HISTORY OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION FROM 1789 TO 1814
Of the great incidents of History, none has attracted more attention or proved more difficult of interpretation than the French Revolution. The ultimate significance of other striking events and their place in the development of mankind can be readily estimated. It is clear enough that the barbarian invasions marked the death of the classical world, already mortally wounded by the rise of Christianity. It is clear enough that the Renaissance emancipated the human intellect from the trammels of a bastard mediaevalism, that the Reformation consolidated the victory of the "new learning" by including theology among the subjects of human debate. But the French Revolution seems to defy complete analysis. Its complexity was great, its contradictions numerous and astounding. A movement ostensibly directed against despotism culminated in the establishment of a despotism far more complete than that which had been overthrown. The apostles of liberty proscribed whole classes of their fellow-citizens, drenching in innocent blood the land which they claimed to deliver from oppression. The apostles of equality established a tyranny of horror, labouring to extirpate all who had committed the sin of being fortunate. The apostles of fraternity carried fire and sword to the farthest confines of Europe, demanding that a continent should submit to the arbitrary dictation of a single people. And of the Revolution were born the most rigid of modern codes of law, that spirit of militarism which to-day has caused a world to mourn, that intolerance of intolerance which has armed anti-clerical persecutions in all lands. Nor were the actors in the drama less varied than the scenes enacted. The Revolution produced Mirabeau and Talleyrand, Robespierre and Napoleon, Sieyes and Hebert. The marshals of the First Empire, the doctrinaires of the Restoration, the journalists of the Orleanist monarchy, all were alike the children of this generation of storm and stress, of high idealism and gross brutality, of changing fortunes and glory mingled with disaster.
To describe the whole character of a movement so complex, so diverse in its promises and fulfilment, so crowded with incident, so rich in action, may well be declared impossible. No sooner has some proposition been apparently established, than a new aspect of the period is suddenly revealed, and all judgments have forthwith to be revised. That the Revolution was a great event is certain; all else seems to be uncertain. For some it is, as it was for Charles Fox, much the greatest of all events and much the best. For some it is, as it was for Burke, the accursed thing, the abomination of desolation. If its dark side alone be regarded, it oppresses the very soul of man. A king, guilty of little more than amiable weakness and legitimate or pious affection; a queen whose gravest fault was but the frivolity of youth and beauty, was done to death. For loyalty to her friends, Madame Roland died; for loving her husband, Lucille Desmoulins perished. The agents of the Terror spared neither age nor sex; neither the eminence of high attainment nor the insignificance of dull mediocrity won mercy at their hands. The miserable Du Barri was dragged from her obscure retreat to share the fate of a Malesherbes, a Bailly, a Lavoisier. Robespierre was no more protected by his cold incorruptibility, than was Barnave by his eloquence, Hebert by his sensuality, Danton by his practical good sense. Nothing availed to save from the all-devouring guillotine. Those who did survive seem almost to have survived by chance, delivered by some caprice of fortune or by the criminal levity of "les tricoteuses," vile women who degraded the very dregs of their sex.
For such atrocities no apology need be attempted, but their cause may be explained, the factors which produced such popular fury may be understood. As he stands on the terrace of Versailles or wanders through the vast apartments of the chateau, the traveller sees in imagination the dramatic panorama of the long-dead past. The courtyard is filled with half-demented women, clamouring that the Father of his People should feed his starving children. The Well-Beloved jests cynically as, amid torrents of rain, Pompadour is borne to her grave. Maintenon, gloomily pious, urges with sinister whispers the commission of a great crime, bidding the king save his vice-laden soul. Montespan laughs happily in her brief days of triumph. And dominating the scene is the imposing figure of the Grand Monarque. Louis haunts his great creation; Louis in his prime, the admired and feared of Europe, the incarnation of kingship; Louis surrounded by his gay and brilliant court, all eager to echo his historic boast, to sink in their master the last traces of their identity.
Then a veil falls. But some can lift it, to behold a far different, a far more stirring vision, and to such the deeper causes of the Terror are revealed. For they behold a vast multitude, stained with care, haggard, forlorn, striving, dying, toiling even to their death, that the passing whim of a tyrant may be gratified. Louis commanded; Versailles arose, a palace of rare delight for princes and nobles, for wits and courtly prelates, for grave philosophers and ladies frail as fair. A palace and a hell, a grim monument to regal egoism, created to minister to the inflated vanity of a despot, an eternal warning to mankind that the abuse of absolute power is an accursed thing. Every flower, in those wide gardens has been watered with the tears of stricken souls; every stone in that vast pile of buildings was cemented with human blood. None can estimate the toll of anguish exacted that Versailles might be; none can tell all its cost, since for human suffering there is no price. The weary toilers went to their doom, unnoticed, unhonoured, their misery unregarded, their pain ignored, And the king rejoiced in his glory, while his poets sang paeans in his praise.
But the day of reckoning came, and that day was the Terror. The heirs of those who toiled made their account with the heirs of those who played. The players died bravely, like the gallant gentlemen they were; their courage is applauded, a world laments their fate. The misery, thus avenged, is forgotten; all the long agony of centuries, all the sunless hours, all the darkness of a land's despair. For that sadness was hidden; it was but the exceeding bitter lot of the poor, devoid of that dramatic interest which illumines one immortal hour of pain. Yet he who would estimate aright the Terror, who would fully understand the Revolution, must reflect not only upon the suffering of those who fell victims to an outburst of insensate frenzy, but also upon the suffering by which that frenzy was aroused. In a few months the French people took what recompense they might for many decades of oppression. They exacted retribution for the building of Versailles, of all the chateaux of Touraine; for all the burdens laid upon them since that day when liberty was enchained and France became the bond-slave of her monarchs. Louis XVI. paid for the selfish glory of Louis XIV.; the nobles paid for the pleasures which their forefathers had so carelessly enjoyed; the privileged classes for the privileges which they had usurped and had so grievously misused.
The payment fell heavily upon individuals; the innocent often suffered for the guilty; a Liancourt died while a Polignac escaped. Many who wished well to France, many who had laboured for her salvation, perished; virtue received the just punishment of vice. But the Revolution has another side; it was no mere nightmare of horrors piled on horrors. It is part of the pathos of History that no good has been unattended by evil, that by suffering alone is mankind redeemed, that through the valley of shadow lies the path by which the race toils slowly towards the fulfilment of its high destiny. And if the victims of the guillotine could have foreseen the future, many might have died gladly. For by their death they brought the new France to birth. The Revolution rises superior to the crimes and follies of its authors; it has atoned to posterity for all the sorrow that it caused, for all the wrong that was done in its name. If it killed laughter, it also dried many tears. By it privilege was slain in France, tyranny rendered more improbable, almost impossible. The canker of a debased feudalism was swept away. Men were made equal before the law. Those barriers by which the flow of economic life in France was checked were broken down. All careers were thrown open to talent. The right of the producer to a voice in the distribution of the product was recognised. Above all, a new gospel of political liberty was expounded. The world, and the princes of the world, learned that peoples do not exist for the pleasure of some despot and the profit of his cringing satellites. In the order of nature, nothing can be born save through suffering; in the order of politics, this is no less true. From the sorrow of brief months has grown the joy of long years; the Revolution slew that it might also make alive.
Herein, perhaps, may be found the secret of its complexity, of its seeming contradictions. The authors of the Revolution pursued an ideal, an ideal expressed in three words, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. That they might win their quest, they had both to destroy and to construct. They had to sweep away the past, and from the resultant chaos to construct a new order. Alike in destruction and construction, they committed errors; they fell far below their high ideals. The altruistic enthusiasts of the National Assembly gave place to the practical politicians of the Convention, the diplomatists of the Directory, the generals of the Consulate. The Empire was far from realising that bright vision of a regenerate nation which had dazzled the eyes of Frenchmen in the first hours of the States-General. Liberty was sacrificed to efficiency; equality to man's love for titles of honour; fraternity to desire of glory. So it has been with all human effort. Man is imperfect, and his imperfection mars his fairest achievements. Whatever great movement may be considered, its ultimate attainment has fallen far short of its initial promise. The authors of the Revolution were but men; they were no more able than their fellows to discover and to hold fast to the true way of happiness. They wavered between the two extremes of despotism and anarchy; they declined from the path of grace. And their task remained unfulfilled. Many of their dreams were far from attaining realisation; they inaugurated no era of perfect bliss; they produced no Utopia. But their labour was not in vain. Despite its disappointments, despite all its crimes and blunders, the French Revolution was a great, a wonderful event. It did contribute to the uplifting of humanity, and the world is the better for its occurrence.
That he might indicate this truth, that he might do something to counteract the distortion of the past, Mignet wrote his Histoire de la Revolution Francaise. At the moment when he came from Aix to Paris, the tide of reaction was rising steadily in France. Decazes had fallen; Louis XVIII. was surrendering to the ultra-royalist cabal. Aided by such fortuitous events as the murder of the Duc de Berri, and supported by an artificial majority in the Chamber, Villele was endeavouring to bring back the ancien regime. Compensation for the emigres was already mooted; ecclesiastical control of education suggested. Direct criticism of the ministry was rendered difficult, and even dangerous, by the censorship of the press. Above all, the champions of reaction relied upon a certain misrepresentation of the recent history of their country. The memory of the Terror was still vivid; it was sedulously kept alive. The people were encouraged to dread revolutionary violence, to forget the abuses by which that violence had been evoked and which it had swept away. To all complaints of executive tyranny, to all demands for greater political liberty, the reactionaries made one answer. They declared that through willingness to hear such complaints Louis XVI. had lost his throne and life; that through the granting of such demands, the way had been prepared for the bloody despotism of Robespierre. And they pointed the apparent moral, that concessions to superficially mild and legitimate requests would speedily reanimate the forces of anarchy. They insisted that by strong government and by the sternest repression of the disaffected alone could France be protected from a renewal of that nightmare of horror, at the thought of which she still shuddered. And hence those who would prevent the further progress of reaction had first of all to induce their fellow-countrymen to realise that the Revolution was no mere orgy of murder. They had to deliver liberty from those calumnies by which its curtailment was rendered possible and even popular.
Understanding this, Mignet wrote. It would have been idle for him to have denied that atrocities had been committed, nor had the day for a panegyric on Danton, for a defence of Robespierre, yet dawned. Mignet did not attempt the impossible. Rather by granting the case for his opponents he sought to controvert them the more effectively. He laid down as his fundamental thesis that the Revolution was inevitable. It was the outcome of the past history of France; it pursued the course which it was bound to pursue. Individuals and episodes in the drama are thus relatively insignificant and unimportant. The crimes committed may be regretted; their memory should not produce any condemnation of the movement as a whole. To judge the Revolution by the Terror, or by the Consulate, would be wrong and foolish; to declare it evil, because it did not proceed in a gentle and orderly manner would be to outrage the historical sense. It is wiser and more profitable to look below the surface, to search out those deep lessons which may be learned. And Mignet closes his work by stating one of these lessons, that which to him was, perhaps, the most vital: "On ne peut regir desormais la France d'une maniere durable, qu'en satisfaisant le double besoin qui lui a fait entreprendre la revolution. Il lui faut, dans le gouvernement, une liberte politique reelle, et dans la societe, le bien-etre materiel que produit le developpement sans cesse perfectionne de la civilisation."
It was not Mignet's object to present a complete account of the Revolution, and while he records the more important events of the period, he does not attempt to deal exhaustively with all its many sides. It is accordingly possible to point out various omissions. He does not explain the organisation of the "deputies on mission," he only glances at that of the commune or of the Committee of Public Safety. His account of the Consulate and of the Empire appears to be disproportionately brief. But the complexity of the period, and the wealth of materials for its history, render it impossible for any one man to discuss it in detail, and Mignet's work gains rather than loses by its limitations. Those facts which illustrate his fundamental thesis are duly recorded; the causes and results of events are clearly indicated; the actions of individuals are described in so far as they subserve the author's purpose. The whole book is marked by a notable impartiality; it is only on rare occasions, as in the case of Lafayette, that the circumstances in which it was written have been permitted to colour the judgments passed. Nor is the value of the work seriously reduced by the fact that modern research compels its revision in certain particulars, since it is so clearly not intended to be a final and detailed history of the period. It is a philosophical study of a great epoch, and as such, however its point of view may be criticised, it is illuminating and well worthy of preservation. It supplies a thoughtful and inspiring commentary upon the French Revolution.
L. CECIL JANE. 1915.
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE.—Francois Auguste Marie Mignet was born at Aix in Provence in 1796. He was educated at Avignon and in his native town, at first studying law. But, having gained some literary successes, he removed to Paris in 1821 and devoted himself to writing. He became professor of history at the Athenee, and after the Revolution of 1830 was made director of the archives in the Foreign Office, a post which he held until 1848. He was then removed by Lamartine and died in retirement in 1854. His Histoire de la Revolution Francaise was first published in 1824; a translation into English appeared in Bogue's European library in 1846 and is here re-edited. Among Mignet's other works may be mentioned Antoine Perez et Philippe II. and Histoire de Marie Stuart. As a journalist, he wrote mainly on foreign policy for the Courrier Francais.
Eloge de Charles VII., 1820; Les Institutions de Saint Louis, 1821; De la feodalite, des institutions de Saint Louis et de l'influence de la legislation de ce prince, 1822; Histoire de la revolution francaise, 1824 (trans. 2 vols., London, 1826, Bonn's Libraries, 1846); La Germanie au VIIIe et au IXe siecle, sa conversion au christianisme, et son introduction dans la societe civilisee de l'Europe occidentale, 1834; Essai sur la formation territoriale et politique de la France depuis la fin de XIe siecle jusqu'a la fin du XVe, 1836; Notices et Memoires historiques, 1843; Charles Quint, son abdication, son sejour, et sa mort au monastere de Yuste, 1845; Antonio Perez et Philippe II., 1845 (translated by C. Cocks, London, 1846; translated from second French edition by W. F. Ainsworth, London, 1846); Histoire de Marie Stuart, 2 vols., 1851 (translated by A. R. Scoble, 1851); Portraits et Notices, historiques et litteraires, 2 vols., 1852; Eloges historiques, 1864; Histoire de la rivalite de Francois I. et de Charles Quint, 1875; Nouveaux eloges historiques, 1877.
Character of the French revolution—Its results, its progress—Successive forms of the monarchy—Louis XIV. and Louis XV.—State of men's minds, of the finances, of the public power and the public wants at the accession of Louis XVI.—His character—Maurepas, prime minister—His policy—Chooses popular and reforming ministers—His object—Turgot, Malesherbes, Necker— Their plans—Opposed by the court and the privileged classes—Their failure—Death of Maurepas—Influence of the Queen, Marie-Antoinette— Popular ministers are succeeded by court ministers—Calonne and his system—Brienne, his character and attempts—Distressed state of the finances—Opposition of the assembly of the notables, of the parliament, and provinces—Dismissal of Brienne—Second administration of Necker— Convocation of the states-general—Immediate causes of the revolution.
FROM THE 5TH OF MAY, 1789, TO THE NIGHT OF THE 4TH OF AUGUST
Opening of the states-general—Opinion of the court, of the ministry, and of the various bodies of the kingdom respecting the states—Verification of powers—Question of vote by order or by poll—The order of the commons forms itself into a national assembly—The court causes the Hall of the states to be closed—Oath of the Tennis-court—The majority of the order of the clergy unites itself with the commons—Royal sitting of the 23rd of June—Its inutility—Project of the court—Events of the 12th, 13th, and 14th of July—Dismissal of Necker—Insurrection of Paris—Formation of the national guard—Siege and taking of the Bastille—Consequences of the 14th of July—Decrees of the night of the 4th of August—Character of the revolution which had just been brought about.
FROM THE NIGHT OF THE 4TH OF AUGUST TO THE 5TH AND 6TH OF OCTOBER, 1789
State of the constituent assembly—Party of the high clergy and nobility— Maury and Cazales—Party of the ministry and of the two chambers: Mounier, Lally-Tollendal—Popular party: triumvirate of Barnave, Duport, and Lameth—Its position—Influence of Sieyes—Mirabeau chief of the assembly at that period—Opinion to be formed of the Orleans party—Constitutional labours—Declaration of rights—Permanency and unity of the legislative body—Royal sanction—External agitation caused by it—Project of the court—Banquet of the gardes-du-corps—Insurrection of the 5th and 6th October—The king comes to reside at Paris.
FROM THE 6TH OF OCTOBER, 1789, TO THE DEATH OF MIRABEAU, APRIL, 1791
Results of the events of October—Alteration of the provinces into departments—Organization of the administrative and municipal authorities according to the system of popular sovereignty and election—Finances; all the means employed are insufficient—Property of the clergy declared national—The sale of the property of the clergy leads to assignats—Civil constitution of the clergy—Religious opposition of the bishops— Anniversary of the 14th of July—Abolition of titles—Confederation of the Champ de Mars—New organization of the army—Opposition of the officers— Schism respecting the civil constitution of the clergy—Clubs—Death of Mirabeau—During the whole of this period the separation of parties becomes more decided.
FROM APRIL, 1791, TO THE 30TH SEPTEMBER, THE END OF THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY
Political state of Europe before the French revolution—System of alliance observed by different states—General coalition against the revolution— Motives of each power—Conference of Mantua, and circular of Pavia—Flight to Varennes—Arrest of the king—His suspension—The republican party separate, for the first time, from the party of the constitutional monarchy—The latter re-establishes the king—Declaration of Pilnitz—The king accepts the constitution—End of the constituent assembly—Opinion of it.
THE NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
FROM THE 1ST OF OCTOBER, 1791, TO THE 21ST OF SEPTEMBER, 1792
Early relations between the legislative assembly and the king—State of parties: the Feuillants rely on the middle classes, the Girondists on the people—Emigration and the dissentient clergy; decree against them; the king's veto—Declarations of war—Girondist ministry; Dumouriez, Roland— Declaration of war against the king of Hungary and Bohemia—Disasters of our armies; decree for a camp of reserve for twenty thousand men at Paris; decree of banishment against the nonjuring priests; veto of the king; fall of the Girondist ministry—Petition of insurgents of the 20th of June to secure the passing of the decrees and the recall of the ministers—Last efforts of the constitutional party—Manifesto of the duke of Brunswick— Events of the 10th of August—Military insurrection of Lafayette against the authors of the events of the 10th of August; it fails—Division of the assembly and the new commune; Danton—Invasion of the Prussians— Massacres of the 2nd of September—Campaign of the Argonne—Causes of the events under the legislative assembly.
THE NATIONAL CONVENTION
FROM THE 20TH OF SEPTEMBER, 1792, TO THE 21ST OF JANUARY, 1793
First measures of the Convention—Its composition—Rivalry of the Gironde and of the Mountain—Strength and views of the two parties—Robespierre: the Girondists accuse him of aspiring to the dictatorship—Marat—Fresh accusation of Robespierre by Louvet; Robespierre's defence; the Convention passes to the order of the day—The Mountain, victorious in this struggle, demand the trial of Louis XVI.—Opinions of parties on this subject—The Convention decides that Louis XVI. shall be tried, and by itself—Louis XVI. at the Temple; his replies before the Convention; his defence; his condemnation; courage and serenity of his last moments—What he was, and what he was not, as a king.
FROM THE 21ST OF JANUARY, 1793, TO THE 2ND OF JUNE
Political and military situation of France—England, Holland, Spain, Naples, and all the circles of the empire fall in with the coalition— Dumouriez, after having conquered Belgium, attempts an expedition into Holland—He wishes to re-establish constitutional monarchy—Reverses of our armies—Struggle between the Gironde and the Mountain—Conspiracy of the 10th of March—Insurrection of La Vendee; its progress—Defection of Dumouriez—The Gironde accused of being his accomplices—New conspiracies against them—Establishment of the Commission of Twelve to frustrate the conspirators—Insurrections of the 27th and 31st of May against the Commission of Twelve; its suppression—Insurrection of the 2nd of June against the two-and-twenty leading Girondists; their arrest—Total defeat of that party.
FROM THE 2ND OF JUNE, 1793, TO APRIL, 1794
Insurrection of the departments against the 31st of May—Protracted reverses on the frontiers—Progress of the Vendeans—The Montagnards decree the constitution of 1793, and immediately suspend it to maintain and strengthen the revolutionary government—Levee en masse; law against suspected persons—Victories of the Montagnards in the interior, and on the frontiers—Death of the queen, of the twenty-two Girondists, etc.— Committee of public safety; its power; its members—Republican calendar— The conquerors of the 31st of May separate—The ultra-revolutionary faction of the commune, or the Hebertists, abolish the catholic religion, and establish the worship of Reason; its struggle with the committee of public safety; its defeat—The moderate faction of the Montagnards, or the Dantonists, wish to destroy the revolutionary dictatorship, and to establish the legal government; their fall—The committee of public safety remains alone, and triumphant.
FROM THE DEATH OF DANTON, APRIL, 1794, TO THE 9TH THERMIDOR (27TH JULY, 1794)
Increase of terror; its cause—System of the democrats; Saint-Just— Robespierre's power—Festival of the Supreme Being—Couthon presents the law of the 22nd Prairial, which reorganizes the revolutionary tribunal; disturbances; debates; final obedience of the convention—The active members of the committee have a division—Robespierre, Saint-Just, and Couthon on one side; Billaud-Varennes, Collot-d'Herbois, Barrere, and the members of the committee of general safety on the other—Conduct of Robespierre—He absents himself from the committee, and rests on the Jacobins and the commune—On the 8th of Thermidor he demands the renewal of the committees; the motion is rejected—Sitting of the 9th Thermidor; Saint-Just denounces the committees; is interrupted by Tallien; Billaud- Varennes violently attacks Robespierre; general indignation of the convention against the triumvirate; they are arrested—The commune rises and liberates the prisoners—Peril and courage of the convention; it outlaws the insurgents—The sections declare for the convention—Defeat and execution of Robespierre.
FROM THE 9TH THERMIDOR TO THE 1ST PRAIRIAL, YEAR III. (20TH MAY, 1795). EPOCH OF THE RISE AND FALL OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY
The convention, after the fall of Robespierre; party of the committees; Thermidorian party; their constitution and object—Decay of the democratic party of the committees—Impeachment of Lebon and Carrier—State of Paris —The Jacobins and the Faubourgs declare for the old committees; the jeunesse doree, and the sections for the Thermidorians—Impeachment of Billaud-Varennes, Collot-d'Herbois, Barrere, and Vadier—Movement of Germinal—Transportation of the accused, and of a few of the Mountain, their partisans—Insurrection of the 1st Prairial—Defeat of the democratic party; disarming of the Faubourgs—The lower class is excluded from the government, deprived of the constitution of '93, and loses its material power.
FROM THE 1ST PRAIRIAL (20TH OF MAY, 1795) TO THE 4TH BRUMAIRE (26TH OF OCTOBER), YEAR IV., THE CLOSE OF THE CONVENTION
Campaign of 1793 and 1794—Disposition of the armies on hearing the news of the 9th Thermidor—Conquest of Holland; position on the Rhine—Peace of Basel with Prussia—Peace with Spain—Descent upon Quiberon—The reaction ceases to be conventional, and becomes royalist—Massacre of the revolutionists, in the south—Directorial constitution of the year III.— Decrees of Fructidor, which require the re-election of two-thirds of the convention—Irritation of the sectionary royalist party—It becomes insurgent—The 13th of Vendemiaire—Appointment of the councils and of the directory—Close of the convention; its duration and character.
THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTORY
FROM THE INSTALLATION OF THE DIRECTORY, ON THE 27TH OCTOBER, 1795, TO THE COUP-D'ETAT OF THE 18TH FRUCTIDOR, YEAR V. (3RD AUGUST, 1797)
Review of the revolution—Its second character of reorganization; transition from public to private life—The five directors; their labours for the interior—Pacification of La Vendee—Conspiracy of Babeuf; final defeat of the democratic party—Plan of campaign against Austria; conquest of Italy by general Bonaparte; treaty of Campo-Formio; the French republic is acknowledged, with its acquisitions, and its connection with the Dutch, Lombard, and Ligurian republics, which prolonged its system in Europe— Royalist elections in the year V.; they alter the position of the republic—New contest between the counter-revolutionary party in the councils, in the club of Clichy, in the salons, and the conventional party, in the directory, the club of Salm, and the army—Coup d'etat of the 18th Fructidor; the Vendemiaire party again defeated.
FROM THE 18TH FRUCTIDOR, IN THE YEAR V. (4TH OF SEPTEMBER, 1797), TO THE 18TH BRUMAIRE, IN THE YEAR VIII. (9TH OF NOVEMBER, 1799)
By the 18th Fructidor the directory returns, with slight mitigation, to the revolutionary government—General peace, except with England—Return of Bonaparte to Paris—Expedition into Egypt—Democratic elections for the year VI.—The directory annuls them on the 22nd Floreal—Second coalition; Russia, Austria, and England attack the republic through Italy, Switzerland, and Holland; general defeats—Democratic elections for the year VII.; on the 30th Prairial the councils get the upper hand, and disorganize the old directory—Two parties in the new directory, and in the councils: the moderate republican party under Sieyes, Roger-Ducos, and the ancients; the extreme republican party under Moulins, Golier, the Five Hundred, and the Society of the Manege—Various projects—Victories of Massena, in Switzerland; of Brune, in Holland—Bonaparte returns from Egypt; comes to an understanding with Sieyes and his party—The 18th and 19th Brumaire—End of the directorial system.
FROM THE 18TH BRUMAIRE (9TH OF NOVEMBER, 1799) TO THE 2ND OF DECEMBER, 1804
Hopes entertained by the various parties, after the 18th Brumaire— Provisional government—Constitution of Sieyes; distorted into the consular constitution of the year VIII.—Formation of the government; pacific designs of Bonaparte—Campaign of Italy; victory of Marengo— General peace: on the continent, by the treaty of Luneville with England; by the treaty of Amiens—Fusion of parties; internal prosperity of France —Ambitious system of the First Consul; re-establishes the clergy in the state, by the Concordat of 1802; he creates a military order of knighthood, by means of the Legion of Honour; he completes this order of things by the consulate for life—Resumption of hostilities with England— Conspiracy of Georges and Pichegru—The war and royalist attempts form a pretext for the erection of the empire—Napoleon Bonaparte appointed hereditary emperor; is crowned by the pope on the 2nd of December, 1804, in the church of Notre Dame—Successive abandonment of the revolution— Progress of absolute power during the four years of the consulate.
FROM THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE EMPIRE, 1804-1814
Character of the empire—Change of the republics created by the directory into kingdoms—Third coalition; capture of Vienna; victories of Ulm and Austerlitz; peace of Pressburg; erection of the two kingdoms of Bavaria and Wurtemberg against Austria—Confederation of the Rhine—Joseph Napoleon appointed king of Naples; Louis Napoleon, king of Holland—Fourth coalition; battle of Jena; capture of Berlin; victories of Eylau and Friedland; peace of Tilsit; the Prussian monarchy is reduced by one half; the kingdoms of Saxony and Westphalia are instituted against it; that of Westphalia given to Jerome Napoleon—The grand empire rises with its secondary kingdoms, its confederation of the Rhine, its Swiss mediation, its great fiefs; it is modelled on that of Charlemagne—Blockade of the continent—Napoleon employs the cessation of commerce to reduce England, as he had employed arms to subdue the continent—Invasion of Spain and Portugal; Joseph Napoleon appointed to the throne of Spain; Murat replaces him on the throne of Naples—New order of events: national insurrection of the peninsula; religious contest with the pope—Commercial opposition of Holland—Fifth coalition—Victory of Wagram; peace of Vienna; marriage of Napoleon with the archduchess Marie Louise—Failure of the attempt at resistance; the pope is dethroned; Holland is again united to the empire, and the war in Spain prosecuted with vigour—Russia renounces the continental system; campaign of 1812; capture of Moscow; disastrous retreat—Reaction against the power of Napoleon; campaign of 1813; general defection—Coalition of all Europe; exhaustion of France; marvellous campaign of 1814—The allied powers at Paris; abdication at Fontainbleau; character of Napoleon; his part in the French revolution—Conclusion.
I am about to take a rapid review of the history of the French revolution, which began the era of new societies in Europe, as the English revolution had begun the era of new governments. This revolution not only modified the political power, but it entirely changed the internal existence of the nation. The forms of the society of the middle ages still remained. The land was divided into hostile provinces, the population into rival classes. The nobility had lost all their powers, but still retained all their distinctions: the people had no rights, royalty no limits; France was in an utter confusion of arbitrary administration, of class legislation and special privileges to special bodies. For these abuses the revolution substituted a system more conformable with justice, and better suited to our times. It substituted law in the place of arbitrary will, equality in that of privilege; delivered men from the distinctions of classes, the land from the barriers of provinces, trade from the shackles of corporations and fellowships, agriculture from feudal subjection and the oppression of tithes, property from the impediment of entails, and brought everything to the condition of one state, one system of law, one people.
In order to effect such mighty reformation as this, the revolution had many obstacles to overcome, involving transient excesses with durable benefits. The privileged sought to prevent it; Europe to subject it; and thus forced into a struggle, it could not set bounds to its efforts, or moderate its victory. Resistance from within brought about the sovereignty of the multitude, and aggression from without, military domination. Yet the end was attained, in spite of anarchy and in spite of despotism: the old society was destroyed during the revolution, and the new one became established under the empire.
When a reform has become necessary, and the moment for accomplishing it has arrived, nothing can prevent it, everything furthers it. Happy were it for men, could they then come to an understanding; would the rich resign their superfluity, and the poor content themselves with achieving what they really needed, revolutions would then be quietly effected, and the historian would have no excesses, no calamities to record; he would merely have to display the transition of humanity to a wiser, freer, and happier condition. But the annals of nations have not as yet presented any instance of such prudent sacrifices; those who should have made them have refused to do so; those who required them have forcibly compelled them; and good has been brought about, like evil, by the medium and with all the violence of usurpation. As yet there has been no sovereign but force.
In reviewing the history of the important period extending from the opening of the states-general to 1814, I propose to explain the various crises of the revolution, while I describe their progress. It will thus be seen through whose fault, after commencing under such happy auspices, it so fearfully degenerated; in what way it changed France into a republic, and how upon the ruins of the republic it raise the empire. These various phases were almost inevitable, so irresistible was the power of the events which produced them. It would perhaps be rash to affirm that by no possibility could the face of things have been otherwise; but it is certain that the revolution, taking its rise from such causes, and employing and arousing such passions, naturally took that course, and ended in that result. Before we enter upon its history, let us see what led to the convocation of the states-general, which themselves brought on all that followed. In retracing the preliminary causes of the revolution, I hope to show that it was as impossible to avoid as to guide it.
From its establishment the French monarchy had had no settled form, no fixed and recognised public right. Under the first races the crown was elective, the nation sovereign, and the king a mere military chief, depending on the common voice for all decisions to be made, and all the enterprises to be undertaken. The nation elected its chief, exercised the legislative power in the Champs de Mars under the presidentship of the king, and the judicial power in the courts under the direction of one of his officers. Under the feudal regime, this royal democracy gave way to a royal aristocracy. Absolute power ascended higher, the nobles stripped the people of it, as the prince afterwards despoiled the nobles. At this period the monarch had become hereditary; not as king, but as individually possessor of a fief; the legislative authority belonged to the seigneurs, in their vast territories or in the barons' parliaments; and the judicial authority to the vassals in the manorial courts. In a word, power had become more and more concentrated, and as it had passed from the many to the few, it came at last from the few to be invested in one alone. During centuries of continuous efforts, the kings of France were battering down the feudal edifice, and at length they established themselves on its ruins, having step by step usurped the fiefs, subdued the vassals, suppressed the parliaments of barons, annulled or subjected the manorial courts, assumed the legislative power, and effected that judicial authority should be exercised in their name and on their behalf, in parliaments of legists.
The states-general, which they convoked on pressing occasions, for the purpose of obtaining subsidies, and which were composed of the three orders of the nation, the clergy, the nobility, and the third estate or commons, had no regular existence. Originated while the royal prerogative was in progress, they were at first controlled, and finally suppressed by it. The strongest and most determined opposition the kings had to encounter in their projects of aggrandizement, proceeded much less from these assemblies, which they authorized or annulled at pleasure, than from the nobles vindicating against them, first their sovereignty, and then their political importance. From Philip Augustus to Louis XI. the object of all their efforts was to preserve their own power; from Louis XI. to Louis XIV. to become the ministers of that of royalty. The Fronde was the last campaign of the aristocracy. Under Louis XIV. absolute monarchy definitively established itself, and dominated without dispute.
The government of France, from Louis XIV. to the revolution, was still more arbitrary than despotic; for the monarchs had much more power than they exercised. The barriers that opposed the encroachments of this immense authority were exceedingly feeble. The crown disposed of persons by lettres de cachet, of property by confiscation, of the public revenue by imposts. Certain bodies, it is true, possessed means of defence, which were termed privileges, but these privileges were rarely respected. The parliament had that of ratifying or of refusing an impost, but the king could compel its assent, by a lit de justice, and punish its members by exile. The nobility were exempt from taxation; the clergy were entitled to the privilege of taxing themselves, in the form of free gifts; some provinces enjoyed the right of compounding the taxes, and others made the assessment themselves. Such were the trifling liberties of France, and even these all turned to the benefit of the privileged classes, and to the detriment of the people.
And this France, so enslaved, was moreover miserably organized; the excesses of power were still less endurable than their unjust distribution. The nation, divided into three orders, themselves subdivided into several classes, was a prey to all the attacks of despotism, and all the evils of inequality. The nobility were subdivided: into courtiers, living on the favours of the prince, that is to say, on the labour of the people, and whose aim was governorships of provinces, or elevated ranks in the army; ennobled parvenus, who conducted the interior administration, and whose object was to obtain comptrollerships, and to make the most of their place while they held it, by jobbing of every description; legists who administered justice, and were alone competent to perform its functions; and landed proprietors who oppressed the country by the exercise of those feudal rights which still survived. The clergy were divided into two classes: the one destined for the bishoprics and abbeys, and their rich revenues; the other for the apostolic function and its poverty. The third estate, ground down by the court, humiliated by the nobility, was itself divided into corporations, which, in their turn, exercised upon each other the evil and the contempt they received from the higher classes. It possessed scarcely a third part of the land, and this was burdened with the feudal rents due to the lords of the manor, tithes to the clergy, and taxes to the king. In compensation for all these sacrifices it enjoyed no political right, had no share in the administration, and was admitted to no public employment.
Louis XIV. wore out the main-spring of absolute monarchy by too protracted tension and too violent use. Fond of sway, rendered irritable by the vexations of his youth, he quelled all resistance, forbad every kind of opposition,—that of the aristocracy which manifested itself in revolt,— that of the parliaments displayed by remonstrance,—that of the protestants, whose form was a liberty of conscience which the church deemed heretical, and royalty factious. Louis XIV. subdued the nobles by summoning them to his court, where favours and pleasures were the compensation for their dependence. Parliament, till then the instrument of the crown, attempted to become its counterbalance, and the prince haughtily imposed upon it a silence and submission of sixty years' duration. At length, the revocation of the edict of Nantes completed this work of despotism. An arbitrary government not only will not endure resistance, but it demands that its subjects shall approve and imitate it. After having subjected the actions of men, it persecutes conscience; needing to be ever in motion, it seeks victims when they do not fall in its way. The immense power of Louis XIV. was exercised, internally, against the heretics; externally, against all Europe. Oppression found ambitious men to counsel it, dragoons to serve, and success to encourage it; the wounds of France were hidden by laurels, her groans were drowned in songs of victory. But at last the men of genius died, the victories ceased, industry emigrated, money disappeared; and the fact became evident, that the very successes of despotism exhaust its resources, and consume its future ere that future has arrived.
The death of Louis XIV. was the signal for a reaction; there was a sudden transition from intolerance to incredulity, from the spirit of obedience to that of discussion. Under the regency, the third estate acquired in importance, by their increasing wealth and intelligence, all that the nobility lost in consideration, and the clergy in influence. Under Louis XV., the court prosecuted ruinous wars attended with little glory, and engaged in a silent struggle with opinion, in an open one with the parliament. Anarchy crept into its bosom, the government fell into the hands of royal mistresses, power was completely on the decline, and the opposition daily made fresh progress.
The parliaments had undergone a change of position and of system. Royalty had invested them with a power which they now turned against it. No sooner had the ruin of the aristocracy been accomplished by the combined efforts of the parliament and of royalty, than the conquerors quarrelled, according to the common practice of allies after a victory. Royalty sought to destroy an instrument that became dangerous when it ceased to be useful, and the parliament sought to govern royalty. This struggle, favourable to the monarch under Louis XIV., of mixed reverses and success under Louis XV., only ceased with the revolution. The parliament, from its very nature, was only called upon to serve as an instrument. The exercise of its prerogative, and its ambition as a body, leading it to oppose itself to the strong and support the weak, it served by turns the crown against the aristocracy and the nation against the crown. It was this that made it so popular under Louis XV. and Louis XVI., although it only attacked the court from a spirit of rivalry. Opinion, without inquiring into its motives, applauded not its ambition but its resistance, and supported it because defended by it. Rendered daring by such encouragement, it became formidable to authority. After annulling the will of the most imperious and best-obeyed of monarchs; after protesting against the Seven Years' War; after obtaining the control of financial operations and the destruction of the Jesuits, its resistance became so constant and energetic, that the court, meeting with it in every direction, saw the necessity of either submitting to or subjecting it. It accordingly carried into execution the plan of disorganization proposed by the chancellor Maupeou. This daring man, who, to employ his own expression, had offered retirer la couronne du greffe, replaced this hostile parliament by one devoted to power, and subjected to a similar operation the entire magistracy of France, who were following the example of that of Paris.
But the time had passed for coups d'etat. The current had set in against arbitrary rule so decidedly that the king resorted to it with doubt and hesitation, and even encountered the disapprobation of his court. A new power had arisen—that of opinion; which, though not recognised, was not the less influential, and whose decrees were beginning to assume sovereign authority. The nation, hitherto a nonentity, gradually asserted its rights, and without sharing power influenced it. Such is the course of all rising powers; they watch over it from without, before they are admitted into the government; then, from the right of control they pass to that of co-operation. The epoch at which the third estate was to share the sway had at last arrived. It had at former periods attempted to effect this, but in vain, because its efforts were premature. It was then but just emancipated, and possessed not that which establishes superiority, and leads to the acquisition of power; for right is only obtained by might. Accordingly, in insurrections as in the states-general, it had held but the third rank; everything was done with its aid, but nothing for it. In times of feudal tyranny, it had served the kings against the nobles; when ministerial and fiscal despotism prevailed, it assisted the nobles against the kings; but, in the first instance, it was nothing more than the servant of the crown; in the second, than that of the aristocracy. The struggle took place in a sphere, and on the part of interests, with which it was reputed to have no connexion. When the nobles were definitively beaten in the time of the Fronde, it laid down its arms; a clear proof how secondary was the part it had played.
At length, after a century of absolute submission, it reappeared in the arena, but on its own account. The past cannot be recalled; and it was not more possible for the nobles to rise from their defeat than it would now be for absolute monarchy to regain its position. The court was to have another antagonist, for it must always have one, power never being without a candidate. The third estate, which increased daily in strength, wealth, intelligence, and union, was destined to combat and to displace it. The parliament did not constitute a class, but a body; and in this new contest, while able to aid in the displacement of authority, it could not secure it for itself.
The court had favoured the progress of the third estate, and had contributed to the development of one of its chief means of advancement, its intelligence. The most absolute of monarchs aided the movement of mind, and, without intending it, created public opinion. By encouraging praise, he prepared the way for blame; for we cannot invite an examination in our favour, without undergoing one afterwards to our prejudice. When the songs of triumph, and gratulation, and adulation were exhausted, accusation began, and the philosophers of the eighteenth century succeeded to the litterateurs of the seventeenth. Everything became the object of their researches and reflections; governments, religion, abuses, laws. They proclaimed rights, laid bare men's wants, denounced injustice. A strong and enlightened public opinion was formed, whose attacks the government underwent without venturing to attempt its suppression. It even converted those whom it attacked; courtiers submitted to its decisions from fashion's sake, power from necessity, and the age of reform was ushered in by the age of philosophy, as the latter had been by the age of the fine arts.
Such was the condition of France, when Louis XVI. ascended the throne on the 11th of May, 1774. Finances, whose deficiencies neither the restorative ministry of cardinal de Fleury, nor the bankrupt ministry of the abbe Terray had been able to make good, authority disregarded, intractable parliaments, an imperious public opinion; such were the difficulties which the new reign inherited from its predecessors. Of all princes, Louis XVI., by his tendencies and his virtues, was best suited to his epoch. The people were weary of arbitrary rule, and he was disposed to renounce its exercise; they were exasperated with the burdensome dissoluteness of the court of Louis XV.; the morals of the new king were pure and his wants few; they demanded reforms that had become indispensable, and he appreciated the public want, and made it his glory to satisfy it. But it was as difficult to effect good as to continue evil; for it was necessary to have sufficient strength either to make the privileged classes submit to reform, or the nation to abuses; and Louis XVI. was neither a regenerator nor a despot. He was deficient in that sovereign will which alone accomplishes great changes in states, and which is as essential to monarchs who wish to limit their power as to those who seek to aggrandize it. Louis XVI. possessed a sound mind, a good and upright heart, but he was without energy of character and perseverance in action. His projects of amelioration met with obstacles which he had not foreseen, and which he knew not how to overcome. He accordingly fell beneath his efforts to favour reform, as another would have fallen in his attempt to prevent it. Up to the meeting of the states-general, his reign was one long and fruitless endeavour at amelioration.
In choosing, on his accession to the throne, Maurepas as prime minister, Louis XVI. eminently contributed to the irresolute character of his reign. Young, deeply sensible of his duties and of his own insufficiency, he had recourse to the experience of an old man of seventy-three, who had lost the favour of Louis XV. by his opposition to the mistresses of that monarch. In him the king found not a statesman, but a mere courtier, whose fatal influence extended over the whole course of his reign. Maurepas had little heed to the welfare of France, or the glory of his master; his sole care was to remain in favour. Residing in the palace at Versailles, in an apartment communicating with that of the king, and presiding over the council, he rendered the mind of Louis XVI. uncertain, his character irresolute; he accustomed him to half-measures, to changes of system, to all the inconsistencies of power, and especially to the necessity of doing everything by others, and nothing of himself. Maurepas had the choice of the ministers, and these cultivated his good graces as assiduously as he the king's. Fearful of endangering his position, he kept out of the ministry men of powerful connections, and appointed rising men, who required his support for their own protection, and to effect their reforms. He successively called Turgot, Malesherbes, and Necker to the direction of affairs, each of whom undertook to effect ameliorations in that department of the government which had been the immediate object of his studies.
Malesherbes, descended from a family in the law, inherited parliamentary virtues, and not parliamentary prejudices. To an independent mind, he united a noble heart. He wished to give to every man his rights; to the accused, the power of being defended; to protestants, liberty of conscience; to authors, the liberty of the press; to every Frenchman, personal freedom; and he proposed the abolition of the torture, the re- establishment of the edict of Nantes, and the suppression of lettres de cachet and of the censure. Turgot, of a vigorous and comprehensive mind, and an extraordinary firmness and strength of character, attempted to realize still more extensive projects. He joined Malesherbes, in order, with his assistance, to complete the establishment of a system which was to bring back unity to the government and equality to the country. This virtuous citizen constantly occupied himself with the amelioration of the condition of the people; he undertook, alone, what the revolution accomplished at a later period,—the suppression of servitude and privilege. He proposed to enfranchise the rural districts from statute labour, provinces from their barriers, commerce from internal duties, trade from its shackles, and lastly, to make the nobility and clergy contribute to the taxes in the same proportion as the third estate. This great minister, of whom Malesherbes said, "he has the head of Bacon and the heart of l'Hopital," wished by means of provincial assemblies to accustom the nation to public life, and prepare it for the restoration of the states-general. He would have effected the revolution by ordinances, had he been able to stand. But under the system of special privileges and general servitude, all projects for the public good were impraticable. Turgot dissatisfied the courtiers by his ameliorations, displeased the parliament by the abolition of statute labour, wardenships, and internal duties, and alarmed the old minister by the ascendancy which his virtue gave him over Louis XVI. The prince forsook him, though at the same time observing that Turgot and himself were the only persons who desired the welfare of the people: so lamentable is the condition of kings!
Turgot was succeeded in 1776 in the general control of the finances by Clugny, formerly comptroller of Saint Domingo, who, six months after, was himself succeeded by Necker. Necker was a foreigner, a protestant, a banker, and greater as an administrator than as a statesman; he accordingly conceived a plan for reforming France, less extensive than that of Turgot, but which he executed with more moderation, and aided by the times. Appointed minister in order to find money for the court, he made use of the wants of the court to procure liberties for the people. He re-established the finances by means of order, and made the provinces contribute moderately to their administration. His views were wise and just; they consisted in bringing the revenue to a level with the expenditure, by reducing the latter; by employing taxation in ordinary times, and loans when imperious circumstances rendered it necessary to tax the future as well as the present; by causing the taxes to be assessed by the provincial assemblies, and by instituting the publication of accounts, in order to facilitate loans. This system was founded on the nature of loans, which, needing credit, require publicity of administration; and on that of taxation, which needing assent, requires also a share in the administration. Whenever there is a deficit and the government makes applications to meet it, if it address itself to lenders, it must produce its balance-sheet; if it address itself to the tax-payers, it must give them a share in its power. Thus loans led to the production of accounts, and taxes to the states-general; the first placing authority under the jurisdiction of opinion, and the second placing it under that of the people. But Necker, though less impatient for reform than Turgot, although he desired to redeem abuses which his predecessor wished to destroy, was not more fortunate than he. His economy displeased the courtiers; the measures of the provincial assemblies incurred the disapprobation of the parliaments, which wished to monopolize opposition; and the prime minister could not forgive him an appearance of credit. He was obliged to quit power in 1781, a few months after the publication of the famous Comptes rendus of the finances, which suddenly initiated France in a knowledge of state matters, and rendered absolute government for ever impossible.
The death of Maurepas followed close upon the retirement of Necker. The queen took his place with Louis XVI., and inherited all his influence over him. This good but weak prince required to be directed. His wife, young, beautiful, active, and ambitious, gained great ascendancy over him. Yet it may be said that the daughter of Marie Therese resembled her mother too much or too little. She combined frivolity with domination, and disposed of power only to invest with it men who caused her own ruin and that of the state. Maurepas, mistrusting court ministers, had always chosen popular ministers; it is true he did not support them; but if good was not brought about, at least evil did not increase. After his death, court ministers succeeded the popular ministers, and by their faults rendered the crisis inevitable, which others had endeavoured to prevent by their reforms. This difference of choice is very remarkable; this it was which, by the change of men, brought on the change in the system of administration. The revolution dates from this epoch; the abandonment of reforms and the return of disorders hastened its approach and augmented its fury.
Calonne was called from an intendancy to the general control of the finances. Two successors had already been given to Necker, when application was made to Calonne in 1783. Calonne was daring, brilliant and eloquent; he had much readiness and a fertile mind. Either from error or design he adopted a system of administration directly opposed to that of his predecessor. Necker recommended economy, Calonne boasted of his lavish expenditure. Necker fell through courtiers, Calonne sought to be upheld by them. His sophisms were backed by his liberality; he convinced the queen by fetes, the nobles by pensions; he gave a great circulation to the finances, in order that the extent and facility of his operations might excite confidence in the justness of his views; he even deceived the capitalists, by first showing himself punctual in his payments. He continued to raise loans after the peace, and he exhausted the credit which Necker's wise conduct had procured to the government. Having come to this point, having deprived himself of a resource, the very employment of which he was unable to manage, in order to prolong his continuance in power he was obliged to have recourse to taxation. But to whom could he apply? The people could pay no longer, and the privileged classes would not offer anything. Yet it was necessary to decide, and Calonne, hoping more from something new, convoked an assembly of notables, which began its sittings at Versailles on the 22nd of February, 1787. But a recourse to others must prove the end of a system founded on prodigality. A minister who had risen by giving, could not maintain himself by asking.
The notables, chosen by the government from the higher classes, formed a ministerial assembly, which had neither a proper existence nor a commission. It was, indeed, to avoid parliaments and states-general, that Calonne addressed himself to a more subordinate assembly, hoping to find it more docile. But, composed of privileged persons, it was little disposed to make sacrifices. It became still less so, when it saw the abyss which a devouring administration had excavated. It learned with terror, that the loans of a few years amounted to one thousand six hundred and forty-six millions, and that there was an annual deficit in the revenue of a hundred and forty millions. This disclosure was the signal for Calonne's fall. He fell, and was succeeded by Brienne, archbishop of Sens, his opponent in the assembly. Brienne thought the majority of the notables was devoted to him, because it had united with him against Calonne. But the privileged classes were not more disposed to make sacrifices to Brienne than to his predecessor; they had seconded his attacks, which were to their interest, and not his ambition, to which they were indifferent.
The archbishop of Sens, who is censured for a want of plan, was in no position to form one. He was not allowed to continue the prodigality of Calonne; and it was too late to return to the retrenchments of Necker. Economy, which had been a means of safety at a former period, was no longer so in this. Recourse must be had either to taxation, and that parliament opposed; or loans, and credit was exhausted; or sacrifices on the part of the privileged classes, who were unwilling to make them. Brienne, to whom office had been the chief object of life, who with, the difficulties of his position combined slenderness of means attempted everything, and succeeded in nothing. His mind was active, but it wanted strength; and his character rash without firmness. Daring, previous to action, but weak afterwards, he ruined himself by his irresolution, want of foresight, and constant variation of means. There remained only bad measures to adopt, but he could not decide upon one, and follow that one; this was his real error.
The assembly of notables was but little submissive and very parsimonious. After having sanctioned the establishment of provincial assemblies, a regulation of the corn trade, the abolition of corvees, and a new stamp tax, it broke up on the 25th of May, 1787. It spread throughout France what it had discovered respecting the necessities of the throne, the errors of the ministers, the dilapidation of the court, and the irremediable miseries of the people.
Brienne, deprived of this assistance, had recourse to taxation, as a resource, the use of which had for some time been abandoned. He demanded the enrolment of two edicts—that of the stamps and that of the territorial subsidies. But parliament, which was then in the full vigour of its existence and in all the ardour of its ambition, and to which the financial embarrassment of the ministry offered a means of augmenting its power, refused the enrolment. Banished to Troyes, it grew weary of exile, and the minister recalled it on condition that the two edicts should be accepted. But this was only a suspension of hostilities; the necessities of the crown soon rendered the struggle more obstinate and violent. The minister had to make fresh applications for money; his existence depended on the issue of several successive loans to the amount of four hundred and forty millions. It was necessary to obtain the enrolment of them.
Brienne, expecting opposition from the parliament, procured the enrolment of this edict by a lit de justice, and to conciliate the magistracy and public opinion, the protestants were restored to their rights in the same sitting, and Louis XVI. promised an annual publication of the state of finances, and the convocation, of the states-general before the end of five years. But these concessions were no longer sufficient: parliament refused the enrolment, and rose against the ministerial tyranny. Some of its members, among others the duke of Orleans, were banished. Parliament protested, by a decree, against lettres de cachet, and required the recall of its members. This decree was annulled by the king, and confirmed by parliament. The warfare increased.
The magistracy of Paris was supported by all the magistracy of France, and encouraged by public opinion. It proclaimed the rights of the nation, and its own incompetence in matters of taxation; and, become liberal from interest, and rendered generous by oppression, it exclaimed against arbitrary imprisonment, and demanded regularly convoked states-general. After this act of courage, it decreed the irremovability of its members, and the incompetence of any who might usurp their functions. This bold manifesto was followed by the arrest of two members, d'Epremenil and Goislard, by the reform of the body, and the establishment of a plenary court.
Brienne understood that the opposition of the parliament was systematic, that it would be renewed on every fresh demand for subsidies, or on the authorization of every loan. Exile was but a momentary remedy, which suspended opposition, without destroying it. He then projected the reduction of this body to judicial functions, and associated with himself Lamoignon, keeper of the seals, for the execution of this project. Lamoignon was skilled in coups d'etat. He had audacity, and combined with Maupeou's energetic determination a greater degree of consideration and probity. But he made a mistake as to the force of power, and what it was possible to effect in his times. Maupeou had re-established parliament, changing its members; Lamoignon wished to disorganize it. The first of these means, if it had succeeded, would only have produced temporary repose; the second must have produced a definitive one, since it aimed at destroying the power, which the other only tried to displace; but Maupeou's reform did not last, and that of Lamoignon could not be effected. The execution of the latter was, however, tolerably well framed. All the magistracy of France was exiled on the same day, in order that the new judicial organization might take place. The keeper of the seals deprived the parliament of Paris of its political attributes, to invest with them a plenary court, ministerially composed, and reduced its judicial competence in favour of bailiwicks, the jurisdiction of which he extended. Public opinion was indignant; the Chatelet protested, the provinces rose, and the plenary court could neither be formed nor act. Disturbances broke out in Dauphine, Brittany, Provence, Flanders, Languedoc, and Bearn; the ministry, instead of the regular opposition of parliament, had to encounter one much more animated and factious. The nobility, the third estate, the provincial states, and even the clergy, took part in it. Brienne, pressed for money, had called together an extraordinary assembly of the clergy, who immediately made an address to the king, demanding the abolition of his plenary court, and the recall of the states-general: they alone could thenceforth repair the disordered state of the finances, secure the national debt, and terminate such conflicts of authority.
The archbishop of Sens, by his contest with the parliament, had postponed the financial, by creating a political difficulty. The moment the latter ceased, the former re-appeared, and made his retreat inevitable. Obtaining neither taxes nor loans, unable to make use of the plenary court, and not wishing to recall the parliaments, Brienne, as a last resource, promised the convocation of the states-general. By this means he hastened his ruin. He had been called to the financial department in order to remedy embarrassments which he had augmented, and to procure money which he had been unable to obtain. So far from it, he had exasperated the nation, raised a rebellion in the various bodies of the state, compromised the authority of the government, and rendered inevitable the states-general, which, in the opinion of the court, was the worst means of raising money. He succumbed on the 25th of August, 1788. The cause of his fall was a suspension of the payment of the interest on the debt, which was the commencement of bankruptcy. This minister has been the most blamed because he came last. Inheriting the faults, the embarrassments of past times, he had to struggle with the difficulties of his position with insufficient means. He tried intrigue and oppression; he banished, suspended, disorganized parliament; everything was an obstacle to him, nothing aided him. After a long struggle, he sank under lassitude and weakness; I dare not say from incapacity, for had he been far stronger and more skilful, had he been a Richelieu or a Sully, he would still have fallen. It no longer appertained to any one arbitrarily to raise money or to oppress the people. It must be said in his excuse, that he had not created that position from which he was not able to extricate himself; his only mistake was his presumption in accepting it. He fell through the fault of Calonne, as Calonne had availed himself of the confidence inspired by Necker for the purposes of his lavish expenditure. The one had destroyed credit, and the other, thinking to re-establish it by force, had destroyed authority.
The states-general had become the only means of government, and the last resource of the throne. They had been eagerly demanded by parliament and the peers of the kingdom, on the 13th of July, 1787; by the states of Dauphine in the assembly of Vizille; by the clergy in its assembly at Paris. The provincial states had prepared the public mind for them; and the notables were their precursors. The king after having, on the 18th of December, 1787, promised their convocation in five years, on the 8th of August, 1788, fixed the opening for the 1st of May, 1789. Necker was recalled, parliament re-established, the plenary court abolished, the bailiwicks destroyed, and the provinces satisfied; and the new minister prepared everything for the election of deputies and the holding of the states.
At this epoch a great change took place in the opposition, which till then had been unanimous. Under Brienne, the ministry had encountered opposition from all the various bodies of the state, because it had sought to oppress them. Under Necker, it met with resistance from the same bodies, which desired power for themselves and oppression for the people. From being despotic, it had become national, and it still had them all equally against it. Parliament had maintained a struggle for authority, and not for the public welfare; and the nobility had united with the third estate, rather against the government than in favour of the people. Each of these bodies had demanded the states-general: the parliament, in the hope of ruling them as it had done in 1614; and the nobility, in the hope of regaining its lost influence. Accordingly, the magistracy proposed as a model for the states-general of 1789, the form of that of 1614, and public opinion abandoned it; the nobility refused its consent to the double representation of the third estate, and a division broke out between these two orders.
This double representation was required by the intellect of the age, the necessity of reform, and by the importance which the third estate had acquired. It had already been admitted in the provincial assemblies. Brienne, before leaving the ministry, had made an appeal to the writers of the day, in order to know what would be the most suitable method of composing and holding the states-general. Among the works favourable to the people, there appeared the celebrated pamphlet of Sieyes on the Third Estate, and that of d'Entraigues on the States-general.
Opinion became daily more decided, and Necker wishing, yet fearing, to satisfy it, and desirous of conciliating all orders, of obtaining general approbation, convoked a second assembly of notables on the 6th of November, 1788, to deliberate on the composition of the states-general, and the election of its members. He thought to induce it to accept the double representation of the third estate, but it refused, and he was obliged to decide, in spite of the notables, that which he ought to have decided without them. Necker was not the man to avoid disputes by removing all difficulties beforehand. He did not take the initiative as to the representation of the third estate, any more than at a later period he took it with regard to the question of voting by orders or by poll. When the states-general were assembled, the solution of this second question, on which depended the state of power and that of the people, was abandoned to force.
Be this as it may, Necker, having been unable to make the notables adopt the double representation of the third estate, caused it to be adopted by the council. The royal declaration of the 27th of November decreed that the deputies in the states-general should amount to at least a thousand, and that the deputies of the third estate should be equal in number to the deputies of the nobility and clergy together. Necker moreover obtained the admission of the cures into the order of the clergy, and of protestants into that of the third estate. The district assemblies were convoked for the elections; every one exerted himself to secure the nomination of members of his own party, and to draw up manifestoes setting forth his views. Parliament had but little influence in the elections, and the court none at all. The nobility selected a few popular deputies, but mainly such as were devoted to the interests of their order, and as much opposed to the third estate as to the oligarchy of the great families of the court. The clergy nominated bishops and abbes attached to privilege, and cures favourable to the popular cause, which was their own; lastly, the third estate selected men enlightened, firm, and unanimous in their wishes. The deputation of the nobility was comprised of two hundred and forty-two gentlemen, and twenty-eight members of the parliament; that of the clergy, of forty-eight archbishops or bishops, thirty-five abbes or deans, and two hundred and eight cures; and that of the communes, of two ecclesiastics, twelve noblemen, eighteen magistrates of towns, two hundred county members, two hundred and twelve barristers, sixteen physicians, and two hundred and sixteen merchants and agriculturists. The opening of the states-general was then fixed for the 5th of May, 1789.
Thus was the revolution brought about. The court in vain tried to prevent, as it afterwards endeavoured to annul it. Under the direction of Maurepas, the king nominated popular ministers, and made attempts at reform; under the influence of the queen, he nominated court ministers, and made attempts at authority. Oppression met with as little success as reform. After applying in vain to courtiers for retrenchments, to parliament for levies, to capitalists for loans, he sought for new tax-payers, and made an appeal to the privileged orders. He demanded of the notables, consisting of the nobles and the clergy, a participation in the charges of the state, which they refused. He then for the first time applied to all France, and convoked the states-general. He treated with the various bodies of the nation before treating with the nation itself; and it was only on the refusal of the first, that he appealed from it to a power whose intervention and support he dreaded. He preferred private assemblies, which, being isolated, necessarily remained secondary, to a general assembly, which representing all interests, must combine all powers. Up to this great epoch every year saw the wants of the government increasing, and resistance becoming more extensive. Opposition passed from parliaments to the nobility, from the nobility to the clergy, and from them all to the people. In proportion as each participated in power it began its opposition, until all these private oppositions were fused in or gave way before the national opposition. The states-general only decreed a revolution which was already formed.
FROM THE 5TH OF MAY, 1789, TO THE NIGHT OF THE 4TH OF AUGUST
The 5th of May, 1789, was fixed for the opening of the states-general. A religious ceremony on the previous day prefaced their installation. The king, his family, his ministers, the deputies of the three orders, went in procession from the church of Notre-Dame to that of Saint Louis, to hear the opening mass. Men did not without enthusiasm see the return of a national ceremony of which France had for so long a period been deprived. It had all the appearance of a festival. An enormous multitude flocked from all parts to Versailles; the weather was splendid; they had been lavish of the pomp of decoration. The excitement of the music, the kind and satisfied expression of the king, the beauty and demeanour of the queen, and, as much as anything, the general hope, exalted every one. But the etiquette, costumes, and order of the ranks of the states in 1614, were seen with regret. The clergy, in cassocks, large cloaks, and square caps, or in violet robes and lawn sleeves, occupied the first place. Then came the nobles, attired in black coats with waistcoats and facings of cloth of gold, lace cravats, and hats with white plumes, turned up in the fashion of Henry IV. The modest third estate came last, clothed in black, with short cloaks, muslin cravats, and hats without feathers or loops. In the church, the same distinction as to places existed between the three orders.
The royal session took place the following day in the Salle des Menus. Galleries, arranged in the form of an amphitheatre, were filled with spectators. The deputies were summoned and introduced according to the order established in 1614. The clergy were conducted to the right, the nobility to the left, and the commons in front of the throne at the end of the hall. The deputations from Dauphine, from Crepi in Valois, to which the duke of Orleans belonged, and from Provence, were received with loud applause. Necker was also received on his entrance with general enthusiasm. Public favour was testified towards all who had contributed to the convocation of the states-general. When the deputies and ministers had taken their places, the king appeared, followed by the queen, the princes, and a brilliant suite. The hall resounded with applause on his arrival. When he came in, Louis XVI. took his seat on the throne, and when he had put on his hat, the three orders covered themselves at the same time. The commons, contrary to the custom of the ancient states, imitated the nobility and clergy, without hesitation: the time when the third order should remain uncovered and speak kneeling was gone by. The king's speech was then expected in profound silence. Men were eager to know the true feeling of the government with regard to the states. Did it purpose assimilating the new assembly to the ancient, or to grant it the part which the necessities of the state and the importance of the occasion assigned to it?
"Gentlemen," said the king, with emotion, "the day I have so anxiously expected has at length arrived, and I see around me the representatives of the nation which I glory in governing. A long interval had elapsed since the last session of the states-general, and although the convocation of these assemblies seemed to have fallen into disuse, I did not hesitate to restore a custom from which the kingdom might derive new force, and which might open to the nation a new source of happiness."
These words which promised much, were only followed by explanations as to the debt and announcements of retrenchment in the expenditure. The king, instead of wisely tracing out to the states the course they ought to follow, urged the orders to union, expressed his want of money, his dread of innovations, and complained of the uneasiness of the public mind, without suggesting any means of satisfying it. He was nevertheless very much applauded when he delivered at the close of his discourse the following words, which fully described his intentions: "All that can be expected from the dearest interest in the public welfare, all that can be required of a sovereign, the first friend of his people; you may and ought to hope from my sentiments. That a happy spirit of union may pervade this assembly, gentlemen, and that this may be an ever memorable epoch for the happiness and prosperity of the kingdom, is the wish of my heart, the most ardent of my desires; it is, in a word, the reward which I expect for the uprightness of my intentions, and my love of my subjects."
Barentin, keeper of the seals, spoke next. His speech was an amplification respecting the states-general, and the favours of the king. After a long preamble, he at last touched upon the topics of the occasion. "His Majesty," he said, "has not changed the ancient method of deliberation, by granting a double representation in favour of the most numerous of the three orders, that on which the burden of taxation chiefly falls. Although the vote by poll, by producing but one result, seems to have the advantage of best representing the general desire, the king wishes this new form should be adopted only with the free consent of the states, and the approval of his majesty. But whatever may be the opinion on this question, whatever distinctions may be drawn between the different matters that will become subjects of deliberation, there can be no doubt but that the most entire harmony will unite the three orders on the subject of taxation." The government was not opposed to the vote by poll in pecuniary matters, it being more expeditious; but in political questions it declared itself in favour of voting by order, as a more effectual check on innovations. In this way it sought to arrive at its own end,—namely, subsidies, and not to allow the nation to obtain its object, which was reform. The manner in which the keeper of the seals determined the province of the states- general, discovered more plainly the intentions of the court. He reduced them, in a measure, to the inquiry into taxation, in order to vote it, and to the discussion of a law respecting the press, for the purpose of fixing its limits, and to the reform of civil and criminal legislation. He proscribed all other changes, and concluded by saying: "All just demands have been granted; the king has not noticed indiscreet murmurs; he has condescended to overlook them with indulgence; he has even forgiven the expression of those false and extravagant maxims, under favour of which attempts have been made to substitute pernicious chimeras for the unalterable principles of monarchy. You will with indignation, gentlemen, repel the dangerous innovations which the enemies of the public good seek to confound with the necessary and happy changes which this regeneration ought to produce, and which form the first wish of his majesty."
This speech displayed little knowledge of the wishes of the nation, or it sought openly to combat them. The dissatisfied assembly looked to M. Necker, from whom it expected different language. He was the popular minister, had obtained the double representation, and it was hoped he would approve of the vote by poll, the only way of enabling the third estate to turn its numbers to account. But he spoke as comptroller-general and as a man of caution. His speech, which lasted three hours, was a lengthened budget; and when, after tiring the assembly, he touched on the topic of interest, he spoke undecidedly, in order to avoid committing himself either with the court or the people.