History of the French Revolution from 1789 to 1814
F. A. M. Mignet

Part 1 out of 8





Of the great incidents of History, none has attracted more attention or
proved more difficult of interpretation than the French Revolution. The
ultimate significance of other striking events and their place in the
development of mankind can be readily estimated. It is clear enough that
the barbarian invasions marked the death of the classical world, already
mortally wounded by the rise of Christianity. It is clear enough that the
Renaissance emancipated the human intellect from the trammels of a bastard
mediaevalism, that the Reformation consolidated the victory of the "new
learning" by including theology among the subjects of human debate. But
the French Revolution seems to defy complete analysis. Its complexity was
great, its contradictions numerous and astounding. A movement ostensibly
directed against despotism culminated in the establishment of a despotism
far more complete than that which had been overthrown. The apostles of
liberty proscribed whole classes of their fellow-citizens, drenching in
innocent blood the land which they claimed to deliver from oppression. The
apostles of equality established a tyranny of horror, labouring to
extirpate all who had committed the sin of being fortunate. The apostles
of fraternity carried fire and sword to the farthest confines of Europe,
demanding that a continent should submit to the arbitrary dictation of a
single people. And of the Revolution were born the most rigid of modern
codes of law, that spirit of militarism which to-day has caused a world to
mourn, that intolerance of intolerance which has armed anti-clerical
persecutions in all lands. Nor were the actors in the drama less varied
than the scenes enacted. The Revolution produced Mirabeau and Talleyrand,
Robespierre and Napoleon, Sieyès and Hébert. The marshals of the First
Empire, the doctrinaires of the Restoration, the journalists of the
Orleanist monarchy, all were alike the children of this generation of
storm and stress, of high idealism and gross brutality, of changing
fortunes and glory mingled with disaster.

To describe the whole character of a movement so complex, so diverse in
its promises and fulfilment, so crowded with incident, so rich in action,
may well be declared impossible. No sooner has some proposition been
apparently established, than a new aspect of the period is suddenly
revealed, and all judgments have forthwith to be revised. That the
Revolution was a great event is certain; all else seems to be uncertain.
For some it is, as it was for Charles Fox, much the greatest of all events
and much the best. For some it is, as it was for Burke, the accursed
thing, the abomination of desolation. If its dark side alone be regarded,
it oppresses the very soul of man. A king, guilty of little more than
amiable weakness and legitimate or pious affection; a queen whose gravest
fault was but the frivolity of youth and beauty, was done to death. For
loyalty to her friends, Madame Roland died; for loving her husband,
Lucille Desmoulins perished. The agents of the Terror spared neither age
nor sex; neither the eminence of high attainment nor the insignificance of
dull mediocrity won mercy at their hands. The miserable Du Barri was
dragged from her obscure retreat to share the fate of a Malesherbes, a
Bailly, a Lavoisier. Robespierre was no more protected by his cold
incorruptibility, than was Barnave by his eloquence, Hébert by his
sensuality, Danton by his practical good sense. Nothing availed to save
from the all-devouring guillotine. Those who did survive seem almost to
have survived by chance, delivered by some caprice of fortune or by the
criminal levity of "les tricoteuses," vile women who degraded the very
dregs of their sex.

For such atrocities no apology need be attempted, but their cause may be
explained, the factors which produced such popular fury may be understood.
As he stands on the terrace of Versailles or wanders through the vast
apartments of the château, the traveller sees in imagination the dramatic
panorama of the long-dead past. The courtyard is filled with half-demented
women, clamouring that the Father of his People should feed his starving
children. The Well-Beloved jests cynically as, amid torrents of rain,
Pompadour is borne to her grave. Maintenon, gloomily pious, urges with
sinister whispers the commission of a great crime, bidding the king save
his vice-laden soul. Montespan laughs happily in her brief days of
triumph. And dominating the scene is the imposing figure of the Grand
Monarque. Louis haunts his great creation; Louis in his prime, the admired
and feared of Europe, the incarnation of kingship; Louis surrounded by
his gay and brilliant court, all eager to echo his historic boast, to sink
in their master the last traces of their identity.

Then a veil falls. But some can lift it, to behold a far different, a far
more stirring vision, and to such the deeper causes of the Terror are
revealed. For they behold a vast multitude, stained with care, haggard,
forlorn, striving, dying, toiling even to their death, that the passing
whim of a tyrant may be gratified. Louis commanded; Versailles arose, a
palace of rare delight for princes and nobles, for wits and courtly
prelates, for grave philosophers and ladies frail as fair. A palace and a
hell, a grim monument to regal egoism, created to minister to the inflated
vanity of a despot, an eternal warning to mankind that the abuse of
absolute power is an accursed thing. Every flower, in those wide gardens
has been watered with the tears of stricken souls; every stone in that
vast pile of buildings was cemented with human blood. None can estimate
the toll of anguish exacted that Versailles might be; none can tell all
its cost, since for human suffering there is no price. The weary toilers
went to their doom, unnoticed, unhonoured, their misery unregarded, their
pain ignored, And the king rejoiced in his glory, while his poets sang
paeans in his praise.

But the day of reckoning came, and that day was the Terror. The heirs of
those who toiled made their account with the heirs of those who played.
The players died bravely, like the gallant gentlemen they were; their
courage is applauded, a world laments their fate. The misery, thus
avenged, is forgotten; all the long agony of centuries, all the sunless
hours, all the darkness of a land's despair. For that sadness was hidden;
it was but the exceeding bitter lot of the poor, devoid of that dramatic
interest which illumines one immortal hour of pain. Yet he who would
estimate aright the Terror, who would fully understand the Revolution,
must reflect not only upon the suffering of those who fell victims to an
outburst of insensate frenzy, but also upon the suffering by which that
frenzy was aroused. In a few months the French people took what recompense
they might for many decades of oppression. They exacted retribution for
the building of Versailles, of all the châteaux of Touraine; for all the
burdens laid upon them since that day when liberty was enchained and
France became the bond-slave of her monarchs. Louis XVI. paid for the
selfish glory of Louis XIV.; the nobles paid for the pleasures which their
forefathers had so carelessly enjoyed; the privileged classes for the
privileges which they had usurped and had so grievously misused.

The payment fell heavily upon individuals; the innocent often suffered for
the guilty; a Liancourt died while a Polignac escaped. Many who wished
well to France, many who had laboured for her salvation, perished; virtue
received the just punishment of vice. But the Revolution has another side;
it was no mere nightmare of horrors piled on horrors. It is part of the
pathos of History that no good has been unattended by evil, that by
suffering alone is mankind redeemed, that through the valley of shadow
lies the path by which the race toils slowly towards the fulfilment of its
high destiny. And if the victims of the guillotine could have foreseen the
future, many might have died gladly. For by their death they brought the
new France to birth. The Revolution rises superior to the crimes and
follies of its authors; it has atoned to posterity for all the sorrow that
it caused, for all the wrong that was done in its name. If it killed
laughter, it also dried many tears. By it privilege was slain in France,
tyranny rendered more improbable, almost impossible. The canker of a
debased feudalism was swept away. Men were made equal before the law.
Those barriers by which the flow of economic life in France was checked
were broken down. All careers were thrown open to talent. The right of the
producer to a voice in the distribution of the product was recognised.
Above all, a new gospel of political liberty was expounded. The world, and
the princes of the world, learned that peoples do not exist for the
pleasure of some despot and the profit of his cringing satellites. In the
order of nature, nothing can be born save through suffering; in the order
of politics, this is no less true. From the sorrow of brief months has
grown the joy of long years; the Revolution slew that it might also make

Herein, perhaps, may be found the secret of its complexity, of its seeming
contradictions. The authors of the Revolution pursued an ideal, an ideal
expressed in three words, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. That they might
win their quest, they had both to destroy and to construct. They had to
sweep away the past, and from the resultant chaos to construct a new
order. Alike in destruction and construction, they committed errors; they
fell far below their high ideals. The altruistic enthusiasts of the
National Assembly gave place to the practical politicians of the
Convention, the diplomatists of the Directory, the generals of the
Consulate. The Empire was far from realising that bright vision of a
regenerate nation which had dazzled the eyes of Frenchmen in the first
hours of the States-General. Liberty was sacrificed to efficiency;
equality to man's love for titles of honour; fraternity to desire of
glory. So it has been with all human effort. Man is imperfect, and his
imperfection mars his fairest achievements. Whatever great movement may be
considered, its ultimate attainment has fallen far short of its initial
promise. The authors of the Revolution were but men; they were no more
able than their fellows to discover and to hold fast to the true way of
happiness. They wavered between the two extremes of despotism and anarchy;
they declined from the path of grace. And their task remained unfulfilled.
Many of their dreams were far from attaining realisation; they inaugurated
no era of perfect bliss; they produced no Utopia. But their labour was not
in vain. Despite its disappointments, despite all its crimes and blunders,
the French Revolution was a great, a wonderful event. It did contribute to
the uplifting of humanity, and the world is the better for its occurrence.

That he might indicate this truth, that he might do something to
counteract the distortion of the past, Mignet wrote his _Histoire de la
Révolution Française_. At the moment when he came from Aix to Paris, the
tide of reaction was rising steadily in France. Decazes had fallen; Louis
XVIII. was surrendering to the ultra-royalist cabal. Aided by such
fortuitous events as the murder of the Duc de Berri, and supported by an
artificial majority in the Chamber, Villèle was endeavouring to bring back
the _ancien régime_. Compensation for the _émigrés_ was already mooted;
ecclesiastical control of education suggested. Direct criticism of the
ministry was rendered difficult, and even dangerous, by the censorship of
the press. Above all, the champions of reaction relied upon a certain
misrepresentation of the recent history of their country. The memory of
the Terror was still vivid; it was sedulously kept alive. The people were
encouraged to dread revolutionary violence, to forget the abuses by which
that violence had been evoked and which it had swept away. To all
complaints of executive tyranny, to all demands for greater political
liberty, the reactionaries made one answer. They declared that through
willingness to hear such complaints Louis XVI. had lost his throne and
life; that through the granting of such demands, the way had been prepared
for the bloody despotism of Robespierre. And they pointed the apparent
moral, that concessions to superficially mild and legitimate requests
would speedily reanimate the forces of anarchy. They insisted that by
strong government and by the sternest repression of the disaffected alone
could France be protected from a renewal of that nightmare of horror, at
the thought of which she still shuddered. And hence those who would
prevent the further progress of reaction had first of all to induce their
fellow-countrymen to realise that the Revolution was no mere orgy of
murder. They had to deliver liberty from those calumnies by which its
curtailment was rendered possible and even popular.

Understanding this, Mignet wrote. It would have been idle for him to have
denied that atrocities had been committed, nor had the day for a panegyric
on Danton, for a defence of Robespierre, yet dawned. Mignet did not
attempt the impossible. Rather by granting the case for his opponents he
sought to controvert them the more effectively. He laid down as his
fundamental thesis that the Revolution was inevitable. It was the outcome
of the past history of France; it pursued the course which it was bound to
pursue. Individuals and episodes in the drama are thus relatively
insignificant and unimportant. The crimes committed may be regretted;
their memory should not produce any condemnation of the movement as a
whole. To judge the Revolution by the Terror, or by the Consulate, would
be wrong and foolish; to declare it evil, because it did not proceed in a
gentle and orderly manner would be to outrage the historical sense. It is
wiser and more profitable to look below the surface, to search out those
deep lessons which may be learned. And Mignet closes his work by stating
one of these lessons, that which to him was, perhaps, the most vital: "On
ne peut régir désormais la France d'une manière durable, qu'en
satisfaisant le double besoin qui lui a fait entreprendre la révolution.
Il lui faut, dans le gouvernement, une liberté politique réelle, et dans
la société, le bien-être matériel que produit le développement sans cesse
perfectionné de la civilisation."

It was not Mignet's object to present a complete account of the
Revolution, and while he records the more important events of the period,
he does not attempt to deal exhaustively with all its many sides. It is
accordingly possible to point out various omissions. He does not explain
the organisation of the "deputies on mission," he only glances at that of
the commune or of the Committee of Public Safety. His account of the
Consulate and of the Empire appears to be disproportionately brief. But
the complexity of the period, and the wealth of materials for its history,
render it impossible for any one man to discuss it in detail, and Mignet's
work gains rather than loses by its limitations. Those facts which
illustrate his fundamental thesis are duly recorded; the causes and
results of events are clearly indicated; the actions of individuals are
described in so far as they subserve the author's purpose. The whole book
is marked by a notable impartiality; it is only on rare occasions, as in
the case of Lafayette, that the circumstances in which it was written have
been permitted to colour the judgments passed. Nor is the value of the
work seriously reduced by the fact that modern research compels its
revision in certain particulars, since it is so clearly not intended to be
a final and detailed history of the period. It is a philosophical study of
a great epoch, and as such, however its point of view may be criticised,
it is illuminating and well worthy of preservation. It supplies a
thoughtful and inspiring commentary upon the French Revolution.


BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE.--François Auguste Marie Mignet was born at Aix in
Provence in 1796. He was educated at Avignon and in his native town, at
first studying law. But, having gained some literary successes, he removed
to Paris in 1821 and devoted himself to writing. He became professor of
history at the _Athenée_, and after the Revolution of 1830 was made
director of the archives in the Foreign Office, a post which he held until
1848. He was then removed by Lamartine and died in retirement in 1854. His
_Histoire de la Révolution Française_ was first published in 1824; a
translation into English appeared in Bogue's European library in 1846 and
is here re-edited. Among Mignet's other works may be mentioned _Antoine
Perez et Philippe II._ and _Histoire de Marie Stuart_. As a journalist, he
wrote mainly on foreign policy for the _Courrier Français_.


Éloge de Charles VII., 1820; Les Institutions de Saint Louis, 1821; De la
féodalité, des institutions de Saint Louis et de l'influence de la
législation de ce prince, 1822; Histoire de la révolution française, 1824
(trans. 2 vols., London, 1826, Bonn's Libraries, 1846); La Germanie au
VIIIe et au IXe siècle, sa conversion au christianisme, et son
introduction dans la société civilisée de l'Europe occidentale, 1834;
Essai sur la formation territoriale et politique de la France depuis la
fin de XIe siècle jusqu'a la fin du XVe, 1836; Notices et Mémoires
historiques, 1843; Charles Quint, son abdication, son séjour, et sa mort
au monastère de Yuste, 1845; Antonio Perez et Philippe II., 1845
(translated by C. Cocks, London, 1846; translated from second French
edition by W. F. Ainsworth, London, 1846); Histoire de Marie Stuart, 2
vols., 1851 (translated by A. R. Scoble, 1851); Portraits et Notices,
historiques et littéraires, 2 vols., 1852; Éloges historiques, 1864;
Histoire de la rivalité de François I. et de Charles Quint, 1875; Nouveaux
éloges historiques, 1877.



Character of the French revolution--Its results, its progress--Successive
forms of the monarchy--Louis XIV. and Louis XV.--State of men's minds, of
the finances, of the public power and the public wants at the accession of
Louis XVI.--His character--Maurepas, prime minister--His policy--Chooses
popular and reforming ministers--His object--Turgot, Malesherbes, Necker--
Their plans--Opposed by the court and the privileged classes--Their
failure--Death of Maurepas--Influence of the Queen, Marie-Antoinette--
Popular ministers are succeeded by court ministers--Calonne and his
system--Brienne, his character and attempts--Distressed state of the
finances--Opposition of the assembly of the notables, of the parliament,
and provinces--Dismissal of Brienne--Second administration of Necker--
Convocation of the states-general--Immediate causes of the revolution.



Opening of the states-general--Opinion of the court, of the ministry, and
of the various bodies of the kingdom respecting the states--Verification
of powers--Question of vote by order or by poll--The order of the commons
forms itself into a national assembly--The court causes the Hall of the
states to be closed--Oath of the Tennis-court--The majority of the order
of the clergy unites itself with the commons--Royal sitting of the 23rd of
June--Its inutility--Project of the court--Events of the 12th, 13th, and
14th of July--Dismissal of Necker--Insurrection of Paris--Formation of
the national guard--Siege and taking of the Bastille--Consequences of the
14th of July--Decrees of the night of the 4th of August--Character of the
revolution which had just been brought about.



State of the constituent assembly--Party of the high clergy and nobility--
Maury and Cazales--Party of the ministry and of the two chambers: Mounier,
Lally-Tollendal--Popular party: triumvirate of Barnave, Duport, and
Lameth--Its position--Influence of Sieyès--Mirabeau chief of the assembly
at that period--Opinion to be formed of the Orleans party--Constitutional
labours--Declaration of rights--Permanency and unity of the legislative
body--Royal sanction--External agitation caused by it--Project of the
court--Banquet of the gardes-du-corps--Insurrection of the 5th and 6th
October--The king comes to reside at Paris.


APRIL, 1791

Results of the events of October--Alteration of the provinces into
departments--Organization of the administrative and municipal authorities
according to the system of popular sovereignty and election--Finances; all
the means employed are insufficient--Property of the clergy declared
national--The sale of the property of the clergy leads to assignats--Civil
constitution of the clergy--Religious opposition of the bishops--
Anniversary of the 14th of July--Abolition of titles--Confederation of the
Champ de Mars--New organization of the army--Opposition of the officers--
Schism respecting the civil constitution of the clergy--Clubs--Death of
Mirabeau--During the whole of this period the separation of parties
becomes more decided.



Political state of Europe before the French revolution--System of alliance
observed by different states--General coalition against the revolution--
Motives of each power--Conference of Mantua, and circular of Pavia--Flight
to Varennes--Arrest of the king--His suspension--The republican party
separate, for the first time, from the party of the constitutional
monarchy--The latter re-establishes the king--Declaration of Pilnitz--The
king accepts the constitution--End of the constituent assembly--Opinion of




Early relations between the legislative assembly and the king--State of
parties: the Feuillants rely on the middle classes, the Girondists on the
people--Emigration and the dissentient clergy; decree against them; the
king's veto--Declarations of war--Girondist ministry; Dumouriez, Roland--
Declaration of war against the king of Hungary and Bohemia--Disasters of
our armies; decree for a camp of reserve for twenty thousand men at Paris;
decree of banishment against the nonjuring priests; veto of the king; fall
of the Girondist ministry--Petition of insurgents of the 20th of June to
secure the passing of the decrees and the recall of the ministers--Last
efforts of the constitutional party--Manifesto of the duke of Brunswick--
Events of the 10th of August--Military insurrection of Lafayette against
the authors of the events of the 10th of August; it fails--Division of the
assembly and the new commune; Danton--Invasion of the Prussians--
Massacres of the 2nd of September--Campaign of the Argonne--Causes of the
events under the legislative assembly.




First measures of the Convention--Its composition--Rivalry of the Gironde
and of the Mountain--Strength and views of the two parties--Robespierre:
the Girondists accuse him of aspiring to the dictatorship--Marat--Fresh
accusation of Robespierre by Louvet; Robespierre's defence; the Convention
passes to the order of the day--The Mountain, victorious in this struggle,
demand the trial of Louis XVI.--Opinions of parties on this subject--The
Convention decides that Louis XVI. shall be tried, and by itself--Louis
XVI. at the Temple; his replies before the Convention; his defence; his
condemnation; courage and serenity of his last moments--What he was, and
what he was not, as a king.



Political and military situation of France--England, Holland, Spain,
Naples, and all the circles of the empire fall in with the coalition--
Dumouriez, after having conquered Belgium, attempts an expedition into
Holland--He wishes to re-establish constitutional monarchy--Reverses of
our armies--Struggle between the Gironde and the Mountain--Conspiracy of
the 10th of March--Insurrection of La Vendée; its progress--Defection of
Dumouriez--The Gironde accused of being his accomplices--New conspiracies
against them--Establishment of the Commission of Twelve to frustrate the
conspirators--Insurrections of the 27th and 31st of May against the
Commission of Twelve; its suppression--Insurrection of the 2nd of June
against the two-and-twenty leading Girondists; their arrest--Total defeat
of that party.



Insurrection of the departments against the 31st of May--Protracted
reverses on the frontiers--Progress of the Vendéans--The _Montagnards_
decree the constitution of 1793, and immediately suspend it to maintain
and strengthen the revolutionary government--_Levée en masse_; law against
suspected persons--Victories of the _Montagnards_ in the interior, and on
the frontiers--Death of the queen, of the twenty-two Girondists, etc.--
Committee of public safety; its power; its members--Republican calendar--
The conquerors of the 31st of May separate--The ultra-revolutionary
faction of the commune, or the Hébertists, abolish the catholic religion,
and establish the worship of Reason; its struggle with the committee of
public safety; its defeat--The moderate faction of the _Montagnards_, or
the Dantonists, wish to destroy the revolutionary dictatorship, and to
establish the legal government; their fall--The committee of public safety
remains alone, and triumphant.


(27TH JULY, 1794)

Increase of terror; its cause--System of the democrats; Saint-Just--
Robespierre's power--Festival of the Supreme Being--Couthon presents the
law of the 22nd Prairial, which reorganizes the revolutionary tribunal;
disturbances; debates; final obedience of the convention--The active
members of the committee have a division--Robespierre, Saint-Just, and
Couthon on one side; Billaud-Varennes, Collot-d'Herbois, Barrère, and the
members of the committee of general safety on the other--Conduct of
Robespierre--He absents himself from the committee, and rests on the
Jacobins and the commune--On the 8th of Thermidor he demands the renewal
of the committees; the motion is rejected--Sitting of the 9th Thermidor;
Saint-Just denounces the committees; is interrupted by Tallien; Billaud-
Varennes violently attacks Robespierre; general indignation of the
convention against the triumvirate; they are arrested--The commune rises
and liberates the prisoners--Peril and courage of the convention; it
outlaws the insurgents--The sections declare for the convention--Defeat
and execution of Robespierre.



The convention, after the fall of Robespierre; party of the committees;
Thermidorian party; their constitution and object--Decay of the democratic
party of the committees--Impeachment of Lebon and Carrier--State of Paris
--The Jacobins and the Faubourgs declare for the old committees; the
_jeunesse dorée_, and the sections for the Thermidorians--Impeachment of
Billaud-Varennes, Collot-d'Herbois, Barrère, and Vadier--Movement of
Germinal--Transportation of the accused, and of a few of the Mountain,
their partisans--Insurrection of the 1st Prairial--Defeat of the
democratic party; disarming of the Faubourgs--The lower class is excluded
from the government, deprived of the constitution of '93, and loses its
material power.



Campaign of 1793 and 1794--Disposition of the armies on hearing the news
of the 9th Thermidor--Conquest of Holland; position on the Rhine--Peace of
Basel with Prussia--Peace with Spain--Descent upon Quiberon--The reaction
ceases to be conventional, and becomes royalist--Massacre of the
revolutionists, in the south--Directorial constitution of the year III.--
Decrees of Fructidor, which require the re-election of two-thirds of the
convention--Irritation of the sectionary royalist party--It becomes
insurgent--The 13th of Vendémiaire--Appointment of the councils and of the
directory--Close of the convention; its duration and character.




Review of the revolution--Its second character of reorganization;
transition from public to private life--The five directors; their labours
for the interior--Pacification of La Vendée--Conspiracy of Babeuf; final
defeat of the democratic party--Plan of campaign against Austria; conquest
of Italy by general Bonaparte; treaty of Campo-Formio; the French republic
is acknowledged, with its acquisitions, and its connection with the Dutch,
Lombard, and Ligurian republics, which prolonged its system in Europe--
Royalist elections in the year V.; they alter the position of the
republic--New contest between the counter-revolutionary party in the
councils, in the club of Clichy, in the salons, and the conventional
party, in the directory, the club of _Salm_, and the army--Coup d'état of
the 18th Fructidor; the Vendémiaire party again defeated.



By the 18th Fructidor the directory returns, with slight mitigation, to
the revolutionary government--General peace, except with England--Return
of Bonaparte to Paris--Expedition into Egypt--Democratic elections for the
year VI.--The directory annuls them on the 22nd Floréal--Second coalition;
Russia, Austria, and England attack the republic through Italy,
Switzerland, and Holland; general defeats--Democratic elections for the
year VII.; on the 30th Prairial the councils get the upper hand, and
disorganize the old directory--Two parties in the new directory, and in
the councils: the moderate republican party under Sieyès, Roger-Ducos, and
the ancients; the extreme republican party under Moulins, Golier, the Five
Hundred, and the Society of the Manège--Various projects--Victories of
Masséna, in Switzerland; of Brune, in Holland--Bonaparte returns from
Egypt; comes to an understanding with Sieyès and his party--The 18th and
19th Brumaire--End of the directorial system.




Hopes entertained by the various parties, after the 18th Brumaire--
Provisional government--Constitution of Sieyès; distorted into the
consular constitution of the year VIII.--Formation of the government;
pacific designs of Bonaparte--Campaign of Italy; victory of Marengo--
General peace: on the continent, by the treaty of Lunéville with England;
by the treaty of Amiens--Fusion of parties; internal prosperity of France
--Ambitious system of the First Consul; re-establishes the clergy in the
state, by the Concordat of 1802; he creates a military order of
knighthood, by means of the Legion of Honour; he completes this order of
things by the consulate for life--Resumption of hostilities with England--
Conspiracy of Georges and Pichegru--The war and royalist attempts form a
pretext for the erection of the empire--Napoleon Bonaparte appointed
hereditary emperor; is crowned by the pope on the 2nd of December, 1804,
in the church of Notre Dame--Successive abandonment of the revolution--
Progress of absolute power during the four years of the consulate.




Character of the empire--Change of the republics created by the directory
into kingdoms--Third coalition; capture of Vienna; victories of Ulm and
Austerlitz; peace of Pressburg; erection of the two kingdoms of Bavaria
and Wurtemberg against Austria--Confederation of the Rhine--Joseph
Napoleon appointed king of Naples; Louis Napoleon, king of Holland--Fourth
coalition; battle of Jena; capture of Berlin; victories of Eylau and
Friedland; peace of Tilsit; the Prussian monarchy is reduced by one half;
the kingdoms of Saxony and Westphalia are instituted against it; that of
Westphalia given to Jerome Napoleon--The grand empire rises with its
secondary kingdoms, its confederation of the Rhine, its Swiss mediation,
its great fiefs; it is modelled on that of Charlemagne--Blockade of the
continent--Napoleon employs the cessation of commerce to reduce England,
as he had employed arms to subdue the continent--Invasion of Spain and
Portugal; Joseph Napoleon appointed to the throne of Spain; Murat replaces
him on the throne of Naples--New order of events: national insurrection of
the peninsula; religious contest with the pope--Commercial opposition of
Holland--Fifth coalition--Victory of Wagram; peace of Vienna; marriage of
Napoleon with the archduchess Marie Louise--Failure of the attempt at
resistance; the pope is dethroned; Holland is again united to the empire,
and the war in Spain prosecuted with vigour--Russia renounces the
continental system; campaign of 1812; capture of Moscow; disastrous
retreat--Reaction against the power of Napoleon; campaign of 1813; general
defection--Coalition of all Europe; exhaustion of France; marvellous
campaign of 1814--The allied powers at Paris; abdication at Fontainbleau;
character of Napoleon; his part in the French revolution--Conclusion.


I am about to take a rapid review of the history of the French revolution,
which began the era of new societies in Europe, as the English revolution
had begun the era of new governments. This revolution not only modified
the political power, but it entirely changed the internal existence of the
nation. The forms of the society of the middle ages still remained. The
land was divided into hostile provinces, the population into rival
classes. The nobility had lost all their powers, but still retained all
their distinctions: the people had no rights, royalty no limits; France
was in an utter confusion of arbitrary administration, of class
legislation and special privileges to special bodies. For these abuses the
revolution substituted a system more conformable with justice, and better
suited to our times. It substituted law in the place of arbitrary will,
equality in that of privilege; delivered men from the distinctions of
classes, the land from the barriers of provinces, trade from the shackles
of corporations and fellowships, agriculture from feudal subjection and
the oppression of tithes, property from the impediment of entails, and
brought everything to the condition of one state, one system of law, one

In order to effect such mighty reformation as this, the revolution had
many obstacles to overcome, involving transient excesses with durable
benefits. The privileged sought to prevent it; Europe to subject it; and
thus forced into a struggle, it could not set bounds to its efforts, or
moderate its victory. Resistance from within brought about the sovereignty
of the multitude, and aggression from without, military domination. Yet
the end was attained, in spite of anarchy and in spite of despotism: the
old society was destroyed during the revolution, and the new one became
established under the empire.

When a reform has become necessary, and the moment for accomplishing it
has arrived, nothing can prevent it, everything furthers it. Happy were it
for men, could they then come to an understanding; would the rich resign
their superfluity, and the poor content themselves with achieving what
they really needed, revolutions would then be quietly effected, and the
historian would have no excesses, no calamities to record; he would merely
have to display the transition of humanity to a wiser, freer, and happier
condition. But the annals of nations have not as yet presented any
instance of such prudent sacrifices; those who should have made them have
refused to do so; those who required them have forcibly compelled them;
and good has been brought about, like evil, by the medium and with all the
violence of usurpation. As yet there has been no sovereign but force.

In reviewing the history of the important period extending from the
opening of the states-general to 1814, I propose to explain the various
crises of the revolution, while I describe their progress. It will thus be
seen through whose fault, after commencing under such happy auspices, it
so fearfully degenerated; in what way it changed France into a republic,
and how upon the ruins of the republic it raise the empire. These various
phases were almost inevitable, so irresistible was the power of the events
which produced them. It would perhaps be rash to affirm that by no
possibility could the face of things have been otherwise; but it is
certain that the revolution, taking its rise from such causes, and
employing and arousing such passions, naturally took that course, and
ended in that result. Before we enter upon its history, let us see what
led to the convocation of the states-general, which themselves brought on
all that followed. In retracing the preliminary causes of the revolution,
I hope to show that it was as impossible to avoid as to guide it.

From its establishment the French monarchy had had no settled form, no
fixed and recognised public right. Under the first races the crown was
elective, the nation sovereign, and the king a mere military chief,
depending on the common voice for all decisions to be made, and all the
enterprises to be undertaken. The nation elected its chief, exercised the
legislative power in the Champs de Mars under the presidentship of the
king, and the judicial power in the courts under the direction of one of
his officers. Under the feudal regime, this royal democracy gave way to a
royal aristocracy. Absolute power ascended higher, the nobles stripped the
people of it, as the prince afterwards despoiled the nobles. At this
period the monarch had become hereditary; not as king, but as individually
possessor of a fief; the legislative authority belonged to the seigneurs,
in their vast territories or in the barons' parliaments; and the judicial
authority to the vassals in the manorial courts. In a word, power had
become more and more concentrated, and as it had passed from the many to
the few, it came at last from the few to be invested in one alone. During
centuries of continuous efforts, the kings of France were battering down
the feudal edifice, and at length they established themselves on its
ruins, having step by step usurped the fiefs, subdued the vassals,
suppressed the parliaments of barons, annulled or subjected the manorial
courts, assumed the legislative power, and effected that judicial
authority should be exercised in their name and on their behalf, in
parliaments of legists.

The states-general, which they convoked on pressing occasions, for the
purpose of obtaining subsidies, and which were composed of the three
orders of the nation, the clergy, the nobility, and the third estate or
commons, had no regular existence. Originated while the royal prerogative
was in progress, they were at first controlled, and finally suppressed by
it. The strongest and most determined opposition the kings had to
encounter in their projects of aggrandizement, proceeded much less from
these assemblies, which they authorized or annulled at pleasure, than from
the nobles vindicating against them, first their sovereignty, and then
their political importance. From Philip Augustus to Louis XI. the object
of all their efforts was to preserve their own power; from Louis XI. to
Louis XIV. to become the ministers of that of royalty. The Fronde was the
last campaign of the aristocracy. Under Louis XIV. absolute monarchy
definitively established itself, and dominated without dispute.

The government of France, from Louis XIV. to the revolution, was still
more arbitrary than despotic; for the monarchs had much more power than
they exercised. The barriers that opposed the encroachments of this
immense authority were exceedingly feeble. The crown disposed of persons
by _lettres de cachet_, of property by confiscation, of the public revenue
by imposts. Certain bodies, it is true, possessed means of defence, which
were termed privileges, but these privileges were rarely respected. The
parliament had that of ratifying or of refusing an impost, but the king
could compel its assent, by a _lit de justice_, and punish its members by
exile. The nobility were exempt from taxation; the clergy were entitled to
the privilege of taxing themselves, in the form of free gifts; some
provinces enjoyed the right of compounding the taxes, and others made the
assessment themselves. Such were the trifling liberties of France, and
even these all turned to the benefit of the privileged classes, and to the
detriment of the people.

And this France, so enslaved, was moreover miserably organized; the
excesses of power were still less endurable than their unjust
distribution. The nation, divided into three orders, themselves subdivided
into several classes, was a prey to all the attacks of despotism, and all
the evils of inequality. The nobility were subdivided: into courtiers,
living on the favours of the prince, that is to say, on the labour of the
people, and whose aim was governorships of provinces, or elevated ranks in
the army; ennobled parvenus, who conducted the interior administration,
and whose object was to obtain comptrollerships, and to make the most of
their place while they held it, by jobbing of every description; legists
who administered justice, and were alone competent to perform its
functions; and landed proprietors who oppressed the country by the
exercise of those feudal rights which still survived. The clergy were
divided into two classes: the one destined for the bishoprics and abbeys,
and their rich revenues; the other for the apostolic function and its
poverty. The third estate, ground down by the court, humiliated by the
nobility, was itself divided into corporations, which, in their turn,
exercised upon each other the evil and the contempt they received from the
higher classes. It possessed scarcely a third part of the land, and this
was burdened with the feudal rents due to the lords of the manor, tithes
to the clergy, and taxes to the king. In compensation for all these
sacrifices it enjoyed no political right, had no share in the
administration, and was admitted to no public employment.

Louis XIV. wore out the main-spring of absolute monarchy by too protracted
tension and too violent use. Fond of sway, rendered irritable by the
vexations of his youth, he quelled all resistance, forbad every kind of
opposition,--that of the aristocracy which manifested itself in revolt,--
that of the parliaments displayed by remonstrance,--that of the
protestants, whose form was a liberty of conscience which the church
deemed heretical, and royalty factious. Louis XIV. subdued the nobles by
summoning them to his court, where favours and pleasures were the
compensation for their dependence. Parliament, till then the instrument of
the crown, attempted to become its counterbalance, and the prince
haughtily imposed upon it a silence and submission of sixty years'
duration. At length, the revocation of the edict of Nantes completed this
work of despotism. An arbitrary government not only will not endure
resistance, but it demands that its subjects shall approve and imitate it.
After having subjected the actions of men, it persecutes conscience;
needing to be ever in motion, it seeks victims when they do not fall in
its way. The immense power of Louis XIV. was exercised, internally,
against the heretics; externally, against all Europe. Oppression found
ambitious men to counsel it, dragoons to serve, and success to encourage
it; the wounds of France were hidden by laurels, her groans were drowned
in songs of victory. But at last the men of genius died, the victories
ceased, industry emigrated, money disappeared; and the fact became
evident, that the very successes of despotism exhaust its resources, and
consume its future ere that future has arrived.

The death of Louis XIV. was the signal for a reaction; there was a sudden
transition from intolerance to incredulity, from the spirit of obedience
to that of discussion. Under the regency, the third estate acquired in
importance, by their increasing wealth and intelligence, all that the
nobility lost in consideration, and the clergy in influence. Under Louis
XV., the court prosecuted ruinous wars attended with little glory, and
engaged in a silent struggle with opinion, in an open one with the
parliament. Anarchy crept into its bosom, the government fell into the
hands of royal mistresses, power was completely on the decline, and the
opposition daily made fresh progress.

The parliaments had undergone a change of position and of system. Royalty
had invested them with a power which they now turned against it. No sooner
had the ruin of the aristocracy been accomplished by the combined efforts
of the parliament and of royalty, than the conquerors quarrelled,
according to the common practice of allies after a victory. Royalty sought
to destroy an instrument that became dangerous when it ceased to be
useful, and the parliament sought to govern royalty. This struggle,
favourable to the monarch under Louis XIV., of mixed reverses and success
under Louis XV., only ceased with the revolution. The parliament, from its
very nature, was only called upon to serve as an instrument. The exercise
of its prerogative, and its ambition as a body, leading it to oppose
itself to the strong and support the weak, it served by turns the crown
against the aristocracy and the nation against the crown. It was this that
made it so popular under Louis XV. and Louis XVI., although it only
attacked the court from a spirit of rivalry. Opinion, without inquiring
into its motives, applauded not its ambition but its resistance, and
supported it because defended by it. Rendered daring by such
encouragement, it became formidable to authority. After annulling the will
of the most imperious and best-obeyed of monarchs; after protesting
against the Seven Years' War; after obtaining the control of financial
operations and the destruction of the Jesuits, its resistance became so
constant and energetic, that the court, meeting with it in every
direction, saw the necessity of either submitting to or subjecting it. It
accordingly carried into execution the plan of disorganization proposed by
the chancellor Maupeou. This daring man, who, to employ his own
expression, had offered _retirer la couronne du greffe_, replaced this
hostile parliament by one devoted to power, and subjected to a similar
operation the entire magistracy of France, who were following the example
of that of Paris.

But the time had passed for coups d'état. The current had set in against
arbitrary rule so decidedly that the king resorted to it with doubt and
hesitation, and even encountered the disapprobation of his court. A new
power had arisen--that of opinion; which, though not recognised, was not
the less influential, and whose decrees were beginning to assume sovereign
authority. The nation, hitherto a nonentity, gradually asserted its
rights, and without sharing power influenced it. Such is the course of all
rising powers; they watch over it from without, before they are admitted
into the government; then, from the right of control they pass to that of
co-operation. The epoch at which the third estate was to share the sway
had at last arrived. It had at former periods attempted to effect this,
but in vain, because its efforts were premature. It was then but just
emancipated, and possessed not that which establishes superiority, and
leads to the acquisition of power; for right is only obtained by might.
Accordingly, in insurrections as in the states-general, it had held but
the third rank; everything was done with its aid, but nothing for it. In
times of feudal tyranny, it had served the kings against the nobles; when
ministerial and fiscal despotism prevailed, it assisted the nobles against
the kings; but, in the first instance, it was nothing more than the
servant of the crown; in the second, than that of the aristocracy. The
struggle took place in a sphere, and on the part of interests, with which
it was reputed to have no connexion. When the nobles were definitively
beaten in the time of the Fronde, it laid down its arms; a clear proof how
secondary was the part it had played.

At length, after a century of absolute submission, it reappeared in the
arena, but on its own account. The past cannot be recalled; and it was not
more possible for the nobles to rise from their defeat than it would now
be for absolute monarchy to regain its position. The court was to have
another antagonist, for it must always have one, power never being without
a candidate. The third estate, which increased daily in strength, wealth,
intelligence, and union, was destined to combat and to displace it. The
parliament did not constitute a class, but a body; and in this new
contest, while able to aid in the displacement of authority, it could not
secure it for itself.

The court had favoured the progress of the third estate, and had
contributed to the development of one of its chief means of advancement,
its intelligence. The most absolute of monarchs aided the movement of
mind, and, without intending it, created public opinion. By encouraging
praise, he prepared the way for blame; for we cannot invite an examination
in our favour, without undergoing one afterwards to our prejudice. When
the songs of triumph, and gratulation, and adulation were exhausted,
accusation began, and the philosophers of the eighteenth century succeeded
to the litterateurs of the seventeenth. Everything became the object of
their researches and reflections; governments, religion, abuses, laws.
They proclaimed rights, laid bare men's wants, denounced injustice. A
strong and enlightened public opinion was formed, whose attacks the
government underwent without venturing to attempt its suppression. It even
converted those whom it attacked; courtiers submitted to its decisions
from fashion's sake, power from necessity, and the age of reform was
ushered in by the age of philosophy, as the latter had been by the age of
the fine arts.

Such was the condition of France, when Louis XVI. ascended the throne on
the 11th of May, 1774. Finances, whose deficiencies neither the
restorative ministry of cardinal de Fleury, nor the bankrupt ministry of
the abbé Terray had been able to make good, authority disregarded,
intractable parliaments, an imperious public opinion; such were the
difficulties which the new reign inherited from its predecessors. Of all
princes, Louis XVI., by his tendencies and his virtues, was best suited to
his epoch. The people were weary of arbitrary rule, and he was disposed to
renounce its exercise; they were exasperated with the burdensome
dissoluteness of the court of Louis XV.; the morals of the new king were
pure and his wants few; they demanded reforms that had become
indispensable, and he appreciated the public want, and made it his glory
to satisfy it. But it was as difficult to effect good as to continue evil;
for it was necessary to have sufficient strength either to make the
privileged classes submit to reform, or the nation to abuses; and Louis
XVI. was neither a regenerator nor a despot. He was deficient in that
sovereign will which alone accomplishes great changes in states, and which
is as essential to monarchs who wish to limit their power as to those who
seek to aggrandize it. Louis XVI. possessed a sound mind, a good and
upright heart, but he was without energy of character and perseverance in
action. His projects of amelioration met with obstacles which he had not
foreseen, and which he knew not how to overcome. He accordingly fell
beneath his efforts to favour reform, as another would have fallen in his
attempt to prevent it. Up to the meeting of the states-general, his reign
was one long and fruitless endeavour at amelioration.

In choosing, on his accession to the throne, Maurepas as prime minister,
Louis XVI. eminently contributed to the irresolute character of his reign.
Young, deeply sensible of his duties and of his own insufficiency, he had
recourse to the experience of an old man of seventy-three, who had lost
the favour of Louis XV. by his opposition to the mistresses of that
monarch. In him the king found not a statesman, but a mere courtier, whose
fatal influence extended over the whole course of his reign. Maurepas had
little heed to the welfare of France, or the glory of his master; his sole
care was to remain in favour. Residing in the palace at Versailles, in an
apartment communicating with that of the king, and presiding over the
council, he rendered the mind of Louis XVI. uncertain, his character
irresolute; he accustomed him to half-measures, to changes of system, to
all the inconsistencies of power, and especially to the necessity of doing
everything by others, and nothing of himself. Maurepas had the choice of
the ministers, and these cultivated his good graces as assiduously as he
the king's. Fearful of endangering his position, he kept out of the
ministry men of powerful connections, and appointed rising men, who
required his support for their own protection, and to effect their
reforms. He successively called Turgot, Malesherbes, and Necker to the
direction of affairs, each of whom undertook to effect ameliorations in
that department of the government which had been the immediate object of
his studies.

Malesherbes, descended from a family in the law, inherited parliamentary
virtues, and not parliamentary prejudices. To an independent mind, he
united a noble heart. He wished to give to every man his rights; to the
accused, the power of being defended; to protestants, liberty of
conscience; to authors, the liberty of the press; to every Frenchman,
personal freedom; and he proposed the abolition of the torture, the re-
establishment of the edict of Nantes, and the suppression of _lettres de
cachet_ and of the censure. Turgot, of a vigorous and comprehensive mind,
and an extraordinary firmness and strength of character, attempted to
realize still more extensive projects. He joined Malesherbes, in order,
with his assistance, to complete the establishment of a system which was
to bring back unity to the government and equality to the country. This
virtuous citizen constantly occupied himself with the amelioration of the
condition of the people; he undertook, alone, what the revolution
accomplished at a later period,--the suppression of servitude and
privilege. He proposed to enfranchise the rural districts from statute
labour, provinces from their barriers, commerce from internal duties,
trade from its shackles, and lastly, to make the nobility and clergy
contribute to the taxes in the same proportion as the third estate. This
great minister, of whom Malesherbes said, "he has the head of Bacon and
the heart of l'Hôpital," wished by means of provincial assemblies to
accustom the nation to public life, and prepare it for the restoration of
the states-general. He would have effected the revolution by ordinances,
had he been able to stand. But under the system of special privileges and
general servitude, all projects for the public good were impraticable.
Turgot dissatisfied the courtiers by his ameliorations, displeased the
parliament by the abolition of statute labour, wardenships, and internal
duties, and alarmed the old minister by the ascendancy which his virtue
gave him over Louis XVI. The prince forsook him, though at the same time
observing that Turgot and himself were the only persons who desired the
welfare of the people: so lamentable is the condition of kings!

Turgot was succeeded in 1776 in the general control of the finances by
Clugny, formerly comptroller of Saint Domingo, who, six months after, was
himself succeeded by Necker. Necker was a foreigner, a protestant, a
banker, and greater as an administrator than as a statesman; he
accordingly conceived a plan for reforming France, less extensive than
that of Turgot, but which he executed with more moderation, and aided by
the times. Appointed minister in order to find money for the court, he
made use of the wants of the court to procure liberties for the people. He
re-established the finances by means of order, and made the provinces
contribute moderately to their administration. His views were wise and
just; they consisted in bringing the revenue to a level with the
expenditure, by reducing the latter; by employing taxation in ordinary
times, and loans when imperious circumstances rendered it necessary to tax
the future as well as the present; by causing the taxes to be assessed by
the provincial assemblies, and by instituting the publication of accounts,
in order to facilitate loans. This system was founded on the nature of
loans, which, needing credit, require publicity of administration; and on
that of taxation, which needing assent, requires also a share in the
administration. Whenever there is a deficit and the government makes
applications to meet it, if it address itself to lenders, it must produce
its balance-sheet; if it address itself to the tax-payers, it must give
them a share in its power. Thus loans led to the production of accounts,
and taxes to the states-general; the first placing authority under the
jurisdiction of opinion, and the second placing it under that of the
people. But Necker, though less impatient for reform than Turgot, although
he desired to redeem abuses which his predecessor wished to destroy, was
not more fortunate than he. His economy displeased the courtiers; the
measures of the provincial assemblies incurred the disapprobation of the
parliaments, which wished to monopolize opposition; and the prime minister
could not forgive him an appearance of credit. He was obliged to quit
power in 1781, a few months after the publication of the famous _Comptes
rendus_ of the finances, which suddenly initiated France in a knowledge of
state matters, and rendered absolute government for ever impossible.

The death of Maurepas followed close upon the retirement of Necker. The
queen took his place with Louis XVI., and inherited all his influence over
him. This good but weak prince required to be directed. His wife, young,
beautiful, active, and ambitious, gained great ascendancy over him. Yet it
may be said that the daughter of Marie Thérèse resembled her mother too
much or too little. She combined frivolity with domination, and disposed
of power only to invest with it men who caused her own ruin and that of
the state. Maurepas, mistrusting court ministers, had always chosen
popular ministers; it is true he did not support them; but if good was not
brought about, at least evil did not increase. After his death, court
ministers succeeded the popular ministers, and by their faults rendered
the crisis inevitable, which others had endeavoured to prevent by their
reforms. This difference of choice is very remarkable; this it was which,
by the change of men, brought on the change in the system of
administration. The revolution dates from this epoch; the abandonment of
reforms and the return of disorders hastened its approach and augmented
its fury.

Calonne was called from an intendancy to the general control of the
finances. Two successors had already been given to Necker, when
application was made to Calonne in 1783. Calonne was daring, brilliant and
eloquent; he had much readiness and a fertile mind. Either from error or
design he adopted a system of administration directly opposed to that of
his predecessor. Necker recommended economy, Calonne boasted of his lavish
expenditure. Necker fell through courtiers, Calonne sought to be upheld by
them. His sophisms were backed by his liberality; he convinced the queen
by _fêtes_, the nobles by pensions; he gave a great circulation to the
finances, in order that the extent and facility of his operations might
excite confidence in the justness of his views; he even deceived the
capitalists, by first showing himself punctual in his payments. He
continued to raise loans after the peace, and he exhausted the credit
which Necker's wise conduct had procured to the government. Having come to
this point, having deprived himself of a resource, the very employment of
which he was unable to manage, in order to prolong his continuance in
power he was obliged to have recourse to taxation. But to whom could he
apply? The people could pay no longer, and the privileged classes would
not offer anything. Yet it was necessary to decide, and Calonne, hoping
more from something new, convoked an assembly of notables, which began its
sittings at Versailles on the 22nd of February, 1787. But a recourse to
others must prove the end of a system founded on prodigality. A minister
who had risen by giving, could not maintain himself by asking.

The notables, chosen by the government from the higher classes, formed a
ministerial assembly, which had neither a proper existence nor a
commission. It was, indeed, to avoid parliaments and states-general, that
Calonne addressed himself to a more subordinate assembly, hoping to find
it more docile. But, composed of privileged persons, it was little
disposed to make sacrifices. It became still less so, when it saw the
abyss which a devouring administration had excavated. It learned with
terror, that the loans of a few years amounted to one thousand six hundred
and forty-six millions, and that there was an annual deficit in the
revenue of a hundred and forty millions. This disclosure was the signal
for Calonne's fall. He fell, and was succeeded by Brienne, archbishop of
Sens, his opponent in the assembly. Brienne thought the majority of the
notables was devoted to him, because it had united with him against
Calonne. But the privileged classes were not more disposed to make
sacrifices to Brienne than to his predecessor; they had seconded his
attacks, which were to their interest, and not his ambition, to which they
were indifferent.

The archbishop of Sens, who is censured for a want of plan, was in no
position to form one. He was not allowed to continue the prodigality of
Calonne; and it was too late to return to the retrenchments of Necker.
Economy, which had been a means of safety at a former period, was no
longer so in this. Recourse must be had either to taxation, and that
parliament opposed; or loans, and credit was exhausted; or sacrifices on
the part of the privileged classes, who were unwilling to make them.
Brienne, to whom office had been the chief object of life, who with, the
difficulties of his position combined slenderness of means attempted
everything, and succeeded in nothing. His mind was active, but it wanted
strength; and his character rash without firmness. Daring, previous to
action, but weak afterwards, he ruined himself by his irresolution, want
of foresight, and constant variation of means. There remained only bad
measures to adopt, but he could not decide upon one, and follow that one;
this was his real error.

The assembly of notables was but little submissive and very parsimonious.
After having sanctioned the establishment of provincial assemblies, a
regulation of the corn trade, the abolition of corvées, and a new stamp
tax, it broke up on the 25th of May, 1787. It spread throughout France
what it had discovered respecting the necessities of the throne, the
errors of the ministers, the dilapidation of the court, and the
irremediable miseries of the people.

Brienne, deprived of this assistance, had recourse to taxation, as a
resource, the use of which had for some time been abandoned. He demanded
the enrolment of two edicts--that of the stamps and that of the
territorial subsidies. But parliament, which was then in the full vigour
of its existence and in all the ardour of its ambition, and to which the
financial embarrassment of the ministry offered a means of augmenting its
power, refused the enrolment. Banished to Troyes, it grew weary of exile,
and the minister recalled it on condition that the two edicts should be
accepted. But this was only a suspension of hostilities; the necessities
of the crown soon rendered the struggle more obstinate and violent. The
minister had to make fresh applications for money; his existence depended
on the issue of several successive loans to the amount of four hundred and
forty millions. It was necessary to obtain the enrolment of them.

Brienne, expecting opposition from the parliament, procured the enrolment
of this edict by a _lit de justice_, and to conciliate the magistracy and
public opinion, the protestants were restored to their rights in the same
sitting, and Louis XVI. promised an annual publication of the state of
finances, and the convocation, of the states-general before the end of
five years. But these concessions were no longer sufficient: parliament
refused the enrolment, and rose against the ministerial tyranny. Some of
its members, among others the duke of Orleans, were banished. Parliament
protested, by a decree, against _lettres de cachet_, and required the
recall of its members. This decree was annulled by the king, and confirmed
by parliament. The warfare increased.

The magistracy of Paris was supported by all the magistracy of France, and
encouraged by public opinion. It proclaimed the rights of the nation, and
its own incompetence in matters of taxation; and, become liberal from
interest, and rendered generous by oppression, it exclaimed against
arbitrary imprisonment, and demanded regularly convoked states-general.
After this act of courage, it decreed the irremovability of its members,
and the incompetence of any who might usurp their functions. This bold
manifesto was followed by the arrest of two members, d'Eprémenil and
Goislard, by the reform of the body, and the establishment of a plenary

Brienne understood that the opposition of the parliament was systematic,
that it would be renewed on every fresh demand for subsidies, or on the
authorization of every loan. Exile was but a momentary remedy, which
suspended opposition, without destroying it. He then projected the
reduction of this body to judicial functions, and associated with himself
Lamoignon, keeper of the seals, for the execution of this project.
Lamoignon was skilled in coups d'état. He had audacity, and combined with
Maupeou's energetic determination a greater degree of consideration and
probity. But he made a mistake as to the force of power, and what it was
possible to effect in his times. Maupeou had re-established parliament,
changing its members; Lamoignon wished to disorganize it. The first of
these means, if it had succeeded, would only have produced temporary
repose; the second must have produced a definitive one, since it aimed at
destroying the power, which the other only tried to displace; but
Maupeou's reform did not last, and that of Lamoignon could not be
effected. The execution of the latter was, however, tolerably well framed.
All the magistracy of France was exiled on the same day, in order that the
new judicial organization might take place. The keeper of the seals
deprived the parliament of Paris of its political attributes, to invest
with them a plenary court, ministerially composed, and reduced its
judicial competence in favour of bailiwicks, the jurisdiction of which he
extended. Public opinion was indignant; the Châtelet protested, the
provinces rose, and the plenary court could neither be formed nor act.
Disturbances broke out in Dauphiné, Brittany, Provence, Flanders,
Languedoc, and Béarn; the ministry, instead of the regular opposition of
parliament, had to encounter one much more animated and factious. The
nobility, the third estate, the provincial states, and even the clergy,
took part in it. Brienne, pressed for money, had called together an
extraordinary assembly of the clergy, who immediately made an address to
the king, demanding the abolition of his plenary court, and the recall of
the states-general: they alone could thenceforth repair the disordered
state of the finances, secure the national debt, and terminate such
conflicts of authority.

The archbishop of Sens, by his contest with the parliament, had postponed
the financial, by creating a political difficulty. The moment the latter
ceased, the former re-appeared, and made his retreat inevitable. Obtaining
neither taxes nor loans, unable to make use of the plenary court, and not
wishing to recall the parliaments, Brienne, as a last resource, promised
the convocation of the states-general. By this means he hastened his ruin.
He had been called to the financial department in order to remedy
embarrassments which he had augmented, and to procure money which he had
been unable to obtain. So far from it, he had exasperated the nation,
raised a rebellion in the various bodies of the state, compromised the
authority of the government, and rendered inevitable the states-general,
which, in the opinion of the court, was the worst means of raising money.
He succumbed on the 25th of August, 1788. The cause of his fall was a
suspension of the payment of the interest on the debt, which was the
commencement of bankruptcy. This minister has been the most blamed because
he came last. Inheriting the faults, the embarrassments of past times, he
had to struggle with the difficulties of his position with insufficient
means. He tried intrigue and oppression; he banished, suspended,
disorganized parliament; everything was an obstacle to him, nothing aided
him. After a long struggle, he sank under lassitude and weakness; I dare
not say from incapacity, for had he been far stronger and more skilful,
had he been a Richelieu or a Sully, he would still have fallen. It no
longer appertained to any one arbitrarily to raise money or to oppress the
people. It must be said in his excuse, that he had not created that
position from which he was not able to extricate himself; his only mistake
was his presumption in accepting it. He fell through the fault of Calonne,
as Calonne had availed himself of the confidence inspired by Necker for
the purposes of his lavish expenditure. The one had destroyed credit, and
the other, thinking to re-establish it by force, had destroyed authority.

The states-general had become the only means of government, and the last
resource of the throne. They had been eagerly demanded by parliament and
the peers of the kingdom, on the 13th of July, 1787; by the states of
Dauphiné in the assembly of Vizille; by the clergy in its assembly at
Paris. The provincial states had prepared the public mind for them; and
the notables were their precursors. The king after having, on the 18th of
December, 1787, promised their convocation in five years, on the 8th of
August, 1788, fixed the opening for the 1st of May, 1789. Necker was
recalled, parliament re-established, the plenary court abolished, the
bailiwicks destroyed, and the provinces satisfied; and the new minister
prepared everything for the election of deputies and the holding of the

At this epoch a great change took place in the opposition, which till then
had been unanimous. Under Brienne, the ministry had encountered opposition
from all the various bodies of the state, because it had sought to oppress
them. Under Necker, it met with resistance from the same bodies, which
desired power for themselves and oppression for the people. From being
despotic, it had become national, and it still had them all equally
against it. Parliament had maintained a struggle for authority, and not
for the public welfare; and the nobility had united with the third estate,
rather against the government than in favour of the people. Each of these
bodies had demanded the states-general: the parliament, in the hope of
ruling them as it had done in 1614; and the nobility, in the hope of
regaining its lost influence. Accordingly, the magistracy proposed as a
model for the states-general of 1789, the form of that of 1614, and public
opinion abandoned it; the nobility refused its consent to the double
representation of the third estate, and a division broke out between these
two orders.

This double representation was required by the intellect of the age, the
necessity of reform, and by the importance which the third estate had
acquired. It had already been admitted in the provincial assemblies.
Brienne, before leaving the ministry, had made an appeal to the writers of
the day, in order to know what would be the most suitable method of
composing and holding the states-general. Among the works favourable to
the people, there appeared the celebrated pamphlet of Sieyès on the Third
Estate, and that of d'Entraigues on the States-general.

Opinion became daily more decided, and Necker wishing, yet fearing, to
satisfy it, and desirous of conciliating all orders, of obtaining general
approbation, convoked a second assembly of notables on the 6th of
November, 1788, to deliberate on the composition of the states-general,
and the election of its members. He thought to induce it to accept the
double representation of the third estate, but it refused, and he was
obliged to decide, in spite of the notables, that which he ought to have
decided without them. Necker was not the man to avoid disputes by removing
all difficulties beforehand. He did not take the initiative as to the
representation of the third estate, any more than at a later period he
took it with regard to the question of voting by orders or by poll. When
the states-general were assembled, the solution of this second question,
on which depended the state of power and that of the people, was abandoned
to force.

Be this as it may, Necker, having been unable to make the notables adopt
the double representation of the third estate, caused it to be adopted by
the council. The royal declaration of the 27th of November decreed that
the deputies in the states-general should amount to at least a thousand,
and that the deputies of the third estate should be equal in number to the
deputies of the nobility and clergy together. Necker moreover obtained the
admission of the curés into the order of the clergy, and of protestants
into that of the third estate. The district assemblies were convoked for
the elections; every one exerted himself to secure the nomination of
members of his own party, and to draw up manifestoes setting forth his
views. Parliament had but little influence in the elections, and the court
none at all. The nobility selected a few popular deputies, but mainly such
as were devoted to the interests of their order, and as much opposed to
the third estate as to the oligarchy of the great families of the court.
The clergy nominated bishops and abbés attached to privilege, and curés
favourable to the popular cause, which was their own; lastly, the third
estate selected men enlightened, firm, and unanimous in their wishes. The
deputation of the nobility was comprised of two hundred and forty-two
gentlemen, and twenty-eight members of the parliament; that of the clergy,
of forty-eight archbishops or bishops, thirty-five abbés or deans, and two
hundred and eight curés; and that of the communes, of two ecclesiastics,
twelve noblemen, eighteen magistrates of towns, two hundred county
members, two hundred and twelve barristers, sixteen physicians, and two
hundred and sixteen merchants and agriculturists. The opening of the
states-general was then fixed for the 5th of May, 1789.

Thus was the revolution brought about. The court in vain tried to prevent,
as it afterwards endeavoured to annul it. Under the direction of Maurepas,
the king nominated popular ministers, and made attempts at reform; under
the influence of the queen, he nominated court ministers, and made
attempts at authority. Oppression met with as little success as reform.
After applying in vain to courtiers for retrenchments, to parliament for
levies, to capitalists for loans, he sought for new tax-payers, and made
an appeal to the privileged orders. He demanded of the notables,
consisting of the nobles and the clergy, a participation in the charges of
the state, which they refused. He then for the first time applied to all
France, and convoked the states-general. He treated with the various
bodies of the nation before treating with the nation itself; and it was
only on the refusal of the first, that he appealed from it to a power
whose intervention and support he dreaded. He preferred private
assemblies, which, being isolated, necessarily remained secondary, to a
general assembly, which representing all interests, must combine all
powers. Up to this great epoch every year saw the wants of the government
increasing, and resistance becoming more extensive. Opposition passed from
parliaments to the nobility, from the nobility to the clergy, and from
them all to the people. In proportion as each participated in power it
began its opposition, until all these private oppositions were fused in or
gave way before the national opposition. The states-general only decreed a
revolution which was already formed.



The 5th of May, 1789, was fixed for the opening of the states-general. A
religious ceremony on the previous day prefaced their installation. The
king, his family, his ministers, the deputies of the three orders, went in
procession from the church of Notre-Dame to that of Saint Louis, to hear
the opening mass. Men did not without enthusiasm see the return of a
national ceremony of which France had for so long a period been deprived.
It had all the appearance of a festival. An enormous multitude flocked
from all parts to Versailles; the weather was splendid; they had been
lavish of the pomp of decoration. The excitement of the music, the kind
and satisfied expression of the king, the beauty and demeanour of the
queen, and, as much as anything, the general hope, exalted every one. But
the etiquette, costumes, and order of the ranks of the states in 1614,
were seen with regret. The clergy, in cassocks, large cloaks, and square
caps, or in violet robes and lawn sleeves, occupied the first place. Then
came the nobles, attired in black coats with waistcoats and facings of
cloth of gold, lace cravats, and hats with white plumes, turned up in the
fashion of Henry IV. The modest third estate came last, clothed in black,
with short cloaks, muslin cravats, and hats without feathers or loops. In
the church, the same distinction as to places existed between the three

The royal session took place the following day in the Salle des Menus.
Galleries, arranged in the form of an amphitheatre, were filled with
spectators. The deputies were summoned and introduced according to the
order established in 1614. The clergy were conducted to the right, the
nobility to the left, and the commons in front of the throne at the end of
the hall. The deputations from Dauphiné, from Crépi in Valois, to which
the duke of Orleans belonged, and from Provence, were received with loud
applause. Necker was also received on his entrance with general
enthusiasm. Public favour was testified towards all who had contributed to
the convocation of the states-general. When the deputies and ministers had
taken their places, the king appeared, followed by the queen, the princes,
and a brilliant suite. The hall resounded with applause on his arrival.
When he came in, Louis XVI. took his seat on the throne, and when he had
put on his hat, the three orders covered themselves at the same time. The
commons, contrary to the custom of the ancient states, imitated the
nobility and clergy, without hesitation: the time when the third order
should remain uncovered and speak kneeling was gone by. The king's speech
was then expected in profound silence. Men were eager to know the true
feeling of the government with regard to the states. Did it purpose
assimilating the new assembly to the ancient, or to grant it the part
which the necessities of the state and the importance of the occasion
assigned to it?

"Gentlemen," said the king, with emotion, "the day I have so anxiously
expected has at length arrived, and I see around me the representatives of
the nation which I glory in governing. A long interval had elapsed since
the last session of the states-general, and although the convocation of
these assemblies seemed to have fallen into disuse, I did not hesitate to
restore a custom from which the kingdom might derive new force, and which
might open to the nation a new source of happiness."

These words which promised much, were only followed by explanations as to
the debt and announcements of retrenchment in the expenditure. The king,
instead of wisely tracing out to the states the course they ought to
follow, urged the orders to union, expressed his want of money, his dread
of innovations, and complained of the uneasiness of the public mind,
without suggesting any means of satisfying it. He was nevertheless very
much applauded when he delivered at the close of his discourse the
following words, which fully described his intentions: "All that can be
expected from the dearest interest in the public welfare, all that can be
required of a sovereign, the first friend of his people; you may and ought
to hope from my sentiments. That a happy spirit of union may pervade this
assembly, gentlemen, and that this may be an ever memorable epoch for the
happiness and prosperity of the kingdom, is the wish of my heart, the most
ardent of my desires; it is, in a word, the reward which I expect for the
uprightness of my intentions, and my love of my subjects."

Barentin, keeper of the seals, spoke next. His speech was an amplification
respecting the states-general, and the favours of the king. After a long
preamble, he at last touched upon the topics of the occasion. "His
Majesty," he said, "has not changed the ancient method of deliberation, by
granting a double representation in favour of the most numerous of the
three orders, that on which the burden of taxation chiefly falls. Although
the vote by poll, by producing but one result, seems to have the advantage
of best representing the general desire, the king wishes this new form
should be adopted only with the free consent of the states, and the
approval of his majesty. But whatever may be the opinion on this question,
whatever distinctions may be drawn between the different matters that will
become subjects of deliberation, there can be no doubt but that the most
entire harmony will unite the three orders on the subject of taxation."
The government was not opposed to the vote by poll in pecuniary matters,
it being more expeditious; but in political questions it declared itself
in favour of voting by order, as a more effectual check on innovations. In
this way it sought to arrive at its own end,--namely, subsidies, and not
to allow the nation to obtain its object, which was reform. The manner in
which the keeper of the seals determined the province of the states-
general, discovered more plainly the intentions of the court. He reduced
them, in a measure, to the inquiry into taxation, in order to vote it, and
to the discussion of a law respecting the press, for the purpose of fixing
its limits, and to the reform of civil and criminal legislation. He
proscribed all other changes, and concluded by saying: "All just demands
have been granted; the king has not noticed indiscreet murmurs; he has
condescended to overlook them with indulgence; he has even forgiven the
expression of those false and extravagant maxims, under favour of which
attempts have been made to substitute pernicious chimeras for the
unalterable principles of monarchy. You will with indignation, gentlemen,
repel the dangerous innovations which the enemies of the public good seek
to confound with the necessary and happy changes which this regeneration
ought to produce, and which form the first wish of his majesty."

This speech displayed little knowledge of the wishes of the nation, or it
sought openly to combat them. The dissatisfied assembly looked to M.
Necker, from whom it expected different language. He was the popular
minister, had obtained the double representation, and it was hoped he
would approve of the vote by poll, the only way of enabling the third
estate to turn its numbers to account. But he spoke as comptroller-general
and as a man of caution. His speech, which lasted three hours, was a
lengthened budget; and when, after tiring the assembly, he touched on the
topic of interest, he spoke undecidedly, in order to avoid committing
himself either with the court or the people.

The government ought to have better understood the importance of the
states-general. The restoration of this assembly alone announced a great
revolution. Looked for with hope by the nation, it reappeared at an epoch
when the ancient monarchy was sinking, and when it alone was capable of
reforming the state and providing for the necessities of royalty. The
difficulties of the time, the nature of their mission, the choice of their
members, everything announced that the states were not assembled as tax-
payers, but as legislators. The right of regenerating France had been
granted them by opinion, was devolved on them by public resolutions, and
they found in the enormity of the abuses and the public encouragement,
strength to undertake and accomplish this great task.

It behoved the king to associate himself with their labours. In this way
he would have been able to restore his power, and ensure himself from the
excesses of a revolution, by himself assisting in bringing it about. If,
taking the lead in these changes, he had fixed the new order of things
with firmness, but with justice; if, realizing the wishes of France, he
had determined the rights of her citizens, the province of the states-
general and the limits of royalty; if, on his own part, he had renounced
arbitrary power, inequality on the part of the nobility, and privileges on
the part of the different bodies; in a word, if he had accomplished all
the reforms which were demanded by public opinion, and executed by the
constituent assembly, he would have prevented the fatal dissensions which
subsequently arose. It is rare to find a prince willing to share his
power, or sufficiently enlightened to yield what he will be reduced to
lose. Yet Louis XVI. would have done this, if he had been less influenced
by those around him, and had he followed the dictates of his own mind. But
the greatest anarchy pervaded the councils of the king. When the states-
general assembled, no measures had been taken, nothing had been decided
on, which might prevent dispute. Louis XVI. wavered between his ministry,
directed by Necker, and his court, directed by the queen and a few princes
of his family.

Necker, satisfied with obtaining the representation of the third estate,
dreaded the indecision of the king and the discontent of the court. Not
appreciating sufficiently the importance of a crisis which he considered
more as a financial than a social one, he waited for the course of events
in order to act, and flattered himself with the hope of being able to
guide these events, without attempting to prepare the way for them. He
felt that the ancient organization of the states could no longer be
maintained; that the existence of three orders, each possessing the right
of refusal, was opposed to the execution of reform and the progress of
administration. He hoped, after a trial of this triple opposition, to
reduce the number of the orders, and bring about the adoption of the
English form of government, by uniting the clergy and nobility in one
chamber, and the third estate in another. He did not foresee that the
struggle once begun, his interposition would be in vain: that half
measures would suit neither party; that the weak through obstinacy, and
the strong through passion, would oppose this system of moderation.
Concessions satisfy only before a victory.

The court, so far from wishing to organize the states-general, sought to
annul them. It preferred the casual resistance of the great bodies of the
nation, to sharing authority with a permanent assembly. The separation of
the orders favoured its views; it reckoned on fomenting their differences,
and thus preventing them from acting. The states-general had never
achieved any result, owing to the defect of their organization; the court
hoped that it would still be the same, since the two first orders were
less disposed to yield to the reforms solicited by the last. The clergy
wished to preserve its privileges and its opulence, and clearly foresaw
that the sacrifices to be made by it were more numerous than the
advantages to be acquired. The nobility, on its side, while it resumed a
political independence long since lost, was aware that it would have to
yield more to the people than it could obtain from royalty. It was almost
entirely in favour of the third estate, that the new revolution was about
to operate, and the first two orders were induced to unite with the court
against the third estate, as but lately they had coalesced with the third
estate against the court. Interest alone led to this change of party, and
they united with the monarch without affection, as they had defended the
people without regard to public good.

No efforts were spared to keep the nobility and clergy in this
disposition. The deputies of these two orders were the objects of favours
and allurements. A committee, to which the most illustrious persons
belonged, was held at the countess de Polignac's; the principal deputies
were admitted to it. It was here that were gained De Eprémenil and De
Entraigues, two of the warmest advocates of liberty in parliament, or
before the states-general, and who afterwards became its most decided
opponents. Here also the costume of the deputies of the different orders
was determined on, and attempts made to separate them, first by etiquette,
then by intrigue, and lastly, by force. The recollection of the ancient
states-general prevailed in the court; it thought it could regulate the
present by the past, restrain Paris by the army, the deputies of the third
estate by those of the nobility, rule the states by separating the orders,
and separate the orders by reviving ancient customs which exalted the
nobles and lowered the commons. Thus, after the first sitting, it was
supposed that all had been prevented by granting nothing.

On the 6th of May, the day after the opening of the states, the nobility
and clergy repaired to their respective chambers, and constituted
themselves. The third estate being, on account of its double
representation, the most numerous order, had the Salle des États allotted
to it, and there awaited the two other orders; it considered its situation
as provisional, its members as presumptive deputies, and adopted a system
of inactivity till the other orders should unite with it. Then a memorable
struggle commenced, the issue of which was to decide whether the
revolution should be effected or stopped. The future fate of France
depended on the separation or reunion of the orders. This important
question arose on the subject of the verification of powers. The popular
deputies asserted very justly, that it ought to be made in common, since,
even if the union of the orders were refused, it was impossible to deny
the interest which each of them had in the examination of the powers of
the others; the privileged deputies argued, on the contrary, that since
the orders had a distinct existence, the verification ought to be made
respectively. They felt that one single co-operation would, for the
future, render all separation impossible.

The commons acted with much circumspection, deliberation, and steadiness.
It was by a succession of efforts, not unattended with peril, by slow and
undecided success, and by struggles constantly renewed, that they attained
their object. The systematic inactivity they adopted from the commencement
was the surest and wisest course; there are occasions when the way to
victory is to know how to wait for it. The commons were unanimous, and
alone formed the numerical half of the states-general; the nobility had in
its bosom some popular dissentients; the majority of the clergy, composed
of several bishops, friends of peace, and of the numerous class of the
curés, the third estate of the church, entertained sentiments favourable
to the commons. Weariness was therefore to bring about a union; this was
what the third estate hoped, what the bishops feared, and what induced
them on the 13th of May to offer themselves as mediators. But this
mediation was of necessity without any result, as the nobility would not
admit voting by poll, nor the commons voting by order. Accordingly, the
conciliatory conferences, after being prolonged in vain till the 27th of
May, were broken up by the nobility, who declared in favour of separate

The day after this hostile decision, the commons determined to declare
themselves the assembly of the nation, and invited the clergy to join them
_in the name of the God of peace and the common weal_. The court taking
alarm at this measure, interfered for the purpose of having the
conferences resumed. The first commissioners appointed for purposes of
reconciliation were charged with regulating the differences of the orders;
the ministry undertook to regulate the differences of the commissioners.
In this way, the states depended on a commission, and the commission had
the council of the prince for arbiter. But these new conferences had not a
more fortunate issue than the first. They lingered on without either of
the orders being willing to yield anything to the others, and the nobility
finally broke them up by confirming all its resolutions.

Five weeks had already elapsed in useless parleys. The third estate,
perceiving the moment had arrived for it to constitute itself, and that
longer delay would indispose the nation towards it, and destroy the
confidence it had acquired by the refusal of the privileged classes to co-
operate with it, decided on acting, and displayed herein the same
moderation and firmness it had shown during its inactivity. Mirabeau
announced that a deputy of Paris had a motion to propose; and Sieyès,
physically of timid character, but of an enterprising mind, who had great
authority by his ideas, and was better suited than any one to propose a
measure, proved the impossibility of union, the urgency of verification,
the justice of demanding it in common, and caused it to be decreed by the
assembly that the nobility and clergy should be _invited_ to the Salle des
États in order to take part in the verification, which would take place,
_whether they were absent or present_.

The measure for general verification was followed by another still more
energetic. The commons, after having terminated the verification on the
17th of June, on the motion of Sieyès, constituted themselves _the
National Assembly_. This bold step, by which the most numerous order and
the only one whose powers were legalized, declared itself the
representation of France and refused to recognise the other two till they
submitted to the verification, determined questions hitherto undecided,
and changed the assembly of the states into an assembly of the people. The
system of orders disappeared in political powers, and this was the first
step towards the abolition of classes in the private system. This
memorable decree of the 17th of June contained the germ of the night of
the 4th of August; but it was necessary to defend what they had dared to
decide, and there was reason to fear such a determination could not be

The first decree of _the National Assembly_ was an act of sovereignty. It
placed the privileged classes under its dependence, by proclaiming the
indivisibility of the legislative power. The court remained to be
restrained by means of taxation. The assembly declared the illegality of
previous imposts, voted them provisionally, as long as it continued to
sit, and their cessation on its dissolution; it restored the confidence of
capitalists by consolidating the public debt, and provided for the
necessities of the people, by appointing a committee of subsistence.

Such firmness and foresight excited the enthusiasm of the nation. But
those who directed the court saw that the divisions thus excited between
the orders had failed in their object; and that it was necessary to resort
to other means to obtain it. They considered the royal authority alone
adequate to prescribe the continuance of the orders, which the opposition
of the nobles could no longer preserve. They took advantage of a journey
to Marly to remove Louis XVI. from the influences of the prudent and
pacific counsels of Necker, and to induce him to adopt hostile measures.
This prince, alike accessible to good and bad counsels, surrounded by a
court given up to party spirit, and entreated for the interests of his
crown and in the name of religion to stop the pernicious progress of the
commons, yielded at last, and promised everything. It was decided that he
should go in state to the assembly, annul its decrees, command the
separation of the orders as constitutive of the monarchy, and himself fix
the reforms to be effected by the states-general. From that moment the
privy council held the government, acting no longer secretly, but in the
most open manner. Barentin, the keeper of the seals, the count d'Artois,
the prince de Condé, and the prince de Conti conducted alone the projects
they had concerted. Necker lost all his influence; he had proposed to the
king a conciliatory plan, which might have succeeded before the struggle
attained this degree of animosity, but could do so no longer. He had
advised another royal sitting, in which the vote by poll in matters of
taxation was to be granted, and the vote by order to remain in matters of
private interest and privilege. This measure, which was unfavourable to
the commons, since it tended to maintain abuses by investing the nobility
and clergy with the right of opposing their abolition, would have been
followed by the establishment of two chambers for the next states-general.
Necker was fond of half measures, and wished to effect, by successive
concessions, a political change which should have been accomplished at
once. The moment was arrived to grant the nation all its rights, or to
leave it to take them. His project of a royal sitting, already
insufficient, was changed into a stroke of state policy by the new
council. The latter thought that the injunctions of the throne would
intimidate the assembly, and that France would be satisfied with promises
of reform. It seemed to be ignorant that the worst risk royalty can be
exposed to is that of disobedience.

Strokes of state policy generally come unexpectedly, and surprise those
they are intended to influence. It was not so with this; its preparations
tended to prevent success. It was feared that the majority of the clergy
would recognise the assembly by uniting with it; and to prevent so decided
a step, instead of hastening the royal sitting, they closed the Salle des
États, in order to suspend the assembly till the day of the sitting. The
preparations rendered necessary by the presence of the king was the
pretext for this unskilful and improper measure. At that time Bailly
presided over the assembly. This virtuous citizen had obtained, without
seeking them, all the honours of dawning liberty. He was the first
president of the assembly, as he had been the first deputy of Paris, and
was to become its first mayor. Beloved by his own party, respected by his
adversaries, he combined with the mildest and most enlightened virtues,
the most courageous sense of duty. Apprised on the night of the 20th of
June, by the keeper of the seals, of the suspension of the sitting, he
remained faithful to the wishes of the assembly, and did not fear
disobeying the court. At an appointed hour on the following day, he
repaired to the Salle des États, and finding an armed force in possession,
he protested against this act of despotism. In the meantime the deputies
arrived, dissatisfaction increased, all seemed disposed to brave the
perils of a sitting. The most indignant proposed going to Marly, and
holding the assembly under the windows of the king; one named the Tennis-
court; this proposition was well received, and the deputies repaired
thither in procession. Bailly was at their head; the people followed them
with enthusiasm; even soldiers volunteered to escort them, and there, in a
bare hall, the deputies of the commons standing with upraised hands, and
hearts full of their sacred mission, swore, with only one exception, not
to separate till they had given France a constitution.

This solemn oath, taken on the 20th of June, in the presence of the
nation, was followed on the 22nd by an important triumph. The assembly,
still deprived of their usual place of meeting, unable to make use of the
Tennis-court, the princes having hired it purposely that it might be
refused them, met in the church of Saint Louis. In this sitting, the
majority of the clergy joined them in the midst of patriotic transports.
Thus, the measures taken to intimidate the assembly, increased its
courage, and accelerated the union they were intended to prevent. By these
two failures the court prefaced the famous sitting of the 23rd of June.

At length it took place. A numerous guard surrounded the hall of the
states-general, the door of which was opened to the deputies, but closed
to the public. The king came surrounded with the pomp of power; he was
received, contrary to the usual custom, in profound silence. His speech
completed the measure of discontent by the tone of authority with which he
dictated measures rejected by public opinion and by the assembly. The king
complained of a want of union, excited by the court itself; he censured
the conduct of the assembly, regarding it only as the order of the third
estate; he annulled its decrees, enjoined the continuance of the orders,
imposed reforms, and determined their limits; enjoined the states-general
to adopt them, and threatened to dissolve them and to provide alone for
the welfare of the kingdom, if he met with more opposition on their part.
After this scene of authority, so ill-suited to the occasion, and at
variance with his heart, Louis XVI. withdrew, having commanded the
deputies to disperse. The clergy and nobility obeyed. The deputies of the
people, motionless, silent, and indignant, remained seated. They continued
in that attitude some time, when Mirabeau suddenly breaking silence, said:
"Gentlemen, I admit that what you have just heard might be for the welfare
of the country, were it not that the presents of despotism are always
dangerous. What is this insulting dictatorship? The pomp of arms, the
violation of the national temple, are resorted to--to command you to be
happy! Who gives this command? Your mandatary. Who makes these imperious
laws for you? Your mandatary; he who should rather receive them from you,
gentlemen--from us, who are invested with a political and inviolable
priesthood; from us, in a word, to whom alone twenty-five millions of men
are looking for certain happiness, because it is to be consented to, and
given and received by all. But the liberty of your discussions is
enchained; a military force surrounds the assembly! Where are the enemies
of the nation? Is Catiline at our gates? I demand, investing yourselves
with your dignity, with your legislative power, you inclose yourselves
within the religion of your oath. It does not permit you to separate till
you have formed a constitution."

The grand master of the ceremonies, finding the assembly did not break up,
came and reminded them of the king's order.

"Go and tell your master," cried Mirabeau, "that we are here at the
command of the people, and nothing but the bayonet shall drive us hence."

"You are to-day," added Sieyès, calmly, "what you were yesterday. Let us

The assembly, full of resolution and dignity, began the debate
accordingly. On the motion of Camus, it was determined to persist in the
decrees already made; and upon that of Mirabeau the inviolability of the
members of the assembly was decreed.

On that day the royal authority was lost. The initiative in law and moral
power passed from the monarch to the assembly. Those who, by their
counsels, had provoked this resistance, did not dare to punish it. Necker,
whose dismissal had been decided on that morning, was, in the evening,
entreated by the queen and Louis XVI. to remain in office. This minister
had disapproved of the royal sitting, and, by refusing to be present at
it, he again won the confidence of the assembly, which he had lost through
his hesitation. The season of disgrace was for him the season of
popularity. By this refusal he became the ally of the assembly, which
determined to support him. Every crisis requires a leader, whose name
becomes the standard of his party; while the assembly contended with the
court, that leader was Necker.

At the first sitting, that part of the clergy which had united with the
assembly in the church of Saint Louis, again sat with it; a few days
after, forty-seven members of the nobility, among whom was the duke of
Orleans, joined them; and the court was itself compelled to invite the
nobility, and a minority of the clergy, to discontinue a dissent that
would henceforth be useless. On the 27th of June the deliberation became
general. The orders ceased to exist legally, and soon disappeared. The
distinct seats they had hitherto occupied in the common hall soon became
confounded; the futile pre-eminences of rank vanished before national

The court, after having vainly endeavoured to prevent the formation of the
assembly, could now only unite with it, to direct its operations. With
prudence and candour it might still have repaired its errors and caused
its attacks to be forgotten. At certain moments, the initiative may be
taken in making sacrifices; at others, all that can be done is to make a
merit of accepting them. At the opening of the states-general, the king
might himself have made the constitution, now he was obliged to receive it
from the assembly; had he submitted to that position, he would infallibly
have improved it. But the advisers of Louis XVI., when they recovered from
the first surprise of defeat, resolved to have recourse to the use of the
bayonet, after they had failed in that of authority. They led the king to
suppose that the contempt of his orders, the safety of his throne, the
maintenance of the laws of the kingdom, and even the well-being of his
people depended on his reducing the assembly to submission; that the
latter, sitting at Versailles, close to Paris, two cities decidedly in its
favour, ought to be subdued by force, and removed to some other place or
dissolved; that it was urgent that this resolution should be adopted in
order to stop the progress of the assembly, and that in order to execute
it, it was necessary speedily to call together troops who might intimidate
the assembly and maintain order at Paris and Versailles.

While these plots were hatching, the deputies of the nation began their
legislative labours, and prepared the anxiously expected constitution,
which they considered they ought no longer to delay. Addresses poured in
from Paris and the principal towns of the kingdom, congratulating them on
their wisdom, and encouraging them to continue their task of regenerating
France. The troops, meantime, arrived in great numbers; Versailles assumed
the aspect of a camp; the Salle des États was surrounded by guards, and
the citizens refused admission. Paris was also encompassed by various
bodies of the army, ready to besiege or blockade it, as the occasion might
require. These vast military preparations, trains of artillery arriving
from the frontiers, and the presence of foreign regiments, whose obedience
was unlimited, announced sinister projects. The populace were restless and
agitated; and the assembly desired to enlighten the throne with respect to
its projects, and solicit the removal of the troops. At Mirabeau's
suggestion, it presented on the 9th of July a firm but respectful address
to the king, which proved useless. Louis XVI. declared that he alone had
to judge the necessity of assembling or dismissing troops, and assured
them, that those assembled formed only a precautionary army to prevent
disturbances and protect the assembly. He moreover offered the assembly to
remove it to Noyon or Soissons, that is to say, to place it between two
armies and deprive it of the support of the people.

Paris was in the greatest excitement; this vast city was unanimous in its
devotion to the assembly. The perils that threatened the representatives
of the nation, and itself, and the scarcity of food disposed it to
insurrection. Capitalists, from interest and the fear of bankruptcy; men
of enlightenment and all the middle classes, from patriotism; the people,
impelled by want, ascribing their sufferings to the privileged classes and
the court, desirous of agitation and change, all had warmly espoused the
cause of the revolution. It is difficult to conceive the movement which
disturbed the capital of France. It was arising from the repose and
silence of servitude; it was, as it were, astonished at the novelty of its
situation, and intoxicated with liberty and enthusiasm. The press excited
the public mind, the newspapers published the debates of the assembly, and
enabled the public to be present, as it were, at its deliberations, and
the questions mooted in its bosom were discussed in the open air, in the
public squares. It was at the Palais Royal, more especially, that the
assembly of the capital was held. The garden was always filled by a crowd
that seemed permanent, though continually renewed. A table answered the
purpose of the _tribune_, the first citizen at hand became the orator;
there men expatiated on the dangers that threatened the country, and
excited each other to resistance. Already, on a motion made at the Palais
Royal, the prisons of the Abbaye had been broken open, and some grenadiers
of the French guards, who had been imprisoned for refusing to fire on the
people, released in triumph. This outbreak was attended by no
consequences; a deputation had already solicited, in behalf of the
delivered prisoners, the interest of the assembly, who had recommended
them to the clemency of the king. They had returned to prison, and had
received pardon. But this regiment, one of the most complete and bravest,
had become favourable to the popular cause.

Such was the disposition of Paris when the court, having established
troops at Versailles, Sèvres, the Champ de Mars, and Saint Denis, thought
itself able to execute its project. It commenced, on the 11th of July, by
the banishment of Necker, and the complete reconstruction of the ministry.
The marshal de Broglie, la Galissonnière, the duke de la Vauguyon, the
Baron de Breteuil, and the intendant Foulon, were appointed to replace
Puységur, Montmorin, La Luzerne, Saint Priest, and Necker. The latter
received, while at dinner on the 11th of July, a note from the king
enjoining him to leave the country immediately. He finished dining very
calmly, without communicating the purport of the order he had received,
and then got into his carriage with Madame Necker, as if intending to
drive to Saint Omer, and took the road to Brussels.

On the following day, Sunday, the 12th of July, about four in the
afternoon, Necker's disgrace and departure became known at Paris. This
measure was regarded as the execution of the plot, the preparations for
which had so long been observed. In a short time the city was in the
greatest confusion; crowds gathered together on every side; more than ten
thousand persons flocked to the Palais Royal all affected by this news,
ready for anything, but not knowing what measure to adopt. Camille
Desmoulins, a young man, more daring than the rest, one of the usual
orators of the crowd, mounted on a table, pistol in hand, exclaiming:
"Citizens, there is no time to lose; the dismissal of Necker is the knell
of a Saint Bartholomew for patriots! This very night all the Swiss and
German battalions will leave the Champ de Mars to massacre us all; one
resource is left; to take arms!" These words were received with violent
acclamations. He proposed that cockades should be worn for mutual
recognition and protection. "Shall they be green," he cried, "the colour
of hope; or red, the colour of the free order of Cincinnatus?" "Green!
green!" shouted the multitude. The speaker descended from the table, and
fastened the sprig of a tree in his hat. Every one imitated him. The
chestnut-trees of the palace were almost stripped of their leaves, and
the crowd went in tumult to the house of the sculptor Curtius.

They take busts of Necker and the duke of Orleans, a report having also
gone abroad that the latter would be exiled, and covering them with crape,
carry them in triumph. This procession passes through the Rues Saint
Martin, Saint Denis, and Saint Honoré, augmenting at every step. The crowd
obliges all they meet to take off their hats. Meeting the horse-patrol,
they take them as their escort. The procession advances in this way to the
Place Vendôme, and there they carry the two busts twice round the statue
of Louis XIV. A detachment of the Royal-allemand comes up and attempts to
disperse the mob, but are put to flight by a shower of stones; and the
multitude, continuing its course, reaches the Place Louis XV. Here they
are assailed by the dragoons of the prince de Lambesc; after resisting a
few moments they are thrown into confusion; the bearer of one of the busts
and a soldier of one of the French guards are killed. The mob disperses,
part towards the quays, part fall back on the Boulevards, the rest hurry
to the Tuileries by the Pont Tournant. The prince de Lambesc, at the head
of his horsemen, with drawn sabre pursues them into the gardens, and
charges an unarmed multitude who were peaceably promenading and had
nothing to do with the procession. In this attack an old man is wounded by
a sabre cut; the mob defend themselves with the seats, and rush to the
terraces; indignation becomes general; the cry _To arms!_ soon resounds on
every side, at the Palais Royal and the Tuileries, in the city and in the

We have already said that the regiment of the French guard was favourably
disposed towards the people: it had accordingly been ordered to keep in
barracks. The prince de Lambesc, fearing that it might nevertheless take
an active part, ordered sixty dragoons to station themselves before its
dépôt, situated in the Chaussée-d'Antin. The soldiers of the guards,
already dissatisfied at being kept as prisoners, were greatly provoked at
the sight of these strangers, with whom they had had a skirmish a few days
before. They wished to fly to arms, and their officers using alternately
threats and entreaties, had much difficulty in restraining them. But they
would hear no more, when some of their men brought them intelligence of
the attack at the Tuileries, and the death of one of their comrades: they
seized their arms, broke open the gates, and drew up in battle array at
the entrance of the barracks, and cried out, "_Qui vive?_"--"Royal-
allemand."--"Are you for the third estate?" "We are for those who command
us." Then the French guards fired on them, killed two of their men,
wounded three, and put the rest to flight. They then advanced at quick
time and with fixed bayonets to the Place Louis XV. and took their stand
between the Tuileries and the Champs Élysées, the people and the troops,
and kept that post during the night. The soldiers of the Champ de Mars
were immediately ordered to advance. When they reached the Champs Élysées,
the French guards received them with discharges of musketry. They wished
to make them fight, but they refused: the Petits-Suisses were the first to
give this example, which the other regiments followed. The officers, in
despair, ordered a retreat; the troops retired as far as the Grille de
Chaillot, whence they soon withdrew into the Champ de Mars. The defection
of the French guard, and the manifest refusal even of the foreign troops
to march on the capital, caused the failure of the projects of the court.

During the evening the people had repaired to the Hôtel de Ville, and
requested that the tocsin might be sounded, the districts assembled, and
the citizens armed. Some electors assembled at the Hôtel de Ville, and
took the authority into their own hands. They rendered great service to
their fellow-citizens and the cause of liberty by their courage, prudence,
and activity, during these days of insurrection; but in the first
confusion of the rising it was with difficulty they succeeded in making
themselves heard. The tumult was at its height; each only answered the
dictates of his own passions. Side by side with well-disposed citizens
were men of suspicious character, who only sought in insurrection
opportunities for pillage and disorder. Bands of labourers employed by
government in the public works, for the most part without home or
substance, burnt the barriers, infested the streets, plundered houses, and
obtained the name of brigands. The night of the 12th and 13th was spent in
tumult and alarm.

The departure of Necker, which threw the capital into this state of
excitement, had no less effect at Versailles and in the assembly. It
caused the same astonishment and discontent. The deputies repaired early
in the morning to the Salle des États; they were gloomy, but their silence
arose from indignation rather than dejection. "At the opening of the
session," said a deputy, "several addresses of adherence to the decrees
were listened to in mournful silence by the assembly, more attentive to
their own thoughts than to the addresses read." Mounier began; he
exclaimed against the dismissal of ministers beloved by the nation, and
the choice of their successors. He proposed an address to the king
demanding their recall, showing him the dangers attendant on violent
measures, the misfortunes that would follow the employment of troops, and
telling him that the assembly solemnly opposed itself to an infamous
national bankruptcy. At these words, the feelings of the assembly,
hitherto restrained, broke out in clapping of hands, and cries of
approbation. Lally-Tollendal, a friend of Necker, then came forward with a
sorrowful air, and delivered a long and eloquent eulogium on the banished
minister. He was listened to with the greatest interest; his grief
responded to that of the public; the cause of Necker was now that of the
country. The nobility itself sided with the members of the third estate,
either considering the danger common, or dreading to incur the same blame
as the court if it did not disapprove its conduct, or perhaps it obeyed
the general impulse.

A noble deputy, the count de Virieu, set the example, and said: "Assembled
for the constitution, let us make the constitution; let us tighten our
mutual bonds; let us renew, confirm, and consecrate the glorious decrees
of the 17th of June; let us join in the celebrated resolution made on the
20th of the same month. Let us all, yes, all, all the united orders, swear
to be faithful to those illustrious decrees which now can alone save the
kingdom." "_The constitution shall be made, or we will cease to be_,"
added the duc de la Rochefoucauld. But this unanimity became still more
confirmed when the rising of Paris, the excesses which ensued the burning
of the barriers, the assembling of the electors at the Hôtel de Ville, the
confusion of the capital, and the fact that citizens were ready to be
attacked by the soldiers or to slaughter each other, became known to the
assembly. Then one cry resounded through the hall: "Let the recollection
of our momentary divisions be effaced! Let us unite our efforts for the
salvation of the country!" A deputation was immediately sent to the king,
composed of eighty members, among whom were all the deputies of Paris. The
archbishop of Vienne, president of the assembly, was at its head. It was
to represent to the king the dangers that threatened the capital, the
necessity of sending away the troops, and entrusting the care of the city
to a militia of citizens; and if it obtained these demands from the king,
a deputation was to be sent to Paris with the consolatory intelligence.
But the members soon returned with an unsatisfactory answer.

The assembly now saw that it must depend on itself, and that the projects
of the court were irrevocably fixed. Far from being discouraged, it only
became more firm, and immediately voted unanimously a decree proclaiming
the responsibility of the present ministers of the king, and of all his
counsellors, _of whatever rank they might be_; it further passed a vote of
regret for Necker and the other disgraced ministers; it resolved that it
would not cease to insist upon the dismissal of the troops and the
establishment of a militia of citizens; it placed the public debt under
the safeguard of French honour, and adhered to all its previous decrees.
After these measures, it adopted a last one, not less necessary;
apprehending that the Salle des États might, during the night, be occupied
by a military force for the purpose of dispersing the assembly, it
resolved to sit permanently till further orders. It decided that a portion
of the members should sit during the night, and another relieve them early
in the morning. To spare the venerable archbishop of Vienne the fatigue of
a permanent presidency, a vice-president was appointed to supply his place
on these extraordinary occasions. Lafayette was elected to preside over
the night sittings. It passed off without a debate; the deputies remaining
in their seats, observing silence, but apparently calm and serene. It was
by these measures, this expression of public regret, by these decrees,
this unanimous enthusiasm, this sustained good sense, this inflexible
conduct, that the assembly rose gradually to a level with its dangers and
its mission.

On the 13th the insurrection took at Paris a more regular character. Early
in the morning the populace flocked to the Hôtel de Ville; the tocsin was
sounded there and in all the churches; and drums were beat in the streets
to call the citizens together. The public places soon became thronged.
Troops were formed under the titles of volunteers of the Palais Royal,
volunteers of the Tuileries, of the Basoche, and of the Arquebuse. The
districts assembled, and each of them voted two hundred men for its
defence. Arms alone were wanting; and these were eagerly sought wherever
there was any hope of finding them. All that could be found at the gun-
smiths and sword-cutlers were taken, receipts being sent to the owners.
They applied for arms at the Hôtel de Ville. The electors who were still
assembled, replied in vain that they had none; they insisted on having
them. The electors then sent the head of the city, M. de Flesselles, the
Prévôt des marchands, who alone knew the military state of the capital,
and whose popular authority promised to be of great assistance in this
difficult conjuncture. He was received with loud applause by the
multitude: "_My friends_," said he, "_I am your father; you shall be
satisfied_." A permanent committee was formed at the Hôtel de Ville, to
take measures for the general safety.

About the same time it was announced that the Maison des Lazaristes, which
contained a large quantity of grain, had been despoiled; that the Garde-
Meuble had been forced open to obtain old arms, and that the gun-smiths'
shops had been plundered. The greatest excesses were apprehended from the
crowd; it was let loose, and it seemed difficult to master its fury. But
this was a moment of enthusiasm and disinterestedness. The mob itself
disarmed suspected characters; the corn found at the Lazaristes was taken
to the Halle; not a single house was plundered, and carriages and vehicles
filled with provisions, furniture and utensils, stopped at the gates of
the city, were taken to the Place de Grève, which became a vast depôt.
Here the crowd increased every moment, shouting _Arms!_ It was now about
one o'clock. The provost of the merchants then announced the immediate
arrival of twelve thousand guns from the manufactory of Charleville, which


Back to Full Books