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posed the Assembly of the Notables, could then be, the
brunt of the business fell considerably to his share. The
plan of those who had a Constitution in view, was to con-


tend with the Court on the ground of taxes, and some of
them openly professed their object. Disputes frequently
arose between Count D'Artois and M. de la Fayette, upon
various subjects. With respect to the arrears already incur-
red, the latter proposed to remedy them, by accommodating
the expences to the revenue, instead of the revenue to the
experices ; and as objects of reform, he proposed to abolish
the Bastille, and all the State-prisons throughout the Nation,
(the keeping of which was attended with great expence)
and to suppress lettres de cachet. But those matters were not
then much attended to ; and with respect to lettres de cachet,
a majority of the nobles appeared to be in favour of them.

On the subject of supplying the treasury by new taxes, the
Assembly declined taking the matter on themselves, con-
curring in the opinion that they had not authority. In a
debate on this subject, M. de la Fayette said, that raising
money by taxes, could only be done by a National Assem-
bly, freely elected by the People, and acting as their repre-
sentative. Do you mean, said the Count D'Artois, the
States-general? M. dela Fayette replied, that he did. Will
you, said the Count D'Artois, sign what you say, to be given
to the King? The other replied, that he would not only do
this, but that he would go farther, and say, that the effec-
tual mode would be, for the King to agree to the establish-
ment of a Constitution.

As one of the plans had thus failed, that of getting the
Assembly to act as a Parliament, the other came into view,
that of recommending. On this subject, the Assembly
agreed to recommend two new taxes to be enregistered by
the Parliament, the one a stamp-tax, and the other a terri-
torial tax, or sort of land-tax. The two have been estimated
at about five millions sterling per annum. We have now to
turn our attention to the Parliament, on whom the business
was again devolving.

The Archbishop of Thoulouse (since Archbishop of Sens,
and now a Cardinal) was appointed to the administration of
the finances, soon after the dismissal of Calonne. He was
also made Prime Minister, an office that did not always exist
in France. When this office did not exist, the chief of each
of the principal departments transacted business immediately
with the King; but when a Prime Minister was appointed
they did business only with him. The Archbishop ar-
rived to more state authority than any Minister since the
Duke de Choiseuil, and the Nation was strongly disposed in
his favour : but by aline of conduct scarcely to be accounted


for, he perverted every opportunity, turned out a despot,
and sunk into disgrace, and a Cardinal.

The Assembly of the Notables having broke up, the new-
Minister sent the edicts for the two new taxes recom-
mended by the Assembly to the Parliaments, to be enregis-
tered. They of course came first before the Parliament of
Paris, who returned for answer, That with such a reveriue as
the natioji then supported, the name, of taxes ought not to be
mentioned, but for the purpose of reducing them; and threw
both the edicts out.*

On this refusal, the Parliament w,as ordered to Versailles,
where, in the usual form, the King held, what under the
old Government was called a Bed of Justice. And the two
edicts were enregistered in presence of the Parliament, by
an order of state, in the manner mentioned in page 66.
On this, the Parliament immediately returned to Paris, re-
newed their session in form, and ordered the enregistering
to be struck out, declaring that every thing done at Ver-
sailles was illegal. All the Members of Parliament were
then served with Lettres de cachet, and exiled to Trois ; but
as they continued as inflexible in exile as before, and as ven-
geance did not supply the place of taxes, they were after a
short time recalled to Paris.

The edicts were again tendered to them, and the Count
D'Artois undertook to act as representative to the King.
For this purpose, he came from Versailles to Paris, in a train
of procession ; and the Parliament were assembled to receive
him. But show and parade had lost their influence in
France ; and whatever ideas of importance he might set off
with, he had to return with those of mortification and dis-
appointment. On alighting from his carnage to ascend the
steps of the Parliament House, the crowd (which was nume-
rously collected) threw out trite expressions, saying, " This
" is Monsieur D'Artois, who wants more of our money to
44 spend." The marked disapprobation which he saw, im-
pressed him with apprehensions: and the word aux arms ( To
arms) was given out by the officer of the guard who attended
him. It was so loudly vociferated, that it echoed through
the avenues of the house, and produced a temporary confu-
sion. J was then standing in one of the apartments through

* When the English Minister, Mr. Pitt, mentions the French
finances again in the English Parliament, it would be well that he
noticed this as an example.


which he had to pass, and could not avoid reflecting how
wretched was the condition of a disrespected man.

He endeavoured to impress the Parliament by great words,
and opened his authority by saying, " The King, our Lord
and Master." The Parliament received him very coolly,
and with their usual determination not to enregister the
taxes. And in this manner the interview ended.

After this a new subject took place. In the various de-
bates and contests that arose between the Court and the
Parliaments on the subject of taxes, the Parliament of Paris
at last declared, that although it had been customary for
Parliaments to enregister edicts for taxes as a matter of con-
venience, the right belonged only to the States-general; and
that, therefore, the Parliaments could no longer, with pro-
priety, continue to debate on what it had not authority to
act. The King, after this, came to Paris, and held a meet-
ing with the Parliament, in which he continued from ten in
the morning till about six in the evening ; and in a manner
that appeared to proceed from him, as if uncousulted upon
with the Cabinet or the Ministry, gave his word to the Par-
liament, that the States-general should be convened.

But after this, another scene arose, on a ground different
from all the former. The Minister and the Cabinet were
averse from calling the States-general. They well knew, if
the States-general were assembled, that themselves must
fall. And as the King had not mentioned any time, they
hit on a project calculated to elude, without appearing to

For this purpose the Court set about making a sort of
Constitution itself. It was principally the work of M. La-
moignan, keeper of the seals, who afterwards shot himself.
The new arrangement consisted in establishing a body under
the name of a Cour Pleniere, or full Court, in which were
invested all the powers that the Government might have
occasion to make use of. The persons composing this
Court to be nominated by the King; the contended right of
taxation was given up on the part of the King, and a new
criminal code of laws, and law proceedings, was substituted
in the room of the former. The thing, in many points,
contained better principles than those upon which the
Government had hitherto been administered. But with
respect to the Cour Pleniere it was no other than a medium
through which despotism was to pass, without appearing to
act directly from itself.

The Cabinet had high expectations from their new cou-


trivaiice. The persons who were to compose the Cour
Pleniere were already nominated; and as it was necessary
to carry a fair appearance, many of the best characters in
the Nation were appointed among the number. It was to
commence on the 8th of May, 1788. But an opposition
arose to it, on two grounds the one as to principle, the
other as to form.

On the ground of principle it was contended, that Govern-
ment had not a right to alter itself; and that if the practice
was once admitted, it would grow into a principle, and be
made a precedent for any future alterations the Government
might wish to establish: that the right of altering the
Government was a National Right, and not a right of Govern-
ment. And on the ground of form, it was contended, that
the Cour Pleniere was nothing more than a larger Cabinet.

The then Dukes de la Rochefoucault, Luxembourg, de
Noailies, and many others, refused to accept the nomina-
tion, and strenuously opposed the whole plan. When the
edict for establishing this new Court was sent to the Parlia-
ments to be enregistered, and put into execution, they re-
sisted also. The Parliament of Paris not only refused, but
denied the authority; and the contest renewed itself between
the Parliament and the Cabinet more strongly than ever.
While the Parliament were sitting in debate on this subject,
the Ministry ordered a regiment of soldiers to surround the
House, and form a blockade. The Members sent out for
beds and provision, and lived as in a besieged citadel; and as
this had no effect, the commanding officer was ordered to
enter the Parliament House and seize them, which he did,
and some of the principal Members were shut up in different
prisons. About the same time a deputation of persons ar-
rived from the Province of Brittany, to remonstrate against
the establishment of the Cour Pleniere', and those the Arch-
bishop sent to the Bastille. But the spirit of the Nation
was not to be overcome; and it was so fully sensible of the
strong ground it had taken, that of withholding taxes, that
it contented itself with keeping up a sort of quiet resistance,
which effectually overthrew all the plans at that time formed
against it. The project of the Cour Pleniere was at last
obliged to be given up, and the Prime Minister not long after-
wards followed its fate, and M. Neckar was recalled into office.

The attempt to establish the Cour Pleniere, had an effect
upon the Nation, which itself did not perceive. It was a
sort of new form of Government, that insensibly served to
put the old one out of sight, and to unhinge it from the su-
perstitious authority of antiquity. It was Government


dethroning Government; and the old one, by attempting to
make a new one, made a chasm.

The failure of thisscheme renewed the subjectof convening
the States- General ; and this gave rise to a new series of poli-

There was no settled form for convening the States-Gene-
ral. All that it positively meant, was a deputation from
what was then called the Clergy, the Noblesse, and the
Commons ; but their numbers, or their proportions had not
been always the same. They had been convened only on
extraordinary occasions, the last of which was in 1614;
their numbers were then in equal proportions, and they
voted by orders.

It could not well escape the sagacity of M. Neckar, that
the mode of 1614 would answer neither the purpose of the
then Government, nor of the Nation. As matters were at
that time circumstanced, it w T ould have been too contentious
to argue upon any thing. The debates would have been
endless between privileges and exemptions, in which neither
the wants of Government, nor the wishes of the Nation for
a Constitution would have been attended to.

But as he did not choose to take the decision upon himself,
he summoned again the Assembly of the Notables, and
referred it lo them.

This body was in general interested in the decision, being
chiefly of the Aristocracy and the high paid clergy ; and
they decided in favour of the mode of 1614.

This decision was against the sense of the Nation, and
also against the wishes of the Court ; for the Aristocracy
opposed itself to both, and contended for privileges inde-
pendent of either.

The subject was then taken up by the Parliament, who
recommended, that the number of the Commons should be
equal to the other two ; and that they should all sit in one
house, and vote in one body.

The number finally determined upon was twelve hundred ;
six hundred to be chosen by the Commons, (and this was
Jess than their proportion ought to have been, when their
worth and consequence is considered on a National scale)
three hundred by the Clergy, and three hundred by the
Aristocracy. But with respect to the mode of assembling
themselves, whether together or apart, or the manner in
which they should vote, those matters were referred.*

* Mr. Burke, (and I must take the liberty of telling; him, he is
very unacquainted with French affairs) speaking on this subject,


The election that followed was not a contested election,
but an animated one. The candidates were not men, but
principles. Societies were formed in Paris, and committees
of correspondence and communication established through-
out the Nation, for the purpose of enlightening the People,
and explaining to them the principles of civil Government ;
and so orderly was the election conducted, that it did not
give rise even to the rumour of tumult.

The States-General were to meet at Versailles, in April,
1789, but did not assemble till May, They situated them-
selves in three separate chambers ; or rather the Aristocracy
and the Clergy withdrew each into a separate chamber.

The majority of the Aristocracy claimed what they called
the privilege of voting as a separate body, and of giving
their consent or negative in that manner ; and many of the
Bishops, and the high-beneficed Clergy, claimed the same
privilege on the part of their order.

says, " The first thing that struck me in the calling the States-
General, was a great departure from the ancient course :" and a
little further on, he says, " From the moment I read the list, I
saw distinctly, and very nearly as it has happened, all that was
to follow."

Mr. Burke certainly did not see all that was to follow. I en-
deavoured to impress upon him as well before as after the States-
General met, that there would be a Revolution; but was not able
to make him see it, neither would he believe it. How then he
could distinctly see all the parts, when the whole was out of sight,
is beyond my comprehension.

And with respect to the " departure from the ancient course,"
besides the natural weakness of the remark, it shews that he is
unacquainted with circumstances. The departure was necessary
from the experience had upon it, that the ancient course was a bad
ne. The States-General of 1614, were called at the commence-
ment of the civil war, in the minority of Louis the Thirteenth, but
by the clash of arranging them by orders, they increased the con-
fusion they were called to compose.

The author of L'lntrigue du Cabinet, (Intrigue of the Cabinet)
who wrote before any Revolution was thought of in France, speak-
ing of the States-General of 1614, says

" They held the public in the greatest suspense five months ;
and by the questions agitated therein, and the heat with which they
were put, it appears that the great (les grands) thought more
to gratify their particular passions, than to procure the good of
the Nation ; and the whole time passed away in altercations,
ceremonies, and parade." L'lntrigue du Cabinet, vol. J. p. 239.


The Tiers Etat y as they were then called, disowned any
knowledge of artificial orders, and artificial privileges ; and
they were not only resolute on this point, but somewhat

They began to consider Aristocracy as a kind of fungus
growing out of society, that could not be admitted even as
a branch of it ; and from the disposition the Aristocracy
had shewn, by upholding Lcttres de Cachet, and in sundry
other instances, it was manifest that no Constitution could
be formed, by admitting men in any other character than as
National men.

After various altercations on this head, the Tiers Etat, or
Commons, as they were then called, declared themselves,
on a motion made for that purpose, by the Abbe Sieyes,


orders could be considered but as deputies of corporations,
and could only have a deliberate voice but when they
assembled in a National character with the National repre-

This proceeding extinguished the style of Eiats Generaux,
or States-General, and erected into the style it now bears,
that of UAssemblee Nationale, or National Assembly.

This motion was not made in a precipitate manner. It
was the result of cool deliberation, and concerted between
the National representatives, and the patriotic members of
the two chambers, who saw into the folly, mischief, and in-
justice of artificial privileged distinctions.

It was become evident, that no Constitution, worthy of
being called by that name, could be established on any thing
less than a National ground. The Aristocracy had hitherto
opposed the despotism of the Court, and affected the lan-
guage of patriotism ; but it opposed it as its rival, (as the
English Barons opposed King John) and it now opposed the
Nation from the same motives.

On carrying this motion, the National representatives, as
had] been concerted, sent an invitation to the two chambers,
to unite with them in a National character, and to proceed to

A majority of the Clergy, chiefly of the parish priests,
withdrew from the clerical chamber, and joined the Nation ;
and forty-five from the other chamber joined in like manner.

There is a sort of secret history belonging to this last cir-
cumstance, which is necessary to its explanation. It was
not judged prudent that all the patriotic members of the
chamber styling itself the Nobles, should quit it at once ;


and in consequence of this arrangement, they drew off by
degrees, always leaving some, as well to reason the case, as
to watch the suspected.

In a little time, the numbers increased from forty-five to
eighty, and soon after to a greater number ; which with a
majority of the clergy, and the whole of the National
representatives, put the mal-contents into a very diminutive

The King, who, very different from the general class
called by that name, is a man of a good heart, shewed
himself disposed to recommend an union of the three cham-
bers on the ground the National Assembly had taken ; but
the mal-contents exerted themselves to prevent it; and
began now to have another object in view.

Their numbers consisted of a majority of the Aristo-
cratical Chamber, and a minority of the Clerical Chamber,
chiefly of Bishops and high-beneficed clergy ; and these
men were determined to put every thing to issue, as well
by strength, as by stratagem.

They had no objection to a Constitution ; but it must be
such a one as themselve^ should dictate, and suited to their
own views and peculiar situations.

On the other hand, the Nation disowned knowing any
thing of them but as citizens ; and was determined to shut
out all such upstart pretensions.

The more aristocracy appeared, the more it was despised ;
there was a visible imbecility and want of intellect in the
majority a sort of je ne sais quoi, that while it affected to
be more than Citizen was less than Man. It lost ground
from contempt more than from hatred; and was rather
jeered at as an ass, than dreaded as a lion. This is the
general character of Aristocracy, or what are called Nobles,
or Nobility, or rather No-ability, in all countries.

The plan of the mal-contents consisted now of two things ;
either to deliberate and vote by chambers, (or orders) more
especially on all questions respecting a constitution, (by
which the Aristocratical Chamber would have had a nega-
tive on any article of the Constitution) ; or, in case they
could not accomplish this object, to overthrow the National
Assembly entirely.

To effect one or other of these objects, they now began
to cultivate a friendship with the despotism they had
bitherto attempted to rival, and the Count D'Artois became
their chief.

Tfce King, who has since declared himself deceived into


their measures, held, according to the old form, a Bed of
Justice, in which he accorded to the deliberation and vote
par tete (by head) upon several subjects: but reserved the
deliberation and vote upon all questions respecting a Consti-
tution to the three chambers separately.

This declaration of the King was made against the advice
of M. Neckar, who now began to perceive that he was
growing out of fashion at Court, and that another minister
was in contemplation.

As the form of sitting in separate chambers was yet ap-
parently kept up, though essentially destroyed, the National
representatives, immediately after this declaration of the
King, resorted to their own chambers to consult on a protest
against it ; and the minority of the Chamber calling itself
the Nobles, who had joined the National cause, retired (o a
private house to consult in like manner.

The 'malcontents had by this time concerted their mea-
sures with the Court, which the Count d'Artois undertook to
conduct; and as they saw from the discontent which the
declaration excited, and the opposition making against it,
that they could not obtain a control over the intended
Constitution by a separate vote, they prepared themselves
for their final object that of conspiring against the National
Assembly, and overthrowing it.

The next morning, the door of the Chamber of the Na-
tional Assembly was shut against them, and guarded by
troops, and the members were refused admittance.

On this, they withdrew to a tennis-ground in the neigh-
bourhood of Versailles, as the most convenient place they
could find, and after renewing their session, they took an
oath, never to separate from each other, under any circum-
stance whatever, death excepted, until they had established
a Constitution.

As the experiment of shutting up the house had no other
effect than that of producing a closer connection in the
members, it was opened again the next day, and the public
business re-commenced in the usual place.

We are now to have in view the formation of the new
Ministry, which was to accomplish the overthrow of the
National Assembly.

But as force would be necessary, orders were issued to
assemble thirty thousand troops : the command of which
was given to Broglio, one of the new intended Ministry,
who was recalled from the country for this purpose.

But as some management was also necessary, to keep


tliis plan concealed till the moment it should be ready for
execution, it is to this policy that a declaration made by
the Count D'Artois must be attributed, and which it is here
proper to introduce.

It could not but occur, that while the malcontents con-
tinued to resort to their chambers, separate from the Na-
tional Assembly, more jealousy would be excited than if
they were mixed with it; and that the plot might be

But, as they had taken their ground, and now wanted a
pretext for quitting it, it was necessary that one should be

This was accomplished in the declaration made by the
Count D'Artois, " That if they took not a part in the
National Assembly, the life of the King would be endan-
gered ;" on which they quitted their Chambers, and mixed
with the Assembly in one body.

At the time this declaration was made, it was generally
treated as a piece of absurdity in Count D'Artois ; and
calculated merely to relieve the outstanding members of
the two chambers, from the diminutive situation they were
put in; and if nothing more had followed, this conclusion
would have been good.

But as things best explain themselves by their events,
this apparent union was only a cover to the machinations
which were secretly going on ; and the declaration accom-
modated itself to answer that purpose.

In a little time the National Assembly found itself sur-
rounded by troops, and thousands more were daily arriving.
On this a very strong declaration was made by the Na-
tional Assembly to the King, remonstrating on the impro-
priety of the measure, and demanding the reason.

The King, who was not in the secret of this business, as
himself afterwards declared, gave substantially for answer,
that he had no other object in view than to preserve the
public tranquillity, which appeared to be very much dis-

But in a few days from this time, the plot unravelled

Online LibraryThomas PaineThe political and miscellaneous works of Thomas Paine .. (Volume 1) → online text (page 50 of 65)