of France; it deprived the prevôtal courts of those powers which it has since unluckily attempted to renew and even to extend.

Lettres de cachet enabled the King, and consequently his ministers, to exile, transport, or imprison for life any man without even the form of trial. A power of this nature, wherever it exists, is equivalent to despotism: Edition: current; Page: [189] it ought to have fallen from the first day that the deputies of the French nation were assembled.

The Constituent Assembly, by proclaiming complete liberty of worship, replaced religion in its sanctuary—the conscience; and twelve centuries of superstition, hypocrisy, and massacre, no longer left any traces, thanks to the short interval in which the power of legislation was placed in the hands of enlightened men.

Religious vows were no longer deemed obligatory in law; every individual, of either sex, was left at liberty to impose on themselves the most singular privations if they thought that such was the mode of pleasing the author of all pure and virtuous enjoyments; but society no longer took on itself to force either monks or nuns to remain in their secluded abodes if they repented the unfortunate promises made in a moment of enthusiasm. The younger sons of families, frequently obliged to enter the ecclesiastical state, were now freed from their chains, and were afterward set still more at liberty when the property of the clergy became the property of the country.5

A hundred thousand nobles were exempt from the payment of taxes.6 They were not accountable for an insult committed on a citizen or on a soldier of the Third Estate, because they were considered as of a different race. Officers could be appointed only from among those privileged persons, with the exception of the artillery and engineer departments, in which there was required a larger share of information than was in general Edition: current; Page: [190] possessed by the provincial nobles.7 Regiments were, however, given to young men of rank incapable of commanding them, because, their birth preventing them from following any other than the military profession, it became incumbent on government to provide for their support. The consequence was that, with the exception of personal courage, the French army under the Old Regime was becoming daily less and less respectable in the eyes of foreigners. What emulation, and what military talents, has not the equality of the citizens drawn forth in France! It is thus that we owe to the Constituent Assembly that glory of our arms of which we had reason to be proud, so long as it did not become the property of one man.8

The unlimited power of the King enabled him, by a lettre de cachet, to shield a man of rank from prosecution when he had been guilty of a crime. Of this the Comte de Charalois9 was a striking example in the last century, and many others of the same nature might be quoted. Yet, by a singular contrast the relatives of the nobility lost none of their respectability when one of their number underwent a capital punishment, while the family of a man of the Third Estate was dishonored if he was condemned to the infamous death of hanging, from which the nobles alone were exempt.

All these prejudices vanished in a day. The power of reason is immense, as soon as it can show itself without obstruction. The efforts made in the last fifteen years have been in vain: it will be impossible to bring back the nation to the endurance of those abuses which force alone had maintained.

We are indebted to the Constituent Assembly for the suppression of the privileged castes in France, and for civil liberty to all; at least, we owe to them liberty, such as it exists in their decrees; for it has been always found necessary to deviate from these decrees when attempts were made to re-establish suppressed abuses either under new or old names.

Law in France was so varied and multiform that not only were the different orders of the state governed by different laws, but almost each Edition: current; Page: [191] province, as we have already remarked, had its distinct privileges. The Constituent Assembly, by dividing France into eighty-three departments, effaced these ancient separations: it suppressed the taxes on salt and tobacco, taxes equally expensive and vexatious, which exposed to the severest punishment a number of fathers of families who were tempted, by the facility of contraband, to violate unjust laws. The taxes were rendered uniform, and this advantage, at least, is secured forever.

Distinctions of all kinds were invented by the nobles of the second order to protect them from that equality with which they are in truth very closely threatened. The privileged of yesterday aimed, above all things, to escape being confounded with the people of whom they were so lately a part. The tithes and feudal services pressed heavily on the poor; compulsory service, such as that of the corvée, and other relicts of feudal barbarism were still general. The game laws contained provisions ruinous to the farmers, and the insolent tone of these laws was at least as revolting as the actual evil that resulted from them.

If we are surprised that France should still have so many resources in spite of her misfortunes; if, notwithstanding the loss of her colonies, commerce has opened new paths; if the progress of agriculture is wonderful in spite of the conscription and the invasion of foreign troops, it is to the decrees of the Constituent Assembly that we are to attribute it. France under the old form would have sunk under the thousandth part of the disasters which France of the present day has supported.

The division of properties, by the sale of the church lands, has relieved a very numerous class of society from a state of misery. It is to the suppression of the rights of corporations and wardenships, and to the removal of all restraints on industry, that we are to attribute the increase of manufactures and the spirit of enterprise which has shown itself in all directions. In short, a nation long fixed to the soil has come forth in a manner from underground; and we are astonished, after all the scourges of civil discord, at the store of talent, wealth, and emulation in a country delivered from the threefold fetters of an intolerant church, a feudal nobility, and an unlimited monarchy.10

Edition: current; Page: [192]

The finances, which seemed so complicated a labor, assumed regularity almost of themselves as soon as it was decided that the taxes should await the sanction of the representatives of the people, and that publicity should be given to the accounts of revenue and expenditure. The Constituent Assembly is perhaps the only one in France that fully represented the national wish; and it is on that account that its strength was incalculable.

Another aristocracy, that of the capital, had also an imperious sway. Everything was done at Paris, or rather at Versailles; for all power was concentrated in the ministers and in the court. The Constituent Assembly easily accomplished what M. Necker had attempted in vain, the establishment of provincial assemblies. One was constituted in each department,11 and municipalities were appointed for each town. Local business was thus committed to magistrates who took a real interest in it, and who were personally known to those whose affairs they administered. On all sides were diffused life, emulation, and intelligence: there was a France instead of a capital, a capital instead of a court. The voice of the people, so long called the voice of God, was at last consulted by government; and it would have supplied a wise rule of guidance had not, as we are condemned to remember, the Constituent Assembly proceeded with too much precipitation in its reform, from the very commencement of its power; and had it not soon after fallen into the hands of factious men, who, having nothing more to reap in the field of beneficence, endeavored to excite mischief, that they might enter on a new career.

The establishment of a national guard is another very great benefit derived from the Constituent Assembly. No liberty can exist in that country where arms are borne only by soldiers, and not by citizens. Finally, this Assembly, in proclaiming the renunciation of conquests, seemed inspired by prophetic dread; wishing to turn the vivacity of the French toward internal improvement and raise the dominion of thought above that of arms. All inferior men are ready to call the bayonet to their assistance Edition: current; Page: [193] against the arguments of reason, that they may act by means just as mechanical as their own understanding; but superior minds desire nothing but the free exercise of thought, and are aware how much a state of war is unfavorable to it.12 The good produced by the Constituent Assembly in France doubtless inspired the nation with that energetic feeling which made it defend by arms the rights it had acquired; but we are bound, in justice, to say that the principles of this Assembly were perfectly pacific. It felt no envy toward any portion of Europe; and if it had been shown, in a magic mirror, France losing her liberty by her victories, it would have endeavored to combat this impulse of the blood by the more lofty impulse of the understanding.

Edition: current; Page: [194]

CHAPTER V: Liberty of the Press, and State of the Police, During the Time of the Constituent Assembly.

Not only does the Constituent Assembly claim the gratitude of the French people for the reform of the abuses by which they were oppressed; but we must render it the further praise of being the only one of the authorities which have governed France before and since the Revolution which allowed, freely and unequivocally, the liberty of the press. This it no doubt did more willingly from the certainty of its having public opinion in its favor; but there can be no free government except on that condition. Moreover, although the great majority of publications were in favor of the principles of the Revolution, the newspapers on the aristocratic side attacked, with the greatest bitterness, individuals of the popular party, who could not fail to be irritated by it.1

Previous to 1789, Holland and England were the only countries in Europe that enjoyed the liberty of the press secured by law. Political discussions in periodical journals began at the same time with representative governments; and these governments are inseparable from them. In absolute monarchies, a court gazette suffices for the publication of official Edition: current; Page: [195] news; but that a whole nation may read daily discussions on public affairs, it is necessary that it should consider public affairs as its own. The liberty of the press is then quite a different matter in countries where there are assemblies whose debates may be printed every morning in the newspapers, and under the silent government of unlimited power. The censure préalable, or examination before printing, may, under the latter government, either deprive us of a good work or preserve us from a bad one. But the case is not the same with newspapers, the interest of which is momentary: these, if subjected to previous examination, are necessarily dependent on ministers; and there is no longer a national representation from the time that the executive power has in its hands, by means of newspapers, the daily molding of facts and reasonings: this makes it as much master of the public opinion as of the troops in its pay.

All persons are agreed on the necessity of repressing by law the abuses of the liberty of the press; but if the executive power alone has the right of giving a tone to the newspapers, which convey to constituents the speeches of their delegates, the censorship is no longer defensive, it is imperative; for it must prescribe the spirit in which the public papers are to be composed. It is not then a negative but a positive power, that is conferred on the ministers of a country when they are invested with the correction, or rather the composition of newspapers. They can thus circulate whatever they want about an individual, and prevent that individual from publishing his justification. At the time of the revolution of England, in 1688, it was by sermons delivered in the churches that public opinion was formed. The case is similar in regard to newspapers in France: had the Constituent Assembly forbidden the reading of “the Acts of the Apostles,”2 and permitted only the periodical publications adverse to the aristocratic party, the public, suspecting some mystery because it witnessed constraint, would not have so cordially attached itself to deputies whose conduct it could not follow nor appreciate with certainty.

Absolute silence on the part of newspapers would, in that case, be infinitely preferable, since the few letters that would reach the country Edition: current; Page: [196] would convey, at least, some pure truths. The art of printing would bring back mankind to the darkness of sophistry were it wholly under the management of the executive power, and were governments thus enabled to counterfeit the public voice. Every discovery for the improvement of society is instrumental to a despotic purpose if it is not conducive to liberty.

But the troubles of France were caused, it will be alleged, by the licentiousness of the press. Who does not now admit that the Constituent Assembly ought to have left seditious publications, like every other public offense, to the judgment of the courts? But if for the purpose of maintaining its power it had silenced its adversaries, and confined the command of the press only to its adherents, the representative government would have been extinguished. A national representation on an imperfect plan is but an additional instrument in the hands of tyranny. The history of England shows how far obsequious parliaments go beyond even ministers themselves in the adulation of power. Responsibility has no terrors to a collective body; besides, the more admirable a thing is in itself, whether we speak of national representation, oratory, or the talent of composition, the more despicable it becomes when perverted from its natural destination; in that case, that which is naturally bad proves the less exceptionable of the two.

Representatives form by no means a separate caste; they do not possess the gift of miracles; they are of importance only when supported by the nation; but as soon as that support fails them, a battalion of grenadiers is stronger than an assembly of three hundred deputies. It is then a moral power which enables them to balance the physical power of that authority which soldiers obey; and this moral power consists entirely in the action of the liberty of the press on the public mind. The power which distributes patronage becomes everything as soon as the public opinion, which awards reputation, is reduced to nothing.

But cannot this right, some persons may say, be suspended for some time? And by what means should we then be apprised of the necessity of re-establishing it? The liberty of the press is the single right on which all other rights depend; the security of an army is in its sentinels. When you wish to write against the suspension of that liberty, your arguments on Edition: current; Page: [197] such a subject are exactly what government does not permit you to publish.

There is, however, one circumstance that may necessitate the submitting of newspapers to examination, that is, to the authority of the government which they ought to enlighten: I mean, when foreigners happen to be masters of a country. But in that case, there is nothing in the country, do what you will, that can be compared to regular government. The only interest of the oppressed nation is then to recover, if possible, its independence; and, as in a prison, silence is more likely to soften the jailor than complaint, we should be silent so long as chains are imposed at once on our thoughts and our feelings.

A merit of the highest kind which belonged, beyond dispute, to the Constituent Assembly was that of always respecting the principles of freedom, which it proclaimed. Often have I seen sold at the door of an assembly more powerful than ever was a king of France, the most bitter insults to the members of the majority, their friends, and their principles. The Assembly forebore likewise to have recourse to any of the secret expedients of power, and looked to no other support than the general adherence of the country. The secrecy of private correspondence was inviolate, and the invention of a ministry of police did not then figure in the list of possible calamities.3 The case in regard to the police is the same as in regard to the restraint on newspapers: the actual state of France, occupied by foreign troops,4 can alone give a proper conception of its cruel necessity.

When the Constituent Assembly, removed from Versailles to Paris, was, in many respects, no longer mistress of its deliberations, one of its Edition: current; Page: [198] committees thought proper to take the name of Committee of Inquiries, appointed to examine into the existence of some alleged conspiracies denounced in the Assembly. This committee was without power, as it had no spies or agents under its orders, and the freedom of speech was besides wholly unlimited. But the mere name of Committee of Inquiries, analogous to that of the inquisitorial institutions adopted by tyrants in church and state, inspired general aversion;5 and poor Voydel, who happened to be president of this committee, although perfectly inoffensive, was not admitted into any party.

The dreadful sect of Jacobins pretended, in the sequel, to found liberty on despotism, and from that system arose all the crimes of the Revolution. But the Constituent Assembly was far from adopting that course; its measures were strictly conformable to its object, and it was in liberty itself that it sought the strength necessary to establish liberty. Had it combined with this noble indifference to the attacks of its adversaries, for which public opinion avenged it, a proper severity against all publications and meetings which stimulated the populace to disorder; had it considered that the moment any party becomes powerful, its first duty is to repress its own adherents, this Assembly would have governed with so much energy and wisdom that the work of ages might have been accomplished, perhaps, in two years. One can scarcely refrain from believing that that fatality, which so often punishes the pride of man, was here the only obstacle: for, at that time, everything appeared easy, so great was the union of the public and so fortunate the combination of circumstances.

Edition: current; Page: [199]

CHAPTER VI: Of the Different Parties Conspicuous in the Constituent Assembly.

There was one general disposition among all the popular party, for all aimed at liberty; but there were particular divisions in the majority as in the minority of the Assembly, and most of these divisions were founded on the personal interests which now began to prevail. When the influence of an assembly ceases to be confined within the limits of legislating, and when a great share of the public patronage falls into its hands, the danger in any country, but particularly in France, is that general views and principles generate only sophisms, which make general truths dexterously subservient to the purposes of individuals.

The aristocratic part of the Assembly, called the right side (coté droit), was composed almost entirely of nobles, prelates, and members of the old parliament: scarcely thirty members of the Third Estate had joined them. This party, which had protested against all the resolutions of the Assembly, continued to attend it only from motives of prudence: all that passed there appeared to it insolent and unimportant; so ridiculous did they think that discovery of the eighteenth century—a nation—while, till then, nothing had been heard of but nobility, priests, and people. When the members of the right side condescended to drop their ironical strain, it was to treat as impious every encroachment made on old institutions; as if the social order alone, in the course of nature, ought to be doomed to the double infirmity of infancy and old age, and to pass from the formlessness of youth to the decrepitude of old age without receiving any real strength from the knowledge acquired over time. The privileged orders made use of religion as a safeguard for the interest of their caste; and it was by thus Edition: current; Page: [200] confounding privileges and dogmas that they greatly impaired the influence of true Christianity in France.

The orator of the nobles, as I have already remarked, was M. de Casalès, who had been ennobled within the last twenty-five years; for most of the men of talent among the families of real antiquity had sided with the popular party. The Abbé Maury, the orator of the clergy, often supported the good cause, because he was on the side of the vanquished, a circumstance which contributed more to his success than even his talents. The Archbishop of Aix, the Abbé de Montesquiou, and other acute defenders of their orders sometimes endeavored, like Casalès, to win the favor of their adversaries, that they might obtain, not an acquiescence in their opinions but a vote of confidence on their talents. The other aristocrats were in the habit of using abusive language to the deputies of the people; and, always unwilling to yield to circumstances, imagined that they were doing good when they were only aggravating the evil. Wholly occupied in justifying their reputation as prophets, they even desired misfortune, that they might enjoy the satisfaction of having predicted truly.1

The two extreme parties in the assembly were in the habit of placing themselves as at the two ends of an amphitheater, and of occupying the highest seats on each side. On the right side,2 coming down, were the party called la plaine, or le marais; that is, the moderates, for the most part advocates of the English constitution. I have already named their chiefs, Malouet, Lally, and Mounier;3 they were the most conscientious men in the Assembly. But although Lally possessed the most impressive eloquence, though Mounier was a political writer of the greatest judgment, and Malouet a practical man of first rate energy; although out of doors they were supported by ministers, with M. Necker at their head, and although in the Assembly several men of talent rallied under their opinions, Edition: current; Page: [201] the two extreme parties threw in the background those voices, the most pure and courageous of all. They were still heard in the midst of a misled multitude; but the proud aristocrats could not have patience with men desirous of establishing a wise, free, and, consequently, durable constitution; and they were often seen to prefer joining the violent democrats, whose folly threatened France and themselves with a frightful anarchy. Such are the characteristics of party spirit, or rather of that extreme self-love which does not allow men to tolerate any other ideas than their own.

Next to the moderate or impartial members were the popular party, which, although united on questions of great importance, were divided into four sections, each marked by clear shades of distinction. M. de la Fayette, as commander of the National Guard, and the most disinterested and ardent friend of liberty, was much esteemed by the Assembly; but his scrupulous opinions did not allow him to influence the deliberations of the representatives of the people; and it was, perhaps, too great a sacrifice to him to risk his popularity out of the Assembly by debates, in which he would have had to support the royal prerogative against democratic principles. He preferred the passive course that is suitable to a military man.4 At a subsequent time he made a courageous sacrifice of this love of popularity, the favorite passion of his soul; but in the time of the Constituent Assembly he lost part of his credit with the deputies because he made use of it too seldom.

Mirabeau, who was known to be corruptible, had with him personally only those who aimed at sharing the chances of his fortune. But although he had not what can be called a party, he exercised ascendancy over all when he made use of the admirable power of his mind. The men of influence on the popular side, with the exception of a few Jacobins, were Duport,5 Barnave, and some young men of the court who had become democrats; men perfectly pure in a pecuniary sense, but very desirous of acting a part of consequence. Duport, a counselor of parlement, had been Edition: current; Page: [202] during his whole life impressed with the defects of the institution to which he belonged; his profound knowledge of the jurisprudence of different countries gave him a claim, in that respect, to the confidence of the Assembly.

Barnave,6 a young counselor from Dauphiny of the greatest merit, was more fitted by his talents than almost any other deputy to figure as a speaker in the English manner. He lost himself with the aristocratic party by one unlucky expression. After the 14th of July, great and just indignation was expressed at the death of three victims assassinated in the tumult. Barnave, elated by the triumph of that day, could not hear with patience charges which seemed directed against the people at large. In speaking of those who had been massacred, he called out, “Was then their blood so pure?” An unfortunate apostrophe, wholly unsuited to his upright, delicate, and even feeling character: but his career was forever marred by these reprehensible expressions. All the newspapers, all the speakers on the right, stamped them on his forehead, and irritated his pride to such a point as to make it impossible for him to recant without humiliation.

The leaders of the côté gauche, or left side of the Assembly, would have succeeded in introducing the English constitution if they had formed a union for this purpose with M. Necker, among the ministers, and with his friends in the Assembly. But, in that case, they would have been but secondary agents in the course of events, while they wished to hold the first rank; they consequently committed the great imprudence of seeking support from the crowds out of doors, which were beginning to prepare a subterraneous explosion. They gained an ascendancy in the Assembly by ridiculing the moderates, as if moderation were weakness, and they the only men of energy. They were seen, both in the halls and in the seats of the deputies, turning into ridicule whoever ventured to assert that, before Edition: current; Page: [203] their day, there had been such a thing as society, that writers had been capable of thinking, or that England had possessed any share of liberty. One would have said that they were called to hear nursery tales, so impatiently did they listen to them, and so disdainfully did they pronounce certain phrases, extremely exaggerated and emphatic, on the impossibility of admitting a hereditary senate, a senate even for life, an absolute veto, property qualifications, in short, anything that, according to them, infringed on the sovereignty of the people. They carried all the foppery of a court into the cause of democracy, and many deputies of the Third Estate were at once dazzled by their manners as fine gentlemen and captivated by their democratic doctrines.

These elegant leaders of the popular party aimed at entering into the government. They were desirous of pushing matters to the point where their assistance would be necessary; but in this rapid descent the chariot did not stop at the stages they intended. They were by no means conspirators, but they were too confident of their influence with the Assembly, and thought themselves capable of restoring the authority of the throne as soon as they had made it come within their reach; but when they became sincerely disposed to repair the mischief already committed, the time was past. How many distresses would have been saved to France if this party of young men had united its forces with the moderates! for, before the events of the 6th of October (1789), when the King had not been removed from Versailles, and while the army, quartered throughout the different provinces, still preserved some respect for the throne, circumstances were such as to admit of establishing in France a reasonable monarchy.7 Ordinary thinkers are in the habit of believing that whatever has taken place was unavoidable: but of what use would be the reason and the liberty of man if his will were not able to prevent that which that will has so visibly accomplished?

In the first rank on the popular side was seen the Abbé Sieyès, insulated by his peculiar temper, although surrounded by admirers of his mind. Till the age of forty he had led a solitary life, reflecting on political questions Edition: current; Page: [204] and carrying great powers of abstraction into that study; but he was ill qualified to hold communication with other men, so easily was he hurt by their caprices, and so ready was he to irritate them in his turn. But as he possessed a superior mind, with a keen and laconic manner of expressing himself, it was the fashion in the Assembly to show him an almost superstitious respect. Mirabeau had no objection to hear the silence of the Abbé Sieyès extolled above his own eloquence, for rivalship of such a kind is not to be dreaded. People imagined that Sieyès, that mysterious man, possessed secrets in government, from which surprising effects were expected whenever he should reveal them. Some young men, and even some minds of great compass, professed the highest admiration for him; and there was a general disposition to praise him at the expense of everybody because he on no occasion allowed the world to form a complete estimate of him.8

One thing, however, was known with certainty—he detested the distinctions of nobility; and yet he retained, from his professional habits, an attachment to the clerical order, which he showed in the clearest way possible at the time of the suppression of the tithes. “They wish to be free and do not know how to be just,” was his remark on that occasion; and all the faults of the Assembly were comprised in these words. But they ought to have been applied equally to those various classes of the community who had a right to pecuniary indemnities. The attachment of the Abbé Sieyès to the clergy would have ruined any other man in the opinion of the popular party; but, in consideration of his hatred of the nobles, the party of the Mountain forgave him his partiality to the priests.

The Mountain formed the fourth party on the left side of the Assembly. Robespierre was already in its ranks, and Jacobinism was preparing itself in the clubs. The leaders of the majority of the popular party were in the habit of ridiculing the exaggerations of the Jacobins, and of congratulating themselves on the appearance of wisdom which they could assume when compared with factious conspirators. One would have said that the pretended moderates made the most violent democrats follow them, as a huntsman leads his pack, boasting that he knows how to restrain them.

Edition: current; Page: [205]

It may naturally be asked what part of the Assembly could be called the Orléans party. Perhaps there was no such party; for no one acknowledged the Duke of Orléans as a leader, and he did not at all come forward in that capacity. The court had, in 1788, exiled him for six weeks to one of his estates; it had at times opposed his frequent journeys to England: it is to such contradictions that we are to attribute his irritation. His mind was more actuated by discontent than by projects, more by whims than by real ambition. What gave rise to the belief in the existence of an Orléans party was the idea current at that time among political writers that a deviation from the line of hereditary succession, such as took place in England in 1688,9 could be favorable to the establishment of liberty, by placing at the head of the constitution a king who should be indebted to it for his throne, instead of one who should look on himself as humiliated by it. But the Duke of Orléans was in all possible points the man the least fitted to act in France the part of William III in England; and without taking into the account the respect entertained for Louis XVI, and so well merited by him, the Duke of Orléans was incapable either of supporting himself or of proving a support to anyone. He had grace, noble manners, and was a spirited presence in society; but his worldly successes made him prone to take principles lightly; and when agitated by the convulsions of the Revolution, he found himself without restraint as without power.10 Mirabeau probed his moral value in several conversations, and became convinced, after the examination, that no political enterprise could be founded on such a character.

The Duke of Orléans voted always with the popular party in the Constituent Assembly, perhaps in a vague expectation of obtaining the highest prize; but this hope never gained consistency in any other head. He lavished Edition: current; Page: [206] money, it is said, to gain the populace; but whether he did so or not, one can have no just conception of the Revolution to imagine that money so given could be productive of any influence. A whole people is not to be put in motion by such means. The great error of the adherents of the court always lay in seeking in matters of detail for the cause of the sentiments expressed by the nation at large.

Edition: current; Page: [207]

CHAPTER VII: Of the Errors of the Constituent Assembly in Matters of Administration.

The whole power of government had fallen into the hands of the Assembly, which, however, should have possessed only legislative functions; but the division of parties was the unfortunate cause of confusion in the distribution of power. The distrust excited by the intentions of the King, or rather of the court, prevented him from being invested with the means necessary to re-establish order; and the leaders of the Assembly took no trouble to counteract this distrust, that they might have a pretext for exercising a close inspection on ministers. M. Necker was the natural intermediary between the royal authority and the Assembly. It was well known that he would betray the rights of neither; but the deputies, who continued attached to him notwithstanding his political moderation, believed that the aristocrats were deceiving him and pitied him for being their dupe. This, however, was by no means the case: M. Necker had as much penetration of mind as rectitude of conduct, and he perfectly knew that the privileged orders would be less backward in reconciling themselves to any party than to that of the early friends of liberty. But he performed his duty by endeavoring to restore strength to the government, for a free constitution can never be the result of a general relaxation of ties: the probable consequence is despotism.

The action of the executive power being stopped by several decrees of the Assembly, the ministers could do nothing without being authorized by it. The taxes were no longer discharged, because the people imagined that the Revolution so joyously welcomed was to bring with it the gratification of paying nothing. Public credit, even wiser than public opinion, although apparently dependent on it, was shaken by the faults committed Edition: current; Page: [208] by the Assembly. That body had much more strength than was necessary to bring the finances into order and to facilitate the purchase of corn, rendered necessary by the scarcity with which France was again threatened. But it replied with indifference to the reiterated applications of M. Necker on these points, because it did not wish to be considered, like the old Estates General, assembled merely for financial purposes; it was to constitutional discussions that it attached the highest interest. So far the Assembly was right; but by neglecting the objects of administration it caused disorder throughout the kingdom, and by that disorder all the misfortunes of which it bore itself the pressure.

At a time when France had both famine and bankruptcy to dread, the deputies used to make speeches in which they asserted that “every man has from nature a right and a wish to enjoy happiness; that society began by the father and the son,” with other philosophic truths much fitter for discussion in books than in the midst of an assembly. But if the people stood in need of bread, the speakers stood in need of applause, and a scarcity in that respect would have seemed to them very hard to bear.

The Assembly, by a solemn decree, placed the public debt under the safeguard of the honor and loyalty of Frenchmen; but still it took no step to give a substantial effect to these fine words. M. Necker proposed a loan, at an interest of five percent; the Assembly discovered that four and a half was less than five: it reduced the interest accordingly; and the loan failed, for the plain reason that an assembly cannot, like a minister, possess the tact which shows how far the confidence of capitalists may be carried. Credit, in money matters, is almost as delicate as style in literary productions; a single word may disfigure a sentence, as a slight circumstance may overturn a speculation. The matter, it will be said, is in substance the same; but in the one way you captivate the imagination of men, and in the other it escapes from your hold.

M. Necker proposed voluntary gifts, and was the first to pour, by way of example, 100,000 francs of his own fortune into the treasury, although he had been already obliged to dispose of a million of his property in annuities to meet, by increased income, his expense as minister; for in his second, as in his first ministry, he refused all salary. The Constituent Assembly praised his disinterestedness but still declined to take financial matters Edition: current; Page: [209] into its serious consideration. The secret motive of such conduct in the popular party was, perhaps, a wish to find itself forced, by want of money, to a step which it had much at heart, the appropriation of the church property. M. Necker, on the other hand, wished to make the country independent of this resource, and to let its appropriation depend not on the wants of the treasury, but on justice. Mirabeau, who aimed at succeeding M. Necker as minister, availed himself of the jealousy natural to every assembly in regard to its power, to make it take umbrage at the attachment still shown by the nation to the minister of finance. He had an insidious manner of praising M. Necker. “I do not approve his plans,” he used to say; “but since public opinion grants him the dictatorship, we must take them on trust.” M. Necker’s friends were aware with how much art Mirabeau sought to deprive him of the public favor by exhibiting that favor in exaggerated coloring; for nations, like individuals, are less prone to love when they are too often reminded of their affection.

The day when Mirabeau was most eloquent was that in which, in artfully defending a finance decree proposed by M. Necker, he delineated all the horrors of bankruptcy. Three times did he rise to excite terror by this picture; the provincial deputies were not at first much alive to it; but as they did not then know what they have been since so severely taught, to what a degree a nation can support bankruptcy, famine, massacre, executions, civil war, foreign war, and tyranny, they shuddered at the idea of the sufferings portrayed by the orator.1 I was at a short distance from Mirabeau when he addressed the assembly with so much éclat; and, although very distrustful of his intentions, he captivated my admiration during two hours. Nothing could be more impressive than his voice; the gestures and the biting sarcasm which he knew so well how to use did not, perhaps, proceed from the soul, that is, from the inward emotion, but there was in his speech a life and power of which the effect was amazing. “What Edition: current; Page: [210] would it have been had you seen the prodigy (monstre),” said Garat, in his lively Journal de Paris. The remark of Eschines on Demosthenes2 could not be more happily applied, and the uncertain meaning of the word (monstre) which denotes a prodigy, either in good or evil, added not a little to the point.

It would, however, be unjust to see nothing but faults in Mirabeau; with so much true talent, there always is a portion of good sentiments. But he had no conscience in politics; and this is the great defect which in France may be often charged on individuals as on assemblies. Some aim at popularity, others at honors, several at fortune; while some, and these are the best, at the triumph of their opinions. But where are those who ask themselves conscientiously in what their duty consists, without taking account of the sacrifice, whatever it may be, which the performance of that duty may require at their hands?

Edition: current; Page: [211]

CHAPTER VIII: Of the Errors of the National Assembly in Regard to the Constitution.

In the code of liberty we have the means of distinguishing that which is founded on invariable principles from that which belongs to particular circumstances. Imprescriptible rights consist in—equality under the law, individual liberty, the liberty of the press, freedom of religion, the right of admission to public employments, and the grant of taxes by the representatives of the people. But the form of government, whether aristocratic or democratic, monarchical or republican, is but an organization of powers; and powers are themselves nothing but the guarantees of liberty. It does not enter into the natural rights of man that every government should consist of a house of peers, a house of elected deputies, and of a king, whose sanction forms a part of the legislative power. But human wisdom has not even to our days discovered any form of government which in a great country gives more security to the blessings of social order.

In the only revolution within our knowledge which was directed to the establishment of a representative government, the order of succession to the throne was changed, because the English nation were persuaded that James II would not sincerely give up his claims to absolute power in order to exchange it with a legal power. The Constituent Assembly did not go the length of deposing so virtuous a sovereign as Louis XVI, and yet it aimed at establishing a free constitution; the result of this was its considering the executive power as inimical to liberty, instead of rendering it one of its safeguards. It formed a constitution as a general would form a plan of attack.1 All the mischief proceeded from this fault; for whether the King Edition: current; Page: [212] was or was not resigned in his heart to the restraints required by the interest of the nation, they ought not to have examined his secret thoughts, but have established the royal power, independently of what might be feared or hoped from its actual possessor. Institutions, in the course of time, adapt men to themselves with more facility than men can rid themselves of institutions. To preserve the King, and to strip the office of its necessary prerogatives, was the most absurd and most reprehensible plan of all.2

Mounier, a declared friend of the English constitution, did not hesitate to make himself unpopular by professing that opinion: he declared, however, in the Assembly that the fundamental laws of the constitution did not stand in need of the royal sanction, on the broad principle that the constitution was prior to the throne, and that the king existed only by means of it.3 There must be a compact between king and people, and to deny the existence of such contract would be equally contrary to liberty as to monarchy. But as a kind of fiction is necessary to royalty, the Assembly did wrong in calling the king a public functionary: he is one of the independent powers of the state, participating in the sanction of the fundamental laws, as well as in those of daily enactment. Were he only a simple citizen, he could not be king.

There is in a nation a certain stock of feeling, which should be managed like so much physical power. A republic has its enthusiasm, which Montesquieu calls its principle; a monarchy has also its principle; and even despotism, when, as in Asia, it is a part of the religious creed, is maintained by certain virtues; but a constitution of which one of the elements is the Edition: current; Page: [213] humiliation of either sovereign or people must necessarily be overturned by the one or the other.

That controlling power of circumstances which decides so many things in France prevented the proposition of a House of Peers. M. de Lally, who wished for it, endeavored to supply it by asking at least a House of Senators holding their places for life; but the popular party was irritated at the privileged orders, who kept themselves perpetually aloof from the nation, and rejected a lasting institution from momentary prejudice.4 This was a very serious fault, not only because an upper house was a necessary medium between the sovereign and the national deputies, but because there existed no other method of quietly consigning to obscurity the nobility of the second order, so numerous in France; a nobility in no way consecrated by history or recommended by public utility in any shape—and which discovered, much more than its higher brethren, a contempt for the Third Estate because its vanity always made it fear its not attaining sufficient distinction.

The right side of the Constituent Assembly, that is, the aristocrats, could have carried the point of a House of Senators for life by joining M. de Lally and his party. But they preferred voting for a single chamber instead of two, in the hope of obtaining good by the excess of evil; a detestable calculation, which, however, made converts by its apparent depth. Many men imagine that to deceive is a greater compliment to their capacity than to adhere to truth, because the falsehood is their creation: it is, however, an author’s vanity very misapplied.

After the cause of the two chambers was lost, the discussions proceeded to the question of the royal sanction to legislative acts.5 Was the veto about Edition: current; Page: [214] to be given to the King to be suspensive or absolute? The word “absolute” resounded in the ears of the vulgar, as if despotism were in question; and we now begin to see the disastrous effect of popular clamor on the decisions of enlightened men. It is scarcely possible for a reflecting mind to exercise sufficient deliberation to understand all the questions relative to political institutions; what, then, can be more fatal than to submit such questions to the arguments, and, above all, to the sarcasms of the multitude? They spoke of the veto in the streets of Paris as of a monster that would devour little children. Not that we are to draw from this the inference suggested to some persons by a contempt for their species—that the people are unfit to judge of what relates to their concerns. Governments have on their part given surprising proofs of incapacity; and checks are necessary to authority in every shape.

The popular party desired only a suspensive instead of an absolute veto: that is, that the King’s refusal to sanction a law should, of itself, fall to the ground in the next Assembly, if the same law were again insisted on. The debates became heated: on one side it was argued that an absolute veto on the part of the King would be a bar to all improvements proposed by the Assembly: on the other, that the suspensive veto would reduce the King, sooner or later, to the necessity of obeying in all points the representatives of the people. M. Necker, in a report in which he treats with uncommon sagacity the most important constitutional questions, pointed out, as a means of accommodation, three stages in legislative progress instead of two; that is, that the King’s veto should not fall to the ground till after a demand reiterated by the third Assembly. His reasoning on this subject was as follows.

In England, he said, the king very seldom makes use of his right to the veto, because the House of Peers almost always spares him that pain; but as it has been unfortunately decided in France that there should be but one chamber, the King and his council find themselves under the necessity of discharging at once the functions of an upper house and of the executive power. The obligation of making a habitual use of the veto implies the Edition: current; Page: [215] necessity of rendering it more flexible, just as we require lighter weapons when obliged to employ them frequently. We may also be assured that by the time of a third legislative assembly, that is, three or four years after the vivacity of the French, on whatever subject, will be always calmed; and, in the contrary event, it is equally certain that if three representative assemblies should successively demand the same thing, the public opinion must be too strong to render it advisable for the King to oppose it.

It was improper under existing circumstances to irritate the public by the expression “an absolute veto,” when, in fact, in every country, the royal veto gives way, more or less, before the national wish. The pompous nature of the word might be regretted; but the danger of it also was to be dreaded when the King was placed alone in the presence of a single assembly, and when, being deprived of the gradations of rank, he seemed, if I may so say, face-to-face with the people, and forced to put incessantly in the balance the will of one man against that of twenty-four million. Yet M. Necker in a manner protested against this plan of conciliation even in proposing it: for, while showing how the suspensive veto was the necessary result of having only one legislative chamber, he repeated that a single chamber was wholly incompatible with anything sound or permanent.

Edition: current; Page: [216]

CHAPTER IX: Efforts Made by M. Necker with the Popular Party in the Constituent Assembly to Induce It to Establish the English Constitution in France.

The King possessing no military strength after the Revolution of the 14th of July, there remained for the minister only the power of persuasion, whether in acting immediately on the deputies, or in finding sufficient support in public opinion to influence the Assembly through that medium. During the two months of tranquillity which were still enjoyed between the 14th of July, 1789, and the frightful insurrection of the 5th of October, the ascendency of the King on the public mind began again to appear. M. Necker recommended to him successively several measures which obtained the approbation of the country.

The suppression of feudal rights, pronounced by the Assembly during the night of the 4th of August, was presented to the sanction of the Monarch: he gave his assent to it,1 but addressed to the deputation of the Assembly observations which obtained the approbation of all wise people. He blamed the rapidity with which resolutions of such number and importance had been embraced; he made them feel the necessity of a reasonable indemnity to the former proprietors of several of the suppressed Edition: current; Page: [217] revenues. The declaration of rights2 was also offered to the royal sanction, together with several decrees already passed relative to the constitution. M. Necker was of the opinion that the King should answer that he could sanction only the whole, not a separate part, of a constitution; and that the general principles of the declaration of rights, though in themselves extremely just, required a special application that they might be subjected to the ordinary form of decrees. In fact, what signified the royal acquiescence to an abstract declaration of natural rights? But there existed for a length of time in France such a habit of making the King intervene in everything that, in truth, the republicans might as well have asked his sanction of a republic.

The establishment of a single chamber, and several other constitutional decrees which formed a complete deviation from the political system of England, were the cause of great concern to M. Necker, for he saw in this royal democracy, as it was then called, the greatest danger for the throne and for liberty. The spirit of party has only one apprehension: wisdom has always two. We may see, in the different publications of M. Necker, the respect which he had for the English government, and the arguments on which he drew when desiring the application of its fundamental principles to France. It was from the popular deputies, at that time all-powerful, that he now met with obstacles as great as those he had previously had to combat in the royal council. Whether as minister or as writer, he has always held the same language in this respect.

The argument urged in common by the two parties, the aristocrats and democrats, against the adoption of the English constitution was that England could do without regular troops, while France, being obliged by her continental position to maintain a great army, liberty would be found unable to resist the preponderance given by that army to the King. The aristocrats did not perceive that this objection turned against themselves; for if the King of France has, from the nature of things, greater compulsory means than the King of England, what inconvenience is there in imposing at least equal limits on his authority?

Edition: current; Page: [218]

The arguments of the popular party were more specious because they supported them even on those of their adversaries. The regular army, they said, ensuring more power to the King of France than to the King of England, it is indispensable to restrict his prerogative more, if we aim at obtaining as much liberty as is enjoyed by the English. To this objection, M. Necker replied that in a representative government, that is, one founded on independent elections and maintained by the liberty of the press, public opinion has always so many means of forming and showing itself that it may be equivalent to an army; moreover, the establishment of national guards was a sufficient counterpoise to the esprit de corps of the regular troops, even if the army (which is by no means probable in a country where the officers would be chosen not in one class exclusively, but agreeably to their merit) should not feel itself a part of the nation, nor take a pride in sharing its sentiments.

The Chamber of Peers was also, as I have already remarked, displeasing to both parties: to the one as reducing the nobility to a hundred or a hundred and fifty families whose names are known in history; to the other as renewing hereditary institutions to which a great many persons in France are extremely hostile, because the privileges and claims of the nobles have deeply wounded the feelings of the whole nation. Yet M. Necker made vain efforts to prove to the Commons that to change conquering nobles into patrician magistrates was the only method to accomplish a radical extinction of feudal customs; since nothing is effectually destroyed for which we do not provide a substitute. He endeavored also to prove to the democrats that it was a much better way of proceeding to equality, to raise merit to the first rank, than to make a vain effort to degrade the recollections of history, the effect of which is indestructible. These recollections are an ideal treasure, from which advantage may be derived by associating distinguished individuals with their splendor. “We are what your ancestors were,” said a brave French General to a nobleman of the old government; hence the necessity of an institution in which the new shoots may blend with the ancient stems: to establish equality by admixture is a much more effectual mode than by attempts at leveling.3

Edition: current; Page: [219]

Yet this wise opinion, though conveyed by such a man as M. Necker, perfectly unaffected and candid in his manner of expressing himself, proved unavailing against those passions which owed their origin to injured pride; and the factious, perceiving that the King, guided by the judicious advice of his minister, was daily regaining a salutary popularity, determined to make him lose this moral influence, after having stripped him of all real power. The hope of a constitutional monarchy was then once more lost for France, at a time when the nation had not yet disgraced itself by great crimes, and while it possessed the esteem both of itself and of Europe.

Edition: current; Page: [220]

CHAPTER X: Did the English Government Give Money to Foment Troubles in France?

As the prevailing opinion of French aristocrats has always been that the greatest changes in social order are to be traced to individual circumstances, they were long converts to the notion which had absurdly gained ground, that the English ministry had excited, by means of money, the troubles of the Revolution. The Jacobins, the natural enemies of England, took a lot of delight in pleasing the people by affirming that all the mischief arose from English gold distributed in France. But whoever is capable of a little reflection will not believe, for a moment, the absurdity thus circulated. Could a ministry, subject, like the English, to the scrutinizing eye of the representatives of the people, dispose of a considerable sum of money without venturing to acknowledge its use to Parliament? All the provinces of France, rising at the same time, were without leaders, while the proceedings at Paris had been long before prepared by the course of events. Besides, would not any government, and particularly the most enlightened one of Europe, have felt the danger of establishing such contagious anarchy in its own neighborhood? Had not England, and Mr. Pitt in particular, to dread that the revolutionary spark would light on the navy, and among the inferior ranks of society?1

The English ministry have often given assistance to the emigrant party; but it was on a plan wholly contrary to that which would have been necessary Edition: current; Page: [221] to excite a spirit of jacobinism. How can we suppose that individuals, extremely respectable in their private character, would have taken into pay, from among the lowest class, men who could not at that time interfere with public affairs otherwise than by committing theft or murder? Whatever opinion we may have of the diplomacy of the English government, can we imagine that the heads of a state who, during fifteen years, made no attempt on the life of a man (Bonaparte) whose existence threatened that of their country, should have stooped to a much greater crime by purchasing assassinations at random? Public opinion in England may be altogether misled in regard to foreign politics; but never, if I may so express myself, in regard to Christian morality, that is, in respect to actions which are not subjected to the control or excuse of circumstances. Louis XV generously rejected the Greek fire,2 the fatal secret of which was offered to him; the English, in like manner, would never have kindled the desolating flames of jacobinism, had it even been in their power to create that new monster who rose up with devouring fury against social order.

To these arguments, which seem to me clearer than even facts themselves, I will add what my father has often declared to me—that, hearing an incessant rumor about pretended secret agents of England, he made every exertion to find them out; and that all the inquiries of the police, ordered and followed up during his ministry, served to prove that the gold of England had nothing to do with the civil troubles of France. Never has it been practicable to discover the slightest trace of connection between the popular party and the English government: in general, the most violent persons in that party have had no connection with foreigners; and, on the other hand, the English government, far from encouraging democracy in France, has made every effort to repress it.

Edition: current; Page: [222]

CHAPTER XI: Events of the 5th and 6th of October, 1789.

Before describing these too disastrous days, we should bring to our recollection that in France at the time of the Revolution, as well as in the rest of Europe, people had enjoyed for nearly a century a kind of tranquillity which conduced, it is true, to relaxation and corruption; but was, at the same time, the cause and effect of very mild manners. Nobody imagined, in 1789, that vehement passions lurked under this apparent tranquillity. The Constituent Assembly accordingly gave itself up without apprehension to the generous wish of ameliorating the lot of the people. They had seen it only in a state of servitude, and they did not suspect what has been since but too well proved—that the violence of revolt being always in proportion to the injustice of slavery, it was necessary to bring about changes in France with a prudence proportioned to the oppression of the old system.

The aristocrats will say that they foresaw all our misfortunes; but prophecies prompted by personal interest have weight with no one. Let us resume, then, the sketch of the situation of France before the occurrence of those early crimes from which all the others proceeded.

The general direction of business at court was the same as before the Revolution of the 14th of July; but the means at the disposal of the royal authority being considerably diminished, the danger of exciting a new insurrection was proportionably augmented. M. Necker was well aware that he did not possess the entire confidence of the King, and this diminished his authority in the eyes of the representatives of the people; but he did not hesitate to sacrifice by degrees all his popularity to the defense of the throne. There are not on earth greater trials for morality than political employments; for the arguments which, in such a situation, may be used to reconcile conscience with interest are innumerable. The principle, however, Edition: current; Page: [223] from which we ought rarely to deviate, is that of bringing assistance to the weaker party: we seldom err in guiding ourselves by such a landmark.1

M. Necker was of the opinion that the most perfect sincerity toward the representatives of the people was the soundest calculation for the King; he advised him to make use of his veto, to refuse whatever he deemed fit for rejection; to accept only what he approved; and to ground his resolutions on motives which might gradually influence public opinion. Already had this system produced a certain degree of good, and, had it been steadily followed, it would have still prevented many misfortunes. But it was so natural for the King to feel irritated at his situation that he lent too willing an ear to all the projects which accorded with his wishes, and which offered the pretended means of a counter-revolution. It is very difficult for a king, the inheritor of a power which, since Henri IV, had never been disputed, to believe himself without force in the midst of his kingdom; and the devoted attachment of those who surround him must easily excite his hopes and illusions. The Queen was still more alive to these confident conclusions, and the enthusiasm of her bodyguards, and other persons of her court, appeared to her sufficient to repel the popular wave, which pressed forward more and more in proportion to the weakness of the opposing dikes.

Marie Antoinette presented herself then, like Maria Theresa, to the bodyguards at Versailles, to recommend to them her august husband and her children. They replied by acclamations to an appeal which, in fact, should have moved them to the bottom of their souls; but this was quite enough to excite the suspicions of that crowd of men, whose minds were heated by the new prospects opened to them by the state of affairs. It was repeated at Paris, among all classes, that the King wished to leave the country; and that he wanted to make a second attempt to dissolve the Assembly. The Monarch thus found himself in the most dangerous situation: Edition: current; Page: [224] he had excited disquietudes as if he had been strong, while, in fact, he was deprived of all means of defending himself.2

The rumor spread that two hundred thousand men were preparing to march to Versailles, to bring the King and the National Assembly to Paris. “They are surrounded,” it was said, “by enemies to the public welfare; we must bring them amongst the true patriots.” No sooner is a tolerably plausible expression invented in a time of trouble, than party men, and particularly Frenchmen, find a singular pleasure in repeating it. The arguments that might be opposed to it have no power on their minds; for their great object is to think and speak like others, that they may make sure of their applause.

On the morning of the 5th of October I learned that the populace were marching to Versailles; my father and mother had their residence there. I immediately set out to join them, but went by a less-traveled road, on which I met nobody. On drawing near to Versailles I saw the huntsmen who had accompanied the King to the chase, and, on arriving, I was told that an express had been dispatched to entreat him to come back. How strange is the power of habit in a court life! The King still did the same things, in the same manner, and at the same hours, as in the most tranquil times: the composure of mind which this implied procured him admiration at a time when circumstances allowed him no other virtues than those of a victim. M. Necker proceeded very quickly to the palace, to be present at the council; and my mother, more and more frightened by the threatening intelligence received from Paris, repaired to the hall which served as an antechamber to the council room, that she might share my father’s fate, whatever it might be. I followed her and found the hall filled with a great number of persons, brought thither by very different sentiments.

We saw Mounier pass through to require, in his capacity of president of the Constituent Assembly, but much against his will, the unqualified Edition: current; Page: [225] sanction of the King to the declaration of rights. The King had, so to speak, made a literal admission of its maxims; but he waited, he said, for their application, that he might affix his consent. The Assembly revolted against this slight obstacle to its will; for nothing is so violent in France as the anger which is felt toward those who presume to resist without being the strongest.

Everyone in the hall where we were assembled asked whether the King would set out or not. We were first told that he had ordered his carriages, and that the people of Versailles had unharnessed them; afterward that he had given orders to the regiment of Flanders, then in garrison at Versailles, to take arms, and that that regiment had refused. It has since been ascertained that the council took into deliberation whether the King should withdraw into the country; but as the royal treasury was empty, as the scarcity of corn was such that no assemblage of troops could be effected, and as no measures had been taken to make sure of the regiments on which reliance was still placed, the King apprehended the greatest eventual hazards from going to a distance; he was, moreover, persuaded that if he left the country, the Assembly would give the crown to the Duke of Orléans. But the Assembly had no such idea even at this time; and when the King consented, eighteen months after, to the journey which ended at Varennes,3 he had an opportunity of seeing that he had no ground for apprehension in that respect. M. Necker was not of the opinion that the court should set out without such aid as might ensure the success of that decisive step; but he offered to the King to follow him, if he determined on it; being ready to devote to him his fortune and his life, although perfectly aware of what his situation would be in adhering to his principles in the midst of courtiers who, in politics as in religion, know only one thing—intolerance.

The King having eventually fallen at Paris under the sword of the factious, it is natural for those who advised his departure on the 5th of October to make a boast of it: for we may always say what we think proper Edition: current; Page: [226] of the good effects of an advice that has not been followed. But, besides that it was perhaps already impracticable for the King to quit Versailles, we must not forget that M. Necker, in admitting the necessity of coming to Paris, proposed that the King should thenceforward go hand in hand with the constitution, and seek support in it only; without that determination he would be exposed, do what he might, to the greatest misfortunes.

The King, in deciding on remaining, might still have taken the decision of putting himself at the head of his bodyguards, and of repelling force by force. But Louis XVI felt a religious scruple at exposing the lives of Frenchmen for his personal defense; and that courage, which no person could doubt who witnessed his death, never prompted him to any spontaneous resolution. Besides, at this time, even success would not have accomplished his safety; the public mind was in the spirit of the Revolution, and it is by studying the course of things that we succeed in foreseeing (as much as foresight is granted to the human mind) the events which the vulgar represent as the result of chance, or of the inconsiderate actions of a few individuals.

The King then decided on awaiting the army, or rather multitude, which had already begun its march; and every eye was turned toward the road that fronts the windows of the palace at Versailles. We thought that the cannon might first be pointed against us, which occasioned us much fear; yet not one woman thought of withdrawing in this great emergency.

While this mass was on its march toward us, we were informed of the arrival of M. de la Fayette, at the head of the National Guards, and this was, no doubt, a ground of tranquillity. But he had long resisted the wish of the National Guard, and it was only by an express order of the Commune of Paris that he had marched to prevent, by his presence, the misfortunes that were threatened. Night was coming on, and our dread was increased with the darkness, when we saw M. de Chinon, who, as Duke of Richelieu, has since so justly acquired a high reputation, enter the palace.4 He was pale, fatigued, and in his dress like a man of the lower orders: Edition: current; Page: [227] it was the first time that such apparel entered the royal abode, and that a nobleman of the rank of M. de Chinon found himself obliged to put it on. He had walked part of the way from Paris to Versailles, mixed with the crowd, that he might hear their conversation; and he had left them halfway, to arrive in time to give notice to the royal family of what was going on. What a story did he tell! Women and children, armed with pikes and scythes, hastened from all parts. The lowest of the populace were brutalized still more by intoxication than by rage. In the midst of this infernal band, there were men who boasted of having got the name of “heads-men” (coupe-têtes), and who promised to make good their title to it. The National Guard marched with order, was obedient to its commander, and expressed no wish but that of bringing the King and the Assembly to Paris. At last M. de la Fayette entered the palace and crossed the hall where we were, to go in to the King. Everyone surrounded him with ardor, as if he had been the master of events, while the popular party was already stronger than its leader; principles were now giving way to factions, or rather were used by them only as pretexts.

M. de la Fayette seemed perfectly calm; he has never been seen otherwise, but his delicacy suffered by the importance of the part he had to act; to ensure the safety of the palace he desired to occupy the posts of the interior: the exterior posts only were given to him. This refusal was natural, as the bodyguards ought not to be removed; but it had almost been the cause of the greatest misfortunes. M. de la Fayette left the palace, giving us the most tranquilizing assurances: we all went home after midnight, thinking that the crisis of the day was over and believing ourselves in perfect security, as is almost always the case after one has experienced a great fright which has not been realized. At five in the morning M. de la Fayette thought that all danger was over and relied on the bodyguards, who had answered for the interior of the palace. A passage which they had forgotten to shut enabled the assassins to get in. A similar accident proved favorable to two conspiracies in Russia,5 at times when vigilance was at its height and when outward circumstances were most tranquil. It Edition: current; Page: [228] is therefore absurd to censure M. de la Fayette for an event that was so unlikely to occur. No sooner was he informed of it than he rushed forward to the assistance of those who were threatened, with an ardor which was acknowledged at the moment, before calumny had prepared her poison.

On the 6th of October, at a very early hour, a lady far advanced in years, the mother of Comte de Choiseul-Gouffier, author of the delightful Travels in Greece,6 entered my room: she came in a panic to seek refuge among us, although we had never had the honor of seeing her. She informed me that assassins had made their way even to the Queen’s antechamber, that they had massacred several of her guards at the door, and that, awakened by their cries, the Queen had saved her life only by flying into the King’s room by a private passage. I was told at the same moment that my father had already set out for the palace, and that my mother was about to follow him; I made haste to accompany her.

A long passage led from the contrôle général, where we lived, to the palace: as we approached we heard musket shots in the courts, and as we crossed the gallery we saw recent marks of blood on the floor. In the next hall the bodyguards were embracing the National Guards, with that warmth which is always inspired by emotion in great emergencies; they were exchanging their distinctive marks, the National Guards putting on the belt of the bodyguards, and the bodyguards the tricolored cockade. All were then exclaiming with transport, Vive la Fayette, because he had saved the lives of the bodyguards when threatened by the populace. We passed amidst these brave men who had just seen their comrades perish, and were expecting the same fate. Their emotion restrained, though visible, drew tears from the spectators; but, further on, what a scene presented itself!

The people demanded with great clamor that the King and royal family should remove to Paris; an answer in assent had been given on their part, and the cries, and the firing which we heard, were signs of rejoicing from the Parisian troops. The Queen then appeared in the hall; her hair disheveled, Edition: current; Page: [229] her countenance pale, but dignified; everything in her person was striking to the imagination. The people required that she should appear on the balcony, and, as the whole court, which is called the marble court, was full of men with firearms in their hands, the Queen’s countenance discovered her apprehensions. Yet she advanced without hesitation along with her two children, who served as her safeguard.

The multitude seemed affected on seeing the Queen as a mother, and political rage became appeased at the sight: those who that very night had perhaps wished to assassinate her, extolled her name to the skies.

The populace, in a state of insurrection, are, in general, inaccessible to reasoning, and are to be acted on only by sensations rapid as electricity, and communicated in a similar manner. Mobs are, according to circumstances, better or worse than the individuals which compose them; but whatever be their temper, they are to be prompted to crime as to virtue, only by having recourse to a natural impulsion.

The Queen, on returning from the balcony, approached my mother, and said to her, with stifled sobs, “They are going to force the King and me to proceed to Paris, with the heads of our bodyguards carried before us on the point of their pikes.” Her prediction was accomplished, nearly as she had said: the King and Queen were taken to their capital. We went to Paris by a different road, which spared us that dreadful sight. It was through the Bois de Boulogne that we went, and the weather was uncommonly fine; the breeze scarcely agitated the trees, and the sun was sufficiently bright to leave nothing gloomy in the prospect: no outward object was in correspondence with our grief. How often does this contrast, between the beauty of nature and the sufferings inflicted by man, renew itself in the course of life!

The King repaired to the Hotel de Ville, and the Queen displayed there a remarkable presence of mind. The King said to the Mayor: “I come with pleasure to my good city of Paris”; the Queen added, “and with confidence.” The expression was happy, but the event, alas! did not justify it. Next day the Queen received the diplomatic body and the persons of her court: she could not give vent to one word without sobbing, and we, likewise, were unable to reply to her.

What a spectacle was this ancient palace of the Tuilleries, abandoned Edition: current; Page: [230] for more than a century by its august inhabitants!7 The antiquated appearance of the outward objects acted on the imagination and made it wander into past times. As the arrival of the royal family was in no degree expected, very few apartments were in a habitable state, and the Queen had been obliged to get tent beds put up for her children in the very room where she received us: she apologized for it, and added, “You know that I did not expect to come here.” Her physiognomy was beautiful, but irritated; it was not to be forgotten after having been seen.

Madame Elizabeth, the King’s sister, appeared at once calm as to her own fate and agitated for that of her brother and sister-in-law. She manifested her courage by her religious resignation; this virtue which suffices not always for a man, is heroism in a woman.8

Edition: current; Page: [231]

CHAPTER XII: The Constituent Assembly at Paris.

The Constituent Assembly, removed to Paris by an armed force, found itself, in several respects, in the same situation as the King: it no longer enjoyed complete liberty. The 5th and 6th of October were, if one may say so, the first days of the accession of the Jacobins; the Revolution then changed its object and its sphere; equality, not liberty, was henceforth its mark, and the lower order of society began from that day to assume an ascendency over that class which is called to govern by virtue of its knowledge and education. Mounier and Lally abandoned the Assembly and France.1 A just indignation made them commit this error; the result was that the moderate party was without strength. The virtuous Malouet and an orator at once brilliant and serious, M. de Clermont Tonnerre, endeavored to support it; but there were henceforth few debates except between the extreme opinions.

The Constituent Assembly had been mistress of the fate of France from the 14th of July to the 5th of October, 1789; but from the latter date forward, popular force was predominant. We cannot too often repeat that for individuals, as for political bodies, there is but one moment of happiness and power; that moment should be embraced, for the chance of prosperity does not occur twice in the course of the same destiny, and he who has not turned it to account receives in the sequel only the gloomy Edition: current; Page: [232] lesson of adversity. The Revolution naturally descended lower and lower each time that the upper classes allowed the reins to slip from their hands, whether by their want of wisdom or their want of address.

The rumor was circulated that Mirabeau and some other deputies were about to be appointed ministers. Those of the Mountain,2 who were well assured that the choice would not fall on them, proposed to declare the functions of deputy and minister incompatible, an absurd decree which transformed the balance of power into mutual hostility. Mirabeau, on this occasion, proposed very ingeniously that they should confine the exclusion from ministerial employment to him by name, in order that the personal injustice of which he was, as he said, the object, might not lead to the adoption of a measure at variance with the public welfare.3 He required that the ministers should at least be present at the deliberations of the Assembly if, in contradiction to his opinion, they were prevented from being members of it. The Jacobins exclaimed that the presence of ministers would be enough to influence the opinion of the representatives, and assertions of this nature never failed to be received with enthusiasm by the galleries. One would have said that nobody in France could look at a powerful man, that no member of the Third Estate could approach a person belonging to the court, without feeling himself in subjection. Such are the melancholy effects of arbitrary government and of too exclusive distinctions of rank! The hostility of the lower orders toward the aristocratic class does not destroy its ascendency, even over those by whom it is hated; the inferior classes, in the sequel, inflicted death on their former masters as the only method of ceasing to obey them.

The minority of the nobility, that is, the noblemen who had gone over to the popular party, were infinitely superior, in purity of sentiment, to the extravagant part of the deputies of the Third Estate. These nobles were disinterested in the cause which they supported; and, what is still more honorable, they preferred the generous principles of liberty to the personal advantages which they enjoyed. In all countries where aristocracy prevails, Edition: current; Page: [233] that which lowers the nation gives a proportional elevation to certain individuals who unite the habits of high rank to the information acquired by study and reflection. But it is too costly to limit the range of so many men in order that a minority of the nobility, such as MM. de Clermont-Tonnerre, de Crillon, de Castellane, de la Rochefoucauld, de Toulongeon, de la Fayette, de Montmorency,4 etc. should be considered the elite of France; for, in spite of their virtues and talents, they found themselves without strength on account of the smallness of their number. From the time that the Assembly held its deliberations in Paris, the people exercised their tumultuous power in all directions; clubs began to be established; the denunciations of the journals, the vociferations from the tribunes, misled the public mind; fear was the gloomy muse of most of the speakers, and every day new modes of reasoning and new forms of oratory were invented to obtain the applause of the multitude. The Duke of Orléans was accused of having tampered in the conspiracy of the 6th of October. The tribunal directed to examine the documents relative to the charge discovered no proofs against him; but M. de la Fayette could not bear the idea that even popular violence should be attributed to anything that could be called a conspiracy. He required of the Duke to go to England; and that prince, whose deplorable weakness admits of no qualification, accepted without resistance a mission which was a mere pretext to remove him. After this singular act of condescension, I do not believe that even the Jacobins ever had a notion that such a man was capable of at all influencing the fate of France: the virtues of his family make it incumbent on us to mention him no more.

The country participated in the agitation of the capital, and a zeal for equality put France in motion, in the same way as hatred of popery kindled Edition: current; Page: [234] the passions of the English in the seventeenth century. The Constituent Assembly was beaten by the waves in the midst of which it seemed to hold its course. The most conspicuous man among the deputies, Mirabeau, now, for the first time, inspired some esteem; and one could not avoid a sentiment of pity at the constraint imposed on his natural superiority. He was seen incessantly taking in the same speech the side of popularity and that of reason, endeavoring to obtain from the Assembly a monarchical decree in the language of a demagogue, and often venting sarcasms against the royalist party at the very time that he labored at the adoption of some of their opinions; in short, one saw clearly that he kept up a continued struggle between his judgment and his want of popularity. He received money in secret from the ministers for defending the interests of the throne: yet, after he rose to speak, he often forgot the engagements he had taken, and yielded to those peals of applause of which the fascination is almost irresistible. Had he been a conscientious character, he possessed perhaps talents enough to create in the Assembly a party independent of the court and people; but his genius was too much warped by personal interest to allow him its free use. His passions, like the serpents of Laocoön, enveloped him in all directions, and we witnessed his strength in the struggle without venturing to expect his triumph.

Edition: current; Page: [235]

CHAPTER XIII: Of the Decrees of the Constituent Assembly in Regard to the Clergy.

The most serious reproach made to the Constituent Assembly is that it had been indifferent to the maintenance of religion in France: hence the declarations against philosophy which succeeded those formerly directed against superstition. The intentions of the Assembly in this respect are to be justified by examining the motives of its decrees. The privileged classes in France embraced a mode of defense common to the majority of mankind, that of attaching a general idea to their particular interests. Thus the nobility maintained that valor was the exclusive inheritance of their order; and the clergy, that religion could not subsist without the possession of property by the church. Both assertions are equally unfounded: battles have been admirably fought in England, and in France since the fall of the nobility as a body; while religion would find its way into the hearts of the French if attempts were not incessantly made to confound the articles of faith with political questions, and the wealth of the upper clergy with the simple and natural ascendency of the curates over the lower orders.

The clergy in France formed a part of the four legislative powers;1 and from the time that it was judged necessary to change this singular constitution, it became impossible that a third2 of the landed property of the kingdom should remain in the hands of ecclesiastics: for it was to the clergy, as an order, that these great possessions belonged, and they were Edition: current; Page: [236] administered collectively. The property of priests and religious establishments could not be subjected to those civil laws which ensure the inheritance of parents to children; from the moment, therefore, that the constitution of the country underwent a change, it would have been imprudent to leave the clergy in possession of wealth which might enable them to regain the political influence of which it was intended to deprive them. Justice required that the possessors should be maintained in their incomes during life; but what was due to those who had not yet become priests, especially when the number of ecclesiastics greatly surpassed what the public service required? Will it be alleged that we never ought to change what once has been? In what moment then did the famous “once has been” become established forever? When did improvement become impossible?

Since the destruction of the Albigenses by fire and sword, since the torturing of the Protestants under Francis I, the massacre of St. Bartholomew, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and the war of the Cevennes, the French clergy have always preached, and still preach, intolerance. The free exercise of worship then could not accord with the opinions of the priests, who protest against it, if they were allowed to retain a political existence; or if the magnitude of their property placed them in a condition to regain that political existence the loss of which they will never cease to regret. The church does not become tolerant any more than the emigrants become enlightened; our institutions should be adapted to this.

What! it will be said, does not the church of England own property? The English clergy, being of the reformed faith, were on the side of political reform at the time when the last of the Stuarts wished to re-establish the Catholic religion in England. The case is not the same with the French clergy, who are naturally inimical to the principles of the Revolution.3 Besides, the English clergy have no influence in state affairs; they are much less wealthy than the old clerical body of France, as England contains neither convents, abbeys, nor anything of the kind. The English clergy marry, and thus become a part of society. Finally, the French clergy hesitated long between the authority of the Pope and that of the King; and Edition: current; Page: [237] when Bossuet4 supported what is called the liberties of the Gallican church, he concluded, in his Sacred Politics, an alliance between the altar and the throne; but he did so by founding it on the maxims of religious intolerance and royal despotism.

When the French clergy quitted a life of retirement to intermeddle with politics, their conduct in the latter was almost always marked by a degree of confidence and artifice very unfavorable to the public interest. The dexterity which distinguishes men early obliged to conciliate two opposite things, their profession and the world, is such that, for two centuries past, they have constantly insinuated themselves into public business, and France has almost always had cardinals or bishops for ministers.5 The English, notwithstanding the liberal principles which actuate their clergy, do not admit ecclesiastics of the second order into the House of Commons; and there is no example since the Reformation of a member of the higher clergy becoming a minister of state. The case was the same at Genoa, in a country altogether Catholic; and both government and the priesthood found their advantage in this prudent separation.

In what manner would the representative system be compatible with the doctrine, the habits, and the wealth of the French clergy, such as that body formerly was? A striking analogy naturally induced the Constituent Assembly no longer to acknowledge it as entitled to hold property. The kings possessed demesnes considered in former days as unalienable, and these properties were certainly as legitimate as any other paternal inheritance. Yet, in France, as in England, and in every country where constitutional principles are established, kings have a civil list; and it would be considered disastrous to liberty that they should be enabled to possess revenues independent of the national sanction. For what reason, then, should the clergy be better treated in this respect than the Crown? Might not the magistracy lay claim to property with more reason than the clergy, Edition: current; Page: [238] if the object of supporting them by an established land revenue be to exempt those who enjoy it from the ascendancy of government?

What signify, it will be said, the advantages or disadvantages of clerical property? The Assembly did not have a right to take it. This question is exhausted by the excellent speeches pronounced on the subject in the Constituent Assembly:6 it was there shown that corporate bodies (corps) did not hold property by the same title as individuals, and that the state could not maintain the existence of these bodies, but inasfar as they should not be in contradiction to public interest and constitutional laws. When the Reformation was established in Germany, the Protestant princes appropriated a share of the church property either to the public expenditure or to charitable establishments; and a number of Catholic princes have, on various other occasions, made a similar disposal of such property. The decrees of the Constituent Assembly, sanctioned by the King, ought, certainly, to have as much force in law as the will of sovereigns in the sixteenth and following centuries.

The kings of France used to receive the revenues of clerical benefices during the intervals that they were vacant. The religious orders, who in this question are to be distinguished from the secular clergy, have often ceased to exist; and one cannot conceive, as was said by one of the most ingenious speakers whom we heard in the last session7 of the Chambers, M. de Barante: “One cannot conceive in what manner the property of orders that are no more should belong to those who do not exist.” Three-fourths of the property of churchmen were given them by the Crown, that is, by the sovereign authority of the time; not as a personal favor but to ensure divine service. For what reason, then, should not the Estates General, Edition: current; Page: [239] in conjunction with the King, have had a right to alter the manner of providing for the support of the clergy?

But particular founders, it will be said, having bequeathed their property to ecclesiastics, was it lawful to divert it from this appropriation? What means does man possess to give the stamp of eternity to his resolutions? Are we to search in the darkness of time for titles that are no more, in order to oppose them to living reason? What connection is there between religion and that continued chicanery of which the sale of the national property is the object? In England, particular sects, and, above all, the Methodists, who are very numerous, provide regularly and spontaneously for the expenses of their worship. True, it will be said, but the Methodists are very religious, and the inhabitants of France would make no pecuniary sacrifice for their priests. Is not this incredulity produced entirely by the display of wealth in the church, and of the abuses which wealth brings along with it? The case is the same with religion as with government: when you endeavor to maintain by force what is no longer in consonance with the age, you deprave the human heart instead of improving it. Do not deceive the weak; neither irritate another class of weak men, the Free Thinkers,8 by rousing political passions against religion; separate entirely the one from the other, and solitary reflection will always lead to dignified thoughts.

A great error, and one which it seemed easier for the Constituent Assembly to avoid, was the unfortunate invention of a constitutional clergy.9 To exact from ecclesiastics an oath at variance with their conscience, and, on their refusing it, to persecute them by the loss of a pension, and afterward even by transportation, was to degrade those who took the oath, to which temporal advantages were attached.

Edition: current; Page: [240]

The Constituent Assembly ought not to have thought of forming a clerical body devoted to it, and thus affording the means, which were afterward embraced, of distressing the ecclesiastics attached to their ancient creed. This was putting political in the place of religious intolerance. A single resolution, firm and just, ought to have been taken by statesmen under those circumstances; they ought to have imposed on each communion the duty of supporting their own clergy.10 The Constituent Assembly thought that it acted with greater political depth by dividing the clergy, by establishing a schism, and by thus detaching from the court of Rome those who should enroll themselves under the banners of the Revolution. But of what use were such priests? The Catholics would not listen to them, and philosophers did not want them: they were a kind of militia, who had lost their character beforehand, and who could not do otherwise than injure the government whom they supported. The establishment of a constitutional clergy was so revolting to the public mind that it was found necessary to employ force to give it effect. Three bishops were necessary to give consecration to the schismatics, and thus to communicate to them the power of ordaining other priests in their turn. Of these three bishops, on whom the founding of the new clergy depended, two were, at the last moment, ready to renounce their singular undertaking, condemned as it was equally by religion and philosophy.

We cannot too often repeat that it is necessary to act on all great ideas with sincerity, and to be careful how we admit Machiavellian combinations in the application of truth; for prejudices founded on time have more strength than reason herself from the moment that bad means are employed to establish the latter. It was likewise of importance in the contest still subsisting between the privileged classes and the people, never to put the partisans of the old institutions in a situation calculated to inspire any kind of pity; and the Constituent Assembly excited this feeling in favor of the priests from the time it deprived them of their life-hold estates, and thus gave a retroactive effect to the law. Never can the world disregard Edition: current; Page: [241] those who are in a state of suffering; human nature is, in this respect, better than it is thought.

But who, it may be said, will teach children religion and morality if there are no priests in the schools? It was certainly not the higher clergy who fulfilled this duty; and, as to the curates, they are more required for the care of the sick and the dying than even for education, excepting what regards a knowledge of religion: the time in which churchmen were superior to others in point of information is past. Establish and multiply the schools in which, as in England, the children of the poor are taught to read, write, and account: schools of a higher class are necessary for teaching the ancient languages, and universities for carrying still further the study of those beautiful languages and of the higher sciences. But it is political institutions that afford the most effectual means of laying the foundation of morals; they excite emulation and form dignity of character: we cannot teach a man that which he can learn only through himself. The English are not told in any catechism that they must love their constitution; there is no master for patriotism in the schools: public prosperity and domestic life are more effectual in inspiring religion than all that remains of the ancient customs intended for its maintenance.

Edition: current; Page: [242]

CHAPTER XIV: Of the Suppression of Titles of Nobility.

The clergy are perhaps still the less unpopular of the two privileged orders in France; for equality being the moving principle of the Revolution, the nation felt itself less hurt by the prejudices of the priests than by the claims of the nobles. Yet we cannot too often repeat that nothing is more unfortunate than the political influence of ecclesiastics in a country, while hereditary magistracy, of which the recollections of birth constitute a part, is an indispensable element in every limited monarchy. But the hatred of the people toward nobles having burst forth in the earliest days of the Revolution, the minority of the nobility in the Constituent Assembly wished to destroy this germ of enmity, and to form a complete union with the nation. One evening then, in a moment of heat, a member proposed the abolition of all titles.1 No nobleman, of those who had joined the popular party, could refuse to support this without showing ridiculous vanity; yet it would have been very desirable that the former titles should not have been suppressed without being replaced by a peerage, and by the distinctions which emanate from it. A great English writer2 has said, with truth, that “whenever there exists in a country any principle of life whatever, a legislature ought to take advantage of it.” In fact, since nothing is so difficult as to create, it is generally found necessary to engraft one institution on another.

The Constituent Assembly treated France like a colony in which there was no “past”;3 but wherever “a past” has existed, it is impossible to prevent Edition: current; Page: [243] it from having influence. The French nation was tired of the second order of nobility, but it had, and always will have, respect for the families distinguished in history. It was this feeling which ought to have been used in establishing an upper house, and endeavoring by degrees to consign to disuse all those denominations of Counts and Marquisses which, when they are connected neither with recollection of the past nor with political employments, sound more like nicknames than titles.

One of the most singular propositions of this day was that of renouncing the names of estates, which many families had borne for ages, and obliging them to resume their patronymic appellations. In this way the Montmorencies would have been called Bouchard; La Fayette, Mottié; Mirabeau, Riquetti. This would have been stripping France of her history; and no man, howsoever democratic, either would or ought to renounce in this manner the memory of his ancestors. The day after this decree was passed, the newspaper writers printed in their accounts of the meeting Riquetti the elder instead of Comte de Mirabeau: he went up in a rage to the reporters who were taking notes of the debates in the Assembly, and said to them, “You have by your Riquetti puzzled Europe for three days.” This effusion encouraged everyone to resume the name borne by his father; a course that could not be prevented without resorting to an inquisition quite contrary to the principles of the Assembly, for we should always remember that it never made use of the expedients of despotism to establish liberty.

M. Necker, alone among the members of council, proposed to the King to refuse his sanction to the decree which put an end to nobility without establishing a patrician body in its stead; and his opinion not having been adopted, he had the courage to publish it. The King had determined on sanctioning indiscriminately all the decrees of the Assembly: his plan was to be considered by others, after the 6th of October, as being in a state of captivity; and it was only in compliance with his religious scruples that Edition: current; Page: [244] he did not in the sequel affix his name to the decrees which proscribed those of the priests who continued to acknowledge the power of the Pope.

M. Necker, on the other hand, wished the King to use his prerogative sincerely and steadily; he pointed out to him that if he should one day recover all his power, he would still have the power to declare that he had been in a state of imprisonment since his arrival at Paris; but that if he should not recover it, he was losing the respect of, and above all his influence with, the nation, by not making use of his veto to stop the inconsiderate decrees of the Assembly; decrees of which that body often repented when the fever of popularity was moderated. The important object for the French nation, as for every nation in the world, is that merit, talent, and services should be the means of rising to the first employments of the state. But to aim at organizing France on the principles of abstract equality4 was to deprive the country of that source of emulation so congenial to the French character that Napoléon, who applied it in his own way, found it a most effectual instrument of his arbitrary sway. The report published by M. Necker in the summer of 1790, at the time of the suppression of titles, was closed by the following reflections.

In following all the marks of distinction in their smallest details, we, perhaps, run the risk of misleading the people as to the true meaning of this word “equality,” which can never signify, in a civilized nation, and in a society already established, equality of rank or property. Diversity in situation and employment, difference in fortune, education, emulation, industry; differing levels of ability and knowledge, all the disparities that are productive of movement in the social body, necessarily involve an outward inequality; and the only object of the legislator is, in imitation of nature, to point them all toward a happiness that may be equal, though different in its forms and development.

Everything is united, everything is linked together in the vast extent Edition: current; Page: [245] of social combinations; and those kinds of superiority which, to the first glance of a philosophic eye, appear an abuse, are essentially useful in affording protection to the different laws of subordination; to those laws which it is so necessary to defend, and which might be attacked so powerfully if habit and imagination should ever cease to afford them support.5

I shall have occasion in the sequel to remark that in the different works published by M. Necker during the course of twenty years, he invariably predicted the events which afterward occurred: so much penetration was there in his sagacity. The reign of Jacobinism was principally caused by the wild intoxication of a certain kind of equality; it appears to me that M. Necker described this danger when he wrote the remarks which I have just quoted.

Edition: current; Page: [246]

CHAPTER XV: Of the Royal Authority As It Was Established by the Constituent Assembly.

It was already a very dangerous matter for the public tranquillity to break all at once the strength that resided in the two privileged orders of the state. But had the means given to the executive power been sufficient, it would have been practicable to replace, if I may so express myself, fictitious by real institutions. But the Assembly, ever distrustful of the intentions of the courtiers, framed the royal authority against the King instead of making it a vehicle for the public good. Government was shackled to such a degree that its agents, though responsible for everything, could act in nothing. The ministry had scarcely a messenger at their disposal; and M. Necker, in his examination of the constitution of 1791,1 has shown that in no republic, including even the petty Swiss cantons, was the executive power so limited in its constitutional action as the King of France. The apparent splendor and actual inefficiency of the Crown threw the ministers, and the King himself, into a state of anxiety that was perpetually increasing. It is certainly not necessary that a population of twenty-five million should exist for one man; but it is equally unnecessary that one man should be miserable even under the pretext of giving happiness to twenty-five million; for injustice of any kind, whether it reaches the throne Edition: current; Page: [247] or the cottage, prevents the possibility of a free, that is, of an equitable, government.

A prince who would not content himself with the power granted to the King of England would not be worthy of reigning; but, in the French constitution, the situation of the King and his ministers was insupportable. The country suffered from it still more than the sovereign; and yet the Assembly would neither remove the King from the throne nor renounce its temporary mistrust, at the time that the formation of a durable system was under discussion.

The eminent men of the popular party, unable to extricate themselves from this uncertainty, always mixed in their decrees a portion of evil with good. The establishment of provincial assemblies had long been desired; but the Constituent Assembly combined them in such a manner as to exclude the ministers altogether from this portion of the administration.2 A salutary dread of all those wars so often undertaken for the quarrels of kings had guided the Constituent Assembly in the mode of organizing the military force; but it had put so many obstacles to the influence of the executive power in this respect that the army would have been unfit to serve out of the country, so apprehensive were they of its becoming instrumental to oppression at home. The reform of criminal jurisprudence and the establishment of juries brought down blessings on the name of the Constituent Assembly; but it decreed that the judges should owe their appointment to the people instead of the King, and that they should be re-elected every three years. Yet the example of England and the dictates of enlightened reflection concur to show that judges, under whatever government, ought not to be removable, and that in a monarchical state it is fit that their nomination should belong to the Crown. The people are much Edition: current; Page: [248] less capable of appreciating the qualities necessary for a judge than those necessary for a representative of the people: ostensible merit and extensive information ought to point out to the eyes of all a fit representative,3 but length of study alone qualifies a man for the duties of the bench. Above all, it is important that judges should be subject neither to removal by the king nor to re-appointment or rejection by the people. If, from the first days of the Revolution, all parties had agreed to show invariable respect to judicial forms, from how many misfortunes would France have been preserved! For it is for extraordinary cases, above all, that ordinary tribunals are established.

One would almost say that justice among us is like a good housewife, who is employed in domestic matters on working days, but who must not be brought forward on solemn occasions; and yet it is on occasions when passion is most excited that the impartiality of law becomes more necessary than ever.

On the 4th of February, 1790, the King had repaired to the Assembly to give, in a very well composed discourse, at which M. Necker had labored, his sanction to the principal laws already decreed by the Assembly. But in this same discourse the King forcefully showed the unhappy state of the kingdom and the necessity of improving and finishing the constitution. Such a course was indispensable, because the secret advisers of the King, representing him always as if he were in captivity, made the popular party distrustful of his intentions. Nothing was less suitable to so moral a character as Louis XVI than a presumed state of continual powerlessness; the pretended advantages of such a system were destructive of the real strength of virtue.

Edition: current; Page: [249]

CHAPTER XVI: Federation of 14th July, 1790.

Notwithstanding the faults which we have pointed out, the Constituent Assembly had produced so much good, and triumphed over so many misfortunes, that it was adored by almost all France. The deficiencies in the work of the constitution were perceptible only to those intimately acquainted with the principles of political legislation, and liberty was actually enjoyed, although the precautions taken for its maintenance were not well combined. The career opened to talents of every kind excited general emulation; the discussions of an Assembly distinguished for talent, the varied movement of the liberty of the press, the publicity given to every matter of importance, delivered from bondage the mind of Frenchmen, their patriotism, in short, all those energetic qualities, the results of which we have since seen sometimes marked with cruelty, but always gigantic. It was like an individual who breathed more freely, whose lungs contained a larger portion of air; the indefinite hope of happiness without alloy had taken possession of the nation in its strength as it takes possession of a man in youth, when under the influence of illusion and devoid of foresight.

The chief uneasiness of the Constituent Assembly arising from the danger to which a standing force might one day expose liberty, it was natural for it to endeavor, by every method, to gain the national militia, considering it with truth as an armed force of citizens; besides, the Assembly was so sure of public opinion in 1790 that it took a pleasure in surrounding itself with the country’s soldiers. A standing army is altogether a modern invention, the real object of which is to put into the hands of kings a power independent of their people. It was from the institution of national guards in France that the eventual conquest of continental Europe proceeded; but the Constituent Assembly was then very far from desiring war, for it was Edition: current; Page: [250] too enlightened not to prefer liberty to everything; and this liberty is incompatible with an invading spirit and with military habits.

The eighty-three departments sent deputies from their national guards to take an oath of fidelity to the new constitution. It was not, it is true, as yet completed; but the principles which it declared sacred had obtained universal assent. Patriotic enthusiasm was so strong that all Paris moved in a mass to the “federation of 1790,” as it had moved the year before to the destruction of the Bastille.1

The assemblage of the national militia was to take place in the Champ de Mars, in front of the Military School, and not far from the Hotel des Invalides. It was necessary to erect around this extensive space mounds of grass to hold the spectators. Women of the first rank were seen joining the crowd of voluntary laborers who came to bear a part in the preparations for the fête. In a line from the Military School, and in front of the Seine, which flows past the Champ de Mars, steps had been raised, with a tent to accommodate the King, Queen, and all the court. Eighty-three spears fixed in the ground, and bearing each the colors of its respective department, formed a vast circle, of which the amphitheater prepared for the royal family made a part. At the other extremity was seen an altar, prepared for mass, which, on this great occasion, was celebrated by M. de Talleyrand, then Bishop of Autun. M. de la Fayette approached this altar to take the oath of fidelity to the nation, the law, and the King; and the oath, and the man who pronounced it, excited a strong feeling of confidence. The spectators felt an intoxication of delight; the King and liberty seemed to them, at that time, completely united. A limited monarchy has always been the true wish of France;2 and the last movement of a truly national enthusiasm was displayed at this federation of 1790.

Yet those who were capable of reflection were far from giving themselves up to the general joy. I observed a deep anxiety in my father’s countenance; at the moment when the public thought it was rejoicing for a triumph, he was perhaps aware that no resource was left. M. Necker having Edition: current; Page: [251] sacrificed all his popularity to the defense of the principles of a free and limited monarchy, M. de la Fayette was, of course, the grand object of popular affection on this day: he inspired the National Guard with an exalted devotion; but, whatever might have been his political opinion, his power would have fallen to the ground if he had ventured to oppose the feeling of the day. Ideas, not individuals, were then all-powerful. The dreadful will of Bonaparte himself would have been unavailing against the direction of the public mind; for the French at that time, far from being fond of military power, would have obeyed an assembly much more willingly than a general.

That respect for national representation which is the first basis of a free government existed in every mind in 1790, as if that representation had lasted a century instead of a year. In fact, if truths of a certain description are self-evident instead of requiring to be taught, it is enough to exhibit them to mankind in order to gain their attachment.

Edition: current; Page: [252]

CHAPTER XVII: Of the State of Society in Paris During the Time of the Constituent Assembly.

Foreigners can have no idea of the boasted charms and splendor of Parisian society if they have seen France only in the last twenty years; but it may be said with truth that never was that society at once so brilliant and serious as during the first three or four years of the Revolution, reckoning from 1788 to the end of 1791. As political affairs were still in the hands of the higher classes, all the vigor of liberty and all the grace of former politeness were united in the same persons. Men of the Third Estate, distinguished by their knowledge and their talents, joined those gentlemen who were prouder of their personal merits than of the privileges of their body; and the highest questions to which social order ever gave rise were treated by minds the most capable of understanding and discussing them.

The main causes that take away from the pleasures of English society are the occupations and interests of a country that has long possessed representative government. French society, on the other hand, was rendered somewhat superficial by the leisure of the monarchy. But the vigor of liberty became all at once joined to the elegance of aristocracy: in no country, and at no time, has the art of speaking in every way been so remarkable as in the early years of the Revolution.1

In England, women are accustomed to be silent before men when politics form the matter of conversation:2 in France, women are accustomed Edition: current; Page: [253] to lead almost all the conversation that takes place at their houses, and their minds are early formed to the facility which this talent requires. Discussions on public affairs were thus softened by their means, and often intermingled with kind and lively pleasantry. Party spirit, it is true, caused divisions in society; but everyone lived with those of his own side.

At court, the two battalions of good company, one faithful to the old state of things, the other the advocates of liberty, drew up on opposite sides and rarely approached each other. I sometimes ventured, in the spirit of enterprise, to try a mixture of the two parties, by bringing together at dinner the most intelligent men of each side; for people of a certain superiority almost always understand each other; but affairs became too serious to admit of the easy renewal of even this momentary harmony.

The Constituent Assembly, as I have already mentioned, did not suspend the liberty of the press for a single day. Thus those who suffered from finding themselves always in a minority in the Assembly had at least the satisfaction of ridiculing all their opponents. Their newspapers abounded in lively witticisms on the most important matters: it was the history of the world converted into daily gossip. Such is everywhere the character of the aristocracy of courts; yet as the acts of violence that had marked the outset of the Revolution had been soon appeased, and as no confiscation, no revolutionary sentences had taken place, everyone preserved enough of comfort to give himself up to the free exercise of his mind. The crimes with which the cause of patriots has since been sullied did not then oppress their souls; and the aristocrats had not yet suffered enough for the people to dare to get the better of them.

Everything was then in opposition—interests, sentiments, and manner of thinking; but so long as scaffolds were not erected, the use of speech proved an acceptable mediator between the two parties. It was, alas! the last time that the French spirit showed itself in all its splendor; it was the last, and, in some respects, likewise the first time that the society of Paris could convey an idea of that communication of superior minds with each other, the noblest enjoyment of which human nature is capable. Those who lived at that time cannot but acknowledge that they never witnessed in any country so much animation or so much intelligence; we may judge by the number of men of talent drawn forth by the circumstances of the Edition: current; Page: [254] time what the French would become if called on to take part in public business in a path traced by a wise and sincere constitution.

It is possible indeed to introduce into political institutions a kind of hypocrisy which condemns people, from the time they come into society, to be silent or to deceive. Conversation in France has been as much spoiled during the last fifteen years by the sophistry of party spirit and the prudence of pettiness, as it was frank and animated at a time when the most important questions were boldly discussed. At that time there was only one kind of apprehension, that of not being worthy enough of the public esteem; and this apprehension gives extension to the powers of the mind instead of compressing them.

Edition: current; Page: [255]

CHAPTER XVIII: The Introduction of Assignats, and Retirement of M. Necker.

The members of the Finance Committee proposed to the Constituent Assembly to discharge the public debt by creating nearly ninety million sterling of paper money, to be secured on church lands, and to be of compulsory circulation.1 This was a very simple method of bringing the finances in order; but the probability was that in thus getting rid of the difficulties which the administration of a great country always presents, an immense capital would be expended in a few years, and the seeds of new revolutions be sown by the disposal of that capital. In fact, without such vast pecuniary resources, neither the interior troubles of France nor the foreign war could have so easily taken place. Several of the deputies who urged the Constituent Assembly to make this enormous emission of paper money were certainly unconscious of its disastrous effects; but they were fond of the power which the command of such a treasure was about to give them.

M. Necker made a strong opposition to the assignat system; first, because, as we have already mentioned, he did not approve of the confiscation of all the church lands and would always, in accordance with his principles, have excepted from it the archbishoprics, bishoprics, and, above all, the smaller benefices (presbytères): for the curates have never been sufficiently paid in France, although, of all classes of priests, they are Edition: current; Page: [256] the most useful. The effects of paper money, its progressive depreciation, and the unprincipled speculations to which that depreciation gave rise were explained in M. Necker’s report, with an energy too fully confirmed by the event.2 Lotteries, to which several members of the Constituent Assembly and, in particular, the Bishop of Autun (Talleyrand), very properly declared themselves adverse, are a mere game of chance; while the profit resulting from the perpetual fluctuation of paper money is founded almost entirely on the art of deceiving, at every moment of the day, in regard to the value either of the currency or of the articles purchased with it. The lower class, thus transformed into gamblers, acquire by the facility of irregular gains a distaste for steady labor; finally, the debtors who discharge themselves in an unfair manner are no longer people of strict probity in any other transaction. M. Necker foretold, in 1790, all that has since happened in regard to the assignats—the deterioration of public wealth by the low rate at which the national lands would be sold, and that series of sudden fortunes and sudden failures which necessarily perverts the character of those who gain as of those who lose; for so great a latitude of fear and hope produces agitations too violent for human nature.

In opposing the system of paper money M. Necker did not confine himself to the easy task of attacking; he proposed, as a counter-expedient, the establishment of a bank on a plan of which the principal parts have since been adopted,3 and in which he was to have introduced as a security, a portion of the church lands sufficient to restore the finances to the most prosperous condition. He also insisted strongly, but without effect, that the members of the Board of Treasury should be admitted into the Assembly, that they might discuss questions of finance in the absence of the minister, who had no right to be there. Finally, M. Necker, before quitting office, made use, for the last time, of the respect that he inspired in directly Edition: current; Page: [257] refusing to the Constituent Assembly, and in particular to Camus, a member, a communication of the “Red Book.”4

This book contained the secret expenditure of the state under the preceding reign and under that of Louis XVI. It contained not a single article ordered by M. Necker; yet it was he who encountered a most disagreeable struggle, to prevent the Assembly from being put in possession of a register which bore evidence of the misconduct of Louis XV, and of the too great bounty of Louis XVI: his bounty only—for M. Necker made a point of communicating that in the space of sixteen years, the King and Queen had taken for themselves only eleven million sterling of this secret expenditure; but a number of persons then alive might be exposed by giving publicity to the large sums that they had received. These persons happened to be M. Necker’s enemies, because he had blamed the lavishness of the Court toward them: still it was he who ventured to displease the Assembly by preventing the publicity of the faults of his antagonists. So many virtues in so many ways, generosity, disinterestedness, perseverance, had in former times been rewarded by public confidence, and were now more than ever entitled to it. But that which should inspire a profound interest in whosoever has formed an idea of the situation of M. Necker was seeing a man of the finest talents, and highest character, placed between parties so opposite, and duties so different, that the complete sacrifice of himself, his reputation, and his happiness could not succeed in reconciling either prejudices to principles or opinions to interests.

Had Louis XVI allowed himself to be effectually guided by the advice of M. Necker, it would have been the duty of that minister not to retire. But the partisans of the old government advised the King, as they perhaps would do at present, never to follow the counsel of a man who had shown attachment to liberty: that, in their eyes, is a crime never to be forgiven. Besides, M. Necker perceived that the King, dissatisfied with the part allotted to him in the constitution, and weary of the conduct of the Assembly, had determined to withdraw from such a situation. Had he addressed Edition: current; Page: [258] himself to M. Necker, to concert with him his departure, his minister would, no doubt, have felt it incumbent on him to second it with all his means, so cruel and dangerous did the situation of the monarch appear to him! And yet it was extremely contrary to the natural wishes of a man called to his station by the wish of the people, to pass into a foreign territory: but if the King and Queen did not intimate to him their intentions in that point, was it for him to call forth confidential communications? Things had proceeded to such an extremity that a man, to possess influence, must have been either factious or counter-revolutionary, and neither of these characters was suitable to M. Necker.

He took, therefore, the determination of resigning, and, doubtless, it was at this time his only proper course; but always guided by a wish to carry his sacrifices for the public as far as possible, he left two million livres of his fortune5 as a deposit in the treasury, precisely because he had foretold that the paper money, with which the dividends were about to be paid, would soon be of no value. He was unwilling, as a private individual, to set an example which might be injurious to the operation which he blamed as minister. Had M. Necker possessed very great wealth, this manner of abandoning his property would even then have been very extraordinary; but as these two million formed more than the half of a fortune reduced by seven years of a ministry without salary, the world will perhaps be surprised that a man who had acquired his property by his own exertions should thus feel the necessity of sacrificing it to the slightest sentiment of delicacy.

My father took his departure on the 8th of September, 1790. I was unable to follow him at that time because I was ill; and the necessity of remaining behind was the more painful to me as I was apprehensive of the difficulties he might encounter on his journey. In fact, four days after his departure, a courier brought me a letter from him with notice of his being arrested at Arcis-sur-Aube. The people, persuaded that he had lost his credit in the Assembly only from having sacrificed the cause of the Edition: current; Page: [259] nation to that of the King, endeavored to prevent him from continuing his journey. The thing which, of all others, made M. Necker suffer most in this situation was the heart-rending disquietude that his wife felt for him; she loved him with a feeling so sincere and impassioned that he allowed himself, perhaps injudiciously, to speak of her, and of her grief, in the letter which on his departure he addressed to the Assembly. The times, it must be confessed, were not suitable to domestic affection; but that sensibility which a great statesman was unable to restrain in any circumstance of his life was exactly the source of his characteristic qualities—penetration and goodness. He who is capable of true and profound emotion is never intoxicated by power; and it is by this, above all, that we recognize in a minister true greatness of soul.

The Constituent Assembly decided that M. Necker should be allowed to continue his journey. He was set at liberty and proceeded to Basel, but not without still running great hazards: he performed this distressing journey by the same road, across the same provinces where, thirteen months before, he had been carried in triumph. The aristocrats did not fail to make a boast of his sufferings, without considering, or, rather without being willing to allow, that he had put himself into that situation for the sake of defending them, and of defending them solely in the spirit of justice: for he well knew that nothing could restore him to their good opinion; and it was certainly not in any such expectation, but from attachment to his duty, that he made a voluntary sacrifice, in thirteen months, of a popularity of twenty years.

He departed with an anguished heart, having lost the fruits of a long career; nor was the French nation likely perhaps ever to find a minister who loved it with equal feeling. What was there, then, so satisfactory to anyone in such a misfortune? What! the incorrigible will exclaim, was he not a partisan of that liberty which has done us all so much mischief? Assuredly I will not tell you all the good that this liberty would have done you had you been willing to adopt her when she offered herself to you pure and unstained; but if we suppose that M. Necker was mistaken along with Cato and Sydney, with Chatham and Washington, ought such an error, the error of all generous minds during two thousand years, to extinguish all gratitude for his virtues?

Edition: current; Page: [260]

CHAPTER XIX: State of Affairs and of Political Parties in the Winter of 1790–91.

In all the provinces of France there burst forth troubles, caused by the total change of institutions and by the struggle between the partisans of the old and new regimes.

The executive power lay dormant, according to an expression of a deputy on the left side of the Assembly, because it hoped, though without foundation, that good might follow from excess even in mischief. The ministers were incessantly complaining of the disorders; and although they had but limited means to oppose to them, even these they did not employ, flattering themselves that the unhappy state of things would oblige the Assembly to put more strength into the hands of government. The Assembly, perceiving this plan of proceeding, assumed the control of the whole administration instead of restricting itself to making laws. After M. Necker’s retirement, the Assembly demanded the removal of the ministers, and in its constitutional decrees, looking only to the circumstances of the moment, it deprived the King successively of the appointment of all the agents of the executive power.1 It put its bad humor against this or that person into the shape of a decree, believing, like almost all men in power, in the duration of the present state of things. The deputies of the left side were accustomed to say: “The head of the executive power in England has agents of his own nomination; while the executive power in France, not less strong but more happy, will have the advantage of commanding only persons chosen by the nation, and will thus be more Edition: current; Page: [261] intimately united with the people.” There are phrases for everything, particularly in the French language, which has served so much and so often for different and momentary objects. Nothing, however, was so easy as to prove that one cannot command men over whose fortune one does not possess influence. This truth was avowed only by the aristocratic party, but it went into the opposite extreme in not recognizing the necessity of the responsibility of ministers. One of the greatest beauties of the English constitution is that each branch of government, whether King, Lords, or Commons, is all that it can be. The powers are equal among them, not from weakness but on account of their strength.2

In whatever was not connected with the spirit of party the Constituent Assembly gave proofs of the highest degree of reason and information: but there is something in our passions so violent as to burst the links in the chain of reasoning: certain words inflame the blood, and self-love makes the gratification of the moment triumph over all that might be durable.

The same distrust of the King which obstructed the proper functioning of the administration and the judicial branch of government made itself still more felt in the decrees relative to the army. The Assembly willingly fomented a spirit of insubordination in the army at a time when nothing would have been so easy as to repress it; a proof of this was seen in the mutiny of the regiment of Chateauvieux:3 the Assembly thought proper to repress this revolt, and, in a few days, its orders were carried into effect. M. de Bouillé, an officer of true merit in the old government, at the head of the troops that had remained faithful, obliged the soldiers in insurrection to give up the town of Nancy, of which they had obtained possession. This success, owing in fact only to the ascendancy of the decrees of the Assembly, gave false hopes to the Court; it imagined, and M. de Bouillé did not fail to confirm it in the delusive idea, that the army wanted only to give back to the King his former power; while, in fact, the army, like the nation at large, wanted to assign limits to the will of a single ruler. To Edition: current; Page: [262] date from the expedition of M. de Bouillé, in the autumn of 1790, the Court entered into negotiation with him, and hopes were entertained of being able, in some way or other, to bring Mirabeau to enter into concert with that General. The Court conceived that the best means of stopping the Revolution was to gain its leaders; but this revolution had only invisible leaders: these were the truths which were firmly believed, and which no seductive power was capable of shaking. In politics we must treat with principles and not trouble ourselves about individuals, who fall of themselves into their place as soon as we have given a proper shape to the frame into which they are to enter.

However, the popular party on its part became sensible that it had been carried too far, and that the clubs which were establishing themselves out of the Assembly were beginning to dictate laws to the Assembly itself. From the moment that we admit into a government a power that is not legal, it invariably ends by becoming the strongest. As it has no other business than to find fault with what is going on, and has no active duty to discharge, it lies nowise open to censure, and it counts among its partisans all who desire a change in the country. The case is the same with the free-thinkers, who attack religion of every kind, but who know not what to say when asked to substitute a system, of whatever sort, for that which they aim at overturning. We must beware of confounding these self-constituted authorities, whose existence is so pernicious, with the public opinion, which makes itself felt in all directions but never forms itself into a political body. The Jacobin clubs4 were organized as a government more than the government itself: they passed decrees; they were connected by correspondence in the provinces with other clubs not less powerful; finally, they were to be considered as a mine underground, always ready to blow up existing institutions when opportunities should offer.

The party of the Lameths, Barnave, and Duport, the most popular of all next to the Jacobins, was, however, already threatened by the demagogues Edition: current; Page: [263] of the day, most of whom were, in their turn, to be considered in the ensuing year as the next thing to aristocrats. The Assembly, however, always perseveringly rejected the measures proposed in the clubs against emigration, against the liberty of the press, against the meetings of the nobles; never, to its honor (and we shall not be weary of repeating it), did it adopt the terrible doctrine of establishing liberty by means of despotism. It is to that detestable system that we must ascribe the loss of public spirit in France.

M. de la Fayette and his partisans would not consent to go to the Jacobin club; and to balance its influence, they endeavored to found another society under the name of “Club of 1789,” in which the friends of order and liberty were expected to meet. Mirabeau, although he had other views of his own, came to this moderate club, which, however, was soon deserted because no one was urged thither by an object of active interest. Its proposed duties were to preserve, to repress, to suspend; but these are the functions of a government, not of a club. The monarchists, I mean the partisans of a king and constitution, should naturally have connected themselves with this club of 1789; but Sieyès and Mirabeau, who belonged to it, would for no possible consideration have consented to lose their popularity by drawing near to Malouet or Clermont-Tonnerre, to men who were as much adverse to the impulse of the moment as they were in harmony with the spirit of the age. The moderate party were then divided into two or three different sections, while the assailants were almost always united. The prudent and courageous advocates of English institutions found themselves repulsed in all directions, because they had only truth on their side. We find, however, in the Moniteur of the time precious acknowledgments by the leaders of the right side of the Assembly in regard to the English constitution. The Abbé Maury said, “The English constitution which the friends of the throne and of liberty equally ought to take as a model.” Cazalès said, “England, that country in which the nation is as free as the king is respected.” In short, all the defenders of old abuses, seeing themselves threatened by a much greater danger than even the reform of those abuses, extolled the English government at that time as much as they had depreciated it two years before, when it was so easy for them Edition: current; Page: [264] to obtain it. The privileged classes have renewed this maneuver several times, but always without inspiring confidence: the principles of liberty cannot be a matter of tactical maneuver; for there is something which partakes of devotion in the feeling with which sincere minds are impressed for the dignity of human nature.

Edition: current; Page: [265]

CHAPTER XX: Death of Mirabeau.

A man of great family from Brabant, of a sagacious and penetrating mind,1 acted as the medium between the Court and Mirabeau: he had prevailed on him to correspond secretly with the Marquis de Bouillé, the General in whom the royal family had the most confidence. The project of Mirabeau was, it seems, to accompany the King to Compiègne in the midst of the regiments of whose obedience M. de Bouillé was certain, and to call thither the Constituent Assembly in order to disengage it from the influence of Paris and bring it under that of the Court. But Mirabeau had, at the same time, the intention of causing the English constitution to be adopted; for never will a truly superior man desire the re-establishment of arbitrary power. An ambitious character might take pleasure in such power if assured of holding it during the whole of his life; but Mirabeau was perfectly aware that if he succeeded in re-establishing an unlimited monarchy in France, the direction of such a government would not long be granted him by the Court; he desired, therefore, a representative government, in which men of talent, being always necessary, would always be of weight.

I have had in my hands a letter of Mirabeau written for the purpose of being shown to the King: in it he offered all his means of restoring to France an efficient and respected, but a limited, monarchy; he made use, among others, of this remarkable expression: “I would not want to have worked only toward a vast destruction.” The whole letter did honor to the justness of his views. His death was a great misfortune at the time it happened; a transcendant superiority in the career of thought always offers great resources. “You have too much capacity,” said M. Necker one day Edition: current; Page: [266] to Mirabeau, “not to acknowledge, sooner or later, that morality is in the nature of things.” Mirabeau was not altogether a man of genius; but he was not far from being one by the force of talent.

I will confess, then, notwithstanding the frightful faults of Mirabeau, notwithstanding the just resentment which I felt for the attacks that he allowed himself to make on my father in public (for, in private, he never spoke of him but with admiration), that his death struck me with grief, and all Paris experienced the same sensation. During his illness an immense crowd gathered daily and hourly before his door: that crowd made not the smallest noise, from dread of disturbing him; it was frequently renewed in the course of the twenty-four hours, and persons of different classes all behaved with equal respect. A young man, having heard it said that on introducing fresh blood into the veins of a dying man a recovery might be effected, came forward and offered to save the life of Mirabeau at the expense of his own. We cannot, without emotion, see homage rendered to talent: so much does it differ from that which is lavished on power!

Mirabeau knew that his death was approaching. At that moment, far from sinking under affliction, he had a feeling of pride: the cannon were firing for a public ceremony; he called out, “I hear already the funeral of Achilles.” In truth, an intrepid orator, who should defend with constancy the cause of liberty, might compare himself to a hero. “After my death,” said he again, “the factious will share among themselves the shreds of the monarchy.”2 He had conceived the plan of repairing a great many evils; but it was not given to him to be the expiator of his faults. He suffered cruelly in the last days of his life; and, when no longer able to speak, wrote to Cabanis, his physician, for a dose of opium, in these words of Hamlet: “to die—to sleep.” He received no consolation from religion; he was struck by death in the fullness of the interests of this world and when he thought himself near the object to which his ambition aspired. There is in the destiny of almost all men, when we take the trouble of examining it, a manifest Edition: current; Page: [267] proof of a moral and religious object, of which they themselves are not always aware, and toward which they advance unconsciously.

All the parties at that time regretted Mirabeau. The Court flattered itself with having gained him; the friends of liberty reckoned on his aid. Some said that, with such distinguished talents, he could not want anarchy, as he had no need of confusion to be the first man in the state; and others were certain that he wished for free institutions, because personal value cannot find its place where these do not exist. In fine, he died in the most brilliant moment of his career,3 and the tears of the people who followed him to the grave made the ceremony very affecting: it was the first time in France that a man indebted for celebrity to his writings and his eloquence received those honors which had heretofore been granted only to men of high birth or to distinguished commanders. The day after his death no member of the Constituent Assembly cast an unmoved eye toward the place where Mirabeau was accustomed to sit. The great oak had fallen; the rest were no longer to be distinguished.

I cannot but blame myself for expressing such regret for a character little entitled to esteem; but talent like his is so rare; and it is, unfortunately, so likely that one will see nothing equal to it in the course of one’s life, that it is impossible to restrain a sigh when death closes his brazen gates on a man lately so eloquent, so animated; in short, so strongly and so firmly in possession of life.

Edition: current; Page: [268]

CHAPTER XXI: Departure of the King on the 21st of June, 1791.

Louis XVI would have cordially accepted the English constitution had it been presented to him with candor and with the respect due to the head of a government; but the Assembly wounded all his affections, particularly by three decrees, which were rather hurtful than useful to the cause of the nation. They abolished the power of granting pardons,1 that power which ought to exist in every civilized society, and which, in a monarchy, can belong only to the Crown: they required from the priests an oath of adherence to the civil constitution of the clergy, on pain of the loss of their appointments; and they wished to deprive the Queen of the power of being Regent.2

The greatest error, perhaps, of the Constituent Assembly, as we have already said, was to aim at creating a clerical body dependent on it, in the same way as has been done by a number of absolute sovereigns. It deviated, for this purpose, from that system of perfect equity in which it ought to have sought support. It stimulated to resistance the conscience and the honor of the clerical body. The friends of liberty wander from the true path whenever it is practicable to oppose to them generous sentiments; for true liberty can have opponents only among those who are ready to act a usurping or servile part; and the priest who refused a theological Edition: current; Page: [269] oath exacted by threats acted more the part of a free man than those who endeavored to make him give the lie to his opinion.

Lastly, the third decree, the one relative to the Regency, being intended to keep power out of the hands of the Queen, who was suspected by the popular party, could not fail to be personally offensive on several grounds to Louis XVI. That decree declared him the first public functionary,3 a title wholly unsuited to a king, since every functionary must be responsible; and it is indispensable to introduce into hereditary monarchy a sentiment of respect naturally connected with the inviolability of the sovereign. This respect does not exclude the mutual compact between the King and the nation, a compact existing at all times either in a tacit or in an avowed shape; but reason and delicacy may always be made compatible when people are sincerely disposed to it.

The second article of the regency decree was to be condemned on grounds similar to those that we have already mentioned; it declared the King deprived of the throne if he went out of France.4 This was pronouncing on what ought not to have been anticipated, the case in which a king was to be stripped of his dignity. Republican virtues and institutions elevate very greatly the people whose situation allows them to enjoy them; but in monarchical countries, the people become perverted if they are not accustomed to respect the authority which they have acknowledged. A penal code against a king is an idea without application, whether that king be strong or weak. In the latter case, the power that overturns him does not confine itself to law, in whatever manner that law may have been conceived.

It is therefore only under a prudential point of view that we are to form Edition: current; Page: [270] an opinion of the step taken by the King in escaping from the Tuileries on the 21st of June, 1791. He had certainly met by that time with as much bad treatment as gave him a right to quit France; and he perhaps rendered a great service even to the friends of liberty by putting an end to a hypocritical situation; for their cause was injured by the vain efforts that they made to persuade the nation that the political acts of the King, from the time of his arrival at Paris, were acts of free will, when it was perfectly evident that they were not.

Mr. Fox5 told me in England, in 1793, that at the time of the King’s departure to Varennes, he should have wished that he had been allowed to quit the kingdom in peace and that the Constituent Assembly had proclaimed a republic. France would at least not have sullied herself with the crimes afterward committed against the royal family; and whether a republican form can or cannot succeed in a great country, it is always best that the trial should be made by upright men. But that which was most to be dreaded took place—the arrest of the King and his family.

A journey requiring so much management and rapidity was prepared almost as in ordinary times: etiquette is of such moment at a court that it could not be dispensed with even on this most perilous occasion; the consequence was the failure of the attempt.6

When the Constituent Assembly learned of the King’s departure, its behavior was perfectly firm and becoming; what it had wanted till that day was a counterpoise to its unlimited power. Unfortunately, the French arrive at reason in political matters only by compulsion. A vague idea of danger hovered over the Assembly; it was possible that the King might go, as he intended, to Montmédy, and that he might receive aid from foreign Edition: current; Page: [271] troops; it was possible that a great party might declare for him in the interior. In short, disquietude put an end to extremes; and among the deputies of the popular party, those who had clamored on pretext of tyranny when the English constitution was proposed to them would now have willingly subscribed to it.

Never will it be possible to find grounds of consolation for the arrest of the King at Varennes: irreparable faults, crimes which must long be the cause of shame, have impaired the feeling of liberty in the minds best fitted to receive it. Had the King left the country, perhaps an equitable constitution might have arisen out of the struggle between the two parties.7 But civil war, it will be exclaimed, was to be avoided above all things. Not above all things! There are other calamities still more to be dreaded. Generous virtues are displayed by those who fight for their opinion; and it is more natural to shed one’s blood in defense of it than for one of the thousand political interests which form the habitual causes of war. Doubtless it is cruel to fight against one’s fellow-citizens, but it is still more horrible to be oppressed by them; and that which of all things ought to be avoided in France is the absolute triumph of a party. For a long habit of liberty is necessary to prevent the feeling of justice from being perverted by the pride of power.

The King, on setting out, left a manifesto containing the motives for his departure; he recapitulated the treatment which he had been obliged to undergo, and declared that his authority was reduced to such a degree that he had no longer the power of governing. Amidst complaints so well founded, it was improper to insert observations of too minute a cast on the bad condition of the palace of the Tuileries. It is very difficult for hereditary sovereigns to prevent themselves from being governed by habit in the smallest as in the greatest events of life; but it is perhaps on that very account that they are better adapted than elected chiefs to a government of law and peace. The manifesto of Louis XVI closed with the memorable assurance “that on recovering his independence, he was ready to devote it to erecting the liberty of the French people on an imperishable foundation.” Such was at that time the current of public feeling that no Edition: current; Page: [272] one, not even the King himself, considered practicable the re-establishment of an unlimited monarchy.8

The Assembly, as soon as it was informed of the arrest of the royal family at Varennes, sent thither commissaries, among whom were Péthion and Barnave: Péthion, a man without information or elevation of soul, saw the misfortune of the most affecting victims without being moved by it. Barnave felt a respectful pity, particularly for the Queen; and from that time forward, he, Duport, Lameth, Regnault de St. Jean d’Angely, Chapelier, Thouret, and others united all their influence to that of M. de la Fayette to the restoration of royalty.9

The King and his family, on returning from Varennes, made a mournful entry into Paris; the clothes of the King and Queen were covered with dust; the two children of the royal family looked with surprise on the mass of people who came forth with an air of command into the presence of its fallen masters. Madame Elizabeth10 appeared, in the midst of this illustrious family, like a being already sanctified and which has no longer anything in common with the world. Three of the bodyguards, placed on the outside seat of the carriage, were exposed every moment to the danger of being massacred, and deputies of the Constituent Assembly placed themselves repeatedly between them and the enraged part of the populace who wanted to kill them. It was thus that the King returned to the palace of his ancestors. Alas! what a sad presage! And how truly was it fulfilled!

Edition: current; Page: [273]

CHAPTER XXII: Revision of the Constitution.

The Assembly was constrained, by the popular ferment, to declare that the King should be kept prisoner in the palace of the Tuileries until the constitution had been presented for his acceptance. M. de la Fayette, as commander of the National Guards, had the misfortune of being doomed to carry this decree into effect. But if, on the one hand, he placed sentinels at the gates of the palace, he opposed, on the other, with conscientious energy, the party which endeavored to pronounce the King fallen from the throne.1 He employed against those who pressed that measure the armed force in the Champ de Mars;2 and he thus proved, at least, that it was not from views of ambition that he exposed himself to the displeasure of the King, as he drew on himself at the same time the hatred of the enemies of the throne. The only equitable manner, in my opinion, of judging the character of a man is to examine if there are no personal calculations in his conduct; if there are not, we may blame his manner of judging; but we are not the less bound to esteem him.

The republican party was the only one that came openly forward at the time of the arrest of the King. The name of the Duke of Orléans was not even mentioned; no one presumed to think of another king than Louis XVI, and he received at least the homage of having nothing but institutions opposed to him. Finally, the person of the monarch was declared inviolable; a specification was made of the cases in which a deprivation of the Crown should be incurred;3 but if the illusion which should surround the royal person were thus destroyed, engagements proportionally Edition: current; Page: [274] stronger were taken to respect the law which guaranteed the inviolability of the sovereign in every possible supposition.

The Constituent Assembly always thought, but very erroneously, that its decrees possessed something of magic power, and that the people would stop in everything exactly at the line which it had traced. Its authority in this respect may be compared to that of the ribband suspended in the garden of the Tuileries to prevent the people from approaching the palace: so long as public opinion was in favor of those who had caused this ribband to be strung, it was respected by everyone; but as soon as the people would no longer have a barrier, it was not of the slightest use.

We find in some modern constitutions, as a constitutional article: “the government shall be just, and the people obedient.” Were it possible to command such a result, the balance of powers would be altogether superfluous; but to succeed in putting good maxims in execution, it is necessary to combine institutions in such a way that everyone shall find his interest in maintaining them. Religious doctrines stand in no need of appealing to personal interest to acquire command over men, and it is in that, above all, that they are of a superior order; but legislators, invested with the interests of this world, fall into a kind of self-deception when they introduce patriotic sentiments as a necessary spring in the machine of society. To reckon on consequences for organizing a cause is to mistake the natural order of events. Nations become free not from their being virtuous but because fortunate circumstances, or rather a strong will, having put them in possession of liberty, they acquire the virtues which arise from it.

The laws on which civil and political liberty depend are reducible to a very small number, and it is this political decalogue alone that merits the title of constitutional articles. But the National Assembly gave that title to almost all its decrees; whether it thus aimed at keeping itself independent of the royal sanction or, like an author, acted under a degree of illusion in regard to the perfection and durability of its own work.

However, the intelligent men in the Assembly succeeded in reducing the number of constitutional articles;4 but a discussion arose to ascertain Edition: current; Page: [275] whether it should not be decided that every twenty years a new Constituent Assembly should be formed to revise the constitution which they had just established, taking for granted that, in this interval, no change should be made in it. What confidence did this show in the stability of such a work, and how greatly has it been deceived?

At last it was decreed that no constitutional article should be modified, except on the demand of three succeeding assemblies. This was forming an extraordinary idea of human patience on subjects of such great importance.

The French, in general, look only at the reality of the things of this life, and are sufficiently ready to turn principles into ridicule if they appear to them an obstacle to the immediate success of their wishes. But the Constituent Assembly, on the other hand, acted under a domineering passion for abstract ideas. This fashion, which was quite contrary to the spirit of the nation, did not last long. The factious made use at first of metaphysical arguments as motives for the most guilty actions, and they soon after overturned this structure to proclaim plainly the force of circumstances and the contempt of general views.

The côté droit of the Assembly was often in the right during the course of the session, and more often still excited the interest of the public, because it was oppressed by a stronger party and denied opportunities of speaking. In no country is it more necessary than in France to establish regulations in deliberative assemblies in favor of the minority; for such a predilection exists there for the stronger party that people are apt to account it a crime in you to belong to the weaker.* After the arrest of the King, the aristocrats, knowing that royalty had acquired defenders among the popular party, thought it best to let the latter act, and to come less conspicuously forward themselves. The converted deputies did what they could to increase the authority of the executive power; but they did not, however, venture to broach those questions, the decision of which alone Edition: current; Page: [276] could give solidity to the political state of France. People were afraid to speak of two chambers as of a conspiracy. The right of dissolving the legislative body, a right so necessary to the maintenance of royal authority, was not granted to it. Reasonable men were alarmed by being called aristocrats; yet the aristocrats were then no longer formidable, and it was on that very account that the name had been converted into a reproach. At that time, as well as subsequently, the stronger party in France have had the art of making the vanquished the object of public disquietude; one would say that the weak alone were to be dreaded. To over-rate the means of their adversaries is a good pretext to increase the power of the victors. We must form enemies in effigy if we wish to accustom our arm to strike a weighty blow.

The majority of the Assembly hoped to restrain the Jacobins, and yet it compromised with them, and lost ground at each victory. The constitution accordingly was drawn like a treaty between two parties, not like a work for permanency. The authors of this constitution launched into the sea an ill-constructed vessel, and thought that they found a justification for every fault by quoting the wish of such an individual or the credit of such another. But the waves of the ocean which the vessel had to traverse were not to be smoothed by such apologies.

But what course, it will be asked, could be adopted when circumstances were unfavorable to that which reason seemed to dictate? Resist, always resist, and rely for support on yourselves. The courage of an upright man is a consideration of importance, and no one can foresee what consequences it may have. Had there been ten deputies of the popular party, had there been five, three, or even one who had made the Assembly feel all the misfortunes that would necessarily result from a political work defenseless against faction; had he adjured the Assembly, in the name of the admirable principles which it had decreed and of the principles which it had overturned, not to expose to hazard so many blessings that formed the treasure of human reason; had the inspiration of thought revealed to one orator in what manner the sacred name of liberty was soon to be consigned to a disastrous association with the most cruel recollections, one man alone might perhaps have been able to arrest the destiny. But the applause, or the murmurs of the galleries, influenced questions which Edition: current; Page: [277] ought to have been discussed calmly by the most enlightened and most reflecting men. The pride which enables one to resist a multitude is of another kind than that which renders one independent of a despot, although it is the same natural impulse that enables us to struggle against oppression of every kind.

There remained only one method of repairing the errors of the laws: that method lay in the choice of men. The deputies about to succeed in the Constituent Assembly might resume imperfect labors and rectify, in the spirit of wisdom, the faults already committed. But the Assembly set out by rejecting property as a qualification, although necessary to confine the elections to the class that has an interest in the maintenance of order. Robespierre, who was about to act so great a part in the reign of blood, combated this condition as an injustice, however low the scale might be fixed; he brought forward the declaration of the rights of man in regard to equality, as if that equality, even in its most extended sense, admitted the power of acquiring everything without talent and without labor. To arrogate political rights without a title to exercise them is a usurpation as much as any other.5 Robespierre joined obscure metaphysics to common declamation, and it was thus that he achieved a kind of eloquence. Better speeches were composed for him in his day of power; but during the Constituent Assembly no one paid attention to him, and whenever he rose to speak, those of the democrats who had any taste were very ready to turn him into ridicule, that they might obtain the credit of belonging to a moderate party.

It was decreed that to pay taxes at the annual rate of a mark of silver (about fifty-four livres) should be a necessary qualification to being a deputy. This was enough to excite complaints from the speakers in regard to all the younger brothers of families, in regard to all the men of talent, who would be excluded by their poverty from becoming representatives: yet Edition: current; Page: [278] the rate was so small as not to confine the choice of the people to the class of men of property.

The Constituent Assembly, to remedy this inconvenience, established two stages in the elective process: it decreed that the people should name electors, who should subsequently make choice of deputies. This gradation had certainly a tendency to soften the action of the democratic element, and the revolutionary leaders were doubtless of that opinion, since they abolished it on their acquiring the ascendency. But a choice made directly by the people, and subjected to a fair qualification in point of property, is infinitely more favorable to the energy of a free government. An immediate election, such as exists in England, can alone communicate public spirit and love of country to every class. A nation becomes attached to its representatives when it has chosen them itself: but when obliged to confine itself to the electing of those who are to elect in their turn, the artificial combination casts a damp on its interest. Besides, Electoral Colleges, from the mere circumstance of their consisting of a small number of persons, are much more open to intrigue than large masses; they are open, above all, to that bourgeois intrigue that is so degrading when we see men of the middling ranks6 apply to their lofty superiors to get places for their sons in the antechambers of the court.

In a free government the people ought to rally itself under the first class by taking representatives from among it, and the first class should endeavor to please the people by their talents and virtues. This double tie retains but little force when the act of election has to pass through two stages. The life of election is thus destroyed to avoid commotion; it is a great deal better, as in England, to balance discreetly the democratic by the aristocratic element, leaving, however, both in possession of their natural independence.7

M. Necker in his last work8 proposed a new method of establishing two Edition: current; Page: [279] stages of election; this should consist, he thinks, in the electoral college giving a list of a certain number of candidates, out of which the primary assemblies might make a choice. The motives for this institution are ingeniously explained in M. Necker’s book; but it is evident that he thought it, all along, necessary that the people should exercise fully its right and its judgment, and that distinguished men should have a permanent interest in winning its votes.

The revisers of the constitution in 1791 were incessantly accused by the Jacobins of being the advocates of despotism, even at the time that they were obliged to resort to circumlocution in speaking of the executive power, as if the name of a king could not be pronounced in a monarchical state. Yet the Constituent Deputies might still perhaps have succeeded in saving France had they been members of the following Assembly. The most enlightened deputies felt what was wanted to a constitution framed under the pressure of events, and they would have endeavored to find a remedy in the mode of interpreting it. But the party of mediocrity, which counts so many soldiers in its ranks, that party which hates talents as the friends of liberty hate despotism, succeeded in debarring, by a decree, the deputies of the Constituent Assembly from the possibility of being re-elected.9 The aristocrats and the Jacobins, having acted a very inferior part during the session, did not flatter themselves with being returned; they felt accordingly a pleasure in shutting the entrance to the next Assembly on those who were assured of the votes of their fellow-citizens. For of all agrarian laws, that which would most please the mass of mankind Edition: current; Page: [280] would be a division of public votes into equal portions, talents never obtaining a greater number than mediocrity. Many individuals would flatter themselves with gaining by this plan; but the emulation which creates the wealth of mankind would be totally lost.

In vain did the first orators of the Assembly urge that successors altogether new, and elected in a time of trouble, would be ambitious of making a revolution equally striking as that which had distinguished their predecessors. The members of the extremity of the côté gauche, agreeing with the extremity of the côté droit, exclaimed that their colleagues wished to make a monopoly of power, and deputies hitherto inimical, the Jacobins and aristocrats, joyfully shook hands on thinking that they should have the good fortune of excluding men whose superiority had for two years cast them into the shade.

How great a fault under existing circumstances! But also how great an error, in point of principle, was it to forbid the people to return those who have already shown themselves worthy of its confidence! In what country do we find a sufficient number of capable persons to enable us to exclude, in an arbitrary manner, men already known, already tried, and practically acquainted with business? Nothing costs a state dearer than deputies who have to make their fortune in the way of reputation; men of acquired property of this kind also ought to be preferred to those who have still their wealth to seek.

Edition: current; Page: [281]

CHAPTER XXIII: Acceptance of the Constitution, Called the Constitution of 1791.

Thus ended that famous Assembly which united so much knowledge to so many errors, which was the cause of permanent good but of great immediate evil, the remembrance of which will long serve as a pretext for attacks by the enemies of liberty.

Behold, say they, the result of the deliberations of the most enlightened men in France. But we may say to them in reply: consider what must be the situation of men who, never having exercised any political right, find themselves all at once in posession of that which is so ruinous to everyone—unlimited power: they will be long before they are aware that injustice suffered by any individual citizen, whether a friend or enemy of liberty, recoils on the head of all; they will be long before they understand the theory of liberty, which is so simple when one is born in a country where the laws and manners teach it, so difficult when one has lived under an arbitrary government in which everything is decided by circumstances, and principles always rendered subservient to them. Finally, at all times and in every country, to make a nation pass from the government of a court to the government of law is a crisis of the greatest difficulty, even when public opinion renders it unavoidable.

History should then consider the Constituent Assembly under a double point of view: the abuses which it destroyed, and the institutions which it created. Under the former it has great claims on the gratitude of mankind; under the latter it may be reproached with the most serious errors.

On the proposition of M. de la Fayette, a general amnesty was granted to all those who had participated in the King’s journey or committed what could be called political offenses. He obtained likewise a decree enabling Edition: current; Page: [282] every individual to leave France, and return, without a passport. The emigration was already begun. In the next chapter I shall point out the distinction between the emigration prompted by political views and that unavoidable emigration which was of later date. But that which should fix our attention is that the Constituent Assembly rejected every measure proposed to it that would have impeded civil liberty. The minority of the nobility was actuated by that spirit of justice which is inseparable from disinterestedness. Among the deputies of the Third Estate, Dupont de Nemours,1 who survived in spite of his courage, Thouret, Barnave, Chapelier, and so many others who fell the victims of their excellent principles certainly brought none but the purest intentions into their deliberations; but a tumultuous and ignorant majority carried their point in the decrees relative to the constitution. There was a sufficient store of knowledge in France in whatever related to the judicial branch and the details of administration; but the theory of powers required more profound information.

It was thus, then, the most painful of intellectual spectacles to see the blessings of civil liberty committed to the safeguard of a political liberty that had neither moderation nor strength.

This ill-fated constitution, so good in its foundation and so bad in its superstructure, was presented to the acceptance of the King.2 He certainly could not refuse it, as it put an end to his captivity; but the public flattered itself that his consent was voluntary. Fêtes were held as if for a season of happiness; rejoicings were ordered that people might persuade themselves that the danger was over; the words “King,” “Representative Assembly,” “Constitutional Monarchy” corresponded to the real wishes of all the Edition: current; Page: [283] French. They thought they had attained realities when they had acquired only names.

The King and Queen were entreated to go to the opera; their entrance into the house was the signal for sincere and universal plaudits. The piece was the Ballet of Psyche; at the time that the furies were dancing and shaking their flambeaus, and when the brilliancy of the flames spread all over the house, I saw the faces of the King and Queen by the pale light of this imitation of the lower regions and was seized with melancholy forebodings of the future. The Queen exerted herself to be agreeable, but a profound grief was perceptible, even in her obliging smile. The King, as usual, seemed more engaged with what he saw than with what he felt; he looked on all sides with calmness, one might almost say with indifference; he had, like most sovereigns, accustomed himself to restrain the expression of his feelings, and he had perhaps by this means lessened their intensity. After the opera, the public went out to walk in the Champs Elysées, which were superbly illuminated. The palace and garden of the Tuileries, being separated from them only by the fatal Square of the Revolution, the illumination of the palace and garden formed an admirable combination with that of the long alleys of the Champs Elysées, which were joined together by festoons of lamps.

The King and Queen drove leisurely in their carriage through the midst of the crowd, and the latter, each time that they perceived the carriage, called out: Vive le Roi! But they were the same people who had insulted the same King on his return from Varennes, and they were no better able to account for their applause than they had been for their insults.

I met in the course of my walk several members of the Constituent Assembly: like dethroned sovereigns, they seemed very uneasy about their successors. Certainly all would have wished like them that they had been appointed to maintain the constitution, such as it was; for enough was already known of the spirit of elections not to entertain any hope for an amelioration of affairs. But people were rendered giddy by the noise that proceeded from every quarter. The lower orders were singing, and the newspaper venders made the air re-echo with their loud calls of La grande acceptation du Roi, la constitution monarchique, etc. etc.

The Revolution was apparently finished, and liberty established. Yet Edition: current; Page: [284] people looked around on each other as if to acquire from their neighbors that security which they did not possess themselves.

The absence of the nobility undermined this security, for monarchy cannot exist without the participation of an aristocratic body, and, unfortunately, the prejudices of the French nobles were such that they rejected every kind of free government: it is to this great difficulty that we are to attribute the most serious defects of the constitution of 1791. For the men of rank and property offering no support to liberty, the democratic power necessarily acquired the ascendancy. The English barons, from the time of Magna Charta, have demanded rights for the Commons conjointly with rights for themselves. In France, the nobility opposed these rights when claimed by the Third Estate, but being too weak to struggle with the people, they quitted their country in a mass and allied themselves with foreigners. This lamentable resolution rendered a constitutional monarchy impracticable at that time, for it destroyed its preserving elements. We proceed to explain what were the necessary consequences of emigration.

Edition: current; Page: [285]

PART III

CHAPTER I: On the Emigration.

It is of importance to make a distinction between the voluntary and the forced emigration. After the overthrow of the throne in 1792 and the commencement of the Reign of Terror, we all emigrated to escape the dangers with which everyone was threatened. It was not one of the least crimes of the government of that day, to have considered as culpable those who left their homes only to escape assassination at the hands of the people or of a tribunal; and to comprise in their proscriptive edicts not only men able to carry arms, but the aged, the women, and even the children. The emigration of 1791, on the other hand, being caused by no kind of danger, should be considered as an act of party; and under this point of view, we can form an opinion on it according to political principles.

At the moment the King was arrested at Varennes and brought back captive to Paris, a great number of the nobles determined on quitting their country to claim the aid of foreign powers and prevail on them to repress the revolution by force of arms. The earliest emigrants1 obliged the nobles Edition: current; Page: [286] who had remained in France to follow them; they enjoined this sacrifice in the name of a kind of honor connected with the ésprit du corps, and the caste of French nobles were seen covering the public roads and repairing to the camps of foreigners on the hostile frontiers. Posterity, I believe, will pronounce that the nobility on this occasion deviated from the true principles which serve as a basis to the social union. Supposing that nobles would not have done better to take part from the outset in institutions rendered necessary by the progress of information and the growth of the Third Estate, at least ten thousand more nobles around the King’s person might have perhaps prevented him from being dethroned.

But without wandering into suppositions, which may always be contested, there are in politics, as in morals, certain inflexible duties; and the first of all is never to abandon our country to foreigners, even when they come forward to support with their armies the system which we consider the best. One party thinks itself the only virtuous, the only legitimate body; another the only national, the only patriotic. Who is to decide between them? Was the triumph of foreign armies a judgment of God on the French? The judgment of God, says the proverb, is the voice of the people. Had a civil war been necessary to measure the strength of the contending parties, and to manifest on which side lay the majority, the nation would by this have become greater in its own eyes, as in those of its rivals. The Vendean leaders2 inspire a thousand times more respect than those Frenchmen who have excited the different coalitions of Europe against their country. Victory in civil war can be obtained only by dint of courage, energy, or justice; it is to the faculties of the soul that the success of such a struggle belongs; but in order to entice foreign powers to enter one’s country, an intrigue, an accidental cause, or a connection with a favored general or minister can suffice. Emigrants have at all times played with the independence of their country; they would have it, as a jealous lover wishes his mistress—dead or faithful; and the weapon with which they Edition: current; Page: [287] imagine they are fighting the factious often escapes from their hands and inflicts a mortal blow on that country which they intended to save.

The nobles of France unfortunately consider themselves rather as the countrymen of the nobles of all countries than as the fellow-citizens of Frenchmen. According to their manner of judging, the race of the ancient conquerors of Europe owes itself mutual aid from one empire to another;3 but a people, on the other hand, conscious of forming a uniform whole naturally wish to be the disposers of their own fate; and from the times of antiquity down to our days, no free, or even merely spirited, people has ever borne without horror the interference of a foreign government in its domestic quarrels.

Circumstances peculiar to the history of France have in that country separated the privileged classes and the Third Estate in a more decided manner than in any other part of Europe. Urbanity of manners concealed political divisions; but the pecuniary exemptions, the number of offices conferred exclusively on the nobles, the inequality in the application of the law, the etiquette at court, the whole inheritance of the rights of conquest transformed into arbitrary favors, created in France almost two nations out of one.4 The consequence was that the emigrant nobles wished to treat almost the whole French people as revolted vassals; and, far from remaining in their country, either to triumph over the prevailing opinion or to unite themselves to it, they considered it a plainer course to call in the gendarmerie of Europe, that they might bring Paris to its senses. It was, they said, to deliver the majority from the yoke of a factious minority that they had recourse to the arms of the neighboring allies. A nation that should stand in need of foreigners to deliver it from a yoke of any kind would be so degraded that no virtue could long be displayed in it; it would have to blush at once for its oppressors and its deliverers. Henri IV admitted, Edition: current; Page: [288] it is true, foreign corps into his army;5 but he had them as auxiliaries and was nowise dependent on them. He opposed English and German Protestants to the Leaguers, controlled by Spanish Catholics; but he was always surrounded by a French force of sufficient strength to make him master of his allies. In 1791 the system of emigration was false and reprehensible, for a handful of Frenchmen was lost in the midst of all the bayonets of Europe. There were, moreover, at that time, many methods of coming to a mutual understanding in France; men of great worth were at the head of government; errors in politics admitted of remedy, and judicial murders had not yet been committed.

Emigration, far from keeping up the respectability of the nobility, was the greatest blow to it. A new generation has risen up in the absence of the nobles, and as this generation has lived, prospered, and triumphed without the privileged classes, it still thinks itself capable of maintaining itself alone. The emigrants, on the other hand, living always in the same circle, are persuaded that whatever is different from their ancient habits is rebellion: they have thus acquired by degrees the same kind of inflexibility which marks the clergy. All political traditions have become in their eyes articles of faith, and abuses stand with them in the light of dogmas. Their attachment to the royal family under its misfortunes is worthy of the highest respect; but why make this attachment consist in a hatred of free institutions and in a love of absolute power? And why object to reasoning in politics as if sacred mysteries, not human affairs, were in question? In 1791 the aristocratic party separated itself from the nation in fact and by right: in one way by quitting France, in another by not acknowledging that the wish of a great people ought to have influence in the choice of its government. “What signify nations,” they were accustomed to repeat. “We need armies.” But do not armies form a part of nations? Does not public opinion make its way sooner or later even into the ranks of soldiers, and in what manner is it possible to stifle that which at present animates every enlightened country—the free and perfect knowledge of the interest and the rights of all?

Edition: current; Page: [289]

The emigrants must have convinced themselves by their own feelings, in different circumstances, that the step they had taken was reprehensible. When they found themselves in the midst of foreign uniforms, when they heard those German dialects, no sound of which recalled to them the recollections of their past life, is it possible that they could still think themselves devoid of blame? Did they not see the whole of France arrayed to defend herself on the opposite bank? Did they not experience unspeakable distress on recognizing the national music, on hearing the accents of their native province, in that camp which they were obliged to call hostile? How many of them must have returned with sorrow among the Germans, among the English, among so many other nations whom they were ordered to consider as their allies! Ah! it is impossible to transport one’s household gods to a foreign hearth. The emigrants, even at the time that they were carrying on war against France, were often proud of the victories of their countrymen. As emigrants they were defeated, but as Frenchmen they triumphed: and the joy which they experienced was the noble inconsistency of generous hearts. At the battle of La Hogue,6 James II exclaimed, on seeing the defeat of that French fleet which sustained his own cause against England, “See how my brave English fight”; and this sentiment gave him a greater right to the throne than any one of the arguments employed for his restoration. In truth, the love of country is inextinguishable, as are all the affections on which our first duties are founded. Often does a long absence or party quarrels break asunder all your connections; you no longer know an individual in that country which is yours; but at its name, or at the sight of it, your whole heart is moved; and far from its being necessary to combat such impressions as chimeras, they ought to serve as a guide to a man of virtue.

Several political writers have ascribed to emigration all the misfortunes that have happened to France. It is not fair to impute to the errors of one party the crimes committed by another; but it seems, however, clear that a democratic crisis became much more probable when all the men employed under the old monarchy, and capable, had they been willing, of Edition: current; Page: [290] contributing to recompose the new, had abandoned their country. Equality then presenting itself from all quarters, men of warm passions gave themselves up too much to the democratic torrent; and the people, seeing royalty nowhere but in the person of the King, believed that to overthrow one man sufficed to found a republic.

Edition: current; Page: [291]

CHAPTER II: Prediction of M. Necker on the Fate of the Constitution of 1791.

During the last fourteen years of his life, M. Necker did not quit his estate of Coppet in Switzerland. He lived in the most complete retirement; but the repose arising from dignity does not exclude activity of mind, and he never ceased to attend, with the greatest solicitude, to every event which occurred in France. The works composed by him at different eras in the Revolution possess a prophetic character; because, in examining the defects of the different constitutions which prevailed for a time in France, he explained beforehand the consequences of these defects, and predictions of this kind could not fail to be realized.

M. Necker joined to a surprising sagacity of intellect a sensibility to the fate of mankind, and in particular of France, of which, I believe, there is no example in any writer on political topics. These topics are commonly treated in an abstract manner, and are almost always founded on calculation; but M. Necker was intent above all on considering the relations which that science bore to individual morality, to the happiness and dignity of nations. He is the Fénélon of politics, if I may venture thus to express myself, in honoring these two great men by the analogy between their virtues.

The first work published by him in 1791 is entitled On the Administration of M. Necker, by Himself.1 At the close of a very profound political discussion on the various compensations that ought to have been granted to the privileged classes for the loss of their ancient rights, he says, addressing himself to the Assembly,

Edition: current; Page: [292]

I know that I shall be blamed for my obstinate attachment to the principles of justice, and attempts will be made to debilitate it by giving it the name of aristocratic pity. I know better than you the nature of my pity. It was first for you that I felt that sentiment; but you were then without union and without strength; it was first for you that I sustained a conflict. And at the time when I complained so much of the indifference shown to you; when I spoke of the respect that was due to you; when I showed a perpetual disquietude for the fate of the people; it was then that by mere word games your enemies endeavored to ridicule my sentiments. I would willingly love others than you, now that you abandon me; I would it were in my power; but I possess not that consolation; your enemies and mine have placed between them and me a barrier which I shall never seek to burst; and they must necessarily hate me forever, since they have made me answerable for their own faults. Yet it was not I who prompted them to make an immoderate use of their former power; it was not I who rendered them inflexible when it became necessary to begin negotiating with fortune. Ah! if they were not under oppression, if they were not unhappy, how many reproaches could not I make to them! And when I defend them still in their rights and properties, they will not, I trust, believe that I think for a moment of regaining their favor. I now desire no connection with them, nor with anyone; it is with my recollections, with my thoughts, that I endeavor to live and die; when I fix my attention on the purity of the sentiments that have guided me, I find nowhere a suitable association; and when, in the want experienced by every feeling mind, I form that association, I do it in hope, with the upright men of every country, with those, so few in number, whose first passion is the love of doing good on earth.

M. Necker felt bitter regret for the loss of that popularity which he had sacrificed without hesitation to his duty. Some persons have blamed him for the importance that he set upon it. Woe to the statesmen who do not need public opinion! These are either courtiers or usurpers; they flatter themselves with obtaining, by intrigue or by terror, what generous minds wish to owe only to the esteem of their fellows.

When my father and I were walking together under those lofty trees at Coppet, which still seem to me the friendly witnesses of his noble thoughts, he asked me once whether I thought that the whole of France Edition: current; Page: [293] was infected with those popular suspicions to which he had been a victim on the road from Paris into Switzerland. “It seems to me,” he said, “that in several provinces they acknowledged, down to the latest day of my administration, the purity of my intentions and my attachment to France.” Hardly had he put this question to me than he dreaded being too much affected by my answer; “Let us talk no more on that subject,” he said, “God reads in my heart: that is enough.” I did not venture to give him a consoling answer on that day, so much of restrained emotion did I see in his whole being. Ah! how harsh and narrow-minded must be the enemies of such a man! It was to him that we ought to address the words of Ben Jonson, when speaking of his illustrious friend, the Chancellor of England. “I pray God to give you strength in your adversity; for as to greatness, you cannot want it.”2

M. Necker, at the time when the democratic party, then in the plenitude of power, made him overtures to join them, expressed himself with the greatest energy on the disastrous situation to which the royal authority was reduced. And, although he expected, perhaps, too much from the ascendency of morality and eloquence at a time when men began to think of nothing but personal interest, he was extremely capable of availing himself of irony and reasoning when he thought them suitable. I quote the following example among many.

I will venture to say that the political hierarchy established by the National Assembly seemed to require, more than any other social institution, the efficacious intervention of the monarch. That august mediation was perhaps alone capable of keeping up a distance between so many powers which press on each other, between so many individuals elected on similar grounds, between so many dignitaries, equal by their original profession, and still so near each other from the nature of their functions and the uncertain tenure of their places. It alone could give a certain life to the abstract and entirely constitutional gradations which ought henceforth to form the scale of subordination.

Edition: current; Page: [294]

I can clearly perceive

Primary assemblies nominating an electoral body;

That electoral body choosing deputies to the National Assembly;

That assembly passing decrees and calling on the King to sanction and promulgate them;

The King addressing these decrees to the departments;

The departments transmitting them to the districts;

The districts issuing orders to the municipalities;

The municipalities, which for the execution of these decrees require, in case of need, the assistance of the national guards;

The national guards, whose duty it is to restrain the people;

The people who are bound to obey.

We perceive in this succession a numerical order with which there is no fault to be found; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten; all follow with perfect regularity. But in the case of government, in the case of obedience, it is by the connection, it is by the moral relation of the different authorities that the general order is maintained. A legislator would have too easy a task if, to accomplish the grand political work of the submission of the mass to the wisdom of a few, it were enough for him to conjugate the verb to command, and to say like a schoolboy, “I will command, thou shalt command, he shall command, we shall command, &c.” It is necessary, in order to establish effective subordination and to ensure the play of all the upward and downward movements, that there should be among all the conventional superiorities a proportional gradation of reputation and respect. There must be from rank to rank a distinction which has an imposing effect, and at the summit of these gradations, there must be a power which, by a mixture of reality and imagination, influences by its action the whole of the political hierarchy.

In no country are the distinctions of government more effaced than under the despotic sway of the Caliphs of the East; but nowhere are the punishments more hasty, more severe, or more multiform. The heads of the judicial order, and of the administration, have there a decoration which suffices for everything—a train of janissaries, mutes, and executioners.3

These latter paragraphs bear reference to the necessity of an aristocratic body, that is, of a chamber of peers, to support a monarchy.

Edition: current; Page: [295]

During his last ministry, M. Necker had defended the principles of the English constitution successively against the King, the nobility, and the representatives of the people, according as each of these authorities had become the strongest. He continued the same course as a writer; and he combated in his works the Constituent Assembly, the Convention, the Directory, and Bonaparte, all four, when at the height of their prosperity; opposing to all the same principles, and apprising them that they were sowing the seeds of their own overthrow, even when succeeding in a present object; because, in political matters, that which most misleads bodies and individuals is the triumph which can be momentarily obtained over justice; a triumph which always ends by overturning those who obtain it.

M. Necker, who viewed the Constitution of 1791 with a statesman’s eye, published his opinion on that subject under the first Assembly, at a time when that constitution still gave rise to a great deal of enthusiasm. His work entitled On the Executive Power in Great Countries,4 is recognized by thinkers to be a classic. It contains ideas altogether new on the strength necessary to government in general; but these reflections are at first applied specifically to the order of things recently proclaimed by the Constituent Assembly; in this book, still more than in the former, one might take predictions for history, so precise and clear is the detail of the events which must necessarily arise from the defects of the institutions in question. M. Necker, on comparing the English constitution with the work of the Constituent Assembly, ends by these remarkable words: “The French will regret, when too late, their not having shown more respect to experience, and their having failed to recognize its noble origin though concealed under garments worn and rent.”

He foretold in the same book the terror that was about to arise from the power of the Jacobins; and, what is still more remarkable, the terror that would be produced after them by the establishment of military despotism.

Such a political writer as M. Necker was not to be satisfied with merely exhibiting a picture of all the misfortunes that would result from the constitution of 1791: he also gave the Legislative Assembly advice on the means of escaping them. The Constituent Assembly had decreed more Edition: current; Page: [296] than three hundred articles which no succeeding legislature had a right to touch, except on conditions which it was almost impossible to fulfill; and yet, among these unchangeable articles was the method adopted for nominating to inferior appointments and other things of equally little importance; “so that it would be neither more easy nor less difficult to change the French monarchy into a republic, than to modify the most insignificant of all the details comprised, one knows not why, in the constitutional act.”

“It seems to me,” says M. Necker elsewhere,

that in a great State we cannot expect liberty and renounce at any time the following conditions.

1. Conferring exclusively the right of legislation on the national representatives under the sanction of the monarch; comprising in this right of legislation, without exception, the choice and enactment of taxes.

2. Fixing public expenditure by the same authority; with this right is evidently connected the limitation of the military force.

3. Rendering all accounts of receipt and expenditure to commissioners from among the national representatives.

4. The annual renewal of the powers necessary to levy taxes, excepting the taxes mortgaged for the payment of the interest of the public debt.

5. The proscription of every kind of arbitrary authority; and vesting in every citizen a right to bring a civil or criminal action against all public officers who should have made an abuse of their power in regard to him.

6. Prohibiting military officers to act in the interior of the kingdom otherwise than on the demand of civil officers.

7. The annual renewal by the legislature of the laws which constitute the discipline, and consequently the action and strength, of an army.

8. The liberty of the press, extended as far as is compatible with morality and public tranquillity.

9. An equal distribution of public trusts, and the legal right of all citizens to exercise public functions.

10. The responsibility of ministers and of the principal agents of government.

11. The hereditary succession to the throne, in order to prevent factions and preserve public tranquillity.

12. Conferring the executive power, fully and unreservedly, on the monarch, with all the means necessary for its exercise, that public order Edition: current; Page: [297] may be assured and that the various powers united in the legislative body may be prevented from introducing a despotism not less oppressive than any other.

To these principles should be added the most unqualified respect for the rights of property, if that respect did not already compose one of the elements of universal morality, regardless of the form of government under which men live together.

The twelve articles which I have just pointed out offer to all enlightened men the fundamental bases of the civil and political liberty of a nation. They ought, accordingly, to have been placed separately in the constitutional act, and not have been confounded with the numerous provisions which the Assembly was willing to submit to a continual renewal of discussion.

And why was this not done? Because, in assigning to these articles a conspicuous place in the constitutional charter, a light would have been cast on two truths which it was intended to keep in the background.

The one, that the fundamental principles of the liberty of France were completely stated, either in the text or in the spirit of the declaration made by the King on the 27th of December, 1788,5 and in his subsequent explanations.

The other, that all the orders of the state, all classes of citizens, after a certain time of wavering and agitation, would have, in all probability, concurred in giving their consent to the same principles, and would perhaps still give it were they called on to do so.

These articles, which constitute in a manner the “gospel of society,” we have seen reappear, under a form nearly similar, in the declaration of the 2d of May (1814) by His Majesty Louis XVIII, dated at St. Ouen;6 Edition: current; Page: [298] they reappeared also on another occasion, of which we shall speak hereafter. From the 27th of December, 1788, to the 8th of July, 1815, these articles are what the French wished, whenever they had the power of expressing a wish.

The book On the Executive Power in Great Countries is the best guide that can be followed by men called on to make or to modify a constitution of any kind; for it may be called the political chart in which all the dangers that are found in the track of liberty are pointed out.

In the beginning of this work M. Necker addresses himself thus to the French nation:

I remember the time when, on publishing the result of my long reflections on the finances of France, I wrote these words: “Yes, generous nation, it is to you that I consecrate this work.” Alas! who would have told me that, after the lapse of so small a number of years, there would come a time when I could no longer make use of the same expressions, and when I should have to turn my eyes toward other nations to regain courage to speak of justice and morality! Ah! why am I not permitted to say today: it is to you that I address this work, to you, nation, still more generous since liberty has developed your character and freed it from any restraint; to you, nation, still more generous since your forehead no longer bears the impression of a yoke; to you, nation, still more generous since you have made trial of your strength, and that you dictate, yourself, the laws that you obey! Ah! with what pleasure I should have held this language! my feelings still exist, but they seem to me in exile; and, in my sad regret, I cannot either contract new ties nor resume, even in hope, the favorite idea and the only passion which so long filled my soul.

I do not know, but it seems to me that never was a juster expression given to that which we all feel: that love for France which is at present so painful, while formerly there was not a nobler nor sweeter enjoyment.

Edition: current; Page: [299]

CHAPTER III: Of the Different Parties Which Composed the Legislative Assembly.

We cannot help feeling a sentiment of profound grief on retracing the eras of a Revolution in which a free constitution might have been established in France, and on seeing not only that hope overturned, but the most distressing events taking the place of the most salutary institutions. It is not a mere recollection that we recall; it is a keen sensation of pain which revives.

The Constituent Assembly repented, toward the end of its reign, that it should have allowed itself to be carried along by popular factions. It had grown old in two years, as much as Louis XIV in forty. It was from just apprehension, in its case also, that moderation had resumed a certain sway on it. But its successors came forward with the fever of the Revolution at a time when there was nothing more to reform or destroy. The social edifice was leaning to the democratic side, and to restore it to an upright form, it was necessary to increase the power of the throne. Yet the first decree of the Legislative Assembly was to refuse the King the title of “Majesty” and to assign him an armchair only (fauteuil), similar in all respects to that of a president. The representatives of the people thus put on the appearance of thinking that they had a king not for the public good, but for the sake of pleasing himself, and that it was consequently well to take away as much as possible from that pleasure. The decree respecting the armchair was recalled, so many complaints did it excite among men of sense; but the blow was struck, as well on the mind of the King as on that of the people; the one felt that his position was not tenable, the other conceived the desire and the hope of a republic.1

Edition: current; Page: [300]

Three parties, perfectly distinct, made themselves conspicuous in the Assembly: the constitutionalists, the Jacobins, and the republicans. There were no priests, and almost no noblemen, among the constitutionalists; the cause of the privileged orders was by this time lost, but that of the throne was still under dispute, and the men of property and moderation formed a preserving party in the midst of the popular storm.

Ramond, Matthieu Dumas, Jaucourt, Beugnot, Girardin, were conspicuous among the constitutionalists:2 they possessed courage, reason, perseverance, and could not be accused of any aristocratic prejudices. Accordingly, the struggle which they supported in favor of monarchy does infinite honor to their political conduct. The same Jacobin party which existed in the Constituent Assembly under the name of the “Mountain”3 showed itself anew in the Legislative Assembly; but it was still less entitled to esteem than its predecessor. For in the Constituent Assembly there was reason to fear, at least during certain moments, that the cause of liberty was not the strongest, and that the partisans of the Old Regime who acted as deputies might still be formidable; but in the Legislative Assembly there was neither danger nor obstacle, and the factious were obliged to create phantoms that they might display their skill in wielding the weapons of argument.

Edition: current; Page: [301]

A singular trio, Merlin de Thionville, Bazire, and Chabot,4 formerly a capuchin, made themselves conspicuous among the Jacobins; they were their leaders merely because, being placed in every respect in the lowest rank, they excited no envy. It was a principle with this party, which shook society to its base, to put at the head of the assailants persons possessing nothing in the edifice which they wanted to overthrow. One of the first proposals made in the Assembly by the trio of demagogues was to suppress the appellation of “honorable member,” which was introduced into use, as in England: aware, doubtless, that this epithet, when addressed to any one of them, could not fail to pass for ironical.

A second party, though of merits altogether different, added strength to these ignorant men and flattered themselves, most erroneously, with being able first, to make use of the Jacobins, and afterward to keep them within bounds. The deputies from the Gironde were composed of about twenty lawyers from Bourdeaux and other parts of the South. These men, elected almost by accident, were gifted with the greatest talents, so rich is France in those men distinguished but unknown whom a representative government calls forth. The Girondists aimed at a republic, and succeeded only in overturning monarchy; they perished soon after, when endeavoring to save France and its King. This made M. de Lally say, with his accustomed eloquence, “that their life and their death were equally disastrous to the country.”

To these deputies of the Gironde were joined Brissot,5 a writer irregular in his principles as in his style, and Condorcet,6 whose towering knowledge Edition: current; Page: [302] could not be disputed, but who, in a political sense, acted a greater part by his passion than by the powers of his mind. He was irreligious in the same way as priests are bigoted, with hatred, pertinacity, and the appearance of moderation: his death too resembled martyrdom.

To give a preference to a republic over every other form of government cannot be deemed criminal if crimes are not necessary to establish it; but at the time the Legislative Assembly declared itself inimical to the remnant of royalty that still subsisted in France, the truly republican sentiments, that is, generosity toward the weak, a horror of arbitrary measures, a respect for justice, all the virtues, in short, which the friends of liberty are proud of, prompted men to take an interest in the constitutional monarchy and its head. At another period, they might have rallied under the cause of a republic, had that form been possible in France; but when Louis XVI was still alive, when the nation had received his oath, and when it, in return, had taken oaths to him in perfect freedom, when the political ascendency of the privileged orders was entirely extinguished, what confidence was it necessary to have in the future to risk, for the sake of a name, all the real advantages already possessed!

The desire of power in the republicans of 1792 was mixed with an enthusiasm for principles, and some of them offered to support royalty, if all the places in the ministry were given to their friends. In that case only, they said, shall we be sure that the opinions of the patriots will be triumphant. The choice of ministers in a constitutional monarchy is doubtless an affair of the highest importance, and the King frequently committed the fault of nominating persons that were very suspicious to the party of liberty; however, it was then but too easy to obtain their removal, and the responsibility for political events must rest, in all its weight, on the Legislative Assembly. No argument, no source of disquietude, was listened to by its leaders; to the observations of wisdom, of disinterested Edition: current; Page: [303] wisdom, they replied by a disdainful smile indicative of that emptiness which results from vanity. Repeated efforts were made to recall to them circumstances, and to deduce general views from the past: transitions were made from theory to experience, and from experience to theory, to show them the identity of the two: yet, if they consented to reply, it was by denying the most authentic facts and contesting the most evident observations, opposing to them a few maxims that were common, although expressed in eloquent language. They looked round among themselves as if they alone had been worthy of understanding each other, and took fresh courage from the idea that all that opposed their manner of thinking was pusillanimity. These are the tokens of party spirit among Frenchmen: disdain for their adversaries forms its basis, and disdain is always adverse to the knowledge of truth. The Girondists despised the constitutionalists until they had, without intending it, made popularity descend and fix itself in the lowest ranks of society: they then saw the reproach of weakness cast on them in their turn by ferocious characters; the throne which they were attacking served them as a shelter, and it was not till after they had triumphed over it that they found themselves unprotected in front of the people. In a revolution, men have often more to dread from their successes than from their failures.

Edition: current; Page: [304]

CHAPTER IV: Spirit of the Decrees of the Legislative Assembly.

The Constituent Assembly had passed more laws in two years than the English Parliament in fifty; but these laws at least reformed abuses and were founded on general principles. The Legislative Assembly passed an equal number of decrees, although there remained nothing truly useful to be done; but the spirit of faction inspired all to which the Assembly gave the name of laws. It accused the King’s brothers, confiscated the property of emigrants, and adopted against the priests a decree of proscription revolting in a still higher degree to the friends of liberty than to the sincere Catholics, so contrary was it to philosophy and equity.1 What! will it be said, were not the emigrants and priests enemies to the Revolution? This was a very good plea for not returning such men as deputies, for not calling them to the management of public business; but what would society become if, instead of seeking support in immutable principles, men should have the power of pointing laws against their adversaries as they can point a battery? The Constituent Assembly never persecuted either individuals or classes; but the next Assembly only passed decrees suited to the moment, and we can hardly quote a resolution adopted by it which was calculated to last beyond the temporary occasion that called it forth.

Arbitrary power, against which the Revolution ought to have been directed, had acquired new strength by the Revolution itself. It was in vain that they pretended to do everything for the people; the revolutionaries were now only priests of a Moloch, called the common interest, which Edition: current; Page: [305] required the sacrifice of the happiness of each. Persecution in politics leads to nothing but the necessity of further persecution; and to kill is not to extirpate. It has been said with the most cold-blooded intention that the dead alone return no more; but even that maxim is not true, for the children and the friends of the victims are stronger by their resentments than those who suffered were by their opinions. The object should be to extinguish hatreds, and not to compress them. Reform is accomplished in a country when its promoters have managed to make its adversaries merely bothersome, without having turned them into victims.

Edition: current; Page: [306]

CHAPTER V: Of the First War Between France and Europe.

We need not be surprised that kings and princes never liked the principles of the French Revolution. “To be a royalist is my business,” said Joseph II. But as the opinion of the people always makes its way into the cabinet of kings, no sovereign in Europe thought of making war on France to oppose the Revolution at its outset, when the object was only to establish a limited monarchy. The progress of knowledge was such in every part of the civilized world that, at that time, as at present, a representative government more or less similar to that of England appeared suitable and just, and that system met with no formidable opponents among either the English or Germans. Burke, from the year 1791, expressed his indignation at the crimes already committed in France, and at the false systems of policy adopted there;1 but those of the aristocratic party on the Continent, who now quote Burke as the enemy of the Revolution, are perhaps not aware that in every page he reproaches the French with not having conformed to the principles of the English constitution.

“I recommend to the French,” he says, “our constitution; all our happiness arises from it.” “Absolute democracy,” he adds in another place,* “is no more a legitimate government than absolute monarchy. There is but one opinion in France against absolute monarchy; it was at its close, it was expiring without agony, and without convulsions; all the dissensions Edition: current; Page: [307] arose from the quarrel between a despotic democracy, and a government with a balance of power.”

If the majority of Europe in 1789 approved the establishment of a limited monarchy in France, how then, it may be asked, does it happen that, from the year 1791, all provocations arose from foreign powers? For although France made a hasty declaration of war against Austria in 1792, the foreign powers were, in fact, the first to assume a hostile attitude toward the French, by the convention of Pilnitz and the assemblies at Coblentz.2 The reciprocal recriminations go back to that period. Yet the public opinion of Europe and the prudence of Austria would have prevented war, had the Legislative Assembly been moderate. The greatest precision in the knowledge of dates is necessary to judge with impartiality which of the two, France or Europe, was the aggressor. A lapse of six months makes that proper in politics which was not so six months before, and people often confound ideas because they confound dates.

The foreign powers did wrong in 1791, in allowing themselves to be drawn into the imprudent measures urged by the emigrants. But after the 10th of August, 1792, when the throne was overturned, the state of things in France became wholly incompatible with social order. Yet, would not this throne have stood, had not Europe threatened France with interfering by force of arms in her domestic concerns, and revolted the pride of an independent nation by imposing laws on it? Fate alone possesses the secret of such suppositions: one thing is indisputable; it is that the convention of Pilnitz was the beginning of the long war of Europe. The Jacobins3 were as desirous of this war as the emigrants: for both believed that a crisis of some kind or other could alone produce the chances necessary to enable them to triumph.4

Edition: current; Page: [308]

In the beginning of 1792, before the declaration of war, Leopold, Emperor of Germany, one of the most enlightened princes of which the eighteenth century can boast,5 wrote to the Legislative Assembly a letter, which might be almost called familiar and confidential. Some deputies of the Constituent Assembly, as Barnave and Duport, had composed it, and the draft was sent by the Queen to Brussels, to the Count de Mercy-Argenteau, who had long been Austrian Ambassador at Paris. In this letter6 Leopold attacked the Jacobin party by name and offered his aid to the constitutionalists. His observations were, no doubt, extremely wise; but it was not thought becoming on the part of an emperor of Germany to enter with so much detail into the affairs of France; and the minds of the deputies revolted against the advice given them by a foreign monarch. Leopold had governed Tuscany with perfect moderation, and it is but justice to add that he always showed respect to public opinion, and to the advanced knowledge of the age. He was thus a sincere believer in the good that his advice might produce. But in political discussions where the mass of a nation takes a part, it is only the voice of events that is listened to; arguments but excite the wish of answering them.

The Legislative Assembly, which foresaw a rupture ready to break out, felt also that the King could hardly take an interest in the success of Frenchmen fighting in the cause of the Revolution. The Assembly was distrustful of ministers, under the persuasion that they did not in their hearts wish to repel those enemies whose assistance they secretly invoked. The war department was entrusted in the end of 1791 to M. de Narbonne,7 Edition: current; Page: [309] who afterward lost his life at the siege of Torgau. He employed himself with unfeigned zeal in all the preparations necessary for the defense of the kingdom. Possessing rank and talents, the manners of a courtier, and the views of a philosopher, that which was predominant in his soul was military honor and French valor. To oppose the interference of foreigners under whatever circumstances always seemed to him the duty of a citizen and a gentleman. His colleagues combined against him and succeeded in obtaining his removal. They seized the moment when his popularity in the Assembly was lessened to get rid of a man who was then performing his functions of minister of war as conscientiously as he would have done under any other circumstances.

One evening, M. de Narbonne, in giving the Assembly an account of certain matters in his department, made use of this expression: “I appeal to the most distinguished members of this Assembly.” At that moment the whole party of the Mountain rose up in a fury, and Merlin, Bazire, and Chabot declared that “all the deputies were equally distinguished.” Aristocracy of talent was as repugnant to their feelings as aristocracy of birth.

The day after this setback, the other ministers, no longer afraid of the ascendancy of M. de Narbonne with the popular party, prevailed on the King to remove him. This ill-judged triumph was of short duration. The republicans forced the King to take ministers devoted to them, and these ministers obliged him to make use of the initiative given him by the constitution, by going in person to the Assembly to recommend war with Austria. I was present at the meeting in which Louis XVI was forced to a measure which was necessarily painful to him in so many ways. His features were not expressive of his thoughts, but it was not from dissimulation that he concealed them; a mixture of resignation and dignity repressed in him every outward sign of his sentiments. On entering the Assembly he looked to the right and the left, with that kind of vague curiosity which is usual to persons who are so short-sighted that their eyes seem to be of no use to them. He proposed war in the same tone of voice as he might have used in requiring the most indifferent decree possible. Edition: current; Page: [310] The president replied to him with the laconic arrogance adopted in this Assembly, as if the dignity of a free people consisted in insulting the King whom it had chosen for its constitutional chief.

When Louis XVI and his ministers had left the hall, the Assembly voted war by acclamation. Some members took no share in the deliberations; but the galleries applauded with transport: the deputies threw their hats in the air, and that day, the first of the bloody struggle which has torn Europe during twenty-three years, that day did not, in most minds, produce the slightest disquietude. Yet, of the deputies who voted for this war, many fell by a violent death, and those who rejoiced at it the most were unconsciously pronouncing their own death sentence.

Edition: current; Page: [311]

CHAPTER VI: Of the Means Employed in 1792 to Establish the Republic.

The French are but little disposed to civil war, and have no talent whatever for conspiracies. They are little disposed to civil war because, among them, the majority almost always draws the minority after it; the party that passes for the stronger soon becomes all-powerful, for everyone joins it. They have no talent for conspiracies for the same reasons which make them extremely fitted for revolutionary movements; they stand in need of mutual excitement by a communication of their ideas; the profound silence, the solitary resolution, necessary for a conspirator does not enter into their character. They might, perhaps, be more capable of this now that Italian features are blended with their natural disposition; but we see no example of a conspiracy in the history of France; Henri III and Henri IV were each assassinated by fanatics without accomplices. The Court, it is true, under Charles IX prepared in darkness the massacre of St. Bartholomew; but it was an Italian queen1 who communicated her artful and dissembling spirit to the instruments of which she made use. The means employed to accomplish the Revolution were not better than those generally used to form a conspiracy: in fact, to commit a crime in a public square or to contrive it in the closet is to be equally guilty, but there is the perfidy the less.

The Legislative Assembly overthrew the monarchy by means of sophistry. Its decrees perverted the good sense and depraved the morality of the nation. A kind of political hypocrisy, still more dangerous than hypocrisy in religion, was necessary to destroy the throne piecemeal while Edition: current; Page: [312] swearing to maintain it. Today the ministers were accused;2 tomorrow the King’s guard was disbanded;3 on another day rewards were granted to the soldiers of the regiment of Chateauvieux, who had mutinied against their officers;4 the massacres of Avignon found defenders in the heart of the Assembly;5 in short, whether the establishment of a republic in France appeared desirable or not, there could be but one opinion on the choice of the means employed to attain it; and the more one felt attached to liberty, the more did the conduct of the republican party excite indignation in the bottom of the soul.

That which, in a great political crisis, ought, above all things, to be considered is whether the Revolution desired is in harmony with the spirit of the time. By endeavoring to accomplish the reinstatement of ancient institutions; that is, by endeavoring to make the human mind retrograde, all the popular passions become inflamed. But if, on the other hand, it be attempted to found a republic in a country which the day before had all the defects and all the vices to which absolute monarchies must give birth, men are obliged to exercise oppression in order to acquire freedom, and to sully themselves with crimes in proclaiming that government whose basis is virtue. A sure method of never mistaking the wish of the majority of a nation is never to follow any other than a lawful course for the attainment even of those objects which are thought most useful. So long as we allow ourselves to do nothing immoral, we are sure of never violently thwarting the course of things.

The war afterward so brilliant to the French began with defeats. The soldiers at Lisle, after being routed, killed their commander, Theobald Dillon, whose fidelity they, most unjustly, suspected. These early checks had diffused a general spirit of mistrust. Accordingly the Legislative Assembly Edition: current; Page: [313] pursued the ministers with incessant denunciations, like restive horses who cannot be spurred forward. The first duty of a government, as well as of a nation, is doubtless to ensure its independence against the invasion of foreigners. But could so false a situation continue? And was it not better to open the gates of France to the King, when desirous of quitting the country, than to act in the spirit of chicane, from morning to night, with the royal power, or rather the royal weakness; and to treat the descendant of St. Louis, when captive on the throne, like a bird fastened to the top of a tree, and against which everyone in his turn aims a dart?

The Legislative Assembly, weary even of the patience of Louis XVI, determined to present to him two decrees to which his conscience and his safety would not allow him to give his sanction. By the first, they sentenced to deportation every priest who had refused the constitutional oath, if he were denounced by twenty active citizens, that is, citizens who paid taxes; and by the second, they called to Paris a legion of Marseillois whom they knew to be determined to act the part of conspirators against the Crown. But what a decree was that of which the priests were the victims! The fate of a citizen was surrendered to a denunciation which proceeded on his presumed opinions. What is there to be feared from despotism but such a decree as this? Instead of twenty active citizens, we have only to suppose courtiers, who are active also in their manner; and we shall have the history of all the lettres de cachet, of all the exiles, of all the imprisonments which people wish to prevent by the establishment of a free government.

A generous impulse of the soul determined the King to expose himself to every hazard rather than accede to the proscription of the priests. He might, by considering himself as a prisoner, give his sanction to this law and protest in private against it; but he could not consent to act in religion as in politics; and if as King he dissembled, as a martyr he was true.

As soon as the veto of the King became known,6 intelligence came from all quarters that a tumult was preparing in the suburbs of Paris. The people, having become despotic, were irritated by the slightest obstacle to Edition: current; Page: [314] their will. We saw on this occasion too the dreadful inconvenience of placing the royal authority against a single chamber. The conflict between these two powers has, in such a case, no arbiter, and the appeal is made to insurrection.

Twenty thousand men of the lowest rank, armed with pikes and lances, marched to the Tuileries7 without knowing why; they were ready to commit every crime, or could be persuaded to the noblest actions, according to the impulse of events, and of their leaders.

These twenty thousand men made their way into the palace; their faces bore marks of that coarseness, moral and physical, of which the disgusting effect is not to be supported by the greatest philanthropist. Had they been animated by any true feeling, had they come to complain against injustice, against the dearness of corn, against the increase of taxes, against compulsory service in the army, in short, against any suffering which power and wealth can inflict on poverty, the rags which they wore, their hands blackened by labor, the premature old age of the women, the brutishness of the children, would all have excited pity. But their frightful oaths mingled with cries, their threatening gestures, their deadly instruments, exhibited a frightful spectacle, and one calculated to alter forever the respect that ought to be felt for our fellow-creatures.

All Europe knows how Madame Elizabeth, the King’s sister, endeavored to prevent those around her from undeceiving the madmen who took her for the Queen, and threatened her under that name. The Queen herself ought to have been recognized by the ardor with which she pressed her children to her breast. The King on this day showed all the virtues of a saint. The time was past for saving himself like a hero; the dreadful signal of massacre, the red cap, was placed on his devoted head; but nothing could humiliate him, for all his life had been a continued sacrifice.

The Assembly, ashamed of its auxiliaries, sent several of the deputies to save the royal family, and Vergniaud, perhaps the most eloquent orator of those who have appeared at the French tribune, succeeded in dispersing the populace in a few moments.

General la Fayette, indignant at what was passing at Paris, left his army Edition: current; Page: [315] to appear at the bar of the Assembly and demand justice for the terrible day of 20th June, 1792.8 Had the Girondists at that time joined him and his friends, they might perhaps still have prevented the entrance of foreign troops and restored to the King that constitutional authority which was his due. But at the instant that M. de la Fayette closed his speech by the words which so well became him, “Such are the representations submitted to the Assembly by a citizen, whose love for liberty, at least, will not be disputed”; Guadet, the colleague of Vergniaud, stepped quickly to the tribune and made a dexterous use of the distrust that every representative assembly naturally feels toward a general who interferes in domestic affairs. However, when he revived the recollection of Cromwell dictating, in the name of his army, laws to the representatives of his country, the Assembly were perfectly aware that they had neither tyrant nor soldier before them, but a virtuous citizen who, although friendly to the republican form in theory, could not tolerate crime, under whatever banner it might pretend to range itself.

Edition: current; Page: [316]

CHAPTER VII: Anniversary of 14th July Celebrated in 1792.

Addresses from every part of France, which at that time were sincere, because there was danger in signing them, expressed the wish of the great majority of the citizens for the support of the constitution.1 However imperfect it might be, it was a limited monarchy, and such has, all along, been the wish of the French; the factious, or the military, have alone been able to prevent that wish from prevailing. If the leaders of the popular party have believed that the nation really wanted the republic, they would not have needed the most unjust methods to establish it. Despotic measures are never resorted to when public opinion is in favor of a plan; and what despotic measures, good heaven! were those which were then seen to proceed from the coarsest ranks of society, like vapors arising from a pestilential marsh! Marat,2 whose name posterity will perhaps recall on purpose to connect with a man the crimes of an era, Marat made use every day of his newspaper to threaten the royal family, and its defenders, with the most dreadful punishments. Never had human speech been so much disfigured; the howlings of wild beasts might be expressed in such language.

Paris was divided into forty-eight sections, all of which used to send Edition: current; Page: [317] deputies to the bar of the Assembly to denounce the slightest actions as crimes. Forty-four thousand municipalities contained each a club of Jacobins in correspondence with that of Paris, and that again was subservient to the orders of the suburbs.3 Never was a city of seven hundred thousand souls so completely transformed. On all hands were heard invectives directed against the royal palace; nothing now defended it but a kind of respect which still served as a barrier around that ancient abode; but that barrier might at any moment be passed, and then all was lost.

They wrote from the departments that the most violent men were being sent to Paris to celebrate the 14th of July, and that they went there only to massacre the King and Queen. The mayor of Paris, Péthion,4 a cold-blooded fanatic, who pushed all new ideas to an extreme because he was more capable of exaggerating than of comprehending them; Péthion, with an exterior silliness which was taken for sincerity, favored every kind of sedition. The authority of the magistracy was thus added to the cause of insurrection. The departmental administration, by virtue of an article in the constitution, suspended Péthion from his functions; the King’s ministers confirmed the suspension; but the Assembly re-instated the mayor in his office, and his ascendency was increased by his momentary disgrace. A popular chief can desire nothing more than an apparent persecution, followed by a real triumph.

The Marseillois sent to the Champ de Mars to celebrate the 14th of July5 bore, on their tattered hats, the inscription, “Péthion or death!” They passed before the raised seats on which the royal family were placed, calling out, Vive Péthion! a miserable name, which even the mischief that he did has not been able to redeem from obscurity! A few feeble voices could with difficulty be heard, when calling Vive le Roi! as a last adieu, a final prayer.

The expression of the Queen’s countenance will never be effaced from Edition: current; Page: [318] my remembrance: her eyes were swollen with tears; the splendor of her dress, the dignity of her carriage, formed a contrast with the train that surrounded her. Only a few national guards separated her from the populace; the armed men assembled in the Champ de Mars seemed collected rather for a riot than a celebration. The King repaired on foot from the pavilion, under which he sat, all the way to the altar raised at the end of the Champ de Mars. It was there that he had to take, a second time, an oath of fidelity to the constitution, of which the relics were about to crush the throne. A crowd of children followed the King with acclamations—children as yet unconscious of the crime with which their fathers were about to sully themselves.

It required the character of Louis XVI, that character of martyr which he never contradicted, to support as he did such a situation. His mode of walking, his countenance, had something remarkable in them: on other occasions one might have wished for more grandeur in his demeanor; on the present, to remain in every respect the same was enough to appear sublime. I marked at a distance his head, distinguished by its powder from the black locks of those that accompanied him; his dress, still embroidered as before, was more conspicuous when close to the coarse attire of the lower orders who pressed around him. When he mounted the steps of the altar, he seemed a sacred victim offering himself as a voluntary sacrifice. He descended again; and, crossing anew the disordered ranks, returned to take his place beside the Queen and his children. After that day the people saw him no more till they saw him on the scaffold.

Edition: current; Page: [319]

CHAPTER VIII: Manifesto of the Duke of Brunswick.

It has been strongly asserted that the terms in which the manifesto of the Duke of Brunswick was expressed were one of the principal causes of the rising of the French nation against the allies in 1792.1 I do not believe this: the first two articles of that manifesto contained what most papers of the kind since the Revolution have expressed; that is, that the foreign powers would make no conquest from France, and that they were not inclined to interfere with the interior government of the country. To these two promises, which are seldom observed, was added, it is true, the threat of treating as rebels such of the national guards as should be found with arms in their hands; as if, in any case, a nation could be culpable in defending its territory! But had the manifesto even been more moderately couched, it would not, at that time, have at all weakened the public spirit of the French. It is well known that every armed power desires victory, and has nothing more at heart than to weaken the obstacles which it must encounter to obtain it. Accordingly, the proclamations of invaders addressed to the nations whom they attack all consist in saying: “Do not resist us”; and the answer of a spirited people should be: “We will resist you.”

The friends of liberty were on this occasion, as they always will be, adverse to foreign interference; but they could not, on the other hand, conceal from themselves that the King had been put in a situation that reduced him to wish for the aid of the allies. What resource could there then remain to virtuous patriots?

M. de la Fayette proposed to the royal family to come and take refuge Edition: current; Page: [320] at Compiègne with his army. This was the best and safest course; but the persons who possessed the confidence of the King and Queen hated M. de la Fayette as much as if he had been an outrageous Jacobin. The aristocrats of that time preferred running every risk to obtain the re-establishment of the old government, to the acceptance of efficient aid under the condition of adopting with sincerity the principles of the Revolution, that is, a representative government. The offer of M. de la Fayette was then refused, and the King submitted to the dreadful risk of awaiting the German troops at Paris.

The royalists, who are subject to all the imprudence of hope, persuaded themselves that the defeats of the French armies would produce so much fear among the people of Paris as to render them mild and submissive whenever such intelligence reached their ears. The great error of men impassioned in politics consists in attributing all kinds of vices and meanness to their adversaries. It is incumbent on us to know how to value, in certain respects, those whom we hate, and those even whom we despise; for no man, and, still more, no mass of men, ever forfeited entirely all moral feeling. These furious Jacobins, capable at that time of every crime, were, however, possessed of energy; and it was by means of that energy that they triumphed over so many foreign armies.

Edition: current; Page: [321]

CHAPTER IX: Revolution of the 10th of August, 1792—Overthrow of the Monarchy.

Public opinion never fails to manifest itself, even in the midst of the factions which oppress it. One revolution only, that of 1789, was accomplished by the force of this opinion; but since that year, scarcely any crisis which has taken place in France has been desired by the nation.

Four days before the 10th of August, a decree of accusation was attempted to be carried in the Assembly against M. de la Fayette; he was acquitted by four hundred and twenty-four votes out of six hundred and seventy.1 The wish of this majority was certainly against the revolution that was in the making. The forfeiture of the crown by the King was demanded; the Assembly rejected it, but the minority, who were determined to obtain it, had recourse to the people for that purpose.

The constitutional party was, nevertheless, the most numerous; and if on one hand, the nobles had not left France and on the other, the royalists who surrounded the King had cordially reconciled themselves to the friends of liberty, France and the throne might yet have been saved. It is not the first, nor will it be the last time that we shall be called upon to show in the course of this work that no real good can take place in France but by a sincere reconciliation between the royalists of the Old Regime and the constitutional royalists. But in the word “sincere,” how many ideas are contained!

The constitutionalists had in vain sought leave to enter the palace of the King in order to defend him. They were prevented by the invincible Edition: current; Page: [322] prejudices of the courtiers. Incapable, however, notwithstanding the refusal they underwent, of joining the opposite party, they wandered around the palace, exposing themselves to be massacred, as a consolation for not being allowed to fight. Of this number were MM. de Lally, Narbonne, La Tour-du-Pin, Gouverner Castellane, Montmorency, and several others whose names have re-appeared on the most honorable occasions.

Before midnight on the 9th of August, the forty-eight alarm bells of the sections of Paris began to toll, and this monotonous, mournful, and rapid sound did not cease one moment during the whole night. I was at my window with some of my friends, and every quarter of an hour the voluntary patrol of the constitutionalists sent us news. We were told that the faubourgs2 were advancing, headed by Santerre, the brewer, and Westermann, an officer, who afterward fought against the Vendeans.3 No one could foresee what would happen on the morrow, and no one expected to live beyond a day. We had, nevertheless, some moments of hope during this horrible night; we flattered ourselves, I know not why, perhaps only because we had exhausted our fears.

All at once, at seven o’clock, the horrible noise of the cannon of the faubourgs was heard. In the first attack, the Swiss guards had the advantage. The people fled along the streets with a terror equal to their preceding fury. The King, it must be acknowledged, ought then to have put himself at the head of his troops and opposed his enemies. The Queen was of this opinion, and the courageous counsel she gave on this occasion does honor to her memory and recommends her to posterity.

Several battalions of the National Guards, and amongst others that of Les Filles St. Thomas, were full of zeal and ardor; but the King, on quitting the Tuileries, could no longer rely on that enthusiasm which constitutes the strength of armed citizens.

Edition: current; Page: [323]

Many republicans believe that if Louis XVI had triumphed on the 10th of August, the foreign troops would have arrived in Paris and have re-established the ancient despotism, rendered still more odious by the means from which it would have derived its force. It is possible that things might have come to this extremity; but what would have led them to it? In civil commotions a crime may always be rendered politically useful; but it is by preceding crimes that this infernal necessity is caused.

I was told that all my friends who formed the exterior guard of the Tuileries had been seized and massacred. I went out instantly in search of news. My coachman was stopped on the bridge by men who silently made signs to him that the killings were taking place on the other side. After two hours of fruitless attempts to pass, I heard that all those in whom I was interested were still alive, but that most of them were obliged to conceal themselves in order to avoid the proscription by which they were menaced. When I went on foot to visit them that evening, in the obscure houses where they had found an asylum, I met armed men stretched before the doors, drowsy with intoxication or half waking only to utter horrible imprecations. Several women among the populace were in the same situation, and their vociferations seemed still more odious. Whenever one of the patrols appointed to keep order advanced, respectable people fled from its approach; for what was then called keeping order was only contributing to the triumph of the assassins, and removing every obstacle in their way.

Edition: current; Page: [324]

CHAPTER X: Private Anecdotes.

I cannot find courage to continue such pictures. Yet the 10th of August appeared to have in view the seizing of the reins of government, in order to direct all its efforts against the invasion of foreigners; but the massacres which took place twenty-two days after the overthrow of the throne were only wanton criminal acts. It has been said that the terror experienced in Paris, and throughout all France, decided the French to take refuge in the camps. What a singular expedient is fear for recruiting an army! But such a supposition is an offense to the nation, and I shall endeavor to show in the following chapter that it was in spite of those crimes, and not by their horrible concurrence, that the French repulsed the foreigners who came to impose the law.

To criminals succeeded criminals still more detestable. The true republicans did not remain masters one day after the 10th of August. The moment the throne they attacked was overturned, they had to defend themselves; they had shown but too much condescension toward the horrible instruments whom they had employed to establish the republic. But the Jacobins were very sure in the end to terrify them with their own idol, by dint of crimes; and it seemed as if the wretches who were most hardened in guilt endeavored to fit the head of Medusa on the different leaders of parties, in order to rid themselves of all who could not support its aspect.

The detail of these horrible massacres is revolting to the imagination and furnishes nothing for reflection. I shall, therefore, confine myself to relating what happened to me personally at this time; it is perhaps the best manner of giving an idea of it.

During the interval from the 10th of August to the 2d of September, new arrests were every day taking place. The prisons were crowded, and all the addresses of the people, which for three years past had announced, Edition: current; Page: [325] by anticipation, what the party leaders had already decided, called for the punishment of the traitors: this appellation extended to classes as well as to individuals; to talents as well as fortune; to dress as well as opinions; in short, to everything which the laws protect, and which it was the intention of these men to annihilate.

The Austrian and Prussian troops had already passed the frontier, and it was repeated on all sides that if the enemy advanced, all the honest people in Paris would be massacred. Several of my friends, Messrs. de Narbonne, Montmorency, Baumets,1 were personally threatened, and each of them was concealed in the house of some citizen or other. But it was necessary to change their place of retreat daily, because those who gave them an asylum were alarmed. They would not at first make use of my house, being afraid that it might attract attention; but it seemed to me that being the residence of an Ambassador, and having inscribed on the door Hôtel de Suède, it would be respected, although M. de Staël was absent. It soon, however, became useless to deliberate, when there could be found no one who dared to receive the proscribed. Two of them came to my house, and I admitted into my confidence only one of my servants, of whom I was sure. I shut up my friends in the remotest chamber, and passed the night myself in the apartments looking toward the street, dreading every moment what was called the “domiciliary visits.”

One morning, a servant whom I distrusted came to tell me that the denunciation and description of M. de Narbonne, who was one of the persons concealed in my house, was stuck up at the corner of my street. I thought my servant wanted, by frightening me, to penetrate my secret; but he had simply related the fact. A short time after, the formidable domiciliary visit took place in my house. M. de Narbonne, being outlawed, would have perished that very day if discovered; and notwithstanding the precautions I had taken, I knew well that if the search was rigorously made, he could not escape. It became then necessary, at whatever price, to prevent this search; I collected all my courage, and felt on this occasion Edition: current; Page: [326] that we can always conquer our emotions, however strong, when aware that they may endanger the life of another.

Commissaries of the lowest class had been sent into all the houses of Paris to seize the proscribed; and, while they were making these visits, military posts occupied the two extremities of the street to prevent any escape. I began by alarming these men as much as I could on the violation of the rights of nations, of which they were guilty by searching the house of an ambassador; and, as their knowledge of geography was not extensive, I persuaded them that Sweden was a power which could threaten them with an immediate invasion, being situated on the frontiers of France. Twenty years after, strange to tell! my assertion became literally true; for Lubeck and Swedish Pomerania fell into the power of the French.2

The common people are capable of being softened instantly or not at all; there is scarcely any gradation in their sentiments, or in their ideas. I perceived that my reasonings made an impression on them, and I had the courage, with anguish in my heart, to jest with them on the injustice of their suspicions. Nothing is more agreeable to men of this class than a tone of pleasantry; for, even in the excess of their fury against the upper ranks, they feel a pleasure in being treated by them as equals. I led them back in this manner to the door, and thanked God for the extraordinary courage with which he had endowed me at that moment. Nevertheless, this situation could not last, and the slightest accident would have sufficed to betray an outlawed person, who was very well known on account of his having been recently in the ministry.

A generous and enlightened Hanoverian, Dr. Bollmann, who afterward exposed himself to deliver M. de la Fayette from the Austrian prisons, having heard of my anxieties, offered, without any other motive than the enthusiasm of goodness, to conduct M. de Narbonne to England by giving him the passport of one of his friends. Nothing was more daring than this attempt, since, if any foreigner had been arrested traveling with a proscribed person under a false name, he would have been condemned to death. The courage of Dr. Bollmann did not fail, either in the will or in Edition: current; Page: [327] the execution, and four days after his departure, M. de Narbonne was in London.

I had obtained passports to go into Switzerland; but it would have been so distressing to find myself alone in safety, leaving so many friends in danger, that I delayed my departure from day to day, in order to learn what became of them. I was informed on the 31st of August that M. de Jaucourt, a deputy to the Legislative Assembly, and M. de Lally Tollendal had both been sent to the Abbaye; and it was already known that those only who were destined to be massacred were sent to that prison. The fine talents of M. de Lally protected him in a singular manner. He composed the defense of one of his fellow prisoners who was brought before the tribunal previous to the massacre; the prisoner was acquitted, and everyone knew that he owed his deliverance to the eloquence of Lally. M. de Condorcet admired his splendid abilities and exerted himself to save him; M. de Lally also found an efficacious protection in the sympathy of the English ambassador, who was still in Paris at this date.* M. de Jaucourt had not the same support: I procured a list of all the members of the Commune of Paris, who were then the masters of the city. I knew them only by their terrible reputation, and I sought, as chance directed, for a motive to determine my choice. I suddenly recollected that one of them, called Manuel,3 was a dabbler in literature, having just published Letters of Mirabeau, with a preface, very badly written, it is true, but which showed at the same time an ambition to display ability. I persuaded myself that the love of applause might in some way render a man accessible to solicitation, and it was accordingly to Manuel that I wrote to ask an audience. He fixed it for the next morning at seven o’clock, at his house; this was rather a democratic hour, but I certainly did not fail to be punctual. I arrived before he had got up, and waited for him in his closet, where I saw his own portrait placed on his writing desk, which gave me hopes that at least he might be gained over a little by vanity. He came in, and I Edition: current; Page: [328] must do him the justice to admit that it was through his good sentiments that I succeeded in softening him.

I represented to him the terrible vicissitudes of popularity, of which examples could be cited every day. “In six months,” said I, “your power may perhaps be at an end” (in less than six months he perished on the scaffold). “Save M. de Lally and M. de Jaucourt; reserve for yourself a soothing and consoling recollection at the moment when you also may be proscribed in your turn.” Manuel was a man who could feel; he was carried on by his passions, but capable of honest sentiments; for it was for having defended the King that he was condemned to death. He wrote to me on the 1st of September that M. de Condorcet had obtained the liberation of M. de Lally; and that in compliance with my entreaties, he had just set M. de Jaucourt at liberty. Overjoyed at having saved the life of so estimable a man, I determined on departing the next day; but I engaged to take up the Abbé de Montesquiou,4 who was also proscribed, when I should have passed the barriers of Paris, and to carry him to Switzerland disguised as a servant. To make this change more easy and secure, I gave one of his attendants the passport of one of mine, and we fixed on the spot on the high road where I should find M. de Montesquiou. It was thus impossible to fail in this rendezvous, of which the hour and place were fixed, without exposing the person who was waiting for me to the suspicion of the patrols who scoured the high roads.

The news of the taking of Longwy and Verdun arrived on the morning of the 2d of September. We again heard in every quarter those frightful alarm bells, of which the sound was but too strongly engraven on my mind by the night of the 10th of August. Some wanted to prevent me from leaving, but could I risk the safety of a person who was then confiding in me?

My passports were perfectly in order, and I imagined that the best way would be to set out in a coach and six, with my servants in full livery. I thought that by seeing me in great style, people would conclude I had a Edition: current; Page: [329] right to depart, and would let me pass freely. This was very ill judged, for in such moments what of all things should be avoided is striking the imagination of the people, and the most shabby post-chaise would have conveyed me with more safety. Scarcely had my carriage advanced three steps when, at the noise of the whips of the postilions, a swarm of old women, who seemed to issue from the infernal regions, rushed on my horses, crying that I ought to be stopped; that I was running away with the gold of the nation, that I was going to join the enemy, and a thousand other invectives still more absurd. These women gathered a crowd instantly, and some of the common people, with ferocious countenances, seized my postilions and ordered them to conduct me to the assembly of the section of the quarter where I lived (the Faubourg of St. Germain). On stepping out of my carriage, I had time to whisper to the Abbé de Montesquiou’s servant to go and inform his master of what had happened.

I entered this assembly, the deliberations of which bore the appearance of a permanent insurrection. The person who called himself the president declared to me that I was denounced as having the intention of carrying away proscribed persons, and that my attendants were going to be examined. He found one person missing, who was marked on my passport (it was the servant I had sent away), and, in consequence of this irregularity, he ordered me to be conducted to the Hotel de Ville by a gendarme. Nothing could be more terrifying than such an order; it was necessary to cross the half of Paris and to alight on the Place de Grêve, opposite the Hotel de Ville. On the steps leading to the staircase of that hotel, several persons had been massacred on the 10th of August. No woman had yet perished; but the next day the Princess of Lamballe5 was murdered by the people, whose fury was already such that every eye seemed to demand blood.

It took me three hours to get from the Faubourg St. Germain to the Hotel de Ville, advancing slowly through an immense crowd, who assailed me with cries of death. Their invectives were not directed against me personally, for I was then hardly known; but a fine carriage and laced clothes Edition: current; Page: [330] were, in the eyes of the people, the marks of those who ought to be massacred. Not knowing yet how inhuman men become in revolutions, I addressed myself two or three times to the gendarmes who passed near my carriage to implore their assistance; and was answered by the most disdainful and threatening gestures. I was pregnant; but that did not disarm them; on the contrary their fury seemed to increase in proportion as they felt themselves culpable. The gendarme, however, who was placed in my coach, not being stimulated by his comrades, was moved by my situation and promised to defend me at the peril of his life. The most dangerous moment was in the Place de Grêve; but I had time to prepare myself for it, and the faces which surrounded me bore such an expression of atrocity that the aversion they inspired served to give me additional courage.

I stepped out of my carriage in the midst of an armed multitude and proceeded under an arch of pikes. In ascending the staircase, which likewise bristled with spears, a man pointed toward me the one which he held in his hand. My gendarme pushed it away with his saber: if I had fallen at this moment my life would have ended, for it is in the nature of the common people to respect what still stands erect, but the victim once struck is dispatched.

I arrived at length at the Commune, the president of which was Robespierre, and I breathed again because I had escaped from the populace: yet what a protector was Robespierre! Collot d’Herbois and Billaud Varennes6 performed the office of secretaries, and the latter had left his beard untouched for a fortnight, that he might the better escape the slightest suspicion of aristocracy. The hall was crowded with common people; men, women, and children were exclaiming, with all their might, “Vive la nation.” The writing office of the Commune being a little elevated, those who were placed there could converse together. There I was seated, and while I was recovering myself, the Bailli of Virieu, Envoy of Parma, who had been arrested at the same time as myself, rose to declare that he did Edition: current; Page: [331] not know me; that whatever my affair might be, it had not the least connection with his, and that we ought not to be confounded together. The want of chivalry of this poor man displeased me, and made me doubly eager to be useful to myself, since it appeared that the Bailli of Virieu was not disposed to spare me that trouble. I rose then and stated the right I had to depart, as being the Ambassadress of Sweden, showing the passports I had obtained in consequence of this right. At this moment Manuel arrived; he was very much astonished to find me in so painful a situation, and immediately becoming responsible for me till the Commune had decided on my fate, he conducted me out of that terrible place and locked me up with my maidservant in his closet.

We waited there for six hours, half dead with thirst, hunger, and fright: the window of Manuel’s apartment looked on the Place de Grêve, and we saw the assassins returning from the prisons with their arms bare and bloody, and uttering horrible cries.

My coach with its baggage had remained in the middle of the square, and the people were proceeding to plunder it when I perceived a tall man, in the dress of a national guard, who, ascending the coach box, forbade the populace to take away anything. He passed two hours in guarding my baggage, and I could not conceive how so slight a consideration could occupy him amidst such awful circumstances. In the evening this man, with Manuel, entered the room where I was confined. He was Santerre, the brewer, afterward so notorious for his cruelty. He lived in the Faubourg St. Antoine and had several times been both witness and distributor of the supplies of corn which my father used to provide in seasons of scarcity, and for which he retained some gratitude. Unwilling also to go, as he ought to have done in his quality of commandant, to the relief of the prisoners, guarding my coach served him as a pretext; he wanted to make a boast of it to me, but I could not help reminding him what was his duty at such a moment. As soon as Manuel saw me, he exclaimed with great emotion, “Ah! how happy I am at having set your two friends at liberty yesterday!” He bitterly deplored the assassinations that were going on, but which even at this time he had no power to prevent. An abyss was opened behind the steps of every man who had acquired any authority, and if he receded he could not fail to sink into it.

Edition: current; Page: [332]

Manuel conducted me home at night in his carriage; he was afraid of losing his popularity by doing it in the day. The lamps were not lighted in the streets; but we met numbers of men with torches in their hands, the glare of which was more terrifying than darkness itself. Manuel was often stopped and asked who he was, but when he answered, “Le Procureur de la Commune,” this revolutionary dignity was respectfully recognized.

Arrived at my house, Manuel informed me that a new passport would be given to me and that I should be allowed to depart, but with my maidservant only. A gendarme had orders to attend me to the frontier. The following day Tallien,7 the same who, twenty months after, delivered France from Robespierre on the 9th of Thermidor, came to my house, having been ordered by the Commune to conduct me to the barrier. We heard every instant of new massacres. Several persons much exposed were then in my room: I begged of Tallien not to name them; he promised that he would not, and he kept his word. We went together in my carriage, and left each other without having the power of communicating our thoughts to each other; the circumstances in which we were froze the words on our lips.

I still met with some difficulties near Paris which I managed to escape, and as the distance from the capital increased, the waves of the tempest seemed to subside, and in the mountains of Jura nothing reminded me of the dreadful agitation of which Paris was the theater. The French were everywhere repeating that they were determined to repulse the foreigners. I confess that I saw then no other foreigners than the bloody assassins under whose daggers I had left my friends, the royal family, and all the worthy inhabitants of France.

Edition: current; Page: [333]

CHAPTER XI: The Foreign Troops Driven from France in 1792.

The prisoners of Orléans1 had shared the fate of those of Paris,2 the priests had been massacred at the foot of the altars, and the royal family were captives in the temple. M. de la Fayette, faithful to the constant desire of the nation, a constitutional monarchy, had quitted his army3 rather than take an oath contrary to that which he had so lately sworn to the King. A National Convention was formed, and the Republic was proclaimed4 almost under the eyes of the victorious monarchs, whose armies were then only forty leagues from Paris: yet the greater part of the French officers had emigrated;5 and what remained of the troops had never fought in a war, and the administration was in a most deplorable state. There was a grandeur in such a resolution taken in the midst of the most imminent perils; it instantly revived in every heart the interest which the French nation once inspired; and if the conquering soldiers, on their returning to their homes, had overthrown the revolutionary faction, the cause of France would have once again been gained.

Edition: current; Page: [334]

General Dumouriez,6 in this first campaign of 1792, displayed talents which can never be forgotten. He knew how to employ with ability the military force, which had its basis in patriotism but has since been made the tool of ambition. Amidst all the horrors which disgraced the year 1792, the public spirit which then showed itself had something in it truly admirable. The citizens, now become soldiers, devoted themselves to their country; and personal interests, the love of money and of power, had as yet no share in the efforts of the French armies. Europe consequently felt a sort of respect for the unexpected resistance which she experienced. Soon, however, the madness of crime possessed the prevailing party, and since then, every vice followed every evil deed—sad amelioration for mankind!

Edition: current; Page: [335]

CHAPTER XII: Trial of Louis XVI.

What a subject! But it has been so often treated on that I shall here allow myself to make only a few particular observations.1

In the month of October, 1792, before the horrible trial of the King had begun, before Louis XVI had named his defenders, M. Necker stood forward to receive that noble and perilous charge. He published a memoir2 which posterity will accept as one of the truest and most disinterested testimonies that could be given in favor of the virtuous monarch thrown into captivity.* M. de Malesherbes3 was chosen by the King to be his advocate in the National Convention. The dreadful death of this admirable man and of his family demands the first place in our memory; but the sound reasoning and sincere eloquence of M. Necker’s publication in defense of the King must render it a document for history.

It cannot be denied that Louis XVI was considered as a prisoner from the time of his departure for Varennes, and consequently he did nothing to forward the establishment of a Constitution, which the most sincere efforts would not, perhaps, have been able to maintain. But with what Edition: current; Page: [336] delicacy does not M. Necker, who always believed in the force of truth, place it before us upon this point.

Men of attentive minds—just men, will admire the patience and moderation which the King displayed when everything changed around him, and when he was continually exposed to every kind of insult; but if he had committed faults, if he had misunderstood on some points the new obligations imposed upon him, should it not be attributed to the new form of government? to that constitution in which a monarch was nothing but in appearance, in which royalty itself was out of its place; in which the head of the executive power could discern neither what he was nor what he ought to be; in which he was deceived even by words, and by the equivocal sense which might be given to them; in which he was king without any ascendency; in which he occupied the throne without enjoying any respect, in which he appeared to possess the right to command without having the means of making himself obeyed; in which he was alternately, and according to the unrestrained will of a single deliberative assembly, at one time a simple public functionary, and at another the hereditary representative of the nation? How could a monarch, suddenly placed in the trammels of a political system equally obscure and absurd, and ultimately proscribed by the deputies of the nation themselves; how could he alone be required to be consistent in the midst of the continual fluctuation of ideas? And would it not be the height of injustice to judge a monarch by all his projects, all his thoughts, in the course of a revolution so extraordinary, that it would have been necessary for him to be in perfect harmony, not only with the things which were known, but even with all those of which it would have been in vain to preconceive any just idea? [Réflexions présentées à la nation française, 19–20]

M. Necker goes on to retrace in his Memoir the acts of beneficence which marked the reign of Louis XVI before the Revolution; the extinction of the remains of servitude, the interdiction4 of the torture, the suppression of the corvée, the establishment of the provincial administrations, the convocation of the Estates General. “Is it not Louis XVI,” says he, “who, in occupying him unceasingly with the improvements of the prisons and hospitals, has given the attention of a tender father and of a compassionate Edition: current; Page: [337] friend to the asylums of misery and the retreats of misfortune or of error? Is it not he, perhaps the only one, besides St. Louis, of all the heads of the French Empire who has given the rare example of purity of manners? Must he not besides be allowed the peculiar merit of having been religious without superstition, and scrupulous without intolerance? And is it not from him that a part of the inhabitants of France (the Protestants), persecuted during so many reigns, have received not only a legal security but a civil station which admits them to a participation in all the advantages of social order? These benefits belong to the past; but is the virtue of gratitude applicable only to other periods and other portions of life?”

The want of respect shown to Louis XVI during his trial is more striking than even his condemnation. When the President of the Convention said to him who was his King: “Louis, you may sit down!” we feel more indignation even than when he is accused of crimes which he had never committed. One must have sprung from the very dust not to respect past obligations, particularly when misfortune has rendered them sacred; and vulgarity joined to crime inspires us with as much contempt as horror. No man of real superiority has been remarked amongst those who incited the convention to condemn the King; the popular tide rose and fell at certain words and certain phrases, while the talent of so eloquent an orator as Vergniaud5 could not influence the public mind. It is true that the greater part of the deputies who defended the King took a detestable ground. They began by declaring that he was guilty; and one among them said at the tribune that Louis XVI was a traitor, but that the nation ought to pardon him; and this they called the tactics of the Assembly! They pretended that it was necessary to humor the reigning opinion, that they might moderate it at a proper time. With such cautious prudence as this, how could they resist their enemies, who sprang with all their force upon the victim? In Edition: current; Page: [338] France, they always capitulate with the majority, even when they wish to oppose it; and this miserable finesse assuredly diminishes the means instead of increasing them. The power of the minority can consist only in the energy of conviction. What are the weak in numbers if they are also weak in sentiment?

Saint-Just,6 after having searched in vain for authentic facts against the King, finished by declaring that “no one could reign innocently”; and nothing could better prove the necessity of the inviolability of kings than this maxim; for, there is no king who might not be accused in some way or another if there were no constitutional barrier placed around him. That which surrounded the throne of Louis XVI ought to be held sacred more than any other, since it was not tacitly understood as elsewhere, but solemnly guaranteed.

The deputies from the Gironde wished to save the King; and to that end they demanded an appeal to the people. But in demanding this appeal, they continued to concur in sentiment with the Jacobins, incessantly repeating that the King deserved death. This was deserting the cause entirely. Louis XVI, says Biroteau,7 is already condemned within my heart; but I demand an appeal to the people that he may be condemned by them. The deputies from the Gironde were right in requiring a competent tribunal, if there could exist one for such a cause: but how much more effect might they not have produced if they had required it in favor of an innocent person, instead of for one whom they pretended to be guilty. The French, it can never be too often repeated, have not yet learned in civil affairs to be moderate when they are strong, and bold when they are weak; they should transplant into politics all their military virtues, and their affairs would be improved by it.

What is most difficult to be conceived, in this terrible discussion of the national convention, is the abundance of words that everyone had ready upon such an occasion. It was natural to expect to find a concentrated fury Edition: current; Page: [339] in those who desired the death of the King; but to make it a subject for the display of wit, for the turning of phrases, what obstinacy of vanity in such a scene.

Thomas Paine8 was the most violent of the American democrats: and yet, as there was neither calculation nor hypocrisy in his political exaggerations, when the sentence of Louis XVI came under discussion, he alone advised what would have done honor to France if it had been adopted, the offer to the King of an asylum in America. The Americans are grateful to him, said Paine, for having promoted their independence. Considering this resolution only in a republican point of view, it was the only one which could at that time have weakened the interest for royalty in France. Louis XVI had not those talents which are necessary to regain a crown by force; for a situation which did not excite pity would never have produced devotion. Death inflicted on the most upright man in France, but, at the same time, the least to be feared—on him who, if I may use the expression, had taken no part in his own fate, could only be a dreadful homage paid to his former greatness. There would have been more of republicanism in a revolution which had evinced less fear and more justice.

Louis XVI did not refuse, like Charles I, to acknowledge the tribunal before which he was tried; but answered to all the questions which were put to him, with unaltered gentleness. The President asked him why he had assembled the troops at the palace on the tenth of August, and he replied: “The palace was threatened, all the Constituted Authorities saw it, and, as I myself was one of the Constituted Authorities, it was my duty to defend myself.” How modest and unassuming was this manner of speaking of himself, and by what burst of eloquence could we be more deeply moved!

M. de Malesherbes, formerly the King’s minister, stood forward to defend him. He was one of the three ministers, himself, M. Turgot, and M. Necker, who had advised the voluntary adoption of the principles of liberty Edition: current; Page: [340] to Louis XVI. He was obliged, together with the other two, to resign his place in consequence of some opinions which the parlements opposed; and now, notwithstanding his advanced age, he reappeared to plead the cause of the King in the presence of the people, as he had formerly pleaded the cause of the people before the King; but the new master was implacable.

Garat,9 then Minister of Justice, and, in times better suited to him one of the best writers of France, has told us, in his private memoirs, that when the duties of his dreadful situation compelled him to communicate to the King the sentence which condemned him to death, the King displayed, whilst listening to it, the most astonishing coolness; once only, he expressed by a gesture his contempt and his indignation; it was at the article which accused him of having wished to spill the blood of the French people. His conscience revolted at that, although he had restrained every other feeling. On the very morning of his execution, he said to one of his servants, Go to the Queen; but, stopping himself, he repeated, Go to my wife. He submitted, even at that moment, to the deprivation of his rank which had been imposed upon him by his murderers. Without doubt he believed that in everything fate executes the designs of God upon his creatures.

The King’s will10 exhibits the whole of his character. The most affecting simplicity reigns throughout: every word is a virtue, and we find in it all the intelligence which a mind just, temperate, and of infinite goodness could inspire. The condemnation of Louis XVI so affected every heart that, on account of it, the Revolution was for several years considered as accursed.

Edition: current; Page: [341]

CHAPTER XIII: Charles I and Louis XVI.

Many persons have attributed the disasters of France to the weakness of the character of Louis XVI; and it has been continually repeated that his stooping to recognize the principles of liberty was one of the essential causes of the Revolution. It seems to me, then, a matter of curiosity to show to those who believe that in France, at this crisis, such or such a man would have sufficed to have prevented everything; or that the adoption of such or such a resolution would have arrested the progress of events; it seems, I say, a matter of curiosity to show them that the conduct of Charles I was, in all respects, the converse of that of Louis XVI, and that, nevertheless, two opposite systems brought about the same catastrophe; so irresistible is the progress of revolutions caused by the opinion of the majority.

James I, the father of Charles, said “that men might form an opinion on the conduct of kings, since they freely allowed themselves to scrutinize the decrees of Providence; but that their power could no more be called in question than that of God.” Charles I had been educated in these maxims; and he regarded as a measure equally inconsistent with duty, and with policy, every concession made by the royal authority. Louis XVI, a hundred and fifty years later, was modified by the age in which he lived; the doctrine of passive obedience, which was still received in England in the time of Charles, was no longer maintained even by the clergy of France in 1789. The English Parliament had existed from time immemorial;1 and although it was not irrevocably decided that its consent was necessary for taxation, yet it was customary to ask its sanction. But as it granted subsidies for several years in anticipation, the King of England was not, as Edition: current; Page: [342] now, under the necessity of assembling it annually; and very frequently taxes were continued without having been renewed by the votes of the national representatives. The parliament, however, on all occasions, protested against this abuse; and upon this ground commenced the quarrel between the Commons and Charles I. He was reproached with two taxes which he levied without the assent of the nation. Irritated by this reproach, he ordered, in pursuance of the constitutional right vested in him, that the parliament should be dissolved; and twelve years2 elapsed before he called another, an interruption almost unparalleled in the history of England. The quarrel of Louis XVI began, like that of Charles I, by financial embarrassments; and it is always these embarrassments that render kings dependent upon their people; but Louis XVI assembled the Estates General, which for nearly two centuries had been almost forgotten in France.

Louis XIV had suppressed even the remonstrances of the Parlement of Paris, the only privilege left to that body, when he registered the bursal edicts. Henry VIII of England had caused his proclamations to be received as laws. Thus, then, both Charles and Louis might consider themselves as inheriting unlimited power; but with this difference, that the people of England always relied, and with reason, upon the past to reclaim their rights, while the French demanded something entirely new, since the convocation of the Estates General was not prescribed by any law. Louis XVI, according to the constitution, or the nonconstitution, of France, was not under any obligation to assemble the Estates General; Charles I, in omitting for twelve years to convoke the English Parliament, violated privileges which had been long recognized.

During the twelve-year suspension of the parliament under Charles, the Star Chamber,3 an irregular tribunal which executed the will of the English monarch, exercised every imaginable species of rigor. Prynne was sentenced to lose his ears for having written, according to the tenets of the Puritans, against plays and against the hierarchy. Allison and Robins endured the same punishment because they expressed an opinion different Edition: current; Page: [343] from that of the Archbishop of York; Lilburne was exposed on the pillory, inhumanly scourged, and gagged because his courageous complaints produced an effect upon the people. Williams, a bishop, underwent a similar punishment.4 The most cruel tortures were inflicted upon those who refused to pay the taxes imposed by a mere proclamation of the King; in a host of other different cases ruinous fines were levied on individuals by the same Star Chamber; but, in general, it was against the liberty of the press that the utmost violence was displayed. Louis XVI made scarcely any use of the arbitrary measure of lettres de cachet for the purpose of exile or imprisonment;5 no one act of tyranny can be laid to his charge; and, far from restraining the liberty of the press, it was the Archbishop of Sens, the King’s prime minister, who, in the name of His Majesty, invited all writers to make known their opinions upon the form and the manner of assembling the Estates General.6

The Protestant religion was established in England; but as the Church of England recognizes the king as its head, Charles I had certainly much more influence over his church than Louis had over that of France. The English clergy, under the guidance of Laud,7 although Protestant, was not only in all respects more independent, but more rigid than the French clergy; for the philosophic spirit had gained a footing among some of the leaders of the Gallican church; and Laud was more decidedly orthodox than the Cardinal de Rohan, the principal bishop of France. The ecclesiastical authority and the hierarchy were supported by Charles with extreme severity. The greater part of the cruel sentences which disgraced the Star Chamber had for their object the enforcing of respect for the clergy. That of France seldom defended itself, and never found defenders in others: both were equally crushed by the Revolution.

Edition: current; Page: [344]

The English nobility did not resort to the pernicious measure of emigration, nor to the still more pernicious measure of calling in foreigners: they encircled the throne with constancy, and combated on the side of the King during the civil war. The principles of philosophy which were in vogue in France at the commencement of the Revolution excited a great number of the nobles themselves to turn their own privileges into ridicule. The spirit of the seventeenth century did not prompt the English nobility to doubt the validity of their own rights. The Star Chamber punished with extreme severity some persons who had ventured to ridicule certain lords. Pleasantry is never interdicted to the French. The nobles of England were grave and serious, while those of France were agreeable triflers; and yet both the one and the other were alike despoiled of their privileges;8 and, widely as they differed in all their measures of defense, they were strikingly assimilated in their ruin.

It has often been said that the great influence of Paris over the rest of France was one of the causes of the Revolution. London never obtained the same ascendant over England, because the principal English nobility lived much more in the provinces than those of France. Lastly, it has been pretended that the prime minister of Louis XVI, M. Necker, was swayed by republican principles, and that such a man as Cardinal Richelieu might have prevented the Revolution. The Earl of Strafford,9 the favorite minister of Charles I, was of a firm, and even despotic character; he possessed one advantage over Cardinal Richelieu, that of a high military reputation, which always gives a better grace to the exercise of absolute power. M. Necker enjoyed the greatest popularity ever known in France; the Earl of Strafford was always the object of popular animosity; yet each was the victim of a revolution, and each was sacrificed by his master: the former because he was denounced by the Commons; the latter because the courtiers demanded his dismissal.

Lastly (and this is the most striking point of contrast), Louis XVI has been always blamed for not having taken the field, for not having repelled force by force, and for his insuperable dread of civil war. Charles I began Edition: current; Page: [345] the civil war with motives doubtless very plausible, but still he began it. He quitted London, repaired to the country, and put himself at the head of an army which defended the royal authority to the last extremity. Charles I refused to recognize the competency of the tribunal which condemned him; Louis XVI never made a single objection to the authority of his judges. Charles was infinitely superior to Louis in capacity, in address, and in military talents—everything, in short, formed a contrast between these two monarchs, except their misfortune.

There was, however, one point of resemblance in their sentiments, which alone can account for the similarity of their destinies—Charles I was from the bottom of his heart attached to Catholicism, at that time proscribed in England by the reigning opinion; and Louis XVI was anxious to preserve the ancient political institutions of France. This similarity caused the destruction of both. It is in the art of directing public opinion, or of yielding to it at the proper moment, that the science of government consists in modern times.

Edition: current; Page: [346]

CHAPTER XIV: War Between France and England. Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox.

During many centuries the rivalries between France and England have been the source of misery to those two countries. It used to be a contest for power; but the struggle caused by the Revolution cannot be considered under the same aspect. If there have been, in the course of twenty-three years,1 circumstances in which England might have treated with France, it must also be allowed that during that time she has had strong reasons for making war upon her rival, and more frequently still, for defending herself against attack. The first rupture, which broke out in 1793, proceeded from motives the most just. If the Convention, while guilty of the murder of Louis XVI, had not professed and propagated principles subversive of all governments, if it had not attacked Belgium and Holland, the English might have taken no more concern in the death of Louis XVI than Louis XIV did in that of Charles I. But at the moment when the government dismissed the Ambassador of France, the English nation wished for war still more eagerly than its government.2

I think I have sufficiently shown, in the preceding chapters, that in 1791, during the continuance of the Constituent Assembly, and even in 1792, under the Legislative Assembly, foreign powers ought not to have acceded to the Convention of Pilnitz. If, then, English diplomacy had any share Edition: current; Page: [347] in that great political act, it interfered too soon in the affairs of France, and Europe found itself in a bad situation because of it, since immense military forces were thus acquired by the French. But at the moment when England formally declared war against France, in 1793, the Jacobins were in complete possession of the supreme power; and not only their invasion of Holland, but their crimes and the principles which they proclaimed, made it a duty to break off all communication with them. The perseverance of England at this epoch preserved her from the troubles which threatened her internal tranquillity at the time of the mutiny of the fleet, and of the fermentation of the popular societies;3 and likewise supported the hopes of the well-meaning, by showing them a spot upon the earth where morality and liberty were united to great power. Had the English nation been seen sending ambassadors to assassins, the true strength of that wonderful island would have abandoned her; the confidence which she inspires would have been lost.

It does not follow from these views that the Opposition, who wished for peace, and Mr. Fox,4 who by his astonishing talents represented a party in his own person, were not actuated by the most honorable sentiments. Mr. Fox complained, and with reason, that the friends of liberty were incessantly confounded with those who polluted it; and he feared lest the reaction of so unfortunate an attempt should weaken the spirit of freedom which is the vital principle of England. In fact, if the Reformation had failed three centuries ago, what would have become of Europe? And in what state would Europe now be, if France were to be deprived of all that she has gained by her political reform?

Mr. Pitt5 at this epoch rendered great services to England by holding with a firm hand the helm of affairs. But notwithstanding the perfect simplicity of his tastes and habits, he leaned too much to the love of power; Edition: current; Page: [348] having become minister at a very early age, he never had time to live in the capacity of a private man, and by that means to experience the action of authority upon those who are subject to it. His heart had no sympathy with weakness; and the political artifices which men have agreed to call Machiavellianism were not viewed by him with all the contempt which might have been expected from a genius like his. Yet his admirable eloquence made him love the debates of a representative government; he was predisposed to liberty even by his talents, for he was ambitious of convincing, whereas men of moderate powers aspire only at command. The sarcastic tone of his speeches was singularly adapted to the circumstances in which he was placed: when all the aristocracy of sentiment and principle triumphed at the sight of popular excesses, the energetic irony of Mr. Pitt suited the Patrician who throws upon his adversaries the odious color of irreligion and immorality.

The perspicuity, the sincerity, the warmth of Mr. Fox could alone escape these sharp-edged weapons. He had no mystery in politics; for he regarded publicity as still more necessary in the affairs of nations than in any other relations of men. Even when his opinion was not followed, he was better liked than his opponent; and although force of argumentation was the distinctive characteristic of his eloquence, so much of soul was perceived beneath his reasoning that it was impossible not to be moved by it. His character, like that of his antagonist, bore the stamp of English dignity; but he had a natural candor which contact with other people could not hinder, because the benevolence of genius is unalterable.

It is not necessary to decide between these two great men, nor is there any person who would dare to think himself qualified to judge in such a cause. But the salutary reflection which ought to arise from the sublime discussions of which the English Parliament was the theater is this—that the ministerial party was always in the right when it combated Jacobinism and military despotism, but always in the wrong, and greatly in the wrong, when it made itself the enemy of liberal principles in France. The members of the Opposition, on the contrary, deviated from the noble functions which are attributed to them when they defended men whose crimes were ruining the cause of the human race; and this same Opposition has deserved well of posterity when it supported the generous few of the friends Edition: current; Page: [349] of freedom who for twenty-five years have devoted themselves to the hatred of both parties in France, and who have no strength but what they derive from one powerful alliance—the alliance of truth.

One fact may give an idea of the essential difference which exists between the Tories and the Whigs, the members of the cabinet, and the Opposition, in relation to the affairs of France. The spirit of party goes the length of stripping the most glorious actions of their true qualities so long as those who performed them live; but it is not for this the less certain that antiquity offers nothing more noble than the conduct of General la Fayette, of his wife, and of his daughters in the prisons of Olmütz.* The General was confined in these on the one hand, for having quitted France after the imprisonment of the King, and on the other, for having declined any connection with the governments which were carrying on war against his country; and the admirable Madame de la Fayette, just escaped from the dungeons of Robespierre, lost not a single day in proceeding to incarcerate herself with her husband and expose herself to all the sufferings which have abridged her life. So much firmness in a man who had been for so long a time faithful to the same cause, so much conjugal and filial love in his family, could not but interest the country of whose soil these virtues are the native growth. General Fitz-Patrick demanded, therefore, that the English ministry should intercede with their allies to obtain from them the liberty of General la Fayette.6 Mr. Fox pleaded this cause; the English parliament heard the sublime speech, of which we shall transcribe the conclusion: and yet the representatives of a free country did not rise in a body to accede to the proposition of the orator, who on this occasion should have been only their interpreter. The ministers opposed the motion of General Fitz-Patrick by saying, as usual, that the captivity of General la Fayette concerned the powers of the Continent, and that England, in Edition: current; Page: [350] meddling with it, would violate the general principle which forbids her to interfere in the internal administration of foreign countries. Mr. Fox combated admirably this wily and evasive answer. Mr. Windham,7 Secretary of War, denied the eulogiums which Mr. Fox had pronounced on General la Fayette; and it was upon this occasion that Mr. Fox replied to him as follows:

The Secretary of War has spoken, and his principles are henceforth in open day. Those must never be pardoned who begin revolutions, and that, in the most absolute sense, without distinction of circumstances and of persons. However corrupt, however intolerant, however oppressive, however hostile to the rights and happiness of humanity a government may be; however virtuous, however moderate, however patriotic, however humane the reformer, the man who begins the justest reformation should be devoted to the most irreconcilable vengeance. If he is succeeded by men who tarnish the cause of liberty by their excesses, they may be pardoned. All our detestation of criminal revolution should be heaped upon him who begins a revolution that is virtuous. Thus, the Right Honorable Secretary of War pardons Cromwell with all his heart; for Cromwell appeared not till the second act, found things prepared, and only turned circumstances to his own profit; but our great, our illustrious ancestors, Pym, Hampden, Lord Falkland, the Earl of Bedford,8 all these personages to whom we have been accustomed to pay honors nearly divine, for the good which they have done to the human race and to their country, for the evils from which they delivered us, for the prudent courage, the generous humanity, the noble disinterestedness with which they prosecuted their plans; these are the men who, according to the doctrine professed this day, ought to be devoted to eternal execration.

We have hitherto considered Hume9 to be sufficiently severe when he said that Hampden died at the moment the most favorable for his glory, because, had he lived a few months longer, he would probably have displayed Edition: current; Page: [351] the latent fire of a violent ambition. But how gentle does Hume now appear when compared with the Right Honorable Secretary of War. According to the latter, men who by their crimes have blackened the glorious cause of liberty have been virtuous, in comparison of those who wished merely to deliver their country from the weight of abuses, from the scourge of corruption, and from the yoke of tyranny. Cromwell, Harrison, Bradshaw, the masked executioner by whose hand fell the head of Charles I—these are the objects of the tender commiseration and enlightened indulgence of the Right Honorable Secretary of War. Hampden, Bedford, Falkland killed in fighting for his king—such are the criminals for whom he does not find hatred enough in his heart, nor punishment enough upon earth. The Right Honorable Secretary of War has positively asserted it: in the eyes of his kings and his absolute ministers, Collot d’Herbois10 is far from meriting so much vengeance and hatred as La Fayette.

At first I was astonished at this opinion; I now begin to comprehend it. In fact, Collot d’Herbois is a vile person and a monster; La Fayette is a great character and a man of worth. Collot d’Herbois pollutes Liberty and renders her hateful by all the crimes which he dares to clothe with her name; La Fayette honors her; he makes her an object of love, by all the virtues with which he shows her to be surrounded, by the nobleness of his principles, by the unalterable purity of his actions, by the wisdom and force of his understanding, by the gentleness, the disinterestedness, the generosity of his soul. Yes, I acknowledge it, according to the new principles, it is La Fayette who is dangerous, he is the man whom we must hate; and the poor Collot d’Herbois is entitled to that tender accent with which the interest of the House has been solicited for him. Yes, I do justice to the sincerity of the Right Honorable Secretary of War; he has feigned nothing, I am sure; the tone of his voice has been only the expression of his soul as often as he has implored compassion for the poor Collot d’Herbois, or summoned from every corner of the earth hatred, vengeance, and tyranny to exterminate General La Fayette, his wife and his children, his companions, and his servants.

But I, who feel otherwise, I, who am still what I have always been, I, Edition: current; Page: [352] who will live and die the friend of order but of liberty, the enemy of anarchy but of slavery, have thought that it was not allowed to me to remain silent after such outrages, after such blasphemies vomited forth within the precincts of an English parliament, against innocence and truth, against the rights and the happiness of the human species, against the principles of our glorious Revolution; finally, against the sacred memory of our illustrious ancestors, of those men whose wisdom, whose virtues, and whose benefits will be revered and blessed by the people of England to the latest generation.

In spite of the incomparable beauty of these words, such was the terror with which the fear of the subversion of social order then inspired the English that even the name of liberty no longer echoed in their soul. Of all the sacrifices which a man can make to his conscience as a public character, there are none greater than those to which Mr. Fox doomed himself during the French Revolution. It is nothing to support persecutions under an arbitrary government; but to find oneself abandoned by public opinion in a free country; to be deserted by one’s old friends when, among them, there is such a man as Burke; to find oneself unpopular in the very cause of the people; this is a misery for which Mr. Fox deserves to be pitied as much as admired. He was seen to shed tears in the House of Commons as he pronounced the name of that illustrious Burke, who had become so violent in his new passions.11 He inclined toward him, because he knew that his heart was broken by the death of his son; for friendship, in a character such as that of Fox, could never be altered by political feelings.

It might, however, be advantageous for England that Mr. Pitt was at the head of the state in the most dangerous crisis in which that country ever found herself: but it was not less so that a mind enlarged as was that of Mr. Fox maintained principles in spite of circumstances and knew how to preserve the household gods of the friends of freedom in the midst of Edition: current; Page: [353] the conflagration. It is not to please the two parties that I thus praise them both, although they supported very opposite opinions. The contrary should perhaps be the case in France; the different factions are there almost always equally blamable; but, in a free country, the partisans of the ministry and the members of the opposition may all be right after their own way, and they are each frequently productive of good according to the times: the only point of importance is that the power acquired by the struggle should not be continued after the danger is past.

Edition: current; Page: [354]

CHAPTER XV: Of Political Fanaticism.

The events which we have been recalling until this point have been the only kind of history for which we can find examples elsewhere. But an abyss is now about to open under our feet; we do not know what course to pursue in such a gulf, and the mind leaps in fear from disaster to disaster, till it reaches the annihilation of all hope and of all consolation. We shall pass as rapidly as we can over this frightful crisis, in which there is no individual to fix attention, no circumstance to excite interest: all is uniform, though extraordinary; all is monotonous, though horrible; and we should be in some measure ashamed of ourselves if we could contemplate these brutal atrocities sufficiently near to characterize them in detail. Let us only examine the great principle of these monstrous phenomena—political fanaticism.

Worldly passions have always played a part in religious fanaticism; and frequently, on the contrary, true faith by some abstract ideas feeds political fanaticism: the mixture is found everywhere, but its proportions are what constitutes good and evil. Social order is in itself a most peculiar structure; it is impossible, however, to imagine it as other than what it is. The concessions that we must make in order to ensure its continuing existence torment exalted souls with pity, satisfy the vanity of some, and provoke the irritation and the desires of the greater number. It is to this state of things, more or less pronounced, more or less softened by manners and knowledge, that the political fanaticism must be ascribed of which we have been witnesses in France. A sort of frenzy seized the poor in the presence of the rich; the distinctions of nobility adding to the jealousy which property inspires, the people were proud of their multitude; and all that constitutes the power and splendor of the few appeared to them mere usurpation. The germs of this sentiment have existed at all times; but we have Edition: current; Page: [355] felt human society shaken to its foundation only during the Reign of Terror in France. We need not be surprised if this abominable scourge has left deep traces in men’s minds; and the only reflection in which we can indulge, and which the remainder of this work will, I hope, confirm, is that the remedy for popular passions is to be found not in despotism, but in the rule of law.

Religious fanaticism presents an indefinite future which exalts all the hopes of the imagination; but the enjoyments of life are as unlimited in the eyes of those who have not tasted them. The Old Man of the Mountain1 sent his subjects to death by means of allowing them delights on this earth; and we frequently see men expose themselves to death in order to live better. On the other hand, vanity takes a pride in defending the superior advantages which it possesses; it appears less guilty than the attackers, because some notion of property clings even to injustices when they have existed for a long time. Nevertheless, the two elements of religious fanaticism and political fanaticism always subsist; the will to dominate in those who are at the top of the wheel, the eagerness to make it turn in those who are on the bottom. This is the principle of all kinds of violence; the pretext changes, the cause remains, and the reciprocal fury continues the same. The quarrels of the patricians and the war of the slaves, the servile war, the war of the peasants, that which still goes on between the nobles and the bourgeois, have all equally had their origin in the difficulty of maintaining human society without disorder and without injustice. Men could not exist today, either apart or united, if respect for the law were not established in their minds: crimes of every sort would arise from that very society which ought to prevent them. The abstract power of representative governments irritates in nothing the pride of men, and it is by this institution that the torches of the furies are to be extinguished. They were lighted in a country where everything was self-love; and self-love irritated does not, with the people, resemble our fleeting nuances; it is the need to kill.

Massacres no less frightful than those of the Reign of Terror have been Edition: current; Page: [356] committed in the name of religion. The human race has exhausted itself for many centuries in useless efforts to constrain all men to the same belief. That end could not be attained: and the simplest idea, toleration, such as William Penn professed, has forever banished from the North of America the fanaticism of which the South has been the horrid theater. It is the same with political fanaticism; liberty alone can calm it. After a certain time, some truths will no longer be denied; and old institutions will be spoken of as ancient systems of physics, now entirely effaced by the evidence of facts.

As the different classes of society had scarcely any relations with each other in France, their mutual antipathy was of course stronger. There is no man, not even the most criminal, whom we can detest when we know him in the same way as when we imagine him. Pride places barriers everywhere, and limits nowhere. In no country have the nobles been so completely strangers to the rest of the nation: they came into contact with the second class only to offend it. Elsewhere, a simple good-heartedness, habits of life even somewhat vulgar, make people mix together, although they are separated by the law; but the elegance of the French nobility increased the envy which they inspired. To imitate their manners was as difficult as to obtain their prerogatives. The same scene was repeated from rank to rank; the irritability of a nation, lively in the extreme, inclined each one to be jealous of his neighbor, of his superior, of his master; and all, not satisfied with ruling, labored for the humiliation of each other. It is by multiplying political relations between different ranks, by giving them the means of serving each other, that we can appease in the heart the most horrible of passions—the hatred of human beings for their fellow men, the mutual aversion of creatures whose remains must all repose under the same earth and be together reborn at the last day.

Edition: current; Page: [357]

CHAPTER XVI: Of the Government Called the Reign of Terror.

We know not how to approach the fourteen months which followed the proscription of the Gironde on the 31st of May, 1793. We seem as if we were descending, like Dante, from circle to circle, always lower in hell. To the animosity against the nobles and the priests succeeded a feeling of irritation against the landholders, next against talents, then even against beauty; finally, against whatever was to be found great or generous in human nature. At this epoch, facts become confused, and we are afraid of being unable to enter into such a history without leaving on the imagination indelible traces of blood. We are therefore forced to take a philosophical view of events, on which the eloquence of indignation might be exhausted without satisfying the internal sentiment which they awaken.

Doubtless, in taking away all restraints from the people, they were placed in a condition to commit every crime; but whence comes it that this people was so depraved? The government, which is spoken of as an object of regret, had time to have formed the nation which showed itself so culpable. The priests, whose instruction, example, and riches are fitted, we are told, to do so much good, had presided over the childhood of the generation which now turned against them. The class that rose into action in 1789 was of course accustomed to those privileges of feudal nobility, so particularly agreeable, we are still assured, to the persons by whom their weight must be borne. Whence comes it, then, that so many vices germinated under the ancient institutions? Let it not be pretended that the other nations of our days would have shown themselves similar if a revolution had taken place among them. French influence triggered insurrections in Holland and Switzerland, and nothing resembling Jacobinism Edition: current; Page: [358] manifested itself there. During the forty years of the history of England, which in so many points of view may be assimilated to that of France, there is no period that can be compared to the fourteen months of terror. What must we conclude from this? That for a century past no people had been so miserable as the people of France. If the negroes at St. Domingo committed a much greater number of atrocities,1 it is because they had been still more oppressed.

It by no means follows from these reflections that the crimes deserve less detestation; but after more than twenty years, we should unite to the lively indignation of contemporaries the enlightened scrutiny which ought to serve as a guide for the future. Religious disputes provoked the English Revolution: love of equality, the subterraneous volcano of France,2 likewise inflamed the sect of the Puritans; but the English were then really religious, and religious Protestants—a circumstance which increases at once austerity and moderation. Although England, like France, polluted herself with the murder of Charles I and the despotism of Cromwell, the reign of the Jacobins is a frightful singularity, the burden of which, in history, must be borne exclusively by France. He, however, has not thought much on the subject of civil disorders who does not know that reaction is equal to the action. The fury of revolts supplies the measure of the vices of institutions; and it is not to the government which is wished for, but to that which has long existed, that we must ascribe the moral state of a nation. At present it is said that the French have been corrupted by the Revolution. But whence come the reckless propensities which expanded themselves so violently in the first years of the Revolution, if not from a century of superstition and arbitrary power?

It seemed in 1793 that there was no more room for revolutions in France, when everything was overturned, the throne, the nobility, the clergy, and when the success of the armies gave reason to expect peace with Europe. But it is precisely when the danger is past that popular tyrannies are established: so long as there are obstacles and fears, the worst Edition: current; Page: [359] men observe moderation: when they have triumphed, their restrained passions show themselves without a curb.

The Girondists made several vain efforts, after the death of the King, to put some laws in activity; but they could not obtain a reception for any system of social organization; the instinct of ferocity rejected everything of the sort. Herault de Séchelles proposed a constitution scrupulously democratical;3 the Assembly adopted it, but ordained that it should be suspended till the peace. The Jacobin party wished to exercise despotism, and this government has been mistakenly described as an anarchy. Never has a stronger authority reigned over France; but it was a strange form of power: springing out of popular fanaticism, it struck alarm into the very persons who commanded in its name; for they always feared to be proscribed in their turn by men who would go still further than they in the daring boldness of persecution. Marat alone lived without fear at this time; for his figure was so mean, his sentiments so extravagant, his opinions so sanguinary that he was sure that nobody could plunge deeper than himself in the abyss of crimes. Even Robespierre was unable to reach so infernal a security.

The last men who at this time are still worthy to occupy a place in history are the Girondists. They felt without doubt at the bottom of their hearts a keen remorse for the means which they had employed to overturn the throne; and when these very means were directed against themselves, when they recognized their own weapons in the wounds which they received, they must have reflected without doubt on that rapid justice of revolutions which concentrates in a few instants the events of several ages.

The Girondists contended every day and every hour, with an undaunted eloquence, against discourses sharpened like poignards, which carried death in every phrase. The murderous nets, with which the proscribed were enveloped on all sides, in no respect took away from them that presence of mind which alone can give effect to all the talents of the orator.

Edition: current; Page: [360]

M. de Condorcet, when he was put out of the protection of the law, wrote a work on the perfectibility of the human mind, which doubtless contains errors, but of which the general system is inspired by the hope of the happiness of men; this hope he nourished under the axe of the executioner at the very moment when his own destiny was ruined without resource. Twenty-two of the republican deputies were brought before the revolutionary tribunal, and their courage did not fail for a single instant.4 When the sentence of death was pronounced upon them, one of them, Valazé, fell from the seat which he occupied; another deputy, also condemned, who was by his side and thought that his colleague was afraid, with some reproaches rudely raised him; he raised him up dead. Valazé had just plunged a poignard into his heart, with a hand so firm that he did not breathe a second after the blow was struck. Such, however, is the inflexibility of the spirit of party that these men, who defended whatever there was of respectability in France, could not flatter themselves with exciting any interest by their efforts. They struggled, they fell, they perished, while public report, the harbinger of future fame, made them no promise of any recompense. Even the constitutional royalists were so lost to common sense as to desire the triumph of the terrorists, that they themselves might thus be avenged upon the republicans. In vain were they aware that they too were proscribed by these terrorists; irritated pride prevailed over everything: in thus giving full scope to their resentments, they forgot the rule of conduct from which we should never deviate in politics: it is always to rally round the party the least bad among your adversaries, even when that party is still remote from your own views.

The scarcity of provisions, the abundance of assignats, and the enthusiasm excited by the war were the three grand springs of which the Committee of Public Safety availed itself, at once to animate and subdue the people. It terrified them, or paid them, or made them march to the frontiers, as best suited its purpose. One of the deputies to the Convention said, “We must continue the war, that the convulsions of liberty may be the stronger.” It is impossible to know whether the twelve members of the Committee of Public Safety had conceived the idea of any government Edition: current; Page: [361] whatsoever.5 The direction of affairs, if we except the conduct of the war, was nothing else than a mixture of grossness and ferocity, in which no plan can be discovered, except that of making one half of the nation butcher the other. For it was so easy to be considered by the Jacobins as forming a part of the proscribed aristocracy that half the inhabitants of France incurred the suspicion, which was sufficient to lead the way to death.

The assassination of the Queen, and of Madame Elizabeth, excited perhaps still more astonishment and horror than the crime which was perpetrated against the person of the King; for no other object could be assigned for these horrible enormities than the very terror which they were fitted to inspire. The condemnation of M. de Malesherbes, of Bailly,6 of Condorcet, of Lavoisier,7 was the decimation of the glory of France; eighty persons were the victims of each day, as if the massacre of St. Bartholomew were to be kept in a constant state of renewal.8 One great difficulty Edition: current; Page: [362] presented itself to this government, if the name of government can be given to it; it was the necessity which existed of employing all the means of civilization to carry on the war, and all the violence of the savage state to excite the passions. The populace, and even the citizens, were not struck by the misfortunes of the higher classes. The inhabitants of Paris walked about the streets, like the Turks during the plague, with this single difference, that obscure persons could easily enough preserve themselves from danger. Within view of the executions, the places of public entertainment were filled as usual; romances were published, entitled A New Sentimental Voyage, Dangerous Friendship, Ursula and Sophia: in short, all the insipidity and all the frivolity of life subsisted by the side of its gloomiest frenzies.

We have not attempted to dissemble what it is not in the power of men to blot out from their remembrance; but that we may breathe more at ease, we hasten to survey, in the following chapter, the virtues which did not cease to do honor to France, even at the most horrible period of her history.

Edition: current; Page: [363]

CHAPTER XVII: The French Army During the Reign of Terror; the Federalists and La Vendée.

The conduct of the French army during the period of terror was truly patriotic. No generals were seen violating their oath to the state; they repulsed foreigners while they were themselves threatened with death upon the scaffold, at the slightest suspicion that might be excited against their conduct. The soldiers belonged not to any particular chief, but to France. France no longer existed but in the armies; there, however, at least, she was still beautiful: and her triumphant banners served, if we may so say, as a veil to the crimes committed in the interior. Foreigners were compelled to respect the rampart of iron which was opposed to their invasion; and, although they advanced within thirty leagues of Paris, a national feeling, still in full strength, did not permit them to arrive there. The same enthusiasm displayed itself in the navy. The crew of a man of war, Le Vengeur, struck by the English,1 repeated, as with one voice, the cry of Vive la république while they were sinking in the ocean; and the songs of a funereal joy seemed still to re-echo from the bottom of the deep.

The French army was then unacquainted with pillage, and its chiefs sometimes marched like private soldiers at the head of their troops because they did not have money to purchase the horses which they needed. Dugommier,2 commander in chief of the army of the Pyrénées, at the age of sixty, set out from Paris on foot to rejoin his troops on the frontiers of Edition: current; Page: [364] Spain. The men, on whom military glory has since conferred so much renown, distinguished themselves also by their disinterestedness. They wore, without blushing, uniforms which had become threadbare in the service, a hundred times more honorable than the embroidery and decorations of every kind with which, at a later period, we have seen them bedizened.

Honest republicans, mingled with royalists, courageously resisted the Conventional Government at Toulon, at Lyons, and in some other departments. This party was known by the name of Federalists; but I do not believe that the Girondists, or their partisans, ever conceived the project of establishing a federative government in France. Nothing would be less suitable to the character of the nation, which loves splendor and bustle; for both of these require a city, which may be the focus of the talents and the riches of the empire. We may with reason complain of the corruption of a capital, and of all great assemblages of men in general; such is the condition of mankind: but in France we could scarcely bring back men’s minds to virtue, but by the diffusion of knowledge and the need to obtain the votes of the public. The love of consideration or glory, in its different degrees, is the only thing that is able to raise us gradually from egoism to conscientiousness. Besides, the political and military state of the great monarchies which surround France would endanger her independence if the strength of her union were weakened. The Girondists never thought of any such plan; but, as they had many adherents in the provinces, where, by the simple effect of a national representation, political knowledge was beginning to be acquired, it was in the provinces that opposition to the factious tyrants of Paris displayed itself.

It was about this time, also, that the war of LaVendée3 began, and nothing does more honor to the royalist party than the attempts at civil war which were then made. The people of these departments were able to resist the Convention and its successors for nearly six years, being headed by some gentlemen who drew their principal resources from their own minds. Edition: current; Page: [365] The republicans, as well as the royalists, felt a profound respect for these warrior citizens. Lescure, La Roche Jacquelin, Charette,4 etc., whatever their opinions might be, fulfilled a duty to which all the French at that time might have thought themselves equally bound. The country which was the theater of the Vendean war was intersected by hedges intended to enclose the different estates. These peaceful hedges served for bulwarks to the peasants become soldiers, who sustained one by one the most dangerous and most daring struggle. The inhabitants of these parts of the country had much veneration for the priests, whose influence at that time did good. But in a state where liberty has long subsisted, the public mind would not need to be excited except by public institutions. The Vendeans, it is true, demanded in their distress some succours from England; but it was only auxiliaries, not masters, whom they accepted; for their own forces were much superior to those which they borrowed from abroad. They did not therefore compromise the independence of their country. Accordingly the chiefs of la Vendée were held in consideration even by the opposite party, and they expressed themselves upon the Revolution with more moderation than the emigrants beyond the Rhine. The Vendeans having fought, so to say, man to man with the French, were not easily persuaded that their adversaries were but a handful of rebels, whom a single battalion could have brought back to their duty; and as they themselves had recourse to the power of opinions, they knew what they were, and acknowledged the necessity of compromising with them.

One problem remains still to be solved: it is, How was it possible for the government of 1793 and 1794 to triumph over so many enemies? The coalition of Austria, Prussia, Spain, and England, the civil war in the interior, the hatred with which the Convention inspired every man of consideration that remained out of prison—none of these circumstances diminished the resistance, against which foreigners saw their efforts crushed to nothing. This prodigy can be explained only by the devotion of the nation to its own cause. A million men took arms to repel the forces of the coalition; the people were animated with a frenzy, as fatal in the interior Edition: current; Page: [366] as invincible without. Besides, the factitious but inexhaustible abundance of paper money, the low price of provisions, the degradation of the landholders, who were reduced to doom themselves eternally to misery, all tended to make the working classes believe that the yoke of inequality of fortune was at last on the point of ceasing to oppress them; this extravagant hope doubled the force which nature gave them: and social order, the secret of which consists in the endurance of the many, appeared suddenly threatened. But the military spirit, which then had no other end than the defense of the country, gave tranquillity to France by covering her with its shield. This spirit followed the same noble direction till the moment when, as we shall see later, one man turned against liberty herself the very legions that had sprung from the earth to defend her.

Edition: current; Page: [367]

CHAPTER XVIII: Of the Situation of the Friends of Liberty Out of France During the Reign of Terror.

It is difficult to relate the events of these horrible times without recalling one’s own impressions in almost their original vivacity: and I know not why one should combat this natural inclination. For the best manner of representing such extraordinary circumstances is to show in what state they placed individuals in the midst of the universal tempest.

Emigration during the Reign of Terror was no longer a political measure. People escaped from France to save themselves from the scaffold, and no one could have remained there without exposing oneself to death in order to avoid ruin. The friends of liberty were more detested by the Jacobins than even the aristocrats, because they had been engaged in a closer struggle with one another, and because the Jacobins feared the constitutionalists, whom they believed to be still in possession of a very considerable influence over the mind of the nation. These friends of liberty found themselves, therefore, almost without a place of refuge upon earth. The pure royalists did not violate their principles in fighting with foreign armies against their country; but the constitutionalists could not adopt such a resolution: they were proscribed by France and viewed with an evil eye by the ancient governments of Europe, who knew little of them but from the recitals of the French aristocrats, their most furious enemies.

I concealed in my house, in the Pays de Vaud,1 some friends of liberty respectable in every way, both for their rank and for their virtues; and as a regular permission to authorize their residence could not then be obtained from the Swiss authorities, they bore Swedish names, which M. de Edition: current; Page: [368] Staël assigned them that he might have the pleasure of yielding them protection. Scaffolds were erected for them on the frontier of their native country, and persecutions of every kind awaited them in foreign lands. Thus the monks of the order of La Trappe found themselves detained in an island in the middle of a river which separates Prussia from Russia: each of the two countries rejected them as if tainted with a pestilence; and yet no reproach could be alleged against them, except that they were faithful to their vows.

One particular circumstance may be of use in depicting this epoch of 1793, when perils were multiplied at every step. A young French gentleman, M. Achille du Chayla, nephew of the Count de Jaucourt, wished to escape from France under a Swiss passport which we had sent him; for we thought ourselves quite at liberty to deceive tyranny. At Morez, a frontier town situated at the foot of Mount Jura, suspicions were entertained that M. du Chayla was not what his passport pretended, and he was arrested with a declaration that he must remain a prisoner till the lieutenant of the district of Nyon should attest that he was a Swiss. M. de Jaucourt was then staying in my house, under one of those Swedish names of which we were the inventors. At the news of his nephew’s arrest, his despair was extreme; for the young man, at that time an object of pursuit, the bearer of a false passport, and, besides, son to one of the chiefs of the army of Condé, would have been instantly shot had his name been discovered. There remained only one hope; it was to prevail upon M. Reverdil, lieutenant-bailiff of the district of Nyon, to claim M. du Chayla as in reality a native of the Pays de Vaud.

I went to M. Reverdil to ask this favor of him: he was an old friend of my parents, and one of the most enlightened and most respectable men in French Switzerland.* He at first refused, opposing to me the most weighty motives; he was scrupulous of deviating from truth for any object whatsoever, and besides, as a magistrate, he was fearful of compromising his country by an act of falsehood. “If the truth is discovered,” said he, Edition: current; Page: [369] “we shall no longer have the right of claiming our own countrymen who may be arrested in France; and thus I expose the interest of those who are entrusted to me, for the safety of a man to whom I owe nothing.” This argument had a very plausible aspect: but the pious fraud which I solicited could alone save the life of a man over whose head the axe of the murderer was suspended. I remained two hours with M. Reverdil, seeking to vanquish his conscience by his humanity; he resisted long, but when I repeated to him several times, “If you say no, an only son, a man without reproach, is assassinated within twenty-four hours, and your mere word kills him,” my emotion, or rather his own, triumphed over every other consideration, and the young Du Chayla was claimed. It was the first time that a circumstance presented itself to me in which two duties struggled against each other with equal force. But I still think, as I thought twenty-three years ago, that the present danger of the victim ought to prevail over the uncertain dangers of the future. There is not in the short space of existence a greater chance of happiness than to save the life of an innocent man; and I know not how it would be possible to resist this seduction, by supposing it in such a case to be one.

Alas! I was not always so fortunate in my connections with my friends. It was necessary for me a few months afterward to communicate to the man, the most susceptible of strong affection, and consequently of deep grief, M. Mathieu de Montmorency, the sentence of death pronounced upon his young brother, the Abbé de Montmorency, whose only crime was the illustrious name which he had received from his ancestors. At the same time the wife, the mother, and the mother-in-law of M. de Montmorency were alike threatened with destruction: a few days later, and all the prisoners were at this horrid epoch sent to the scaffold. One of the reflections which struck us the most forcibly in our long walks by the shores of the lake of Geneva was the contrast of the noble scenes of nature around us, and of the brilliant sun of the end of June, with the despair of man—of this prince of the earth who would have wanted to make the world carry his own mourning. Dejection had seized us: the younger we were, the less resignation we had; for in youth especially we look for happiness, we think that we have a right to it, and we revolt at the idea of not obtaining it. Yet it was in these very moments, when we were contemplating Edition: current; Page: [370] in vain the sky and the flowers, and were reproaching them with dispersing light and fragrance through the air in the presence of so many crimes, it was then that deliverance was preparing. A day of which the new name disguises, perhaps, the date from strangers, the ninth of Thermidor, carried into the hearts of Frenchmen an emotion of inexpressible joy. Poor human nature could never owe so lively a delight but to the cessation of sorrow.

Edition: current; Page: [371]

CHAPTER XIX: Fall of Robespierre, and Change of System in the Government.

The men and women who were conducted to the scaffold gave proofs of a courage that nothing could shake; the prisons presented the example of the most generous acts of devotion; fathers were seen sacrificing themselves for their sons, wives for their husbands; but the party of the worthy, like the King himself, showed themselves capable only of private virtues. In general, in a country where there is no freedom, energy is found only in the factious; but in England, the support of the law and the feeling of justice render the resistance of the upper classes quite as strong as the attack of the populace could be. Had a division not taken place among the deputies of the Convention themselves, it is impossible to say how long the atrocious government of the Committee of Public Safety would have lasted.

This Committee was not composed of men of superior talent;1 the machine of terror, the springs of which had been prepared for action by events, exercised alone unbounded power. The government resembled the hideous instrument employed on the scaffold; the axe was seen rather than the hand which put it in motion. A single question was sufficient to overturn the power of these men; it was—how many are they? But their force was measured by the atrocity of their crimes, and nobody dared attack them. These twelve members of the Committee of Public Safety distrusted one another, as the Convention distrusted them, and they distrusted it; as the army, the people, and the partisans of the revolution were all mutually filled with alarm. No name of this epoch will remain, except Robespierre. Edition: current; Page: [372] Yet he was neither more able nor more eloquent than the rest; but his political fanaticism had a character of calmness and austerity which made him feared by all his colleagues.

I once conversed with him at my father’s house, in 1789, when he was known merely as an advocate of the province of Artois who carried to extremes his democratical principles. His features were mean, his complexion pale, his veins of a greenish hue; he maintained the most absurd propositions with a coolness which had the air of conviction; and I could easily believe that, at the beginning of the Revolution, he had adopted sincerely certain ideas, upon the equality of fortunes as well as of ranks, which he caught in the course of his reading, and with which his envious and mischievous character was delighted to arm itself. But he became ambitious when he had triumphed over his rival in the arts of the demagogue, Danton, the Mirabeau of the mob. The latter had more spirit than Robespierre, and was more accessible to pity; but it was suspected, and with reason, that he was not proof against the seductions of money; a weakness which, in the end, always ruins demagogues; for the people cannot endure those who enrich themselves: it is a kind of austerity that no one could have convinced them to abandon.

Danton was factious, Robespierre was hypocritical: Danton was fond of pleasure, Robespierre only of power;2 he sent to the scaffold some as counter-revolutionists, others as ultrarevolutionists. There was something mysterious in his manner which caused an unknown terror to hover about in the midst of the ostensible terror which the government proclaimed. He never adopted the means of popularity then generally in use; he was not ill dressed; on the contrary, he was the only person who wore powder in his hair; his clothes were neat, and his countenance had nothing familiar. The desire of ruling carried him, without doubt, to distinguish himself from others at the very moment when equality in everything was desired. Traces of a secret design are also perceived in the confusing discourses which he made in the Convention, and which, in some respects, recall to our recollection those of Cromwell. It is rarely, indeed, that anyone Edition: current; Page: [373] who is not a military chief can become dictator. But the civil power had then much more influence than the military: the republican spirit led to a distrust of all the victorious generals; the soldiers themselves delivered up their leaders as soon as the least alarm with respect to their fidelity arose. Political dogmas, if the name can be applied to such wanderings of intellect, reigned at that time, and not men. Something abstract was wanted in authority, that everybody might be thought to have a share in it. Robespierre had acquired the reputation of high democratical virtue, and was believed incapable of personal views: as soon as he was suspected, his power was at an end.

The most indecent irreligion served as a lever for the subversion of the social order. There was a kind of consistency in founding crime upon impiety: it is an homage paid to the intimate union of religious opinions with morality. Robespierre conceived the idea of celebrating a festival in honor of the Supreme Being,3 flattering himself, doubtless, with being able to rest his political ascendancy on a religion arranged according to his own notions; as those have frequently done who have wished to seize the supreme power. But in the procession of this impious festival, he decided to walk at the head of the procession in order to claim preeminence over his colleagues; and from that time he was lost. The spirit of the moment, and the personal resources of the man, were not calculated for this enterprise. Besides, it was known that he was acquainted with no other means of getting rid of competitors than by destroying them through the agency of the revolutionary tribunal, which gave murder an air of legality. The colleagues of Robespierre, not less detestable than himself, Collot d’Herbois, Billaud Varennes, attacked him to secure their own safety: the abhorrence of crime did not inspire them with this resolution; they meant to kill a man, but not to change the government.

It was not so with Tallien, the hero of the 9th of Thermidor, nor with Barras,4 the commander of the armed force on that day, nor with several other conventionalists who then joined them. They meant, in overturning him, to break with the same blow the scepter of terror. Thus this man, Edition: current; Page: [374] who during more than a year had signed an unheard of number of death sentences, was seen bleeding on the very table where he was wont to affix his name to these horrible sentences. His jaw was shattered by a pistol ball; he could not even speak in his own defense: he, who had spoken so much for the proscription of others. Might it not be said that Divine justice does not disdain, in inflicting punishment, to strike the imagination of men by all the circumstances which can act upon it the most powerfully.

Edition: current; Page: [375]

CHAPTER XX: Of the State of Minds at the Moment When the Directorial Republic Was Established in France.

The Reign of Terror ought to be ascribed exclusively to the principles of tyranny; one finds them there completely intact. The popular forms adopted by that government were only a sort of ceremonial, which suited these savage despots; but the members of the Committee of Public Safety professed at the tribune the code of Machiavellianism, that is to say, power founded upon the degradation of men; they only took care to translate the old maxims into new terms. The liberty of the press was much more odious to them than even to the ancient feudal or theocratic states; they allowed no security to the accused, either through the means of the laws or through the means of the judges.1 Arbitrary will, without limits, was their doctrine; it was enough for them to assign as a pretext for every violence the peculiar name of their government, The Public Safety: a fatal expression which implies the sacrifice of morality to what it has been agreed to call the interest of the state, that is, to the passions of those who govern.

From the fall of Robespierre to the establishment of the Republican Government under the form of a Directory, there was an interval of about fifteen months, which may be considered as the true epoch of anarchy in France.2 Nothing is less like the period of terror than this time, though Edition: current; Page: [376] many crimes were still committed. The disastrous inheritance of Robespierre’s laws had not been abandoned; but the liberty of the press began to revive, and truth along with it. The general wish was to establish wise and free institutions, and to get rid of the men who had governed during the reign of blood. Nothing, however, was so difficult as to satisfy this double desire; for the Convention still held the authority in its hands, and many of the friends of liberty feared that a counter-revolution might take place if those were deprived of power whose lives would be compromised by the re-establishment of the old regime. The crimes which have been committed in the name of liberty are, however, a poor security; the return of the men who had been made to suffer would, of course, be dreaded; but people are quite ready to sacrifice their principles to their security, should an opportunity present itself.

It was therefore a great misfortune for France that she was obliged to leave the republic in the hands of the members of the Convention. Some of the members were endowed with superior abilities; but those who had shared in the government of terror had necessarily contracted habits of servility and tyranny together. It was in this school that Bonaparte selected many of the men who afterward established his power; and, as they sought shelter above everything, they never felt fully assured but in despotism.

The majority of the Convention wished to punish some of the most atrocious deputies who had oppressed it; but it drew up the list of the guilty with a trembling hand, always apprehensive lest it should be itself accused of the laws which had served as a justification or pretext for every crime. The royalist party sent agents abroad, and found partisans in the interior, from the very irritation which was excited by the continuance of the Convention’s power.3 Nevertheless, the fear of losing all the advantages of the Revolution attached the people and the soldiers to the existing authority. The army always fought against foreigners with the same energy, and its exploits had already obtained an important peace for France, Edition: current; Page: [377] the treaty of Basel with Prussia.4 The people also, we should add, supported unheard of evils with astonishing perseverance; famine on the one hand, and the depreciation of the paper money on the other, were reducing the lowest class of society to a state of the utmost wretchedness. If the kings of France had made their subjects undergo half these sufferings, they would have revolted on all sides. But the nation believed that they were devoting themselves for their country, and nothing equals the courage inspired by such a conviction.

Sweden having acknowledged the French Republic, M. de Staël resided at Paris as minister. I passed some months there during the year 1795, when the society of Paris was truly a very curious spectacle. Each of us was soliciting the recall of some emigrants, our friends. I obtained at this time permission for several to return; in consequence of which the deputy Legendre, a man almost from the dregs of the people, denounced me at the tribune of the Convention. The influence of women, the ascendant of good company, gilded saloons, appeared very terrible to those who were not admitted themselves, while their colleagues were seduced from them by invitations. Every tenth day (for Sunday existed no more) all the elements of the old and the new regime were seen united in the evening, though not reconciled. The elegant manners of well-educated persons penetrated through the humble costume which they still retained as in the days of terror. The men who had been converted from the Jacobin party entered for the first time into the society of the great world, and their self-love was more apt to take offense upon things which related to the tone of fashion, which they wished to imitate, than upon any other subject. The women of the old regime surrounded them, in order to obtain the return of their brothers, their sons, their husbands; and the insinuating flattery, of which they knew how to avail themselves, struck these rude ears and disposed the most bitter of the factious to what we have since seen—that is to say, to re-create a court, to bring back all its abuses, only taking great care to appropriate them to themselves.

The apologies of those who had shared in the Reign of Terror formed truly the most inconceivable school of sophistry which it was possible to Edition: current; Page: [378] witness. Some said that they had been constrained to whatever they had done, though a thousand actions of spontaneous servility or cruelty might have been cited against them. Others pretended that they had sacrificed themselves to the public good, though it was known that they had thought only on self-preservation: all threw the evil upon some individuals; and, what was a singular circumstance in a country famed for military bravery, several of the political leaders gave fear, and nothing else, as a sufficient excuse for their conduct.

A well-known member of the Convention was telling me one day, among others, that at the moment when the revolutionary tribunal was decreed, he had foreseen all the calamities which resulted from it; “and yet,” added he, “the decree passed the Assembly unanimously.” Now, he himself was present at that meeting, voting for what he regarded as the establishment of judicial assassination: yet it did not once occur to his mind, as he related the fact to me, that resistance from him was a thing which might have been expected. Such complete and naive lack of moral principle leaves a man in doubt almost of the very possibility of virtue.

The Jacobins who had been personally concerned in the crimes of the days of terror, such as Lebon, Carrier,5 &c., were nearly all distinguished by the same kind of physiognomy. They might be seen in the tribune of the Convention reading their speeches, with a pale and nervous figure, going from side to side like a ferocious beast in its cage. When they were seated, they poised themselves, without rising or changing their place, in a sort of stationary agitation, which seemed to indicate merely the impossibility of repose.

In the midst of these depraved elements, there existed a party of republicans, the remnants of the Gironde, who had been persecuted with it, and were now coming forth from the prisons, or from the caverns which had served them as a refuge from death. This party was worthy of esteem Edition: current; Page: [379] in many respects; but it was not cured of its democratical systems, and besides, it had a suspicious spirit which made it see everywhere favorers of the old regime. Louvet,6 one of the Girondists who escaped the proscription, and author of a romance, Faublas, which foreigners often take for a picture of French manners, was a sincere republican. He trusted nobody; he brought into politics the species of faults which constituted the misery of Rousseau’s life;7 and many men of the same opinion resembled him in this respect. But the suspicions of the republicans and Jacobins in France proceeded at first from their being unable to obtain a favorable reception for their extravagant principles; and secondly, from a certain hatred against the nobles, in which some bad emotions were blended. They were right in wishing to have no nobility in France such as it had once existed; but aversion from men of noble birth is a mean sentiment which must be subdued before France can be organized in a stable manner.

In 1795, however, the plan of a republican constitution was proposed, much more reasonable and better combined than the monarchy decreed by the Constituent Assembly in 1791. Boissy d’Anglas,8 Daunou,9 and Lanjuinais,10 names which always meet us whenever a ray of freedom gleams over France, were members of the Committee of the Constitution. They ventured to propose two Chambers, under the names of the Council of Ancients and the Council of Five Hundred; qualifications of property Edition: current; Page: [380] in order to be eligible; two steps of election, which, though not a good institution in itself, was then rendered necessary by circumstances, with a view to raise the sphere of choice; finally, a Directory composed of five persons.11 This executive power had not yet the authority requisite for the maintenance of order; it was destitute of several indispensable prerogatives, the want of which, as we shall see later, brought on destructive convulsions.

The attempt at a republic was not without grandeur; however, that it might succeed, it would perhaps have been necessary to sacrifice Paris to France and to adopt federative forms, which, as we have stated, suit neither the character nor the habits of the nation. In a second point of view, the unity of the republican government appears impossible in a great country, and at variance with the nature of things.12 In other respects, the attempt failed chiefly by reason of the kind of men who exclusively filled all employments; the party to which they had belonged during the period of terror rendered them odious to the nation; thus, too many serpents were thrown into the cradle of Hercules.

The Convention, instructed by the example of the Constituent Assembly, whose work had been overturned because it had abandoned it too quickly to its successors, passed the decrees of the 5th and of the 13th of Fructidor, which kept two-thirds of the existing deputies in their places: it was, however, afterward agreed that one of these thirds should be removed within eighteen months, and the other a year later. This decree produced a terrible sensation in the public opinion, and completely broke the treaty which had been tacitly signed between the Convention and people of principle. Men were willing to pardon the Convention, on condition that it renounced power; but it was natural, on the other hand, that the Edition: current; Page: [381] Convention should wish to retain its authority, to serve at least as a safeguard. In these circumstances, the Parisians were somewhat too violent,13 and were perhaps exasperated by the eager desire of occupying every place, a passion which was then beginning to ferment in men’s minds. It was known, however, that persons of great acknowledged worth were marked out as the future directors; the members of the Convention wished to acquire honor by good selections; and perhaps it would have been wise to have waited for the appointed term, when the remainder of the deputies might have been legally and gradually removed. But some royalists were mingled with the party, who wished only to appropriate to themselves the places of the commonwealth; and, as has constantly happened for twenty-five years, at the moment when the cause of the Revolution seemed in the greatest danger, its defenders had on their side the people and the army, the suburbs and the soldiers. It was then that an alliance was established between the force of the people and the force of the military, which soon rendered the latter mistress of the former. The French warriors, so worthy of admiration for the resistance which they opposed to the coalesced powers, made themselves, so to say, the janissaries of freedom at home. Meddling in the internal affairs of France, they disposed of the civil authority and charged themselves with the task of effecting the different revolutions of which we have been witnesses.

The sections of Paris, on their side, were perhaps not exempt from the spirit of faction; for the cause of their tumult was of no urgent public interest, and they had only to wait eighteen months when no member of the Convention would remain in power. Impatience ruined them; they attacked the army of the Convention on the 13th of Vendemiaire, and the issue was not doubtful. The commander of this army was General Bonaparte: his name appeared for the first time in the annals of the world on the 13th of Vendemiaire (4th of October), 1795.14 He had already aided, but without being named, at the capture of Toulon in 1793, when that city revolted against the Convention. The party which overturned Robespierre Edition: current; Page: [382] had left him without employment after the 9th of Thermidor; and as he had then no resource of private fortune, he asked the committees of the government for leave to go to Constantinople to train the Turks to war. In the same manner Cromwell wished to set out for America at the beginning of the English Revolution. Barras, afterward director, took an interest in Bonaparte and selected him in the committees of the Convention to be its defender. It is pretended that General Bonaparte has said that he would have taken part with the sections, if they had offered him the command of their battalions. I have my doubts of the truth of this anecdote; not that General Bonaparte was, at any period of the Revolution, attached exclusively to any opinion whatsoever; but because he always felt too strongly the instinct of force, to choose to place himself on the side which was then necessarily the weakest.

In Paris, on the day following the 13th of Vendemiaire, people feared that the Reign of Terror might be re-established. In fact, those same members of the Convention who had sought to please when they believed themselves reconciled with people of principle, could rush into every excess when they saw that their endeavors to make their past conduct forgotten were unsuccessful. But the waves of the Revolution were beginning to retire, and the lasting return of Jacobinism was already become impossible. One result, however, of the conflict of the 13th of Vendemiaire was that the Convention made a point of naming five directors who had voted for the death of the King, and as the nation in no respect approved this aristocracy of regicidal crime, it did not identify itself with its magistrates. Another result, not less unfortunate, of the 13th of Vendemiaire was a decree of the 2d of Brumaire15 which excluded from every public employment the relatives of emigrants, and all those who in the sections had voted for liberticidal projects. Such was the expression of the day; for in France, at every revolution a new phrase is framed which serves all the world, that everyone may have sense or sentiment ready made to his hand, if perchance nature should have refused him the one or the other.

The decree of exclusion of the 2d of Brumaire formed a class of proscribed persons in the state, which certainly is not preferable to a privileged Edition: current; Page: [383] class, and is not less inconsistent with equality under the law. The Directory had the power to banish, to imprison, to transport at its pleasure, individuals who were denounced as attached to the Old Regime, nobles, and priests, to whom the benefit of the constitution was refused, and who were placed under the yoke of arbitrary will. An amnesty ordinarily accompanies the installation of every new government; but it was a sweeping proscription which distinguished that of the Directory. To what dangers was this government exposed as well by its want of constitutional prerogatives as by the revolutionary power with which it had been so prodigally invested!

Edition: current; Page: [384]

CHAPTER XXI: Of the Twenty Months During Which the Republic Existed in France, from November 1795 to the 18th of Fructidor (4th of September) 1797.

We must do justice to the Directors, and still more to the power of free institutions, in whatever form they are introduced. The first twenty months which followed the establishment of the republic exhibit a period of administration uncommonly remarkable. Five men, Carnot,1 Reubell,2 Barras, La Réveillère,3 Letourneur,4 chosen in fury and not endowed for the most part with superior talents, arrived at power under the most unfavorable circumstances. They entered the palace of the Luxembourg, which was allotted them, without finding a table to write upon, and the state was not in better order than the palace. The paper money was reduced to almost the thousandth part of its nominal value; there were not in the public treasury a hundred thousand francs in specie; provisions were Edition: current; Page: [385] still so scarce that the dissatisfaction of the people on this point could with difficulty be restrained; the insurrection of La Vendée was still going on; the civil disturbances had given rise to bands of robbers, known by the name of chauffeurs, who committed horrible excesses throughout the country; and lastly, almost all the French armies were disorganized.

In six months the Directory raised France from this deplorable situation. Money replaced the paper currency without any shock; the old landholders lived peacefully by the side of those who had recently acquired national domains; the roads, and the country, were again rendered completely safe; the armies were but too victorious; the freedom of the press re-appeared; the elections followed their legal course, and France might have been said to be free, if the two classes of nobles and priests had enjoyed the same securities as the other citizens. But the sublime perfection of liberty consists in this—that she can do nothing by halves. If you wish to persecute a single man in the state, justice will never be established for all; still more must this be the case when a hundred thousand individuals are shut out from the protecting circle of the law. Revolutionary measures therefore spoiled the constitution from the first establishment of the Directory; the latter half of the existence of this government, which lasted four years in all, was in every respect so wretched that the mischief may easily be ascribed to the institutions themselves. Impartial history, however, will place on two lines widely different the Republic before the 18th of Fructidor and the Republic after that epoch—if indeed the name of Republic can be deserved by factious authorities who overturned one another without ceasing to oppress the mass upon which they were continually falling.

During the first period of the Directory, the two extreme parties, the Jacobins and the Royalists, attacked it in the journals, each in their own mode, without meeting with any opposition from the government, which was not at all shaken by their efforts. The society of Paris was so much the more free that the class of rulers made no part of it. This separation had, and doubtless could not fail to have, in the end, many inconveniences; but, for the very reason that the government was not in fashion, people’s minds were not agitated, as they have since been, by the unbridled desire of obtaining places; and there existed other objects of activity and interest. Edition: current; Page: [386] One circumstance particularly worthy of notice under the Directory is the relation between the civil authority and the army. It has often been said that freedom, as it exists in England, is not possible in a Continental state, on account of the regular troops which must always be dependent on the head of the state. I shall reply elsewhere to these fears with respect to the continuance of liberty, which are always expressed by its enemies, by the very men who are unwilling to permit a single sincere attempt to be made in its favor. But we cannot be too much surprised at the manner in which the armies were managed by the Directory, up to the moment when, from an apprehension of the restoration of the ancient throne, it unfortunately introduced them into the internal revolutions of the state.

The best generals in Europe obeyed five directors, three of whom were only lawyers. The love of their country and of freedom was still powerful enough with the soldiers to make them yield more respect to the law than to their general, if he wished to place himself above it. However, the indefinite prolongation of the war opposed a grand obstacle to the establishment of a free government in France; for on the one hand, the ambition of conquest was beginning to take possession of the army, and on the other, the decrees for recruiting5 which were obtained from the legislature, those decrees by means of which the Continent was afterward enslaved, were already giving fatal wounds to reverence for civil institutions. We cannot but regret that at this period the powers still at war with France, that is to say, Austria and England, did not accede to the peace. Prussia, Venice, Tuscany, Spain, and Sweden had already treated, in 1795, with a government much less regular than that of the Directory; and perhaps the spirit of invasion, which has done so much mischief to the people of the Continent, as well as to the French themselves, would not have been developed if the war had ceased before the conquests of General Bonaparte in Italy. It was still time to direct French activity to political and commercial interests. War had not till then been considered, except as a means of securing the national independence; the army thought itself destined only to maintain the Revolution; the military were not a separate order in the Edition: current; Page: [387] state; finally, there was still in France some disinterested enthusiasm, on which the public welfare might have been founded.

From 1793 to the beginning of 1795, England and her allies would have dishonored themselves in treating with France: what would have been said of the august ambassadors of a free nation, returning to London after having received the embrace of Marat or Robespierre? But when once the intention of establishing a regular government was manifested, no means should have been neglected to interrupt the warlike education of the French.

England, in 1797, eighteen months after the installation of the Directory, sent negotiators to Lille; but the successes of the army of Italy had inspired the chiefs of the Republic with arrogance: the Directors were already old in power, and thought themselves firmly seated in it. All governments at their commencement wish for peace: men should know how to profit by this circumstance with ability; in politics as in war, there are critical moments which we should hasten to seize. But opinion in England was heated by Burke, who, by foretelling too truly the miseries of the Revolution, had acquired a great ascendant over his countrymen. At the time of the negotiation of Lille, he wrote some letters on a regicide peace which revived the public indignation against France.6 Mr. Pitt, however, had himself bestowed some praises on the constitution of 1795; and besides, if the political system adopted by France, whatever it might be, no longer endangered the security of other countries, what more could be required?

The passions of the emigrants, to which the English ministers always lent themselves too much, often led them into mistakes in their judgments upon the affairs of France. They thought to effect a powerful diversion by transporting the royalists to Quiberon:7 they occasioned only a scene of blood, the horror of which could not be lessened by the most courageous Edition: current; Page: [388] efforts of the English squadron. The unfortunate French gentlemen, who had vainly flattered themselves with finding in Brittany a great party ready to take up arms in their cause, were abandoned in an instant. General Lemoine, the commander of the French army, has related to me with admiration the reiterated attempts of the English seamen to approach the shore and receive in their boats the emigrants enclosed on every side and endeavoring by swimming to regain the hospitable ships of England. But the English ministers, and Mr. Pitt at their head, in constantly endeavoring to promote the triumph of the pure royalists in France, paid no regard to the opinion of the country; and from this mistake arose the obstacles which they so long met with in their political combinations. The English administration, more than any other government in Europe, should have understood the history of the Revolution in France, so similar to that of England; but it would appear as if the very resemblance had been a reason for their wishing to show themselves so much the more hostile to it.

Edition: current; Page: [389]

CHAPTER XXII: Two Singular Predictions Drawn from the History of the Revolution, by M. Necker.

M. Necker never published a political book without braving some danger, either to his fortune or to himself. The circumstances in which he published his history of the Revolution1 might have exposed him to such a variety of fatal accidents that I made many efforts to restrain him from that proceeding. He was put upon the list of emigrants, that is to say, subjected to the penalty of death, according to the French laws; and it was already rumored on every side that the Directory intended to invade Switzerland. Nevertheless, he published, about the end of 1796, a work on the Revolution in four volumes, in which he advanced the boldest truths. No other precaution was taken in it than that of placing himself at the distance of posterity, in order to decide upon men and things. To this history full of warmth, of sarcasm, and of reasoning, he joined an analysis of the principal free constitutions of Europe; and in reading this book, where every question is sifted to the bottom, we should be discouraged from writing if we did not console ourselves with the reflection that eighteen additional years, and an individual mode of thinking, may still add some ideas to the same system.

Two very extraordinary predictions ought to be distinguished in that work; the one announces the struggle of the Directory with the Representative Body, which occurred some time afterward and was occasioned, as M. Necker had foretold, by the want of the constitutional prerogatives which were withheld from the executive power.

Edition: current; Page: [390]

“The essential arrangement in the republican constitution given to France in 1795,” said he,

the arrangement of prime importance, and which may bring order or freedom into danger, is the complete and absolute separation of the two principal authorities; the one, that which enacts the laws, the other, that which directs and superintends their execution. Every kind of power has been united and confounded in the monstrous organization of the National Convention; and now by another extreme, less dangerous without doubt, not one of the connections between the two authorities, which the welfare of the state requires, has been preserved. Once again they have resorted to written maxims; and upon the faith of a small number of political theorists, a belief has been adopted that it is impossible to establish too strong a barrier between the legislative power and the executive. Let us first recollect that the lessons drawn from example give us a very different result. We know no republic in which the two powers, of which I have just spoken, were not to a certain extent blended together; and ancient times, as well as modern, present us with the same picture. Sometimes a senate, the depository of the executive authority, proposes the laws to a more numerous council, or to the mass of the citizens at large; and sometimes, likewise, this senate, exercising in an inverse direction its right of participation in the legislative power, suspends or reverses the decrees of the many. Upon the same principles is founded the free government of England, where the monarch concurs in the laws which are enacted, both by his own assent and by the presence of his ministers in the two houses of Parliament. Last of all, America has given a modified right of rejection to the President of the Congress, to that head of the state whom she has invested with executive authority; and she has at the same time admitted one of the two divisions of the legislative body to a share of this prerogative.

The republican constitution of France is the first model of a total separation between the two supreme powers, or rather the first attempt at such a separation.

The executive authority will always act alone, and without any habitual inspection on the part of the legislative authority; and in return no assent of the executive authority will be requisite to the complete enactment of laws. Finally, the two powers will have no political tie except hortatory addresses, nor any channel of communication except envoys ordinary and extraordinary.

Edition: current; Page: [391]

Must not so new an organization bring inconveniences along with it? Must it not, at some future day, expose the kingdom to great danger? Let us suppose that the choice of five directors should fall, in whole or in part, upon men of a feeble or wavering character; what consideration will they be able to preserve when they appear quite separate from the legislative body, and mere obedient machines?

But if, on the contrary, the five who are chosen directors should be men of vigor, bold, enterprising, and completely united with one another, the moment might arrive when we should perhaps regret the isolation of these executive chiefs, when we should wish that the constitution had put them under the necessity of acting in presence of, or in concert with, a branch of the legislative body. The moment might perhaps arrive when we should repent of having left by the constitution itself an open field to the first suggestions of their ambition, to the first attempts of their despotism.

These bold and enterprising Directors were found; and as they were not allowed to dissolve the legislative body, they employed grenadiers,2 instead of the legal right which the constitution should have given them. Nothing as yet presaged this crisis when M. Necker foretold it; but what is more astonishing is that he foresaw the military tyranny which was to result from the very crisis which he announced in 1796.

In another part of his work, M. Necker renders political philosophy popular by constantly mingling eloquence with reasoning. He feigns a speech of St. Louis, addressed to the French nation and truly admirable; it should be read entire, for there is a charm and a sentiment in every word. The principal object, however, of this fiction is to represent a prince, who in his illustrious life showed himself capable of a heroic devotion, declaring to the nation which had long been subjected to his ancestors that he wishes not to interfere by civil war with the efforts which they are now Edition: current; Page: [392] making to obtain liberty, even though that liberty should be republican, but that at the moment when circumstances would deceive their hopes and deliver them to despotism, he would come to aid his ancient subjects in freeing themselves from the oppression of a tyrant.

What a piercing view into futurity, and into the connection of causes and effects, must he have had, who, twenty years ago, under the Directory, formed such a conjecture!

Edition: current; Page: [393]

CHAPTER XXIII: Of the Army of Italy.

The two great armies of the republic, those of the Rhine and of Italy, were almost constantly victorious, until the treaty of Campo Formio,1 which for a short time suspended the long Continental war. The army of the Rhine, of which Moreau was General, had preserved all the republican simplicity; the army of Italy, commanded by General Bonaparte, dazzled by its conquests but was every day deviating further from the patriotic spirit which till then had animated the French armies. Personal interest was taking the place of a patriotic spirit, and attachment to one man was prevailing over a devotion to liberty. The generals of the army of Italy, likewise, sought ere long to enrich themselves, thus proportionally diminishing that enthusiasm for austere principles without which a free state cannot exist.

General Bernadotte,2 of whom I shall have occasion to speak later, came with a division of the army of the Rhine to join the army of Italy. There was a sort of contrast between the noble poverty of the one and the irregular riches of the other: they resembled only in bravery. The army of Italy was the army of Bonaparte, that of the Rhine3 was the army of the Edition: current; Page: [394] French republic. Yet nothing was so brilliant as the rapid conquest of Italy. Doubtless, the desire which the enlightened Italians have always felt to unite themselves into one state, and thus to possess so much national strength as to have nothing either to fear or to hope from strangers, contributed much to favor the progress of General Bonaparte. It was with the cry of Italy forever that he passed the bridge of Lodi; and it was to the hope of independence that he owed his reception among the Italians. But the victories which subjected to France countries beyond her natural limits, far from favoring liberty, exposed it to the danger of military government.

Bonaparte was already much talked of in Paris; the superiority of his capacity in business, joined to the splendor of his talents as a General, gave to his name an importance which no individual had ever acquired from the commencement of the Revolution. But although in his proclamations he spoke incessantly of the republic, attentive men perceived that it was in his eyes a mean, and not an end. It was in this same light that he viewed all things and all men. A rumor prevailed that he meant to make himself King of Lombardy. One day I met General Augereau,4 who had just returned from Italy, and who was cited, I believe then with reason, as a zealous republican. I asked him whether it was true that General Bonaparte was thinking of becoming a king. “No, assuredly,” replied he; “he is a young man of too good principles for that.” This singular answer was in exact conformity with the ideas of the moment. The sincere republicans would have regarded it as a degradation for a man, however distinguished he might be, to wish to turn the Revolution to his personal advantage. Why had not this sentiment more force and longer duration among Frenchmen!

Bonaparte was stopped in his march to Rome by signing the peace of Tolentino;5 and it was then that he obtained the surrender6 of the superb monuments of the arts which we have long seen collected in the Museum of Paris. The true abode of these masterpieces was, without doubt, Italy, Edition: current; Page: [395] and the imagination regretted their loss; but of all her illustrious prisoners it was upon these that France justly set the highest value.

General Bonaparte wrote to the Directory that he had made the surrender of these monuments one of the conditions of the peace with the Pope. I have particularly insisted, said he, on the busts of Junius and Marcus Brutus, which I wish to send to Paris before the rest. Bonaparte, who afterward removed these busts from the hall of the legislative body, might have spared them the trouble of the journey.

Edition: current; Page: [396]

CHAPTER XXIV: Of the Introduction of Military Government into France by the Occurrences of the 18th of Fructidor.

No epoch of the Revolution was more disastrous than that which substituted military rule for the well-founded hope of a representative government. I am, however, anticipating events; for the sway of a military chief was not as yet proclaimed when the Directory sent grenadiers to the two Chambers: but this tyrannical proceeding, of which the soldiers were the instruments, prepared the way for the revolution that was effected two years afterward by Bonaparte himself, when it appeared not at all strange that a military chief should have recourse to a measure in which magistrates had indulged themselves.

The Directors, however, entertained no apprehensions of the inevitable consequences of the resolution which they adopted. Their situation was dangerous; they had, as I have endeavored to show, too much arbitrary power and too little legal power. They had been invested with all the means of persecution which excite hatred, but with none of the constitutional rights which would have enabled them to defend themselves. At the moment when the second third of the Chambers was renewed by the election of 1797, the public mind became a second time impatient to remove the members of the Conventions1 from the administration; but a second time also, instead of waiting a year, during which the majority of the Directory would have been changed and the last third of the Chambers renewed, the French vivacity urged the enemies of the government to endeavor to overturn it without delay. The opposition to the Directory Edition: current; Page: [397] was not at first formed by pure royalists; but they gradually mingled themselves with it. Besides, in civil discord, men always end by adopting the opinions of which they are accused; and the party which attacked the Directory was thus powerfully impelled to a counter-revolution.

In every quarter a spirit of intolerable reaction appeared: at Lyons, at Marseilles, assassinations took place: the victims, it is true, were men covered with guilt; still it was assassination. The journals, in their daily proclamations of vengeance, armed themselves with calumny and announced openly a counter-revolution. In the interior, as abroad, there were two projects; one party was resolved to bring back the old regime, and General Pichegru2 was one of their principal instruments.

The Directory, as preserver of its own political existence, had strong reasons for putting itself in a state of defense; but how could it? The defects in the constitution which M. Necker had so well pointed out rendered it very difficult for the government to make a legal resistance to the attacks of the councils. The Council of Ancients was inclined to defend the Directors, only because it occupied, though very imperfectly, the place of a chamber of peers; but as the deputies of this council were not named for life, they were afraid of rendering themselves unpopular by supporting magistrates whom the public opinion rejected. If the government had possessed the right of dissolving the Five Hundred, the mere threat of exerting this prerogative would have restrained them within bounds. In short, if the executive power had been able to oppose even a suspending veto to the decrees of the councils, it would have been satisfied with the means with which the law had armed it for its protection. But these very magistrates, whose authority was so limited, had great power as a revolutionary faction; and they were not scrupulous enough to confine themselves to the rules of constitutional warfare when, to get rid of their opponents, they needed only to have recourse to force. The personal interest of some individuals was seen on this occasion, as it always will be, to overturn the Edition: current; Page: [398] barriers of the law, if these barriers are not constructed in such a way as to maintain themselves.3

Two directors, Barthélemy and Carnot, were on the side of the representative councils. Carnot certainly was not suspected of desiring the restoration of the old regime, but he was unwilling (and the reluctance does him honor) to adopt illegal means in order to repel the attack of the legislative power. The majority of the Directory, Reubell, Barras, and La Réveillère, hesitated some time between two auxiliaries who were equally at their disposal—the Jacobins and the army. They justly feared the former; the terrorists were still a dangerous weapon, which might overthrow him who should venture to make use of it. The Directors believed, therefore, that it was better to obtain addresses from the armies, and to request General Bonaparte, who of all the commanders in chief declared himself then most strongly against the councils, to send one of his generals of brigade to Paris to await the orders of the Directory. Bonaparte chose General Augereau, a man very decided in action and not very capable of reasoning—two qualities which rendered him an excellent instrument of despotism, provided this despotism assumed the name of revolution.

By a singular contrast, the royalists in the two councils appealed to republican principles, to the liberty of the press, to the liberty of suffrages, to every liberty, in short, and particularly to the liberty of subverting the Directory. The popular party, on the contrary, grounded itself always on circumstances and defended the revolutionary measures which served as a momentary security to the government. The republicans found themselves constrained to disavow their own principles because they were turned against themselves; and the royalists borrowed the weapons of the republicans to attack the republic. This strange combination of arms exchanged in the combat has been exhibited in other circumstances. Every minority invokes justice, and justice is liberty. A party can be judged of only by the doctrine which it professes when it is the strongest.

Edition: current; Page: [399]

Nevertheless, when the Directory took the fatal resolution of sending the grenadiers to seize the legislators in their seats, it had no longer need of the mischief which it resolved to do. The change of ministry, and the addresses of the armies, were sufficient to restrain the royalists; and the Directory ruined itself by pushing its triumph too far. For it was so contrary to the spirit of a republic to employ the soldiery against the representatives of the people that the state could not fail to be destroyed in the very attempt to save it by such means. On the evening of the fatal day everyone knew that a great blow was on the point of being struck; for in France men conspire in the public streets, or rather they do not conspire, but excite one another, so that he who can listen to what is said will know beforehand what is about to be done.

On the night before the entrance of General Augereau into the councils, the alarm was such that the greater number of persons of note left their houses from the fear of being arrested in them. One of my friends found an asylum for me in a small chamber which looked upon the bridge of Louis XVI. I there spent the night in beholding the preparations for the awful scene which was to take place in a few hours; none but soldiers appeared in the streets; all the citizens remained in their homes. The cannons, which were brought to surround the palace where the legislative body assembled, were rolling along the pavements; but, except their noise, all was silence. No hostile assemblage was seen anywhere, nor was it known against whom all this apparatus was directed. Liberty was the only power vanquished in that fatal struggle; it might have been said that she was seen to fly, like a wandering spirit, at the approach of the day which was to shine upon her destruction.

In the morning it was known that General Augereau had conducted his battalions into the Council of the Five Hundred, that he had arrested several of the deputies who were found there assembled in a committee, and that General Pichegru was president at the time. Astonishment was excited by the little respect which the soldiers showed for a general who had so often led them to victory; but he had been successfully characterized as a counterrevolutionary, a name which, when the public opinion is free, exercises in France a kind of magical power. Besides, Pichegru had no means of producing an effect on the imagination; he was a man of good Edition: current; Page: [400] manners, but without striking expression either in his features or in his words; the recollection of his victories did not hover around him, for there was nothing in his appearance that announced them. It has often been said that he was guided in war by the counsels of another: I know not what truth there may have been in this, but it is at least credible; for his look and conversation were so dull that they suggested no idea of his being fit for becoming the leader of any enterprise. Nevertheless, his courage and political perseverance, as well as his misfortunes, have since awakened a deserved interest in his fate.

Some members of the Council of the Ancients, with the intrepid and generous old man Dupont de Nemours and the respectable Barbé-Marbois4 at their head, went on foot to the meeting hall and, after having ascertained that the door was shut, they returned in the same way, passing between aligned soldiers; while the people, who were looking on, seemed scarcely to be aware that it was the cause of their representatives, oppressed by an armed force, which was at stake. The fear of a counter-revolution had unfortunately disorganized the public mind: no one knew where to find the cause of liberty between those who disgraced her and those who were accused of hating her. The most honorable men, Barbé-Marbois, Tronçon-Ducoudray,5 Camille Jordan,6 etc., were condemned Edition: current; Page: [401] to deportation beyond the sea.7 Atrocious measures followed this first violation of all justice. The public debt was diminished by two-thirds,8 and this operation was distinguished by the phrase la mobiliser, so dexterous are the French at inventing terms with a gentle sound for the harshest proceedings. The priests and the nobles were again proscribed with unrelenting barbarity. The liberty of the press was abolished as irreconcilable with the exercise of arbitrary power.9 The invasion of Switzerland,10 the mad project of a descent upon England, removed every hope of peace with Europe. The revolutionary spirit was conjured up, but it reappeared without the enthusiasm which once animated it; and, as the civil authority did not rest upon justice, upon magnanimity, in short, upon any of the great qualities which ought to characterize it, the ardor of patriotism turned itself toward military glory, which then at least satisfied the imagination.

Edition: current; Page: [402]

CHAPTER XXV: Private Anecdotes.

It is painful to speak of oneself, at a time especially when the most important narratives alone demand the attention of readers. Yet I cannot abstain from refuting an accusation which is injurious to me. The journals whose office it was in 1797 to insult all the friends of liberty have pretended that, from a predilection for a republic, I approved of the affair of the 18th of Fructidor. I certainly would not have counseled, had I been called upon to give advice, the establishment of a republic in France; but when it once existed, I was not of the opinion that it ought to be overturned.1 Republican government, considered abstractedly and without reference to a great state, merits the respect which it has ever inspired; the Revolution of the 18th of Fructidor, on the contrary, must always excite horror, both by the tyrannical principles from which it proceeded and by the frightful results which were its necessary consequence. Among the individuals of whom the Directory was composed, I knew only Barras; and, far from having the slightest influence with the others, though they could not be ignorant of my fond love of liberty, they were so dissatisfied with my attachment to the proscribed that they gave orders upon the frontiers of Switzerland, at Versoix near Coppet, to arrest me and conduct me to prison at Paris; on account, said they, of my efforts to obtain the restoration of the emigrants. Barras defended me with warmth and generosity; and it was he who some time afterward obtained permission for me to return to France. The gratitude which I owed him kept up the relations of society between us.

Edition: current; Page: [403]

M. de Talleyrand2 had returned from America a year before the 18th of Fructidor. The honest people wanted, in general, peace with Europe, which was at that time disposed to negotiate; and it was thought that M. de Talleyrand could not but be, what he has been always since found, a very able negotiator. The friends of liberty wished that the Directory should strengthen itself by constitutional measures, and that with this view they should choose ministers capable of supporting the government. M. de Talleyrand seemed then the best possible choice for the department of foreign affairs, and he much wished to accept it. I served him effectually in this respect by procuring for him an introduction to Barras, through one of my friends, and by strongly recommending him. M. de Talleyrand needed help to arrive at power; but, once there, he required not the assistance of others to maintain him in it. His appointment is the only role I had in the crisis which preceded the 18th of Fructidor, and by doing that I thought I could prevent that crisis; for there was reason to hope that M. de Talleyrand might effect a reconciliation between the two parties. Since that time I have not had the slightest connection with the various aspects of his political career.

After the 18th of Fructidor the proscription extended itself on every side; and the nation, which under the Reign of Terror had already lost the most respectable men, saw itself every day deprived of some of those who remained. Dupont de Nemours, the most chivalrous champion of liberty in France, but who could not recognize it in the dispersion of the representatives of the people by an armed force, was on the point of being proscribed. I was informed of his danger, and I immediately sent in quest of Chenier the poet,3 who, two years before, had, at my desire, made the speech to which M. de Talleyrand was indebted for his recall. Chenier, in Edition: current; Page: [404] spite of all that may be said against his life, was susceptible of emotion; for he had talent, and dramatic talent. He was moved by the picture of the situation of Dupont de Nemours and his family, and ran to the tribune, where he succeeded in saving him by making him pass for a man of eighty years of age, though he was scarcely sixty. This artifice was not agreeable to the pleasing Dupont de Nemours, who, so far as the mind was concerned, had always strong claims to youth.

Chenier was a man at once violent and timid; full of prejudices, though an enthusiastic admirer of philosophy; inaccessible to reasoning when it combated his passions, which he reverenced as his household gods. He walked up and down the chamber with great strides; answered without having listened; grew pale and trembled with passion when a word disagreeable to him struck his ear by itself, for want of patience to hear the remainder of the phrase. He was nevertheless a man of talent and imagination; but so much under the influence of self-love that he was astonished at what he was, instead of laboring to attain a higher perfection.

Every day increased the alarm of the good. An observation of a general, who accused me publicly of pity for the conspirators, induced me to quit Paris and withdraw to the country; for, in political conjunctures, pity is called treason. I went therefore to the house of a friend, where, by a singular chance, I met one of the most illustrious and bravest royalists of La Vendée, the Prince de la Trémouille,4 who, though a price was set upon his head, had come with the hope of turning circumstances to the advantage of his cause. I wanted to give him asylum, which he needed more than I did. He refused my offer and proposed to leave France, since all hope of a counter-revolution was lost. We were justly surprised that the same blast should have reached us both, since our preceding situations had been very different.

I returned to Paris: every day made us tremble for some new victims who were involved in the general persecution that was carried on against emigrants and priests. The Marquis d’Ambert, who had been Bernadotte’s Edition: current; Page: [405] colonel previous to the Revolution, was taken and brought before a military commission—a terrible tribunal, the existence of which, outside of the army, is sufficient to prove the tyranny of the government. General Bernadotte sought the Directors and asked of them, as the sole reward of all his services, the pardon of his colonel; they were inflexible; they gave the name of justice to an equal distribution of misery.

Two days after the punishment of M. d’Ambert, the brother of M. de Norvins de Monbreton,5 whom I had known in Switzerland during his emigration, entered my chamber at ten o’clock in the morning. He told me, with great agitation, that his brother was arrested and that the military commission was assembled to sentence him to death; he asked me whether I could find any means of saving him. How could I flatter myself with the hope of obtaining a favor from the Directory when the prayers of General Bernadotte had been fruitless; and yet, how could I resolve to make no attempt in behalf of a man with whom I was acquainted, and who in two hours would be shot if nobody came to his assistance? I suddenly recollected that I had seen, at the house of Barras, a General Lemoine, the same whom I have mentioned on the occasion of the Quiberon expedition, and that he had appeared to take pleasure in conversing with me. This General commanded the division of Paris and had a right to suspend the judgments of the military commission established in that city. I thanked Heaven for the idea, and instantly set out with the brother of the unfortunate Norvins: we entered together the chamber of the General, who was very much surprised to see me. He began by making apologies to me for his morning toilette and his apartment; in short, I was unable to prevent him from continually returning to the language of politeness, although I implored him not to waste an instant on it, for that instant might be irrecoverable. I hastened to tell him the reason of my visit; and, at first, he abruptly refused me. My heart throbbed at the sight of that brother who might think that I was not employing the words best fitted to obtain what I asked. I began my solicitations afresh, collecting myself, that I might assemble Edition: current; Page: [406] all my strength; I was afraid of saying too much or too little; of losing the fatal hour, after which all would be over; or of neglecting an argument which might be successful. I looked by turns at the clock and at the General, to see which of the two powers, his soul or time, approached the term most quickly. Twice the General took the pen to sign the reprieve, and twice the fear of committing himself restrained him; at last he was unable to refuse us, and may Heaven shower blessings on him for his compliance. He delivered the redeeming paper, and M. de Monbreton ran to the tribunal, where he learned that his brother had already acknowledged everything; but the reprieve broke up the meeting, and innocence survived.

It is the duty of us women at all times to aid individuals accused of political opinions of any kind whatsoever; for what are opinions in times of faction? Can we be certain that such and such events, such and such a situation, would not have changed our own views? And, if we except a few invariable sentiments, who knows how difference of situation might have acted on us?

Edition: current; Page: [407]

CHAPTER XXVI: Treaty of Campo Formio in 1797. Arrival of General Bonaparte at Paris.

The Directory was disinclined to peace, not that it wished to extend the French dominions beyond the Rhine and the Alps, but because it thought the war useful for the propagation of the republican system. Its plan was to surround France with a belt of republics, like those of Holland, Switzerland, Piedmont,1 Lombardy, and Genoa. Everywhere it established a directory, two councils, a constitution; in short, similar in every respect to that of France.2 It is one of the great failings of the French, and a consequence of their social habits, that they imitate one another and wish to be imitated by everybody. They take natural varieties in each man’s, or even each nation’s, mode of thinking for a spirit of hostility against themselves.

General Bonaparte was assuredly less serious and less sincere than the Directory in the love of republicanism; but he had much more sagacity in appreciating circumstances. He foresaw that peace would be popular in France, because the passions were subsiding into tranquillity and the people were becoming weary of sacrifices; he therefore signed the treaty of Campo Formio with Austria. But this treaty contained the surrender of the Venetian Republic; and it is not easy to conceive how he succeeded in prevailing upon the Directory, which yet was in some respects republican, to commit the greatest possible blow according to its own principles. From the date of this proceeding, not less arbitrary than the partition of Poland, there no longer existed in the government of France the slightest Edition: current; Page: [408] respect for any political doctrine, and the reign of one man began when the dominion of principle ended.

Bonaparte made himself remarkable by his character and capacity as much as by his victories, and the imagination of the French was beginning to attach itself warmly to him. His proclamations to the Cisalpine and Ligurian Republics were quoted. In the one this phrase was remarked: You were divided, and bent down by tyranny; you were not in a situation to conquer liberty. In the other, True conquests, the only conquests which cost no regret, are those which we make from ignorance. In his style there reigned a spirit of moderation and dignity, which formed a contrast with the revolutionary bitterness of the civil leaders of France. The warrior then spoke like a magistrate, while magistrates expressed themselves with military violence. In his army, General Bonaparte did not enforce the laws against emigrants. He was said to be much attached to his wife, whose character was full of gentleness; it was asserted that he was feelingly alive to the beauties of Ossian; people took delight in ascribing to him all the generous qualities which place his extraordinary talents in a beautiful light. Besides, the nation was so weary of oppressors who borrowed the name of liberty, and of oppressed persons who regretted the loss of arbitrary power, that admiration did not know what to attach itself to, and Bonaparte seemed to unite all that could seduce it.

It was with this sentiment, at least, that I saw him for the first time at Paris.3 I could not find words to reply to him when he came to me to say that he had sought my father at Coppet,4 and that he regretted having passed into Switzerland without seeing him. But, when I was a little recovered from the confusion of admiration, a strongly marked sentiment of fear succeeded. Bonaparte, at that time, had no power; he was even Edition: current; Page: [409] believed to be not a little threatened by the defiant suspicions of the Directory; so that the fear which he inspired was caused only by the singular effect of his person upon nearly all who approached him. I had seen men highly worthy of esteem; I had likewise seen monsters of ferocity: there was nothing in the effect which Bonaparte produced on me that could bring back to my recollection either the one or the other. I soon perceived, in the different opportunities which I had of meeting him during his stay at Paris, that his character could not be defined by the words which we commonly use; he was neither good, nor violent, nor gentle, nor cruel, after the manner of individuals of whom we have any knowledge. Such a being had no fellow, and therefore could neither feel nor excite sympathy: he was more or less than man. His cast of character, his spirit, his language, were stamped with the imprint of an unknown nature—an additional advantage, as we have elsewhere observed, for the subjugation of Frenchmen.

Far from recovering my confidence by seeing Bonaparte more frequently, he constantly intimidated me more and more. I had a confused feeling that no emotion of the heart could act upon him. He regards a human being as an action or a thing, not as a fellow-creature. He does not hate more than he loves; for him nothing exists but himself; all other creatures are ciphers. The force of his will consists in the impossibility of disturbing the calculations of his egoism; he is an able chess-player, and the human race is the opponent to whom he proposes to give checkmate. His successes depend as much on the qualities in which he is deficient as on the talents which he possesses. Neither pity, nor allurement, nor religion, nor attachment to any idea whatsoever could turn him aside from his principal direction. He is for his self-interest what the just man should be for virtue; if the end were good, his perseverance would be noble.

Every time that I heard him speak, I was struck with his superiority; yet it had no similitude to that of men instructed and cultivated by study or society, such as those of whom France and England can furnish examples. But his discourse indicated a fine perception of circumstances, such as the hunter has of his prey. Sometimes he related the political and military events of his life in a very interesting manner; he had even somewhat of Italian imagination in narratives which allowed of gaiety. Yet nothing could triumph over my invincible aversion for what I perceived Edition: current; Page: [410] in him. I felt in his soul a cold sharp-edged sword, which froze the wound that it inflicted; I perceived in his mind a profound irony, from which nothing great or beautiful, not even his own glory, could escape; for he despised the nation whose votes he wished, and no spark of enthusiasm was mingled with his desire of astonishing the human race.

It was in the interval between the return of Bonaparte and his departure for Egypt, that is to say, toward the end of 1797, that I saw him several times at Paris; and never could I dissipate the difficulty of breathing which I experienced in his presence. I was one day at table between him and the Abbé Sieyès—a singular situation, if I had been able to foresee what afterward happened. I examined the figure of Bonaparte with attention; but whenever he discovered that my looks were fixed upon him, he had the art of taking away all expression from his eyes, as if they had been turned into marble. His countenance was then immovable, except a vague smile which his lips assumed at random, to mislead anyone who might wish to observe the external signs of what was passing within.

The Abbé Sieyès conversed during dinner unaffectedly and fluently, as suited a mind of his strength. He expressed himself concerning my father with a sincere esteem. He is the only man, said he, who has ever united the most perfect precision in the calculations of a great financier to the imagination of a poet. This eulogium pleased me, because it characterized him. Bonaparte, who heard it, also said some obliging things concerning my father and me, but like a man who takes no interest in individuals whom he cannot make use of in the accomplishment of his own ends.

His figure, at that time thin and pale, was rather agreeable; he has since grown fat, which does not become him; for we can scarcely tolerate a character which inflicts so many sufferings on others if we do not believe it to be a torment to the person himself. As his stature is short, and his waist very long, he appeared to much more advantage on horseback than on foot. In every respect it is war, and only war, which suits him. His manners in society are constrained, without timidity; he has an air of vulgarity when he is at his ease, and of disdain when he is not: disdain suits him best, and accordingly he indulges in it without scruple.

By a natural vocation to the princely situation, he already addressed trifling questions to all who were presented to him. Are you married? was Edition: current; Page: [411] his question to one of the guests. How many children do you have? said he to another. How long is it since you arrived? When do you set out? And other interrogations of a similar kind, which establish the superiority of him who puts them over those who submit to be thus questioned. He already took delight in the art of embarrassing by saying disagreeable things—an art which he has since reduced into a system, as he has every other mode of subjugating men by degrading them. At this epoch, however, he had a desire to please, for he confined to his own thoughts the project of overturning the Directory and substituting himself in its stead; but in spite of this desire, one would have said that, unlike the prophet, he cursed involuntarily, though he intended to bless.

I saw him one day approach a French lady distinguished for her beauty, her wit, and the ardor of her opinions. He placed himself straight before her, like the stiffest of the German generals, and said to her, “Madam, I don’t like women to meddle with politics.” “You are right, General,” replied she; “but in a country where they lose their heads, it is natural for them to desire to know the reason.” Bonaparte made no answer. He is a man who is calmed by an effective resistance; those who have borne his despotism deserve to be accused as much as he himself.

The Directory gave General Bonaparte a solemn reception,5 which in several respects should be considered as one of the most important epochs in the history of the Revolution. The court of the palace of the Luxembourg was chosen for this ceremony. No hall would have been large enough to contain the multitude which it attracted: all the windows, and all the roofs, were crowded with spectators. The five Directors, in Roman costume, were seated on a platform at the further end of the court, and near them the deputies of the two councils, the tribunals, and the institute. Had this spectacle occurred before the subjugation of the national representation to military power on the 18th of Fructidor, it would have exhibited an air of grandeur: patriotic tunes were played by an excellent band; banners served as a canopy to the Directors, and these banners brought back the recollection of great victories.

Bonaparte arrived, dressed very simply, followed by his aides-de-camp, Edition: current; Page: [412] all taller than himself, but nearly bent by the respect which they displayed to him. In the presence of the entire French elite, the victorious General was covered with applauses: he was the hope of everyone: republicans, royalists, all saw the present or the future in the support of his powerful hand. Alas! Of the young men who then cried Long live Bonaparte, how many has his insatiable ambition left alive?

M. de Talleyrand, in presenting Bonaparte to the Directory, called him the liberator of Italy and the pacificator of the Continent. He assured them that General Bonaparte detested luxury and splendor, the miserable ambition of vulgar souls, and that he loved the poems of Ossian, particularly because they detach us from the earth. The earth would have required nothing better, I think, than to let him detach himself from its concerns. Bonaparte himself then spoke with a sort of affected negligence, as if he had wished to intimate that he bore little love to the government under which he was called to serve.

He said that for twenty centuries royalty and feudality had governed the world, and that the peace which he had just concluded was the era of republican government. When the happiness of the French, said he, shall be established upon better organical laws, all Europe will be free. I know not whether by the organical laws of freedom he meant the establishment of his absolute power. However that might be, Barras, at that time his friend and president of the Directory, made a reply which supposed him to be sincere in all that he had just said, and concluded by charging him specially with the conquest of England, a mission rather difficult.6

On every side the hymn was sung which Chenier had composed to celebrate this day. The last stanza of it anticipates the long period of tranquil renown to which France might now look forward. It is as follows:

  • Contemplez nos lauriers civiques!
  • L’Italie a produit ces fertiles moissons;
  • Ceux-là croissent pour nous au milieu des glaçons;
  • Edition: current; Page: [413]
  • Voici ceux de Fleurus, ceux des plaines belgiques.
  • Tous les fleuves surpris nous ont vus triomphans;
  • Tous les jours nous furent prospères.
  • Que le front blanchi de nos pères
  • Soit couvert de lauriers cueillis par leurs enfans.
  • Tu fus long-temps l’effroi, sois l’honneur de la terre,
  • O république des François!
  • Que le chant des plaisirs succède aux cris de guerre,
  • La victoire a conquis la paix.7

Alas! What is become of those days of glory and peace with which France flattered herself twenty years ago! All these blessings were in the hand of a single man: what has he done with them?

Edition: current; Page: [414]

CHAPTER XXVII: Preparations of General Bonaparte for Proceeding to Egypt. His Opinion on the Invasion of Switzerland.

Bonaparte, at this same epoch, the close of 1797, sounded the public opinion with respect to the Directors; he saw that they were not loved, but that a republican sentiment made it impossible for a general to put himself in the place of the civil magistrates. He was one evening conversing with Barras upon his ascendancy over the Italians, who had wished to make him King of Italy and Duke of Milan. But, said he, I do not think of anything of the sort in any country. You do well, replied Barras, not to think of it in France; for if the Directory were to send you to the Temple tomorrow, there would not be four persons who would oppose it. Bonaparte was sitting on a couch by the side of Barras; at these words, unable to restrain his irritation, he sprang toward the fireplace: then, resuming that species of apparent tranquillity of which the most passionate among the inhabitants of the South are capable, he declared that he wished to be entrusted with a military expedition. The Directory proposed to him the invasion of England; he went to survey the coasts, and, as he soon perceived the extravagance of that project, he returned with the resolution of attempting the conquest of Egypt.

Bonaparte has always sought to lay hold of the imagination of men, and in this respect he knows well how they ought to be governed by one who is not born to a throne. An invasion of Africa, war carried into Egypt, a country almost fabulous, could not fail to make an impression on every mind. The French might easily be persuaded that they would derive great advantage from such a colony in the Mediterranean, and that it might one day furnish them with the means of attacking the English establishments Edition: current; Page: [415] in India. These schemes possessed grandeur and were fitted to augment the brilliant reputation of Bonaparte. Had he remained in France, the Directory, through all the journals which were at its nod, would have launched forth numberless calumnies and tarnished his exploits in the imagination of the idle: Bonaparte would have been reduced to dust before the thunderbolt struck him. He was therefore right in wishing to make himself a poetical personage instead of remaining exposed to the slanders of Jacobins, who, with their popular forms, are not less dextrous than courts in the propagation of scandal.

There was no money to transport an army to Egypt; and the most condemnable thing done by Bonaparte was to convince the Directory to invade Switzerland with a view to seize the treasury of Berne, which two hundred years of wisdom and economy had accumulated. The war had for its pretext the situation of the Pays de Vaud. There is no doubt but that the Pays de Vaud was entitled to claim an independent existence, which it acted right in maintaining.1 But if the emigrants were blamed for uniting themselves to foreigners against France, should not the same principle be applied to the Swiss, who invoked the terrible assistance of the French? Besides, it was not the Pays de Vaud alone that was concerned in a war which would necessarily hazard the independence of all Switzerland. This cause appeared to me so sacred that, at that time, I still thought it not altogether impossible to induce Bonaparte to defend it. In every circumstance of my life, the errors which I have committed in politics have proceeded from the idea that men were always capable of being moved by truth, if it was presented to them with force.

I remained nearly an hour in conference with Bonaparte: he is a good and patient listener, for he wishes to know if what is said can throw any light on his own affairs: but Cicero and Demosthenes together would not draw him to the slightest sacrifice of his personal interest. Many mediocre people call that reason; it is reason of an inferior order; there is one more exalted which does not proceed by mere calculation.

Bonaparte, in conversing with me on Switzerland, alleged the situation Edition: current; Page: [416] of the Pays de Vaud as a motive for the entrance of the French troops. He told me that the inhabitants of that district were subject to the aristocrats of Berne, and that men could not now exist without political rights. I moderated, as well as I could, this republican ardor, by representing to him that the Vaudois were perfectly free in every civil relation, and that when liberty exists in fact, it is unnecessary, for the sake of the abstract right, to expose ourselves to the greatest of misfortunes, that of seeing foreigners in our native land. “Self-love and imagination,” replied the General, “make men cling to the advantage of sharing in the government of their country, and there is injustice in excluding any portion of them from it.” Nothing is more true in principle, said I, General; but it is equally true that it is by their own efforts that liberty should be obtained, and not by calling in the aid of a power which must be necessarily predominant. The word “principle” has since appeared very suspicious to Bonaparte, but it then suited him to make use of it, and he alleged it against me. I insisted anew upon the happiness and beauty of Switzerland, and the repose which she had for many centuries enjoyed. “Yes, without doubt,” said Bonaparte, interrupting me, but men must have political rights; yes, repeated he, as if the words had been committed to memory, “political rights.” Then, changing the conversation, because he wished to hear no more upon the subject, he spoke to me of his love for retirement, for the country, and for the fine arts; and took the trouble of exhibiting himself to me in aspects suited to what he supposed to be the turn of my imagination.

The conversation, however, gave me some idea of the attractions which may be found in him when he assumes the air of a plain good-natured man and speaks with simplicity of himself and his projects. This art, the most formidable of all, has captivated many. At this period I still met Bonaparte occasionally in society; and he appeared to me always profoundly occupied with the relations which he wished to establish between himself and other men, keeping them at a distance or bringing them near him, according as he thought he could attach them most securely. In particular, when he was with the Directors, he was afraid of appearing like a general under the orders of his government; and in his manners with that class of superiors, he tried alternately dignity and familiarity; but he missed the true tone of both. He is a man who can be natural only when he commands.

Edition: current; Page: [417]

CHAPTER XXVIII: The Invasion of Switzerland.

As Switzerland was threatened with an approaching invasion, I quitted Paris in the month of January, 1798, to rejoin my father at Coppet. He was still on the list of emigrants, and a positive law condemned to death emigrants who remained in a country occupied by the French troops. I did my utmost to induce him to quit his abode; he would not: “At my age,” said he, “a man should not wander upon the earth.” I believe that his secret motive was his reluctance to remove himself from the tomb of my mother: on this subject he had a superstition of the heart which he would have sacrificed only to the interest of his family, and never to his own. In the four years since the companion of his life had ceased to live, scarcely a day passed in which he did not go to walk near the tomb in which she reposes, and by departing he would have thought that he was abandoning her.

When the entry of the French was positively announced, my father and myself, with my young children, remained alone in the château of Coppet. On the day appointed for the violation of the Swiss territory, our inquisitive people went down to the bottom of the avenue; and my father and I, who were awaiting our fate together, placed ourselves in a balcony that had a view of the high road by which the troops were to arrive. Though it was the middle of winter, the weather was delightful; the Alps were reflected in the lake; and the noise of the drum alone disturbed the tranquillity of the scene. My heart throbbed violently from the apprehension of what might menace my father. I knew that the Directory spoke of him with respect; but I knew also the empire of revolutionary laws over those who had made them. At the moment when the French troops passed the frontier of the Helvetic confederation, I saw an officer quit his men to proceed toward our château. A mortal terror seized me; but what he said to us soon re-assured me. He was commissioned by the Directory to offer Edition: current; Page: [418] my father a safeguard. This officer, since well known under the title of Marshal Suchet,1 conducted himself extremely well toward us; and his staff, whom he brought to my father’s house the day after, followed his example.

It is impossible not to find among the French, in spite of the wrongs with which they may be justly reproached, a social spirit which makes us live at our ease with them. Nevertheless this army, which had so well defended the independence of its own country, wished to conquer the whole of Switzerland, and to penetrate even into the mountains of the small cantons, where men of simplicity retained the old-fashioned treasure of their virtues and usages. Berne and other Swiss cities possessed without doubt unjust privileges, and old prejudices were mingled with the democracy of the small cantons; but was it by force that any amelioration was to be effected in the condition of a country accustomed to acknowledge only the slow and progressive operation of time? The political institutions of Switzerland have, it is true, been improved in some respects, and up to these late times it might have been believed that even the mediation of Bonaparte2 had removed some prejudices of the Catholic cantons. But union and patriotic energy have lost much since the revolution. The Swiss are now accustomed to have recourse to foreigners, and to share in the political passions of other nations, while the only interest of Helvetia is to be peaceful, independent, and animated by a jealous dignity of spirit.

In 1797, there was a rumor of the resistance which Berne and the small democratical cantons would make to the threatened invasion. Then, for the first time in my life, I entertained wishes against the French; for the first time in my life I experienced the painful anguish of blaming my own country enough to desire the triumph of those who fought against it. Formerly, just before the battle of Granson,3 the Swiss prostrated themselves before God; their cruel enemies thought that they were about to surrender their arms; but they rose up and were victorious. The small cantons in 1798, in their noble ignorance of the things of this world, sent their quota Edition: current; Page: [419] to Berne; these religious soldiers kneeled before the church when they arrived in the public square. “We do not dread,” said they, “the armies of France; we are four hundred, and if that is not enough, we are ready to make four hundred more of our companions march to the assistance of our country.” Who would not be touched by this great confidence in such feeble means! But the days of the three hundred Spartans were gone by: numbers were omnipotent; and individual devotedness struggled in vain against the resources of a great state and the combination of tactics.

On the day of the first battle of the Swiss with the French, though Coppet is thirty leagues from Berne, we heard, in the silence of the evening, the discharges of cannon, which were resounding far off among the echos of the mountains. We scarcely dared to breathe, that we might the better distinguish the mournful noise; and though every probability was in favor of the French, we had still a vague hope of some miracle in behalf of justice: but time alone is her all-powerful ally. The Swiss troops were defeated in pitched battle;4 the inhabitants, however, defended themselves long among their mountains; the women and children took up arms; priests were massacred at the foot of their altars. But there was in this small territory a national will, which the French were obliged to treat with consideration; nor did the lesser cantons ever accept the republic one and indivisible5—that metaphysical present which the Directory offered at the cannon’s mouth. It must be allowed, however, that there was in Switzerland a party for the unity of the republic which could boast of very respectable names. The Directory never acquired any influence in the affairs of foreign nations without being supported by some portion of the natives. But these men, however decided they might be in favor of liberty, always found it difficult to maintain their popularity, because they had rallied round the overwhelming power of the French.

When Bonaparte was at the head of France, he made war to extend his empire; and that policy is easily understood. But although the Directory were desirous of obtaining possession of Switzerland as an advantageous military position, their principal aim was to extend the republican system Edition: current; Page: [420] in Europe. Now, how could they flatter themselves that they would succeed, by putting constraint on the opinion of people, especially of those who, like the Swiss, were entitled to consider themselves as the oldest friends of freedom? Violence suits despotism alone; and, accordingly, it showed itself at last under its true name—that of a military chief: to this the tyrannical measures of the Directory were a prelude.

It was likewise by a series of these combinations, half abstract and half positive, half revolutionary and half diplomatic, that the Directory wished to unite Geneva to France.6 In this regard, they committed an act of injustice so much the more revolting that it was in opposition to all the principles which they professed. They robbed a free state of its independence, in spite of the strongly declared wish of its inhabitants; they annihilated completely the moral importance of a republic, the cradle of the Reformation, which had produced more distinguished men than the largest province of France; the democratic party, in short, did what they would have deemed a crime even in their adversaries. In fact, what would not have been said of kings and aristocrats who should have tried to deprive Geneva of its individual existence? For states, as well as men, have an individual existence. Did the French derive from their acquisition a gain equal to the loss which was occasioned to the wealth of the human mind in general? And may not the fable of the goose that laid eggs of gold be applied to small independent states which the greater are eager to occupy? Conquest destroys the very advantages of which she covets the possession.

My father, by the union of Geneva, found himself legally a Frenchman; he, who had always been so in his sentiments and in his career. To live in safety in Switzerland, at that time occupied by the armies of the Directory, it was necessary that he should obtain the erasure of his name from the list of emigrants. With this view he gave me a report to carry to Paris which was a real masterpiece of dignity and logic. The Directory, after having read it, were unanimous in the resolution to erase M. Necker’s name; and, although this was an act of the most obvious justice, it gave me so much pleasure that I shall always retain a grateful remembrance of it.

Edition: current; Page: [421]

I then negotiated with the Directory for the payment of the two million livres which my father had left deposited in the public treasury. The government acknowledged the debt, but offered payment out of the estates of the clergy, which my father refused: not that he meant thus to assume the colors of the party who consider the sale of that property illegal; but because he had never in any situation wished to make his opinions and interests coincide, that there might not be the possibility of the slightest doubt of his perfect impartiality.

Edition: current; Page: [422]

CHAPTER XXIX: Of the Termination of the Directory.

After the fatal blow which, on the 18th of Fructidor, the military force inflicted on the dignity of the representatives of the people, the Directory, as we have just seen, still maintained itself for two years, without any external change in its organization. But the vital principle which had animated it existed no more, and one might have said of it, as of the giant in Ariosto,1 that it still fought, forgetting that it was dead. The elections, the deliberations of the councils, presented nothing to excite interest; for the results were always known beforehand. The persecutions which were carried on against nobles and priests were no longer incited by popular hatred: the war had ceased to have an object since the independence of France and the limit of the Rhine were secured. But, instead of attaching Europe to France, the Directors were already beginning the fatal work which Napoleon so cruelly completed; they inspired the neighboring nations with as much aversion to the French government as princes alone had at first experienced.

The Roman republic was proclaimed from the summit of the Capitol;2 but, in our days, the statues are the only republicans in Rome; and those must know little of the nature of enthusiasm who imagine that, by counterfeiting it, they will cause it to spring up. The free consent of the people can alone give to political institutions a certain native and spontaneous beauty, a natural harmony which guarantees their duration. The monstrous system of despotism in the means, under pretext of liberty in the end, produced nothing but governments depending upon springs, which required to be constantly repaired, and stopped the moment that they Edition: current; Page: [423] ceased to be put in motion by external impulse. Festivals were celebrated at Paris with Grecian costumes and antique cars: but there was no fixed principle in the soul; immorality alone made rapid progress on every side; for public opinion was neither a terror nor a recompense to anyone.

A revolution had occurred in the interior of the Directory, as in the interior of a seraglio, in which the nation had taken no share. The men last chosen3 were so little worthy of respect that France, quite weary of them, called with loud cries for a military chief; for she would neither have the Jacobins, the remembrance of whom struck her with horror, nor a counter-revolution, which the arrogance of the emigrants rendered terrible.

The lawyers who had been called in 1799 to the place of Directors, exhibited there only the ridiculous pretense of authority, without the talents and the virtues which render it respectable; the facility with which, in the course of an evening, a Director assumed the airs of a Court, was truly singular; the part must be one not very difficult to play. Gohier, Moulins—what do I know?—the most obscure of men, once appointed Directors, were already occupied the very next day with themselves; they spoke to you of their health and of their family interests, as if they had been personages dear to the whole world. They were kept in this illusion by flatterers who were people of good or bad company, but who all were fulfilling their role of courtiers, by showing to their prince the most affecting solicitude with regard to everything which could concern him, on condition of obtaining a short audience for some particular request. Among these people, those who had anything to reproach themselves with during the Reign of Terror always retained a remarkable sensibility on that subject. If you pronounced a single word which might allude to the recollection which disturbed them, they immediately related their history to you in the most minute detail, and abandoned everything to talk to you about it for hours and hours. If you returned to the affair on which you wished to converse with them, they listened to you no longer. The life of Edition: current; Page: [424] any individual who has committed a political crime is forever linked to that crime in order either to justify it or to live it down by the influence of power.

The nation, fatigued with this revolutionary caste, had arrived at that period in political conjunctures where men believe that it is only under the authority of a single person that repose is to be found. In this way Cromwell governed England, by offering men who had been compromised by the Revolution the shelter of his despotism. It is impossible to deny, in some respects, the truth of what Bonaparte said afterward: I found the crown of France on the ground and picked it up; but it was the French nation itself which required to be raised.

The Russians and Austrians had gained great victories in Italy;4 factions were multiplying to an infinite number in the interior; and the kind of cracking which precedes the fall of a building was heard in the government. The first wish was that Joubert should put himself at the head of the state; he preferred the command of the troops and, disdaining to survive the reverses of the French armies, died nobly by the hand of the enemy. The wishes of all would have pointed out Moreau as the first magistrate of the republic—a preeminence of which his virtues certainly made him worthy; but he perhaps felt that he had not enough of political talent for such a situation, and he preferred exposing himself to military dangers rather than civil affairs.

Among the other French generals, scarcely any were known who were qualified for the civil career. One only, General Bernadotte, united, as the sequel has proved, the qualities of a statesman and of a distinguished soldier. But he was then wholly devoted to the republican party, which would no more approve the subversion of the republic than the royalists approved the subversion of the throne. Bernadotte, therefore, as we shall relate in the following chapter, limited himself to the re-establishment of the armies while he was Minister of War. No scruples whatever arrested Bonaparte’s course: accordingly we shall see how he seized on the destinies of France, and in what manner he guided them.

Edition: current; Page: [425]

PART IV

CHAPTER I: News from Egypt: Return of Bonaparte.

Nothing was more likely to produce a striking effect on the mind than the Egyptian war; and though the great naval victory gained by Nelson near Aboukir1 had destroyed all its possible advantages, letters dated from Cairo, orders issuing from Alexandria to penetrate to Thebes, on the confines of Ethiopia, increased the reputation of a man who was not now within sight, but who at a distance seemed an extraordinary phenomenon. He put at the head of his proclamations Bonaparte, Commander-in-chief and Member of the National Institute; whence it was concluded that he was a friend to knowledge and a protector of letters; but the guarantee which he gave for these qualities was not any firmer than his profession of the Mahomedan faith,2 followed by his concordat with the Pope.3 He was already beginning to deceive Europe by a system of juggling tricks, convinced, as he was, that for everyone the science of life consists merely in the maneuvers of egoism. Bonaparte is not a man only but also a system; and if he were right, the human species would no longer be what God has made it. He ought therefore to be examined like a great problem, the solution of which is of importance to meditation throughout all ages.

Bonaparte, in reducing everything to calculation, was sufficiently acquainted with that part of the nature of man which does not obey the will Edition: current; Page: [426] to feel the necessity of acting upon the imagination; and his twofold dexterity consisted in the art of dazzling multitudes and of corrupting individuals.

His conversation with the Mufti in the pyramid of the Cheops could not fail to enchant the Parisians, for it united the two qualities by which they are most easily captivated: a certain kind of grandeur and of mockery together. The French like to be moved and to laugh at being moved: quackery is their delight, and they aid willingly in deceiving themselves, provided they be allowed, while they act as dupes, to show by some witticisms that they are not so.

Bonaparte, in the pyramid, made use of the Oriental style. “Glory to Allah,” said he, “there is no true God but God, and Mahomet is his prophet. The bread stolen by the wicked turns into dust in his mouth.” “Thou hast spoken,” said the Mufti, “like the most learned of the Mullahs.”—“I can cause a chariot of fire to descend from Heaven,” continued Bonaparte, “and direct it upon the earth.”—“Thou art the mightiest Captain,” replied the Mufti, “whose hand the power of Mahomet hath armed.4 Mahomet, however, did not prevent Sir Sidney Smith from arresting by his brilliant valor the successes of Bonaparte at St. Jean-d’Acre.5

When Napoléon, in 1805, was named King of Italy, he said to General Berthier in one of those moments when he talked of everything that he might try his ideas upon other people: “This Sidney Smith made fortune fail me at St. Jean-d’Acre; my purpose was to set out from Egypt, proceed to Constantinople, and arrive at Paris by marching back through Europe.” This failure, however, made at the time a very decent appearance. Whatever his regrets might be, gigantic like the enterprises which followed them, Bonaparte found means to make his reverses in Egypt pass for successes; and although his expedition had no other result than the ruin of the fleet and the destruction of one of our finest armies, he was called the Conqueror of the East.

Bonaparte, availing himself with ability of the enthusiasm of the French for military glory, associated their self-love with his victories as well as Edition: current; Page: [427] with his defeats. He gradually took possession of the place which the Revolution occupied in every head, and attached to his own name that national feeling which had aggrandized France in the eyes of foreigners.

Two of his brothers, Lucien and Joseph,6 had seats in the Council of Five Hundred, and both in their different lines had enough of intellect and talent to be eminently useful to the General. They watched for him over the state of affairs, and when the moment was come, they advised him to return to France. The armies had been beaten in Italy and were for the most part disorganized through the misconduct of the administration. The Jacobins began to show themselves once more, the Directory was without reputation and without strength: Bonaparte received all this intelligence in Egypt, and after some hours of solitary meditation, he resolved to set out.7 This rapid and certain perception of circumstances is precisely what distinguishes him, and opportunity has never offered itself to him in vain. It has been frequently repeated that on departing then, he deserted his army. Doubtless, there is a species of exalted disinterestedness which would not have allowed a warrior to separate himself thus from the men who had followed him, and whom he left in distress. But General Bonaparte ran such risks in traversing the sea covered with English vessels; the design which summoned him to France was so bold that it is absurd to treat his departure from Egypt as cowardice. Such a being must not be attacked with common declamations: every man who has produced a great effect on other men, to be judged, should be examined thoroughly.

A reproach of a much graver nature is the total want of humanity which Bonaparte manifested in his Egyptian campaign. Whenever he found any advantage in cruelty, he indulged in it, and yet his despotism was not sanguinary. He had no more desire to shed blood than a reasonable man has to spend money without need. But what he called necessity was in fact his ambition; and when this ambition was concerned, he did not for a moment allow himself to hesitate to sacrifice others to himself. What we call conscience was in his eyes only the poetical name of deception.

Edition: current; Page: [428]

CHAPTER II: Revolution of the 18th of Brumaire.

In the time which had elapsed since Bonaparte’s brothers wrote to him in Egypt to advise his return, the face of affairs had undergone a singular change. General Bernadotte had been appointed Minister of War and had in a few months restored the organization of the armies. His extreme activity repaired all the mischiefs which negligence had caused. One day, as he was reviewing the young men of Paris who were on the eve of marching to the scene of war, My lads, he said, there are assuredly among you some great captains. These simple words electrified their souls by recalling to their remembrance one of the chief advantages of free institutions, the emulation which they excite in every class.

The English had made a descent into Holland, which had been already pushed back.1 The Prussians had been beaten at Zurich by Massena;2 the French armies had again begun to act on the offensive in Italy. Thus, when Bonaparte returned, Switzerland, Holland, and Piedmont3 were still under the control of France; the barrier of the Rhine, gained by the conquests of the Republic, was not disputed with her, and the force of France was on a balance with that of the other states of Europe. Who could have imagined then that of all the combinations which fortune presented to her choice, that which would lead her to be conquered and subdued was to raise the ablest of her generals to supreme power? Tyranny annihilates even the military force, to which it has sacrificed everything.

It was no longer, therefore, external reverses which, in 1799, made France desire Bonaparte; but the fear which the Jacobins excited was a Edition: current; Page: [429] powerful aid to him. They were now without means, and their appearance was nothing more than that of a specter which comes to stir the ashes: it was, however, enough to rekindle the hatred which they inspired, and the nation, flying from a phantom, precipitated itself into the arms of Bonaparte.

The President of the Directory had said on the 10th of August of the very year in which Bonaparte was made Consul; Royalty will never raise its head again; no longer will those men be seen who pretended to be the delegates of heaven that they might oppress the earth with more security; in whose eyes France was but their patrimony, Frenchmen but their subjects, and the laws the mere expression of their good pleasure. What was to be seen no more was, however, seen very soon; and what France wished in calling Bonaparte to the throne, peace and repose, was exactly what his character rejected as an element in which he could not live.

When Caesar overturned the Roman republic he had to combat Pompey and the most illustrious patricians of the age: Cicero and Cato contended against him; everywhere there was greatness arrayed in opposition to his. Bonaparte met with no adversaries whose names deserve to be mentioned. If the Directory had been in the fullness of its past force, it would have said, like Reubell when hints were given him that there was reason to apprehend that General Bonaparte would offer his resignation: Very well, let us accept it, for the republic will never want a general to command its armies. In fact, the circumstance which had rendered the armies of the French Republic formidable till then, was that they had no need of any particular man to command them. Liberty draws forth in a great nation all the talents which circumstances require.

Exactly on the 18th of Brumaire I arrived at Paris from Switzerland, and as I was changing horses some leagues from the city, I was informed that the Director Barras had just passed, on his way to his estate of Gros-bois, accompanied by gendarmes. The postilions were relating the news of the day, and this popular mode of becoming acquainted with them gave them additional interest. It was the first time since the Revolution that the name of an individual was heard in every mouth. Till then it was said, the Constituent Assembly has done so and so, or the people, or the Convention; now there was no mention of any but this man, who was to be substituted Edition: current; Page: [430] for all and leave the human race anonymous; who was to monopolize fame for himself, and to exclude every existing creature from the possibility of acquiring a share of it.

The very evening of my arrival, I learned that during the five weeks which Bonaparte had spent at Paris since his return, he had been preparing the public mind for the Revolution which had just taken place. Every faction had presented itself to him, and he had given hopes to all. He had told the Jacobins that he would save them from the return of the old dynasty; he had, on the contrary, suffered the royalists to flatter themselves that he would re-establish the Bourbons; he had insinuated to Sieyès that he would give him an opportunity of bringing forth into light the constitution which he had been keeping in darkness for ten years; he had, above all, captivated the public, which belongs to no faction, by general proclamations of love of order and tranquillity. Mention was made to him of a woman whose papers the Directory had caused to be seized; he exclaimed on the absurd atrocity of tormenting women, he who, according to his caprice, has condemned so many of them to unlimited exile; he spoke only of peace, he who has introduced eternal war into the world. Finally, there was in his manner an affectation of gentleness, which formed an odious contrast with what was known of his violence. But, after ten years of suffering, enthusiastic attachment to ideas had given way in revolutionary characters to personal hopes and fears. After a certain time old notions return; but the generation which has had a share in great civil troubles is scarcely ever capable of establishing freedom: it is too soiled for the accomplishment of so pure a work.

The French Revolution, after the 18th of Fructidor, had been nothing but a continued succession of men who caused their own ruin by preferring their interest to their duty; thus, at least they gave an important lesson to their successors.

Bonaparte met no obstacles in his way to power. Moreau was not enterprising in civil affairs; Bernadotte eagerly requested the Directors to re-appoint him Minister of War. His appointment was written out, but they had not courage to sign it. Nearly all the military men, therefore, rallied round Bonaparte; for now that they interfered once more in the internal revolutions, they were resolved to place one of their own body Edition: current; Page: [431] at the head of the state, that they might thus secure to themselves the rewards which they wished to obtain.

An article of the constitution which allowed the Council of Ancients to transfer the legislative body to another city than Paris was the means employed to effect the overthrow of the Directory.

The Council of Ancients ordained on the 18th of Brumaire that the legislative body and Council of Five Hundred should, on the following day, remove to Saint Cloud, where the troops might be made to act more easily. On the evening of the 18th the whole city was agitated by the expectation of the great day that was to follow; and without doubt, apprehension of the return of the Jacobins made the majority of people of respectability wish at the time that Bonaparte might have the advantage. My own feelings, I acknowledge, were of a very mixed nature. Once the struggle began, a momentary victory of the Jacobins might occasion fresh scenes of blood; yet I experienced, at the idea of Bonaparte’s triumph, a grief which might be called prophetic.

A friend of mine who was present at the meeting in St. Cloud dispatched messengers to me every hour: at one time he informed me that the Jacobins were on the point of prevailing, and I prepared to quit France anew; the instant afterward I learned that the soldiers had dispersed the national representatives and that Bonaparte had triumphed. I wept, not over liberty, for it never existed in France, but over the hope of that liberty, without which this country can only have disgrace and misery.4 I felt within me at this instant a difficulty of breathing which, I believe, has since become the malady of all those who lived under the authority of Bonaparte.

Different accounts have been given of the manner in which the revolution of the 18th of Brumaire was accomplished. The point of chief importance Edition: current; Page: [432] is to observe on this occasion the characteristic traits of the man who has been for nearly fifteen years the master of the continent of Europe. He went to the bar of the Council of Ancients and wished to draw them into his views by addressing them with warmth and nobility; but he cannot express himself in connected discourse; it is only in conversation that his keen and decisive spirit shows itself to advantage. Besides, as he has no true enthusiasm on any subject, he is never eloquent but in abuse, and nothing was more difficult for him than to confine himself in his address to that kind of respect which is due to an assembly whom we wish to convince. He attempted to say to the Council of Ancients, “I am the God of War and of Fortune, follow me.” But he used these pompous words from mere embarrassment, and in their place would rather have said, “You are all a pack of wretches, and I will have you shot if you do not obey me.

On the 19th of Brumaire he came to the Council of the Five Hundred, his arms crossed with a very gloomy air, and followed by two tall grenadiers who protected the shortness of his stature. The deputies, who were named Jacobins, uttered violent exclamations when they saw him enter the hall: fortunately for him his brother Lucien was president at the time; it was in vain that he rang the bell to re-establish order; cries of traitor and usurper resounded from every quarter; and one of the members, a countryman of Bonaparte, the Corsican Aréna, approached the general and shook him violently by the collar of his coat. It has been supposed, but without reason, that he had a poignard to kill him.5 His action, however, terrified Bonaparte, who said to the grenadiers by his side, as he let his head drop over the shoulder of one of them, “Get me out of here.” The grenadiers carried him away from among the deputies who surrounded him, and took him from the hall into the open air. He was no sooner out than his presence of mind returned. He instantly mounted on horseback, and passing along the ranks of his grenadiers, soon determined them to what he wished should be done.

In this situation, as in many others, it has been observed that Bonaparte could be thrown into confusion when another danger than that of war was Edition: current; Page: [433] set before him; and from here some persons have ridiculously inferred that he lacked courage. Certainly, his boldness cannot be denied; but as he is nothing, not even brave, in a generous manner, it follows that he never exposes himself but when it may be advantageous. He would be much vexed at the prospect of being killed, for that would be a reverse, and he wishes to be successful in everything; he would likewise be vexed at it because death is disagreeable to the imagination; but he does not hesitate to hazard his life when, according to his views, the game, if I may be allowed the expression, is worth the risk of the stake.

After General Bonaparte left the hall of the Five Hundred, the deputies opposed to him were vehement in demanding that he should be put out of the protection of the law; and it was then that his brother Lucien, president of the Assembly, did him an eminent service by refusing, in spite of all the solicitations with which he was urged, to put that proposition to the vote. If he had consented, the decree would have passed, and no one can tell what impression it might yet have produced on the soldiers. For ten years they had uniformly abandoned those generals whom the legislative power had proscribed; and although the national representation had lost its character of legality by the 18th of Fructidor, the similarity of words often prevails over the diversity of things. General Bonaparte hastened to send an armed force to bring Lucien in safety out of the hall; as soon as he was gone, the grenadiers entered the orangery, where the deputies were assembled, and drove them away by marching from one extremity of the hall to the other, as if there had been nobody present. The deputies, driven against the wall, were forced to escape by the window into the gardens of St. Cloud with their senatorial robes. The representatives of the people had been already proscribed in France; but it was the first time since the Revolution that the civil power had been rendered ridiculous in the presence of the military; and Bonaparte, who wished to establish his dominion on the degradation of bodies as well as on that of individuals, en