HumanitiesWeb HumanitiesWeb
Sort By Author Sort By Title

Sort By Author
Sort By Title


Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer

& etc

All Rights Reserved.

Site last updated
26 June, 2013
A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times
Louis XVI. - Convocation Of The States-General. 1787-1789.
by Guizot, M.

"Thirteen years had rolled by since King Louis XV. had descended to a dishonored grave, and on the mighty current which was bearing France towards reform, whilst dragging her into the Revolution, King Louis XVI., honest and sincere, was still blindly seeking to clutch the helm which was slipping from his feeble hands. Every day his efforts were becoming weaker and more inconsistent, every day the pilot placed at the tiller was less and less deserving of public confidence. From M. Turgot to M. Necker, from Calonne to Lomenie de Brienne, the fall had been rapid and deep. Amongst the two parties which unequally divided the nation, between those who defended the past in its entirety, its abuses as well as its grandeurs, and those who were marching on bewildered towards a reform of which they did not foresee the scope, the struggle underwent certain moments of stoppage and of abrupt reaction towards the old state of things. In 1781, the day after M. Necker's fall, an ordinance of the minister of war, published against the will of that minister himself, had restored to the verified and qualified noblesse (who could show four quarterings) the exclusive privilege of military grades. Without any ordinance, the same regulation had been applied to the clergy. In 1787, the Assembly of notables and its opposition to the king's projects presented by M. de Calonne were the last triumph of the enthusiastic partisans of the past. The privileged classes had still too much influence to be attacked with success by M. de Calonne, who appeared to be in himself an assemblage of all the abuses whereof he desired to be the reformer. A plan so vast, however ably conceived, was sure to go to pieces in the hands of a man who did not enjoy public esteem and confidence; but the triumph of the notables in their own cause was a fresh warning to the people that they would have to defend theirs with more vigor." [Memoires de Malouet, t. i. p. 253]. We have seen how monarchy, in concert with the nation, fought feudality, to reign thenceforth as sovereign mistress over the great lords and over the nation; we have seen how it slowly fell in public respect and veneration, and how it attempted unsuccessfully to respond to the confused wishes of a people that did not yet know its own desires or its own strength; we shall henceforth see it, panting and without sure guidance, painfully striving to govern and then to live. "I saw," says M. Malouet in his Memoires, "under the ministry of the archbishop (of Toulouse, and afterwards of Sens), all the avant-couriers of a revolution in the government. Three parties were already pronounced: the first wanted to take to itself all the influence of which it despoiled the king, whilst withstanding the pretensions of the third estate; the second proclaimed open war against the two upper orders, and already laid down the bases of a democratic government; the third, which was at that time the most numerous, although it was that of the wisest men, dreaded the ebullience of the other two, wanted compromises, reforms, and not revolution." By their conflicts the two extreme parties were to stifle for a while the party of the wise men, the true exponent of the national aspirations and hopes, which was destined, through a course of cruel vicissitudes and long trials, to yet save and govern the country.

The Assembly of notables had abdicated; contenting itself with a negative triumph, it had left to the royal wisdom and responsibility the burden of decisions which Louis XVI. had hoped to get sanctioned by an old and respected authority. The public were expecting to see all the edicts, successively presented to the notables as integral portions of a vast system, forthwith assume force of law by simultaneous registration of Parliament. The feebleness and inconsistency of governors often stultify the most sensible foresight. M. de Brienne had come into office as a support to the king's desires and intentions, for the purpose of obtaining from the notables what was refused through their aversion for M. de Calonne; as soon as he was free of the notables as well as of M. de Calonne, he hesitated, drew back, waited, leaving time for a fresh opposition to form and take its measures. "He had nothing but bad moves to make," says M. Mignet. Three edicts touching the trade in grain, forced labor, and the provincial assemblies, were first sent up to the Parliament and enregistered without any difficulty; the two edicts touching the stamp-tax and equal assessment of the impost were to meet with more hinderance; the latter at any rate united the sympathies of all the partisans of genuine reforms; the edict touching the stamp-tax was by itself and first submitted for the approval of the magistrates: they rejected it, asking, like the notables, for a communication as to the state of finance. "It is not states of finance we want," exclaimed a councillor, Sabatier de Cabre, "it is States-general." This bold sally became a theme for deliberation in the Parliament. "The nation represented by the States-general," the court declared, "is alone entitled to grant the king subsidies of which the need is clearly demonstrated." At the same time the Parliament demanded the impeachment of M. de Calonne; he took fright and sought refuge in England. The mob rose in Paris, imputing to the court the prodigalities with which the Parliament reproached the late comptroller-general. Sad symptom of the fatal progress of public opinion! The cries heretofore raised against the queen under the name of Austrian were now uttered against Madame Deficit, pending the time when the fearful title of Madame Veto would give place in its turn to the sad name of the woman Capet given to the victim of October 16, 1793.

The king summoned the Parliament to Versailles, and on the 6th of August, 1787, the edicts touching the stamp-tax and territorial subvention were enregistered in bed of justice. The Parliament had protested in advance against this act of royal authority, which it called "a phantom of deliberation." On the 13th of August, the court declared "the registration of the edicts null and without effect, incompetent to authorize the collection of imposts, opposed to all principles;" this resolution was sent to all the seneschalties and bailiwicks in the district. It was in the name of the privilege of the two upper orders that the Parliament of Paris contested the royal edicts and made appeal to the supreme jurisdiction of the States-general; the people did not see it, they took out the horses of M. d'Espremesnil, whose fiery eloquence had won over a great number of his colleagues, and he was carried in triumph. On the 15th of August the Parliament was sent away to Troyes.

Banishment far away from the capital, from the ferment of spirits, and from the noisy centre of their admirers, had more than once brought down the pride of the members of Parliament; they were now sustained by the sympathy ardently manifested by nearly all the sovereign courts. "Incessantly repeated stretches of authority," said the Parliament of Besancon, "forced registrations, banishments, constraint and severity instead of justice, are astounding in an enlightened age, wound a nation that idolizes its kings, but is free and proud, freeze the heart and might break the ties which unite sovereign to subjects and subjects to sovereign." The Parliament of Paris declared that it needed no authority for its sittings, considering that it rendered justice wherever it happened to be assembled. "The monarchy would be transfigured into a despotic form," said the decree, "if ministers could dispose of persons by sealed letters (lettres de cachet), property by beds of justice, criminal matters by change of venue (evocation) or cassation, and suspend the course of justice by special banishments or arbitrary removals."

Negotiations were going on, however; the government agreed to withdraw the new imposts which it had declared to be indispensable; the Parliament, which had declared itself incompetent as to the establishment of taxes, prorogued for two years the second twentieth. "We left Paris with glory upon us, we shall return with mud," protested M. d'Espremesnil in vain; more moderate, but not less resolute, Duport, Robert de St. Vincent, and Freteau sought to sustain by their speeches the wavering resolution of their colleagues. The Parliament was recalled to Paris on the 19th of September, 1787.

The state of Europe inclined men's minds to reciprocal concessions; a disquieting good understanding appeared to be growing up between Russia and Austria. The Emperor Joseph II. had just paid a visit to the Crimea with the czarina. "I fancy I am still dreaming," wrote the Prince of Ligne, who had the honor of being in the trip, "when in a carriage with six places, which is a real triumphal car adorned with ciphers in precious stones, I find myself seated between two persons on whose shoulders the heat often sets me dozing, and I hear, as I wake up, one of my comrades say to the other 'I have thirty' millions of subjects, they say, counting males only.' 'And I twenty-two,' replies the other, 'all included.' 'I require,' adds the former, 'an army of at least six hundred thousand men between Kamtchatka and Riga.' 'With half that,' replies the other, 'I have just what I require.' God knows how we settle all the states and great personages. 'Rather than sign the separation of thirteen provinces, like my brother George,' says Catherine II. sweetly, 'I would have put a bullet through my head.' 'And rather than give in my resignation like my brother and brother-in-law, by convoking and assembling the nation to talk over abuses, I don't know what I wouldn't have done,' says Joseph II." Before the two allies could carry out their designs against Turkey, that ancient power, enfeebled as it was, had taken the offensive at the instigation of England; the King of Sweden, on his side, invaded Russia; war burst out in all directions. The traditional influence of France remained powerless in the East to maintain peace; the long weakness of the government was everywhere bearing fruit.

Nowhere was this grievous impotence more painfully striking than in Holland. Supported by England, whose slavish instrument he had been for so long, the stadtholder William V. was struggling, with the help of the mob, against the patriotic, independent, and proud patricians. For the last sixty years the position of Holland had been constantly declining in Europe. "She is afraid of everything," said Count de Broglie in 1773; "she puts up with everything, grumbles at everything, and secures herself against nothing." "Holland might pay all the armies of Europe," people said in 1787, "she couldn't manage to hold her own against any one of them." The civil war imminent in her midst and fomented by England had aroused the solicitude of M. de Calonne; he had prepared the resources necessary for forming a camp near Givet; his successor diverted the funds to another object. When the Prussians entered Dutch territory, being summoned to the stadtholder's aid by his wife, sister of the young King Frederick William II., the French government afforded no assistance to its ally; it confined itself to offering an asylum to the Dutch patriots, long encouraged by its diplomatists, and now vanquished in their own country, which was henceforth under the yoke of England. "France has fallen, I doubt whether she will get up again," said the Emperor Joseph II. "We have been caught napping," wrote M. de La Fayette to Washington; "the King of Prussia has been ill advised, the Dutch are ruined, and England finds herself the only power which has gained in the bargain."

The echo of humiliations abroad came to swell the dull murmur of public discontent. Disturbance was arising everywhere. "From stagnant chaos France has passed to tumultuous chaos," wrote Mirabeau, already an influential publicist, despite the irregularity of his morals and the small esteem excited by his life; "there may, there should come a creation out of it." The Parliament had soon resumed its defiant attitude; like M. de La Fayette at the Assembly of notables, it demanded the convocation of the States-general at a fixed epoch, in 1792; it was the date fixed by M. de Brienne in a vast financial scheme which he had boldly proposed for registration by the court. By means of a series of loans which were to reach the enormous total of four hundred and twenty millions, the States-general, assembled on the conclusion of this vast operation, and relieved from all pecuniary embarrassment, would be able to concentrate their thoughts on the important interests of the future. At the same time with the loan-edict, Brienne presented to the Parliament the law-scheme, for so long a time under discussion, on behalf of Protestants.

The king had repaired in person to the palace in royal session; the keeper of the seals, Lamoignon, expounded the necessity of the edicts. "To the monarch alone," he repeated, "belongs the legislative power, without dependence and without partition." This was throwing down the gauntlet to the whole assembly as well as to public opinion. Abbe Sabatier and Councillor Freteau had already spoken, when Robert de St. Vincent rose, an old Jansenist and an old member of Parliament, accustomed to express his thoughts roughly. "Who, without dismay, can hear loans still talked of?" he exclaimed "and for what sum? four hundred and twenty millions! A plan is being formed for five years? But, since your Majesty's reign began, have the same views ever directed the administration of finance for five years in succession? Can you be ignorant, sir (here he addressed himself to the comptroller-general), that each minister, as he steps into his place, rejects the system of his predecessor in order to substitute that which he has devised? Within only eight months, you are the fourth minister of finance, and yet you are forming a plan which cannot be accomplished in less than five years! The remedy, sir, for the wounds of the state has been pointed out by your Parliament: it is the convocation of the States-general. Their convocation, to be salutary, must be prompt. Your ministers would like to avoid this assembly whose surveillance they dread. Their hope is vain. Before two years are over, the necessities of the state will force you to convoke the States-general."

M. d'Espremesnil was overcome; less violent than usual, he had, appealed to the king's heart; for a moment Louis XVI. appeared to be moved, and so was the assembly with him; the edicts were about to be enregistered despite the efforts of the opposition; already the premier president was collecting the votes; the keeper of the seals would not, at this grave moment, renounce any kingly prerogative. "When the king is at the Parliament, there is no deliberation; his will makes law," said the legal rule and the custom of the magistracy. Lamoignon went up to the throne; he said a few words in a low voice. "Mr. Keeper of the seals, have the edicts enregistered," said Louis XVI. The minister immediately repeated the formula used at beds of justice. A murmur ran through the assembly; the Duke of Orleans rose; he had recently become the head of his house through his father's death, and found himself more than ever involved in intrigues hostile to the court. "Sir," said he in a broken voice, "this registration appears to me illegal. . . . It should be distinctly stated that the registration is done by the express command of your Majesty." The king was as much moved as the prince. "It is all the same to me," he replied. "You are master, of course." "Yes,—it is legal, because I so will." The edict relative to non-Catholics was read, and Louis XVI. withdrew.

There was violent commotion in the assembly; the protest of the Duke of Orleans was drawn up in a more explicit form. "The difference between a bed of justice and a royal session is, that one exhibits the frankness of despotism and the other its duplicity," cried d'Espremesnil. Notwithstanding the efforts of M. de Malesherbes and the Duke of Nivernais, the Parliament inscribed on the registers that it was not to be understood to take any part in the transcription here ordered of gradual and progressive loans for the years 1788, 1789, 1790, 1791, and 1792. In reply, the Duke of Orleans was banished to Villers-Cotterets, whilst Councillors Freteau and Sabatier were arrested and taken to a state-prison.

By the scandalousness of his life, as well as by his obstructive buildings in the Palais-Royal, the Duke of Orleans had lost favor with the public; his protest and his banishment restored him at once to his popularity. The Parliament piled remonstrance upon remonstrance, every day more and more haughty in form as well as in substance. Dipping into the archives in search of antiquated laws, the magistrates appealed to the liberties of olden France, mingling therewith the novel principles of the modern philosophy. "Several pretty well-known facts," they said, "prove that the nation, more enlightened as to its true interests, even in the least elevated classes, is disposed to accept from the hands of your Majesty the greatest blessing a king can bestow upon his subjects —liberty. It is this blessing, Sir, which your Parliament come to ask you to restore, in the name of a generous and faithful people. It is no longer a prince of your blood, it is no longer two magistrates whom your Parliament ask you to restore in the name of the laws and of reason, but three Frenchmen, three men."

To peremptory demands were added perfidious insinuations.

"Such ways, Sir," said one of these remonstrances, "have no place in your heart, such samples of proceeding are not the principles of your Majesty, they come from another source." For the first time the queen was thus held up to public odium by the Parliament which had dealt her a fatal blow by acquitting Cardinal Rohan; she was often present at the king's conferences with his ministers, reluctantly and by the advice of M. de Brienne, for and in whom Louis XVI. never felt any liking or confidence. "There is no more happiness for me since they have made me an intriguer," she said sadly to Madame Campan. And when the latter objected: "Yes," replied the queen, "it is the proper word: every woman who meddles in matters above her lights and beyond the limits of her duty, is nothing but an intriguer; you will remember, however, that I do not spare myself, and that it is with regret I give myself such a title. The other day, as I was crossing the Bull's Eye (Eil de Boeuf), to go to a private committee at the king's, I heard one of the chapel-band say out loud, 'A queen who does her duty remains in her rooms at her needlework.' I said to myself: 'Thou'rt quite right, wretch; but thou know'st not my position; I yield to necessity and my evil destiny.'" A true daughter of Maria Theresa in her imprisonment and on the scaffold, Marie Antoinette had neither the indomitable perseverance nor the simple grandeur in political views which had restored the imperial throne in the case of her illustrious mother. She weakened beneath a burden too heavy for a mind so long accustomed to the facile pleasures of youth. "The queen certainly has wits and firmness which might suffice for great things," wrote her friend, the Count of La Marck, to M. de Mercy Argenteau, her mother's faithful agent in France; "but it must be confessed that, whether in business or in mere conversation, she does not always exhibit that degree of attention and that persistence which are indispensable for getting at the bottom of what one ought to know, in order to prevent errors and to insure success."

The same want of purpose and persistence of which the Count of La Marck complained was strikingly apparent everywhere and in all matters; the Duke of Orleans was soon tired of banishment; he wrote to the queen, who obtained his recall. The ministers were making mysterious preparations for a grand stroke. The Parliament, still agitated and anxious, had at last enregistered the edict relating to non-Catholics. Public opinion, like the government, supported it eagerly; the principles of tolerance which had prompted it were henceforth accepted by all; certain bishops and certain bigots were still trying to hinder this first step towards a legal status for a long while refused to Protestants. M. d'Espremesnil, an earnest disciple of the philosophe inconnu, the mystic St. Martin, just as he had been the dupe of Mesmer and of Cagliostro, was almost single-handed in the Parliament in his opposition to the registration of the edict. Extending his hand towards the crucifix, he exclaimed with violence: "Would you crucify him a second time?" The court was a better judge of Christian principles, and Protestants were permitted to be born, to marry, and to die on French territory. The edict did not as yet concede to them any other right.

The contest extended as it grew hotter; everywhere the parliaments took up the quarrel of the court of Paris; the formation of the provincial assemblies furnished new centres of opposition; the petty noblesse made alliance with the magistracy; the antagonism of principles became every day more evident; after the five months elapsed since the royal session, the Parliament was still protesting against the violence done to it. "I had no need to take or count the votes," said the king's reply; "being present at the deliberation, I judged for myself without taking any account of plurality. If plurality in my courts were to force my will, the monarchy would be nothing but an aristocracy of magistrates." "No, sir, no aristocracy in France, but no despotism either," replied the members of parliament.

The indiscretion of a printer made M. d'Espremesnil acquainted with the great designs which were in preparation; at his instigation the Parliament issued a declaration as to the reciprocal rights and duties of the monarch and the nation. "France," said the resolution, "is a monarchy hereditary from male to male, governed by the king following the laws; it has for fundamental laws the nation's right to freely grant subsidies by means of the States-general convoked and composed according to regulation, the customs and capitulations of the provinces, the irremovability of the magistrates, the right of the courts to enregister edicts, and that of each citizen to be judged only by his natural judges, without liability ever to be arrested arbitrarily." "The magistrates must cease to exist before the nation ceases to be free," said a second protest.

Bold and defiant in its grotesque mixture of the ancient principles of the magistracy with the novel theories of philosophy, the resolution of the Parliament was quashed by the king. Orders were given to arrest M. d'Espremesnil and a young councillor, Goislard de Montsabert, who had proposed an inquiry into the conduct of the comptrollers commissioned to collect the second twentieth. The police of the Parliament was perfect and vigilant; the two magistrates were warned and took refuge in the Palace of Justice; all the chambers were assembled and the peers convoked. Ten or a dozen appeared, notwithstanding the king's express prohibition.

The Parliament had placed the two threatened members "under the protection of the king and of the law;" the premier president, at the head of a deputation, had set out for Versailles to demand immunity for the accused; the court was in session awaiting his return.

The mob thronged the precincts of the Palace, some persons had even penetrated into the grand chamber; no deliberations went on. Towards midnight, several companies of the French guards entered the hall of the Pas-Perdus; all the exits were guarded. The court was in commotion, the young councillors demanded that the deliberations should go on publicly. "Gentlemen," said President de Gourgues, "would you derogate from the ancient forms?" The spectators withdrew. The Marquis d'Agoult, aide-major of the French guards, demanded admission; he had orders from the king. The ushers opened the doors; at sight of the magistrates in scarlet robes, motionless upon their seats, the officer was for a moment abashed; he cast his eye from bench to bench, his voice faltered when he read the order signed by the king to arrest "MM. d'Espremesnil and De Montsabert, in the grand chamber or elsewhere." "The court will proceed to deliberate thereon, sir," replied the president. "Your forms are to deliberate," hotly replied M. d'Agoult, who had recovered himself; "I know nothing of those forms, the king's orders must be executed without delay; point out to me those whom I have to arrest." Silence reigned throughout the hall; not a word, not a gesture indicated the accused. Only the dukes and peers made merry aloud over the nobleman charged with so disagreeable a mission: he repeated his demand: "We are all d'Espremesnil and Montsabert," exclaimed the magistrates. M. d'Agoult left the room.

He soon returned, accompanied by an exon of the short robe, named Larchier. "Show me whom I have to arrest," was the officer's order. The exon looked all round the room; he knew every one of the magistrates; the accused were sitting right in front of him. "I do not see MM. d'Espremesnil and Montsabert anywhere," he at last said, tremulously. M. d'Agoult's threats could not get any other answer out of him.

The officer had gone to ask for fresh orders; the deputation sent to Versailles had returned, without having been received by Louis XVI., of whom an audience had not been requested. The court wanted to send some of the king's people at once to notify a fresh request; the troops guarded all the doors, nobody could leave the Palace.

"Gentlemen," said d'Espremesnil at last, "it would be contrary to our honor as well as to the dignity of the Parliament to prolong this scene any further; and, besides, we cannot be the ruin of Larchier; let M. d'Agoult be shown in again." The officer was recalled, the magistrates were seated and covered. "Sir," said M. d'Espremesnil, "I am one of those you are in search of. The law forbids me to obey orders irregularly obtained (surpris) of the sovereign, and it is to be faithful to him that I have not mentioned who I am until this moment. I call upon you to state whether, in case I should not go with you voluntarily, you have orders to drag me from this building." "Certainly, sir." D'Agoult was already striding towards the door to order in his troops. "Enough," said M. d'Espremesnil; "I yield to force;" and, turning to his colleagues, "Gentlemen," he said, "to you I protest against the violence of which I am the object; forget me and think henceforth of nothing but the common weal; I commend to you my family; whatever may be my fate, I shall never cease to glory in professing to the last hour the principles which do honor to this court." He made a deep obeisance, and followed the major, going out by the secret staircases in order to avoid the crowd whose shouts could be heard even within the palace buildings. Goislard de Montsabert followed his colleague's example: he was confined at Pierre-Encise; M. d'Espremesnil had been taken to the Isle of St. Marguerite.

Useless and ill-judged violence, which excited the passions of the public without intimidating opponents! The day after the scene of May 6th, at the moment when the whole magistracy of France was growing hot over the thrilling account of the arrest of the two councillors, the Parliament of Paris was sent for to Versailles (May 8, 1788).

The magistrates knew beforehand what fate awaited them. The king uttered a few severe words. After a pompous preamble, the keeper of the seals read out six fresh edicts intended to ruin forever the power of the sovereign courts.

Forty-seven great baillie-courts, as a necessary intermediary between the parliaments and the inferior tribunals, were henceforth charged with all civil cases not involving sums of more than twenty thousand livres, as well as all criminal cases of the third order (estate). The representations of the provincial assembly of Dauphiny severely criticised the impropriety of this measure. "The ministers," they said, "have not been afraid to flout the third estate, whose life, honor, and property no longer appear to be objects worthy of the sovereign courts, for which are reserved only the causes of the rich and the crimes of the privileged." The number of members of the Parliament of Paris was reduced to sixty-nine. The registration of edicts, the only real political power left in the hands of the magistrates, was transferred to a plenary court, an old title without stability and without tradition, composed, under the king's presidency, of the great functionaries of state, assisted by a small number of councillors. The absolute power was thus preparing a rampart against encroachments of authority on the part of the sovereign courts; it had fortified itself beforehand against the pretensions of the States-general, "which cannot pretend to be anything but a more extended council on behalf of the sovereign, the latter still remaining supreme arbiter of their representations and their grievances."

Certain useful ameliorations in the criminal legislation, amongst others total abolition of torture, completed the sum of edicts. A decree of the council declared all the parliaments prorogued until the formation of the great baillie-courts. The plenary court was to assemble forthwith at Versailles. It only sat once; in presence of the opposition amongst the majority of the men summoned to compose it, the ministers, unforeseeing and fickle even with all their ability and their boldness, found themselves obliged to adjourn the sittings indefinitely. All the members of the Parliament of Paris had bound themselves by a solemn oath not to take a place in any other assembly. "In case of dispersal of the magistracy," said the resolution entered upon the registers of the court, "the Parliament places the present act as a deposit in the hands of the king, of his august family, of the peers of the realm, of the States-general, and of each of the orders, united or separate, representing the nation."

At sight of this limitation, less absolute and less cleverly calculated, of the attempts made by Chancellor Maupeou, after seventeen years' rapid marching towards a state of things so novel and unheard of, the commotion was great in Paris; the disturbance, however, did not reach to the masses, and the disorder in the streets was owing less to the Parisian populace than to mendicants, rascals of sinister mien, flocking in, none knew why, from the four points of the compass. The provinces were more seriously disturbed. All the sovereign courts rose up with one accord; the Parliament of Rouen declared "traitors to the king, to the nation, to the province, perjured and branded with infamy, all officers and judges" who should proceed in virtue of the ordinances of May 8. "The authority of the king is unlimited for doing good to his subjects," said one of the presidents, "but everybody should put limits to it when it turns towards oppression." It was the very commandant of the royal troops whom the magistrates thus reproached with their passive obedience.

Normandy confined herself to declarations and speeches; other provinces went beyond those bounds: Brittany claimed performance "of the marriage contract between Louis XII. and the Duchess Anne." Notwithstanding the king's prohibition, the Parliament met at Rennes. A detachment of soldiers having been ordered to disperse the magistrates, a band of gentlemen, supported by an armed mob, went to protect the deliberations of the court. Fifteen officers fought duels with fifteen gentlemen. The court issued a decree of arrest against the holders of the king's commission. The youth of Nantes hurried to the aid of the youth of Rennes. The intermediary commission of the states ordered the bishops to have the prayers said which were customary in times of public calamity, and a hundred and thirty gentlemen carried to the governor a declaration signed by the noblesse of almost the whole province. "We, members of the noblesse of Brittany, do declare infamous those who may accept any place, whether in the new administration of justice or in the administration of the states, which is not recognized by the laws and constitutions of the province." A dozen of them set off for Versailles to go and denounce the ministers to Louis XVI. Being put in the Bastille, eighteen of their friends went to demand then back; they were followed by fifty others. The officers of the Bassigny regiment had taken sides with the opposition, and discussed the orders sent to them. Among the great lords of the province, attached to the king's own person, MM. de La Tremoille, de Rieux, and de Guichen left the court to join their protests to those of their friends; the superintendent, Bertrand de Molleville, was hanged in effigy and had to fly.

In Bearn, the peasantry had descended from the mountains; hereditary proprietors of their little holdings, they joined the noblesse to march out and meet the Duke of Guiche, sent by the king to restore order. Already the commandant of the province had been obliged to authorize the meeting of the Parliament. The Bearnese bore in front of their ranks the cradle of Henry IV., carefully preserved in the Castle of Pau. "We are no rebels," they said: "we claim our contract and fidelity to the oaths of a king whom we love. The Bearnese is free-born, he will not die a slave. Let the king have all from us in love and not by force; our blood is his and our country's. Let none come to take our lives when we are defending our liberty."

Legal in Normandy, violent in Brittany, tumultuous in Bearn, the parliamentary protests took a politic and methodical form in Dauphiny. An insurrection amongst the populace of Grenoble, soon supported by the villagers from the mountains, had at first flown to arms at the sound of the tocsin. The members of the Parliament, on the point of leaving the city, had been detained by force, and their carriages had been smashed. The troops offered little resistance; an entry was effected into the house of the governor, the Duke of Clermont-Tonnerre, and, with an axe above his head, the insurgents threatened to hang him to the chandelier in his drawing-room if he did not convoke the Parliament. Ragged ruffians ran to the magistrates, and compelled them to meet in the sessions-hall. The members of Parliament succeeded with great difficulty in pacifying the mob. As soon as they found themselves free, they hastened away into exile. Other hands had taken up their quarrel. A certain number of members of the three orders met at the town hall, and, on their private authority, convoked for the 21st of July the special states of Dauphiny, suppressed a while before by Cardinal Richelieu.

The Duke of Clermont-Tonnerre had been superseded by old Marshal Vaux, rough and ready. He had at his disposal twenty thousand men. Scarcely had he arrived at Grenoble, when he wrote to Versailles. "It is too late," he said. The prerogatives of royal authority were maintained, however. The marshal granted a meeting of the states-provincial, but he required permission to be asked of him. He forbade the assembly to be held at Grenoble. It was in the Castle of Vizille, a former residence of the dauphins, that the three orders of Dauphiny met, closely united together in wise and patriotic accord. The Archbishop of Vienne, Lefranc de Pompignan, brother of the poet, lately the inveterate foe of Voltaire, an ardently and sincerely pious man, led his clergy along the most liberal path; the noblesse of the sword, mingled with the noblesse of the robe, voted blindly all the resolutions of the third estate; these were suggested by the real head of the assembly, M. Mounier, judge-royal of Grenoble, a friend of M. Necker's, an enlightened, loyal, honorable man, destined ere long to make his name known over the whole of France by his courageous resistance to the outbursts of the National Assembly. Unanimously the three orders presented to the king their claims to the olden liberties of the province; they loudly declared, however, that they were prepared for all sacrifices and aspired to nothing but the common rights of all Frenchmen. The double representation of the third in the estates of Dauphiny was voted without contest, as well as equal assessment of the impost intended to replace forced labor. Throughout the whole province the most perfect order had succeeded the first manifestations of popular irritation.

It was now more than a year since Brienne had become chief minister. MM. de Segur and de Castries had retired, refusing to serve under a man whom they did not esteem. Alone, shut up in his closet, the archbishop listened without emotion to the low murmur of legal protests, the noisy tumult of insurrections. "I have foreseen all, even civil war. The king shall be obeyed, the king knows how to make himself obeyed," he kept repeating in the assured tones of an oracle. Resolved not to share the responsibility of the reverse he foresaw, Baron de Breteuil sent in his resignation.

Meanwhile the treasury was found to be empty; Brienne appealed to the clergy, hoping to obtain from ecclesiastical wealth one of those gratuitous gifts which had often come in aid of the State's necessities. The Church herself was feeling the influence of the times. Without relaxing in her pretensions to the maintenance of privileges, the ecclesiastical assembly thought itself bound to plead the cause of that magistracy which it had so, often fought. "Our silence," said the remonstrances, "would be a crime, of which the nation and posterity would never absolve us. Your Majesty has just effected at the bed of justice of May 8, a great movement as regards things and persons. Such ought to be a consequence rather than a preliminary of the States-general; the will of a prince which has not been enlightened by his courts may be regarded as a momentary will. Your Majesty has issued an edict carrying the restoration of the plenary court, but that court has recalled an ancient reign without recalling ancient ideas. Even if it had been once the supreme tribunal of our kings, it now presents no longer that numerous assemblage of prelates, barons, and lieges united together. The nation sees nothing in it but a court-tribunal whose complaisance it would be afraid of, and whose movements and intrigues it would dread in times of minority and regency. . . . Our functions are sacred, when, from the height of the altars, we pray heaven to send down blessings on kings and on their subjects; they are still so, when, after teaching people their duties, we represent their rights and make solicitations on behalf of the afflicted, on behalf of the absent despoiled of their position and their liberty. The clergy of France, Sir, stretch forth to you their suppliant hands; it is so beautiful to see might and puissance yielding to prayer! The glory of your Majesty is not in being King of France, but in being King of the French, and the heart of your subjects in the fairest of your domains." The assembly of the clergy granted to the treasury only a poor gift of eighteen hundred thousand livres.

All the resources were exhausted, disgraceful tricks had despoiled the hospitals and the poor; credit was used up, the payments of the State were backward; the discount-bank (caisse d'escompte) was authorized to refuse to give coin. To divert the public mind from this painful situation, Brienne proposed to the king to yield to the requests of the members of Parliament, of the clergy, and of the noblesse themselves. A decree of August 8, 1788, announced that the States-general would be convoked May 1, 1789: the re-establishment of the plenary court was suspended to that date. Concessions wrested from the weakness and irresolution of governments do not strengthen their failing powers. Brienne had exhausted his boldness as well as his basenesses; he succumbed beneath the outcry of public wrath and mistrust. He offered the comptroller-generalship to M. Necker, who refused. He told XVI. "Mercy," is the expression in Brienne's own account, "that under a minister who, like me, had lost the favor of the public, he could not do any good." A court-intrigue at last decided the minister's fall. The Count of Artois, egged on by Madame de Polignac, made urgent entreaties to the queen; she was attached to Brienne; she, however, resigned herself to giving him up, but with so many favors and such an exhibition of kindness towards all his family, that the public did not feel at all grateful to Marie Antoinette. Already Brienne had exchanged the archbishopric of Toulouse for that of Sens, a much richer one. "The queen offered me the hat and anything I might desire," writes the prelate, "telling me that she parted from me with regret, weeping at being obliged to do so, and permitting me to kiss her (l'embrasser) in token of her sorrow and her interest." "After having made the mistake of bringing him into the ministry," says Madame Campan [Memoires, t. i. p. 33], "the queen unfortunately made an equally grave one in supporting him at the time of a disgrace brought upon him by the despair of the whole nation. She considered it only consistent with her dignity to give him, at his departure, ostensible proofs of her esteem, and, her very sensibility misleading her, she sent him her portrait adorned with precious stones and the patent of lady of the palace for his niece, Madame de Courcy, saying that it was necessary to indemnify a minister sacrificed by the trickery of courts and the factious spirit of the nation. I have since seen the queen shed bitter tears over the errors she committed at this period."

On the 25th of August, 1788, the king sent for M. Necker.

A burst of public joy greeted the fall of the detested minister and the return of the popular minister. There were illuminations in the provinces as well as at Paris, at the Bastille as well as the houses of members of Parliament; but joy intermingled with hate is a brutal and a dangerous one: the crowd thronged every evening on the Pont-Neuf, forcing carriages as well as foot passengers to halt in front of Henry IV.'s statue. "Hurrah for Henry IV.! To the devil with Lamoignon and Brienne!" howled the people, requiring all passers to repeat the same cry. It was remarked that the Duke of Orleans took pleasure in crossing over the Pont-Neuf to come in for the cheers of the populace. "He was more crafty than ambitious, more depraved than naturally wicked," says M. Malouet: "resentment towards the court had hurried him into intrigue; he wanted to become formidable to the queen. His personal aim was vengeance rather than ambition, that of his petty council was to effect an upheaval in order to set the prince at the head of affairs as lieutenant-general and share the profits."

The tumult in the streets went on increasing; the keeper of the seals, Lamoignon, had tried to remain in power. M. Necker, supported by the queen, demanded his dismissal. His departure, like that of Brienne, had to be bought; he was promised an embassy for his son; he claimed a sum of four hundred thousand livres; the treasury was exhausted, and there was no finding more than half. The greedy keeper of the seals was succeeded by Barentin, premier-president of the Court of Aids. Two dummies, one dressed in a simarre (gown) and the other in pontifical vestments, were burned on the Pont-Neuf: the soldiers, having been ordered to disperse the crowds, some persons were wounded and others killed; the mob had felt sure that they would not be fired upon, whatever disorder they showed; the wrath and indignation were great; there were threats of setting fire to the houses of MM. de Brienne and de Lamoignon; the quarters of the commandant of the watch were surrounded. The number of folks of no avocation, of mendicants and of vagabonds, was increasing every day in Paris.

Meanwhile the Parliament had gained its point, the great baillie-courts were abolished; the same difficulty had been found in constituting them as in forming the plenary court; all the magistrates of the inferior tribunals refused to sit in them; the Breton deputies were let out of the Bastille; everywhere the sovereign courts were recalled. The return of the exiles to Paris was the occasion for a veritable triumph and the pretext for new disorders among the populace. It was the Parliament's first duty to see to the extraordinary police (haute police) in its district; it performed the duty badly and weakly. The populace had applauded its return and had supported its cause during its exile; the first resolution of the court was directed against the excesses committed by the military in repressing the disorders. When it came to trying the men seized with arms in their hands and the incendiaries who had threatened private houses, all had their cases dismissed; by way of example, one was detained a few days in prison. Having often been served in its enterprises by the passions of the mob, the Parliament had not foreseen the day when those same outbursts would sweep it away like chaff before the wind with all that regimen of tradition and respect to which it still clung even in its most audacious acts of daring.

For an instant the return of M. Necker to power had the effect of restoring some hope to the most far-sighted. On his coming into office, the treasury was empty, there was no scraping together as much as five thousand livres. The need was pressing, the harvests were bad; the credit and the able resources of the great financier sufficed for all; the funds went up thirty percent. in one day, certain capitalists made advances, the chamber of the notaries of Paris paid six millions into the treasury, M. Necker lent two millions out of his private fortune. Economy had already found its way into the royal household; Louis XVI. had faithfully kept his promises; despite the wrath of courtiers, he had reduced his establishment. The Duke of Coigny, premier equerry, had found his office abolished. "We were truly grieved, Coigny and I," said the king, kindly, "but I believe he would have beaten me had I let him." "It is fearful to live in a country where one is not sure of possessing to-morrow what one had the day before," said the great lords who were dispossessed; "it's a sort of thing seen only in Turkey." Other sacrifices and more cruel lessons in the instability of human affairs were already in preparation for the French noblesse.

The great financial talents of M. Necker, his probity, his courage, had caused illusions as to his political talents; useful in his day and in his degree, the new minister was no longer equal to the task. The distresses of the treasury had powerfully contributed to bring about, to develop the political crisis; the public cry for the States-general had arisen in a great degree from the deficit; but henceforth financial resources did not suffice to conjure away the danger; the discount-bank had resumed payment, the state honored its engagements, the phantom of bankruptcy disappeared from before the frightened eyes of stockholders; nevertheless the agitation did not subside, minds were full of higher and more tenacious concernments. Every gaze was turned towards the States-general. Scarcely was M. Necker in power, when a royal proclamation, sent to the Parliament returning to Paris, announced the convocation of the Assembly for the month of January, 1789.

The States-general themselves had become a topic of the most lively discussion. Amid the embarrassment of his government, and in order to throw a sop to the activity of the opposition, Brienne had declared his doubts and his deficiency of enlightenment as to the form to be given to the deliberations of that ancient assembly, always convoked at the most critical junctures of the national history, and abandoned for one hundred and seventy-five years past. "The researches ordered by the king," said a decree of the council, "have not brought to light any positive information as to the number and quality of the electors and those eligible, any more than as to the form of the elections: the king will always try to be as close as possible to the old usages; and, when they are unknown, his Majesty will not supply the hiatus till after consulting the wish of his subjects, in order that the most entire confidence may hedge a truly national assembly. Consequently the king requests all the municipalities and all the tribunals to make researches in their archives; he likewise invites all scholars and well-informed persons, and especially those who are members of the Academy of Inscriptions and Literature, to study the question and give their opinion." In the wake of this appeal a flood of tracts and pamphlets had inundated Paris and the provinces: some devoted to the defence of ancient usages; the most part intended to prove that the Constitution of the olden monarchy of France contained in principle all the political liberties which were but asking permission to soar; some, finally, bolder and the most applauded of all, like that of Count d'Entraigues, Note on the States-General, their Rights and the Manner of Convoking them; and that of Abbe Sieyes, What is the Third Estate? Count d'Entraigues' pamphlet began thus: "It was doubtless in order to give the most heroic virtues a home worthy of them that heaven willed the existence of republics, and, perhaps to punish the ambition of men, it permitted great empires, kings, and masters to arise." Sieyes' pamphlet had already sold to the extent of thirty thousand copies; the development of his ideas was an audacious commentary upon his modest title. "What is the third estate?" said that able revolutionist. "Nothing. What ought it to be? Everything?" It was hoisting the flag against the two upper orders. "The deputies of the clergy and of the noblesse have nothing in common with national representation," he said, "and no alliance is possible between the three orders in the States-general."

It may be permissible to quote here a page or, so from the second volume of this history. "At the moment when France was electing the constituent assembly, a man, whose mind was more powerful than accurate, Abbe Sieyes, could say, 'What is the third estate? Everything. What has it been hitherto in the body politic? Nothing. What does it demand? To be something.' There were in these words three grave errors. In the course of the regimen anterior to 1789, so far was the third estate from being nothing that it had every day become greater and stronger. What was demanded for it in 1789 by M. Sieyes and his friends was not that it should become something, but that it should be everything. It was to desire what was beyond its right and its might; the Revolution, which was its victory, itself proved this. Whatever may have been the weaknesses and the faults of its adversaries, the third estate had to struggle terribly to vanquish them, and the struggle was so violent and so obstinate that the third estate was shattered to pieces in it and paid right dearly for its triumph. It first of all found despotism instead of liberty; and when the liberty returned, the third estate found itself face to face with a twofold hostility: that of its adversaries of the old regimen and that of absolute democracy, which, in its turn, claimed to be everything. Excessive pretension entails unmanageable opposition, and excites unbridled ambition. What there was in the words of Abbe Sieyes, in 1789, was not the truth as it is in history; it was a lying programme of revolution. Taking the history of France in its totality and in all its phases, the third estate has been the most active and most decisive element in French civilization. If we follow it in its relations with the general government of the country, we see it first of all allied during six centuries with the kingship, struggling pauselessly against the feudal aristocracy, and giving the prevalence in place of that to a central and unique power, pure monarchy to wit, closely approximating, though with certain often-repeated but vain reservations, to absolute monarchy. But, so soon as it has gained this victory and accomplished this revolution, the third estate pursues another: it attacks this unique power which it had contributed so much to establish, and it undertakes the task of changing pure monarchy into constitutional monarchy. Under whatever aspect we consider it in its two great and so very different enterprises, whether we study the progressive formation of French society itself or that of its government, the third estate is the most powerful and the most persistent of the forces which have had influence over French civilization. Not only is this fact novel, but it has for France quite a special interest; for, to make use of an expression which is much abused in our day, it is a fact eminently French, essentially national. Nowhere has burgessdom had a destiny so vast, so fertile as that which has fallen to it in France. There have been commons all over Europe, in Italy, in Spain, in Germany, in England, as well as in France. Not only have there been commons everywhere, but the commons in France are not those which, qua commons, under that name and in the middle ages, have played the greatest part and held the highest place in history. The Italian commons begot glorious republics. The German commons became free towns, sovereign towns, which have their own special history, and exercised throughout the general history of Germany a great deal of influence. The commons of England allied themselves with a portion of the English feudal aristocracy, formed with it the preponderating house in the British government, and thus played, full early, a powerful part in the history of their country. The French commons, under that name and in their season of special activity, were certainly far from rising to that importance in politics and that rank in history. And yet it is in France that the people of the commons, the burgessdom, became most completely, most powerfully developed, and ended by acquiring, in the general social body, the most decided preponderance. There have been commons throughout the whole of Europe; there has been in truth no third estate victorious save in France; it is in the French Revolution of 1789, assuredly the greatest, that the French third estate reached its ultimatum, and France is the only country where, in an excess of burgesspride, a man of great mind could say: 'What is the third estate? Every thing.'"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Terms Defined

Referenced Works