Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times by Francois Pierre Guillaume Guizot

Part 9 out of 9

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.1 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

in their season of special activity, were certainly far from rising to
that importance in politics and that rank in history. And yet it is in
France that the people of the commons, the burgessdom, became most
completely, most powerfully developed, and ended by acquiring, in the
general social body, the most decided preponderance. There have been
commons throughout the whole of Europe; there has been in truth no third
estate victorious save in France; it is in the French Revolution of 1789,
assuredly the greatest, that the French third estate reached its
ultimatum, and France is the only country where, in an excess of
burgesspride, a man of great mind could say: 'What is the third estate?
Every thing.'"

So much excitement in men's minds, and so much commotion amongst the
masses, reasonably disquieted prudent folks. In spite of its natural
frivolity, the court was at bottom sad and anxious. The time had passed
for the sweet life at the manor-house of Trianon, for rustic amusements
and the charity of youth and romance. Marie Antoinette felt it deeply
and bitterly; in the preceding year, at the moment when M. de Calonne was
disputing with the Assembly of notables, she wrote to the Duchess of
Polignac who had gone to take the waters in England: "Where you are you
can at least enjoy the pleasure of not hearing affairs talked about.
Though in the country of upper and lower houses, of oppositions and
motions, you can shut your ears and let the talk glide; but here there is
a deafening noise, notwithstanding all I can do; those words opposition
and motion are as firmly established here as in the Parliament of
England, with this difference, that, when you go over to the opposition
in London, you commence by relinquishing the king's graces, whereas here
many oppose all the wise and beneficent views of the most virtuous of
masters and keep his benefits all the same; that perhaps is more clever,
but it is not so noble. The time of illusions is over, and we are having
some cruel experiences. Happily all the means are still in the king's
hands, and he will arrest all the mischief which the imprudent want to
make." The queen preserved some confidence: she only half perceived the
abyss beginning to yawn beneath her feet, she had not yet criticised the
weakness and insufficiency of the king her husband; she did not as yet
write: "The personage over me is not fit, and as for me, whatever may be
said and come what may, I am never anything but secondary, and, in spite
of the confidence reposed by the first, he often makes me feel it." She
was troubled, nevertheless, and others more sagacious were more so than
she. "When I arrived at Paris, where I had not been for more than three
years," says M. Malouet, for a long while the king's commissioner in the
colonies, and latterly superintendent of Toulon, "observing the heat of
political discussions as well as of the pamphlets in circulation,
M. d'Entraigues' work and Abbe Sieyes', the troubles in Brittany and
those in Dauphiny, my illusions vanished; I was seized with all the
terrors confided to me by Abbe Raynal on my way to Marseilles. I found
M. Necker beginning to be afraid, but still flattering himself that he
would have means of continuing, directing, and bringing everything
right." The Parliament was still more affrighted than M. Malouet and M.
Necker. Summoned, on the 28th of September, to enregister the king's
proclamation relative to the convocation of the States-general, it added
this clause: "According to the forms observed in 1614." It was a reply
in the negative on the part of the magistracy to all the new aspirations
to the vote by polling (_vote par tete_) as well as to the doubling of
the third already gained in principle amongst the provincial assemblies;
the popularity of the Parliament at once vanished. M. d'Espremesnil,
hardly returned from the Isles of St. Marguerite, and all puffed up with
his glory, found himself abandoned by those who had been loudest in
vaunting his patriotic zeal. An old councillor had but lately said to
him, when he was calling for the States-general with all his might,
"Providence will punish your fatal counsels by granting your wishes."
After the triumph of his return to Paris, amidst the desert which was
forming around the Parliament, "the martyr, the hero of liberty," as his
enthusiastic admirers had been wont to call him, had to realize that
instability of human affairs and that fragility of popularity to which he
had shut his eyes even in his prison, when Mirabeau, ever biting and
cynical, wrote to one of his friends

"Neighborhood will doubtless procure you a visit from that immense
D'Espremesnil, the sage commentator upon Mesmer, who, from the Isles of
St. Marguerite even unto this place, has made everybody laugh at the
ostentation with which he shook his fetters to make them clank."

The troubles amongst the populace had subsided, but agitation amongst the
thoughtful went on increasing, and the embarrassments of M. Necker
increased with the agitation amongst the thoughtful. Naturally a
stranger to politics properly so called, constantly engaged as he was in
finance or administration, the minister's constitutional ideas were
borrowed from England; he himself saw how inapplicable they were to the
situation of France. "I was never called upon," he says in his
_Memoirs,_ "to examine closely into what I could make, at the time of my
return to office, of my profound and particular esteem for the government
of England, for, if at a very early period my reflections and my
conversation could not but show symptoms of the opinions I held, at a
very early period, also, I perceived how averse the king was from
anything that might resemble the political practices and institutions of
England." "M. Necker," says M. Malouet, "showed rare sagacity in espying
in the greatest detail and on the furthest horizon the defects, the
inconveniences of every measure, and it was this faculty of extending his
observations to infinity which made him so often undecided." What with
these doubts existing in his own mind, and what with the antagonistic
efforts of parties as well as individual wills, the minister conceived
the hope of releasing himself from the crushing burden of his personal
responsibility; he convoked for the second time the Assembly of notables.

Impotent as it was in 1787, this assembly was sure to be and was even
more so in 1788. Mirabeau had said with audacious intuition: "It is no
longer a question of what has been, but of what has to be." The notables
clung to the past like shipwrecked mariners who find themselves invaded
by raging waters. Meeting on the 6th of November at Versailles, they
opposed in mass the doubling of the third (estate); the committee
presided over by Monsieur, the king's brother, alone voted for the double
representation, and that by a majority of only one-voice. The Assembly
likewise refused to take into account the population of the
circumscriptions (outlying districts) in fixing the number of its
representatives; the seneschalty of Poitiers, which numbered seven
hundred thousand inhabitants, was not to have more deputies than the
bailiwick of Dourdan, which had but eight thousand. The liberality on
which the notables plumed themselves as regarded the qualifications
required in respect of the electors and the eligible was at bottom as
interested as it was injudicious. The fact of domicile and payment of
taxes did not secure to the electors the guaranty given by property; the
vote granted to all nobles whether enfeoffed or not, and to all members
of the clergy for the elections of their orders, was intended to increase
the weight of those elected by the number of suffrages; the high noblesse
and the bishops reckoned wrongly upon the influence they would be able to
exercise over their inferiors. Already, on many points, the petty nobles
and the parish priests were engaged and were to be still more deeply
engaged on the popular side.

At the very moment when the public were making merry over the Assembly of
notables, and were getting irritated at the delay caused by their useless
discussions in the convocation of the States-general, the Parliament, in
one of those sudden fits of reaction with which they were sometimes
seized from their love of popularity, issued a decree explanatory of
their decision on the 24th of September. "The real intentions of the
court," said the decree, "have been distorted in spite of their
plainness. The number of deputies of each order is not determined by any
law, by any invariable usage, and it depends upon the king's wisdom to
adjudge what reason, liberty, justice, and the general wish may
indicate." The Parliament followed up this strange retractation with a
series of wise and far-sighted requests touching the totality of the
public administration. Its part was henceforth finished, wisdom in words
could not efface the effect of imprudent or weak acts; when the decree
was presented to the king, he gave the deputation a cold reception. "I
have no answer to make to the prayers of the Parliament," he replied; "it
is with the States-general that I shall examine into the interests of my
people."

Whilst all the constituted bodies of the third estate, municipalities,
corporations, commissions of provincial assemblies, were overwhelming the
king with their addresses in favor of the people's rights, the Prince of
Conti, whose character always bore him into reaction against the current
of public opinion, had put himself at the head of the opposition of the
courtiers. Already, at one of the committees of the Assembly of
notables, he had addressed Monsieur, the most favorable of all the
princes to the liberal movement. "The very existence of the monarchy is
threatened," he said, "its annihilation is desired, and we are close upon
that fatal moment. It is impossible that the king should not at last
open his eyes, and that the princes his brothers should not co-operate
with him; be pleased, therefore, to represent to the king how important
it is for the stability of his throne, for the laws, and for good order,
that the new systems be forever put away, and that the constitution and
ancient forms be maintained in their integrity." Louis XVI. having shown
some ill-humor at the Prince of Conti's remarks, the latter sent him a
letter signed by all the princes of the royal family except Monsieur and
the Duke of Orleans. The perils with which the state was threatened were
evident and even greater than the prince's letter made out; the remedies
they indicated were as insufficient in substance as they were
contemptuous in form. "Let the third estate," they said, cease to attack
the rights of the two upper orders, rights which, not less ancient than
the monarchy, ought to be as unalterable as the constitution; but let it
confine itself to asking for diminution of the imposts with which it may
be surcharged; then the two upper orders might, in the generosity of
their feelings, give up prerogatives which have pecuniary interests for
their object." . . . Whilst demanding on the part of the third estate
this modest attitude, the princes let fall threatening expressions, the
use of which had been a lost practice to the royal house since the days
of the Fronde. "In a kingdom in which for so long a time there have been
no civil dissensions, the word schism cannot be uttered without regret,"
they said; "such an event, however, would have to be expected if the
rights of the two upper orders suffered any alteration, and what
confidence would not be felt in the mind of the people in protests which
tended to release them from payment of imposts agreed upon in the
states?"

Thirty dukes and peers had beforehand proposed to the king the
renunciation of all their pecuniary privileges, assuring him that the
whole French noblesse would follow the example if they were consulted.
Passions were too violently excited, and the disorder of ideas was too
general to admit of the proper sense being given to this generous and
fruitless proceeding. The third estate looked upon it as a manoeuvre
against double representation; the mass of the two orders protested
against the forced liberality which it was attempted to thrust upon them.
People made merry over the signataries. "Have you read the letter of the
dupes and peers?" they said.

The Assembly of notables had broken up on the 12th of December; the
convocation of the States-general was at hand, and the government of King
Louis XVI. still fluctuated undecidedly between the various parties which
were so violently disputing together over public opinion left to itself.
The dismay of wise men went on increasing, they were already conscious of
the fruitlessness of their attempts to direct those popular passions of
which they had, but lately been reckoning, upon availing themselves in
order to attain an end as laudable as it was moderate. One of the most
virtuous as well as the most enlightened and the most courageous,
M. Malouet, has related in his _Memoires_ the conversations he held at
this very juncture with the ministers, M. Necker and M. de Montmorin
especially. It is worth while to give the complete summary, as sensible
as it is firm, a truthful echo of the thoughts in the minds of the cream
of the men who had ardently desired reforms, and who attempted in vain to
rein up the revolution in that fatal course which was to cost the lives
of many amongst them, and the happiness and peace of nearly all.

"It is the first Assembly of notables," said M. Malouet, "which has
apprised the nation that the government was henceforth subordinated to
public opinion.

"This is a false and dangerous position, if it is not strong enough to
enlighten that opinion, direct it, and restrain it.

"The wish of France has summoned the States-general, there was no way but
to obey it. The doubling of the third (estate) is likewise proclaimed in
an irresistible manner, but as yet there is nothing but your own mistakes
to imperil the kingly authority.

"Your shiftings, your weaknesses, your inconsistencies no longer leave
you the resource of absolute power. From the moment that, exhibiting
your embarrassments, you are obliged to invoke the counsels and aid of
the nation, you can no longer walk without it; from its strength you must
recruit your own; but your wisdom must control its strength; if you leave
it bridleless and guideless, you will be crushed by it.

"You must not wait, then, for the States-general to make demands upon you
or issue orders to you; you must hasten to offer all that sound minds can
desire, within reasonable limits, whether of authority or of national
rights.

"Everything ought to be foreseen and calculated in the king's council
before the opening of the States-general. You ought to determine what
can be given up without danger in ancient usages, forms, maxims,
institutions, obsolete or full of abuses. All that the public experience
and reason denounce to you as proscribed, take heed that you do not
defend; but do not be so imprudent as to commit to the risks of a
tumultuous deliberation the fundamental basis and the essential springs
of the kingly authority. Commence by liberally granting the requirements
and wishes of the public, and prepare yourselves to defend, even by
force, all that violent, factious, and extravagant systems would assail.
In the state of uncertainty, embarrassment, and denudation in which you
have placed yourselves, you have no strength, I can feel, I can see. Get
out, then, of this state; put fresh energy into your concessions, into
your plans; in a word, take up a decided attitude, for you have it not.

"The revolution which is at this instant being effected, and which we may
regard as accomplished, is the elevation of the commons to an influence
equal to that of the two other orders. Another revolution must follow
that, and it is for you to carry it out: that is the destruction of
privileges fraught with abuse and onerous to the people. When I say that
it is for you to carry it out, I mean that you must take your measures in
such wise as to prevent anything from being done without you, and
otherwise than by your direction.

"Thus, then, you should have a fixed plan of concessions, of reforms,
which, instead of upsetting everything, will consolidate the basis of
legitimate authority. This plan should become, by your influence, the
text of all the bailiwick memorials. God forbid that I should propose to
you to bribe, to seduce, to obtain influence by iniquitous means over the
elections! You need, on the contrary, the most honest, the most
enlightened, the most energetic men. Such are those who must be brought
to the front, and on whom the choice should be made to fall."

Admirable counsels on the part of the most honest and most far-sighted of
minds; difficult, however, if not impossible, to be put into practice by
feeble ministers, themselves still undecided on the very brink of the
abyss, having to face the repugnance and the passions of the two
privileged orders on which it was a question of imposing painful
sacrifices, however legitimate and indispensable they might be.

M. Malouet and those who thought with him, more in number than anybody
could tell, demanded instructions as to the elections in the bailiwicks.
"Can you have allowed this great crisis to come on without any
preparations for defence, without any combination?" they said to the
ministers. "You have, through the police, the superintendents, the
king's proctors in the tribunals, means of knowing men and choosing them,
or, at any rate, of directing choice; these means, have you employed
them?"

M. Necker could not give his instructions; he had not yet made up his
mind on the question which was engaging everybody's thoughts; he
hesitated to advise the king to consent to the doubling of the third.
"He had a timid pride which was based on his means, on his celebrity, and
which made him incessantly afraid of compromising himself with public
opinion, which he could no longer manage to control when he found himself
opposed by it," said Malouet. Marmontel, who knew the minister well,
added, "That solitary mind, abstracted, self-concentrated, naturally
enthusiastic, had little communication with men in general, and few men
were tempted to have communication with him; he knew them only by
glimpses too isolated or too vague, and hence his illusions as to the
character of the people at whose mercy he was placing the state and the
king."

M. Necker's illusions as to himself never disappeared; he had a vague
presentiment of the weakening of his influence over public opinion, and
he was pained thereat. He resolved at last to follow it. "It is a great
mistake," he wrote at a later period in his _Memoires,_ "to pretend to
struggle, with only antiquated notions on your side, against all the
vigor of the principles of natural justice, when that justice renews its
impulse and finds itself seconded by the natural desire of a nation. The
great test of ability in affairs is to obtain the merit of the sacrifice
before the moment when that same sacrifice will appear a matter of
necessity."

The favorable moment, which M. Necker still thought of seizing, had
already slipped by him. The royal resolution proclaimed under this
strange title, _Result of the King's Council held on the 27th of
December, 1788,_ caused neither great astonishment nor lively
satisfaction amongst the public. M. Necker was believed to be more
favorable to the doubling of the third (estate) than he really was; the
king was known to be weak and resigned to following the counsels of the
minister who had been thrust upon him. "The cause of the third estate,"
said the Report to the king, "will always have public opinion for it; the
wishes of the third estate, when unanimous, when in conformity with the
principles of equity, will always be only another name for the wishes of
the nation; the judgment of Europe will encourage it. I will say, then,
upon my soul and conscience, and as a faithful servant of his Majesty,
I do decidedly think that he may and ought to call to the States-general
a number of deputies of the third estate equal to that of the deputies of
the two other orders together, not in order to force on decisions by poll
(_deliberation par tete_), as appears to be feared, but in order to
satisfy the general wishes of the commons of his kingdom." "The king,"
said the edict, "having heard the report made in his council by the
minister of finance relative to the approaching convocation of the
States-general, his Majesty has adopted its principles and views, and has
ordained what follows: 1. That the deputies shall be at least one
thousand in number; 2. That the number shall be formed, as nearly as
possible, in the, compound ratio of the population and taxes of each
bailiwick; 3. That the number of deputies of the third estate shall be
equal to that of the two other orders together, and that this proportion
shall be established by the letters of convocation." The die was cast,
the victory remained with the third (estate), legitimate in principle,
and still possible perhaps to be directed and regulated, but dangerous
and already menacing. "It is not resistance from the two upper orders
that I fear," said M. Malouet to the ministers, "it is the excess of the
commons; you have done too much, or let too much be done to prevent now
the propositions I submitted to you from being realized; the point is not
to go any further, for beyond lies anarchy. But if, in the very decided
and very impetuous course taken by public opinion, the king should
hesitate and the clergy and noblesse resist, woe to us, for all is lost!
Do you expect the least appearance of order and reason in a gathering of
twelve hundred legislators, drawn from all classes, without any practice
in discussion and meditation over the important subjects they are about
to handle, carried away by party spirit, by the impetuous force of so
many diverging interests and opinions? If you do not begin by giving
them fixed ideas, by hedging them, through their constituents, with
instructions and impediments which they cannot break through, look out
for all sorts of vagaries, for irremediable disorders."

In his sad forecast of the confusion which threatened the new Assembly,
M. Malouet counted too much upon the authority of mandates and upon the
influence of the constituents; he was destined to look on, impotent and
despairing, at that great outburst of popular passions which split
asunder all ties and broke through all engagements as so many useless
impediments. "When the Assembly, in the first paroxysms of its delirium,
dared to annul its oaths and declared itself freed from the yoke of the
instructions which we received from our constituents, the king had a
right--what do I say? he was bound to send us back to our bailiwicks,"
says M. Malouet. The States-general were convoked for the 27th of April,
1789, and not a soul had yet received instructions from the government.
"Those that we did at last receive were as honest as they were
insufficient. They told us in substance to get adopted, if we could, the
proposal to present candidates for the departments, and to admit into the
list of candidates none but men whose morality, means, and fair
reputation were established, to prevent wrangles, schism between the
orders, and to carry, as far as in us lay, the most moderate notions as
regarded reforms and innovations. It was no longer the king speaking, it
was the consulting counsel for the crown, asking advice of everybody, and
appearing to say to everybody: 'What's to be done? What can I do? How
much do they want to lop from my authority? How much of it will they
leave me?" [_Memoires de M. Malouet,_ t. i. p. 249.] It was a tacit
abdication of the kingship at the juncture when its traditional
authority, if not its very existence, was brought to book.

The party of honest men, still very numerous and recruited amongst all
classes of society, went confidently to the general elections and
preparatory assemblies which had to precede them. "Hardly conscious were
they of the dark clouds which had gathered around us; the clouds shrouded
a tempest which was not slow to burst." [Ibidem, p. 260.]

The whole of France was fever-stricken. The agitation was contradictory
and confused, a medley of confidence and fear, joy and rage, everywhere
violent and contagious. This time again Dauphiny showed an example of
politic and wise behavior. The special states of the province had met on
the 1st of December, 1788, authorized by the government, according to a
new system proposed by the delegates of the three orders. Certain
members of the noblesse and of the clergy had alone protested against the
mode of election. Mounier constantly directed the decisions of the third
(estate); he restrained and enlightened young Barnave, advocate in the
court, who, for lack of his counsels, was destined to frequently go
astray hereafter. The deliberations were invariably grave, courteous;
a majority, as decided as it was tolerant, carried the day on all the
votes. "When I reflect upon all we gained in Dauphiny by the sole force
of justice and reason," wrote Mounier afterwards, in his exile, "I see
how I came to believe that Frenchmen deserve to be free." M. Mounier
published a work on the convocation of the States-general demanding the
formation of two chambers. That was likewise the proposition of M. de La
Luzerne, Bishop of Langres, an enlightened, a zealous, and a far-sighted
prelate. "This plan had probably no approbation but mine," says M.
Malouet. The opposition and the objections were diverse and
contradictory, but they were general. Constitutional notions were as yet
novel and full of confusion in all minds. The most sagacious and most
prudent were groping their way towards a future enveloped in mist.

The useful example of Dauphiny had no imitators. Bourbonness and
Hainault had accepted the system proposed by M. Necker for the formation
of preparatory assemblies. Normandy, faithful to its spirit of
conservative independence, claimed its ancient privileges and refused the
granted liberties. In Burgundy the noblesse declared that they would
give up their pecuniary privileges, but that, on all other points, they
would defend to the last gasp the ancient usages of the province. The
clergy and noblesse of Languedoc held pretty much the same language. In
Franche-Comte, where the states-provincial had not sat since Louis XIV.'s
conquest, the strife was so hot on the subject of the administrative
regimen, that the ministry declared the assembly dissolved, and referred
the decision to the States-general. The Parliament of Besancon
protested, declaring that the constitution of the province could not be
modified save by the nationality of Franche-Comte, and that deputies to
the States-general could not be elected save by the estates of the
country assembled according to the olden rule. This pretension of the
magistrates excluded the people from the elections; they rose and drove
the court from the sessions-hall.

Everywhere the preparatory assemblies were disturbed, they were
tumultuous in many spots; in Provence, as well as in Brittany, they
became violent. In his province, Mirabeau was the cause or pretext for
the troubles. Born at Bignon, near Nemours, on the 9th of March, 1749,
well known already for his talent as a writer and orator as well as for
the startling irregularities of his life, he was passionately desirous of
being elected to the States-general. "I don't think I shall be useless
there," he wrote to his friend Cerruti. Nowhere, however, was his
character worse than in Provence: there people had witnessed his
dissensions with his father as well as with his wife. Public contempt,
a just punishment for his vices, caused his admission into the states-
provincial to be unjustly opposed. The assembly was composed exclusively
of nobles in possession of fiefs, of ecclesiastical dignitaries, and of a
small number of municipal officers. It claimed to elect the deputies to
the States-general according to the ancient usages. Mirabeau's common
sense, as well as his great and puissant genius, revolted against the
absurd theories of the privileged: he overwhelmed them with his terrible
eloquence, whilst adjuring them to renounce their abuseful and obsolete
rights; he scared them by his forceful and striking hideousness.
"Generous friends of peace," said he, addressing the two upper orders,
"I hereby appeal to your honor! Nobles of Provence, the eyes of Europe
are upon you, weigh well your answer! Ye men of God, have a care; God
hears you! But, if you keep silence, or if you intrench yourselves in
the vague utterances of a piqued self-love, allow me to add a word. In
all ages, in all countries, aristocrats have persecuted the friends of
the people, and if, by I know not what combination of chances, there have
arisen one in their own midst, he it is whom they have struck above all,
thirsting as they were to inspire terror by their choice of a victim.
Thus perished the last of the Gracchi, by the hand of the patricians;
but, wounded to the death, he flung dust towards heaven, calling to
witness the gods of vengeance, and from that dust sprang Marius, Marius
less great for having exterminated the Cimbri than for having struck down
at Rome the aristocracy of the noblesse."

Mirabeau was shut out from the states-provincial and soon adopted eagerly
by the third estate. Elected at Marseilles as well as at Aix for the
States-general, he quieted in these two cities successively riots
occasioned by the dearness of bread. The people, in their enthusiasm,
thronged upon him, accepting his will without a murmur when he restored
to their proper figure provisions lowered in price through the terror of
the authorities. The petty noblesse and the lower provincial clergy had
everywhere taken the side of the third estate. Mirabeau was triumphant.
"I have been, am, and shall be to the last," he exclaimed, "the man for
public liberty, the man for the constitution. Woe to the privileged
orders, if that means better be the man of the people than the man of the
nobles, for privileges will come to an end, but the people is eternal!"

Brittany possessed neither a Mounier nor a Mirabeau; the noblesse
there were numerous, bellicose, and haughty, the burgessdom rich and
independent. Discord was manifested at the commencement of the
states-provincial assembled at Rennes in the latter part of December,
1788. The governor wanted to suspend the sessions, the two upper orders
persisted in meeting; there was fighting in the streets. The young men
flocked in from the neighboring towns; the states-room was blockaded.
For three days the members who had assembled there endured a siege; when
they cut their way through, sword in hand, several persons were killed
the enthusiasm spread to the environs. At Angers, the women published a
resolution declaring that "the mothers, sisters, wives, and sweethearts
of the young citizens of Angers would join them if they had to march to
the aid of Brittany, and would perish rather than desert the
nationality." When election time arrived, and notwithstanding the
concessions which had been made to them by the government, the Breton
nobles refused to proceed to the nominations of their order if the choice
of deputies were not intrusted to the states-provincial; they persisted
in staying away, thus weakening by thirty voices their party in the
States-general.

The great days were at hand. The whole of France was absorbed in the
drawing up of the memorials (_cahiers_) demanded by the government from
each order, in each bailiwick. The weather was severe, the harvest had
been bad, the suffering was extreme. "Famine and fear of insurrection
overthrew M. Necker, the means of providing against them absorbed all his
days and nights and the greater part of the money he had at his
disposal." Agitators availed themselves ably of the misery as a means of
exciting popular passion. The alms-giving was enormous, charity and fear
together opened both hearts and purses. The gifts of the Duke of Orleans
to the poor of Paris appeared to many people suspicious; but the
Archbishop of Paris, M. de Juigne, without any other motive but his
pastoral devotion, distributed all he possessed, and got into debt four
hundred thousand livres, in order to relieve his flock. The doors of the
finest houses were opened to wretches dying of cold; anybody might go in
and get warmed in the vast halls. The regulations for the elections had
just been published (24th of January, 1789). The number of deputies was
set at twelve hundred. The electoral conditions varied according to
order and dignity, as well as according to the extent of the bailiwicks;
in accordance with the opinion of the Assembly of notables, the simple
fact of nationality and of inscription upon the register of taxes
constituted electoral rights. No rating (_cens_) was required.

The preparatory labors had been conducted without combination, the
elections could not be simultaneous; no powerful and dominant mind
directed that bewildered mass of ignorant electors, exercising for the
first time, under such critical circumstances, a right of which they did
not know the extent and did not foresee the purport. "The people has
more need to be governed and subjected to a protective authority than it
has fitness to govern," M. Malouet had said in his speech to the assembly
of the three orders in the bailiwick of Riom. The day, however, was
coming when the conviction was to be forced upon this people, so impotent
and incompetent in the opinion of its most trusty friends, that the
sovereign authority rested in its hands, without direction and without
control.

"The elective assembly of Riom was not the most stormy," says M. Malouet,
who, like M. Mounier at Grenoble, had been elected by acclamation head of
the deputies of his own order at Riom, "but it was sufficiently so to
verify all my conjectures and cause me to truly regret that I had come to
it and had obtained the deputyship. I was on the point of giving in my
resignation, when I found some petty burgesses, lawyers, advocates
without any information about public affairs, quoting the _Contrat
social,_ declaiming vehemently against tyranny, abuses, and proposing a
constitution apiece. I pictured to myself all the disastrous
consequences which might be produced upon a larger stage by such
outrageousness, and I arrived at Paris very dissatisfied with myself,
with my fellow-citizens, and with the ministers who were hurrying us into
this abyss."

The king had received all the memorials; on some few points the three
orders had commingled their wishes in one single memorial. M. Malouet
had failed to get this done in Auvergne. "The clergy insist upon putting
theology into their memorials," he wrote to M. de Montmorin, on the 24th
of March, 1789, "and the noblesse compensations for pecuniary sacrifice.
I have exhausted my lungs and have no hope that we shall succeed
completely on all points, but the differences of opinion between the
noblesse and the third estate are not embarrassing. There is rather more
pigheadedness amongst the clergy as to their debt, which they decline to
pay, and as to some points of discipline which, after all, are matters of
indifference to us; we shall have, all told, three memorials of which the
essential articles are pretty similar to those of the third estate. We
shall end as we began, peaceably."

"The memorials of 1789," says M. de Tocqueville [_L'ancien regime et la
Revolution,_ p. 211], "will remain as it were the will and testament of
the old French social system, the last expression of its desires, the
authentic manifesto of its latest wishes. In its totality and on many
points it likewise contained in the germ the principles of new France. I
read attentively the memorials drawn up by the three orders before
meeting in 1789,--I say the three orders, those of the noblesse and
clergy as well as those of the third estate,--and when I come to put
together all these several wishes, I perceive with a sort of terror that
what is demanded is the simultaneous and systematic abolition of all the
laws and all the usages having currency in the country, and I see at a
glance that there is about to be enacted one of the most vast and most
dangerous revolutions ever seen in the world. Those who will to-morrow
be its victims have no idea of it, they believe that the total and sudden
transformation of so complicated and so old a social system can take
effect without any shock by the help of reason and its power, alone.
Poor souls! They have forgotten even that maxim which their fathers
expressed four hundred years before in the simple and forcible language
of those times: 'By quest of too great franchise and liberties, getteth
one into too great serfage.'"

However terrible and radical it may have been in its principles and its
results, the French Revolution did not destroy the past and its usages,
it did not break with tradition so completely as was demanded, in 1789,
by the memorials of the three orders, those of the noblesse and the
clergy, as well as those of the third estate.

One institution, however, was nowhere attacked or discussed. It is not
true," says M. Malouet, "that we were sent to constitute the kingship,
but undoubtedly to regulate the exercise of powers conformably with our
instructions. Was not the kingship constituted in law and in fact? Were
we not charged to respect it, to maintain it on all its bases?" Less
than a year after the Revolution had begun, Mirabeau wrote privately to
the king: "Compare the new state of things with the old regimen, there
is the source of consolations and hopes. A portion of the acts of the
National Assembly, and the most considerable too, is clearly favorable to
monarchical government. Is it nothing, pray, to be without Parliaments,
without states-districts, without bodies of clergy, of privileged, of
noblesse? The idea of forming but one single class of citizens would
have delighted Richelieu. This even surface facilitates the exercise of
power. Many years of absolute government could not have done so much as
this single year of revolution for the kingly authority."

Genius has lights which cannot be obscured by either mental bias or
irregularities of life. Rejected by the noblesse, dreaded by the third
estate, even when it was under his influence, Mirabeau constantly sought
alliance between the kingship and liberty. "What is most true and nobody
can believe," he wrote to the Duke of Lauzun on the 24th of December,
1788, "is that, in the National Assembly, I shall be a most zealous
monarchist, because I feel most deeply how much need we have to slay
ministerial despotism and resuscitate the kingly authority." The States-
general were scarcely assembled when the fiery orator went to call upon
M. Malouet. The latter was already supposed to be hostile to the
revolution. "Sir," said Mirabean, "I come to you because of your
reputation; and your opinions, which are nearer my own than you suppose,
determine this step on my part. You are, I know, one of liberty's
discreet friends, and so am I; you are scared by the tempests gathering,
and I no less; there are amongst us more than one hot head, more than one
dangerous man; in the two upper orders all that have brains have not
common sense, and amongst the fools I know several capable of setting
fire to the magazine. The question, then, is to know whether the
monarchy and the monarch will survive the storm which is a-brewing, or
whether the faults committed and those which will not fail to be still
committed will ingulf us all."

M. Malouet listened, not clearly seeing the speaker's drift. Mirabeau
resumed: "What I have to add is very simple I know that you are a friend
of M. Necker's and of M. de Montmorin's, who form pretty nearly all the
king's council; I don't like either of them, and I don't suppose that
they have much liking for me. But it matters little whether we like one
another, if we can come to an understanding. I desire, then, to know
their intentions. I apply to you to get me a conference. They would be
very culpable or very narrow-minded, the king himself would be
inexcusable, if he aspired to reduce the States-general to the same
limits and the same results as all the others have had. That will not
do, they must have a plan of adhesion or opposition to certain
principles. If that plan is reasonable under the monarchical system, I
pledge myself to support it and employ all my means, all my influence, to
prevent that invasion of the democracy which is coming upon us."

This was M. Malouet's advice, incessantly repeated to the ministers for
months past; he reported to them what Mirabeau had said; both had a bad
opinion of the man and some experience of his want of scruple.
"M. Necker looked at the ceiling after his fashion; he was persuaded that
Mirabeau had not and could not have any influence." He was in want of
money, it was said. M. Necker at last consented to the interview.
Malouet was not present as he should have been. Deprived of this
sensible and well-disposed intermediary, the Genevese stiffness and the
Provencal ardor were not likely to hit it off. Mirabeau entered. They
saluted one another silently and remained for a moment looking at one
another. "Sir," said Mirabeau, "M. de Malouet has assured me that you
understood and approved of the grounds for the explanation I desire to
have with you." "Sir," replied M. Necker, "M. Malouet has told me that
you had proposals to make to me; what are they?" Mirabeau, hurt at the
cold, interrogative tone of the minister and the sense he attached to the
word proposals, jumps up in a rage and says: "My proposal is to wish you
good day." Then, running all the way and fuming all the while, Mirabeau
arrives at the sessions-hall. "He crossed, all scarlet with rage, over
to my side," says M. Malouet, and, as he put his leg over one of our
benches, he said to me, 'Your man is a fool, he shall hear of me.'"

When the expiring kingship recalled Mirabeau to its aid, it was too late
for him and for it. He had already struck fatal blows at the cause which
he should have served, and already death was threatening himself with its
finishing stroke. "He was on the point of rendering great services to
the state," said Malouet: "shall I tell you how? By confessing to you
his faults and pointing out your own, by preserving to you all that was
pure in the Revolution and by energetically pointing out to you all its
excesses and the danger of those excesses, by making the people
affrighted at their blindness and the factions at their intrigues. He
died ere this great work was accomplished; he had hardly given an inkling
of it."

Timidity and maladdress do not retard perils by ignoring them. The day
of meeting of the States-general was at hand. Almost everywhere the
elections had been quiet and the electors less numerous than had been
anticipated. We know what indifference and lassitude may attach to the
exercise of rights which would not be willingly renounced; ignorance and
inexperience kept away from the primary assemblies many working-men and
peasants; the middle class alone proceeded in mass to the elections. The
irregular slowness of the preparatory operations had retarded the
convocations; for three months, the agitation attendant upon successive
assemblies kept France in suspense. Paris was still voting on the 28th
of April, 1789, the mob thronged the streets; all at once the rumor ran
that an attack was being made on the house of an ornamental paper-maker
in the faubourg St. Antoine, named Reveillon. Starting as a simple
journeyman, this man had honestly made his fortune; he was kind to those
who worked in his shops: he was accused, nevertheless, amongst the
populace, of having declared that a journeyman could live on fifteen sous
a day. The day before, threats had been levelled at him; he had asked
for protection from the police, thirty men had been sent to him. The
madmen who were swarming against his house and stores soon got the better
of so weak a guard, everything was destroyed; the rioters rushed to the
archbishop's, there was voting going on there; they expected to find
Reveillon there, whom they wanted to murder. They were repulsed by the
battalions of the French and Swiss guards. More than two hundred were
killed. Money was found in their pockets. The Parliament suspended its
prosecutions against the ringleaders of so many crimes. The government,
impotent and disarmed, as timid in presence of this riot as in presence
of opposing parties, at last came before the States-general, but blown
about by the contrary winds of excited passions, without any guide and
without fixed resolves, without any firm and compact nucleus in the midst
of a new and unknown Assembly, without confidence in the troops, who were
looked upon, however, as a possible and last resort.

The States-general were presented to the king on the 2d of May, 1789. It
seemed as if the two upper orders, by a prophetic instinct of their ruin,
wanted, for the last time, to make a parade of their privileges.
Introduced without delay to the king, they left, in front of the palace,
the deputies of the third estate to wait in the rain. The latter were
getting angry and already beginning to clamor, when the gates were opened
to them. In the magnificent procession on the 4th, when the three orders
accompanied the king to the church of St. Louis at Versailles, the laced
coats and decorations of the nobles, the superb vestments of the
prelates, easily eclipsed the modest cassocks of the country priests as
well as the sombre costume imposed by ceremonial upon the deputies of the
third estate; the Bishop of Nancy, M. de la Fare, maintained the
traditional distinctions even in the sermon he delivered before the king.
"Sir," said he, "accept the homage of the clergy, the respects of the
noblesse, and the most humble supplications of the third estate." The
untimely applause which greeted the bishop's words were excited by the
picture he drew of the misery in the country-places exhausted by the
rapacity of the fiscal agents. At this striking solemnity, set off with
all the pomp of the past, animated with all the hopes of the future, the
eyes of the public sought out, amidst the sombre mass of deputies of the
third (estate), those whom their deeds, good or evil, had already made
celebrated: Malouet, Mounier, Mirabeau, the last greeted with a murmur
which was for a long while yet to accompany his name. "When the summons
by name per bailiwick took place," writes an eye-witness, "there were
cheers for certain deputies who were known, but at the name of Mirabeau
there was a noise of a very different sort. He had wanted to speak on
two or three occasions, but a general murmur had prevented him from
making himself heard. I could easily see how grieved he was, and I
observed some tears of vexation standing in his bloodshot eyes "
[_Souvenirs de Dumont,_ p. 47].

Three great questions were already propounded before the Assembly entered
into session; those of verification of powers, of deliberation by the
three orders in common, and of vote by poll. The wise men had desired
that the king should himself see to the verification of the powers of the
deputies, and that they should come to the Assembly confirmed in their
mandates. People likewise expected to find, in the speech from the
throne or in the minister's report, an expression of the royal opinions
on the two other points in dispute. In a letter drawn up by M. Mounier
and addressed to the king, the estates of Dauphiny had referred, the year
before, to the ancient custom of the States-general. "Before the States
held at Orleans in 1569," said this document, "the orders deliberated
most frequently together, and, when they broke up, they afterwards met to
concert their deliberations; they usually chose only one president, only
one speaker for all the orders, generally amongst the members of the
clergy. The States of Orleans had the imprudence not to follow the forms
previously observed, and the orders broke up. The clergy in vain invited
them to have but one common memorial and to choose one single speaker,
but they were careful to protest that this innovation would not interfere
with the unity and integrity of the body of the States. The clergy's
speaker said in his address that the three estates, as heretofore, had
but one mouth, one heart, and one spirit. In spite of these protests,
the fatal example set by the States of Orleans was followed by those of
Blois and those of 1614. Should it be again imitated, we fear that the
States-general will be powerless to do anything for the happiness of the
kingdom and the glory of the throne, and that Europe will hear with
surprise that the French know neither how to bear servitude nor how to
deserve freedom."

An honest but useless appeal to the memories of the far past! Times were
changed; whereas the municipal officers representing the third estate
used to find themselves powerless in presence of the upper orders
combined, the third (estate); now equal to the privileged by extension of
its representation, counted numerous adherents amongst the clergy,
amongst the country parsons, and even in the ranks of the noblesse.
Deliberation in common and vote by poll delivered the two upper orders
into its hands; this was easily forgotten by the partisans of a reunion
which was desirable and even necessary, but which could not be forced
upon the clergy or noblesse, and which they could only effect with a view
to the public good and in the wise hope of preserving their influence by
giving up their power. All that preparatory labor characteristic of the
free, prudent and bold, frank and discreet government, had been neglected
by the feebleness or inexperience of the ministers. "This poor
government was at grips with all kinds of perils, and the man who had
shown his superiority under other difficult circumstances flinched
beneath the weight of these. His talents were distempered, his lights
danced about, he was, sustained only by the rectitude of his intentions
and by vanity born of his hopes, for he had ever in reserve that
perspective of confidence and esteem with which he believed the third
estate to be impressed towards him; but the promoters of the revolution,
those who wanted it complete and subversive of the old government, those
men who were so small a matter at the outset, either in weight or in
number, had too much interest in annihilating M. Necker not to represent
as pieces of perfidy his hesitations, his tenderness towards the two
upper orders, and his air of restraint towards the commons" [_Memoires de
Malouet,_ t. i. p. 236].

It was in this state of feeble indecision as regarded the great
questions, and with this minuteness of detail in secondary matters, that
M. Necker presented himself on the 5th of May before the three orders at
the opening of the session in the palace of Versailles by King Louis XVI.
The royal procession had been saluted by the crowd with repeated and
organized shouts of "Hurrah for the Duke of Orleans!" which had disturbed
and agitated the queen. "The king," says Marmontel, "appeared with
simple dignity, without pride, without timidity, wearing on his features
the impress of the goodness which he had in his heart, a little affected
by the spectacle and by the feelings with which the deputies of a
faithful nation ought to inspire in its king." His speech was short,
dignified, affectionate, and without political purport. With more of
pomp and detail, the minister confined himself within the same limits.
"Aid his Majesty," said he, "to establish the prosperity of the kingdom
on solid bases, seek for them, point them out to your sovereign, and you
will find on his part the most generous assistance." The mode of action
corresponded with this insufficient language. Crushed beneath the burden
of past defaults and errors, the government tendered its abdication, in
advance, into the hands of that mightily bewildered Assembly it had just
convoked. The king had left the verification of powers to the States-
general themselves. M. Necker confined himself to pointing out the
possibility of common action between the three orders, recommending the
deputies to examine those questions discreetly. "The king is anxious
about your first deliberations," said the minister, throwing away at
haphazard upon leaders as yet unknown the direction of those discussions
which he with good reason dreaded. "Never did political assembly combine
so great a number of remarkable men," says M. Malouet, "without there
being a single one whose superiority was decided and could command the
respect of the others. Such abundance of stars rendered this assembly
unmanageable, as they will always be in France when there is no man
conspicuous in authority and in force of character to seize the helm of
affairs or to have the direction spontaneously surrendered to him.
Fancy, then, the state of a meeting of impassioned men, without rule or
bridle, equally dangerous from their bad and their good qualities,
because they nearly all lacked experience and a just appreciation of the
gravity of the circumstances under which they were placed; insomuch that
the good could do no good, and the bad, from levity, from violence, did
nearly always more harm than they intended."

It was amidst such a chaos of passions, wills, and desires, legitimate or
culpable, patriotic or selfish, that there was, first of all, propounded
the question of verification of powers. Prompt and peremptory on the
part of the noblesse, hesitating and cautions on the part of the clergy,
the opposition of the two upper orders to any common action irritated the
third estate; its appeals had ended in nothing but conferences broken
off, then resumed at the king's desire, and evidently and painfully to no
purpose. "By an inconceivable oversight on the part of M. Necker in the
local apportionment of the building appointed for the assembly of the
States-general, there was the throne-room or room of the three orders, a
room for the noblesse, one for the clergy, and none for the commons, who
remained, quite naturally, established in the states-room, the largest,
the most ornate, and all fitted up with tribunes for the spectators who
took possession of the public boxes (_loges communes_) in the room. When
it was perceived that this crowd of strangers and their plaudits only
excited the audacity of the more violent speakers, all the consequences
of this installation were felt. Would anybody believe," continues M.
Malouet, "that M. Necker had an idea of inventing a ground-slip, a
falling-in of the cellars of the Menus, and of throwing down during the
night the carpentry of the grand room, in order to remove and install the
three orders separately? It was to me myself that he spoke of it, and I
had great difficulty in dissuading him from the notion, by pointing out
to him all the danger of it." The want of foresight and the nervous
hesitation of the ministers had placed the third estate in a novel and a
strong situation. Installed officially in the statesroom, it seemed to
be at once master of the position, waiting for the two upper orders to
come to it. Mirabeau saw this with that rapid insight into effects and
consequences which constitutes, to a considerable extent, the orator's
genius. The third estate had taken possession, none could henceforth
dispute with it its privileges, and it was the defence of a right that
had been won which was to inspire the fiery orator with his mighty
audacity, when on the 23d of June, towards evening, after the miserable
affair of the royal session, the Marquis of Dreux-Breze came back into
the room to beg the deputies of the third estate to withdraw. The king's
order was express, but already certain nobles and a large number of
ecclesiastics had joined the deputies of the commons; their definitive
victory on the 27th of June, and the fusion of the three orders, were
foreshadowed; Mirabeau rose at the entrance of the grand-master of the
ceremonies. "Go," he shouted, "and tell those who send you, that we are
here by the will of the people, and that we shall not budge save at the
point of the bayonet." This was the beginning of revolutionary violence.

On the 12th of June the battle began; the calling over of the bailiwicks
took place in the states-room. The third estate sat alone. At each
province, each chief place, each roll (_proces-verbal_), the secretaries
repeated in a loud voice, "Gentlemen of the clergy? None present.
Gentlemen of the noblesse? None present." Certain parish priests alone
had the courage to separate from their order and submit their powers for
verification. All the deputies of the third (estate) at once gave them
precedence. The day of persecution was not yet come.

Legality still stood; the third estate maintained a proud moderation, the
border was easily passed, a name was sufficient.

The title of States-general was oppressive to the new assembly, it
recalled the distinction between the orders as well as the humble posture
of the third estate heretofore. "This is the only true name," exclaimed
Abbe Sieyes; "assembly of acknowledged and verified representatives of
the nation." This was a contemptuous repudiation of the two upper
orders. Mounier replied with another definition "legitimate assembly of
the majority amongst the deputies of the nation, deliberating in the
absence of the duly invited minority." The subtleties of metaphysics and
politics are powerless to take the popular fancy. Mirabeau felt it.
"Let us call ourselves representatives of the people!" he shouted. For
this ever fatal name he claimed the kingly sanction. "I hold the king's
veto so necessary," said the great orator, "that, if he had it not, I
would rather live at Constantinople than in France. Yes, I protest, I
know of nothing more terrible than a sovereign aristocracy of six hundred
persons, who, having the power to declare themselves to-morrow
irremovable and the next day hereditary, would end, like the
aristocracies of all countries in the world, by swooping down upon
everything."

An obscure deputy here suggested during the discussion the name of
National Assembly, often heretofore employed to designate the States-
general; Sieyes took it up, rejecting the subtle and carefully prepared
definitions. "I am for the amendment of M. Legrand," said he, "and I
propose the title of National Assembly." Four hundred and ninety-one
voices against ninety adopted this simple and superb title. In contempt
of the two upper orders of the state, the national assembly was
constituted. The decisive step was taken towards the French Revolution.

During the early days, in the heat of a violent discussion, Barrere had
exclaimed, "You are summoned to recommence history." It was an arrogant
mistake. For more than eighty years modern France has been prosecuting
laboriously and in open day the work which had been slowly forming within
the dark womb of olden France. In the almighty hands of eternal God a
people's history is interrupted and recommenced never.

Book of the day: