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  • 1892
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Philosophers had fairly entered the public mind. The nobility and the middle class, with such of the poor as could read and think, had been deeply impressed by Voltaire and the Encyclopaedists. All men had not been affected in the same way. Some were blind followers of these leaders, eager to push the doctrines of the school to the last possible results, partisans of Helvetius and Holbach. These were the most logical. Beside them came the sentimentalists, the worshipers of Rousseau. They were not a whit less dogmatic than the others, but their dogmatism took more fanciful and less consistent forms. They believed in their ideal republics or their social compacts with a religious faith. Some of them were ready to persecute others and to die themselves for their chimeras, and subsequently proved it. And in not a few minds the teachings of Holbach and those of Rousseau were more or less confused, and co-existed with a lingering belief in the church and her doctrines. People still went to mass from habit, from education, from an uneasy feeling that it was a good thing to do; doubting all the while with Voltaire, dreaming with Rousseau, wondering what might be coming, believing that the world was speedily to be improved, having no very definite idea as to how the improvement was to be brought about, but trusting vaguely to the enlightenment of the age, which was taken for granted.

For this reign of the last absolute king of France was a time of hope and of belief in human perfectibility. One after another, the schemers had come forward with their plans for regenerating society. There were the economists, ready to swear that the world, and especially France, would be rich, if free trade were adopted, and the taxes were laid–they could not quite agree how. There were the army reformers, burning to introduce Prussian discipline; if only you could reconcile blows and good feeling. There were people calling for Equality, and for government by the most enlightened; quite unaware that their demands were inconsistent. There were the philanthropists, perhaps the most genuine of all the reformers, working at the hospitals and prisons, and reducing in no small measure the sum of misery in France.[Footnote: Among other instances of this spirit of hopefulness, notice those volumes of the _Encyclopédie Méthodique_ which were published as early as 1789. They are largely devoted to telling how things ought to be. See also the correspondence of Lafayette, who was thoroughly steeped in the spirit of this time. The feeling of hope was not the only feeling, there was despondency also. But we must be careful not to be deceived by the tone of many people who wrote long afterward, when they had undergone the shock of the great Revolution. In the study of this period, more perhaps than in that of any other, it is important to distinguish between contemporary evidence and the evidence of contemporaries given subsequently.]

These changes in men’s minds began to bear fruit in action. The attempted reforms of Turgot, of Necker, of the Notables; the abolition of the _corvée_, of monopolies in trade, of judicial torture, the establishment of provincial assemblies, the civil rights given to Protestants, have been mentioned already. These things were done in a weak and inconsistent manner because of the character of the king, who was drawn in one direction by his courtiers and in another by his conscience, and satisfied neither.

Man must always look outside of himself for a standard of right and wrong. He must have something with which to compare the dictates of his own conscience, some chronometer to set his watch by. In the decay of religious ideas, the Frenchmen of the eighteenth century had set up a standard of comparison independent of revelation. They had found it in public opinion. The sociable population of Paris was ready to accept the common voice as arbiter. It had always been powerful in France, where the desire for sympathy is strong. A pamphlet published in 1730 says that if the episcopate falls into error it should be “instructed, corrected, even judged by the people.” “A halberd leads a kingdom,” cried a courtier to Quesnay the economist. “And who leads the halberd?” retorted the latter. “Public opinion.” “There are circumstances,” say the venerable and conservative lawyers of the Parliament, “when magistrates may look on their loss of court favor as an honor. It is when they are consoled by public esteem.” Poor Louis himself, catching the fever of longing for popularity, proposes to “raise the results of public opinion to the rank of laws, after they have been submitted to ripe and profound examination.”[Footnote: _Rocquain_, 54. Lavergne, _Économistes_, 103. Chérest, i. 454 (May 1,1788).] The appeal is constantly made from old-fashioned prejudice to some new notion supposed to be generally current, as if the one proved more than the other. From this worship of public opinion come extreme irritation under criticism and cowardly fear of ridicule; Voltaire himself asking for _lettres de cachet_ against a literary opponent. Seldom, indeed, do we find any one ready to say: “This is right; thus men ought to think; and if mankind thinks differently, mankind is mistaken.” Such a tone comes chiefly from the mouth of that exception for good and evil, Jean Jacques Rousseau.

This dependent state of mind is far removed from virtue. But human nature is often better than it represents itself to be. Both Quesnay and the magistrates had in fact a higher standard of right and wrong than the average feeling of the multitude. Every sect and every party makes, in a measure, its own public opinion, and the consent for which we seek is chiefly the consent of those persons whose ideas we respect. The thinkers of the eighteenth century, after appealing to public opinion, were quite ready to cast off their allegiance to it when it decided against them.

Yet Frenchmen paid the penalty for setting up a false god. Having agreed to worship public opinion, without asking themselves definitely who were the public, they fell into frequent and fatal errors. The mob often claimed the place on the pedestal of opinion, and its claims were allowed. The turbulent populace of Paris, clamorous now for cheap bread, now for the return of the Parliament from exile, anon for the blood of men and women whom it chose to consider its enemies, was supposed to be the voice of the French nation, which was superstitiously assumed to be the voice of God.

The inhabitants of great cities love to be amused. Those of Paris, being quicker witted than most mortals, care much to have something happening. They detest dullness and are fond of wit. In countries where speech and the press are free, a witticism, or a clever book, is seldom a great event. But under Louis XVI., as has been said, you could never quite tell what would come of a paragraph. A minister of state might lose his temper.

A writer might have to spend a few weeks in Holland, or even in the Bastille. This was not much to suffer for the sake of notoriety, but it gave the charm of uncertainty. There was just enough danger in saying “strong things” to make them attractive, and to make it popular to say them. With a free press, men whose opinions are either valuable or dangerous get very tired of “strong things,” and prefer less spice in their intellectual fare.

The most famous satirical piece of the reign is also its most remarkable literary production. The “Mariage de Figaro,” of Beaumarchais, has acquired importance apart from its merits as a comedy, both from its political history and from its good fortune in being set to immortal music. The plot is poor and intricate, but the dialogue is uniformly sparkling, and two of the characters will live as typical. In Cherubin we have the dissolute boy whose vice has not yet wrinkled into ugliness, best known to English readers under the name of Don Juan, but fresher and more ingenuous than Byron’s young rake. Figaro, the hero of the play, is the comic servant, familiar to the stage from the time of Plautus, impudent, daring, plausible; likely to be overreached, if at all, by his own unscrupulousness. But he is also the adventurer of the last age of the French monarchy, full of liberal ideas and ready to give a decided opinion on anything that concerns society or politics; a Scapin, who has brushed the clothes of Voltaire. He is a shabby, younger brother of Beaumarchais himself, immensely clever and not without kindly feeling, a rascal you can be fond of. “Intrigue and money; you are in your element!” cries Susanne to Figaro, in the first act. “A hundred times I have seen you march on to fortune, but never walk straight,” says the Count to him, in the third. We laugh when the blows meant for others smack loud on his cheeks; but we grudge him neither his money nor his pretty wife.

It is through this character that Beaumarchais tells the nobility, the court, and the government of France what is being said about them in the street. He repays with bitter gibes the insolence which he himself, the clever, ambitious man of the middle class, has received, in his long struggle for notoriety and wealth, from people whose personal claims to respect were no better than his own. “What have you done to have so much wealth?” cries Figaro in his soliloquy, apostrophizing the Count, who is trying to steal his mistress, “You have taken the trouble to be born, nothing more!” “I was spoken of, for an office,” he says again, “but unfortunately I was fitted for it. An accountant was needed, and a dancer got it.” And in another place: “I was born to be a courtier; receiving, taking and asking, are the whole secret in three words.”

As for the limitations on the liberty of the press: “They tell me,” says Figaro, “that if in my writing I will mention neither the government, nor public worship, nor politics, nor morals, nor people in office, nor influential corporations, nor the Opera, nor the other theatres, nor anybody that belongs to anything, I may print everything freely, subject to the approval of two or three censors.” “How I should like to get hold of one of those people that are powerful for a few days, and that give evil orders so lightly, after a good reverse of favor had sobered him of his pride! I would tell him, that foolish things in print are important only where their circulation is interfered with; that without freedom to blame, no praise is flattering, and that none but little men are afraid of little writings.”

The “Marriage of Figaro” was accepted by the great Parisian theatre, the Comédie Française, toward the end of 1781. The wit of the piece itself and the notoriety of the author made its success almost inevitable. The permission of the censor was of course necessary before the play could be put on the boards; but the first censor to whom the work was submitted pronounced that, with a few alterations, it might be given. The piece was already exciting much attention. As an advertisement, Beaumarchais had read it aloud in several houses of note. It was the talk of the town and of the court. The nobles were enchanted. To be laughed at so wittily was a new sensation. Old Maurepas, the prime minister, heard the play and spoke of it to his royal master. The king’s curiosity was excited. He sent for a copy, and the queen’s waiting woman, Madame Campan, was ordered to be at Her Majesty’s apartment at three o’clock in the afternoon, but to be sure and take her dinner first, as she would be kept a long time.

At the appointed hour, Madame Campan found no one in the chamber but the king and the queen. A big pile of manuscript, covered with corrections, was on the table. As Madame Campan read, the king frequently interrupted. He praised some passages, and blamed others as in bad taste. At last, however, near the end of the play, occurred the long soliloquy in which Figaro has brought together his bitterest complaints. Early in the scene there is a description of the arbitrary imprisonment which was so common in those days. “A question arises concerning the nature of riches,” says Figaro, “and as you do not need to have a thing in order to talk about it, I, who have not a penny, write on the value of money and its net product. Presently, from the inside of a cab, I see the drawbridge of a prison let down for me; and leave, as I go in, both hope and liberty behind.” On hearing this tirade, King Louis XVI. leaped from his chair, and exclaimed: “It is detestable; it shall never be played! Not to have the production of this play a dangerous piece of inconsistency, we should have to destroy the Bastille. This man makes sport of everything that should be respected in a government.”

“Then it will not be played?” asked the queen.

“Certainly not!” answered Louis; “you may be sure of it.”

For two years a contest was kept up between the king of France and the dramatic author as to whether the “Marriage of Figaro” should be acted or not. The king had on his side absolute power to forbid the performance or to impose any conditions he pleased; but he stood almost alone in his opinion, and Louis XVI. never could stand long alone. The author had for auxiliaries some of the princes, most of the nobility, the court and the town. Public curiosity was aroused, and no one knew better than Beaumarchais how to keep it awake. He continued to read the play at private parties, but it required so much begging to induce him to do so that the favor never became a cheap one. Those people who heard it were loud in its praise, and less favored persons talked of tyranny and oppression, because they were not permitted to see themselves and their neighbors delightfully laughed at by Figaro. Poor Louis held out against the solicitations of the people about him with a pertinacity which he seldom showed in greater matters. At last his resolution weakened, and permission was accorded to play the piece at a private entertainment given by the Count of Vaudreuil. After that, the public performance became only a question of time and of the suppression of obnoxious passages. On the 27th of April, 1784, the theatre-goers of Paris thronged from early morning about the doors of the Comedie Française; three persons were crushed to death; great ladies dined in the theatre, to keep their places. At half past five the curtain rose. The success was unbounded, in spite of savage criticism, which spared neither the play nor the author.[Footnote: Campan, i. 277. Lomenie, _Beaumarchais_, ii. 293. Grimm, xiii. 517. La Harpe, _Corresp. litt._ iv. 227.]

As the people of Paris liked violent language, they also enjoyed opposition to the government, whatever form that opposition might assume. The Parliament, as we have seen, although contending for privileges and against measures beneficial to most people in the country, was yet popular, for it was continually defying the court. But many privileged persons went farther than the conservative lawyers of the city. It was indeed such people who took the lead both in proclaiming equality and in denouncing courtiers. From the nobility and the rich citizens of Paris, discontent with existing conditions and the habit of opposition to constituted authorities spread to the lower classes and to the inhabitants of provincial towns.

Louis XVI. had not been long on the throne when a series of events occurred in a distant part of the world which excited in a high degree both the spirit of insubordination and the love of equality in French minds. The American colonies of Great Britain broke into open revolt, and presently declared their independence of the mother country. The sympathy of Frenchmen was almost universal and was loudly expressed. Here was a nation of farmers constituting little communities that Rousseau might not have disowned, at least if he had looked at them no nearer than across the ocean. They were in arms for their rights and liberties, and in revolt against arbitrary power. And the oppressor was the king of England, the monarch of the nation that had inflicted on France, only a few years before, a humiliating defeat. Much that was generous in French character, and much that was sentimental, love of liberty, admiration of equality, hatred of the hereditary enemy, conspired to favor the cause of the “Insurgents.” The people who wished for political reforms could point to the model commonwealths of the New World. Their constitutions were translated into French, and several editions were sold in Paris.[Footnote: _Recueil des loix constitutives. Constitutions des treize États Unis de l’Amérique_. Franklin to Samuel Cooper, May 1, 1777. _Works_ vi. 96.] The people that adored King Louis could cry out for the abasement of King George. A few prudent heads in high places were shaken at the thought of assisting rebellion. The Emperor Joseph II., brother-in-law to the king of France, was not quite the only man whose business it was to be a royalist. Ministers might deprecate war on economical grounds, and advise that just enough help be given to the Americans to prolong their struggle with England until both parties should be exhausted. But the heart of the French nation had gone into the war. It was for the sake of his own country that the Count of Vergennes, the foreign minister of Louis XVI., induced her to take up arms against Great Britain, and in the negotiations for peace he would willingly have sacrificed the interests of his American to those of his Spanish allies; yet the part taken by France was the almost inevitable result of the sympathy and enthusiasm of the French nation. Never was a war not strictly of defense more completely national in its character. Frenchmen fought in Virginia because they loved American ideas, and hated the enemy of America. [Footnote: Rosenthal, _America and France_,–an excellent monograph.]

Thus France, while still an absolute monarchy, undertook a war in defense of political rights. Such an action could not be without results. Writers of a later time, belonging to the monarchical party, have not liked the results and have blamed the course of the French upper classes in embarking in the war. But it was because they were already inclined to revolutionary ideas in politics that the nobility did so embark. Poor Louis was dragged along, feebly protesting. He was no radical, and to him change could mean nothing but harm; if it be harm to be deprived of authority beyond your strength, and of responsibility exceeding your moral power. The war, in its turn, fed the prevailing passions. Young Frenchmen, who had first become warlike because they were adventurous and high-spirited, adopted the cries of “liberty” and “equality” as the watchwords of the struggle into which they entered, and were then interested to study the principles which they so loudly proclaimed. Voltaire, Rousseau, d’Alembert, even Montesquieu, became more widely read than ever. Officers returning from the capture of Yorktown were flushed with success and ready to praise all they had seen. They told of the simplicity of republican manners, of the respect shown for virtuous women. Even Lauzun forgot to be lewd in speaking of the ladies of Newport. So unusual a state of mind could not last long. A reaction set in after the peace with England. Anglomania became the ruling fashion. The change was more apparent than real. London was nearer than Philadelphia and more easily visited. Political freedom existed there also, if not in so perfect a form, yet in one quite as well suited to the tastes of fashionable young men. Had not Montesquieu looked on England as the model state?[Footnote: Ségur, i. 87. The French officers who were in the Revolutionary war often express dissatisfaction with the Americans, but their voices appear to have been drowned in France in the chorus of praise. See Kalb’s letters to Broglie in Stevens’s MSS., vii., and Mauroy to Broglie, _ibid_., No. 838. The foreign politics of the reign of Louis XVI. are admirably considered by Albert Sorel, _L’Europe et la Révolution française_, i. 297.]

Thus English political ideas were adopted with more or less accuracy and were accompanied by English fashions: horses and horseracing, short stirrups, plain clothes, linen dresses, and bread and butter. Clubs also are an English invention. The first one in Paris was opened in 1782. The Duke of Chartres had recently cut down the trees of his garden to build the porticoes and shops of the Palais Royal. The people who had been in the habit of lounging under the trees were thus dispossessed. A speculator opened a reading-room for their benefit, and provided them with newspapers, pamphlets, and current literature. The duke himself encouraged the enterprise, and overcame the resistance which the police naturally made to any new project. The reading-room, which seems to have had a regular list of subscribers, was called the Political Club. In spite of the name, the regulations of the police forbade conversation within its walls on the subjects of religion and politics; but such rules were seldom enforced in Paris. Other clubs were soon founded, some large and open, some small and private. A certain number of them took the name of literary, scientific, or benevolent associations. Some appear to have been secret societies with oaths and pledges. The habit of talking about matters of government spread more and more.[Footnote: Chérest, ii. 101. Droz, i. 326. See in Brissot ii. 415, an account of a club to discuss political questions, under pretense of studying animal magnetism. Lafayette, d’Espresmenil, and others were members. Their ideas were vague enough. Brissot was for a republic, D’Esprésmenil for giving the power to the Parliament, Bergasse for a new form of government of which he was to be the Lycurgus. Morellet, i. 346. Lameth, i. 34 _n_. Sainte-Beuve, x. 104 (_Sénac de Meilhan_).]

It was on the approach of the meeting of the Estates General that the habit of political reading assumed the greatest importance. In the latter part of 1788 and the earlier months of 1789 a deluge of pamphlets, such as the world had not seen and is never likely to see again, burst over Paris. The newspapers of the day were few and completely under the control of the government, but French heads were seething with ideas. In vain the administration and the courts made feeble attempts to limit the activity of the press. From the princes of the blood royal (who issued a reactionary manifesto), to the most obscure writer who might hope for a moment’s notoriety, all were rushing into print. The booksellers’ shops were crowded from morning until night. The price of printing was doubled. One collector is said to have got together twenty-five hundred different political pamphlets in the last months of 1788, and to have stopped in despair at the impossibility of completing his collection.[Footnote: Droz, ii. 93. “Thirteen came out to-day, sixteen yesterday, and ninety-two last week.” A. Young, i. 118 (June 9, 1789). Chérest, ii. 248, etc.]

In most political crises there is but one great question of the hour; but in France at this time all matters of government and social life were in doubt; and every man believed that he could settle them all by the easy and speedy application of pure reason, if only all other men would lay down their prejudices. And a special subject was not wanting. The question which called loudest for an answer was that of representation. Should there be one chamber in the Estates General, in which the Commons should have a number of votes equal to that of the other two orders combined, or should there be three chambers? This matter (which is more particularly discussed in the next chapter) and the general political constitution occupied the chief attention of the pamphleteers, but law reform and feudal abuses were not forgotten.

The pamphlets came from all quarters and bore all sorts of titles. “Detached Thoughts;” “The Forty Wishes of the Nation;” “What has surely been forgotten;” “Discourse on the Estates General;” “Letter of a Burgundian Gentleman to a Breton Gentleman, on the Attack of the Third Estate, the Division of the Nobility, and the Interest of the Husbandmen;” “Letter of a Peasant;” “Plan for a Matrimonial Alliance between Monsieur Third Estate and Madam Nobility;” “When the Cock crows, look out for the Old Hens;” “Ultimatum of a Citizen of the Third Estate on the Mémoire of the Princes;” “Te Deum of the Third Estate as it will be sung at the First Mass of the Estates General, with the Confession of the Nobility,” “Creed of the Third Estate;” “Magnificat of the Third Estate;” and “Requiem of the Farmers General.”

The pamphlets are generally anonymous, from a lingering fear of the police. The place of printing is seldom mentioned; at least, few of the pamphlets bear the true one. The imprint, where one appears, is London, Ispahan, or Concordopolis. One humorous and distinctly libelous publication is “sold at the Islands of Saint Margaret, and distributed gratis at Paris.” The pamphlet entitled “Diogenes and the Estates General” is “sold by Diogenes in his Tub.”

In spite of the stringent orders against printed attacks on the government, in spite of the spasmodic activity of the police, the boldness of some of the pamphlets is remarkable. One of them, for instance, begins as follows: “There was once, I know not where, a king born with an upright spirit and a heart that loved justice, but a bad education had left his good qualities uncultivated and useless.” The king is then accused of eating and hunting too much, and of swearing. And when we pass from personal to political subjects there is almost no limit to the rashness of the pamphleteers. It was not the most sane and judicious part of the nation which became most conspicuous by its writings at this time and in this manner. The pamphlets are noticeably less conservative than the _cahiers_, which were likewise produced in the spring of 1789.

Yet the subversionary writers were not left to occupy the field alone. Nobles and magistrates took up their pens to defend old institutions. Moderate men tried to get a hearing in behalf of peace and good will. But, alas, the old constitution was a dream. France was in fact a despotism with civilized traditions and with a few customs that had almost the force of fundamental laws, and her people wanted a liberal government. As to the form of that government they were not entirely agreed; although they were not quite so subversionary as many of the pamphleteers wished them to be, or as their subsequent history would lead us to believe them to have been. But no leader appeared, for a long time, strong enough to dominate the factions and to keep the peace.

Of the mass of political literature which saw the light in 1788 and 1789, three lines only are commonly remembered. They are on the first page of a pamphlet by the famous Abbé Sieyes. Of the many persons who in our own time have wondered how to pronounce his name, all are aware that he asked and answered the following questions:

“(1.) What is the Third Estate? Everything.

“(2.) What has it been hitherto in the political order? Nothing.

“(3.) What does it ask? To become something.”

Few have followed him farther in his inquiries. Yet his pamphlet excited great interest and admiration in its day. It is an eloquent and well-written paper, as strong in rhetoric as it is weak in statesmanship.

In agriculture, manufactures, and trade, and in those services which are directly useful and agreeable to persons, and which include the most distinguished scientific and literary professions and the most menial service, the Commons, according to Sieyes, do all the work. In the army, the church, the law, and the administration of government, they furnish nineteen twentieths of the men employed, and these do all that is really onerous. Only the lucrative and honorary places are occupied by members of the nobility. These upper places would be infinitely better filled if they were the rewards of talents and services recognized in the lower ranks. The Third Estate is quite able to do all that is needful. Were the privileged orders taken away, the nation would not be something less than it is, but something more.

“What is a nation?” asks Sieyes; and he answers that it is “a body of associates living together under a common law and represented by the same legislature.” But the order of the nobility has privileges, dispensations, different rights from the great body of the citizens. It is outside of the common order and the common law. It is a state within a state.

The Third Estate, therefore, embraces everything which belongs to the nation; and all that is not a part of the Commons cannot be considered a part of the nation. What, then, is the Third Estate? Everything.

What has the Third Estate hitherto been? Nothing. It is but too true that you are nothing in France if you have only the protection of the common law. Without some privilege or other, you must make up your mind to suffer contempt, contumely, and all sorts of vexation. The unfortunate person who has no privileges of his own can only attach himself to some great man, by all sorts of meanness, and thus get the chance, on occasion, to demand the assistance of _somebody_.

What does the Third Estate ask? To become something in the state. And in truth the people asks but little. It wants true representatives in the Estates, taken from its own order, able to interpret its wishes, and defend its interests. But what would it gain by taking part in the Estates General, if its own side were not to prevail there? It must, therefore, have an influence at least equal to that of the privileged orders; it must have half the representatives. This equality would be illusory if the chambers voted separately; therefore, the voting must be by heads. Can the Third Estate ask for less than this? And is it not clear that if its influence is less than that of the privileged orders combined, there is no hope of its emerging from its political nullity and becoming something?

Sieyes goes on to argue that the Third Estate should be allowed to choose its representatives only from its own body. He has persuaded himself, by what seems to be a process of mental juggling, that men of one order cannot be truly represented by men of another. Suppose, he says, that France is at war with England, and that hostilities are conducted on our side by a Directory composed of national representatives. In that case, I ask, would any province be permitted, in the name of freedom, to choose for its delegates to the Directory the members of the English ministry? Surely the privileged classes show themselves no less hostile to the common order of people, than the English to the French in time of war.

Three further questions are stated by Sieyes.

(4.) What the ministers have attempted and what the privileged classes propose in favor of the Third Estate?

(5.) What should have been done?

(6.) What is still to be done?

Under the fourth head, Sieyes considers the Provincial Assemblies recently established, and the Assembly of Notables, both of which he considers entirely incapable of doing good, because they are composed of privileged persons. He scorns the proposal of the nobility to pay a fair share of the taxes, being unwilling to accept as a favor what he wishes to take as a right. He fears that the Commons will be content with too little and will not sweep away all privilege. He attacks the English Constitution, which the liberal nobles of France were in the habit of setting up as a model, saying that it is not good in itself, but only as a prodigious system of props and makeshifts against disorder. The right of trial by jury he considers its best feature.

He then passes to the question: What should have been done? and here he gives us the foundation of his system. Without naming Rousseau he has adopted the Social Compact as the basis of government. A nation is made up of individuals; these unite to form a community; for convenience they depute persons to represent them and to exercise the common power. [Footnote: It need hardly be pointed out that Sieyes falls short of the full measure of Rousseau’s doctrine when he allows the law-making, or more correctly the constitution-making power, to be delegated at all.] The constitution of the state is the body of rules by which these representatives are governed when they legislate or administer the public affairs. The constitution is fundamental, not as binding the national will, but only as binding the bodies existing within the state. The nation itself is free from all such bonds. No constitution can control it. Its will cannot be limited. The nation assembling to consider its constitution is not controlled by ordinary forms. Its delegates meeting for that especial purpose are independent of the constitution. They represent the national will, and questions are settled by them not in accordance with constitutional laws, but as they might be in a meeting of the whole nation were it small enough to be brought together in one place; that is to say, by a vote of the majority.[Footnote: Sieyes and his master do not see that if unanimity cannot be secured, and if constitutional law be once done away, men are reduced under their system to a state of nature, and the will of a majority has no binding force but that of the strong arm.]

But where find the nation? Where it is: in the forty thousand parishes which comprise all the territory and all the inhabitants of the country. They should have been arranged in groups of twenty or thirty parishes, and have thus formed representative districts, which should have united to make provinces, which should have sent true delegates, with special power to settle the constitution of the Estates General.

This correct course has not been followed, but what now remains to be done? Let the Commons assemble apart from the other orders. Let them join with the Nobility and the Clergy neither by orders, as a part of a legislature of three chambers, nor by heads, in one common assembly. Two courses are open. Either let them appeal to the nation for increased powers, which would be the most frank and generous way; or let them only consider the enormous difference that exists between the assembly of the Third Estate and that of the other two orders. “The former represents twenty-five millions of men and deliberates on the interests of the nation. The other two, were they united, have received their powers from but about two hundred thousand individuals, and think only of their privileges. The Third Estate alone, you will say, cannot form the Estates General. So much the better! It will make a _National Assembly_.”

I have considered this famous pamphlet at some length, because it was eminently timely, expressing, as it did, the doctrines and the aspirations of the subversionary party in France. I believe, and principally on the evidence of the cahiers, that this party did not form a majority, or even, numerically, a very large minority, of the French nation. A constitutional convention, organized from the Commons alone as Sieyes would have had it, if left to itself and uncontrolled by the Parisian mob, would undoubtedly have settled the question of a single chamber in a popular sense, but it would have preserved the privileges of the nobility to an extent which would have disgusted the extremists, and perhaps have saved the country from years of violence and decades of reaction. But the people of violent ideas were predominant in Paris and in some of the towns, and were destined, for a time, to be the chief force in the French Revolution. The passions of this party were love of equality and hatred of privilege. To men of this stamp despotism may be comparatively indifferent; liberty is a word of sweet sound, but little meaning. Sieyes hardly refers to the king in his pamphlet. “The time is past,” he says, “when the three orders, thinking only of defending themselves from ministerial despotism, were ready to unite against the common enemy.” This comparative indifference to the tyranny of the court was not the feeling of the country, but it was that of the enthusiasts. Nothing is too bad according to these last, for men who hold privileges. They have no right to assemblies of their own, nor to a voice in the assemblies of the people. To ask what place they should occupy in the social order “is to ask what place should be assigned in a sick body to the malignant humor which undermines and torments it.”



It is seldom, indeed, that a great nation can express fully, frankly, and yet officially, all its complaints, wishes, and hopes in respect to its own government. Our knowledge of national ideas must generally be derived from the words of particular classes of men: statesmen, politicians, authors, or writers in the newspapers. The ideas of these classes are more or less in accord with those of the great mass of the people which they undertake to represent; yet their expressions are necessarily tinged by their own professional way of looking at things. But in the spring of 1789 all Frenchmen, with few exceptions, were called on to unite, not merely in choosing representatives, but in giving them minute instructions. The occasion was most solemn. The Estates General, the great central legislature of France, which had not met for nearly two centuries, was summoned to assemble at Versailles. It should be the old body and something more. It was to partake of the nature of a constitutional convention. It was not only to legislate, but to settle the principles of government. It was called by the king to advise and consent to all that might concern the needs of the state, the reform of abuses, the establishment of a fixed and lasting order in all parts of the administration, the general prosperity of his kingdom, and the welfare of all and each of his subjects.[Footnote: _Royal Letter of Convocation_, January 24, 1789, _A. P._ i. 611. The principal printed collection of cahiers, together with much preliminary matter, may be found in the first six volumes of the Archives Parlementaires, edited by MM. Mavidal et Laurent, Paris. The seventh volume consists of an index, which, although very imperfect, is necessary to an intelligent study of the cahiers. The cahiers printed in these volumes occupy about 4,000 large octavo pages in double column. These volumes will be referred to in this chapter and the next as A. P. Many cahiers and extracts from cahiers are also found printed in other places. I have not undertaken to give references to all the cahiers on which my conclusions are founded, but only to a few typical examples. The letters C., N., and T indicate the three orders. Where no such letter occurs the cahier is generally that of a town or village.]

The three orders of men, the Clergy, the Nobility, and the Commons, or Third Estate, were to hold their elections separately in every district, [Footnote: Saillage, sénéchaussée.] unless they should, by separate votes, agree to unite.[Footnote: The three orders did not often unite, but there is often evidence of communication between them. They all united at Bayonne, A. P. iii. 98. Montfort l’Amaury, A. P. iv. 37. Rozières, A. P. iv. 91. Fenestrange, A. P. v. 710. Mohon, A. P. v. 729. The Clergy and the Nobility united at Lixheim, A. P. v. 713; the Nobility and the Third Estate at Péronne, A. P. v. 355.] In accordance with ancient custom they were to draw up petitions, complaints, and remonstrances, which were intended to form a basis for legislation. These complaints were to be brought to the Estates, and were to serve as instructions, more or less positive, to the deputies who brought them. They were known in French political language as Cahiers.

The cahiers of the Clergy and of the Nobility were drawn up in the electoral meetings which took place in every district. To these local assemblies of the Clergy, all bishops, abbots, and parish priests, holding benefices, were summoned. Chapters and monasteries sent only representatives. The result of this arrangement was that the parish priests far outnumbered the regular ecclesiastics and dignitaries, and that the clerical cahiers oftenest express the wishes of the lower portion of the secular clergy. This preponderance of the lower clergy appears to have been foreseen and desired by the royal advisers. The king had expressed his wish to call to the assemblies of the Clergy “all those good and faithful pastors who are occupied closely and every day with the poverty and the assistance of the people and who are more intimately acquainted with its ills and its apprehensions.”[Footnote: Règlement du 24 Jan. 1789, A. P. i. 544. Parish priests were not allowed to leave their parishes to go to the assemblies if more than two leagues distant, unless they left curates to do their work. But this provision did not keep enough of them away to alter the character of the assemblies.]

To the local assemblies of the nobles, all Frenchmen of the order, not less than twenty-five years of age, were summoned. Men, women, or children possessing fiefs might appear by proxy. The latter provision did not suffice to take the meetings out of the control of the more numerous part of the order,–the poorer nobility. To pride of race and intense loyalty to the king, these country gentlemen united distrust and dislike of the court, and the desire that all nobles at least should have equal rights and chances. Their cahiers differ somewhat from place to place, but are wonderfully alike in general current.[Footnote: N., Périgord, A. P., v. 341.]

For the Third Estate a more complicated system was adopted. The franchise extended to every French subject, neither clerical nor noble, twenty-five years of age, and entered on the tax rolls.[Footnote: In Paris only, a small property qualification was exacted.] Every town, parish, or village, drew up its cahier and sent it, by deputies, either to the assembly of the district or to an intermediate assembly. Here a committee was appointed to consider all the local cahiers and consolidate them; those of the intermediate assemblies being again worked over for the general cahier of the Third Estate of each electoral district. Thus the cahiers of the Commons finally carried to the Estates General at Versailles were less directly the expression of the opinions of the order from which they came than were the cahiers of the Clergy and of the Nobility. Fortunately, however, large numbers of the primary or village cahiers have been preserved and printed.

The cahiers of the Third Estate differ far more among themselves than do those of the upper orders. Some of them, drawn up in the villages, are very simple, dealing merely with local grievances and the woes of peasant life. The long absence of the lord of the place causes more loss to one village than even the price of salt, or than the taille, with which the people are overburdened. Then follows the enumeration of broken bridges, of pastures overflowed because the bed of the stream is obstructed, of robbery and violence and refusal of justice, with no one to protect the poor, nor to direct repairs and improvements.[Footnote: Paroisse de Longpont, A. P., v. 334.]

In another place we have the touching humility of the peasant. “The inhabitants of this parish have no other complaints to make than those which are common to folk of their rank and condition, namely, that they pay too many taxes of different kinds already; that they would wish that the disorder of the finances might not be the cause of new burdens upon them, because they were not able to bear any more, having a great deal of trouble to pay those which are now levied, but that it much rather belonged to those who are rich to contribute toward setting up the affairs of the kingdom.

“As for remonstrances, they have no other wishes nor other desires than peace and public tranquillity: that they wish the assembly of the Estates General may restore the order of the finances, and bring about in France the order and prosperity of the state; that they are not skillful enough about the matters which are to be treated in the said assembly to give their opinion, and they trust to the intelligence and the good intentions of those who will be sent there as deputies.

“Finally, that they know no means of providing for the necessities of the state, but a great economy in expenses and reciprocal love between the king and his subjects.”[Footnote: Paroisse de Pas-Saint-Lomer, A. P., v. 334.]

Not many of the cahiers are so modest as this one. Some of them are many pages long, arranged under heads, divided into numbered paragraphs. These contain a general scheme of legislation, and often also particular and local petitions. They ask that such a lawsuit be reviewed, that such a dispute be favorably settled. Many localities complain, not only that the country in general is overtaxed, but that their particular neighborhood pays more than its share. Their soil is poor, they say, water is scarce or too plenty. The cahiers of the country villages contain more complaints of feudal exactions, while those of the towns and of the electoral districts give more space to political and social reforms.

Many models of cahiers were prepared in Paris and sent to the country towns. Thus the famous Abbé Sieyes, whose violent doctrines were considered in the last chapter, composed and distributed a form. It was brought to Chaumont in Champagne by the Viscount of Laval, who undertook to manage the election in that town in the interest of democracy and the Duke of Orleans. Dinners and balls were given to the voters; promises were made. The badges of an order of canonesses, which the duke proposed to found, were distributed among the ladies. The abbé’s cahier was accepted, but the peasants of Champagne appended to its demands for constitutional reforms the petition that their dogs might not be obliged to carry a log fastened to their collars to prevent their running after game, and that they themselves might be allowed to have guns to kill the wolves.[Footnote: Beugnot, Mémoires, i. 110.]

Some of the cahiers were entirely of home manufacture, drawn up by the lawyer or the priest of the village. The people of Essy-les-Nancy, in Lorraine, describe the process. “Each one of us proposed what he thought proper, and then we chose our deputies, Imbert Perrin and Joseph Jacques, whom we thought best able well to represent us. The only thing left was to express our wishes well, and to draw up the official report of the meeting. But our priest, in whom we trust, who feels our woes so well, and who expresses our feelings so rightly, had been obliged to go away. We said: `We must wait for him; we will first beg his assistant to begin, and then, when the priest comes back, we will give him the whole thing to correct, and have our affairs ready to be taken to the assembly of the district.’ He came back in fact; we asked him to draw it all up. We told him all we wanted. He kept writing, and scratching out, and writing over, until we saw that he had got our ideas. Everything seemed ready for the fifteenth. But we heard that the district assembly would be put off until the thirtieth. We said to him: `Sir, wait again, let us profit by the delay, we shall think of something more, you will add it;’ he consented.”[Footnote: Mathieu, 423.]

There was evidently some concert among the different districts, but also much freedom and originality. There are many protests on the part of minorities. Bishops or chapters complain of clauses which attack their rights; monasteries remonstrate against the proposed diversion of their funds to pay parish priests. Individuals take this opportunity to give their views on public matters. An old officer would have nobility of the sword confined to families in which the men bear arms in every generation. A commoner, having bought noble lands, complains of the additional taxes laid on him on this account. The peasants of Ménil-la-Horgne say that the lawyers have captured the electoral assembly of their district, and cut out their remonstrances from the general cahier; that although there are thirty-two rural communities in the bailiwick, and all agreed, the six deputies of the towns have managed things in their own way; and that thus the poor inhabitants of the country can never bring their wishes to the notice of their sovereign, who desires their good, and takes all means to accomplish it.[Footnote: No strict line appears to have been drawn as to who might and who might not properly issue a cahier. Jean Baptiste Lardier, seigneur de Saint-Gervais de Pierrefitte, A. P. v. 17. Messire Carré, A. P., v. 21; A. P. ii. 224.]

The meetings in which the cahiers were composed were sometimes stormy. At Nemours the economist Dupont was one of the committee especially engaged in the task. The question of abolishing the old courts of law was a cause of strong feeling. The excitement rose so high that the crowd threatened to throw Dupont out of the window. Matters looked serious, for the room was a flight above ground, the window was already open, and angry men were laying hands on the economist. The latter, however, picked out one inoffensive person, a very fat man, who happened to be standing by. Dupont managed to get near him and suddenly grasped him round the body. “What do you want?” cried the startled fat man. “Sir,” answered Dupont, “every one for himself. They are going to throw me out of the window, and you must serve as a mattress.” The crowd laughed, and not only let Dupont alone, but came round to his opinion, and chose him deputy.[Footnote: Another politician under similar circumstances was frightened out of the room, and lost all political influence. Beugnot, i. 118.]

The agreement of general ideas in the cahiers is all the more striking on account of the diversity in their details, and of the freedom of discussion and protest enjoyed by those concerned in composing them. They have been constantly referred to by writers on history, politics, and economics for information as to the state of France at the time when they were written. They are, indeed, capable of teaching a very great deal, but they will prove misleading if the purpose for which they were composed be forgotten. This purpose was to express the complaints and desires of the nation. It appears in their very name, “Cahiers of Lamentations, Complaints, and Remonstrances.”[Footnote: The titles vary, but generally bear this meaning.] We must not, therefore, look to the cahiers for mention of anything good in the condition of old France; and we must remember that people who are advocating a change are likely to bring forward the worst side of the things they wish to see altered. Two political ideas coexisted in the minds of Frenchmen in 1789 as to what they and their Estates General were to do and to be. They were to resume their ancient constitution. They were to make a new one, in accordance with reason and justice. Both of these desires may well be present in the minds of practical legislators, even if their reconciliation be at the expense of strict logic and historical accuracy. But unfortunately the historical and the ideal constitutions in France were too far separated to be easily united. The chasm between the feudal monarchy gradually transformed into a despotism, which had existed, and the well governed limited monarchy, which the most judicious Frenchmen desired, was too wide to be bridged. “The throne of France is inherited only in the male line;” to that all men agreed. They agreed also that all existing taxes were illegal, because they had not been allowed by the nation, and that such taxes should remain in force only for convenience, and for a limited time, unless voted by the legislature. The legislative power resides, or is to reside in the king and the nation, the latter being represented by its lawful assembly or Estates General;[Footnote: Some say in the Estates General, without mentioning the king.] here also they were in accord. But how are those Estates General to be composed? “Of three orders, deliberating and voting separately, the concurrence of all three being necessary to the passage of a law,” said the nobles. “Of one chamber,” answered the Third Estate, “in which our numbers are to be equal to those of the other orders united, and in which the vote is to be counted by heads.” Here was the first and most dangerous divergence of opinion, on a question which should have been answered before it was even fairly asked, by the king who called the assembly. But neither Louis nor Necker, his adviser, had the strength and foresight to settle the matter on a firm basis while it was yet time. Were the old form of voting by three chambers intended, it was folly to make the popular one as numerous as the other two together. Were a new form of National Assembly, with only one chamber, to be brought into being, it was culpable to allow the old orders to misunderstand their fall from power. “We are an essential part of the monarchy,” said the nobles. “We are twenty-three twenty-fourths of the nation, and the more useful part at that,” retorted the Commons. “Our claim rests on law and history,” cried the one. “And ours on reason and justice,” shouted the other. And many of the deputies on either side held the positive instructions of their constituents not to yield in this matter. But while the Commons were practically a unit on this question, the nobles were more divided. About half of them insisted on their ancient rights, declaring, in many instances, that should the vote by heads be adopted their deputies were immediately to retire from the Estates. Others wavered, or allowed discussion by a single, united chamber under certain circumstances, or on questions which did not concern the privileges of the superior Orders. In a few provinces the nobles frankly took the popular side. The Clergy joined in some cases with one party, in some with the other, but oftenest gave no opinion. [Footnote: I have found one cahier of the Third Estate asking for the vote by orders. _T._, Mantes et Meulan, _A. P._, iii. 666, art. 4, Section 3. A suggestion of two coordinate chambers, in one cahier of the Clergy and Nobility, and in one of the Third Estate. _T._, Bigorre, _A. P._, ii. 359, Section 3.]

The cahiers on both sides took this question as settled, and proceeded, with a tolerable agreement, to the other parts of the constitution. The king, in addition to his concurrence in legislation, was to have nominally the whole executive power. Many are the expressions of love and gratitude for Louis XVI. He is requested to adopt the title of “Father of the People,” of “Emulator of Charlemagne.” In the latter connection we are treated to a bit of history. It appears that Egbert, King of Kent, came to France in the year 799, to learn the art of reigning from Charlemagne himself. He bore back to England the plan of the French constitution. The next year he acquired the kingdom of Wessex, in 808 that of the Mercians, and in time his reputation brought under his rule the four remaining kingdoms of Great Britain. Thus it is the basis of our French constitution which for nearly a thousand years has made the happiness and strength of all England, and which is the true origin of the rightful privileges of the province of Brittany. [Footnote: _T._, Ballainvilliers, _A. P._, iv. 336, art. 35. Triel, _A. P._ v. 147, art. 104. For the title of _Père du Peuple_, St. Cloud, _A. P._ v. 68. Montaigut, _A. P._ v. 577. _T._, Rouen, _A. P._ v. 602. _T._, Vannes, _A. P._, vi. 107. For blessings on the king and on Necker, see Mathieu, 425. The sole expression of disrespect for Louis XVI. which I have found is given in Beugnot, i. 116. “Let us give power to our deputies to solicit from our lord the king his consent to the above requests; in case he accords them, to thank him; in case he refuses, to _unking_ him” (_deroiter_). This, according to Beugnot, was in a rural cahier and he seems to quote from memory. The pamphlets, as has been said, were much more violent than the cahiers.]

The royal power was to be exercised through responsible ministers, but we must not be misled by words. The ministerial responsibility contemplated by Frenchmen in the cahiers was something quite different from what is known by that name in modern times. Under the system of government which was forming in England in the last century, and which has since been extensively copied on the Continent, the ministers, although nominally the advisers of the king, form in fact a governing committee, selected by the legislature among its own members. The ministers are at once the creatures and the leaders of the Parliament from which they spring. To it they are responsible not only for malfeasance in office, but for matters of opinion or policy. As soon as they are shown to be in disagreement with the majority of their fellow-members, they fall from power; but their fall is attended with no disgrace, and no one is shocked or astonished to see them continue to take part in public life, and regain, by a turn of popular favor, those places which they may have lost almost by accident.

The idea of such a system as this had not entered the minds of the Frenchmen of 1789. They knew ministers only as servants of a monarch, chosen by him alone, to carry out his orders, or to advise him in affairs of which the final decision lay with him. They knew but too well that kings and their servants are sometimes law-breakers. They knew, moreover, that their own actual king was weak and well-meaning. The pious fiction by which the king was always spoken of as good, and his aberrations were ascribed to defective knowledge or to bad advice, had taken some real hold on the popular imagination. The nation felt that the person of a king should be inviolable. But the breaches of law committed by the king’s unaided strength could not be far-reaching. Frenchmen, therefore, desired to make all those persons responsible who might abet the king in illegal acts, or who might commit any such acts under his orders or in his name. They feared the levy of illegal taxes, and it was against malfeasance of that sort that they especially wished to provide. They therefore asked in their cahiers that the ministers should be made responsible to the civil tribunals or to the Estates General. The voters did not conceive of royal ministers as members of their legislature. In fact, some cahiers carefully provided that deputies should accept no office nor favor of the court either during the continuance of their service in the Estates, or for some years thereafter. The demand for ministerial responsibility was a demand that ministers, and their master through them, should be amenable to law; and was in the same line with the demand, also made in some cahiers, that soldiers should not be used in suppressing riots, except at the request of the civil power.[Footnote: _T._, St-Gervais (Paris), _A. P._, v. 308, Section 3. _N._ Agenois, _A. P._, i 680, Section 15. Chérest, ii. 475.]

It was universally demanded that the Estates General should meet at regular intervals of two, three, or five years, and should vote taxes for a limited time only. Thus it was hoped to keep power in the hands of the nation. And all debates were to be public; the proceedings were to be reported from day to day.[Footnote: Chérest, ii. 461.] Such provisions were not unnatural, for jealousy and distrust are common in political matters, and the less the experience of the people, the greater their dread of plots and cabals. But only two years before the cahiers were drawn up, another nation, which it had recently been the fashion much to admire in France, had appointed its deputies to draw up its constitution. This nation was at least as superior to the French in political experience as it was inferior in the arts and sciences that adorn life. Its attempts at constitution making might, therefore, well have served as a guide. The American convention of 1787 had many difficulties to encounter and many jealousies to excite; but these were less threatening than those which confronted the French Estates. Yet in Philadelphia precautions had been taken which were scorned at Versailles. The American deputies did not number twelve hundred, but less than sixty. The Americans sat with closed doors, and exacted of each other a pledge, most religiously kept, that their proceedings should be secret. The French admitted all manner of persons, not only to listen to their debates, but to applaud and hiss them. Their chamber came in a short time to be influenced, if not controlled, by its galleries; so that France was no longer governed by her chosen representatives, but by the mob of her capital. The American deputies, for the most part, came unpledged to their work. The French in many instances were commanded by their constituents to retire unless such and such of their demands were complied with. The American constitution was accepted with difficulty, and could probably never have been accepted at all if the public mind had been inflamed by discussion of each part before the whole was known. That constitution, with but few important amendments, is to-day regarded with a veneration incomprehensible to foreigners, by a nation twenty times as large as that which originally adopted it.[Footnote: An eminent foreign historian would almost seem to have written his book on the Constitutional History of the United States for the purpose of showing that a man may know all about a subject without understanding it.] The French constitution made by the body which met in 1789, with the name of Estates General, Constituent, or National Assembly, was hailed with clamorous joy by a part of the nation, and met with angry incredulity by another part. Many of its provisions have remained; but the constitution itself did not last two years. Could the sober deliberation of a small body of authorized men, sitting with closed doors, have produced in France in 1789 a constitution under which the nation could have prospered, and which could have been gradually improved and adapted to modern civilization? Was the enthusiasm and rush of a large popular assembly necessary to overcome the interested opposition of the court and the weak nervelessness of the monarch? It will never be known. Louis XVI. was too feeble to try the experiment, and no one else had the legal authority.

While the Estates General were to have the exclusive right of legislation, and France was thus to remain a centralized monarchy, Provincial Estates were to be established all over the country, unless where local bodies of the same character already existed. These Provincial Estates were to exercise large administrative powers, in the assessment and levy of taxes, in laying out roads, granting licenses, encouraging commerce and manufactures. It was the prayer of many of the cahiers that offices of one sort and another, civil or military, or that nobility itself, should be granted only on the nomination of the Provincial Estates. Many cahiers ask for elective municipal or village authorities. Many would sweep away the old officers of the crown, the intendants and military governors, the farmers general, and the very clerks. These men were hated as tax-gatherers, and distrusted as members of the old ring which had misgoverned the country. There are, says one cahier, more than forty thousand of them in the kingdom, whose sole business it is to vex and molest the king’s subjects, by false declarations and other means, and all for the hope of a share in the fines and confiscations that may be exacted.[Footnote: _T._, Perche, _A. P._, v. 325, Section 13. Several cahiers ask that the rights and privileges of the old Estates of the _Pays d’États_ be retained. _N._, Amont, _A. P._, i. 764. Officers of government called “vampires.” Domfront. _A. P._, i 724, Section 21. See also _T._, Amiens, _A. P._, i. 751, Section 40. Desjardins, xxxix.]

It is a mistake to assume that the Frenchmen of 1789 cared chiefly for civil and social reforms, and only incidentally for reforms of a political character. In most of the cahiers the political reforms are first mentioned and are as elaborately insisted on as any others. If there be any difference in this respect among the Orders, it is that the Nobility are more urgent for the political part of the programme than either the Clergy or the Third Estate. The priests were much occupied with their own affairs. The peasantry were thinking of the hardships they suffered. But all intelligent men felt that social and economic reforms would be unstable unless an adequate political reform were made also. The deputies of the three orders were in many cases instructed not to consider questions of state debt or taxation until the proposed constitution had been adopted.[Footnote: _T._, Briey, _A.P._, ii. 204. _N._, Ponthieu, _A.P._, v. 431. _N._, Agenois, _A. P._, i. 680.]

Having thus fixed the legislative power in the Estates General, and divided the executive and administrative branches of the government between the king with his responsible ministers and the Provincial Estates, the cahiers turned to the judicial function. On the reforms to be here accomplished there was substantial agreement; although the Third Order was most emphatic in its demands, as the expensive and complicated machinery of law weighs more heavily on the poor than on the rich, on the commercial class than on the land-owner. The great influence of lawyers among the Commons at this time was also a cause of the attention given to legal matters in the cahiers of the Third Estate. The common demand was for the simplification of courts and jurisdictions, the abolition of the purchase of judicial place, more uniform laws and customs. The codification of the laws, both civil and criminal, was sometimes called for. It was an usual request that there should be only two degrees in the administration of justice: a simple court in every district of sufficient size to warrant it, and parliaments in reasonable numbers, with final appellate jurisdiction. Commercial courts (_consulats_) were, however, to be retained. The nation was unanimous that the writ of _committimus_, by which cases could be removed by privileged persons from the regular courts to be tried by exceptional tribunals, or by distant parliaments, should be totally abolished. Justices of the peace, or informal courts with summary processes, were to have the settlement of small cases. The jurisdiction of the lords’ bailiffs was to be much abridged or entirely done away. [Footnote: _T._, Alençon, _A. P._, i. 717, Section 4. _T._, Amiens, _A. P._, i. 747, Section 1. This cahier gives a very full statement of existing judicial abuses. Desjardins, xxxv. Poncins, 286. Desjardins (xl.) says that the Nobility tried to save the jurisdiction of the bailiffs, and in some cases persuaded the Third Estate. I do not find the instances.]

In the criminal law, changes were recommended in the direction of giving a better chance to accused persons. Trials were to be prompt and public, and counsel were to be allowed. The prisons were to be improved. The Third Estate desired that punishment should be the same for all classes, and that the death penalty should be decapitation, a form of execution which had previously been reserved for the nobility. The thoroughness with which this reform was carried out some years later is very noticeable. The guillotine treated all sorts of men and women alike. It was a common request of the cahiers that the family of a man convicted and punished for crime should not be held to be disgraced, nor the relations of the culprit shut out from preferment. The former request shows a curious ignorance of what can and what cannot be done by legislation. Persons acquitted were to receive damages, either from the accuser, or from the state. Judges were to give reasons for their decisions. Arbitrary imprisonment by _lettre de cachet_ was, according to some cahiers, to be suppressed altogether; according to others it was to be regulated, but the practice retained where public policy or family discipline might require it.[Footnote: Domfront, _A. P._, i. 723, Section 6. Amiens, _A. P._, i. 747, Section 7. The cahiers show that everybody was opposed to the use of _lettres de cachet_ as they then existed; but most of the cahiers that had anything to say about them expressed a desire to keep something of the kind. They are considered necessary for reasons of state, or in the interest of families. Desjardins, 407. The author of the _Histoire du gouvernment de France depuis l’Assemblée des Notables_, a good, sensible, middle-class man, approves of them (260). Mercier (viii. 242) considers them useful and even necessary.]



As we pass from political and administrative questions to social and economical ones, the difficulty of an amicable arrangement is seen to increase. All agree that property is sacred; but the greater part of the nation is firmly persuaded that privilege must be destroyed; and in a vast number of cases, privilege is property. This difficulty will not stand long in the way of the Commons of France. It is just where privilege has this private character that it is the most odious to some classes of the population. The possession of land is connected with feudal obligations of all sorts; a violent separation must be made between them. The services to be rendered by the tenant to the landlord may be the most important part of the latter’s ownership; and by the system of tenure maintained for centuries over the greater part of Christendom, every landholder has been some one’s tenant. With the exception of a very few sovereign princes there has been no man in possession of an acre of land who has not rendered therefor, theoretically if not practically, some rent or service. The service might be merely nominal; in the case of noble lands in the eighteenth century, it generally was so; but nominal or real, the right to exact it was some one’s property. If such a right did not put money in his purse, it yet added to his dignity and self-satisfaction. But such rights as this had come to be looked on with deep distrust by a large part of the French nation. Ideas of independence and of the abstract rights of man had struck deep root. It was felt that land should be owned absolutely,–by allodial possession, as the phrase is. The feudal services, in fact, were often more onerous to those who paid them than they were beneficial to those who received them. It was time that they should be abolished. Those which were purely honorific, although valued by the nobility, who possessed them, outraged the sense of equality in the nation. They were felt to be badges and marks of the inferiority of the tenant to the landlord, of the poor to the rich. There is but one king, and we cannot all be noble, but let every man hold his farm in peace; such was the impatient cry of the common people. The feudal rights, which are merely honorific, offend man as man; some of them are degrading, some ridiculous. They must be abolished as fast as possible.[Footnote: _T._, Aix en Provence, _A. P._, i. 697, Section 8. _T._, Draguignan, _A, P._, iii. 260. Chérest (ii. 424) points out that the cahiers of the districts (baillages) are more moderate than those of the villages in matters concerning feudal rights, and thinks that this moderation was assumed from politic motives, not to frighten the privileged orders too much at this stage. But it seems improbable that such a piece of policy could have been so widely practiced.]

Relief from the operation of one set of privileges, neither strictly pecuniary nor entirely honorific, was almost unanimously demanded by the farmers. These were the rights of the nobles concerning the preservation of game, and the cognate right of keeping pigeons. The country-folk speak of doves as “the scourge of laborers,” and ask that they may be destroyed, or at least shut up during seed-time and harvest. One gentleman answers with the remonstrance that, being very warm, they are used in medicine, but that sparrows devour every year a bushel of grain apiece, and that each village should be obliged to kill a certain quantity of them. The peasants ask that wild boars and rabbits be alike destroyed. The royal preserves are particularly hated by all the agricultural population living near Paris. Land naturally of the first class is said to be made almost worthless by the abundance of the game. The hare feeds on the tender shoots of the growing grain. The partridge half destroys the wheat. Rabbits and other vermin browse on the vines, fruit-trees, and vegetables. Farmers are not allowed to destroy weeds for fear of disturbing game. Mounted keepers ride all over the fields, trampling down the crops. The king is begged to reduce his preserves, in so far as he can do so without interfering with his own amusement, or even to suppress them altogether.[Footnote: _T._, Pecqueuse (Paris, _extra muros_), _A. P._, v. 11, Section 36. _T._, Alençon, _A. P._, i. 719, ch. viii. Section 3. Exmes, _A. P._, i. 728, Sections 20, 21. Verneuil, _A. P._, i. 731, Section 44. Seigneur de Pierrefitte, _A. P._, v. 19, Section 16. Port au Pecq (Paris, _ex. m._), _A. P._, v. 12, Section 18. Plaisir (Paris, _ex. m._) _A. P._ v. 25. Amont-Gray, _A. P._, i. 780. Périgny en Brie (Paris, _ex. m._) _A. P._, v. 14, Sections 5-11, and many others.]

As for the feudal rights which brought in money to their owners, it was generally felt, at least by the Commons, that they must be redeemable; that the persons liable to pay on their account must be allowed to buy them off by the payment of a certain sum down, where the ownership was true and fair. Here, however, a great trouble seemed likely to arise from an important divergence of ideas. The French nobles believed, as the vast mass of property holders has believed in all ages, that prescription or ancient use was sufficient evidence of property. If it could be shown that a man, or his predecessors in title, had held a certain piece of land or a certain right over the land of another, from time immemorial, or for a very long time, nothing more was needed to establish his property. Unless this theory be admitted, at least to some extent, it would seem that all rights of property must perish. In respect therefore to land in actual possession the French nation held firmly to prescription. But in respect to those more subtle rights in land which had been enormously favored by the feudal system, another theory came in. Those rights were thought in the eighteenth century to be unnatural in themselves, and therefore abusive. It was believed, moreover, that many of them had been usurped without reason or justice. [Footnote: _T._, Béarn, _A. P._, vi. 500. Rennes, _A. P._, v. 546.] It was commonly held by the Third Estate that unless an express charter or agreement could be shown establishing such rights, they should be abolished without compensation, and that some of them were so unjust and objectionable that not even an agreement or a charter could sanction them. Such were many feudal payments and monopolies; common bulls, common ovens, rights to labor and to services. Such above all, where it lingered, was serfdom.[Footnote: For the desire to retain feudal rights, see _N._, Condom, _A. P._, iii. 38, Section 5. _N._, Dax, _A. P._, iii. 94, Section 21. _N._, Etain, _A. P._, ii. 215, Section 10. _N._, Bas Vivarais, _A. P._, vi. 180, Section 19. For the desire to abolish them, _T._, Avesnes, A. P., ii. 153, Sections 34-40. _T._, Bar-le-duc, _A. P._, ii. 200, Sections 49, 50. _T._, Beaujolais, _A. P._, ii. 285, Section 22. _T._, Cambrai, _A. P._, ii. 520, Sections 14-16. _C._, Clermont en Beauvoisis, _A. P._, ii. 746. _T._, Crépy, _A. P._, iii. 74, Section 21. _T._, Linas, _A. P._, iv. 649, Section 17. _T._, Ploermel, _A. P._, v. 379, Sections 14-20 (a very full exposition), and many others.]

When we pass from the property of private persons to that of clerical corporations, whether sole or aggregate, we find the case still stronger. It has been said that the greater number of the cahiers of the clergy were composed under the prevailing influence of the parish priests. These men felt themselves to be wronged in the distribution of church property. They thought it outrageous that the working part of the clergy should receive but a pittance, while useless drones fattened in idleness.[Footnote: _C._, Paroisse de St. Paul, _A. P._, v. 270, Section 11.] Their proposals were radical. They would take from the few who had much and give to the many who had little. The salaries of those who ministered in parishes should be increased, by fixing a minimum, and the money should come out of the pockets of abbots, chapters, and monasteries. Not only are future appointments to be made so as to favor the parish priests, but for their benefit the present incumbents of fat livings are to be dispossessed. The schemes for this purpose were not identical everywhere, but the spirit was the same throughout the popular part of the order.

While the Third Estate agreed with the Clergy in wishing to readjust clerical incomes, an attack was made in some quarters on the payment of the tithe itself. This, however, was not general. The people were willing to pay a reasonable tithe, although some of them would have preferred that the priests should receive salaries, paid from the product of ordinary taxation. Compulsory fees for religious ceremonies, such as weddings and funerals, were very unpopular. It was repeatedly asked that such fees should be abolished, when the incomes of the priests were made sufficient.[Footnote: Poncins, 179. _T._, Ploermel, _A. P._, v. 380, Section 22. Soissy-sous-Etioles, _A. P._, v. 121, Section 16.]

Thus the cahiers do not attack the right of property in the abstract; on the contrary, they maintain it. But they shake its foundations by blows aimed at vested rights and at prescription.

The question of taxation is postponed in the cahiers to that of constitutional rights. But financial necessities were the very cause of the existence of the Estates General, the opportunity for all reforms. On the most important principle of taxation the country was almost unanimous. Thenceforth the burdens were to be borne by all. Only here and there did some privileged body contend for old immunities, some chapter put in a claim that the Clergy should still pay only in the form of a voluntary gift. The privileged orders generally relinquish their freedom from taxation. Sometimes they applaud themselves for so doing. The Clergy, in many cases, undertake to bear their share of taxation only on condition that their corporate debt shall be made a part of the debt of the nation.

The Third Estate, on the other hand, maintains that it is but fair and right that all citizens shall be taxed alike. Its cahiers demand as a right what those of the higher orders offer as a gift.[Footnote: A few cahiers of the Nobility request that a certain part of the property of poor nobles be exempt from taxation. _N._, Clermont-Ferrand, _A. P._, ii. 767, Section 23. _N._, Bas Limousin, _A. P._, iii. 538, Section 14]

As to the method of taxation to be employed there was some approach to agreement. Many of the old taxes were utterly condemned, at least in their old forms. The salt tax was to be equalized, if it were not entirely done away. The monopoly of tobacco, that “article of first necessity,” was to receive the same treatment. Many demands were made concerning the excise on wine. “We find it hard to believe,” cry the people of the village of Pavaut, “that all this multitude of duties goes into the king’s strong-box; we rather believe that it serves to fatten those who are at the head of the excise; and that at the expense of the poor vine-dresser.” All the taxes were to be converted as fast as possible into one on land and one on personal property. But the minds of the reformers had not grasped the real difficulties of the subject. They were in that stage of thought in which great questions are answered off-hand because the thinker has not fully apprehended them. Should the personal tax be based on capital or on incomes, and how should these be ascertained? It is far easier to formulate general principles of taxation than to apply them successfully.[Footnote: Salt and tobacco, _T._, Perche, _A. P._, v. 327, Section 38. Loisail, _A. P._ v. 334, Section 7. Wine, Pavaut, _A. P._, v. 9.]

A common demand is for the taxation of luxuries, such as servants, carriages, or dogs. The people of Segonzac propose a charge on rouge, “which destroys beauty,” and strike at a fashionable folly of the day by suggesting a special payment by those “who allow themselves to wear two watches.” This is perhaps not the place to mention the proposal to impose an additional tax on persons of both sexes who are unmarried after “a certain age.” The great movement from the country to the cities was already exciting alarm. The people of Albret think that a tax on luxuries will have the double advantage of weighing on the richest and least useful citizens, and of sending the population back to the country from the cities, which will receive just limits. And the people of Domfront speak of Paris as an “awful chasm,” in which the wealth, population, and morals of the provinces are swallowed up together. [Footnote: Taxation of luxuries in general, _C._, Douai, _A. P._, iii. 174, Section 19. _N._, Alençon, _A. P._, i. 715. _C._, Amiens, _A. P._, i. 735. _T._, Aix, _A. P._, i. 696. _T._, Laugon, _A. P._, ii. 270, Sections 26, 27, and many others. Bachelors, _T._, Rennes, _A. P._, v. 544, Section 115. Vicheray, _A. P._, vi. 24, Section 30. Cities, _T._, Albret, _A. P._, i. 706, Section 38. Domfront, _A. P._, i. 724, Section 14.]

Theoretical attacks on luxury are common in all ages, and not very significant. Far more so are proposals for progressive taxation. These are of occasional occurrence in the cahiers. The Third Estate of Rennes, whose cahier is considered typical of the more revolutionary aspirations of the times, asks that “the tax on persons shall be established and assessed with reference to their powers, so that he that is twice as well off as the well to do people of his class shall pay three times the tax, and so following.” The spirit of this demand is more clear than its application. The town of Bellocq, in the province of Béarn, is more explicit. It would pay the public debt by a special tax, justly assessed, first on farmers general and other collectors of the revenue, who have made fortunes quickly for themselves and their relations, by money drawn from the nation; next on all persons who have an income exceeding two hundred pistoles, whether from lands, contracts, or manufactures; then on the feoffees of tolls, where the amount of the tolls is more than double the rent paid for them; and lastly, if the above do not suffice, it is proposed to obtain a sum of money by seizing a part of all articles of luxury and superfluity, wherever found; and it is explained that the plate of the rich and the ornaments of churches are especially intended.[Footnote: _A. P._, ii. 275, Section 42 _n._]

The financial scheme outlined in the cahiers is, in the main, as follows. As soon as the constitution shall have been settled, the deputies shall call on the royal ministers for accounts and estimates. The latter shall be furnished in two parts. First shall come those for the necessary, current expenses of the government, including those of the king and his family and court, to be maintained in a style suitable to the splendor of a great monarchy. It shall then be considered what economies can be introduced into every department. Among these economies, the suppression or reduction of extravagant pensions, especially of such as are bestowed for mere favor, and not for service to the state, shall take a prominent place. When the estimates have been duly considered, special appropriations shall be made by the Estates, and ministers shall be held to a strict responsibility in expending them.

Next, concerning the debts of the state, a separate and detailed account shall be rendered to the Estates General. This also shall be scrutinized, the justice of the various claims considered, and means provided for their gradual payment. It is taken for granted that, henceforth, the French nation is usually to live within its income; but if debts are contracted at any time, special provision must be made for the repayment of principal and interest.[Footnote: _N._, Amont, _A. P._, i. 766. _N._, Agenois, _A. P._, i. 682.]

Having considered the general matters of constitutional government, law, property, and taxation, we may pass to those questions which more particularly interested one of the great orders of the state, or on which the opinions of one order might be expected to differ from those of another. In general policy the clergy agreed with the nobility and the Third Estate, but in some matters they differed. Yet the differences were greater in degree than in kind. I mean that the clergy, as was natural, had most to say about ecclesiastical, religious, and moral questions, and differed from the nobility and the commons more by the relative prominence which it gave to these, than by the nature of its opinions concerning them.

The Roman Catholic and Apostolic Religion is the religion of the state; and the public worship of no other shall be allowed in France. This was the universal demand of the clergy, and in it the other orders usually acquiesced. As for the granting of civil rights to those who are not Catholic, the clergy is of opinion that quite enough, perhaps too much, has already been done in that direction. Such rights as have already been granted must be limited and defined, and a stop put to the encroachments of heresy. Sometimes the lay orders would go farther in toleration. One cahier of the nobility proposes a military cross for distinguished Protestant officers, another that non-Catholics may be electors, but not elected, to the Estates General. The inhabitants of some of the central provinces would restore the property of exiles for religion’s sake to their families. The people of one quarter of Paris would allow the free worship of all religions. Expressions of approval of the recent concession of a civil status to Protestants are not unusual in the cahiers. But the country and all the orders are undoubtedly and overwhelmingly Catholic.[Footnote: For toleration, Bellocq, _A. P._, ii. 276, Section 59. N., Agen, _A. P._, i. 684, Section 14. _T._, Perigord, _A. P._, v. 343, Section 45. _T._, Poitou, _A. P._, v. 414. Vouvant, _A. P._, v. 427, Section 18. T. Paris-Theatins, _A. P._, v. 316, Section 29. _T._, Montargis, _A. P._, iv. 23, Section 10.]

The clergy asks that the observance of Sundays and holidays be enforced. The Third Estate, in some places, thinks that there are too many holidays already. It would abolish many of them, transferring their religious observances to the Sunday to which they fall nearest. [Footnote: _T._, St. Pierre-le-Moutier, _A. P._, v. 640, Section 63. _T._, Paris-hors-les-murs, _A. P._, 241, Section 2.]

In regard to the liberty of the press the clergy is at variance with the other orders. It would maintain a stricter censorship than heretofore, and is inclined to attribute all the immorality of the age to the unbridled license of authors. The nobility and the Third Estate, on the other hand, would generally allow the press to be free, but would exact responsibility on the part of authors and printers, one or both of whom should always be required to sign their publications. Thus anonymous libels should no longer be suffered to appear, and bad books generally should bring down punishment on their authors.

The cahiers of the clergy, more, perhaps, than any others, insist on the importance of education; and the ecclesiastics generally wish to control it themselves. Here the commons sometimes go farther than they; asking that all monks and nuns be obliged to give free instruction.[Footnote: _C._, Aix, _A. P._, i. 692, Section 6. _C._, Labourt, iii. _A. P._, 424, Section 27. Ornans, _A. P._, iii. 172, Section 4. _T._, Douai, _A. P._, iii. 181, Sections 28, 29.]

As for the administration of their own order the clergy, under the lead of the parish priests, demand extensive reforms. There must be no more absenteeism; no bishops and abbots drawing large incomes and amusing themselves in Paris or Versailles. There must be no more pluralities, which are contrary to the decrees of the Council of Trent. Promotion must be thrown open to the parochial clergy. Faithful clergymen must be provided for in their old age. Frequent synods and provincial councils must be held. The laity agree with the clergy in calling for these reforms, and would in many cases go a great way in the suppression and consolidation of monasteries.[Footnote: Poncins, 190, _A. P._, _passim_. _N._, Agenois, _A. P._, i. 682, Section 8.]

Both clergy and laity are intensely Gallican. They do not wish to pay tribute to Rome, but desire that the church of France shall preserve her privileges and immunities. Dispensations for the marriage of relatives should, they think, be granted by French bishops, and the fees payable therefor should be kept in the country. Annats, or payments to the Pope on the occasion of appointment to French benefices, should be discontinued. An importance far beyond what their amount alone would seem to justify was attached in French minds to these payments to the Holy See. They were repugnant to the national sense of dignity. In some places the idea that the church of France was to govern herself went so far as to threaten orthodoxy. The clergy of the province of Poitou ask for the composition by the French bishops, “who would doubtless think proper to consult the universities,” of a body of theology, “divested of all useless questions,” which shall be exclusively taught in all seminaries, schools, and monasteries. We have here an instance of that impatience of all complicated and difficult thought, of that simple faith that all questions admit of short and sensible answers, which characterized the eighteenth century. The clergy of Poitou ask also for a great and little catechism, common to all dioceses. “Uniform instruction throughout all the Gallican Church,” they say, “would have so many advantages that the bishops will not fail to apply themselves to obtain it. A common breviary and a common liturgy would be equally desirable.”[Footnote: _A. P._, v. 391, Section 19.]

The election of bishops is asked for in several cahiers, and many parishes wish to elect their priests. These requests were not as radical as they may now seem to have been,–at least they did not interfere with the prerogatives of Rome,–for the bishops in France were nominated by the crown, as they still are by the French government, and the appointment of the priests, then in France as now in England, was often in the hands of lay patrons.[Footnote: Poncins, 168.]

The French nation in general wished to retain its nobility as a distinct part of the state. In but few cahiers do we find so much as a hint of the suppression of the order.[Footnote: Poncins, 111. Hippean, p. x., etc. My own study of the cahiers confirms this opinion. See, however, a long, argumentative article in the cahier of the Third Estate of Rennes, _A. P._, v. 540, Sections 48-50. See also that of Bellocq, _A. P._, ii. 276, Section 61. _T._ Aix. _A P._, i. 697. Villiers-sur-Marne, _A. P._, v. 216. Carri, _A. P._, vi. 280 Section 35, etc.] The Third Estate would, however, reduce the advantage of the nobility to little more than a distinction and a political weight. The nobles, being in numbers perhaps one hundredth part of the nation, are to be allowed one quarter of the representatives in the Estates General and in the Provincial Estates. They are to have a large share of honors, offices, and emoluments. Their order is to be made more exclusive than it has been. Nobility is no longer to be bought and sold, but shall be accorded only for merit or long service, perhaps only on the nomination of the Provincial Estates. Except in the most democratic cahiers, these concessions are not disputed.

On the other hand, the Commons ask for a share of the chances hitherto reserved for the nobles. The exclusive right held by the upper order, of serving as judges in the higher courts of justice, or as officers in the army, is to disappear. To the latter right the nobles strongly cling. The career of arms, they say, is their natural, their only vocation. In some cases, however, they ask to be allowed to practice other means of earning a livelihood without derogating from their nobility. But they join with the other orders in the cry for reforms in the army. [Footnote: _T._, Perche, _A. P._, 326, Section 17. _N._, Agenois, _A. P._, i. 683, Section 14]

The general irritation caused by the new military regulations has been noticed in another chapter. The cahiers unanimously give it voice. The French soldier shall no longer be insulted with blows. The organization of the army shall be amended. It must not be subjected “to the versatility of the spirit of system and to the caprice of ministers.” Many are the requests that the soldier be better treated. Not a few, that his necessary leisure be turned to good account by employment in road-building or in other public works.[Footnote: _N._, Ponthieu, _A. P._, v.434, Sections 40-42. _T._, Perche, _A. P._, v. 326, Section 19. Soldiers to work on roads, etc., Poncins, 212. Arles, _A. P._, ii. 61, Section 3. _T._, Bourbonnais, _A. P._, ii. 449, Section vi., 1. _N._, Chateau-Thierry, _A. P._, ii. 665, Section 56. _T._, Étampes, _A. P._, iii. 287, Section 12, etc.] More numerous, perhaps, are those for fairness of promotion. It was in this matter that the poorer nobility was most bitter in its jealousy of the great court families. With but one path for their ambition, the country nobles saw their way blocked by the glittering figures of men no better born than themselves. The wrinkled old soldier, descended from Crusaders, personally distinguished in twenty battles, stood on his wounded legs and presented his halberd as a captain at fifty; while a Noailles, or a Carignan, with no more quarterings and no service at all, perhaps hardly a Frenchman and only twenty years old, but with a duke for an uncle, or a queen’s favorite for a sister, pranced on his managed charger at the head of the regiment as its colonel. Nor was this all. The worthy veteran might, on some trifling quarrel, be deprived of the rank he had won with his sweat and his blood, and sent back to his paternal hawk’s nest, a broken and disgraced man. The cahiers demand that there shall be no more dismissals without trial; and many of them ask that particular cases of hardship may be rectified. For now the world is to be set right again; commissions and appointments to the military school are to be fairly distributed; promotion is to be by merit and term of service; and the loyal nobility of France is once more to be the bulwark of an adored king and a grateful nation.
The Commons also have their particular wishes. They desire not only to be rid of feudal oppression, but of administrative regulations. These are sometimes so combined with privileges, or with taxation, that it is not easy to distinguish their cause. The fishermen of Albret, for instance, ask to be allowed to use any kind of boat that may suit their convenience.[Footnote: _A. P._, i. 706, Section 57.] We can only guess why any one should have interfered with their boats. Was it a corporation of boat-builders having a monopoly that restricted them, or was it only the paternal fussiness of Continental police regulations?

In matters of commerce the national feeling was far from unanimous. Most of the cahiers asked that trade be free within the kingdom; although some of the border provinces, which had enjoyed a comparatively free trade with Germany and had been cut off from France, preferred the maintenance of that state of things,[Footnote: Alsace, Lorraine, and the Three Bishoprics. Poncins, 282, Mathieu, 441. _C_., Verdun, _A. P._, vi. 130.] and although the retention of the _octrois_, or custom-houses at the town gates, was sometimes contemplated. Uniformity of weights and measures was also desired; but was sometimes asked for in a half hopeless tone, as if so great a change could hardly be expected. The request was made that all loans with interest be not considered usurious; a request resisted in some cases by the clergy, which clung to the old laws of usury. The abolition of monopolies is generally called for; certain odious restrictions, such as the mark on leather and on iron, are condemned, but rather as taxes than as commercial regulations. On economic questions the nation has no very fixed opinions, nor have definite parties been formed. Free trade and free manufactures commend themselves to the ear; but regulations as to quality and protection against English competition may be highly desirable. Agriculture needs more hands, and is the first, the most necessary, the noblest of arts. Furnaces and foundries use wood, and make fuel dear. Trade should be entirely free,–but peddlers are nuisances, and interfere with regular shop-keepers. Manufactures are a source of wealth,–but dangerous unless well managed; none of them should be established without the consent of the Provincial Estates. If only our king and “his august companion” would wear none but French stuffs, and set a fashion that way, our languishing factories would soon be active again.[Footnote: Concerning usury, _T._, Agenois, _A. P._, i. 690. _T._, Comminges, _A. P._, iii 27, Section 24. St-Jean-des-Agneaux, _A. P._, iii. 65, Section 4. _C., N._, and _T._, Dôle, _A. P._, iii. 152, Section 14; 158, Section 57; 165, Section xiv. 6. Paris, St. Eustache, _A. P._, v. 304, Section 52. _C._, Soûle, v. 774, Section 17, etc. See also _N._, Agenois, _A. P._, i. 684, Section 7. _T._, Paris, _A. P._, v. 285, Sections 3, 4, and _n_.]

Certain demands of the cahiers excite surprise by their frequent recurrence. Among them is that for the more severe treatment of bankrupts, who were able in old France to evade the law of the land and even to take sanctuary. Some cahiers go so far as to ask that those convicted of fraud be made habitually to wear a green cap in public, or that they be whipped, or sent to the galleys for life, or even put to death.[Footnote: Poncins, 285. _T._, Pont-à-Mousson, _A. P._, ii. 232, Section 11. _N._, Lille, _A. P._, iii. 531, Section 54. _T._, Lyon, _A. P._, iii. 613. _T._, Mantes et Meulan, _A. P._, iii. 672, Section ix. 2. _C._, Lille, _A. P._, iii. 524, Sections 35, 37.]

All orders ask for the suppression of begging. The demand is commonly accompanied by one looking to some humane provision for the poor, sometimes by a request for a regular poor-law, or even for regulation of wages. The people of the parish of Pecqueuse ask that there be public works always going on, where the poor may earn wages calculated on the price of grain; and, what is more significant, the Third Estate of Paris makes a similar request for public work-shops.[Footnote: _A. P._, v. 11, Sections 17,18. _A. P._, v. 287, Section 28.] Yet the universal cry for the suppression of mendicity, and the form in which it was made, show that begging was considered a great evil on its own account, whether mendicant monks or less authorized persons were the beggars. The begging monks, indeed, were either to be abolished, or their maintenance in their own monasteries was to be provided for in the general readjustment of ecclesiastical benefices.

Another common request is that letters in the post-office be not tampered with. All readers who are familiar with the history, and particularly with the diplomatic history of the last century, know how common was the practice of breaking open and taking copies of political correspondence. The letters of Franklin and Silas Deane, and of many less prominent persons, were continually opened in the mail, both in France and in England. Regular ambassadors were driven to the habitual use of bearers of dispatches; and even these might be waylaid and robbed, by the agents of friendly governments disguised as highwaymen. [Footnote: Ciphers were in common use, and governments employed decipherers. Great skill had been attained in opening letters and closing them again so that they might not appear to have been tampered with. “This institution, if well directed, has the property of serving as a compass to those who hold the reins of government,” writes, with a fine jumbling of metaphors, one who has been a clerk in the post-office. Sorel, i. 77. The _Facsimiles of MSS. in European Archives relating to America_, now in process of publication by Stevens, furnish numerous examples of these practices.] But it is astonishing to find that the evil had gone so far as to excite the fears of private persons for the maintenance of that privacy of which all decent Frenchmen, with their strong feeling of the sanctity of the family and their great dread of ridicule, are peculiarly jealous.[Footnote: _T._, Agenois, _A. P._, i. 690.]

Again, the frequent recurrence of the request for the restraint of quack doctors is somewhat surprising. The need of competent surgeons and midwives was much felt in the country, and recourse was had to the Estates General to provide them. In calling for legislation to prohibit quackery and to forbid lotteries, the people asked to be protected against themselves, any extravagant theories of the liberty of man to the contrary notwithstanding.[Footnote: Quack doctors, _C._, Nemours, _A. P._, iv. 108, Section 31. Cormeilles-en-Parisis, _A. P._, iv. 463, Section 17. _N._, Troyes, _A. P._, vi. 79, Section 80. _T._, Chalons-sur-Marne, _A. P._, ii. 595, Section 24.]

Such were the desires of the French nation in the spring of 1789. In them we may note several important points of agreement. First, government by the nation and the king together. France was still to be a monarchy; not a republic, open or disguised; but it was to be a limited and not an absolute monarchy. In this all the orders were agreed, and the king, by the mere summoning of the Estates General, as well as by his whole attitude, seemed to acquiesce.

Then, the desires of the nation included a diminution of the privileges of the upper orders, not a complete abolition of them. Like all Catholics, Frenchmen wished to leave the control of religious affairs largely in the hands of the clergy. To the nobility, all but a few extremists were willing to concede many privileges, honors, and advantages.

But while retaining a government of limited monarchy and moderate aristocracy, the nation in all its branches had determined that public burdens and public benefits should be more equally divided than they had ever been before. Proportionate equality of taxation, and a chance to rise–these the Commons were determined to have, and the higher orders were ready to concede.

In another feeling all France shared. Churchmen, nobles, and common people alike dreaded and hated the little ring of courtiers. These had grown great on the substance of the nation. They should be restrained hereafter, and obliged as far as possible to surrender their ill-gotten gains.

And all men wanted administrative reforms. The courts of justice, the army, the finances, were to be put in order and improved. Here all agreed as to the end sought, and if there was much difference of opinion as to the methods, parties had not yet formed, nor had feeling run very high on these subjects.

What, then, were the dangers threatening France? They were to be looked for in the very magnitude of the changes proposed, changes which could not fail to startle and alarm all Europe. They were to be seen in the opposition of the nobles, who were ready to give up much, but were asked to give up more. They were to be feared most of all in a monarch so weak and an administration so faulty, that the first attempt at reform was likely to destroy them altogether.




France had become a despotism in the attempt to escape from mediaeval anarchy. What she asked of her kings was security from external enemies, and good government at home. The first of these they had given her. No country in Europe was more respected and feared. In spite of occasional and temporary reverses, her borders had been enlarged from reign to reign, and her fields, for nearly three centuries, had seldom been trodden by foreign armies.

Within the country the house of Capet had been partially successful. It had put down armed opposition, it had taken away the power of the feudal nobility, it had maintained tolerable security against violent crime. But here its zeal had slackened. Civilization was advancing rapidly, and the French internal government was not keeping pace with it.

This better performance of its external than of its internal tasks is almost inevitable in a despotism. To protect his country, and to add to it, is the obvious duty and the natural ambition of a despot. His dignity is concerned; his pride is flattered by success; and whether he has succeeded or failed is obvious to himself and to every one else. To control and improve the internal administration is a hard and ungrateful labor, in which mistakes are sure to occur; and the greatest and truest reform when accomplished will injure and displease some persons. The most beneficent improvements are sometimes those which involve the most labor and bring the least reputation.

Moreover, it is not the people who surround kings that are chiefly benefited by the good administration of a country. Courtiers are likely to be interested in abuses, and in the absence of a free press courtiers are the public of monarchs. If we compare the facilities possessed by Louis XVI. for ascertaining the true condition of his country with those possessed by the sovereigns of our own day, an emperor of Germany or of Austria, or even a Russian Czar, we shall find that the king of France was far worse off than they are. There were no undisputed national accounts or statistics in France. There was no serious periodical press in any country, watching events and collecting facts. There were no newspapers endeavoring at once to direct and to be directed by public opinion. True, the satirists were everywhere, with their epigrams and their songs; but who can form a policy by listening to the jeers of the splenetic?

The absolute monarchy, therefore, while it protected the French nation, was failing to secure to it the reasonable and civilized government to which it felt itself to be entitled. It was failing partly from lack of information, but largely also from lack of will. The kings in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had beaten down the power of the nobility and of the Parliaments; the kings of the eighteenth century shrank before the influence of the very bodies which their ancestors had defeated. It is vain to try to eliminate the personal element from history. France would have been a very different country in 1789 from what she was, had Louis XV. and Louis XVI. been strong and able men. The education of a prince is not necessarily enfeebling. Perhaps the commonest vice of despots is willfulness; but the last absolute king of France might have known a far happier fate if he had had a little more of it.

The French government was not aristocratic. There was no class in the country, unless it were the clergy, that was in the habit of exercising important political rights. But the nobility comprised all those men and all those families which were trained to occupy high administrative place. The secretaries of state, the judges of the higher courts, the officers in the army, were noblemen. The order also included a large proportion of the educated men and the possessors of a considerable part of the wealth of the country. It was, therefore, a true power, which might appropriately be considered. Moreover, it was popularly supposed to have political rights, although in fact these were mostly obsolete. Could a good deal of weight have been given, for a time at least, to the nobility, the result would probably have been favorable to the national order and prosperity.

Government, to be stable, should represent the true forces of the state. In a country where all men are of the same race, and where a large portion of the population has some property and some education, numbers should be given weight in government; for the simple reason that, in such a country, many men are stronger than a few, and may choose to use their strength rather than that a few should govern them. What a large majority of the people desires, it can enforce. It is often agreed, in favor of peace and to end controversy, that what a small majority decides shall be taken as decided for all. On this agreement rests the legitimacy of democracy. The compromise is an arbitrary one in itself, but reasonable and sensible; and in a nation that has a good deal of practical good sense, a feeling of loyalty may gather about it. But sensible and practical as it may be, it remains a compromise after all. There is no divine right in one half the voters plus one. Some other proportion may be, and often is agreed on; or some compromise entirely different may be found to be more in accordance with the national will.

In old France the conditions required for democratic government were but partially fulfilled. The population was fairly homogeneous. Property and education were more or less diffused. But of political experience there was little, and the democratic compromise, to be thoroughly successful, requires a great deal. It was rightly felt that a proper regard was not had to the desires of the more numerous part of the inhabitants of the country; that a few persons had privileges far beyond their public deserts or their true powers; but how was this state of things to be remedied? What new relations were to take the place of the old? No actual compromise had been effected, and the idea of the rights of a majority, with the limitations to which those rights are subject, was not clearly defined in men’s minds.

A government should represent the sense of duty of a country. All men believe that something better is imaginable than that which exists, and that the better things would be attainable if only men would act as they ought. Most men strive somewhat to improve their own condition and conduct. Every man believes at least that others should do so. But in making laws men are trying to regulate the conduct of others, and are willing, therefore, that the laws should be a little nearer to their ideals than their own practice is. All sensible men believe that they ought to obey the laws, and that if they suffer for not doing so their suffering is righteous. This opinion is one of the forces in the world that makes for good.

Now what were the qualities considered really moral and desirable by the Frenchmen of 1789, and how far did the government of the Bourbons tend toward them? The duty first recognized by the whole country was patriotism. The love of France has never grown cold in French hearts. It is needless to insist on this, for no one who has ever met a Frenchman worthy of the name, or read a French book of any value, can doubt it. With all its noble and all its petty incidents, patriotism is a French virtue.

Under the kings of France its aspirations were satisfied. The country was great and glorious.

That loyalty was held to be a duty will perhaps be less generally recognized, but I think that enough has been written in this book to show it. The evidence of the cahiers is chiefly on that side. Most Frenchmen believed that a king should govern, and that they had a good and well-meaning king. Toward him their hearts were still warm and their sense of duty alive. He was misled, thwarted, overruled, by selfish and designing courtiers. If he could but have his way all would be well. Only a very few persons had eyes strong enough to see that they were worshiping a stuffed scarecrow. A man inside those clothes could really have led them.

Next among the ideals of France, and far above loyalty in many bosoms, came liberty and equality. They were not very clearly comprehended. By liberty was chiefly meant a share of political power; few Frenchmen believed then, or ever have believed, in letting every man do what seemed good in his eyes. Such a theory of liberty does not take a very strong hold on a race so sociable as theirs; nor does such unbridled liberty seem consistent with civilization to men accustomed to the rigid system of Continental police. Equality of rights was an ideal, but most people in France were not prepared to demand its entire carrying out. Equality of property and of enjoyment many persons, especially such as considered themselves Philosophers,–persons who had read Rousseau or Montesquieu,–considered desirable; but no one of any weight had the most distant intention of trying to bring about such a state of things in the work-a-day world. Communistic schemes were not quite unknown in the eighteenth century, but they belong to the nineteenth.[Footnote: See for eighteenth century communism the curious essay of Morelly.]

With the general growth of comfort, with the general hope of an improved world, _humanity_, the hatred of seeing others suffer, had begun to bestir itself. For many ages people had believed that another life, and not this one, was really to be considered. Kind-hearted men had tried to draw souls to heaven, stern men to drive them thither. The effort had absorbed the energy and enthusiasm of a great proportion of those persons who were willing to think of anything but their own concerns. But in the eighteenth century heaven was clouded. Men’s eyes were fixed on a promised land nearer their own level. This world, which was known by experience to be but too often a vale of tears, was soon, very soon, by the operation of the fashionable philosophy, to be turned into something like a paradise. To bring about so desirable a condition of things, the tears must be stopped at their source. Nor was this all. The world had acquired a new interest. It was capable of improvement. Hope in temporal matters had led to Faith,–Faith in progress and happiness here below. The new direction given to Faith and Hope was followed by Charity. The task of relieving human pain was fairly undertaken. Sickness and insanity were better cared for; torture was abolished, punishment lightened. In these matters the government rather followed than led the popular aspirations. In its general inefficiency, it came halting behind the good intentions of the people.

The virtues toward which the government of old France tried to lead the French nation were not, as we have seen, exactly the virtues toward which the national conscience led. The government upheld loyalty and humanity, and the people agreed with it; the government upheld a centralized despotism and privileges, and the popular conscience called for liberty and equality. In religion there was both agreement and divergence. The country, in spite of Voltaire and the Encyclopaedists, believed itself to be fervently Catholic; but its ideal of Catholicism was of a reformed and regenerated type; while that maintained by the government was corrupt and lifeless in high places. The country wanted provincial councils, resident bishops, a purified church.

And in so far as the ideals of the government differed from those of the people, the monarchy did not stand for something nobler and higher than the moral forces that attacked it. The French nation was in fact better than its government, more honest and more generous. The country priests were more self-devoted than the bishops who ruled over them; the poorer nobles were more public-spirited and more moral than the favored nobility of the court; the citizens of the Third Estate conducted their private business more honorably than the administration conducted the business of the country.

If the stability and legitimacy of government depend on its correspondence with the real powers of the nation and with the national conscience, the functions of government embrace something harder to attain even than this agreement. No sovereign power, be it that of an autocrat on his throne or of a nation in its councils, can directly carry out the policy which it desires to adopt. The sovereign must act through agents; and on the proper selection of these the success of his undertakings will largely depend. Jurists must draft the laws, judges must interpret them, officers must enforce obedience. Generals, commanding soldiers, must defend the land. Engineers must construct forts and roads; marine architects must furnish plans for practical ship-builders. Financiers must devise schemes of taxation, to be submitted to the sovereign; collectors of various kinds must levy the taxes on the people. All these should be experts, trained to do their especial work. The choice of experts, then, is one of the most important functions of government.

In this respect the administration of King Louis XVI. and his immediate predecessor was usually, although not uniformly bad. The army and navy, until the last years of disorganization, were reasonably efficient, the naval engineers in particular being the best then at work in the world. The civil and criminal laws were chaotic, more from a defect of legislation than of administration. Old privileges and anomalies were supported by the government, but good jurists and magistrates were produced. Those lawyers can hardly have been incompetent in whose school were trained the framers of the Code Napoleon, the model of modern Europe. Internal order and police were maintained with a thoroughness that was remarkable in an age when the possession of a good horse put the highwayman very nearly on an equality with the officer. The worst experts employed by the government appear to have been those connected with taxation and expenditure, from the Controller of the Finances to the last clerk in the Excise. The schemes of most of them were blundering, their actions were too often dishonest. They never reached the art of keeping accurate accounts.

The condition of the people of France, both in Paris and in the provinces, was far less bad than it is often represented to have been. The foregoing chapters should have given the impression of a great, prosperous, modern country. The face of Europe has changed since 1789 more through the enormous number and variety of mechanical inventions that have marked the nineteenth century than through a corresponding increase in mental or moral growth. While production and wealth have advanced by strides, education has taken a few faltering steps forward. Pecuniary honesty has probably increased, honesty and industry being the virtues especially fostered by commerce and manufactures. Bigotry, the unwillingness to permit in others thought and language unpalatable to ourselves, has become less virulent, but has not disappeared. It is shown alike by the church and by her enemies. Yet the tone of controversy has softened even in France. There are fewer Voltairean sneers, fewer episcopal anathemas. Humanity has been growing; the rich and prosperous becoming more alive to the suffering around them. But it is the material progress that is most striking, after all. The poor are better off than they were a hundred years ago, and the rich also. The minimum required by custom for the decent support of life has risen. The earners of wages are better housed, fed, and clothed in return for fewer hours of labor. In France, as in the world, there are many more things to divide, and things are, on the whole, more evenly divided.

If we compare the France of 1789 no longer with the France of 1892, but with the other countries of Continental Europe as they were in the days preceding the great Revolution, we find that she was worse governed than a few of them. The administration of Prussia while the great King Frederick sat on the throne was probably better than that of France. After his death it rapidly fell off, until a series of defeats had been earned by mis-government at Berlin. In a few of the smaller states, such as Holland, the Swiss cantons, or Tuscany, the citizen was perhaps better governed than in France. But in general, life and property appear to have been less safe beyond the French border than within it. A small despotism, when it is bad, is more searching and interfering than a large one. The lords of France were tyrannous enough at times, but there were always courts of law and a royal court above them, and appeals for justice, although doubtful, might yet be attempted with a hope of success.

The intellectual leadership of France in Europe was very clearly marked under Louis XV. French was unquestionably the language of the well-born and the witty as it was the favorite language of the learned all over the Continent. The reputation of Voltaire, Diderot, d’Alembert, and Rousseau, was distinctly European. Frederick of Prussia was glad to compose his academy at Berlin of second-rate French men of letters, and to make his own attempts at literary distinction in the French language. Smaller German princes modeled their courts on that of Versailles, and ruined themselves in palaces and gardens that were distant copies of those of that famous suburb. This spirit lasted well down to 1789, although the masterpieces of Lessing were already twenty years old, and those of Goethe and Schiller had begun to appear.

But while France was great, prosperous, and growing, and a model to her neighbors, she was deeply discontented. The condition of other countries was less good than hers, but the minds of the people of those countries had not risen above their condition. France had become conscious that her government did not correspond to her degree of civilization. The fact was emphasized in the national mind by the mediocrity of Louis XV. as a sovereign and by the utter incompetence of his well-meaning successor. In hands so feeble, the smallest excess of expenditure over income was important as a symptom of weakness, and for many years the deficit had in fact been increasing. The financial situation gave the nation a ground of attack against its government; it was not the cause of the Revolution, but its occasion. All the machinery of the state needed to be inspected, repaired, or renewed. The people entered into the task with good will, and the warmest interest. But they were entirely without experience. They knew and believed that old forms were to be respected as far as might be compatible with new conditions; they thought that the improvements needed were so obvious that nothing but fairness was required to recognize them. In their ignorance of the working of popular assemblies they supposed them to be inspired with wisdom and virtue beyond that of the individuals who compose them.

This is a mistake not likely to occur to any one who has experience of public meetings; but among the twelve hundred deputies to the Estates General, and among their constituents all over France, no one had much experience. A hundred and forty Notables, in 1787 and 1788, had deliberated on public questions; but their work had been done principally in committee, and their conclusions were without binding force on anybody, their functions being merely advisory. A good many delegates had been members of provincial assemblies or provincial estates; but these, in most of the provinces, had met but a few times, and their powers had been very limited. Such assemblies could do some