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The French Revolution, Volume 1. The Origins of Contemporary France, Volume 2 by Hippolyte A. Taine

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counselors, on the one hand fear, on the other hand theory; and on
the ruins of the old machine which it had demolished without
discernment, the new machine, which it has constructed without
forecast, will work only to its own ruin.



[1] Arthur Young, June 15, 1789. - Bailly, passim, -- Moniteur,
IV. 522 (June 2, 1790). - Mercure de France (Feb. 11 1792).

[2] Moniteur, v. 631 (Sep. 12, 1790), and September 8th (what is
said by the Abbé Maury). - Marmontel, book XIII. 237. -
Malouet, I. 261. - Bailly, I. 227.

[3] Sir Samuel Romilly, "Mémoires," I. 102, 354. - Dumont, 158.
(The official rules bear are dated July 29, 1789.)

[4] Cf. Ferrières, I. 3. His repentance is affecting.

[5] Letter from Morris to Washington, January 24, 1790 See page 382,
"A diary of the French revolution", Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn.
1972. - Dumont 125 - Garat, letter to Condorcet.

[6] Arthur Young, I. 46. "Tame and elegant, uninteresting and
polite, the mingled mass of communicated ideas has power neither to
offend nor instruct. . . . . All vigor of thought seems excluded
from expression. . . . . Where there is much polish of character
there is little argument." -- Cabinet des Estampes. See
engravings of the day by Moreau, Prieur, Monet, representing the
opening of the States-General. All the figures have a graceful,
elegant, and genteel air.

[7] Marmontel, book XIII. 237. - Malouet, I. 261. - Ferrières, I.

[8] Gouverneur Morris, January 24, 1790. - Likewise (De Ferrières,
I.71) the decree on the abolition of nobility was not the order of
the day, and was carried by surprise.

[9] Ferrières, I. 189. - Dumont, 146.

[10] Letter of Mirabeau to Sieyès, June 11, 1790. "Our nation of
monkeys with the throats of parrots." -- Dumont, 146. "Sieyès and
Mirabeau always entertained a contemptible opinion of the
Constituent Assembly."

[11] Moniteur, I, 256, 431 (July 16 and 31, 1789). - Journal des
Débats et Décrets, 105, July 16th "A member demands that M. de Lally
should put his speech in writing. "The whole Assembly has repeated
this request."

[12] Moniteur. (March 11, 1790). "A nun of St. Mandé, brought to the
bar of the house, thanks the Assembly for the decree by which the
cloisters are opened, and denounces the tricks, intrigues, and even
violence exercised in the convents to prevent the execution of the
decree." -- Ibid. March 29, 1790. See the various addresses which
are read. " At Lagnon, the mother of a family assembled her ten
children, and swore with them and for them to be loyal to the nation
and to the King." -- Ibid. June 5, 1790. "M. Chambroud reads the
letter of the collector of customs of Lannion, in Brittany, to a
priest, a member of the National Assembly. He implores his
influence to secure the acceptance of his civic oath and that of all
his family, ready to wield either the censer, the cart, the scales,
the sword, or the pen. On reading a number of these addresses the
Assembly appears to be a supplement of the Petites Affiches (a small
advertising journal in Paris).

[13] Moniteur, October 23, 1789.

[14] A well-known writer of children's stories.-[Tr.]

[15] Ferrières, II. 65 (June 10,1790). - De Montlosier, I.
402. "One of these puppets came the following day to get his money
of the Comte de Billancourt, mistaking him for the Duc de Liancourt.
'Monsieur,' says he, 'I am the man who played the Chaldean

[16] Buchez and Roux, X. 118 (June 16, 1791).

[17] See the printed list of deputies, with the indication of their
baillage or sénéchaussée, quality, condition, and profession.

[18] De Bouillé, 75. - When the King first saw the list of the
deputies, he exclaimed," What would the nation have said if I had
made up my council or the Notables in this way?" (Buchez and Roux,
IV. 39.)

[19] Gouverneur Morris, July 31, 1789.

[20] Gouverneur Morris, February 25, 1789. - Lafayette,
"Mémoires," V. 492. Letter of Jefferson, February 14, 1815. -
Arthur Young, June 27 and 29, 1789.

[21] Morris, July 1, 1789.

[22] Morris, July 4, 1789.

[23] Mallet du Pan, Mercure, September 26, 1789.

[24] Gouverneur Morris, January 24, 1790; November 22, 1790.

[25] Dumont, 33, 58, 62.

[26] Sir Samuel. Romilly, "Mémoirs," I. 102. "It was their
constant course first, decree the principle and leave the drawing up
of what they had so resolved (or, as they called it, la rédaction)
for later. It is astonishing how great an influence it had on
their debates and measures. - Ibid. I. 354. Letter by
Dumont, June 2, 1789. "They prefer their own folly to all the
results of British experience. They revolt at the idea of
borrowing anything from our government, which is scoffed at here as
one of the iniquities of human reason; although they admit that you
have two or three good laws; but that you should presume to have a
constitution is not to be sustained."

[27] Dumont, 138, 151.

[28] Morris, January 24, 1790.

[29] Marmontel, XII. 265. - Ferrières, . I. 48¸ II. 50,
58, 126. - Dumont, 74.

[30] Gouverneur Morris, January 24, 1790. - According to Ferrières
this party comprised about three hundred members.

[31] Here Ambassador Morris describes the kind of man who should
form the backbone of all later revolutions whether communist or
fascist ones. (SR.)

[32] Dumont, 33, 58, 62.

[33] De Lavergne, "Les Assemblées Provinciales," 384.
Deliberations of the States of Dauphiny, drawn up by Mournier and
signed by two hundred gentlemen (July, 1788). "The rights of man
are derived from nature alone, and are independent of human

[34] Report by Merlin de Douai, February 8, 1790, p.2. -- Malouet,
II, 51.

[35] Dumont, 133. - De Montlosier, I, 355, 361.

[36] Bertrand de Molleville, II. 221 (according to a police
report). - Schmidt, "Tableaux de la Révolution," I. 215.
(Report of the agent Dutard, May 13, 1793) -- Lacretelle, "Dix Ans
d'Epreuves," p.35. "It was about midnight when we went out in the
rain, sleet, and snow, in the piercing cold, to the church of the
Feuillants, to secure places for the galleries of the Assembly,
which we were not to occupy till noon on the following day. We
were obliged, moreover, to contend for them with a crowd animated by
passions, and even by interests, very different from our own. We
were not long in perceiving that a considerable part of the
galleries was under pay, and that the scenes of cruelty which gave
pain to us were joy to them. I cannot express the horror I felt on
hearing those women, since called tricoteuses, take a delight in the
already homicidal doctrines of Robespierre, enjoying his sharp voice
and feasting their eyes on his ugly face, the living type of envy."
(The first months of 1790.)

[37] Moniteur, V. 237 (July 26, 1790); V. 594. (September 8,
1790); V. 631 (September 12, 1790); VI. 310 (October 6, 1790).
(Letter of the Abbé Peretti.)

[38] De Ferrières, II. 75. - Moniteur, VI. 373 (September 6,
1790). - M. de Virieu. "Those who insult certain members and
hinder the freedom of debate by hooting or applause must be
silenced. Is it the three hundred spectators who are to be our
judges, or the nation?" M. Chasset, President: "Monsieur opinionist,
I call you to order. You speak of hindrances to a free vote; there
has never been anything of the kind in this Assembly."

[39] Sauzay, I 140. Letter of M. Lompré, liberal deputy, to M.
Séguin, chanoine (towards the end of November, 1789). "The service
becomes more difficult every day; we have become objects of popular
fury, and, when no other resource was left to us to avoid the
tempest but to get rid of the endowments of the clergy, we yielded
to force. It had become a pressing necessity, and I should have
been sorry to have had you still here, exposed to the outrages and
violence with which I have been repeatedly threatened."

[40] Mercure de France, Nos. of January 15, 1791; October 2, 1790;
May 14,1791.-- Buchez and Roux, V. 343 (April 13, 1790); VII. 76
(September 2, 1790); X. 225 ( June 21, 1791). - De Montlosier,
I. 357. - Moniteur, IV, 427.

[41] Archives of the Police, exposed by the Committee of the
district of Saint-Roch. Judgment of the Police Tribunal, May 15,

[42] Malouet, II. 68. - De Montlosier, II. 217, 257 (Speech of
M. Lavie, September 18, 1791).

[43] I.e. members of the old local parlements.

[44] Mercure, October 1, 1791. (Article by Mallet du Pan.)

[45] Malouet II. 66. "Those only who were not intimidated by
insults or threats, nor by actual blows, could come forward as

[46] Buchez and Roux, X. 432, 465.

[47] Malouet, II, 153.

[48] Decrees of July 23rd and 28th, 1789. - "Archives Nationales."
Papers of Committee of Investigation, passim. Among other affairs
see that of Madame de Persan (Moniteur, V. 611, sitting of September
9, 1790), and that of Malouet ("Mémoires II. 12).

[49] Buchez and Roux, IV. 56 (Report of Garan de Coulon); V. 49
(Decision of the Committee of Investigation, December 28, 1789).

[50] The arrests of M. de Riolles, M. de Bussy, etc., of Madame de
Jumilhac, of two other ladies, one at Bar-le-Duc and the other of
Nancy, etc.

[51] Sitting of July 28, 1789, the speeches of Duport and Rewbell,
etc. - Mercure, No. of January 1, 1791 (article by Mallet du
Pan). - Buchez and Roux, V. 146l "Behold five or six successive
conspiracies -- that of the sacks of flour, that of the sacks of
money, etc. (Article by Camille Desmoulins.)

[52] "Archives de la Préfecture de Police." Extract from the
registers of the deliberations of the Conseil-Général of the
district of Saint-Roch, October 10 1789: Arrête: to request all the
men in the commune to devote themselves, with all the prudence,
activity, and force of which they are capable, to the discovery,
exposure, and publication of the horrible plots and infernal
treachery which are constantly meditated against the inhabitants of
the capital; to denounce to the public the authors, abettors, and
adherents of the said plots, whatever their rank may be; to secure
their persons and insure their punishment with all the rigor which
outrages of this kind call for." The commandant of the battalion and
the district captains come daily to consult with the committee.
"While the alarm lasts, the first story of each house is to be
lighted with lamps during the night: all citizens of the district
are requested to be at home by ten o'clock in the evening at the
latest, unless they should be on duty. . . . All citizens are
invited to communicate whatever they may learn or discover in
relation to the abominable plots which are secretly going on in the

[53] Letter of M. de Guillermy, July 31, 1790 ("Actes des Apôtres,"
V. 56). "During these two nights (July 13th and 14th, 1789) that we
remained in session I heard one deputy try to get it believed that
an artillery corps had been ordered to point its guns against our
hall; another, that it was undermined, and that it was to be blown
up; another went so far as to declare that he smelt powder, upon
which M. le Comte de Virieu replied that power had no odor until it
was burnt."

[54] Dumont, 351. "Each constitutional law was a party triumph."

[55] Here Taine indicates how subversive parties may proceed to
weaken a nation prior to their take-over.(SR.)


Two principal vices of the ancient régime. - Two principal reforms
proposed by the King and the privileged classes. - They suffice for
actual needs. - Impracticable if carried further.

In the structure of the old society there were two fundamental vices
which called for two reforms of corresponding importance.[1]

In the first place, those who were privileged having ceased to
render the services for which the advantages they enjoyed
constituted their compensation and their privileges were no longer
anything but a gratuitous charge imposed on one portion of the
nation for the benefit of the other. Hence the necessity for
suppressing them.

In the second place, the Government, being absolute, made use of
public resources as if they were its own private property,
arbitrarily and wastefully;[2] it was therefore necessary to impose
upon it some effective and regular restraints.

To render all citizens equal before taxation, to put the purse of
the tax-payers into the hands of their representatives, such was the
twofold operation to be carried out in 1789; and the privileged
class as well as the King willingly lent themselves to it. Not
only, in this respect, were the memorials of nobles and clergy in
perfect harmony, but the monarch himself; in his declaration of the
23rd of June, 1789, decreed the two articles. Henceforth, every tax
or loan was to obtain the consent of the States-General; this
consent was to be renewed at each new meeting of the States; the
public estimates were to be annually published, discussed,
specified, apportioned, voted on and verified by the States; there
were to be no arbitrary assessments or use of public funds;
allowances were to be specially assigned for all separate services,
the household of the King included. In each province or district-
general, there was to be an elected Provincial Assembly, one-half
composed of ecclesiastics and nobles, and the other half of members
of the Third-Estate, to apportion general taxes, to manage local
affairs, to decree and direct public works, to administer hospitals,
prisons, workhouses, and to continue its function, in the interval
of the sessions, through an intermediary commission chosen by
itself; so that, besides the principal control of the center, there
were to be thirty subordinate controlling powers at the extremities.
There was to be no more exemption or distinction in the matter of
taxation; the roadtax (covée) was to be abolished, also the right of
franc-fief[3] imposed on plebeians; the rights of mortmain,[4]
subject to indemnity, and internal customs duties. There was to be
a reduction of the captaincies, a modification of the salt-tax and
of the excise, the transformation of civil justice, too costly for
the poor, and of criminal justice, too severe for the humbler
classes. Here we have, besides the principal reform, equalization
of taxes; the beginning and inducement of the more complete
operation which is to strike off the last of the feudal manacles.
Moreover; six weeks later, on the 4th of August; the privileged, in
an outburst of generosity, come forward of their own accord to cut
off or undo the whole of them. This double reform thus encountered
no obstacles, and, as Arthur Young reported to his friends, it
merely required one vote to have it adopted.[5]

This was enough; for all real necessities were now satisfied. On
the one hand, through the abolition of privileges in the matter of
taxation, the burden of the peasant and, in general, on the small
tax-payer was diminished one-half, and perhaps two thirds; instead
of paying fifty-three francs on one hundred francs of net income, he
paid no more than twenty-five or even sixteen;[6] an enormous
relief, and one which, with the proposed revision of the excise and
salt duties, made a complete change in his condition. Add to this
the gradual redemption of ecclesiastical and feudal dues: and after
twenty years the peasant, already proprietor of a fifth of the soil,
would, without the violent events of the Revolution, in any case
have attained the same degree of independence and well-being which
he was to achieve by passing through it. On the other hand, through
the annual vote on the taxes, not only were waste and arbitrariness
in the employment of the public funds put a stop to, but also the
foundations of the parliamentary system of government were laid:
whoever holds the purse-strings is, or becomes, master of the rest;
henceforth in the maintenance or establishment of any service, the
assent of the States was to be necessary. Now, in the three
Chambers which the three orders were thenceforward to form, there
were two in which the plebeians predominated. Public opinion,
moreover, was on their side, while the King, the true constitutional
monarch, far from possessing the imperious inflexibility of a
despot, did not now possess the initiative of an ordinary person.
Thus the preponderance fell to the communes, and they could legally,
without any collision, execute multiply, and complete, with the aid
of the prince and through him, all useful reforms.[7] -- This was
enough; for human society, like a living body, is seized with
convulsions when it is subjected to operations on too great a scale,
and these, although restricted, were probably all that France in
1789 could endure. To equitably reorganize afresh the whole system
of direct and indirect taxation; to revise, recast, and transfer to
the frontiers the customs-tariffs; to suppress, through negotiations
and with indemnity, feudal and ecclesiastical claims, was an
operation of the greatest magnitude, and as complex as it was
delicate. Things could be satisfactorily arranged only through
minute inquiries, verified calculations, prolonged essays, and
mutual concessions. In England, in our day, a quarter of a century
has been required to bring about a lesser reform, the transformation
of tithes and manorial-rights; and time likewise was necessary for
our Assemblies to perfect their political education,[8] to get of
their theories, to learn, by contact with practical business, and in
the study of details, the distance which separates speculation from
practice; to discover that a new system of institutions works well
only through a new system of habits, and that to decree a new system
of habits is tantamount to attempting to build an old house. --
Such, however, is the work they undertake. They reject the King's
proposals, the limited reforms, the gradual transformations.
According to them, it is their right and their duty to re-make
society from top to bottom. Such is the command of pure reason,
which has discovered the Rights of Man and the conditions of the
Social Contract.


Nature of societies, and the principle of enduring constitutions.

Apply the Social Contract, if you like, but apply it only to those
for whom it was drawn up. These were abstract beings, belonging
neither to a period nor to a country, perfect creatures hatched out
under the magic wand of a metaphysician. They had as a matter of
fact come into existence by removing all the characteristics which
distinguish one man from another,[9] a Frenchman from a Papuan, a
modern Englishman from a Briton in the time of Caesar, and by
retaining only the part which is common to all.[10] The essence thus
obtained is a prodigiously meager one, an infinitely curtailed
extract of human nature, that is, in the phraseology of the day,


nothing more and nothing else. After this pattern several million
individuals, all precisely alike, have been prepared while, through
a second simplification, as extraordinary as the first one, they are
all supposed to be free and all equal, without a past, without
kindred, without responsibility, without traditions, without
customs, like so many mathematical units, all separable and all
equivalent, and then it is imagined that, assembled together for the
first time, these proceed to make their primitive bargain. From the
nature they are supposed to possess and the situation in which they
are placed, no difficulty is found in deducing their interests,
their wills, and the contract between them. But if this contract
suits them, it does not follow that it suits others. On the
contrary, if follows that is does not suit others; the inconvenience
becomes extreme on its being imposed on a living society; the
measure of that inconvenience will be the immensity of the distance
which divides a hollow abstraction, a philosophical phantom, an
empty insubstantial image from the real and complete man.

In any event we are not here considering a specimen, so reduced and
mutilated as to be only an outline of a human being; no, we are to
the contrary considering Frenchmen of the year 1789. It is for them
alone that the constitution is being made: it is therefore they
alone who should be considered; they are manifestly men of a
particular species, having their peculiar temperament, their special
aptitudes, their own inclinations, their religion, their history,
all adding up into a mental and moral structure, hereditary and
deeply rooted, bequeathed to them by the indigenous stock, and to
which every great event, each political or literary phase for twenty
centuries, has added a growth, a transformation or a custom. It is
like some tree of a unique species whose trunk, thickened by age,
preserves in its annual rings and in its knots, branches, and
curvatures, the deposits which its sap has made and the imprint of
the innumerable seasons through which it has passed. Using the
philosophic definition, so vague and trite, to such an organism, is
only a puerile label teaching us nothing. -- And all the more
because extreme diversities and inequalities show themselves on this
exceedingly elaborate and complicated background, -- those of age,
education, faith, class and fortune; and these must be taken into
account, for these contribute to the formation of interests,
passions, and dispositions. To take only the most important of
these, it is clear that, according to the average of human life,[11]
one-half of the population is composed of children, and, besides
this, one-half of the adults are women. In every twenty inhabitants
eighteen are Catholic, of whom sixteen are believers, at least
through habit and tradition. Twenty-five out of twenty-six millions
of Frenchmen cannot read, one million at the most being able to do
so; and in political matters only five or six hundred are competent.
As to the condition of each class, its ideas, its sentiments, its
kind and degree of culture, we should have to devote a large volume
to a mere sketch of them.

There is still another feature and the most important of all. These
men who are so different from each other are far from being
independent, or from contracting together for the first time. They
and their ancestors for eight hundred years form a national body,
and it is because they belong to this body that they live, multiply,
labor, make acquisitions, become enlightened and civilized, and
accumulate the vast heritage of comforts and intelligence which they
now enjoy. Each in this community is like the cell of an organized
body; undoubtedly the body is only an accumulation of cells, but the
cell is born, subsists, develops and attains its individual ends
only be the healthy condition of the whole body. Its chief
interest, accordingly, is the prosperity of the whole organism, and
the fundamental requirement of all the little fragmentary lives,
whether they know it or not, is the conservation of the great total
life in which they are comprised as musical notes in a concert. --
Not only is this a necessity for them, but it is also a duty. We
are all born with a debt to our country, and this debt increases
while we grow up; it is with the assistance of our country, under
the protection of the law, upheld by the authorities, that our
ancestors and parents have given us life, property, and education.
Each person's faculties, ideas, attitudes, his or her entire moral
and physical being are the products to which the community has
contributed, directly or indirectly, at least as tutor and guardian.
By virtue of this the state is his creditor, just as a destitute
father is of his able-bodied son; it can lay claim to nourishment,
services, and, in all the force or resources of which he disposes,
it deservedly demands a share. -- This he knows and feels, the
notion of country is deeply implanted within him, and when occasion
calls for it, it will show itself in ardent emotions, fueling steady
sacrifice and heroic effort. -- Such are veritable Frenchmen, and
we at once see how different they are from the simple,
indistinguishable, detached monads which the philosophers insist on
substituting for them. Their association need not be created, for
it already exists; for eight centuries they have a "common weal "
(la chose publique). The safety and prosperity of this common weal
is at once their interest, their need, their duty, and even their
most secret wish. If it is possible to speak here of a contract,
their quasi-contract is made and settled for them beforehand. The
first article, at all events, is stipulated for, and this overrides
all the others. The nation must not be dissolved. Public
authorities must, accordingly, exist, and these must be respected.
If there are a number of these, they must be so defined and so
balanced as to be of mutual assistance, instead of neutralizing each
other by their opposition. Whatever government is adopted, it must
place matters in the hands best qualified to conduct them. The law
must not exist for the advantage of the minority, nor for that of
the majority, but for the entire community. -- In regard to this
first article no one must derogate from it, neither the minority nor
the majority, neither the Assembly elected by the nation, nor the
nation itself, even if unanimous. It has no right arbitrarily to
dispose of the common weal, to put it in peril according to its
caprice, to subordinate it to the application of a theory or to the
interest of a single class, even if this class is the most numerous.
For, that which is the common weal does not belong to it, but to the
whole community, past, present, and to come. Each generation is
simply the temporary manager and responsible trustee of a precious
and glorious patrimony which it has received from the former
generation, and which it has to transmit to the one that comes after
it. In this perpetual endowment, to which all Frenchmen from the
first days of France have brought their offerings, there is no doubt
about the intentions of countless benefactors; they have made their
gifts conditionally, that is, on the condition that the endowment
should remain intact, and that each successive beneficiary should
merely serve as the administrator of it. Should any of the
beneficiaries, through presumption or levity, through rashness or
one-sidedness, compromise the charge entrusted to them, they wrong
all their predecessors whose sacrifices they invalidate, and all
their successors whose hopes they frustrate. Accordingly, before
undertaking to frame a constitution, let the whole community be
considered in its entirety, not merely in the present but in the
future, as far as the eye can reach. The interest of the public,
viewed in this far-sighted manner, is the end to which all the rest
must be subordinate, and for which a constitution provides. A
constitution, whether oligarchic, monarchist, or aristocratic, is
simply an instrument, good if it attains this end, and bad if it
does not attain it, and which, to attain it, must, like every
species of mechanism, vary according to the ground, materials, and
circumstances. The most ingenious is illegitimate if it dissolves
the State, while the clumsiest is legitimate if it keeps the State
intact. There is none that springs out of an anterior, universal,
and absolute right. According to the people, the epoch, and the
degree of civilization, according to the outer or inner condition of
things, all civil or political equality or inequality may, in turn,
be or cease to be beneficial or hurtful, and therefore justify the
legislator in removing or preserving it. It is according to this
superior and salutary law, and not according to an imaginary and
impossible contract, that he is to organize, limit, delegate and
distribute from the center to the extremities, through inheritance
or through election, through equalization or through privilege, the
rights of the citizen and the power of the community.


The estates of a society. - Political aptitude of the aristocracy.
- Its disposition in 1789. - Special services which it might have
rendered. - The principle of the Assembly as to original equality.
- Rejection of an Upper Chamber. - The feudal rights of the
aristocracy. - How far and why they were worthy of respect. - How
they should have been transformed. - Principle of the Assembly as
to original liberty. - Distinction established by it in feudal
dues; application of its principle. - The lacunae of its law. -
Difficulties of redemption. - Actual abolition of all feudal liens.
- Abolition of titles and territorial names. - Growing prejudice
against the aristocracy. - Its persecutions. - The emigration. -

Was it necessary to begin by making a clean sweep, and was it
advisable to abolish or only to reform the various orders and
corporations? -- Two prominent orders, the clergy and the nobles,
enlarged by the ennobled plebeians who had grown wealthy and
acquired titled estates, formed a privileged aristocracy side by
side with the Government, whose favors it might receive on the
condition of seeking them assiduously and with due acknowledgment,
privileged on its own domains, and taking advantage there of all
rights belonging to the feudal chieftain without performing his
duties. This abuse was evidently an enormous one and had to be
ended. But, it did not follow that, because the position of the
privileged class on their domains and in connection with the
Government was open to abuse, they should be deprived of protection
for person and property on their domains, and of influence and
occupation under the Government. -- A favored aristocracy, when it
is unoccupied and renders none of the services which its rank admits
of, when it monopolizes all honors, offices, promotions,
preferences, and pensions,[12] to the detriment of others not less
needy and deserving, is undoubtedly a serious evil. But when an
aristocracy is subject to the common law, when it is occupied,
especially when its occupation is in conformity with its aptitudes,
and more particularly when it is available for the formation of an
upper elective chamber or an hereditary peerage, it is a vast
service. -- In any case it cannot be irreversibly suppressed; for,
although it may be abolished by law, it is reconstituted by facts.
The legislator must necessarily choose between two systems, that
which lets it lie fallow, or that which enables it to be productive,
that which drives it away from, or that which rallies it round, the
public service. In every society which has lived for any length of
time, a nucleus of families always exists whose fortunes and
importance are of ancient date. Even when, as in France in 1789,
this class seems to be exclusive, each half century introduces into
it new families; judges, governors, rich businessmen or bankers who
have risen to the tope of the social ladder through the wealth they
have acquired or through the important offices they have filled; and
here, in the medium thus constituted, the statesman and wise
counselor of the people, the independent and able politician is most
naturally developed. - Because, on the one hand, thanks to his
fortune and his rank, a man of this class is above all vulgar
ambitions and temptations. He is able to serve gratis; he is not
obliged to concern himself about money or about providing for his
family and making his way in the world. A political mission is no
interruption to his career; he is not obliged, like the engineer,
merchant, or physician, to sacrifice either his business, his
advancement, or his clients. He can resign his post without injury
to himself or to those dependent on him, follow his own convictions,
resist the noisy deleterious opinions of the day, and be the loyal
servant, not the low flatterer of the public. Whilst, consequently,
in the inferior or average conditions of life, the incentive is
self-interest, with him the grand motive is pride. Now, amongst the
deeper feelings of man there is none which is more adapted for
transformation into probity, patriotism, and conscientiousness; for
the first requisite of the high-spirited man is self-respect, and,
to obtain that, he is induced to deserve it. Compare, from this
point of view, the gentry and nobility of England with the
"politicians" of the United States. - On the other hand, with equal
talents, a man who belongs to this sphere of life enjoys
opportunities for acquiring a better comprehension of public affairs
than a poor man of the lower classes. The information he requires
is not the erudition obtained in libraries and in private study. He
must be familiar with living men, and, besides these, with
agglomerations of men, and even more with human organizations, with
States, with Governments, with parties, with administrative systems,
at home and abroad, in full operation and on the spot. There is but
one way to reach this end, and that is to see for himself, with his
own eyes, at once in general outline and in details, by intercourse
with the heads of departments, with eminent men and specialists, in
whom are gathered up the information and the ideas of a whole class.
Now the young do not frequent society of this description, either at
home or abroad, except on the condition of possessing a name,
family, fortune, education and a knowledge of social observances.
All this is necessary to enable a young man of twenty to find doors
everywhere open to him to be received everywhere on an equal
footing, to be able to speak and to write three or four living
languages, to make long, expensive, and instructive sojourns in
foreign lands, to select and vary his position in the different
branches of the public service, without pay or nearly so, and with
no object in view but that of his political culture Thus brought up
a man, even of common capacity, is worthy of being consulted. If he
is of superior ability, and there is employment for him, he may
become a statesman before thirty; he may acquire ripe capacities,
become prime Minister, the sole pilot, alone able, like Pitt,
Canning, or Peel, to steer the ship of State between the reefs, or
give in the nick of time the touch to the helm which will save the
ship. -- Such is the service to which an upper class is adapted.
Only this kind of specialized stud farm can furnish a regular supply
of racers, and, now and then, the favorite winner that distances all
his competitors in the European field.

But in order that they may prepare and educate themselves for this
career, the way must be clear, and they must not be compelled to
travel too repulsive a road. If rank, inherited fortune, personal
dignity, and refined manners are sources of disfavor with the
people; if, to obtain their votes, he is forced to treat as equals
electoral brokers of low character; if impudent charlatanism, vulgar
declamation, and servile flattery are the sole means by which votes
can be secured, then, as nowadays in the United States, and formerly
in Athens, the aristocratic body will retire into private life and
soon settle down into a state of idleness. A man of culture and
refinement, born with an income of a hundred thousand a year, is not
tempted to become either manufacturer, lawyer, or physician. For
want of other occupation he loiters about, entertains his friends,
chats, indulges in the tastes and hobbies of an amateur, is bored or
enjoys himself. As a result one of society's great forces is thus
lost to the nation. In this way the best and largest acquisition of
the past, the heaviest accumulation of material and of moral
capital, remain unproductive. In a pure democracy the upper
branches of the social tree, not only the old ones but the young
ones, remain sterile. When a vigorous branch passes above the rest
and reaches the top it ceases to bear fruit. The élite of the
nation is thus condemned to constant and irremediable failures
because it cannot find a suitable outlet for its activity. It wants
no other outlet, for in all directions its rival, who are born below
it, can serve as usefully and as well as itself. But this one it
must have, for on this its aptitudes are superior, natural, unique,
and the State which refuses to employ it resembles the gardener who
in his fondness for a plane surface would repress his best
shoots.[13] -- Hence, in the constructions which aim to utilize the
permanent forces of society and yet maintain civil equality, the
aristocracy is brought to take a part in public affairs by the
duration and gratuitous character of its mission, by the institution
of an hereditary character, by the application of various machinery,
all of which is combined so as to develop the ambition, the culture,
and the political capacity of the upper class, and to place power,
or the control of power, in its hands, on the condition that it
shows itself worthy of exercising it. -- Now, in 1789, the upper
class was not unworthy of it. Members of the parliaments, the
noblemen, bishops, capitalists, were the men amongst whom, and
through whom, the philosophy of the eighteenth century was
propagated. Never was an aristocracy more liberal, more humane, and
more thoroughly converted to useful reforms;[14] many of them remain
so under the knife of the guillotine. The magistrates of the
superior tribunals, in particular, traditionally and by virtue of
their institution, were the enemies of excessive expenditure and the
critics of arbitrary acts. As to the gentry of the provinces, "they
were so weary," says one of them,[15] "of the Court and the
Ministers that most of them were democrats." For many years, in the
Provincial Assemblies, the whole of the upper class, the clergy,
nobles, and Third-Estate, furnishes abundant evidence of its good
disposition, of its application to business, its capacity and even
generosity. Its mode of studying, discussing, and assigning the
local taxation indicates what it would have done with the general
budget had this been entrusted to it. It is evident that it would
have protected the general taxpayer as zealously as the taxpayer of
the province, and kept as close an eye upon the public purse at
Paris as on that of Bourges or of Montauban. -- Thus were the
materials of a good chamber ready at hand, and the only thing that
had to be done was to convene them. On having the facts presented
to them, its members would have passed without difficulty from a
hazardous theory to common-sense practice, and the aristocracy which
had enthusiastically given an impetus to reform in its saloons
would, in all probability, have carried it out effectively and with
moderation in the Parliament.

Unhappily, the Assembly is not providing a Constitution for
contemporary Frenchmen, but for abstract beings. Instead of seeing
classes in society one placed above the other, it simply sees
individuals in juxtaposition; its attention is not fixed on the
advantage of the nation, but on the imaginary rights of man. As all
men are equal, all must have an equal share in the government.
There must be no orders in a State, no avowed or concealed political
privileges, no constitutional complications or electoral
combinations by which an aristocracy, however liberal and capable,
may put its hands upon any portion of the public power. -- On the
contrary, because it was once privileged to enjoy important and
rewarding public employment, the candidacy of the upper classes is
now suspect. All projects which, directly or indirectly, reserve or
provide a place for it, are refused: At first the Royal Declaration,
which, in conformity with historical precedents, maintained the
three orders in three distinct chambers, and only summoned them to
deliberate together "on matters of general utility." Then the plan
of the Constitutional Committee, which proposed a second Chamber,
appointed for life by the King on the nomination of the Provincial
Assemblies. And finally the project of Mounier who proposed to
confide to these same Assemblies the election of a Senate for six
years, renewed by thirds every two years. This Senate was to be
composed of men of at least thirty-five years of age, and with an
income in real property of 30,000 livres per annum. The instinct of
equality is too powerful and a second Chamber is not wanted, even if
accessible to plebeians. Through it,[16]

"The smaller number would control the greater;" ... "we should fall
back on the humiliating distinctions" of the ancient regime; "we
should revivify the germ of an aristocracy which must be
exterminated.".... "Moreover, whatever recalls or revives feudal
Institutions is bad, and an Upper Chamber is one of its remnants."
...."If the English have one, it is because they have been forced to
make a compromise with prejudice."

The National Assembly, sovereign and philosophic, soars above their
errors, their trammel; and their example. The depository of truth,
it has not to receive lessons from others, but to give them, and to
offer to the world's admiration the first type of a Constitution
which is perfect and in conformity with principle, the most
effective of any in preventing the formation of a governing class;
in closing the way to public business, not only to the old noblesse,
but to the aristocracy of the future; in continuing and exaggerating
the work of absolute monarchy; in preparing for a community of
officials and administrators; in lowering the level of humanity; in
reducing to sloth and brutalizing or blighting the elite of the
families which maintain or raise themselves; and in withering the
most precious of nurseries, that in which the State recruits its

Excluded from the Government, the aristocracy is about to retire
into private life. Let us follow them to their estates: Feudal
rights instituted for a barbarous State are certainly a great draw-
back in a modern State. If appropriate in an epoch when property
and sovereignty were fused together, when the Government was local,
when life was militant, they form an incongruity at a time when
sovereignty and property are separated, when the Government is
centralized, when the regime is a pacific one. The bondage which,
in the tenth century, was necessary to re-established security and
agriculture, is, in the eighteenth century, purposeless thralldom
which impoverishes the soil and fetters the peasant. But, because
these ancient claims are liable to abuse and injurious at the
present day, it does not follow that they never were useful and
legitimate, nor that it is allowable to abolish them without
indemnity On the contrary, for many centuries, and, on the whole, so
long as the lord of the manor resided on his estates this primitive
contract was advantageous to both parties, and to such an extent
that it has led to the modern contract. Thanks to the pressure of
this tight bandage, the broken fragments of the community can be
again united, and society once more recover its solidity, force, and
activity. -- In any event, that the institution, like all human
institutions, took its rise in violence and was corrupted by abuses
is of little consequence; the State, for eight hundred years,
recognized these feudal claims, and, with its own consent and the
concurrence of its Courts, they were transmitted, bequeathed, sold,
mortgaged, and exchanged, like any other species of property. Only
two or three hundred, at most, now remained in the families of the
original proprietors. "The largest portion of the titled estates,"
says a contemporary,[18] "have become the property of capitalists,
merchants, and their descendants; the fiefs, for the most part,
being in the hands of the bourgeois of the towns." All the fiefs
which, during two centuries past, have been bought by new men, now
represent the economy and labor of their purchasers. -- Moreover;
whoever the actual holders may be, whether old or whether new men,
the State is under obligation to them, not only by general right --
and because, from the beginning, it is in its nature the guardian of
all property, -- but also by a special right, because it has itself
sanctioned this particular species of property. The buyers of
yesterday paid their money only under its guarantee; its signature
is affixed to the contract, and it has bound itself to secure to
them the enjoyment of it. If it prevents them from doing so, let it
make them compensation; in default of the thing promised to them, it
owes them the value of it. Such is the law in cases of
expropriation for public utility; in 1834, for instance, the
English, for the legal abolition of slavery, paid to their planters
the sum of £20,000,000. -- - But that is not sufficient: when, in
the suppression of feudal rights, the legislator's thoughts are
taken up with the creditors, he has only half performed his task;
there are two sides to the question, and he must likewise think of
the debtors. If he is not merely a lover of abstractions and of
fine phrases, if that which interests him is men and not words, if
he is bent upon the effective enfranchisement of the cultivator of
the soil, he will not rest content with proclaiming a principle,
with permitting the redemption of rents, with fixing the rate of
redemption, and, in case of dispute, with sending parties before the
tribunals. He will reflect that the peasantry, jointly responsible
for the same debt will find difficulty in agreeing among themselves;
that they are afraid of litigation; that, being ignorant, they will
not know how to set about it; that, being poor, they will be unable
to pay; and that, under the weight of discord, distrust, indigence,
and inertia, the new law will remain a dead letter, and only
exasperate their cupidity or kindle their resentment. In
anticipation of this disorder the legislator will come to their
assistance ; he will interpose commissions of arbitration between
them and the lord of the manor; he will substitute a scale of
annuities for a full and immediate redemption; he will lend them the
capital which they cannot borrow elsewhere; he will establish a
bank, rights, and a mode of procedure, -- in short, as in Savoy in
1771, in England in 1845,[19] and in Russia in 1861, he will relieve
the poor without despoiling the rich; he will establish liberty
without violating the rights of property; he will conciliate
interests and classes; he will not let loose a brutal peasant revolt
(Jacquerie) to enforce unjust confiscation; and he will terminate
the social conflict not with strife but with peace.

It is just the reverse in 1789 In conformity with the doctrine of
the social contract, the principle is set up that every man is born
free, and that his freedom has always been inalienable. If he
formerly submitted to slavery or to serfdom, it was owing to his
having had a knife at his throat; a contract of this sort is
essentially null and void. So much the worse for those who have the
benefit of it at the present day; they are holders of stolen
property, and must restore it to the legitimate owners. Let no one
object that this property was acquired for cash down, and in good
faith; they ought to have known beforehand that man and his liberty
are not commercial matters, and that unjust acquisitions rightly
perish in their hands.[20] Nobody dreams that the State which was a
party to this transaction is the responsible guarantor. Only one
scruple affects the Assembly ; its jurists and Merlin, its reporter,
are obliged to yield to proof; they know that in current practice,
and by innumerable ancient and modern titles, the noble in many
cases is nothing but an ordinary lessor, and that if, in those
cases, he collects his dues, it is simply in his capacity as a
private person, by virtue of a mutual contract, because he has given
a perpetual lease of a certain portion of his land; and he has given
it only in consideration of an annual payment in money or produce,
or services, together with another contingent claim which the farmer
pays in case of the transmission of the lease. These two
obligations could not be canceled without indemnity; if it were
done, more than one-half of the proprietors in France would be
dispossessed in favor of the farmers. Hence the distinction which
the Assembly makes in the feudal dues. -- On the one hand it
abolishes without indemnity all those dues which the noble receives
by virtue of being the local sovereign, the ancient proprietor of
persons and the usurper of public. powers; all those which the
lessee paid as serf, subject to rights of inheritance, and as former
vassal or dependent. On the other hand, it maintains and decrees as
redeemable at a certain rate all those which the noble receives
through his title of landed proprietor and of simple lessor; all
those which the lessee pays by virtue of being a free contracting
party, former purchaser, tenant, farmer or grantee of landed estate.
-- By this division it fancies that it has respected lawful
ownership by overthrowing illegitimate property, and that in the
feudal scheme of obligations, it has separated the wheat from the

But, through the principle, the drawing up and the omissions of its
law, it condemns both to a common destruction; the fire on which it
has thrown the chaff necessarily burns up the wheat. -- Both are
in fact bound up together in the same sheaf. If the noble formerly
brought men under subjection by the sword, it is also by the sword
that he formerly acquired possession of the soil. If the subjection
of persons is invalid on account of the original stain of violence,
the usurpation of the soil is invalid for the same reason. And if
the sanction and guarantee of the State could not justify the first
act of brigandage, they could not justify the second; and, since the
rights which are derived from unjust sovereignty are abolished
without indemnity, the rights which are derived from unjust
proprietorship should be likewise abolished without compensation. -
- The Assembly, with remarkable imprudence, had declared in the
preamble to its law that "it abolished the feudal system entirely,"
and, whatever its ulterior reservations might be, the fiat has gone
forth. The forty thousand sovereign municipalities to which the
text of the decree is read pay attention only to the first article,
and the village attorney, imbued with the rights of man, easily
proves to these assemblies of debtors that they owe nothing to their
creditors. There must be no exceptions nor distinctions: no more
annual rents, field-rents, dues on produce, nor contingent rents,
nor lord's dues and fines, or fifths.[22] If these have been
maintained by the Assembly, it is owing to misunderstanding,
timidity, inconsistency, and on all sides, in the rural districts,
the grumbling of disappointed greed or of unsatisfied necessities is

"You thought that you were destroying feudalism, while your
redemption laws have done just the contrary. . . . Are you not
aware that what was called a Seigneur was simply an unpunished
usurper? . . That detestable decree of 1790 is the ruin of lease-
holders. It has thrown the villages into a state of consternation.
The nobles reap all the advantage of it. . Never will redemption
be possible. Redemption of unreal claims! Redemption of dues that
are detestable!"

In vain the Assembly insists, specifies and explains by examples and
by detailed instructions the mode of procedure and the conditions of
redemption. Neither the procedure nor its conditions are
practicable. It has made no provisions for facilitating the
agreement of parties and the satisfaction of feudal liens, no
special arbitrators, nor bank for loans, nor system of annuities.
And worse still, instead of clearing the road it has barred it by
legal arrangements. The lease-holder is not to redeem his annual
rent without at the same time compounding for the contingent rent:
he is not allowed on his own to redeem his quota since he is tied up
in solidarity with the other partners. Should his hoard be a small
one, so much the worse for him. Not being able to redeem the whole,
he is not allowed to redeem a part. Not having the money with which
to relieve himself from both ground-rents and lord's dues he cannot
relieve himself from ground-rents. Not having the money to
liquidate the debt in full of those who are bound along with him-
self, he remains a captive in his ancient chains by virtue of the
new law which announces to him his freedom.

In the face of these unexpected trammels the peasant becomes
furious: His fixed idea, from the outbreak of the Revolution, is
that he no longer owes anything to anybody, and, among the speeches,
decrees, proclamations, and instructions which rumor brings to his
ears, he comprehends but one phrase, and is determined to comprehend
no other, and that is, that henceforth his obligations are removed.
He does not swerve from this, and since the law hinders, instead of
aiding him, he will break the law. In fact, after the 4th of
August, 1789, feudal dues cease to be collected. The claims which
are maintained are not enforced any more than those which are
suppressed. Whole communities come and give notice to the lord of
the manor that they will not pay any more rent. Others, with sword
in hand, compel him to give them acquittances. Others again, to be
more secure, break open his safe, and throw his title-deeds into the
fire.[24] Public force is nowhere strong enough to protect him in
his legal rights. Officers dare not serve writs, the courts dare
not give judgment, administrative bodies dare not decree in his
favor. He is despoiled through the connivance, the neglect, or the
impotence of all the authorities which ought to defend him. He is
abandoned to the peasants who fell his forests, under the pretext
that they formerly belonged to the commune; who take possession of
his mill, his wine-press, and his oven, under the pretext that
territorial privileges are suppressed.[25] Most of the gentry of the
provinces are ruined, without any resource, and have not even their
daily bread; for their income consisted in seignorial rights, and in
rents derived from their real property, which they had let on
perpetual leases, and now, in accordance with the law, one-half of
this income ceases to be paid, while the other half ceases to be
paid in spite of the law. One hundred and twenty-three millions of
revenue, representing two thousand millions and a half of capital in
the money of that time, double, at least, that of the present day,
thus passes as a gift, or through the toleration of the National
Assembly, from the hands of creditors into those of their debtors.
To this must be added an equal sum for revenue and capital arising
from the tithes which are suppressed without compensation, and by
the same stroke. -- This is the commencement of the great
revolutionary operation, that is to say, of the universal bankruptcy
which, directly or indirectly, is to destroy all contracts, and
abolish all debts in France. Violations of property, especially of
private property, cannot be made with impunity. The Assembly
desired to lop off only the feudal branch; but, in admitting that
the State can annul, without compensation, the obligations which it
has guaranteed, it put the ax to the root of the tree, and other
rougher hands are already driving it in up to the haft.

Nothing now remains to the noble but his title, his territorial
name, and his armorial bearings, which are innocent distinctions,
since they no longer confer any jurisdiction or pre-eminence upon
him, and which, as the law ceases to protect him, the first comer
may borrow with impunity. Not only, moreover, do they do no harm,
but they are even worthy of respect. With many of the nobles the
title of the estate covers the family name, the former alone being
made use of. If one were substituted for the other, the public
would have difficulty in discovering M. de Mirabeau, Lafayette, and
M. de Moutmorency, under the new names Riquetti, M. Mottié, and M.
Bouchard. Besides, it would be wrong to the bearer of it, to whom
the abolished title is a legitimate possession, often precious, it
being a certificate of quality and descent, an authentic personal
distinction of which he cannot be deprived without losing his
position, rank, and worth, in the human world around him. -- The
Assembly, however, with a popular principle at stake, gives no heed
to public utility, nor to the rights of individuals. The feudal
system being abolished, all that remains of it must be got rid of.
A decree is passed that "hereditary nobility is offensive to reason
and to true liberty;" that, where it exists, "there is no political
equality."[26] Every French citizen is forbidden to assume or retain
the titles of prince, duke, count, marquis, chevalier, and the like,
and to bear any other than the "true name of his family;" he is
prohibited from making his servants wear liveries, and from having
coats-of-arms on his house or on his carriage. In case of any
infraction of this law a penalty is inflicted upon him equal to six
times the sum of his personal taxes; he is to be struck off the
register of citizens, and declared incapable of holding any civil or
military office. There is the same punishment if to any contract or
acquittance he affixes his accustomed signature; if; through habit
or inadvertence, he adds the title of his estate to his family name
-- if; with a view to recognition, and to render his identity
certain, he merely mentions that he once bore the former name. Any
notary or public officer who shall write, or allow to be written, in
any document the word ci-devant (formerly) is to be suspended from
his functions. Not only are old names thus abolished, but an effort
is made to efface all remembrance of them. In a little while, the
childish law will become a murderous one. It will be but a little
while and, according to the terms of this same decree, a military
veteran of seventy-seven years, a loyal servant of the Republic, and
a brigadier-general under the Convention, will be arrested on
returning to his native village, because he has mechanically signed
the register of the revolutionary committee as Montperreux instead
of Vannod, and, for this infraction, he will be guillotined along
with his brother and his sister-in-law.[27]

Once on this road, it is impossible to stop; for the principles
which are proclaimed go beyond the decrees which are passed, and a
bad law introduces a worse. The Constituent Assembly[28] had
supposed that annual dues, like ground-rents, and contingent dues,
like feudal duties (lods et rentes), were the price of an ancient
concession of land, and, consequently, the proof to the contrary is
to be thrown upon the tenant. The Legislative Assembly is about to
assume that these same rentals are the result of an old feudal
usurpation, and that, consequently, the proof to the contrary must
rest with the proprietor. His rights cannot be established by
possession from time immemorial, nor by innumerable and regular
acquittances; he must produce the act of enfeoffment which is many
centuries old, the lease which has never, perhaps, been written out,
the primitive title already rare in 1720,[29] and since stolen or
burnt in the recent jacqueries: otherwise he is despoiled without
indemnity. All feudal claims are swept away by this act without
exception and without compensation.

In a similar manner, the Constituent Assembly, setting common law
aside in relation to inheritances ab intestato, had deprived all
eldest sons and males of any advantages.[30] The Convention,
suppressing the freedom of testamentary bequest, prohibits the
father from disposing of more than one-tenth of his possessions; and
again, going back to the past, it makes its decrees retrospective:
every will opened after the 14th of July, 1789, is declared invalid
if not in conformity with this decree; every succession from the
14th of June, 1789, which is administered after the same date, is
re-divided if the division has not been equal; every donation which
has been made among the heirs after the same date is void. Not only
is the feudal family destroyed in this way, but it must never be
reformed. The aristocracy, being once declared a venomous plant, it
is not sufficient to prime it away, but it must be extirpated, not
only dug up by the root, but its seed must be crushed out. -- A
malignant prejudice is aroused against it, and this grows from day
to day. The stings of self-conceit, the disappointments of
ambition, and envious sentiments have prepared the way. Its hard,
dry kernel consists of the abstract idea of equality. All around
revolutionary fervor has caused blood to flow, has embittered
tempers, intensified sensibilities, and created a painful abscess
which daily irritation renders still more painful. Through steadily
brooding over a purely speculative preference this has become a
fixed idea, and is becoming a murderous one. It is a strange
passion, one wholly of the brains, nourished by magniloquent
phrases, but the more destructive, because phantoms are created out
of words, and against phantoms no reasoning nor actual facts can
prevail. This or that shopkeeper who, up to this time, had always
formed his idea of nobles from his impressions of the members of the
Parliament of his town or of the gentry of his canton, now pictures
them according to the declamations of the club and the invectives of
the newspapers. The imaginary figure, in his mind, has gradually
absorbed the living figure: he no longer sees the calm and engaging
countenance, but a grinning and distorted mask. Kindliness or
indifference is replaced by animosity and distrust; they are
overthrown tyrants, ancient evil-doers, And enemies of the public;
he is satisfied beforehand and without further investigation that
they are hatching plots. If they avoid being caught, it is owing to
their address and perfidy, and they are only the more dangerous the
more inoffensive they appear. Their sub-mission is merely a feint,
their resignation hypocrisy, their favorable disposition, treachery.
Against these conspirators who cannot be touched the law is
inadequate; let us stretch it in practice, and as they wince at
equality let us try to make them bow beneath the yoke.

In fact, illegal persecution precedes legal prosecution ; the
privileged person who, by the late decrees, seems merely to be
brought within the pale of the common law, is, in fact; driven
outside of it. The King, disarmed, is no longer able to protect
him; the partial Assembly repels his complaints ; the committee of
inquiry regards him as a culprit when he is simply oppressed. His
income, his property, his repose, his freedom, his home, his life,
that of his wife and of his children, are in the hands of an
administration elected by the crowd, directed by clubs, and
threatened or violated by the mob. He is debarred from the
elections. The newspapers denounce him. He undergoes domiciliary
visits. In hundreds of places his chateau is sacked; the assassins
and incendiaries who depart from it with their hands full and
steeped in blood are not prosecuted, or are shielded by an
amnesty:[31] it is established by innumerable precedents that he may
be run down with impunity. To prevent him from defending himself,
companies of the National Guard come and seize his arms: he must
become a prey, and an easy prey, like game kept back in its
enclosure for an approaching hunt. -- In vain he abstains from
provocation and reduces himself to the standing of a private
individual. In vain does he patiently endure numerous provocations
and resist only extreme violence. I have read many hundreds of
investigations in the original manuscripts, and almost always I have
admired the humanity of the nobles, their forbearance, their horror
of bloodshed. Not only are a great many of them men of courage and
all men of honor, but also, educated in the philosophy of the
eighteenth century, they are mild, sensitive, and deeds of violence
are repugnant to them. Military officers especially are exemplary,
their great defect being their weakness: rather than fire on the
crowd they surrender the forts under their command, and allow
themselves to be insulted and stoned by the people. For two
years,[32] "exposed to a thousand outrages, to defamation, to daily
peril, persecuted by clubs and misguided soldiers," disobeyed,
menaced, put under arrest by their own men, they remain at their
post to prevent the ranks from being broken up; "with stoic
perseverance they put up with contempt of their authority that they
may preserve its semblance, their courage is of that rarest kind
which consists in remaining at the post of duty, impassive beneath
both affronts and blows. -- Through a wrong of the greatest
magnitude, an entire class which have no share in the favors of the
Court, and which suffered as many injuries as any of the common
plebeians, is confounded with the titled parasites who besiege the
antechambers of Versailles. Twenty-five thousand families, "the
nursery of the army and the fleet," the elite of the agricultural
proprietors, also many gentlemen who look after and turn to account
the little estates on which they live, and "who have not left their
homes a year in their lives," become the pariahs of their
canton.[33] After 1789, they begin to feel that their position is
no longer tenable.[34]

" It is absolutely in opposition to the rights of man," says another
letter from Franche-Comté, "to find one's self in perpetual fear of
having one's throat cut by scoundrels who are daily confounding
liberty with license."

"I never knew anything so wearying," says another letter from
Champagne, "as this anxiety about property and security. Never was
there a better reason for it. A moment suffices to let loose an
intractable population which thinks that it may do what it pleases,
and which is carefully sustained in that error"

"After the sacrifices that we have made," says a letter from
Burgundy, "we could not expect such treatment. I thought that our
property would be the last violated because the people owed us some
return for staying at home in the country to expend among them the
few resources that remain to us. . . (Now), I beg the Assembly to
repeal the decree on emigration; otherwise it may be said that
people are purposely kept here to be assassinated. . . In case it
should refuse to do us this justice, I should be quite as willing to
have it decree an act of proscription against us, for we should not
then be lulled to sleep by the protection of laws which are
doubtless very wise, but which are not respected anywhere."

" It is not our privileges," say several others, "it is not our
nobility that we regret; but how is the persecution to which we are
abandoned to be supported? There is no safety for us, for our
property, or for our families. Wretches who are our debtors, the
small farmers who rob us of our incomes, daily threaten us with the
torch and the lamp post. We do not enjoy one hour of repose; not a
night that we are certain to pass through without trouble. Our
persons are given up to the vilest outrages, our dwellings to an
inquisition of armed tyrants; we are robbed of our rentals with
impunity, and our property is openly attacked. We, being now the
only people to pay imposts, are unfairly taxed; in various places
our entire incomes would not. suffice to pay the quota which
crushes us. We can make no complaint without incurring the risk of
being massacred. The tribunals and the administrative bodies, the
tools of the multitude, daily sacrifice us to its attacks. Even the
Government seems afraid of compromising itself by claiming the
protection of the laws on our behalf. It is sufficient to be
pointed out as an aristocrat to be without any security. If our
peasants, in general, have shown more honesty, consideration, and
attachment toward us, every bourgeois of importance, the wild
members of clubs, the vilest of men who sully a uniform, consider
themselves privileged to insult us, and these wretches go unpunished
and are protected! Even our religion is not free. One of our number
has had his house sacked for having shown hospitality to an old curé
of eighty belonging to his parish who refused to take the oath.
Such is our fate. We are not so base as to endure it. Our right to
resist oppression is not due to a decree of the National Assembly,
but to natural law. We are going to leave, and to die if necessary.
But to live under such a revolting anarchy ! Should it not be broken
up we shall never set foot in France again!"

The operation is successful. The Assembly, through its decrees and
institutions, through the laws it enacts and the violence which it
tolerates, has uprooted the aristocracy and cast it out of the
country. The nobles, now the reverse of privileged, cannot remain
in a country where, while respecting the law, they are really beyond
its pale. Those who first emigrated on the 15th of July, 1789,
along with the Prince de Condé, received at their houses the evening
before they left a list of the proscribed on which their names
appeared, and a reward was promised to whoever would bring their
heads to the cellar of the Palais-Royal -- Others, in larger
numbers, left after the occurrences of the 6th of October. --
During the last months of the Constituent Assembly,[35]

"the emigration goes on in companies composed of men of every
condition. . .. Twelve hundred gentlemen have left Poitou alone;
Auvergne, Limousin, and ten other provinces have been equally
depopulated of their landowners. There are towns in which nobody
remains but common. workmen, a club, and the crowd of devouring
office-holders created by the Constitution. All the nobles in
Brittany have left, and the emigration has begun in Normandy, and is
going on in the frontier provinces.

"More than two-thirds of the army will be without officers." On
being called upon to take the new oath in which the King's name is
purposely omitted, "six thousand officers send in their

The example gradually becomes contagious; they are men of the sword,
and their honor is at stake. Many of them join the princes at
Coblentz, and. subsequently do battle against France in the belief
that they are contending only against their executioners.

The treatment of the nobles by the Assembly is the same as the
treatment of the Protestants by Louis XIV.[36] In both cases the
oppressed are a superior class of men. In both cases France has
been made uninhabitable for them. In both cases they are reduced to
exile, and they are punished because they exiled them selves. In
both cases it ended in a confiscation of their property, and in the
penalty of death to all who should harbor them. In both cases, by
dint of persecution, they are driven to revolt. The insurrection of
La Vendée corresponds with the insurrection of the Cévennes; and the
emigrants, like the refugees of former times, will be found under.
the flags of Prussia and of England. One hundred thousand Frenchmen
driven out at the end of the seventeenth century, and one hundred
thousand driven out at the end of the eighteenth century! Mark how
an intolerant democracy completes the work of an intolerant
monarchy. The moral aristocracy was mowed down in the name of
uniformity; the social aristocracy is mowed down in the name of
equality. For the second time, an absolute principle, and with the
same effect, buries its blade in the heart of a living society.

The success is complete. One of the deputies of the Legislative
Assembly, early in its session, on being informed of the great
increase in emigration, joyfully exclaims,


She is, in truth, being depleted of one-half of her best blood.


Abuse and lukewarmness in 1789 in the ecclesiastical bodies. - How
the State used its right of overseeing and reforming them. - Social
usefulness of corporations.- The sound part in the monastic
institution. - Zeal and services of nuns. - How ecclesiastical
possessions should be employed. - Principle of the Assembly as to
private communities, feudal rights and trust-funds. - Abolition and
expropriation all corporations. - Uncompensated suppression of
tithes.- Confiscation of ecclesiastical possessions. - Effect on
the Treasury and on expropriated services. -The civil constitution
of the clergy.- Rights of the Church in relation to the State. -
Certainty and effects of a conflict. - Priests considered as State-
functionaries.- Principal stipulations of the law. - Obligations of
the oath. - The majority of priests refuse to take it. - The
majority of believes on their side. - Persecution of believers and
of priests.

There remained the corporate, ecclesiastic, and lay bodies, and,
notably, the oldest, most opulent, and most considerable of all the
regular and secular clergy. -- Grave abuses existed here also, for,
the institution being founded on ancient requirements, had not
accommodated itself to new necessities.[37] There were too many
episcopal sees, and these were arranged according to the Christian
distribution of the population in the fourth century; a revenue
still more badly apportioned -- bishops and abbés with one hundred
thousand livres a year, leading the lives of amiable idlers, while
curés, overburdened with work, have but seven hundred; in one
monastery nineteen monks instead of eighty, and in another four
instead of fifty;[38] a number of monasteries reduced to three or to
two inhabitants, and even to one; almost all the congregations of
men going to decay, and many of them dying out for lack of
novices;[39] a general lukewarmness among the members, great laxity
in many establishments, and with scandals in some of them; scarcely
one-third taking an interest in their calling, while the remaining
two-thirds wish to go back to the world,[40] -- it is evident from
all this that the primitive inspiration has been diverted or has
cooled; that the endowment only partially fulfills its ends; that
one-half of its resources are employed in the wrong way or remain
sterile; in short, that there is a need of reformation in the body.
-- That this ought to be effected with the co-operation of the
State and even under its direction is not less certain. For a
corporation is not an individual like other individuals, and, in
order that it may acquire or possess the privileges of an ordinary
citizen, something supplementary must be added, some fiction, some
expedient of the law. If the law is disposed to overlook the fact
that a corporation is not a natural personage, if it gives to it a
civil personality, if it declares it to be capable of inheriting, of
acquiring and of selling, if it becomes a protected and respected
proprietor, this is due to the favors of the State which places its
tribunal and gendarmes at its service, and which, in exchange for
this service, justly imposes conditions on it, and, among others,
that of being useful and remaining useful, or at least that of never
becoming harmful. Such was the rule under the Ancient Régime, and
especially since the Government has for the last quarter of a
century gradually and efficaciously worked out a reform. Not only,
in 1749, had it prohibited the Church from accepting land, either by
donation, by testament, or in exchange, without royal letters-patent
registered in Parliament; not only in 1764 had it abolished the
order of Jesuits, closed their colleges and sold their possessions,
but also, since 1766, a permanent commission, formed by the King's
order and instructed by him, had lopped off all the dying and dead
branches of the ecclesiastical tree.[41] There was a revision of the
primitive Constitutions; a prohibition to every institution to have
more than two monasteries at Paris and more than one in other towns;
a postponement of the age for taking vows -- that of sixteen being
no longer permitted -- to twenty-one for men and eighteen for
women; an obligatory minimum of monks and nuns for each
establishment, which varies from fifteen to nine according to
circumstances; if this is not kept up there follows a suppression or
prohibition to receive novices: owing to these measures, rigorously
executed, at the end of twelve years "the Grammontins, the Servites,
the Celestins, the ancient order of Saint-Bénédict, that of the Holy
Ghost of Montpellier, and those of Sainte-Brigitte, Sainte-Croix-de-
la-Bretonnerie, Saint-Ruff, and Saint-Antoine," - in short, nine
complete congregations had disappeared. At the end of twenty years
three hundred and eighty-six establishments had been suppressed, the
number of monks and nuns had diminished one-third, the larger
portion of possessions which had escheated were usefully applied,
and the congregations of men lacked novices and complained that they
could not fill up their ranks. If the monks were still found to be
too numerous, too wealthy, and too indolent, it was merely necessary
to keep on in this way; before the end of the century, merely by the
application of the edict, the institution would be brought back,
without brutality or injustice, within the scope of the development,
the limitations of fortune, and the class of functions acceptable to
a modern State.

But, because these ecclesiastical bodies stood in need of reform it
does not follow that it was necessary to destroy them, nor, in
general, that independent institutions are detrimental to a nation.
Organized purposely for a public service, and possessing, nearly or
remotely under the supervision of the State, the faculty of self-
administration, these bodies are valuable organs and not malign

In the first place, through their institution, a great public
benefit is secured without any cost to the government - worship,
scientific research, primary or higher education, help for the poor,
care of the sick - all set apart and sheltered from the cuts which
public financial difficulties might make necessary, and supported by
the private generosity which, finding a ready receptacle at hand,
gathers together, century after century, its thousands of scattered
springs: as an example, note the wealth, stability, and usefulness
of the English and German universities.

In the second place, their institution furnishes an obstacle to the
omnipotence of the State; their walls provide a protection against
the leveling standardization of absolute monarchy or of pure
democracy. A man can here freely develop himself without donning
the livery of either courtier or demagogue, he can acquire wealth,
consideration and authority, without being indebted to the caprices
of either royal or popular favor; he can stand firm against
established or prevailing opinions sheltered by associates bound by
their esprit de corps. Such, at the present day (1885), is the
situation of a professor at Oxford, Göttingen, and Harvard Such,
under the Ancient Régime, were a bishop, a member of the French
Parliaments, and even a plain attorney. What can be worse than
universal bureaucracy, producing a mechanical and servile
uniformity! Those who serve the public need not all be Government
clerks; in countries where an aristocracy has perished, bodies of
this kind are their last place of refuge.

In the third place, through such institutions, distinct original
societies may come to be inside the great commonplace world. Here
special personalities may find the only existence that suits them.
If devout or laborious, not only do these afford an outlet for the
deeper needs of conscience, of the imagination, of activity, and of
discipline, but also they serve as dikes which restrain and direct
them in a channel which will lead to the creation of a masterpiece
of infinite value. In this way thousands of men and women fulfill
at small cost, voluntarily and gratis, and with great effect, the
least attractive and more repulsive social needs, thus performing in
human society the role which, inside the ant-hill, we see assigned
to the sexless worker-ant.[42]

Thus, at bottom, the institution was really good, and if it had to
be cauterized it was merely essential to remove the inert or
corrupted parts and preserve the healthy and sound parts. -- Now,
if we take only the monastic bodies, there were more than one-half
of these entitled to respect. I omit those monks, one-third of whom
remained zealous and exemplary-the Benedictines, who continue the
"Gallia Christiana," with others who, at sixty years of age, labor
in rooms without a fire; the Trappists, who cultivate the ground
with their own hands, and the innumerable monasteries which serve as
educational seminaries, bureaus of charity, hospices for shelter,
and of which all the villages in their neighborhood demand the
conservation by the National Assembly.[43] I have to mention the
nuns, thirty-seven thousand in fifteen hundred convents. Here,
except in the twenty-five chapters of canonesses, which are a semi-
worldly rendezvous for poor young girls of noble birth, fervor,
frugality, and usefulness are almost everywhere incontestable. One
of the members of the Ecclesiastical Committee admits in the
Assembly tribunal that, in all their letters and addresses, the nuns
ask to be allowed to remain in their cloisters; their entreaties, in
fact, are as earnest as they are affecting.[44] One Community

"We should prefer the sacrifice of our lives to that of our
calling. . . . This is not the voice of some among our sisters,
but of all. The National Assembly has established the claims of
liberty-would it prevent the exercise of these by the only
disinterested beings who ardently desire to be useful, and have
renounced society solely to be of greater service to it?"

"The little contact we have with the world," writes another "is the
reason why our contentment is so little known. But it is not the
less real and substantial. We know of no distinctions, no
privileges amongst ourselves; our misfortunes and our property are
in common. One in heart and one in soul . . . we protest before
the nation, in the face of heaven and of earth, that it is not in
the power of any being to shake our fidelity to our vows, which vows
we renew with still more ardor than when we first pronounced

Many of the communities have no means of subsistence other than the
work of their own hands and the small dowries the nuns have brought
with them on entering the convent. So great, however is their
frugality and economy, that the total expenditure of each nun does
not surpass 250 livres a year. The Annonciades of Saint-Amour say,

"We, thirty-three nuns, both choristers and those of the white
veil, live on 4,400 livres net income, without being a charge to our
families or to the public. . . If we were living in society, our
expenses would be three times as much;"

and, not content with providing for themselves, they give in

Among these communities several hundreds are educational
establishments; a very great number give gratuitous primary
instruction. -- Now, in 1789, there are no other schools for
girls, and were these to be suppressed, every avenue of instruction
and culture would be closed to one of the two sexes, forming one-
half of the French population. Fourteen thousand sisters of
charity, distributed among four hundred and twenty convents, look
after the hospitals, attend upon the sick, serve the infirm, bring
up foundlings, provide for orphans, lying-in women, and repentant
prostitutes. The "Visitation" is an asylum for "those who are not
favored by nature," -- and, in those days, there were many more of
the disfigured than at present, since out of every eight deaths one
was caused by the smallpox. Widows are received here, as well as
girls without means and without protection, persons "worn out. with
the agitation of the world," those who are too feeble to support the
battle of life, those who withdraw from it wounded or invalid, and
"the rules of the order, not very strict, are not beyond the health
or strength of the most frail and delicate." Some ingenious device
of charity thus applies to each moral or social sore, with skill and
care, the proper and proportionate dressing. And finally, far from
falling off, nearly all these communities are in a flourishing
state, and whilst among the establishments for men there are only
nine, on the average, to each, in those for women there is an
average of twenty-four. Here, at Saint-Flour, is one which is
bringing up fifty boarders; another, at Beaulieu, instructs one
hundred; another, in Franche-Comté, has charge of eight hundred
abandoned children.[46] -- Evidently, in the presence of such
institutions one must pause, however. little one may care for
justice and the public interest; and, moreover, because it is
useless to act rigorously against them the legislator crushes them
in vain, for they spring up again of their own accord; they are in
the blood of every Catholic nation. In France, instead of thirty-
seven thousand nuns, at the present day (1866) there are eighty-six
thousand-that is to say, forty-five in every ten thousand women
instead of twenty-eight.[47]

In any case, if the State deprives them of their property, along
with that of other ecclesiastical bodies, it is not the State that
ought to claim the spoil. -- The State is not their heir, and
their land, furniture, and rentals are in their very nature devoted
to a special purpose, although they have no designated proprietor.
This treasure, which consists of the accumulations of fourteen
centuries, has been formed, increased, and preserved, in view of a
certain object. The millions of generous, repentant, or devout
souls who have made a gift of it, or have managed it, did so with a
certain intention. It was their desire to ensure education,
beneficence, and religion, and nothing else. Their legitimate
intentions should not be frustrated: the dead have rights in society
as well as the living, for it is the dead who have made the society
which the living enjoy, and we receive their heritage only on the
condition of executing their testamentary act. -- Should this be
of ancient date, it is undoubtedly necessary to make a liberal
interpretation of it; to supplement its scanty provisions, and to
take new circumstances into consideration. The requirements for
which it provided have often disappeared; for instance, after the
destruction of the Barbary pirates, there were no more Christians to
be ransomed; and only by transferring an endowment can it be
perpetuated. -- But if, in the original institution, several
accessory and special clauses have become antiquated, there remains
the one important, general intention, which manifestly continues
imperative and permanent, that of providing for a distinct service,
either of charity, of worship, or of instruction. Let the
administrators be changed, if necessary, also the apportionment of
the legacy bequeathed, but do not divert any of it to services of an
alien character; it is inapplicable to any but that purpose or to
others strictly analogous. The four milliards of investment in real
property, the two hundred millions of ecclesiastical income, form
for it an express and special endowment. This is not a pile of gold
abandoned on the highway, which the exchequer can appropriate or
assign to those who live by the roadside. Authentic titles to it
exist, which, declaring its origin, fix its destination, and your
business is simply to see that it reaches its destination. Such was
the principle under the ancient régime, in spite of grave abuses,
and under forced exactions. When the ecclesiastical commission
suppressed an ecclesiastical order, it was not for the purpose of
making its possessions over to the public treasury, but to apply
these to seminaries, schools, and hospitals. In 1789, the revenues
of Saint-Denis supported Saint-Cyr; those of Saint Germain went to
the Economats, and the Government, although absolute and needy, was
sufficiently honest to adjust that confiscation was robbery. The
greater our power, the greater the obligation to be just, and
honesty always proves in the end to be the best policy. -- It is,
therefore, both just and useful that the Church, as in England and
in America, that superior education, as in England and in Germany,
that special instruction, as in America, and that diverse endowments
for public assistance and utility, should be unreservedly secured in
the maintenance of their heritage. The State, as testamentary
executor of this inheritance, strangely abuses its mandate when it
pockets the bequest in order to choke the deficit of its own
treasury, risking it in bad speculations, and swallowing it up in
its own bankruptcy, until of this vast treasure, which has been
heaped up for generations for the benefit of children, the infirm,
the sick and the poor, not enough is left to pay the salary of a
school-mistress, the wages of a parish nurse, or for a bowl of broth
in a hospital.[48]

The Assembly remains deaf to all these arguments, and that which
makes its refuse to listen is not financial distress. -- The
Archbishop of Aix, M. de Boisjelin, offered, in the name of the
clergy, to liquidate at once the debt of three hundred millions,
which was urgent, by a mortgage-loan of four hundred millions on the
ecclesiastical property, which was a very good expedient; for at
this time the credit of the clergy is the only substantial one. It
generally borrows at less than five per cent., and more money has
always been offered to it than it wanted, whilst the State borrows
at ten per cent., and, at this moment, there are no lenders. --
But, to our new revolutionary statesmen, the cost-benefit of a
service is of much less consequence than the application of a
principle. In conformity with the Social Contract they establish
the maxim that in the State there is no need of corporate bodies:
they acknowledge nothing but, on the one hand, the State, the
depositary of all public powers, and, on the other hand, a myriad of
solitary individuals. Special associations, specific groups,
collateral corporations are not wanted, even to fulfill functions
which the State is incapable of fulfilling. "As soon as one enters
a corporation," says and orator, "one must love it as one loves a
family;"[49] whereas the affections and obedience are all to be
monopolized by the State. Moreover, on entering into an order a man
receives special aid and comfort from it, and whatever distinguishes
one man from another, is opposed to civil equality. Hence, if men
are to remain equal and become citizens they must be deprived of
every rallying point that might compete with that of the State, and
give to some an advantage over others. All natural or acquired
ties, consequently, which bound men together through geographical
position, through climate, history, pursuits, and trade, are
sundered. The old provinces, the old provincial governments, the
old municipal administrations, parliaments, guilds and masterships,
all are suppressed. The groups which spring up most naturally, those
which arise through a community of interests, are all dispersed, and
the broadest, most express, and most positive interdictions are
promulgated against their revival under any pretext whatever.[50]
France is cut up into geometrical sections like a chess-board, and,
within these improvised limits, which are destined for a long time
to remain artificial, nothing is allowed to subsist but isolated
individuals in juxtaposition. There is no desire to spare organized
bodies where the cohesion is great, and least of all that of the
"Special associations," says Mirabeau,[51] "in the community at
large, break up the unity of its principles and destroy the
equilibrium of its forces. Large political bodies in a State are
dangerous through the strength which results from their coalition
and the resistance which is born out of their interests." ii --
That of the clergy, besides, is inherently bad,[52] because "its
system is in constant antagonism to the rights of man." An
institution in which a vow of obedience is necessary is
"incompatible" with the constitution. Congregations "subject to
independent chiefs are out of the social pale and incompatible with
public spirit." As to the right of society over these, and also over
the Church, this is not doubtful. " Corporate bodies exist only
through society, and, in destroying them, society merely takes back
the life she has imparted to them." "They are simply instruments
fabricated by the law.[53] What does the workman do when the tool
he works with no longer suits him? He breaks or alters it." -- This
primary sophism being admitted the conclusion is plain. Since
corporate bodies are abolished they no longer exist, and since they
no longer exist, they cannot again become proprietors.

"Your aim was to destroy ecclesiastical orders,[54] because their
destruction was essential to the safety of the State. If the clergy
preserve their property, the clerical order is not destroyed: you
necessarily leave it the right of assembling; you sanction its
independence." In no case must ecclesiastics hold possessions. "If
they are proprietors they are independent, and if they are
independent they will associate this independence with the exercise
of their functions." The clergy, cost what it will, must be in the
hands of the State, as simple functionaries and supported by its
subsidies. It would be too dangerous for a nation ,"to admit in its
bosom as proprietors a large body of men to whom so many sources of
credit already give so great power. As religion is the property of
all, its ministers, through this fact alone, should be in the pay of
the nation;" they are essentially "officers of morality and
instruction," and "salaried" like judges and professors. Let us
fetch them back to this condition of things, which is the only one
compatible with the rights of man, and ordain that " the clergy, as
well as all corporations and bodies with power of inheritance, are
now, and shall be for ever incapable of holding any personal or
landed estate."[55]

Who, now, is the legitimate heir of all these vacated possessions?
Through another sophism, the State, at once judge and party in the
cause, assigns them to the State:

"The founders presented them to the Church, that is to say, to the
nation."[56] "Since the nation has permitted their possession by the
clergy, she may re-demand that which is possessed only through her
authorization." "The principle must be maintained that every nation
is solely and veritably proprietor of the possessions of its

This principle, it must be noted, as it is laid down, involves the
destruction of ecclesiastical and lay corporations, along with the
confiscation of all their possessions, and soon we shall see
appearing on the horizon the final and complete decree[57] by which
the Legislative Assembly,

"considering that a State truly free should not suffer any
corporation within its bosom, not even those which, devoted to
public instruction, deserve well of the country," not even those
"which are solely devoted to the service of the hospitals-and the
relief of the sick,"

suppresses all congregations, all associations of men or of women,
lay or ecclesiastical, all endowments for pious, charitable, and
missionary purposes, all houses of education, all seminaries and
colleges, and those of the Sorbonne and Navarre. Add to these the
last sweep of the broom: under the Legislative Assembly the division
of all communal property, except woods: under the Convention, the
abolition of all literary societies, academies of science and of
literature, the confiscation of all their property, their libraries,
museums, and botanical gardens; the confiscation of all communal
possessions not previously divided; and the confiscation of all the
property of hospitals and other philanthropic establishments.[58] --
The abstract principle, proclaimed by the Constituent Assembly,
reveals, by degrees, its exterminating virtues. France now, owing
to it, contains nothing but dispersed, powerless, ephemeral
individuals, and confronting them, the State, the sole, the only
permanent body that has devoured all the others, a veritable
Colossus, alone erect in the midst of these insignificant dwarfs.

Substituted for the others, it is henceforth to perform their
duties, and spend the money well which they have expended badly. --
In the first place, it abolishes tithes, not gradually and by means
of a process of redemption, as in England, but at one stroke, and
with no indemnity, on the ground that the tax, being an abusive,
illegitimate impost, a private tax levied by individuals in cowl and
cassock on others in smock frocks, is a vexatious usurpation, and
resembles the feudal dues. It is a radical operation, and in
conformity with principle. Unfortunately, the puerility of the
thing is so gross as to defeat its own object. In effect, since the
days of Charlemagne, all the estates in the country which have been
sold and resold over and over again have always paid tithes, and
have never been purchased except with this charge upon them, which
amounts to about one-seventh of the net revenue of the country.
Take off this tax and one-seventh is added to the income of the
proprietor, and, consequently, a seventh to his capital. A present
is made to him of one hundred francs if his land is worth seven
hundred-francs, and of one thousand if it is worth seven thousand,
of ten thousand if it is worth seventy thousand, and of one hundred
thousand if it is worth seven hundred thousand. Some people gain
six hundred thousand francs by this act, and thirty thousand francs
in Income.[59] Through this gratuitous and unexpected gift, one
hundred and twenty-three millions of revenue, and two milliards and
a half of capital, is divided among the holders of real estate in
France, and in a manner so ingenious that the rich receive the most.
Such is the effect of abstract principles. To afford a relief of
thirty millions a year to the peasants in wooden shoes, an assembly
of democrats adds thirty millions a year to the revenue of wealthy
bourgeois and thirty millions a year to opulent nobles. The first
part of this operation moreover, is but another burden to the State;
for, in taking off the load from the holders of real property, it
has encumbered itself, the State henceforth, without pocketing a
penny, being obliged to defray the expenses of worship in their
place. - As to the second part of the operation, which consists in
the confiscation of four milliards of real estate, it proves, after
all, to be ruinous, although promising to be lucrative. It makes
the same impression on our statesmen that the inheritance of a great
estate makes on a needy and fanciful upstart. Regarding it as a
bottomless well of gold, he draws upon it without stint and strives
to realize all his fancies; as he can afford to pay for it all, he
is free to smash it all. It is thus that the Assembly suppresses
and compensates magisterial offices to the amount of four hundred
and fifty millions; financial securities and obligations to the
amount of three hundred and twenty-one millions; the household
charges of the King, Queen, and princes, fifty-two millions;
military services and encumbrances, thirty-five millions; enfeoffed
tithes, one hundred millions, and so on.[60] "In the month of May,
1789," says Necker, "the re-establishment of order in the finances
were mere child's-play." At the end of a year, by dint of involving
itself in debt, by increasing its expenses, and by abolishing or
abandoning its income, the State lives now on the paper-currency it
issues, eats up its capital, and rapidly marches onward to
bankruptcy. Never was such a vast inheritance so quickly reduced to
nothing, and to less than nothing.

Meanwhile, we can demonstrate, from the first few months, what use
the administrators will be able to make of it, and the manner in
which they will endow the service to which it binds them. -- No
portion of this confiscated property is reserved for the maintenance
of public worship, or to keep up the hospitals, asylums, and
schools. Not only do all obligations and all productive real
property find their way into the great national crucible to be
converted into assignats[61], but a number of special buildings, all
monastic real estate and a portion of the ecclesiastical real
estate, diverted from its natural course, becomes swallowed up in
the same gulf. At Besançon,[62] three churches out of eight, with
their land and treasure, the funds of the chapter, all the money of
the monastic churches, the sacred vessels, shrines, crosses,
reliquaries, votive offerings, ivories, statues, pictures, tapestry,
sacerdotal dresses and ornaments, plate, jewels and precious
furniture, libraries, railings, bells, masterpieces of art and of
piety, all are broken up and melted in the Mint, or sold by auction
for almost nothing. This is the way in which the intentions of the
founders and donors are carried out. -- How are so many
communities, which are deprived of their rentals, to support their
schools, hospices, and asylums? Even after the decree[63] which,
exceptionally and provisionally, orders the whole of their revenue
to be accounted for to them, will it be paid over now that it is
collected by a local administration whose coffers are always empty,
and whose intentions are almost always hostile? Every establishment
for benevolent and educational purposes is evidently sinking, now
that the special streams which nourished them run into and are lost
in the dry bed of the public treasury.[64] Already, in 1790, there
are no funds with which to pay the monks and nuns their small
pensions for their maintenance. In Franche-Comté the Capuchins of
Baume have no bread, and, to live, they are obliged to re-sell, with
the consent of the district, a portion of the stores of their
monastery which had been confiscated. The Ursuline nuns of Ornans
live on the means furnished them by private individuals in order to
keep up the only school which the town possesses. The Bernardine
nuns of Pontarlier are reduced to the lowest stage of want: "We are
satisfied," the district reports, "that they have nothing to put
into their mouths. We have to contribute something every day
amongst ourselves to keep them from starving."[65] Only too
thankful are they when the local administration gives them something
to eat, or allows others to give them something. In many places it
strives to famish them, or takes delight in annoying them. In
March, 1791, the department of Doubs, in spite of the entreaties of
the district, reduces the pension of the Visitant nuns to one
hundred and one livres for the choristers, and fifty for the lay-
sisters. Two months before this, the municipality of Besançon,
putting its own interpretation on the decree which allowed nuns to
dress as they pleased, enjoins them all, including even the sisters
of charity, to abandon their old costume, which few among them had
the means of replacing. -- Helplessness, indifference, or
malevolence, such are the various dispositions which are encountered
among the new authorities whose duty it is to support and protect
them. To let loose persecution there is now only needed a decree
which puts the civil power in conflict with religious convictions.
That decree is promulgated, and, on the 12th of July, 1790, the
Assembly establishes the civil constitution of the clergy.

Notwithstanding the confiscation of ecclesiastical property, and the
dispersion of the monastic communities, the main body of the
ecclesiastical corps remains intact: seventy thousand priests ranged
under the bishops, with the Pope in the center as the commander-in-
chief. There is no corporation more solid, more incompatible, or
more attacked. For, against it are opposed implacable hatreds and
fixed opinions: the Gallicanism of the jurists who, from St. Louis
downwards, are the adversaries of ecclesiastical power; the doctrine
of the Jansenists who, since Louis XIII., desire to bring back the
Church to its primitive form; and the theory of the philosophers
who, for sixty years, have considered Christianity as a mistake and
Catholicism as a scourge. At the very least the institution of a
clergy in Catholicism is condemned, and they think that they are
moderate if they respect the rest.


say the deputies in the tribune.[66] Now, the decree affects
neither dogma nor worship; it is confined to a revision of matters
of discipline, and on this particular domain which is claimed for
the civil power, it is pretended that demolition and re-construction
may be effected at discretion without the concurrence of the
ecclesiastical power.

Here there is an abuse of power, for an ecclesiastical as well as
civil society has the right to choose its own form, its own
hierarchy, its own government. - On this point, every argument that
can be advanced in favor of the former can be repeated in favor of
the latter, and the moment one becomes legitimate the other becomes
legitimate also. The justification for a civil or of a religious
community or society may be the performance of a long series of
services which, for centuries, it has rendered to its members, the
zeal and success with which it discharges its functions, the
feelings of gratitude they entertain for it, the importance they
attribute to its offices, the need they have of it, and their
attachment to it, the conviction imprinted in their minds that
without it they would be deprived of a benefit upon which they set
more store than upon any other. This benefit, in a civil society,
is the security of persons and property. In the religious society
it is the eternal salvation of the soul. iii In all other
particulars the resemblance is complete, and the titles of the
Church are as good as those of the State. Hence, if it be just for
one to be sovereign and free on its own domain, it is just for the
other to be equally sovereign and free, If the Church encroaches
when it assumes to regulate the constitution of the State, then the
State also encroaches when it pretends to regulate the constitution
of the Church. If the former claims the respect of the latter on
its domain, the latter must show equal respect for the former on its
ground. The boundary-line between the two territories is,
undoubtedly, not clearly defined and frequent contests arise between
the two. Sometimes these may be forestalled or terminated by each
shutting itself up within a wall of separation, and by their
remaining as much as possible indifferent to each other, as is the
case in America. At another, they may, by a carefully considered
contract,[67] each accord to the other specific rights on the
intermediate zone, and both exercise their divided authority on that
zone, which is the case in France. In both cases, however, the two
powers, like the two societies, must remain distinct. It is
necessary for each of them that the other should be an equal, and
not a subordinate to which it prescribes conditions. Whatever the
civil system may be, whether monarchical or republican, oligarchic
or democratic, the Church abuses its credit when it condemns or
attacks it. Whatever may be the ecclesiastical system, whether
papal, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, or congregational, the State
abuses its strength when, without the assent of the faithful, it
abolishes their systems or imposes a new one upon them. Not only
does it violate right, but its violence, most frequently, is
fruitless. It may strike as it will, the root of the tree is beyond
its reach, and, in the unjust war which it wages against an
institution as vital as itself, it often ends in getting the worst
of it.

Unfortunately, the Assembly, in this as in other matters, being
preoccupied with principles, fails to look at practical facts; and,
aiming to remove only the dead bark, it injures the living trunk. --
For many centuries, and especially since the Council of Trent, the
vigorous element of Catholicism is much less religion itself than
the Church. Theology has retired into the background, while
discipline has come to the front. Believers who, according to
Church law, are required to regard spiritual authority as dogma, in
fact attach their faith to the spiritual authority much more than to
the dogma. -

Catholic Faith insists, in relation to discipline as well as to
dogma, that if one rejects the decision of the Roman Church one
ceases to be a Catholic; that the constitution of the Church is
monarchical, that the ordaining of priests and bishops is made from
above so that without communion with the Pope, its supreme head, one
is schismatic and that no schismatic priest legitimately can perform
a holy service, and that no true faithful may attend his service or
receive his blessings without committing a sin. - It is a fact that
the faithful, apart from a few Jansenists, are neither theologians
nor canonists; that they read neither prayers nor scriptures, and if
they accept the creed, it is in a lump, without investigation,
confiding in the hand which presents it; that their obedient
conscience is in the keeping of this pastoral guide; that the Church
of the third century is of little consequence to them; and that, as
far as the true form of the actual Church goes, the doctor whose
advice they follow is not St. Cyprian, of whom they know nothing,
but their visible bishop and their living curé.
Put these two premises together and the conclusion is self-evident:
it is clear that they will not believe that they are baptized,
absolved, or married except by this curé authorized by this bishop.
Let others be put in their places whom they condemn, and you
suppress worship, sacraments, and the most precious functions of
spiritual life to twenty-four millions of French people, to all the
peasantry, all the children, and to almost all the women; you stir
up in rebellion against you the two greatest forces which move the
mind, conscience and habit. -- And observe the result of this.
You not only convert the State into a policeman in the service of
heresy, but also, through this fruitless and tyrannous attempt of
Gallican Jansenism, you bring into permanent discredit Gallican
maxims and Jansenist doctrines. You cut away the last two roots by
which a liberal sentiment still vegetated in orthodox Catholicism.
You throw the clergy back on Rome; you attach them to the Pope from
whom you wish to separate them, and deprive them of the national
character which you wish to impose on them. They were French, and
you render them Ultramontane.[68] They excited ill-will and envy,
and you render them sympathetic and popular. They were a divided
body, and you give them unanimity. They were a straggling militia,
scattered about under several independent authorities, and rooted to
the soil through the possession of the ground; thanks to you, they
are to become a regular, manageable army, emancipated from every
local attachment, organized under one head, and always prepared to
take the field at the word of command. Compare the authority of a
bishop in his diocese in 1789 with that of a bishop sixty years
later. In 1789, the Archbishop of Besançon, out of fifteen hundred
offices and benefices, had the patronage of one hundred, In ninety-
three incumbencies the selections were made by the metropolitan
chapter; in eighteen it was made by the chapter of the Madeleine; in
seventy parishes by the noble founder or benefactor. One abbé had
thirteen incumbencies at his disposal, another thirty-four, another
thirty-five, a prior nine, an abbess twenty; five communes directly
nominated their own pastor, while abbeys, priories and canonries
were in the hands of the King.[69] At the present day (1880) in a
diocese the bishop appoints all the curés or officiating priests,
and may deprive nine out of ten of them; in the diocese above named,
from 1850 to 1860, scarcely one lay functionary was nominated
without the consent or intervention of the cardinal-archbishop.[70]
To comprehend the spirit, discipline, and influence of our
contemporary clergy, go back to the source of it, and you will find
it in the decree of the Constituent Assembly. A natural
organization cannot be broken up with impunity; it forms anew,
adapting itself to circumstances, and closes up its ranks in
proportion to its danger.

But even if, according to the maxims of the Assembly, faith and
worship are free, as far as the sovereign State is concerned, the
churches are subjects.-- For these are societies, administrations,
and hierarchies, and no society, administration, or hierarchy may
exist in the State without entering into its ---departments under
the title of subordinate, delegate, or employee. A priest is now
essentially a salaried officer like the rest, a functionary[71]
presiding over matters pertaining to worship and morality. If the
State is disposed to change the number, the mode of nomination, the
duties and the posts of its engineers, it is not bound to assemble
its engineers and ask their permission, least of all that of a
foreign engineer established at Rome. If it wishes to change the
condition of "its ecclesiastical officers," its right to do so is
the same, and therefore unquestioned. There is no need of asking
anybody's consent in the exercise of this right, and it allows no
interference between it and its clerks. The Assembly refuses to
call a Gallican council; it refuses to negotiate with the Pope, and,
on its own authority alone, it recasts the whole Constitution of the
Church. Henceforth this branch of the public administration is to
be organized on the model of the others. -- In the first
place[72] the diocese is to be in extent and limits the same as the
French department; consequently, all ecclesiastical districts are
marked out anew, and forty-eight episcopal sees disappear. -- In
the second place, the appointed bishop is forbidden "to refer to the
Pope to obtain any confirmation whatever." All he can do is to write
to him "in testimony of the unity of faith and of the communion
which he is to maintain with him." The bishop is thus no longer
installed by his canonical chief, and the Church of France becomes
schismatic. -- In the third place, the metropolitan or bishop is
forbidden to exact from the new bishops or curés "any oath other
than that they profess the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman religion."
Assisted by his council he may examine them on their doctrine and
morals, and refuse them canonical installation, but in this case his
reasons must be given in writing, and be signed by himself and his
council. His authority, in other respects, does not extend beyond
this for it is the civil tribunal which decides between contending
parties. Thus is the catholic hierarchy broken up; the
ecclesiastical superior has his hands tied; if he still delegates
sacerdotal functions it is only as a matter of form. Between the
curé and the bishop subordination ceases to exist just as it has
ceased to exist between the bishop and the Pope, and the Church of
France becomes Presbyterian. -- The people now, in effect, choose
their own ministers, as they do in the Presbyterian church; the
bishop is appointed by the electors of the department, the cure by
the district electors, and, what is an extraordinary aggravation,
these need not be of his communion. It is of no consequence whether
the electoral Assembly contains, as at Nîmes, Montauban, Strasbourg,
and Metz, a notable proportion of Calvinists, Lutherans, and Jews,
or whether its majority, furnished by the club, is notoriously
hostile to Catholicism, and even to Christianity itself. The bishop
and the curé must be chosen by the electoral body; the Holy Ghost
dwells with it, and with the civil tribunals, and these may install
its elect in spite of any resistance. -- To complete the
dependence of the clergy, every bishop is forbidden to absent
himself more than fifteen days without permission from the
department; every curé the same length of time without the
permission of the district, even to attend upon a dying father or to
undergo the operation of lithotomy. In default of this permission
his salary is suspended: as a functionary under salary, he owes all
his time to his bureau, and if he desires a leave of absence he must
ask for it from his chiefs in the Hôtel-de-Ville.[73] -- He must
assent to all these innovations, not only with passive obedience,
but by a solemn oath. All old or new ecclesiastics, archbishops,
bishops, curés, vicars, preachers, hospital and prison chaplains,
superiors and directors of seminaries, professors of seminaries and
colleges, are to state in writing that they are ready to take this
oath: moreover, they must take it publicly, in church, "in the
presence of the general council, the commune, and the faithful," and
promise "to maintain with all their power" a schismatic and
Presbyterian Church. -- For there can be no doubt about the sense
and bearing of the prescribed oath. It was all very well to
incorporate it with a broader one, that of maintaining the
Constitution. But the Constitution of the clergy is too clearly
comprised in the general Constitution, like a chapter in a book, and
to sign the book is to sign the chapter. Besides, in the formula to
which the ecclesiastics in the Assembly are obliged to swear in the
tribune, the chapter is precisely indicated, and no exception or
reservation is allowed.[74] The Bishop of Clermont, with all those
who have accepted the Constitution in full, save the decrees
affecting spiritual matters, are silenced. Where the spiritual
begins and where it ends the Assembly knows better than they, for it
has defined this, and it imposes its definition on canonist and
theologian; it is, in its turn, the Pope, and all consciences must
bow to its decision. Let them take the "oath, pure and simple," or
if they do not they are 'refractory." The fiat goes forth, and the
effect of it is immense, for, along with the clergy, the law reaches
to laymen. On the one hand, all the ecclesiastics who refuse the
oath are dismissed. If they continue "to interfere with public

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